Saturday, May 17, 2014


Although I'm not a regular reader of the blog, I read a post over on Blue Yurt Farms about funding your homestead last month that I really appreciated. It didn't go terribly in depth to any of the seven families, but the one big thing I gleaned from it is that homesteading is often an expensive choice that you need to be creative to make work. On one hand that seems a rather obvious statement, but after reading homesteading blogs and books, I often find myself wondering how in the world people have the money they need to do all these cool projects they're embarking upon. Or alternately, how I can get as good as they are at thrifting or finding free or cheap materials. There is often very little to no discussion on how people make their dreams and projects work financially and it's easy for me to fall into the trap of thinking that there is something I'm just not understanding. So reading that post was like a breath of fresh air. 

I actually wished I could learn more about each of their situations and how they made it work (and perhaps I can if I follow their blogs regularly - only so much time for this one woman!), but just the confirmation that other people struggle with this too was helpful for me, as I often feel like I'm floundering alone in this homesteading territory. 

It also gives me hope and encouragement to just keep plugging away and working at achieving my homestead goals. It's awesome to see other people adding cows, sheep, pigs, fruit trees and gardening all in one season, but I don't need to feel anxious that I can't do the same. Maybe all I'll accomplish this season is growing a garden and building a worm bin, but that's okay. It's forward progress and that's something. These are all things I already know, but it's nice to have the reminder and the affirmation some days.

Yes, I know it's a terrible photo, but it's also just so her.
For now I'll enjoy gardening with this little bee in the sunshine (even if that flower is a cosmos seedling she ripped out of the soil ;P) and know that all will come in due time with patience and hard work.  

Friday, May 16, 2014

Sunny Mother's Day

Oh man! May is here in all it's Seattle glory and I am loving it! For the non-local, that means it's been rainy since December and the sun is finally peeking out and giving us some really nice, warm temperatures and the promise of the most beautiful summer. Of course, having lived in the pacific northwest for the last ten years, I also know that May is a total fake-out, getting everyone totally stoked for summer, only to plunge us back into the grey, cool, drizzly month known and June-uary. It gets me every time, but I still can't help but be excited. 

Last weekend was where the weather turned so sunny and I made the most of it! Saturday was the annual West Seattle Community Garage Sale Day, so my mom and I made the trip across the ferry to check out some of the 280+ garage sales going on in the West Seattle neighborhood. I was trying to find a bunch of 5T sized clothes for the Kiddomus and I have had great luck with kid clothes in the past, but this year I struck out. I imagine it's partly because kids his age just wear out their clothes more since they take longer to grow out, which makes sense as he's doing the same with all his 4T stuff now. We have a couple of consignment stores on the island though, so I'm going to check out some of those and will likely buy some things, like pants, new since he wears through them more than others. 

Even though it wasn't terribly successful on the clothes front, it was still a fun day and we got home in time to help make dinner and have a nice time with Gamer Hubby and the kiddos. 

Sunday was, of course, Mother's Day and it ended up being a really nice one. Gamer Hubby and the kids made french toast for breakfast while I relaxed in bed and, later in the day, we had my mother-in-law and mom over for dinner. At my mom's request, we smoked a chicken on our barbeque and roasted a second to make sure we had enough to go around. It turned out great and had the extra benefit of giving me time to just sit out in the sun, embroidering some cloth napkins and enjoying the quiet and an iced tea while the Kiddomus played with my MIL and Honeybee napped. It was a truly lovely day!

Hope your weekend was every bit as nice too! 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Garden Productivity

Thanks for hanging in there after my last post. I don't have close friends here to be able to talk to, so it really helped to get whiny feeling of tiredness off my chest so I could move on. And boy did I! I got right to work later that day and have been plugging away ever since, whenever weather allowed (downpour + kids = the suck). I have made so much progress! My garden now has filled, terraced beds, wooden paths to separate each bed into reachable areas, and some beds are covered by cloches to help warm the plants and soil for those heat loving plants that will be planted out soon. 

This weekend also saw the installation of a soaker hose system that I think will be really great. The garden area was too big to water all at once. The total length of the soaker system would have been so long that the water wouldn't have been distributed evenly and I didn't want to worry about some beds getting less water than others. I also didn't want more than two hoses going up to the faucet, which is attached to the house. So instead, I devised an easy system that attaches to my faucet with just one hose, but allows me to switch the flow to water one garden bed at a time. With only three (giant) garden beds, it's really easy to go out there and switch between the beds. It does mean, I can't have it set on a timer all the time, but going out to turn on the faucet, or flip the y-connector switch is super fast and easy, so I don't anticipate it being a problem. Plus, it sure is a big step up from what I've always done before - spending an hour plus watering by hand! While nice to be in the garden, it can be hard with the kids and everything else going on. I always felt that the garden never got watered quite as well as it should have, so I'm excited about this improvement!

In other homestead news, the chickens are laying really well, which has been great for this egg-loving family, except that Henrietta, my Black Australorp, just went broody over the weekend. 

If only fake eggs would hatch...

I'm still deciding whether I want to try to break her of it or let it just run it's course. Right now I'm inclined to do the latter, just because it's one less thing to worry about, but I've heard that one broody hen can inspire others. So if another decides to start sitting on the nest, then I guess I'll break out my wire cage and rig up a broody box to cool things down for them. 

I am also really looking forward to canning season! We go through a lot of jam in this house, so I am really glad I made so much of it last year. No real worry about running out, but I also don't think we'll have too much left over either, so that's exciting. Also, have you seen Marisa McClellan's (who runs the excellent Food in Jars blog) new book, Preserving by the Pint? I'm excited about it. I have checked out her first book, Food in Jars, from the library and it has some great looking recipes. It's on my amazon list of books I'd like to buy soon. Even though I have typically canned in bigger batches in the past, her new book focuses on making just a pint or two of something using the smaller amounts of produce and ingredients we get while on sale at the grocery store or something. While I don't plan to stop bulk buying fruit in the summer for my bigger canning projects, this seems like such a great way to use up the rest of that big basket of blueberries I got for sale at the store that week just before the kids decided they were tired of them. I also think it's a nice way to try out a little of something that I'm not sure will be popular or useful enough in our family to warrant a big sized canning batch. 

My remaining preserves. Not a lot since we go through a jar or two of jam per week.

In the same vein, Erica at Northwest Edible Life, recently wrote a really great post about some of the best foods to preserve. Although, as she notes, it is highly dependent on what your family eats, I found some of her suggestions for how to use that food to best advantage really inspiring! I'm not very good at just making recipes up by combining ingredients. I'm definitely a cook-from-a-recipe person, but I'd like to get much better at creating my own to better use up what I have. This post was really helpful and motivating in working toward that end. Especially since I have a pressure canner that I have been too intimated to get out of it's box and use! Canned meats weren't something I thought sounded terribly appetizing, but after reading that post, I just may try them out. 

So far it's been a busy spring, and I can hardly wait for the weather to warm up and my garden to really start growing. What's going on in your home this Spring?

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Garden Exhaustion

If I'm being real, I'll state right up front that this post is pretty much just me whining. 

But as I lack other, probably less self-indulgent venues to get this out there and move on, I'm sharing anyway. 

I am currently knee deep (sometimes literally) in a garden building project. It's exciting and productive. I spent a long time planning it and it's nice to have it underway and know it will be a (hopefully) great source of food for our family and enjoyment for me and the kids. I've mentioned before that I have a section of our yard that I fenced off from deer two years ago for our vegetable garden. It's about 20 feet by 30 feet, so not a tiny space. Unfortunately it is also on a slope, like the rest of our lot. When I built the garden two years ago, I didn't have money to build raised beds and truck in a bunch of new topsoil, so I did the best I could in the ground, painstakingly cutting out the sod from the garden beds and sheet mulching the rest to kill the grass over the course of the season. I intended to have more garden beds than I did, but first trimester pregnancy got the best of me and I decided to skip cutting sod and making 5 rather large beds that were part of the original plan. 

It wasn't perfect, but I did grow a fair amount that year, especially given I spent a lot of that time bogged down with pregnancy-related low-energy levels. However, by the end of the season I knew that my garden was really hampered by that slope. The wood chips I had hauled in for the path areas over the sheet mulched cardboard were all sliding downhill and into my lower garden beds. Likewise, my soil dried out very quickly due to a decent amount of sand in the soil and the slope causing everything to drain downhill, despite my slow, deep watering. I knew that if I wanted to get serious about gardening and move towards my goal of growing much of the produce for my family, I needed to save and plan to build terraced beds. 

So over the last two years I have saved and this season is the implementation. I decided to use cinder blocks and concrete brick as my material because it lasted longer and was stronger than wood, even though it's so thick that I lose some gardening space. It was also WAY less expensive than a rot-resistant wood. It took a couple of weeks with help from my mom and getting outside with the kids when weather and timing was decent to get the cinder blocks and bricks in place. Then, a few weeks ago, I had 10 cubic yards of veggie blend soil delivered to my driveway. A major part of making this project affordable is doing all the labor myself, so I have been hauling all that soil myself. It is not a fun task, though I can certainly think of worse. 

Unfortunately, I put a ton of planning into how I'd use the garden once it was built and things were growing, but not so much into getting around in there with big, heavy wheelbarrow loads of dirt when I was building it. Honestly, I don't know that I would change it because it would sacrifice eventual gardening space, but it does mean that half the garden beds are being filled by the bucketful because the wheelbarrow can't fit into the lower pathway. 

It's a very slow process. 

These two beds? Filled mostly by bucket. Satisfying, but oh-so-tiring.

It feels like I'm out there every free moment I have when it's not raining and I can step away from kid and household chores. And this is where the whining comes in because some days, like today, I just would rather sit on my butt in the house and relax as best I can with a three and a half year old who won't stop talking. 

I'm excited for this project to be completed because I think it will be really great, but man does it seem never-ending! I actually have two of the three (BIG) beds done, but then I remember that I still have to install my wooden pathways, cloches on some of the beds, and pound in the steel rebar supports. Oh, and install soaker hoses and trellises in the appropriate places. When I think of all that the end of this project seems so far away and I start to stress about all the things that need to happen in the garden now that I can't do until it's built. And that last frost date is looming mid-April. 

To be fair, while I am whining about something that is ultimately cool and my own idea, a lot of my present whiny-ness is due to the fact that I'm just exhausted. Not I-haven't-been-getting-enough-sleep exhausted, but just completely and totally out of energy because I'm "on" with the kids without respite all this week and I'm ready for a break. Gamer Husband is out of town for work all week long and it's been just me with the kids, the older of which talks and demands responses constantly - difficult for a quiet introvert like me. I'm really feeling the need for a little break (and as usual in situations like think I have the utmost respect for single moms, military spouses, and anyone else who raises their kid(s) alone. You are a machine!) and it's showing in my lack of enthusiasm about this project. 

The top bed is in process now and my current reason for whining. Boohoo, I know.

All whining aside however, I did get my butt out there and hauled more dirt today with the kidlet and even ended up having a decent time of it. Bed #3 is on it's way and I looked in my garden planner and found that I'm not really as behind as I feared. I do have to get moving on it, but if I can use the next several days of nice weather to my advantage, hopefully I'll be ready. 

In any case, once this thing is up and running, it will be awesome! 

In the meantime, I really have to get better at starting seeds. Next up: a new seed starter light (aka shop light with a plant & aquarium bulb) and more space for them once I up-pot. 

The fun never stops!  


Sunday, January 5, 2014

Planning, planning

It's been a while since I posted and I guess things both just got away from me and things have been uneventful in the garden and around the home. But now that the holidays have passed I'm looking around the house, inside and out, and beginning to plan.

It was an eventful Christmas for our family. The season seemed to fly by with Thanksgiving so late and a certain busy-ness to the season that I just haven't felt before. I mean, of course it's always busy with events and visiting with people, but this year seemed to be something else with days seeming to fly by without actually enjoying any of my favorite things. Not to say that it was all bad. My dad came to visit for a long weekend, which was low key and good. I got out and about a little and did a few fun activities at home with the kids. Then, the Saturday before Christmas, a nasty stomach bug struck. First the Kidlet, and a day later Gamer Hubby and I. My mom and stepdad had come to visit and my mom succumbed to the crud a day after us. Somehow my stepdad and Honeybee escaped unscathed, thank goodness! However, it ruined a lot of our plans in that last week for fun stuff. I was glad to have finished my wrapping and we did get to fit in Christmas light viewing, but everything else fell by the wayside. I felt a bit disappointed by it for a day or two, but then as soon as Christmas was over, I was ready to just move on.

Usually I like to keep decorations up until New Year's and enjoy it all, but this year, I found myself chomping at the bit to take it all down and start cleaning and organizing.

To be honest, the cleaning thing wasn't entirely new. I've been feeling driven to clean and de-clutter for a couple of months now. My house is not and will never be spotless, but more than anything, I like to keep clutter down and keep up with basic cleaning: vacuuming, sweeping, bathrooms, and kitchen. That's a big challenge with two young kids though. Both because they are on a mission to constantly cover the floor with every toy in the house and offer up a million interruptions when I'm trying to do any single cleaning job. Case in point, vacuuming yesterday: I started early, before all the toys were spread out, and cleared the floors, pulled out the vacuum, emptied the canister, and vacuumed. The whole process took twice as long as it needed to and I was a growly, frustrated mess by the end. That's pretty much par for the course and it's the end feeling of frustration that I have a hard time shaking that discourages me most. I feel like I keep putting so much energy into cleaning, but can't “catch up” or even maintain very well. I need to let go, and I'm making progress there on lowering my expectations, but it certainly can frustrate.

In any case, this post wasn't about cleaning. It's about putting things in order and GARDENING! On the productive side, Gamer Hubby is home, so I decided we should make the most of it and do something we've been putting off for way too long: cleaning out the garage! Woo! It's been great though and now all my chicken stuff has a real home instead of being stuffed in the garage haphazardly. We also have room to build that chicken tractor I want and other useful things.

That chicken tractor is partly what led to my current garden planning obsession.

My little coop and run feels a little small for the girls to spend all day, everyday in, but although I've let them do it, free-ranging around my unfenced yard just isn't a good idea in my area. Between the hawks, racoons, random loose dogs, rumors of minks, and other baddies that would like to eat my chickens, I feel lucky nothing has happened to them yet. So, I've been letting them into my fenced garden since November. It's great because it protects them from a lot of predators, if not the arial guys, and they can stretch their legs and scratch for a few hours. However, it gets me looking at my garden often and thinking about what I'd like to plant come spring and what I'm going to do with the girls once I do start planning. 

So the chicken tractor solution is easy, and I even have most of the lumber for it. That's just a matter of getting it done. I'm just starting to tackle the garden plans though. It might be over-eager, but between reading some great gardening books, some inspiring gardening and homesteading blogs, and not planting a garden last year with Honeybee being so young (and intolerant of sitting in the garden without eating fistfuls of dirt and/or woodchips), my mind has been buzzing with plans and ideas. Many seed catalogues aren't even out yet and I've been checking my mailbox obsessively for them. In the meantime, I'm planning the hardscape in my garden.

With all the deer, my garden is currently a fixed size surrounded by a fence in the sunniest, yet most convenient to the house, spot in our yard. Unfortunately, that also means it's on quite a slope. While it makes for good drainage, it's a bit too good, and I had soil and wood-chipped paths sliding down a bit two years ago and soil that dried out too quickly. I think it would really benefit from some basic terracing in the form of creating level raised beds. However, that is going to require some purchased materials and I'm working on how to do that while keeping costs down. I did score some free old cedar decking boards which aren't the prettiest, but will certainly work to contain soil. The upper part of the garden is a steeper slope than the rest though and I'm considering cinder blocks for their ease of stacking and stronger support. That's a rather expensive material though, so I don't think I'll be able to justify that for all the beds. Especially considering I'll have to buy soil for all these beds too. So I'm not sure what will be best. I'm scanning freecycle for more free boards, but also considering bricks or the 12”x12” pavers too. What have you guys used? Especially if you need one side longer than the other.

Everything seems so expensive, but I also see blogs with people doing things on the cheap, so I'm inspired to make it happen the best that I can. I'll keep you all updated. Suggestions on other ideas in that vein are welcome too.

And I'll keep scouting for those seed catalogs. A girl has to have priorities.