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When Good or Easy Just Aren’t Enough!

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After living in the frozen expanse of tundra in Alaska, totally dependent on oil for our very existence, we decided that we wanted to find a way to be more self-sufficient.  In our minds, that meant leaving Alaska for a more temperate climate.  Haha to that, because now, of course, we are in Minnesota, which seems to be much harsher than parts of Alaska!  When we landed in West Virginia , we were committed to healthy eating, raised ducks for eggs, and began gardening in earnest.  I canned anything and everything and began making most of our food from scratch.  When #1 was born, we fed him organic or homemade everything.  Then came #2 and life became a little more difficult.  We still had every intention of being self-sufficient and finding our land to homestead, but ‘easy’ or convenient things began to creep back in.  It became easier to just buy quick snacks for the munchkins than make them. it became more convenient to buy frozen food for everyone while I was at work, instead of preparing homemade meals.

When we moved to our land when the kids were three and six months, we were still completely unprepared for the harshness of the path we had chosen.  Living in a tent with our ‘kitchen’ set up across the field, I began to fall back even more on easy and convenient foods.  We bought things in boxes and cans to avoid things spoiling in the cooler.  I cannot really remember what #2 ate as his first foods, but I am pretty sure that it was not organic or homemade anything.  Minutes became hours became days became months became years.  Three years later, and with #3 in the picture also, life is, well, complicated.   I have found myself straying so far from the intended goal and piling my grocery cart with convenience foods for the kids, quick meals for the days I am at work, and taking consolation in the fact that most of it is, at least, organic.

Today while shopping at the local market, I had the amazing privilege of only having one child in tow.  #2 is at the stage where he is absorbing everything and asking as many millions of questions as he can fit into one breath.  As we rolled up and down the aisles, he began by asking if we could buy this or that.  When he would point to something really awful and ask if we could buy it (like Little Debbie Ho-Hos), I would tell him it wasn’t good for him, not healthy.  He began to point at things and ask if they were good for him or not good for him.  When we got to the last aisle, he pointed at some ice cream sandwiches.  His next comment completely changed my heart and has led me to feel completely renewed in our goals of self-sustainability and healthy living.  Awesome how a little dude could impart so much wisdom as to be life-changing, and not even know it!  He says to me, “Momma, why is it that something so good is not good for you?”.  In that moment, I laughed out loud.  Isn’t that the truth?  Sometimes, things that make our lives easier, or seem really good, are just not that way at all.  Sure, it is easier to buy a box of cereal bars so that my kids can feed themselves in the morning while I am trying to stumble out of my never-gonna-be-a-morning-person stupor, but is it really better?  So today, I made peanut butter energy bites.  I made homemade cereal bars.  I served fresh salad and stroganoff for dinner and dreamed about the day when we could be using our own eggs, our own meat, and our own veggies (have not figured out how to do that yet in the winter in Minnesota).   After the first two years of house-building, even thinking about the garden exhausted me (that might have something to do with the three kids under five as well).  I am finally starting to remember, though, why we came here to live this way.  I have begun looking through catalogues at fruit trees, planning the garden expansion, and thinking about chickens.  It is time to start doing things again, not because they are easy or good, but because they are good for us- for our bodies, our hearts, our spirits, and our minds!  And this, little Jacob, is why something that seems so good, might not be good for you, and something that seems hard, might be best!

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Garden Harvest in Spite of Madness

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We had a good year in the garden despite my serious lack of attention.  We planted early (the middle of May in Zone 3b) and promptly left to go on a two-week vacation.  We eagerly strained our necks coming down the driveway to see if anything had survived the lack of daily watering and attention.   Everything but the strawberries survived and thrived.  Days turned into weeks and I often found myself neglecting the garden when I should have been mulching, weeding, loving.  I was too busy, though, weeding, mulching, and loving my own three little people plants.  I wandered out into the garden every now and again to see what was happening, but I did not spend the hours upon hours that I used to spend.  Somehow, in spite of my attention, the garden provided us with an amazing abundance of food.  We have canned salsa, canned spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce, frozen beans, carrots, and zucchini ready for making relish.  The cupboard has onions, potatoes, and oodles and oodles of roasted sunflower seeds.  The still plywood counter top boasts butternut squash, and the pumpkins are on the stairs awaiting carving.  There is applesauce, spiced apples, pineapple zucchini, and zucchini lemon pie filling.  A bag of still crunchy carrots sits in the fridge, ready for little hands to grab and munch.  The crisper drawer is full of the last of the corn, ready for boiling and rolling in butter and salt.

The garden looks lonely now, covered in brown leftovers and a few remaining pumpkins.  It is hard for me to believe that the garden could have provided us with so much food, for so little work.  It seems a little bit wrong.  Autumn is my favorite season, and this year is no different.  I love to see the last of the produce going into jars, bags, or boxes.  This will be the first year that we will get to carve pumpkins from our own garden- the kids have already picked out their favorites.  I will not say that I am ready for winter, but this year, for the first time, I look around and see what we have done and do not feel so overwhelmed by  all that still needs to be accomplished.

The kids are in bed after a late night by the fire, roasting hot dogs and marshmallows and watching the stars and northern lights.  The downstairs is almost done, the upstairs just awaiting carpet and trim.  The scented candle burns on the newly installed cherry windowsill.  Our little house on the edge of the field is finally starting to feel like a home.

 

Garden Bounty

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Somehow, between all of the millions of things we did this Spring, we still managed to put in a garden.  We literally worked every day to get it planted the week before we left for vacation, and then we were gone for two weeks, and prayed that it would still be there when we got back.  We rigged up an anti-deer fence, anti,bunny fence, and watered the new plants.  We pulled in the driveway two weeks later and it was all we could do not to run straight out to the garden and see what survived.  Guess what?  EVERYTHING!  We have munched on snap peas, enjoyed fresh salad greens, and the boys eat the carrots whole.  Zucchini bread, zucchini relish, diced onion, summer squash  boats, radish and carrots dipped in sweet chili sauce.  The boys check almost daily for the emergence of green beans, tomatoes, peppers, and their beloved pumpkins.

I feel like there was some mistake, because the garden that I almost virtually ignored in the beginning has exploded into a crazy jungle of food-producing madness.  I can barely walk the rows between the tomato plants taller than I am and the various squash plants that are creeping across walkways.  I look for deeper meaning and hope that our spirits can grow this wild and wooly with little attention.  I love watching the kids beg me for fresh carrots while I am making dinner.  Looking forward to next year when we can add chickens and maybe goats to our funny farm.  As we enjoyed the cool evening by the fire, I feel secure in the knowledge that God is with us.

Happy Autumn

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Typically this time of year finds me feeling nostalgic as I look back on the Summer/Spring and all of the fun that I had.  I begin to feel some mixture of sadness and resignation at the coming of Fall and the long, cold Winter.  This year is proving to be very different.  The days are already feeling colder, and the leaves are beginning to turn.  I find myself looking forward to the Winter and the opportunity to snuggle up on the couch with a good book, or spend more time playing games and doing projects with the kids.  I am absolutely amazed by all that we have accomplished since Spring, but  I am also completely exhausted and overwhelmed.

I look back at what we have done and it seems unreal, but when I look at how far we still have to go, it seems just as overwhelming.  I never imagined it would take this long or be so difficult.  We installed our bathroom vanity at the end of March, and here is all that we have accomplished since….

We started off the Spring with just the utility sink and a working toilet and shower.  Dave spent March getting the bathroom vanity and sink installed, while working part-time and taking care of the kids when I went back to work after the new baby.  We spent the last part of Spring and early Summer doing drywall.  We hung the last of the drywall and Dave taped and mudded while I took care of the kids.  When he was done, I would do the painting on naps and after bedtime.  The tongue and groove went up in July, and the kitchen cabinets and sink were installed in September.  We also prepped a new garden bed and planted a full garden.  We have harvested and stored cucumbers (into pickles), zucchini relish, carrots, green beans, squash, and tomatoes.  I have yet to put away homemade ketchup, tomato sauce, salsa verde, tomato salsa, corn, and herbs.  We also stopped working on the house long enough to split 3 cords of wood (only half of what we need), build an 8×16 shed, and start on a 12×16 shop for Dave.  We still have to finish the shop, add some extra stove pipe to the chimney, install the range hood and hook up the gas lines to the oven/range.  Then we will finally be ready for winter.

Last winter I was facing this moment without running water or electricity.  We have come so far!  We are so exhausted and I will shamelessly admit that I am just ready for the snow.  I am ready to be hunkered down in the house with nothing better to do.  We can celebrate birthdays, enjoy Thanksgiving and Christmas, and perhaps find a hobby that doesn’t involve our house.  There is still much to do, and it can wait until Spring, when the snow starts to melt and we begin to feel the yearning of finishing things unfinished.  For now, though, I long for the days when we can make homemade tapioca pudding, start homeschooling our Kindergartner, and enjoy a book by the warmth of the woodstove.

Prepared for Spring?

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Trees

Well, this is about all I have to post about the garden moving from Fall to Winter to Spring. The trees we planted three years ago are growing quite well to form a privacy screen that will probably be just about perfect by the time we move to our new property! The garden, well, it is just what it looks like- a big pile of straw. Being about 8 months pregnant when it was time to prep for Winter, I decided to go a different route this year. I knew after having one child already, that my time in the Spring will be tied up with other things besides weeding and prepping the garden. I decided to lay down a new layer of cardboard covered with a super thick mulch of straw to complement our lasagna garden. I knew from previous experience that this will not only inhibit weed growth, but also keep the soil nice and moist for planting. We have a heavy clay base, so the straw seems to keep the soil from turning into a big, baked layer of clay that is impossible to till and impossible to plant into. Last year I did not put down such a heavy layer, but where I did place straw, I was able to peel the straw back and have a nice, moist garden bed ready for planting. I am still uncertain what we will be doing with the garden this year, but I want to be ready just in case. At this point, we ar hoping to be transitioning to our new property in Minnesota- but at least this way I can have the option of planting if the circumstances allow. It will be a sad winter without all of our garden goodies!!

Home at Last?

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Well,  after almost ten years of dreaming and scheming, my husband and I have found ourselves in Northern Minnesota looking at land  We have found an amazing piece of property and are waiting to hear if our offer will be accepted.  It is everything we dreamed of and I am trying not to get my hopes up up, but it really is the perfect piece of land!

This could be the start of building our homestead! Over the last five years I have learned so much about establishing a new garden, raising fruits and vegetables, raising ducks for eggs, butchering chickens, and canning/preserving. I am ready to get out on our property and start using all those skills!! Here are some photos of the property- would appreciate everyone’s thoughts and prayers that it can be ours!!! Megan

Lasagna Gardening- How to Start a New Bed

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I Love Lasagna Gardening!!  Okay, now that I got that out there, let me explain to you how to do it.  I will first have to admit that I am somewhat of a lazy gardener, and also that I am extremely frugal and do not have much money or time to put into something that I greatly enjoy.  I was on a mission to find out how I could create wonderful garden beds for the least amount of money and time.  At a used book store, I came across the book, Lasagna Gardening by Patricia Lanzer.  I lapped up every word and began thinking about my own yard.  When we purchased the house, there had been a garden, but it had been covered with sod.  I was determined to reclaim the original garden spot and make it my own!

Original Yard

My first task was to collect large amounts of cardboard from the hospital that I work at.  After painstakingly removing all of the tape, I began laying the cardboard out on the grass, leaving no spaces for weeds to sneak up through.  I began this project in the fall to leave all winter for things to happen.  After laying out the cardboard, I began piling grass clippings and leaves on top of the cardboard.  I also purchased 10 bales of 3.8 cubic feet sphagnum peat moss because our soil has so much clay.  In addition, my husband and I hauled a truckload of composted manure from a coworkers horses and spread that out as well to add nutrients.  The finished product was pretty impressive.  I spent $90 on peat moss, and everything else was free.

Stage One Lasagna Gardening

In the Spring, we added straw to the walkways and defined each bed to be separated with rows.  I based my design on the wide row system explained in the Joy of Gardening by Dick Raymond.  My rows were going to be wide so that I could maximize space and productivity.

Creating the walkways

In the Spring, when it was time for planting, I made sure to add a healthy dose of fish emulsion to each spot as I planted.  I did not add as much as the book recommended- she recommends at least 18″ of material for the raised bed lasagna gardening idea.  I had to work with the material that I had for free, however, so each year I add more grass clippings, more leaves, and straw.  This method is a no-till method, which also appeals to my lazy factor.  I occasionally have to mix the clay and soil a little bit, but the one year that we did till a little bit was a disaster and we had weed central to contend with.  The last thing that we did was add a short fence to deter bunny rabbits as well as the dog.  I have since added a row and filled in the area by the back fence to plant blueberry bushes.

The fence gate

As you can see in the above picture, I initially had grass around the beds, which is now being removed by the addition of more cardboard and straw.  it looked nice initially, but became a huge hassle for mowing and also gave me more weed problems.  I now have the entire area inside the fence as a grass-free zone!  We also added a small amount of sand last year to mix in with the clay.  I think this was a good idea, but now have thistles sprouting up in the garden…….  Have I mentioned that I have a serious issue with weeds?  I will save that for another post!!  Good luck with your lasagna- I am convinced that it is the best way to create new garden space!

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