Category Archives: Sustainability

Composting – An Easy How-To Guide

Composting is a really easy and beneficial practice for any homestead or property. It’s a great way to utilize the inedible portions of fruits or vegetables, as well as scraps and bits that don’t make it into your dish. (For another use for vegetable scraps, check out our post on DIY: Stock!

Your compost pile can be as small or large as you like, and in addition to giving these scraps new life, you are building your very own supply of natural, organic fertilizer! I have been using our own compost as my only form of fertilizer and nutritional support for my garden beds for years now. Continue reading

Household Items You Shouldn’t Be Throwing Out

Did you know there are a lot of items people throw in the garbage that can serve more than their original, intended purpose? A lot of food scraps, packaging and old or damaged items can have a new life, if you just think outside of the box! Continue reading

10 Ways to Be More Sustainable

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Re-purposing, reusing, recycling . . . any way I can improve my lifestyle for the health of my family, home, land and the overall Earth — I’m on it. Maybe I’m becoming too much of a hippie, but I am always looking for ways to reduce waste and reuse what I have. It’s economical, sustainable and just makes sense. Why not get the most out of everything you have, and avoid buying new items? Do you want to reduce your own waste, but aren’t sure where to start? Below are some simple ways to be more sustainable around your own home. These are real things that we do, that work for us and are easy to do.

Ditch the Sponges –  This is a great way to re-purpose old towels that may be stained or torn. I take old dish cloths and just cut them into rectangles that are about 3″ x 6″. You can cut them to whatever size you like. I tend to get about (8) cleaning cloths per old towel. I use them for everything – washing dishes, cleaning counters, wiping up messes, washing windows, dusting, you get the idea! I keep a bunch in drawer by my kitchen sink, and the rest in our linen closet, in a basket labeled for cleaning rags. Once I have used it, I just toss them in the wash with our regular towels, and we’re ready to go again!

Wash In Order – This is really easy, but not always obvious. To get the most use out of your water, wash the least dirty areas first, working your way to the dirty sections last. This way, you aren’t dumping out your mop bucket or window wash a bunch of times, and using more water.

Save the Rain – If possible, setting up a rain catch system around your property is an excellent means of being sustainable. Rain water is excellent for watering plants, washing cars, cleaning the coop, etc. Even just a simple bucket by the garden can help you to save a little water, if you can’t participate on a larger scale. Just remember with open buckets or catch systems, that open, still water will become stagnant quickly, and can become a breeding ground for mosquitoes and other bugs.

Please keep in mind – rain water is a form of gray water, and is not safe for human consumption. You should not use it for drinking, cooking, etc.  Just think about it  – the rain water runs down off of your roof, where there are bugs, pollen, dirt, bird feces, and into the gutter (who knows whats in there!) and then into your container. It is not clean water.

Shop Smart  –  Bring your own reusable bags when you go shopping – whether this means mesh produce bags and cloth grocery bags, or even a cloth bag or a cute basket when you go to your favorite book store, craft store, or even the local hardware store!  Buy in bulk when you can, and bring your own container for the item when possible, if not reusing the original container. Purchasing items in glass or biodegradable containers, as glass can be recycled, or used around the house.

Buy Local – Supporting local business is not only good for your economy, but it helps reduce your carbon footprint. You also may make new friends and connections with neighbors and local farms that enrich your shopping experience, as well as opening the door to trying new foods, or even bartering/trading for items!

Think Ahead –  Pack your own lunch, coffee and water/drinks to go for the day, using your own reusable bags, cups and containers. This helps reduce waste, and keeps you eating better, too. Investing in a nice set of reusable utensils for your lunch bag is a good idea, too. I found an adorable set with a fork, knife, spoon and chopsticks, that comes in a little protective sleeve, on Amazon for pretty cheap. They’re made of bamboo so they are really durable as well.

Compost – Get the most out of everything by saving your waste! Food scraps, rotten or bruised portions can all get tossed into the compost. Some of the key items that should always make it into your compost are egg shells, ground coffee and banana peels. This magical trio will help restore your soil’s calcium, potassium and nitrogen, as well as balancing the PH.
For vegetable ends and scraps that are still perfectly edible, consider making your own stock! Check out our post on DIY Stock to get started, and don’t miss out on How to Make Your Own Croutons & Breadcrumbs!

Garage Cleaning –  Similar to my Ditch-the-Sponge initiative, we use stained and torn towels, rags and t-shirts around the garage for those really messy cleanups or oil-covered hands. Make sure you keep these available and obvious, so your good towels don’t make their way into the garage too, like a certain someone else’s towels, ahem.

Ladies – Ditch the Disposables –  This may not be for everyone, but making the switch to cloth pads or a reusable cup for that time of the month can help both the environment, your wallet and your health. Studies have shown that the chemicals used in commercial pads and tampons can intensify period symptoms, as well as lead to other long term health issues! I made the switch to “mama cloth”, as cloth pads are sometimes known, a few years back. I was hesitant, and worried about how gross it might be, but I found it to be extremely easy, and I was impressed with how immediately my intense cramps stopped.
Cloth pads are available in a lot of really adorable and fun patterns as well, so why not add a little fun to an otherwise crummy time of the month? There are lots of brands, as well as Etsy vendors, who make great, affordable pads that work for everyone. Are you just sew-handy Still want to use tampons? Opt for an organic cotton tampon that is applicator-free for a sustainable option!

Diapers –  Moving to a cloth diaper is another great way to be sustainable and make diapering more comfortable for your baby. As with commercial pads and tampons, baby diapers are bleached, dyed and carry their own chemical makeup that can irritate sensitive skin. While it may not be statistically proven (please let me know if there is a study out there!), I have noticed that diaper rash is much higher with babies and toddlers who wear the standard diaper brands. My daughter has never had diaper rash, not one bit!
Don’t want to use cloth? That’s OK! My husband couldn’t stand it, so we didn’t use them for more than a month, tops. There are a lot of really wonderful organic, unbleached diapers out there that are biodegradable! We use the Naty brand, which are amazing — totally biodegradable, non-GMO, chemical free and wonderful for leaks and overnights. The only time we have had blow out or a leaky diaper is when the diaper size was getting too small, or from our own bad timing. They’re also really cute, and I get lots of compliments on them.


So there you have it, my top 10, super easy, anyone can do it, ways to becoming more sustainable. Even on a small scale, many of these items are achievable, and the smallest change makes a difference. Using your own coffee cup every day, instead of buying out, only using sponges for really grimy jobs and using cloth for everything else. Take one step at a time – I didn’t start doing all of these at one time. We took steps, slowly converting to more sustainable methods that were easier on our wallets as well as our bodies, home and surroundings. Set a goal for yourself to tackle one item on this list, and you’ll be surprised how naturally the rest will start to fall into place!

Looking for more things to help you and your family become more sustainable? Check out my post on Household Items You Shouldn’t Be Throwing Out! for more ideas.


Do you have some more tips for ways to improve sustainability? Want to share your own success story? Leave your comments below!

8 Tips for a Successful Garden

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If you have ever kept a garden, even a small one, you are aware of how much time and labor goes in. Unless you are going for the jungle-look, there are weeds to pull, plants to trim, stake and cover, never mind the time spent actually harvesting and preparing the produce for canning, dehydrating or freezing.image

I have been gardening for several years now, and each year I learn something new. I’ve had neat little gardens, and been the guilty keeper of a messy jungle garden. I’ve had multiple sized gardens, enjoying wide spread rows as well as the square-foot method. With all these experiences, I thought I would share some of my best gardening tips.

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  1. Start weeding before you put in your plants. Most people think of weeding as something that needs to be done at the same time as planting, or just once those vegetables are in the ground. However, it’s never too early to pull weeds, and the sooner you start, the better. Weeding eliminates competition for your vegetables, by ensuring there is plenty of space for roots systems to develop, as well as stopping undesired plants from depleting the soil’s nutrients.
  2. Weed in the mornings. My morning routine always includes a trip to pull weeds in my vegetable and herb garden beds. Getting outside early means pulling weeds before the heat of the day, making the chore more enjoyable. It also reduces your sun exposure, making for healthier weeding, too. If you can’t make the mornings work, there is nothing less enjoyable about an early evening weed-pulling session. The important part is to weed daily. Pinch out those pesky plants before they get way ahead of you, and start wreaking havoc in your garden.image
  3. Thin seedlings in the morning or evening, only. Avoid thinning or moving seedlings when the sun is high and the day is hot. You are more likely to have success if you move them in the cool morning or evening, and give them a little drink of water right after.
  4. Thin seedlings after rain fall. Thinning right after a good rain has always proved to be the most successful for me as well – the ground is wet and soil soft, so less roots get damaged. If you’re in a dry spell, but those seedlings can’t wait, thin them after a good, hearty watering, in the early morning or late afternoon, when it is not in direct sun.
  5. Stake early. Even if your plants don’t need stakes or trellises yet, get these in place ASAP. This way you disturb the growing plant as little as possible, and the support is ready when needed.image
  6. It’s all about the roots! You can weed and weed until the sun goes down, but if you are leaving the roots behind, you’re wasting your time. Sure, I wear work gloves when dealing with thorny plants, or those with toxins like poison ivy, but when it comes to your every day weeds, bare-handed is the way to go. No gadget or glove will ever compare to the knowing, pincer-grasp of your fingers as they wiggle into the ground, following the weed down and pulling the whole plant out. Removing the roots (or at the very least, as much of them as possible), will prevent that plant from regrowing and making you feel crazy when the same weed keeps returning from the dead.image
  7. Enjoy it. There is no sense in doing something you don’t love, if you can avoid it. Gardening shouldn’t be a chore, where you “have” to go do this, or else. Gardening is a wonderful chance to be out doors, soaking in the sun, breathing in the fresh air. Admire the fall of sunlight on the various leaves and fruits, the songs of birds and gentle buzzing of your gardening-coworkers, those lovely little local bees.
  8. Share the love. Invite your children and loved ones into the garden with you. I love watching the delight on my daughter’s face as I hand her a freshly picked green bean or radish to eat. She wrinkles her nose and smiles so wide as she reaches out that tiny hand to grab a fresh, garden treat. She has even learned to spot and harvest our snap peas all on her own – standing on tip toe at the garden fence and reaching over to pull another into her mouth. I love knowing she will grow up in my gardens, pulling weeds and eating produce straight from the dirt and plant. I love the excitement I see even on my husband’s face when we see fresh berries developing, or stumble across a giant squash we never even saw as a bud. Sharing the knowledge and love of gardening with your family is one of the best gifts you can give, and watching them enjoy it too is one of the best you can receive.

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June & July

Hi all! Summer is blazing by here in New England. Our days have been a flurry of activity, from chores and farm work, to days on the lake and evenings around the bonfire.image

Our garden is nearing that full-swing, daily harvest mode. We enjoyed our spring radishes and even some fresh strawberries (the few the chipmunks left for us, that is!). We’ve snacked on snap peas and enjoyed salads and fresh herbs. Now it’s time for bushels of pole beans, roasted beets, blackberries, squash, peppers, and sun-kissed tomatoes. Our garden is bursting with produce, and our pumpkin hill is loaded with massive plants featuring nearly a dozen little pumpkins.
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Our day-old chicks arrived in early June, and spent about 4-5 weeks indoors. They’re out in the coop now, and I thoroughly enjoy watching their antics.

We’ve had our share of poultry problems this time around – one chick didn’t survive shipping, and a second died suddenly a few days later. Yesterday, I went out to the coop to discover that one of my designated layers, a Silver Laced Wyandotte, had squeezed out of the coop at some point. We had thought our little runt was too big to make it through, but alas, she’s gone. We hiked around in the slim chance we could recover her, but knew it was highly unlikely. At least we went heavy on our order for chicks, to help buffer us from such losses.

We received and released Leafcutter bees last week, only to have the misfortune of unexpected torrential downpours almost immediately after. A quick check of the tubes last night revealed a few bees have stuck around, I only hope the others found safe spots to wait out the storm. Leafcutter bees are astoundingly small! I don’t see them faring well in such heavy rains.

 

July 4th also brings around Garlic Harvesting Day! Based on the weather and the appearance of our garlic, we harvested  a few days early and pulled up our bulbs on 7/1. I let them dry out and then processed and hung them on the fourth. We planted 48 cloves, and ended with a harvest of 45 bulbs! Not bad, only a loss of three, and the bulbs are much bigger than last year’s harvest! Around 50-bulbs seems to be the perfect number for us, we have a few small bulbs leftover from 2014’s harvest, just in time to transition to our new stuff! I’m letting the new garlic cure while we finish out the last of 2014’s garlic.

If you’ve never grown Garlic before, you should! It’s an easy plant-it-and-forget-it type that doesn’t require a lot of room. Check out my tips on planting and harvesting and curing garlic.

Our firewood for 2017 is all split at last, and we have been working on stacking it neatly so it can season. I am excited to have it completed so we can take a measurement and figure out how many cords are there. We have so much, I don’t see us burning it all in one winter, which is wonderful as that puts us off to a good start on 2018’s wood!
Fire wood is one of those pivotal, forever-ongoing projects for homesteaders. Do you know what wood is good for burning? Check out my guide on choosing the right wood for firewood.

In splitting the logs, we came across some really beautiful oak and spalted maple, which my husband cut down into thin round and rectangular boards. We’ll sand and smooth them a little, and then I intend on wood burning some for decorative signs. I hope to have a few available in our Etsy shop soon, along with a few other handmade items from Woodford/locally sourced materials.

Another project we just wrapped up was the Cabernet Sauvignon we started in 2014. It was finally ready for bottling, and we corked the last of it this past Sunday. We ended up with a little over (4) cases of wine total. While we still hold that our 2013 was better, but this wine came out very nice and is an enjoyable vintage. We are hoping to purchase grapes again this fall, it’s such a wonderful experience, and processing the grapes is so much fun.

There is much work ahead as the summer rolls on and fall approaches, and we also are looking forward to hosting our first Woodford Harvest Festival, an event we hope to grow and repeat annually. Our goal is for the dinner to be solely comprised of home-cooked food that is made with ingredients that we, our family and friends have grown, raised or harvested ourselves. A sort of celebration of Nature and the homesteading lives we enjoy.

Its been a wondeful summer all in all. We have had great success and some troubles too, but all are great learning experiences that we will take with us into our future adventures.

Until next time, may your gardens be plentiful and your hands busy!

 

Garden Markers!

Hi all!

I don’t usually like to advertise our Etsy items through regular posts, but I am just so excited about our new garden markers that I have to share!

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Purposeful Planting

When you embark on a homesteading journey, whether your property is large or small, getting the most out of everything becomes very important. Sustainability, limiting our waste, reusing and repurposing are all ideals that have always been important to me, but now as a mother and mini-homesteader, I feel that these have been amplified. They are a major part of my core values, lessons that I want to teach and instill in our daughter.

This got me thinking about something I call purposeful planting. What is it? What does it mean?

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Purposeful planting is the act of thinking about your crops from start to finish, how every part can be used, and designing your garden spaces to use those plants to their fullest. Whether you are planting flowers, herbs, vegetables, grains or fruit, everything can be arranged and maintained to create a symbiotic relationship on your property. Here are some examples of purposeful planting that we use, which may help you, too, as you plan your garden and landscaping.

Companion Planting: I’m sure most of us are familiar with this practice, even if it’s by name only. Companion planting is when you put specific plants together that are known to help each other out in one or more ways. Sometimes it may be as simple as one plant deterring pests from the other, like marigolds do for tomato plants. Or maybe one plant replenishes a specific nutrient the other needs to thrive, as in chives with strawberries. Considering what plants will be beneficial to each other (and which are less friendly together!) will greatly increase the success of your gardens and harvests. This is especially true when planting perennials, as they will be in the same spot year after year.

Function: How will your crop interact with its surroundings? What will it do to boost the health of your soil, native bees, or local wildlife? Does it serve alternate purposes for you?

Choosing plants that have multiple purposes or functions will be beneficial to you and your garden. Cover crops are a great example of a plant the enriches garden space. They avoid erosion by holding soil in place with their root system, replenish necessary nutrients to the soil (especially when allowed to decompose back into the soil after its season), and can provide food for bees, insects and birds.

Considering what the plant will look like, and how it will grow, is also important. Is it decorative? Will it provide shade in a needed spot, or act as a privacy screen between neighbors or an unsightly storage area?

• What other harvestable resources does it provide?A great example of purposeful planting, is considering what other unusual reasons you could harvest the plant for. As an example, we will be planting a patch of sunflowers near our driveway that will serve for several functions: a decorative “fence” to block the view of storage from our house, pollen for bees, seeds for birds, our chickens and some for replanting next year, and once the plants have died and dried out, we will use the hollow stems as tubes for our native bee house next year.

There are many other plants that can have more than the obvious, intended purpose. Choosing items that will give you the most return for your labor and time helps you to utilize your space the best. Consider using stalky plants as supports for creeping vines (think “Three Sisters”!); attractive, perennial ground covers that flower for bee-food, but may have culinary or medicinal purposes; even a small patch of oats! We will be planting oats this spring to reduce erosion, encourage healthy soil, to harvest for our own oats to eat and we will use the dried straw for chicken bedding and mulching!

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Purposeful planting can really help you farm your land to your greatest benefit, which is even more important the smaller your property is. But it goes beyond what you can get out of it; this is about being a good steward for the land. Replenishing and enriching your soil doesn’t just mean a bountiful, nutritious crop for you, it encourages healthy bacterium and insect life.  Choosing plants like borage, bee balm or feverfew that are beautiful, medicinal/edible perennials also means food for bees, without whom we wouldn’t have anything to eat.

By planting with purpose, we can farm and homestead in a way that is symbiotic with nature, harmonious. We can take care of the soil, plants and wildlife that feed and sustain us as well, ensuring that we can continue to do so for many, many years to come. So as you start putting plants and seeds in the ground this Spring, take a step back and consider what additional uses those plants provide – to you, and your land.


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