Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Garden Harvest - Pumpkins

Here's the thing: my son LOVES pumpkin pie. He begs me to grow pumpkins every year so he can have pumpkin pie. He's not interested in the fact that just one large pumpkin makes a whole bunch of pies, or the fact that it takes a lot of garden space to grow pumpkins, or any of the other facts that make it highly illogical in his mother's mind to grow pumpkins for making pie. He's not satisfied with buying canned pumpkin to make pies. He's also still working on his grown-up taste buds (i.e. he doesn't like most vegetables yet), so he keeps insisting that potatoes & pumpkins are the only things worth growing in a garden. I want to make the kid happy & have his help with the garden, and I want him to eat more of the garden goodness, soooooo...we grew pumpkins this year.

Here is the biggest pumpkin from our patch, getting ready for the oven.

I'm going to try roasting & pureeing the pumpkin myself.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Blog Lovin'

My friend said that Blog Lovin' is the best way to keep track of new posts on our favorite blogs. I don't know why the thing they said to copy & paste onto my blog just looks like a bunch of gobbledygook, but they require me to do this in order to have my blog on their site, so here it is:

<a href="">Follow my blog with Bloglovin</a>

Now, if you sign up on - you can get updates whenever your chosen blogs have been updated. Especially this one. ;)

Rain, Rain...

It's raining! I live in Utah, and the running joke "If you don't like the weather in Utah, just wait 15 minutes" isn't really too far from the truth. It was sunny and hot today (just like every other day lately), and within an hour or two, there was lightning and drenching rain. CRAZY rain. It was raining so hard that I remembered a similar storm a few years ago, in which the rain turned into hail and shredded plants in the garden. I stopped what I was doing & said a prayer asking for the garden plants to be safe. There was no hail today, thankfully! It really makes you think differently about food when you are depending on the farm or garden to feed you and you realized that you are at the mercy of the weather.

The other part to this story is that there is an area in the back field that I need to work on getting to a point of being soil instead of rocks & clay. That's going to take A LOT of work. The first step is to water it like crazy so it won't break the shovel (or my back) when I start to dig it up. Mother Nature took care of that part of the job today, so I am very grateful!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Backyard Eating

This is not a current photo, since we didn't plant edible flowers this year, but it shows what is possible:

This salad was delicious, too, although I do think the beauty of it added to the whole experience. :)

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Cooking It Up

Aside from growing your own food, a big & very important part of being self-sufficient is to actually USE all the lovely produce & eggs (and whatever else you may produce at your place). In the past, I've given away a lot of our garden veggies because I didn't make time to figure out what to do with it all, and then I didn't have much produce preserved for the rest of the year, and I still ended up buying plenty of produce at the grocery stores. This journey is giving me time to explore the possibilities of making better use of what is available to me right here, so a lot of my time lately has been spent figuring out how to make good use of the abundance that nature provides for us in our back yard. This includes our everyday meals as well as preserving food to use later on. In my view, part of being self-sufficient includes getting the most nutrition possible from what is available to you. Here are a few of the things I've been making or have plans to make:

Cabbage Buns - I made the filling by sauteeing ground beef and shredded cabbage with some ghee & garlic salt. This is the filling, which will get baked into bread dough pockets. You can make the whole thing & freeze it to reheat later, but I opted to just freeze the filling & make the bread part when I want to eat them, in order to save freezer space for other homemade goodies.

Sauerkraut - This will be raw, lacto-fermented sauerkraut. Making sauerkraut this traditional way preserves the vitamin C & other nutrients that would be destroyed by cooking, and I love the flavor of fresh, homemade sauerkraut.

Zucchini! - I am using this in all kinds of recipes. My kiddo doesn't do well with the texture of veggies, so I've been mostly blending zucchini into other recipes. We grew the golden variety this year - it has a mild flavor and isn't green, so it hides more easily than the regular zucchini or other vegetables. Besides having it in zucchini bread, I've blended it into gravy, enchilada sauce (homemade chicken broth, zucchini, Anaheim chilis, arrowroot powder, garlic & RealSalt), and soup. I love coating slices of zucchini with egg, cooking them in a frying pan with either ghee or bacon grease, and then salting them with either plain or garlic RealSalt. Here is a recipe I came across for a <a href="">healthy flourless cookie bar using zucchini.</a> I haven't tried it yet, and I think I would opt for using peanut butter in place of the almond butter to make a peanut butter chocolate chip cookie bar. Let me know if you try it out! Even with all these strategies, I have given away a bit of zucchini here & there. It's a blessing of summer. :)

Nectar & fruit leather - Apicot nectar is delicious to drink freshly made, and fruit leather is one of the easiest ways to preserve fruit for eating during the winter. We picked quite a stash of apricots from our tree. We wash them, take out the pits, and blend them up with a little water. This liquid is good for drinking fresh (although some people prefer it sweetened with apple juice and/or a natural sweetener for dinking), and the rest gets poured onto parchment-lined dehydrator trays and put into the dehydrator. Our dehydrator has a knob to adjust the temperature, so we set it around 100 - 105 degrees in order to preserve enzymes & vitamins that would be destroyed by the heat & pressure of canning the fruit, and we don't have to mess with the jars, the pressure cooker, etc. Fruit leather also takes less storage space than canned fruit.

Pesto - I love growing fresh basil & making pesto. I blend up the batch & put it into freezer bags to keep the air out, which keeps it from turning brown and allows it to freeze thin & flat for stacking in my often-too-full freezer.

Grape juice - There are lots of grapes growing this year - woohoo! We have a steam juicer, and we bottle the juice in our pressure cooker. I really don't buy juice from the store any more; we don't drink juice often, but we love to have this homemade juice as a treat. I also like to make something similar to "Jello Jigglers" with just plain unflavored gelatin and our homemade grape juice. The recipe is called "Knox Blox" and is found on the individual packets of Knox brand unflavored gelatin. Yum!

Herbal Tea - Using "weeds" makes me happy, since I get free nutrition without having to cultivate these wonderful plants. I've been harvesting dandelion greens & alfalfa since the spring & drying them to make tea in the winter. Now I'm also harvesting mint, which will definitely improve the flavor of the tea, and I'll soon harvest & dry some parsley to add to the mix.

Fresh Juice - I've been making lots of fresh veggie juice. I make juice with a combination of whatever we have in the garden, plus whatever I've picked up at the local farmers market. Lately, this has meant I'm using a combination of cucumber, cabbage leaves (the outer leaves that grow around the actual head of cabbage), beet leaves (pulled as I thin the beets in the garden, sometimes these have small beets on them), lilac bell peppers, and peaches. Apples are good in the juice, too, if you have them. Soon we'll have kale ready to use, and some of it will end up as juice, I'm sure. If your juice is too bitter from the greens, some fresh lemon juice will cut the bitterness really well & make it more palatable. I need to add weeds to my juice, too - I've used dandelion greens before, but they're really bitter when they're not cooked (thus the reason I've been saving them for herbal tea). I'm thinking that purslane (aka waxweed) may be the first non-cultivated addition to my juices.

Eggs - I don't know if it's a frittata, or an omelet, or something else entirely. I sautee chopped veggies in butter or bacon grease (peppers & zucchini are what I have lately), and then I pour mixed-up eggs into the pan with the veggies & cook it all together. When it's finished, I often top it with grated cheese. Whatever it is, it's good. Yummy!

I want to know - if you grow your own food, what are you doing with it? Also, what is the veggie-and-egg thingy called that I just described?

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Chicken Update

I've just been out visiting the chickens. We have six chickens that are about 3 1/2 years old. We hadn't been getting very many eggs for the last while, so I wondered if it was due to the heat of the summer. However, we also knew that at least one chicken has eaten eggs in the past, so we started paying closer attention to the girls. One chicken has been in a pen by herself for several weeks, mostly because I got tired of trying to herd her into the other pen when she kept going into this one. Okay, stay there, then. Anyhow, she was laying an egg almost every single day, but we weren't getting ANY eggs from the five hens in the other pen. The kid started noticing egg yolk on the beak & head of one of the chickens, so we started watching more closely. Finally, after he discovered that there were two hens who were determined guilty because they consistently had egg on their faces (is that where that saying comes from?), we put those two into the second pen and brought the lone chicken back to the first pen. Guess what? It wasn't the heat - we're now getting eggs from that first pen of four chickens! I'm very glad of this for two reasons: First, I like eggs. And now that I'm not working at a "job," eggs are a real blessing for our menu! Second, I prefer to butcher chickens in the fall or winter. For some reason, it just seems better than doing it in really hot weather. These chickens are our pets, they're fun to watch, and we love them, but we're working toward being self-sufficient, and we don't have a budget for just pets. That's why we have chickens - we get to have pets AND food. I'm happy that these girls get to stick around a bit longer.

The "little chickens," as I've taken to calling them, are now about eight weeks old, and these Buff Orpingtons are looking like full-grown chickens in miniature, rather than going through the awkward-looking "teenage" stage that our White Leghorns went though. The funny thing is that they look like full-grown chickens, but they still sound like babies. Adorable!

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Plan

I've had several people wanting to know my plan when they find out I'm working toward self-sufficiency. The thing is, I have ideas. I don't have a list of specific goals for production levels, and some things I haven't decided yet. I know I want to make better use of the space & resources available to me. Here's what I have in mind so far:

1 - Eat weeds! Why leave the weeds or rip them out only to leave them on the ground or in the compost pile when we can eat them?! I've been harvesting dandelion leaves & alfalfa and dehydrating them to make a nutitious herbal tea in the winter. These are plant foods that I haven't been using much, so it's a new step this year. I'll be adding mint & parsley from the garden for added nutrition & better flavor. I'll be harvesting rosehips for the first time this year, too. You can make jelly out of rosehips, but I'll probably just use them in tea.

2 - Chickens. This is one thing people typically think of when we want to become more self-sufficient. The problem is that we see pictures & blog posts talking about how wonderful it is to have backyard chickens & to eat fresh eggs...but we don't know what it costs. The chicks we bought cost $4.00 each. Then there's the cost of the feeding tray, the water dispenser or dish, the brooder box with a heat lamp (& sawdust to go in the box) when they're babies, a coop outside for when they're's not cheap to raise chickens. There were other breeds that were only $3.50 each, but Buff Orpingtons are good for egg-laying AND for roasting, so we're getting a better deal for the money we spend to buy & raise them. We already had the brooder box, heat lamp, pine shavings, & the outdoor coop. Even with all that, and with all the grass & weeds & kitchen scraps they eat (which all help supplement the storebought feed but don't replace it), we've spent $74 so far on 10 chickens and we'll need to buy more chicken feed for them in a week or so...and they won't start laying eggs until November or December, so we'll be buying a lot more feed for them before we ever see any return on our investment. I'm hoping that we'll keep getting enough eggs from the older chickens to sell a few in order to help pay for the feed for all the girls. Another thing I want to start doing is to get new chicks every year so we'll have enough to eat and still have plenty to provide our eggs. We'll see. As part of this self-sufficiency journey, I'll be working on figuring out how much money we spend on the chickens & eggs, and I plan to continue exploring options for feeding the girls more economically.

3 - Plant fall crops. I have heard of this before but haven't done it. This year, I'm going to plant lots of peas as the main fall crop - partly because they didn't get planted in the spring & I can't stand a whole year without eating fresh peas (yum!), and partly because it will help with goal #4.

4 - Get more settled into biodynamic gardening practices. We've been using biodynamic principles for several years, but I haven't been diligent about the crop rotation schedule. This year, I'm making that more of a priority than it has been in the past.

5 - Expand the area we can use for gardening and/or raising animals. There is an unused area in the back of our property, and I plan to make it workable soil. We'll have more garden area, or an area for keeping goats, or both.

6 - Eat from the back yard first! In the past, I would use garden veggies as I felt like adding them to whatever I was making. I continued to buy most of our food from the grocery store, and I gave away a lot of the garden veggies. Now, I look at what we've harvested from the garden and plan my menu around that. I have still given away a couple of zucchini (if you've ever grown it, you'll know why!), but we're eating a lot more of the garden goodies than we have in past years.

7 - Preserve the harvest. This is something we've always done, but I'm doing more of it from now on. I already mentioned dehydrating weeds. Other things in progress or coming in the near future include making fruit leather, drying apples, fermenting veggies (i.e. traditional sauerkraut & other similar foods), storing root veggies for the winter, drying our own parsley, bottling grape juice...I don't plan to shop for much (if any) produce at grocery stores.

What do you think? Can we do it? Do you have dreams, plans, or practices of self-sufficiency you want to share with us? Tell us all about it!