Category Archives: Homestead

The Farm Girl I’m Not

This post was born out of many conversations my husband and I have had over the years. I have always dreamed of a full fledged “farm girl” life, but we’ve found that our reality has turned out to look a little different. 

In south-central Pennsylvania, not far from my grandmother’s house, there’s a sprawling valley filled with Amish and Mennonite farms. They spread out across the land like squares on a patchwork quilt. One home dotted with colorful annuals follows another, many of them with large, well-kempt barns and fields. Even the smaller properties in town have tidy backyard gardens filled with fresh produce.

Ever since I was a small girl riding in the backseat of my grandparents’ car, I watched longingly as we passed the horse-drawn buggies and long lines of color-coded laundry. I wanted a home like this one day: a big, beautiful farmhouse, carefully cared for, surrounded by animals and filled with the smell of fresh baking.

Though I didn’t grow up on a farm, I still feel it’s part of my heritage. The memories of stroking a feisty cat in the yard of my great-aunt’s farm, the time spent lurking in the barn at my old friend Grace’s house, the stories of my great-grandmother making their own way with their backyard  homestead, and even our own kitchen garden at my parents house… it all runs in my blood.

We’ve pursued so many of the skills that I saw in my own family: gardening, canning, drying herbs, tapping syrup, raising or catching animals for meat, keeping a handful of laying chickens… Over the years there has been an ebb and flow to things. Some years we are bursting with homestead projects and responsibilities; some years we struggle with burnout and accomplish very little.

My reality isn’t filled with onions hung up to dry and bushels of potatoes stored for winter. My canning cupboard is rarely full. Our garden rows couldn’t be described as straight and long, and perhaps some of them were never planted at all. We’ve gave up our primary meat source last summer because it didn’t fit with our lifestyle. Our goat became a pet after a year of milking, and for now I buy my milk at the store.

Perhaps when I envisioned myself on a farm, I imagined it would be a much more monastic lifestyle. One in which I could sit and garden and sew and cook in peace, without the multitude of distractions and outside obligations.

To some, this may sound like an oppressed woman’s reality. To me, however, it speaks of the fullness of a rich and hardworking life. It doesn’t seem confining; rather, it is amazingly freeing. Imagine- the chance to live life as it really works. To be close to your food, to manage your home, to know what kind of work and love goes into every part of your daily needs and wants.

Our modern lives are distracted, fractured, and disconnected from how we eat, wash, and find shelter. Our basic needs are met with paper bills given to us by working a job that’s part of the system, rather than by the work of our own two hands. This is what is so appealing to the idea of homesteading to me: the thought that we really could connect to how we live.

And yet, in my real life, I work at three different places outside of the home. I’m a music teacher and singer. When I’m not out, I’m homeschooling my kids or trying to recover the house from it’s daily explosions. In the cracks, I spend much less time in the dirt than I would like to.

My life isn’t monastic. It’s full of people to see, places to be, and things to be done. It may seem from the outside that I am a down-home, all natural, farmy type of girl- and yes, I do love these types of things. However, in my real life I am also a busy mom who begrudgingly drives a Town and Country and stops at Wendy’s when she’s in a pinch.

Part of me mourns this current reality. I want to live quietly and happily with the weather in my face and earth on my dress. I want to be home more. I don’t want to be running from place to place.

But, as my husband reminded me, the life that we have isn’t bad. It’s just different. My days are good. Our “farmish” adventures are far from full-fledged, but I’m learning to take joy in the adventures we can have right now.

Things don’t have to be all or nothing.

Am I a farm girl? No, not really. But do I have to be? No!

In fact, I often have to remind myself that one of the secrets of happiness is to be content right where you are.


The Fox is on the Town-O (Or, How to Get Rid of a Fox)

Two weeks ago, I heard a squabbling from the direction of the chicken coop as I took the garbage cans up the hill. The roosters must be having a fight, I thought. But the noise increased and a chicken scream carried out across the yard.

Into the house I ran, slippers off, muckboots on, and back out I scurried. Then I saw him.

A red fox was standing down behind the mud oven in the backyard. A hen’s neck and head were dangling from his mouth. We stared at one another for a moment.

“HEY!” I shouted. He dropped the head in the snow.  “GET OUTTA HERE! THESE AREN’T YOUR CHICKENS!!!”

how to get rid of a fox

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How to Make Your Own Maple Syrup at Home

So, you want to make your own maple syrup.

And I can understand why: The golden-amber, sticky-sweet pancake topper is romantically delicious. Maple syrup is the perfect start to a snowy day and a divine dessert flavor. It’s the stuff of children’s stories, of breakfasts out with friends, and of picturesque homestead portraits.

You may want to try your hand at making maple syrup to save money. Store-bought syrup is delightful, but it’s also rather pricey. In 2017, the average cost of maple syrup in the United States was $35/gallon.

Or perhaps you want to make your own syrup simply because you love homemade food and the DIY process. Maple sugaring certainly won’t disappoint: the process of tapping trees, collecting the sap and processing it, then finally canning and enjoying fresh homemade syrup is a unique, seasonal experience that you’ll come to look forward to every year.

Can you make maple syrup at home?

Absolutely! While it may seem daunting at first, the process of making syrup is actually quite simple. It just takes some maple trees, time and patience, and a few supplies.

Today, I am hoping to give you a brief overview of how to make maple syrup, or, as it’s often called, “sugaring.” It takes a bit to fall into a rhythm that fits with the rest of your life schedule, but the sticky, sweet, delicious results are well worth the effort.

Making Maple Syrup(Color and flavor variation in homemade syrup is quite normal! We actually prefer the darker, stronger stuff.)

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Why We Quit Raising Meat Rabbits

Anti-Overwhelm Strategy #1: Quit Raising Meat Rabbits.

There are SO many great reasons to raise meat rabbits. They are one of the least expensive sources of lean protein because they grow out to processing weight so quickly. They are prolific, producing litters of 6-10 or more kits with each breeding. They’re tasty, healthy, and don’t require a lot of space or pricey equipment.

However, we found that meat rabbits are just not a good fit for our family. Some of the very same things that are such great benefits to raising rabbits are also a detriment for families like ours. Let me explain what I mean.

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Jewelweed Plantain Soap (Homemade!)

Jewelweed and plantain are common weeds, both easily located, identified, and prized for their soothing, healing properties. They are a perfectly intuitive combination for calming homemade bath products. Today, I am so excited to share a jewelweed plantain soap recipe from Jan Berry of The Nerdy Farm Wife!

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Saying Goodbye to Homestead Overwhelm

Homestead overwhelm: it’s a real thing. In fact, being overwhelmed is such a common theme in my life that it hardly seems necessary to mention it anymore. I am a lady with too much going on.

Apparently, I like to revisit this problem repeatedly. I think I can take on the world, then I realize can’t keep up. So, I melt down and give up certain things. Then I am happy for a while– until I decide to try it all over again.

This summer, we planted a garden and built a new chicken coop. We had good intentions to try to improve the systems we have established to help our homestead become more efficient.

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Garden-Based Meal Planning

Garden-Based Meal Planning

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.

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Distinguishing Elderberry from Silky and Redosier Dogwood

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

Elderberry or Dogwood

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Roofing Our Chicken Villa

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

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

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

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

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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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