Category Archives: Homestead

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)

Planning a Children’s Garden

We’ve been talking about garden planning recently. Gardening is a great hobby for some of us adults, but have you ever considered making a garden just for your kids?

Planning a Children's Garden2

When my son was four, he proclaimed that he wanted to have a garden, just like Dada. What joy to see him taking in an interest in growing food! It made my little heart flutter to hear him talking about planting, watering, and weeding.


But, as with many involved children’s activities, the logistics seemed daunting. Where would we put his plot? What could he grow easily? Could we trust a preschooler to successfully grow a garden? What if he kills it all? What if all he wants to do is rub dirt on his belly?

Consider planting a children's garden this year! The mishaps are well worth the fun.

Dirt on the belly. It’s a dangerous thing.

Needless to say, it didn’t take long to decide that the learning process was far more important than the outcome of the garden itself, and we got down to planning.

We decided we would ask him what he wanted to grow in his plot. His interests? Tomatoes, peppers, spinach. Maybe a melon too. Fair enough- those are his favorite edibles from our big garden, so why not let him grow them?

The chickens had conveniently decimated their rectangle of run right near the big garden. This area became my son’s garden patch.

We planned to have our son help with layering the ground to build healthy soil, starting seeds indoors, transplanting, watering, and (maybe) careful weeding. Later, he could help with the harvesting and eating of his homegrown food. 🙂 Sounds good, right?

You’ll be pleased to know that our little experiment turned out well. In late winter, he helped to dump layers of leaves and straw on his garden patch to help enrich his soil. He loved watching Dada start the seeds in early spring, and even helped a little bit here and there. He watered away all through the summer– maybe a little too much– and ate every single cherry tomato that grew by the end of September.

jgarden2

 (My little guy working away at bringing straw to lay in his garden.)

There may have been a few mistakes- a few plants pulled instead of weeds, broken tomato stems, premature carrots… But he learned a lot and took pride in his patch. I think that I want my kids to enjoy gardening far more than I want them to have a perfect crop each year.

Two years later, he’s already talking about this year’s garden. His three year old sister also wants her own garden– and she wants to paint it purple. 😉

Here are some considerations for planning your own children’s garden:

  • What types of plant would your child like to grow? Try to pick low-maintenance plants, but feel free to try something your child wants, even if you don’t really think it will grow. Letting them pick and plan (within reason) helps to generate enthusiasm.
  • Where would a good location be for the garden? Pick a good growing spot that’s easy for your child to see and get to. Ideally, it should be near where you are working so you can work side by side.
  • What would be a good size for the garden? You want it to be fairly manageable for your little one, but not so limiting that he doesn’t feel like it’s a “real” garden. We did a small patch, maybe about 4′ x 6′- just enough to call his own.
  • What garden tasks are age-appropriate for your child? Try not to pick tasks that are so advanced that they become frustrating. A three year old delights in spraying a hose or using a small watering can. An older child might like the delicate care required for transplanting.
  • How can you make this a positive, bonding experience? You can use this a teaching tool, but try not to fret too much if your child makes mistakes. Your cheerful attitude can turn an accidentally snapped tomato plant from a disappointment into a bolstering learning experience. Likewise, working together should be an encouraging, happy time- not a time of barking orders or miserable complaining.
  • Consider alternate gardens. A flower garden, rock garden, small pond, or herb garden can all be great places for your little one to tend and care for! Be creative and have fun thinking of gardening ideas together. You could go a step further and find ways to decorate your little garden after it’s planted.

Have you made a children’s garden? What did you include? I would love to hear your ideas!

P.S. Don’t forget you can grab your free seed starting printable here.

Go outside, get in the dirt, learn together. Make this the year that you make a garden just for your kids!

Free Seed Starting Printable

It was 60 degrees in PA this past weekend! Depending on your zone, seed starting time is either already upon you or it will be shortly.

Get a free planner to keep track of all your garden seeds this spring!Today’s post is a quickie- I just wanted to share a free seed-starting printable with you!

Get your planner by email! 

I created this printable last year to help us keep better track of what seeds we started, when we started them, and how soon we should transplant them. It’s easy to loose track of what’s what when you’ve got tray after tray of tiny green seedlings.


If you don’t know anything about starting your own seeds, or if you just need some extra help (like me!) I highly suggest you pop over to the Ultimate Seed Starting & Garden Planning Guide. There you will find wisdom, tips, and resources from some of the smartest gardening bloggers I know.

Just join our mailing list for homestead inspiration, tools, deals, & freebies. Your free printable planner will be delivered to your inbox.

Join our mailing list & get your planner! You’ll make my day. 🙂

* indicates required

Email Format


Looking forward to keeping in touch!

Infinity Jars: Glass Storage for Herbal Products

I like to dabble in homemade remedies for all occasions. Each summer, I forage plants for herbal teas. We make plantain vinegar for treating bee stings. I mix my own anti-tick spray each spring. I use simple homemade body butter to soothe dry skin.

One problem with this hobby of mine is proper storage. I am a huge lover of mason jars and use them for all occasions. But there are times that their shape is just not practical.

For instance, I recently traveled to my grandmother’s with an 8-oz jelly jar full of body butter rolling around in my suitcase. I suppose I could have just brought enough for the weekend if I had a smaller container.


A post shared by Abigail Zieger (@theyrenotourgoats) on

Don’t get me wrong- mason jars are FANTASTIC for canning, gift giving, hot meal packing, etc. However, they are just not really meant for herbal storage. I’ve had herbs go moldy on me because of accidental exposure to moisture. They’ve also gotten pale and lost their verve over months stored in a clear jar on a windowsill. Oops.

I was recently introduced to Infinity Jars, a company offering a variety of glass storage bottles that would meet my needs. They seemed to be a great storage solution for my tinctures, sprays, and other homemade herbal products.

Infinity Jars Review

I was offered a free set of Infinity Jars in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are 100% mine.

Here’s what makes Infinity Jars unique:

  • Ultraviolet glass: The pretty violet glass blocks out harmful rays that degrade food, but allows infrared and UV-A rays.
  • Airtight: No air can get in to gradually deteriorate products.
  • Smell proof: Foods, herbs, and cosmetics retain their original scent.
  • Freshness guarantee: Infinity Jars guarantees that your products will remain fresh and protected for at least 6 months.

It seemed to me that Infinity Jars could serve as an effective storage method for some of my most precious herbs and concoctions. They promise to preserve their contents’ freshness for considerably longer than your average container. Not to mention, glass jars won’t taint the good stuff inside with gross plastic smells!

These are some serious jars, and they are definitely an investment for frugally minded people. If you’re interested in trying them, I would recommend purchasing one or two at a time for your favorite herbal products to see how you like them. Bonus: Infinity Jars is currently offering 10% off your purchase on their website.

Here’s what I got from Infinity Jars & how I plan to use them:

My order arrived packed so well that you could probably drop it from the second story without breaking anything! So far, my containers have also proven to be quite sturdy. Additionally, the jars came with a soft cleaning cloth and a stick-on label for each container- that’s so you tell what’s inside that dark glass.

I’m enjoying my Infinity jars, and I think they will really come in handy for my herbal adventures. Infinity Jars offers quality containers with an impressive shelf-life promise, and they are as beautiful as they are functional. You can order your own ultraviolet glass jars here.

Have you tried Infinity Jars? Share your feedback below! 

Which Homestead Projects are Right for You?

The whole idea of building a self-sufficient homestead can seem really appealing, but it can also quickly become overwhelming. Grow your food, raise your food, build your home, preserve your food, build off grid systems, switch heat sources, cut your own rags, etc., etc., etc. Does anyone really do it all???

Which Homestead Projects are Right for You

I usually get the bug to take on a few projects–generally, those that are food-related. I like cooking good food, canning what my hubby grows, helping to process maple syrup…  But even those few things can feel like too much when I’m also trying to wrangle three kids, homeschool, and keep up with daily responsibilities.


This year has been a lesson in burn-out for me. I’m coming to realize how important it is to keep our project lists manageable.

porchrebuild

(A porch rebuild project that my husband completed in under 3 weeks.)

In our house, we each generally have responsibility for certain projects. I tend to do food preservation and general animal care; my husband tends to do food growing, butchering, and building/renovation projects. Of course, there are many jobs that wouldn’t get done without each other’s help. There are jobs at which we fail miserably. And of course, there are many projects that we don’t take on at all!

So how do you choose which projects you should take on?

  1. Research before you begin. Do a lot of reading/video watching/pro-con weighing before you bring home an animal or rent an excavator. It’s good to know what you’re getting into before you start.
  2. Think about your skill sets. Say you’ve always really wanted to make your own clothes out of scrap material but every sewing project you’ve ever taken on comes out looking like a 3rd grader made it. (No, I’m not talking about me at all. Why do you ask?) Let’s put it this way: you can take advantage of the skills you already have (like cooking or gardening) while responsibly outsourcing the ones you have yet to learn (like sewing or woodworking).
  3. Be willing to learn new skills. The above being said, it’s totally great to work on learning new skills for a project, and there are some that nearly anyone could tackle successfully. Water bath canning, for instance, is pretty simple, and can be learned in an afternoon. My husband learned a lot of new things when he essentially rebuilt our porch and garage. Don’t be afraid to try something new– just don’t feel like you have to learn every new skill under the sun.
  4. Consider time restraints. I don’t care how many blogs you read– you have to realize that in real life, these people are not doing everything all the time. Consider your priorities, and make time only for what’s really important to you. When you are able, you can still enjoy trying something new without the pressure of making it a regular commitment.
  5. Budget your resources. How much money does a project require? Which materials do you have on hand and which will you have to purchase? Do you need a certain amount of land? Think through your needs before you get in over your head.
  6. Be realistic. I struggle with this. I want to it all, then I get burnt out while trying to do it all. There’s an ebb and flow to life, and you must remember that it’s totally okay– and even very good– to not bite off more than you can chew.
  7. Remember that it’s not a competition. Maybe this is silly, but sometimes I experience Little House on the Prairie Jealousy Syndrome (LHPJS). For some reason I want to be off in an off-grid cabin in the woods somewhere, and I can’t help but feeling a little bit of longing when I see someone else already there. But there are no awards for how homesteady you are, and everyone’s story is different.

(Our goat was quite the learning curve!)

It can be wholesome, invigorating, and- yes- very beneficial to pursue projects in the name of self-sufficiency!  But remember, you don’t have to do everything. Start small, try one new thing at a time, and go from there.

Just a note: You can actually learn a lot by getting into an overwhelming homestead venture. So if you find yourself in that position, take heart and don’t give up too quickly! You might just end up really proud of what you’ve accomplished.

Have you ever gotten in over your head? Have you had a proud new project moment? Tell me about your experiences in the comments. 

P.S.- It’s not too late to join our February Decluttering Challenge on Instagram! Why am I decluttering? So I can have more time for the projects and people that I really want to be spending my time on. Jump in here.

10 Reasons to Get Meat Rabbits

Meat rabbits! If you’re new to home-butchering, the idea of raising a rabbit just to eat it probably sounds off-putting. However, there are many reasons why meat rabbits are a perfect choice for the hobby farmer looking to get into home meat production.

Before I begin typing this, I must tell you a secret: I don’t personally care for owning meat rabbits. I keep trying to convince my husband to sell them all off and use the money for getting another goat or perhaps a sheep. I promise I’ll share why in another post- but for now, let’s look at the positives. 🙂

10 Reasons to Get Meat Rabbits

  1. Rabbits are an inexpensive investment. Meat rabbits cost relatively little. A registered goat can easily cost $200-400 a pop, and pig and cattle certainly aren’t cheap. However, rabbits can be found for about $40-60 for a breeding pair. (We got our pair for $25, but that’s unusual!) You can also purchase a breeding trio- one buck and two does- so you can alternate breeding with two different mamas.
  2. They don’t take up much space. You don’t need acres and acres to raise rabbits. All you need is a small hutch (or hutches) to house each rabbit. FYI- if you’re new to this, don’t keep your male and female live together on a regular basis. There’s a reason for the phrase “breed like rabbits.”
  3. They don’t make noise. Rabbits are usually silent. Enough said.
  4. They have one of the shortest birth to processing times. Rabbits can be processed at 8-12 weeks old. Each litter requires a relatively brief time commitment.
  5. They produce the most lean protein per dollar spent out of any meat animal. Or so they tell me. Honestly, I don’t know where this statistic is from, but I remember hearing it many times when we were researching rabbits. (Tell me if it’s true, will you?) However, with litters averaging 6-10 kits and each rabbit averaging about 4 lbs, it’s easy to see that there’s a potential for a lot of meat. We average about 24-40 lbs with each successful breeding.
  6. You don’t need expensive equipment for butchering. My husband uses a pellet gun for dispatch and a good knife for skinning and gutting. (There are other methods for dispatch, but we find the pellet gun to be simple and humane.) Also, rabbits are pretty light (3-5 lbs), so you don’t need any fancy hooks or a big space to hang them for processing like you would a larger animal.
  7. They can mow your lawn for you. You read that right. Check out this post to see what I mean. I would recommend, however, making sure that the bottom fencing on your DIY rabbit mower is strong and regularly inspected. If you didn’t know this already, rabbits are good at digging.
  8. Rabbits are a free fertilizer factory. Rabbits poop. A lot. And that poop is hailed as gold for your garden. If you raise rabbits, you can collect those golden nuggets (ahem) for compost and fertilizing. Now you know.
  9. Care is relatively easy. All you have to do occasional cleaning & daily fresh food and water. Bonus: Rabbits love vegetable ends, so they also take care of food scraps for you!
  10. They taste good. It’s true- rabbits taste somewhat like chicken. You can make roast rabbit, rabbit stew, or pretty much any chicken meal that with rabbit meat.

There you have it. 10 reasons to get meat rabbits for your own homestead. Are there any other reasons that you can think of?

Before Adding an Animal to the Homestead

I have a a daydream that goes like this: I own a sprawling property that covers acres of rolling hills and lightly wooded areas. Sheep and goats mill about through the pastures and chickens dot the landscape. There’s a family of ducks quacking about on our quiet pond, and we have several sources of peacefully raised and processed meat. Of course, the loyal family dog is also there, and he greets you noisily but merrily.

Reality: I got chickens, rabbits, and a goat. I love them dearly, but they’re also a big responsibility.

It’s easy to become enamored with (and addicted to) homestead animals. Each new addition is enthralling and delightful. We keep thinking of excuses to get more chickens. (Just one more, honey, I promise.) We tend to say yes to friends who need homes for their animals. We wonder, what difference would one more goat make? When we hear of free guinea hens, we think, why the heck not?


Here are some points to consider before you decide to buy a homestead animal.

Maybe you’re an experienced farmstead extraordinaire. Perhaps you’re just at the stage where you think chickens are cute but you’ve never smelled inside a dirty coop. Regardless, you should know that you must consider each animal carefully before you add it to your homestead.

Here are some factors for consideration:

1) Housing 

Every animal needs a home, and many animals have particular needs. Chickens need a coop with nesting boxes and a roosting pole. Rabbits like to have a hide-away place. Goats need super-awesome fencing and a shelter for the night. Plan your animals’ housing carefully to make sure that they are warm, comfortable, and safe from potential predators.

2) Feed

I hate to say it, but animals eat too. Depending on the animal and your purposes for it, you’ll need to provide pasture, kitchen scraps, grain, hay, and/or other food and supplements. You can try to do as much of it as you can inexpensively, but all animal feed options either take time or money.

Consider animal food needs before adding them to your homestead.

3) Health Care

Do you know how to trim a goat’s hooves? Figure out whether or not your birds have parasites? Separate a sick animal from its companions? Deal with a litter of baby bunnies found dead in the early morning?

I don’t want to be intimidating– we didn’t know how to do any of this when we first started acquiring animals. However, you must be prepared to do a little research and jump in with both feet when your animal has a health need.

4) Cost

All of these animal needs cost money. We got into raising animals ultimately to save money, and sometimes that has worked out really well. However, there have been lots of times when they’ve cost us more than they’re worth, and that can be disheartening and frustrating.

We are still trying to work out how to raise animals as frugally as possible. The best advice I can give you is to research inexpensive methods, try to be resourceful whenever possible, and be prepared to adjust if you find something is costing you more than you would like. Now, to go take my own advice!

IMG_0083

5) Responsibility

Dairy animals need to be milked twice a day. TWICE A DAY. And finding willing victims helpers who are able to milk while you go on vacation can be difficult. Bear this in mind before you buy your goat or cow.

All animals, however, require daily chores. Food, water, cleaning, moving, and tending to as necessary are all part of keeping farm animals. It can be a big commitment at times. Not to mention it requires some level of physical strength to complete the tasks– I can do a lot of it, but I often need my husband to help with some of the heavier lifting.

6) Neighbors

We are SO blessed with awesome neighbors who either have animals themselves or who are very forgiving of our rogue chickens and the occasional escapee goat. Let’s see if they still like us when our noisy guinea fowl are full-grown.

However, not all neighbors enjoy a runaway rooster dust bathing in their flower beds, or horses perusing their backyards. (Yes, that happened to us. Multiple times.) Consider an animal’s noise level, smell, ranging limits, and safeness before adding one to your property. Be considerate of neighbors and be sure that your animal choices will bring peace to your community, not war and increased legislation. Always be sure to check your local regulations too!

I said yes to free guinea fowl. #guineafowl #homesteadingit #imustbecrazy

A photo posted by Abigail Zieger (@theyrenotourgoats) on

7) Animal Interaction 

Will your animals live with each other? Will your cat kill your chicks? Can a pig and a goat get along? Does one animal present any bio-security hazards to another? Consider how well your animals will interact with one another, and ensure that you have adequate space and housing if certain animals need to be kept away from one another.

8) Usefulness

This might seem harsh to some, but I am at a point in my life where if an animal isn’t useful to me, I won’t keep it. I love dogs, but I can’t afford to feed one just for companionship. If an animal doesn’t feed my family or take care of predators for me, I’m not going to spend my time and money on it.

You, however, may have the resources necessary to raise an animal purely for your own enjoyment. It can be a wonderful experience– even therapeutic– to care for other creatures. If it brings joy to your heart and you are ready for the responsibility, then by all means, don’t let me discourage you from having an animal simply as a pet!

IMG_0147

Don’t let all of these considerations scare you. Animals can be a lot of work, but they can also be a lot of fun. I admit– sometimes I’d like to ship our animals off to another house for a while– but most of the time, I’m really glad we have them and I’m grateful for their provisions.

Have any other advice? What animals do you own?

 

Three Simple Foraging Rules

Last month, I was enjoying our family reunion in Vermont. Clear skies, clean highways, miles of wildflowers and green mountains, and (atypical for this Pennsylvania girl) not a billboard in sight. I loved it.

Along with picturesque scenery and extra free time came foraging. It seemed like everywhere I looked there was a wild edible or medicinal. Even my nephew and son were delighting in how much wood sorrel there was in the yard by our rental.

“You guys know a lot about this stuff,” marveled Uncle V. “That’s cool, man,” he said with a nod.


In reality, as we assured our uncle,  we still have a lot to learn. While I frequently make use of friendly neighborhood weeds in homemade medicines, teas, and meals, we still are amateur foragers at best.

Here are three simple rules to help you forage safely, ethically and sustainably.

If you, like us, find yourself wishing you knew more about foraging, take heart. You can still enjoy feasting upon even the most mundane of wild-harvested oddities (i.e., dandelion greens) while you learn how to improve your foraging skills safely and sustainably. Here are some basic rules of foraging to abide by.

1)Know thy plants. Buy a guide to wild edibles. Ask the great Google for plant descriptions and photos. Learn about poisonous lookalikes and companion plants. Pay attention to details of leaf shape, seasonal changes and growth, fruit arrangements, etc. Know when you can eat a plant, what parts of the plant you can eat, and how it is best consumed.

If you aren’t 100%, double checked, absolutely sure what a plant is and how to use it, don’t pick it. An innocent misidentification could lead to topical rashes, stomach upset, nasty side effects, or even death.

Now that I’ve scared you, you should know that foraging is generally quite safe as long as you’re well-researched and sensible. Just don’t start sticking everything in your mouth at once, okay?

2) Pick only what you need. If you pick all of the plant in one go, it won’t have a chance to come back the following year.A general rule of thumb is to harvest no more than 10% of the total plants available, and no more than 25% of any one individual plant. For example, let’s say there are 100 nettle plants in my goat field– I should only harvest about a quarter of the leaves of each individual plant, and make sure that I don’t take more than about 10 plants in total.

If there’s only one or two plants in the area, then it’s better not to pick at all. If you leave them to their own devices, hopefully there will be more the following year to return to and enjoy more fully for years to come.

And of course, take only what you need. You want to leave the plants there to help promote a thriving ecosystem. Remember that it’s not just you that enjoys eating plants!

3) Pick in legal and safe locations. If you suspect that the wild apple tree on the side of the road is on private property, do be sure to ask permission from the property owners before claiming a bushel. Also, double check with the rules of your local parks before making off with an abundance of a precious resource that is actually protected for ecological reasons.

And of course, avoid areas where pesticides, roadside fumes, or toxic run-off could be compromising your plants.

While these guidelines may seem like no-brainers, it’s easy for a newbie forager to become overzealous and forget to use common sense. Remember these simple rules as you traipse about searching for wild edibles, and you will ensure a safe and principled foraging expedition.

 

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

IMG_0363

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

eggs

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

IMG_0094

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

cannedgoods

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?