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Changes To The Blog

After not having written a post since March, I wondered why I was not interested in doing so, or why I hadn’t. My conclusion was that the blog needed an update.

For those of you who follow us, you may notice that the blog address is different as well as the name of the blog. “Conserver Life” instead of  homesteading 101.

We are still what we consider homesteaders. But our focus as homesteaders, I have been finding, has been leaning more towards not spending money and doing as many things as we can ourselves.

Actually, most of my past posts are about that, but I always felt I needed to stay true to the original idea for this blog so I tried to make it revolve around homesteading specifically. Now the blog will move even more towards not spending money as homesteaders and as non-homesteaders.

I really appreciate all of you! Thank you!

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Starting To Plant Indoors

This year we have planted some of our starts early. We’re did this because we’re experimenting with growing conditions to see if we can get some early lettuce for one. That is one food plant that we don’t buy from the store.

It’s amazing how quickly seeds will sprout in the sun, now that the sun is stronger at this time of year. Unfortunately, they sprouted faster than I had thought they would and got quite leggy. After several days in the full sun from 9 am to about 5 pm the lettuce plants have thickened up.

We have them on a table that we move from window to window to get the best view of the sun. Our plan was to set up artificial light, but so far we have not done that. The sun seems to be enough. We have east facing in the morning and south facing in the afternoon.

There are several plants that survived the winter, and a few that didn’t. We lost two rosemary plants, the thyme, a pepper and a parsley. I have one pepper left which has aphids, but none have reached maturity because of being squished by my thumb and forefinger and getting regular showers. That’s working very well.

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The lettuce has grown considerably.

If you compare the picture of the pepper below with the one in the featured image above, it’s clear that there has been quite a bit of change. It’s now blooming. I have hand pollinated it, and now there are small peppers forming. I also pinched a couple of blooms to reduce the number in order to lessen the stress on the plant. As you can see, the leaves are still fairly small.

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This week I will be planting our peppers – sweet and hot – for our spring starts sale and to grow for ourselves and for sale. It definitely feels like spring here now.

Happy Planting!

How We Reduced Our Food Spending

Last month I told you about how we are attempting to spend less money on food. The result of our February experiment was that we spent $280 for the month which ended up being $109 less than February last year (2017). It’s also consistent with the $10 a day spending experiment that I have been doing to see if it is possible to eat well for $10 per day for two people. It IS possible.

The main things that made this possible were the following:

Eating in season. We bought blueberries when they were in season in the summer at a great price and then froze them for use now. We also froze most of our own fruit, including currants, raspberries and apples.

Not buying convenience foods. This is an obvious one. Convenience foods may look cheaper to start with but they are used up faster because the quality is poor. You end up spending more because you have to repurchase more often.

Eating a bit less. There is nothing wrong with eating less. I found this quite liberating. We were eating better quality food, and therefore not needing to eat as much because there were no cravings.

Cooking everything for ourselves. This is a must. I have found that eating at restaurants is actually not that fun for me. It’s really for convenience. I prefer the food that we make for ourselves, for the taste, the control of the quality, and time spent together. I know where the food is coming from and what goes in it.

Having a garden. Naturally, growing your own food is going to save you a bundle. It is more work for sure, but the quality of the food, at least in our case, is superior to anything we’d buy from the store.

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The Coming Months

We are continuing our spending freeze on food for the next two months at least to see if it can be kept up. We are definitely going to run out of potatoes this year but that should be about it and not sure if we’ll buy from the store when we do. We’d only buy if they are locally grown potatoes so we can’t predict if there will be many or any to buy in the spring.

Our source for meat is local, which provides us with grass fed beef, humanely slaughtered on farm, so we don’t need to buy meat at the store. This also saves us money. Even though we don’t eat much meat, I eat it for the energy it provides me. Not every one needs to do this but by the same token, not everyone can be healthy by eating only plants.

As an aside, but following the nutritional topic, our dogs eat a raw meat and whole food diet (no kibble or canned dog food). We are able to keep their meal costs to $100 per dog per month (more or less, as the dogs are different sizes and eat accordingly) which is extremely good.

So, all in all, our experiment is providing us with an interesting and useful pastime with a very good result so far.

Getting Things Done In The New Year

Happy 2018 everyone! I know we’re well into the year but I guess it’s still on my mind a bit.

I know everyone has had a productive last year on some fronts, maybe not all, but that is part of the fun of homesteading – knowing that there are a lot of things to do and that you’ll have more to do when the current projects are done.

On our village homestead, we did actually accomplish some things that were left undone for a couple of years. Once these things were done, we had some time on our hands to relax and enjoy, well, relaxing.

Ernie built the greenhouse he had been wanting to build, I did potted plant experiments in the greenhouse, and we did a lot of upkeep on our properties that was needing to be done like cut down trees and fixing fencing.

The last two years before 2017 and early in that year were trying with the arrival of my brother who had major health issues and the loss of four of our dogs. My response to these things was to not really want to do anything much, so a lot of stuff that needed to be done was left.

We also got Ira our Kuvasz in 2016 and then JoJo the Aussie in July of 2017. These guys kept me distracted from negative stuff.

Ernie did a lot of construction, removing an old deck and renovating a porch. He also built and expanded deck on my aunt’s house which was desperately needed there.

Enough about 2017.

This year we actually made a list of goals for 2018.

This is strange to me because I have a habit of assuming that things will happen if they happen and not because I want them to.  I’ve always thought that way. I know this is an unproductive, negative thinking habit and not accurate at all. That’s why we made the list – as an experiment to see what would happen if we thought positively and took action regarding getting things done.

Check out a video of the 2018 list below if you have time.

The catch is you actually do have to take action. Yes, it does work when you believe that you can do something. Taking action becomes so much easier then. I have never really taken this to heart until last year.

This applies to pretty much everything, including training dogs which is something I do everyday.  Knowing what you want to train your dog to do, and actually doing the work are the two main obstacles to getting results. I think many people see how long it is taking and how long it will take and quit too soon. This is possibly partly a product of our fast-paced lifestyles.

Another thing I have found that works to help get things done in a big way is starting a project and doing it to completion, not stopping and starting up later. Dealing with the pressure of not being able to get up and distract myself with something else has helped in my understanding of why I often find it difficult to get things done (that).

So instead of getting up and doing something else as a reward for writing only one paragraph, I continue writing until something is done. I didn’t even know which way this article was heading until I started writing, and since I wasn’t able to stop, I figured something out.

The only real way I have found to know for sure if a new way of thinking or a habit will work for me is to do it for a while. I have had some amazing results with this tactic even though it’s only been a couple of months.

So we have been able to accomplish some things in the short amount of time that is this year here on our ON GRID homestead.

The only thing I HAVE to do right now though is let the dogs out to do their business.

Believe.

Making Our Own Vinegar

This fall I decided to try making vinegar.

This is part of  my goal to be able to make more of what we eat from our own produce, and to teach people locally how to do this.

I know, I know, I just wrote a post about doing homesteading the way you want and not trying to do things just like a “real” homesteader.  I still want to do that though. It’s not that I would necessarily rely on making our own vinegar all the time, but I think it’s important to be able to know how to do it.

That means we need to try to make it ourselves.

This fall we had an abundance of apples. I mean a LOT. So after we used up and froze as many as we could I decided it was a go on the vinegar.

I used chunks of apple, not fruit scraps, just because we had that many apples and we didn’t need to process any more whole ones. We cored and chopped enough to fill the jar we were going to use and put in a honey/water brine. I weighed down the apples with a regular drinking glass and a shooter glass inside that.

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I tbubbled away for a little more than a week and started to smell like alcohol – the desired result of the first part of making vinegar.

I think I left it a little too long because the apples started to brown and some of the liquid evaporated from the jar. Below is the result of the this first part of the process. Here I am getting ready to filter the liquid through a linen cloth.

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I thought it should be a bit clearer than it turned out, but it SMELLS right, so I’m going to keep going with it. This picture is the final liquid after the filtering.

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I am storing it on a shelf in the corner of the kitchen out of the light in a glass casserole dish.

We’ll see what happens in a few months. Hopefully it won’t take too long. I’ll post an update when it is ready.

Happy Homesteading – however you do it!

What Is REAL Homesteading Anyway?

Today, Ernie was told that some local people who live off grid are doing “real” homesteading.

Now see, that ticks me off.

If we’re talking about REAL homesteading, my great-grandparents were “REAL” homesteaders.

They came to this country (Canada) with NOTHING, got crappy land and built a life from NOTHING.

That is”REAL” homesteading.

What people do today is also homesteading but you can do it however you darn well please. Homesteading today is using some (or all if you wish) of the traditional ways of our ancestors when they came to this part of the world, incorporated with new ways of living such as solar energy, newly developed seeds and plants and perhaps working at a really good job.

There is no one way to do it.

There are no such things as “real homesteaders” anymore. Homesteaders are people who decide that they are homesteaders. It can be in mind or in physical reality. It doesn’t matter.

I just wanted to clarify that.

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Harvest Is (Well) Over

Last night we had a killing frost. Not that there was much on the garden. Just Brussels Sprouts, Rhubarb, some beans drying, and Horseradish of course.

Inside the house, however, is a different story. Mostly with regards to the tomatoes. In fact it seems that everyone in our area had a bumper tomato crop and we can’t give the things away.

So we’re canning juice, freezing ketchup and plain tomatoes and making soup. We were able to reduce the bags of frozen tomatoes from last year to zero, but we still have over 30 jars of canned tomatoes from last year in the cellar.

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Update:

We decided to stop processing the tomatoes because we have enough. This is the total of what we put away:

29 canning quart jars of juice

11 large freezer bags of whole tomatoes

10 reused peanut butter jars of marinara sauce

18 pb jars or ketchup

and we have some romas still in the fridge for fresh eating.

and again this is added to the 29 canned jars already in the cellar.

Nuts, I know.

Next year we will not be planting tomatoes. Well, OK we’ll plant a few for fresh fruit but that’s it.

We did have some left and Ernie took them to his sister who doled them out at the Drop-In and to immediate family that needed some. That went over quite well and none were wasted.

About The Garlic

I planted the garlic by myself this year. Ernie was busy with other things so I did all the planting, which is fine.

We bought new garlic seed this year from professional garlic growers. Marino, Gaia’s Joy and Northern Quebec are the names. This garlic is prairie adapted to our area.

We also purchase new seed from the organic vegetable farmer we originally bought from years ago and found out that he buys seed every year from a different province. This means it is not prairie adapted and would likely explain why we are having trouble with it.

We will therefore be reducing the plantings of this variety – I can’t remember what he said the name of it was – in favour of smaller types of garlic produced locally.

Altogether I planted 250 cloves in three different locations. Below is a picture of the new garlic bed. The chairs and pail are to help prevent the dogs from running through it.

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Peppers Were Successful

We had a pretty good crop of peppers considering we didn’t plant as many as two years ago. There were enough to put away quite a few containers in the freezer. Peppers are on par here with garlic with regards to importance. We have decided to up the pepper production next year.

We now have a good method of starting, transplanting and increasing speed of production for our area. Pepper tents are a must here and work wonders.

peppersAnd of course cabbage, herbs, beans, peas were all good this year as well. We left most of our beans to dry and will do that next year as well. Neither of us care much for processed beans, so we will only be eating fresh.

We had trouble with corn since it was so dry and grass bound so they were stunted. But they gave a little produce anyway.

And the potatoes. Well, lets say we’ll be buying in the spring. This year was so dry that we got half of what we had last year. We need to plant in a different location next year as well and make a few soil amendments that I will discuss at a later date.

So that’s it for the garden. Now on to other homestead things like cooking and eating, crafts and art and small town life. And maybe a bit of travelling. And writing…

Happy homesteading!

DIY Garlic and Herb Dehydrator

This is the second year that we are using our homemade dehydrator.

Last year we used it to dry garlic for garlic powder and it worked amazingly well. We will still use it for that purpose, but right now I am using it to dry my herbs.

To make a dehydrator all you need is a container with shelves, some trays and some air flow. We had a big cardboard box in the shed. Ernie built an insert with scrap wood to hold two trays, then cut a hole in the top back of the box to promote air flow.

The table is an old coffee table that we had in storage, and the trays are screens from old windows that are long gone. All saved items. The only thing that is new is the heater/fan. We use it on the no heat setting to move the air. A regular fan could be used if that is what you have.

This dehydrator works very well. Obviously you have to turn the herbs or garlic occasionally to promote even drying but that’s no problem.

Yes, it looks weird and is not appropriate for some decor (lol), but who cares. It was free and more junk is not getting put into the landfill.

The garlic we use with this is what we know will not last the whole winter because there were worms in them or they drying out.

Never throw out garlic by the way, unless it is mouldy. Even if you have a small amount you can slice it into small pieces, put it on a plate, and let it air dry, turning it regularly. When it is dry, chop it in a small grinder or use a mortar and pestle.

The herbs dry faster in this than just being air dried, but we using both methods on all of our herbs.

Isn’t it much better to know where your garlic powder and dried herbs come from and how they were processed rather than buying them?

We think so.

Happy Homesteading!

 

Eating Well On Little Money Part 2

Over a year ago, I did an experiment of sorts in my kitchen. Using the local Co-op weekly sales flyer, I chose food items up to $10 per day to see if a family of two could feed itself well on that amount.

The problem I have found is that eating “well” is a subjective term. Some people think that eating well means eating at restaurants or buying as much convenience food as they want. OR it could mean a certain quality or price of food.

All this is just avoiding learning how to eat well for less. It can be done.

To remind ourselves from the last post: The daily food purchases for Day One and Day Two are as follows:

Day 1: Eggs, Butter, Pasta (made from white flour, not great but that is what we used for now), Salt.

From this you could eat for the day and if you did have some condiments such as ketchup or left over from previous purchases of food you could use those to spruce things up.

At our food store, this all cost $9.54 cents. At other stores you could get it for less, I’m sure, but that is not part of the project.

The point is use what is available.

The belief is often that you can’t eat well and cheap, locally.

Day 2: Carrots, Banana, Potatoes, Onion, Barley. Cost: $10.00

With the ingredients from these two days, I made a vegetable soup that was unbelievably good.

So now you have pasta and soup with some fruit.

We figured out that our soup cost us 38 cents a serving while a store brand, canned, cream of mushroom soup cost about 24 cents. However, the nutritional content of the canned soup is clearly lower. Eating this canned food is NOT what I would call eating well.

I expect that some people don’t know how to make soup from scratch, and therefore think that they have to buy canned and therefore can’t eat well.

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The key to eating this way is to learn how to cook. It’s as simple as that, or as difficult.

Cooking for oneself takes time and effort, just like anything else worthwhile.  Our society has moved away from that. The focus is on ready made, packaged foods. You get addicted to these. They are part of the disconnect between how people work and how people live. They are easy and simple – and not nourishing.

I am not saying this to point the finger of blame at anyone or of how people live, just a statement of fact. My goal is to educate people to see that it is not as difficult as they might believe and to encourage a bit more food security into their lives – learning how to prepare their own food. That is the whole point of this blog.

Many people go to jobs daily that suck the life out of them. They are then exhausted and don’t have the energy to prepare good food for themselves. There is a different way.

This happened to Ernie during his working life in the big city. Work was from 7 am to 3 pm. Luckily his commute was only about 20 mins each way, but at the end of the work day he would go home and sleep for an hour before eating a meal or two hours after the meal. When he changed his life from working at this job, his food selections changed as well.

Working at something you don’t feel good about or are not connected with depletes your energy just like eating crappy food. I know, I’ve done both.

If you feel defensive when reading this post you may not be secure in your food or other choices. Please don’t post a negative comment. The intention is not to try and insult you (I am not that much in control of your thinking anyway ;-).

There are people who need help and it is to those people that this post is directed. Thanks you.

I will continue this experiment as planned and post the results here shortly – with a few modifications. Day 3 and 4 will be posted on soon.

Garlic – Our Most Important Garden Plant

Two years ago, we had an almost complete garlic crop failure. At the time, we had been selling some and building up the seed so we could have even more to sell. This also happened to many other people including local garlic growers and organic vegetable farmers, although they were not almost wiped out as we were.

All that disappeared in one winter. The cause: very little snow cover.

Not only did the garlic suffer but most of the plants that usually seed themselves also did not come back. We usually had volunteer spinach – a lot of it – and it all died out. Even the dill and cilantro was reduced in numbers.

But the most severe effect was on the garlic.

This year we have a nice patch growing but there will be little if any for sale. Last year we did have some that we made garlic powder from in our homemade dehydrator. That can go a long way but you always need fresh garlic. What extra we will have is already sold to the first people who asked in the spring this year.

If they miss out, it will be first come first serve.

Most of this year’s crop will go to seed for next year.

 

I was also able to find some of the small garlic “seeds” among the cloves which I planted in a herb bed. They’re doing amazing and should give us some second year bulbs. There are about 20 or so plants. I had TWO second year garlic bulb which I put in another herb bed and both came up.

This is the first time I have followed our garden plants this closely, so I should be able to keep track a bit better what we have.

The most important thing when planting garlic for yourself (which I encourage EVERYONE to do) is buy good seed and plant in the fall. Many people have called us over the years to ask why their garlic didn’t amount to anything. There are two reasons.

ONE: They are buying garlic from the grocery store to use for seed.

Garlic from the store may be treated with something to prevent germination. If it is not, it is still not appropriate to plant because it is not acclimatized to where you are planting.

TWO: They’re planting the seed in the spring.

This does not give the garlic enough time to come up and produce really good heads. They need that early start, especially in continental climates that have cold winters.

So aside from all the garlic troubles of the past, the garlic that we have is doing well and we are on the way to our goal of restocking our seed garlic and having enough to sell.

We were able to harvest and sell some of the garlic scapes from these plants, which were very nice, and I put the rest of them away for ourselves for the winter. I use them in soups, stews and sauces, omelettes. Just about anything really.

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This August we will purchase new seed of a variety that is known to the seller. When I purchased the seed for what we have now, I neglected to ask what the name was, so it is just large purple garlic.

I can’t imagine what it would be like to have absolutely NO garlic at all for a year. I don’t and won’t buy from the store unless I know it it local, so hopefully this problem won’t happen again.

Garlic is our most important garden plant.