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Monday, February 28, 2011

1 Month of No Groceries!

Today is the last day of February, and the last day I had planned to cook entirely from my cupboards.  I am happy to say that the only things that I bought this month were 4 gallons of milk and 1 box of butter (of which I used 2 sticks). I am also happy to say that I think I could continue cooking from my cupboards for another week if I wanted to - although they would be extremely bare at the end of the week!

Since I had to go into town today for a project with the kids' school, I did go grocery shopping just in case I didn't have enough for the week. (Don't worry - I am not using any of my new groceries until tomorrow.) I just didn't want to have to make another errand run into town at the end of the week if I was already there.

I was pleasantly surprised over the month of how meals went from cooking just from my cupboard.  I thought about sharing all of the meals I made, but realized that my cupboards are different than others.  If anyone else wants to try this, I didn't want to taint their creativity by listing what I did -  or didn't think of doing.  I will tell you some things that I took out of this month of cupboard cooking though.
  1. It was extremely helpful to have a nice supply of dried goods on hand that I buy extra of when on sale. 
  2. What I have canned and preserved turned out to be a major part of keeping my cooking from my cupboard going - fruit, dried beans, meats, vegetables.  It really has got me excited for this upcoming canning season and broadening and expanding on the foods that I preserve.
  3. I became much better with substitutions when cooking.  I don't deviate from recipes that much out of fear of ruining a meal, but I was pleasantly surprised with how things turned out when I had to substitute - again, I won't share in this post what I did out of necessity as to not hamper your creativity!
  4. Taking some extra time to think about what is on hand before planning a meal greatly helps keep grocery purchases down.  I usually plan meals around what I want to eat/cook and then purchase ingredients instead of planning meals around what I have on hand.  
  5. I am very thankful to have a wheat grinder and a large supply of wheat berries for making bread. Fresh whole wheat bread can provide for many yummy and nutritious sandwiches.
  6. Having chickens is wonderful!  Eggs are used in so many recipes.
  7. Having a milk cow (or milking the cows you have) would be just as wonderful - milk and butter are used in so many recipes. (We had some meals without the butter needed - edible, but just not the same.)
  8. I would say I'm pretty good at being frugal, but I was amazed again by what you can survive on when you need to do so or just make yourself do so. 
I'm sure there is more I could list if I thought about it, but I have kids getting up soon and need to keep moving.  Maybe I'll add them if I think of any - so check back to this post if you decide to give it a try!  I'd love to hear your thoughts and maybe next time I won't put a deadline of a month on and see just how long I can go. :)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Crooked Gap Maple and Brown Sugar Oatmeal - Copy Cat Recipe

Sorry about the teaser yesterday.  I really did plan on posting the recipe but just ran out of time.  So here are the 2 different recipes and instructions to follow.  They still might need a bit of tweaking, according to your tastes, but hopefully they are a good starting point.  

Mixture when not using fruit sauce:
- Mix well and store in jar
2 c brn sugar
1 T salt
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp cloves

*Add 1/4 c mixture to 2 1/4 cups water.  Bring to a boil.  Add 2 c oats, turn down heat, stir for 1 minute.  Remove from heat.  Add 1/4 c milk and 2 T maple syrup.  Cover and let set around 15 minutes before serving.  (If you like to eat right away in the morning, you might want to start your oatmeal right before your shower.)

To make variations to the recipe, try adding more or less of the mixture or syrup to adjust flavor and more or less milk or water to adjust creaminess.  If you really like to play around, you can also adjust amounts of seasoning in the mixture.  You can also add in flax seed, bananas (my favorite!), raisins, top with cinnamon, etc.

Mixture when using fruit sauce:
- Mix well and store in jar
2 c brn sugar
2 T salt
1 T cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp cloves

*Add 2 T mixture to 2 cups water and 1/2 cup fruit sauce (I use pear and apple sauce).  Bring to a boil.  Add 2 c oats, turn down heat, stir for 1 minute.  Remove from heat.  Add 1/4 c milk and 2 T maple syrup.  Cover and let set around 15 minutes before serving.  (If you like to eat right away in the morning, you might want to start your oatmeal right before your shower.)

To make variations to the recipe, try adding more or less of the mixture or syrup to adjust flavor and more or less milk or water to adjust creaminess.  If you really like to play around, you can also adjust amounts of seasoning in the mixture.  You can also add in flax seed, bananas (my favorite!), raisins, top with cinnamon, etc.
Crooked Gap Maple and Brown Sugar Oatmeal

So there you have it.  I'd love to hear if you make any changes or variations that you like or even if you have a completely different way to make oatmeal!

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Monday, February 21, 2011

Oatmeal Copy Cat Recipe

I grew up eating Cheerios - the real Cheerios.  Every morning I would have a big bowlful. If I wanted a snack midday, they would be one of my first choices.

When we got married, or maybe even when I was in college, I realized that there were generic versions of Cheerios.  I also realized that there was a significant price difference.  So I started buying the generic brand.  Let me tell you.  They are NOT like the real Cheerios.  But they were cheaper.  So I kept buying them.

Ethan and I are approaching our 10 year anniversary, and over the years he has teased me about there not being a taste difference in them.  I continued to hold my ground that there was a taste difference, and not only a taste difference, but also a hierarchy within the generic Cheerios world.  Between Walmart, Hy-Vee, and Fareway - Fareway wins by a landslide. (Although they still fall quite a bit behind the real thing!) Like I said, Ethan has teased me over the years about this, but just this year he started to agree with me.  Especially after I got on his case about using the Fareway O's in his chex mix before the Hy-Vee O's that he brought home to make chex mix. (I wasn't really upset, just teasing, but he made sure to leave the Fareway O's alone for his second batch - after he had a bowlful of Hy-vee O's himself.)

As I have been buying Fareway O's over the years, I have watched their price raise from under $1 to over $2.  Somewhere in the middle, I started making oatmeal from a box, not a premix, for the kids instead of giving them O's.  I flavored it and seasoned it as best as I could.  They all enjoy it, but I have never been able to choke it down.  I have even tried multiple times, especially as the price of Tasty O's has continued to go up.  I just figured I didn't care for it because I grew up eating dry cereal.

When Jonathan was born, however, my good friend gave me a bunch of groceries that could make quick meals.  Among these groceries were little packets of pre-seasoned oatmeal. I cooked some up for the kids and decided to taste a bit only to find out that it was good!!

Since buying little packets of oatmeal would probably not save me any money over buying generic O's, I began my quest to find a copy cat recipe for oatmeal.  After a couple attempts and adjustments, I came up with one that I actually enjoy eating.  I ran out of O's a few weeks ago and have been eating this oatmeal.  I surprised myself this week that I was actually disappointed when I ran out of oatmeal!  (Since I'm trying to go the rest of the month with buying as few groceries as possible, I'm on to the next breakfast idea.)

I have 2 different versions of my copy cat recipe.  The first one is for those of you who don't have a fruit sauce.  The second one is for when you do. (I have quite a bit of pear sauce canned up that I am using.)

Since my little ones are about to get up, however, I will have to save my recipes for the next post (hopefully tomorrow!)  Don't forget to check back!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Grandpa Kies's Mulligan Stew

If you missed my post about cooking through my cupboards, you can check it out here.  So far, I have just bought 2 gallons of milk and a box of butter. (Too bad we aren't milking our Dexter cows or I wouldn't have had to even buy those!)

It really hasn't been any trouble figuring out what to make yet.  Although I am really noticing the cupboards and fridge empty out, I still have a decent selection left of things I can cook with.  I just might be able to make it through the month without needing to go grocery shopping - except for milk. . . . unless Ethan wants to try milking one of our Dexters. ;)

One of the meals I recently made was my Grandpa Kies's Mulligan Stew, one of my favorite soups.  I didn't follow the recipe exactly, and I made some substitutes with the broth and tomato base that I was a bit unsure about working or not - but I think it actually turned out quite good.

Since there is still a bit of cold weather left this year, I thought I would share the recipe.  (Any leftovers freeze well too, by the way.)

Here's what I did:
              * the ?? are for where I didn't measure
1 pint home canned ground beef with broth
1 quart home canned diced tomatoes
3-4 potatoes (diced)
?? carrots (chopped)
?? stalk celery (chopped)
1 small onion (chopped)
?? frozen corn
1 pint home canned green beans with juice
1 pint home canned pinto/black beans
?? lentils
1/2 tsp garlic
1/2 tsp basil
1/4 tsp dry mustard
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp thyme
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
2 bay leaves (remove before serving)
         :: cooked on low on the stove for 8+ hours

And here's the original recipe:

1 lb ground beef or cut up roast
2 c beef broth (canned or bullion cubes)
8 oz tomato sauce
3-4 potatoes (diced)
3-4 carrots (chopped)
1 stalk celery (chopped)
1 small onion (chopped)
1-2 cups cabbage (chopped)
1 can corn with juice
1 can green beans with juice
1/2 tsp garlic
1/2 tsp basil
1/4 tsp dry mustard
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp thyme
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
2 bay leaves (remove before serving)
        :: cook in crockpot or on low heat as long as possible for best flavor

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Tamworth Piglets

I realize that I haven't really put much of a farm update on recently.  Now that we have a Facebook for our farm, a lot the "happenings" get put on there.  I've tried linking it over to blogger but have not succeeded (anyone know how).  So I thought it is time for a quick farm update.

Although we are selling beef and eggs, our biggest seller this past year has been our pork.  It is really good!, and it is what we have most available.  We have a heritage breed of hogs called Herefords (yes, Hereford hogs, not the cattle.)  We have been very happy with them.  Early on, however, Ethan wanted to have some Tamworths on the farm.  We had a lot of trouble finding them, but now we have them!

It has been quite the ordeal too.  Jonathan, our newest little guy, was due in December.  Ethan planned on picking up these bred Tamworth sows in January.  Well, Jonathan decided to come a bit late.  10 days late to be exact, born on January 6th.  This just happened to be the day that Ethan finally rescheduled to pick up the hogs (we were waiting on Jonathan being born.)  So instead of picking up sows that were due any moment, Ethan took me to the hospital since I was due at the moment.

Since the sows were due to farrow anytime, Ethan went and got them the day he brought Jonathan and myself home.  He got back late and left them in the trailer to unload after church on Sunday.

Our Tamworth that farrowed in the trailer with her 6 piglets.
Well, one of the sows decided that the trailer was quite cozy and she'd waited long enough, so she farrowed that night.  It was not quite ideal - 4 large sows (we got two Berks too) in a tiny trailer can crush little pigs fast.  Ethan managed to find the sow that farrowed (by milking them and seeing who had milk!), got the other sows out, and let the new momma settle down with her babies.  The new family eventually got moved out of the trailer.

Last night our second Tamworth farrowed.  Thankfully she was a little more settled in.  I encourage you to check out our Facebook or Ethan's Twitter if you want to see pictures of the newest baby pigs!

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Bit of a Confession . . .

Right now I would consider our farm to still be in the set up phase.  We are still trying to figure out what type of balance we want with the livestock - kinds as well as numbers, and we have a bit of set up to do for them as well. (Especially as we bring in new animals like the sheep and hopefully meat birds this summer.)

We are also brainstorming other enterprises we can have on our land.  I'm really going to try to do a bit more with establishing fruit, berries and vegetables this year.

A peek inside the hive on our farm.
One thing that I would like to do as well is keep honey bees.  We are letting a friend keep a hive out here right now, and I really enjoy them.  They are great pollinators - which is especially beneficial if I do produce.  They are also just fun to watch and are intriguing.

Here is my confession though.  (Sometimes I feel I confess too many of my oddities on my blog.  It doesn't bother me with people I don't know - just those of you I do!  Oh well.  I am who I am!)  I have a tremendous aversion to squishing things and to parts of dead things.  It might be in part to having dead maggot filled birds and insect body parts deposited on me when I was growing up (brothers - gotta love them!), or it might be in part to the time when I told my great aunt that she could have some of my chickens for stew hens. I just wanted to pick which ones since I had named the colored ones and turned them to pets and didn't care about the white ones as much. After I got home from school, however, the white hens were running around and the heads were missing from my pet chickens.  AND I had to walk past the pile of my pet chicken heads daily to feed my rabbit until we got heavy rains and the flooding washed them away.  (Lesson to be had - don't let sensitive little girls make pets out of farm animals.)  Or, my aversion to squishing things and dead things could just be one of my oddities that was bound to happen no matter what.

Regardless, when you keep bees you will squish bees. I don't really mind being around when it happens.  I just don't want to be the one to do it.  So for now, bee keeping is something I'd love to do but don't know if I ever will.

So what's the point of this whole confession?  Well, it has gotten really warm here lately, for February, and the wolf spiders are coming out in droves in our house.  It usually happens in the spring and fall I've noticed.  Unfortunately, my aversion to squishing things applies to spiders too.  I just can't bring myself to crunch them or goo them on my floor.  I don't mind if someone else does, but my stomach just can't do it.

I really don't want them continuing to creep around, however, no matter how "good" they are to have around for insect control.  So what do I do?  Well, if they are on the wall, I vacuum them, but when I do I wonder if they just crawl back out.  (Yup, I think too much sometimes too. Okay, a lot of times.)  So when they are on the floor I do what any brave farm wife would do.  I put a canning jar over them and wait until my husband comes home so he can squish them. 

A wolf spider caught this morning.

So today, I would like to dedicate this post to my sweet husband who puts up with all of my strange quirks.  I love you, Ethan!  Happy Valentine's Day!

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Friday, February 11, 2011

A Wood Stove is Good For . . .

1When we built our house we decided not to put a furnace in. Without a furnace, we wouldn't need to put in duct work (we don't have central air either) which would save money with building expenses.  Heating with wood would also save quite a bit on heating bills.
The stove is the black square in the middle.
So we did our research and purchased a wood burning stove.  It sits right in the middle of the house to help the heat be evenly distributed.  We also have ceiling fans in the living room, kitchen, and 3 bedrooms to help move heat around as well.

Our stove does a great job heating the house.  In fact, I am usually cold when I go visit other people's houses in the winter.

We have found that the wood stove is good for many other things though, especially when you live on a farm.  Here are just a few:
During the day it is clear in front of the stove - at night we put it to full use!

  • hanging clothes on a rack close by overnight to not have to use the dryer
  • thawing frozen hoses (see Ethan's blog)
  • thawing frozen food when placed in a pan on top
  • raising bread when placed on a rack on the "cooler" level on top
  • warming baby pigs born in the winter whose momma didn't take to them right away (the momma is not going to stay, by the way)
  • a cozy spot for a sleeping baby in a swing
  • stimulation for a baby who is awake (both of my farm babies have enjoyed the flicker of the fire and the contrast of the stove pipe going up to the ceiling)
  • a chance for young ones to have responsibilities - helping with the wood pile
  • a chance for some exercise - collecting and splitting the wood 
  • a place to hang and dry wet coveralls
  • a place to unwind in front of
  • a place to roast marshmellows for winter Smores.  (I haven't done this yet, but I do think about it!)
Like I said, those are just a few.

Although there are times when a furnace would be nice (when we are gone, have other things to attend to besides wood, or the coldest of nights when it should have a refill), we are quite happy with our wood burning stove.  After all, can you make a list like that with a furnace?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Jack on Attack!

Ethan and I have a joke around here that gets a bit personal sometimes, all in fun - whose dog is better.

When we still lived in town and Ethan's office and youth center were attached to our house, he got a little treeing cur.  Sophie, his dog, lived next door in his office (I don't want dogs in the house) to give him company during the day.  She is a great little town dog! ;)

When we moved to the farm, Sophie had a little adjusting to do.  She loved living outside, but when winter came, she ended up staying in the mud room.  At the time we didn't have a shed (which is where she goes now in the winter), so I caved and let her in.  But no further than the mudroom!

When we moved to the farm, I decided that although Sophie is a nice little doggie, she wasn't really a farm dog.  Farm dogs are big, tough, and burly.  Sophie is, well, not that.  So I told Ethan that I wanted a big dog.  We talked about breeds and eventually decided to get a great pyrenees.  Not only are they big, tough, and burly, but they are great livestock guardian dogs.

As a side note, we have seen the Lord's provision in so many ways since we started this farming journey, including providing for my desire to have a big dog on the property.  At the time, Ethan was still coaching soccer so we decided to wait until soccer season was done to bring in a new puppy.  At the end of the soccer season, at the soccer banquet, one of the parents asked Ethan if we had a farm dog.  (I laughed because Ethan and I would have given different answers.)  He proceeded to ask if we would happen to want a great pyrenees pup.  He had two he wanted to give away!  Of course we said yes, although we only took one. And that is how Jack came to the farm.

Jack - just a tiny pup   ::  Sophie - full grown 
So back to whose dog is best. Ethan claims that Sophie is a better dog than Jack. Some of his arguments include the fact that Jack lays around a lot during the day, eats a lot, and doesn't really do a good job working with the livestock.  On occasion we will have "escapee" animals in the yard.  Cows, bulls, and pigs (even large sows on the porch).  Sophie doesn't care for this at all.  She barks quite a bit at them while Jack lays around and watches.  Also, when someone comes to the house, Sophie is the one that barks. 

I hold my ground though that Jack is the better dog.  Yes, he eats a lot, but he has MUCH better manners than Sophie.  Although he is a bit of a brute and does get in the way, he doesn't jump all over - like another dog does that lives here. :)  As far as not doing his job, I have some explanations for that.  First of all, we wanted him to be a guard dog for our family.  That is why he sleeps so much by the house.  As far as livestock by the house, his livestock guardian nature is coming out. (He is not a herding dog, by the way!) He knows who is supposed to be here and who isn't.  In his mind, the cattle and pigs belong here so why chase them away.  Also, I have heard that his breed is very good at discerning good and bad company (see my previous sentence), so when people come here that are friendly, why bark at them either?  So, my theory is that Jack just hasn't had the chance to prove his capabilities much.  He does get credit though for being up a lot at night and barking at things in the woods. (Although some nights when he keeps me up I will join Ethan in the camp that Sophie is better!)

This winter, however, has been a bit rough on Jack's reputation with Ethan.  I have heard that my dog is worthless a few times.  Especially when we had coyotes in the shed getting chickens a couple times while Jack (and Sophie, I might add) were in there.  This is true.  I can't deny it.  I will say that I caught a coyote in there once when I went to get eggs and it must have been quite sneaky.  As soon as I spooked it, the dogs went wild. 

WELL . . . today was Jack's day to shine.  As I was getting ready for lunch I heard both dogs going crazy outside.  I looked out the window to find Sophie barking by the house and Jack attacking a coyote!  It was quite the site.  Both Jack and the coyote had their front paws on each other and were biting each other.  Jack ended up on top and chased the coyote until he had him cornered by some hay bales.  He proceeded to attack him there.  Then he would stop and just kind of stare the coyote down, kind of like saying "I dare you".  After a little stare down, he would attack him again, and then stare him down again.  This went back and forth for quite awhile.  Finally Jack let the coyote by and chased in towards the driveway gate.

Unfortunately I didn't get an attack picture, but here is the "I dare you". (click on photo to enlarge)

This must have been a very hungry coyote, because it kept trying to turn around and come back in the yard.  Jack kept on his tail though and got him out the drive.  Then he chased him across the road, into the neighbor's field, and ACROSS the field to the woods, and then came back home. (Jack rarely leaves the property.)

I then sent a message to Ethan at work that JACK is the better dog!

So now that Jack has had an opportunity to prove his worth, hopefully he will gain some respect around here.  And now that he's gotten a taste and smell of coyote, hopefully he will be able to keep the sneaky ones out of the shed and keep some respect. :)  After all, he is the better dog!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Cooking from the Cupboards

Jonathan is now 1 month old, and I have been blessed by so many friends with meals this last month.  I have had over a dozen meals brought to us along with ingredients given for throwing together quick meals.  Many of these meals had leftovers as well to provide for additional meals.  We have basically been eating meals gifted by others for the last month.  It has been a blessing in many ways.  First of all, I have had more time to devote to our family, to keep school going, and to stay rested with the transition of a new baby.  We are also in the midst of a transition with Ethan's jobs - so the meals have been helpful there as well.

But another reason, it has been COLD out!!! One of the last things I want to do right now is take a new baby, 2 year old, 5 year old, and 6 year old out of the house to go shopping for groceries.  I think I have only had to go out shopping once since Jonathan has been born.  (Ethan is great and picks up milk and a few random things if needed.)

So now that I am back to cooking again, I decided that I am going to try to cook from our cabinets as much as possible.  Not only will this keep the grocerybills down for awhile, but it will also help to keep all of the kiddo's out of the bitter cold a bit more.

Among other things, some of the things that I have in abundance to work with are things that have been canned: ground beef, tomatoes, ham and ham broth, green beans, pears and pear sauce, and dried beans that have been canned.  I also have a bit of corn we have frozen, lots of noodles that I have purchased when on sale, eggs from our chickens, and quite a stash of wheat berries (to be ground for wheat flour).

Although the variety in our meals may lack a bit more than I would like, I think I can still have fruit, veggies, and protein for most meals.  Some of my meal ideas are soups, ham and noodles, french toast, pancakes, waffles, egg bakes, scrambled eggs, pasta dishes, enchilada dishes . . . I'm sure there's more. I'm hoping to cook through the cupboard through February, if Ethan can put up with it that long!

To start off, yesterday I ground up some wheat berries and made 6 loaves of whole wheat bread. (You can read about my Nutrimill wheat grinder and the Kitchenaid mixer I use at this post.) I used lard I had rendered from our pastured hogs, which I have quite a bit of too, in the bread for the oil. It really bakes and tastes quite good - no porky taste at all!  (You can read more about the health benefits of rendering your own lard here and here.) So yesterday we had french toast for supper and today we had sandwiches for lunch.

It will be interesting to see what all I can come up with to make the family happy at mealtime.  I hope that I am pleasantly surprised with how long I can cook out of our cupboards too, and hopefully it will get us to some warmer weather!

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Tools of My Trade
As mentioned above, my Nutrimill will grind grains extra fine to course. It's main use is for grinding wheat berries to make wheat bread. Freshly ground wheat is so much more nutritious than the wheat flour that has sat on the shelves. It is also more economical to grind it yourself, minus the cost of the wheat grinder. (I put my wheat grinder on my Christmas/January birthday list and asked gift givers to go together on it.) In addition to grinding wheat though, it can also grind quite a variety of other grains including beans and corn. You can even make your own cornmeal (they say popcorn works best!). See here for more information about grinding wheat at homeYou might be able to find a nice used one on e-bay, or you can purchase one new as in the link below.

My kitchenAid mixer was another jointly given Christmas/birthday gift.  It's most common use is for making bread, 3 loaves at a time.  The dough is worked entirely by the mixer with the dough hook, including the 10 minutes of kneading time.  The only hand work is dumping in ingredients and then forming the dough to fill my loaf pans.  I also use my Kitchen aid for mixing cakes, cookies, quick breads, for whipping . . . well, just about for all of my mixing! These can be found used on Ebay or you can purchase one new as in the link below.  I would strongly recommend getting the 5 qt, 325-watt mixer.  I have had friends get the smaller one and have been disappointed with the volume/motor capabilities.

When I started making bread, I just used basic loaf pans. After seeing how beautiful my friends bread baked up in 8 inch Norpro pans, I decided to put a set of 3 on my Christmas list. Not long after using them, I realized that I would really appreciate having 6 of them so that when one batch of bread is baking in the oven, I can get my second batch prepared, raised, and ready to go right into the oven too, without waiting for the previous bread and bread pans to cool. I like to make as many loaves as possible at once to cut down on the number of days of bread making kitchen mess. I received my second set of 3 pans the following Christmas, and when I make bread, I make bread! (I freeze the extra loaves so they are ready to go.)

Changing Seasons Giveaway - Winner!

Out of 32 responses, picked number 18. 
So the eligible winner is . . . Jenna Z! Thank you to everyone for the comments and for participating. :)

As you may have noticed, my posting is a little more frequent again. I think that is how this blog is going to be - back and forth with the seasons. Right now I am in a little season where I have some computer sitting time as I take care of my newest little one and as the older ones are resting. I'm going to take advantage of it, because I'm sure you all know that seasons come and go and can change quickly!

Right now I am actually thinking quite a bit about seasons changing in many different ways. One of these ways though is with our farm set up, particularly the yard area and the garden. Right now we really have not committed to anything specific with garden since it hasn't been that much of a focus since we moved here. (Not that I didn't want it to be - there's just a lot of things to focus on!) So I've been tossing around a lot of ideas about how to divide it up between vegetables and berries. I hope to have more posts on that later since I have a lot of thoughts and would appreciate outside input.

As with the garden not getting much focus yet, the yard is in the same boat. Besides a few saplings I planted last summer, our front yard is pretty much a blank slate. The only other thing out there besides the trees and fence is our wooden play set, which I have found that the kids use year round even with snow. (This was a gift from the kids' grandparents. My dad built it after I had done a lot of looking at wooden swing sets and had picked out just the right design.) Although I would like the yard to remain fairly open, I would like to do a bit more landscaping. I hope to toss out some posts and get thoughts and input on that as well.

While I've been thinking about changes in seasons, a great opportunity to host a giveaway from CSN stores came up, which is open to my US and Canadian readers. So for this giveaway, I'd like to offer you the chance to win something for the changing seasons!

If you happen to be the lucky winner, you may chose from the following:

Graniteware 9 Piece Canner Set - For preserving your summer and fall harvest to enjoy all year long.
Square Flower Box - Great for flowers or a patio garden.

Porter Cable 6 Amp drill - For those projects that pop up EVERY season of the year.

All you have to do is leave a comment with a valid e-mail address so I can contact you if you win. To avoid spam, you are welcome to leave it in the "johndoe at email dot com" format. I will also delete all comments after the giveaway.

Until February 9th , all comments left with e-mails will be placed in the giveaway. Comments must be left on this post and not sent to my e-mail. Multiple comments from the same reader will disqualify the reader. The one exception, and the opportunity to put your name in twice, is to leave a 2nd comment with a link to your blog that tells about this giveaway (with your e-mail address again.) I will use to pick the winner and will announce the lucky reader shortly afterward.

Remember, you must have a US or Canadian mailing address to enter, and be sure to leave your e-mail address in your comment. :)

Thanks again for stopping by!
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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Expanding Berries with Cuttings

I have been continuing to dig around a bit to find information on how to do cuttings.  I think I am slowly feeling more comfortable with the process and am about ready to take the step and get some cuttings - assuming I make the time to do so!  There are a lot of websites out there that give some good information on the subject, but this one I found particularly helpful.

Propagating Deciduous and Evergreen Shrubs, Trees, and Vines with Stem Cuttings

This website not only has detailed steps of the process, but it also has a nice list of plants and their success rate with stem cuttings.

I would like to do quite a few plants such as magnolias, rhododendrons, azaleas, etc, but I am most interested in doing stem cuttings to get my fruit and berries going without spending too much money.  I realize that it might take a bit longer to do it this way, but right now it is probably the best way to go for us.

I don't foresee our farm really being a berry or fruit farm, but what I would really like to do is be able to offer fruits and maybe even surplus vegetables to our meat customers.  (Right now we have pastured pork, grass-fed beef, and "run of the farm" chicken eggs.  We will soon have lamb and are hoping to add broilers and turkey as well.)

Right now we have a young orchard planted, a couple grape vines, blueberry plants, and some raspberries, as well as blackberries in the woods.  I would like to use hardwood cuttings from the berry plants and grape vines that I have to increase my number of plants.  I would also like to find some additional varieties to take cuttings off of, or purchase if I have to in order to take cuttings another year. I will probably continue to get some starts from raspberries and blackberries like I have in the past since they are ready to fruit faster, but I'm thinking that doing cuttings of them also will be a lot less work to get the amount of plants I would like to have.

I hope to be able to get some of these going soon since the dormant season for doing hardwood cuttings will soon be coming to an end.  I have my root tone (which I got at Menards, but you can also get it at garden shops or even off of Amazon) and peat.  From what I understand, now I just have to get some sand and my cuttings.  Hopefully I will be able to post pictures of the process soon!

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Saturday, February 5, 2011

Diaper Pails

We are now starting our 4th round of cloth diapers, with 2 using them at the moment. (We use prefold diapers and diaper covers that my mom and I made, similar to the ones you can buy. If you would like to read more about our cloth diapering, you can do a search on the right side of my blog.) With 6 1/2 years of cloth diapering under my belt, I have learned a lot and changed a lot!

One of the things that I have changed is our diaper pail. I started out with a trash can with a flip up lid. I used an ice cream bucket to carry soiled diapers to and from the toilet to dump into the trash can and then rinsed the little bucket. It worked okay, but I wasn't completely sold on it. Not only could you eventually tell which room the diapers were in, but the trash can/diaper pail also had to be cleaned on occasion.

When we still lived in town, I started acquiring buckets. I needed a few for collecting coffee grounds for composting, but I guess I decided that it would be a good idea to keep getting more buckets. Some I got from the Hy-Vee bakery, but most I got from a local deli. They had about 2 a week from their pickles. And these are the buckets that I affectionately call "the pickle bucket". Creative, huh?

When we moved to our farm house, I did not move our diaper pail. I had used and cleaned it for 4 years, and I thought it would be best to just throw it away. So once we got into our new house, I needed something for the cloth diapers. The handiest thing I had around at the moment were some unused pickle buckets. I grabbed those, and it was one of the best diapering changes I have made yet.

So now our diaper pail is "the pickle bucket". Here is what I love about them.
  • The lid has a rubber seal so no smells seep out.
  • 2 pickle buckets stack quite nicely, taking up little space. They fill up at just the right time and make just the right size load to wash.
  • Diapers are easy to load into the washing machine. Just take the lid off and dump them in.
  • They are easy to handle, with their convenient carrying handles.
  • When they are getting a bit "used", I don't feel I have to clean them. I can just throw them out.
  • And . . . new pickle buckets have a rather pleasant "pickley" smell for quite some time when you open the lid. Sure beats the other smells!
As to where I keep them, they are in the laundry room. I change diapers in the bathroom, and the laundry room and bathroom are connected. (You can see our house layout here.) I know they aren't as beautiful as a white garbage can with a lid, but they are out of site - and they work so much better!

I know there are a lot of you out there who use cloth diapers as well, and many who have used them longer than I have. Since I still have a bit to go with them, and I'm sure there is more that I can do differently, I'd love to hear your best cloth diapering tips!

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Friday, February 4, 2011

Plant Propagation - Stem Cuttings

Last year my aunt sent me some small grape vines that she started from stem cuttings. Unfortunately, with the unfavorable spring, only 2 of them took. But these grape vines did spark my interest in propagating by stem cuttings. I have done a bit of this before with various house plants. These have been no brainer plants though - you pull off a piece, stick it in water or dirt, and it grows like mad.

What I am interested in trying is propagating things that are a little trickier - bushes, trees, more grape vines, etc. With all of the landscaping and berry planting I would like to do yet, it could get quite expensive. (If you have just read my husband's newest post, you will see that our land is pretty bare right now - and that we will need to figure out a happy balance with trees!) So last fall I bought some rooting hormone, and I have started my research. This is what I have gathered:
  • A lot of plants propagate best with hardwood cuttings - which need to be taken when the plant is dormant.
  • Some plants will propagate with the cutting from new growth taken early in spring.
  • It takes just a little bit more than dipping the cutting in rooting hormone and then sticking it in dirt.
And that is about all I know so far! Obviously, I have a bit more research to do, and I need to do it rather quickly if I want to get cuttings while plants are still dormant - which I do! I want to get started this season since I realize that my plants are going to be a bit behind plants that I would buy, but they will be cheaper. :)

With that said- has anyone out there propagated from cuttings? I'd love to hear what worked for you and any advice or sites you might have for a newbie!

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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Canning Organizing and Planning

I will be the first to admit that sometimes I get a little carried away with wanting to have things organized. With that said, 2 years ago I started a canning notebook. Here is kind of the overview of it.
  • Each year/canning season I record what I canned and how much.
  • I keep a tally of how many pints and how many quarts.
  • I keep this notebook with my canning supplies so it is convenient while I am canning. Otherwise I would probably forget to record things.
  • At the end of canning season (I consider my canning season to reset as soon as I can something from the garden) I make note of how much I used and what I had leftover.
  • Anything that is left over gets transferred over to the next year's canning list and marked as leftovers.
Why do I do this? Like I said, we have limited space so I want to make the best use of my pantry where I store things I have canned. If I find out I don't use 30 quarts of tomatoes, I don't want to store 30 quarts of tomatoes. Which takes me to my next reason. Time. It takes a bit to can things so I don't want to spend the time canning more than I need. The third reason is garden planning. If I find out that I'm running out of things consistently, I can rearrange my garden plans. And lastly, I hope it will help out a bit financially. If I am able to plan my garden better for our families needs, I will need to purchase less from the store - and I guess health can be put in there too since what we grow will be better for us that what we purchase!

As for this past canning season, my notebook isn't too impressive. (The photo was taken in Nov. so my list has changed a bit.) If you are from the area or have followed my blog, you may know that many gardens left much to be desired last year due to constant spring rains and weeds taking over. Most of what I was able to can was fruit that was given to me and things that I can in the winter. (This winter I pressure canned dried beans with seasonings, ground beef, and soups. I usually cook and freeze ground beef but our home freezer got turned into a business freezer, and I wanted some ready for casseroles and soups for when our little one came.)

I haven't been canning very long, and I'm still figuring out the whole process and how I want to go about planning what I can. I'd love to hear some things that you do!

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If you haven't noticed, I have rearranged my blog a bit. Feel free to check out the changes, especially the pages bar above. (There may be a few more changes coming too.)

More importantly than that, however, our lives are being rearranged a bit. Ethan and I are hopeful that as this rearranging continues, we will continue on with our farm. You can read more about our recent changes on Ethan's blog.
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