Composting

Free ebook for Kindle: Composting In & Out

Composting

If you want to learn more about composting, you’re in luck. Right now, you can snag the ebook Composting: In & Out for FREE on Amazon (value: $16.99). If you’re interested, snag it before it goes!

Finally, remember you can always download FREE Kindle software for your phone or computer if you don’t have a Kindle! Then you can take advantage of freebies like these too.

Does this topic interest you? If so, you might want to read my recent post on Composting as part of the Homesteading series I ran in April.

Thanks, Common Sense with Money!


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Reader Jennifer makes Mothers Day Spa Baskets using freebies, coupons, and DIY

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Yesterday, I received another wonderful reader email regarding the Adventures in Homesteading series I ran in April. Check out what Jennifer decided to do:

I want to thank you for all the time and effort you put into your blog. I have been “couponing” for almost four years and came across your blog through a friend about 2 years ago. I love the variety and how you strive to make sure the deals you post are ethical. I also am thankful for your “Adventures in Homesteading” series! Your homemade soap and candles were my inspiration for the gifts my family will be giving to our mothers. I decided to give spa baskets :) I made candles, lotion bars, bubble bath, sugar scrub, bath tea, and lip balm all from natural ingredients around my house!!

For the things I did purchase I either had a coupon or they were on great sales. I covered the canning jar lids with scrapbook paper and wrapped the lotion bars with it as well. I made the lip balm in old mint tins and put the bath tea in organza bags. I used two free beauty bags that I have collected from Target the past 2 years and put in nail polish and a nail file. I had stocked up on the Toblerone and had some nice tea sachets that I bagged together. I made all the tags from left over velum paper from my wedding invitations over 5 years ago! I think they turned out really nice and I am so excited to give them something I made with love.

I Included pictures of the finished products. Once again thank you, thank you, thank you!

List of contents:

  • Grapefruit Bubble Bath made with castille soap, vegetable glycerin and grapefruit essential oil.
  • Grapefruit Sugar Scrub made with sugar, coconut oil and grapefruit essential oil.
  • Soy Lavender Candle
  • Coconut Lotion Bar made with bees wax, coconut oil, vegetable oil.
  • Grapefruit Lip Balm made with bees wax, coconut oil, grapefruit essential oil and colored with a little lip stick.
  • Lavender Bath Tea made with Epsom salts, sea salt, lavender flowers and lavender essential oil.
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Jennifer, this is very impressive! I love how resourceful you were in putting these together, and I think they will be very well received! 

If you missed this series, please feel free to visit my Adventures in Homesteading page for a catalog of all the posts. I’ve also decided to amend the page to include what readers have done in response! If you were inspired by this series and have attempted something new as a result, I’d love to hear about it. Email me at angela @ thecouponproject dot com.


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ClarissaJam

Canning Bountiful Baskets Produce: Reader Clarissa Makes Jam!

ClarissaJam

Following the conclusion of my Adventures in Homesteading series last month, I got a wonderful email from reader Clarissa. I wanted to share it with you this morning, particularly following Lori’s awesome write-up of Bountiful Baskets on Monday.

I read your blog every day and love it! I loved your April posts about urban homesteading! I have never canned before, but I decided that with the price of strawberries and the empty jars waiting to be filled in my garage, I had to do it. I have a pretty tight food budget, but I decided to splurge for my birthday. I like to learn something new for each birthday. This year it was canning!

I bought the strawberries from Bountiful Baskets as an add on to my regular basket. I know some people don’t like that the produce isn’t local, but I don’t mind and it really helps our family eat lots of produce. I paid $11 for 8 lbs or $1.38/lb. I had everything else on hand except for the pectin, so I picked that up at Bed Bath and Beyond (per your directions) for $6.

Looks like Clarissa had a cute helper!

Making the jam was pretty terrifying at first, but once I got into the ease of things, it turned out to be really fun! I used the Pioneer Woman’s recipe and she broke it down step by step. It was a long process, but now I have jam coming out of my ears and I know I will feel the rewards every time I open a new jar, or give one as a gift. So after the strawberries and pectin I ended up with 17 jars of jam, more than my family will ever eat in a year! I figured the cost per jar was about $1, of corse I had most of the supplies including jars that I had saved from a friends wedding (she used them as candle holders).

Just thought I would let you know about my experience and how much I love your blog and all that you do! Keep up the good work! :)

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Classica, can I say I might just have to borrow your idea of learning something new for each birthday? What a fabulous idea! Second, I love how this venture ended being both rewarding and cost-effective. Thank you for taking time out to email me your story.

If you tried something new as a result of the homesteading series, I’d love to know about it. Email me at angela @ thecouponproject dot com. I love highlighting the awesome ways you are all working to save your families money!


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BasicSoapMaking

FREE Basic Soapmaking Ebook for Kindle

BasicSoapMaking

Right now you can snag the free ebook Basic Soapmaking on Amazon for free! The description sounds fantastic, too:

This book features hundreds of step-by-step, full-color photographs that illustrate exactly how to make cold-process soap. It contains instructions on molding soap, cutting bars, creating original recipes, packaging gifts, and more. It includes a chapter on constructing a soap mold, liner, and cutter at home. Readers will learn the basic four-oil soap recipe, which can then be enhanced with additives such as oatmeal, fragrance oils, colored swirls, two-tone nuggets, and moisturizing butters.

Average 4.5 star rating after 33 customer reviews. Head to Amazon to download yours right away if you’re interested. Remember these freebies can – and do! – jump at any time without warning.

This seems so fitting since I recently shared my first soapmaking experience as part of my Adventures in Homesteading series, which I ran in April.

Finally, remember you can always download FREE Kindle software for your phone or computer if you don’t have a Kindle! Then you can take advantage of freebies like these too.

Thanks Kay for leaving the tip on Facebook!


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Adventures in Homesteading: Learning about Pioneers (final series post!)

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What better way to end this month’s journey of chicken raising, applesauce canning, weed eating, and butter making fun than by packing up the kids and heading to a bone fide Pioneer museum?

After all, it’s one thing to read and romanticize pioneer life, but it’s another thing to really live the realities that many people have had to experience.

So I packed up the kids and headed to Pioneer Farm out in Eatonville, Washington. While I was stuck on Meridian (pretty much the worst street in the entire state of Washington), I had plenty of time to contemplate how the same journey by covered wagon would’ve likely taken at least 2 or 3 days. (Particularly if there was a log jam of other covered wagons stuck at traffic lights.)

When we got there, the place was eerily empty. So seriously guys, if you’re local and looking for a non-crowded place to visit on a Saturday with the kids, head to Pioneer Farm.

Our tour guide was dressed in full pioneer garb including boots, apron, and bonnet. She explained to us what life was really like for the first homesteaders. Most of their lives consisted of growing, cooking, and preserving food. Life was hard – for instance, did you know that the childhood mortality rate was about 50%? The nearest doctors were usually a three days’ journey away and many of their “medicines” were laced with such fun stuff as cocaine.

Talk about a hard life, imagine about 5-6 people living in a cabin this big:

Honestly, I think that’d be enough to drive me stir crazy.

The kids back then had lots of chores to do. But first, of course, they had to dress up in pioneer clothes to do them in. That goes for both boys….

and girls…

They had to churn butter…

and also knead the dough into essentials, like doughnuts (of course).

But of course, little children would be expected to walk 5 miles in the snow uphill both ways to attend school, too.

Meanwhile, Ma would set the laundry out to dry. This would be a precarious chore in the Northwest given our frequently rainy weather. I think the long underwear is also overdue for mending.

Of course, pioneers would have had animals to care for too. The cow would have to be milked every morning.

If there was time, pioneer children had to find stuff to amuse themselves with such as jumping in hay.

And riding a horse.

In all seriousness, we talk about self reliance more than I think we actually consider what it really means. For instance, you might proudly say, “I made this pie all from scratch!” But did you, really? Is making a pie from butter, flour, and apples truly baking it from scratch? Did you grow the wheat and grind it? Did you harvest and store those apples? Did you grate cinnamon sticks into powder?

That’s not to say our efforts to learn to do things for ourselves are in vain. There is value in learning how to can your own food, grow a garden, or make your own soap. But I don’t think all conveniences are bad, either. (Need I remind you that if you’re reading this post you have a phone or computer or such device and some sort of internet connection.) I also don’t think it’s bad to rely on others – such as relying on local farms for fresh produce or butcher for good quality meat. Taking the time to learn to do some things for yourself will instill a sense of pride that you are capable of doing more than you once thought as well as give you a new-found sense of appreciation for the everyday conveniences you enjoy. (If I could sum up this entire series in a sentence, that’d be it!)

I also think there is this feeling that you need to go whole-hog with this modern-day homesteading thing. That you’re not actually “doing it right” unless you move to the country, off the grid, only eat what you grow, and shoot your own bear (or whatever). I’d like to encourage you today that anyone can draw inspiration from this movement even by starting small. Maybe you can grow some food in containers on your porch or can a batch of tomatoes from your CSA. Maybe you learn to fix it yourself versus paying someone else, or you brainstorm ways to get the item you need for free instead of going to the store and buying it (or better yet, upcycle using materials you already have at home).

It’s my sincere desire that you found some benefit from this Adventures in Homesteading series and that I’ve encouraged and inspired you to do something you hadn’t considered before. If so, I’d love to hear about it! I’d also love to hear what you thought of this series – was it helpful? Did you look forward to reading the installments? Did you have a favorite?

Thank you for sharing this journey with me, friends. In case you’re wondering, yes, we’ve already started working on the next series. (And ideas for future series are always welcome and appreciated!)

PS Locals, I highly recommend a visit to Pioneer Farm to learn what early pioneer life was really like. There are lots of hands-on activities for the kids. For more information, please visit their website.


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Adventures in Homesteading: Canning Applesauce

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How to Can Applesauce - Step by Step | The Coupon Project

Would you believe I’ve never canned?

Oh, I’ve had intentions of canning. I have a decent-sized garden and I even bought a couple books about canning. But quite frankly, I was a little overwhelmed. So many steps, so many things I needed (or so I thought), so many warnings such as “follow instructions exactly or your food could be contaminated and you could DIE and everyone who eats your food could DIE.” (Well, maybe not that bad, but you get the gist.)

I had one more post I needed to fill in for this series and deep down I knew I needed a post on canning. After all, this whole series is called Adventures in Homesteading, is it not? So I put on my big girl pants (er, apron?) and got down to business. And I was delightfully surprised to find I’d made the thing way more complicated in my head than it ever turned out to be.

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I dusted off the canning book I bought on Amazon last year:

(If you’re interested, the book currently retails for about $12 on Amazon – as of today, 4/27).

Now this seemed particularly fortuitous, but Tacoma Boys just so happened to have Fuji apples on sale for $0.50/lb this week or $10 for a half bushel. I’ve never purchased apples by the half bushel, but it sure sounds like a good amount to can, doesn’t it?

What a half bushel looks like….I think

 

100_1399 (800x654)As far as equipment goes, for some reason I had it in my head that I’d have to spend at least $100 on stuff to get set up. There again, I was so wrong!

Here’s what I discovered: there are high-acid foods (fruits, tomatoes) and low-acid foods (think meats, vegetables). The high-acid foods? They only need what’s called a boiling-water canner. This is basically just a large pot with a rack inside. In some instances, a pot you have at home could work. You would just want to make sure that about 3-4 inches of water could cover the tops of the jars. (The low-acid foods do need a pressure canner, but that’s another post for another day.)

I didn’t have a boiling-water canner, so I picked this one up for just $24.95 at Bed, Bath and Beyond. If you head to the store, note that you might not find it or other canning supplies on the shelf. Just ask, they should have some in the back (or phone your location ahead of time). Even better if you have a coupon of some sort – and I noticed on my way out the door that they take competitor’s coupons, too.

(If you wanted to go the online route, the same canner is about $22 now on Amazon - as of today, 4/27).

I also picked up this Ball Canning Kit for $9.95. I wasn’t sure how essential these items were, but they were all mentioned in my canning book. Turns out, I used EVERY item in this kit today and I highly recommend it!

(If you wanted to go the online route, this kit is ~$11 on Amazon today – 4/27)

The jars I ended up paying $12 for 12 quart-size at Fred Meyer. Also note that we are not in the prime of canning season (late summer/early fall), so it’s possible we’ll see better deals and even coupons for these in a few months here.

The first step was to prep my apples. I started by rinsing them out in a bath of cold water.

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I then peeled, cored, and quartered them.

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Threw them in a deep pot with just enough water to keep them from burning on the bottom (about 1/3 cup) and a healthy splash of lemon juice to prevent them from browning.

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I brought to a boil and let them cook until soft, about 20 minutes. Next, I pureed them in small batches using my Vitamix. You could also mash them by hand or use a food processor.

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From here, you want to keep the sauce hot while you prep your jars, lids, and rims. I decided to keep my sauce unsweetened as I intend to use a fair amount of it in dairy-free baking recipes. I figure I can always heat, sweeten, and season a batch as I desire. But you could certainly add sugar and cinnamon or whatever else you wish at this point.

Next, you’ll want to process your jars. Separate the jars, lids, and rims and wash in hot soapy water. You don’t need to worry about drying them.

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Now you’re going to want to place the jars in the boiling-water canner, fill each jar about 2/3 full of water and bring the level of water up in the canner to match. Simmer on medium heat for about 10 minutes, but don’t boil. This will ready the glass for the processing.

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While that’s happening, take the lids (which are just the round parts, not the bands), and simmer them in saucepan of hot water over the stove too. Here again – you don’t need to boil them, but the idea is to have all your elements hot before processing.

Funnel your sauce into the jars leaving just 1/2 inch of space at the top (also known as headspace). My canning kit came with a funnel, or you could pick one up inexpensively to use. I do recommend this!

In my canning kit I also found this fantastic magnetic lid grabber stick (I’m sure that’s the technical name). I used it to pick up a lid after each jar was finished.

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From here, put the bands on, and place back in the boiling-water canner for processing. Cover with water. Do follow the instructions for your recipe as different items will require different amounts of time to process. Applesauce only takes 20 minutes of boiling and then you let it sit for 5 minutes before removing.

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Now probably the tool that was THE most helpful in my canning kit was this jar grabber tool. I couldn’t imagine how I would’ve otherwise pulled glass jars out of a pot of boiling water! Recommend.

Now you just let them cool. Make sure to just let them sit with plenty of space between them. Remember they’ve just been through a lot, so be gentle. Don’t toss or roll them, place them in a freezer, let your two-year old play with them, or stand them upside down. Not only could these things damage the jars, they could prevent the lids from sealing properly, and that would be sad indeed.

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The next morning, test the seal by pressing down on the lid with your finger. If it does not pop back up at you and you cannot lift the lid up, congratulations! You successfully canned!

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According to my books, you can safely store home canned food for up to one year. Your jars of yum will be best stored in a cool, dark place.

“I’m kind of impressed, you know.”

I know that this is a really long post, so I thought I’d sum up just a few key points for anyone wanting to can something for the first time:

  • Read the instructions first. As in ALL of them. While canning is easy, there are a few steps and nothing should be omitted for safety’s sake.
  • Give yourself plenty of time. The day you have several errands to run plus soccer practice and ballet is probably not the best day to can. I’m sure this will not take so much time in the future, but this project took me about three hours from start to finish.
  • Make sure you have everything you need first. Gather all the supplies, equipment, and food you’ll need ahead of time so you don’t run into unexpected uh-ohs.
  • Give it a try! Don’t be intimidated by canning. I promise, you CAN do it! I’m so proud of myself for doing this and I can’t wait for my next canning project!

Now I’m a bit bummed but I’d spend extra time and effort making a short video of my process yesterday, but my FlipCamera is erroring out and I have no idea what’s going on. If I can figure it out, I’ll make sure to come back and share it with you….wish me luck.

EDITED TO ADD: fixed the video! Enjoy!

For more resources, I recommend Ball’s website. I also adore the blog Food in Jars for stunning recipes and practical help.

Missed a post in this series? Head to my Adventures in Homesteading page to catch up!


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I'm actually sweating up a storm.

Adventures in Homesteading: Making Butter (AKA crazy arm workout from hell)

I'm actually sweating up a storm.

“She churned for a long time. Mary could sometimes churn while Ma rested, but the dash was too heavy for Laura.” – Little House in the Big Woods

Have you ever made butter? If not, you’re in luck because that is exactly what we are doing for today’s Adventures in Homesteading post.

I should’ve taken a clue from the excerpt above that making butter from cream is not for the faint of heart, in spite of how cute little Laura appears in the illustrations.

I'm actually sweating up a storm.

So Sarah told me about this cute craft idea for kids where you place cream in jars and shake and it turns to butter. Sounded easy enough and fun.

I found the small thing of whipping cream for $0.99 at Fred Meyer and the baby food which I purchased for the jars were $0.33 each (also Fred Meyer). Total investment involved: $1.65. I could swing that.

Next, fill your jars up 2/3 of the way. You could also add a little salt, but I omitted this part.

At this point, I handed the little jars to my kids to shake.

They were amused for all of thirty seconds, and then they wanted to go inside and watch Fairly OddParents. This left only one person available to turn cream into butter. Yup, yours truly.

Just like the pioneers did it...er....

Now I figured this would take a few minutes, I really had no idea. And the post she sent me for reference suggested it needed several minutes of vigorous shaking, so I began to shake, shake, shake the heck out of those little bottles.

After about five minutes, this is what I had:

Not exactly butter, but I did have whip cream. Go me, I guess. Convinced that my efforts were doing something, I continued to shake, shake, shake the crap out of the little jars for several more minutes. And then something else happened.

I got tired.

And not only that, my right arm broke out in a RASH. I kid you not. I think it was shocked by the sudden exercise after not having done much of anything in about two weeks. I shoved the jars back in the fridge and emailed Sarah, telling her about my utter failure at homesteading. I asked her how long I should have shaken the bottles. Here was her response:

That’s strange it took the kids maybe 15-20 minutes. A rash? That is odd.

15 to 20 MINUTES?! Yikes folks, this homesteading ain’t for the faint of heart.

The next morning I get up and go about my day and suddenly, I begin to hear voices. The voices of pioneers of days gone by, basically taunting me for my “effort.”

"Girl's a lightweight."

Yes, I began to think of everything that pioneers did. Growing and harvesting grain. Killing bears and pigs and squirrels. Foraging for berries. Basically living off the land with no microwaves, refrigerators, cars, or fancy phones to guide the way.

Darn it, if they could do all that and then some, I could make butter! With renewed sense of purpose (and my strange rash gone), I went to the fridge, retrieved the baby jar of  cream and started once again shake, shake, shaking the crap out of the thing. And after several minutes, something happened. Something truly miraculous….

I heard a soft “thud” in my jar. I frantically ran to the kitchen counter and shrieked “EUREKA!”

I’d done it. I’d made butter!!

On the left: cream; on the right: butter!

Now around the little pat of butter you’ll find some liquid. This is buttermilk! I felt so proud of myself – sort of like the time I grew my own quinoa proud. Maybe I can’t be Survivorgirl, but at least I can make my own butter (provided I have whipping cream and baby food jars handy).

From here you can eat and store your precious butter. Go ahead and eat it. You’ve likely burned twice as many calories just making it. Kid friendly, my foot.

For more in this series, visit my Adventures in Homesteading page.


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CompostLori

Adventure in Homesteading: Composting

CompostLori

For today’s Adventures in Homesteading post, we’re headed to the garden (one of my favorite places to be)! When I think of homesteading, the first thing that comes to mind is growing your own food. While there are many fabulous topics in gardening that could be discussed, I decided to tackle a topic I’ve personally wanted to explore more: composting. Composting is the process of combining food and plant waste, letting it rot, and then returning the resulting soil back to your garden. It is full of nutrients and worms that your plants love and is a wonderfully sustainable way of growing your food!

The Basics

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To compost, you need a few simple things:

  • Brown materials (think dry leaves, straw, dried grass)
  • Green materials (fresh grass clippings, weeds, kitchen scraps)
  • Air
  • Water
I found a particularly helpful post over at The Garden of Oz that suggests an ideal ratio would be 1 part green to 4 parts brown for the most efficient compost.

So my story…. a few years ago we built these elaborate composting bins, but unfortunately they were way too big and cumbersome to use, so they didn’t get used! We’ll repurpose the wood for other projects in our yard, but now I’m back to square one to finding an effective and easy method for composting our yard and food waste to replenish the soil in my garden. Given that, I asked for a little help from my friends and readers last week! I’ve add highlights to some of the phrases and ideas that stood out to me about their experiences.

From Lori….

I started composting back in 2004, when we moved to our new home that sits on acreage down a gravel road. Initially, we composted out of necessity because we didn’t have garbage pickup out this far and I wanted as little garbage as possible sitting around between runs to the closest transfer station.  By pure luck, I ended up the lucky owner of a FREE Earth Machine compost bin that retails for close to $60 when Pierce County gave them away as part of a recycling/composting education program around that time.  If you aren’t quite as lucky, don’t feel like you have to spend $60 to create a compost bin.  I’ve seen neighbors and relatives fashion them from wood scraps and achieve just as good or even better results than I do with my fancy-schmancy Earth Machine!

I keep a bowl on the kitchen counter to hold scraps (fruits, veggies, egg shells, paper towels, tissue, etc.) until it’s time to take outside to the compost bin about every 2 days.  I like to think that it’s stylish like the garbage bowl that Rachael Ray uses in all of her cooking shows, but my family would probably laugh at that notion.  There are cute compost buckets and bins that you can purchase from most local retailers if you’d rather keep your scraps out of sight or at least have them in a more aesthetically pleasing vessel.

Aside from the kitchen scraps that go into my compost bin, I also add shredded or torn newspaper (though not the slick parts), dryer lint (yes, you read that right!), and grass clippings that get bagged as we mow the lawn.  Stirring the messy mix inside on a regular basis is crucial to its proper breakdown and I really kind of stink at that after the last time when I cut a garden snake in half with my shovel and then stuck my hand right on a slug.  I washed my hands more than five times and I was still sticky-slimy, blech!  Basically, what I’m trying to say is that composting is not for the faint of heart. You’ll be handling what the faint of heart would call trash and hanging out with slimy friends, but the fruit of your labor will be well worth it in the long run!  The amazingly nutrient rich, deep black soil that results from the breakdown of kitchen castoffs and other compostables is highly treasured.  If you don’t believe me, go price check the bagged variety at Lowe’s or Home Depot!  Even the herds of wild bunnies that frequent our yard know the goodness of what lies inside, as we’ve witnessed in the past when they’ve rousted us from slumber with their noisy pounding on the sides of the compost bin, begging to be let in to feast.

At this point I’ve only used the compost created from my composting adventures to ammend the horribly clay-like soil in my flowerbeds and containers, but eventually I have a dream of constructing a raised-bed garden surrounded by tall fencing to keep our resident deer and bunnies from leveling the plants.  So, for now I compost for practice and for the Earth!

From Julie…

We just started composting this year. The best part is I got this bin off Freecycle! I listed I needed one and someone contacted me an hour later.

It was empty when we received it. We have already filled it halfway with food scraps, garden waste and lawn clippings. We plan to continue to use our yard waste service but will add to this bin so we have good compost for our garden next year. It seems silly to buy compost each year and send waste away.

From Katie…

This is an old sump pump barrel from when we finished our basement.  It’s upside-down and as the food items decompose, the soil comes out the wide, bottom area.  We just use a Tupperware by the sink to collect scraps & dump the fresh stuff on top of the pile when the Tupperware is filled.  (I think there’s a fresh banana peel on top in the photo!).  We put grass cuttings into the bucket periodically.  We also put all our coffee grounds in.  We do not put any meat or bones in, because it’s open and we don’t want little rascals to chow down in our backyard!

The bucket is normally in the corner of our garden, but we had just used a ton of our soil to fill some pits in the yard and reseeded…lots of hearty, wormy, composty dirt!!!  :)

Like I said…it’s not pretty but it works!

Angela’s Thoughts

I was particularly excited to share this post with you because I received something exciting from the City of Tacoma last week….

Did you get one of these?!

It’s a small bin with holes on the top you keep in your kitchen to capture food waste! You can then transfer this to your yard waste bin. But I’m thinking I want to use this as motivation to start composting!

After doing a little browsing online last week, I found this idea at Simple Mom to make a $15 compost bin using a garbage can!

For a complete list of what you can/cannot compost, please check out this information at the US EPA’s website.

If you compost, I’d love to hear your tips! How did you construct or find a bin for cheap or free? What successes or fails have you had with composting?

For more posts in this series, please visit the Adventures in Homesteading page.


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Adventures in Homesteading: Candle Making

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Candles are both practical and romantic. And for today’s Adventures in Homesteading post, I’m making my first EVER candles!

Now there are all different ways you could go about making candles, but since I am a total novice, I decided on making soy candles because it looked easy and also soy candles burn clean. Sounded like a win-win.

Here’s what I bought at Michael’s: microwavable soy flakes, tealight forms and dye. In hindsight, I could’ve done without the dye! Heads up, the tealight forms were rather spendy. Make sure to head to Michael’s with one of those coupons in hand if you go this route!

Making these little buggers is suprisingly fast and easy! I popped out the metal forms and stood up the wicks, which were included. The cool thing about these little metal containers is that they are reusable (love that). You would obviously need to replace the wicks.

Here is what the soy flakes look like. You can melt them in the microwave, stirring every few seconds, or over the stove. I decided to melt them over the stove since this was my first attempt.

Once melted, you can work in some dye (if you wish). And at the very end, you can stir in a few drops of your favorite essential oil if you desire some fragrance.

Next, carefully pour the melted wax into your forms, making sure the wicks stay upright and in the center.

Now your wax will harden fairly quickly, but you’ll likely have it “cave” a bit towards the center. The way to remedy this is to poke several holes using a toothpick around your candle, and pouring a bit more wax in. So count on a two-step process before you have your completed candles.

Cut the wicks down and you can use them immediately!

I was honestly surprised at how super easy this craft was to do. If you’ve never made candles before, I would definitely start here!

I hope you’re enjoying this series as much as I am! I have a few more fun things up my sleeve for the rest of April – so watch for the next post on Monday! And if you’ve missed any post, you can head back to the Adventures in Homesteading page.


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Adventures in Homesteading: Pioneer Graham Bread

LittleHouseCookbook

For today’s Adventures in Homesteading, we’re heading to the kitchen!

Maegen of Sounds Fun Mom had recommended a book to me a few months back that I ended up snagging at Amazon: The Little House Cookbook: Frontier Foods from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Classic Stories (Amazon link).

This cookbook is chock-full of fun recipes and stories from pioneer cooking and living! For today’s post, I’m recreating one of them. It’s a Graham Bread recipe and it was served at the “New England Supper” in the Little Town on the Prairie. It uses a mix of whole wheat and regular white flour and molasses, which gives it a hearty flavor. Whole wheat breads take longer to rise, so this is a recipe you’ll want to devote the better part of a day to.

Start by mixing 4 cups whole wheat flour and 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour. Now this is what the recipe calls for, but it seemed very….floury. Given that, I’d probably start with the 4 cups of whole wheat and add the all-purpose flour in by 1/2 cupfuls until you have the right texture.

Dissolve two envelopes of yeast into 1/4 cup warm water. The water has to be warm for the yeast to activate, but too hot and you’ll kill it. It sure seemed like a LOT of yeast for the amount of water, but I can assure you this recipe works.

After the yeast sits for 5 minutes, you can add 1/4 cup molasses and then 2 more cups of warm water. Then you want to make a deep “well” in your flour mixture and dump the entire yeast/molasses/water mixture right into that well.

Starting from the middle, begin mixing the dry and wet ingredients together. Continue until the batter forms a stiff dough. Now I took my Kitchenaid to this dough at one point because it got really tough, but I’d caution you to not overmix your dough or over knead it. From what I’ve read, overdoing it on the whole wheat bread can make the final result very dense and tough. Not what you’re going for.

Lightly dust your dough ball with flour and let sit in a covered bowl to rise. I found it took about 2 hours.

Punch it down once it’s doubled in bulk and knead gently a few times on a floured surface.

Pull out into a rope and cut it in half to make two loaves.

Take each “loaf” and roll up and place in lightly oiled bread pans, turning the loaves to coat them. Cover, and let rise another 2 hours.

One trick I have to helping your bread rise faster is to put it in the oven with only the light on. It helps speed the process a bit. Here are my loaves, ready for baking. Bake them at 350° for about 35-40 minutes.

You’ll find your bread is easiest to slice if you let it sit overnight. (That is, if you can wait that long.)

I do believe this was one of my best bread attempts to date! The key here is patience, following the recipe closely, and putting a lot of love into it.

I ate a big slice topped with Fig Butter from Trader Joe’s.

Don’t you think Ma Ingalls would approve?

For more in this series including chicken raising, weed eating, and soap making, see my Adventures in Homesteading page.


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DIY Laundry Detergent

Adventures in Homesteading: Homemade Laundry Detergent

DIY Laundry Detergent

For today’s Adventures in Homesteading post, we’re going to talk about making your own liquid laundry detergent.  At the urging of several friends on Pinterest, Lori jumped into this endeavor in January and she has been making and using her own liquid laundry detergent without ever looking back.  This detergent is environmentally-friendly and safe for both front-loading and top-loading machines, as well as all types of septic systems!

Before you start this project, you’ll need:

  • 20 Mule Team Borax All Natural Laundry Booster ($4.23 at WinCo)
  • Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda ($3.17 at WinCo)
  • 1 bar Fels-Naptha laundry bar soap ($0.97 at WinCo)
  • 5 gallon bucket with a lid (FREE if you already have one or ask at your local bakery where they normally recycle 5 gallon frosting buckets after use)
  • Cheese grater or food processor with grating attachment
  • Large saucepan
  • Large wooden spoon
  • Empty, clean detergent, milk, or juice bottles
  • Drill with paint mixer attachment, optional

Recipe

Yield: 10 gallons

  • 4 cups hot tap water
  • 1 bar Fels-Naptha, grated
  • 1 cup Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda
  • 1/2 cup Borax All Natural Laundry Booster

Grate Fels-Naptha bar and add to saucepan with water.  (It took a lot of work to grate by hand, so if you have a food processor I hightly recommend going that route.)

(Looks like shredded Cheddar, doesn’t it? Don’t be tempted to nibble, however!)

Stir continually over Medium heat until the soap is completely dissolved.

Fill your 5 gallon bucket half full with hot tap water.  Carefully pour in the dissolved soap solution, washing soda, and Borax.  Stir well until all powder is completely dissolved.  Add additional hot tap water until the bucket is full.  Stir gently, cover and let sit overnight to thicken.

The next morning (or approximately 8 hours later), remove lid and stir using drill with paint mixer attachment on low speed (or by hand if you don’t have one available).  Transfer the finished product to empty bottles, filling with half soap concentrate and half water.  Shake each bottle well to mix thoroughly; label contents clearly with usage instructions:  Top-Loading Machines – use 1/2 cup per load; Front-Loading Machines – use 1/4 cup per load.

This recipe makes 10 gallons of liquid laundry detergent for a cost of $1.69!  That’s just .0013¢ per load! 

Even with the most amazing couponing skills on the planet, you can’t get anywhere near that low cost for a quality detergent that is safe for the environment, kind to the most sensitive skin, and super tough on stains and odors.   Lori has shared samples of this recipe with several friends who have converted to making/using their own detergent; and her mother-in-law gives it two thumbs up for getting her husband’s garbageman uniforms cleaner and fresher than any other commercial detergent she’s ever tried.  If that isn’t a good recommendation, I don’t know what is!  I think you’ll be quite pleased with the results and the savings, also, if you’ll just give it a try.


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Adventures in Homesteading: Weed Foraging

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My mother had a book she’d brought with her from the apothecary shop. The pages were made of old parchment and covered in ink drawings of plants. Neat handwritten blocks told their names, where to gather them, when they came in bloom, their medical uses. But my father added other entries to the book. Plants for eating, not healing. Dandelions, pokeweed, wild onions, pines. – The Hunger Games

This month I’ve been exploring topics in urban self-reliance in a series I’m calling Adventures in Homesteading. I realized quickly on that this series wouldn’t be as easy as referring to books or blogs to wade my way through (hence the word “adventures”). Today’s post is one of the more adventurous ones I’ve done on the blog before, and it may take some of you out of your comfort zones too. However, I hope you’ll keep an open mind as you work your way through it today. And if nothing else, I hope I’ll inspire you to get out there and learn something new.

Last weekend, I took a course offered by Seattle Tilth on Weed Foraging. Not a moment too soon either – I learned about the class about a week before it happened. If you’ve never heard of Seattle Tilth, you need to check them out. They have all kinds of classes: beekeeping, chicken raising, organic gardening, composting, and more. Amazing hands-on stuff!

The class took place at their Good Shepherd Center in Wallingford, but they have gardens and farms in several other locations. Now I used to live in Seattle, but I had no clue this place existed. Couple the fantastic community gardens with a beautiful sunny spring day, and I swear the stress just melted off me. Breathtaking!

Our instructor was Melany Vorass and this gal is a bone fide urban homesteader. She and her husband raise chickens, bees, and goats right in Seattle! In fact, she mentioned at one point in the class that one of her goats had given birth the day before.

But Melany does more than just raise chickens for her food. She forages. Weeds.

Now here’s a suggestion you likely have not heard ever on a coupon blog: one way to save on organic greens may be to walk in your backyard and pick some weeds! Many of them are entirely edible and delicious.

Here are a few weeds I learned about during our foraging walk.

Red Dead Nettles. These guys apparently have a strong flavor and it comes from the mint family. I found this fun post where a blogger boils up a big pot of them and eats them. I’ll keep that in mind.

Chickweed. This weed likes to grow in thick patches in the shade. Ms. Vorass suggested that it tastes best before it goes to flower. I tried some anyway. It felt a bit odd, just picking up some weeds and eating it, but hey, some other members of the group were doing it and no one was keeling over. It actually was mild, pleasant. Not unlike other greens you’d throw in your salad except that it had a slightly weedier flavor. You can eat it raw or cooked.

Shotweed. When I learned you could actually eat this blasted weed, I was elated. Do you have these in your yard? They are particularly loathsome at the end of the summer, when they have dried up. You go to pull them out and the seeds start shooting everywhere (usually in your eye). Believe it or not, it’s a member of the mustard family. It supposedly tastes peppery, but I didn’t try it. The flavor is mildest before it goes to seed (like the ones pictured above).

Mallow. As in MARSH-mallow! This weed works as a thickening agent. (An ingredient in the root is actually used to make marshmallows, yes.) The wagon wheel-shaped seed head it will eventually produced is also edible.

Catsear. Here’s another weed I tried. It looks an awful lot like dandelion at first glance, but on closer inspection you’ll notice the leaves are thicker and fuzzy. It tasted kind of like your hands smell after weeding. Mild, summery. (Hey, I’m trying here.)

Dandelion. Yes, dandelions are edible – both the steams and flowers. If your yard looks anything like mine, I’d daresay you have a salad growing out there. Go pick it. Remember Laurie who guest posted on Homesteading 1-2-3? She actually has a post up on how to make your own dandelion cookies and wine. (Now that’s just genius!)

There were many others, but in the interest of time and space, I’ll leave it at that. You can check out Melany’s blog, Weed Cuisine for much more detail and photos if this topic strikes your fancy. You can also sign up and take a class yourself through Seattle Tilth. If you’re not local, it may be worth the effort to find a class or two in your neck of the woods, too.

I sense the questions bubbling to the surface, so let me quickly give a few caveats:

  • Only eat weeds or other plants that you know to be safe.
  • Make sure you have permission to pick (city parks & other public spaces might be a no-go).
  • Be careful to not pick weeds very close to pollutants – such as near a roadway.
  • Probably not a good idea to pick weeds adjacent to dog doo.
  • Washing weeds before you eat them is probably a good idea.
  • Etc. Etc. Etc.

The truth is we live in an area that has a surplus of weeds. Maybe it’s time to think of them as organic salad greens and green smoothie fixins’ and less as pests.

This one got a little stuck going down. Some water would’ve been helpful.

Have you eaten some weeds before? 

Disclosures: I feel some general disclosure is needed here. Can you just all use common sense, pretty please? Don’t run into the forest, eat a bunch of plants, end up in the ER and then try to sue me later. Please folks, don’t do anything I wouldn’t do….


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Adventures in Homesteading: Homesteading 1-2-3 (Guest Post)

Homesteading's as easy as pie

For today’s Adventures in Homesteading, I’m beyond thrilled to have Laurie of  Common Sense Homesteading guest post on what homesteading is all about, and how to get started. I found Laurie’s blog a few weeks ago through my Google search and was blown away by all Laurie does – farming, homeschooling, food preserving – but she puts it all in such an approachable, real way that I knew I wanted her to participate in this series. I’m so honored she took up my offer to share a guest post for this series! With that, here’s Laurie: 

“Homesteading” might sound intimidating to some people. If fact, when I was talking to some friends about naming my blog, they suggested that I should call it “Common Sense Home” instead of “Common Sense Homesteading”, because “homesteading” just wasn’t appealing to people “like them” who lived in the city.

I’m here to tell you that anyone can homestead – no matter what your budget or where you live.

On my site, Common Sense Homesteading, I define homesteading as “Seeking greater self-reliance, with emphasis on home food production.” What’s not to like about being more self-reliant, providing your family with the best possible food and health, where you are, with what you have?

Step One – Develop a Plan

You Custom HomesteadIf you’d like step by step guidance to planning your homestead, you can take a look at Your Custom Homestead by Jill Winger of The Prairie Homestead. Your Custom Homestead is an e-book that lays out a 21-day plan to turn your home into a homestead.

In the Brainstorming section, she discusses creating a homestead binder and mission statement, setting goals, prioritizing and organizing. In the Prep Work Section, she examines structuring your finances, researching, expanding your skill sets and learning about local resources. The “Let’s Do It!” section covers planning, cooking, planting, animals and food storage, as well as planning for rest.

If you’d like to take things in smaller bites, pick one area you’d like to make a change in and start there. For instance, if you wanted to improve the quality of food your family eats, you might try the following:

  • Replace a single prepackaged food item with a homemade version of that item. Continue until most things you eat are homemade or better quality pre-made.
  • Eat out less (or not at all).
  • Source your ingredients closer to home, either via CSA, farmer’s market or growing your own.
  • Add more veggies to your family’ meals. Ditch the highly processed snack foods.
  • Buy in bulk and learn how to store foods.
  • Experiment with fermenting.
  • Try sprouting.

There are many steps you can take, you just need to choose what’s right for you and try it. In the post “Become More Self-Reliant – Start Here“, I share a long list of suggestions from our Facebook community about self-reliance. If you want to buy a book that covers the broadest amount of homesteading information in one place (that I have found), try The Encyclopedia of Country Living.

Step Two – Develop Your Skills

What do you enjoy? What are your skills? Pick one area at a time to focus on and build your skill set. This often works best if you can “piggyback” on skills you already have. For instance:

  • If you like cooking, try gardening, to grow what you cook.
  • If you enjoy gardening, try new recipes in cooking, or try to preserve some of your harvest through freezing, drying or canning.
  • If you sew, consider leatherworking or making more of your own clothes.
  • If you enjoy animals and the outdoors, maybe it’s time for a flock of laying hens or providing meat through hunting?
  • Are you the handy type? How about learning small engine repair or tackling home improvement projects such as adding a root cellar?
  • Have a green thumb? Learn about wildcrafting or herb gardening to provide natural remedies for your family.

No skills? Then you’ve got the most opportunities to learn something new. ;-) Everyone is different, and most of use can’t do everything for ourselves (or at least we wouldn’t want to tackle it all), so just take it slow and start from where you are now. Which leads us to step 3…

Step 3 – Build Your Community

I think most of us would be surprised by how many excellent resources are available in our areas. The Cooperative Extension Service Offices are located throughout the United States, and their job is to help food producers – including budding homesteaders. :-)

PickYourOwn.org shares where to find local food, and what to do with it once you find it. EatWild.com is a source for grass-fed beef, lamb, goats, bison, poultry, pork, dairy and other wild edibles.

Scope out your local farmers markets and CSAs. Check online or search the yellow pages for groups with related interests, such as gardening, cooking, sportsmen’s clubs, woodworking, etc. Check local home improvement stores or your local extension offices to see if they offer classes or workshops. Such classes are often free or available for only a nominal fee.

It’s wonderful to find people who share your interests, and great to source food from local people you trust. You just might make some new friends, or run into a homesteading blogger.

Farmers market 2010

Common Sense Homesteading table at the local farmers market, 2010

I hope this post inspires you to give homesteading a try, no matter where you are.

Laurie Neverman @ Common Sense Homesteading lives in rural northeast Wisconsin in an environmentally friendly/energy efficient/accessible/new fangled/old fashioned home with solar panels, a root cellar and an herbal apothecary. She is a wife and mother with a background in engineering and a passion for natural healing, homesteading and gardening. She and her husband, August, homeschool their two boys, August V and Duncan. You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, LinkedIn and YourGardenShow.com.


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Adventures in Homesteading: Easy Soapmaking

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How to Make Soap - simple process using easily-found ingredients!

For today’s Adventures in Homesteading post, I thought I’d tackle something very easy and very basic to try. Making your own soap.

Now I had Sarah research pioneer soapmaking for this series and she discovered they used stuff like grease and lye. There were many warnings about recreating this kind of soap and we were just plain nervous about the chemicals involved, too. Remember that my approach with this series is to draw inspiration from pioneer living and homesteading and then apply it in realistic ways. I’ve never made soap before at all, and I did not wish to start by using harsh chemicals or following scary instructions that might give me burns.

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(PS here’s a fun fact: Lutefisk is a fish soaked in lye and traditionally eaten at Christmas and other holidays by Norwegians. If you were to soak it for too long, you could end up with SOAP. Feel free to make your own fish soap if you want, but for the purposes of today’s post, not going there. Image credit.)

For my first ever soap attempt, I thought I’d start at the most basic beginner level I could find. There may be many different ways one could make soap, but I decided to start with a kit. If I can just get my ‘feet wet’ so to speak, then maybe I can build some confidence and understanding of how soap is made and branch out!

I made a trip to JoAnn’s, but my store no longer carries soapmaking materials. Heads up. Michael’s did!

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Not exactly like Ma Ingalls would’ve used, but hey, it’s a start, right?

The cool part is that if you end up heading to Michael’s, they almost always have a 40-50% off coupon in their Sunday paper flyer every week! I ended up buying a big block of glycerin (I believe this was about $8) and a soap mold (about $3-4).

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The instructions were printed right on the glycerin and made it extremely easy to make. Trust me, even if you don’t have a crafty bone in your body, you can do this!

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All you do is break up some of the blocks and melt them. You can do this in a double boiler or in the microwave. I thought I’d better stick to the double boiler so I could best monitor the process.

Once melted, you can add scents, herbs, or colors!

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This might sound odd to you, but I ground up some cardamom pods (bought in bulk of course!). For the past couple months, I’ve been on a cardamom kick. I can’t get enough of it! I love to add it to my oatmeal and coconut inspired dishes. It’s just incredible smelling. I also added a few drops of essential orange oil. Remember that this stuff is going to come in contact with your body, so I’d encourage you to think about using real ingredients and essential oils.

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I also had the idea to color my soap using beet juice! I just put a tiny piece of beet in the Vitamix with some water and voila! A beautiful deep magenta color!

Edited to add: unfortunately, the soap did not hold this color for more than a few days. It turned into a sickly yellow. Heads up – if you want a colored soap, just use food dyes!

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I rubbed some vegetable oil in the bottom the mold forms to help pop the soap out when it was done. Then, I simply poured the glycerin in and waited for about 30-40 minutes until it had firmed up. I gave it a gentle pop to remove the soap. Not difficult at all!

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Here is my completed soap. Isn’t it pretty?

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All told, this project required few items, little time, and was a very easy process from start to finish. I would love to try some other fragrance/color combinations in the future. I wrapped my soap individually in cellophane and added a big sticker on the bottom to hold it in place.

The only disappointment I had was the next day, the color had turned to more of a yellow. I’m not sure why this happened, or what I could’ve done to have preserved the lovely beet color – perhaps used a lot more beet juice? If anyone has any suggestions for me, I’d love to hear them!

Have you ever made soap before? Either from an easy kit as I did, or by some other process?

For more fun, please check out my Adventures in Homesteading page!

If you liked this post, you might also like…

gardenersoapHow to Make Gardener’s Soap: This is a very similar method as described above, but uses Epsom and Sea Salts for a natural exfoliating effect!


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Reader Kristina's sweet chicken home!

Adventures in Homesteading: Raising Chickens

Reader Kristina's sweet chicken home!

Reader Kristina’s sweet chicken home!

For today’s Adventures in Homesteading post we’re talking chicken. It sure seems that raising chickens – even in urban settings – is becoming more and more common. Now I don’t personally raise chickens, but a few of you that follow me on Facebook do and I’m delighted to share your stories, tips, advice and photos today!

Here are the questions I posed. Erin lives in Maple Valley, WA, Kristina lives in Burien, WA and Jennifer lives in Irving, Texas.

Why Did you Decide to Get Chickens?

Erin: Our dream is to have a farm someday, and I have always wanted chickens. I assumed that because we live in a neighborhood, we would not be allowed to have them.  My CC & R’s stated ” No livestock.” I let it go for a while, and 2 years ago I e-mailed our Mayor who is also my neighbor, to ask. She told me that chickens are not considered livestock, but “small domestic animals”, and gave me the go ahead–  up to 6 without a kennel license, as long as my neighbors didn’t complain. So it is best to check with your city/neighborhood  CC & R’s and HOA’s for sure.

Kristina: A whim probably sums it up best.  It was my birthday and being totally unprepared and arguably irresponsible we bought 4 pullets (young birds, feathered out and sexed to be 90% hens).

Photo from Erin

Can you tell me what sort of work and cost was involved to get them set up?

Erin: We bought our chicks at the local feed store for $3 each. We housed them in a free cardboard box with woodchips, and heat lamp in our bathroom for the first few weeks. We also bought a bag of scratch, a waterer and a feeder.  It was around $75 to set up initially.

We had chicken wire on the top of the box, and set the lamp on the wire for warmth.

As they grew, they were moved to the garage and put in a large rubbermaid tote with the heat lamp gradually being lifted farther from them as they got older. When they were a couple of months old, they could start going outside to acclimate for a few hours at a time. (Make sure they are contained– if they go under your deck or under a fence, they may be impossible to retrieve!) As ” teenager” chickens, they were moved into a coop in our garden. There are MANY ideas/plans for coops.We planned to build one, but ran out of time, so we ended up buying one from www.bettercoopsandgardens.com in West Seattle. There are also many new/used/custom options on Craigslist.

Photo from Jennifer

Kristina:  Cost depends if you start with pullets and/or adult birds or if you start with chicks.  I’ve done both and it is far easier to start with older birds but the babies are so hard to resist!  For pullets and older who are not dependent on a extra heat source you will need basic coop which can be extremely elaborate to a converted dog house or old rabbit hutch.  An enclosed run if you don’t plan on letting them free range.  I’m not sure of space requirements but at least a couple square feet per bird.  Overcrowding can lead to pecking and injuring each other.  Costs for this can really vary depending on how “pretty” you want things and what supplies you already have.   Our first coop was a little bigger than a dog house for the cost of 2 sheets of plywood, we had other scrap wood and some hog wire for fencing a run.  The coop I have now is shed size, I wanted to be able to stand up in it.  Almost all of the materials for it came off of craigslist for free… windows, the door, roofing!

A 50lb bag of layer pellets runs about $15 (we go through this every 2 weeks) plus I feed them scratch for treats.  Any dinner scraps they love.  Mine check out the compost pile daily.  They free range so they eat grass, bugs, rose bushes and any plant I really love. If you let your chickies free range, protect your garden!

Photo from Kristina

If you start with the cute little chicks you will need a brooder.  Basically a box with heat lamp.  I currently have 3 turkey chicks and 3 chicken chicks in my laundry room.  By starting with chicks they often bond better with you and then you have time to construct your coop.  The thing with chicks is…. before they are feathered out and ready to be outside they become escape artists and poo flingers.

Jennifer: Initially, when I thought that four chickens was enough, I bought a fancy-schmancy teak coop from the Internet.  Assured that this wooden beauty would hold four hens, I plunked down $499 plus shipping, and when the coop arrived, my first reaction was that I had been royally hosed.  The coop came unassembled (which hadn’t occurred to me).  It consisted of a small box-shaped enclosure with one nest, and a slightly larger wire thing in which the chickens were supposed to spend their day.  The yard was about 2′ x 3′, not much bigger than a dog kennel.  It would have made an ideal rabbit hutch, but as a four chicken domicile, it was close to animal cruelty.  Then I bought a much larger coop which was a sort of chicken tractor.  It had four nests, a roomy interior, and best of all, it only cost $225 delivered and fully assembled.  Now with two coops, we enclosed both of them in a 16′ x 16′ wire pen.

Photo from Jennifer

What kind of care and work does it take to keep your chickens happy and healthy? 

Erin: We feed them a good quality chicken food, and give them scratch grains during the winter months. We also supply them with either oyster shells to give them the calcium for strong shells, or I bake the eggshells from the eggs we use in the oven and add them to the bowl I keep on my counter that all of our scraps, leftovers we don’t eat etc, for the girls. Mine love watermelon rinds and pasta, but refuse to eat strawberries!

I use the dry litter method – I put down woodchips, and food grade diatomaceous earth to keep down on flies. It is low maintenance, and I don’t have to clean out the coop as often. I use straw in the nesting boxes, and replace occasionally if they make messes or break an occasional egg.  We use a large waterer that holds 5 gallons and hangs from the coop above chicken- behind level (if it is on the ground they will fling wood chips and poop in it). Our food container is also a large one that hangs as well for the same reasons.

Also make sure your coop is secure, and that you lock your ladies up at night. When it dusk falls, they will put themselves to bed, make sure they are safe. Nothing is more devastating than having a raccoon or other critter come in and destroy your flock during the night.

Photo from Erin

Kristina: Provide fresh water and feed.  I have never had any major health problems with any of my birds.  I’m a stay at home mom so a lot of chicken chores are just stuff I do all day but I would say we clean the coop most weekends, some more thorough times then others.  Winter they are in there a lot longer because of the shorter days so more often then. Every morning I let them out to forage the yard and every night we lock them up.  Chickens sleep through predator attacks… coops need to be very secure, they won’t save themselves.  We have lost a lot of chickens to predators.  Raccoons and possums are incredibly strong and determined to take part of that chicken buffet they sense you’re serving.  They can pry open doors, screens and windows.  Our aviary has hog wire buried 2 feet down to prevent them from digging under it.  Our coop and aviary are attached so technically if I thinned my flock I could keep them secured all the time but right now I have too many for them to be comfortable that way.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about raising chickens? 

Erin: Know they will be messy!

 When you purchase chicks, Make sure they are pre-sexed– straight run chickens give you a higher chance of ending up with a rooster, which you and your neighbors DON’T want! Pre-sexed chickens give you a 95% chance of getting hens. Most places that have sexed chicks will allow you to exchange a rooster for a hen, but it will be a  a month or two before you will be able to tell. You can also sell him on Craigslist for around $15-$20. My sister-in-law ended up with a Rooster, and after his first cock-a-doodle-do he was posted on Craigslist and gone by 11 AM that day.

Hold your chicks often! We held ours in towels while we watched TV, and handled them a lot. In turn, they are friendly and easy to handle/catch in the yard. My kids and the neighbors are known to carry them around the yard like baby dolls, putting them in wagons, draping beads around their necks,  bringing them into their fort, etc. I have even heard my daughter singing opera to one of them last summer.

Photo from Erin

Clip their wings! We have had a few ‘break out’ of the backyard and decided my neighbors yard was a good place to hang out. He didn’t think so.

Keep in mind they will eat everything in sight, dig holes, and poop everywhere. When ours were free ranging, we had to hose off the deck everyday! My herbs, blueberries and raspberry bushes were bald up to chicken height. I actually watched one hen jump a foot in the air to eat a still green blueberry! They are great as clean up crews after harvest, in the garden. Just don’t let them near things you don’t want them to eat!

They can also be noisy sometimes. When they lay eggs they can make a bunch of racket called a ‘hen song’– mine don’t do that, but they do make a bunch of noise if someone else lays an egg- as encouragement. And also when they are out of food or water they may start making a bunch of noise. They have woken us up early in the AM “complaining.”

Know how many eggs you will want/need. A chicken will lay an egg almost everyday. We have 6 chickens, and in the spring/summer we get 5-6 eggs a day. 

Kristina: Chickens make great pets.  Like all animals the more attention and love you give them… the more they give back.  They each have their own personalities… ours even beg like dogs for treats.  Whatever the chore in the yard we are sure to have at least one chicken helper… they even like to sneak in the kitchen for some cat food.

Anything else you’d like to share about your experience?

Erin:  Egg yolks from a fresh egg are firm, high and bright yellow, even orange sometimes. That is normal! Eggs from the store can be 1-2 months old by the time you purchase them.  One thing to note– if you want to hard-boil a fresh egg you need to let it ‘age’ for a couple of weeks, or the shell will be practically impossible to peel!

Our girls make us smile everyday. Seeing a chicken run, or to look out the window and see one perched on my window box looking at me with her head cocked to one side making a bwaaaaaaaah noise, or to see 4 of them standing on the back porch pecking at the window, waiting for a treat, makes them worth their ‘trouble’.

Photo from Erin

Kristina: The eggs from your own chickens are the best you’ll ever have.  You’ll notice the yolk color right away… no more pale yellow, these are dark yellow to vibrant orange.   It is so much fun to be able to share these eggs with friends and neighbors.

Photo from Erin

Thank you so much Erin, Jennifer, Kristina for sharing your stories and photos!

About today’s featured readers:

Erin is a stay at home, homeschooling, chicken raising Mom of 3 children who lives in the suburbs of  Maple Valley, WA with her family and an assortment of other animals, both domestic and exotic. You can contact her at Maikafer@gmail.com if you have questions.

Kristina started in Burien with 10 hens. She now lives in unincorporated Puyallup where she has 40 hens, 3 ducks, and 3 baby turkeys. She lives on about 1/3 of an acre.

Jennifer has had chickens for four years and lives in Irving, Texas.


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Adventures in Homesteading: Simple Fruit Dehydration

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How to Dehydrate Fruit in the Oven | The Coupon Project

It was not exactly what we would call a kitchen. There were no water taps and sink, only pails and basins for carrying and heating water from the outdoor pump. There was no refrigerator or icebox…

Barbara Walter, The Little House Cookbook

It’s easy to take simple things such as running water and a refrigerator for granted, isn’t it? We go to the store choose from a wide range of fruits and vegetables and take them back to our homes without worry that they will spoil.

If you’ve read the Little House on the Prairie series, one thing you’ll be struck by is how much of the Wilders’ life is consumed by hunting and gathering and preserving food. This is a particular concern as they approach the winter months when growing food is out of the question.

For today’s first post in my Adventures in Homesteading series, I thought I’d share a very simple technique for drying fruit. In sunnier weather, fruit can actually be dried in the sun or if you are a raw foodist, perhaps you own a food dehydrator. But in the spirit of keeping these posts easy and doable all I’ll be using is some fruit and an oven!

The best part about this recipe is you can really dry any fruit you have on hand! I had some organic Fuji apples and bananas, so I decided to work with those. But according to what I was able to find online, pretty much any fruit will work well on this recipe – berries, pear, kiwi, pineapple, mango, apricots. Make sure that your fruit is cleaned well and removed of pits or seeds where possible. For my apples, I decided to leave the skin on.

Make sure to slice your fruit as uniformly as possible.

This way, you’ll end up with fruit that is done at the same time, with the same texture.

One site I recommended a couple things at this point. First, you could steam the fruit for 3-5 minutes prior to drying. This will apparently speed up the process. I decided to do this with my apples. You can also let the fruit soak the fruit for a few minutes in water with freshly squeezed lemon.

I decided to give both my bananas and apples a quick lemon soak to prevent discoloration during the drying process.

From here, you’re going to lay your fruit on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Ideally you’d dry your fruit at about 90° – 150° in the oven. My oven wouldn’t even go that low, so I just put it on warm and it worked perfectly! You could also put it on warm with the oven door cracked a bit too.

Now comes the part that will suggest to you what pioneer living or homesteading is all about: TIME. We’ve become so accustomed to fast food, convenience items, microwaves, that we’ve entirely forgotten the process of preparing and creating fantastic food from scratch!

I checked my dried fruit after an hour…

And after two hours…

And I believe it was at about the three and a half hour mark it was done to my liking. Depending on the fruit you’ve selected, your oven settings, and the thickness you’ve sliced the fruit, your results may vary. Just check on it every 60 minutes the first couple hours, and then about every 30 minutes after that.

I finally decided they were done when they looked like the picture above – dried out, but still a little chewy. I’m glad I left the skins on the apples, by the way. They added to the texture and taste of the finished snack.

While these completed bananas might look sort of odd, let me tell you they were just about one of the best snacks I’ve ever made from scratch! No sugar, fat, or any fishy chemical added. Just plain bananas! I think the drying process did something to the sugars inside because they just popped with sweetness.

One Fuji apple and one banana yielded me an entire baking sheet full of dried fruit yumminess! Let your fruit sit overnight and then you can pop it in an air-tight container and it can apparently last for quite a few months! However, the result was so delicious mine didn’t last past the next evening. A few ideas I had for serving this snack: topped on yogurt or oatmeal, packed in your kids’ lunches, or chopped and added to your favorite homemade trail mix or granola.

If this is a recipe that interests you, can I recommend a couple more links to get you started?

Even if you’ve never done anything like this before or don’t consider yourself particularly talented in the kitchen, I hope you’ll consider trying this technique. It’s so easy and the result is worth it.

Join me on Friday for the next installment in this series.


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The REAL April Series: Adventures in Homesteading

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Yesterday I may have fooled a few of you into thinking I was going to go Walden-style and live in the woods by myself for a month. Yeah, no, I’m not doing that.

But I DO actually have a fantastic series planned for the month of April that I think you will enjoy. I’m calling it Adventures in Homesteading.

Pioneer Living for Modern Day

It seems that more and more people are pursuing the following things (any or all):

  • Urban self-reliance
  • Eco-friendly living
  • Return to simpler living
  • Emergency preparedness
  • Growing and preserving food

While these topics are somewhat interesting to me, what bothers me is that often the approach is daunting, overwhelming, or fearful. My goal for the next month will be to draw inspiration from pioneer living and present it in a way that is fun, approachable, and most important, doable. 

If I show you how to make soap from lye and also warn you how dangerous and difficult it is – well, who wants to do that? But if I can show you methods of soapmaking that are easy and useful, you might consider it. I want you to participate in this adventure with me, not merely observe me doing it.

How will this Series Work?

Expect posts on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday everyday for the month of April. There may be other posts above and beyond that, but do look for at least three each week. Adventures in Homesteading will be one part my own exploration of the topic, one part DIY, one part story-telling, and one part just plain fun. I am pleased to have brought in a few different contributors to share their ideas and expertise to give you a rounded idea of how homesteading might look. We’re going to tackle some things that feel comfortable (like recipes) and other things that might push you just a bit out of your comfort zone (you’ll have to stay tuned for those!).

In the end, I hope you will be inspired to live simpler as well as gain a new sense of gratitude for the conveniences that DO make our lives easier.

Join me Wednesday for the first post on this series!


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