Category Archives: Homestead

Distinguishing Elderberry from Silky and Redosier Dogwood

The following is a “guest” post from my hubby- the guy who really knows his plants around here. We recently thought we spotted elderberries at a friend’s house- but Tim’s discerning eye second guessed our initial identification. Read on to find out how to distinguish these two look-alike plants from each other. 

Elderberry or Dogwood

Elderberries are ripening this time of year where we live, so if you have any interest in harvesting these berries, it is as good a time as ever to nail down your elderberry identification skills. Black Elderberry (sambucus nigra) shrubs are pretty distinctive, but if you are not paying close attention to what you are seeing, mistaking other plants for them is not impossible. At certain stages of development, a couple plants in particular appear the closest of all to Elderberry: the Silky Dogwood (cornus amomum) and the Redosier (Red Osier) Dogwood (cornus sericea). To complicate the trouble of precisely identifying Redosier Dogwood in contrast to the Silky Dogwood, Redosier is a variable species, which essentially means that its morphology is not always the same–different specimens can look different from each other. For our purposes, though, that is not very important; we are trying to distinguish the Dogwoods from Elderberry, not so much from each other.


If you take the time to google “elderberry look-alikes,” your search results will likely include references to Water Hemlock and Pokeberry–the former deathly poisonous and the latter arguably poisonous if used improperly. Aside from the risk-factor of mistaking those plants for Elderberry (which has its own share of toxicity-risks), there is almost no reason to fear mistaking Water Hemlock or Pokeberry for Elderberry. Those two plants are markedly different from Elderberry in fairly obvious ways–I won’t go into them in detail now, but suffice it to say, when identifying a plant, don’t hinge your identification on only one feature (e.g. berries, drupes or flowers growing in cyme patterns). Pay attention to the overall habit of the plant–the location, the time, duration, and color of the flowers (if any), whether it is woody or herbaceous, the pattern and color of the bark, a general sampling of the leaves–opposite, alternate, whorled–from many parts of the plant, the shape, margins, and vein structure of the leaves, the characteristics of the fruit, etc. If you observe carefully and thoroughly, and especially if you begin to learn the vocabulary of kingdom Plantae and attach deeper meaning to your sensory experience of these objects, you will gradually become more accurate in plant identification.

Having said that, let’s return to the Silky Dogwood. Here’s a close-up of its lovely flower cyme (that’s the name of that cluster pattern):

File:Cornus amomum - Silky Dogwood.jpg

(Photo Credit)

And here’s the Redosier Dogwood:

                                                          (Photo Credit)

  For comparison, here is the Black Elderberry bloom:

File:Sambucus nigra - Black Elderberry 2.jpg

(Photo Credit)

Certainly these flower clusters look similar. But that is not the only similarity they share (I’ll get to the differences in a moment). They both tend to grow in wet locations–though both are very tolerant plants–so you may even find them growing together (as we did recently).

The main thing that makes these Dogwoods more likely candidates for elderberry confusion than other look-alikes like Pokeberry and Water Hemlock is the fact that they too are shrubs of very similar proportions (from 6-10′ high) to elderberry.  Look at the Silky Dogwood for example:

                                                (Photo Credit)

And here, the Black Elderberry:

                                                                 (Photo Credit)

Clearly there are differences between them, but at least we are dealing with similar types of plants. The most conspicuous distinguishing features between these Dogwoods and the Elderberry, however, are in the leaves and the fruits. Elderberry leaves are compound. Silky Dogwood and Redosier Dogwood leaves are simple. Elderberry leaf margins are toothed. The dogwood leaves are smooth.  Study the following images to note the differences between the Elderberry leaf on the left and the Redosier Dogwood leaves on the right:

 IMG_20150806_191657605_HDRObserve also the following drawings of the Dogwoods and Elderberry courtesy of the USDA Plant Profiles.

Silky Dogwood (cornus amomum):

Large Line Drawing of Cornus amomum

(Image Credit)

Redosier Dogwood (cornus sericea):

Large Line Drawing of Cornus sericea

(Image Credit)

And finally, Black Elderberry (sambucus nigra):

Large Line Drawing of Sambucus nigra

(Image Credit)

Let’s turn to the berries and drupes. Note first the density and size of the cymes in both dogwoods as compared to the elderberry. The dogwoods’ cymes are smaller and less dense than the elderberry’s  (obviously the presence of berries or drupes will depend on fertilization), but the dogwoods’ drupes are larger than elderberries. Also be aware of the color of the fruit (this is one of the best ways to discern whether you’re dealing with a silky or redosier, too). At least where we live, elderberries ripen to a rich deep purple well before the silky or redosier fruits ripen. Thus, if you see ripe elderberries side by side with a dogwood, you should see that the dogwood fruits are still green. Observe the following photo; Redosier in the foreground, Elderberry in the background (just a few of the elderberries are starting to turn purple):

IMG_20150806_191552894Finally, a note about the color of the dogwood fruit: Redosier fruit turns whitish when ripe while Silky Dogwood’s is blueish. See the following images.

Silky Dogwood:

(Photo Credit)

Redosier Dogwood:

(Photo Credit)

And finally, just for contrast, Black Elderberry:

(Photo Credit)

So, to recap, pay close attention to these distinguishing features:

Leaves Leaf Margins Fruit Color when Ripe Time of ripening
Sambucus Nigra Compound Toothed Deep Purple Late July–September
Cornus Amomum Simple Smooth Blue Around September
Cornus Sericea Simple Smooth White After September

I hope at least some of this information is helpful. Do remember–if you are not sure what a plant is, first work hard to figure it out (because maybe you’ll learn something new). If you can’t figure it out with reasonable confidence, then don’t eat it for now–you’ll probably get another opportunity in the future!


Roofing Our Chicken Villa

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #roofeditmyself #CollectiveBias

Spring always puts a literal spring in my step. After all, the season is filled with so much life and vibrancy. Spring means new flowers, garden planting, baby chicks, and extended hours outdoors. For our family, it also means planning for summer projects.

If you’ve been following along with us, you know that our first major project has been building the chickens an upgraded home. The new digs is a spacious open-air coop that just might be nicer than my bedroom. Our chicken villa will accommodate many more birds than our previous one, provide access to the neighboring field for free-ranging, and give us space to keep the feed in-house.


The kids have been our quality control supervisors, carefully monitoring each step of the way through the spring rains and summer heat.

You can read about the actual building of the structure itself here.

Finally, after all the building, it was roofing time! We used the following GAF roofing supplies for this project:

We also used some standard supplies: galvanized steel roofing nails, round plastic cap roofing nails, a hammer, tape measure, etc.

We took the kids for a family trip to Lowe’s to purchase our supplies. We were able to find the roofing aisle relatively quickly even with the tornado of kids around our feet.

(The big roofing display where you can check out shingle styles and colors.)

(The baby who wanted to get into everything.)

(The kids who really wanted to ride the forklift.)

(The girl who thought this was her own personal hide-out.)

(Thankfully, the aisle survived our clan’s whirlwind.)

Timberline® shingles look really great and are very durable. Bonus: when you install any GAF lifetime single and three qualifying GAF accessories, you automatically get a lifetime ltd. warranty on your shingles and all qualifying accessories, plus non-prorated coverage for the first 10 years. You can read more on GAF’s warranty here.

While these shingles are generally thought of as a professional contractor’s product, they are definitely usable by your average DIY-er. As you may remember, Tim (my attractive husband and blog contributor) is far more experienced with home building projects than I am. However, after watching him complete this roof, it seemed like a very doable project- even if you’ve never roofed before.

At this point, I’m going to let Tim describe the roofing process in more detail for you. *Hands mic to husband.* 

The first thing I had to do was determine the number of bundles I would need for roofing our villa. The area of a roof is measured in “squares,” which are equivalent to 100 square feet. Each square requires three typical shingle bundles.

Calculating the area of the roof surface is fairly basic geometry for a simple gable roof like this. You calculate the area of one side of the roof (a rectangle’s area = Length x Width), then calculate the area of the other side of the roof, and add the products together. In our case, the roof surface came out to be 96 square feet, or just under one square. So we needed three bundles of Timberline® Natural Shadow® shingles. We went with “Pewter Gray.”

I also needed to account for the starter course of shingles and the ridge cap. This is simply determined by figuring out the lineal footage of the bottom edges of the roof and the ridge, respectively. Once those figures are known you compare them with the lineal footage of shingle product contained in each bundle. A bundle of three-tab shingles typically contains 35 lineal feet. And a bundle of TimberTex® covers about 20 lineal feet. Given our roof dimensions, we needed one bundle of each.

In addition, one roll of FeltBuster® was more than adequate for our villa. A few lengths of drip edge was all we needed to complete our roofing design.

The drip edge along the eave edges of the roof was the first to go down.

This allows any water that could get to the underlayment surface to shed over the fascia board. If this drip edge were absent there could be more potential for water to damage the fascia board over time.

Next, the FeltBuster® went down over the entire roof surface. We placed the first strip down parallel with the eave edge of the roof and over the top of the drip edge we first attached and fastened it with plastic-capped nails.

We did so on each side of the roof and needed one more strip to go over the ridge. Since our coop will be partially open and since we will retain open vents at the soffits, we did not include a ridge vent in our roof. The strip of FeltBuster® that ran down the center of the ridge was able to overlap the other strips by at least 18 inches, which was more than adequate to ensure proper coverage.

By the way, I was sincerely impressed with how durable this stuff was. I’ve only used tar paper in the past, and by comparison this underlayment was in a league all its own.

After the underlayment was properly fastened, I attached the drip edge along the gable ends of the roof over the top of the FeltBuster®. This allows any water that could get in along the gable ends to go on top of the underlayment and shed off the roof.

Finally, it was time to get the starter course down. If our roof was bigger I would have gone with GAF’s Pro-Start™ Eave/Rake Starter Strip Shingles for the ease of use and time savings. But, as it turned out, I decided to use the Royal Sovereign® three-tab method. This involves cutting off the tabs from the shingle to make a starter strip. (Using Pro-Start™ avoids this step and is just more fool-proof.)

I cut off the tabs of enough shingles to make a starter course along the eave edges, and enough to run along the gable ends, too.

To ensure that no seams lined up in the same place, I cut six inches off the first starter shingle.

I installed the three-tab-turned-starter-strip along the roof edges, taking care to have the tar end up nearest the roof edge, and the strip overhang the drip edge by roughly 1/4″. This will allow the water to shed away from the fascia.

 

Putting the starter along the gables was not necessary, but I found out that many roofers prefer to use them along gables as added protection–so I gave it a try.

At this point, it was time to prepare the Timberline® shingles for installation. It is important to stagger each course of shingles so seams don’t align. I applied the following pattern:

  • Row 1: start with a full shingle
  • Row 2: cut 6″ off the first shingle
  • Row 3: cut 11″ off the first shingle
  • Row 4: cut 17″ off the first shingle

I used a framing square to get a nice, straight cut–and scored it deep, or cut it all the way through to avoid a ragged cut.

I installed the first shingle of each row up to the point where I had to repeat the pattern. This is what it looked like:

Since improper nailing is one of the primary causes of roof failure, it is important that you nail the shingles in the right place. GAF made it pretty simple by including a fairly conspicuous orange line along the face of the shingle delineating the place the four evenly-spaced nails should be driven. I followed that guide. 

Now i just continued straight across the roof, cutting a shingle to fit in the final place of each course as needed.

When I reached the peak of the roof, I allowed the shingle to hang over the top of the ridge.

One side is finished here. You can see that the ridge shingles are not yet installed. At this point I roofed the other side in the same way I roofed this side.

I at last reached the TimberTex® ridge shingle phase. They came perforated, making it easy to divide them into the size I needed.

These went up on the ridge really quickly and easily, and they are nearly twice as thick as even a typical architectural shingle–very durable.

I had to pause at the last ridge shingle to figure out how i was to attach it, but I was soon reminded that a little roofing cement would do the trick:

When it was all said and done, this is how the roof turned out:

Now, the chicken villa is not yet complete, but it is nearly there. The roof was a huge and satisfying accomplishment and it really looks great–way better than our house roof! We may just have to board with the chickens for a time…under one roof.

Come back soon to see the villa painted, chicken wired, and (hopefully) beautified! For more roofing inspiration, check out these cool projects. Be sure to visit GAF on Facebook or their website!

Have you ever roofed your own structure? What summer projects are you working on?

Building a New Coop!

In the early spring, we sent off several of our eggs to a homeschooling family for use in a science project. The kids wanted to compare and record the hatch rate between different chicken breeds. So, they purchased an inexpensive incubator and mothered the eggs diligently for several weeks.

Since chicken keeping is not allowed in their municipality, it wasn’t long before thirteen chicks were sent back to us. Seven of the chicks were our own hens’ progeny; six were purchases from tractor supply after the first batch of eggs failed.


The arrangement worked out nicely for us because we had already wanted to expand our flock. However, more chickens come with implications: more poop, more feed, and, as we will address here, more space needs.

So, plans went in the works to build a new coop that would meet these needs. It would be an open-air coop that would provide more ventilation and access to the neighboring field for free-ranging. (Read: less poop on our porch, less smelly coop, and a reduced feed bill.) It also would be considerably larger than our last coop, easier to clean, and would provide an in-house location to store feed.

When we first got chickens, we inherited an old coop from friends. However, It was large and needed many repairs. My husband, Tim, took it apart and used portions of it to rebuild our first small coop. One portion of the original coop that remained fairly strong and intact, however, was a 6′ x12′ wooden platform that we decided to use as the base to our new coop.

Multiple plans, several pieces of crumpled up graph paper, and a few hardware store trips later, we were ready to begin.

First, we addressed the old base. Tim leveled it and removed and replaced rotting plywood. He also patched any parts of the wood frame that needed it. Then we stained the whole thing for weather-resistance.

(Our little helpers!)

Next, Tim built four walls and a partition wall to frame the coop. This was the part where I said a lot of “yes, that sounds good” and held up the walls while he nailed them into the base. I may not have much building knowledge, but I’m good at holding things up.

Next came the rafters, ridge board, and corner braces. The coop was starting to look like a legitimate small building. A real chicken hotel. My brother in law affectionately told me would could Air BNB it in the DC metro area.

Chicken palace in progress. . . . . #DIY #backyardchickens #chickencoop

A post shared by Abigail Zieger (@theyrenotourgoats) on

Since this is intended as an open-air coop, only a portion of it will be enclosed. The closed portion will hold chicken feed, cleaning supplies, bedding, etc. For this part, we chose to side it with Smartside siding. It was less expensive and more durable than the T1-11 we were originally going to use.

Finally, it was time to prep the coop for roofing. Tim put up plywood sheathing and trim boards, covered the gable ends with plywood, and installed a drip edge.

Now we are all ready for roofing & finishing! Come back next week for a post on the roofing process, and then soon after for all the finishing touches. I can hardly wait to move to move these birds into their new home!

 

 

 

 

Character Lessons from the Homestead

When we bought our house, I had dreamy visions of gardening, egg-collecting, and happily tending to our chores as a family. It will be perfect, I said. We will homeschool and homestead and my children will learn how to live a nature-filled life that carries the perfect balance of freedom and self-discipline. 

As you may imagine, it isn’t always as dreamy as I had originally hoped.

Reality: My sink runneth over and so does the poop. I change diapers and clean coops.  The rabbits escape and we have to choose whether we should chase the bunnies or the babies. Decisions, decisions.


I was lamenting the truths of our less-than-ideal scenario to my sister-in-law, and wished aloud, “I just hope the kids get something out of all this.”

“Isn’t that how all parenting is?” she replied.

The revelation struck me. I really want to see character development in my kids, especially in relation to all of our homestead efforts. But I must remember that most character development doesn’t happen overnight, or even over months or years. It’s the nitty gritty, day-to-day stuff that forms a person.

How important it is that I don’t give up too quickly.

I hope all of this helps to teach the kids…

Patience. You have to wait for the fish to bite. A garden takes time to grow, and harvesting must be done when the food is good and ready. Building or repairing an outbuilding can go on for months. The work of a mini-farm takes time, both in daily work and in long seasonal projects.

Discipline. The animals have to eat every day, whether or not we feel like feeding them. When she’s in milk, the goat needs milking twice a day. The eggs must be collected and harvests preserved. There is no room for not doing the chores.

Compassion. We treat our animals with kindness- even the ones destined for the stew pot. Each animal is to be respected and raised humanely. Sick animals are to be nursed to health; babies are to be well-cared for.

Curiosity. What is this plant? Why does the rabbit pull out her fur? Where does that bird live? Why does the egg we eat hold a yolk, but an egg kept warm for several weeks hold a chicken? There are endless questions to explore in the natural world, and answers that none of us know yet. How wonderful to be curious and not know everything!

Running free across the yard.

Freedom. Running across the yard, climbing a tree, exploring on your own… these are the things we all wanted as a child. Even as adults, we still crave the freedom to let go and enjoy the little things that matter most. I really want my kids to hang on to just a little bit of that feeling as they grow up.

Wisdom. From matters of the birds and the bees to understanding death, the kids are exposed to all the tough stuff at a young age. They’ve watched chickens mate and helped to bury dead hens. They’ve helped to care for baby kits, and observed the butchering of grown rabbits. All of this has created an open door to talking about the hard topics that all of us must grapple with at some point.

The kids observed Dada processing a rabbit. It's the beginning to talking about "the circle of life."

I truly hope that an introduction to the hard stuff now will help them to approach it with temperance and thoughtfulness later in life.

Of course, I’m still a relatively young mother. Perhaps I really am being dreamy and I actually have no idea what I’m talking about. But I do pray that these guys will grow up to be well-rounded, independent, kind people– and that maybe some of these lessons will help just a little bit on the way.

Come to think of it, I think am learning a lot of these lessons too. How about you?

 

How to Identify & Forage for Stinging Nettle

 

Spring Gives, We Forage

I have to be honest, I haven’t been thinking about the land since the fall. I have been so involved in other projects that I STILL have not given more than a fleeting thought to planning our garden.


But, no matter how negligent I may be, spring calls me now. It has wooed me back to the land, and I know now that the problem was truly me–not it.

I have foraging on the mind once again, though I feel a bit rusty after a winter in the damp, dark tool shed of my own isolation. Seeing green popping up and out all over has reminded me that I need to be present among these growing things, that I need to learn what they are, what they have to offer, and how our family can best use them.

Find out how to forage for stinging nettle!

Spring gives, we forage.

But, before we do, we recall three simple foraging rules: correct identification, minimal harvesting, and safe, legal picking.

Stinging Nettle

Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) has done much to draw me out of my wintry malaise. When I first noticed it peeking out from beneath our slumping retaining wall, I suddenly felt the urge to tour our yard and greet all the new plants bursting up. We love this plant in our household–stings and all.

Identifying Stinging Nettle 

Stinging nettle is fairly distinctive. Like any plant it looks different at different times of the year. At certain points it may be easier to identify than others, but stinging nettle has three distinguishing attributes all year long that make it pretty easy to ID. There are a few other varieties of nettle that it can be confused with, but if you pay attention to the following features, you can be pretty confident of a correct identification.

First, the leaves. They are mostly oval or slightly heart-shaped and heavily toothed or serrated at the margins. They come to a point and are covered with fine barb-like hairs. The leaves are heavily veined and the undersides tend to have a purple hue between the veins.

IMG_20170420_162428025 IMG_20170420_162439533

Compare this leaf to some of the older leaves in this image from the USDA, which are more distinctly heart shaped:

Large Photo of Urtica dioica

Next, the stem.  The stem of a stinging nettle, just like the leaves, is covered in small, barb-like, stinging thorns or hairs. And the leaves attach to the stem opposite one another.

IMG_20170420_165308718IMG_20170420_165256717

Finally, the sting. If you touch a plant that looks like nettle and gives you a noticeable sting, it is probably stinging nettle. The sting is not excruciating, but it is real, and the pain from it does hang on for some time–from a few minutes to hours. The small hollow hairs contain the chemicals that cause the sting, so to avoid the sting, avoid breaking them–handle with care. A UK chemistry teacher writing at the blog Compound Interest has done a great job explaining some of the chemistry behind nettle’s sting. Check it out for more info. (Note also that the sting is removed during cooking.)

Of course there are other things to pay attention to if you want to be absolutely sure of your identification of stinging nettle, but out of the many plants you can forage, stinging nettle is pretty distinctive because of the thorny, hairy, toothed stinging leaves. For help distinguishing it from the other nettle lookalikes, I heartily recommend this article at Identifythatplant.com.

Harvesting

Stinging nettle lives up to its name, so if you want to avoid the sting, either:

  • Wear decently thick gloves, or
  • Carefully fold and grab the leaves while pulling toward the leaf tip. The goal here is to avoid breaking the hollow barbs off in your skin–that’s when you get stung. Here is a video demonstrating this technique:

With both of these techniques, you can–and perhaps should–use scissors or some other suitable cutting tool, though you may gently pinch the leaves off as well.

Following the simple foraging rules, remember to be sure that it is free to harvest. Are there critters living in it? Is it on your grouchy neighbor’s property? And be sure to harvest no more than 1/3 of the plant. Leave some for it to thrive and propagate.

The young smaller leaves, which emerge from the very apex of the stems, are usually the most tender and palatable. Choose those over the older ones, unless you don’t mind a more robust experience. Don’t harvest the stems. It’s not that they will poison you, they are just not very palatable. The stems are apparently useful for making rope because the fibers are so strong. If you’re interested in doing that, have at it.

The best time to harvest it for eating is now–in the early spring when they first start to emerge, and especially before they flower. Some believe that after nettles have flowered, consuming them in great amounts can lead to kidney stones. Which is ironic because they are also used as a prevention against kidney stones… But, to be safe, if you mean to eat it or drink a tea made from it, harvest nettle before it flowers.

In case you are wondering, it looks like this when it flowers:

Image result for flowering stinging nettle

Preserving

Since nettles are best in the spring, you’ll want to preserve some to enjoy year round. Nettles can be preserved by:

  • Dehydration: We simply dry nettle in our food dehydrator, but any other method for drying herbs will work.
  • Freezing: Blanch and freeze whole nettle leaves in freezer bags. Alternatively, you can freeze nettle pesto in an ice cube tray, or nettle soup in glass containers.

Uses and Recipes 

You may be wondering about the sting. Why would you want to consume something that leaves you tingling? Surely that must be unpleasant. Be assured that cooking removes the chemical compound that causes the sting, and nettle leaves are perfectly safe to consume once prepared.

Nettle is highly nutritious and can be enjoyed as a fresh or dried tea, a pesto star, in a vinegar, or even as medicine. Give it a try! Here are some recipes & resources to get you started:

Have you harvested stinging nettle? How do you like to use it? Leave us a comment and let us know!

How to identify and safely harvest this super food!

 

 

Herbal Teas to Grow or Forage Yourself

Most of us are familiar with vegetable gardens and herb gardens- but what about your own tea garden?

Delicious herbal teas that you can grow or forage!

(Catnip tea brewing in our Tea Posy pot.)

I love a good black tea in the afternoon, but herbal teas are my friends for various health benefits. I have paid premium prices for a small bit of tea ($9 for 15 tea bags?!?)- and would continue to buy said tea if it was something we couldn’t easily access at home- but there are so many home-grown and wild options to try first!


You can either plant a specific area as a tea garden, or you can simply look around your yard to forage for flowers, plants, herbs, and weeds that can easily be turned into teas.

As always, make sure you double and triple check the identification of any wild plant you find before consuming it, and consider consulting with a local foraging expert. It’s also not a bad idea to try a new plant in small amounts to see how you tolerate it before overdoing it.

Here’s my list to get you started- though it will likely continue growing. 😉 (This post contains some affiliate links.)

Online Herbalism Courses for all levels

  1. Mint– Prolific, easy to grow, hard to take out of the ground. Make sure it’s where you want it. 😉 Here’s some inspiration for various mint tea recipes, and here’s some info on the health benefits of peppermint.
  2. Lemon Balm– This iced tea recipe is good for anxiety, wounds, and sleep disorders. You could also try this recipe for lemon balm-green tea and learn about why lemon balm is just a great plant to cultivate in your yard. Plus, it tastes and smells good. (It’s also a member of the mint family.)
  3. Chamomile – This flower makes a relaxing tea that is also renowned for many health benefits.
  4. Plantain– Known as a medicinal plant used for many purposes (treating insect bites and stings being one of them), it can also be made into a tea for when you’re feeling ill.
  5. Stinging Nettle– I first tried dried nettle tea from a local bulk tea and spice boutique. I had a light bulb moment when my husband suggested drying the stuff in our yard (or boiling fresh leaves) instead of continuing to buy it!
  6. Dandelion Root– I actually haven’t tried making this one at home yet, but I’ve got some dried dandelion roots sitting under my spice cabinet, waiting to be tasted. I’ll have to give these instructions a whirl.
  7. Red Raspberry Leaf– This tea is famous for uterine health. I’ve been enjoying a daily cup of homemade “Mama-to-be-tea” from a local boutique that features raspberry leaf.
  8. Carrot Greens– This is one that you’ll have to do your own research on. Some say that carrot greens are toxic, others say that they’re a market vegetable in many countries. This article pulls in favor of consuming carrot tops, and references several other discussions on the topic. I won’t tell you that you should consume carrot greens. I’ll just say that we’ve made iced tea out of fresh carrot greens several times and haven’t died (or gotten sick) yet.
  9. Echinacea– I didn’t realize for a long time that those gorgeous summer purple cone flowers are actually echinacea! Known for immunity benefits, echinacea is easy to harvest and prepare for tea.
  10. Basil– Apparently, this tasty herb works well for sore throats, headaches, and upset stomachs! I didn’t know that before reading this!
  11. Wintergreen– Here’s the secret to enjoying foraged wintergreen tea that’s full of flavor.
  12. Catnip– We drank catnip tea all winter long to help get over colds faster. Between that, homemade stock, elderberry syrup, and raw honey, none of us stayed sick more than a couple of days. Here’s how to identify catnip.
  13. Red Clover– This medicinal plant grows wild all over the place! Just look down!
  14. Drink your fruitsThis post covers instructions for blackberry, raspberry, strawberry leaf, elderflower, and orange peel teas. How exciting is that?
  15. Winter teasThis blogger details how to make teas out of four forage-able wild winter plants. How cool! (No pun intended.) Who says you have to grow and dry tea in the summer months?

Stinging Nettle- perfect to harvest for herbal tea!

A patch of stinging nettle- perfect for brewing a cup of tea!

You can also check out Herbal Academy’s post on homemade tea recipes for cold and flu season. Gather and dry your ingredients now, then mix and use them all winter!

(If you live in a warm area, you can grow regular “black tea” as well. Our northeastern area isn’t well suited to this warm weather plant, so that’s one tea I’ll keep buying.)

To enjoy your teas fresh, simply pour boiling water over the herbs. (It helps to have a tea ball of some sort to contain them.) You’ll learn over time to adjust the amount and steeping time to your liking. If you prefer to dry them first, you can hang them up, use a dehydrator (I have and love this one), or look up instructions for drying individual herbs in your oven. Then store and use as you would dried tea throughout the year.

What’s your favorite herbal tea?

Learn how to grow or forage for these delicious herbal teas!

A Review of Heaven’s Harvest’s Heirloom Seeds

This year is supposed to be our year of no new projects. We want to just improve on what we already have going, so we don’t get caught up in “overwhelm” (can that be a noun?) and frustration.

The garden is one project that we’ve wanted to simplify this year. We’re going to let our main plot lie fallow, and plant in our newer, smaller beds instead. But somehow, we got to April and we still hadn’t picked out or started seeds! (Have I mentioned that I’m a procrastinator?)

When I had the opportunity to review Heaven’s Harvest’s heirloom seed bucket, I breathed a sigh of relief. I wrote the company in an email (and this is a direct quote), “Honestly, it would make my life a lot simpler to be handed a kit of seeds instead of having to go through and hand pick every one.”


Take a look inside the heaven's harvest heirloom seed Kit.

So, receive a seed kit I did, and I am so happy for the opportunity to share what’s inside this bucket with you!

I received a free bucket of seeds from Heaven’s Harvest in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links. 

About Heaven’s Harvest

Heaven’s Harvest is a small, family owned company that offers various emergency preparedness supplies, including water filtration systems, greenhouses, and of course, seeds! I spoke with Meredith from Heaven’s Harvest before accepting a seed bucket, and she was very courteous, helpful, and prompt in her responses. It makes me very happy to deal with small, dedicated companies like this one.

What is a seed kit? 

Generally speaking, it is simply a collection of seed varieties that are fit for growing in most common garden zones. Heaven’s Harvest specifically offers emergency preparedness seed kits- that is, kits that focus on providing enough protein and nutrition to feed your family in case of a situation where grocery stores would not be available.

There are several sizes of seed buckets available. Today, let’s take a closer look at the “homestead” vegetable seed bucket– the largest seed kit available from Heaven’s Harvest.

What's inside a homestead seed kit from Heaven's Harvest.

What comes in the homestead seed bucket? 

Approximately 130,000 individual seeds in 38 different varieties arrive in a hardcore polycarbonate bucket. Each seed type is packaged in a UV radiation-resistant, resealable mylar foil bag that’s meant for long term storage. In fact, if stored properly, Heaven’s Harvest says these seeds should last up to 10 years!

All seeds from Heaven’s Harvest are non-GMO, non-hybrid, open pollinated heirloom seeds. Why is this important? The short answer is that these seeds can be saved year after year to reproduce the same varieties as the parent plants. Conversely, many seeds on the market today cannot be saved, or will not reproduce true to type.

It’s worth noting that for the long-term, sustainable garden, seed-saving is a valuable, money saving skill that’s worth acquiring. For a clear discussion of different seed types, I encourage you to read this short article by my friend Susan.

Things I love about my seed kit:

  • It came with its own storage container.
  • The seed packs are resealable. (No more spilling seeds!)
  • I can save the heirloom seeds year after year.
  • Most varieties included should work well in a variety of garden zones. (Scroll down on this page for a full listing of seeds in the kit. Make sure the plants will grow well where you live!)

The only thing I wish were different is that there are no planting instructions on the back of the packages. If you are unsure of how to plant these seeds, you will need to refer to an internet search or another gardening resource.

Bean seeds from Heaven's Harvest heirloom seed kit

Are these seed kits a good value?

The homestead seed kit includes 130,000 seeds and costs $249.99. That may seem like a lot to you, but the truth is in years prior we have spent about $150/year on far fewer seeds. (And most of them were not heirloom!)

I found seed kits for less online, but they did not include nearly so many seeds. (Or they didn’t even include seed count!) Similar kits rang in at $0.0026- $0.0033/seed. (A small price, I know!). However, Heaven’s Harvest’s kit costs $0.0019/seed. That is significantly less, especially considering that Heaven’s Harvest is sure to include vegetables with high protein and high caloric intake.

If you don’t want that many seeds, the good news is that Heaven’s Harvest offers smaller kits: The neighborhood kit, with 24 varieties for $149.99, and the condo kit, with 12 varieties for $74.99. Seed packets can also be purchased individually as desired.

These seed kits are marketed as a survival tool. How will they help me in an emergency?

Some people buy an emergency preparedness seed kit and put it on the shelf to save for when the stuff hits the fan. If this is your primary intention when purchasing seeds, you will be sorely disappointed if you ever find yourself in a true food shortage situation. Seeds take knowledge, time, practice, and effort to grow into viable food for you and your loved ones. If you ran out of food before your garden was growing, you would likely starve before harvest time.

However, Meredith and John from Heaven’s Harvest encourage you to start using, saving, and sharing your seeds in your bucket today. They recognize that gardening is a skill that takes time to cultivate. They have designed their seed kits to promote longevity and sustainability:

  • Heirloom seeds can be saved year after year. Start your garden & begin seed saving this year, and you will have free seeds for years to come afterwards.
  • A large seed count means you have some insurance against crop failure. (Heaven’s Harvest tries to err in your favor with approximate counts.)
  • Extra seeds can be kept in resealable bags to be used for future gardens, shared with friends, or saved in case of a crop failure.
  • Seed varieties include greens, squash, asparagus, tomatoes, peppers, melons, root vegetables, beans, cabbage family veggies, so there is significant variety to ensure 1) that you’ll have enough caloric and nutritive intake, and 2) that you’ll find plants that are successful in your garden zone.

A seed kit will only work for survival if you have practiced with it. Take advantage of the fact that Heaven’s Harvest’s seed kits are designed for long-term development of gardening skills, and don’t wait for an emergency to plant your garden!

Is a seed kit the right fit for you?

This seed kit might not be the best fit for you if:

  • You live in an exceptionally hot or cold garden zone.
  • You like to individually pick seeds.
  • You prefer hybrid seeds to heirloom varieties.
  • You prefer to purchase smaller amounts of seed at one time.

Heaven’s Harvest seed kits might be a good choice for you if:

  • You live in a common temperate garden zone.
  • You don’t want to spend time slaving over seed selection.
  • You want to save seeds for following years.
  • You want long term seed storage for your seeds.
  • You are interested in emergency preparation
  • You value heirloom, non-GMO seeds.
  • You like to buy in bulk for the best value.

For this procrastinator, a seed kit from Heaven’s Harvest was a wonderful solution this year. I look forward to planting from my seed kit and practicing saving seeds from these varieties. I will be sure to come back and update how the seeds did!

Check out all of Heaven’s Harvest’s seeds and emergency preparedness supplies here.

Look inside an heirloom seed kit to see if it's right for you!

 

Improving Upon Our Current Systems

Each year since we’ve been in our house, we’ve added something new. The first year it was a garden plot expansion. The next year it was a flock of backyard chickens. Next came the goat, then meat rabbits, then new garden plots.

Each year has also included some home DIY project. At first it was things like wallpaper removal, moving the laundry upstairs, and painting. Then it was a porch rebuild, a chicken coop, a garage rebuild, and creation of a music studio.

Last month, I wrote a post on considering which homestead projects are right for your family. As it turns out, we’ve had to bear this in mind too! As we considered a host of new ideas, we came to a realization- we shouldn’t add anything new this year.


Improving upon our current sytems feature

Why? Well, we have a lot of balls in the air at any one given time. When we do too much, none of these balls land where they’re supposed to, and we’re left having to pick up the mess we’ve made. So many of the projects we have going really need major fixes to work more efficiently for our family.

We still have projects that we want to complete this year. However, instead of adding something new, we are focusing on improving the systems we already have. This way, we avoid burnout and make the projects we are already doing much more profitable and enjoyable.

That being said, here is our 2017 spring and summer project list:

Garden: Our main garden will likely lie mostly fallow this year- the soil needs some rest and revitalization to grow strong, healthy crops again next year. Instead, we will plant in our other newer plots and focus on building up the soil through lasagna gardening methods.

Chickens: Our flock has nearly outgrown their coop. Too many birds means needing to clean it more often, and overcrowded birds are unhappy birds. Also, the original coop was completely built out of re-purposed and scrap materials, so there were parts of it that didn’t function as efficiently as a standard coop.

It’s time to either 1) put some birds in the pot to make more space or 2) build a new coop. Since we’ve had high demand for selling fresh eggs (and since we’d like to expand our flock in a year or two), we want to keep the birds, but make them a new home. Preferably, this will be a walk-in coop.

Rabbits: Oh meat rabbits. They are a really great venture for so many reasons. However, our current housing system is not efficient. We started out with having them in hutches that were converted into “tractors” that could be drug around the yard. However, because of the design, they are extremely hard to clean and too heavy for efficient rotation.

We tried setting up one of the hutches on blocks to create a fertilizer collection system. However, then the rabbits don’t have access to the grass beneath them, so their diet is largely feed. Not ideal for a pastured meat source.

Our hope is to build a colony location for the rabbits. (Read about colony raising rabbits here.) However, because of the slopey nature of our yard, this is a really big project and one that might not get done this year.

Goat: I really, really wanted to breed our one goat this year so we could have 1) babies and 2) milk. However, I am realizing this just isn’t the right time for it. We are facing several complications, a positive CAE test being our main concern. While we are hoping the test results are false, we’re realizing that there are more things to take care of for the arrival and care of baby goats than we are able to commit to currently. This might just not be the year to take on this project.

House improvements: Our plan for the summer is to build a mudroom right outside our kitchen door. Currently, our closet-less house is spilling over with shoes, coats, and backpacks. A mudroom would give us a spot to put all that STUFF, plus it would provide a functional place to keep for outdoor/animal supplies that don’t currently have a home. Not to mention it might give us that little extra push to do a cheapie DIY kitchen remodel… 😉

Another eventual project is to put a greenhouse on the back of the house. We haven’t made it that far yet, and we’re not sure if we will be able to do it this summer. This falls into the category of expansion, not improvement.

Our main goal is to avoid burnout and try to improve upon the systems we already have. Once they are running efficiently, then we can consider whether or not we want to take on a new one!

What projects will you be working on this spring and summer? 

Why we are taking time to improve the systems we have instead of adding new ones.

Five Ways to Cook Without Power

We had a pretty wild snowstorm last week– we got about 2.5 feet of snow dumped on us at once, everything shut down, and our county was in a state of emergency with a travel ban due to avalanches on nearby roads.

Thankfully, our power did NOT go out. But it made me think about whether or not we would have been prepared if it had. With no ability to leave the house, an outage would have made things a bit complicated!

Candles & oil lamp- check. Water bottles- check. Shelf-stable food- check. Extra blankets and layers of clothing- check. Shelter- check. And, happily for us, we also had the ability to cook without power if needed.


When the power goes out and you can't get anywhere, what would you eat?

Almost four years ago, my husband built us a beautiful mud oven in our back yard. (You can read the post on that process here.)  It was made with mostly found materials and runs on small logs and manpower. It’s delightful to use for cooking any day of the week, but it would be especially useful during a power outage.

Of course, power outages don’t only happen in winter, and there are other reasons to use alternative cooking methods besides an outage. Saving money on bills, reducing heat in the house in the summer, or just enjoying the charm of cooking outdoors- cooking without power is a skill for all occasions.

Thus, I present to you: cooking options that don’t involve electricity. (This post contains affiliate links.)

  1. Open Fire Cooking

Sounds obvious, right? However, I’m often ashamed of how long it takes me to start a fire, and I know I’m probably not alone in my challenges. Here are some posts with tips on cooking over an open fire:

2. Solar Ovens

Solar ovens are what they sound like: cooking with no fuel but the sun! Now that’s cheap power! I have never tried a solar oven, but they are apparently a popular off-grid cooking option. Here are several posts with more information & solar oven recipes:

3. Dutch Ovens

Obviously, a dutch oven can be used indoors in a conventional oven. However, its durability lends itself to alternative cooking methods very well. If you’ve managed to find yourself a good cast iron dutch oven, be happy. You can do a lot with it! Here are a few examples:

4. Alternative Stoves

Who says you need a nice cook top to saute something? Check out these posts for some alternatives to the conventional range.

5. Earth & Brick Ovens

Jas Townsend– one of our original mud oven inspirations:

Other Inspiring Posts

What other ways have you cooked without electricity? Share below in the comments!

Be prepared for your next outage, camping trip, or just for a bit of fun cooking the old-fashioned way.

 

Using Wild Plantain to Treat Bee Stings

I am not a healthcare professional. This post is meant for informational purposes only and should not be taken as medical advice. Please use common sense and do not rely on any internet remedy if you have serious reactions to stings. Please consult with your doctor for medical questions.

Did you know that you may have a natural remedy for bee and wasp stings growing wild in your yard? Wild plantain (not the banana variety) is a very common weed that also has some great health benefits (not to mention nutritious too!).

wildplantain (Photo Credit)

Though there are many varieties, the photo above features Broadleaf Plantain (Plantago major)- the type that is most common in my yard. (Note: the Broadleaf Plantain stems are covered in a long patch of many teeny tiny seeds.) The leaves are- you guessed it, broader than another common variety, Narrowleaf Plantain (Plantago lanceolata), as featured below:

wild plantain minor collagePhoto Credit

Narrowleaf Plantain has much longer leaves and taller stems. (Note how the seeds on the Narrowleaf variety grow in a conical shape atop the long stems.)

Plantain is pretty simple to identify. In both of these common varieties, it grows in a rosette pattern. Its leaves have smooth edges with parallel veins. Typically, you’ll find it in places with bad soil, or coming up through cracks in the driveway.

wild plantain rosettePhoto Credit

This post has some really wonderful photos to help identify wild plantain (as well as an awesome idea to make plantain vinegar for future use!), so please pop over and check it out if you would like some close up shots of individual leaves and stems.


According to the all-knowing and highly reliable Wikipedia, 😉 “The active chemical constituents are aucubin (an anti-microbial agent), allantoin (which stimulates cellular growth and tissue regeneration), and mucilage (which reduces pain and discomfort). Plantain has astringent properties, and a tea made from the leaves can be ingested to treat diarrhea and soothe raw internal membranes.” (Don’t worry, if I hadn’t heard it other places and seen it in action, I wouldn’t be quoting Wikipedia to you.)

Plantain has historically been used for all types of wounds, as it has many benefits, including being anti-inflammatory and analgesic (source), but one of our favorite uses for the plant is to help treat bee stings.

The quickest way to treat a sting with plantain is to grab a couple leaves and start mashing them in your mouth. (This makes a poultice of the leaves.) Take the mashed up bits and plaster them over the sting. They will actually draw out the venom of the stinger and help to alleviate symptoms quickly. As the poultice dries, reapply to continue to help with pain and swelling.

Remember, this remedy is meant for people who are NOT threatened with a serious reaction to stings. If you have a severe reaction, please do not hesitate to call 911 or use your EpiPen. While plantain can help to delay a severe reaction, it shouldn’t be relied upon if you’re at risk for anaphylactic shock.

We first tried plantain when my son encountered several bumblebees poking about in a flower patch. The poor guy got stung three times and immediately began developing some hives around the sting sites. My husband applied a plantain poultice in the manner described above and within about 20 minutes you couldn’t even see where the stings were. It also seemed to alleviate little J’s soreness at the sting sites.

See this attractive mash?

plantainmash

Since then, we’ve used plantain for stings multiple times each bee season. Each time we’ve tested it, it has been very successful.

What are your favorite uses for plantain? I would love to hear your experiences!

How to Use Wild Plantain on Bee Stings

Bee photo credit (adaptation mine)