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.
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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?”
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.
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!
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.
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.)
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
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?
Let me be honest. Deep down inside, I am NOT a green thumb. I love spending time in the garden. I’ve gardened for years- even as a teenager, under the direction of my gardening mother.But I truly believe our current garden would shrivel up due to my inept methods of care and lack of knowledge. (Thank goodness I’ve got a husband who knows how to make plants grow.)
Another confession: I’ve never started seeds on my own. I leave that little basement science experiment up to my husband. Though I’m familiar with the process and and have helped on the rare occasion, he’s the one in charge of growing conditions, charting sowing and emergence dates, hardening off the young plants and transplanting.
And yet, seed-starting season is upon us in our region. So, I defer to those I know and trust for the resources I need to get planning. Dearest husband, wouldn’t you want to write a seed-starting post for the blog? Pretty please? (I’m working on him. Keep your eyes peeled.)
I also asked my awesome blogger friends from Homestead Bloggers Network to share their posts on seed starting and garden planning. And holy cow, do these people know their stuff. I expected to gain some new knowledge, but I got nearly fifty posts submitted from these groovy gardening friends.
So, get ready for the ultimate collection of anything you ever wanted to know about seed starting and gardening planning! (This post contains affiliate links.)
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.)
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.)
Chamomile– This flower makes a relaxing tea that is also renowned for many health benefits.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Basil– Apparently, this tasty herb works well for sore throats, headaches, and upset stomachs! I didn’t know that before reading this!
Wintergreen– Here’s the secret to enjoying foraged wintergreen tea that’s full of flavor.
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.
Red Clover– This medicinal plant grows wild all over the place! Just look down!
Drink your fruits– This post covers instructions for blackberry, raspberry, strawberry leaf, elderflower, and orange peel teas. How exciting is that?
Winter teas– This 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?
(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?
I think you should DIY your plant access whenever you can! But If you can’t easily grow or find the plants I’ve suggested, I‘d suggest checking out Mountain Rose Herbs for various herbal and tea needs.
This post contains some affiliate links. This means if you make any purchase through the link, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks in advance for your support!
Meal-planning is hailed as the number one tip for saving money in the kitchen and avoiding food waste. And it really does do both of those things! But I find that when everything is coming in the garden, it becomes rather difficult to plan far ahead.
Why? Well, it’s hard to know sometimes whether the zucchini will be ripe by Tuesday or Thursday. You can’t predict whether or not an insect will come along and wipe out those kale leaves you had in mind for tomorrow’s meal. And beyond that, food preservation calls regularly during garden season. More time on preservation means less time on meal planning or cooking. You just can’t do it all in one day.
You need to keep up with your garden first, meal plan second. And your meal planning may become a little bit unconventional. Here’s some ways to adapt meal-planning wisdom to a full-garden schedule.
1) Observe your garden daily. My husband usually does this for me. He reports regularly what’s almost ready to be harvested. Consider jotting down in a garden notebook what is ripening so that you won’t accidentally leave a crop behind. (I just thought of that. I think I need to start doing it.)
2) Plan in short term increments. Meal-planners often suggest planning a week or two in advance- or even a month! This is quite doable in the off-season for me, but certainly not when I’m dealing with vine/bush/dirt-fresh produce. Plan your meals just a few days in advance based on your garden observations.
3) Plan preservation along with meals. When bumper crops of green beans are coming out your ears, consider taking a portion of those sliced green beans you were prepping for the freezer and cook them up on the side for that night’s dinner. When you’re ready to can your big batch of tomato sauce, whip out some pasta for dinner so you can enjoy that sauce as fresh as it comes. Apply as needed to whatever crop is plentiful at the time.
4) Focus on the garden- not your store trips. Why focus on buying ingredients for meals when I have the freshest, local-est produce available to me in my back yard? In the summer, I tend to think of the store as a way to stock staples, not a way to plan meals. I purchase such regulars as pasta, rice, coffee, flour, beans, etc.- and then just use them as needed alongside the garden’s production.
5) Be flexible. Try not to plan around very specific recipes unless you just happen to have those very specific ingredients available. I tend to think in terms of “zucchini + meat + veggie skillet,” not “Pan-fried zucchini with corn, onions, tomatoes, fresh basil, and Italian sausage.” I just use whatever is ready, and happily change or adapt recipes to fit what’s growing. (This approach made me nervous at first, but I’ve gotten better at it over time.)
6) Make your crops multi-task. if you’ve got an extremely large batch of beets, try planning for two or three meals that week that feature beets in varied ways. (Along with whatever method of preservation you’re planning.) It will save you time and hassle for the days to come.
What if planning only a few days ahead is too hectic for me?
If your schedule doesn’t permit short-term planning and spontaneity, consider doing your planning based on last week’s crops. Last week you harvested tomatoes, peppers, and onions, so this week you will plan Mexican night with fresh salsa, Caprese salad, and Italian pasta. You can still eat seasonally fresh produce, even if you have to store your pickings for a week before you get to it. (Just make sure you rotate stock to use the oldest produce first.)
What about when the garden is out of season?
That’s the beautiful part of garden preservation. You can water-bath can pasta sauce, salsa, pickles, and jams of all sorts in advance. If you have a pressure canner, you can make up a huge batch of chicken soup and can in quart jars to open up in winter months when you’re craving it. You can dehydrate your fresh herbs so you can stock your own spice cabinet and herbal tea stash year-round. You can prepare freezer meals with your fresh produce, instead of just freezing the produce alone.
Then when the winter months come? Meal planning is as easy as checking your pantry and throwing together what’s in there. It’ll taste about fifty times fresher than the blah canned stuff you can buy at the grocery, and it will save you time and money too. That’s when you can easily plan a few weeks in advance.
Susan Vinskofski, author and gardening genius behind the blog Learning and Yearning, generously gave me a free copy of her ebook, The Art of Gardening, in exchange for my honest review. I liked the book so much that I decided to become an affiliate for it as well. Please be assured that I only endorse products I know and love on this blog-and this book definitely fit the bill!
I first met Susan through a mutual friend who thought that we would get along since we both grew and preserved so much of our own food. Our friend was right- my husband and Susan both had an affinity for lasagna gardening, she and I both had a blogging history, and we all had a passion for eating fresh, nutritious, well-sourced food. It turns out that Susan is also a master gardener (something my hubby has wanted to do for a long time) and the author of this fabulous book: The Art of Gardening.
What will you find inside Susan’s ebook? Easy-to-follow advice for building rich, healthy soil, a clear, helpful guide to understanding seeds (and some of the most common garden crops), and creative ways to enjoy the harvest in your real-food kitchen. The information is accompanied by Deb Hamby’s gorgeous oil paintings, which is enough in and of itself to make you want to grow all kinds of appealing plants.
Susan covers the basic aspects of building soil- composting, lasagna gardening, soil components, and mulching. She discusses controversial practices like the use of peat moss and rototilling with precision and grace. And consistently, she encourages the use of whatever sustainable, inexpensive local resources you can get your hands on.
For example, when sourcing wood chips to mulch your garden, Susan discourages the use of bark- or recycled wood-based (and expensive) commercial chips. Instead she recommends wood chips that are full of the good stuff- branches, leaves, needles- i.e., food for your soil. Does she send you to a specialty site to order pricey 5 lb bags of the stuff? No. She gives you a local, friendly solution that won’t cost you a dime : “Call a local tree service and ask if they would be willing to deliver a load of these chips to your garden. They often have to pay a fee to dispose of the chips and are more than willing to drop them off if they are in your area. Be kind, and offer them some of your garden produce; you never know, you may make a new friend.”
Susan covers all things seeds- seed types, sources, and why plant diversity is so important. She reviews GMO and organic seed issues, but doesn’t muddy the waters too much with the muck of the controversy. Instead, she gets right down to business by walking the reader through the how-to of seed starting, planting, and saving. And of course, Susan discusses how to care for your garden. (Ah, the fun part!)
But the section that plays most to my belly and taste buds is the A-Z veggie guide at the end of the book… with accompanying creative recipes! Whether I was drooling over the idea of grass-fed burgers topped with sweet onion butter, or dreaming of parsnip cake with orange-infused whipped cream, Susan’s book made me inspired to make use of my garden produce in new and delicious ways. I can hardly wait for our harvest so I can cook some of these!
The Art of Gardening is a great starter’s guide for beginners, and is full of sound advice for experienced gardeners. My hubby and I are somewhere in the middle, as we’ve been gardening together for about six years now, and starting our own seeds for the past three years. However, we’ve always said that you make mistakes and learn something new every year. Well, I learned a lot of new things from this book! Every chapter in The Art of Gardening offered some knowledge previously unbeknownst to me. I bet that implementing some of Susan’s tricks will save us a lot of trouble in the years to come.
Susan empowers ALL prospective gardeners to be successful- not just those with a gorgeous plot and fancy amendments. She says in her first chapter that she wants “to teach you to build a garden in such a way that the original soil you have to work with will not be what determines your end result.” And that is exactly what she does.
Want to get your own copy? Susan is currently offering 25% off the price of The Art of Gardening through May 31st, 2015, with the code SPRING entered at checkout. You won’t regret this wholesome , inspiring read! Click here for more details.
This post contains affiliate links. Thank you in advance for supporting my efforts with this little blog!
You get to learn how different plants grow and thrive.
You appreciate your food a lot more when you grow it yourself.
Your kids are more likely to eat what they helped to grow. (My son loves to pick a fresh pepper or tomato off our plants. In fact, our first year, he ate every. single. tomato. that was on our plants. We obviously chose to plant more of them the following year.)
When you plan your garden carefully, it can save you a lot of money. (We spend between $100-$200 a year on our garden, seeds, soil, etc., but we have saved hundreds a month on groceries because we have our preserved food to use throughout winter.
It builds your self-sufficiency.
You learn new skills.
It is immensely satisfying.
I challenge you. Look up one plant- just one!- that will grow well in the conditions in your yard- or patio- or windowsill. Find something, or someplace to plant it in that is free. (You don’t need a designer pot.) Give it a whirl. If you succeed, great! Try a few more plants next year! Figure out how to build healthy soil as you continue gardening year by year. If you fail, find out why. Go ahead and try, try again! (This is what Google is for, people!)
There is not much more satisfying than seeing food grow from start to finish, by the work of your own hands. We still get a thrill every time we are able to eat a dinner that is primarily sourced from our own garden. What a joy to cultivate and make use of what grows in the earth!
“Who loves a garden still his Eden keeps, perennial pleasures plants, and wholesome harvest reaps.” ~Amos Bronson Alcott