Fall Homestead Update

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While its been quiet here on the blog for sometime, we’ve been keeping ourselves plenty busy around the homestead with late summer and fall project such as…..

*Canned applesauce, green beans, dilly beans, zucchini relish and chicken.

*Froze applesauce and corn

*Prepared the big garden for winter

*Planted fall greens in the raised bed garden

*Built a milking stand and started milking one of our Nubian does

*Built a new pig building and added 4 residents

*Added 16 new layer chicks and 28 broilers

*Survived the county fair

*Completed our first 8 weeks of homeschooling of the year

We were lucky enough to attend the Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs, PA in September.  We had a wonderful relaxing time away together and came home encouraged, challenged and full of new questions and opportunities to explore.

The weather has definitely started to turn cooler and as always there is plenty to be done outside yet before the first freeze. As the craziness of life around us goes on, I am reminded daily of how truly blessed we are to have own little piece of land to love and care for.


Rethinking the Conventional Playset

The Back Story:


When we moved into our current home our oldest daughter had just turned three. We had our landscape designed to look much like that of our friends in their suburban neighborhoods. The landscape design was created by a local landscape company. Because my parents owned a garden center at the time and he has experience in the landscape industry, The Handyman installed most of it himself. The landscape was designed purely for esthetic value not taking into consideration our lives, habits or schedules. Even purchasing much of the plant material at wholesale cost, we spent a *ton* of money. At that time we both worked fulltime outside of the home. I was commuting 90 miles each way to work every day. The Handyman’s commute was nearly as long in the opposite direction. Because we did not hire a landscape company to come and take care of said landscaping and we didn’t have the time to do it ourselves, within the first two years most of it was dead. Ouch! Our back yard was largely empty with the exception on a deck out the backdoor and the large wooden playset we put up the first summer we were here. A few years after we put up the playset it was damaged in a windstorm. We were able to salvage part of it but last year The Handyman decided it was time for it to come down. Initially we planned on putting up a new playset by Lifetime, but after further thought and research I am looking to change the traditional yard set up and do something different. Not that a swingset is bad, on the contrary I think every kid needs a swing. I’m just not convinced that the swingset is the best or the only way to encourage both play and outdoor learning. (I know it unconventionally…who would have thought?)

The Theory:

Because we homeschool, our kids are home a lot so it is very important to me that they have the opportunity to engage in outdoor play that is not only fun and entertaining but that encourages them to be creative and to connect with nature in a real and tangible way. I want them to be able to explore and investigate the world around them on their own terms and in their own time. The thought is that the children will get more out of the outdoor enviroment that is designed more as a natural playscape.

There are a few fantastic books that have been written about creating natural play areas that I have found to be really helpful.

Natural Playscapes by Rusty Keeler

A Child’s Garden, Enchanting Outdoor Spaces for Children and Parents by Molly Dannenmaier

Backyards for Kids by Sunset

Plants for Play by Robin Moore

The way it is now:

We currently have just less than 8 acres on our little farm. The dairy farm down the road rents the front 4 acres to raise corn, beans and hay. Last year we put up a barn and a new chicken coop in our back yard. The barn houses dairy goats, meat goats and 2 pigs. There are 30ish laying hens that call the coop and chicken pasture their home. (I love that the kids are able to interact with the animals on a daily basis. They have so much fun helping feed and care for the animals.) Behind the barn and pasture there is a wooded area with a ravine that will be a great place for the kids to play and explore as they get older. Our garden is on the west side of the house and pretty much takes up the whole side yard. Last year we planted a few dozen raspberry, blueberry and grape plants on the east side of the house.

That leaves the front yard. We have a wonderful covered front porch that faces south and is blocked from wind and weather on both sides. The Handyman and I love sitting on the porch together late into the evening especially in the summer months. Its a great place for the the kids to play but its also a great place for me to be present and available without being right in the middle of their outdoor explorations.

The Goal:

Some of the elements I am looking to incorporate into our play scape are water, sand for digging and creating, a solid surface area for riding tricycles and scooters, secluded places for being quiet and alone, large open spaces for active group play, space for creating and enjoying music and art. I want to include space for them to grow their own plants. Sure they help out in the family garden, but they love picking out their own plants. I want the area to appeal to all of their senses. There should be elements that they can enjoy all year round, even with our crazy Ohio weather. I want it to be a place that they feel as comfortable playing alone as they do together. I want it to be a place where they can be a scientist and study the plants and bugs as well as a place that lends itself to imaginative play, where they can be princesses and pirates.

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The challenge then is to accomplish this with some level of visual appeal in our front yard, and on a reasonable budget, even if that means no traditional “swing set.” I’m so excited to be planning this new addition. What about you? Do you have an area around your home or yard when your family enjoys all nature has to offer. What do you love about it and how it makes you feel?

Winter Evergreen Decorations

All of the Chistmas decorations have now been safely packed away. I was going to throw out the evergreen arrangements we made in early December but I decided they still look too good to toss. So, I have deemed them “Winter” decorations and they will be staying for awhile. My favorite thing about these arrangements was that all of the plant material came from our home farm.  The antique skates and sled we found at moms, we used them both when we were kids.  Yeah… think these arrangements will be hanging around for awhile….they make me smile!




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Roasting Pumpkin

This year the pie pumpkins that we grew did really well.  So, yesterday I decided to try my hand at roasting pumpkins.

 After we washed the pumpkins, I cut them in half and cleaned out the seeds and yuck (yes, that’s scientific terminology) The kids especially enjoyed getting in on the fun here.

Once the pumpkins were cleaned out I placed them cut side down on a baking tray, uncovered with about a ½ inch of water in the bottom of the tray.  I roasted the pumpkins at 350 degrees for about 2 hours. (until the outside of the pumpkin was soft to the touch)

 After doing 4 pumpkins this way, I decided to try the roaster.  This actually was much quicker and worked just as well. After the pumpkins cool, it’s easy to scoop out the flesh. 

I put the pumpkin into my food processor and blended until smooth.  Because you cannot safely home can pumpkin puree, I froze mine.   I froze mine in 1 ¾ cup and 3 ½ cup sized bags.  It used these amounts because they are the equivalent to 15 and 30 ounce cans of canned pumpkin, so I’m hoping it makes it easy to thaw the right amount for my recipes.  Although I have to tell you it made some amazing pumpkin custard fresh!

Pumpkins are really relatively easy to grow and super easy to preserve not to mention delicious!  ***If you decide to give it a try, hold onto the seeds.  They make a delicious crunchy snack!****

Roasted pumpkin seeds

 Wash seeds and pat dry.  Spread 2 cups of pumpkin seeds on a baking sheet with 2 table spoons of coconut oil and a sprinkle of salt.  Baked at 275 degrees for one hour, stirring occasionally.  Cool and enjoy!

Hot Pepper Jelly

This year we had a bumper crop of peppers. In addition to stringing over 100 hot peppers, we sliced and froze 10 gallons of bell peppers, made pepper relish and hot pepper jelly.  This this the first time I have made pepper jelly, the recipe that I used was from the University of California.  It was very quick and easy to make.

Pepper Jelly

4 or 5 Hot peppers cored and chopped

4 medium Bell peppers cored and chopped

1 cup white vinegar (5%)

5 cups white sugar

1 pouch liquid pectin

*Put half the peppers and half of the vinegar into a blender; cover and process until peppers are liquified.  Repeat with remaining peppers and vinegar.

*Combine the pepper and vinegar mixture with the sugar in  a large saucepan and boil slowly for 10 minutes. Remove from heat.

*Add liquid pectin and boil hard for 1 minute.

*Skim foam from the top of the jelly.  Pour Jelly into canning jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space.

*Process 1/2 pint or pint  jars in hot water bath canner as follows:

0-1000 ft  – 5 mins

1001-6000 ft – 10 mins

above 6000 ft – 15 mins

Yield – 5 half pint jars

We really liked this recipe.  The jelly is very flavorful but not too. It is really good served over a soft cheese, like cream cheese, with crackers.  If I get ambitious, I might even get really crazy and try making homemade cream cheese.

Getting ready for fall

The last few weeks have been a whirlwind around here.  Here are some of the fun and not so fun things that have been keeping us busy.

* A 3 day trip to the Mother Earth News Fair at the beautiful Seven Springs Mountain Resort in PA…….So much fun!


*Picked lots of peppers!  Some peppers we hung to dry, some we sliced and put in the freezer, and some became hot pepper jelly.

*Of course, there is always plenty of firewood to be cut, split and stacked this time of year.

*This stinky big guy has come for a visit with some of our older does.  Given his pungent presence, I am more than ready for him to finish his visit and be on this way.

Also on the completed list of tasks this past week were…

* Weeded the grapes, blueberries and raspberries in preparation for fall mulching.

* Picked and froze the remainder of the corn

*Tilled most of the garden – planted cover crop

*Pulled summer annuals out of flower beds  and started decorating for fall.

Now that fall is offically here, there is so much to be done to get ready for winter but we are certainly making great progress.  I have to admit that I am really enjoying the cool, crisp air and am looking forward to seeing the flakes fly!

Blueberry Pie Filling

Last night I finally got my blueberry pie filling made.  I was disappointed when 3 of my jars didn’t seal.  Ive never had that happen to pie filling before but my only thought is that I may have gotten them a little full. However,  this morning as  I ate a bowl of Greek yogurt with a spoonful of blueberry pie filling on top, I could feeling that disappointment melting away!  It was SO good, even if I had to share half of it with the little man child who climbed up next to me and repeated demanded, “Booberries mama, booberries.”

Here is my recipe-

Blueberry Pie Filling

6 quarts Fresh Blueberries
6 cups granulated sugar
2 1/4 cups Clear Jel
7 cups cold water
1/2 cup lemon juice

 Wash and drain blueberries. Combine sugar and Clear Jel in a large kettle, stir. Add water. Cook on medium high heat until mixture thickens and begins to bubble. Add lemon juice and boil 1 minute stirring constantly. Fold in berries immediately and fill jars with mixture without delay, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Adjust lids and process. Process in boiling water canner (pints or quarts) 30 mins for 0-1000 ft altitude.
Yield -7 quarts

Creamy Dill Cucumber Salad

The first veggies ready in the garden this year are cucumbers.  One of my favorite ways to eat cucumbers is chunked up with a little creamy dill dressing.  Because I  am the only one who will eat cucumbers in our house I just mix it up and put it in the fridge.  When Im ready, I just chunk up the cold cucumbers and drizzle with the dressing.  Later in the season when the tomatoes are ripe, I’ll chop up one and throw that in too. I remember eating this all summer long with my dad, it was one of his favorites.  Cool and Refreshing! This is a great summer recipe.

Creamy Dill Cucumber Sauce

1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon dill weed
1 tablespoon cider vinegar

1 teaspoon minced dry onion
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper (optional)

Financing homestead improvements

One of the biggest challenges for us on our little homestead has been financing our new ventures and improvements.  With only one income funds are limited and are a consideration for most every project.  I would absolutely love to build a brand new polebarn, but it will likely be some time before we have enough saved to do so.  We recognize that if we choose to wait to grow our homestead until we have perfect facilites, it may never happen.  And because we choose not to incur any additional debt one good option is often to reuse materials we already have laying about.

When the Handy man built this Beautiful coop several years ago it was a wonderful home for our chickens.  However, now it is much too small for our 40+ laying hens. We are in the process of deconstructing a  13 X 12 foot  greenhouse that was once used to overwinter plant material.  We will move this structure into place and cover it with steel to be the new house for our hens.   I am hoping to repaint the old hen cottage and sell it to help offset some of the cost of the metal.  We will also be using lumber from a swing set we had that was damaged in a storm some time back.

This structure has also had multiple lives.  It is 17 X 32 and is curently housing a large wood pile, prior to that it housed pheasants.  We will be reinforcing this structure and covering it with metal as well as it will soon be a new winter home for our growing goat herd.
Some of the places that we have found building materals at a discount or even free are-
*Our families farms  (Thanks!  We love you so much)
*Garage sales
*Habitat ReStore
*Materials we can reuse from other projects.
I would encourage anyone who is considering starting a new homesteading venture or expanding one to not be discouraged by lack of funds but rather to consider what resources you do have available and think “outside of the box.”  If you can make it work…..go for it, Im guessing our hens wont care if their home used to be a greenhouse as long as they are warm and dry, and Im sure yours wouldn’t either.

4-H Fun

One of the things keeping busy this summer has been 4-H projects.  I was in 4-H growing up and honestly I forgot how much work is involved in completing the project activities, leadership activities and books.  This year was Sunshines first year, she took 4 projects.  She has 2 goat projects, a cooking projects and a vegetable project.  She has by far enjoyed the goat project the most.  I would say the Vegetable gardening project has been her least favorite.   She has learned a great deal about plants, pollination as well as plant care. We have also been studying nutrition and some cooking basics. More than anything else it has been a good reinforcement in demonstrating responsibility.  She knows that it is her responsiblity to feed, water and exercise her goats as well as to help with the weeding and watering in the garden.  She has been doing a great job and I am very proud of her.   We are all looking forward to seeing her show one of her goats at the state fair in a few weeks.

This is a picture of Sunshine working the the garden.  (I can assure you the big smile did not show up until the camera did.)  She likes weeding even less that I do.