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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And 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…
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.
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.
We have two oregano beds that survived the winter. This plant is interesting because it is obviously not native to this region, yet is survives our ridiculously difficult winters. There is always some die-back and some sections of the beds don’t come back, but they always spread.
Both of our oregano beds have a north facing exposure so this is even more interesting to me. Because this herb is so useful, it is a good idea for everyone to plant a little and dry some for use in the off season.
This year I am planting more because of our venture into market gardening. The old beds needed refreshing so I harvested as much as I could very early. The stems were very short but I pinched them down to the ground.
The second bed has even more to be harvested which has yet to be done. All of this will be dried for our own use. The first batch I dried on an old cookie sheet but the second harvest will be dried in our homemade dehydrator.
The remaining beds will be removed, some good sections will be replanted in different locations, and the dead sections composted. The roots on these plants are VERY tough and difficult for me to even get a shovel into. This must be why they are so good at surviving the winters here.
I use oregano in many different things that we eat like the obvious – pizza, tomato sauce, salsa, salad, etc. but I also put some in my dog’s food – dried of fresh – from time to time.
Some people believe that giving greens to dogs is a not species appropriate but I don’t think that at all. In small amounts this and other culinary herbs are a benefit to dogs. I have been using them for years with no issues. Dogs that are not used to things like this should be started on them slowly using COMMON SENSE.
So I harvested quite a bit of early oregano for drying and now that is something I don’t have to think about for the rest of the summer. We have as much as we need for ourselves so I can concentrate on selling the rest.
Our main focus on the village homestead is to reduce consumption of stuff we don’t need. That doesn’t include what we eat though.
We are actually increasing the amount of vegetables, including herbs that we grow ourselves. This means we need more containers for planting, growing medium and trays to put the containers in. We also need more space.
This year we decided it was time to have a greenhouse to support these plants. Since finally starting a business dealing with herbs and garlic, I felt it was now unavoidable to build one.
Ernie drew up a couple of plans and looked in a few books and we designed a greenhouse based on where it will be situated and the materials we had. We wanted to use as much of what we already had as possible.
Using What We Have
Over the years, Ernie has saved old windows that were replaced on the house, all kinds of wood, pieces of siding, nails and screws, and many other things that might come in handy for building. The only things that we were missing for this project were the concrete for the footing (which we didn’t really need), the roofing, which will be purchased fibreglass panels and some miscellaneous pieces of wood like some studs and a piece of plywood.
The door is even the old front door from the house. Nothing goes to waste.
We chose a slanted roof because it would be more efficient for collecting water. The tall side is north facing and has the door but no windows. There will be enough light from the other three sides. Rain water will be collected on the one side or go into the raspberries in the ground around the greenhouse. Water will not collect on the north side where we will be entering.
My plan is to grow certain plants in the greenhouse all summer. These will be the tomatoes that I want to save seeds from in particular (heirloom), and some herbs that need the heat.
Since the building is not completed yet, I will be posting again on the progress and then on how I am filling it up with plants. Ernie figures it should be done over the weekend.
We don’t make sauerkraut every year but this year we had to because of all the cabbages that decided to grow.
For this process we have a ceramic crock that Ernie’s mom used. It is a large high – sided pot really, that was made in Medicine Hat Alberta, Canada. Ernie’s parents were given this crock in 1967 by neighbours but we really don’t know how old it is.
For things like that I just call them “vintage”.
This year we used 18 heads of cabbage for sauerkraut. We also used some of our own onions and of course, coarse salt.
Sauerkraut is so simple. And so tasty. And good for you. So we have decided to make more of an effort to use what we make. Often we forget that we have it, and it gets left over from year to year. This year though I think we have run out so our crock full will definitely get eaten.
Many of you already make this food but I will go over it again anyway because you can do it with almost any container, just on you counter.
Chop or coarsely grate (we grate) the cabbage into the container to about 2 inches or 5 centimetres. Add some onion and the appropriate amount of pickling salt. For us it was 2 tablespoons per layer of cabbage.
Then we filled the container about 3/4 full. As he went along, Ernie would squish the cabbage in his hands to get the juices out.
Once done filling the crock a clean pail full of water was used to weigh down the cabbage to stay underneath the liquid. Ernie cut two pieces of pine board to fit on top of the cabbage inside the crock that the pail sits on.
Check out my video below to see all the steps.
In the past, Ernie’s mom used to use a board similar to what we use, only she weighed it down with a big rock that they had found here in the yard. I opted for the pail although I’m sure there are many things that could be used to do this job.
Ernie kept tasting the cabbage to check it for sourness over the next two weeks or so. Once it reached what he figured was ready, he squeezed the liquid out by hand and packaged it for freezing.
Not difficult to do at all, and so very good for you.
Since our homestead is in a village, we have a restricted amount of space that we homestead on. Obviously it is going to be smaller than most. We have in total about one and 1/4 acres.
Normally one would think that you can’t do much on a small property and I used to believe that too. We have found though, that anything you want can be grown or produced even on a small homestead. It is similar to what the amazing things you can do with a can of paint for redecorating or how you can live in a tiny house, which we know that many people do.
Below are the things I have come up with that work for us the best when trying produce food on a small homestead.
We make use of all the space we have. This one is clearly the most important and actually includes most of the ones below. This space includes everything. Cupboard space, yard space, garden space, and any storage space. I guess we could always do better but for the most part, we get creative about storing things.
We don’t buy something if we can make it or do without. Buying things takes storage space. We don’t have storage space. It really is the same as living in a tiny house. You just don’t have room for the extra stuff.
An example of things like this are machines of all kinds. We bought a new riding lawnmower out of necessity and definitely had to have a place to park it indoors. The only shed that it will fit in is off the ground about a foot, so Ernie had to make a ramp – out of scrap wood of course – to drive it into the shed. So now the shed is mostly taken up with this lawn mower and to put up another shed will take space away from the garden so there is basically no more room for any new machinery. Luckily we don’t need a tractor, yet. Anyway I think you get the idea. We have no room for boats, cars, or fun toys etc. We do without those.
We only plant what we know we will eat. This way food will not go to waste and the space won’t be taken up by something we don’t need and put to good use growing what we do need.
We grow some of our vegetables upwards. Cucumbers and peas are planted on vertical fencing or lines to have them grow upwards. We also are fussy about pinching the tomatoes – taking the sprouts out of the branches so that the plants grow more upwards and don’t sprawl all over the place. This all saves space in the garden.
We make changes if something doesn’t work out the way we thought it would. If we do have something on the homestead that we thought we would like or might be useful but it turned out not being needed or not working out, we change it as soon as possible.
For example, we bought a gooseberry bush several years ago and put it in the back yard. Unfortunately, the dogs were also in the back yard often and would run into it regularly. Luckily no one was injured as they have thick coats. They would also EAT the berries before we had a chance to pick them. So we moved the bush to a totally different location and now it is growing well and producing so that we can use the berries.
So, producing big on a small homestead is mostly about creative use of space. If we had livestock, we would still be able to house them and feed them with what we have now. We would just keep it to the scale that is appropriate for the size of the property. I have said it before that homesteaders are pros at adapting to new environments. I also believe we are pros are being creative with what we have.