Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Hard to Keep Up

Still finding it hard to keep up with all the gardening and house work that needs to be done. I need to hoe the two ground gardens (shed and west side), mow the lawn, continually prune the grapes (NO Grapes, you may not grow into the trees and the neighbours yard). Every night when I come home from work, I make myself dinner, rest for a bit, then go out and water the garden-and because I don't like my garden hose, that means water with my watering can-, then come in, maybe get in some house cleaning and off to bed. On the bright side though, my strawberries are starting to pinken up, the peonies have bloomed BEAUTIFULLY and I found a pea sized roma tomato in my tomato garden while watering, which made my day. Thankfully, I have Friday off, so my to do list will get done! Thanks for baring with the lack of posts. Still getting into the hang of having a full time job.

Happy Homesteading!!

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Rushing to Finish

It's almost the end of June, and . . .  I still have another 15 square feet of garden to plant. Well, realistically I still have to put the dirt in the 15 square foot area, but none the least, I'm getting down to the wire. I have two more packages of bush beans, one more package of carrots, a swiss chard, and two squash plants. The squash plants were actually a surprise. In the one planter box housing my celebrity tomatoes, two squash plants of some sort snuck their way into the containers I bought the tomatoes in, and so, I got free plants! Again! My butternut squash plants were a two for one (two in one container). As for the last garden space, I have waterproofed the inside, and cut out the landscaping fabric. I need to still attach the fabric, then I will be able to add the dirt. I'm hoping that I'm not cutting it too late but I should be able to grow the plants okay in this box so late. In the fall, I could rige up another greenhouse top on it to protect the plants from frost, if need be.
Just an update; The potatoes are growing good, the beans too (although, a few just didn't take properly and will not make it), my herbs are growing faster than I need them, the roma tomatoes are loving the heat, and my pumpkin is also getting pretty big. (Sigh) With my new job (have work there one week today), I have been having a hard time managing everything, like weeding, pruning, checking for ripened fruit, pests or disease, cleaning my house, etc. I would though like to take this time to point out that I have been very diligent in watering my plants, something that has never happened before. In the past, I have killed many plants by accidental drought. Never again though, as my tomatoes will be the proof!

Happy Homesteading!!

Friday, 17 June 2011

Living without hot water (relatively)

For about three weeks now, our bathroom tub hot water knob has not been working correctly, leading to a slow increase in hot water leaking from the faucet. We are now at the point where we have turned the hot water tank tap off, and have been at this point for about two weeks. What does that mean, you ask? I means we have no hot water. Well, relatively. For taking showers, doing laundry and such, we turn it on, but as soon as its done, the tap is turned right back off. Its been interesting. There have been times when I have needed to rinse out a mug because there was coffee dried in it, and hot water makes it quick (I'm terrible for leaving a quarter of a cup of coffee or latte in my to-go ceramic mug). My solution is to just boil some water. My husband though, is kind of a wuss (mind you, he does have poor circulation in his hands) once asked me while he was in the middle of washing his hands if I could go turn on the hot water for him because he didn't want to wash his hands in cold water. Silly Husband! My ingenious solution to water going down the drain from the leaky faucet is, in my opinion, awesome. I took one of our unused garbage cans, rigged up some contraption to keep it from falling over, and now it collects the leaky water. When we go to use the bathroom, we just pour the water from the garbage can to 'flush' the toilet. Recycling and reusing at its best! As of right now, the tap is suppose to be fix on Sunday. If its not, I get to phone a plumber and get it done my way. But for now, I am learning how to be resourceful in our funny situation.

Exciting New Books!

I love books! Since I have been young, I have loved reading. When I was in elementary school, I had a reading level 6 grade levels higher than the grade I was actually in. But now as an adult, I had to buy my own books, and books are expensive. That and they are kind of a waste of trees. If you are only going to read a book once, then never read it again, better to just get an electronic books (ebook) like from Kobo books. If by chance this will be a book you will use more than once, I say get the hand copy. I recently got a gift card for Indigo (Thanks Bella Vida Horse Stables) for $50. So I went and got the books I had been pining for over a year. The first book is Vegetables, Herbs and Fruits; An illustrated encyclopedia (Biggs, McVicar, Flowerdew) and Preserve It! Bottled fruits, jams & jellies, pickles and cured meats (Brown). The V, H & F book is great because it instructs you on the types of plants you can grow, the variations of them, how to grow them, harvesting and a couple of interesting recipes. I'm excited because now I know how to harvest poppy pods for poppy seeds. Preserve It! is a pretty good book. Even though it wasn't the most informative canning book, I picked it because I am a visual learner and it had pictures. I am growing green beans in my garden for the winter and I was a little concerned on how I was going to preserve them for the winter. Well, I was considering canning them but I don't have a pressure cooker. Well, Preserve It! has an easy 'recipe' for freezing them! There will be more of these books mentioned in future posts as I have a feeling they will be very handy.

Happy Homesteading!!!

Monday, 13 June 2011

Introducing my cat, Clover

Anyone who knows me, knows I love animals, with my favourite animal being my cat, Clover. Clover is an 11 years old brown tabby. She has a very lovely face but that beauty is outshined by her massive stomach. I have been asked multiple times if Clover was pregnant but seeings as she has been this fat since she was one year old and she is spayed, I'm pretty sure that she is not. She just loves food is all. She is a rather lazy cat. At 7:00am she gets her breakfast (half a can of wet food), which is then followed by after breakfast cuddles, then a few minutes outside (this is a requirement, not optional). If my husband and I make breakfast, she has to join us at the table, sitting in the area between my husband and myself, waiting for her bacon (again, this is a requirement, not optional). Then she sleeps. Normally from 10:00am till 3:30pm. Then she will come upstairs from her nap, for a cuddle and a trip outside again. At 5:00pm she starts to bug me for food. She is very good as begging. I'm normally on my laptop on the couch, where she will join me, and paw at my arm (no claws) to feed her. After supper is bath time, then more cuddles. Sometimes she gets upset when I don't go to bed on time, meaning she gets cranky. So then I have to cuddle her and put her to bed. She sleeps all night.
                                                                    Torpedo Kitty!!
Now, although she spends most of her life sleeping, she is very beneficial. And, although she is very fat, she is still very beneficial. She scares the pests out of our yard . . . or kills them, as she has demonstrated lately. She has killed a small bunny and a mouse, both of which she decided needed to be hidden in the basement. Luckily, I found them before anything went bad. She keeps the local squirrel scared to step foot into the yard during the day, and keeps an eye on the birds from picking at the berries.
                                              Clover working hard, keeping an eye on the squirrel
She is also good at keeping feet and tummies warm on a cold day. She is also the best set of listening ears I have ever encountered, and helps me stay calm (I get anxious around people and over silly situations). Will I get another cat to keep Clover company? No, because she would probably kill it (Serious Jealousy Issues!). And I will very extremely sad when she is no longer around. What does this have to do with homesteading? Not a lot. But every house needs a cat.

Happy Homesteading!!

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Plant of the Week; Strawberries

Everyone loves to go sit down outside, have a glass of iced tea or lemonade, all while soaking up some sun and munching on strawberries. Yes, strawberries are the fruit equivalent of summer. They are the perfect topper to that cheesecake, the key ingredient to that smoothie and just simple delicious in a bowl by themselves with a bit of sugar sprinkled over them. There are though two types of strawberries: Garden and wild. The ones you buy in the store are the garden variety while the ones you find while out on a hike are the wild, which though is quite rare. The fruit is much smaller than the garden variety but packs a punch of flavour.The garden variety is larger, still sweet but the taste doesn't hold a candle to wild ones. The garden strawberry originated in France in 1740, when two different variety of strawberries were cross pollinated. Each seed on a strawberry is tiny potential strawberry plant. So, it is possible to plant strawberries from seed. The method in which I use to grow my current patch, is the use of runners. Each plant will send out long 'stems' called runners, with which the end will produce roots, and so produce a new strawberry plant. This method though if used while the fruit is being grown will effect the fruit size so it is good practice to pinch off runners during fruit production. Another method is to buy a dry root. All it is a root, no dirt involved, in which one just plants in the ground. The root grows, becomes a full fledged plant and expands through the use of runners. Strawberry plants though love water, which is especially important when propagating fruit. Last year it rained at least three times a week and I had the best crop ever! With really no work involved. After a plants first year, the quality of the fruit is slightly diminished, and further will diminish over the years. For myself, this is only my second summer in this house so I am still learning the age of my plants. The strawberry fruit themselves have many uses. I, personally, use my patch to make homemade strawberry jams. They can also be frozen or canned whole (not the same as jam) for later use in smoothies, desserts, ice cream, or fresh fruit bowls. My favourite recipe is Jamie Oliver's rice pudding recipe which uses his fresh homemade strawberry jam recipe as a topper to the dessert. Creamy Rice Pudding with the Quickest Strawberry Jam on the Food Network

Happy Homesteading!!

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Homemade Bread; Bread Maker

I have always been an odd person when it comes to gifts. I am awesome for getting the perfect gift for people but I have a tendency to ask for unusual gifts. Not many women in their early 20's ask for a bread maker for Christmas. But, I'm not like everyone else (and anyone who knows will attest to this). My mother-in-law knows how much of a hippy I am so she bought me a bread maker. BEST PRESENT EVER!!!! I love my bread maker. I had tried making bread by hand but the loafs always turned out as failures. I admitted defeat and so I have my now bread maker. It has so many different options and buttons and is just so cool. I have the options of white bread, whole wheat bread, french bread, sweet bread, quick bread, low carb bread, gluten free bread, dough, artisan dough and jam. Yeah, that last one really surprised me. I haven't used the option yet but with berry season starting, I will soon! So far I have made Banana Choco Walnut bread, pizza dough and whole wheat bread. The first five loafs of whole wheat bread I made were all within the first two weeks of my using the machine. My husband loves it! He loves the bread fresh from the machine smothered in butter, and how fluffy it is. My favourite recipe from the machine is English Muffin dough. So much better than the store bought stuff. Although I'm relying on a wall plug to make my bread, it is still cheaper than buying it from the store. Not to mention, I know what is for sure in the food, no preservatives. And the best part is that you just stick the ingredients in the machine, press START, and that's it. You don't have to babysit it. I can go out, go to work, go to sleep. Doesn't matter. In the end, I get a loaf of bread! In future posts, I will be describing recipes that I have used instead of store brands, comparing taste and price.

Happy Homesteading!!

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Documentary: Food Inc

So yesterday, after a hard day's cleaning my windows and cleaning my yard, I sat down on my couch with my supper in hand to watch a movie. My movie of choice was Food Inc. My father-in-law had actually recommended it to me. The film was released on 2008 and discusses the current processing and production of raw foods in America. They cover beef, pork, chickens, grain, Monsanto, McDonalds, E. coli, etc. Within 10 minutes of watching the movie, I had already changed my views of my food. I was slightly aware of how possibly dangerous the meat packing industry was, trying very hard to keep my eyes closed and myself dumb to the facts, but the raw facts and information playing out before my laptop screen literally opened my eyes. I don't want to spoil this movie by going in depth into all the horrifying facts and details of it all because I want other people to see and learn. I know now that I am going to get my meat from a local farm, already having chosen the farm. McDonalds farms (www.mcdonaldfarm.ca) is located in  Cartwright, Manitoba. This is their description of who they are and what they do

McDonald Farm is your source for safe, healthy, and nutritious grass-fed beef, pork, and lamb raised in a natural, low stress environment.
When you choose to eat McDonald Farm grass-fed beef, pork and lamb, you are improving animal welfare, allowing a farm family to continue to make a living from the land, and giving your family the healthiest possible food.  It's a win-win situation.
I am hoping that by the end of the summer that I may be able to purchase an order of a half cow, in which I get hamburger (approx 60 lbs in 1 lb packages), around 35 lbs of sirloin tip roasts and steaks, rump roasts, and round roasts and steaks, 20 lbs of chuck roasts and steaks, 15 lbs of ribeye, 10 lbs of sirloin steak, 15 lbs of t-bone steak, 15 lbs of stew beef, 6 lbs of smokies, and some soup bones. I'm already growing my garden as a way to exert control over my vegetables. I'm planning on collecting the seeds from my best this summer to save for next years garden, which will give me freedom from the seed industry. 
Anyways, the point is, watch this movie! It is an eye-opener and is so informative. 

Happy Homesteading!!

Monday, 6 June 2011

Wild Edibles; Stinging Nettles

If you have ever walked through a little wooded area only to come out with a burning sensation on your hands or legs, you have unknowingly encountered stinging nettles. Stinging nettles are a herbaceous plant, covered in small stinging hairs, and it is those little hairs that cause the burning. The plant can grow up to 2 meters high, dies each winter and spreads through rhizomes. To some people I can see them seeing this plant as a pest. But if you look past the stinging nettles of the stinging nettles, you will discover a wonderful plant.
Stinging nettles have a past with native americans/canadians, being one of their foods they consumed during spring, when other foods were scarce. In the spring to early summer (about three weeks ago), the plants are about one foot high and at their best for harvesting. The leaves of this plant can be added to sauces, soups or eaten sauteed. It is high in Vitamin A, Vitamin C, iron, potassium, manganese and calcium. The leaves can also be used to make nettle tea, which leads to the most important property of stinging nettles. Their medicinal use! Stinging nettle juice has diuretic properties. Nettle shampoo is used to control dandruff. Nettles have been shown to ease eczema symptoms. In the past, fresh nettle was used to stop bleeding, caused by its high Vitamin K content. But, when dried, has no Vitamin K, so it used as a blood thinner. If one suffers from arthritis, purposefully handling the fresh plant (stinging and all) can reduce ones symptoms. There are more positives to this plant than there is the one negative.
I have used gardening gloves and garden clippers, gone out to my local harvesting woods and collected myself a big bag of it. Back at home, I fill up the sink with warm water, then dump the nettles in. Using a wooden spoon, I make sure all the nettles are submerged. The warm water deactivates the stinging hairs, so after half an hour, I can take them out using my hands no problem. They are then ready to steam or sautee, put into baggies and freeze. (Just a note, the water is suppose to turn a rust colour.) Although I find the plant a bit too earthy for my taste just plainly sauteed, they are great in soups and sauces. The best part is that it's free!!!

Happy Homesteading!!

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Plant of the Week; Roma Tomatoes

Roma tomatoes are an oblong shaped fruit, perfect for making sauces, which is why they are commonly referred to as Italian tomatoes (as Italians use this type of tomato for their classic sauces). The fruit contains less seeds and juice, and more of the flesh. It is open pollinated (pollinated by insects or birds), and averages at 4 feet high, with fruit averaging a weight of 4 ounces.  The maturation time is one average 76 days after transplant and they are a determinate plant, producing their fruit all at around the same time. For some, this is not the tomato plant for them because of their determinate state. If you want fresh tomatoes all season long, go with an indeterminate plant. Roma plants though are excellent producers, producing on average anywhere form 50-200 tomatoes per plant or 5 to 10 pounds per plant. Many of today's vines are verticillum and fusarium wilt resistant (both types of fungi), and are much hardier than other varieties of tomatoes, with the ability to survive early blight. To assist in preventing later blight, spraying the tomatoes with compost tea covers the plant in helpful microorganisms, leaving no room for blight to make home. Blossom end rot though, is a calcium deficiency of the soil, and there is no way to correct this, but you can prevent it by adding calcium into your soil and continuing to fertilize throughout the summer to ensure adequate calcium.
I chose this type of tomato for my garden because of its abundant flesh, perfect for canning. Last year I grew Juliet tomatoes, which are smaller, and canned them. Even with blossom rot and blight, I managed to can 19 (250ml) jars, and that was only about 25% of my possible yield. This year, I decided on Romas because of their great production of fruit, buying 12 of them. If all goes according to plan, I will have almost 120 pounds of tomatoes by the end of the season!

Happy Homesteading!

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Not Enough Room for Food?

Although my yard is more than most when it comes to providing, it is lacking in space for annual plantings of vegetables. I have my west garden which is large and protected from wind, but it is limited to only 3 hours of sun per day. Not enough for a plant. Then I have my shed garden which gets over 7 hours of light each day, good drainage and is fairly sheltered. Problem though, is last year I grew tomatoes in this particular garden, and last year was terrible for blight! So I was lost at where to plant my tomatoes because my west garden is too shady and my shed garden was too blighty. Solution! I built myself my own garden boxes! Now, Home and Garden Centres are more than stocked with these prefabricated items, BUT they cost anywhere from $100 - $300. To save money (and give myself something to do) I decided to build them myself. It is convenient when your husband works for a business that has a warehouse, with said warehouse having wood pallets to dispose of. So I got four wood pallets, brought them home and (to the best of my ability) pulled the nails out of them, and piled up some pieces of wood. I had spent the previous evening drawing out my plants for how large I wanted them, and researched how deep they needed to be. The first garden box design was for 48"L x 20"W x 12" D. The second garden box design was for 48"L x 36"W x 12"D. I knew my final product would not be this exact but I needed something to be based off of. I would build four corner posts, screw in the side slates, then add support beams for the bottom, and finally screw in the bottom slates. For those who have never used a circular saw before, I highly recommend it (with the use of ear plugs though). 

Once the frames were built, I needed to them water proof it. So good old Google assisted in my purchaser of foundation coating and primer to use as the inner waterproofing. I destroyed a good paint brush in the process but it was well worth the death (God rest its soul). Now because the wood I used was not perfect, nor am I near perfect, I needed to cut out landscaping fabric to line the inside to prevent the soil from escaping. A handy note is to ensure that you have staples for your staple gun or else the process of tacking on landscaping fabric becomes cumbersome. Then same the tedious task of transporting purchased top soil from the back of my truck one pail at a time to my garden boxes. Luckily, I have a very ingenious husband who loaded up our garbage bin on wheels for easier and faster transport. The last step was to plant! 

So, I have one garden box that is housing 12 roma tomato plants, accompanied by marigolds for pest prevention, while the smaller garden box is housing 6 sweet red pepper plants. I was hoping to build a second box to grow pole beans on, but after the work it took to build these two (that and the fact that I noticed I bought a package of bush beans not pole beans when I got home), I will attempt it next summer. All in all, these garden boxes cost me $30 in rust proof screws, $10 in foundation coating and primer (which I still have over half a can of), and $25 in top soil. Together, probably about $70 (including one purchase of a Starbucks iced latte of course) for two garden boxes that will last probably about 10 years if I tend them properly. Not only did I save myself a couple hundred dollars, it was a good learning experience and lots of fun. 

Happy Homesteading!

Rain Barrel

With all this very wet weather which only a duck can appreciate, I thought today I would discuss rain barrels! Rain barrels are very handy for anyone with a garden. I use mine to fill my watering can to water my smaller individual plants, or I hook up my hose to the water pump that I have submerged in my barrel to use to cover a larger area of plants. The hose and water pump also come in handy to transfer the water from the rain barrel to my pond. My outdoor hook-up for pumped water is on the right side of my house, while most of my plants are on the left side of my house. So why pay to get a long enough hose to reach around my house and pay for the water, when I can use the smaller hose I already have and use free rain barrel water! Now my rain barrel is butt ugly. It's just a white chemical barrel with a very badly cut hole in the top for access, but it does the job. 

There are more handsome models out there at any retail home and garden store, but if this one works, why replace it! 

Happy Homesteading!!