Wednesday, February 29, 2012

My Custom Homestead-Day 4

Day 4
So today's home(stead)work is to lay out my plans for the next year, five years, and ten years.  Obviously these are tentative at best because I'm just beginning and I really don't know where life will take us 10 years from now.  Also, as I'm sure my parents, sisters, husband, friends, etc. will attest, I'm a bit of a dreamer.  But I'll put these out there anyway: the hopes and dreams that I have now, when I look to the future.

Within one year, I hope to:

  • Get (at least) the support, funding, and basic infrastructure in place for the Lefurgey Community Garden and Food Pantry (think of a snazzier name for it too!)
  • Submit my complete application and gain council approval for my permit to have laying hens
  • Build a comfy coop and roomy pen for laying hens
  • Acquire said laying hens
  • Grow an awesome bumper crop of tomatoes (and do well with my other veggies!)
  • Increase my stock of preserves, particularly jam
  • Learn to make soft cheese
  • Attend at least one meeting of the PEI Beekeepers' Association
Within five years, I hope to:

  • Establish myself in a stable career that will allow us to purchase a rural property and build the home we're hoping for (yes I picture myself "working" hiking down by the West River)
  • Find the property that is right for us, and build the passive solar plan we have picked out (I don't actually plan to build on the French River lookout, I just wanted a photo of a typical PEI country scene!)
  • Plant large strawberry and raspberry patches
  • Develop a large raised bed vegetable garden on our new property
  • Learn to make hard cheeses, such as cheddar
  • Buy a Le Creuset 5 1/2 quart French oven (a girl can dream!)
Within ten years, I hope to:

  • Build a barn on our property
  • Purchase a Dexter milk cow
  • Establish a honeybee colony
  • Plant a small apple orchard
  • Obtain a Belgian gelding (for work? to ride? just to hug? it's all the same!)
  • Find a way to work part-time so that I can actually have time to do all of these things I hope to accomplish!
Any advice out there on how to accomplish all of this?  Things I have left out that I totally should have included?  Pipe dreams I'm better off forgetting now?  Let me know!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

My Custom Homestead-Day 3

Day 3
It's time to turn my motivations into a statement of purpose for this walk as I move forward.  I'll print it out and put it in my binder, and I may post it in a visible spot in our home to remind myself daily to keep reaching forward toward these hopes.

Statement of Purpose
"To find a stronger, truer connection to God and this beautiful world he has given us by being careful stewards of the earth, plants and animals, and to strive to provide our family with good, healthy, organic foods, education, time, love, and faith."

Monday, February 27, 2012

My Custom Homestead-Day 2

Day 2
Today I write down on paper my motivations for homesteading.  Why am I going to do this?  What makes this seem like the right life for me?  I decided that this page in my binder should be hand-written, even if it is a little messier.  It seems so much more personal that way. I can jot down new thoughts or cross out old ones if they change.  I dated it, so that I will remember when it was that I felt this way.  I just filled one sheet, but I was trying to be succinct--I can be as wordy as the best of them and could probably fill a book with my motivations!

Here they are, my tentative first attempt at putting pen to paper and jotting down these motivations:

Self-Sufficiency and An Organic Lifestyle
  • rely less on commercially grown and prepared foods
  • learn to do more with my own two hands
  • satisfaction of knowing that these foods that my family is eating were lovingly grown, harvested and prepared by me, and I know that they are healthy
A Different Way of Life for my Children
  • I want my children to know what their food really is and where it comes from
  • I want them to learn how to take care of themselves, and to derive pleasure from it, from these practices
  • I want us to spend time together doing something productive, that helps others and brings us closer together, and reminds uf of what is important and what to be thankful for
Ecological Balance
  • taking the path that leads away from the practices that are harming my beloved island
  • using resources that are produced organically and close to my home
  • finding a balance on our property between providing for our needs and providing habitat for wildlife
Spending Time Doing What I Love
  • I love plants and animals, cooking, baking and preserving
  • I get excited over finding ways to be frugal and do more with less
  • Above all, I love doing these things for my family

Sunday, February 26, 2012

My Custom Homestead-Day 1

One of the blogs that I've found recently that has an amazing amount of helpful information is The Prairie Homestead.  I initially discovered it while looking at whether or not to wash eggs after I got into a conversation about it with friends--they wash them, I had been buying farm fresh eggs at our farmer's market and never washing them.  Anyway, this blog, written by Jill, has lots of other great tips, like an easy way to bake pumpkin for use in baked goods, recipes, information about keeping goats, etc.  And all written in a way that makes me feel like I can totally relate to the woman who is writing, like we're sitting down having a conversation about homesteading together over a cup of tea.

She has also just recently released an ebook called Your Custom Homestead: Awakening a Fresh Vision of Homesteading, which I purchased last week when she had a great 20% off promotion.  I read it early in the weekend and thought that it fit extremely well with a series of posts I wanted to start anyhow.

The ebook I recently purchased.
Photo of Jill from her blog.

I have already posted a little about the beginning of my homesteading journey here and here.  I wanted to continue to explore how I came to be at the beginning of this road and work my way through what my goals and inspirations are as I continue to write about some of the things that I'm pursuing at the moment, such as the community garden and my application for a permit to have laying hens.  Jill's book basically walks you through the planning procedure and is helpful for those of us who, like me, love to plan and might continue to dream and plan infinitely without taking the plunge into actually doing something.  It's also great for those of you that might be prone to purchasing a milk cow off Kijiji without stopping to consider that you don't know the first thing about cows.

So I am going to work through her book here on my blog, hopefully not giving too much of it away but following the guidelines she sets out as steps to follow to turn my dream into a reality, one that fits my life situation at this time.  I'll progress through twenty-one days of small steps, and reflect on them here.

Day 1
I've today started a homesteading binder.  This will be where I keep all my thoughts, plans, and hopes organized in one place.  Tips for growing watermelons in our climate?  Look in my binder.  What goals do I have for the next 5-10 years?  Oh look!  It's in my binder.  My childhood neighbour Hazel's recipe for delicious mustard pickles?  You've got it, in the binder.  And the articles that I will be cutting out of the magazines I mentioned the other day?  What better place to keep them organized and ready to read in years to come than my new, sturdy, Canadian-made, 2-inch ring, binder.

Right now my binder is empty except for some organizing tabs.  But as I go through the next few weeks, I'll begin filling it up with everything I mentioned above and more.  Maybe some of you can follow along, or go purchase Jill's ebook for yourselves!

Here is my binder, full of promise.

*Note the sweet potato vine in the background.  I thought it made my instagram picture (which I use because I am no photographer and I find them to be quite forgiving) a little more colourful and artistic and homestead-y looking.  That's my little confession.  Also, while I'm confessing, that poor thing was living in a jar for about 4 months and I only planted it in that (eco-friendly) pot this afternoon, so I felt the need to showcase it, even if it isn't in the best shape because of being in the aforementioned jar.

I'll be back tomorrow with my next step in building my custom homestead.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Family Outdoor Winter Fun

When you have small children and the weather is cold, it doesn't always seem all that easy to really enjoy the outdoors.  It is extremely easy to contemplate the inverse relationship between the time it takes to get the children and yourself dressed and ready to go outdoors versus the length of time everyone will stay happy while being outside and then give up before you even begin.

I have to admit that this winter, between cold temperatures, snowy days, the flu, and generally crabby kids I have found a plethora of excuses not to bundle us all up and head out into the fresh winter air, even though I know that it is exactly what we all need.

However, we got the encouragement that we needed this past Monday, which was Islander Day, a provincial holiday.  My husband, being a federal government employee, wouldn't ordinarily get it off but he decided to take a vacation day so that we could spend one extra day together as a family and partake in some of the activities offered.

We decided to load up the car and head down to Dalvay in the PEI National Park for their free family activities, and we were really glad we did.  We were able to spend some time in the (very chilly) fresh air with the kids, they played in the snow, sat together in the sled; we had a chance to get some exercise and burn off a bit of cabin fever, play and laugh together as a family--then head to Grammie's for pizza.

We came home refreshed, invigorated and sleepy.  And had a great day.  And my resolve to get the kids outside a lot more often was strengthened; hopefully we'll remember to "live well" a little more often now even though the weather is still wintry.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Retro Reading

I was over at my parents' house today, when my dad told me that he had some reading material for me.  He disappeared down into the basement and brought up a huge armload of magazines.  He jokingly told me that these were more or less heirlooms that he knew that I would appreciate:

There is a huge stack of them dating 1981 through 1985, and they cover a plethora of topics perfect for someone like me who is starting out homesteading.  I know we had vegetable gardens and chickens and a woodlot when I was growing up, but I never really put it together with my lawyer dad being a homesteading hopeful just like I am.  It's fun to know that I got this dream just as much, or maybe more so, from my father when I thought my desire for this lifestyle came from my mom and her upbringing on a farm.  Either way, whether they think I'm a romantic dreamer or not--they only have themselves to blame.

I love you both and am very excited to go through these old journals!  They have surfaced at a very opportune time as I am hoping to start chronicling the planning of my homesteading ways here on the blog, through a step-by-step process outlined in a great e-book that I recently purchased and am starting to read.  These will be quite helpful as I figure it all out!

If any readers here on PEI are interested in going through these with me at any point, please let me know.  As I am hoping to cut down on clutter in our home, I am planning on cutting out the articles that interest me most and recycling the rest which seems like a shame--these are almost like an encyclopedia!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Quick Community Garden Update

I attended a city council meeting this evening where the community garden was brought up for the second time to council.  It was a brief mention, but I wanted to be there to put a face to the project and show that it is being spear-headed by a real person who is really standing behind it.  I'm hoping I hear soon about how to move forward, I feel somewhat at a standstill until I know that it has been approved.  Then I can get on with finding all my volunteers, in-kind supporters, etc.

After my brief appearance at City Hall, I scooted out to the outskirts of town for a Life Group meeting.  As it wrapped up, the lady who closed in prayer took a moment to pray for this community garden.  It took me a bit by surprise as there were some big issues that some of the other women had asked to receive prayer support for--but it was really lovely and I hope that with rolled-up shirt sleeves, community involvement, and yes, prayer, this community garden will really get off the ground (into raised beds!).

Maybe it could look a little something like this?

Washer Women

First, an apology for such a delay in posting.  Two birthdays, the flu, food poisoning, and family visits in the last 8 days or so have pretty much written off this week.  I'll try to stay more on top of things from here on out!

Between reading the blogs I am currently following and finding a plethora of fantastic ideas on Pinterest, I have been rendered speechless by the strength and determination of some modern-day homesteaders who are leading their families on a quest for self-sufficiency that in my wildest imaginings I wouldn't have conceived.  They are true pioneers in the most basic sense of the term and demonstrate just how much can be done with strong forearms and a will of steel.  On days when I feel like I accomplished a lot because both my children are dressed and I have a fresh loaf of bread on the counter, I need only take a look at some of these women who have already started their gardens, fed their seven children, milked the cow, made butter, and hand-washed the clothes of the afore-mentioned seven children.

I have always wanted to live as sustainable a lifestyle as possible, and accomplish as much at home as I possibly can.  However, it didn't really occur to me to buy a washboard and start doing our clothes by hand, finishing them off through a wringer before hanging them to dry and starting over.  I find it amazing that the women who are currently doing this get anything else done at all!  Now you can find the necessary implements in a local antique store (or your grandmother's attic), or perhaps you can purchase one of the more modern versions online (Mean Green Washing Machine).

After ruminating on this particular homesteading skill for some time, I came to a rather guilty revelation: I don't want to.  I don't want to wash my clothes by hand.  I just don't.

Now, it isn't like I haven't done it before:

Costa Rica, 2006
However, between working (because I am still, at this point, going to be required to work outside the home), cooking, gardening, cleaning, loving and playing, I feel that my time will be stretched enough as it is and I don't really want to add hand-washed laundry to the pile of things that must be done.

Also, my darling husband doesn't exactly share my dream of a self-sufficient, alpaca-raising, egg-collecting, pumpkin-growing, tree-tapping utopia.  He cares about natural living and leaving the Earth in a better state than it was left to us.  He wants our children to grow to be respectful, capable, socially and environmentally aware members of society.  He is (somewhat) happy for me to have my own hens, and very supportive of my community garden plans.  But he also likes Sunday afternoon football on a large, highly defined television.  He enjoys our iPad.  And he is a big help around the house, but I feel that his willingness to help with laundry might wane if he couldn't use our HE appliances.

These are all blessings and luxuries that we are very fortunate to have.  Some of them I will take (appliances), some I could leave (television, iPad).  But when creating a family life, which is what our homestead will be, I need to take into consideration all of the members of the family and what we, as a collective unit, desire.

And what we desire is a home that meets our needs, and some of our wants, in a modern way; this home will hopefully meet these needs and wants in as carbon neutral a way as possible as we move forward.

I'm going to start a series outlining our hopes and path as we establish our homestead.  Any feedback from you regarding how you blend modern living with a sustainable, self-sufficient lifestyle would be very welcome!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Hug Time

As a quick post for Valentines Day, I wanted to promote an adorable book that my dad bought for our son this year for a Valentines gift.  Hug Time, by Patrick McDonnell, is probably the cutest little book I've seen in a while.  I love reading stories that rhyme to the children, because I love the way the rhythms and cadences flow out of my mouth.  Even when I'm not singing, I feel like I am!  And I love stories for young children that promote messages of love and respect for others and for our world.

A little cat goes out with the goal of hugging the whole world:

How can you not love a book that closes with the following:

The world is so big...
And yet so small,
It's time that we embrace it all.

That's something that we all can do.
Start with the one who's closest to you.

Happy Valentines Day!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Winter Woes and Springtime Dreaming

For the record, I actually enjoy winter.  In fact, I've been a bit dismayed thus far this year that there hasn't been more snow.  I don't like driving on slippery roads, but I love a good dusting that turns trees, shrubs, and fences into a sparkling diamond wonderland.  However, just in the last few days, I've been dreaming of spring as we have had two little sweethearts battling the flu, a storm that dropped 30 cm of snow on our city and followed it up today with a wind chill of -33 C (apparently that's -27.4 F for you Americans!).

This is the site where I hope a community garden will bloom next year (taken before the storm this weekend!)

Since I started blogging again, I've been visiting more and more blogs, particularly those with a focus on homesteading, children, cooking, gardening, and canning.  The majority of them are written in the US, and a few of them are starting to break my heart a little bit--they're already planting their gardens!  As in, peas are going in the ground.  And a blogger that I follow on twitter posted yesterday that it was 80 F in her hometown.  In February!  It seems dreamlike!

Now I know that, obviously, there are very different climates in the states, particularly in the south and on the west coast, compared to my fair isle.  Climates that allow avocados to be grown locally.  Where oranges and lemons are plucked from branches right outside the back door.  Where winter means rain, not snow.  But it still seemed so miraculous to me, when I read this week that there are places where right now fingers are deftly sowing pea (and other) seeds into the soil.

It makes me think about the things that I'd like to plant this year.  I don't yet have an established planting space--I'm hoping for the community garden, but even if it gets off the ground, this year might just be the year of getting the paperwork and infrastructure taken care of.  I am hoping to have a back-up plot out at my parents' cottage, but I'm not sure just how big it will be and it is pretty breezy out there on the north shore.  So I'm not going to make any far-fetched planting plans for this year, but am just going to go in with realistic goals of growing a few of the things that I know I will use.

Most important out of all of these? Tomatoes and basil!  I can smell them already.  I am so looking forward to working in the garden with the kids, especially James, who is at an age to enthusiastically help.  I feel so excited and motivated to get composting and digging and planting and watering and waiting.  Our last frost date is officially May 9th in Summerside, but I wouldn't put anything in before June 10th or so just to be on the safe side.  So I have a little waiting to do yet...

What vegetables have you found to be the most successful in your gardens?  And is there anything that I definitely have to plant?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Summerside Up

So the above title is a pretty brutal play on "sunny-side up" that honours my father's ability (or inability at times) to make us laugh with dreadful puns.  Of what do I speak?

The very exciting possibility of getting laying hens in Summerside, Prince Edward Island.

The backyard chicken movement is becoming pretty hot in some cities (see this article), with lots of suburban homesteaders raising happy hens to produce their own eggs, right in the comfort of their backyard.  A lot of municipalities will allow up to six laying hens, and I suppose each town or city will have varying requirements on the part of the owners in terms of care, housing, etc.

This is a pretty new trend in Prince Edward Island with only one case of note in the last couple of years in Charlottetown.  I'm not sure if that positive story inspired other backyard chicken aficionados in Charlottetown or not, but in Summerside the pleasing prospect of petite property poultry... capers (sorry, lost my little streak of alliteration) is all but unknown.  Upon looking up the by-laws in Summerside, it would appear that chickens, as well as a number of much more questionable members of the animal kingdom, such as bulls, donkeys, wolves, and lizards, are permitted within city limits as long as approval is granted by City Council.

When I contacted my city councillor regarding my desire to apply for a permit for backyard laying hens, he said I'd have to get in touch with police services.  I was a bit confused.  The by-laws said to speak to the animal control officer, which I assumed would be under technical services with City Hall.  But I did as instructed and contacted police services and asked who I should speak to.  The person who answered was unfamiliar with requests for poultry permits and said I should contact City Hall.  I did, and got bumped around from staff member to staff member, until the phone was picked up by a very helpful man in technical services who said I did, in fact, need to be speaking to police services.  However, not just anyone at police services, but, amazingly enough, the chief of city police, who would help me with the paperwork.

Really?  The chief of police was needed in order to fill out an application for a permit for three or four, dust-bathing, happily clucking, yummy egg-laying hens?

Surely he must have more important matters to attend to, such as prevalent drug issues, children breaking into construction sites and stealing vehicles, and young men crashing their cars into public institutions, such as the Rotary Library.  However, it seems that animal control responsibilities also fall onto his desk.

Needless to say, I was reluctant to contact the police chief due to the fact that such shenanigans, as mentioned above, must come (appropriately) at the top of his priority list and homestead hopefuls wanting backyard hens, probably somewhere near the bottom.

However, as spring approaches, I want to get this process underway so I bit the bullet and sent him a letter explaining what I wanted, that I was directed to contact him, and that I wanted to know what steps I should take to get the ball rolling on the permit application.  He emailed me back the same day, was super helpful, and set up a meeting for this afternoon, which I happily attended.

Apparently, there's only ever been one other application for backyard hens in Summerside, a number of years ago, by a man who actually already had a flock of Cornish hens on his property but was told he needed a permit.  So that is the only precedent that has been set in our community for this issue.  I believe he may also have been the same guy who had bantam roosters that were upsetting the neighbours, thus creating a slightly negative view of backyard chicken-keeping in our fair city.

So I went to police services, got buzzed in past the heavy security doors, and was taken to Chief Poirier's office to discuss the matter.  He had already done some of the paperwork for me, and had unearthed the other sole applicant's file to show me to shed some light on how approval is granted.  He had already made photocopies of forms that I need, asked me a little about my intentions, expressed his concern for the care and comfort of the hens, and sent me on my way with my homework.

All in all, it doesn't seem overly taxing, given the fact that they don't generally embark on this process.  I have to:

a) get the signatures of every neighbour within a 200-foot radius of my home, saying that they have been notified and are ok with me getting the chickens

b) write a formal letter to the police chief, outlining my plans and explaining why I want the birds

c) submit a plan of my chicken coop and housing/pen dimensions for review

d) have photos taken of my backyard, including location for the coop, trees and fencing available

e) outline my waste disposal plans for the manure generated by my (tentative) flock of lovely ladies

f) be subjected to a property inspection before approval, after one year of owning the chickens, should my permit application be approved, and then every two years after that

g) not be heard from again (i.e. do not allow my chickens to terrorize the neighbourhood).

Then the police chief will put together all my paperwork, contact the Department of Health to ensure there are no problems currently with avian influenza or any other communicable chicken diseases, and present my file to city council for approval.  It's really very good of him!

In the meantime, I am pestering my long-suffering father with chicken coop/pen/tractor ideas and how best to incorporate them into our small backyard.  I already have one signature on my sheet and haven't even gone door-to-door yet!  If all goes well, then hopefully this coming spring our backyard will be home to someone very much like this femme fatale:

Wish me luck!  If anyone has any comments on gaining approval for chickens within city limits, I'd be happy to hear them!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Country Bread for the Urban Mom

When I was growing up, we lived down a long lane in one of the most beautiful rural communities in Prince Edward Island.  One of my absolute favourite memories is the feeling of walking up that long, red clay driveway after school, opening the back door, and being overwhelmed by the heavenly aroma of baking bread.  In addition to making regularly sized loaves, my mom would bake a mini loaf each for my younger sister and me.  They were still warm when we got home from school and the melted butter in that soft, chewy, bread is one of the most delicious experiences I can imagine.  In fact, when I dropped by my parents' home one day recently after a play date with a friend, that was the smell that greeted me.  There was even a mini loaf for my darling James.  So she's still at it, that mother of mine.

I have never made my mom's homemade white bread recipe, partially because I don't think it can turn out just the way it should if my hands, rather than hers, are the ones kneading the dough and forming the loaves.  Also, as gorgeous as that bread is, we try mostly to eat whole grain bread when possible.  Additionally, since having two busy children I find that bread making that requires a few hours of commitment and lots of kneading is just a little too much work at this stage of my life.

Enter this bread.  I find that this is the best bread recipe I've tried thus far for busy and working moms trying to make homemade bread on a tight schedule.  I first got the recipe from Chef Michael Smith's Chef at Home cookbook and then modified it to suit our tastes.  What I find so great about this recipe is that it requires very little kneading and depends instead on a long first rising period.  You mix the ingredients together, let it sit for 12-14 hours, then briefly knead it, let it rise, and then pop it in the oven.  So the first rising can occur while you're at work, or while you're sleeping, depending on which suits your schedule more conveniently!

It's also a very forgiving and flexible recipe that allows you to change up the ingredients, depending on what you have on hand or prefer to use.

So here it is:

Country Bread

2 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups white flour
1/2 cup oatmeal
1/3 cup 12-grain cereal mix, sunflower seeds, or Red River cereal
1/2 tbsp (or 1 1/2 tsp) kosher salt
1/2 tsp of active dry yeast (slightly more than an even 1/2 teaspoon)

2 cups of very warm water

In your second largest mixing bowl, whisk the flour, oatmeal, cereal/seeds, salt, and yeast.  When it is mixed thoroughly, pour in the warm water and use a wooden spoon to mix it well together.  Use this opportunity to get the frustrations of your day out of your system.

The dough will be very sticky and you will wonder if it needs more flour.  It doesn't, don't worry.  Generously oil your largest mixing bowl with your hands (I use olive oil but canola and sunflower oil work well too) and transfer your dough to the oiled bowl.  Flip it over once to coat all sides.  Then cover that bowl with saran wrap and leave it in a warm-ish place for 10 to 12 hours.

The dough needs lots of time, but it's flexible.  If you only have eight hours, that's fine; if you went shopping and then decided to have lunch at your mom's and forgot about your dough and it went 14 hours, that's ok too.  You want the dough to double in size.

When it's time to knead your dough, sprinkle some flour on the kneading surface.  Generously oil a 9"x5" loaf pan and use your oily hands to get the dough out of the bowl and onto the counter.  Knead for a minute or two (really--all it needs is a few flips) and form your loaf and pop it into the pan.  I lightly oil the top and then drape a clean dish towel over it.

Allow to rise for 1-2 hours.  Depending on how warm your house is, you might want to keep an eye on it as you don't want it to rise too high.  Since the dough is so soft, if you let it over-rise it will droop over the pan and end up looking somewhat like a waterlogged mushroom after it's been baked.  Still tasty, but not pretty.

Once it is good and risen, preheat your oven to 400 and then bake your bread for 45 minutes.  Take the bread out of the pan right away and allow to cool on a rack.  Enjoy!

*I mentioned above that you can do substitutions with this recipe.  Within the parameter of using four cups of flour, I've changed it various times to include the following:

-3 cups whole wheat, 1 cup white
-2 cups whole wheat, 1 cup kamut, 1 cup white
-1 cup whole wheat, 1 cup kamut, 1 cup spelt, 1 cup white

Use whichever flours you most enjoy, but I would make sure to have at least one cup of white flour to maintain a decent consistency in the dough.  Lately I've been doing the 50/50 whole wheat to white simply because white flour goes on sale more regularly than whole wheat.

I've also substituted wheat germ for the oatmeal.  I like it, but like the oatmeal better.  And make sure to change up the "bits" part of the recipe!  For this particular loaf, I used sunflower seeds but I generally use multigrain cereal mixes.  Sometimes I really mix things up with a blend of poppy, flax, and sesame seeds; other times I skip the seeds/grains altogether and go for a smoother loaf.  It's up to you to have fun with it, and bulk barn is definitely your friend when it comes to bread baking!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Winter Reading for a Hopeful Homesteader

In general, I love reading novels.  I would curl up reading novels every night were time to permit it.  However, I also love reading about homesteading, gardening, looking after livestock, cooking the bounty of a garden, making bath and body products from an abundance of herbs, etc.  Not only is the topic fascinating, almost every page gives me inspiration for new ideas to pursue, plants to grow, projects to undertake, and perhaps most importantly, a sense of confidence about these endeavours.  The confidence comes from the fact that I see other people out there with similar interests and desires for a self-sufficient lifestyle.  People who hadn't really spent much time tending houseplants let alone expansive vegetable gardens are now growing bushels of heirloom vegetables, extracting honey from their own hives, making cheese with the milk generously provided by their very own cows, and tapping sugar maples to make their own maple syrup.  If they can do it, armed with information and passion, then why couldn't I as well?

In recent cold winter evenings, I love to read and imagine and plan for what will come.  And these are a few of the books that have been good friends and wise givers of advice as I begin down this path to a homesteading lifestyle.  In each case, the books are easy and enjoyable to read, informative, and offer resources for further research on topics of specific interest to readers.  Perhaps some of you may be interested in them as well!

The first one, that I bought a few years ago, is:

Barnyard in your Backyard - This book has given me great ideas about how to start out with the development of a hobby farm and the necessary information to choose, house, and care for livestock.

 Definitely worth a read!

Next, I bought:

The Backyard Homestead. I LOVE this book.  I have already read it cover to cover at least three or four times.  It's broken up into sections about growing vegetables, raising livestock (not as comprehensive as the book above but still helpful), foraging for wild foods, and using the resources at hand to produce all the food you need on a quarter acre of land!  

It's great especially for homestead hopefuls living in urban or suburban areas, but the information is still definitely valuable for those with rural properties as well.

I then borrowed the following two books from a friend with a common love of vegetable gardens (I look forward to many more chats about this topic Pam!):

Both are great books, especially for those of us who've grown a little but are really starting out with a newly established (or re-established) interest in vegetable gardening.  They are written in a very easy-to-read, fun style, and I love that the author is a Canadian who also has an awesome website (You Grow Girl) where you can find tonnes of information.  

The first one, You Grow Girl, has pretty much all the basic information you need to get started gardening, including building the soil, choosing plants appropriate for the site you have access to, how to promote good bugs and deter bad ones, and some super fun projects like growing your own loofahs!  How great is that?  

I read the book cover to cover the first evening I had it!

The second book, Grow Great Grub continues the lesson with a focus on (mostly) vegetables and herbs, looking at each major group of popular vegetables and outlining their needs, companion plants, and things you can do with your bounty!

I'm always on the lookout for new books on this topic, so if you have any recommendations I'd be really glad to hear them.  Perhaps you could try a few of the ones I listed above, and then maybe like me, you'll be hooked too!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

For the Love of Bran

So perhaps I'm surmising here, but I have an inkling that if you are following this blog, you may have an affinity for whole grain goodness.  Generally, when I bake, I try to opt for a cohesive blend of healthy and yummy.  There should be no reason why you can't have both, after all.  However, this recipe may tip the scales a little closer to healthy.  

I tried it because I have a little girl who needs some help in the regularity department, and was given the recipe for these branny beauties from a public health nurse I know.  Perhaps you just spent an exciting weekend away eating rich restaurant food and now feel the need to cleanse yourself out a bit.  Perhaps you, like I, have a darling daughter taking large doses of vile iron in solution and this poor little girl, who already had constipation issues, is having more trouble pooping than ever.  Perhaps you want to take offensive action on the possibility of colon cancer later in life.  Whatever your situation, these are a good item to have in your healthy baking arsenal.  The name leaves little to the imagination but lays it all out there loud and clear:

Very Effective Bran Muffins

3 cups bran
2 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp baking powder

1 cup raisins

2 eggs, beaten
2 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup oil
1/2 cup molasses

Whisk dry ingredients together in large bowl, then mix in raisins.  In separate bowl, mix wet ingredients until well blended.  Pour wet ingredients into dry and stir until blended together.  Spoon into regular or mini muffin tins, and bake at 400 for 15-18 minutes for regular (ha!) muffins or 7-10 minutes for mini muffins.  

I made just a half batch of this batter and it made 24 minis and 5 regular muffins.  And I didn't have buttermilk, so I used the trick where you put 1 tbsp of lemon juice into a one-cup measure and then fill it the rest of the way with milk (in this case I used 2%).  

While they are slightly reminiscent of something a horse might enjoy eating, they are surprisingly good and my husband and I each ate two of the minis after supper this evening.  Our son really enjoyed his, as well.  Now I'm hoping our picky little girly-girl will like them, and that, true to their name, they will be effective.

I hope that you and your system enjoy these muffins.  And by the way, I have to admit that I may have blushed a little when I typed the word "constipation" above.  Despite all the poop talk that goes along with parenting young children, there's something about typing that word in a public forum that sends me back to elementary school days when it was a hugely embarrassing but hilarious word all at the same time.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Why I Hope to Homestead

I've always been a bit of a romantic when it comes to imagining my ideal lifestyle.  Softly edged images, like watercolour paintings, have floated through my imagination since I was a girl.  These are not at all a new occurrence, but desires woven together from experience in my own home growing up, settings in favourite novels, and the lives and properties of friends and family.  Some of the images that come to mind now but that have been a part of me for years include:

-a silver tabby cat (preferably with six toes on each foot) sitting on a windowsill surrounded by African violets in a warm, gently lit kitchen, looking out at the frosty winter evening

-the smell of homemade gingerbread baking in the oven while you sit in front of a fireplace under a handmade quilt reading a novel, or the Bible, or writing in a journal

-the adorably nasal sound of a red-breasted nuthatch foraging in the conifers off to the side of your property while you stroll through the trees

the bright red stain of strawberry juice on your fingers as you hull pound after pound of the delightful morsels in order to make strawberry jam, or pie, or shortcake

-the warm scent and peaceful, welcome sound of horses munching on hay in a quiet barn in the evening

-the burst of flavour and juice in your mouth from a cherry tomato freshly plucked from your own plants

I could list these forever.  Now that I have children, I have even more images in my head and my heart, such as:

-the expression of wonder on James' face as he holds a fluffy, yellow, day-old chick in his own small hands

-Susannah's laughter as she watches the antics of young goats playing, or hens having a dust bath in our yard

-the glint of sunlight off their hair as they run through a sweetly smelling field of red clover under a blue sky

-the learning and valuable experience that would be theirs, knowing that they can grow their own food and help me prepare it in the kitchen.

Some of these images can easily come to life without actually actively seeking to establish a homestead.  But how much more satisfying would that strawberry jam be, if we grew and picked the berries ourselves? Would the frosty winter scene outside the kitchen window be even more beautiful if the snow dusted a barn, and fence posts, and lovingly planted fruit trees as opposed to the parked cars of our suburban neighbours?  For a romantic like me, who grew up in the country, the answer is yes.

Having grown up in the country, and having had big vegetable gardens and a Belgian gelding to look after and having done some preserving on my own already, I know that the experiences aren't always magical.  They can be dirty, they can be exhausting, they can be frustrating.  I didn't love weeding my parents' vegetable garden.  Anything but, in fact.  That handsome gelding created hefty quantities of manure that needed to be cleaned out of the barn (I didn't mind that chore at all though, although it was an awful lot of work!).  Preserving can be hot, frustrating work when you're hulling pounds and pounds of berries in the heat of July while your entire family goes to the beach and leaves you with them by yourself (sorry about that day, Mamma!).

But as I've grown, I've experienced educational institutions, the simplistic but beautiful life I had in Costa Rica, the frustrations and satisfaction of various jobs, the on-going joy of motherhood, the pride and the disappointment in the way our society is governed, and the financial responsibility of owning a home and raising a family.  I've come to crave that ability to sustain a family while bringing each member closer to the others, of growing food and growing hope and love and confidence and thankfulness, of caring for my loved ones and caring for the earth.  A life of raising strong, loving, responsible children who respect the world around them and are aware of and thankful for their food sounds like the most rewarding life I could imagine.  Sharing that with my husband and providing for all of them while doing what I love?  Spending my spare time with plants, with animals, with fresh produce grown steps from my own kitchen?  Seeking to better understand the natural world and our place in it?  Teaching my children self-sufficiency and respect for others in a setting where they can practice those skills every day?

It seems impossible not to strive for this life.

This post is linked to Homestead Barn Hop #51