Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Gardening For the Pantry


Any family who is striving to be living a more self-sufficient life eventually starts thinking about the family food pantry. When I was growing up, our family always had a large garden. We would put up enough vegetables to last our family through the winter and into the next year. Some years, one vegetable or another would give us a bumper crop. I will always remember the year when the first picking of the green beans yielded 113 quart jars of beans. We still had more pickings after that from those beans, but that first picking was huge! We never had another year with that many at one time to be canned, a fact that I am sure my Mom appreciated greatly.

In the old days, the family garden was a survival issue. They didn't garden just a little salad garden to give them a season of fresh salad fixings. They literally grew every vegetable that the family ate on a regular basis. The crop was critical to the family having enough food for the pantry to last until the next year's garden harvest began. The families used the fresh vegetables in their meals throughout the season, but we careful to harvest and preserve as much food as possible.

With rising food costs and the issues of food safety with the produce being shipped in from other countries or the GMO foods now being produced, many families are starting to revisit the idea of growing their own foods again. At first, this can seem to be an overwhelming prospect. It really isn't however. Let me tell you how we are doing it.

The first step was to do my research. I checked online and in books to find a chart that showed me how much seed I would need per person. I found one such chart in a book called, "Getting More From Your Garden". I don't remember the author at this moment but will find out and post the information later. In the book, the chart even gives the plant spacing and now many 50 ft. Rows the seed amount would plant. Our garden's raised rows are about 14 inches wide, so I am able to do several rows of carrots, beets, or other root crops in each row. Things like green beans and peas, I plant as my Dad taught me in double rows about 3 inches apart. This gives you very full plant rows that support each other very well.

The next step was making a list of the vegetables that we eat most often. Let's face it. While many vegetables in a color seed catalog look scrumptious and tempting, in reality most families eat a few basic vegetables on a regular basis. Don't let yourself be caught in the trap of planting everything that looks good. You will end up growing so much variety in your limited garden space that you will run out of the basics long before winter is through. Choose the vegetables that you buy or use most often to start with.

In my planning, I added and extra person to my calculations. This will help in adjusting the amount of harvest if something doesn't produce as much as hoped. For example: we have 4 people in our household. Though the kids are still very young, I don't make any alterations for them since they are both very hearty eaters. The chart said to plant 5 tomato plants per person. I planted 24 tomato plants which is the 20 plants that a family of 4 requires + 4 extra plants which is nearly enough for 1 additional person. I would have planted 25 (5 people x 5 plants each) but the tomato plants came 6 plants per pack and the 4 packs gave me the 24 plants total. I chose a couple of tomato varieties that are known in our area to give heavy yields of harvest. I have 12 Roma and 12 marglobe tomato plants. Both are excellent varieties for canning. That is another issue that I try to pay attention to. If I am going to all the work of planting, tending, harvesting, and canning the vegetables I want to be sure that I am using varieties that work well for canning.

Next, I am taking a look at herbs and spices. There are many that I use on a regular basis in my cooking. We also are a family who loves to drink herb teas. I am now compiling a list of the herbs I use most often and seeking out the information of which ones will grow well in our area. I want to grow as many as possible. We have a front yard that we are going to turn into our "pretty" yard where all the flowering plants will be planted. I am setting aside the area nearest my kitchen to plant the herb garden. We have a large bush that blocks the kitchen window on the north side of the house that we are going to cut down. I am wanting to put my herb garden in that area. It gets a lot of partial shade through the day and should do well for the herbs. I also like that it is near the kitchen's back door. This will make the location convenient when I need to gather fresh herbs for a recipe.

Our vegetable garden is going to be approximately 88 ft. x 108 ft. in size. There will be a total of 17 wide rows and a 4-row patch for growing the sweet corn. Some of the row spacing is much further apart than others to allow the squash and pumpkin vines to have room to travel. The squash and pumpkins, along with cucumbers will be planted in rows of "hills" with about 5 seeds per hill.

I decided to plant the sweet potatoes in a bin. I am planting the sweet potato slips in there so that I can plant them deep by adding soil or mulch as the plants gain height. The higher the soil is piled on, the more root & tubers will be produced. This will prevent the problem of the tubers growing in hard soil also.

Overall, this will be a large project but we are going about it smart. The ground between the raised rows is being covered in a thick layer of mulch that we were given by a tree cutting service. They needed a place to dump the chopped up tree limbs, so we asked them to dump it at our homestead. We now have more than enough mulch for our garden. The mulch will be on the raised rows to prevent any weed growth. Once the vegetable plants are up and we have removed any weeds, the mulch will be added around all plants to hold in the water during the hot summer and to prevent weeds. This will make the garden maintenance much easier to manage. At season's end, the mulch will remain until the garden in tilled the next spring.

I know that a large garden can be overwhelming and very labor intensive. With a well thought out plan and good weed prevention techniques, you can have the large garden without spending your entire summer weeding it. The few weeds that may appear can be quickly dealt with.

I hope that this helps to explain how we are doing our garden. Feel free to email me or ask questions. I will try to answer as best as I am able.


May the Lord's blessings be with thee,


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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Ol' Time Homemaking - How did they do it?

I have always been in awe of the Amish women who were living the same or similar lifestyle as what my Grandma used to talk about when she was growing up. Today, I find myself living that way of life in many areas. It has been enlightening to see over the past 18 months just how much we relied on electricity and modern conveniences to accomplish our daily tasks.

This has been a time of great reflection and having to be adaptable to making changes and alterations. Speaking from my own perspective, I have had to not only change the methods in which I do my daily tasks, but I have had to rethink my priorities.

I remember watching shows like "Little House on the Prairie" and wondering how Ma got it all done. She was tending the home, children, garden, feed and gather eggs from the chickens, and on a regular basis would make the long walk to town. She would sew her family's clothing or other necessities and still be able to help neighbors when needed. She was in many ways like that goal that I would like to strive for, but leaves me stretching to get anywhere close to achieving. Is it an unrealistic goal? Not really. Our Grandmothers and previous generations of women did it in their lives. What is missing is the example today of just "how" they managed their time and work.

This is where I am today. I see what has worked over the past 18 months and what needs to be tweaked and altered to make the tasks easier to manage. There are 3 constant changes that occur in our life. The first is the needs of the children. As they get a little older, Abbie is able to do more for herself but Micah still is need of a great deal of assistance. This will change and evolve over the upcoming years. As it does, they will be able to help out to some degree but there will be the added task of their homeschool education. The second area is the seasons. I have found that the 4 seasons of homesteading are Planting, Garden Weeding & Tending, Harvest, and Planning for the next Planting. In the warmer months when we have more daylight, I have the opportunity to work longer hours each day. This can be a double-edged sword. While the longer hours can be a blessing, you are exhausted by sundown. In winter when you have shorter daylight hours, you have to cut back on your activities so that you are not having to use a lot of lamp oil to complete your work in early hours or at night. The third area is the weather. Of all the areas where I am forced to be flexible, this is the roughest for me. Spring, for example, is our wet season. Last year, we had 21 days straight of rain. Doing laundry became a challenge. I had to wash daily and hang the clothes indoors to dry. Sometimes it would take more than one day for the laundry to dry. All this goes back to my original question - how did they do it in the ol' days?

Grandma once told me of how they had a set routine. Have you ever seen the samplers that assigned a specific task to each day of the week? This was a reality in many homes. Their days began early. Gram was always up before the children. I remember Dad telling stories to me about it being dark outside when Grandpa would wake them for morning chores. Grandma would already be cooking breakfast at the stove when the boys came downstairs. Having only the 3 sons, Grandma didn't have the help of any daughters to prepare meals or tend to the household. She simply did what needed tending each day. Gram had a routine that she followed fairly closely. It wasn't so rigid that she could help a neighbor or change her plans if the weather prevented her from doing a task. The routine was structured enough though to allow her to get it all done in a timely manner. If weather was a factor, then she simply did her best to work around it. She was forced to be resourceful.

One lesson that I learned from her was that the more of the old ways that you incorporate into your life, the more of the modern attitudes that you have to leave behind. Contrary to popular belief, you don't have to have a house full of "stuff" to be happy. We have found that by removing excess in our lives, we are actually happier. We are more productive in our work and the children are happier to play with each other. We are seeing the side benefit that Micah's autism is becoming less of an issue due in a large part to the time we (especially his sister) play and interact with him. Gram was able to do more each day because she didn't have the distractions. No TV or other electronic entertainment source to keep her from her tasks. Yes, they had a radio, but it was enjoyed in the evenings when choring was done. She also didn't have the ability to just up and go somewhere in the car whenever she got the urge to do so. She was home and able to get the work done.

Gram made the comment to me often when I was visiting with her that she learned to work as she rested. One good example was when we would sit on the porch on a hot summer afternoon and snap the green beans for dinner. We sat out there on the porch swing and did a task that needed doing, but were able to talk and enjoy the time. I seldom saw Gram ever just sit. She always had some task that could be done while she was sitting down. I wonder if that is where my low threshold for boredom comes from? When we had a TV, I rarely could sit through a movie without getting up often to take care of something, much to my dear husband's dismay.

It still amazes me to think about the amount of work people had to do in the ol' days. How spoiled we are! I am still working to be more effective in my daily routines. It is a constant work in process. It will continue to be in the years to come. As I get more proficient in a task, it will take less time to accomplish it. The children will be a help as they grow older and can work along side of Joe and I.

The main focus for me today is to not let the question of how to get it all done become a distraction or discouragement. It can be a guidepost to measure myself by when I see how much more I get accomplished today when compared to a year ago. So it must be with all of us. Look at the question as a method to learn. Search out the answers that work for you and your situation, then make the necessary changes to your own way of doing things.

When our ancestors were living the non-electric lifestyle, they had to learn the ropes as children and grow in knowledge and experience. As modern-day homesteaders, we are much like those children. We are having to learn a different way of doing things. It takes time and patience. Easier said than done? Yes, but it can be achieved.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Changes & Goals

Our homestead is preparing to make a major change. You know the saying that there is a season for everything? For us, our season of having sheep is coming to an end. When we started out with them, it was for the purpose of raising them for their meat. With my being unable to eat any meat, the reason for having them is just not there. Joe asked me about it and we are in agreement that we only want to raise animals that we can make use of. So, what are we doing? A good friend and neighbor who sold us the older pair of sheep has offered to take the sheep to an auction and sell them for us. He sells his own sheep there and feels he can get us a good price for them.

We are going to take this year to fix the fencing on the back pasture and build any animal housing that we need. Currently, our back pasture that makes up over half our land is not being used. We are going to repair and add any fencing needed to make that pasture usable for grazing. We have several building projects to work on. We need a large coop for chickens and turkeys, a shelter for larger livestock, and possibly a sheltered area for storing hay and other livestock feed. We will spend this year making preparations for buying new animals over the following 2 years.

Poultry is a definite choice for us. While I may not be able to eat the meat, we do use a lot of eggs. Joe and the kids can eat the meat. We are planning to buy a nice sized flock of chickens to give us enough eggs for our family and to sell. We would like to buy turkeys. The turkeys and any extra chickens will be sold in the autumn season. We are finding that there are people who are willing to either butcher the poultry themselves or take them to a butcher shop to be prepared.

Dairy livestock is the other choice we have made. It is still undecided if we are going to get dairy goats or a cow and bull. We are looking at all options. Either would work, though a cow might be easier to deal with in the long run. Only one milk cow would give us plenty of milk for our own use and a bit extra to share with others. If we get dairy goats, Joe will have more than one animal to milk by hand twice a day.

One area of focus this year is the garden. We want to get a workable system set up. Due to the problems of spring rains flooding the garden area, the garden must be planted in raised rows that run north/south. This will allow the excess water to be channeled downhill and out of the garden. Joe is wanting to finish putting some form of fencing or barrier around the garden's perimeter to prevent animals from enjoying the banquet.

Of course, we still have other goals to accomplish this summer. Some of our upcoming projects that we are planning are:

      1. Remodel the bathroom before winter

      2. Build a larger & better located outdoor privy

      3. Fence in the side yard for the kids' play area

      4. Set up and outdoor kitchen before summer's heat arrives

      5. Lower the ceiling in the house from 9' to 8' to help with heating in winter

      6. Set up a heat source in the back (unheated) portion of the house

It is uncertain how much of these things will get finished by winter, but we are hoping to accomplish as much as possible. Some will be easy and done in a day or two while others will take much longer. We will be doing the work ourselves and as we have the cash to buy materials. This takes longer, but it feels great to know that we did it without putting ourselves into the bondage of debt.

As I am able, I am wanting to sell fresh baked breads and cookies again. I was able to help us earn a little extra through my baking last summer. Though the money made is not large amounts, it is enough to help. It is surprising how many people want to buy the fresh baked goods. Even more surprising is that they are willing to pay a fair price for it.

With all the changes, this looks to be a very busy summer. Most of the work will need to be done before winter's cold weather arrives. We are realistic in that we know that some of the plans may have to be altered as the season progresses. That is fine. We will do what we are able and the Lord will provide a way for the essentials to be accomplished.

May the Lord's blessings be with you,