All winter I was dreaming of building some river rock, raised- bed gardens in the backyard. I had everything planned out in my head and had read many articles on mortars and techniques in preparation for when the snow disappeared.
We were going to have a mixture of reclaimed logs and stone to try and keep everything natural looking.
We still might.
For now, we are going to work with the logs. They are free and doable.
As usual, I forget to take photos when I’m doing things, so I rely on Gerri to document our progress. I don’t think I even took a “before” picture. Luckily she showed up before I finished, or it would just be me trying to describe the process to you.
I suppose I found the stonework daunting, more than expensive. It’s hard to admit that, mostly to myself, but there it is. I kept saying that I was going to buy cement and mix it up for the footings, but I never did it. There was always something else that the money was needed for. The rock is free, but when I started to think about building the wall, and the sheer weight of the rock I would be wheelbarrowing into the backyard, I sort of froze up. Mentally and emotionally.
I can’t think of anyone I would rather be beside when I’m feeling down or inadequate. Even just having her near me gives me everything I need to keep going. I love when she comes out and tells me to wait, just so she can take a selfie of us, or asks why I’m doing something a certain way.
Sometimes it’s just nice to take a break, put my arm around her and stare at the tomatoes while we cool down and talk about things we would like to do if we had the money.
It’s never anything grandiose or even expensive. It’s simple stuff, like a rock waterfall and a little fish pond or to replace our dilapidated sheds. A little piece of property and a sawmill.
We really don’t want much.
We talk about how nice it would be if we could use the property behind us to plant some gardens in. It gets excellent sun and under all that grass is a gravel parking lot. It used to be a theatre but now sits empty, except for a room upstairs that the cable company uses to broadcast it’s twenty-six channels from.
Don’t tell them, but I cut down a big poplar on their property last year that was full of carpenter ants. I didn’t know about the ants until it hit the ground. The real reason I cut it down was that it was blocking all of our sun. We threw the branches and limbs in this garden as sort of a hugelkultur garden.
We also threw in our old compost pile. It wasn’t completely broken down but mostly. Just like us.
It was filled with kitchen scraps, old chicken bedding and last years tomato plants, along with an uncommon amount of ants. I was thinking about how to safely poison all those ants but then I thought better of it. They really weren’t hurting anything, and possibly were helping break things down.
I did take a few particularly infested clumps and threw them in with the chickens.
Circle of life and all that.
We mixed in 4 loads of wood chips to the mix and then got ourselves prepared for shovelling the trailer load of manure into wheelbarrows and moving them to the backyard and into the new garden.
That was when I had an idea!
You know, I never thought I’d make it to forty, but here I am at forty-six and I feel like my life has just started. I finally feel like I have a goal, and I also have someone to strive for that goal with.
It took me a long time to find someone who appreciates the simple things in life. A crackling fire and some s’mores, pruning some tomatoes, or just getting high in her fort and dancing. She’s so much more than I had ever hoped for, yet feels like she’s sometimes not enough.
Even though she’s the reason I even want to do anything. The reason this got built, and anything after it.
I’ve finally found someone who appreciates old, weathered wood, and realizes that rich soil is one of the most valuable things that we can have in our lives.
Hi there, folks. For anyone that follows our WordPress blog, you may have noticed that we haven’t been posting there lately. It’s been a few months and we’re sorry, but we’ve been putting everything we get time for on our Steemit blog. The only reason is really that we get rewarded in a cryptocurrency called Steem for posting there.
The good news is that some developers got together and created a plugin called SteemPress. Now we are able to post in WordPress and it will simultaneously post to our Steemit account.
So without further ado, we will get down to business.
We have been planting everything in containers and crates we have found at the dump or acquired over the years. We had three small raised beds, but they weren’t really working as well as we had hoped so we pulled them out.
Now we needed something to put in their spot but we didn’t want to spend a bunch of money.
Luckily we live in an area of abundance.
So we hooked on to our little trailer and headed for the lake.
We didn’t want to overload it, so we took what we figured we would need for an 8’x4′ garden bed.
We were planning on doing some stone beds, but the sheer amount of work was daunting. This provided a free chance to try something that would take a lot less time and effort, but mostly it doesn’t require much skill.
I have never worked with stone before and Gerri would like to get some beds in this summer, so it looks like we will be starting with wood.
I figure we can get enough for an 8×4 bed every trip to the bay, so we may get another two or three beds in this summer. It’s somewhere we enjoy going, just to hang out, so now we can feel productive at the same time.
As for this bed, stay tuned to see how it turns out.
These are the last of our canned peaches from last season and they are the best we have ever done.
The secret was adding cinnamon to the syrup.
Before that, we would add different mints from the garden, but this year Gerri went with cinnamon and it was a total winner. She just threw some sticks in as she boiled it and voila! It was a wonderful treat all winter long.
Now we are looking forward to canning two cases this year.
Come on, who likes to ration yourself and still run out? Not us.
We were torn between it and the All-American canner, but in the end, we went for the better value. I would have preferred to buy something made in North America, but we couldn’t justify the cost. I’m sure that over many years it would pay for itself, but even after canning 400 jars of food, it is still adding $1 to the cost of each jar.
So far, we are very happy with our choice. I think that it has paid for itself a few times over, when you figure out the savings we have been able to take advantage of.
Our very first batch was months after we bought the canner. There was a big sale on pork loins for $1.77/lb and we bought two at about nine pounds each. We were going to cut them up into boneless chops and have a whole bunch of meals for a very reasonable price.
It turned out that we didn’t have quite enough freezer space so we decided to try out our new pressure canner. We cubed the pork up and put roughly a pound in each pint jar. We then put a pinch of various spices into the jars to see which combinations work well.
It turns out they all did.
We tried Montreal steak spice, onion and garlic powder, masala paste, chili flakes and a few others I can’t remember. The results were fantastic. We opened a can that night, because we were too excited, and we weren’t disappointed. We immediately started talking about how easy and delicious it was, and how much money we could save by buying and canning meat when it was at a heavily reduced price.
Then we started planning. We had a bag of chicken breasts that we got on sale, but after trying them and not enjoying their texture or flavour, we decided to can them in chunks to free up some more of our limited freezer space.
One taco Tuesday we opened a jar and mixed in a couple spoonfuls of taco seasoning and stirred it up in a frying pan. It was the best taco filling we had ever made.
We also canned up some ground beef with taco spice in it and it worked out very well.
Speaking of ground meat… Our neighbour had shot an elk and didn’t have enough space in her freezer, so she gave us a five lb pack of mooseburger from her hunt last year. We mixed in some ground pork, frozen corn and peas, taters and seasoning for delicious stew or shepherd’s pie filling.
At Thanksgiving we cooked a fifteen pound turkey and ended up with tons of leftovers. Gerri sliced up a bunch of celery, onion, potatoes and carrots, threw in the meat and topped it up with broth.
I tell you, we’ve been very happy with this one on these cold winter days. A quart of that and a couple of fresh made buns and we’ve got more than the two of us canshould eat.
Another excellent use was jars of potatoes. Drain them and throw them in the skillet with some butter and onions. Voila! Some very fine homefries are a great addition to your breakfast.
I know that we’ve been focusing on dinner stuff, but look!
We got a case of Okanagan peaches and put them in jars with a pinch of cinnamon in the syrup. They go great with a bowl of Gerri’s homemade ice cream. (Which I might add is better than any we’ve bought at a store.) They are even better than the ones we did with mint last year, and I loved every last jar of those ones.
We have tons more, but I think you get the point. We encourage you to go out there and get canning. You don’t need to have a homestead to do this, either. You can take great advantage of sales and give yourself a sense of freedom knowing that if there was an emergency, you aren’t going to starve. At least not for a few days.
Needless to say, we are very happy with this canner.
While it would be nice to have the All-American,
we can’t really justify it on our budget. I guess if the Presto dies for some reason, but I can’t see that happening in the next twenty years.
Yep, the little farm is going quite well, in my opinion. Other than when the screen busted out of my top drawer, that is.
I think I had weighed it down too much, because I kept adding to it, and not thinking about the strain on the screen and glue. When large worms, pupae, and beetles started showing up in the drawer below, I reached in and saw the problem. Now everything is in the large bottom drawer, at least until I fix this up.
Good thing I bought the sieve set.
This isn’t the exact same as the one we bought, but they don’t seem to have it any more. It was about $10 cheaper than this one, and free shipping, so you should shop around to see what you can find. The nice thing is that we use it to sift the worm castings for the red worms as well. It works fantastic for that.
Anyhow, I also wanted to mention our project worms.
You may or may not have heard that mealworms can safely digest styrofoam, and turn it into soil-safe frass(poop). The only problem is that nobody has tested the actual worms to see if they are toxic. Well, they might have, but because they didn’t like their findings, maybe they didn’t publish them.
I’m just kidding. I shouldn’t accuse science of wrong doing, just because I suspect it. I just don’t understand why you would test the frass to make sure that it’s not toxic, but wouldn’t test a handful of the worms while you are at it.
I mean, you have the equipment right there. Literally. You just tested the worm poop with it.
Anyhow, that just means that I will have to keep this farm segregated from the other.
We don’t want the chickens to be eating potentially toxic food, and we sure don’t want to sell toxic worms to our customers.
Yeah, you heard me. We have three customers that occasionally buy some worms for their pets. We’re not going to get rich off of it, but I am socking each $3 away until I can buy this with it.
Eventually I want to go to this one, but at close to $700, it will be a while.
While we can’t go to full on homesteading right away, we are trying to acquire the skills and tools we will need for when we do get there. To finance the purchases, we aren’t using our wages from our regular jobs, but I took a very part-time maintenance job that bought us the distiller and we have the eggs bartered away until this summer, but after that we will be able to put the money from a couple dozen a week into the fund. We will also probably break even soon from the soap business, but I think that anything we make from that will go back into upgrading our equipment to some more efficient systems.
Soon we will be getting a pressure canner, but we are still researching which way to go with that. Apparently the Presto 23 quart is not as high quality as the All American 21 1/2 quart, but there is much less maintenance, and it’s less than half the price. Many people have had their Presto for over twenty years, so we figured that the savings are worth the risk. I don’t see them at thrift stores very often, but I don’t know if it would be worth chancing a used one that you don’t it’s history.
We are also looking at food dehydrators as well, so if anyone has a recommendation for anything, we are always happy for any information we can get. Amazon reviews are okay, but actually hearing, firsthand, of other people’s experience is the best way to gauge quality and usefulness.
We got a big box of fragrance oils in, and amongst them were some holiday scents that we hope to get out before next spring. There’s some pretty nice ones, so we have been smelling bottle caps for a week or so. Nobody has passed out from the fumes yet, so that’s good.
We also had the fall fair last weekend, where we entered Wildfire, the shampoo bar, and Gerri put in some red pepper jelly.
The soap and shampoo got first place and the jelly got third, so we were pretty proud and happy while we manned the Dirty Bird booth there.
Next year we hope that someone else will put in some soap and shampoo to go up against us.
Oh yeah, our friend Sarah made us a shelf and a bunch of soap holders. These are them.
So the last update told you that Red was laying, but now Henny P is laying too!
She also uses the nesting box, which pleases me to no end, but the really cool news is that I noticed a trend that I hope keeps happening.
Red started eating earthworms and ants, and a few days later she was pumping out eggs. Same thing for Henny P, so when I was digging out the slabs of stone in the walkway, I was pleased as punch to see one of the Barred Rocks steal a worm from Red’s beak and gobble it down. Then she started actually standing her ground with the Rhode Islands and digging up her own worms. Yahoooo!
I am guessing that it has to do with them knowing that their bodies need protein to keep up with the egg laying, just like the oyster shell that I see them peck at now and then. I will probably look that up, but not right now, as I want to see if I’m right about the trend on my own.
We are starting to get the amount of eggs that we use, so it shouldn’t be long before we are getting abundant in them. I hope that leads to more cakes and other treats being baked, but I would settle for just knowing we have enough food for us and maybe a friend.
It’s a pretty good feeling when things work out.
I told you about the apricot and plum trees, but I had no idea at the time about how amazing the plums were going to be. We didn’t think they would amount to much at all.
This is what we shook off today.
Altogether we have taken about three gallons of plums from what we thought was a waste of a tree. I don’t know what kind of plum they are, but they are very sweet and juicy. I am going to try rooting a few cuttings from it, and planting a few seeds, because if it is hardy for this area, then I want to keep it going.
It is also pretty diseased now, so in case this is a last hurrah, I want to have some sort of stock for the future. I would hate to think that it will last for years, only to lose it in the winter.
Since Blue got away in the spring, and decided to run rampant through the mountains, he has slowed down considerably. He did go for a little toot through the neighbourhood last weekend, but other than that he sticks pretty close to his folks.
We aren’t quite sure what he tangled with, but his slight limp hasn’t gone away, and he doesn’t like running for much more than a kilometre or two any more. We are okay with that.
One thing that I was worried about when we got the chickens, is that he would always try to chase them, but after a bit of gentle correcting, he is actually more timid with them than they are with him. Unless he’s running towards them, then they get out of the way.
I actually think that he would make a pretty good farm dog, and we hope that he makes it long enough to see that. He’s slowing down a lot, but I like to think that he’s just pacing himself for when he has acres to roam leisurely about.
It’s been pretty busy here this summer with the chickens, worms, mealworms, soap, and both of us working full time, so it’s been hard to get in here to post anything.
I guess I can start with the surprise apricot trees.
We were told that the three fruit trees in the yard were supposed to be ornamental pear trees or something like that, but last summer one produced some measly plums, and this year the other two produced two different breeds of apricot.
Needless to say we were surprised and excited. We have been picking up grounders for jams, sauces, and liquor, because the trees are quite shaded and the only fruit ripening was twenty feet in the air and out of reach for our little stepladder. This fall they will be getting a pretty severe hack job to get them to a manageable level, but until then we will try to make the best use of their bounty.
We have also registered Dirty Bird Soap with the province, and will be applying for a business license with the district this week.
This means that we are really loving it, and plan to keep at it as long as we can be creative and viable. It’s not something that we are planning on getting rich with, but when we are retired and self sustaining, it will definitely help us out with not having to work as a Walmart greeter to make ends meet.
Not that there is anything wrong with that, but it would mean that we would have to be close to a Walmart, and who wants that in their life?
After a great couple of Saturdays at the Hudson’s Hope Farmer’s Market, we had to spend this weekend making seven batches to play catch up with. We have run out of a couple and almost ran out of a few more.
This isn’t a complaint, it’s excitement that you feel coming through these words. We get pretty stoked up about how our creations are received, so we were pretty much vibrating as we churned out the loaves this weekend.
Notice how light our canning shelves are looking? That’s getting remedied right shortly, because we hit up the Okanagan fruit lady for twenty pounds each of peaches, roma tomatoes, and black plums.
Here’s what most of the peaches look like now.
We’ll finish the tomato sauce tomorrow, and the plums should be ready in a few days, so that will give us a couple of nights for soaping, gardening, and maybe even eating a couple of meals this week.
That’s pretty decent, if you ask me.
All in all it was an exhausting weekend of soap, rendering beeswax, canning and trying to manage the rest of life, but as I sit here in this filthy kitchen, typing out this post and staring at what will garnish a lot of bowls of ice cream this winter, I can’t help but to smile and dream of when I can be this kind of rushed every day.
When you have the right partner in crime, every day is an adventure.
Wildfires are no laughing matter, and as we speak, there are three burning in our area. One of them was/is just a few miles from our house right now, but the 80 km/hr winds are taking it past us, and not into town.
For the moment. You know how wind can be.
When we first were told to go look up the hill this evening, there was talk of packing some bags and getting ready to leave. Gerri started looking for things to pack up, and went into the bedroom to make sure that wallets and ID were ready to go, and to pack some clothes. You know, just to be ready. She’s really good like that. She likes to be ready for things.
I’m a different sort of bird. I like to think that I’m born ready, and any emergency will test my ability to adapt. Where she might take four lighters, I rely on the few times I made a bow drill as a kid and got a fire going that way.
In perfect conditions.
What I’m getting at is that when possible evacuation was mentioned, she started planning our escape in her head, but I was just sitting there thinking I would like to write a post and if the emergency workers came around to tell us to book out of here, I would grab the family, dogs and Cheeto included, and as much of the soap and soap making equipment as I could, and head for higher ground. I would probably take my other pair of fat pants and a couple of shirts as well, because I may need to change in the next week, but basically I’m ready to go. I have the Swiss Army knife in my pocket, and a $50 bill. I know there is enough gas in the van to get us at least 300 kilometres away, so I had no worries there.
Good to go.
We then went up the hill from the apartment building in the first photo, to our friend’s place to see how close it was getting.
As we were going home, Gerri looked at me and said “Thinking of having to pack up go like that, really makes me realise how much we need to purge.”
10-4 on that Little Mama. I read you, loud and clear.
Yep, that’s right. We bought half a pig from a local farmer, and I asked him to save the fat from it, so we could render it down for soap. I would never have thought of it, but the lady we get our eggs from had mentioned it to us one day this fall, and we decided, after reading several accounts of how nice the soap is, to try a batch or two and check it out for ourselves.
So this morning I started the process. She had told me the basics of putting some water in a pot, then put in the fat. Seemed simple enough, so I took my large hunks of frozen fat and threw them in the pot. Then I started to watch a YouTube video on rendering lard the proper way.
I was quickly running to the pot, pulling the chunks of fat out, and cutting them up into small pieces.
That was a handy tip to know. As it was, the rendering took about ten hours, but apparently it would have taken much longer if I had left them in huge chunks. Everyone on the internet says that it is way better to get it ground up by the butcher, but those people maybe didn’t get one of these when their Nan died.
She used to grind up everything with that thing. I haven’t used it since it was in her kitchen, but if we end up with a bunch more fat, I am going to pull it down and put it to work. Even if it’s just for nostalgia’s sake.
So after a day of hanging out on the stove we ended up with this.
So this weekend, we will be trying out the lard in soap. There are tons of recipes out there, so we will try a few of them and see. If any of you have tried it before, maybe you could let us know what worked, or didn’t work, for you. We would really appreciate and hints or tricks that you have.
We would also love to hear any scents that really get you going. For me, it’s always been patchouli, but I really love other woodsy scents as well. That’s what perks me up during a morning shower. It makes me feel like I’m in an old Irish Spring commercial.
Except it’s in India.
But with more green, and cleaner water.
I’m maybe not as simple as I think.
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