Simplicity by Choice

Off-Grid Living & Self-Reliance

Taming the Picky Eating February 27, 2016

Having kids, you often deal with a period of time when you have a picky eater.  Most common problem is a child who refuses to eat vegetables.  We have dealt with that with our own kids.  Having one who is autistic, we deal with it on a fairly regular basis.  We found an answer though that may work for other families as well.

This morning, I took the kids outside and we began planting vegetable seeds into the seed starting trays.  I had a variety of vegetable seeds and let the kids pick out the ones they wanted for a special garden box that will be set up in their fenced play area.  They chose grape tomatoes, sugar pod peas, and green beans.  I helped them to plant the seeds and we have them out in the sun.  Once large enough, we will be transplanting them into a square foot garden bed in their yard.  These veggies will be ones that I will let them pick and snack on.

What have me the idea originally was memories of my own childhood.  My parents always had a large garden each year.  When playing outside, I often would pick a handful of green beans, peas, or a tomato to snack on.  I loved eating straight from the garden.

As a parent, I have learned that if I let the kids help grow a few of their favorites, they were far more likely to eat the veggies at mealtimes.  It also encourages healthy snacking.  When it is warm enough, I want to plant a small strawberry patch as well.  Both kids love strawberries, so they should be a good choice. 

It is definitely worth a try to plant a few veggies and see if the kids are more likely to eat them.  Even if you only plant a small garden bed along your house or in pots on your patio, it can help.  Kids take prize in harvesting a few veggies from their own garden plants to add to the family meal.  It can make a big difference.

 

New Gardening Project February 17, 2016

With Joseph gone doing his trucking job and me raising two kids here in the homestead alone most of the time, I am having to rethink how to have a family garden.  It has to be something that I can manage completely on my own.  I found a blog post about a No–Dig Garden that is very easy.  Once the garden beds are created, your work is nearly done.  The weeding is minimal, especially if you use mulch around the plants.  All organic materials means that each season you only have to add some more fertlizer or ammend the soil before planting again.  This is easily done.  Once your garden is finished for the season, add more compost or manure, cover with a layer of mulch, and let the garden beds rest until spring. 

I am going to use cinder blocks to form the garden beds.  These will not have mortar but simply stacked 2 rows tall.  The cavities of the blocks will contain rocks in the lower level and planting mix in the top level.  The cavities can be planted with flowers or herbs.  Another option would be to add a length of pipe in the corners and center blocks that are slightly taller than the cinder blocks.  These will be useful for forming a hoop cover.  To make the cover, take a length of off and bend it into a curve.  Place one end into a pipe, forming the curve over your garden bed.  You can also use these pipes for placing a trellis along the side for climbing plants or make a taller canopy to provide shade when necessary.

The boxes are very easy to construct.  Place 2 layers of cardboard under the garden bed to prevent growth of vegetation from under the bed.  Stack your cinder blocks to form the sides.  Next, place alternating layers of straw, manure, and planting mix into the beds.  You want it several inches above the bed.  After about 2 weeks, the materials will have settled down to the top of the bed. 

If you want the material to hold moisture better, use peat moss as one of the top layers.  I generally will mix a 50/50 mixture of potting mix and peat moss, which works great here in the southwest where temps reach over 100°F in summer.

You can plant right away after filling the garden beds or wait until the soil mixture settles down into the garden bed.  Once planted, add mulch to further cut down on moisture loss and weeding.

I can”t wait to get my new garden area set up.  The beauty of this method is that I can move the garden to another location easily.  Just dismantle the beds, set up in the new area, then refill the beds reusing the soil materials.  All the straw used breaks down and gives you compost.  You are, in essence, building and planting your garden in a contained compost bin.

During the winter, I will be able to add the wood ash from our wood stove to the garden beds to add more nutrients to the soil.  In spring, I just have to turn the soil and I am ready to plant, especially if I have added the additional manure to the garden beds at the end of growing  season the previous year.

I can’t wait to get started.  This is going to make gardening so much easier for me to manage this year.  I plan to start with 2 large or 4-6 small beds first.  I can expand later if needed.

 

Planting for Autumn Harvest July 9, 2014

Filed under: gardening,green living,homesteading,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 6:59 am
Tags: ,

July is well underway and today I started new garden seeds for autumn harvest. Here on the homestead, the northern side of the house gets the most shade. Though the days are quite warm and humid, the shaded areas feel a little cooler.

I started the seeds for green beans, peas, yellow squash, acorn squash, butternut squash, pumpkin, and sugar snow peas in the seed starting tray. Once the seedlings are grown large enough, I can plant them along the northern side of the house. The afternoon shade will protect the plants during the hot afternoon, yet they will get plenty of morning sunlight.

Some may wonder why I am planting these so late in the growing season. Our first frost doesn’t occur until late November. Even the pumpkin, which typically has a growing season of about 115 days before harvest can be grown and will be ready to harvest about October 25th. The earlier plants, such as the green beans and peas, will be ready in about 55 days to begin harvesting. That means they will be ready about September 1st. Plenty of time to get more harvest for winter.

An easy garden plant to start just about anytime are your leafy greens. The only trouble that you may have is that they will want to bolt, or go to seed, if they get too much of the hot summer sun. So, to combat that, you can plant in an area that gets shade in the afternoon or plant in window boxes that can be moved from place to place. Harvesting from the greens often is another way to help prevent the plants from going to seed.

If you happen to not have enough shaded areas for planting a second round of seeds, consider using old bedsheets to make shade cloths to protect the plants. Place long sticks to be used as poles along the edges of the plant rows. Drape and use cable ties or twine to tie the shade cloth onto the tops of the poles. Make sure that the tops of the plants do not touch the shade cloth. This simple method will provide enough shade to help tender plants to continue producing during the hottest portion of summer.

I love planting this time of year. We completely miss the wet season which always seems to wash away our garden seeds or drown the young plants. Using plenty of mulch or other weed barrier methods eliminates the worse of the weeding. If you plan well, you don’t have to worry much about the plants drying up. A good watering first thing in the morning usually does the best. Never water in the early evening as it will encourage insects to come into the garden. The insects come for the moisture as much as the plants.

As you probably noticed, most of the seeds I planted are for a variety of winter squash. These store very well in a root cellar or an unheated room through the winter. These also are being harvested right up until first frost. If the first frost comes in late November as it usually does, then we will be harvesting pumpkins for a month before that frost arrives. The green beans, sugar snow peas, and regular green peas will be nearly done producing by mid-October.

I am looking forward to seeing how these do. Tomorrow, I am going to start seeds for buttercrunch leaf lettuce, swiss chard, and spinach to plant in containers or along the porch on the north side of the house. These grow quickly, so I should do good with them. We love the fresh greens!

If you are planting for an autumn harvest, what do you have started? What have you had success with and what has been a struggle?

 

No Grocery Store for a Year? June 28, 2014

Filed under: cooking,gardening,homesteading,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 7:15 pm

I just read a very interesting and personally challenging blog article, Our Year without Groceries.  I absolutely love the concept of using locally grown instead of buying at a grocery store.  Clare, the article’s author, detailed how they went through a year without grocery shopping.  I was especially refreshed as I read the effects that it had on her family.

In past generations, people didn’t always have the money to be able to go to the market as often as we do today.  Let’s face it, as a society we are spoiled.  It is more typical of society to go to the store at least twice a week than to go once a week or even once per month.

Could our family make this challenge work in our family?  It would take planning.  In the particle, Clare mentions that her son (who came up with the idea) got many of his ideas from the Little House stories by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  In the books, the family often went to the store once or twice a year.  They didn’t have the convenience of going as often as we do today.

Foods were eaten seasonally.  Their meals were not as full of variety as we have available today.  They ate according to what was in season or stored in their pantry/root cellar.  Cannot this same thing be done today?

I am going to give this some thought.  While we don’t have a garden going this year due to other homestead demands, we do have local farms that sell their surplus.  There are a few things that I can grow that can be harvested in autumn to store for winter.  Some include winter squash varieties.  There are also farmer’s markets that we can buy from during the season.  We could buy enough at the farmer’s market or from farms to home can for our winter pantry stores.

I already do a lot of baking now that we have our new stove.  Buying enough flour for a year’s supply would be a part of that once a year purchase.  Another option would be to buy wheat from local farmers’ co-op to grind into flour ourselves.  Buying eggs and milk from local farms is easy in our area if you don’t raise your own poultry and dairy animals.  Hunting or raising your own meat can be managed as well.

Overall, I can see how it can be done with a good plan and attitude.  The two biggest challenges would be getting out of the habit of running to the store so much and not being fussy and picky about the meals being eaten.  Learning to eat according to what is available instead of catering to the wants and wishes of picky eaters or those demanding a large variety.  I definitely understand the author’s comment of the family appreciating the abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables during the growing seasons.  Like the families of generations ago, after a staple diet of eating from the pantry stores over the winter, having a fresh salad would be a treat.

Am I considering this for our family? Yes!  I need to do my research first to find local resources for what we will need.  I have already been doing that for some items.  It is simply a matter of expanding the items purchased locally.

 

 

 

Spring Cleaning and a Swap February 22, 2014

Filed under: Crafting,gardening,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 6:06 am
Tags: , ,

For the past week, the days were nice enough that I only had the heater set on low at night. In the morning, I turned the heater off.  By mid-day, the front for was open to let the warm breeze in.

I have started the spring cleaning.  I want it done before spring planting commences.  Already, the feed stores are selling onion sets and seed potatoes. Garlic can also be planted.  The time to prepare for garden season is upon us.  Once the last frost has occurred, I won’t have time for spring cleaning.

This season, Little Miss is helping.  I have her working along side of me so that she can learn how to deep clean.  She seems to enjoy it while we are working together much more than when doing a task on her own.  It takes me longer to get the chores done, but we have fun with it.

In the evenings, I am crocheting 10″ square dishcloths for a swap that I joined. We have until early April to get the dishcloths made and mailed to the other participants. I haven’t taken party in a swap like this for quite some time.  I am enjoying it though.  I am making 20 of the dishcloths in total.  I was Lucky in that I already had a bunch of the cotton yarn on hand.

As the winter is approaching its end, I am deciding on the final garden plan.  I am considering the vegetables we ran out of the fastest.  How much should I grow?  Is it more cost effective to buy the tins of certain vegetables instead of growing our own?  Lots to take into account before planting.

 

Perpetual Salads September 16, 2013

Filed under: gardening,green living,homesteading,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 7:53 pm
Tags: ,

Do you have a sunny window in your home? Why not sow some spinach or a leafy variety of lettuce in a planter?

It is very easy to grow spinach and leaf lettuce all winter long this way. As you’re plants produce, you break off or cut the outside leaves. The plant will continue to produce for a long time. As the plant begins to slow down, sow new seeds in another planter.

By doing this, you can enjoy fresh leafy greens long after the winter snows begin to fall.

 

Starting the Garden April 30, 2013

Filed under: cooking,gardening,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 5:15 am
Tags: , ,

Filling up the recycled containers with potting mix in the morning. Frost danger has now passed us by. I have very few above ground plants to put in this year. We are barely out of the drought stage, so I am planting a drought tolerant garden instead. Of the above ground plants, I am only planting a few summer squash, but will be planting plenty of winter squash. The rest of the plants will be root crops.

Little Miss has some pumpkin seeds starting. They should be popping up in about a week. Once they are a good size, they will be transplanted along the edge of the yard. I am considering how we will plant them. If I can find a few old tires, I will use those as planters. I used tires to grow watermelons when I lived in an upper desert region and they did great. The sidewalls of the tires helped to hold the water near the plant.

As I previously mentioned, there is a really good produce farm not far from our homestead. I will be buying from them any crops that I don’t grow at home. I will be talking to them in the near future about buying things like green beans by the bushel for home canning. Hopefully, I will get a good price for the bulk purchases.

Our family has become hooked on a new snack. I bought some vegetable chips at Whole Foods in Tulsa on my last trip there. The chips are thinly sliced veggies and whole green beans that are dried or baked. A small amount of sea salt is added to them, but it is a very small amount. I looked online and found various recipes on how to make them yourself through dehydrating, baking, or frying. As soon as I see the fresh produce hitting the produce farm’s shop, I will be trying the recipes out to find our favorite. They are a wonderful healthy alternative to eating regular potato chips!

I have started my summer meal preparations. In warm months, we eat very few cooked meals during the day. Instead, we have lighter, raw or chilled meals. A variety of salads make up a large portion of our diet. I add cooked quinoa to nearly every salad that we eat. This helps to make sure we get enough protein each day. Cooked meals that we do eat are ones that can be prepared very quickly. A favorite is making a stir-fry with teriyaki sauce served over cooked quinoa in place of rice. Ever since we started eating quinoa, we have given up rice almost completely. Compared to rice, there is far more nutrients in quinoa.

By making the meals fast to prepare, I don’t have to worry about heating up the kitchen too much through cooking. We have a large griddle, like the type that you see for outdoor kitchens. On that griddle, I am able to make a large amount of flat bread at once time. During summer, that bread is the only type that I make. If you allow the dough to rise before you start forming the rounds for dry frying, the bread becomes thicker & lighter during the cooking process. I roll out the dough slightly thicker than you normally might do. The flat bread then will puff a bit like a pita bread when you dry fry it. Once cooked, you can then cut a slit into the bread to use as a pita.

The lighter meals also provide us with a great opportunity to take full advantage of the fresh produce in season. We are so blessed to have kids who love to eat this way.

Once I see how this year’s plantings do, I will decide what to plan for next season. As long as my husband is still away so much with his trucking job, I am limited on how much garden we plant. Throughout the season. We will be gradually adding more raised beds to plant our garden in. That will also determine the amount we plant.

By and by, the garden area will be completely moved to it’s new location and we will be able to grow more. Just having to use patience for now.

 

Too Much Work? February 23, 2013

It seems strange to me to hear the opinions of others concerning our lifestyle. As early as in the book of Genesis in the Bible, Adam and Eve were instructed that their lives would require hard work. It was after they were taken out of the Garden of Eden. The Lord made it known to them that it would be by the sweat of their brow that their crops would grow. How often do we read in scripture about the hard work the people had to do in order to provide for their families? The stories of the women having to glean in the fields for grain to make their bread or the men who worked in the fields or fish with nets are abundant. The Apostle Paul even goes so far as to say in 1 Thessalonians 3:7-10 “For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model to you to follow. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.’”

In today’s society, we have drawn away from that attitude more and more. While there are many who are physically unable to do hard work, there is always something that can be done. Unfortunately, it is in our human nature to be lazy and complacent. It is much easier to be taken care of than to work. We all have those moments in our lives. In some areas it is far easier to take advantage of modern technology. The danger in this is that here we are today with a generation of young adults who haven’t a clue how to live without modern conveniences. Is it any wonder that when a storm knocks the power out, many families freak out? It was a shock to find out a couple of years ago that some people actually believe it is not legal to be off-grid. People are so accustomed to having electricity and all the modern conveniences that they find it too strange to think some would choose to live without it.

Suddenly, we find ourselves where we are today, a nation with serious economic issues. People are unemployed or under-employed. Record numbers of people are receiving government aid through food stamps of other means. The problem lies in the fact that there are many receiving these “entitlements” that feel it is their right to receive them. My question is this; what will happen when the nation runs out of tax money to pay for it? It has happened in other nations? What makes people believe it cannot happen here?

I have said it many times in the past, but I say it again. My husband and I do not feel that ALL people should live as off-grid as we choose to do. It really isn’t for everyone. If readers are honest however, they will admit that there are things that they can implement in their own homes to make their lives just a bit easier. Whether it be to plant a small garden in their yard or in containers on their balcony, work towards becoming debt-free, or simply being more cautious in their spending.

We often are asked how we manage on as little as we do financially. The answer is simple. We make it work. It doesn’t matter how much or little the pay is, we find a way to make the money stretch as far as possible. Being in the truck driving industry, the pay is dependent upon how many miles my husband drives. Some weeks the pay is much better than others. We have literally had a week when the truck broke down and our paycheck was in the negative due to the deductions being more than his pay that week. Then we have a paycheck come along that is very good. We learned to stock up when pay is good in preparation for the times when pay is low. It is a life of feast or famine. We are blessed in that my husband works for a company and not an owner/operator leasing to a company for his loads. A truck payment for the semi and all the permits, etc., would be hard financially devastating if we also had to make repairs to the truck as well as pay for fuel. As a company driver, the company takes care of all of those expenses.

The easy answer to how we make our income work is this. We have to work to save money. If I want to save money on the cost of doing laundry, I have to wash it by hand. This alone saves us $20 per week when compared to doing laundry at a Laundromat in town. In winter months, we use a Laundromat but in the warmer months, the laundry is done at home on a scrub board. I actually enjoy those times. I find it very peaceful and relaxing.

If we want to cut our food costs, we have to grow our own food. If unable to grow your own, you can cut costs by being less fancy in your cooking and using less processed foods. Using the raw or basic ingredients can save you a bundle in expenses. A loaf of bread that costs $2 at the store would only cost about 68 cents to make at home. On average, not including meat, you can cut your grocery expense down to about ¼ of your monthly bill if you stop buying the store versions of your favorite packaged foods. In spite of rising food costs, I am still managing to spend under $200 per month to feed our family of 4. We eat a well-balanced vegetarian diet most of the time, with a few meat meals scattered throughout the month.

For cutting costs in utilities, I am very frugal even with our water usage. Not only is this great for our environment, but it helps keep our monthly bills down. We live in a drought area. Last year, the gardens did very poorly due to the heat and drought. So, this year, I am planning a “drought garden” instead of a traditional one. A drought garden is one in which you plant vegetables and herbs that are drought resistant. Root crops are great for this! They require less water than things like green beans or tomatoes. There are varieties of fruit that are drought and heat resistant also. Many are heirloom varieties that are open pollinated (not GMO) and survive well in our region. I am planning 2 plantings of leafy greens. The first will be in early spring and the second will take place in late summer or early autumn. This will give us a nice supply of salads during the cooler months. Instead of growing celery, I am planting leaf celery. This herb tastes like celery but is far easier to grow and the leaves can be dried for winter use.

Canning may seem pricey when a person first starts, but when you remember that the jars are reusable, canning is far less expensive than buying the tins of vegetables & fruit at the store. Often, I find old canning jars at yard sales or secondhand shops. After the initial investment into buying jars, you only have to replace the flat lids that are used to seal the jars. There is a company called “Tattler” that makes the old fashioned resealable lids. These cost more than the single use lids, but are a onetime purchase. The time spent growing (or purchasing from a farmer’s market) and home canning your harvest can save your family $1,000s of dollars over a year’s time. It all depends on the amount of food you grow and preserve.

As with any other aspect of our lifestyle, the amount of work we are willing to do has a great influence in the amount of expense we have each month. The amount of work we choose to do allows us to live comfortably without the use of financial assistance or food stamps. It can be done. The question is whether others are willing to put forth the effort needed to do it. Whether it is just a little change here and a little change there, you can make a difference in your family’s spending. It is not something beyond anyone’s ability. The question comes down to how serious people are about wanting to change their spending habits and have the ability to live on less. It is only a nice idea that they would like to consider or is it something that they truly want to work towards?

 

Colonial to Depression Era Cooking December 15, 2012

Filed under: gardening,homesteading,old fashioned,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 4:28 am

Have you ever taken a look online or in old cookbooks to see what type of foods people ate during the period between the Colonial days and the Great Depression era? The difference from the way we eat today is amazing. The families focused there diet on 3 primary factors: what was in season, what was easily obtained through hunting and fishing, and what could be easily stored.

I have been looking at these recipes and have come to the realization that they are just as sound today as they were back then. Families are spoiled today. There is such a variety that we feel bored with having to limit our choices. Should we continue to allow that attitude?

I am convinced that the generations before us had it right. They grew their produce, hunted, fished and raised their own meat, gathered berries and nuts from local sources, raised their own dairy cows to give them their milk, butter and cheese. They raised poultry for eggs and meat. They were so far ahead of most people today in their lifestyle. Today, society has become dependent on grocery stores and other resources for food. Each year, there are news stories of food recalls due to health issues. So much of this can be avoided by raising your own. If you live in a city, there are options. You can raise a small patio garden in containers. If you know someone who lives in a more rural area near you, maybe they would allow you to share in their garden if you help with the work in tending it. Find a trusted local farm to purchase produce from. The options are there for anyone willing to try.

The best option for those outside of a city is to utilize your resources and raise a garden of your own. I have been looking through and preparing my seed order from Baker’s Creek Seed Company in Missouri. I love buying seed from them. It is all open pollinated and they do not sell anything that is GMO.

By January, I hope to have the order placed so that we have plenty of time to prepare. I like to start the seeds ahead of time and transplant as much as possible to shorten the growing time in the ground. With drought conditions and hot temperatures, that is important to having a successful garden. In February I will begin starting to grow sweet potato slips. They should be ready to put into the ground by late April after the frost danger has passed.

I am looking forward to our garden. It will be our first year with a garden similar to what earlier generations may have had.

 

Change in Garden Plans May 29, 2012

Filed under: gardening,homesteading — ourprairiehome @ 6:33 pm

Well, the garden didn’t get fully prepped as planned, so I am gearing up for plan B. In the City, about 80 miles from home, there is a very large Farmer’s Market. I am planning to save up for going there to buy the produce we need for canning. Not the best arrangement, but the best we can do at this point. It was a series of events that prevented the garden going in as planned. The biggest hurdle being the switch from very rainy to the temps being too hot for many of the garden plants. One thing that you learn quickly is to always have a back-up plan or two in the wings.

We do have a small garden planted now. Some tomatoes, melons, and squash. Our family loves popcorn, so are growing that also. Summer squash is very easy to plant anytime during the summer. Heat doesn’t seem to affect it as much. Winter squash does well as long as it is planted before the end of June. Our autumns are mild enough that we can be harvesting squash as late as Thanksgiving most years. The only crop that we missed out on were the leafy greens, lettuce, cabbage, green beans, and peas which need cooler temps to grow well. I still have plenty of time to plant root crops and the winter squash type of plants. I will do those as I am able.