Should You Clip Your Chickens’ Wings? (The Answer May Surprise You)

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Should You Clip Your Chickens’ Wings? (The Answer May Surprise You)

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There are a lot of decisions to be made when keeping poultry, and whether or not to clip chickens’ wings to prevent the birds from flying is one of the choices that must be made.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Although clipping chicken wings does not cause harm or pain to the bird, it is always my last resort. I believe in allowing animals to retain as much of their natural state as practicable, but chicken wings do sometimes need to be clipped. Whatever your philosophy, here are some points to be considered as you make the decision that works best for you and your flock.

The reason this is a consideration at all is because chickens, of course, fly. They don’t fly very high or well or for more than short bursts at a time, but they do fly. They can clear fences, and that is where they can get into trouble. For many homesteaders, the reason for fencing is as much to keep predators and other dangers out as it is to keep chickens and livestock in. And if the chickens fly over the fence and out of their safe enclosure, the fence cannot do its job to protect them.

There are certain chicken housing methods that make it unnecessary to clip wings.

For example, some enclosures are covered. This not only prevents avian predation and discourages nimble ground predators from climbing up and over the fence but also keeps domestic birds from escaping. If your chickens live in a covered pen, there is no need to consider clipping their wings.

Another reason chickens would not need to have their wings clipped is if they do not have an enclosure at all. If they are truly free-range — let out of the chicken coop at dawn and allowed to spend their days roaming wherever strikes them — there is no practical reason to restrict them from flying. In fact, free-range homestead chickens are better off with both wings completely intact, allowing them to fly up out of danger to tree branches and other high places when threatened.

And, of course, chickens that are kept indoors except for when under direct supervision by humans or trained guard animals do not need to have their wings clipped.

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It is significant to note that all chickens do not fly over fences. It is more difficult for some breeds and individuals than it is for others, and some chickens simply choose not to fly.  Therefore, if your chickens have not flown out already and are making no attempts to do so, it may not be essential to clip their wings.

Should You Clip Your Chickens’ Wings? (The Answer May Surprise You)

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In many instances, chickens can be trained not to fly over the fence by simply putting them back in when they get out. Chickens tend to follow the leader, so if one bird flies out, the rest are likely to try it. The earlier you can catch the first few fence-flyers and retrain them, the better.

If your chickens do not fall into any of the above categories — completely enclosed including a roof, not enclosed at all, unable to or uninterested in flying, or trained to stay in the pen — then you may need to consider clipping their wings. If it is critical that your birds do not get out of their pen, because of possible predation, proximity to vehicle traffic, or other potential issues. In those scenarios, clipping is probably the best choice for your flock.

When wings must be clipped, it is crucial to do it correctly. Similar to trimming human fingernails, cutting the outer edges is harmless but cutting into the part where blood is flowing causes pain.

Most sources say to clip only one wing, causing an uneven dynamic which prevents the bird from achieving liftoff. This works well on my homestead.

The key components to clipping chicken wings are to stay calm, be sure to clip only the flight feathers, and don’t remove any more than necessary.

The flight feathers are the ones at the ends of the wings, visible when the wing is spread open.  The quills (the rigid tubes down the center) of wing feathers are white or clear. This is an important distinction from other feathers which have dark-colored quills and can bleed heavily if you cut them. It is a good idea to have blood-stop powder on hand in case you accidentally cut a blood feather, but it is a better idea to take great care and be deliberate in cutting one feather at a time to avoid mistakes. Some chicken literature includes instructions to have pliers on hand and pull a feather that starts bleeding, but I have never had that experience with my chickens.

It is important to use sharp scissors, and helpful to have an assistant on hand to assist with handling the chicken is a real bonus. Make minimal conservative cuts when clipping feathers. You always can cut more off more if needed.

I have read that wing-clipping needs to be done every year as they molt and grow in new feathers. That makes sense, but I have not found it to be true with my flock. The habit of staying in the pen having been developed, it tends to stick with them. I toss the occasional outliers back over the fence in the spring when they first consider straying, and they seem to get over the idea.

By carefully evaluating the needs and habits of your poultry when making the choice about clipping their wings, the birds can stay on the right side of the fence and live long healthy lives.

What is your opinion about clipping wings? What do you do? Share your thoughts in the section below:

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5 Questions You Better Ask Before Buying Garden Seeds

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5 Questions You Better Ask Before Buying Garden Seeds

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Those of us who raise our own vegetables know it involves more than simply sowing spring seeds and reaping the delicious rewards at harvesttime. One of the many gardening tasks which requires thoughtful research and attention is purchasing seeds. If you are contemplating your garden for this season, following are six questions worth consideration.

1. How long do seeds last?

The reason this question should be asked first is because you need to know if last year’s leftover seeds will suffice. The answer varies greatly, depending upon the particular vegetable. Overall, seed longevity is improved by storage in a cool dry place, out of direct light.

Some seeds can be expected to germinate well after having been stored for up to 10 years, most notably those of wheat, sorghum, rice and other grains.

Other types of long-lasting seeds include those in the brassica family—broccoli, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi and Brussels sprouts—which can last about five years. More types of seeds with a longevity of four to five years include cucurbits—cucumbers, pumpkins, squash and some melons—as well as radishes, turnips, celery, Swiss chard, beets and lettuce.

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Depending upon the source of information and the specific cultivar, spinach may be among the longer-lived seeds or among those which last just a year or two, but it has lasted quite well in my personal experience.

The seeds in the nightshade family vary. Eggplant can last up to five years, tomatoes four, and peppers only two.

The midrange seeds—those which last about three years—include beans, peas and carrots.

Some sources say leeks can last up to three years, as well, and other sources place it in the shorter-lived category with its allium relatives such as onions.

In addition to onions and possibly leeks, other short-lived vegetable seeds which can be expected to last only one or two years include corn, okra, parsley, peanuts, salsify and parsnips.

Keep in mind that there are few hard and fast rules about how long each seed might last. The best thing to do is to give them a try, bearing in mind that the older the seeds and the shorter the general viability, the less likely they are to germinate. But there is no harm in trying.

The ideal way to try questionable seeds is to start them indoors well ahead of time and be prepared to replace them with new ones if they do not germinate. If your situation does not allow you that much wiggle room, buy new seeds.

2. How early should they be started indoors?

The type of seeds, your climate, and your growing conditions all play huge roles in figuring out how early to start them.

The absolute best advice here is to follow the directions on the seed packet, in the seed catalog from which you purchased the seeds, or from the greenhouse or retailer who marketed them.

Some seeds allow a great deal of timing latitude. Others do not. One of the most important things to consider is the needs of the plant as it grows and fruits. For example, does it need intense sun to thrive, or will heat cause it to bolt? Does it need long day lengths, or a long-growing season, or warm overnights, or plenty of rain? The timing of what your plant needs should dictate the timing of your seed starting.

5 Questions You Better Ask Before Buying Garden Seeds

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Long-day onions, for example, will form proper bulbs only when there are 15 or more hours of daylight. Since summer day length increases further from the equator, these types of onions are best grown in northern climates. And since the days are longest in late June, onions need to be ready to set bulbs by then. Onions need to be started before most other seeds—as early as March in some regions.

Other vegetables are typically started indoors in order to make sure they fruit before frost. Tomatoes, peppers and eggplant are sensitive even to a light frost, and are usually started indoors well ahead of time. Many types of squashes, cucumbers and melons need to reach their growing peak during the height of summer sun, as well.

With other vegetables, the key factor is growing them early to avoid the heat of summer. Lettuce, spinach, peas and broccoli thrive best in cool conditions, which is why they are planted very early—either started indoors or directly sowed in cold soil—ensuring they will have served their purpose before succumbing to heat.

3. Start them at home or buy seedlings?

Many gardeners do some of both. Economy of scale is a primary factor. The cost per seedling is certainly higher from a greenhouse than starting one’s own, but buying them already started can sometimes be a better value. If a gardener is planning just a tiny plot with a few vegetables, it hardly seems worth the trouble and expense of buying potting materials and running heat lamps, or even buying the packets of seeds. (Then again, it is more fun to plant them indoors.)

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On the other hand, the cost of buying flats of seedlings adds up quickly, and paying someone else to start an entire garden full of vegetables can be an expensive proposition.

Another thing to consider is whether you will be able to find the cultivar you want already started. You may not be able to find specialty items at a commercial greenhouse.

It makes sense to start some of the seeds you’ll use the most of and the specialty varieties you want, and plan to purchase a few flats of additional seedlings when planting time comes.

4. How much is enough?

It is way too easy to get carried away when buying seeds! Perusing the pages of seed catalogs during winter makes gardeners want to buy more seeds than can realistically be managed, in the same way that people load up their buffet plates with more food than they can possibly eat.

5 Questions You Better Ask Before Buying Garden Seeds

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One way to control the temptation to buy one of everything is to choose one or two areas in which to splurge. Pick a couple of favorite vegetables and go wild with cultivars—six kinds of eggplants or four varieties of butternut squash, for example—and commit to restraint with everything else.

Another idea is to allow one new cultivar in each category each season in exchange for discontinuing one from last year, thereby keeping the total volume within reason while still enjoying new items and replacing choices that proved less successful.

Good record-keeping is an excellent way to determine how much is enough and rein in overspending. Annotating seed purchases, garden yields, and the preserved food volumes enables a gardener to figure out whether increases or cutbacks are in order. If most of last year’s pumpkins landed on the compost heap and there are still canned green beans from three years ago, consider planting less of those vegetables and delegate the space to something else this year.

5. Open-pollinated versus hybrid?

Open-pollinated seeds are those which can be replicated at home. In other words, the seeds produced by your open-pollinated vegetables can be dried, saved and planted next year, and the result will be the same vegetable as this year.

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Hybrid seeds are genetic mutations. They very often produce a higher quality vegetable out of the seed packet, having been developed for specific purposes such as disease-resistance or drought tolerance or higher sugar content or better productivity. But the seeds from this year’s vegetables will not produce identical offspring next year.

If you are a seed-saver, open-pollinated is a must.  If you are not, then it is OK to choose your seeds based upon other factors.

Lest it seem that the act of buying seeds for the upcoming season is too overwhelming, do not be discouraged. Most gardeners miss the mark on at least one of these questions some of the time, and many gardeners spend a lifetime striving for perfection. The important thing to remember are the reasons for gardening in the first place: the opportunity to be self-sustaining, the reward of choosing your own food—and more than anything, the enjoyment of it all.

What are your most important questions when purchasing seeds? Share your advice in the section below:

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The Hidden Worm That Can Kill Your Goats & Sheep

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The Hidden Worm That Can Kill Your Goats & Sheep

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I lived in ignorant bliss for years. Like many keepers of small ruminants up north, I was more complacent than I should have been about the possibility of parasites. As a general rule of thumb, these organisms have been more of a problem in southern locations for longer than they have in the north, but are gradually making their way to all regions of the country.

About six months after I purchased two doelings and integrated them into my herd, a visiting animal health expert noticed some worrisome symptoms in one of the young goats and took fecal samples back to her office to examine under a microscope. The next day, she called me with the results: the animal was loaded with barber pole worm.

I had never even heard of barber pole worms, and I set about learning all I could about it by asking other goat owners, seeking information from animal health experts, and searching online.

What Are They?  

Barber pole worm, or Haemonchus contortus, is a parasitic organism which thrives in the abomasum—or last stomach—of ruminants. It is highly contagious, often deadly, and once contracted is nearly impossible to eradicate.

Research revealed that my first order of business was saving the life of my goat. How-to’s varied widely among all the sources I consulted, many of them directly contradicting one another on everything from types of medications to frequency and dosage. It was scary and confusing, to say the least.

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A person in my goat network took the time to tell me the story of what worked for her, and I believe her help is the reason my goat survived. She recommended I use a specific type of anthelmintic—the scientific term for a chemical de-wormer—called levamisole hydrochloride.   The information I found online supported her advice. Levamisole is available only via mail order in my state, but the lady happened to have some on hand and offered it to me at her cost.

Lest the treatment described above sounds like a panacea, it most assuredly is not. Different drugs are more or less effective by region, by farm, by animal, and by a whole host of other factors. But if a treatment worked at a farm nearby, that is a good place to start.

Before continuing with information about barber pole worm, it is worth noting that I am not a veterinarian. Any knowledge I have of animal health and parasites is gained through my own research and experience as a goat owner, and should never be taken as advice in lieu of consulting an expert.

First, a few barber pole basics. It is the adult worms, striped like a barber pole, which take hold in the stomachs of ruminants. From there, they lay eggs which are passed out of the animal’s body through its feces. Once on the ground, the eggs develop into larvae and are ingested by ruminants as they graze. Back inside the digestive system, the larvae become adults and the life cycle continues.

Symptoms of Barber Pole Worm

The Hidden Worm That Can Kill Your Goats & Sheep

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Visible symptoms of the possible presence of barber pole worms include diarrhea, hanging tail, dull coat, lethargy and depression. It is important to remember that these signs can be indicative of other maladies, as well, so while these symptoms indicate that something is wrong, it is not always barber pole worm.

If barber pole worm progresses, edema—fluid buildup in body tissues—sometimes becomes visible, particularly in the face and jaw.

An excellent way to diagnose the presence of stomach worms—of which barber pole worm is a likely candidate—is by determining whether the animal is anemic. This can be achieved using a diagnostic tool called “FAMACHA.” This is basically a chart showing how to compare the colors of the tissue under the lower eyelids of the animal—pink tissue means there is plenty of healthy blood flow and white means anemic—and providing guidelines of when to treat.

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Another excellent diagnostic method is a fecal exam. Veterinarians typically offer this service, but it can be costly and cumbersome for multiple animals and follow-ups. For this reason, many people learn to do it themselves. Examining fecal content is not nearly as off-putting as it sounds.  Training can be attained for little or no money, often from another ruminant owner. My own microscope training was provided to me by the professor who first diagnosed my sick goat, but since that time my state cooperative extension has begun to offer quarterly microscope training workshops.

The expense of owning a good quality microscope can seem daunting, but groups and clubs can potentially share ownership in equipment, giving each member easy access without being solely responsible for cost or storage.

It is important to be aware that fecal exams do not always tell the full story. The presence of parasite eggs in fecal matter does not necessarily correspond exactly with the presence of adult stomach worms. When in doubt, always consult a veterinarian.

It is critical to catch barber pole early. Unchecked, it can be deadly. In late stages it is even possible for the treatment itself to be dangerous because the sudden die-off of parasites can render an animal too compromised to recover.

As with most things, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It is wise to screen new animals for parasites before putting them in with your existing herd, even when buying high quality stock from a reputable dealer. Once barber pole was present on my farm, the only option from that point forward was to manage it.

Some livestock owners get desirable results by routinely administering anthelmintics to the entire herd or flock. However, current school of thought recommends treating only sick animals. The reason for this is to avoid the risk of creating a medication-resistant super-organism.

Hot to Prevent Barber Pole Worm

When my goat was first diagnosed, I treated my entire herd. It was important at that time to make a complete break in the life cycle of the parasite. I carefully monitored the fecal egg counts after the first dose and treated only sick animals from there on.

Parasite activity is minimal in winter in cold climates. It flares up most in spring and fall, so diligence is most crucial during those seasons. Some individual animals and certain breeds are naturally more resilient, and young stock is generally far more susceptible than are adults. Resilience—the innate ability to thrive in the presence of barber pole worm or avoid getting it at all—is an excellent trait to keep in mind when culling a herd.

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The Hidden Worm That Can Kill Your Goats & Sheep

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Some of the best ways to manage barber pole worm are really more about managing the livestock, pasture and infrastructure. Parasite eggs and larvae thrive best in warm humid conditions, multiply most easily in crowded conditions, are most plentiful close to the ground, and have a more profound effect on less healthy animals. With those facts in mind, good parasite management includes:

  • Keeping indoor quarters clean.
  • Allowing ample space in the most-used paddocks.
  • Rotating pastures and sticking to the highest and driest during damp seasons.
  • Keeping hay and feed up off the ground by using hay and grain feeders.
  • Hanging water buckets on walls to minimize spills and feces contamination.
  • Keeping feed and water containers clean.
  • Providing mid-level browse. Sheep tend to graze and goats prefer browse, but both will eat vegetation higher off the ground if browse is provided. This will help limit the likelihood of the larvae being ingested.
  • Maintaining overall herd health.
  • Staying abreast of any health changes in individual animals and within the overall herd, particularly during seasons when parasites are most prevalent.
  • Doing fecal exams often.
  • Being responsible regarding biosecurity: Use due diligence to prevent yourself and visitors from carrying barber pole worms to other farms.

Two other preventative treatments being increasingly recommended by veterinarians and farmers are copper and tannin. Many sheep and goat owners use copper boluses—capsules filled with copper pellets—as effective treatment. The drawback to these is that they can be challenging to administer, because they need to be shot with a special gun down the animal’s gullet in order to remain intact and not chewed. An easier yet arguably less effective method is to offer free-choice tannin. This is easily found in the bark of softwood trees, but comes with a warning: certain pine trees are toxic to goats and sheep. Pine trees native to my region pose no danger, but that is not the case in all areas of the country. The bark of other trees, most notably cherry, can be toxic, as well. If you are not certain, consult your veterinarian.

No small ruminant farmer wants to have barber pole worm show up in his or her herd, but it is becoming increasingly common in most areas. But with attention to self-education and adoption of careful practices, barber pole worm can be monitored, managed and mitigated.

Have your sheep or goats ever had barber pole worm? Share your advice in the section below:

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Can Non-Maple Trees Be Tapped For Syrup? Yes!

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Can Non-Maple Trees Be Tapped For Syrup? Yes!

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Tapping trees for sap and making homemade syrup is an easy and delicious component of being a homesteader and raising one’s own food. The three issues that often stymy beginners, however, revolve around the trees themselves.

People new to tapping often struggle with being able to tell sugar maples from other maples, discerning which trees are maples as opposed to other deciduous trees, and wondering what to do even when they can differentiate between trees but do not have access to maples.

It’s Not Just Sugar Maples … And Not Just Maples!

So, what if there are no sugar maples? The good news: It might not matter.  Trees vary greatly by region and even by individual trees. This means that the red maple in your yard might produce better quality sap with a higher sugar content than your neighbor’s sugar maple, in the same way that your yellow Labrador dog might outrun your neighbor’s greyhound.

The best way to know is to try it. When in doubt, tap it and taste the sap. I happen to have a big old sugar maple that gives sap with a bitter taste, and a red maple which is excellent for syruping. Pretty much any maple can be used for syrup. If the sap tastes good, try boiling it down. And if it turns out to be worth the effort, put a marker on the tree so that you can identify it for future use.

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Even better news is that trees other than maples can be used to make delicious syrup. Birches, particularly yellow and gray species, make an excellent syrup, even though the sap has a lower sugar content and must be boiled down for longer than that of most maples. Many sources say walnut and hornbeam trees also make good choices for syrup.

As with any endeavor, remember to keep safe and avoid trying the sap of trees that contain any toxic components.

How to Tell the Difference

Telling the difference between trees, especially, during winter, is admittedly tricky at tapping time. The best way to know whether a maple tree is a sugar maple or a red maple or some other species of maple is often by the shape of their leaves or the color of their flowers. Unfortunately, when it’s time to tap for syrup, the leaves and flowers are long gone. It is possible that the leaves are on the ground under the tree, and it is even slightly possible that there is adequate distance between trees that it can be determined which tree the leaves fell from. But it is also likely that whatever leaves are present are buried under a foot or more of snow and ice. If you can tell by the leaves which kind of tree you have, using Internet photos or a field guide, do that.

Otherwise, try examining the bark. Mature red maples and silver maples tend to have a scalier texture than sugar maples, and do not have the light-colored splotches that sugar maples sometimes can.

Can Non-Maple Trees Be Tapped For Syrup? Yes!

Walnut tree. Image source: Pixabay.com

The best way for small homestead syruping operations to ensure they are using sugar maples for spring tapping is to identify them ahead of time. The flowers and fruit — often called “spinners” or “wings” — are distinctive among maple species, as well as the leaves. Anyone considering tapping trees would do well to do their research in advance and mark the trees, using colored survey tape or marker flags, or even a hand-drawn map if there are enough trees.

Distinguishing Maples From Other Deciduous Trees

As with differentiating between species of maples, telling one genus of deciduous tree — often called hardwoods — from another can be challenging, as well, and for most of the same reasons.  However, there is generally a more easily discernable difference between the bark textures and colors, sizes and basic growing habits between one tree genus and another.

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Using the process of elimination can help. Paper birches are easy to discern by their bark. Other birch species and many ash trees hang onto their leaves long into the winter and sometimes even until the spring buds start pushing, so it is very likely that they would still have a leaf or two attached to the tree or on top of the snow beneath it.  American beech trees often have a beech bark disease that makes their trunks covered with distinctive cankers.

Other trees sometimes have particular shapes or growing habits which make them discernable from sugar maples. For example, bear in mind that the branches of willows droop, and cherry trees are often twisted and gnarly. Red maples and silver maples are more likely to be found in swampy areas than are sugar maples.

While these points do not result in a definitive identification, they can at least narrow the pool of possibilities and thereby decrease time spent poring over field manuals and online guidebooks.

Tapping trees for sap need not be complicated. As with anything, it makes sense to start with the basics, continue to learn through a combination of trial and error and research with each season, and enjoy the tasty results.

Have you ever tapped a non-Maple tree? Share your tapping advice in the section below:

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The Quick & Easy Way To Tap A Maple Tree For Syrup

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The Quick & Easy Way To Tap A Maple Tree For Syrup

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When it comes to sweet delectable gifts given to us from nature, maple syrup ranks as one of the best. Tapping maple trees for sap and making it into syrup is a surprisingly simple process, can be done at any scale, and is achievable by anyone with access to maple trees and a few basic supplies.

The Basics of How Tapping Works

The rudimentary science goes something like this: the natural fluids inside trees tend to remain dormant during the cold of winter, but begin to rise and fall between the roots and branches when spring arrives. This brief period, during which the temperature rises well above freezing during the day but continues to dip back to cold overnights, is the best time to extract the fluid — or sap — from the tree by way of tapping it.

The way to do this is to drill a hole through the bark in order to access the sap, insert a specialized funnel-shaped spout called a “spile,” and hang a bucket under the spile to collect the liquid.

The Basics of How Sap Becomes Syrup

Anyone who has spent any time in the kitchen knows that boiling liquids in an uncovered pan causes the liquid to “reduce,” or become thicker. The more surface area in the pan and the hotter the heat, the faster liquid will evaporate into the air.

Making maple syrup works along the same principles. It begins with sap, which is more water than sugar, and boiling reduces it into a thick sweet syrup. It takes roughly 40 units of sap to yield one unit of syrup.

Equipment You Need to Make Syrup

The equipment needed for a syruping operation varies widely, depending on the size of the project. That is one of the beautiful aspects about making syrup — you don’t need to invest in a bunch of supplies if you want to just try it out.

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For an easy first-time one-tree backyard tapping project, you need:

  • Drill, either cordless electric or hand-crank, with a 7/16 bit for standard-size spiles.
  • Spile with hook, made out of metal or plastic, available online or at hardware stores and specialty retailers.
  • Hammer or rubber mallet.
  • Bucket, either one made specifically for sap collecting or a jerry-rigged one. Covers are nice to keep out debris and precipitation, but not crucial. You can rig one out of recycled materials if needed.
  • Heavy stockpot.
  • Filtering material — cheesecloth or paper coffee filters.

How to Tap

Select a tree for tapping. Sugar maples, also known as rock maples, are best, but other maples — and even other kinds of deciduous trees — can be used. The tree should be healthy, eight inches or more in diameter, and ideally have a widespread crown.

Drill a hole in the tree 2 and ½ inches deep, holding the drill at a slight upwards angle. I wrap masking tape around the drill bit so I can tell when to stop. Run the drill in reverse to get out the pulp.

The Quick & Easy Way To Tap A Maple Tree For Syrup

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Attach the hook to the spile before inserting it. Using the hammer or mallet, gently tap the spile into the hole, with the pour spout on the bottom.

Hang the bucket and wait for the sap to run. Depending upon the tree and the weather, you could get as much as two gallons a day, or as little as a few drops.

It’s important to check your tap every day. The warmer and sunnier it is, the more it will run. Between boils, you will need to keep it cold to avoid bacteria growth.

You can drink sap the way it comes out of the tree. It is tasty and said to have health benefits, but take care not to overdo as it can have laxative properties.

When the tree begins to push buds, the sap will begin to taste bitter and it’s time to pull the spile out of the tree. You can do this with pliers. Wash it well and put it away for next year. The hole in the tree will heal over in a year or two, with no long-term ill effect.

How to Make Syrup

If you can possibly boil your sap outdoors, that is ideal. The reason is because all of that humidity coming out of the reducing sap has to go somewhere, and could leave a sticky residue on your walls and ceilings and even contribute to peeling wallpaper. That said, people do get away with boiling small amounts indoors, especially if their house is very dry from wood heat.

You can boil outdoors using a propane camp stove, but always make safety a paramount concern. Use appropriate practices, keep children and pets at a safe distance, and follow manufacturer’s directions. You also can set up a firepit and build a wood fire.

No matter where or how you boil down your sap, the method is simple. Use the widest, shallowest container you have, and cook it at a full boil. Tend to it carefully. It can roil up unexpectedly every now and then, and you will want to back off the heat if it does. As with any reducing liquid, particularly one containing sugar, you will want to stir it more often as it thickens to keep it from sticking and burning.

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When the syrup is reduced to the thickness you like, strain it while still hot to remove any fine debris, foam or grit. There is no wrong answer when it comes to thickness, but simply personal preference — and if you decide later it’s too thin, you always can cook it more.

Homemade syrup can be stored in a glass jar in the refrigerator for quite some time. If you question its freshness at any point, you can skim it and reboil it.

Ongoing Options

Once you have made and used your own homemade maple syrup, you are unlikely ever to want to return to store-bought stuff again, and you eventually may want to step up your game and tap more than one tree. When it comes to the many permutations of tapping and syruping, on any scale from 10 trees to 10,000 trees, the sky is the limit.

After trying a single tap, you may choose different style spiles or buckets or perhaps even abandon buckets altogether and go for plastic tubing instead.

Your boiling options include everything from homemade outdoor wood-fired evaporators made out of masonry, metal or earthworks, to retrofitted turkey fryers, to commercially manufactured evaporators.

You may end up purchasing specialized felt filters with paper liners, skimmers, maple-leaf-shaped syrup bottles, and other useful and fun accessories.

As with any hobby or venture, it makes sense to start off small and expand gradually. With maple syruping, you will want to research each component as you go, evaluating cost and balancing needs to create your own customized process. But for now, a few dollars and a little time can result in delicious maple syrup and bragging rights of having made it yourself.

What advice would you add on tapping trees for syrup? Share your tips in the section below:

Bust Inflation With A Low-Cost, High-Production Garden. Read More Here.

It’s Gonna Doom Many Preppers (And They Don’t Even Know It)

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It's Gonna Doom Many Preppers (And They Don't Even Know It)

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People who are serious about preparedness have a lot to be concerned about. The considerations of post-disaster survival range from food to water to hygiene to self-protection to transportation to emergency medical care.

But there is one area of what we call “prepping” that is often overlooked: personal health and fitness. If sudden disaster were to strike, it is possible that your most valuable prep might be your own body. Those who are unfit and unhealthy might be limiting their capacity for independence both now and in whatever future.

I am not a health care provider or a fitness expert. Rather, I am an ordinary citizen with a personal testimony to share. Over the past several years, my weight has crept up and my overall health has deteriorated. When my blood work reported results so high that my provider wanted me to begin a regimen of medications this past spring, I resolved to turn things around by eating better and exercising more.

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It's Gonna Doom Many Preppers (And They Don't Even Know It)

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Five months later, I have lost 26 pounds and am closing in on my goal weight. But it is about far more than numbers on the scale. A follow-up with the laboratory and my provider revealed drastically reduced lipids and sugars, lower blood pressure, and increased lung capacity.

For many people, the side effects of physical fitness are at least as rewarding as the actual numbers on the scale and lab report and clothing sizes. In my case, my weight loss also has resulted in more self-confidence, a higher energy level, and feeling generally more positive.

Making the time and doing the work to increase my fitness level has made me a more able homesteader. Long hours on my feet during canning season, racing to the chicken house to investigate a sudden commotion, and weekend firewood-processing marathons are less taxing now.

And if disaster strikes, I will be more capable of keeping myself and my loved ones safe. While there are a lot of other factors that are important, the ability to walk, run, climb, push and haul might be some of the most needed.

Too many of us are obese, or lead sedentary lives, or live with addiction, or suffer from conditions that are exacerbated by lifestyle. This will not serve us well in the event of a disaster, and could possibly even jeopardize the welfare of those we love.

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It's Gonna Doom Many Preppers (And They Don't Even Know It)

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Consider the many scenarios in which physical fitness would be crucial. People may need to run to save a child or slip quietly out of sight in a forest. They might be called upon to walk long distances, climb a tree or ladder, rappel, pound a nail, heft an axe, operate a scythe, paddle a boat, swim, carry heavy loads, and work long days — all of which are possible for unfit people but will be more challenging.

Dependence upon cigarettes, alcohol, legal or illegal drugs, or even technology could possibly result in placing oneself at risk for a fix. Nobody wants that. Nobody wants to land in a post-disaster scenario with a bad knee, poor dental health, or gout, either.

None of this is to say that everyone has complete control over their own health. Accidents happen. Diseases happen. Genetics happen. But for the rest of us, it makes sense to do all we possibly can to be fit and healthy.

Nobody is perfect, and thank goodness we do not need to be. We all struggle with issues — my family history of heart disease and diabetes and my fondness for Dr. Pepper and Little Debbie’s will always be present in my life. But facing our health challenges head-on and dealing with them now instead of later is a win-win. We win now, we win in the event of a disaster, the people around us win because we will have fewer special needs and instead will be able to help others, and we win in terms of comfort and longevity if disaster never happens. The only people who really lose out if Americans become fit and healthy are the big pharmaceutical companies.

We do not need to look like body-builders or run like track stars. But we do need to reach for our personal best and make health and fitness a central component of our prepping goals.

Do you agree or disagree? Share your thoughts in the section below:

Discover The Secret To Saving Thousands At The Grocery Store. Read More Here.

Why You Should Carry Cash In A Credit Card Society

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Why Everyone (And We Mean Everyone) Should Always Carry Cash

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The use of plastic currency is very common in today’s world. In fact, stores that don’t accept debit and credit cards are becoming anomalies.

However, a little cash stash should always be included in everyone’s everyday carry supplies. There are many reasons why cash money could become important, ranging from purely convenience to absolute necessity.

When might cash matter? Aside from the idea that practicing a cash-only personal finance is a great way to keep from spending more than you can afford, cash can bail you out of sticky situations.

Off-grid establishments still exist. From a remote country gas station to a rustic hiking hostel to a roadside farm stand, you never know when you might need a little cash money to pay for what you want. Encountering a place which lacks the capability to accept plastic payment is still not that uncommon, particularly in rural areas.

Imagine the serendipity of being out for a drive and happening upon a delightful little mom-and-pop diner with the smells of your favorite food wafting from the kitchen—only to discover that they accept cash only and you have none. Sure, you could make the drive to the nearest ATM, some 10 miles of winding country road each way, but you probably would not.

Sometimes even when establishments do accept plastic, it is nice to have a little cash on hand. Paper money can make splitting the check or paying your share of the tip easier, and it is convenient to have a few dollars in your wallet when all you want is a soda or pack of gum.

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Having cash makes it easier to buy direct from individuals. Transactions such as getting a great deal on a vintage bureau on Craigslist or scooping up a baby stroller at a garage sale are easier with cash for everyone involved. You also might want to avail yourself of a chance to get in on a friend’s bulk purchase by buying just one pair out of a dozen gloves or a small bag of artisan flour out of a 50-pound sack. It also would be a shame to pass up a purchase of fresh delectable produce at a stand beside the road, or to miss an opportunity to donate a few dollars to a good cause because you did not have money handy to do so.

Having cash on hand also can be more than just a matter of convenience. Stuff happens. Stuff like forgetting your purse at a friend’s house—or your wallet in your other jacket pocket—and not realizing it until your gas tank is too low to go back for it. And stuff like searching for a store at midnight when you suddenly realize you are completely out of disposable diapers and finding that the only store open has a broken card machine until the repairperson arrives the next morning. And even stuff like rushing to a meeting and not having cash for a toll highway or parking area and ending up late because of detour.

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And those possible situations are just everyday occurrences. If a minor emergency were to happen, the need for cash could become even more important. In the event of something like a power outage, small stores without generators would be able to serve only cash customers. If the precipitating event continued, generators in larger places could eventually fail, as well.

In the event of a major disaster, cash will be vital, at least for a period of time. In a true catastrophe, it is possible that all representative currency could eventually become valueless. But in the interim, having cash could mean the difference between comfort and suffering, and could possibly contribute to your very survival.

The advice to always keep cash on hand is all well and good, but is not easy to do. Probably the biggest barriers to stashing cash are related to how difficult it is to avoid spending the money as fast as you get it. There is no magic bullet, but everyone can do it.

AWhy You Should Carry Cash In A Credit Card Societyn Easy Way to Do It

As far as pocket money goes, for those little gotchas like emergency gas and unforeseen parking fees and middle-of-the-night baby necessities, it makes sense to keep the stash in your car. One way to do this is to keep a little covered dish—a recycled pint container such as the ones sour cream or cottage cheese come in—in your car. Tuck it away out of sight so thieves cannot see it. Start out by just dropping your coins into it every time you get change in the drive-through or coins back at a toll booth. Add a few bills here and there as you can spare them, never enough so you miss the money but sufficient to add up over time.

If the container-at-your-fingertips idea works for you, great. If, however, you cannot resist frequently dipping into your money dish, try hiding a little money in areas of your car that are less convenient to access. Most cars have places to stow items so that they are not accessible to the driver. Try tucking some money away in the trunk or under the back seat, and when you are faced with the choice of pulling over and digging out a stashed $10 bill versus dipping into your wallet, you will choose the latter.

Once you know you have a solid emergency stash in the back of the car, keep trying to keep a money container within reach. Eventually, you can make it work.

Building up a supply of money at home for true disasters works on the same principle. Start small and move up, with a $5 in a decorative cookie jar and $20 in an empty toothpaste box in the bathroom cabinet and another few bills tucked between the pages of an old book. Choose hiding spots in places you don’t look in often, and in places where would-be thieves may not find, either.

But where does this money come from to begin with if you are in the habit of using exclusively plastic and electronic transactions? You will need to be proactive about it, especially at first. You can get a little cash back every time you use a card at the grocery store, withdraw money from your account at an ATM, or develop a habit of doing more trading in cash.

There is no disputing the fact that we are quickly becoming a cashless society, and I am not suggesting that we can or should resist that trajectory. But I do maintain that everyone needs to have a little cash, on their person, in the car, or at home—and preferably all three—for convenience and emergencies.

Do you agree or disagree? Share your thoughts in the section below:  

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10 Overlooked Ways To Keep Livestock Warm During Winter

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10 Overlooked Ways To Keep Livestock Warm During Winter

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When the mercury is dropping and the wind is blowing a gale, most people would rather be indoors than outside braving the elements. The same is often true of livestock. I am among those  who prioritize keeping all of my animals as comfortable as possible throughout all seasons, and have developed a repertoire of effective ways to keep them warm during the cold of winter. Even if your motivation to keep livestock warm is centered more on avoiding a drop in production or merely basic survival, the following list is a good reference for livestock safety in winter.

1. Time grooming and treatments with intentionality. Avoid shearing and trimming coats when cold weather is approaching, of course. But beyond that, it may not be a bad idea to limit shots, hoof-trimming, and other routine procedures in winter as much as possible. Anything that causes an animal stress can detract from the energy it uses to stay warm and healthy. I am not suggesting a moratorium on livestock handling, but only to try and do the bulk of it in late fall and early spring so as to keep it to a minimum in winter.

2. Give easy access to shelter. Laws in some states specify minimum housing required for livestock. Whether a certain level of shelter is mandated or not, even animals that are adapted to cold often do better if they can get in out of the wind and precipitation. Insulation is great, but could be considered extravagant. If a barn is well-insulated and airtight, it is important to allow for ventilation in order to prevent excess moisture buildup inside and keep healthy air circulating.

3. Provide plenty of clean dry bedding. Depending upon your infrastructure and the type of animals you have, this may include cleaning out waste every day or two before applying fresh shavings, straw or other litter.

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Conversely, the dung of certain livestock such as goats and sheep is sufficiently small and dry that it can be allowed to build up over the winter. This creates a thick mattress of composting material which contributes to the animals’ comfort. Whether you clean out regularly or not, a clean dry space is important.

4. Increase protein intake. For ruminants and other herbivores such as cattle, sheep and goats, this is usually accomplished by way of grain. This can be done by switching up to a higher-percentage grain, adding a top-dress of kelp or other supplement, or increasing the amount of grain. Protein for omnivorous animals like pigs and poultry can be fed meat fats as well.

5. Allow communal living. Animals will group together for warmth if they need to do so. Snuggling into the hay, or even moving about in close proximity to one another, will help them create and retain body heat. Sometimes the animals within a herd need to be split up for management reasons, but they all need at least one or two buddies during frigid conditions.

10 Overlooked Ways To Keep Livestock Warm During Winter

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6. Allow them to rely on their own instincts. Animals will gravitate toward warm areas on a cold day if they can. If they have access to sunny barn windows, draft-free zones, or spaces up against buildings or solid fences that reflect the sun, you are likely to find them availing themselves of nature’s hotspots.

7. Use a plastic livestock curtain in doorways. These vertical strips of heavy plastic purchased from farm equipment catalogs — or made at home using clear shower curtains — hang in doorways and are effective barriers to inclement weather. They allow animals to move freely in and out, are loose enough to provide crucial ventilation indoors, limit snowfall beyond the threshold, draw the sun’s heat on cold clear days, and help retain interior warmth.

8. Maintain some dry ground outdoors if possible. Livestock often balk at fording deep snow, possibly because as prey animals they do not want to get bogged down, or because their instincts cause them to avoid expending unnecessary energy, or perhaps they just do not like it. A roofed outdoor area, plowed paddock, or even some shoveled paths to their favorite locations are a plus.

9. Use added heat if absolutely necessary. The best way to do this is to provide heavy-duty water jugs — tightly closed and kick- and chew-proof — of hot water, or bricks heated near the wood stove, for the most frigid snaps. Another way is by using heat lamps, but only with extreme caution. I see at least one news story every winter about a barn fire that started from heat lamp use. It is so easy to make a mistake or for accidents to occur — they end up too close to combustible materials, or the hanging apparatus breaks, or animals knock them over or chew the cords, or the outlets are bad. Except for extenuating circumstances — compromised newborns, animals that are sick or must be isolated, or other extreme situations — the use of heat lamps is probably not worth the risk. Choosing the right breeds, maintaining infrastructure, and facilitating a way for the animals to keep themselves warm naturally are all better choices. If heat lamps must be used, it is vital to use only those that are high quality and are designed for use in a barn.

10. Choose the best breeds for your climate. Some breeds of livestock are more naturally suited to extreme temperatures than are others. Animals with thick coats or other cold-weather adaptations are more likely to thrive in colder regions, but obvious physical attributes do not always tell the whole story. It is helpful to consider where the breed originated or was developed — did it come from the desert, or the tundra? Another consideration is the size of the animal: Very generally speaking, larger animals tolerate cold better than smaller ones, due to the ratio of skin surface to body mass.

Short of bringing livestock into the house, these are some of the best ways to help keep farm animals safe and comfortable in the harshest of winters. Due diligence and a little forward thinking can work together to create an atmosphere that will provide the best possible care for animals and peace of mind for owners.

How do you keep your livestock warm during winter? Share your tips in the section below:

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Cold-Hardy Chicken Breeds That Can Thrive Anywhere

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Cold-Hardy Chicken Breeds That Can Thrive Anywhere

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Anyone who lives north of a certain latitude or above a particular elevation knows that winter can be hard on homestead chickens. Keeping a flock warm and comfortable can be a challenging endeavor when the temperature plummets. Although there are a variety of methods available, ranging from infrastructure modification to feeding habits to artificial heat, one of the most important things to ensure chickens thrive in winter is to choose the right breeds for the climate

First, bigger is better. Larger animals are often able to store more fat, which acts as insulation. Although the general rule of larger animals being more adaptable to cold than small ones is more often true among mammals than in other animal families, it does seem to bear out with domestic fowl. Full-sized chicken breeds tend to do better in severely cold areas than do the smaller-sized bantams. While smaller poultry can and are raised successfully in northern climates, it works well to choose heavy breeds.

Another thing to look for when choosing a cold-hardy chicken breed are their physical features. Larger combs and wattles—the fleshy protuberances on the tops of their heads and hanging from below their beaks, typically red in color—are more prone to freezing. The reason for this tendency may be that combs and wattles have a lower blood flow than the rest of their bodies, particularly during cold weather. As with other organisms, including humans, physiology focuses on survival, which in cold weather causes blood flow to be reserved for the most important areas of the body.

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Roosters typically have larger combs and wattles than do hens. But both sexes of some breeds have smaller ones, and those are the breeds that do better in frigid weather. They have less area of this sensitive skin exposed to the cold, which results in them being less apt to suffer from painful and debilitating frostbite.

Another feature to consider is fur versus feathers. The answer feels almost counterintuitive, but chickens with feathered or furry legs are not recommended for colder regions. The reason is this:  snow and ice can stick to the fluffy legs and feet of silkie types and cause them to freeze more quickly than legs and feet with only skin. The same holds true for chickens with fur or fluffy feathers on their bodies and heads—traditional feathers keep them drier and more protected from cold. This is not to say that chickens with furry legs or bodies cannot be raised in the north, but it may be wise to keep an extra close eye on them during deep cold, particularly if they go outside at all.

Chickens have been bred over generations to adapt to specific conditions, and being cold-hardy is one of those sought-after traits. So what breeds of chicken are generally considered to be the best choices for regions of extremely cold winters?

My personal favorite is the Ameraucana. This is an American breed that is derived from the South American “Araucana,” a bird known for laying blue eggs. Like its parent bird, the Ameraucana—also known as an “Easter-egger”—typically has distinctive tufted ears and a short tail, and lays eggs that range from olive green to baby blue in color. Ameraucana roosters have brilliant plumage in iridescent greens and sometimes other colors which some people favor for fly-tying, and hens range from multicolored golds and oranges to all white. The two distinguishing characteristics which all of my Ameraucana birds have are tufted ears and greenish legs.

The traits that make me like Ameraucanas include their all-weather hardiness—heavy bodies and extremely low-profile combs and barely existent wattles—as well as their extra-rich eggs and general toughness.

Another breed I have had success with is the Golden Comet. One of my hens is a seven-year-old Golden Comet, and she is still laying eggs regularly even at her advanced age. She is robust, smart, and adaptable to new conditions—and like her roost-mates, has the cold-weather traits she needs to survive winters in my region.

Other breeds that are generally thought to be cold-weather chickens include Reds—both Rhode Island and New Hampshire—as well as all colors of Wyandottes, Orpingtons and Rocks. I have had a few of all four of these types over the years, and they have proven to be excellent cold-weather choices, but have replaced them with other breeds as time went by due to reasons other than winter hardiness.

It is likely possible to change housing conditions so that any chicken can be kept safe and thriving during frigid weather. But choosing breeds that naturally tolerate cold better can result in less effort and less worry on the owner, and create a more pleasant environment for everyone involved.

What are your favorite cold-weather chicken breeds? Which traits are most important to you for winter hardiness? Share your tips in the section below:

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Is Raising Your Own Food Cheaper Than Buying It?

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Is Raising Your Own Food Cheaper Than Buying It?

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Homesteading can be defined many different ways, but it almost always includes the basic tenet of food independence. Raising your own food is indeed at the heart of homesteading, but the act of doing so can be a bit more complicated than it appears on the surface. While there are many good things about raising food, there are some drawbacks as well.

The Rewards Of Raising Food

1. The idea of being self-sufficient. Few things are more satisfying than knowing you are able to feed yourself and your loved ones without relying on—or having only minimal reliance on—commercial food producers. Knowing that you will not be among those waiting helplessly for assistance in the event of a catastrophe is empowering. Having the skill and confidence to transform a packet of seeds into a jar of home-canned tomatoes and to make healthful homemade feta from fresh goat milk are the things which make most homesteaders keep doing what they do.

2. You control the chemicals. If omitting genetically modified organisms, pesticides and herbicides from your diet is a big deal to you, then raising your own food is one of the best ways to make sure you are in charge of what you consume.

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While it is true that few of us truly control 100 percent of what we eat—many homesteading purchase livestock feed from a commercial entity, accept a third-party opinion on the safety of organic garden remedies, and add store-bought foods to the pantry—it is still a rewarding feeling to be able to make those choices.

3. You are able to do it humanely. If you have seen the videos depicting deplorable conditions on huge factory farms and do not want to support that industry, or if it is important to you that farm animals live as rich as possible, then raising our own animals can provide the peace of mind you need.

4. You can choose the varieties and breeds. If heirloom vegetables and heritage breeds are your passion, you are not likely to find those choices at the supermarket. Commercial farms are in business to make money, not to cater to your culinary preferences, so they choose the varieties that ship best, grow fastest, and cost the least to raise. If you are compelled to eat only the best, then you will want to produce it yourself.

5. Environmental concerns. Raising your own food allows you to avoid excess food packaging as well as to eliminated the petroleum products used in commercial processing, refrigeration and shipping.

The Costs Of Raising Food

Is Raising Your Own Food Cheaper Than Buying It?

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1. It can be expensive. You are not likely to save much money overall by raising your own food, especially if you are going for high quality. By that I mean, if you choose basic plant cultivars and apply pesticides, your vegetables might cost less than the organic heirloom varieties at the farmers’ market. But otherwise, it might cost as much or more. Compromise might be a good cost-saving measure—raise the products you can without breaking the bank, and buy the rest elsewhere.

2. It is a LOT OF WORK. I cannot stress that enough. It is more than just planting and weeding and harvesting and preserving. It is spending an hour every day for two months straight hand-picking Japanese beetles off the berries and the squash bugs out of the cucumbers. It is watering. It is taping up young fruit trees to keep them from being killed by rodents during winter. It is staying up all night, presiding over a difficult birth in the barn and still working the next day. It is a thousand little things every day, mixed in with some big things and an amazing number of unanticipated things, that can add up to pure exhaustion. If you love raising your own food, the volume of work will be worth it. But if you are looking an easy ride, this method of circumventing the supermarket is not the way to go.

3. The lifestyle is restricting. Livestock cannot be left untended. They must be fed, watered and mucked out every day. Dairy animals must be milked. They must be protected from predation and inclement weather, and need extra attention when sick or injured. Vegetables, too, can be demanding—they need watering, weeding and harvesting on their schedule, not yours. Hailstorms, droughts and wildlife looking for a free meal will not wait until you are home from vacation. Farm-sitters are always a possibility, but often expensive or hard to find. If you want to raise your own food, it is an absolute must that you fully embrace the idea of spending most of your time at home.

4. It can be emotionally challenging. Raising animals for meat is tough, and balancing between the needs of animals and humans can sometimes leave you feeling as if you are walking a tightrope.

5. Flexible eating habits are required. Raising your own food demands a different mindset than buying it at the supermarket. Instead of deciding what you want to eat and then going out to buy the ingredients, you need to turn that process around: see what you have in the garden or root cellar or pantry, and build your menu around those ingredients. You need to accept the ebb and flow of availability, too. For example, if it was a banner year for tomatoes, you will probably eat more red sauce, ketchup, tomato chutney, tomato soup and other tomato products in the ensuing months than you may have eaten otherwise. Conversely, when your hens are molting and egg production is low, you may have to eat more oatmeal than eggs for breakfast and suspend indulgences such as pound cakes.

As you can see, the prospect of raising your own food is a big deal. Whether you endeavor to raise all or most of your food, or simply grow a small plot of vegetables or keep a couple of laying hens to supplement the food you purchase, it can involve a bit of a tradeoff. The rewards are huge, but the costs are not insignificant. At the end of the day, we all make choices that work best in our lives and keep focused on the positive aspects of our choices.

What do you think? Is raising your own food worth it? Share your thoughts in the section below:

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The Smartest (And Easiest) Ways To Keep Chickens Warm During Winter

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The Smartest (And Easiest) Ways To Keep Chickens Warm During Winter

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When the temperatures dip below a certain level, staying warm is more than just an issue of comfort. It becomes a matter of survival. If you keep chickens year-round, keeping them safe during cold snaps is a real concern.

Some breeds of chickens are more naturally hardy in extreme temperatures, but there are still steps that can be taken to enhance your flock’s winter survival. Assuming you have the best breeds for your area, consider some of the following practices to help them stay warm in the coldest weather.

1. The right-sized home. During winter, too much space can be a detriment. The larger the area, the more difficult it will be for the birds to keep it warm with their own body heat. My local organic farmers’ organization recommends between four and eight square feet per bird. Some experts allow for more or less than that, and a good bit of the decision depends upon the size of your flock and how much access they have to the outdoors.

If your chicken coop is cavernous, consider creating a coop within a coop. Building a small structure—even a temporary one using pallets or scrap materials—around their roosting area can provide them with a cozier space.

2. The right shape and orientation coop. A steep shed roof provides a low ceiling on one side, which helps the birds stay warm, and a higher ceiling on the other to allow human access for tending the birds. If your roof is high throughout, consider a makeshift dropped ceiling for the winter months.

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Facing doors southward and away from winds and inclement weather helps when the chicken access door is open. If the orientation of your doors is not quite optimum, you always can add on an extra roof or vestibule.

3. Natural lighting. A skylight or south-facing window, or even some strategically placed sheet plastic near a door or window, can create a greenhouse effect. This can help keep your chickens warm in the same manner that plants are kept warm in a hothouse.

4. Insulation. Adding commercial insulation to a newly constructed chicken coop is a great choice. Just as with human homes, the more heat that can be retained inside during winter, the better.

The Smartest (And Easiest) Ways To Keep Chickens Warm During Winter

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The insulating value of your coop can be increased with whatever you have on hand. It may be possible to stuff wood chips or other fibrous materials between walls—or between an outer wall and an inner layer of recycled materials—to help keep your birds warm.

Snow is an excellent insulating material, too, but if you have more cold weather than snowfall, try using hay, straw or even bags of leaves for banking around the outside of the chicken coop.

5. Ventilation. It may be tempting to shut them up tight, but remember that respiration can cause condensation and dampness. Allowing the inside of the coop to become excessively damp can be dangerous during cold weather. Additionally, birds have a more delicate respiratory system than do other animal families.

6. High fat foods. Eating fatty foods helps keep chickens warm. Suet, fatback and kitchen scraps are ideal.

7. Warm foods and liquids for consumption. A friend of mine prepares fresh hot oatmeal for her hens on cold winter mornings. Perhaps that’s not your style, but you may want to allow kitchen scraps to come to room temperature—or even set them near a heat source to warm them—before delivering them to the chickens. I replace my chickens’ waterer with hot tap water at least twice a day during the coldest winter days, because warming from the inside out is a great way to create and maintain body heat.

8. Portable hot water heaters. I keep water in a kettle on top of my wood stove during winter, which helps me humidify my house and heat the chickens. I pour hot water into some heavy-duty five-gallon plastic jugs I salvaged from a bulk foods store and haul them out to the chicken coop on a sled and place them inside. Water retains its temperature far better than does air, which means it will help keep the coop warmer, longer. You can use any heat-resistant container, such as plastic or metal buckets, as long as it has a secure lid to prevent spills and keep the chickens safe.

You can use heated bricks in lieu of warm water if you prefer.

9. Entertainment. Chickens that have something to do while cooped up inside during cold weather will not only be less likely to become aggressive toward one another, but they can generate heat by moving around. Provide a fruit or vegetable such as an apple or cabbage, or a hunk of fatback or suet, hanging from a string at beak height so that the birds can peck at it.

10. Heat lamps. I use heat lamps as a last resort, but many people rely on them as a go-to. Whichever your viewpoint, it is essential to make safety your first priority. Make sure both the bulbs and the fixtures are of the highest possible quality you can afford, are hung on heavy-duty suspension material, and are not too close to anything combustible. It is always best to follow manufacturer’s instructions regarding usage.

Deep cold temperatures can be a real challenge for humans and animals who live in a northern climate. But by getting creative with ways to heat their coops, we can keep chickens safe and comfortable through even the coldest of winters.

How do you keep you chickens warm during cold months? Share your tips in the section below:

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A Decade Of Homesteading: 7 Things We Got Right From The Beginning

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There are a lot of lessons my husband and I learned the hard way since taking up homesteading in 2007, and there are plenty of things we would do differently if we could transport back in time and start over. But I am proud of the things we got right, too. Here are a few of the things that helped keep us going in the general direction of success:

1. We were on the same page. Unlike the 60s TV sitcom where a New York City couple suddenly lands on a farm in a move that appears to be completely against the wife’s wishes—she loved him, she sang in the opening credits, but would rather have Fifth Avenue—we were in complete agreement about why we wanted to take up homesteading and what standards and practices we would strive for once we got started. Many of the details have morphed over the years, sometimes in the same direction as one another and sometimes not, but we started out in complete consensus and have remained largely thus.

This is probably the most important thing we did, or anyone could do, the right way.  Sure, one partner might feel more strongly about the venture, or about particular aspects of it, than the other. But dragging along a reluctant or resentful spouse is not likely to work out long-term.

2. It helped that we were not total greenhorns. We were already accustomed to the outdoors and the natural world, having spent hundreds of hours hiking, backpacking, camping, hunting, fishing and camping before the idea of sustainable living ever struck us. As veteran outdoorspeople who were deeply involved with our local Boy Scout troop and other outdoor groups, we were no strangers to life beyond the pavement.

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We started out at our homestead with at least a smattering of already-established skills, as well. Our volunteer work with the Maine Appalachian Trail Club had helped teach us basic forestry, carpentry and chainsaw skills. Our previous home in a village had afforded us the opportunity to run a wood stove, grow ornamentals and a few vegetables, and cook food from scratch. It may not be essential that anyone considering homesteading have advance familiarity with such things, but it can be a great head start.

Image source: Pixabay.com

Image source: Pixabay.com

3. We did a lot of homework before taking the plunge. My husband and I read books, watched videos, attended local living fairs, and visited farms. While it is true that studying something in books and other media is never quite the same as doing it in real life, I believe it made a big difference for us. Not only did we gain a lot of practical knowledge that could be put to use on the homestead, but we also gleaned a lot of philosophy from our reading. During occasional spells of frustration and difficulty over the years, we have found ourselves relying on what we learned beforehand to answer not only the question of how to, but the question of why when it needed to be restated.

4. There were mentors in our lives. We knew people who had first-hand experience at many different aspects of homesteading. There were those who had grown up on a dairy farm, who had raised backyard pigs, who volunteered for the cooperative extension as Master Gardeners, who were expert canners, who had worked on a berry farm, and many more. My husband and I gained more knowledge, practical tips and encouragement from our mentors than we ever could have gotten from anywhere else.

5. We were fit and healthy. Homesteading involves long hours, backbreaking work in all kinds of weather conditions, tedious and repetitive tasks, and often high stress — all of which can take a significant toll on one’s well-being. Starting off with our best feet forward was a real plus.

6. Our positive attitudes served us well. We were excited about possibilities, earnest in our endeavors, and confident. We were passionate about our goals, tried to stay open-minded about inevitable detours, and strove to balance idealism with realism. We didn’t always get it exactly right, but an optimistic outlook can carry most people further than they might get without it.

Image source: Pixabay.com

Image source: Pixabay.com

7. More than anything, the thing we got right from the beginning was this: we up and did it! It really can be just that simple. I cannot tell you how many people visiting our homestead have sighed wistfully and said how lucky we are to be living our dream. There was a time when I would attempt to explain to them that it is not luck, but is instead hard work and dedication and sacrifice. A lot of it was about choice—about ours to live without some things they had and theirs to place other priorities above what we had. I used to try to help them understand that we faced a lot of obstacles on our road to homesteading, too—probably as many as they would. I would point out that living one’s dream involves some degree of intentionality.

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Now, though, I just nod and agree. We are indeed blessed to be living our dream. Like ducks skimming along the surface of an idyllic pond, paddling for all we’re worth underwater, we are making our choice of lifestyle work.

When a young relative recently lamented her limited success with her first-year vegetable garden, I encouraged her to focus on the fact that she grew more vegetables than she ever had before, instead of beating herself up over the plants that failed. In the same way, my husband and I try to hang onto our successes. And in the end, in homesteading practices as well as life in general, our mistakes do not define us. Instead, what counts is the fact that we dove in and gave it our all, and that we are still enjoying the journey.

If you’re a homesteader, what did you “get right” from the beginning? What advice would you give newbie homesteaders? Share your tips in the section below:

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14 Fun ‘Old-Time’ Winter Activities To Keep You From Going Insane

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14 Fun 'Old-Time' Winter Activities To Keep You From Going Insane

Artist: Winslow Homer

From our 21st-century vantage point, it is hard for many of us even to envision a life without electronic entertainment, especially during winter. But there really was fun to be had before the advent of handheld devices and before state-of-the-art televisions.

There were plenty of ways for people to amuse themselves year-round in days gone by. Children and adults alike had fun both indoors and out—and the best part is, most of the things enjoyed by people in the past can still be done in modern times. Following are some examples of old-time winter fun that we can still do today.

Outdoor Sports and Recreation

1. Snowshoeing. The basics are easy. They amount to strapping snowshoes onto one’s winter boots and walking across the snow. Of course, it is advised to use the model that works best for your ability and conditions, and practice the technique of walking with an enormous footprint before venturing too far. Some people strike off across the lawn, and others use trails groomed specifically for snowshoeing. Many folks use poles for added balance, but they are not necessary. Snowshoes can be found for every terrain, skill level and body size.

2. Cross-country skiing. This is relatively simple, as well, and can be done in a wide variety of settings, from the backyard or neighborhood park to commercial trails. Skis, bindings, boots and poles can usually be purchased as a package, and while the up-front price can feel daunting, they last for years and will provide many hours of free or inexpensive entertainment for the whole family.

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3. Downhill skiing. This activity kicks it up a notch in terms of cost and skill required, but remains a beloved winter sport for many. This type of skiing takes place on a groomed ski hill or mountain, with a motorized lift to the top. It requires a different set of equipment than that of cross-country skiing and uses different skills to master.

4. Ice skating. Skating on farm ponds and city rinks is a quintessential classic winter activity. Gliding across the ice on simple skates can be fun, romantic, exhilarating, challenging or athletic—or a combination of any or all of those things.

14 Fun 'Old-Time' Winter Activities To Keep You From Going Insane

Image source: Wikimedia

5. Birdwatching. Many birds remain in northern habitats all year long—or migrate into the area specifically for colder seasons—and winter is a great time to seek out favorites and observe their behavior. With less birdsong and chatter to compete with them, it is easier to make out the calls of some species during winter. Sightings of snowy owls and bright-colored cardinals can thrill the hearts of even those with little enthusiasm for birds in general.

Inside the House

6. Games. Cards, board games, checkers, kids’ games, dice, pick-up sticks, party, trivia, role-playing or words—whatever kind of game is appealing, winter is the ideal time to strike up a game. From Scrabble to Hungry Hungry Hippo, games are great for families at home, inviting relatives and neighbors over for a friendly competition, or for a community social event.

7. Puzzles. Puzzles run the gamut, from jigsaw puzzles to word puzzles and searches, to Rubik’s cubes and everything in between, for all ages and interests and budgets and skill levels.

8. Reading. Winter is an excellent time for reading. Whether one prefers romance novels, non-fiction, memoirs, adventure, how-tos, classics or other genres—they are all attained by simply opening a book or magazine, downloading an e-book, or listening to an audiobook selection. And when a household’s reading capacity exceeds the budget, library services are available in person or by mail just about everywhere.

Artist: Frans Van Mieris the Elder

Artist: Frans Van Mieris the Elder

9. Corresponding. This one sounds a little like the texting and social media that consumes so many lives nowadays, but it can be more old-fashioned than that if one wants it to be. Letters or cards to loved ones, pen pals, and personal journals are all ways to correspond.

10. Crafting. The sky is the limit when it comes to modern-day crafts, with an amazing abundance of ideas, tutorials and materials available at the touch of a screen and at stores everywhere. Upcycling, painting, gluing, crocheting, needlework, sewing, wood-carving, knitting, wreath-making, weaving—the list of worthy craft projects is endless.

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11. Culinary arts. Winter is a wonderful time to bring out tried-and-true favorites, try one’s hand at Hollandaise sauce or crème brulee or homemade confections, or just make and enjoy simple fare like sandwiches and hot cinnamon cider with the kids.

Away From Home

12. Visiting. Winter is a slower season for many, particularly those who practice homesteading and living close to the land, and a great time to catch up on socializing.

13. Roller skating, bowling, lap swimming, dancing of all kinds … and whatever other indoor sporting activity is available in the area—all wonderful options.

14. Movies, plays, concerts and shows. These kinds of attractions were often more special events than run-of-the-mill entertainment in old times. Lives today can include so many of these that they’ve become ho-hum. If that is the case, it might be worth mixing in more of the other old-time activities and limiting commercial attractions, thereby making the ones remaining more distinctive.

It is not necessary to throw out 21st century technology in order to enjoy some of yesteryear’s recreational practices, but it can be a rewarding endeavor to set aside gadgets and devices long enough to try some old-fashioned ways to have fun.

What would you add to our list? What are your favorite winter activities? Share your tips in the section below:

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Biosecurity: 7 Steps To Protecting Your Livestock From Deadly Disease

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Biosecurity: 7 Steps To Protecting Your Livestock From Deadly Disease

Image source: Pixabay.com

Twenty-first century homesteaders have the advantage of being able to pick and choose between ancient practices and modern technology, selecting the one that works best in every situation. At my place, I love old-fashioned methods, but not when it comes to biosecurity.

I get some startled looks when I say the word “biosecurity” out loud to farm visitors. It sounds a little scary, like a scene from a sci-fi movie with people running around in crisp white hazmat suits. While biosecurity may or may not look a little like that on huge corporate agriculture farms, that is not how it is on my small sustainable farm. However, it is every bit as important here.

I learned about biosecurity the hard way. I purchased two registered heritage breed goat kids one spring and did not quarantine them before putting them in with my existing herd. Later that year when a college class conducted an animal health workshop in my barn, the professor expressed concern about one of the young does. She took fecal samples to examine back in her office, and called me the next day with the results. The animal was loaded with barber pole worms, she told me.

I had no choice but to embark upon a steep learning curve. Just as I was beginning to acquire the knowledge and skills I needed in order to take biosecurity seriously myself, a big dose of similar reality landed on the doorstep of a neighbor. Symptoms, fecal samples, and vet visits revealed the words no owner of small ruminants ever wants to hear out loud. Caseous Lymphadenitis.

“No,” I half-whispered when she told me. “Not CL.” A disease that is highly communicable and can mean a death sentence for much of the herd, it is said to sometimes remain onsite even after the animals are gone. Nobody wants that.

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When it comes to livestock diseases and parasites, complacency is not a friend of the homesteader.

Protecting yourself and your animals is crucial. It is also imperative to avoid infecting other homesteads. Although I am not a livestock health care professional, I do have a few tips that may help other owners create and maintain a barrier to keep animals healthy.

1. Boot wash. This is one of the most effective preventions you can do, and one of the easiest and least expensive.

Biosecurity: 7 Steps To Protecting Your Livestock From Deadly Disease

Image source: Pixabay.com

I use a black rubber feed dish, a wide shallow model that sells for very little money at most feed stores. In it, I place a gallon of cool-to-tepid water, and a cup of household bleach. This is a very strong solution, more potent than I would use elsewhere. I also provide a long-handled utility brush. Both the dish and brush are dedicated to this purpose only.

Bleach solution does not maintain its efficacy for long. If visitors are not arriving until later, I set the supplies outside in the shade and mix the solution once they arrive. The liquid is about an inch deep in the feed dish, adequate for reaching organisms on the bottom of most farm boots. I ask folks to step one foot into the dish at a time, dunk the brush, and use it as needed in crevices of boot soles.

2. Shoe coverings. If people show up in sandals or dress shoes, they will not want to dunk their feet in an inch of bleach water. I do not blame them—I would not want to either! In cases where boot wash is impracticable, I offer plastic grocery store bags as coverings. They are easy to slid over footwear and can be tucked down into the tops of shoes or secured with a gear tie or little piece of duct tape.

3. Hand washing. Preventing transmission of disease in animals is similar to doing so in humans, in that washing between contacts makes a difference. I happen to have a barn spigot in summer and a utility sink conveniently located just inside my back door the rest of the year. Other options could include rigging a handwash station using a garden hose, or an old-fashioned bowl and pitcher if needed. Antibacterial products can be used, as well.

4. Screening. If I know that someone just came from a barn full of animals infected with Johne’s Disease, I really might secretly wish I had that hazmat suit. But in reality, I will ask the person to take extra care at my place. Farmers and homesteaders are generally honorable and genuine folks who will readily disclose where they have been and do whatever it takes to avoid transmitting infection. But they are also people with plates so full that they might not think to take precautions unless asked. Screening visitors amounts simply to asking the questions.

5. Commercial products. There are many choices on the market, from disposable boot covers to convenient boot-brush setups to many other types of disinfectant.

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Biosecurity: 7 Steps To Protecting Your Livestock From Deadly Disease

Image source: Pixabay.com

Bleach is not everyone’s first choice, nor should it be. It is not the most effective solution in all situations, and is not without risk. I choose it for reasons of my own, but fully respect others’ preference of alternative solutions.

6. Professional advice. Although nearly last on this list, consulting a veterinarian or other expert should never be a homesteader’s last resort. I cannot stress enough how important it is to make use of whatever knowledgeable people are available to you, from your vet to a cooperative extension professional to an animal health educator to someone within your support network. Ask, listen and learn.

7. Share information. Be generous with your knowledge. Keep in mind that there are livestock owners who — like I once was and you may have been, also — do not even know what they do not know. Spreading the word about biosecurity is in everyone’s best interest.

I am not advocating that livestock owners become overly paranoid, but I do recommend taking care. Prevention is always easier than treatment, and careful biosecurity practices are a great way to avoid livestock loss, worry and veterinary bills on any size homestead.

How do you protect your animals from diseases on the homestead? What are your biosecurity tips? Share them in the section below:

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5 Easy New Year’s Resolutions To Get More Done On The Homestead

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Easy New Year’s Resolutions To Get More Done On The Homestead

Image source: Pixabay.com

Homesteading is no small undertaking. The responsibility for the combination of growing your own food, providing for your own shelter and heat, and living sustainably can take its toll on even those with the stoutest of constitutions. In short, it can be difficult to get it all done.

If you are among those who resolve to achieve more in the coming year and hope to look back with satisfaction at your homesteading accomplishments, here are five ways to frame your resolutions for success.

1. Prioritize. Don’t get caught up in that which is less important. Homesteaders are frequently pulled in so many different directions at once that the tasks which get tended first are apt to be the ones that make the most noise, whether they are the most crucial or not. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, so to speak.

Be proactive about defining priorities. Make a solid decision about what aspects of homesteading are most significant to you, and proceed accordingly. If you define yourself as a market gardener who enjoys keeping a few livestock animals on the side, take care not to get so bogged down with dairy goats or breeding sows that your kale and tomatoes suffer.

2. Focus. With all the things on your plate, it is tempting to nibble at one thing and then another, without ever actually finishing any of it.

I follow a famous personal finance expert who advises people to pay off debt by tackling the lowest balance first, no matter what the interest rate. The reason this works, he says, is because success is more about motivation than math.

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I have found that my money guy’s wisdom can be applied to other aspects in life, including homesteading. Sometimes it is worth it to clear an afternoon of big projects so you can tidy up some long-overdue small items. Spending 10 minutes to fix a gate latch, another 15 scrubbing out feed buckets, a few more sweeping the cobwebs from the barn windows, and a half hour pulling the weeds from around the raised bed gardens can result in the satisfaction of actually having a few things finished, and can be the shot in the arm you need to move on to other tasks. And when you get to those, focus on each one as you go, even if it means batting away the others like so many pesky mosquitoes — unless a true emergency happens, focus on the one at hand and force the rest to take a number and get in line.

3. Organize. Spend time up front arranging things — tools, food, ideas, paperwork, and so on — in a manner that allows you to locate them easily. In the end, this will save not only time but emotional energy. It is exasperating to embark upon a project only to have to hunt for the right tools and materials first, and even more so to end up having to interrupt your work and run to the store for a new thingamajigget — especially if the old one turns up later! It is also often counterproductive to begin tasks without having a clear well-thought-out plan.

Frantically searching for spare tractor keys or equipment owner’s manuals or your favorite cheese recipe, discovering some much older home-canned goods that got hidden behind the fresher jars, or making do with a too-small paintbrush because the proper sized one cannot be found are never productive ways to spend time.

4. Evaluate. Is what you are doing manageable? Homesteading is like any other occupation or lifestyle in that you need to know when to say when. Small ideas and side projects can explode into all-encompassing compulsions. A few small lambs can become an out-of-control flock of sheep. A few hours of volunteering can end up as an unpaid committee chair position that swallows you whole. Having five different species of livestock with varying housing and fencing needs can steamroll over you.

Making executive decisions is hard, but imperative. Cutbacks need to happen sometimes, even when you hate to let anything go. Remember that you, your family, and your animals will benefit from you doing fewer things but doing them better.

5. Remember. Think about the reason you got started in homesteading in the first place. Are you still headed in that general direction?

Some friends of mine amassed an expensive herd of registered miniature goats and came to the realization that too much of their time and money was tied up in buying, selling, and showing — so much so that there was inadequate room in their lives for their homesteading pursuits. They sold off the entire herd, purchased a few sturdy dairy goats, and realigned their goals.

Another reason to remember why you started is to reset your heart. In the same way that married couples can heal wounds from a fight by recalling what it was that made them fall in love with their spouse in the first place, homesteaders need to fall in love again with the ideals of homesteading every now and then. Both marriage and homesteading are too hard to do without love. Stop, roll back to the very beginning, and remember why you came.

Whether your homestead is a humble off-grid cabin in the woods with just you and a partner and a tiny vegetable patch, or a sprawling farmhouse filled with a big busy family teeming with activities both off and on the farm, you probably want next year to bring about more progress than the last. By shaping your resolutions within these five parameters, you may well set foot on the path that will lead to success in the New Year and beyond.

What resolutions would you add to our list? Share your suggestions in the section below:

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I Wrote Down One Blessing Each Day During 2016. Here’s What I Learned About Life.

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I Wrote Down One Blessing Each Day During 2016. Here’s What I Learned About Life.

Image source: Flickr / Creative Commons

A social media post last December suggested writing down good things on slips of paper as they happen throughout the year, placing the slips in a jar, and then going through them when the next holiday season rolls around.

I decided to take it a step further. I pledged to write something good about every single day of the year – 365 blessings — instead of recording only intermittent positive events. Rather than wait for something good to rain down on me, I wanted to be proactive about gleaning goodness out of each day.

And besides, I know myself well enough to know that occasional notes would probably fade into the background quickly as my year filled up with inevitable busyness. I would have to make it a daily habit, like brushing my teeth and walking the dog, in order to stick with it.

My plan was simple. I would write a good thing every day on a little piece of paper, fold it up, and put it into a wicker basket I happened to have, which was about the size of a loaf of French bread. Every day, no matter what. And at the end of the year, my husband and I would open up all 365 pieces of paper and enjoy the happy memories.

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It was only a few weeks into the project when I found myself having to count up the already-folded papers in an attempt to determine if I had already written that day’s entry, or whether or not I remembered to do it yesterday. I knew that would very quickly become cumbersome, and I needed to create a sure-fire plan to make sure I didn’t skip a day.

The Trick To Remember Writing Something Each Day

Here is how I made it work: I cut up and dated the slips of paper ahead of time, and kept them in order in a magnetic clip. I know from experience that the easier I make a task and the more I set it up for myself ahead of time, the more likely I am to follow through.

There is always plenty of letter-sized paper printed on just one side in my recycle bin, and reusing that for my good things seemed like a sensible plan. It took very little effort to fold and tear a half sheet, or even a full one, at a time. I folded and tore them in half, then again, and again until the small slips of paper were each about 2 1/8 by 2 ¾ inches. Perfect.

Next, I took the time to write out the days and dates along the top of each one. Wednesday, March 2. Thursday, March 3. And so on. It was worth the extra few seconds it took to include the day of the week, because it is so easy to forget the date when one is caught up in a topsy-turvy day.

I kept these in a place where I was guaranteed to see them at least once a day, which for me was on my refrigerator door. Its prominent location mattered less after I developed the habit of filling out a slip of paper every day, but I did still need an occasional reminder throughout the year.

It was an easy task to sit down and prepare a few weeks’ worth at a time while waiting for the canner to process or listening to the radio, and having them done up ahead of time was the reason I stuck with it for the whole year. For me, that was the whole secret to making it work.

calendar-1022088_640Recording a year of good things has been a powerful experience. I have been amazed at and humbled by the volume of blessings that are heaped on my life, and frequently had to write really small and squeeze cryptic sentence fragments up and down the margins to fit it all in. If there were several good things that happened in one day—my husband got his annual raise at work and the first spinach came up in the garden and my cholesterol went down on my latest lab work—I did not limit myself to one good thing. It would have been reasonable to choose just one good thing per day, but I did not want to leave anything out.

I made up my own guidelines to this project. Did I cheat when it came to timeliness? Sure I did! I would sometimes notice on a Monday evening that we had never filled out Sunday’s good thing, and would do them both at the same time. Once in a great while I got as far as two days behind, but never more than that. As long as a slip of paper ended up in the basket for every single day of the year, I would consider it a win.

The only other real rule I set for myself was to never use a “backhanded” good thing. By that, I mean something that went on paper as good but was in fact simply a veneer on bad. For example, “I fell and scraped up my shin but did not hurt the other leg,” or “The dog was sick on the rug but at least it was not the new carpet in the study.” I made a point to write about something else entirely on days like that, something which was not tied to a negative event but instead stood alone as a good thing.

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The one exception I made to the stand-alone good thing rule was the day my husband was badly injured while using a circular saw. It was a traumatic day in our lives, to say the least. It would have felt disingenuous to write down something like “got the pole beans planted” on a day like that. What I did write was how glad we were that he was not hurt worse or that he did not suffer more loss than he did. After all we had been through in the past 24 hours, our good thing did not need to stand alone in order to be a sincere expression of gratitude for grace.

What I Learned

Some days were hard. Few people lead lives without challenges, and coming up with a good thing at the end of a rough day can tax even the most positive-minded among us. Sometimes I had to dig deep and came up with only bare basics—the sun shone, the unfriendly kitty suffered me to rub his ear, or a hen laid a perfectly shaped egg.

I learned to seek out the good things as I went about my day, making a mental note of my delight in finally laying eyes on the elusive pileated woodpecker who had been laughing at me from the opposite side of the tree trunk for days, or the way the aroma of lilacs swept me off my feet from across the lawn, or a loving comment in an email from a friend.

For much of the year, it was mundane stuff. Great checkup at the audiologist. Got a call from my sister. Did some work on the trails. Bought some yarn at half price.

In retrospect, it strikes me that most of life is mundane. While some years bring huge happy events such as weddings and births and travel and new homes, most of our lives set forth a lot of joy in tiny increments. It is those little things, scribbled on little slips of paper and folded up and tossed into a little wicker basket, that add up to the richness of a glorious year.

What do you think about this project – or about life in general? Share your thoughts in the section below:

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15 Free-But-Forgotten Ways Our Ancestors Stayed Warm During Winter

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15 Free-But-Forgotten Ways Our Ancestors Stayed Warm During Winter

Artist: Thomas Birch

Staying warm was not always as simple as flipping a switch or nudging a thermostat. In the days of our ancestors, it also was not as easy as loading and starting a pellet stove. It involved even more than hauling firewood in from a dry shed and loading it into a state-of-the-art woodstove.

With what were often limited resources, our grandparents needed to use common sense and ingenuity to augment whatever they used as a primary heating system.

Here are some of the “free” things they did to keep warm:

1. Wear sweaters and warm clothing. There probably were not many folks going around all day in short sleeves in the dead of winter. Instead of bringing the indoor temperature high enough to dress the same all year ‘round, they added on layers during colder seasons.

2. Acclimatize to cooler temperatures. When my aunt relocated to Florida several years ago, she laughed at the sight of joggers wearing earmuffs at 50 degrees. But by the next year, she, too, felt cold at higher temperatures than she had while living up north. In the same manner as my aunt became accustomed to warmer weather, so, too, can most people get used to cooler indoor temperatures during winter.

3. Stay active. I have hiked many mountains in cool weather, wearing only shorts and a T-shirt in temperatures as low as in the 40s. But sitting indoors at my computer, I reach for a sweater as soon as it dips below 70. Our grandparents may have moved around both in- and out-of-doors more than we do now, if for no other reason than to accomplish daily living tasks which we no longer do today. This higher level of activity contributed to keeping them warmer.

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4. Wrap up. When they did curl up on the couch with a good book or relax with a hobby, our grandparents likely made good use of afghans, shawls and lap quilts. Rather than heat the whole room, it made sense to use warm covers to retain body heat during sedentary intervals.

5. Be conscientious about trips in and out of the house. Every time a door is opened, heat escapes. By planning ahead and limiting the number of times the door is opened, people in our grandparents’ generation were able to retain indoor heat more efficiently.

6. Use the oven for indirect heat. It goes without saying that baking anything other than necessities is a better idea on a cool day than on a hot one. And after the baking is done, it is useful to leave the oven door ajar to allow the heat into the room.

15 Free-But-Forgotten Ways Our Ancestors Stayed Warm During Winter

Artist: Currier and Ives

7. Close off unused rooms. Spare bedrooms, summer kitchens, utility rooms and entryways may not need to be heated all winter. The more square footage in a home, the more heat is required — and the harder it can be to stay warm. Closing doors and heat registers to non-essential space can be helpful. This is what our grandparents did.

8. Keep bedrooms cool and pile on extra blankets for sleeping. Many bedrooms do double duty as areas for homework, children’s play or hobbies. It might be worth considering to move these activities to common areas during cold weather, thereby saving heating costs while keeping the family warm in one or two rooms.

9. Use insulated curtains or hang blankets on windows. Staying warm in our grandparents’ time often included creating an extra barrier between themselves and outside, and window coverings were key.

10. Cover walls. Hanging heavy quilts along exterior walls can help keep rooms warmer. It not only provides additional insulation, but soft textiles create the illusion of warmth and comfort. Extra coverings over wall outlets can help minimize drafts, as well.

11. Place draft dodgers under doors. Creations made of yarn, fabric, rags, synthetic stuffing, or newspaper can help prevent air exchange and retain more warm air inside. These could be basic — just old hosiery stuffed with textile scraps — or as fancy as anyone wanted to make them.

12. Winterize windows with plastic. Windows which were particularly vulnerable to wind and cold and those in rarely used rooms could be easily covered with a sheet or two of clear plastic and tacked on using furring strips, adding an additional layer of insulation and helping to create a greenhouse effect inside the house.

13. Caulk or fill in around windows. Loose windows and frames allow warm air to leak out and cold air to flow in. Filling in gaps and cracks with a malleable material helped prevent heat loss and contributed to our grandparents staying warm.

14. Insulate the attic. Commercial insulation is probably the best idea for us today—despite its higher cost, it is super-efficient. But our grandparents had to do it with whatever they had—rags, woolens and even old newspaper could make a difference. It was important that they take care not to place anything combustible too close to a chimney, and that remains a crucial consideration for us today, too.

15. Bank around the house. Our grandparents used bales of hay or straw, bags of leaves, or other insulating materials around the outside of the house. Often in colder climates, they packed snow around the foundation to minimize transfer of heat.

By being intentional and diligent, our grandparents were able to thrive in the coldest of weather. And by following the lead of our ancestors, we all can stay a little warmer during winter.

What old-time advice would you add on staying warm during winter? Have you discovered new ways? Share your thoughts in the section below:

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7 Essentials You Better Be Stockpiling For Winter

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7 Essentials You Better Be Stockpiling For Winter

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I stay prepped pretty much all year long, but I like to turn things up a notch during winter. Where I live, the nearest major store is an hour and a half round trip. The distance to town is merely an inconvenience in summer, but winter weather can turn the commute into something stressful and even potentially dangerous.

As with many situations in life, it is the little things that can make or break the success of stockpiling for winter. Sure, whole-house generators are a nice perk—and are understandably crucial in some circumstances—but it works for me to concern myself first with the small items. The problem is that small everyday needs can be all too easily overlooked. Here is a short list of must-haves to help you start your own winter stockpile, and a few hints about fine-tuning the list for the needs of your own household.

First, remember that it is about the basics: water, food, shelter, heat, safety, hygiene and comfort for the entire household. Humans, pets and livestock will need to eat, drink and be safe and healthy. Additionally, your location or relationships might mean that neighbors and relatives will be looking to you in the event of a winter emergency, and you will want to be prepared for whatever level of sharing you are willing and able to accept.

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For me, winter stockpiles are at least as much about not having to go out when the roads are slippery as it is being ready for a catastrophic event. I focus most of my preparedness efforts on the occurrences that are likely to happen. My winter supplies are usually planned around the likelihood of inclement weather or finding stores sold out of what I need, or even run-of-the-mill unrelated emergencies such as a last-minute work deadline or having a sick animal.

1. Water. You will need some for drinking, some for cooking, and some for your animals. Additionally, you will need water for sanitation and hygiene—brushing teeth, washing, and flushing the toilet. People often do not realize how much water they go through in a day. When considering how much water to stockpile, spend a few days being aware of every drop of water you use. Every time you turn on a faucet, imagine instead having to get that water from a jar or bucket in an emergency.

I keep between six and eight half-gallon mason jars of drinking water tucked away in my cellar pantry at all times. As winter approaches I increase my stores of drinking water, and add at least 15 gallons in lidded buckets for flushing. During winters when I am keeping large livestock, my water stockpile multiplies exponentially. Cows drink a lot.

Your water use may be more or less than mine. If you are unsure, it is better to overestimate your water needs than to underestimate them. If you end up not using the stored winter water, no harm done. Just pour it out onto the garden in spring and start over next season.

2. Food. The important thing about food is to stick with what you will eat. Sure, there might be a sale on cans of anchovies at the liquidation center. But if your family would not eat anchovies unless you were literally starving, pass them by and spend a little more to stock up on what you will eat. Tailor your food supplies to that which can be cooked on whatever equipment you will have available to you if the power goes out, or food that can be eaten cold.

“Oooooh,” my brother messaged me one day last winter, “I have a quarter inch of snow! I better run to the store to buy bread and milk and eggs!”

The joke among those of us who stay prepared all the time is that everyone seems to be in desperate need of milk, bread and eggs whenever a storm is predicted. We watch the TV news and see shelves and milk coolers stripped bare, and long lines at the registers. Don’t get caught being one of those people. Buy a loaf of bread, a package of frozen egg products, and a box of shelf-stable milk the next time you shop for food, and make room for the bread and eggs in your freezer. But plan on never using them—instead, commit right now to staying ahead on all of your grocery necessities. Pick up a gallon of fresh milk a couple of days before the current one is gone. Don’t get down to the last crust before shopping for bread. Put pasta on your shopping list ahead of time.

Do not forget food for animals. Keep pet food, grain and hay stockpiled as much as you can for the winter. If your goats go through 200 pounds of grain or 20 bales of hay a month, keep that amount as a baseline, always buying new as soon as you dip below a month’s worth.

7 Essentials You Better Be Stockpiling For Winter

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3. Medication. Winter is not the time to run out of over-the-counter remedies for colds, headaches and minor injuries. Whatever your go-to is, from multi-symptom nighttime cold syrup to St. John’s wort tincture, stock up now.

Prescription medications can be a little more challenging to stay ahead of. There is a specific window of time during which pharmacies can legally refill medications—in other words, they cannot refill your 90-day prescription just a month after filling it the last time—but there is often a week or so of leeway. Be diligent, and do not wait until you are down to your last day to go for a refill.

4. Equipment and supplies for handling ice and snow. Depending upon your geography and needs, this might be shovels, snow scoops, roof rakes, chemical ice melt, ice creepers, car windshield scrapers, and more. Buy it now, while it is available, instead of rushing out right before a big storm only to discover that the best quality and least expensive options are sold out, leaving you only the ones nobody else wants.

5. Alternative heating. This looks different in every home. If it is not very cold outside and your house was warm before you lost power, you might be able to get by overnight and even for a few days with only heavy clothing and blankets. Other contingency plans include a wood-burning appliance or another choice of heater run by natural gas or a generator and the fuel it needs to run. Remember that equipment which is designed to run outdoors can cause carbon monoxide poisoning indoors, so whatever you use, make sure it is safe and that you know how to operate it properly. But if you are going to burn wood or propane, or rely on down-filled sleeping bags to keep you warm, stockpile what you need now.

6. Flashlights, lanterns and the batteries to run them. Have an absolute minimum of one lighting appliance per household member, and keep at least two full sets of batteries for each appliance.  Always.  I keep a flashlight, a small battery-operated lantern, or both, in almost every room in my house.

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If the wind is howling and I think power might be interrupted, I keep a flashlight on my person so that I can use it to access other lights and necessities. I do not rely on gas lanterns or candles for power outage lighting, but I do keep a few around for absolute emergencies.

7. Basic household supplies. This varies greatly from one household to the next, but almost always includes batteries, toilet paper, tissues, diapers, and women’s hygiene products. These are the other items that are almost always sold out quickly when a storm is predicted. The way to avoid this is easy—stockpile! Keep an absolute minimum of a month’s worth on hand at all times, and you will be glad you did.

Just like you did with water, assess your needs ahead of time as you go about your daily routines. If you need kitty litter, paper towels, cigarettes or coffee, stock up now.

A lot of winter stockpiling is more about peace of mind than actual needs. Having enough of everything on hand reduces anxiety. Whether the weather forecast is calling for a blizzard of epic proportions or a few inches of slush, you will rest easy knowing you have done all you can to keep yourself and your family from falling in between a rock and a hard place.

What would you add to this list? Share your tips in the section below: 

REVIEW: ‘The Road’ Is A Gripping Prepper Novel Full Of Tragedy, Struggle And Hope

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REVIEW: ‘The Road’ Is A Gripping Prepper Novel Full Of Tragedy, Struggle And Hope

A screen shot from the movie that is based on the bestseller.

I recently asked a fellow author and prepper to recommend a well-written prepper novel, and he replied without hesitation: The Road, by Cormac McCarthy. I ordered the book through my rural lending library system right away.

To say that The Road is well-written is an understatement. The book – which won a Pulitzer Prize — contains wording so artfully constructed that I had to stop and ask myself if the book in my hand was one of prose or poetry. The imagery was graceful. The emotion was moving. The words flowed like water across the smooth stones of a brook bed.

However, when I mentioned the book to others who were familiar with it, McCarthy’s beautiful writing was not what most people commented on first. They said things like “dark,” “bleak” and “scary.” Those were the words I heard most when I talked with others. I read many reviews expressing similar sentiments, and I learned that the book had been made into a movie.

Spoiler alert: If you have not read the book or seen the movie and you want to, stop reading this review right here.

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The book follows the journey of a man and his young son struggling to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. The father has made the decision that they can no longer remain in place and that they must travel south toward the coast in search of better options.

It is possible the man might be seeking solidarity with fellow survivors, as well, but he remains highly suspicious and guarded when encountering others—and with good reason. Society has broken down into a vicious dog-eat-dog world where everyone is clinging to their own survival by a thread and nobody is trustworthy.

McCarthy tells a lean tale. He doesn’t clutter the story with extraneous details. He doesn’t even give names to the characters—just “the man” and “the boy” and the title “Papa” in conversation. We are not told of their setting, but the mention that there used to be “states” and “state roads” implies it is America. We know it is a cold and snowy season.

There are few facts given about the event itself. We know only that it happened several years prior to the first chapter. Huge clusters of civilization have been burned to the ground and survivors were few. What little is left is covered with ash so thick and pervasive that it has left almost no flora or fauna.

There was once a wife and mother, but she is gone before the book begins. The boy’s birth happened at the same time as the apocalyptic event, and readers are given to understand that the three of them somehow cobbled together a life of survival for a period of years.

We learn early on that the struggle became too much for her. She chose to end her life rather than go on in a world so hopeless. It is a heartrending scene as the couple engages in an argument, each attempting to sway the other in that awful life-and-death decision—he begs her to stay, and she begs him to go with her.

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REVIEW: ‘The Road’ Is A Gripping Prepper Novel Full Of Tragedy, Struggle And Hope The man is determined to go on living, despite the stark living conditions, ever-present danger, and vast challenges. He forges on southward, protecting himself and his son from looters, murderers, cannibals, starvation and freezing as best as he can.

The little boy is anxious and fearful—he has lived his entire life in apocalyptic conditions, has trouble imagining having friends, and tastes his first Coca-Cola while on the journey south. His mother is gone, and his father has taught him that if he ever finds himself in a situation where he knows he will be tortured—or worse—that he is to follow in her footsteps.

But in spite of being a child born into a stark world that seems to deny any existence of a higher power, there is a certain celestial sense about the boy. There are hints throughout the book of him possessing a wisdom beyond his years and a compassion too deep to have been developed in his upbringing.

I caught myself wondering whether the wife had been right. Could the trauma and suffering possibly ever pay off?

Alternately, I was angry at her. If she had stayed, I thought, their lives would be better. Less alone. Less pressure on either of them as the sole caretaker of the other. It struck me that she had chosen out of selfishness, to the detriment of those she loved. I wondered: What would I have done in her shoes?

But the man had declared that they were survivors. To him, it wasn’t just an empty word. It was the mantra upon which he based every decision, every action, every sacrifice of making sure the boy was warmer and healthier and better fed than he himself was.

In the end, the father sacrificed everything he had. He gave his all to make the best possible life for his son, never making time for his own body to recover from whatever malady had struck him, and the malady won the day.

But hopelessness does not win. In this story of tragedy where it seems that the only way out is to follow the path taken by his wife, the man chooses a different one. He chooses life for his son. Even knowing that the odds are stacked high against the boy, he chooses hope and life.

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“Goodness will find the little boy. It always has. It will again,” McCarthy tells us.

The boy sits with his father’s body for three days before a stranger comes along.  And somehow, the stranger does bring goodness. He assures the boy that he is one of the good guys and that he doesn’t eat people, helps him tend to his father’s remains, and takes him home to join his family.

The mother talks to the boy about God, but she tells him it’s alright if he talks to his father instead.

Incredibly, despite a journey of cold horror, human tenderness and warmth carry the day.

I keep the book at the back of my mind as I go about my own life. Sometimes I think about the strength and tenacity of the father, or the beauty of the son’s compassion for others. I remind myself that I’m doing the right thing by tucking away extra food and supplies for a rainy day. I ponder the implications of the evening news. Mostly, though, I feel grateful—for food, and warmth, and shelter, and community. And above all, I am grateful for hope.

Have you ever read The Road? What was your reaction to it? Share your thoughts in the section below:

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5 Things I Really Wish I Had Known Before Homesteading

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5 Things I Really Wish I Had Known Before Homesteading

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I have not always been a homesteader. Most of my adulthood has been spent living a lifestyle far closer to what is generally considered mainstream — suburban home, food from the supermarket and central heat.

Nine years ago, my husband and I embarked upon the steepest learning curves in our lives. Even though our previous lives had involved a great deal of outdoor activities and total immersion in the natural world, our new roles as homesteaders taught us so many new things so intensely that we often felt as if we were on a curve so steep we might fall over backwards.

If I could roll back the calendar and give myself a few pieces of advice, I would be sure to include the following five major tips.

1. Infrastructure is everything.

Fencing, gates, bridges, corrals, barns, woodsheds, run-ins, calf pens, kidding stalls, hay feeders, chicken coops, raised bed gardens, cold frames, high tunnels, arbors, traditional garden beds, greenhouses — the list of structures that need to be in place for purposes specific to homesteading are mind-bogglingly endless. The property we purchased had very little infrastructure in place and needed a lot of building, repairing and retrofitting in order to suit our needs. But we didn’t let that stop us — we forged ahead, sending for garden seeds without having enough garden space ready and acquiring animals before having adequate year-round housing in place.

We were far more optimistic and energetic than we had any business being, which ended up being both a blessing and a curse. On the downside, viewing situations through rose-colored glasses in those early homesteading days caused us to cast aside far too many real concerns with casual nonchalance. We were sure “we could always build that permanent fence later” and “there was plenty of time to repair the woodshed roof before winter.” We ended up backing ourselves up against the wall in many cases when “later” steamrolled right over us and winter didn’t wait for the completion of roof repair.

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It is far too easy to underestimate the time, energy, cost and potential roadblocks that often accompany infrastructure development. And when construction or repair takes place during the 11th hour — or even later — it can cause a lot of tension, and can even allow the roots of long-term discontent to take hold on the homestead.

On the other hand, optimism and energy are like superpowers. They carried us over rough patches, provided extra strength and courage when we needed it most, and helped us accomplish far more than we ever could have without them.

My advice to myself regarding infrastructure would be this: Stay ahead of it. If you get behind your infrastructure needs, you might never catch up.

2. Homesteading is so much work!

It won’t matter, we thought. The volume of work will be eclipsed by the fact that it is so rewarding and so personal and meaningful, we thought. The truth is, doing work you love and truly believe in really does make all the difference. And in our case, it made us able to do it. But at the end of the day, work is still work. If a homesteader works an off-farm job and then comes home to another 40 hours of work, it takes its toll on even the strongest and most resilient people.

Holidays, vacations or even sick days are hard to come by. Dairy cows have to be milked on Christmas morning, and tobacco hornworms will not take a break from destroying your tomatoes while you recover from knee surgery.

Here is my note to self: Do not underestimate the work required for homesteading. It will require very long hours of grueling, back-breaking, tedious, unrelenting hard labor. It will be worth it, but make no mistake. It will be tough.

3. Community is crucial.

I read a lot of books about homesteading before I started, from memoirs to manuals. One concept I ran across more than once in my reading was the impact of isolation upon homesteaders. I believed it, but I did not really get it. Not until I lived it myself. Spending long hours with nobody to talk to except cows and tomato seedlings sounds idyllic, and sometimes it is. But being completely on one’s own when a porcupine is entangled in the electric mesh fence or standing alone in a sweltering kitchen watching milk pasteurize for what feels like hours on end can make even the stoutest of homesteaders want to throw in the towel — and the canners and dung forks and milk buckets — and head back to the city.

5 Things I Really Wish I Had Known Before Homesteading

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It is loneliness, but it is more than just loneliness. It is the fact that there might not be many visitors — anyone who is willing to touch a homestead with a 10-foot pitchfork probably stays busy with a place of their own. It is the fact that while the rest of the world is weighing the merits of the latest hand-held device, you will be busy weighing the tiny newborn goat kid every day in hopes it will thrive. It is knowing that you are on your own, engaged in a lifestyle that most people cannot understand, with what sometimes feels like very little support from the outside world.

Age, accidents, sickness and disabilities are not friends of the homesteader. Neither is bad weather, predators and equipment breakdowns. My advice to my novice self is this: You will need real friends as a homesteader more than you ever needed them before. Relatives, neighbors, people from church, folks in the goat club — wherever they come from, make sure you and they are ready for the long haul.

4. Homesteading is not cheap.

Raising one’s own food rarely saves money. Sure, there are instances here and there where homesteaders save big. For example, I have paid a grand total of maybe $20 for garlic over a period of three or four years. I plant it every fall, purchase a few new varieties every once in a while, and use last year’s bulbs for seeds. And the eggs from my free-range chickens cost me almost nothing in summer.

But goat milk? Oh boy. When the occasional veterinarian visit and medications are factored in, and even a rare-but-crucial farm-sitting expense that allows us to show up at family weddings and funerals — and not to mention the time spent milking and sanitizing and feeding and shoveling if I paid myself even minimum wage! — that feta and chevre is worth its weight in gold.

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Meat is expensive, too. Feed and upkeep cost a lot, especially in a northern climate where an animal’s grazing and foraging opportunities are limited for much of the year. And then there is the cost of processing, which can more than double the actual cost of raising the animal.

Even vegetables can be costly. By the time one buys seedlings or heats a greenhouse to start their own, builds raised beds, buys ground cover, invests in tools, and amends the soil, they might have done better to just go buy sweet peppers at the market.

If I could offer myself advice, I would say to go ahead and endeavor to raise as much of my own food as I could. Knowing it is organic, locally sourced, and humanely raised is everything. Just know this: It will probably cost almost as much to raise your own as it would to buy it at a big box store.

5. There’s no room for softies!

Keeping livestock is not for the faint of heart. Eating meat is harder when that steak or pork chop once had a face — a face you petted and fed every day for months. Even if you do not raise meat animals, there are still difficult decisions. Disbudding. Castrating. Medical intervention. Lying awake at night worrying about whether the animals will be safe in the hurricane or adequately protected from predators. And even selling is hard — waving goodbye to a beautiful goat kid and covering your ears while his mother and twin wail in anguish is rough on those of us with marshmallow hearts.

My advice to myself nine years ago would be this: Know that along with the love and tenderness that comes with sharing your life with farm animals, there will be bits of agony.

Nothing about homesteading is easy, but for many of us, it is worth it. My advice to myself or anyone is simply this: Know that you are doing the right thing, but go in with your eyes wide open, both feet on the ground, and bracing yourself for the ride of your life.

If you homestead, what advice would you have given yourself?

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Emergency On The Appalachian Trail (A Rescue Story For The Ages)

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Emergency On The Appalachian Trail (A Rescue Story For The Ages)

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I jerked up out of a fitful sleep to the sound of men shouting. My mind was still sticky as I tried to orient myself to the gray dawn after a night of trauma.

I was lying on the floor of an Appalachian Trail lean-to with three others—an older gentleman known as “The Old Ridgerunner” on one side of me, my husband Mark on the other, and a middle-aged man called Chris lying comatose beyond him.

Mark and I were out for a four-day trip through a slice of Maine’s famous “Hundred-Mile Wilderness,” so called due to limited road access. We were frequent hikers who spent most of our free time backpacking or bagging peaks in northern New England. We had embarked upon that trek from a trailhead along a gravel road some 16 miles north on Sunday afternoon, and by early evening Tuesday had arrived at a camping area nestled into a ravine on the northeast shoulder of White Cap Mountain.

The Logan Brook lean-to is pretty standard as trail sites along the Maine Appalachian Trail go. A three-sided log lean-to with a floor wide enough for five or six sleeping bags to lie comfortably side-by-side, a fire pit, a water source handy, a few tenting spots, and a privy discreetly tucked into the nearby forest at the end of a short side trail.

Nothing had seemed out of the ordinary when we arrived. We set about our usual campsite busyness—unpacking, filtering water from the brook, and setting up our tent in a spot about twenty feet from the lean-to.

Other hikers arrived and tended to similar activities. Ridgerunner and Chris both happened to be endeavoring to hike the entire Appalachian Trail in sections and were finishing up the last few hundred miles in Maine.

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Two other hikers, both young men, arrived for the night as well. One was a thru-hiker known as “Swami, “and the other was a weekend recreationalist named Greg, out for a four-day trek.

The group all chatted casually, getting to know one another on a cursory level as strangers who were thrown together for a night, each fading in and out of conversation as camp chores allowed.

We noticed a few odd things about Chris right from the start. He had been back on the trail just two days and a total of only 12 miles, and was surprisingly tired when he arrived at camp. As we prepared supper over our tiny portable stove near the lean-to, we noticed that Chris had already crawled into his sleeping bag. It was early in the evening for turning in, but hikers have their own way of doing things and we dismissed it.

Shortly thereafter, someone noticed that Chris’s feet were shaking, and asked him if he was all right. He responded coherently. He thought he would be okay, he said, but asked for water. I filled his water bottle with filtered water, and offered to make some soup for him. He rummaged through his belongings and produced a cup. I handed it back filled with soup, and he accepted it gratefully.

It was apparent to the other five of us present—Ridgerunner, Greg, Swami, Mark and me—that Chris was sick. We offered assistance, gave him water, and could do little else other than hope that sleep would heal him. As hikers, we’d all been there. For a sudden dehydration or flu or other malady that strikes a body while deep in the backcountry, the only cure is time and rest.

Emergency On The Appalachian Trail (A Rescue Story For The Ages)

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Darkness was encroaching when the seriousness of Chris’s condition became obvious. He suddenly vomited while lying on his back and began choking. My husband leapt into the lean-to and turned Chris onto his side. The choking subsided, but his breaths came in loud labored groans. Next, he began to convulse.

We were unable to rouse Chris, and realized in dismay that he had not been merely sleeping, but unconscious. His skin was hot and sweaty. We unzipped his sleeping bag and found that he was wearing several layers of clothing. It was a hot July evening, and we attempted to cool him by easing the sleeping bag away from his body and removing what clothing we could.

It was clear that our fellow hiker was in crisis, and this tiny group of people who had met for the first time only a few hours before was suddenly and completely in charge of the life of a person in our midst.

First, we did the obvious, tearing through all of Chris’s belongings in search of medical documents or prescription medication. Our search turned up no clues.

We discussed our options. None of us had cell phones. They were uncommon among serious hikers in those days, and reception from Logan Brook would have been unlikely anyway.

Chris was not going to walk out on his own, that much was clear. Someone was going to have to go get help. While we were weighing the risk of sending hikers out through the forest at night versus waiting for daylight, Chris suffered another round of choking and convulsing. That clinched it. We couldn’t wait.

Greg and Swami knew they had to be the ones to go. Despite the many miles of harsh mountainous terrain they had already hiked that day, their youth and strength made them the best choice.

We had to figure out the safest and fastest way for them to get help, and didn’t have much information to go on. Our only maps were those printed specifically for hikers and included just a narrow swath along the Appalachian Trail itself, and a rough large-scale road map of Maine that showed almost no unpaved roads.

We were in an area of Maine so remote that it didn’t even have a name—TB R11 WELS was its only nomenclature. The region is dotted with sporting camps, logging operations, and old grown-in roads, but we had no way of knowing where any of those might be in proximity to our location. Mark thought we might have crossed an old camp road a few miles back, but he couldn’t remember for sure, and didn’t know whether the camp road might dwindle to an unnavigable labyrinth, especially at night.

The best bet was to send Greg and Swami out along a known route to a public campground. Hay Brook Campground was in the wilderness, but it was accessible by car. The young men hoped to find a camper there.

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To that end, they would ascend the steep climb to the summit of White Cap Mountain and take a side trail from there down to Hay Brook. A total of eight miles, all in the black of night, after a full day of strenuous backpacking already under their belts.

We packed them up with extra headlamps, emergency gear and a prayer, and settled in to wait. I was scared. We all were, drifting in and out of sleep as we lay on the hard wooden lean-to floor next to the man whose condition seemed to be deteriorating.

None of us had dared to hope that help would arrive before late morning, and were surprised to hear an approaching game warden and paramedic shouting “Hello!” at daybreak Wednesday.

There had been access on the old camp road, it turned out. A camper at Hay Brook had called out to the gatehouse on a cell phone, and although reception had been spotty, the gatekeeper had got the gist of things and called the warden service. Equipped with maps and high-powered night travel equipment, they had reached Logan Brook from the camp road in just a few hours.

It was a relief to have professionals show up and take charge. The paramedic fired questions at us while he unpacked supplies and hooked up equipment to care for his patient.

The game warden set about brisk preparations for a helicopter evacuation. We were incredulous. How could that be, I asked him, here in a thickly forested ravine?  They would lower a cable, he told me.

The rescue professionals used two-way radios to communicate with the warden service airplane circling overhead and a National Guard Blackhawk helicopter en route to the scene.

Meanwhile, we on the ground scrambled to prepare. The game warden chopped a few trees to widen the clearing. Ridgerunner, Mark, and I scurried to do as he directed, searching for materials to build a smudge fire in order to help the helicopter locate the site. I volunteered my blaze orange rain poncho to provide a target for the drop, and we used heavy rocks to hold it down. There was no time to dismantle tents and put away belongings, but we hurriedly grabbed everything up and tossed it off to one side of the lean-to.

The smoke had barely cleared the treetops than we heard the tut-tut-tut of the chopper. Hovering close to the trees over the tiny clearing, it lowered a Guardsman on a cable.  Next came a long metal basket-like stretcher.

The noise and wind were incredible. The game warden had warned us that it would be like a hurricane, but I was still not prepared for such force. Small trees nearby were nearly flattened. We huddled in the back of the lean-to and covered our faces to protect them from the bits of flying gravel and sparks from the fire. My heart sunk as I watched my entire tent fly across the clearing and get sucked through the trees beyond.

Emergency On The Appalachian Trail (A Rescue Story For The Ages)The helicopter swooped away. The Guardsman and paramedic worked together to prepare Chris for transport. In the interim, we three campers rushed around the site trying to retrieve belongs and cover the embers in the fire pit.

The helicopter returned and hovered overhead for several minutes while preparations were completed.

The paramedic went up first. It appeared to be his first live experience airlifting, so the Guardsman gave him some quick do’s and don’ts before he lifted off.

Chris went next. Two more rescuers had arrived on foot. They helped strap the still-unconscious patient to the basket, and we all watched in awe as the cable drew him up into the helicopter.

Rather than send the harness back down for the Guardsman to use—probably in the interest of time—the helicopter lowered an apparatus that looked like a large two-pronged pulp hook. The Guardsman straddled the hook and held on as he ascended skyward. We civilians on the ground below held our breaths and watched as the wind dragged him through the top branches of a nearby tall tree before reaching the open chopper door.

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Only about an hour had elapsed, from the time the first two rescue workers arrived to the moment the helicopter roared away. We hikers sat on the lean-to bench in a daze. Gear was strewn over a half acre of forest. Trees were laying over at a 45-degree angle.

We all did our best to sort gear, and the ground crew left on foot with what we hoped belonged to Chris.

Mark fired up a camp stove. The three of us relived the events of the past 12 hours over cups of coffee. We lauded the professionalism of the rescue crew—the skill of the helicopter pilot hovering in a mountain ravine at dawn, the expertise of the warden service, and the bravery and strength of the night hikers.

Ridgerunner packed his belongings and headed out. The two of us waited with Greg’s and Swami’s packs until their return around noon. We all exchanged stories again before parting ways—the three lone hikers northbound towards Katahdin, and Mark and I southbound toward our car waiting at a trailhead.

We managed to retrieve our tent from the puckerbrush. By some miracle we were able to bend the poles back enough that we could set it up and sleep in it the next night.

Back home two days later, I made some follow-up calls. The rescue professionals confirmed that our little group had made the right choices—sending hikers out in the night, and sticking with the route that involved more mileage but less risk.

Chris lived. He had an underlying physical disorder of which he was unaware, and had been exacerbated by trail conditions. As far as I know, he made a full recovery, and I hope he was able to finish the Appalachian Trail.

My husband and I went on to travel hundreds more hours and miles on trails throughout Maine and beyond, but never before or since has a four-day trek been so eventful. And for that, we are truly grateful.

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Prepping For Winter: Essential Stuff That Homesteaders Often Forget

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Prepping For Winter: Essential Stuff That Homesteaders Often Forget

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Getting ready for winter when you live in the city is one thing, but winter readiness on the homestead is another matter. Not only are there more needs to fulfill and a wider variety of possible emergencies to consider, but there is often more distance to travel for goods and services.

Out on the homestead, you need to up your game. You don’t want to wait until a blizzard is bearing down on your homestead to make the 70-mile round trip to the feed store, take the risk that they might be sold out of what you need, and worry about your livestock facing the elements back at home while you search for another source.

Begin by making sure your winter readiness includes everything you need. Start with personal items that you cannot go without. It goes without saying that you will need food and water for human consumption. Boxed or canned food that can be eaten hot or cold are great choices, and you can never have too much clean drinking water. Consider keeping a loaf of bread in the freezer and a quart or two of shelf-stable milk on hand, as well.

Make sure you keep adequate stores of toiletries and hygiene items on hand throughout the winter. Stock up so that you don’t have to beat everyone to the stores when inclement weather is imminent.

Do not forget medications. Winter is not the time to practice “just in time” inventory management. As soon as your prescriptions are diminished enough that your pharmacy will refill it, do so. Foul weather, car trouble and sick kids can happen in the blink of an eye, so leave yourself enough wiggle room that unexpected events do not turn a snowstorm into a medical crisis.

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Have winter clothing on hand, too. Go through your closet and make sure last year’s long underwear still fits, there are no holes in your wool socks, the zippers work on your winter parkas, and that you have the hats and gloves and waterproof footwear you will need for cold and snow.

Remember your pets. They will not care if snow is falling and stores are closed when they run out of dog chow and kitty litter.

The time to fill up the heating fuel tank, have any needed well or septic maintenance done, and make arrangements to hire someone to plow your driveway is now — before the weather forecaster is wearing earmuffs and a sweater. And before the phones of the service providers are ringing off the hook.

Out in the shed and garage, you will want to have what you need to remove snow and ice from your car windshield, house roof, porches and decks, sidewalks, paths and driveway. Depending upon your neighborhood and climate, this could be anything from roof rakes to rock salt to ice creepers to shovels. But it is about much more than stocking up. It is about making sure your vehicles are winter ready. Check out the tires and change them over to snow tires if needed, make sure there is enough antifreeze in the radiator, and take care of any repairs and maintenance before the weather turns to winter.

Prepping For Winter: Essential Stuff That Homesteaders Often Forget

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Do not forget emergency supplies, from batteries to lanterns. But again, it is about more than buying and storing goods. If you have a generator, make sure it is running well. If you burn wood, see that the stove or fireplace and chimney are clean and safe. If there is a chance a winter storm can drive you from your home — if you have no way to heat it without power, for example — be certain you and your household have a rock solid evacuation plan.

Having all of these plans and supplies in place in preparation for anything winter throws your way is a great start. But if you are a homesteader with livestock, there is more to be done.

Your barnyard animals will need to be fed, watered, sheltered and corralled. Some of them might need medications, supplements and health treatments. In a worst case scenario, they might even need emergency intervention of some kind.

Make sure your fences, posts, gates, doors and chutes are ready for cold and can withstand a snow load. Pull up portable electric mesh fencing before the posts freeze into the ground. Ensure that infrastructure — barns, sheds, run-ins, chicken coops and other shelters — are in good condition, and tend to any shingles or siding or door latches that might need to be tightened up before the winds of winter howl across the homestead.

If you use heated water dispensers or heat lamps, get them out ahead of time and make sure they are operating. This way, if you need replacement bulbs or parts, there is still plenty of time to send away for specialty items.

As with food for humans and pet, staying ahead on hay and grain during the winter months is crucial. Even if you cannot store enough for the entire season, store as much as you can, replenishing and rotating as you use it.

Before winter hits, go through your stores of emergency treatments and medications. Replace items that are dried out or contaminated or expired, and add any new items you might need for livestock maladies and injuries to your kit.

Make sure you bring products sensitive to cold indoors if your barn or tack room will dip below freezing in winter. Even if it is not damaged by the cold, many gels and pastes are easier to use when thawed.

By preparing for winter in advance, you can save time, money and anxiety for everyone. If you can sit back and relax in the face of snow and cold instead of standing in long lines for basic groceries or braving icy roads on your way for essential supplies, everyone wins.

What winter readiness advice would you add? Share your tips in the section below:

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7 Things You Better Learn & Know Before Digging A Well

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7 Things You Better Learn & Know Before Digging A Well

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Water is one of those commodities that many people take for granted. Like electricity or natural gas, a lot of us are accustomed simply to flipping a switch or turning a knob or lifting a handle, and there it is. It may be that we have not had occasion even to wonder about the manner in which it traveled from its source to our homes. It is provided by a municipal or for-profit entity, and all we have to do is pay the bill.

In most truly rural locations, people are on their own for water. Typically, that means having a private well. If you have never had to be responsible for water accession, the idea of doing so can be a little daunting.

If having a private well is new to you, following are a few basic facts about owning one that might be helpful to know before you take up homesteading or country life.

1. It is possible for a well to run dry. While there are different well-drilling technologies, different climates, and different demands for water, no well is completely infallible. When that happens, homesteaders are likely to be on their own. When piped-in water fails, the onus is upon the water company to rectify the problem. When a private well fails, it is the owner’s problem.

That said, it is uncommon for good quality wells to fail or run dry. Wells which are shallow, dug (as opposed to drilled), makeshift, poorly sited, or located in an arid climate are more likely to have problems than those which are deeper, professionally drilled, or in an area with a high underground water table and ample rainfall.

2. Well water is not tested unless the owner tests it. Again, in this age of having certain aspects taken care of for us by experts, it is easy to forget that rural living does not include all the same benefits. Out in the country, the only way we know what is in our water is to have it tested.

In my region, the process is simple and inexpensive. It amounts to picking up small plastic jars from a nearby commercial laboratory, following instructions for filling them at the kitchen faucet, and returning them to the lab. If you are unsure how to proceed where you live, ask your county cooperative extension, your municipal office, a state official or even a professional realtor.

3. Water can be contaminated by fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides or naturally occurring substances. Residue from a myriad of sources, from commercial crops to livestock to landfills to your own landscaping practices, can seep into groundwater. In addition to external contaminants, geology can play a large role in water quality. Toxins such as arsenic and radon are common in my region, and homeowners need to be diligent in determining levels of dangerous elements in their well water.

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Many toxins are treatable. Some are as easy as adding chlorine, and others require extensive mitigation equipment.

If you are purchasing a property with an existing well, be sure to test the water before you buy the property. If you are planning to build a well on property you already own, have the water evaluated as you proceed.

4. Additives are not present in well water unless the owner adds them. This can be both a benefit and a drawback to having your own private water source. You can control any chlorine or other chemical elements in your water, but you do not have the advantage of having what many consider to be beneficial additives. Some dental professionals say that children raised in impoverished rural areas have two strikes against them—not only the reduced access to dental care, but the lack of fluoride in drinking water. Other science suggests fluoride treatment is more of a risk than a benefit. The takeaway is simply this: Make sure you know what you are and are not getting in your water, and if there is something of value missing, be proactive about attaining it elsewhere.

7 Things You Better Learn & Know Before Digging A Well

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5. The cost of creating a well depends greatly. Primarily, it rests upon the type of soil, the presence or not of ledge below the surface, and the type of well that is best for your geography. For example, a high water table — meaning that underground water stays close to the surface — and soft sandy soil can mean that a simple point well can serve nicely. These conditions are also more conducive to dug wells than are harder soils with a higher concentration of clay and ledge. For the latter, a well probably needs to be drilled with professional equipment, especially if the best reliable source of water lies deep below the surface.

6. Do not forget codes and regulations. Many areas have strict codes regarding the location and type of wells which can be created. You may or may not need a permit for your well. Check with your local authorities before you start to dig.

7. Well water travels from the well to your faucet by way of a pump. Homesteaders who are on the grid often use an electric well pump, which can be situated either inside the well itself or closer to the interior plumbing of the home. In-well pumps are more labor intensive and often more costly to install, while interior pumps are noisier. Interior pumps cost more to run, as well, since the act of pulling water takes more energy than pushing it.

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If you have an electric pump, you will lose the ability to draw water when the power goes out. If this is your situation, it is important to keep ample water on hand for possible outages. It is a good idea to keep a supply of clean water in sterile glass jars for human consumption, and larger amounts of water in plastic barrels for flushing.

Having a hand pump on your well, as either a primary pump or for use in emergencies—is an even better idea. If you can afford to add one to your existing pump setup, you are likely to someday be glad you did.

As an aside, not all rural water supplies rely upon a well at all. Some homesteaders and off-gridders successfully use nature’s power to provide them with water, utilizing such resources as rainwater, natural springs or other water bodies and harnessing gravity to move the water to where they need it. If you can get reliable water year-round without a well, go for it!

Among the many positive aspects of having your own well is the fact that you are not in danger of suffering from someone else’s bad decisions. You can be in charge of making sure there is no lead in your pipes and no contaminants in your groundwater. On the other hand, when something does go awry, it is your responsibility to correct it. But until something happens, there are no monthly bills for water, no unwanted chemicals, and often a far better taste. Once you become accustomed to the unique rewards and responsibilities of having your own well water, you will likely agree that living with a private well is worth what it takes to do it right.

What would you add to our list? Share your well water tips in the section below:

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8 Obvious-But-Overlooked Ways Our Grandparents Survived Tough Times

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8 Obvious-But-Overlooked Ways Our Grandparents Survived Tough Times

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Hard times are nothing new. They have come and gone throughout the centuries, and people have dealt with difficulties as best they can.

Amid catastrophic weather, crop failures, job loss and personal injuries—all of which often lead to economic disaster—our ancestors made it through some of the worst of times. Here are a few money-saving tips our grandparents might give us for getting through hard times.

1. Work harder. It might seem laughably obvious at first glance, but hard work really is the answer to a lot of struggles. If you have a job, ramp up your efforts. If you do not have a job, make it your full-time endeavor to look for one. Either way, consider devoting some of your free time to per diem work such as raking leaves and shoveling roofs and walking dogs. Money is out there, just waiting for you to earn it.

2. Tighten your belt. This is another tip that is so obvious that it can be overlooked. Meals out, new clothes, new vehicles, furniture, accessories for both the home and for personal use, and many other luxuries which people routinely purchase can be forgone during hard times. If it isn’t truly necessary, you can do without it until your cash flow improves.

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3. Limit entertainment. If you are spending your time working hard, you will have less time and energy for entertainment. And tightening your belt means saying no thanks to things like cable television, the latest electronic gadget, a hobby upgrade such as a new cycle or camera or snowmobile, or a vacation trip. This is not to suggest it is healthy to go without entertainment and leisure for a lifetime, but focusing instead on work and thriftiness for a period of time to get you over a rough patch is wise.

4. Buy second-hand. Even if your livelihood requires that you dress in brand names and drive a nice car, you can still do it wisely by purchasing pre-owned. Consider shopping at thrift shops, online resale outlets, and social media buy/sell groups, not only in lean spells but also in times of plenty. It is a great way to support local businesses and help out your friends and neighbors who may need the cash your purchase brings in.

8 Obvious-But-Overlooked Ways Our Grandparents Survived Tough Times

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5. Have a yard sale. Selling your unnecessary goods can kill two birds with one stone. Not only will you scoop up a little cash from the sale, but you will help declutter your home and garage in the process. Having things clean and organized can be energizing, which helps you stay focused and get other things done.

6. Fix items instead of replacing them. In this world of disposable everything, it feels almost automatic to toss stuff in the trash and go buy another one. But in our grandparents’ youth, goods were thrown out less and repaired more. Consider having jacket zippers replaced at a repair shop instead of buying a whole new garment, or sewing on buttons and stitching up seams yourself. Glue broken knickknacks, tighten window blind strings, and don’t be afraid to tinker with tools and equipment to get them back into smooth running condition. Buy parts and replace them yourself or pay a professional—which is still less costly than buying new.

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7. Grow your own food. Backyard gardening is never completely free, but it is always a better value in the long run than buying less healthy and more chemical-laden foods in the store. During hard times, even a few patio pots filled with tomatoes and summer squash can ease up a straining budget, and a couple of laying hens can make a real difference.

8. Shop wisely. If chicken is on sale, buy chicken. Even if that was not what you had in mind for your current menu or if it comes in packages bigger than you need, you can always repackage and freeze it for later. Buy seasonal items on clearance and store them for next year. Buy in bulk for items you use a lot. Avoid brand names when it does not make a difference, and use coupons for the brand names you prefer when it does matter.

By following these few simple tips all the time, you will be able to build money-saving habits so that when hard times come around, you will be better prepared. It may be possible to become so skilled at pinching pennies that your practices will either help deflect economic difficulties in the first place or will help you glide right through them with barely a hiccup in your routine. Either way, engaging in money-saving behavior is always a win-win.

What advice would you add? Share your tips in the section below:

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The Plain-Language Guide To Buying The Right Log Splitter

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The Plain-Language Guide To Buying The Right Log Splitter

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There are a lot of variables involved in splitting firewood for heat. Methods vary widely, depending upon individual needs and skills and upon the wood itself. There are still some people out there who split wood by hand, either because their firewood is soft, or they don’t use much of it, or they are just plain tough as nails. For people like me, who do not fit into any of those categories, there are many machines available for splitting wood.

If you are in the market for purchasing equipment for splitting wood at home, there are some useful things to know before you shop.

First, a few words about terminology. I refer to the piece of equipment I use to split firewood as a “wood splitter,” but you will not find that anywhere online. Instead, you will find “log splitters.” I am unsure whether my term is a regionalism or just old-fashioned, and would be interested to know if there are others who call it a “wood splitter.” For ease of communication, I shall call it a “splitter” for this article.

Splitters come in a variety of types, styles and price ranges. You can purchase a manual rig for around $100 or a high-end machine for many thousands. The one you choose will depend upon your firewood needs, log availability, time, skills and budget.

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The manual splitters on the market comprise an assortment of simple machines which are basically adapted axes with additional safety features and effort-reducing torque designs. Foot- or hand-powered levers operate an axe, which slides along a metal table or cradle where the wood to be split is placed. The work yield is improved by levers, hydraulics, and ingenious designs, but these splitters are not intended for use with a large volume of firewood. They may disappoint when used for harder varieties of wood or larger pieces, as they are marketed for light use.

For certain situations, however, these splitters are just the ticket. For example, a manual splitter might serve a household well if their firewood needs for the season amount to just a small amount of softwood, or if they buy most of their firewood already cut and split and need only to trim up a few pieces, or if they are able to accomplish most of their splitting with a weekend rental.

On the other end of the spectrum are high-powered commercial wood processors. These machines are fast, powerful, highly automated and expensive. They cut full length logs and then split them quickly with minimal human effort. Big pieces of equipment such as these are intended for those who cut a large volume of firewood — particularly for commercial ventures — and such an investment is not likely to be justifiable for most ordinary homeowners.

Most of the splitters designed for backyard and homestead use are somewhere in between. These homeowner models can be roughly divided into four categories: freestanding gas-powered in either standard or flywheel type, and as attachments on a skid-steer or tractor.

Standard-type freestanding gas powered models are probably the most common. They vary in size, force and price. Measured by tons, the available force ranges from around 8 tons to 35 tons or more. Prices start around $500 and reach $5,000 and up.

As with any machine, the more a person will use it and the more money and effort will be saved by having it, the more sense it makes to own one.

Firewood usage depends upon many factors, from the size and insulation of the house to the quality and dryness of the firewood. The type of wood burner matters a great deal, too, whether it is a tightly-sealed highly efficient stove or a drafty fireplace or a state-of-the-art outdoor wood burner. Even the site of the wood-burning appliance matters, as well as the skills and diligence of those using it.

All that aside, it is reasonable to figure that an average-sized home in a northern climate will burn between five and 12 cords of wood a year. That volume of firewood can easily be handled with a moderate-sized splitter in the range of 20 to 27 tons. Standard styles in this size sell new for between $1,000 and $1,700 at major dealerships and big-box stores.

Freestanding gas-powered models work basically like this: the round section of firewood which has been cut to stove length, or “bucked up,” fits onto the table or cradle. The motor drives a hydraulic cylinder, which closes the gap between a cast-metal wedge and a vertical plate on the other end of the table, and splits the wood between them. On most of these models, the wedge moves towards a stationary plate, but a few manufacturers do it the other way around, with a traveling push plate and a stationary wedge. Either way, it is operated with ease by a handle on the side of the splitter.

The Plain-Language Guide To Buying The Right Log Splitter

Image source: Pixabay.com

The moving part travels fairly slowly on most standard mid-range models. That is probably a good thing safety-wise for the forward motion, but it can be tedious on the return. Half of my wood-splitting time is spent waiting for the wedge to retract enough to begin the next cut.

At a fair a few years ago I happened upon a salesman demonstrating a flywheel-type gas-powered splitter, also called a kinetic splitter. I was so astonished at the speed with which the wedge retracted that I watched the demo over and over, and eagerly gathered up a handful of promotional materials.

“He had you at three-and-a-half second return,” my husband joked. But when I checked out the dealership website later, I suffered a little sticker shock. The equipment is fast—and mostly on the return cycle, where it is less of a safety issue and more of a time-saving one—and by design is also super-efficient, but it is expensive. Lower-end models start at higher prices than most standard models and go up quickly, but are nonetheless the perfect choice for many homesteads.

The range for attachment-type splitters is similar to that of freestanding models. These types do not have their own power source, but instead attach to other equipment for power. Most of the attachment types are made for tractors, but a few are made for skid-steers as well.

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Ton for ton of maximum force, attachment types cost less to buy. However, it is a little more complicated than that, because splitter performance depends upon the power equipment’s hydraulic capacity, as well. It is important to assess the capability of your tractor or skid-steer before committing to a splitter attachment, and asking your dealer or repairperson is a great idea if you are unsure of how to match the right model attachment to your tractor or skid-steer.

If you have the equipment necessary to operate an attachment type splitter already, that may well be the best way to go.

Nearly all splitters operate in either horizontal or vertical mode and can be easily changed from one to the other. There is no right or wrong, but merely whatever the user is comfortable with and is able to do. Larger logs can more easily be slid under the wedge with the splitter in the vertical position, but smaller pieces can be done either way.

Brand names are something to be considered. On freestanding types, the manufacturer of the engine is particularly important to some, and can have a significant impact on the price, as well. If you have a favorite engine maker and are willing to pay a little extra for it, go ahead and do so.

If you are unfamiliar with splitter operation, it is crucial to seek instruction and guidance as part of your shopping experience. All types of splitters are powerful machines and can cause severe injury if used incorrectly.

Large or small, manual or full-feature, freestanding or attachment — there are a lot of wood splitters to choose from and many decisions to make when making a purchase. A careful assessment of your needs, skills and budget can help you choose the best possible equipment for you and your homestead, and will help you keep your family warm in winter for years to come.

What advice would you add on buying a log/wood splitter? What type do you own? Share your thoughts in the section below:

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Things That Make Splitting Wood Simpler, Easier & Even Fun

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Things That Make Splitting Wood Simpler, Easier & Even Fun

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When maple leaves are glowing red and gold, Canada geese are honking overhead, and patches of white frost accent the path to the barn, it is time for homesteaders to turn their attention to seasonal matters.

The rhythms of those who heat their homes with wood vary from person to person. Some stay a full year or more ahead on their firewood, cutting and splitting all their wood for the winter of 2016-17 during the year 2015. Others get the current season’s wood done just in time to chuck it into the woodstove as the snow starts flying. Most of us hit it somewhere in the middle of those two extremes.

No matter how far ahead you may or may not be, you probably like to take advantage of the cooler autumn temperatures to split firewood. And now that wood-splitting season is upon us, it is time to get serious and get ready. If a weekend set aside for firewood processing is in your future, make sure you have all you need to keep things running smoothly from start to finish. Here are some things you may have forgotten – things that will make the day’s task much easier.

First, make sure your wood splitter is tuned up and running well. Assuming you use power equipment to aid in splitting your wood — be it powered by electricity, gas or a tractor — you will want to have it in the best working condition possible. Having a malfunction which slows or stops progress can be frustrating, so be proactive about having it ready. Take it to a shop or do the work yourself, but take care of whatever is necessary to prevent breakdowns and sluggish operation.

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Have a supply of fuel ready. Keep in mind that some small-engine mechanics warn that gas older than 60 days ought not be used in small engines, and make sure you have the gas cans topped off so you will not have to interrupt the flow of work to go for a fuel run. If your splitter is PTO-driven, make sure you have enough diesel fuel for the job.

Do not forget lubricant for the log table. This is a small item but one which ought not be overlooked. I am fastidious about spraying my splitter table every time I start it up, and the occasions when I used up the last can and forgot to replace it or it got misplaced have resulted in delays. If you live out in the country where stores are a long drive away, little things like this are even more crucial to gather up ahead of time.

Have an axe or hatchet handy. Having at least one piece of wood put up a fight is almost guaranteed. Bucked-up firewood has a mind of its own, and will sometimes twist around a knot or pull apart in sinewy portions that are difficult to master. A quick chop with an axe is a great remedy.

Things That Make Splitting Wood Simpler, Easier & Even Fun

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If you live in an area where snakes pose a threat or if you have an aversion to them, you will want to keep something within easy reach for possible encounters. Firewood piles make excellent snake habitat, and you will want to have a way to deal with them if needed. A long handled axe or hoe close by is good insurance.

A pulp hook is often useful for moving and lifting firewood. Using a hook gives the user better control, more leverage, increased arm length, and creates a little more space between him-or-herself and potentially dangerous moving logs.

Ear protection is advisable. Gas-powered wood splitters are loud, and muffling the sound is a good idea. While it may be tempting to go without ear defenders when splitting with other people so as to convey information, it is useful to consider that you probably cannot hear them well enough to communicate verbally anyway. Instead, consider developing a plan that includes a few unmistakable nonverbal signals when working with others, for the sake of safety and ease of operation.

Make sure your gloves are the right ones for the job. Many people prefer leather gloves, but my experience has found them to be slippery — which is very dangerous when handling wood, as it can result in less control of the wood and possible foot injuries — and they tend to wear out quickly. I inherited a pair of knit fabric gloves with rubbery palms and fingers one year when a farm hand left them behind, and I have since thrown away every other pair I had and begun purchasing the fabric-and-rubber types by the dozen. I find them to grip wood well, fit comfortably, and last longer than leather.

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One final thing to make sure you have ready to go on firewood-splitting day is a collection of good friends. Not only do many hands make for light work, and particularly with firewood processing projects which easily lend themselves to being done assembly-line style, but they make for fun as well.

If you do have friends and family show up to help, be sure to have plenty of cold drinks and snacks available for the whole crew. You might even need to consider a barbecue after the work is done if you want to make sure they return next year.

As with any tasks involving power equipment, make safety a priority. If goggles, chaps, steel-toed footwear, and a helmet seem like a good choice for you and your work team, do not hesitate to use them.

Splitting and stacking firewood for the winter are some of my favorite homesteading activities. I cannot promise that by following the above steps will transform it from a detestable chore into a fun time, but being prepared can often alleviate some of the stress and aggravation that can go along with any big job. And when you are enjoying the warmth of a cozy wood fire while the snow is falling outside in winter, you will know that your wood-splitting work was worth the trouble.

What wood-splitting advice would you add? Share it in the section below:

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10 Food Storage Tips Your Great-Grandparents Would Want You To Know

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10 Food Storage Tips Your Great-Grandparents Would Want You To Know

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There was not a fully-stocked food store on every corner when our great-grandparents were alive, and most of them did not have access to anything resembling modern supermarkets.

Selection and availability were limited during days of old, and much of their food was either homegrown or locally sourced. Our ancestors probably had a few tricks up their sleeves when it came to keeping food at home, and might be able to offer some guidance to those of us who manage food today.

Here is some of the advice our great-grandparents might share with us today:

1. Storage does not improve food. If the quality is marginal when it goes into the freezer, the Mason jar, or the bulk storage container, then it will still be marginal—at best—when it comes out. It is a good idea to select the finest products for storing and preserving, and eat the blemished foods fresh.

2. The above tip notwithstanding, do not waste food. If it’s the best you have, or all you have, and you need or want some for later—then by all means store it! Food storage, like most things to do with homesteading, is all about doing the very best you can with what you have.

3. Store only what you will eat. It sounds simple, but it is all too easy to get lulled into preserving food just because you can, and without questioning whether or not you should. I got so carried away with canning one season that I put up foods my husband and I don’t even like. I gave a little away to friends and relatives, but it didn’t appeal to them, either. The steers got most of it and were appreciative, but it was an expensive and labor-intensive livestock feed that I will make sure never to repeat.

4. Go for the easiest way first. Choose the food storage method which requires the least effort, the least cost, the least equipment, and the least supplies. If storing dry beans in a glass jar works for you, do that instead of going to the trouble of using long-term storage buckets with the air removed. If root-cellaring works in your situation, do that instead of canning.

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If freezing is easier for you than canning and you have what you need to do it, freeze on! You can always upgrade later—for example, if your root-cellared carrots or jars of homemade fruit leather start to look iffy, freeze them before you lose them.

10 Food Storage Tips Your Great-Grandparents Would Want You To Know

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5. Store enough to tide you over a shortage. Unexpected events happen, from tomato blight to drought to livestock loss. Commercial foods are sometimes suddenly and inexplicably unavailable, as well. For example, it was hard to find bottled lemon juice in any of the stores one summer season, leaving home food preservers scrambling to find it wherever they could. Since then, I have always made sure I tuck away a little extra of all my essentials in addition to what I need for the current season.

6. Do not get too hung up on fancy items. Sure, maple sweetened carrots and complicated chutneys are great for special occasions, but make sure you remember the basics. Most people won’t find a place on their table for fancy foods every day, but will need plenty of plain pumpkins and dry beans and their favorite varieties of rice. Balance the everyday foods with the special ones and you will hit it just about right.

7. Keep an eye on the environment around your food. Is it hot, cold, dry or humid? The conditions may have been right for your food when you placed it into storage, but can change with the seasons. Avoid frozen Mason jars and hard-caked sugar and moldy squash by regularly monitoring your food storage environment.

8. Guard against pests. Make no mistake—everything out there is looking for a free lunch! Mice, rats, chipmunks, squirrels, voles, rabbits, birds and foxes, along with all manner of beetles and bugs, will gladly avail themselves of your hard-won foodstores if given the opportunity. Do your best not to give them the chance. Use a combination of hardware cloth, plastic and metal containers with well-fitted lids, deterrent and diligence to keep them out of your food.

9. Rotate your stock. Be sure to use up the oldest first. This practice, along with buying and preserving only those foods which will get eaten in your home, will prevent foods from getting too old to be safe or palatable.

10. Keep organized. Loss and frustration can occur from being unable to locate or access items. A scattered messy pantry might look unappealing, too, resulting in less efficient use of stored food.

Follow this time-tested food storage advice, and enjoy the successful bounty of growing and preserving your own food, stocking up at the store, and managing it all at home.

What food storage advice would you add? Share it in the section below:

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6 Popular Fruits & Vegetables You Didn’t Know Could Be Preserved

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6 Popular Fruits & Vegetables You Didn’t Know Could Be Preserved

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When most people think of putting up food for winter, there are a few vegetables and fruits that immediately come to mind.

But a look through any good quality food preservation book—such as the ones published by Ball, the National Center for Home Food Preservation, or the USDA—can reveal some interesting options.

When I find myself with an overabundance of something from my garden and do not want to see it wasted at the end of the season, I am often inspired to search for creative ideas to preserve my harvest in new ways. Over the years, I have dug up a few possibilities that can surprise even some experienced home food preservationists.

Here are a few fruits and vegetables you may not have realized you can preserve:

1. Eggplant. Although there is no recommended method for canning eggplant and it is listed in the “poor to fair” category for dehydrating success, you can still enjoy your eggplant harvest all year long by freezing it. The trick is to use lemon juice in the blanch water. Add a half cup per gallon of water, process in small batches, and prepare only enough fruit for one batch at a time.

For eggplant that I plan to use for frying, I slice it one-third of an inch thick. If it is fresh from the garden and not at all overripe, I leave the skins on. Otherwise, I peel it. After blanching for 4 minutes and cooling the slices in an ice bath, I pat dry on towels and freeze in zip-top bags with wax paper between the layers.

For other uses—ratatouille, stews and casseroles—I peel the eggplant, cut it into chunks, blanch and cool in lemon water the same as with slices, spin dry in a salad spinner, and freeze in batches the right size for one recipe.

It has occurred to me that it would work well to bread it and fry it before freezing, but my garden harvest keeps me too busy for that. If you have time to do so before freezing and save yourself the trouble later, I encourage you to try it.

2. Onions and peppers. The happy surprise here is not that you can preserve them, but the fact that it is so ridiculously easy. To freeze onions, shallots and peppers of all kinds, just cut them to the size and shape in which you are most likely to use them—sliced, chopped or in wedges—put them in bags or containers, and toss them into the freezer. No blanching, no fuss. Just clean, peel, cut up and freeze. They will not be suitable for raw eating when they come out, but will be excellent for just about everything else, from casseroles to omelets to soups to stir-fries.

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They can be preserved in other ways, also. Sweet peppers can be canned plain, pickled or in a variety of relishes. Hot peppers can be pickled, made into jam, or added to hot sauce. Onions, too, can be canned in vinegar, added to relishes and chutneys, and even made into marmalade!

Onions and peppers also dry very well, resulting in excellent culinary options for those off grid or with minimal freezer space.

6 Popular Fruits & Vegetables You Didn’t Know Could Be Preserved

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3. Zucchini and summer squash. The truth is, you will never be able to achieve an exact duplicate of yummy fresh-out-of-the-garden squash. But if you cannot bear the thought of going without squash on pizzas and in frittatas and sautéed in olive oil for the winter months, try freezing some slices. Slice, blanch 3 minutes, cool in ice water, pat dry on towels, and pack in bags or containers with wax paper between the layers.

As with eggplant, you may do well to fry it first if you have the time.

You can also grate it and freeze it that way, for use in winter breads, cakes and cookies. I measure out what I need for my favorite recipes and freeze it in those quantities. It does not need to be blanched if it will be used in baked goods, where the texture of the end product does not matter, but be aware that it will become watery when thawed.

Do not can summer squash. Its texture does not allow for it to be safely canned by itself. There is an approved recipe for canning zucchini in pineapple and sugar, but the end result may not taste much like the vegetable you are trying to preserve.

4. Watermelon. Wait, what?! The books say you can freeze it, in seedless cubes or balls, either plain or packed into a container of heavy syrup. I admit I have never done this, and the reason is simple. I live far enough north that raising melons is iffy. When I do manage to raise a few successfully, I indulge in them right then and there.

The one method I have tried is watermelon rind preserves. It is a delicious way to use a part of the melon I would have thrown away anyway, and makes a nice winter treat.

Melons can be dried, but is not recommended. I know people who have done it, but because melons are almost all water, the result may not be satisfactory.

5. Greens. Canning greens is hard work, but the results taste great. If you have a pressure canner and are up for the task, canned greens are an excellent choice.

You also can blanch and freeze them, but you end up with a product that does not look anything like store-bought.

Another option for greens is to simply freeze as-is. If your intention is to use them in a way in which the texture is irrelevant, such as in a smoothie, and you will use them up within a few months, this is the way to go. Pack enough for a single usage into a zip-top bag, flatten to remove as much air as possible, and freeze.

6 Popular Fruits & Vegetables You Didn’t Know Could Be Preserved

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6. Fruits and berries without sugar. Many people think it is necessary to make a sugar syrup for canning fruits and berries, but water or fruit juice can be used in most cases. I found a recipe for canning blueberries in water this year—I should note that I use canning recipes only from sources I know to be safe and reliable, and this one is from the National Center for Home Food Preservation—and was happy to can my home-grown blueberries using this healthy and hassle-free method.

It is wise to do some searching and read the side notes in order to find low-sugar and no-sugar options for canning fruit. Sometimes they can be found in the “special diet” section.

A word about experimentation—before you try it, ask yourself if the worst thing that can happen is about quality or safety. If it is about quality, and if you can afford the potential loss of losing the product, go ahead and try. But if it is about safety, do not risk it. What you stand to gain is not worth the possible cost.

Use this list for starters, use trusted resources, and have fun. You just never know what you might end up enjoying from your garden on a snowy January day.

What would you add to this list? Share your preserving tips in the section below:

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7 Garden Must-Do’s You Shouldn’t Put Off Until Spring (No. 5 Might Be Most Important)

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7 Garden Must-Do’s You Shouldn’t Put Off Until Spring (No. 5 Might Be Most Important)

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After a full season of intense gardening and homesteading activities, many of us are ready to pull up the last of our vegetable plants and sit back on our heels as cooler weather moves in.

Don’t do it.

As tempting as it is to put things off until spring, there are a handful of tasks that you will wish you had already completed when the next gardening season rolls around. Springtime is usually so busy for those of us who grow our own food that we just cannot get it all done, and many projects are easier or more practical to do in the fall anyway.

Following are 7 ideas for things you might want to consider doing before winter hits.

1. Soil testing. Having the right soil for what you are trying to grow is a key component to success. Unless you have it tested, you will not know if you have enough organic matter, major nutrients or micronutrients. You can add amendments until the cows come home, but unless you know exactly what you already have in the soil, you may be missing out on essential information.

While many substances are said to be good for the garden, there is such a thing as “too much of a good thing.” I live in an area where the soil is generally on the acidic side, and therefore believed that routinely disposing of wood ash in the garden was the right way to go. After a few years of doing this, a soil test came back with a high pH, and the advice to refrain from using wood ash.

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Testing in the fall is a good idea, not only because of timing—in addition to your own busy gardening activities, the laboratory might have a full slate in spring and take an extra few weeks to return your results—but because fall testing will give you the chance to make adequate amendments before planting.

In my state, testing is done professionally and inexpensively by the Cooperative Extension. They send back a thorough written report and are available for follow-up answers and guidance. I expect most states offer a similar service, and although it may be a little more trouble and money than those instant-read gadgets you can buy, it is worth it.

2. Soil amendment. After testing your soil, you will want to follow the advice provided. It is never a good idea to add raw manure to a garden in springtime, but you can get away with doing so and tilling it into the soil in fall. And if the advice is to avoid adding wood ash, you need to know that before winter, not after.

3. Preparing sites for perennials. Many crops get off to a running head start when the site preparation began the previous year. Killing weeds, leveling the site, testing and amending the soil, and creating any necessary infrastructure ahead of time will make both you and your plants happy during spring. It will be less challenging for your berries and other perennial plants to become established and develop vigorous habits, and less stressful for you without having to squeeze it in with tilling and greenhouse-tending and planting.

4. Rototilling. Not everyone uses traditional tilling methods, but if you do, fall is a great time to get it done. Running the rototiller over the garden now will prevent weeds from taking hold before the snow flies. Be sure to first remove any spent plants that had disease or parasites this growing season in order to keep them from overwintering in your garden.

7 Garden Must-Do’s You Shouldn’t Put Off Until Spring (No. 5 Might Be Most Important)

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5. Mulching. Sure, you mean well. You are going to jump right on that garden and begin tending it before a single weed has a chance to grow next spring, right? We have all vowed something similar, but things happen to prevent us from following through. Two straight weeks of rain makes the garden too wet to work in, or the kids are sick, or there is a lot of overtime at work—and before you know it, the garden is full of weeds before you even start. The secret is to prevent them now by mulching. Whatever you normally use—grass, plastic or fabric—go ahead and lay it in fall. Even if you do not want to mulch the whole garden, you can do selected sections. Mulching works well to prevent weed growth on your garden perimeter and designated pathways. I use strips of used old carpet for this, and like to pull it up and re-lay it every few years, to keep it tidy and to keep out persistent weeds from coming through.

6. Mapping and planning. Unless you have a terrific memory or a very small garden, you might lose track of when and where you grew which crops. I take lots of pictures throughout the summer, which helps, but nothing beats written documentation. Maps, sketches, graph-paper drawings, and narratives are all great ways to keep your garden organized year to year. This helps with rotating crops in order to ensure that diverse nutrients are drawn from the soil over time.

A good reason for doing as much planning as possible in the fall is because the successes and failures of this season are still fresh in your mind. Right now, you remember that the location of the basil was in an inconvenient spot, or that the dog kept running through the space where the winter squash was trying to spread out, or that the amount of sun was perfect for the corn this year. Make your garden sketch for next year with those things in mind—or at the very least, make notes of what worked and what did not for reference during spring.

7. Taking care of infrastructure. This is a big one. If any one thing really knocks the wind out of my spring sails, it is trying to build, modify and make major repairs to infrastructure. It is always something I need to get done before the plants go in, so there is always a rush. Trying to put together raised beds, install new pea fencing, build arbors and trellises, rig up new rain collection systems, set up low tunnels—it is tough to get all that done during spring. I always get excited about planting season and am ready to hit the ground running as soon as I can, but having too many infrastructure projects trips me up every time.

Minor repairs and re-installments are fine. Even adding a raised bed to an existing plot or modifying a roof rainwater collection system can be done during spring. But major infrastructure projects are tough to get done before planting a garden, and can set the tone of being overwhelmed for the whole summer if you try to squeeze too many of them into spring.

If all of this sounds like more than you can get done this fall, then remember that few gardeners do everything exactly right every season. Do your best to get these projects done during the fall, but cut yourself a little slack if needed. If you do not get as much finished as you hoped before winter, then remember the gardener’s perennial mantra: Next year will be better.

What would you get done before spring? What would you add to this list? Share your tips in the section below:

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10 Clever Food Preservation Tricks You Likely Won’t Find On YouTube

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10 Clever Food Preservation Tricks You Likely Won’t Find On YouTube

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There is no doubt that the world wide web contains a wealth of information. How-to videos are easy to find for just about everything, and articles full of clever hints and hacks are all over the place.

But this article is not just another list of cute-but-impractical ideas. Most of these tricks are ones which I actually use myself on a regular basis to make my food preservation projects easier and more efficient. (I will explain the two exceptions at the end.)

Although I have embraced the arts of home food preservation for less than 10 years and have spent much of that time on a steep learning curve, I have been fully immersed in everything homesteading and surrounded by others who share the lifestyle. As a result, I have been able to pack plenty of great ideas into my bag of food preservation tricks, and have compiled a few of my favorites to share with others on the same journey.

1. Store onions in nylon hose. Aside from temperature and humidity control, one of the other important factors in keeping onions fresh is preventing them from touching each other. The key to accomplishing this is easy: Just store them in nylon stockings with knots tied between them. Any sort of hose will do; if you have tights or panty hose, just cut off the legs for use and throw out the top. Make sure they are clean, of course, since you will be storing your food in them. Place an onion into the clean hose, push it all the way to the toe, tie a knot in the hose, and repeat with another onion and another knot. Leave enough hose at the top to tie a loop, and hang the loop from a nail on the rafters of your cellar or a hook on the ceiling of your food storage area.

2. Keep apples separate during storage. Many people do not realize that apples give off a gas which causes other fruits and vegetables to ripen more quickly. While this is a great way to treat unripe fruit in a mixed fruit bowl, it creates unfavorable conditions for root cellars and can cause loss of produce. If at all possible, keep your apples stored apart from your squash and root vegetables.

10 Clever Food Preservation Tricks You Likely Won’t Find On YouTube

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3. Use a scoop for pesto. After years of doing it the way everyone else does, I finally came up with a better way. The conventional method for freezing pesto is to put it in ice cube trays, freeze it, and then pop it out and store it in zip-top bags. Nice, unless you are the one who has the tedious job of cleaning out all of those oily little individual ice cube cups. This year, I tried using a small ice-cream style scoop—specifically, a size 40 disher, for those who use restaurant equipment—instead. My freshly processed pesto was too soft immediately, so I chilled it in a covered bowl in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, it was the perfect consistency for using a disher to make little balls of pesto. I scooped it out onto waxed paper on a cookie sheet. Once frozen that way, it was an easy task to toss the perfectly shaped and portioned pesto balls into a zip-top bag for storage, and cleanup was a breeze.

4. Use whatever fruits you have on hand for fruit leather. I am a great believer in adhering to food preservation recipes, with one exception. Fruit leather projects around my place turn into a fruit free-for-all. If I happen to be making peach leather, but there are a couple of bananas that are a little too soft for fresh eating lying on my countertop, I throw them into the food processor with the peaches.

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On the other hand, if my apple leather project happens when there are once-frozen peaches now thawed and unappealingly discolored in the refrigerator, they end up in the leather as well. Mixing fruits for leather is safe and generally rewarding.

5. Use a salad spinner when blanching vegetables. This is a fantastic tip I learned from my Master Food Preserving Program instructor. After processing your broccoli or green beans in boiling water and then plunging them into an ice bath, the next step is to remove as much water as you can before packing them into freezer containers. You can spin almost all vegetables dry using a salad spinner, even the bulky ones like cauliflower or Brussels sprouts—just cut the vegetables into reasonably sized chunks and be sure not to overload the spinner.

6. Use a regular drinking straw to remove the air from freezer bags. The more air you can remove when packaging vegetables into zip-top bags, the better quality the frozen result will be. You can buy a vacuum seal machine if you want to, but that means greater expense, additional storage space and hassle, higher cost for bags, and less ability for reuse. Alternatively, you can manually suck the air out with a straw and pinch the seal around it as you withdraw the straw. It is an easy process and takes only a few seconds per bag.

10 Clever Food Preservation Tricks You Likely Won’t Find On YouTube

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7. Keep jars warm in the canner. This sounds like a no-brainer, but many experienced home canners do not know about this. When I prepare for a canning project, I first place my clean jars into whatever canner I am using, cover them with water, and set them on the stove to heat. By the time my product is prepared and I am ready for jars, I simply lift them out a few at a time for filling, and return them afterwards for processing. You will have too much water for pressure canning this way and will have to pour some out before processing, because you need just a few inches instead of enough to cover the jars. If you heat your lids, you can drop them into the canner with the jars as well.

8. Mouse-proof plastic totes with hardware cloth. Large plastic storage totes make perfect storage for root cellaring, except for the problem of what to do about the lid. If you leave it on, the vegetables cannot breathe and the air in the container will become too humid. But if you take it off, rodents get into your bounty. The solution is to cut out a piece in the center of the lid and cover the hole with hardware cloth using heavy-duty glue or duct tape. You can adjust the size of the mesh according to the particular pests that threaten your produce, and may even need to use window screen if insects are an issue.

9. Keep raw tomatoes in the freezer until you have enough for processing. There is a lot of space between having just enough to eat fresh and having enough to can a whole batch of sauce. In the interim, many wise home food processors simply toss them into the freezer. When there is enough—or when you have time to do the work—simply take them out and cook them as usual, remove the skins in a food mill, and continue the sauce work.

10. Store berries in the freezer for making jam later. There is a lot of living to be crammed into short northern summers, and sometimes there is not time for jamming when the berries are ripe. And besides, standing over a pot of boiling fruit is far more appealing in November than it is in August. Using frozen and then thawed berries for jam can be the answer to short, hot busy summers.

The last two items are those which I do not do personally. The reason is simple—freezer space. I begin every summer with an empty 15-cubic-foot freezer, and by early October every square inch is full. I have a second freezer which I use for meats and other miscellanea, but space is at a premium in that one, as well. By the time my long-season paste tomatoes start ripening, there is no room for them in either freezer.

By incorporating some of these simple tips into your regular routine, you can benefit from the tried-and-true wisdom of the homestead community and begin to build your own bag of food processing tricks.

What food storage advice would you add to our list? Share your tips in the section below:

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Which Preservation Method Is Best For Which Foods? (Here’s How To Know)

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Which Preservation Method Is Best For What Foods? (Here's How To Know)

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I am frequently asked what is the best preservation method for various foods, and the answer is almost always the same: It depends.

The best bet is to be ready and able to do a combination of canning, freezing, dehydrating and root cellaring in order to maximize your efficiency and to end up with the best possible end result for the least effort and cost.

There are pros and cons to each type of food preservation, and which one you choose depends upon the food you are preserving, your own particular needs, your facilities and equipment, and the time you are willing and able to put into it.

The general rule of thumb in food preservation is to shoot for the shortest distance between two points. That is to say, choose the easiest and cheapest way to get the job done in a satisfactory manner. However, there are often additional factors which must be considered.

Let us first look at a few basic facts about each preservation method.

Canning

What Is The Best Food Preservation Method? (Here's How To Know)

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The upside of canned food is that it can be stored without the use of electricity, making it versatile for off-grid situations and worry-free for possible power outages. In addition, jars of food can be stored just about anywhere, making storage space less of an issue than with other options. The contents of canned foods are ready immediately without waiting for thawing or rehydrating. Also, many people prefer the taste and texture of canned foods, especially that of meats.

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On the other hand, canning is generally the most labor-intensive method of food preservation. It also presents a certain level of risk that is less prevalent with other methods—although the likelihood of botulism in properly canned foods is miniscule. Many canned vegetables have a less desirable texture than their frozen counterparts, and some are even said to contain less nutrients when canned.

Freezing

The best part about freezing foods is minimal preparation. Another great plus is the increased flavor, texture and color of many foods.

The downside of freezing is that it costs more. Purchasing a freezer is a big investment, and running it continuously year-round adds up. Using a freezer to preserve food is a real challenge without a steady reliable source of electricity. Freezer space can be a problem, too. It takes up floor space in your home, and when it’s full, it’s full. Unlike other methods, the space is finite—16 cubic feet of food is not going to fit into 15 cubic feet of freezer.

Dehydrating

Not all foods can be dried safely and effectively, but those that can are able to be stored easily, using minimal space and no power, for a long period of time. Taste and texture can be an issue with dried foods, which somewhat restricts their usage. The cost of dehydrating equipment covers a wide range, from a simple homemade screen which is adequate in some climates to high-end electric models that do offer a certain appeal. There is a learning curve to dehydrating, as well, with it being arguably the most subjective of methods—unlike canning instructions that give specific processing times and freezing directions with blanch times. Dehydrating the same food can range from four to 12 hours.

Root cellaring

Root cellaring is easy and no-fuss. One of the older preservation methods, it involves at its most rudimentary level simply finding a cool place to store a vegetable and placing it there. But like most skills, it requires a little judgement and experience to know what goes where, how long it can be expected to last, and what not to pair with it. It can be as inexpensive and no-frills as a shelf alongside the cellar stairs or under the guest room bed, or as elaborate as an intentional structure out of stone and mortar.

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A word about smoking: Although recognized as an excellent option for food preservation, it probably involves more skills and equipment than everyday gardeners may have access to in their backyards and kitchens and pantries. For that reason, I have chosen to omit it from this discussion. But if it is your preservation method of choice, thumbs up to you!

What Is The Best Food Preservation Method? (Here's How To Know)

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My personal food preservation plan looks something like this: I reserve freezer space for foods which do not generally can well—if at all—such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, eggplant, green peppers, pureed squash and most berries. If there is space beyond that, I add in foods which I prefer frozen, such as green beans.

If I have an abundance of beans—which I almost always do—I will can some. I like to can a few batches of blueberries to eat with yogurt, in addition to many pounds I freeze for use in baking. I always can my jams and pickles because I prefer the texture and cannot afford the freezer space.

I dry some fruits and like to make fruit leather. I also dehydrate vegetables when they are so abundant that I still have some left over after other methods, for use in soups and casseroles.

My root cellaring depends upon the weather. If it gets cold early in fall without too much of an Indian summer, so that the temperature in my house cellar drops and stays down, it is a prime opportunity for storing a bounty of food. I set apples in screened crates on the stone steps of my exterior bulkhead, where it gets very cold and stays damp, and keeps my apples separate from other foods. I place carrots and rutabagas and leeks in bins of sand in the main part of the cellar, and stash winter squashes in the closet in my utility room.

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If I have time, I prepare some convenience foods—those which I am glad to reach for when I need something instant, such as canned potatoes, canned stew and canned pork-and-beans.

Your personal preservation plan might look different than mine. To sort it out, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Do I realistically have time to can it?
  2. Can I afford the purchase price for a freezer, do I have room to store it, and do I have an adequate source of reliable electricity?
  3. Will I be satisfied with the end product of dehydrating foods?
  4. Do I have, or can I create, a place to store root crops as-is or in sand?
  5. Do I enjoy the taste and texture of my chosen method?

Certain foods ought not be canned, due to either quality or safety reasons. Brassicas, eggplants, summer squash, pureed vegetables and untested recipes are among these.

Other foods are able to be canned but often yield a disappointing result. Strawberries lose flavor and texture. Greens such as spinach and Swiss chard are a lot of work.

Conversely, tomatoes are generally better canned than frozen, but cherry types can be popped whole into freezer bags for use in soups and casseroles, and leftover batches that did not seal in the canner freeze fine, too.

Some foods have many options. Potatoes are great root cellared, canned, frozen or dehydrated. Most cuts of beef are, too, as well as many other meats and vegetables.

Sometimes, you can even use more than one method on the same food. For example, I hang my onions from cellar rafters, inside the legs of pantyhose with knots tied between them to keep them from touching, and they store well that way for months. But when they start to get soft—or when it gets cold enough for me to fire up my cellar stove—I peel them and freeze them in bags of slices or chunks. This two-phase method minimizes my processing efforts to only that which is absolutely necessary and still allows me to use onions at my convenience throughout the year.

There are many factors to consider when preserving food. Cost, space, effort and end result are all important considerations to be balanced. As long as you follow safety guidelines, there are plenty of options that can be tailored to a food preservation plan that works just right for you.

What advice would you add? Share it in the section below:

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7 Things Our Grandparents Handmade (That We Waste Money On At The Store)

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7 Things Our Grandparents Handmade (That We Waste Money On At The Store)

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People say life is expensive nowadays, and I admit I would be among the first to agree. There are a few ways we could all tighten up our budgets, however.

For the answers to how we all could save money on everyday things, many of us need look no further than our own grandparents. There are plenty of items they made themselves which we routinely purchase ready-made — and that habit costs us money.

Here are seven things our grandparents (or great-grandparents) made that we waste money on at the store:

1. Food from scratch. Depending upon how long ago your grandparents lived and what kind of lifestyle they embraced, they might well have made everything from scratch — even their own sausages, hams and aged cheeses. There is a good chance most of our grandparents, or at least our great-grandparents, made bread, butter, noodles, simple dairy foods such as yogurt and soft cheeses, jams, jellies and pickles. They probably made homemade sauces from whole ingredients, like tomato sauce or white sauce or cheese sauce. Our grandparents may have made condiments and spreads such as mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup or hummus. They very likely made their own everyday foods, too, such as preparing and cooking vegetables a variety of ways, creating soups and stews out of whatever they had on hand, and turning out delectable treats such as donuts and pies and cakes and puddings and muffins.

2. Clothing. In generations past, most women, and some men, were handy with a sewing machine or a needle and thread. It is not unusual to find people today who grew up wearing clothing their mother made for them, or even people who learned to sew their own garments while in junior high or high school. From everyday skirts to slacks to Sunday suits to wedding dresses, it was not unusual for clothing to be made at home.

Many of our grandparents knit or crocheted, as well. Sweaters, vests, socks, scarves, hats, gloves and mittens were often created at home at the hands of a skilled needle worker. These accessories were often treasured by their owners, so much so that they used them until they wore out. In this way, they made one or two garments for every six or eight that we might buy at the store today, resulting in even more savings.

3. Home goods. People in our grandparents’ day often hand-crafted items for their home. Blankets, afghans, quilts, curtains, draperies, rugs, placemats and pillows were made by needlework experts. They sewed, knit, crocheted, hand-quilted, wove, cross-stitched, embroidered and needlepointed many of the textiles used in the house. Ceramic and clay vessels and decorative items were homemade in our grandparents’ day too.

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There were other home necessities created by hand. Spoons and other kitchen utensils were carved out of wood or wrought from metal. Additional home décor was created using a wide variety of materials as well, depending greatly upon their needs at the time and what they had available to them.

7 Things Our Grandparents Handmade (That We Waste Money On At The Store)

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4. Furniture. Most old-fashioned homes I have seen contain at least one piece of homemade furniture, from a crude three-legged footstool made out of a cross-section of log, to a simple straight-back chair, to works of finely crafted finish carpentry.

Our grandparents did not make all of their furniture — few of them even made the majority of it — but many people in their generation did dabble in do-it-yourself projects. Most people tried to make things themselves before running to the store for them, and it was common to find homemade items such as simple shelves, potato bins and kids’ booster seats in those days.

5. Toys and dolls. Dolls were often crafted out of fabric or yarn, as were stuffed animals, from teddy bears to bunnies. Faces were painted or embroidered, hair was made from rug yarn or unraveled rope, and clothing was knit or crocheted.

Many people in our grandparents’ era made toys out of other materials as well — wooden cars and trucks for imaginary play, carved pull-along toys for toddlers, and wagons and other ride-on toys made from a combination of wood and metal and other materials.

6. Landscaping and outdoor structures. Stone walls, rock walls and many kinds of retaining walls were handmade by people in past generations. Decorative borders were made from various kinds of wood, metal and masonry. Patios, gazebos, lawn ornaments, walkways, window boxes, grape arbors, archways and trellises were frequently made at the homes where they were used. Not only that, but kids’ swings, porch swings, and lawn gliders were sometimes homemade.

7. Home health remedies and prevention. This may be one area where our grandparents’ skill at making things for themselves shone most brightly. They could treat cold and flu symptoms with homemade medications, steams and rubs. They could soothe wounds with poultices and herbal treatments. They knew what to do for headaches and upset stomachs and general malaise. They used regular diet, plants and herbs, and creative concoctions for everything from illness prevention to toothaches to energy boosting. Pharmaceuticals, both prescription and over-the-counter, were nowhere near as plentiful even a few generations ago, and people had to make their own. It is possible that they might have done a better job using home treatments than anything we can get at the pharmacy.

By trying our hand at making some of these items ourselves, we may be able to honor the memory of our grandparents, preserve old-fashioned ways of acquiring goods, and save some money in the process.

What would you add to this list? What are your best memories of your grandparents or great-grandparents making something? Share your ideas and memories in the section below:

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23 Handy Off-Grid Uses For Empty Peanut Butter Jars

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23 Handy Off-Grid Uses For Empty Peanut Butter Jars

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Even though I try to raise much of my own food, I still end up with a few empty food containers. The combination of my old-fashioned waste-not, want-not upbringing and my strong commitment to conserving resources means that I usually try very hard to reuse and upcycle whenever possible.

Whenever I can repurpose a jar, I do. Peanut butter jars are among my favorites to save, and there are a ton of uses for them. I usually buy the big four-pound size, but the smaller ones are useful for many of the same purposes. The larger jars have nice wide lids which allow easy cleaning and convenient access, and the short squat shape makes them excellent for stacking.

The labels can be a little challenging to clean off, but the key is persistence, elbow grease and really hot water. If you use a dishwasher, try removing the jars as soon as the cycle ends—the bits of paper and glue still attached will be soft and more able to be scraped off at that point.

The lightweight sturdy plastic makes them work great for hanging the jars on the bottoms of shelves and cabinets. Here is how to do that: just remove the cardboard insert from the clean lid and use three evenly spaced screws to attach it, making sure your screws are so long they poke through the top of the shelf or cabinet base. Then simply fill the jar and twist it into the lid—it is just that easy! This works best for non-food items, since removing the lid for washing will be a chore you will not want to do often. It also works best for items of light to moderate weight, as a lot of weight can put added strain on the threads and make it more challenging to open and close.

One other thing to consider when using peanut butter jars for storage is this: Plastic can take on an odor after being stored for a long time. Use discernment when switching back and forth from strong-smelling foods—once you use it for say, coffee, it will probably always smell like coffee. You also may want to avoid long-term storage of unpackaged items. Foods that come in direct contact with the jar—as opposed to things like sugar packets and store-bought granola bars, for example—should be those which you open and use often.

Another consideration is that it is possible for oily products to interact with the plastic. If you are not going to eat the contents, it is probably not a concern. But you may want to steer clear of storing items like vegetable oil or fatty foods in them.

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Following is a list of useful ideas for using peanut butter jars—either attached to shelves or freestanding—around the house, homestead, barnyard and beyond.

1. Hardware. It is always nice to keep nuts, bolts, nails and screws organized and within easy reach. The clear plastic of peanut butter jars makes for easy identification at a glance.

2. Sewing notions. Buttons, snaps, Velcro strips, ric-rac, elastic, ribbons, lace and any materials you like to keep accessible for sewing projects can be easily sorted and stored in peanut butter jars.

3. Condiments. Little packets of salt, pepper, sugar, alternative sweeteners and ketchup. Whether you buy them at the store or save leftovers from take-out, it’s always nice to have some around for picnics, travel or unexpected shortages.

4. Pasta. A peanut butter jar will hold a lot of elbow noodles and ziti and more. Just a reminder—make sure the jar gets opened often enough that the pasta does not take on a plastic odor from being closed up too long.

5. Spare change. This can be super basic—just screw off the lid and drop in the contents of your pockets every day—or done up fancy. Consider creating a fancy savings bank with kids as a fun project—cut a hole in the lid to push money through without removing it, and glue the lid on if that’s the best option in your situation. You can dress the jar and lid up with paint, glitter, ribbon and glue-ons for added appeal.

6. Desk supplies. Pens, pencils, sticky note pads, paper clips and other fasteners, rubber bands, white-out tape cartridges, printer ink, spare staples and miscellaneous things are easy to keep organized and at your fingertips in recycled jars.

7. First-aid kits. Whether at home, work, or in your vehicle, a used plastic jar is a great choice to keep a small collection of Band-Aids, ointments and over-the-counter medications.

8. Dry beans. Although a label on top to indicate the variety and date of the beans is advisable, it is easy to see what you want at a glance when beans are stored in clear containers. If you eat a lot of beans, a row of matching jars with different colored beans adds a nice decorative touch in your kitchen or pantry.

9. Dog treats. I keep my treat jars attached to a cabinet bottom near the back door where the dog always gets her treats. They are up off the counter and not taking up cabinet space, are not at risk of being knocked over onto the floor, and are easy to access when I want them.

23 Handy Off-Grid Uses For Empty Peanut Butter Jars

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10. Kids’ art supplies. Jars are a good way to help keep crayons, colored pencils, glue sticks, markers, scissors and erasers tidy and organized.

11. Vehicle emergency kits. Jars are perfect for granola bars, tealight candles, sheets of aluminum foil, matches, penlight flashlights, spare batteries and any other items you keep in the trunk of your car for that just-in-case situation.

12. Rice and other dry goods. I buy a wide variety of rice types—brown, Jasmine and Arborio—and like to use lightweight plastic jars to keep them all sorted on the shelf of my lazy Susan cabinet. You could also store instant potatoes, biscuit mix, pancake mix or any other dry goods in them, especially if you buy in bulk bags and want to make sure they are well-sealed against pests after opening them.

13. Ammo. Depending upon your own collection and needs, one or more empty peanut butter jars is a handy go-to for storing a variety of ammo sizes and shapes.

14. Craft supplies. Craft paints, paintbrushes and paint pens, decals, tapestry needles, rug hooks, wooden and ceramic pieces, crochet hooks, stitch counters, scissors, tape measures—whatever you do, jars are a good way to contain the small pieces and tools you need.

15. Livestock and pet meds. Sturdy plastic jars are an excellent choice for needles and syringes—designate one for new and another for used to make storage and disposal safe and easy. You also can use them to store animal medications and vaccines, especially if you keep them in your refrigerator and want to make sure they stay separate from people food. Try them also for diatomaceous earth or other supplements and top dress products.

16. Health and beauty products. Emery boards, tweezers, clippers, all sorts of hair accessories, makeup, cotton balls and Q-tips go great in jars.

17. Seeds and garden supplies. For leftover seed packets, along with spare row markers and soil thermometers and pocket magnifiers and other gardening paraphernalia, upcycled jars are just the ticket.

18. Small toys and parts. Jars are a good way to keep building blocks, doll shoes, miniature cars, playing cards, game pieces, dice and lots of other entertainment items out of the bottom of the toy box and safe from the vacuum cleaner.

19. Disposable uses. Peanut butter jars are perfect for temporary mixing and storing of items such as wood finish treatments, soaking paint brushes and other gooey jobs. They are solid enough for one-time use, and they save you having to use your expensive dishes and containers.

20. Coffee, tea and drink mixes. Jars are a great way to keep them corralled so they don’t scatter and leak and get lost all through the cupboard.

21. Camping. In my backpacking days, I carried peanut butter jars a lot. They were excellent for carrying my portable stove, preventing food from being mashed, keeping a lid on the smell of yucky trash, and even as an extra spare water container in a pinch. Family camping can benefit from recycled jars, too, helping keep kids’ treasures and tent parts and fishing lures separated.

22. Snacks. Everything from dried fruits to candy to homemade granola—it all fits nicely into a jar and looks great on the counter.

23. Frozen goods. For long-term freezer use, it is wise to use containers specifically made for the freezer. But for popping a few dozen cookies into the freezer for a couple of weeks, empty peanut butter jars are perfect. They prevent the contents from being squished and are easily opened and closed for just a handful at a time.

There are likely dozens more uses for empty peanut butter jars not included on this list. I have kept mine for years and have used them over and over. Give some of these ideas a try, and peanut butter jars may become your favorite upcycling project.

What uses would you add to our list? Share them in the section below:

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3 Things Your Grandmother Got Wrong About Canning

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Here’s What Your Grandmother Got Wrong About Canning

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There are a lot of misconceptions out there about canning safety. As is true with many topics, information found on the Internet supports a wide variety of truths and opinions, and it can be hard to differentiate between them.

Canning safety is a big deal. Doing it right is what comes between eating home-preserved food with confidence and risking upset stomachs, spoiled and wasted food, serious illness, or in very rare cases even death.

Before I explain which techniques are considered safe according to modern-day science and which are not, let me address the inevitable questions.  I hear them at every workshop I conduct and see it in every comment thread on forum discussions and social media.

“My grandmother used wax on her jams and all us kids grew up eating them.”

“The ladies at church just flip the hot chow-chow jars upside down and call it good.”

“My mother never owned a pressure canner and we all ate her canned beans and beef just fine.”

“We eat canned cake at camp every summer… and nobody ever died.”

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And my answer is always the same. Sure. Each one of us knew of someone consuming food canned by what is considered today to be unsafe practices, and many of us did it ourselves. And we did indeed all live to tell the tale.

But why take the risk? People survived automobile travel before seat belts came along, but most of us wear them nowadays. Communities have thrived for centuries without modern-day sanitation and plumbing, but most of us today consider running water and flush toilets to be good things. Mammograms, steel-toed work boots, prenatal ultrasounds, child safety locks—all things people lived without, until the advantages of using them became clear.

You can take the chance of doing it the old-fashioned way if you want to, but know that it is a risk. No home-canning method is guaranteed 100 percent bulletproof, but using techniques tested and approved by science and research are the best ways to minimize potential problems.

There are three main points I would like to highlight – three things our grandmothers often didn’t do when canning. First, processing in a canner is necessary for every canned product. No shortcuts, no alternatives. And second, using a pressure canner is essential for all low-acid foods. Third, all recipes are not created equal. Read on for details.

1. Processing is crucial.

Old-fashioned methods and trendy hacks are not good choices. Topping preserves with hot wax allows potential harmful bacteria and molds to seep in. Even after mold is scraped off the top—like our grandmothers used to do when we were not looking—it has been determined by recent science that there could well be lingering pathogens below the visible mold. The safe bet is to just pop them into the hot water bath canner for a short process time instead.

So-called “oven canning” and “open-kettle canning,” along with creative ways to can foods in the dishwasher and microwave, have not been tested to be safe and are not recommended. Food processed in this way does not always kill potential contaminants which may spoil food and make you sick.

Neither is it safe to simply invert the jars when hot and allow the product to seal itself—it might appear to seal nicely at the time, but is apt to unseal and reseal itself as the storage temperature fluctuates between now and the time you eat it.

Process, process, process—in a canner. There is no shortcut that is worth the risk.

2. Process all low-acid foods using a pressure canner.

Here is why:

3 Things Your Grandmother Got Wrong About Canning

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Hot water bath canners heat water to 212 degrees Fahrenheit. That is as hot as they can get. Pressure canners, by design, heat water to 240 degrees. The reason heat is an issue is because of rare but naturally occurring spores of the microorganism C. botulinum. When given exactly the right conditions—low acid and anaerobic—they can develop into botulism, which can be deadly. When canning low-acid foods, care must be taken to kill the spores before the product goes into the anaerobic jars, and 212 degrees is not sufficient to do so. It is imperative to use the higher-heat pressure canner to destroy any possible C. botulinum spores present.

Some folks insist that by canning them longer, all foods can be safely canned using a hot water bath canner. This is not true. Boiling water will never reach the temperature needed to kill possible dangerous spores. And besides, who wants to eat green beans that have been boiled for an hour and a half?

High-acid foods—most fruits and tomatoes—do not provide conditions for botulism to develop, and so hot water bath canners are sufficient. Vegetables, meats and other low-acid products need to be pressure-canned. The exception to this rule is when the vegetable is “acidified.” When sufficient amounts of acid, usually vinegar or lemon juice, are added, the end result is a food with enough acid content to safely can in a hot water bath canner.

3. Always use an approved recipe.

In addition to giving you the exact amounts of every ingredient and explaining exactly how to cut, chop, combine and cook them, a good recipe will tell you which canner to use, what size jars are best, and how long to process the products.

I know, I know. Great Aunt Hilda’s relish recipe was the best! And that wonderful easy salsa recipe on Facebook—yum! But has it been tested? Is the ratio of high-acid and low-acid foods adequate for the method and time given for canning? Is it worth the risk?

Another way people get into trouble is by starting off with a safe recipe and making their own modifications. Tomatoes are generally high acid, but peppers and onions are not. Adding low-acid foods can alter the acidification of a recipe enough to change the safety factor.

The perfect way to have your cake and eat it, too, is this: If you absolutely must use that online salsa recipe with questionable ingredients, go right ahead. Just freeze it. Botulism will not develop in the freezer, and your salsa will be good to go.

Use a recipe source approved by your cooperative extension. These include publications by Ball, USDA, and the University of Georgia’s National Center for Home Food Preservation. Ball canning books are inexpensive and can be found in most supermarkets and department stores. The National Center for Home Food Preservation’s excellent publication, “So Easy to Preserve,” sells for a little more money, but all of its recipes are available online for free at http://nchfp.uga.edu/

In addition to these three must-dos, remember to keep everything painstakingly clean. Pots and utensils, jars, lids, canning equipment, kitchen linens and hands all need to be carefully washed and rinsed before you begin any canning project.

Stay safe, play it smart, follow the guidelines, and you and your family will enjoy the fruits of your labors for seasons to come.

Do you agree? What canning advice would you add? Share it in the section below:

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Drowning In Squash? Here’s 18 Clever Ways You Can Use It

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Drowning In Squash? Here's 18 Things You Can Do With It

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Anyone who has ever planned meals around the garden harvest knows there can be too much of a good thing. Eating from the garden is different from buying it at the store. When shopping for food in the supermarket produce aisle, it is easy to get exactly what you need. One bunch of Swiss chard, a sweet pepper or two, and maybe a little box of cherry tomatoes.

Gardens do not grow that way. They are seeds, then developing plants, then there are blossoms, and then wham-o! When a crop is in season, it doesn’t dole out a manageable pound or so a week, giving you time to eat what you have before it delivers more. Instead, it throws a lot at you at once.

Especially if it is summer squash. It seems to explode overnight without warning, going from a few blossoms to a handful of fruits to OH MY GOODNESS. I am pretty sure it has actually happened that I have gone out to the barn and noticed a few ready-to-pick zucchinis as I passed them, spent 15 minutes tending animals, and by the time I walked back past they had all grown to baseball-bat-size.

Even if it does not happen quite that fast, there does seem to be a lot of summer squash and zucchini showing up all at once in the garden. It gets so crazy that friends and coworkers duck for cover when they see gardeners coming, for fear we might be bringing them another armload of squash.

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Fortunately, there are plenty of delicious ways to enjoy the bounty of summer squash. Here are my favorite ideas for keeping up with the garden.

1. Raw. Small squashes are perfect in all kind of salads. They can be prepared any way you like. Any shape, any thickness. With or without skins. The pieces are great mixed in with pasta or greens or cherry tomatoes or dressing, or by themselves with dip.

2. Panfried. Fried or chunked, squashes go great in the pan. Use a little oil or butter—I prefer extra virgin olive oil—and spice them up to suit your mood. Use oregano and Italian seasoning for a hint of Mediterranean flavor, or kick it up a notch with a little crushed red peppers or hot sauce. Use Middle Eastern seasonings to side with a nice cut of lamb, or simply salt and pepper in the pan and a sprinkle with parmesan cheese at the table for delightfully simple fare.

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3. Breaded. Traditional breading—dip in egg coating and then a flour mixture—is tasty, or you can use tempura batter if you are feeling adventurous. Remember that zucchini can soak up a ton of flavor, so be generous with the flour seasonings.

4. Casseroles and baked dishes. Squash can be sliced thin the long way and used between layers of lasagna and shepherd’s pie, cut up and added to your family’s favorite meat-and-tomato recipes, or mixed into a hot vegetable and rice dish.

5. Ratatouille. This one could really be broadened to “stews,” but I so love this unique thick vegetable stew that I have to give it its own section. But if ratatouille is not quite your thing, then go ahead and mix squashes in with other ingredients for whatever kind of stew you like best. Whether all-vegetable or with meat, summer squashes make an excellent addition to stews.

6. Soups. Of course. Everything goes in soup. Meat, rice, pasta, tomato sauce, stock—and squash.

7. Stir fry and fried rice. Even though these are two completely different dishes, I lump them together here because the act of throwing in whatever is on hand to create one-of-a-kind feasts is the same with both of them. Whether in a pan of Asian greens and vegetables, or rice and soy sauce and meat, summer squashes go nicely.

8. Skillet meals. As with Asian-inspired dishes, skillet meals often turn into a unique composition of food on hand. A few potatoes, leftover chunks of pork chops or steak or breakfast sausages, a few handfuls of cut up zucchini, and bam. Supper in a skillet.

9. Eggs. Zucchini and summer squash make a lovely addition to all things egg. If you live on a homestead and have almost as many eggs as you have vegetables, then you can rejoice that they pair so nicely. A few slices of panfried squash on an egg and cheese sandwich, or a little squash cut up or grated into scrambled eggs or omelets, or a mouthwatering potato and squash frittata—yes, please!

10. Pizza topping. Since I discovered this use for zucchini, I never have any left in the freezer by springtime. Fresh or frozen, zucchini is amazing on pizzas! The secret? Panfry it first.  Just a few minutes in a little hot oil with salt and pepper brings out the juices and bakes into a pizza that will knock your socks off.

11. Baked. Once squash gets a little larger, consider baking it. Slice it the long way, scoop out the seeds, cover it with red sauce—I use plenty of Italian seasoning and a dollop of pesto in mine—and layer some cheeses on top. Mozzarella and parmesan work wonderfully. For a change of pace, add some Kalamata olives and feta. Use a baking dish or sheet pan to catch the drippings and bake until tender.

12. Grilled. Slice it the long way and brush it with olive oil and lay the slices right on the grate for a quick sear, or cut it up and in chunks and add to a grill basket of anything from cherry tomatoes to snow peas to eggplant to broccoli. If you’ve got it, grill it!

Image source: Wikimedia

Image source: Wikimedia

13. Bread. Everyone loves the rich texture and spicy aroma of fresh-baked zucchini bread. While you are at it, bake a few extra loaves for the freezer to enjoy warmed up with a little whipped cream topping on a cold winter night. But wait! Grated zucchini can be used in yeast bread recipes, as well. Just add it in anytime during the mixing process, and it bakes up beautifully.

14. Muffins. As with bread, grated zucchini turns out a delightful muffin, as well. Here are a few hints about muffins: you can usually substitute grated zucchini for carrots in a muffin recipe. Not only that, but muffin and quick bread recipes are often interchangeable. To convert a muffin recipe to bread, bake it at a lower temperature for a longer time.

15. Cookies. In a season of desperate overabundance of squash several years ago, I did an online search and found several excellent zucchini cookie recipes.

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They are so good even picky eaters gobble them up! I use zucchini because that is what I best like to grow, but other kinds of summer squash would also work great. Like other baked sweets, cookies can be tucked into the freezer for later.

16. Cake. Zucchini and yellow squash are perfect grated into cakes. Don’t have a recipe? Just use a carrot cake recipe. You can tweak the spices a little by adding cinnamon, but you do not have to. Or, for a drop-dead divine treat, try a chocolate zucchini cake. The richness swallows up the texture and flavor of squash, leaving just pure chocolate heaven.

17. Mock apples. Yes, you read that right. If all else fails and your best intentions to pick them small do not happen and you are left with a collection of big old squashes, it is still not too late. Peel and core and slice up in the size of apple slices, add the sugars and spices and thickeners you would use for apple dessert, bake it in a crisp or a crust, and see what happens.

18. Preserving. You will want plenty of summer squash on hand to enjoy year-round. Small summer squashes make great pickles, can easily dehydrate into yummy chips, and are a snap to blanch and freeze for later use.

Once you try these ideas for using up summer squash and zucchinis, you will never have too many. So go ahead, plant all the squash you want. And don’t worry about people avoiding you during squash season—just share a few of your yummy results with them, and they’ll be lining up for your bounty.

What squash tips would you add? What creative recipes do you use? Share your tips in the section below:

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Garlic Scapes: Should You Cut Them … Or Leave Them?

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Garlic Scapes: Should You Cut Them … Or Leave Them?

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One of the first things people notice about garlic is that it marches to its own tune. During autumn when the rest of the garden is being put to bed, garlic is ready for planting. And while other crops are just beginning to stretch their spring legs, garlic plants shoot into the air with surprising vigor—and then a twist!

Summer garlic looks a little crazy. A single stalk on each plant, about the diameter of a pencil with an arrow-shaped false flower on the end, curls around until it forms nearly a complete circle, looking as if nature were a calligrapher practicing her letter “Ps.”

These curls are called scapes. They develop on the garlic type known as “stiffneck” or “hardneck,” which is frequently grown in northern climates—as opposed to the “softneck” varieties usually sold in grocery stores and more suitable for southern climates—about a month into the growing season. The emergence of garlic scapes presents the gardener with a dilemma which must be addressed: What should be done about them?

Many experienced gardeners say the scapes should be snipped. Conventional wisdom instructs that removing the scapes redirects the plant’s energy to the bulbs, thereby resulting in larger bulbs and a greater yield. Some growers even maintain that removing the scapes affects the longevity of the bulb, allowing it to be stored longer than those which grew with scapes intact.

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To remove the scape, just snap it off with your fingers just below the first bend. Scissors can be used, as well. Scapes can be snipped as soon as the stalk begins to curl, or as late as after it has formed a full circle, but the general rule of thumb is that earlier is better.

One of the reasons that it is a good idea to do scape-snipping earlier is for reasons of palatability. Like most vegetables, they start out tender and grow more tough and woody as time passes.

Another question which must be answered about garlic scapes is that of what to do with them once they are snipped. They can easily be composted or fed to livestock—although it may be wise to avoid giving them to milk-producing animals and running the risk of ending up with garlic-flavored milk—but scapes are becoming increasingly popular as human food.

Garlic Scapes: Should You Cut Them … Or Leave Them?

Image source: Pixabay.com

Garlic scapes can be used in just about any recipe suitable for regular garlic. Soups, stews, stir-fries, salads, skillet dinners and casseroles are all great candidates. They can be thinly sliced or chopped and added to pasta or mashed potato or eggs. The flavor of scapes is generally a little milder than bulbs, especially if they are young and tender, and can even be left whole and eaten as a vegetable. Pan-fried in olive oil, braised or roasted, stand-alone or mixed into other ingredients—the sky is the limit for garlic scapes! If you get them early, you can use them more like chives or scallions, and later on they can be minced.

One very popular method of using garlic scapes is using them to make pesto. Most recipes I have found look similar to pestos made of basil or other herbs. To try making garlic scape pesto, try starting with your favorite recipe and tweak it with scapes, or do an Internet search for more tried-and-true recipes.

They can also be frozen for use later. Although the fresh texture will not hold enough to be enjoyed raw when thawed, scapes that are sliced or minced before freezing will still be a great addition to cooked foods and an easy shortcut when limited time does not allow peeling and mincing a bulb.

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But what if you do not clip them at all? Around my place, summer zooms by fast. Even though there is a fairly wide window of time when the scapes can be snipped off in time to possibly affect the bulb, sometimes it can slide past and slam shut before I know it.

The good news is that for home gardening purposes, it probably will not make a lot of difference. There could even be a few advantages to purposely leaving them on. In addition to saving time and energy, leaving garlic scapes on is aesthetically pleasing. Many people appreciate the art and beauty of gardening as well as the practicality, and enjoying the gracefulness of garlic scapes can be worth the sacrifice of a few ounces of garlic bulbs.

Garlic scapes provide a natural chronometer, as well. When the curls straighten, it is time to harvest the bulbs.

Fortunately, there is no wrong answer for backyard garlic growers. The balancing of larger yields and busy season tasks and summer beauty means there is always a win. It is probably important for market gardeners to use no-nonsense methods to maximize income, such as selling cut garlic scapes in spring and harvesting larger bulbs in summer. But the rest of us have the luxury of being a little more laid-back with our garlic scape decisions. And after all, that is part of the beauty of raising our own food.

Do you cut scapes, or leave them? Share your advice in the section below:

Every Year, Gardeners Make This Stupid Mistake — But You Don’t Have To. Read More Here.

Conserving Water When You Don’t Have To

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Conserving Water When You Don’t Have To

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If you live in a city or geographical region where water is scarce or expensive, you probably already do your best to use it wisely.

There is plenty of water where I live. Freshwater lakes and streams abound, and we generally get all the rain and snow we need.

We did have one particularly dry summer about five years ago which really made the gardeners in my area begin to worry about crops. Good wells that rarely run dry were beginning to turn out water with an off color and odor, and nobody dared to use what limited water might be left on gardens. People began to consider creative alternatives. One of my neighbors used a small gas-powered pump to fill barrels of water at the nearby lake and haul it home in his pickup truck. Others scooped up water out of the river by hand, using five-gallon buckets and pouring it over into larger containers. Some folks set up rainwater collection barrels, but rain didn’t come.

I made it through that season unscathed, as did most of my neighbors, but it changed my way of thinking about the abundance of water. The very next spring, I leapt at the opportunity to purchase a large food grade IBC tote, and used a flexible plastic hose to hook it up to the house gutter and collect roof runoff for garden water.

I have changed other practices with respect to water, as well. I try to collect, use and conserve water as if it is the most precious resource on the planet.

During seasons of adequate precipitation, like most are in my area, it can be difficult to be proactive about saving water. Wasteful habits are so ingrained in most of us today that conservation needs to be an intentional act.

But Why?

Why should I worry about it at all?

Water is a finite commodity. While it’s true there is roughly the same amount of water on the planet as there has always been—what little amount of water vapor that escapes into space every year notwithstanding—the quality of the water remaining may not be the same. Fresh water becomes salinized when glaciers melt into the oceans, and water can become irredeemably contaminated when exposed to fracking or pollutants.

While the supply of arable water dwindles, the demands upon it are increasing exponentially. Not only are there more humans in need of water today than ever before, but the amount of water used by people in developed countries exceeds that of our predecessors. We shower more, wash our cars more, change our clothes more, and consume manufactured products which entail excess water during production.

The bottom line is this: Sooner or later, most people are going to have to conserve water. Homesteads relocate, and conditions change and needs fluctuate. If not on a wide scale or long term, then at least for a season or two.

The time to develop good water-saving habits is now, before it becomes imperative. If you are on “city water,” there’s a great bonus: You will save money!

Easy Ways to Do it

As with any habit, it is easier to cling to old ones than develop new. Here are suggestions of painless ways to start conserving water ahead of time in your home, lawn and garden, and farmyard.

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There are a lot of changes that can be made in the house, and none of them are drastic measures. But doing simple things now might help mitigate the chances of dramatic changes later.

For example, it is wise to limit time in baths and showers—take them to get clean and only as needed, rather than as a routine. Wash full loads in the clothes washer and dishwasher. Run water from the faucets only as needed; shut it off while brushing teeth, between dish rinsing, and other times during which you are not actively using it. And when cleaning house, wash only that which is dirty and needs cleaning—clean clothes can be hung back up, and try spot-cleaning first on rugs and furniture.

Little things like emptying the dog dish into a house plant instead of down the drain before refilling, or pouring the teakettle water into the humidifier, can add up to make real differences in consumption.

The bottom line here is to use water intentionally. Before you open a faucet, ask yourself if doing so is the best option.

There are things you can do outdoors, as well.

If you find you are having to water your lawn a lot to keep it green, consider a smaller lawn. It may be that your particular region’s rainfall amount does not support the idea of a massive expanse of lawn. A smaller, lush lawn for playing and relaxing might be just enough, and the rest could be converted to native wildflowers or shade trees.

Drought-tolerate vegetable choices make more sense in arid areas than do water-hungry plants like lettuces, celery and fruits. For these types of vegetables, consider keeping their numbers to a minimum so that they can be well-watered and worth your time and space to grow.

Use other practices to minimize garden water use, as well. Mulches of any kind—grass clippings, garden waste, cardboard or plastic—help retain groundwater. Techniques such as hugelkultur are water-savers as well. In addition, soaker hoses are generally better options than hand-watering.

Washing cars at home is often not as good an idea as using a commercial car wash. Recycled water and higher pressure sprayers can reduce water volume while maintaining effectiveness. If feasible where you live, try collecting rainwater. Just a few inches of rain runoff from the roof of an ordinary size house can fill two or three 50-gallon barrels. My 325-gallon IBC tote fills up in as few as two good rainstorms and is easy to use for garden watering.

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By using only what is needed in the yard and avoiding waste now, it will be easy to adopt water-saving practices if necessary in the future.

Farmyard water conservation is also important.

Conserving Water When You Don’t Have To

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Change animals’ water only as needed. And when you do dump buckets, use them for dual duty when possible. Pour them onto vegetable beds or over top of something that needs to be rinsed—like calf milk pails or soiled walkways and fences—instead of into a patch of weeds or mud.

Adequate shade for animals can help reduce their water consumption, and placing waterers in areas where they will get soiled and spilled less often can reduce the frequency of changing them out.

Certain animals love to waste water, and pigs are some of the worst offenders. One way to work around that is to teach free-range swine to drink out of a spicket attachment—pigs are smart enough to learn quickly that biting down will yield them a drink.

By conserving water before it is truly necessary, we can do two things. First, we can help avoid water overuse that can contribute to its eventual scarcity.  And second, when the time comes to take conservation seriously, it will already be second nature. Although many in our culture are unaccustomed to being careful about water use, it is a good practice to begin using less as soon as possible and be ready for whatever happens.

What water-saving tips would you add? Share your advice in the section below:

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8 Reasons Chickens Nearly Always Pay For Themselves (And Then Some)

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The Easy Livestock That Pays For Itself – And Then Some

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A recent egg customer noted the thick stack of bills in the worn red canvas pencil case I use for egg money, and remarked that sales must be going well these days.

I replied that they were indeed doing nicely. The pullets are all up and running, and the older hens have bounced back from their molts and resumed laying again.

“The girls ought to be getting their own wi-fi and spa treatments,” my friend said, laughing.

It is true that my backyard chickens deserve to be treated well, and they are. The great thing about raising laying hens is that a few egg sales can pay for not only all the birds’ needs but can pad the pockets of farmers a bit, too.

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I have raised a variety of other livestock, and each animal was rewarding in its own way. However, none have been so consistently self-supporting as chickens. Following are some ways my backyard birds pay for themselves.

1. Eggs. I have an endless supply of fresh organic free-range eggs, which are said to be lower in cholesterol than factory-farmed eggs. Around my house, there is no shortage of omelets, fried egg sandwiches, frittatas and egg-rich baked goods — made with eggs that go for premium prices if I were to buy them retail.

2. Sales. My surplus eggs sell for a reasonable amount, often the same price as weeks-old factory-farmed eggs in the grocery store. Even though they could easily fetch far more, I choose to keep mine affordable. Even so, my egg income easily covers the cost of everything the birds need.

3. Inexpensive to feed. My hens get top-of-the-line all-organic grain and scratch, and there is still plenty of egg money left over after I buy them food and supplies. In my particular situation, it helps that the birds have access to ample pasture and woods where they can scratch for their food of choice. Grain is always their last choice. But even in wintertime when they eat mostly grain and are not able to forage, I break even on feed costs.

4. Easy to house. My chickens have a cozy coop which is well-insulated against the winter cold, in addition to optional shelters from sun and rain where they can spend time during the day. According to my calculations, they paid for their own Taj Mahal in three or four years of egg-laying.

8 Reasons Chickens Nearly Always Pay For Themselves (And Then Some)

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5. Can be treated humanely with minimal effort and costs. Chickens have few needs — food, clean water, shelter and protection from predation — and thrive well on very little. Homesteaders who are concerned with compassionate care for animals can easily attain such a goal.

6. Help with kitchen and garden cleanup. My chickens love all manner of food nobody else wants to eat. They will gladly snap up vegetable trimmings, past-prime produce, home-canned jellies and chutneys that have been sitting on the larder shelf too long, and stale bread, all of which saves space in the compost bin and saves on chicken feed costs. Chickens are omnivores, too, so they will eat by-products from meat and dairy which would otherwise go into the trash.

7. They love bugs and other pests. Mine eat ticks, flying insects, beetles and other garden menaces. It is good for them, provides them ample entertainment, and reduces my pest population. This results in better vegetable yields and less need for pesticides.

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8. Meat and stock. My laying hens stay around the henhouse until they die of natural causes. Even when they stop laying, or when what few eggs they lay have paper-thin shells and break when they land in the nest box, the old girls stay. That is not the way everyone does it, but homesteaders need to do what feels right to them.

However, my homestead does sometimes raise chickens specifically for meat. The result is clean organic meat and stock at a significant savings over the same product purchased elsewhere, and is yet another example of how keeping chickens is an endeavor which pays for itself.

There is not much that can be had for free in today’s world, and there are not many endeavors which truly pay for themselves. In many cases, chickens are one of those rarities. By laying eggs, paying for their own upkeep, keeping other homestead costs down by taking care of scraps and bugs, and providing affordable high-quality meat, keeping chickens is very much a worthwhile activity.

Do you agree that chickens pay for themselves? Share your thoughts in the section below:

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Canning Tomatoes: Here’s What Grandma May Not Have Told You

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Canning Tomatoes: Here’s What Grandma May Not Have Told You

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It is never more gratifying to be a gardener than when luscious ripe tomatoes are rolling off the plants and into our kitchens. For most of us, though, there are often far more tomatoes than we can eat at the time. After slicing, sautéing, roasting, making salads and salsa, adding to pizza and ratatouille and grilled burgers, and filling the freezer with sauce, there is only option left.

It is time to can tomatoes. People have been canning tomatoes for long enough that everyone and their great-grandmother—and I do mean that literally—has strong opinions on how it should be done. Some folks use strictly paste tomatoes, meaning only those varieties developed specifically for use in homemade sauces. Others use any varieties of tomatoes at all, from commercial or traditional to heirloom, in all shapes and sizes.

There is no single correct answer when it comes to the best tomato varieties for canning. The primary difference is that paste types usually have less water content and therefore require less reduction for sauces and ketchup. Taste, texture and personal preference are factors that matter.

The thing about canning tomatoes is that there are a lot of choices, not the least of which is whether to use a pressure canner or a boiling water bath canner. And the right answer to this question is that both methods are correct.

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This is unusual. For almost every other food, there is only one right choice. All vegetable, meats and seafood products need to be pressure-canned for safety. And while fruits can be processed using a pressure canner, it would diminish the quality of the product.

Canning Tomatoes: Here’s What Grandma May Not Have Told You

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So why can tomatoes go either way? To explain, let me first talk about acid. The value of various foods are either very acidic—which registers very low numbers on the pH scale—or very neutral and registering very high pH numbers.

Almost all fruits range from 3.0 to 4.0 and are considered to be high acid. Vegetables range from 4.8 to 7.0 and are considered to be low acid.

And then there are tomatoes. The average tomato sits at 4.6, right on the cusp of high acid versus low acid. In this sentence, “average” is the key word. If the average is at 4.6, that means there are some varieties that are a tad more acidic, and a few—particularly some of the heirloom types—that are a little less acidic.

Therefore, the safety rule with tomatoes is to acidify them. By adding a little acidic content to every jar of canned tomatoes, we can be absolutely sure that they are adequately acid. Just a tablespoon of lemon juice or ¼ teaspoon of citric acid per pint of tomatoes does the trick. It is super easy, inexpensive and does not affect the taste of the finished product.

It may sound as if it is alright to skip the acidification step—adding the lemon juice or citric acid—if you are pressure canning, but that is not the case. Acid needs to be added with both processes, and here is why: The directions and processing times for both canning methods have been tested using acidified tomatoes. If you do not use added acid, the processing times given may not be adequate.

The major difference in canning tomatoes using the boiling water bath method versus pressure canning is processing time.

For example, tomatoes packed in water take 40-50 minutes (depending upon the size of the jars) in a boiling water bath canner and only 10 minutes in a pressure canner. Tomatoes with no added liquid take a whopping 85 minutes in a boiling water bath canner and 25 minutes in a pressure canner. With crushed tomatoes, there is a huge time difference as well—35 to 45 minutes versus 15 minutes.

However, there is more than just processing time to consider. Using a pressure canner involves 10 minutes of venting, several minutes to build pressure, and more time to depressurize after processing. When you add it up, the actual time differences are less dramatic.

So why use a pressure canner for tomatoes? Many people say it is about the quality of the finished food. Pressure canned tomatoes often have brighter colors and flavors, retaining more of that tart zing that only a fresh backyard tomato can pack.

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Either way, there are some basics to go by. Following is a synopsis, although complete step-by-step directions can be found either in Ball’s Blue Book Guide to Preserving, which can be purchased for under $10 at most stores, or accessed free online at the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

Canning Tomatoes: Here’s What Grandma May Not Have Told You

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Prepare your supplies. Wash and rinse jars and lids, and keep warm. Assemble equipment:  canner, jar lifter, funnel and headspace tool.

  1. Peel tomatoes by dipping in scalding water until skin loosens, plunge in ice water to make them cool enough to handle, and pull skins off. Trim ends. Cut or crush as needed for recipe.
  2. Prepare your canner and heat the water to simmering.
  3. Add lemon juice or citric acid to each jar.
  4. Pack tomatoes according to recipe: crushed, whole or halved packed in water or tomato juice, or whole or halved with no liquid added. Add salt if desired.
  5. Remove air bubbles, wipe rims, and adjust lids to finger tight.
  6. Process in either boiling water bath canner or pressure canner, following times and procedures for the one you are using.

Processing times cannot safely be mixed and matched. It will not work to use pressure canning times in a boiling water bath canner, or to go with times given for whole tomatoes with added liquid for crushed tomatoes. If using the boiling water bath method for whole tomatoes, follow that recipe to the letter.

I have canned many tomatoes and have used very nearly all of the permutations—with liquid and without, whole and crushed, boiling water bath or pressure canner processed. I admit that I do not have a single go-to way of doing it. An hour and 25 minutes is a long process time, but once it’s boiling, I can set it and forget it. Pressure-canned tomatoes do seem a little tastier, but it is more of a multi-step process than a boiling water bath. Crushed tomatoes are easier to pack into jars, but require more prep work and yield a product that I tend to use less in recipes. Most years, I do a variety.

Even though it seems a little more complicated at the outset, tomatoes are the perfect food for canning and are just right for those who prefer a wide variety of methods. And as long as you use an approved recipe, there is no wrong way to can garden-fresh tomatoes.

What canning advice would you add? Share your tips and secrets in the section below:

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11 Late-Summer, Quick-Growing Vegetables You Gotta Plant NOW To Beat The Frost

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11 Late-Summer, Quick-Growing Vegetables You Gotta Plant NOW To Beat The Frost

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If spring and early summer somehow slipped past without you getting all the vegetables planted that you wanted to, you are not alone. Life happens on its own schedule, and when one of the kids takes sick or the boss needs you to work overtime during planting season, it can interfere with your high hopes and well-laid plans.

But take heart—it is not too late. Depending on your growing zone and how many days you have left before frost, there are up to 11 vegetables you can still plant, from seed, and eat this season.

Where I live in Zone 4, we usually expect our first frost about the third week of September. That means I can plant all eleven of the following vegetable choices right up until late July.

If you have 60 or more days left of your growing season, you can plant the following:

1. Radishes. Almost all cultivars of radish can be grown in under 60 days. Most of them mature in half that time. Summer radishes are great plain, on salads, and braised in a buttery syrup. Even winter storage and daikon types are generally 60 days or less.

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2. Kale. This healthful favorite can be grown to full maturity in 60 to 75 days, depending on your conditions and the specific cultivar. From salads and stews to smoothies and sautes, nothing beats fresh-from-the-garden kale.

3. Peas. Mid-to-late summer is the perfect time to plant peas for a fall crop. They do not like high heat, and planting now will allow them to grow in relatively cool conditions. Most varieties are ready to harvest at between 50 and 60 days. Eaten in or out of the shell, peas are a wonderful addition to any meal.

11 Late-Summer, Quick-Growing Vegetables You Gotta Plant NOW To Beat The Frost

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4. Cucumbers. Many cucumber cultivars reach maturity from seed in 60 days or less. Cukes vary widely, from as few as 49 days to nearly 70. There is at least one cultivar in each type—pickling, slicing, beit-alpha, and Asian—with a short growing season. Plant now for that one last cucumber sandwich before the first fall frost!

5. Summer squashes. There is a delightful array of zucchini, yellow and patty pan squashes that can be grown in a very short time. Some cultivars reach harvestable size in an astonishing 40 days. The culinary delights of summer squashes are practically limitless!

6. Carrots. Many varieties of summer carrots reach maturity in under 60 days. Short and round, long and skinny, thick and blunt—there are some short season cultivars in every shape. Storage carrots can take a little longer, some up to 85 days, so be sure to read the packet or catalog information.

7. Beets. This amazingly diverse vegetable can produce delicious edible greens in just over a month, and can reach full maturity in well under 60 days. I thin early beets and use the tiny pulled seedlings on salads and wraps. Later, the larger greens are great cooked and topped with butter. Mature beets are excellent pickled, pan-fried, or in baked goods. Most beet cultivars are harvestable in under 60 days, including classic reds, striped Chioggia types, and mellow golds.

11 Late-Summer, Quick-Growing Vegetables You Gotta Plant NOW To Beat The Frost

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8. Swiss chard. This hardy vegetable is able to be harvested as tender baby greens in as little as four weeks after harvest and reaches full maturity in under 60 days. Beautiful and delicious, chard comes in a rainbow of colors from greens and yellows to reds and golds, packs a powerful nutritional punch, and will make you glad you planted it right now.

9. Non-heading broccoli. Sometimes called “broccolini,” this fast-growing brassica variety is ready for harvest in under 60 days. The entire plant—flowers, stalks, and even leaves—can be enjoyed raw, steamed or stir-fried.

10. Beans. Most bush beans meant for fresh eating, such as green beans, wax beans and haricot verts, are ready for harvest in 60 days or less. If planting pole beans instead, check the package—a few can be grown in a short season, but pole beans often require a medium-to-long season. Perfect for fresh eating, pickling, salads, steaming and roasting, easy-to-grow beans are an excellent last-minute choice for getting the most out of your backyard garden.

11. Greens. Almost all greens are mature in less than 60 days. Spinach, depending on the particular cultivar and growing conditions, is ready in as little as a month. Lettuces take a little longer. Asian greens such as Chinese cabbage, mizuna and mustard greens, and pac choy range from six to eight weeks to maturity. Collard greens take a little longer to fully mature, but as with any greens can be picked and eaten earlier if preferred, or if needed to beat an early frost.

An additional bonus with kale, spinach and a few other greens is that they will survive frosts, to some extent. They will not continue to grow afterwards, but will remain viable in the garden, making them able to be planted and harvested even later.

As you can see, there is still plenty of opportunity this season to grow a nice selection of tasty nutritious vegetables for fresh eating and preserving. It is time to dig out those seed packets and get ready for late-summer bounty.

What vegetables would you add to our list? Share your suggestions below:

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5 Attributes EVERY Homesteader Must Have To Survive Tough Times

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5 Attributes EVERY Homesteader Must Have To Survive Tough Times

If you are considering becoming a homesteader, you know the prospect can be pretty daunting. Among all the other questions and considerations which must be asked and evaluated—such as how it will impact employment, children, extended family, social involvement and finances—the concern about suitability for such a demanding lifestyle looms large.

Do I have what it takes to become a homesteader?

If you are asking yourself that question and wondering whether you and your resources and skill are a good fit for living a sustainable and independent lifestyle, read on for the five homesteader attributes I have found to be most important.

1. Intentionality. Homesteaders need to do what we do with a sense of purpose. It is not a lifestyle which one might just tumble into, and with the exception of being raised in that environment it is not likely to happen without intentionality.

Self-reliance may have been the default way of life in generations past, but society has shifted to a place where a person or family must step off the beaten track to follow the path of homesteading.

In order to make it work, homesteaders need to make a deliberate, focused choice. We need to do it like we mean it.

2. Commitment. A full-scale homesteading operation is not something you dabble in, like trying out audiobooks or a different brand of cordless drill. My dictionary lists synonyms for the word “commitment” as “dedicated, devotion and loyal.” Those are good words to keep in mind when entering into homesteading.

5 Attributes EVERY Homesteader Must Have To Survive Tough TimesThis is not to say that it is not possible to try before you buy. There are many ways to try out homesteading activities beforehand, from container crops on your back deck in the city to volunteering on existing farms.

I once knew a young woman who was in love with the idea of homesteading and accepted an apprenticeship on her dream farm. It was all she had thought it would be, but her loyalty lay elsewhere. She soon realized that she was more dedicated and committed to friends and fun in town than to raising crops and tending animals, and was not ready for the commitment that homesteading demands. Fortunately for all involved, the young woman who turned out to be in love with her social life was able to walk away with no hardship on anyone.

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But when you do go into homesteading for real, go all in.

3. Optimism. When your livelihood is dependent upon the natural world, optimism is an absolute necessity. There is always next season to look forward to—more rain, a later fall frost, or the maple sap running better. Homesteaders live in perpetual surety that things would have been perfect, and will be next time, without that one unfortunate anomaly.

Homesteaders need to carry an eternal sense of optimism that makes us plant greens when there is still danger of snow, try our hand at cordwood masonry without any prior knowledge of the craft, and let the six-year-old milk the cow. And we need to pick ourselves up and keep moving forward when things don’t work out quite as planned.

Without this glass-half-full outlook on life, the looming possibilities of hurricanes, Japanese beetles, sick lambs, Lyme disease, broken fences and chimney fires would be too much, and we would decide to move back to the city at the first sign of trouble.

4. Courage. Things can get scary on occasion. Most of us were raised in a very different way—food came from the grocery store and farmers’ market, heat materialized from the nudge of the thermostat, lights popped on and off with the flip of a switch, and water ran hot and cold out of the faucet. Sources for some or all of these amenities are different on the homestead, and many come with at least some level of inherent risk, either real or perceived.

Kids in the city don’t have to sneak past the butty goat buck on the path to their favorite fishing hole, and urban moms don’t leave their bread-making to go shoo cows out of the flower garden or deal with snakes between them and morning chores. Homesteaders handle it all, from inclement weather to grouchy 1,100-pound animals to long walks down a wilderness road to rats in the grain bin.

5. Support. Homesteading is tough single-handed. A single person or couple will face a lot of challenges on their own. Extended family, friends, like-minded neighbors, church community or farm partners make all the difference. Let me say that again for emphasis: all the difference. I will not go so far as to say one or two individuals cannot thrive in a completely isolated homesteading endeavor, and I am certain it has been accomplished many times over. But I will say that it is a hard row to hoe, and lack of support will make it all that much more difficult to create and maintain the first four characteristics.

5 Attributes EVERY Homesteader Must Have To Survive Tough Times

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When my husband badly injured his hand while building raised beds for spring planting, our entire season of homesteading was hugely impacted. Garden beds, getting vegetables in the ground, building and installing trellises and cages, fencing, haying, and firewood processing—not getting it done then meant not having the results later.

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My time and focus went to caring for him first, and then having to pick up his tasks on top of my own. At one of our busiest times of the year, it was too much. Without family and friends who came alongside us and freely gave of their time and skills and even money—planting and building and shoveling and mowing and chain-sawing and splitting and cleaning and animal-tending—we could have been done for.

Final Thoughts

If you are feeling a bit skittish about homesteading after reading this list of important traits, do not worry. Nobody possesses all of these all the time. Nobody. But what we all aspire to have is as many of them as we can, as much as we can, as often as we can.

Attributes can be built and learned, and the five on this list tend to feed off one another. Support builds courage, courage solidifies commitment, and optimism enhances intentionality. The needs for these traits vary greatly. In some situations, homesteaders need all the optimism they can muster and get by with only minimal support. Other times, courage and commitment are the fingers in the dam.

The biggest takeaway is that if you want to build enough of these traits in yourself to succeed at homesteading, you can. You will have to work harder at some on this list than others do, and that is perfectly acceptable and is to be expected.

Homesteading is not for the faint of heart, but it is worth the journey. Develop these five traits along the way, and you will come to realize that you have always had what it takes.

What traits would you add to this list? Share your suggestions in the section below:

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Getting Goats? Here’s 17 Items You Better Consider Buying

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“Dear Aunt Kathy,” my niece wrote, “my husband and I are readying ourselves to get some goats.  Can you help me come up with a list of basic supplies we need before we bring them home?”

Those are excellent questions for anyone preparing to acquire goats, and I immediately began compiling a list of supplies I would recommend for new and prospective goat owners.  Here is what I came up with. All total, it is 17 items to consider.

As with any livestock or pet, infrastructure is a key component to the safety, comfort, protection and ease of operation. You will need a shelter, fencing and gates. The importance of adequate infrastructure cannot be overstated—so much so that each of those three areas is a stand-alone topic. For purposes of this list, I will proceed upon the assumption that you will have already set up adequate ways to provide these crucial basics.

Next in line of importance is veterinary care. It is a wise idea to get set up with a veterinarian ahead of time. Many areas of the country have a shortage of livestock veterinarians. Goats are pretty hardy and you may not ever need to call the vet, but an emergency situation is no time to be calling around and reaching only dead ends that are not accepting new patients.

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Make sure they are a 24-hour practice and will come out to the farm when you need them. If your goat is in crisis at 2 in the morning, it might be too late by the time the office opens at 8.

Large animal veterinarians in my area charge around $50 to pull into the driveway and about a dollar for each minute thereafter. Avoid sticker shock by asking beforehand. It is a good idea to find a vet who will work in a partnership for your goats’ health and is willing to teach you best practices along the way. Look for someone who will treat your animals with care, explain what you need to know, show you the best ways to treat and prevent future problems, and have an honest conversation about the prognosis.

Getting Goats? Here's 17 Items You Better Consider Buying

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Once the big picture essentials are taken care of, it is time to move on to the smaller stuff. First, I recommend a milk stand. It is a big investment, but one good quality stand will probably last your goats’ lifetime and beyond, and will save you countless headaches and frustration. You can either buy a heavy-duty metal model, or build a wooden one yourself using directions you can find online. Even if you know for sure that your goats will never be dairy animals, a milk stand enables one person working alone to sufficiently control a goat in order to prevent injury to either party. Trimming hooves, grooming coats, administering shots or medications, or examining for injuries or illness is much easier with the animal secured on a platform.

You will need to provide your goats with water, hay, grain and supplements. Honestly, you can get by with a dog dish for daily grain rations and an old drywall spackling bucket for water, shared between five kid goats. But a few proper supplies will make your goat-owning life a lot easier:

  • Hook-over wall feeders. Square feeders with backs that lop over and hang on a horizontal 2×4; they are great for feed and supplements. They can be easily moved around, gathered up between feedings to keep them clean, and given an occasional scrubbing. They can be found at most farm supply stores in two or three sizes. The smallest one is just right for goat rations.
  • Flat back water buckets and special hooks designed for hanging buckets are great. They can be hung on the wall high enough to minimize mess, and are hard for the goats to knock over and empty. Farm supply stores and catalogs offer them in a variety of sizes and fun colors.
  • Hay feeders are a big plus. Feeding hay from the floor is never a good idea, as it can introduce parasites, and goats do not like it anyway. They will nibble at the choicest morsels and make a mess of the rest, and will absolutely not eat hay which has been soiled. An investment in one or two good quality metal hook-over hay feeders will save you aggravation and money.

Other hay feeder possibilities include homemade wooden types, customized plastic barrels, and other clever contraptions. Whatever your design, ensure that the goats can get into it enough to nose around and grab the perfect bites, will not get their head or horns stuck in it, and cannot jump in and either hurt themselves or ruin the hay.

You will need some supplies for hoof trimming. Scissors or trimmers and a rasp are all you need. The former is available from goat supply retailers, and the latter can be found at any hardware store.

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Grooming needs are basic, but you may need to try more than one type of tool before you find just the right one for your goat’s coat. Some breeds do well with an inexpensive rubber tack brush designed for horses, and others have undercoats which are well-served with brushes designed for long-haired dogs.

Getting Goats? Here's 17 Items You Better Consider Buying

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You will need to keep a goat medicine cabinet available. There are a few items you should have right at the start, and always keep on hand. If your goat is sick, a call to the vet or an online search will likely direct you to one or more of these items.

  • Rectal thermometer. As with humans, body temperature is often an indicator of something wrong. Use lubricant to make the event easier on everyone—either a tube of specialty stuff for goat birthing, or whatever you have on hand. Household petroleum jelly is fine, but just make sure to scoop some out before using it on goats, to avoid the risk of double-dipping. Use disposable gloves if it makes you feel better.
  • Goat bloat treatment. Goat stomachs can go a little crazy on a sudden change of diet, and a bloat situation can become a crisis very quickly. Have a bottle of remedy on hand just in case, sold commercially at goat supply stores everywhere. Pepto-Bismol or baking soda are often recommended for goat belly aches, too.
  • Pro-biotic paste. This is a gel packed with vitamins and nutrients, and is a great pick-me-up for multiple maladies. It comes in a tube with clear directions on the label, is inexpensive, and found just about everywhere goat supplies are found.
  • Other medications will inevitably creep into your cabinet as time passes. As afflictions occur, you will purchase supplies to combat parasites, injuries and illnesses.
  • If you plan to administer goat shots yourself, you will need syringes and needles. Farm stores and catalog retailers sell them inexpensively enough that it makes sense to keep a handful in stock. Needle sizes vary, but 20 gauge or 22 gauge work well for most goat vaccines.
  • The most frequently used maintenance vaccine for goats is something called CD/T. You can find it at your farm store without a prescription, but it should be kept in the refrigerator, so you may have to ask for it. This guards against an overeating disease and tetanus.

Your goats will need bedding—straw is best, but they like wooden platforms as well—along with hay and grain to eat. Free-choice minerals and any other supplements recommended by the goat seller are good to have on hand as well.

Miscellaneous collars, leads and harnesses are fun and useful, but not essential. Breakaway collars—the type made of plastic chains that will break if the goat gets stuck somewhere—are often preferred for goats who are allowed a lot of free-range browse area.

If you intend to use a specific kind of training—such as clicker training, for example—have the training aids you need to begin on day one.

Insect control is important in some situations. Spray-on treatment from your farm store, or food-grade diatomaceous earth, can often make a difference.

Acquiring this list of basic supplies before your goats come home will help make the transition go smoothly and minimize stress for all involved, and can get you set up to enjoy your goats for years to come.

What would you add to our list? Share your thoughts in the section below:

If You Like All-Natural Home Remedies, You Need To Read Everything That Hydrogen Peroxide Can Do. Find Out More Here.

Everything You Possibly Could Want To Know About Growing Peas

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Everything You Possibly Could Want To Know About Growing Peas

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Fresh peas are a thing of beauty. Ready to eat in early summer, peas are some of the season’s first tastes of green. Winters are long up north where I live, and eating fresh from the garden is a welcome treat. Peas are delicious, fast-growing, and conducive to cold climates — the perfect plant for a northern garden.  If you have not tried peas in your own backyard, I encourage you to do so.

I have compiled some information about peas out of my favorite seed catalogs, as well as from Andrea Chesman’s cookbook Serving up the Harvest. Read on for a few interesting facts about the wonderful pea plant and some great tips on how to grow them and enjoy a bountiful harvest.

People have been enjoying fresh peas since as early as the 1600s. These hardy legumes were brought to North America by European settlers and were Thomas Jefferson’s favorite vegetable at his Monticello garden. (His preference: the English pea.) Peas like cool moist conditions and usually do poorly in hot dry weather. They grow best in northern climates, but with a little extra care can be grown as far south as Virginia and possibly beyond.

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These delectable vegetables can be enjoyed raw, steamed, stir-fried, in salads, and as out-of-hand snacks. Soups, casseroles, pasta and even smoothies are enhanced by the inclusion of peas. My own favorite is a quick risotto concoction of rice and peas called “risi e bisi.”

Peas are high in protein and fiber, and contain vitamins A, B, C and K. They are 25 percent sucrose and lose up to half of their sugar content within six hours of picking at room temperature. Sugar loss can be slowed in the refrigerator, but it is best to enjoy them as soon as possible. Some of the super-sweet varieties retain sweetness longer and can be left out for all-day snacking.

To de-string peas which are to be eaten pod and all, start at the tip and pull the string off around the seams of the pea. To remove the peas from the shell, squeeze the pod at the seams until it pops, and push the peas out with your thumb.

Most peas fall into one of three basic categories, plus a few unique varieties:

  • Shell/shelling peas, or garden peas, are the types that are meant to be removed from the pod—or shell—before eating. The pods of shell peas are usually discarded or fed to livestock. Shell peas are tender and sweet but are labor-intensive to prepare for the table.
  • Snow peas, or edible podded peas, are the ones eaten primarily for the pods. They are meant to be picked before peas develop inside. I sometimes have trouble remembering which type of pea is which, so I remind myself that with snow peas there’s no peas. (Say it out loud to hear what I mean.) They are a favorite of Asian cuisine and in salads.
  • Snap peas, or sugar snap peas, are somewhere between shell peas and snow peas. They are usually super-sweet varieties of small peas which are supposed to be eaten pod and all, often raw as snacks and in salads.
  • Almost all peas are green, but a few purple and golden cultivars are available. There are also “tendril” peas on the market — sugar snap types with edible tendrils — which replace some of the plant’s leaves with tendrils and are said to help protect the pea plants from disease.
Everything You Possibly Could Want To Know About Growing Peas

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Peas do best in well-drained soil with a pH of between 6.0 and 7.5. If soil is more acidic than that — which is often the case in my region — then it can be neutralized with limestone or wood ash. Avoid too much nitrogen, as peas — like most legumes — can fix their own. To encourage formation of high-nitrogen nodules on the plants, some experts recommend using an “inoculant,” which is available at garden stores and applied to the seeds before planting.

Most peas need a trellis — some kind of fence or climbing support. A few varieties are sold as “bush types,” and can support themselves without a fence, but they are generally the exception. It is advisable to install the trellis at the time of planting, so as to not disturb the delicate young seedlings after they have sprouted.  Peas can take a while to sprout from the soil — two weeks or more if it is quite cold — but they grow fast once they emerge and will start looking for something to climb on right away.

Plant peas in spring, as soon as the soil is able to be worked. It is key to get them going in time for harvest before the summer’s heat shuts them down. Some regions allow for a second planting for a fall harvest, but the timing can be tricky. Frost stops production in the blossom and pod stages, so the seeds must go into the ground early enough to beat the frost.  Peas do not like heat, so planting them in the heat of July is potentially risky. Preparing the bed with mulch to cool the soil before planting, or planting the seeds in the shade of taller plants, may be helpful. But if autumn days in your region usually reach 75 degrees, it may not be cool enough for a fall crop.

It is important to harvest regularly, and pick before they get stringy. A pound of fresh peas in the pod will yield a cup or so of shelled peas, and a pound of fresh snap peas equals four to five cups.

What you cannot eat fresh can be preserved easily. To freeze, blanch for 2-4 minutes — less for shelled peas and more for in-the-pod — in boiling water, plunge into ice water to cool, and dry on towels or in a salad spinner.

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Peas can also be dried much the same way as beans, by leaving them on the vine until dry and leathery, or even pulling the entire plant and hanging it indoors upside down. A dehydrator would work just fine, too.

There are a few pea diseases to watch out for. Powdery mildew strikes in hot weather and looks like someone doused the plant with baby powder. The best way to prevent this affliction it to use varieties resistant to it. Once powdery mildew has occurred, pick peas in early mornings when dew is still on the plants to help mitigate spread of the disease.

A more common disease is pea root rot, or fusarium. This can remain in the soil, so rotating out of legumes with brassicas is a good strategy. Other helpful methods to control fusarium include using well-drained soil and choosing resistant varieties.

Pea seeds save well for up to five years. They are self-pollinating, but crosses can occur when pollinators move from one variety to the next. To be sure, give 25-50 feet between types.

If you give peas a try in your own garden, you will be glad you did. Rich, sweet, nutritious peas in early summer are heaven on earth, and the tasty rewards are unsurpassed.

What advice would you add on growing peas? Share your tips in the section below:

Every Spring, Gardeners Make This Avoidable Mistake — But You Don’t Have To. Read More Here.

Our Great-Grandparents Were Less Stressed. Here’s 10 Reasons Why.

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Our Great-Grandparents Were Less Stressed. Here’s 10 Reasons Why.

“Family Grace.” Norman Rockwell

Life in the 21st century can get pretty hectic. Most people fill their days to the overflowing with jobs, commuting, kids’ activities, fitness goals, food preparation, home and garden maintenance, house chores, and more. Sometimes it almost feels like there is barely any time left to enjoy our families, and that can feel like a real loss.

If you are like me, you might wish you could just take a deep breath and slow things down a little. I am often inspired by the kind of life depicted in books and movies set in days gone by, and by stories told aloud about generations past – our grandparents and great-grandparents.

It seems that family life simply was different in the days of our ancestors, and that they even were less stressed. There are plenty of things they did back then that we do not do anymore, but maybe we should.

Let’s take a look:

1. Families ate meals together. Today’s helter-skelter schedules often make family mealtimes difficult to achieve, but just imagine the benefits of doing so. Spending time together, practicing social and conversational skills, and learning about one another’s passions and challenges might strengthen family bonds and help members grow as individuals.

2. Reading was a common pastime. Consider the benefits of reading — literature, pulp fiction, how-tos, classics, non-fiction, newspapers, westerns, mysteries, romances, memoirs and biographies — as an alternative to other forms of entertainment. Reading almost anything is useful for developing and maintaining language and critical thinking skills.

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3. Neighbors got to know neighbors. The people next door, down the block, the next farm over, and around the corner all have distinct personalities, strengths and quirks. We might become lifelong friends or we might keep them at arm’s length. They could turn out to be courteous and neighborly, or thorns in our side. But whatever they are like, we will never know if we do not give them more consideration than a cursory nod while we’re setting trash out by the curb once a week.

4. Families and friends played games together. A game of Monopoly, chess or crazy eights is a rewarding way to spend time with a loved one. Children learn about strategy, good sportsmanship and decision-making. Adults of all ages keep their wits sharp and their focusing abilities strong. And games are just plain fun!

5. People spent time with extended family. Getting to know a great aunt or a second cousin once removed is a great way to learn about family history and feel a sense of belongingness. Connecting with family members old and young enhances connectedness, instills familial pride, and creates valuable memories. Families are more geographically scattered than they were in days gone by, but that challenge can be offset by the ready accessibility of modern transportation.

Artist: Gerrit ter Borch

Artist: Gerrit ter Borch

6. People wrote and received letters. Letter-writers of all ages could benefit from the practice of language arts, from spelling to composition to story-telling. How uplifting it would be to find something besides bills and junk mail in the mailbox, and what joyous anticipation in awaiting a reply from a cherished friend!

7. Families worked together. Group endeavors like raking leaves, tending a garden, washing dishes, cleaning the house, preparing meals, washing cars, caring for pets and livestock, and even doing errands all can turn into a win-win situation. Shared effort and goals can teach kids about the satisfaction of achievement and can give parents and older siblings the opportunity to serve as partners, leaders and mentors.

8. Active outdoor recreation took place in backyards and neighborhood parks. Long-distance destinations and cruise ships and theme parks are enjoyable. But in between those opportunities, it is an excellent idea to throw a ball or a Frisbee around on the lawn, play hopscotch on the sidewalk out front, ride bikes, play tag, fly kites and swing at badminton birdies.

9. Families were friends with whole families. When my mother and father went visiting, I went along. Sometimes the kids there were older or younger than me, but I made do. Looking back, I realize that the adults had to make do when their spouse’s best friend wasn’t married to their ideal friend, either. Of course, every family member should have the opportunity to spend time with their own choices of friends, but the social flexibility learned from spending time with a wide variety of people can be an enriching experience.

10. People talked face-to-face. In this day of social media and texting, imagine how refreshing a sit-down conversation now and then would be. Taking the time to focus on the person or people in the room, hearing their unique voices and accents and manners of speaking, seeing their body language, and sharing a physical presence, all adds up to a deeply personal method of communication with others.

We live in the modern age and cannot return to the days of old. Perhaps we would not even want to. But it might not be a bad idea to pull over into the slow lane every once in a while, try doing some of the things we do not do anymore, and enjoy life the way our ancestors once did.

What would you add to this list? Share your thoughts in the section below:

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5 Money-Saving Ways Our Great-Grandparents Were ‘Sustainable’ Before It Was Even Cool

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5 Money-Saving Ways Our Great-Grandparents Were ‘Sustainable’ Before It Was Even Cool

Source: Farmtina.com

 

It is cool in our modern-day society to be “green.” Who doesn’t like to pat themselves on the back for embracing the cutting-edge ideas of local foods and frugal living? I sure do. But is the concept of being green really as avant-garde as we like to think it is?

The answer is probably not. Our great-grandparents supported many of the same sustainable principles we do today, and may have even done them better back then than we do now. Their practices in food, household goods, clothing, homes and landscapes all offered fine examples of sustainability – which they perhaps would have called common sense. They also saved money along the way.

1. Food. Some of the food choices our great-grandparents made that society calls green include:

  • They cooked from scratch. Breads, cakes, meatballs, stews and confections were made from whole foods bought in bulk, in contrast to today’s mixes and pre-made convenience foods which include lots of packaging.
  • They ate foods that were local and in season. Instead of Granny Smith apples being shipped from Argentina and fresh summer squash in January, they relied primarily on what was available from nearby. They had fresh fare in season, and stored or preserved food the rest of the year.
  • They grew much of their own ingredients. Vegetables, fruit, dairy, eggs and meat were often raised right in their backyards. It does not get much greener than stepping out the back door to harvest fresh vegetables and eggs for a homemade meal.
  • Organic food was the norm. Instead of going out of their way to buy groceries that were free of chemical pesticides, herbicides, and non-food additives, they lived in a world where it was safe to assume most foods did not contain those things.
5 Money-Saving Ways Our Great-Grandparents Were ‘Sustainable’ Before It Was Even Cool

Source: healthy-holistic-living.com

2. Household goods. Our ancestors chose well when it came to everyday use items in their lives. Some of their more notable sustainable practices were:

  • There were not a lot of single-use or disposable goods in those days. Coffee singles, individual yogurt containers, blister-packed lunches, and Styrofoam cups of microwave soups were not on the market. Instead, our great-grandparents had more practical and reusable options.
  • They homemade a lot of items, from tools to toys to accessories.
  • What belongings they could not make themselves, they often repaired and modified as needed. Their go-to option was making the most of what they already had. Buying new was the last resort.
  • Items were repurposed as much as possible. String was saved for reuse. Purchases and gifts were carefully unwrapped so that the paper could be used again. Containers were washed out and upcycled.
  • They just plain needed less goods. Great-grandma and great-grandpa did not own smart phones, video games, electric fingernail buffers or paper shredders. They spent much of their time doing the work required to provide for their needs. What spare time they had was devoted more to simple pleasures and less to being entertained.

3. Clothing. Except for those belonging to the wealthiest people, wardrobes were modest. Clothing was kept until it wore out. Sweaters were sometimes pulled apart and re-knit into a new garment. Children changed into play clothes and shoes when they got home, in order to make their more valuable garments designated for school and church last longer.

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5 Money-Saving Ways Our Great-Grandparents Were ‘Sustainable’ Before It Was Even Cool

Source: historyonthefox.wordpress.com

New clothing was often purchased strictly for church and special occasions. When good clothing began to show wear, it was reassigned to everyday use. When it became tattered and torn and needed patching, it would be demoted again to farm and outdoor wear. When clothing items were no longer wearable at all, they would continue to serve as rags for cleaning.

4. Homes. People in our great-grandparents’ day observed “green living” in their homes by using less energy and more renewable materials and fuels. Some of the ways they did so are as follows:

  • They used natural cycles to regulate heat and cold in their homes. During summer months, they opened windows in the evening to allow the cool air in, and kept blinds and draperies closed to the sun during the day.
  • They adjusted themselves to the weather instead of the other way around. People wore sweaters in the winter and took care to stay cool in summer.
  • They planned their cooking so as to use the stove minimally. Rather than heat the oven for bread in the morning, cookies at midday, and a roast in the evening, it made more sense to bake items back-to-back for maximum efficiency.
  • They used the coolest water possible when washing clothes, and hung the wash outside to dry.
  • They were diligent about using energy only when necessary. Leaving lights on during the day or in an empty room was a no-no.
  • Homes were of sensible size. McMansions with over 4,000 square feet and four bathrooms were unheard of.

5. Landscapes. Like the homes themselves, yards were moderate in size and purpose. Just think about some of our lawns today. We add fertilizer to make the grass grow, herbicides to kill off the dandelions, and pesticides to eliminate the insects. Then the kids and pets need to avoid being on the grass because of all the toxic additives, so the only person who has any contact with the four-acre lawn is the dad mowing it on a lawn tractor while his kids are inside playing video games. Our great-grandparents did it differently.

I plan to continue doing my best to live “green,” and hope you do as well. But in doing so, let us all remember to thank our ancestors who paved the way by practicing common-sense strategies in their generation.

What would you add to our list? Share your thoughts in the section below:

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How To Grow Rhubarb, The Perennial Vegetable You Plant Once And Enjoy For Years

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How To Grow Rhubarb, The Perennial Vegetable You Only Plant Once

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There is more to rhubarb than meets the eye. You may know it as the edible perennial that pops up early in spring in yards all across the cooler regions of North America. Rhubarb is famous for its tart flavor, and is sometimes known as “pie plant” due to its frequent use in delicious pies.

But rhubarb has a surprising history. Recorded in Chinese documents as long as 2,700 years ago, rhubarb originated in the eastern hemisphere and was brought west by early spice traders. It was known to grow in what is now Russia along the banks of the River Volga, the regional word for what is believed to be the root for the word “rhubarb.”

The plant made its way to North America in the early 1800s via New England states and has spread across much of the continent.

The reason for the high value was not for food, but for medicine. Rhubarb root was valued for its laxative properties, having been used for that purpose around the world for centuries. In fact, WebMD states the following:

“Rhubarb is used primarily for digestive complaints including constipation, diarrhea, heartburn, stomach pain, gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding, and preparation for certain GI diagnostic procedures. Some people use rhubarb so they have to strain less during bowel movements; this reduces pain from hemorrhoids or tears in the skin lining the anal canal (anal fissures). Rhubarb is sometimes applied to the skin to treat cold sores.”

Not only does rhubarb continue to be a good natural remedy for intestinal maladies and cold sores, it contains the pigment “parietin,” a substance which has been shown to slow the growth of human cancer cells in studies with mice. In addition, rhubarb contains compounds which “seem to reduce blood glucose levels in diabetic mice.” (LaboratoryEquipment.com)

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Many sources even claim that rhubarb root can be used for dye, for coloring hair and other materials.

But if you are like me, you appreciate rhubarb for its taste and its ease of growing. In addition to rhubarb pie—by itself or paired with strawberries—this wonderful early-season treat can be eaten raw, with or without sugar. Many people enjoy rhubarb sauce, which is made by stewing cut-up stalks with sugar or other sweetener and enough water to keep it from sticking. I enjoy my rhubarb sauce cold with a hint of cinnamon, eaten as a side dish much the same as applesauce, but there are no rules.

How To Grow Rhubarb, The Perennial Vegetable You Only Plant Once

Image source: Pixabay.com

Rhubarb is often combined with strawberries to make lovely jam.  It also goes great in breads, cakes, crisps and muffins. Many people also enjoy fruit drinks and wine made with rhubarb. It can be canned as plain rhubarb sauce with sugar, or as a savory side called Victoria sauce which is a little like chutney. It freezes well, too, either blanched or raw.

Given the many amazing benefits of rhubarb, it is little wonder so many people grow it. If you would like to be among them, following are a few easy tips to help you get started.

Rhubarb, known in Latin as Rheum rhabarbarum, is actually a vegetable, even though it is generally treated as a fruit. We eat the stalk, or the petiole, of the plant, like we do with celery. The roots of the plant are rhizomes, which is a specific type of root that propagates underground.

Like all plants, rhubarb has distinct preferences as to the type of soil and care in which it thrives best, but it is not terribly picky overall. It likes soil which is rich, well-drained, well-fertilized, and a slight-to-moderate acid pH level of 5.5 to 7.0. Rhubarb does well in sun but not in overly hot conditions, and can tolerate some shade as well.

Your first crop of rhubarb can come from one of two sources. First, if you know someone who is getting ready to divide up the roots of their mature plant and has more than they need, that is the least expensive way to go and a perfectly adequate way of acquiring your own rhubarb. However, if you do not know anyone who has excess or it is not convenient to get it from them at the correct time—or if they do not have your favorite variety—you can buy it from a garden seed supply retailer.

Rhubarb should be divided and planted in early spring, as soon as the soil is able to be worked. To plant your new crowns, dig a separate hole for each crown, two to three feet apart.  Add a generous helping of compost to each hole, as rhubarb plants are heavy feeders, leaving room for the entire crown to be submerged in the hole. Place the crown one to two inches below the surface, bud end up, and cover. Water well.

Delayed gratification is a component of many edible perennials, and rhubarb is no exception. In order to grow and maintain healthy plants, rhubarb should not be harvested at all the first year. The following spring, it can be harvested lightly for a very short period at the beginning of the season and then left alone. But by the rhubarb’s third year, it can be harvested throughout the entire season, up to 10 weeks. It will be apparent that it is time to stop harvesting when the new growth stalks are thin.

It is important to pull stalks rather than cut them, to prevent creating a large wound on the plant which could potentially allow fungus and disease to get into the plant.

Rhubarb leaves are toxic. Never eat them or feed them to animals. It is fine in compost, however.

Pull flowering stems as they emerge. The appearance of flowers may mean that the plant is ready to be divided, or that the plant is starved for nitrogen. If the cause seems to be the latter, side dress the plant with a good source of nitrogen. Avoid covering the tops of young plants, so as not to burn them or cause rot to the crowns.

If it is time to divide your rhubarb plants, do so in late fall or very early spring. Dig up the entire rhizome, taking care to keep as much of the root system intact as possible, and cut up with an ax or sharp spade, leaving at least one root and bud on each piece. You can re-plant the pieces yourself, or share them with others.

With a little care and attention, rhubarb is a crop which can last a lifetime. Whether appreciated it for its flavor raw or cooked, its enhancement of drinks and baked goods, or its medicinal qualities, rhubarb is a wonderful addition to any yard, garden, or homestead.

Sources:

Manley, Reeser, and Marjorie Perondo.  The New England Gardener’s Year.  Thomaston, ME: Cadent, 2013.

Smith, Edward C.  The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible.  North Adams, MA: Storey, 2000.

http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-214-RHUBARB.aspx?activeIngredientId=214&activeIngredientName=RHUBARB

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6 Overlooked Questions Every Homesteader Must Ask Before Buying Livestock

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6 Overlooked Questions Every Homesteader Must Ask Before Buying Livestock

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The verdict is in, and you have decided to keep goats. Or raise pigs. Or cattle, or other livestock. You have considered all the factors that must be taken into account, such as your amount of space, quality and quantity of infrastructure, and climate. You have thought about your own needs, too, and how your animals will mesh with your already-existing schedule.

Those are wise considerations. But there are additional questions you will need to ask, both before you get started and as you go. Following are a few of those questions, and some pros and cons of each which might help you with your own decision-making process.

1. Will You Keep Heritage Breeds?

These are the breeds that are not kept by large-scale commercial farmers and are far fewer in number.

Pros: Often the reason these breeds have fallen from favor is because they are less conducive to factory farming, but they can be stronger, smarter, better tasting, or easier hand-milkers than their standard counterparts.

By keeping heritage breeds, you will help preserve an alternative choice. If a disease comes along which can decimate the more common breeds, genetic diversity is a real plus.

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If you are raising animals for profit, heritage breeds have top dollar potential. Many chefs and foodies are willing to pay a little extra for the flavors of meat and cheeses from these breeds. In addition, other farmers expect to pay more for live animals.

Cons: It can be difficult to find adequate breeding stock. And when you do find it, you are apt to pay more. When I kept Oberhasli goats — listed as “recovering” by The Livestock Conservancy — it was difficult for me to find a sufficiently unrelated male in my area.

Some heritage breeds might be more or less prone to certain diseases or parasites, potentially causing certain very rare breeds to be problematic for veterinary care.

2. Miniature vs. Full Size?

Cows, horses, donkeys, goats, sheep, pigs and even chickens usually come in two size ranges — standard and mini.

Pros of Miniatures: They require a smaller browsing and grazing area and need less barn space, enabling them to be kept on smaller homesteads. It costs less to feed smaller animals, and some minis have a higher percentage of yield per dollar spent.

The reason many people choose miniature animals for meat and dairy is for the reduced output which is often more suitable for a modest household. Too much milk every day or more than a freezer full of meat can be wasteful.

Smaller animals can be less intimidating choices for farmers with less experience or of smaller stature. In addition, miniature livestock are high on the cute-o-meter, making them more popular and resulting in higher sales.

6 Overlooked Questions Every Homesteader Must Ask Before Buying Livestock

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Miniature goats breed year-round instead of only during a certain season, which might be either bad or good depending upon one’s specific needs.

Cons: Consider how the breed was developed. When I was searching for a miniature milk cow, one breeder warned me that they are sometimes crossed with half-wild smaller breeds, yielding the size I wanted but not the temperament.

DNA is not yet fully understood. The genes that create a smaller animal can have unintended side effects on factors such as disease resistance, intelligence and longevity.

Miniature milking animals — particularly goats — usually have miniature teats, making them harder and more tedious to milk.

3. Registered or Not?

The lineage of registered animals is recorded on a publicly accessible data base and maintained by an association specific to that species and type. For example, the American Quarter Horse Association, or the American Dairy Goat Association.

Pros of Registering: Keeping registered livestock will enable you to study the lineage of both parents before breeding, in order to predict genetics and manage inbreeding. A national registry simplifies sales and networking among breeders. When I listed some of my Oberhasli for sale, prospective buyers half a continent away could easily examine their lineage online.

While it is debatable whether a registered animal is of higher quality, some people say that it is the owners of registered animals who are more desirable. People who invest in pedigreed livestock may be less likely to tie them to a leaky doghouse out back and abandon them.

Cons: Then again, people going for reputation and prize money may push their animals beyond their comfort limits. Registered animals with minor aesthetic flaws are unmarketable as breeding animals and usually go for meat — not an inherent con, but a fact to consider.

Crossing two breeds can create what some people refer to as “hybrid vigor,” which is harder to achieve within a registered herd.

And don’t forget—by registering your animals, you put information about them on the Internet. If you would rather keep your livestock information private, registration might not work for you.

4. Horns or no Horns?

This is a tough one for some people. Horns can be problematic, but the idea of removing them can be off-putting. The easiest option is to choose breeds which are naturally polled, meaning that the breed or strain has been developed without horns.  That isn’t possible or practical for all species, however. Animals such as Texas Longhorn cattle and Jacob sheep are popular because of their horns, so polled varieties are not going to be found. In goats, polled varieties are not achievable because breeding polled-to-polled yields undesirable side effects.

Pros of Removing Them: There will be more options available for the animal long term. If you have ever tried to re-home a full-grown animal with horns, you know it can be difficult. For many species and breeds, horned animals are less desirable. There are also strict rules within some registries and sanctioned shows regarding horns.

Horned animals can injure humans, one another and themselves. They can get their horns stuck in fences and in one another’s collars.

Cons: Horns can act as built-in handles, allowing a human to steer and control the animal. They are natural air-conditioners, too.

The process of cutting off horns or burning horn buds is hard for soft-hearted folks like me. Animals feel pain, and removing horns is painful no matter how it is done.

When choosing between keeping horns or removing them, allow me to offer this word of caution: It is inadvisable to mix them. Animals are acutely aware of the presence of horns on both themselves and others, and those with them can bully those without.

5. Preventative Parasite Control

6 Overlooked Questions Every Homesteader Must Ask Before Buying Livestock

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The traditional method has been to administer parasite control to every individual whether they needed it or not, but current wisdom is leaning toward the philosophy of less is more.

Pros of Prevention: Regular worming, dips and topical applications can free you from worry and require less monitoring. Many buyers require an animal to be up to date on worming, and lots of veterinarians continue to recommend it.

Avoiding preventative worming requires diligent observation practices, such as hands-on inspections, fecal exams and a keen eye for subtle changes. If something slips by the farmer, it can spiral out of control quickly.

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Cons: Overtreatment can cultivate superbugs. Worming kills off only the parasites that are easy to kill, leaving the rest to mutate into medication-resistant strains.

Allowing an animal to encounter and fight off an infestation on its own builds up parasite resistance on the farm. By treating only the sick animals, the overall herd health is improved. Most veterinarians I have spoken with are strongly in favor of using anti-parasitic treatments only as needed.

6. Keeping a Breeding Male

Let’s face it, the boys can be a handful. And around the farm, they really only have one function while they are living.

Pros of Breeding: Finding a breeding male can be challenging — research for the right genetics, make arrangements for a rental, and worry about transportation of either him or your females. You might have to watch your stock carefully for signs of estrus, and then be ready to skip a day of work to load up your livestock trailer and make your way through a thunderstorm snowstorm.

Cons: They chase the girls, smell up the barnyard, negatively affect the taste of goat’s milk, are often hard to handle and can occasionally even be dangerous. Keeping your own breeding stock means separate living quarters, which around my house includes shoveling an extra path and lugging extra water all winter and setting up extra fencing all summer.

You can choose artificial insemination instead, which has its own set of challenges.

There is little doubt that the practice of keeping livestock can be complicated. Along with work and responsibility, it comes with new questions which must be asked and answered every day. If you are among those who have decided to raise livestock of your own, be encouraged. The work is achievable and the answers are attainable, and the rewards are worth it all.

What advice would you add on buying livestock? Share your thoughts in the section below:

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The 8 Dumbest Mistakes Even Smart Gardeners Make (No. 3 Could Ruin Your Entire Crop)

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The 8 Dumbest Mistakes Even Smart Gardeners Make (No. 3 Could Ruin Your Entire Crop)

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There is more to gardening than meets the eye. From the viewpoint of one who has never tried growing their own food, it may appear to be simply a case of tilling up some soil, popping a few seeds in, and sitting back and waiting for the gourmet vegetables to roll in.

Usually, though, there is more to it than that. Growing food is a combination of science, art, diligence and good fortune — and it is a moving target. There are the perennial challenges to stay ahead of weeding and watering, and to protect the plants from the hungry jaws of insects and wildlife looking for a free meal. But there are a few more tricks of the trade beyond the basics, and even smart gardeners make mistakes. Here are eight ways that even the best gardeners can slip up.

1. Leaving inadequate space between plants and between rows. While setting tiny little broccoli or Brussels sprouts seedlings into the bare ground, the expanse of wide-open garden can be deceptive. Even though the directions on the seed packet expressly say to leave three or four feet of space, it takes a lot of willpower to do it.

It is so easy to get swept up in the excitement of buying and planting and then run out of garden space, resulting in the temptation to just squeeeeeeze those hills of pumpkin plants a little closer together. Because, they can’t get that big, right? Wrong. They can. And they will.

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I once read that placing plants too close together is a common beginner error, but it can be difficult even for seasoned gardeners to avoid.

There are a few exceptions to the rule of giving plenty of room — most notably peppers and snap beans, both of which are happier touching their neighbors.

It is important to follow the instructions on the seed packet or in the catalog, and even get out a tape measure if necessary in order to prevent underestimating the distance between plants.

The 8 Dumbest Mistakes Even Smart Gardeners Make (No. 3 Could Ruin Your Entire Crop)

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2. Losing control of succession planting. The idea behind this concept is to plant a little at a time, over a span of several weeks. This is to prevent drowning in those early summer vegetables such as lettuce and spinach and radishes and carrots and beets and chard — plants which grow quickly and require only a partial season from start to finish. It makes more sense to plant a small amount of each every two or three weeks so that they reach maturity a little at a time.

However, it is sometimes easier said than done. By the time the third or fourth planting of early season vegetables is due to go in, a gardener can be too busy with planting and tending warm-weather crops to bother with them. And then there are the warm-weather harvests to keep food-growers busy.

Gardening involves a lot of intricate timing and juggling, and succession planting adds a little extra complication to the mix. But wrapping up the harvest without a last blast of those delicious cold-weather foods leaves gardeners wishing they had followed through with later plantings.

3. Forgetting about soil health. Soil is a living entity. Without healthy soil, hopes for healthy garden plants are slim. It is important to have it tested regularly and heed the recommendations for amendments — and to follow the guidelines pretty closely. Soil only slightly deficient in nitrogen will not necessarily benefit from five times the recommended amount.

Other tenets of soil health include insuring adequate drainage and avoiding walking on it when wet so that it does not become too hard packed.

4. Recreational rototilling. Some gardeners believe in tilling, and others do not. But either way, tilling is directly related to soil health. Excess tilling can destroy organisms which keep the soil alive and vibrant, and allow the soil to become compacted and lifeless.

It is important to use a rototiller only when truly necessary and to avoid tilling when the soil is mucky and subject to too much damage.

The 8 Dumbest Mistakes Even Smart Gardeners Make (No. 3 Could Ruin Your Entire Crop)

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5. Neglecting to thin rows. Directions on vegetable seed packets say to plant every half inch to an inch and then later thin them to somewhere between two and 12 inches, depending upon the species. The point is to attain a high rate of germination — because every seed does not germinate into a seedling — and then once they take root, to pull out enough to allow the remainders space to grow.

It is hard to do. Ripping out half of those green bobbing heads of radish leaves popping up in sweet little rows feels self-defeating. And destroying all those healthy-looking corn plantlets already reaching for the sky and promising to become healthy fruitful stalks — ouch!

It has to be done. It helps to remind oneself of how much healthier those remaining ones will be, and how scrunched up and unproductive the whole crop will be if they are not thinned. And the crop is guaranteed to be subpar if they are not.

I’ve tried to plant them as far apart initially as they are supposed to be after thinning, with poor results. Big gaps show up in my rows, and while it probably was possible to replant, I did not get to it. Additionally, many must-thin seeds like lettuce and carrots are so tiny that it’s nearly impossible to plant them in neat pre-thinned rows.

6. Being nonchalant about compost sources. Gardeners need to ask all the right questions of compost sellers and make sure they know what they are getting. What is the actual composition — is it cow manure, household compost, or biosolids? And does it contain peat moss and other fill material? Has it been adequately heated? Is it organic? Are there scraps of non-biodegradable materials? Has it been tested for metals?

The 8 Dumbest Mistakes Even Smart Gardeners Make (No. 3 Could Ruin Your Entire Crop)

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Biosolid material, or human waste, is off-putting to some gardeners. Fill material can be an excellent addition, but not if it results in a mix that is mostly wood chips or other carbons. Unheated compost of any kind can contain pathogens. Compost which is not certified organic can possibly contain herbicides that could damage the garden.

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It is easier to be careful up front than to risk having to dig it out of a raised bed garden and haul it off later.

7. Touching plants when wet. It is never the best idea to bother any wet vegetable plants, but it really matters with beans. Picking, weeding or brushing past bean plants when wet can increase their chances of disease and should be strictly avoided. It is worth rearranging a schedule to pick or tend beans before predicted rain and even in order to work around a heavy dew.

8. Leaving ripe fruit unpicked. Fruit, in this case, is the mature result of a flowering body—vegetables such as squash, beans, eggplant, peppers and anything else which grew from a blossom and is not part of the plant’s stalk or root. These plants live to produce fruit. The more is picked, the more they produce. Plants can become stagnant and stop putting on more fruit if it is not consistently picked.

It is important to pick vegetables diligently. Even if there is too much to use immediately, it is better to do so, and give it away or even feed it to livestock if necessary, than to let it sit on the plant and inhibit later production.

Gardening is great, and growing your own food even better. Paying attention to concerns such as space, timing, sourcing and diligence can help growers save valuable resources and avoid crop loss. By following these simple guidelines, even smart gardeners can avoid common mistakes and enjoy a bountiful harvest.

What mistakes would you add to the list? Share your gardening mistakes in the section below:

Every Spring, Gardeners Make This Avoidable Mistake — But You Don’t Have To. Read More Here.

The Politics Of Our Great-Grandparents: What We Can (And Should) Learn From The Past

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The Politics Of Our Great-Grandparents: What We Can (And Should) Learn From The Past

“The votes were written on slips of paper brought from home—no sense in wasting the tax-payers’ money on printed ballots—and a straggling procession started for the ballot box, over which the moderator and clerk stood to insure an honest vote. The town half-wit cast his ballot with the rest, and as soon as his back was turned the clerk fished it out and pocketed it, a flagrantly illegal act condoned by everyone present on the premise that there warn’t no need to hurt his feelings.”

The above quote was taken from Louise Dickinson Rich’s memoir entitled “We Took to the Woods” (pp 303-304). Published in 1946, the book describes the author’s life in the remote mountains of western Maine around the time of the Great Depression.

The ballot event took place at the annual Town Meeting, a democratic process by which citizens of small municipalities dealt with matters of the town’s elections, budget, ordinances and other business. Town Meetings still take place today across much of New England, and much remains the same.

The Politics Of Our Great-Grandparents: What We Can (And Should) Learn From The PastA board of selectmen, best described as something like a town or city council, is still elected to be more or less in charge of the town’s overall operations. Warrants are still voted upon to determine such things as how much will be spent on road repair and how generous the town’s donations to various non-profits will be. Reports from various officials are given.

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There was no shortage of hotly contested issues back then, just like now. Rich describes the one that would inevitably crop up every year as “The Fighting Warrant,” about which people get all hot under the collars and sometimes even hurl personal attacks at people they would otherwise treat cordially.

Some of the similarities between then and now can be applied to a lot of other governing bodies of the 21st century, as well, from that of the tiniest hamlet right on up those in our nation’s capital.

But what of dismissing the ballot cast by a man with intellectual disabilities? And of referring to him by a term considered offensive and inappropriate by today’s standards? The rest of the section about the Town Meeting describes other interactions that would never fly in today’s world, too. Women sat apart from the men and largely ignored the proceedings, and were expected to slip out of the room before lunchtime to prepare and set out the food.

While we might be off put by the behavior and terminology that was considered acceptable back in the days of our great-grandparents, they may feel the same about some of the goings-on now if they could somehow transport into the present-day world. While it is true that some of what we now consider to be politically or socially taboo was acceptable in their world, it is probably also true that much of what is now acceptable would have been off-limits to them.

Like humanity of every era and every setting, our great-grandparents were imperfect beings.  Like people in politics before and since, they likely harbored prejudices, broke rules, acted irresponsibly, and embarrassed their loved ones from time to time. Just like folks of every generation do, they made disastrous laws and fell for the false promises of ill-intentioned public figures.

However, as a person who grew up immersed in conservative rural culture, my memory of yesteryear’s people and politics is an overall positive one. Despite inherent flaws, people in my past held political views which were often uncomplicated and gently moderate.

The Politics Of Our Great-Grandparents: What We Can (And Should) Learn From The PastOur great-grandparents could not even have imagined the concept of plastering memes to an electronic timeline touting the virtues of compassion, but they existed in a time when compassion was something people lived every day. I cannot picture anyone talking about it, but I remember plenty of people doing it.

They practiced inclusiveness, too. It looked different on the outside back then than it does today. It might have been better or worse than we do it now, but it was probably more peaceful.

People of that generation often aimed for being reasonable. They met in the middle when they could, instead of demanding to have things their way, giving the impression that they were interested in making things as many things right as possible for as wide a cross-section of people as they could.

Most people I knew kept a clear head about their political views, even if all of the subsequent actions were not always tranquil. They were often practical, accepting what had to be done and believing what made the most sense.

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It was important to folks in those days to be both respectful of others and respected by others. They acted in a manner which allowed them to hold their heads high, and allowed sufficient latitude to others that they might do likewise.

Genuine service to others was held in high esteem. It was not about grandstanding or making an appearance; it was about making a difference in one’s community and government.

Perhaps most importantly was the way our great-grandparents’ penchant for independence spilled over into their political views. They read the newspapers, they attended political speeches of substance, they mulled over the pros and cons, and they made their decisions on their own.

Nowadays, every ballot counts, women are a vital piece of the decision-making landscape, and gender does not dictate seating arrangements or work responsibilities. Those are all great things. But I cannot help but wonder if we might do well to take a page from the political book of our great-grandparents and use it to wipe away some of the ugliness of the current government scene. An old-fashioned blend of simplicity, balance, levelheadedness and individuality might be just the ticket for today’s politics.

Do you agree or disagree? Share your thoughts in the section below:

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5 ‘Overlooked Preps’ You Better Get Before Disaster Strikes

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5 ‘Overlooked Preps’ You Better Get Before Disaster Strikes

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If you believe in the value of being ready for a disaster, then you probably understand that the time to prepare is now.

Since the type of disaster or crisis may vary, it can be difficult to prioritize exactly where you should be putting your efforts. Below are five things you can do to better prepare yourself for a variety of challenges.

1. Get fit. This is far from easy, I know. Like most people, I prefer to eat more food, choose less healthy options, and engage in less activity than is optimal for my health.

But it is important not to lose sight of the future. The reason for preparedness is to increase the chance of survival, and to maximize the quality of life after catastrophe happens.

Consider how much more you’ll be able to contribute to the well-being of your family and community if you are capable and strong. If you are morbidly obese or frail and don’t have the capacity for endurance, you will not be able to play as big a part in protecting yourself as you would like to.

It is possible you could even place loved ones in additional danger. If you are unhealthy and go knocking on a dear one’s door when the world is in chaos, they are likely to take you in despite what it will cost them.

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Better for you to pay the price now. And when you think about it, it’s hardly much of a price. By eating right, exercising, taking steps to lower your blood pressure and blood sugar, and building cardiac strength, you will most likely feel much better and be glad you made the lifestyle changes.

2. Get out of debt. Nobody knows for sure what will happen. Will the economy collapse? Will Wall Street crash? Will the value of the dollar suddenly plummet due to offshore circumstances beyond our control?

Some permutations of apocalyptic predictions say that lending institutions will cease to exist. Loans and mortgages will implode, leaving homeowners and borrowers to live by the adage “possession is nine-tenths of the law.”

But there are no guarantees it will work that way. It is possible there will still be enough enforcement in place to repossess your belongings and put you out of your home. Even barring anything being hauled off by creditors, nobody needs the added stress of financial ruin in times of emergency. It is better to own free and clear as much as you can.

Another fact to consider is that debt is costly due to interest costs. The less of your income that is committed to monthly payments, the more money you can devote to investing in preparedness.

3. Get skills. Telling yourself that you can easily take up gardening or learn to use a cross-cut saw for firewood when the time comes is folly. Investing in supplies and equipment ahead of time is not enough.

5 ‘Overlooked Preps’ You Better Get Before Disaster Strikes

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Saying you will learn to use your stuff after disaster strikes is like saying you will learn to drive your car after you need to rush someone to the hospital. It might be possible, but it is certainly not the best way.

If you think your post-apocalyptic life could include hunting animals, living in the forest, raising livestock, sharpshooting, collecting mushrooms, canning vegetables, starting fires without matches, or living on the move – then get good at it while you can afford to make mistakes.

4. Get organized. None of your preps will do you any good if you can’t locate them easily and access them when you need them.

If disaster happens suddenly, those of us trying to survive will have to react with speed and confidence. There may not be time to wonder where you stashed those batteries or whether the latest 300 pounds of livestock grain ever made it into the barn.

In addition, it is harder to know for sure what you have on hand without organization. Lists and specific routines help, as does making sure there is a place for everything and everything is in its place.

5. Get real. Do not worry about zombies. Instead, concern yourself with laws that don’t make sense or with politicians who don’t have America’s best interests at heart. Worry about our nation’s enemies, natural disasters, the state of the planet’s resources and the economy.

You do not want to become so consumed with having a massive stockpile of every kind of weapon and ammunition known to humankind that you neglect to gain real independence. Having the ability to take care of yourself in a wide variety of situations, and knowing you will not perish while waiting to be rescued, is far more worthwhile.

Rather than holding mandatory all-day weekend sessions teaching your kids how to pick a lock using a secret pocket gadget cleverly disguised as a credit card, try teaching them potentially universal skills. Skills like finding their way without using GPS, preparing vegetables for cooking, and steering clear of poison ivy can be far more useful.

There has never been a time when the Latin phrase “carpe diem” – meaning “seize the day” – has been more important. By focusing on the above, you can improve your chances of surviving when disaster strikes.

What would you add to our list? Share your ideas in the section below:

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6 Ways To Predator-Proof Your Livestock (No. 4 Is The One Everyone Forgets)

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6 Ways To Predator-Proof Your Livestock (No. 4 Is The One Everyone Forgets)

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Every organism needs to eat. It is a fact of life. Another fact is that a hungry creature is going to expend the least possible amount of energy it takes in order to reap the greatest possible reward.

For example, you would not walk a mile to get a banana if you could get a similar one by walking into the next room. Nor would you buy food for which you had to work three hours to earn the money for it, in lieu of buying comparable food for which you had to work only a half hour.

Animals operate similarly. If they can get your chickens more easily than they can catch a wild bird, they will. Like us, they weigh the costs and benefits. We compare cheap food with unsavory side effects to that which is higher cost and higher value. A wild predator, too, will have to take into account that scoring a chicken or lamb comes at the cost of ranging dangerously close to humans.

Do not hate wildlife. They are not evil beings for menacing your livestock. It’s nothing personal. They just want to eat the best food they can, at the lowest cost to themselves.

It is the job of the farmer and homesteader to make the potential cost of eating domestic animals so high that wild predators move along and choose a different option.

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At my place, we have an implicit agreement. My animals provide me with eggs, milk, brush clearing, poison ivy control, meat, and hides. In return, I give food, shelter, health care, decent living conditions, and as much protection as I can.

There are some things you can do to keep your domestic animals off the raw local foods menu.

1. Control your livestock’s whereabouts. This seems simple and obvious, and it usually is. Keeping your animals surrounded by fence, inside a barn, and near to the house is your first line of defense. The ability and need to do this varies among species, across geography, and even day to day. Beef cattle might live out on the range with less protection than week-old turkey poults, but they are less vulnerable. Small ruminants are often safe out grazing during the day but are better off being locked up in the barn at night.

6 Ways To Predator-Proof Your Livestock (No. 4 Is The One Everyone Forgets)

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2. Control predator access. We use a high-voltage charger on our electric mesh fencing and have been asked by visitors if that much punch is really necessary to keep goats in. The answer is no, but the fence’s primary purpose is not to keep goats in. It is to keep predators out.

Portable electric fence won’t keep out all predators and won’t operate year-round in some climates. Physical barriers can also be effective. Fence openings need to be small enough to keep out whatever species of predators are the greatest threat. I have heard of cases where a weasel repeatedly got into the chickens, and the owners kept replacing the enclosure until they got down to one inch mesh before they were able to stop the attacks.

Concerns of predators digging under fences can be allayed by burying the fence below the surface.

3. Use a deterrent. There are countless methods on the market, from electronic motion-sensor gadgets that emit light and sound to animal urine to deterrent powders. There are old-fashioned decoys available, such as lifelike owl statues to scare off birds. Some people advocate old-timey remedies such as scattering human hair or urine around the perimeter. As for the effectiveness of these methods, there are probably as many opinions as there are types of deterrents. If you see something that makes sense to you, try it. It might work for you but not for someone else, or vice versa.

4. Be present. The more time you spend out in the barnyard and beyond, the more it screams “Humans Live Here!” to hungry hunters scouting the area. Walk around the outer reaches of your property as much as you can, leaving the scent from the bottom of your shoes that will be off-putting to predators. I make sure my dog and I crisscross the area between the habitats of domestic and wild animals every day, just to let them know we’re still around.

5. Bring in some hired bodyguards. I don’t mean the kind of people who surround the president’s motorcade. I mean the kind of no-nonsense animals for whom barnyard security is a way of life. Livestock guardian dogs are often the go-to. They are usually big strong breeds with a streak of independence and the ability to make their own decisions. The need to protect their flocks and herds is in their genes, and some of them even sleep during the day and patrol the perimeter at night.

If a dog is not right for your budget or training skills, consider a guard llama or donkey. These animals are often used to keep goats and sheep safe from predation, and are known not only for engaging in physical combat when necessary but also for making some serious noise when a threat is afoot.

Sometimes an alarm call is sufficient. The loud bray of a donkey or screech of a guinea fowl warns everyone within earshot whether they speak the same language or not. When my dogs bark at something out front of the house, the goats browsing way out back drop everything and stampede to the barn. It’s a universal call of danger, and everyone gets it.

6 Ways To Predator-Proof Your Livestock (No. 4 Is The One Everyone Forgets)

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Barnyard animals will often seek the protection of one another on their own. My chickens follow the goats, not only to pick over anything left behind, but for safety in numbers.

6. When all else fails, do what you have to do. If it is legal to shoot a persistent barnyard stalker where you live and you have the ability to do so, sometimes that is the only answer. We had a fox after the chickens one summer, growing increasingly bold until it was slinking into the chicken pen in daylight hours while people were in the garden less than 50 yards away. We knew it was him or the chickens, and my husband lay in wait one morning and got him.

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Remember to make sure it is legal. Many states make exceptions to licensing and season laws for farmers, but not all do. And most laws regarding birds of prey are very strict. A bald eagle came after my chickens last summer, and the best we could do was keep them indoors for a few days until the eagle got bored and moved on. It is never legal under any circumstances to kill or injure an eagle, and laws regarding many other birds of prey are prohibitive as well.

Some people prefer trapping. I personally do not believe in it. Leg hold traps are dangerous to domestic animals and can cause the perpetrator to suffer unduly. Have-a-Heart traps do no physical harm to the animal, and can result in relocating a creature. I will not deny that traps are the best option for certain situations, so use your own judgement.

Extra vigilance is required in some seasons. Predation threats to livestock naturally increase when wild food is more scarce or harder to access. Winter conditions can cause hunters to become desperate, and can cause barnyard animals to become more easily attainable. Snowpack makes scaling fences easier and muffles sound.

Spring births place livestock more at risk, as well, for all the reasons one might expect — the birth event, possible weakness and distraction of the mother, and the irresistibility of the newborn tasty morsel.

If your predator threat is significant, you may well not be successful using just one method of predation protection. Livestock guardian dogs are extremely effective but not foolproof, and most of the other methods are imperfect. A combination of two or more methods is wise, especially if you change them up occasionally and ramp them up in periods of higher threats.

At the end of the day, while you cannot blame a hungry coyote or bobcat for wanting an easy meal, you will still be responsible for the safety of your livestock. Use these ideas and due diligence to stay one step ahead of predators and keep your animals from becoming victims of predation.

Related:

The 6 Easiest Ways To Protect Your Chickens From Predators

What advice would you add on keeping predators away? Share your tips in the section below:

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Must-Do Spring Gardening Preps You May Have Forgotten

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Must-Do Spring Gardening Preps You May Have Forgotten

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If you live south of a certain latitude, your garden is already in the ground and your growing season is underway. Many of us up north, however, are still digging out from a winter’s worth of snow and ice. Planting even cold-hardy crops such as peas and spinach might require a drill or chisel to loosen the topsoil, if we could get to it at all.

Even if you can’t get your hands in the dirt quite yet, there are plenty of things you can – and should – be doing right now.

In order to hit the ground running when spring does arrive in your region, it is a great idea to have all your planning, decision-making, inventorying, purchasing, preparing, repair and maintenance jobs done. Here are a few details to help you set up your own to-do list to maximize your pre-season readiness.

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Envision this year’s garden. Many gardeners add on, rearrange and tweak the layout every year. I usually draw it out on paper. Some of the things I try to keep in mind in this endeavor include:

  • Can it be easily accessed when needed? Some people keep a “kitchen garden” near the house which contains often-used plants such as herbs, lettuces and cherry tomatoes, so they can run out and grab what they need for meal preparation.
  • Try to keep the plants most appealing to hungry wildlife in spots least accessible to them, or in areas you are most able to protect. When planning the vegetables for my plots furthest from the house, I try to avoid deer favorites. When planting corn, I make sure it is in a location near one of my fence chargers – that way I can electrify the fence when the corn is ready for harvest and prevent raccoons from beating me to it. Crops that attract ravenous flying pests need to be placed in an area conducive to netting or row cover.
  • Remember the needs of pollinators. Include plants that will draw them in without causing discomfort to you or others enjoying the garden.
  • Consider companion planting. Certain plants do better in close proximity to others. For example, the combination of beans, corn and squash is often said to be desirable.
  • Think about soil depth and composition. Plants that need more acidity will not do well in the section where you have discarded wood stove ashes, and a very long root crop such as parsnip will need deep, rock-free soil for proper growth.
  • Try to move things around year-to-year. Different families of vegetables use different soil nutrients and leave the rest. Placing tomatoes or rutabagas in the same spot year after year could result in diminished yield or quality.

Once your plan is in place, buy the seeds you need. Do not procrastinate on this point. Many seed catalogs sell out early, particularly the smaller and local ones. If you have not ordered your seed packets, do it right away. If the ones you want are already sold out, do not despair. High-quality local seed selections are often available for resale at small commercial greenhouses.

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Remember that some of your vegetables should be planted from seed and other varieties need to be started ahead of time indoors or in greenhouses. Some can be done either way, depending upon your local conditions and personal preference. Know which is which and be ready for implementation. You can start your own seeds, or buy them all started from a greenhouse.

Must-Do Spring Gardening Preps You May Have Forgotten

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If you do plan to start your own, remember that leeks and long-day-length onions should have already been started in February or March for the best possible yields. Other vegetables can be started now or later in spring.

Inventory your supplies. If you are starting your own seeds, make sure you have all the plug trays and soil you need. Check out your lights, bulbs and mats, and repair or replace as needed.

If you use row cover, plastic mulch, greenhouse plastic, landscape fabric or any other materials which are reusable but do not last forever, take a look at your collection right now. If there are rips you forgot about or if you discover mice did damage to it over the winter, you will want to replenish your supply early while there is still a good selection available in stores.

If you are still waiting for the ground to thaw, now is a terrific time to get your garden tools out and look them over. Sharpen, repair and replace as necessary.

If you are able to access your gardens at this point, get busy outside.

  • Clean out leaves and debris.
  • Do soil testing if you did not do so last fall. Many people prefer fall testing so that any amendments can be made ahead of time, but a spring test is better than no test.
  • Add compost and amendments as needed.
  • Repair raised beds and garden structures as necessary.
  • Get fences, posts and climbing trellises in good working order.
  • Shore up greenhouse and tunnel structures. Tighten tubing, replace plastic coverings and ensure heating and cooling components are ready to go for the season.

Few undertakings are more rewarding than growing your own food, but every climate has its particular challenges and advantages. If you want to grow vegetables but live up north, do not let that slow you down. Get organized, stocked up and busy now for a wonderful harvest season down the road.

What would you add to this list? Share your ideas in the section below:

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The Woman’s Jargon-Free Guide To Buying Your First Gun

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The Woman’s Jargon-Free Guide To Buying Your First Gun

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The man sat on a chair across the table from me, a phone cradled to his ear, hunched over the clipboard in front of him in an effort to block out the din of the packed arena. He carefully spelled out the letters of my name and address to someone on the other end of the line, and went on to fill in other details.

He was reading the words off a federal form 4473 which I had just filled out and handed back to him. I stood waiting in nervous and happy anticipation while the gun dealer ran my information through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS.

It wasn’t that I was afraid of anything bad turning up. My background is about as squeaky clean as they come. It wasn’t that I am anti-government, either. It is indeed true that I would rather not share any more information with the government than I have to, including whether or not I drink raw milk or keep farm animals and whether or not I own a gun, but had already resigned myself to the fact that this is the way it’s done.

It was that it was my first-ever gun purchase. Although I am not new to guns — not brand new, anyway — I had never shopped for and purchased one for my own use.

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I am not really a “gun person.” But when my husband and I took up homesteading I began to see the usefulness of gun ownership in a whole new light. My husband taught me the basics on his hunting gun — just enough that I might be able to defend myself and my barnyard if I absolutely had to — but I recently began to consider taking it a step further.

The idea of having my own gun crept up on me. It seemed preposterous at first. I mean — me?!  Owning a gun?! My husband and I discussed it, and the conversation got serious last summer when livestock predation was on the rise. The firearms available to me were not adequate — they were either too big for my comfort or not accurate enough for the job at hand.

And it wasn’t just the animals that I became concerned about protecting. The world is changing, even way out in rural America where I live. It is becoming the kind of world where we hear about meth labs and opiate addictions in communities startlingly near to us. Violent crimes, home invasions, and robberies are no longer restricted to metropolitan areas.

An elderly lady was beaten in her own home in the next village over from me. Another neighbor had a man walk right into her house — and when confronted, he pretended to have mistaken it for someone else’s home and left. These are anomalies, but that may not always be the case.

I walked into a gun shop one day and began my education. My husband is savvy about guns, but I wanted to learn on my own.

I had done enough research to know I wanted a small shotgun. Between the two generally standard sizes — 12-gauge and 20-gauge — I knew I would prefer the smaller 20-gauge. Shotguns come in an even smaller “410 bore” as well, and I asked some questions that would help me compare and contrast the two smaller options.

Gun aficionados had advised me that a multiple shot is a better choice than single, and that a pump action is best.

The Woman’s Jargon-Free Guide To Buying Your First Gun

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What I learned at that first gun shop is that 20-gauges are a lot more common and only slightly more expensive than 410s, but ammo for the smaller gun is a lot more expensive.

“A lot depends on what you’re going to use it for,” the guy explained. If I was going to do a lot of target shooting, cost of ammo was a factor. If it was strictly for the occasional varmint or for self-defense, or “for the house,” as the salesman phrased it, cost of ammo was irrelevant.

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The way he talked so casually about a woman owning a gun for self-defense, as if it were the most normal thing in the world, made me feel less self-conscious about it.

He had a wide variety of actions on hand to show me, as well. The “action” of a gun is basically how the shell — in a shotgun — or the bullet — in a rifle or handgun — gets into the chamber. There was a “break action,” where the end of the barrel snaps open and the shells are loaded into side-by-side chambers, and a “lever action” which loads the shell when a handle under the barrel is flipped forward and back. He also showed me pump action guns, which are generally able to store four or five shells in the magazine and load them one by one when an outer casing on the barrel is slid forward and back. There were single shots as well, which is just like it sounds — one shell is loaded right into the chamber.

There are also bolt actions made, but they don’t appear to be common. There are also semi-automatics, but the guy could tell I wasn’t ready to look at or pay for anything like that. Later in my shopping experience, I did consider the merits of semi-automatics. These are firearms which, once the first shell or bullet is loaded, the next one pops into the chamber automatically as soon as the first is shot out. I found a lot of them on the market, which may be because they are popular, or possibly because they are significantly more expensive — usually about twice the price — and the cheaper choices get snapped up first.

I had to chuckle at the pink camo 20-gauge pump shotgun he showed me, regarding it as a novelty. Little did I know in those early shopping stages that — pardon the pun — targeting women is a burgeoning trend. Pink is in!

As a busy homesteader who rarely leaves the farm, there wasn’t much time to focus on gun shopping. In the eight months that slipped past between the time I first made the decision to purchase a firearm and finally doing so, it seemed to me that the selection diminished and the prices rose a bit.

The Woman’s Jargon-Free Guide To Buying Your First Gun

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Wandering in and out of gun shops intermittently throughout that period of time, I felt that as a woman shopping alone for a gun, I was mostly treated courteously. I did encounter one gun shop owner who got pretty overbearing and pedantic when I told him I was new to guns. Later, when I went back to the same shop with my very knowledgeable husband, the man was less obnoxious.

I live in a state where guns are easily and legally sold between individuals, and I spent some time exploring that option. By the time I started looking at online classifieds, however, I had come to the realization that a regular-sized gun would not suit me. After handling dozens of guns at shops and a few friends’ guns, it was clear that I needed a short stock at the very least, and perhaps the whole firearm needed to be small.

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My husband advised me against a couple of brands — not because there’s anything wrong with them, but just not ones he likes. Factoring that into my search for a youth sized model 20-gauge pump action at a reasonable price, within a reasonable driving distance, made for slim pickings in the personal sales realm.

I ended up finding what I wanted at a gun show. I walked a little taller as I carried my purchase out of the arena, my receipt handy in case security had any questions at the door and almost a little crestfallen when they didn’t.

It can be intimidating to consider buying a gun if you are new to them, and difficult to know where to begin. Based on my experience, I would encourage anyone in that situation to give it a try. Do not be afraid to shop on your own, and treat each encounter as an opportunity to learn, but follow up with your own common sense research and evaluation. Give yourself permission to be new, and do not accept being judged for inexperience or trepidation. No one has the right to treat you as if being uncomfortable around guns is a character flaw — we all start somewhere. If you do have someone in your life whom you trust and is comfortable with guns, get that person’s advice before you make your final choice if you can.

And above all, be safe, and get trained. This article is a about the fun and challenges of buying a gun, and not about safety and training. But please don’t interpret that to mean that those things are not important — they are absolutely crucial and should not be dismissed or minimized.

Whatever your style and whatever your choice, may your journey into gun ownership be fun, productive, and safe.

What advice would you add for women shopping for a gun? Share it in the section below:

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Is This The Best Low-Cost, Low-Maintenance Livestock You Can Own?

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Is This The Best Low-Cost, Low-Maintenance Livestock You Can Own?

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I cannot say enough good things about goats. They are economical, hardy, easy keepers, clean, and likeable. They are my favorite homestead animal, for many reasons. Read on to learn some great details about goats, and you might decide that they are your favorites, too.

This is not to say that other livestock choices are without merit. There is much praise to be sung for a wide variety of animals, from rabbits to emus and everything in between, and for the reasons homesteaders prefer them.

But around my homestead, goats are the greatest.

People have kept goats for centuries, in societies including agrarian and nomadic, from sub-Saharan Africa to the high steppes of Tibet.

The multidimensional quality of goats is probably one of their most attractive features. The way they can be used to fulfill so many different needs is a factor that makes them not only an excellent animal to keep in ordinary times, but also to have on hand as insurance against future hard times.

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Is This The Best Low-Cost, Low-Maintenance Livestock You Can Own?

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First, they make excellent dairy animals. All goats can be milked, but some breeds have been specifically developed for this purpose. A good dairy breed, typically a medium-sized animal of European ancestry, produces between a half gallon and a gallon of milk a day. This is just the right amount for a homestead household, and will provide all a family needs for drinking, baking, and cheesemaking.

Another advantage of milking goats is that they can often be “milked through,” which means that they continue lactating for a year or more, instead of for only a short season. Fewer pregnancies means less work and expense for farmers and less stress and risk for animals, and less dry time between lactations.

When they do breed, however, goats tend to give birth easily and to be superb mothers.

A cow often produces four or five times the volume of goats, which can be an overabundance and even a waste for some households. But that’s when she’s milking. Some cows are dry for up to half a year, every year, leaving the homesteader bouncing back and forth between way too much and none. Goats give a smaller supply of milk, with less fluctuation, over a longer time period.

But I don’t like goat’s milk — I hear that pretty often, and I always get a chuckle. Goat’s milk doesn’t have to taste, well, goaty. I call myself the “goat’s milk redeemer,” because I love to encourage people who are sure they hate goat’s milk to give it just one tiny sip. I watch people grimace in trepidation as they slowly lift the cup to their lips and force themselves to allow a few drops in. Suddenly, relief sweeps across their face.

“That tastes just like – like — milk!” they exclaim.

Indeed it does. It’s important to remember that there are many variables that contribute to the taste of any milk. Different breeds, and even different individuals among breeds, can make a difference. Sanitation and milk temperature matter, as does time of the year, as well as the diet and estrus cycle and overall health of the goat. The proximity of an unneutered male goat also can have an effect on the taste of the milk.

Goat’s milk is more agreeable for some human digestive systems, as well. Some who cannot tolerate cow’s milk can drink milk from a goat without side-effects or symptoms.

Goat cheese is delicious, healthy, and easy to make, and the whey left over is wonderful nutrition for chickens and pigs.

Another reason goats make excellent homestead animals is the meat. Some breeds have been developed with meat production in mind, but any goat can be used for food. Oh, I know. Many North Americans balk at the notion of eating goat. But did you know that most cultures consume goat meat, and it is in fact the most-eaten red meat in the world? Sometimes called chevon, goat is lower in fat, calories, and cholesterol than most of the other meats we eat.

As with any animal used for meat, it is best processed at a young age and with limited testosterone to maintain a mild flavor — think lamb versus mutton, and broilers versus stewing chickens.

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Goats’ coats are useful, as well. Some breeds of goats produce fiber which can be harvested from a live animal, and goat skin can be used in lieu of lightweight leather for clothing and accessories.

Goats can be trained to work as beasts of burden, too. They can carry packs and negotiate rough trails better than many larger but less sure-footed animals, and can pull a cart or wagon.

Is This The Best Low-Cost, Low-Maintenance Livestock You Can Own?

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Another important factor about goats is that they are exceptionally economical and easy keepers.   While many livestock species need high-quality pasture, goats prefer scrubby edge habitat and light forest. Goats will eat grass, but they are designed as “mid-level browsers,” meaning that their go-to is leaves and twigs from shrubs and low-hanging trees.

Not only does their browsing reduce feed costs, but it helps with control of brush and weeds, including noxious plants such as poison ivy, which they eat without ill effects.

They don’t need expensive hay, either, and often do better on coarse weedy choices. Grain and supplements are readily available and affordable, and treats are easy. Mine enjoy nibbling on softwood needles, helping dispose of garden scraps like carrot tops and discarded kale leaves, and keeping the maple and dogwood branches trimmed.

Goats are not only inexpensive, but are low maintenance and easy to handle. No calling a farrier for hoof work or hiring a professional shearer for grooming — you can do them yourself. Many goat owners also give shots and administer worming treatments themselves. Goats are small enough to be manageable and are tough and resistant to maladies.

They don’t require much in the way of shelter. In my northeastern location, they need an enclosed barn in winter and shelter from sun and inclement weather in summer. Depending on the breed and your particular geography, you might need more or less than that, but their needs are minimal.

I have heard it said that goats are escape artists and that it is challenging to find a fence that will hold them, but that has not been my experience. A small pen of woven wire, wood planks, or cattle panels suffices in winter, and a large area of portable electric mesh provides them plenty of browse in summer.

Image source: Pixabay.com

Image source: Pixabay.com

Goats are clean, too. Unlike some farm animals, the goats in my barn smell pleasant — unless there is an intact male around to stir up pheromones, but even that odor will dissipate when the male has left the premises. Otherwise, they are generally tidy and sweet-smelling.

If all those factors aren’t enough, here comes the trump card: Goats are a lot of fun. They have delightful personalities. They are charming and personable and make outstanding pets. They enjoy attention, are amiable and clever, and easy to train.

One word of caution about goats is that it’s not advisable to get just one. They are social animals and require the companionship of at least one other.

That said, you may not be able to stop at just one, or even two. Goats are such amazing animals, so useful and rewarding and entertaining to be around, that you will probably have trouble holding back from getting another, and another, and then still more.

Whatever your reason for considering goats, be it for dairy, meat, landscaping, packing or companionship, I hope you agree that they are a terrific choice as a homestead animal. Raise them, keep them, and love them, and goats will bring you joy for years to come.

Do you agree or disagree? Share your advice about goats in the section below:

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10 Things Our Grandparents Wish We All Knew

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10 Things Our Grandparents Wish We All Knew

The world we live in is certainly different from the one our grandparents were born into. Our resources, challenges, technology and opportunities have changed dramatically. But one thing has remained the same — we are still people. In our hearts, we remain the same kind of creatures our ancestors were.

Following are 10 things our grandparents – if they were around – probably wish we knew.

1. How to cook one’s own food from scratch. In the days of yesteryear, people cooked whole foods and ate at home. For most people in their generation, eating out was a treat, and buying a lot of ready-made food at a supermarket was unheard of.

2. How to fully commit. Past generations believed in marrying for life, devoting themselves to families forever, clinging to their ideals, and always keeping their word. They didn’t discard relationships or ideals when they ceased to be convenient. It was common in our predecessors’ day to devote oneself to a vocation, a lifestyle and a religion.

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Our older relatives grew up to understand that commitment is a gift.

10 Things Our Grandparents Wish We All Knew3. How to not quit. Our grandparents did not give up. They did what they had to do, because they had to do it. The old adage about trying and trying again rang true in their day, and it led to accomplishment, satisfaction and pride.

4. How to work hard. A strong work ethic was a cornerstone of our grandparents’ lives. They knew that even though a person might be lacking in education, luck, talent, connections, good looks, intellect or money — it could be made up for with hard work. They put their nose to the grindstone and made astonishing things happen.

Even if we can’t dance, don’t understand calculus, got rejected by Harvard, have a big nose, or weren’t born with a silver spoon in our mouth, our grandparents may wish we knew that none of those things matters as much as hard work.

5. How to write thank-you letters. People who gave gifts to our grandparents never had to wonder whether or not they received it or if it was appreciated. Rules about thank-you letters were strict. Children in some households were not allowed to play with the new toys that came in the mail from relatives until they had written a proper thank-you. Most of our grandparents were brought up to consider it rude and ungrateful to accept a gift without sending a formal expression of gratitude.

There are probably a few grandparents out there today who would love to receive a sincere note of thanks.

6. How to pay attention and truly listen. Once upon a time, orators delivered very long speeches. Ordinary people would pack up the kids and a picnic lunch and listen for hours. Attention spans have gradually diminished over generations. In addition to orations, lectures, concerts and political debates, our elders were able to open their ears and their hearts and hear what was being said in person.

If they were alive, our grandparents would probably like to see us let go of entertainment-seeking behavior and make the effort to pay attention to that which is likely to be of consequence and meaning. Their personal stories might not ever become as popular as kitten videos on social media, but could turn out to be worth our while.

7. How to make do. Our grandparents grew up not demanding to have the best of everything. Instead of replacing their belongings when they became scuffed or unfashionable or showing signs of wear or no longer matching, they tried to use them as long as they could. They purchased the best quality they could afford, and made the best use of it as possible.

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If our grandparents could talk to us about consumerism, they might want us to know that having fancy new stuff is overrated. In the end, it’s just stuff.

10 Things Our Grandparents Wish We All Knew8. How to fix things. Calling a repairman was not always the first option, and throwing it out was always the last resort. Grandpa could string a few wires together and shore up a loose part to keep a portable radio or lawn mower running. Grandma could fix holes in mittens and rig up a splint on the dog’s leg if she had to.

The older generation may like to see people today learning repair skills. There is a lot of ingenuity and creativity in the world that can be put to good use in this way.

9. How to make and supply our own goods. Our grandparents’ generation prided itself on self-sufficiency. Many of them made laundry soap, cut firewood, butchered hogs, knit mittens, built wooden furniture, hand-tied animal halters, sewed clothing, quilted blankets, dug wells, constructed toys, put up fences and created décor.

We are probably not going to do as much for ourselves nowadays as our ancestors did. But they likely would wish we were a little more adept at making our own.

10. How to focus on what matters most. Our grandparents could prioritize.

To paraphrase an illustration used by life coach Stephen Covey, try filling a bucket with large rocks, small rocks, gravel and sand.

Imagine the big chunks are the important things in life — family, health, faith and values. The smaller the pieces of rock and particles, the less important.

If you start by filling the bucket with sand and gravel, there won’t be room for the large rocks. But if you place the big chunks into the bucket first, the smaller pieces can fill in the spaces around them.

Our grandparents would want that for us.

We all stand the chance of improving our lives by incorporating some lessons from the lives of our elders. Their wisdom and time-proven successes are of great value. By trying some of these things that they would wish we knew, we might well improve our lives, enhance the lives of those around us, and make our predecessors proud.

Related:

7 Reasons Your Great-Grandparents Were Happier Than You  

What would you add to this list? Share your suggestions in the section below:

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6 Off-Grid Lessons From Amish Life We All Should Learn

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6 Lessons From Amish Life We All Should Learn

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Visitors to my neighborhood in central Maine are often startled by the presence of Amish people.  Locals, though, are accustomed to the yellow road signs with black silhouettes of horse-drawn buggies, tracks of bicycle tires and horse hooves in the snow on the shoulder, and the sight of women in bonnets and long dresses in line at the local grocery store. The handful of families that arrived eight years ago have grown into a sizeable and thriving group which coexists well within the greater community.

As neighbors, friends, vendors and customers, the Amish provide an integral niche in the lives of other residents.  Sharing a region with the Amish is rewarding. They are my go-to for organic livestock grain, barn boots, fresh vegetables and kitchen gadgets, as well as the source for my full-sized wood cook stove.

I am a regular customer at an Amish dairy farm, as well. I drive out to the milk room every Saturday to pick up rich raw Jersey milk, leave off clean jars to be filled for next week, and drop my money into an open plastic bucket on the shelf.

Customers for ready-made buildings, bicycle repair, and charcuterie also seek out Amish businesses. But commerce goes both ways. The Amish buy from local merchants, hire drivers for transportation, provide education at agricultural events, and contribute to municipal building projects.

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Living in close proximity to Amish people as I do, it is easy to observe the way they live. I often admire the large homes with tidy no-nonsense yards as I pass by, or smile at the sight of school-aged children helping parents hang laundry on the line or hauling firewood. While they are certainly human and by no means perfect, they do portray a highly venerable lifestyle.

My experiences with Amish people have led me to believe that there are many positive things to be said for the way they live their lives. Following are six ways that I think they are doing it right.

1. Community is everything. A friend told me a story of how, when she first arrived from out-of-state for the purpose of living sustainably, she told an Amish woman she encountered of her plans. “Oh my dear,” the Amish woman said gently, touching my friend’s arm, “you need community in order to do that.”

As a homesteader, I cannot agree more with that statement. Living on the land is a tough row to hoe for a single household. The sense of isolation and the feeling of being overwhelmed are two of the most common reasons people consider giving up homesteading.

6 Ways Amish Life Is Just Plain Better

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Amish people band together for building homes and barns, tending animals and gardens, supporting one another’s economic endeavors, completing household and culinary tasks, and spiritual solidarity. They buy land and build homes in clusters that support their sense of collective cooperation in a way that much of mainstream society no longer does.

2. Technology is a tool, not a master. Contrary to popular belief, Amish people do use modern technology. They have very localized rules, enabling some groups to use technology more or differently than do other groups. I have seen Amish people ride buses, hire cars, keep telephones in outside buildings, operate chainsaws, and shop at big box stores. The line in the sand might be defined at that which keeps them adequately separated from those who do not share their beliefs.

I wonder if it is also a question of what serves whom—they seek to use that which will serve their needs and reject that which may come to control them.

3. Comfort and value trump trendy and superficial. When I see Amish people, they appear neat and put-together, in clothes that fit well and do not have holes or missing buttons. But while they do take pride in their appearance in that way—and I assume that most individuals try to look their best—they do not embrace mainstream trends.

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I see fun holey rubber clogs on their feet, but no designer bags on their arms. It seems that value is measured by actual usefulness instead of by what is perceived as valuable to others.

6 Ways Amish Life Is Just Plain Better

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4. They are not slaves to society’s expectations. Many Americans hate to let society control them, but most do not reject the insidious pressure to do so as well as the Amish. No big screen TVs. No fancy cars. No cruises. No body waxing or tanning beds. No political correctness. No four-star restaurants. No smart phones. No social media. All those things that mainstream culture tries to tell us we cannot live without? The Amish live without them.

At first glance, the Amish lifestyle seems restrictive. But when the absence of having to keep up with the Joneses is taken into account, maybe their lives are ones of freedom, not restriction.

5. They do not expect anything for free. Amish people work hard and expect to be paid accordingly, but do not ask to be paid extra. They ask nothing of the greater public and nothing of the government. They pay taxes like everyone does, and occasionally grumble about them like everyone does. But I would be surprised to see many Amish people applying for state benefits.

6. They do not lose sleep over politics. Without television or social media in their lives, many issues that flood mainstream airwaves can be lost on the Amish. Whether or not Sarah Palin knows about foreign affairs or whether Hillary Clinton used a specific email account to send sensitive documents—none of that matters to those solely focused on home and family. Amish people do hold strong opinions on many subjects, but do not get caught up into distant controversies.

It is true that no one culture has all the answers, and no single way of doing things is right for everyone. But the Amish do practice a lifestyle admired by many, and I count myself as fortunate to share my neighborhood with them. I appreciate the value they bring to the community, and I love the ways they do things right.

Do you agree or disagree? What would you add to this story? Share your thoughts in the section below:

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6 Lessons From Amish Life We All Should Learn

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6 Lessons From Amish Life We All Should Learn

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Visitors to my neighborhood in central Maine are often startled by the presence of Amish people.  Locals, though, are accustomed to the yellow road signs with black silhouettes of horse-drawn buggies, tracks of bicycle tires and horse hooves in the snow on the shoulder, and the sight of women in bonnets and long dresses in line at the local grocery store. The handful of families that arrived eight years ago have grown into a sizeable and thriving group which coexists well within the greater community.

As neighbors, friends, vendors and customers, the Amish provide an integral niche in the lives of other residents.  Sharing a region with the Amish is rewarding. They are my go-to for organic livestock grain, barn boots, fresh vegetables and kitchen gadgets, as well as the source for my full-sized wood cook stove.

I am a regular customer at an Amish dairy farm, as well. I drive out to the milk room every Saturday to pick up rich raw Jersey milk, leave off clean jars to be filled for next week, and drop my money into an open plastic bucket on the shelf.

Customers for ready-made buildings, bicycle repair, and charcuterie also seek out Amish businesses. But commerce goes both ways. The Amish buy from local merchants, hire drivers for transportation, provide education at agricultural events, and contribute to municipal building projects.

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Living in close proximity to Amish people as I do, it is easy to observe the way they live. I often admire the large homes with tidy no-nonsense yards as I pass by, or smile at the sight of school-aged children helping parents hang laundry on the line or hauling firewood. While they are certainly human and by no means perfect, they do portray a highly venerable lifestyle.

My experiences with Amish people have led me to believe that there are many positive things to be said for the way they live their lives. Following are six ways that I think they are doing it right.

1. Community is everything. A friend told me a story of how, when she first arrived from out-of-state for the purpose of living sustainably, she told an Amish woman she encountered of her plans. “Oh my dear,” the Amish woman said gently, touching my friend’s arm, “you need community in order to do that.”

As a homesteader, I cannot agree more with that statement. Living on the land is a tough row to hoe for a single household. The sense of isolation and the feeling of being overwhelmed are two of the most common reasons people consider giving up homesteading.

6 Ways Amish Life Is Just Plain Better

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Amish people band together for building homes and barns, tending animals and gardens, supporting one another’s economic endeavors, completing household and culinary tasks, and spiritual solidarity. They buy land and build homes in clusters that support their sense of collective cooperation in a way that much of mainstream society no longer does.

2. Technology is a tool, not a master. Contrary to popular belief, Amish people do use modern technology. They have very localized rules, enabling some groups to use technology more or differently than do other groups. I have seen Amish people ride buses, hire cars, keep telephones in outside buildings, operate chainsaws, and shop at big box stores. The line in the sand might be defined at that which keeps them adequately separated from those who do not share their beliefs.

I wonder if it is also a question of what serves whom—they seek to use that which will serve their needs and reject that which may come to control them.

3. Comfort and value trump trendy and superficial. When I see Amish people, they appear neat and put-together, in clothes that fit well and do not have holes or missing buttons. But while they do take pride in their appearance in that way—and I assume that most individuals try to look their best—they do not embrace mainstream trends.

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I see fun holey rubber clogs on their feet, but no designer bags on their arms. It seems that value is measured by actual usefulness instead of by what is perceived as valuable to others.

6 Ways Amish Life Is Just Plain Better

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4. They are not slaves to society’s expectations. Many Americans hate to let society control them, but most do not reject the insidious pressure to do so as well as the Amish. No big screen TVs. No fancy cars. No cruises. No body waxing or tanning beds. No political correctness. No four-star restaurants. No smart phones. No social media. All those things that mainstream culture tries to tell us we cannot live without? The Amish live without them.

At first glance, the Amish lifestyle seems restrictive. But when the absence of having to keep up with the Joneses is taken into account, maybe their lives are ones of freedom, not restriction.

5. They do not expect anything for free. Amish people work hard and expect to be paid accordingly, but do not ask to be paid extra. They ask nothing of the greater public and nothing of the government. They pay taxes like everyone does, and occasionally grumble about them like everyone does. But I would be surprised to see many Amish people applying for state benefits.

6. They do not lose sleep over politics. Without television or social media in their lives, many issues that flood mainstream airwaves can be lost on the Amish. Whether or not Sarah Palin knows about foreign affairs or whether Hillary Clinton used a specific email account to send sensitive documents—none of that matters to those solely focused on home and family. Amish people do hold strong opinions on many subjects, but do not get caught up into distant controversies.

It is true that no one culture has all the answers, and no single way of doing things is right for everyone. But the Amish do practice a lifestyle admired by many, and I count myself as fortunate to share my neighborhood with them. I appreciate the value they bring to the community, and I love the ways they do things right.

Do you agree or disagree? What would you add to this story? Share your thoughts in the section below:

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The Biggest Blunder New Homesteaders Often Make

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The Biggest Blunder New Homesteaders Often Make

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Living close to nature in the great outdoors is an appealing lifestyle to many.  Fresh air, sunshine, privacy, simplicity, old-fashioned values, freedom from alarm clocks and business suits, delightful proximity to flora and fauna — it all sounds great.  Where do I sign up?

As one who has spent much of my life immersed in various aspects of the great outdoors, I can testify that it is indeed truly wonderful.  Mostly, anyway.

Many lifestyles embrace a closeness with the outdoors.  Homesteaders, farmers, forest workers, preppers, hikers, campers, backpackers and others devote at least part of their lives, either for fun or out of necessity, to rubbing elbows with nature.

Much of the time the relationship between humans and outdoors works well.  But sometimes it wasn’t meant to be.

Following are a couple of anecdotal stories to explain what I mean.

When my son was in high school, he and his friends wanted to try winter camping. Or at least they thought they did. I should clarify that by “winter camping,” I do not mean trekking through winter conditions to spend the night in a heated lodge or a primitive cabin, or even in a camper.

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The Biggest Blunder New Homesteaders Often Make

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The boys wanted to spend the night in sleeping bags, in a tent, on the snow, in Maine. It took them a while to talk their parents into giving it a try, and it turned out to be only me and my husband who consented to attempt it. We decided to do it together.

Not one of the boys enjoyed it. They had been allured by the idea of outdoor winter camping and the way it seemed like life on the edge. But in the end, it was cold, and awkward, and the block of cheese froze solid and we were unable to cut it, and the flashlights tucked into our sleeping bags with us overnight — to keep the batteries working — were every bit as uncomfortable as it sounds.

Years later, my husband and I were spending the night at a public campground in much warmer weather, and glanced up from our morning coffee to see a man striding down the road past our tent site, anger and purpose in every step. He was carrying an armload of camping gear. We watched, mesmerized by the drama unfolding before us, as the man flung his load into the dumpster and went back for another. By his third trip, my husband quipped that this was probably the guy’s last time camping.

Outdoor life is not for everyone. Of all the hikers starting out in Georgia intending to hike the Appalachian Trail, only 10 to 15 percent make it to Maine.

A major key to success at living life outdoors — or to success at any lifestyle for that matter — is to ease into it. If your future plans include bugging out to a cabin in the woods or pulling up city stakes and relocating to a commercial dairy farm, you might want to have a dress rehearsal before the curtains go up on the performance that really counts.

It is certainly possible to dive into an outdoor-oriented life and succeed without any prior experience. But what if you hate it? The loss of face or of thousands of dollars’ worth of gear by quitting early would be difficult, and failure at an outdoor life when you have sunk your entire life savings or preparedness plan into it could be even worse.

Please consider trying out the great outdoors on a small scale before you commit to a life there.

Maybe instead of investing in expensive camping gear up front, you could try renting or borrowing what you need for a few test runs. You may even want to start with something moderate, such as a furnished hut or wilderness bed-and-breakfast, before loading a tent into the back of your car or packing up a backpack for a week in the backcountry. It might be a good idea to do some research before you go, but always bear in mind that things can be different on paper than they are in real life. If you can find an experienced outdoorsperson with whom to tag along on your first few forays into the wilderness, that’s a bonus. Many areas have outing groups, which are also a great option.

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The Biggest Blunder New Homesteaders Often Make

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If farming or homesteading is your dream but you haven’t had the opportunity to spend much time off the pavement, consider taking classes or finding a mentor. You might watch for programs offered by local organic or permaculture groups, public adult education departments and cooperative extension programs. Attending expos, demonstrations and trade shows are also good possibilities.

I recommend immersing yourself in your future community of choice as much as possible, even before actually practicing their activities. To do this, you can get to know the vendors at your farmers’ market; most of the ones I’ve met are friendly and open about their farming background and willing to give free advice. Many of them welcome farm visits and volunteers as well.

Another way to become involved in a community of homesteaders is through social media. In addition to informational and educational pages such as this one, there are plenty of local groups in most areas which focus on gardening, livestock, homesteading, preparedness or survival.

Volunteering is a great way to get involved, as well. Consider helping out at the livestock barns or judging tables at an agricultural fair, working with youth groups, or doing odd jobs behind the scenes at an agricultural trade show.

If you are devoted to preparedness and plan to escape to a wilderness location in case of disaster, spend time there before it is your only option. If you absolutely loathe everything about being outdoors — the bugs, the snakes, the mud, the humidity, the isolation, the boredom, the cold, the heat or the workload – then ask yourself if spending the remainder of your life in those conditions is worth it.  A bug-out to the woods might be the very best option for some people, but not necessarily for everyone.

Reading is always an excellent way to go. Books, magazines, instruction manuals, how-to brochures — all of them offer something to everyone. Even if you find conflicting information among sources, it’s worth reading all you can.

Remember the winter camping kids? The ending turned out happy. The boys had the chance to try something new, and had very little invested in it. We adults invested in a little gear, had a good time, and went on to enjoy many more winter excursions thereafter.

I can only hope that the story of the man seen throwing his camping gear into the dumpster also turned out well.

For everyone else trying to carve out a life in nature, it’s always a good idea to try life in the great outdoors before committing to a lifetime of it. And when it’s time to make the move into all that fresh air and freedom, it will be with confidence that it will be a great fit.

What advice would you add for someone looking to “dive” into a life outdoors? Share your tips in the section below:

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Mistakes Nearly Everyone Makes When Buying Rural Land

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Mistakes Nearly Everyone Makes When Buying Rural Land

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My rudimentary grasp of mathematics tells me I have done the homesteading world a big favor.   According to the law of averages, high numbers are offset by equally low numbers.

When it comes to mistakes made in buying rural property, I have made enough to allow for a lot of other people to keep theirs to a minimum.

I do understand that the law of averages isn’t quite that cut and dried. And I am pleased to say that my husband and I did do some things right when we bought our place in 2007.

But we have learned many lessons since then, and I would like to share a few points from my own successes and failures which might be helpful to others who are in the process of buying a homestead.

As with any real estate, there are three important factors to consider first: location, location, location. The following questions should be asked:

  • Is the property in a flood zone or prone to other natural disasters?
  • Is it in close proximity to eyesores, former chemical spills, or landfills?
  • What kind of road is it on? If on a back road, who will maintain it and keep it passable in all seasons? If on the main road, what is the traffic like?

When we bought our property, we did not know that due to a quirky tangle of federal and state highway regulations, all 18-wheelers were required to leave the interstate some 40 miles south and travel two-lane roads from there to their destination. Trucks roaring past our house day and night were often so loud they would keep us awake at night and even limit conversation with the windows open.

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The locals had been fighting the issue for so many years that it seemed futile to hope for change. Astonishingly, change did come. Our senator fought hard for us in Washington and won. Our road still gets plenty of commuters, but it’s nothing like it was before. We lucked out, but bear in mind that not everyone is so fortunate.

Mistakes Nearly Everyone Makes When Buying Rural Land

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The upside of living on a main road is that we rarely lose power, we are always the first to be plowed during a snowstorm, and we have a great location for a farm stand.

Speaking of farm stand, make sure there are no restrictions on that sort of thing if it’s part of your plan. Zoning and covenants vary widely across the nation and even from one small community to the next. Consider whether local rules will allow things such as:

  • Anywhere on the property or just out back? Raised beds or in-ground?
  • Any limits on numbers or species?
  • Fencing of your choosing, or only a certain type?
  • New barns or outbuildings? Add-ons? A sugar house?
  • Clotheslines? Fire pits?
  • Farm implements? Spare equipment for parts?
  • Any decorations you like, or will the local code enforcement balk at your black-and-white Holstein design on the barn and the sculpture made of old tires on the front lawn?

Will you resent restrictions placed on your new deck designs and rustic perimeter fencing, or will you be grateful that such rules are in place to ensure that everyone in the neighborhood keeps things tidy? Bear in mind considerations such as:

  • Are there property line setback rules that will make it challenging to fit in all your homesteading needs?
  • Will you need building permits that are expensive or hard to get?
  • Is there a limit on the number of buildings or their proximity to one another?
  • Are buildings required by law to have power and plumbing? Ordinances are not always conducive to off-grid living, and some places prohibit it. If you plan to build off-grid on your new place, find out ahead of time if you’ll have to fight for it.

I was surprised to learn that although my town would allow me to house pigs in a crude plywood shack in my front yard if I wanted to, an outhouse in the woods of my back 60 acres would cost me hundreds of dollars in permits and inspections, and all off-grid human habitation is off-limits. Municipalities are often very strict about some things and lax about others.

Make sure you have plenty of space for all that you and your animals will need. I have seen online how-tos showing complete self-contained homesteads on a single acre; the drawing showed a house, barn, gardens, goats, chickens, a cow-calf operation, pigs, and a hay field.

I won’t tell you it can’t be done, but I know for sure that I couldn’t do it. My three-ish-acre pasture was not enough to sustain my pair of yearling steers during a dry summer and I had to buy hay to supplement their diet. My goats and pigs fared better elsewhere, browsing areas of edge and light forest, but still utilized another acre or so. Obviously, climate and weather, along with pasture quality, are all factors. But feeding a milk cow and dairy goats year-round on less than an acre seems like a stretch to me, at least in my region.

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Mistakes Nearly Everyone Makes When Buying Rural Land

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A lot can be done on a small tract of land, to be sure. If you have a long enough growing season and your soil is rich enough, or if you are willing to purchase hay and browse from elsewhere, an acre might be just perfect. Smaller or fewer animals, or livestock kept just for a season instead of year-round, might make a difference, as well.

Soil quality is a big deal. Is your intended property currently a farm, or has been in the past? Was it organic or is the soil treated with conventional applications?

My place had been habited by suburbanites who raised flowers and lawn for a couple of generations. We were able to find out where the old barns used to be and decided to dig our in-ground garden on that spot. As we had hoped, it was nutrient-rich soil. But we hadn’t considered rocks. In the process of clearing a 30 x 30 garden, we hand-dug enough rocks to build a hundred-foot-long stone wall.

Since then, we’ve increased the garden size each year, and added raised beds as well. If you can find a place with established gardens, it’s a nice perk.

Consider what the priorities of past owners were. The people who sold us our place sold off the timber within the last decade. We were aware of that fact when we bought it, but it was still disappointing to find tons of brush and damaged standing trees and soil erosion left behind.

There was also a lot of trash. The picturesque landscaping ended at the edge of the manicured lawn. Under the dense shrubbery and forest canopy lay rusting vehicles, old tarps and rotting lumber and used roofing materials, dilapidated furniture, and hundreds of plastic bags full of used kitty litter. It took us a long time to clean it up and create animal pens out of that area.

On all but the smallest plots of land, there is no way a buyer can tour every acre before buying. When we bought ours there were no established paths and little access. But the more you can explore a potential purchase, the better.

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There are always silver linings. The brush from past logging has encouraged wildlife habitat and left behind tote roads that we have opened up for use as hiking and snowshoeing trails. Our work of clearing out the trash has provided a strong sense of transformation and connectedness to the land.

Another good thing about the former owners not being farmers is that we didn’t have to worry about livestock parasites or communicable diseases. If you are buying a working farm, do your best to evaluate the level of risk from previous or existing livestock.

Don’t overlook infrastructure. When we were perusing the market, it was obvious that properties with barns and outbuildings and fences and bridges and farm ponds — not to mention fruit trees and berry groves and gardens — were significantly more expensive. We scoffed at paying for such stuff — why do that, when we could do it ourselves?

Mistakes Nearly Everyone Makes When Buying Rural Land

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The truth is, you can build it all yourselves. Depending on your situation, that might very well be the best option for you. But if we could rewind the clock, we’d look for less house, probably less land, and a whole lot more infrastructure. We have spent thousands of hours and dollars building our own, which was time and money we could have devoted to tending gardens and goats.

Ask yourself how your time is best spent. If you are purists who are buying property debt-free and depending solely on the land for your sustenance, you might be better off doing it yourself. If you are going the route of existing house and mortgage and off-farm job, consider buying more in-place framework. Youth and farming experience and community support are all factors to consider as well.

Don’t forget that the place is going to come with neighbors. Whether you are buying an acre tucked in among similar-sized lots just outside a metropolitan area or a 500-acre spread where you can’t even see the smoke from the next-door neighbor’s chimney, you will probably bump up against those around you at some point. Everyone thinks their own style of rural living is best, but not everyone is blessed with neighbors who agree.

For example, think about lifestyle differences such as:

  • Are you planning on loud outdoor parties and jeep jamborees next door to a quiet family of homeschoolers who embrace a simple lifestyle?
  • Conversely, are you people-powered back-to-the-landers who will resent the sound of snowmobiles at roaring past at 1 in the morning?
  • Will your pristine lawn and garden clash with the neighbor’s haphazard fence and the goats behind it? Or are you the unruly goat people in your neighborhood?
  • Will you be seeking isolation and privacy amid inquisitive surroundings, or will you be the one peering over the fence watching the neighbors build an underground bunker?
  • Are you a big fan of guns or fireworks, or do you avoid such things?

You don’t have to like them and they don’t have to like you, but it’s a nice thing when it happens. Avoid setting yourself up for a lifetime of headaches if you can.

Nobody gets it perfect every time. Although I made some mistakes when I bought my homestead, I have few regrets. Hopefully, some of these considerations will help you make your decision in a way that when you look back on your purchase, you too will know you made the right move.

What advice would you add? Share it in the section below:

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6 Clever Off-Grid Ways To Conserve Resources (And Become More Self-Reliant)

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6 Clever Off-Grid Ways To Conserve Resources (And Become More Self-Reliant)

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It isn’t recycling. It isn’t upcycling or reusing, either. Not even buying local. The number one way to conserve resources, both yours and the planets, is so simple and obvious that it might startle you.

The way to conserve resources is to avoid using them in the first place.

That’s right. It is just that easy. The amount of products people think they cannot live without has burgeoned to such an enormous list that it’s difficult to envision where it will stop. The truth is we just do not need all that stuff. And by learning how to “do without,” we in turn become more self-sufficient.

I have seen more than one post on social media about how those leftover plastic containers from single-use coffees can be used to make cute crafty items. That’s nice, but being able to convert trash to trinkets doesn’t justify creating all that trash. First of all, only a tiny fraction of those little cups are going to be upcycled. And is the end creation really worth using up petroleum and water to make, ship, process, ship again, discard, and ship yet another time?

Wastefulness is by no means limited to coffee containers. Our culture uses disposable and single-use items at every turn. Paper towel, plastic grocery bags, milk jars, soda cans, aluminum foil — it all contributes to a mountain of unnecessary garbage.

I am a big fan of recycling, reusing, upcycling and buying local. But none of those are my first choice. My go-to option is doing without. It has many off-grid benefits.

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The Dumbest Mistake Even Experts Make In Food Preservation

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The Surprising Mistake Even Experts Make In Food Preservation

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My mother tried to teach me about food. She did it all — gardening, canning, jellying, freezing, drying, cheesing. She knew all about the so-called “Hundred Mile Diet” that has become so popular in recent years, the now-trendy notion of trying to make all or most of your diet consist of food that was produced within a hundred miles of your home. She had eaten that way most of her life. She was a trendsetter, decades ahead of her time.

Too bad I had no interest whatsoever in such things. It was the 1970s, when chic modern women bought their food in boxes at the grocery store — none of that old-fashioned “raise-your-own” nonsense for someone as cool as I was.

By the time I managed to rise above my ignorance, I was middle aged and my mother was deceased. Thanks to books and the Internet, as well as wonderful personal mentors and formal training through my state’s Master Food Preserver program, I have been able to pick up much of what I missed out on learning from my mother.

Except for the most important thing of all — the one thing that is so simple and ridiculously obvious that most people don’t even see it as something to learn.

I had to learn to eat my food.

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That’s right. All that growing and harvesting and blanching and pressure-canning does no one any good, unless we eat the fruits of our labors.

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There are a lot of barriers to this. Home cooks in today’s society are accustomed to deciding what they want to eat, finding the recipes they like best, and heading for the grocery store with a shopping list. Doing it that way is so ingrained in a lot of people that they forget to take into account the cellar full of food that they worked so hard to put up.

Homesteaders need to do it the other way around — see what we have on hand, look for recipes that utilize those things, and put those on the menu. There might still be shopping to do, but only for that which we cannot raise ourselves and cannot substitute.

Another obstacle to cooking my own food was that as a child of the 70s, I may have since rejected the idea of opening boxes and cans and freezer bags for my main ingredients, but I was still programmed to follow the directions. Recipes don’t call for a jar of my homemade spicy pickled carrots or rhubarb sauce or green tomato mincemeat pie filling. I have found that if I want to use what I have in my larder instead of adding on to the grocery list, I need to learn to actually create flavors on my own. Using my home-grown foods requires me to actually cook, not just follow recipes.

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On the other hand, real cooks don’t always use foods out of their home-preserved collection, either. Or at least, the rock-star chefs on television don’t. When I watch the celebrity chefs using all fresh out-of-season vegetables and only the best cuts of meat, I always wonder how they would do on a homestead.

Neglecting to use home-processed food is a common affliction. Most home canners have been known to lament the efficacy of canning this season’s green beans or applesauce when their shelves are still loaded with jars of last year’s.

People mean well. All those frozen bags of eggplant, lovingly peeled and chopped and blanched in lemon water, with visions of winter ratatouille dancing in my head — how can they still be leftover come spring?

Home food preservation is a wonderful thing, for a lot of reasons. It is a great way to control what goes into your food, be self-sufficient, eat healthy, minimize waste and petroleum use in food production, and practice skills in preparation for hard times.

However, if you leave out that essential last step, it is all for naught. Shop in your larder before you head for the grocery store, and alter your recipes if needed. Whatever it takes, make sure you do the one most important thing when it comes to food preservation. Make sure you eat it.

Do you agree? What would you add to this story? Share your advice in the section below:

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Why Most ‘Prepping Strategies’ Are Doomed

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Why Most 'Prepping Strategies' Are Doomed

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There are people in the world preparing for every kind of disaster.  Possible doomsday scenarios include economic collapse, biblical Armageddon, cyberattack, polar shift, enemy invasion, irreversible climate change, and electromagnetic pulse — just to name a few.

To some, it doesn’t matter how the end arrives. Others believe that the details do matter, because goods and skills that are important to carry a household through one potential disaster could be meaningless in another.

No matter which camp you are in, consider this: None of those catastrophic events are as likely to happen as smaller ones are. And the ultimate truth is that preparation for those smaller events is what will save lives and property.

Just as car accidents are most apt to happen close to home, so too are other mishaps. Prudence suggests that people should be ready at home first, and the best way to do so is prevention.

For example, the garage roof could cave in under a heavy snow load, but the likelihood of that happening is greatly diminished if the garage is well-constructed and the roof is kept clear. The next logical step for people who live in snow country and are concerned with disaster preparedness is to go out and buy a roof rake before winter hits.

My grandparents lived their lives in a rural mountain village, ready for anything. Ill health, bad weather, hungry passers-by in need of a meal, relatives arriving unexpectedly for an extended visit, misbehaving animals, and broken equipment. Maybe your grandparents did, too, and people today would do well to try and emulate their lifestyle.

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Many Americans are descended from pioneers, the epitome of a people who were strong, self-reliant and resilient. They were also well-prepared for disaster. It wasn’t so much about the end of the world as they knew it, as it was about making a difference in the world they did know.

Our ancestors probably worried more about crop failure and livestock loss than the economy.  Here again, the first steps were prevention — plant and weed and water diligently, and follow best practices for animal health — and being prepared for the unpreventable by canning overflow harvests to tide them over the leaner years and keeping extra animals when they could.

They might also have bartered, offering up labor and land use in exchange for food and fuel. They might have “gone without” sometimes, too, getting by on milk and cheese for protein when there was no meat.

Why Most 'Prepping Strategies' Are Doomed

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Like them, we need to be mindful of the possibility of lean seasons. Twenty-first century sparsity might be the result of a job loss or an injury or even a divorce, but we need to be ready. Prevention is key, but a store of food, supplies and cash to tide us over whatever happens is essential.

Remember: Even though it is entirely possible that our national economy could collapse, it is also conceivable that personal economies will go south long before that happens.

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And while some say climate change could have a major impact on the planet overall, it makes sense for individuals to focus on the climate they are in. Whether you believe it is a result of global warming or not, you can count on having inclement weather and other natural disasters where you live. Hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards and earthquakes are a reality for many people, and preparedness is critical. It makes sense to be ready for them by storing enough food and water and medications and batteries to make it through whatever nature throws our way.

We might be invaded by enemy soldiers from another continent as well. But depending upon where you live, you are probably more likely to be attacked by local criminals or gang members or forest predators or small varmints trying to eat your chickens. It is wise to have on hand whatever measures you need to protect your home from those elements first.

The bottom line is this: Be prepared for what is truly the most likely occurrence. Take history into account, and consider how many Americans have gone hungry when they lost their jobs or suffered unduly from injuries or panicked over natural disasters or been robbed in their own neighborhoods. Those are the things to prepare for before you worry about big picture what-ifs.

It is a good idea to start close to home with your preparations, focusing on the things that could happen to your own household. Make sure you have enough food to last through a three-day blizzard and sufficient heating fuel for winter, or a good collection of flashlights and spare batteries, and supplies for pets.

From there, you can expand to potential community disasters, and then regional. Ramp up your supplies gradually, expanding to cover possible needs in case you are without power for a week, and later on consider surviving longer-term off the grid.

By starting with the basics, thinking about the most likely possibilities first, and keeping it real, you will be able to prepare yourself for all manner of disasters. Taking care of the smaller things will help move you into a position which will enable you to handle the bigger things. And if doomsday comes along, you will have been ready all along.

Do you agree or disagree? Share your thoughts in the section below:

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Indoors Or Outdoors: Where Should You Keep Your Cat?

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Indoors Or Outdoors: Where Should You Keep Your Cat?

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Should cats be allowed to roam freely outdoors?

There is no single correct answer to this question, and multiple factors must be taken into account. As with many questions, the answer has changed over time and has as much to do with society’s perspective as it does the actual objects of the debate.

As recently as the turn of the last century, it was not unusual for a domestic breed of cat to spend its entire life outdoors and largely unencumbered by human rules. Some people could not abide with a cat in the house at all.

Fast forward just 100 years and almost the opposite is true. It has become increasingly popular to keep cats strictly indoors or to allow them out only on a leash or in a cage.

Much has changed over the past century, for both humans and cats. And whether or not your cat goes outside depends a great deal on your situation — your geography, your lifestyle and your immediate surroundings.

First, the obvious opposite ends of the spectrum: cats in an urban high-rise are going to spend their life indoors. There’s no easy open-the-back-door-and-let-kitty-out option. If an apartment cat goes out, it has to be carried or led on a leash. And then what? All that effort only to spend supervised time sniffing a sidewalk or landscaped shrubbery seems hardly worth it.

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On the other end of things, there are barn cats. They often live a life more similar to livestock than pets, with sometimes only a cursory appreciation for human companionship.

If you and your cat do not live at one extreme or the other, but instead fall somewhere on the continuum between the two, you will have to choose.

Indoors Or Outdoors: Where Should You Keep Your Cat?

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I would like to begin the discussion of pros and cons by telling you a story about Ginny. She was a 10-year-old cat who came with us when my husband and I made the move to a rural farm several years ago. She had spent her entire life up until then at our home in the village, in a genteel neighborhood surrounded by oak trees and lawn and a 25-mph speed limit. The move landed us on an 80-acre patch of land where wildness came right up and rubbed against the back deck.

At the farmstead, we deliberated whether or not we should let her out anymore. Unlike our home back in town, stuff got very real here — thick forest and predators out the back door and a two-lane highway out front.

Ginny had always been allowed in and out at her own discretion, but she usually opted to laze in front of the wood stove. She had grown obese over the years, and didn’t take much interest in spending long hours outdoors. The truth is, she wasn’t overly enthusiastic about anything. At least, that’s how it was in town. On the farm, she seemed eager to go outside, and we decided to let her.

We were always outdoors, and Ginny was, too. On the lawn, in the garden, or in the barnyard — we would glance up from our tasks, and there she would be, sitting and watching contentedly.

She became a whole different cat. Back in the village, she couldn’t be bothered with mice. On the farm, she would bring them up to the back steps and lay them out in rows. She would sit and gaze over her new domain with satisfaction. It was as if she had been waiting her whole life for this place.

She lost weight, too, becoming fit and lithe. But as the months went by, we began to notice that she was getting downright skinny. She presented other symptoms as well, and a visit to the vet rendered a diagnosis of stomach cancer.

When she died a few months later, we buried her in the backyard that she loved so well, and cried. But behind the tears was a gladness that we had made the decision to let her roam outdoors. She had truly come into her own at the farm, and we were grateful that she had had that glorious last year outside. Going outdoors had not affected her mortality, but had greatly increased her quality of life.

Indoors Or Outdoors: Where Should You Keep Your Cat?

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Not all cats are Ginnys. And not all locales are suited for cats to freely wander in and out of the house. In many areas, traffic is just too heavy, or predators too numerous, for the risk. There are also the dangers of disease, parasites and fights with other cats. Statistics show that outdoor cats have a shorter life span.

That said, some people consider it a choice of quality of life versus longevity. An informal social media survey revealed that most people in my rural state prefer to let their cats go in and out. They have considered the possible consequences and decided it’s worth the risk, but take deliberate steps to mitigate the dangers. They keep kittens and new cats indoors until they develop a sense of home, walk the animals around the edge of the property to show them the perimeter, and keep them in at night.

One respondent remarked that she had no right to dictate her cat’s behavior, and that people are owned by cats rather than the other way around. Another said she would not deny a cat access to outdoors because she herself would not want a life stuck inside.

Whichever works best at your house or homestead, there are a few important steps you can take to minimize threats to your cat. Even if your cat is outdoors all or part of the time — or maybe especially if it is — it is essential to make sure the animal is up to date on shots, spayed or neutered, and provided adequate nutrition and shelter.

Cats are resilient, but still have basic needs. No animal deserves to suffer.

With that in mind, consider winter weather. Make sure your cat has access to a warm place, be it indoors on the couch or in an insulated outdoor hutch.

Remember that a cat cannot navigate deep snow. My cat doesn’t mind a few inches, but when it’s deeper than that he sticks to packed or shoveled trails around the back yard. I create a few paths just for him to access his favorite winter haunts — the garden shed crawl space, or the bare ground under the pile of log-length firewood.

In the end, the most important factor is that you genuinely care for your animal and make the best decisions you can in order to keep your cat safe, healthy and happy.

Do you keep your cat indoors or outdoors? Share your reasons in the section below:  

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The Single Biggest Mistake Preppers Often Make

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The Single Biggest Mistake Preppers Often Make

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Survivalists and preppers have a lot of great ideas. While others are ignoring possible signs that our world might be on the brink of significant change, there is a growing community of people who are determined to survive whatever happens.

Unfortunately, some of these great ideas are just that — ideas. It is easy to become so enthusiastic about preparedness that crucial steps get skipped.

If I could give one sentence of advice to those new to the preparedness community, it would be this: TRY IT NOW.

That seems like a simple enough tenet, but it often gets overlooked — and it becomes a huge mistake. Preppers talk about plans for living in the forest, cooking food on an open fire, shooting animals for meat, growing their own vegetables, getting by without power or running water, and walking 30 miles to a bug-out location carrying sixty pounds of supplies.

Those things are all absolutely possible. Most of them are good ideas in the right circumstances, and many of them are activities which have been done since the dawn of humanity. However, it is valuable to bear in mind that successful execution of these theories requires some practice.

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Cooking over an open fire, hunting for meat, and walking 30 miles in a day were part of the daily routine to many of our ancestors, and it is tempting to assure ourselves that if they could do it, we can, too. And indeed we can. But they lived very different lives than we do. To a society accustomed to motorized transportation, fully equipped kitchens, readily available groceries, and flush toilets, the things our predecessors did might be challenging for us.

If your preparedness plan includes relocating to a remote forest, consider this question: Have you and your family ever spent any real time in the forest? I’m not talking about an afternoon stroll in the city park, wearing pearly white sneakers and carrying a bottle of Evian and posting regular Facebook statuses as you go. I don’t even mean a two-mile hike into the foothills of a national forest for an overnight at a bed-and-breakfast hostel.

I mean the down-and-dirty forest, with not a single cushy bunk in sight, no Wi-Fi, not even an outhouse. A forest where the only beaten path was made by four-legged creatures, and the only sounds are the raucous calls of crows and the rustle of leaves. And the only food available is what you carried in yourself and can cook on a portable stove.

If it still sounds easy, spend a week there. You might love it even if it’s your first such experience, but you will very likely want to tweak your survival plan afterwards.

Many post-disaster plans include at least some components of homesteading. Raising vegetables and keeping livestock for meat, dairy and eggs are the most common directions people intend to go, and with good reason. Growing your own food is the best possible way to feed your family long term.

The Single Biggest Mistake Preppers Often MakeBut again, consider the question. Have you tried it? Have you actually grown food and eaten it? Not just a little window box full of lettuce, but a real full-sized garden with a wide variety of crops that will truly keep your family out of the grocery store produce aisle for the whole season?

Many people garden for a hobby, but I recommend trying to garden like your life depends on it. If it ever happens that your life does depend on what food you can grow for yourself, you will be glad you worked out the kinks in that plan ahead of time.

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Try eating primarily what you have grown and raised and harvested and preserved yourself for a season, or even a year, and see how you do. Like many homesteading practices, it is likely to be a rewarding endeavor, but there will be challenges you did not anticipate.

Shooting animals for meat and processing the carcass looks easy enough on YouTube videos, but it is not something you will want to put off actually trying until it is the only thing between you and starvation. There will be that inevitable moment when you encounter something that wasn’t in the how-tos, or the overwhelming emotion or yuck factor that you didn’t see coming.

If you Google specific homesteading skills, you are likely to find plenty of people waxing nostalgic about how their grandparents used to do it, but there might not be a lot of people actually doing it now. Nostalgia is nice, but actual experience will serve you better if you ever need to do those kinds of things.

Plenty of people think of their physical abilities in nostalgic terms, too. They might have been a track star in high school or bagged mountain peaks in their youth, but that was a couple of decades ago. Today’s reality might include a lot more pounds of body weight and a lot less stamina. This is one area in which nobody can rest on his or her laurels. If you think you are going to walk a long distance carrying heavy loads, set down the TV remote and strap on your hiking boots now.

Gardener Resting in Vegetable GardenAnother important thing to try now is deprivation. How will you and your family actually cope in a scenario devoid of social media, hot showers, television and a comfortable couch? If your spouse and children have never spent a day without modern amenities, their performance could be compromised in the event of an emergency. Instead of focusing on the tasks at hand, they might be anxious and distracted in a world without comforts.

I am not suggesting you sell your house, quit your job, and go live in the woods today. Many people do so without regrets, but that lifestyle is not for everyone.

The good news: You don’t have to. You can take up gardening anywhere — even if you live in a city apartment, you can seek a community growing space. If you can’t keep livestock, then volunteer on a farm near your home. If you don’t know anything about hunting, then hire a guide to take you. Try charcuterie with someone who’s done it. Spend time doing things outside in all kinds of weather.

How about a weekend without electronics? Turn off the phone, the television, and the computer. Maybe even take it a step further and go without modern conveniences completely.

If you want to experience life outdoors and without amenities, try it. You can start off small by pitching a tent in the backyard, and gradually move up to a weekend in the backcountry in a homemade shelter.

And by all means, get fit. There is no post-apocalyptic scenario in which couch potatoes will be better off than active people. Unhealthy people who plan human-powered travel will certainly suffer when that happens.

In these uncertain times, it is good to prepare for harder days ahead, and good to have a handful of excellent ideas that will keep you alive and safe during a man-made or natural disaster. But don’t stop at ideas. Try it now.

Do you agree or disagree? What advice would you add? Share your thoughts in the section below:

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7 Ways To Beat Winter And Garden Year-Round

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7 Ways To Beat Winter And Garden Year-Round

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If you are a gardener, this has probably happened to you. You stand up to take a break from weeding and notice that the neighbors are strapping kayaks to the top of their car. Or maybe you saw on social media that your friends are traveling across the country to an exciting vacation spot. You don’t do any of that. You’re too busy in the garden.

I’ve been there. As I stand up and stretch my aching back and wipe the perspiration from my forehead, I sometimes ask myself why I do it.

The answer is easy. I do it for the fresh vegetables. All of us intrepid vegetable gardeners do. We are so devoted to the notion of fresh vegetables — with no toxic chemicals or genetically modified anything in them and fresher than anything money can buy and all the varieties that taste better than the commercial kinds — that we go to ridiculous lengths to raise them.

And if the key to happiness is fresh vegetables, the only drawback is winter. In my latitude, the weather frowns on gardening for at least half of the year. It is true that there are plenty of canned vegetables to come between us and starvation. And we could always hit the produce section of the supermarket in a moment of weakness.

But maybe we can extend the season.

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There are plenty of ways to stretch cold-weather crops into the winter and to get a jump start on the other end. The sky is the limit, with the possibilities reaching as high as your imagination and construction savvy and budget will take you. But to get you started, here are a few basic ideas to try.

1. Choose cold-hardy vegetables. Even though we all crave fresh eggplant and tomatoes all year long, it is not possible in the far north without a pretty fancy setup that includes a heated building. Certain plants are so sensitive to cold that the first light frost can do them real damage. However, there are plenty of vegetables that can be grown, or at least maintained, in cool temperatures. Most members of the brassica family, especially kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and collard greens, are pretty good at holding up to cold. Root vegetables like turnips and rutabaga and carrots and parsnips can, too. Beets and Swiss chard, close relatives to one another, are great candidates for harvesting late into fall. Spinach, some varieties of lettuce, and scallions can last into fall but can also be started in very cold spring ground.

2. Tuck a blanket in around your plants. Well, not literally a blanket, but almost. In the same way that humans and animals can keep their core temperatures warmer when wrapped in a layer of protective material — like fur or fleece or feathers or a crocheted afghan — plants can benefit from insulation as well. Layers of dry leaves work well, as does fabric row covering. The latter can be purchased in a variety of thicknesses, weights, widths, and price ranges.

Either leaves or row cover will work for protecting vegetables from cold in fall, but the better choice for spring is a lightweight row cover.

3. Cover them with a “hot jug.” It’s one of the simplest ways to get spring seedlings into the ground early. Cut off the bottom of a gallon milk jug and set it over the delicate young plant, taking the lid off the jar during the day to let it breathe. The idea is that by the time the plant outgrows the jug, it won’t need to be covered anymore.

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4. Try cold frames. These are merely raised beds covered with glass or Plexiglas. People often construct them using reclaimed windows or rigid greenhouse materials. These can be so simple that you merely set a window over the edges of a raised bed, or carefully fit it with hinges so that the glass can be raised in notches to regulate the amount of air flow. The glass pieces can lay flat, or lean against another at an angle to form a peak. The end can be made of solid wood or metal, or just a piece of fabric row cover. In some locations, the end might not need to be covered at all.

7 Ways To Beat Winter And Garden Year-Round

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Cold frames can work as a tiny greenhouse to warm the earth below the glass for starting seeds outdoors early in spring.

5. Consider low tunnels. Just like the name sounds, these are small tunnels — think miniature greenhouses. Like other methods, the options to install low tunnels run the gamut from high-tech to super simple.

Low tunnels can be built in conjunction with raised beds, or right in the ground. They can be any height you like, but are generally around two feet tall.

Low tunnel covering is usually made of greenhouse plastic when the technique is used for extending the growing season. It lets in and magnifies light and warmth, which is crucial in colder weather and for decreasing daylight hours. But the same structures can be used during the prime growing season with row cover to deter insects or with chicken wire to keep out birds, rabbits, deer or even pets.

Low tunnel ribs are available ready-made through supply catalogs, or can be constructed with PVC pipe or electrical conduit. They could even be fashioned with scrap lumber or bendable saplings, if a builder were crafty.

6. Look for warmer areas outside. If there is a warm spot on the south side of your home where the snow always melts early or where the crocuses are first to come up, consider tucking a little spring lettuce seed in there. You can lean a piece of clear roofing panel over it to further intensify the sun’s rays. There might be a wall along the outer edge of the barn that radiates animal heat, too. A plastic window well cover might work to create a nice cold-weather kitchen garden and to keep the chickens from beating you to it.

7. Bring a few plants indoors. Herbs can easily thrive in pots on your windowsill all winter long. Kale can live in pots on your unheated sunporch. And in spring, you can get a jump on the season by starting many of your seeds right in the house.

The upshot to all of this? You can enjoy fresh vegetables later in fall and earlier in spring, and in some areas even close to year-round.

And the down side? You will have to squeeze that ski trip to the Swiss Alps into a narrow window between the last of the kale and the first sprigs of new spinach.  Just wave goodbye to the neighbors as you leave for the airport and they are headed out to the supermarket to settle for store-bought produce.

What winter gardening advice would you add to the list? Share your thoughts in the section below:

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9 Cold-Hardy Vegetables You Can Overwinter For Spring

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Image source: blog.katescarlata.com

A vegetable grower’s poem around the time of harvest is often something along the lines of, “How do I store thee?  Let me count the ways.” As a gardener myself, I mutter something about the depth and breadth and height of the vegetables coming at me. And I resolve to store as much as I am able, in as many different methods as I can muster.

By the end of September, I’m usually thinking that there has to be an easier way to enjoy my vegetables in the off seasons, even here in the far north. And it turns out that there is. Turns out a few types of vegetables can stay in the garden for the winter.

At our farm in rural Maine, my husband and I routinely leave parsnips in the ground all winter with excellent results. We cut the foliage off in late fall, leaving it just three or four inches tall. That’s if we don’t get to it before the leaves die off on their own, which is all right too.

Some people mulch their parsnips at that point, covering the bed with a thick layer of dry leaves – several inches to a foot in depth – and topping it off with row cover fabric. It is said that doing so will allow the roots to be harvested throughout the winter. That could work, but there are a lot of variables.

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One thing we like to do is pound in tall stakes around the edges of the bed, just to identify the area as a no-travel zone. It’s easy to tell the garden from the lawn (and walking path) when the vegetation is all visible, or even when it is covered with a few inches of snow. But under a foot or more of snow, the landscape looks vastly different and all bets are off. Better to install a few stakes than to discover in spring that the snowshoe trail has left your parsnips packed in a hard, icy ridge.

We dig up our parsnips as soon as the ground thaws enough to do so, usually around April in our growing zone. It is wonderful to have something freshly harvested to eat at that time of year, and the cold winter has rendered the roots sweet and delectable.

It is possible to do the same thing with carrots, and many people enjoy great success with them. That has not been our experience, however. One year, we mulched the carrot patch heavily, and were disappointed when we dug them up in the spring to find that underground rodents had feasted upon them all winter.

Image source: harvesttotable.com

Image source: harvesttotable.com

The next time we tried using less mulch, but our carrots were tough and woody. We had failed to take into account that carrots typically have a much shorter growing season than parsnips. With the latter, we can plant them early in the year and forget them. They grow all summer and fall and are just right by April. With carrots, however, we needed to take care to plant them later in the season so that winter would land upon them just as they were becoming mature.

Some people also overwinter cold-weather brassicas like cabbage and kale. Cabbage needs to be well mulched, and kale protected from a heavy snow load. It is possible to store beets in this way as well, if the conditions are exactly right.

Garlic and two-year onions – often called “walking onions” because the heads of the stalks fall over and take root for next year’s crop – are certainly among the vegetables that can be stored in the ground for the winter, but these are a little different. Rather than storing the ready-to-eat vegetable for harvest during winter and spring, garlic and other members of the allium family are sown in fall and rest over the cold months, ready to sprout as the ground thaws and be harvested the following summer.

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Other vegetables can be stored in the ground for all or part of a northern winter, too. But here come those variables I warned you about earlier. First of all, latitude and altitude matter. A Pennsylvania river valley and a notch in the mountains of Idaho are both considered northern climates, but there is a vast difference in the kind of winters they experience. And both climates can vary greatly year-to-year, making some winters more suitable for outdoor vegetable storage than others.

It depends how you prepare them, too. Covered and mulched, or even planted in a cold frame – a box covered with glass that draws light and warmth towards the plants – will allow a much wider variety of plants to do better in colder weather. Spinach, collard greens and Swiss chard can do well for much of the winter season if properly protected.

One word of caution, though. Be careful with mulching. To use this technique is to walk a fine line. You want enough mulch to insulate your plants from freezing and keep the ground pliable enough to allow harvesting in winter. But you don’t want to create a nice cozy home for mice and other varmints that would love to feast on your vegetables all winter.

In the end, overwintering vegetables in a northern climate is like most other aspects of growing food. It requires a little skill, a touch of artfulness, a lot of luck, and unlimited perseverance and optimism. If you aren’t sure it’s for you, I encourage you to give it a try. Harvest a portion of your crop to make sure you have some to fall back on and overwinter the rest. It can make your vegetable preservation tasks easier, and with any luck you will be singing a happy tune by the time you wrap up your garden in the fall.

What vegetables would you add to this list? What overwintering advice would you add? Share your tips in the section below:

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7 Things ‘City Slickers’ Gotta Know Before Moving To The Country

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7 Things ‘City Slickers’ Gotta Know Before Moving To The Country

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At long last, you are there. You have been planning, saving and working for this event for years, and it is finally becoming a reality. The beautiful home in the countryside is yours, and you couldn’t be happier.

As the giant moving van backs up to the front porch, your mind is abuzz with excitement. You can hardly wait to remodel the kitchen, have the hardwood floors refinished and hire a landscaper to tidy up the far edges of the lawn.

You notice the collection of junk cars just over the property line that must have been hidden in greenery when you first visited the place. Your spouse voices some concern, but you dismiss it. Surely the municipality will insist that they clean up the yard once you bring the problem to the attention of authorities.

At lunchtime, you check in at the local store and introduce yourself while you grab some drinks and sandwich supplies.

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The scene at the general store is not quite what you had anticipated. There are a couple of elderly men seated in worn chairs outside the front door, smoking cigarettes, laughing together at an off-color joke.   Indoors, a shirtless man and his unleashed dog are waiting in line at the cash register. There is only one brand of bread on the shelf, and you can’t find any of the kind of sandwich meat you like.

While paying for your purchases, you tell the lady behind the counter that you are moving in that day, and tell her the address. She looks confused until a bystander fills her in. It’s the old Haywood place – even though you didn’t buy it from anyone named Haywood. Nor did the sellers. It’s known by the name of a family that owned it three generations ago.

“Where did you move here from?” the lady asks politely.

You are eager to tell her all about yourself. About how you previously lived in a very upscale neighborhood next door to a famous artist, in a big city that is faraway.

She shrugs, seemingly unimpressed.

7 Things ‘City Slickers’ Gotta Know Before Moving To The CountryYou go on to tell her all about the fabulous things you plan to do to fix up the house and it occurs to you to mention the junk cars and ask her who to talk to about them.

She gives you a sour look. That’s her sister’s place, she says. And those are her brother-in-law’s cars.  And you can complain to the town’s elected officials, but she doubts they care.

“Well,” you bluster, “where I came from, there are laws against such things. And you can’t smoke in the doorway or go in a store without a shirt back home.”

“You are not back home,” she replies, her voice noticeably cool.

As you exit the store, you realize the lady was right. You are truly not in Kansas anymore, and it occurs to you that the culture here is very different from that which you left. You have been so busy seeking out the kind of place that would meet your expectations that you haven’t given any thought to how you might meet theirs.

The good news is you absolutely can fit in, make friends, and become part of the community. Eventually. And the even better news is I can give you a few tips to help that happen more quickly and less painfully.

1. Don’t try to turn your new community into your old one. If your comments at the town meeting  always begin with, “Back home we did it a better way,” the locals will be tempted to retort that you should go back there if you loved it so much. Remember, you moved here for a reason. You wanted to live in a different kind of place than you lived before. Accept the fact that they have their own way of doing things here.

2. Avoid being ostentatious. Nobody here cares that a movie star frequented the coffee shop in your old neighborhood. If country folks were impressed by Hollywood, they’d move there. And your plans to glam up the old farmstead you bought by installing a garish steel roof and some glitzy fake gas pumps on the lawn will make people wonder why you bought an old farmhouse in the first place.

7 Things ‘City Slickers’ Gotta Know Before Moving To The Country3. Remember that you won’t have the same services that you had in the city. The local store is not going to carry 13 flavors of artisan mustard, and there is no way that firefighters or law enforcement can possibly show up at your door three minutes after you dial 911. The shopkeeper is likely to try to keep your favorite products on hand if you ask, though. And as for services, rest assured that as you get to know the townspeople you’ll soon learn that you are better off calling on some of them in an emergency anyway.

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4. Do the natives sound funny to you? Don’t bother pointing it out to them. You probably sound funny to them, too. They’ve heard commentary on their particular regionalisms since before you knew their town existed. And whatever you do, don’t try to imitate it. Unless you make your living recording audiobooks with characters from all over the world, you can’t pull it off.

5. With all those don’ts on the list, you might be wondering if there’s anything you can do. Take heart – there are plenty of positive things about your new country place. Don’t be afraid to be who you are, not who you think they want you to be. They’ll get used to you.

6. You don’t need to alter your goals or question your own values. If you came here to grow your own organic food, homeschool your kids or prepare for the apocalypse, you can. Just remember that others in town might have different ideals. You can do your thing, but respect them enough to let them do theirs.

7. Definitely join in on local projects. Be part of what’s already happening. And don’t just throw money at them – show up carrying a hammer or a casserole.

In the end, don’t worry about the junk cars. The next-door neighbors might well turn out to be the kind of people who will show up with a bushel of fresh tomatoes after you lose yours to blight, teach your kid how to knit, or run out and grab your dog when they see it following a snapping turtle. And someday it could happen that you gaze out the kitchen window at the beautiful homey vista that includes the neighbors’ junk cars, and wonder why you ever even cared that they were there.

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