My Backyard Grocery Store

I’ve always been mildly obsessed with the idea of doing everything from scratch. Perhaps it was all those hours playing Oregon Trail as a middle schooler. (Anyone from my generation remember that?) Perhaps it was our games of make-believe in which we had to survive for long periods of time with little provision. Perhaps it was my limited girl-scout years during which I dreamed of cooking from scratch over the campfire.

Who knows what inspired my inner wanna-be pioneer woman. Whatever the cause, I’ve often asked myself, “Where would I get this item if I couldn’t just go to the store and buy it?”

My Backyard Grocery Store

In recent years, we’ve been trying more and more to make our backyard provide more of our food than the grocery store does. In reality, we have a long way to go. But we have made some positive strides towards that goal.

Those times, however, that I am able to feed our family almost entirely from our own food production are immensely satisfying to me. An egg frittata made with our hen’s eggs, our goat’s milk, and backyard green onions and asparagus is to me, far more than just a meal. It’s a huge accomplishment, representative of years of skill-learning, homestead establishment, and the fruit of daily labors. I eat that frittata with joy in my heart, knowing that so much work of our hands went into it.

Call me a weirdo, but I get a thrill out of it.

I want to make our backyard even more of a “grocery store” this year. Here’s what we’ve got so far, and what we’d like to do to make it a little closer to self-sufficient.

Produce

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Each year, my husband plants and manages a large garden in which we grow potatoes, tomatoes, squash, peppers, radishes, beets, eggplants, cabbage, carrots, various greens, herbs cucumbers, attempted melons and corn, asparagus, green beans, and I can’t remember what else.

Garden foods that have lasted us almost all year when properly preserved or stored: tomatoes, potatoes, winter squash, green beans, greens, and some dried herbs. Foods we never have enough of: carrots, beets, peppers, and corn. We added some new beds this year to expand the quantity of food we grow.

As far as fruit, we have some old, out-of-shape fruit sources on the property: gnarly apple trees, an overgrown quince, a diseased elderberry, and wild blackberry bushes. Over the past couple of years, my husband has planted several new fruiting trees and shrubs: two apples, two peaches, a self-pollinating cherry, new elderberry from cuttings, blueberries, and raspberries. It will take several years for the fruit tree investment to pay off, but once it does, it will be lovely.

And lest we forget, there’s always foraging and partnerships with neighbors. We get more free greens than we grow, enjoy wild fruits from abandoned roadside trees, and gladly take extra fruits from friends and neighbors who have neither the time nor desire to gather and preserve them. Thank you to them!

Meat/Proteins

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Chickens are a gateway animal, they say, and it’s true. We started with a small flock of birds for egg production, and have expanded this year with several more laying hens. We also acquired a couple of extra roosters in the mix, which will go in the stew pot since we learned to butcher birds last fall.

We also ventured into the world of meat rabbits this winter. To be fair, I’ve never eaten rabbit. But I suppose I’ll learn to! Rabbits, they say, give you the most lean protein per dollar spent on raising them. That’s why they’re a small-time meat production favorite. We currently have six baby rabbits that will be ready for processing in about 6-8 weeks. I’ll be honest- I’m nervous about the process- but I’m grateful for the provision for our family’s food.

We are also fortunate to live on a property bordering a fully stocked trout stream near a great fishing spot. We don’t always get a ton of fish, but it’s really nice when we do. We usually drop our other dinner plans and cook one fresh whenever my hubby returns with a few in his bucket.

As far as plant-based proteins, we happen to have black walnut and chestnut trees on our property, which are both a blessing and a big fat mess when all those nuts start dropping! 😉 The chestnut doesn’t have a neighboring tree close by to fertilize it, so we only get a small amount each year, and the walnuts are a pain to process, but hey- at least they’re there. My husband planted three hazelnut shrubs last spring, so we are hoping that those will be a more productive and manageable nut source in a couple years.

Dairy

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We have a goat, of course! (If you’re new to the blog, you’ll have to read the story behind that one.) Our learning curve was steep, however, and I have to say that her milk production is now less than ideal because of our idiocy getting used to the whole process. Add to that the fact that my daughter drinks ALL of her milk every day, and I can’t say that she adds much to our self-sufficiency dreams. Ha-ha.

However, when she was in high production, we had enough to give our family milk for the week and make simple cheeses at the end of it. If we bred her again and did the milking thing right this time, I believe she could really provide most of our milk, cream, butter, and cheese needs. (Gotta love the high butterfat content of Nigerian Dwarf milk.)

Grains

This is one area that I have to say we don’t grow much of our own. We made our own cornmeal last year from our corn (success!) and have experimented with making flour out of curly dock seeds. But when it comes down to it, I just love good old bread. Thankfully, flour is relatively cheap, and a sourdough loaf is a delicious way to spend your pennies. I suppose I could learn to live without…. but fresh bread calls to me in such a way that it would be very difficult to do so!

Canned & Frozen Goods

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We make our own! It’s easy to learn basic canning skills, and though the materials to do so may seem like a bit of an investment, they pay themselves off quickly if you’re preserving a lot. Also, many fruits, vegetables, and cooked meals are easily preserved in the freezer. Best of all, by preserving at home, you can control what goes into your convenience foods. I can pretty much guarantee that your homemade frozen pizza crust or rice casserole will be a heck of a lot healthier than the store-bought version.

I would be amiss if I did not mention (yet again) my new favorite preservation method… fermentation! Hop over to this post if you have no idea what I’m talking about or if it sounds nasty. Fermentation is easy, healthy, and surprisingly addicting.

And that’s pretty much it, folks. Of course, I buy personal items like t.p. and toothpaste from the grocery store- and there’s some of those things I can make at home- but most of them don’t come from the backyard. And I still haven’t gotten into the leaf-toilet-paper thing yet. 😉

What about you? What foods do you source at home instead of from the store?

Meat Eaters Against Treating Poor Animals Like Meat

We, the coalition, Meat Eaters Against Treating Poor Animals Like Meat (hereafter referred to as MEATPALM), are ready to take a stand.

You heard us. We eat meat. But we can’t stomach the idea of you killing an animal yourself. We believe that animals should always be treated like animals–never like meat. The meat on our dinner plate is different.

We have words for you people who choose to butcher your own meat.  Words like: “mean,” cruel,” “heartless,” and “beastly.” How could anyone be so cruel as to raise an animal just to eat it?!?

MEATPALM2

(Amy from A Farmish Kind of Life)

Now, we have nothing against people who get their meat humanely (in a grocery store); eating meat like that is healthy, normal–it’s the people that get their meat from killing animals we can’t stomach.

Chickens who live a happy life in the sun only to end up in the pot are the objects of emotional abuse–there are no two ways about it. How could you earn their trust, their love, only to slaughter them later? No healthy, compassionate person could do a thing like that. No one has the right to take a life like that.

Sure, chicken owners give a good speech. They talk about giving the birds pasture and sunshine, knowing their animals’ health individually, and dispatching them humanely. We all know It’s just a farce to drum up attention. To cover their evil deeds. To hide their bloodlust. Normal people eat chicken nuggets, chicken fingers–not chicken pets.

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(Jess from The 104 Homestead)

Home-butchers need to realize that animals no longer have to be treated like meat.

Thanks to amazing scientific and societal advances, no one actually needs to butcher an animal for food anymore. You can buy your poultry, pork, and steaks at Walmart, where no animal was harmed and products were manufactured in a sterile environment. We have incredible machines and computer controlled factories now–nobody has to get blood on their hands for food. That was our grandparents’ problem, not ours.

You home-farmers are sick, backwards cavemen. C’mon. We live in the 21st century, people. Animals can just be our friends now, not our food.

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(Abi from They’re Not Our Goats)

We know this may be hard for you backyard butchers to grasp, but you have to realize that your urge to kill animals for meat is something you can control. It is something 21st century humans have overcome.  Just focus on the meat in the grocery store. It has no hair. No feathers. No happy cluck. It is clean and ready for consumption, sealed in plastic. That’s meat. Think of meat that way and you’ll never have the urge to kill innocent animals again. It’s simple, really.

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We can rest in peace knowing that this chicken wasn’t harmed.

Unlike yours, that you butchered in your backyard. You disgusting person, you.

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(Patrick of Survival at Home)

 “Ground beef” and “pork chops” are okay to buy, cook, and consume, but cows and pigs should not be treated that way.

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(Bonnie of The Not-So-Modern Housewife)

Yes, we, the people of MEATPALM, have come a realization:

If we don’t think about where our meat came from then we can eat it without guilt, shame, or hesitation. We can buy it from a store whenever we want it, we can get it on super sale, and we can toss the scraps without feeling bad. You see, we are modern, refined, cultured individuals. We don’t have to stoop to the level of the butcher, the farmer, or the hunter.

But as for you people who use animals for food?

Shame on you.

MEATPALM- meat eaters against butchering

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In case you were wondering, this post is satire. It’s not meant to be critical of vegetarians, vegans, or omnivores. I respect your individual dietary choices. It’s not meant to suggest that everyone has to or should butcher their own meat. It is meant, however, to point out the problems with the view that it’s okay to eat an animal but it’s not okay to participate in killing it.

Believe it or not, many of the objections I voice in this post are paraphrases or exact quotes of real-life arguments from people I or my fellow HBN bloggers have faced personally. These ideas are wildly untenable for the meat-eater. 

I believe in knowing where my food comes from and in taking part in its production in whatever capacity I am able to. I believe in raising animals compassionately, healthily, and humanely. I believe that meat animals can be a beautiful provision for my family, and I am thankful for them. But most importantly, I value people over differences of opinion. If we disagree, we can still be friends. 🙂 

Many thanks to my friends for donating photos, and to my husband for editing/co-authoring this post!

In My Other Life

I wonder what the neighbors think, I thought as I sat cross-legged in my yard, my hair pinned up in twists on top of my head, foraging a colander full of dandelions for meals. I carried my weedish bounty indoors, then returned outside to climb into the chicken run in my skinny jeans and cute white flats. (How practical.) Then I came inside to do my make-up.

No, I haven’t gone crazy. I’m curling my hair. #nocurlingiron #curlyhair #concert #weirdo

A photo posted by Abigail Zieger (@theyrenotourgoats) on

Now, I’m not generally a make-up girl. But I had a concert to sing in that night, so eyeliner & such was my duty.

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(We got to sing a little of Tchaikovsky’s Pique Dame that night.) 

I’m often practicing vocalises or memorizing an aria while I’m milking the goat or shoveling chicken poop. It’s a good time to work on it, ya know? It’s just how things have been going around here- keeping our heads above water with the homestead by day, practicing music by night.

Music has been consuming more and more of our time recently- which has been wonderful! We’ve started taking on more private students, teaching preschool music classes, and looking for more professional performance work.

What’s more, my husband has spent the last two months or so rebuilding our garage and turning half of it into a private studio. We’ve been teaching and recording out this space, and it is really amazing to have a zone completely dedicated to our music making. It’s not quite complete yet, but it’s coming along. 

Room in process. #musicstudio #1950s #redcouch #secondhand #painting

A photo posted by Abigail Zieger (@theyrenotourgoats) on

The painting in this picture is one of my father-in-law’s masterpieces, and we are so blessed by his generosity to be able to hang it on our wall.

And, of course, I haven’t been blogging as much because I had another business website to build! You can check it out here if you’d like, and/or support us by giving us a like on Facebook here. 😉

Never fear- I won’t be going anywhere. l love to have dirt under my nails, and all the stage time in the world won’t change that for me. To me, working with my hands and making music go hand in hand. The balance of labor and song make the days pleasant, homey, happy.

I love it.

 

 

Gardening Like a Ninja! (Book Review)

A beautifully landscaped front yard is a wonder to behold–  flowers in complementary colors, trees and shrubs in staggered heights and textures, gorgeous ground coves, and appealing borders… ahh, is anyone calling a landscaper for me?

Gardening Like a Ninja(This post contains affiliate links.)

However, conventional landscaping methods aren’t usually the healthiest for the earth. Between the overuse of pesticides, mulch that doesn’t do anything for your soil, and lack of biodiversity, I often think that a yard probably would have been better off left alone when it’s been ‘scaped in the mainstream fashion.

Conventional landscaping also does very little for your food supply. Plants aren’t chosen for feeding your family- rather, they are picked to look pretty and to be maintained in a nice, orderly fashion. Many are purely ornamentals.

Of course, I should’t complain, because right now, our yard is anything but landscaped! My husband has been plugging away at several home projects (last year it was stabilizing the porch, this year it’s redoing our garage) and the flower beds have had to suffer during the demolition.

But. This year. This year will be different! Angela England’s has launched a fabulous new book: Gardening Like a Ninja: A Guide to Sneaking Delicious Edibles into Your Landscape. Between that and my husband’s Master Gardener knowledge, we’ve got resources to draw on to make our beds beautiful again- and edible.

Angela’s book is a timely arrival for those folks affected by pesky HOA rules or no-front-lawn garden debates. Yes, you read that right– can you believe it? There’s actually people getting in legal trouble because of growing vegetables in their front lawn. (Read here, here, and here for examples of such ludicrous news stories.)

However, even if you aren’t facing charges for vegetable gardening, many of us wish that we could either 1) make our gardens more beautiful, or 2) make our landscaping more usable. Angela gives practical direction to accomplish both of these goals.

The first section of Gardening Like a Ninja is dedicated to an introduction to edible landscaping. Angela covers design basics and gardening how-to for beginners. The second section gives readers some great edible landscape plan inspiration. The third provides informative growing guides for specific plants that lend beauty and food to your property.

While I was reading, I kept having “ah-ha!” moments. Lettuce as a border? Why didn’t I think of that? Cucumbers growing up a beautiful trellis, mixed with flowers- why not? Angela’s vision for an edible yard is fresh, appealing, and surprisingly simple.

I’m particularly looking forward to using Angela’s book as a practical guide when we start planting our brand new beds. Our main goals are an attractive property that is abundant with food, and I’m confident that this book can help us do that.

What’s more, Angela just released a course to accompany the gardening book, teaching you how to build an edible landscape from the ground up. Check out the book and course bundle combination here.

Gardening Like a Ninja is inspiring, accessible, and fun. I highly recommend it to anyone hoping to get more out of his or her yard! Buy your copy here, or buy your book/course bundle here.

 

Wild Dandelion Quiche

I love, love, love foraging for wild greens from spring til fall. It makes my heart so happy to hunt for backyard edibles, then use them in delicious recipes that unknowing tasters think are delicious. It’s like fermentation or bread baking for me— I get on a foraging kick and just can’t stop!

My yard is currently a feast of dandelions. (One of my favorite early edibles!) Dandelions + egg surplus+ a foraging mama/daughter team= dandelion quiche, of course.

Wild Dandelion Quiche

Little V and I set on a trek about the yard and gathered up many dandelion heads for dinner. We also gathered up a small assortment of violet greens, plantain leaves, chives, and hosta leaves to fill out our bowl. (These additions are totally optional.) After collecting a packed cup full of foraged goodies, my two- year old took the opportunity to use the colander properly:

Enjoying a new hat while foraging for danelions! --> Dandelion Quiche Recipe

It makes a very fashionable hat, don’t you think?

A note on foraging: Make sure you only take what you need, get permission if you’re on someone else’s property, and be sure that no pesticides/weed killers/etc. have been sprayed in the area you are collecting from. And ALWAYS make sure you’ve properly identified a plant before eating it. (Thankfully, dandelions are pretty easy! 😉 ) Here’s a great article on foraging ethics that you should definitely read if you’re new to foraging.

On to the quiche! Here’s what you need:

  • Single pie crust (You can try my lovely lard pie crust– make half now and freeze the other half for later use. Or use your own favorite recipe!)
  • Bacon grease or butter
  • 1 green onion, chopped
  • 1 C packed dandelions and additional greens (optional), chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • salt & pepper
  • 8 eggs, beated
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cup shredded cheese- i used half mozzerella, half cheddar

Gather up dandelions! I took just the heads for this recipe, though you are welcome to use the greens if you feel so led. Just be forewarned that they can be quite bitter later in the season. Wash ’em up and prepare all your ingredients.

Gathering dandelions to make a delicious foraged quiche. --> Wild Dandelion Quiche Recipe

Make your crust recipe of choice. Roll it out, lay it in a 9″ pie pan, poke a couple holes in it with a fork, and bake it at 425 for about 6 minutes.

Rolling out our beautiful pie crust for dandelion quiche!---> Dandelion Quiche Recipe

Meanwhile, heat bacon grease or butter in a skillet. Add green onion, dandelions, garlic, and salt and pepper. Cook for just a couple minutes, or until greens are wilted.

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Beat eggs, milk, and additional salt together in a large bowl. Stir in cheeses and dandelion mixture.

Pour egg mixture into hot pie crust. Lower the oven temperature to 400 and bake for about 30 minutes, or until set. A sharp knife inserted into the center of the quiche should come out clean.

A quiche recipe made with foraged dandelions. Delicious!

My kids were suspicious of this quiche at first, but both ate healthy servings, my son exclaiming all the while that it was “really good!” My husband ate nearly a whole piece before knowing what was in it- though he enjoys foraged food just as much as I do.

If you make it, let me know how you like it!

For other delicious ideas, try these posts:

 

How to Make Kombucha

“What is kombucha?” ask many of my inquisitive visitors. They’re inquiring about the jars sitting on my countertop filled with brown liquid and unidentifiable floating clumps.

Now, in my world, kombucha has been around for several years as those pricey little bottles in the health food store. I really liked it, but only bought it once a month or so. I was finally given a scoby a few months ago (more on that shortly), and after some repeated prodding from one of my high school voice students I finally got a batch going.

How to make kombucha, simply and frugally, in your own kitchen.

If you’re not familiar with it, the name “kombucha” may sound pretty exotic. However, the beverage is straightforward and easy to make. Komucha is simply fermented tea.

It can be made as an iced tea, or turned into a bubbly soda. It can be had plain, or enjoyed with a variety of flavors. While every brewer may have his favorite methods, I’ll share with you the most basic instructions for creating your own homemade kombucha.

First, you’ll need to obtain a “SCOBY,” or symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast. This serves as your “starter” for the kombucha. The scoby encourages the growth of the right cultures to turn your tea into certifiable ‘booch. Scobys are generally best obtained from a friend who brews kombucha, or from a cultured food supplier like Cultures for Health.

Here’s how to make kombucha tea.

  • Brew a gallon of tea. I usually use 8 regular sized tea bags for a gallon of water.
  • Add a cup of sugar to the tea. Mix well and let cool completely.
  • Pour tea into a gallon glass jar, or split it up between quart sized mason jars. (I prefer splitting it up for storage’s sake.)
  • Gently add SCOBY to each jar. (Make sure those hands are clean!)
  • Cover each jar with a coffee filter and secure it with a rubber band. Let sit out at room temperature for about a week.

How to make simple, homemade kombucha in your own kitchen.

Ta-da! You have kombucha! Pour off the liquid and save a little tea and your scoby for another batch. (Keep the scoby covered with the kombucha in the meantime.) You can store your finished kombucha in the fridge til you’re ready to drink it.

If you want kombucha “soda,” you need to let it ferment a second time, this time with some fruit or juice. You don’t need the SCOBY for the second ferment.

  • For each quart jar of kombucha, add a handful of berries or a half cup of juice. (I’ve been told to stay away from citrus juice.)
  • Cap jar tightly with the lid and let sit at room temperature for about another week. If it’s warm in your kitchen, watch to make sure the lid isn’t bulging. If it is, “burp” your jar by unscrewing the lid and closing it again.

A word to the wise for newbies: Kombucha will detox your system if you start drinking a lot of it at once. Be kind to your body, and start with 2 oz a day and gradually work your way up to a full glass. Trust me. Your digestive system will thank you.

A couple of commonly asked questions:

What if I’m avoiding sugar and caffeine? Good news: I’m told that the fermentation process eats up most of both of these substances.

Is kombucha alcoholic? Technically, there is a small amount of alcohol leftover from the fermentation process, but it’s so minimal that it can hardly count. Any age can buy and consume kombucha without concern over alcohol level.

Why ferment your tea? Fermentation is a preservation method that encourages the growth of beneficial yeasts and bacteria that help your body function better. For more info, see What’s Up with Fermentation? and 3 Health Benefits of Fermented Foods. Plus, it’s just really tasty.

Kombucha is both economical and easy to make, and is a much healthier (and tastier) alternative to soda. Why not start a batch today?

Things I Didn’t Know About Rabbits

Maybe you’ve been dreaming of having fuzzy bunny pets. Or maybe, like us, you’re on the start of a meat rabbit venture. But, as with any new animal, we’ve been surprised by some of the rabbit habits we hadn’t known about before acquiring them.

The things I didn't know about keeping rabbits

For example, rabbits eat a lot for their size. Point one: Expect to buy rabbit food for two rabbits more frequently than you buy grain for your dwarf goat. Seriously.

They also eat a lot of what’s on the ground. Point two: The rabbits can serve as a lawnmower if given pasture. They will gnaw that grass down (and leaves, and twigs, and whatever else is underneath of them) within half a day.

And did you know that rabbits are extraordinary diggers? (That’s point three.)  So good, in fact, that if you do give them pasture, they will decimate your yard with small holes. So do make sure you keep moving them so as to prevent giant pits of ankle-twisting doom about your property.

Not to mention point four- that digging ability also makes them great escape artists. I have discovered this several times when our buck, Peter, weasels his way over to the doe’s side of the tractor for an unscheduled rendezvous. I rediscovered it yesterday when I saw Rosie, our doe, hopping onto the front porch. (She had dug herself a tunnel to freedom.) “Rabbit’s loose!” I hollered to my husband in the front door, and the two of us had a rabbit rodeo trying to track her down and hold onto her long enough to transport her back to the cage.

bunnies

Which brings me to point five- rabbits mate whenever given an opportunity. We accidentally returned Rosie to the wrong side of the run, and Peter got to her before we could switch her back to her own side. I mean, I know there are jokes about rabbit reproduction, but it’s really true! Accidental mating has happened here three times despite our best efforts to keep them separate until scheduled breeding times. And since rabbits experience induced ovulation (they ovulate following intercourse), this means we’ve likely got another round of babies on the way.

There you have it. Five things I didn’t know about rabbits before getting them. Do I need any other heads up? 😉

9 Ways (and counting…) to Save Money on Organic Food

This post has been updated to (hopefully) give you real-foodists even more helpful ideas to save money. 🙂 It contains affiliate links- that means if you make a purchase through a link, I get a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks so much for your amazing support. 

Love buying organic but hate the price? I feel the same way. I cringe when I see a sticker that’s double, sometimes even triple the price of conventional food. However, I still feel it’s very important to avoid pesticides and GMOs as much as is possible within my limited budget. So what’s a girl to do?

Nine Ways to Save Money on Organics

 

Photo Credit

We’ve all heard about buying the dirty dozen organic and buying the rest conventional. Helpful, yes. But what if I could do better than that? Here are some other ways to get your organic for less:

1) Check for markdowns. My local health food store has a basket of marked down organic produce at the end of the aisle. Once I scored organic pink lady apples for $0.49/lb, 6 oz. of organic pre-sliced portabella mushrooms for $0.99, and organic broccoli sprouts for $0.99. Slightly blemished or less fresh produce can save you big. Also, check the meat aisle for cuts close to their “use/freeze by” dates. I’ve gotten organic, grass-fed ground beef for less than conventional beef this way. Just be willing to be flexible with your meal planning in order to make the most of your discounted finds.

2) Compare local farmers. Farmer’s markets can go either way. Sometimes the price is jacked up, and sometimes it’s very reasonable. However, it’s entirely possible to buy quality food for less from an individual than from a grocery store. For example, I’ve bought my organic pastured chicken eggs for $3.00/dozen from a local lady rather than the standard $5.00+.

3) Look for “organic practices.” When shopping from a farm stand, you can always ask about their practices. Some farmers don’t use pesticides but aren’t certified organic yet. Consider all aspects of crop management: pesticide usage, GMO’s, crop rotation, soil management, etc. You can often get a more affordable product that is still much healthier than conventional.

4) Buy in bulk. Buy a 1/4 of an organic, grassfed cow to put in the deep freezer for the year. It will definitely save you cost per lb. Or purchase a whole bushel of organic apples and can them or store them for winter use.

5) Consider an organic CSA program. Community Supported Agriculture boxes are getting more and more popular. Basically, you buy into a season’s worth of produce from a local farm at a discounted price for buying in advance. Most CSA programs also require you to put in a work commitment at the farm as part of your payment. This can be a fun and educational process for families who care about knowing where their food comes from.

6) Check big box stores. Okay, so I’m all for shopping local. I really am! But sometimes the prices of organic food are ridiculously high at a specialty health food store. If I just can’t afford it, I’m willing to look around. Oftentimes, you can find at least some organic variety at big name stores, such as Walmart, Target, or Costco.

I like Wegman’s because they offer a good compromise: Wegman’s often features local famers’ produce at a much lower price than small stores, and they also carry store-brand organics. This can really cut the bill down considerably. I’ll often buy the bulk of my organic produce at Wegman’s, then stop by our small businesses to pick up a few favorites- eggs, locally brewed kombucha, or a special treat. (And no, this isn’t sponsored. I just genuinely enjoy shopping there.)

UPDATE: Since birthing a third child, the 35 minute drive to Wegman’s is something I can only work myself up to do once every few months. I’m mostly back to shopping at the smaller closer stores and getting what organic produce I can there. We have also bought laying chickens and learned how to make kombucha, so I no longer need to procure eggs & booch. 😉 

7) Check discount stores. We have an area discount grocery store that offers tons of organic options on average at 40-60% off. It’s worth checking if you have one nearby.

8) Try a membership site like Thrive MarketThink of applying a Sam’s Club membership principle to specialty organic products, and you’ve got the idea of Thrive. I don’t buy from them frequently because I make so many things from scratch (so I don’t usually need pre-made organic tomato sauce), but for the things I do need (natural laundry and dish soap that actually work, for example), I’ve found Thrive to be less expensive than other discount sites like Amazon. I tend to place a bulk order every few months to fetch those things that are hard to find elsewhere.

9) Grow your own. I have to say, this one is my favorite. Know where your food comes from, take pleasure in the work of it, learn something while you’re at it, help restore the earth and your mini-ecosystem, and save hundreds, if not thousands of dollars a year. A few years back, for my family of 3 (at the time), I only spent about $30/wk at the grocery store all summer long because of our productive garden. Sound appealing? (Keep your eyes out for when this summit becomes free again! We’ve found it full of very helpful information.)

UPDATE: Besides gardening, we’ve also found raising animals to be a valuable part of reducing our grocery bill. As mentioned before, our laying hens give us organic, free range eggs at a fraction of the price of similar store-bought eggs. Our goat gives us delicious raw milk and the cost of her feed is less than keeping a cat (though whether or not we’ve saved money on her overall is debatable). We are also hoping to be able to process more of our own meat in the coming year. 

How do you save on organics? What’s the best deal you’ve gotten? Share in the comments!

 

Spring Has Sprung! (An Update)

Spring Has Sprung

It’s officially spring, but it doesn’t feel like it too much this morning. I shivered my way over to the goat field for milking, and found all the animal waters frozen. Sigh. But I probably shouldn’t complain as we’ve had an extremely mild winter this year.

I wanted to give you a springtime family update. I’ve let the blog slow down a bit as we’ve been working on several big projects in our “real life.” We’ve had a lot of momentum going in our household as we work towards several goals, but also a lot of stress as we try to make it all happen. Progress is never easy, but at least you grow through it, right?

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First: homeschool. This whole year has been a search for balance and an exercise in trial and error. I suppose I’ll never come to a point where I feel like I’ve “arrived” with successful homeschooling, but it would be nice to not have to wonder whether or not I’m a massive failure as a mother and teacher. BUT recently I’ve been blessed with some encouraging talks with friends, other homeschool moms, and posts from bloggers I love (like this one) that have given me the courage I need to press on. So, despite a momentary cave and desperate calls to area schools for pricing and schedules, we’ve decided to carry on.

#sap boiling away in my husband’s #cinderblock #evaporator. #maplesyrup #sugaring #latergram

A photo posted by Abigail Zieger (@theyrenotourgoats) on

On the homestead: We cut our maple sugaring season short. It’s been a weird spring, with February temperatures getting up to almost 70, and mid-March temperatures getting down below freezing. We’ve also had too much other stuff going on to properly watch our sap, leading to another burnt syrup disaster. Sigh. You think we would learn after three or four years doing it.

And remember that seed starting post I just wrote? We still haven’t started ours. And NOW is the time to do it in our zone. So, today, I’m going to try to make a rough draft map of the plot, then hopefully team up with the hubby to get those plant babies growing. (I’m really a dreadful procrastinator.)

The hubby has been keeping himself busy with essentially re-building our garage. Off with the old cardboard siding through which we could see daylight, on with new sheathing and siding. We had a nice pavilion for a day or two:

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But now he’s really making progress:

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It’s been a bit of a construction zone around here, but it’s only for a time.

With the animals: We lost our first litter of baby rabbits. Five of them, dead, found in the cold early morning lying out in the run instead of in the nesting box. We lost another hen to an unknown cause. But, on the plus side, the goat has been unusually well-behaved as of late.

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With music: Oh yeah, remember that music thing? I do have an entire category devoted to music, but I write on it rather rarely. However, we’ve been working towards pursuing our music more now that I’ve finally gotten into a perfect routine, err, a manageable schedule, umm, now that I’m surviving having three kids. Kind of. Regardless, I’ve got some concerts to sing in this spring, I’m teaching more voice lessons, and the hubby and I have been accepting more gigs to play in together. It’s reviving to my soul to be singing together.

Here’s a spring haiku song, written by my husband, roughly recorded, and played with friends. What do you think?

And lastly, I’ve taken up therapeutic art journaling alongside my kids. I have NO idea what I’m doing, but it’s been keeping my hands busy and my mind relaxed while the munchkins are playing outside or working on their own art projects.

So that’s what’s been going on around here. My life is full, and while it’s sometimes hard, it’s been rewarding too. Not much good comes without some hard work along the way, right?. 🙂

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The Ultimate Garden Planning & Seed Starting Guide

Let me be honest. Deep down inside, I am NOT a green thumb. I love spending time in the garden. I’ve gardened for years- even as a teenager, under the direction of my gardening mother.But I truly believe our current garden would shrivel up due to my inept methods of care and lack of knowledge. (Thank goodness I’ve got a husband who knows how to make plants grow.)

Another confession: I’ve never started seeds on my own. I leave that little basement science experiment up to my husband. Though I’m familiar with the process and and have helped on the rare occasion, he’s the one in charge of growing conditions, charting sowing and emergence dates, hardening off the young plants and transplanting.

And yet, seed-starting season is upon us in our region. So, I defer to those I know and trust for the resources I need to get planning. Dearest husband, wouldn’t you want to write a seed-starting post for the blog? Pretty please? (I’m working on him. Keep your eyes peeled.)

I also asked my awesome blogger friends from Homestead Bloggers Network to share their posts on seed starting and garden planning. And holy cow, do these people know their stuff. I expected to gain some new knowledge, but I got nearly fifty posts submitted from these groovy gardening friends.

The ultimate resource guide to planning your garden this year!

So, get ready for the ultimate collection of anything you ever wanted to know about seed starting and gardening planning! (This post contains affiliate links.)

Pssst- get my free printable seed starting planner when you sign up for my new email list!

Garden Planning

Processed with Rookie

  1. Planning Your Spring Garden by Survival at Home
  2. Garden Planning When You Aren’t Sure by Grace Garden and Homestead
  3. How to Grow a Garden by Homesteading on Grace
  4. How to Plan Your Garden by Pure Pearl Homestead
  5. Planting Timeline for Your Best Garden Ever! by The Cape Coop
  6. 5 Things to Consider Before Planning Your Vegetable Garden by Lady Lee’s Home
  7. Vegetable Gardening Basics: Choosing the Right Location by Lady Lee’s Home
  8. 7 Steps for Planning a Vegetable Garden by Lady Lee’s Home
  9. How to Track Shadows to Choose the Best Spot for Your Garden by Learning and Yearning
  10. Vegetable Gardening 101 by Learning and Yearning
  11. How to Choose the Right Seeds for Your Garden by Grow Cook Forage Ferment
  12. Garden Crop Rotation: A Simple System by Better Hens and Gardens
  13. Starting the Garden by Homeschooling the Well Prepared Child
  14. Plan Your Garden by Living Life in Rural Iowa
  15. Planning a Vegetable Garden with Meals in Mind by Untrained Housewife
  16. Garden Planning: How Much Do You Eat? by Untrained Housewife

Specific Garden Types

  1. Planning Your Natural Dye Garden by Joybilee Farm
  2. Tips for Making an Herb Garden Plan by Herbal Academy of New England
  3. Beginner’s Guide to Square Foot Gardening by The Cape Coop
  4. Square Foot Garden Layout by Essential Homestead
  5. 10 Herbs and Vegetables Perfect for Growing in a Shaded Garden by Untrained Housewife

Seed Starting Resources

  1. 10 Steps to Starting Seedlings Indoors by Grow a Good Life
  2. Seed Planting Schedule by Growing Organic
  3. Starting Seeds Indoors by the Cape Coop
  4. Quick and Easy Way to Start Seeds by Essential Homestead
  5. Give Your Plants a Head Start by Pre-Sprouting Seeds by Learning and Yearning
  6. Pre-Sprouting and Cutting Seed Potatoes by Better Hens and Gardens
  7. Starting Seeds by Living Life in Rural Iowa
  8. How to Harden Seedlings and Protect Your Garden by Herbal Academy of New England
  9. 5 Steps to Starting Seeds by Herbal Academy of New England
  10. Easy Seed Starting Guide by Herbal Academy of New England
  11. How to Plant Seedlings Outdoors by Untrained Housewife

Tools of the Trade

  1. How to Make Newspaper Seedling Pots by Stoney Acres
  2. Making Homemade Seedling Mix by Stoney Acres
  3. Using a Soil Blocker to Start Seeds by Schneider Peeps
  4. Making Soil Blocks to Start Seeds by Learning and Yearning
  5. Soil Blocks Grow Superior Seedlings by Better Hens and Gardens
  6. Can Fluorescent Shop Lights be Used to Start Seeds? By Learning and Yearning
  7. Make Your Own Seed Tape by Learning and Yearning
  8. Seed Starting Pot You Can Turn by Turning for Profit
  9. Seed Organizer by Frugal Mama and the Sprout

Courses & Resources

seedstartingsimplified

  1. Seed Starting Simplified– By the incredible Rick Stone! Grab this Udemy course for only $15 by using this link.
  2. Making 2016’s Seed Starting & Planting Schedule (with downloadable template) by Better Hens and Gardens.
  3. Garden Planning Calculator by Seeds for Generations- what a clever tool!
  4. The Art of Gardening by Susan Vinskovski. (You can read my full review of this book here.)
  5. Gardening Like a Ninja by Angela England

There you have it… 46 resources on all things garden planning & seed starting. Have at it, and don’t forget to grab your printable seed starting planner here.