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.

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The Craft of Herbal Fermentation: A Course Review

Foraging for plants in your neighborhood. Fermentation and bubbling jars. Homemade concoctions and kitchen experiments. Community. Joy! Can the combination get any better?

I received a free copy of the Craft of Herbal Fermentation Course in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links. 

If you’ve been reading for the past few months, you may know that I was gradually working my way through the Craft of Herbal Fermentation Course from Herbal Academy. Today, I wanted to follow up on my previous posts and sum up my experience with the course.

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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.

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Roasted Asparagus & Almonds

Asparagus grows more like a shrub than a quick garden plant. If you plant it from seed, it takes about three years before you can harvest it. But once it’s coming- oh my!- those fresh stalks are so delicious and tender. I hardly get them inside because I’m usually eating them straight from the ground.

If you happen to have some fresh asparagus in your yard, count yourself blessed and go pick some for this recipe. If you don’t, take advantage of seasonal sales to bring some home from the store this spring!

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Fermentation: Building Culture & Community

Lacto-fermentation is a hot trend right now. However, though it may seem like a new thing for young, health-conscious weirdos, the practice has  been around for thousands of years. In fact, for about as long as there have been people, there has been fermentation. As it turns out, it’s also been a huge part of culture and community for all that time.

How fermentation has played into culture and community for thousands of years.

This post contains affiliate links. 

Preservation & Food Safety

Fermentation is a fantastic way to preserve food without refrigeration. How does it work? While methods vary from food to food, generally the process  is the same. Fermentation occurs when the naturally occurring bacteria on food is combined with some sort of culture: whey, wild yeasts, or, in modern days, a purchased strain of starter culture. Keep the fermenting food away from oxygen and leave it at room temperature. The good bacteria will grow, and the food will transform into a tangy, bubbly treasure that can safely be stored in a cool environment for months.

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Fried Dandelion Heads

My husband and I rarely see weeds as mere yard infestations. Usually he’s the one asking, “Can we eat it? Make something from it? Use it for some medicinal purpose?” It’s no different when dandelions begin popping up everywhere in the spring.
Fried Dandelions Feature
(By the way, the violets in this picture are edible too.)

Dandelions are one of the most common intruders creeping into yards everywhere. While many people spend time, work, and money trying to keep their lawns free of the brightly colored visitor, others spend just as much time and work (though rarely money) to find uses for the golden weed.

Dandelions have been used for human consumption in many different ways. Dandelion leaf salad, dandelion root tea, and dandelion wine are just a few examples to get you started. Today, I will share a recipe with you that my good friend Alexis taught me how to make: fried dandelion heads.

They taste very much like fried chicken cutlets- only the “meat” inside is free from your yard!

dandelion2Ready to get started? You will need:

  • About 2-3 C Dandelion heads
  • White Vinegar (just a splash)
  • Olive Oil as needed (try starting with about ¼ C)
  • 1 Egg
  • About 1 C Plain Bread Crumbs
  • 1 Tbsp each Garlic, Italian Seasoning, & Parsely (or to taste)
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Unfortunately, the above amounts are just estimates. Depending on how many dandelion heads you have, you may need to alter this recipe accordingly. The nice part about breading & frying is that you can always add more oil to the pan or more bread crumbs & seasonings to the mix if you run out.

1) Collect and Wash Dandelion Heads! This is a great time to get your kids helping you. J loves it when I send him on flower-picking assignments.

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* Make sure that you haven’t been spraying your yard with anything toxic if you’re out foraging for weeds!

Pick just under the bloom, where the head easily snaps off. Rinse them off well through a colander if you’re not into eating bugs.

2) Coat your dandelions. First, mix your dandelions with a splash of white vinegar. Next, set up your assembly line for coating. Beat egg into one container. Combine dry ingredients in another. It should look something like this:

dandelion4Heat oil on stovetop over medium heat until it’s shimmering. Dip your dandelion heads first into the egg, then into the bread crumb mixture, making sure that they get completely coated at each step.

3) Fry ‘em up! Carefully place the dandelion heads into the hot oil using tongs or some other such tool. (Or jump back as you drop them so you don’t get splattered.)

Turn them partway through frying to get both sides nice and golden brown. This step won’t take more than a couple of minutes if your oil is good and hot, so watch them carefully to avoid burning them.

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4) Drain and enjoy! Remove the dandelion heads with tongs and place them on a plate lined with paper towels to absorb the oil. Once they’ve sat a couple minutes, you can eat them up immediately!

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You’ll most likely keep popping them til they’re gone. If by some chance you don’t finish them, it’s always fun to pack leftovers for lunch and relish in telling your co-workers you’re eating fried weeds. And besides, they’re yummy, I promise! Hope you give them a shot. 🙂

Make these delicious flower poppers with weeds and just a few ingredients you already have in your pantry.

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.

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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.

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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!

 

The Perfect Hard Boiled Egg

I used to work in a few different cafes, and each sous chef hard boiled his eggs a little differently- often with adverse results. The most amusing occasion was a boss who microwaved an under-boiled egg as an attempt to speed its readiness. Said egg ended up exploding when the boss peeled it prematurely. Thankfully, no one was hurt in the process.

Hard-boiled eggs that end up liquidy, un-intentionally green, or explosive are all undesirable outcomes. I’m happy to say that my mom tipped me off to an egg-boiling method that lends the perfect hard boiled egg- every time.

The Perfect Hard Boiled Egg

Now, as a caveat, you must know that I don’t eat hard-boiled eggs. I only do this for an occasional seventh grade science project (for my hubby’s students) or Easter egg dying. But every time, on all the different stoves I’ve tried, it comes out right!

Ready?

1) Put your eggs in a pot and cover with cold water.

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2) Turn on the burner and bring to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes only.

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3) Turn off the heat. Let the eggs sit in the hot water for 22 minutes.

4) Run cool water over the eggs.

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5) Let cool completely before peeling.

That’s it!

The kids were slightly suspicious of their eggs…

April 2015 022 April 2015 028But I thought they looked just right! 🙂

Thanks to my mom for sharing another great life secret. If you’re a hard-boiled egg eater, let me know how these taste to you!

How to finally get the perfect hard boiled egg, every time.