Simply Resourceful

Simple ways to be more conscious about how we use our resources.

Eating Organic and Local for about $300 each month

The organic and locavore (eating from local farmers) food movements are two ways to reduce the pressure that each and everyone of us impart on the planet; with the qualifier that you, the consumer, make an educated decision when you purchase a product. Every dollar that you spend is a vote, a vote for what you believe in! All too often people believe that voting in an election is the only way to make your voice heard, but that is not true - nowadays the strongest voice you have is likely how you spend your money.

This post tries to clarify some of those tough choices that you may face and shows you how our family makes those decisions on a budget.

First off, there is a lot of confusion out there about what organic actually means. Simply put, it is an agricultural practice that tries to minimize the burden that we place on the planet by straying away from synthetic pesticides and practicing sustainable agricultural techniques (being nice to land). Organic foods are also not processed using irradiation, industrial solvents, or chemical food additives.

So, now that we've got that off our plates, another common complaint is that it costs a lot more. Strictly in the monetary sense, yes, it does cost more, but if you've ever tried to raise an organic garden there is good reason it costs a lot more - it's an absurd amount of work to get a crop from seed to table (luckily we enjoy the challenge). So, yes, you may be spending an extra 10-25 % on your food to go organic. If you spend $1000 dollars on food a month, that equates out to an extra $100-250, but if you only spend $300 a month on food, at worst its about $75 extra on your bill. Either way, it's a small price to pay for insurance that your children and grandchildren will still have bugs around to pollinate their crops and soil around for crops to grow in. Further, you can save a lot of money by growing the food yourself, and you may just pick up a really cool hobby in the process. The distance from your own personal garden to your plate is as short as it comes. Let's talk some more about this.

Now, the real problem surfaces when you start to look at food miles (the distance traveled from crop to table - the average piece of food on the American table travels 1300 miles from farm to table). Sure, you can buy organic apples, but if they originated in New Zealand and you live in Colorado, is that really sustainable? Just imagine how much fuel had to be burnt to get that small piece of fruit to you. So, in that instance, choosing a non-organic apple grown at a local orchard may be the better choice. I'm almost positive that you even have a better choice - somebody almost everywhere is growing produce organically - search them out. You'll be supporting your local economy and making a statement that you do care about what happens to this planet. In the instant that you make the decision to do this, not only have you spoken and your voice was heard, but the farmers who are working extremely hard to raise a family will be very appreciative that you made that decision. In fact, we've met a lot of friends this way.  It strengthens the social fabric that used to be so common before nuclear families rapidly eroded the bonds of the community. People yearn for that bond, and it's probably why social media is so prevalent these days.

Buying in bulk is another option we use a lot for the sole reason that it saves on a lot of packaging and money.  We do not buy single servings.  Our oatmeal, flour, and sugar is purchased in 25 pound bags.

Ok, back to us. We eat a 50% mix of local foods and organic foods from the store. We do not buy meat from the store, rather from local farmers. Most recently our neighbor likes to shoot deer, but doesn't like to eat them, so he just gives them to us - a single deer will last us through half of the year. As you've seen on this blog, we preserve a lot of food from our garden. So, after everything is said and done, we really only consistently hit up the grocery store for milk products, grains, and chocolate. The graph below shows 7 years worth of monthly grocery spending. You can see the jump in price when we went to organic then from there food just got more expensive across the board. We used to be a little more diligent about finding coupons and only buying organic things on sale, but now we are a bit more liberal in our purchases. Honestly though, a family of three with some hard work in a garden of their own can easily sustain a local and organic diet for about $300/month.
Our stash of food going into the winter.

Homemade Calendar Envelopes

Before you recycle old calendars, consider this unique way of reusing them...make them into envelopes!  I started making these last year and they worked really well!  Best of all, I can customize the size of envelope for its use.  For example, my family sends picture cards for Christmas instead of cards.  We design our own pictures to fit a standard 4x6 size.  To finish off the envelope I use self-adhesive labels for writing the addresses.  When the labels are gone, I'll just use scrap paper and glue or tape.

To make the envelopes, I traced the picture and left about 1/4 inch on all sides before gluing the flaps on the sides. 

The Best Ever Homemade Hot Cocoa

It has taken me years to find the perfect homemade hot cocoa recipe.  After many searches and slight revisions, I think I have the best recipe.  Of course, everyone has different taste buds, but trust me, this won't disappoint!  I also want to point out that giving homemade hot cocoa is also a great holiday gift idea!

2 cups powdered sugar

1 1/2 cups cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips (white, bittersweet, etc.)
1/4 tsp. salt

Combine ingredients in large bowl.  Add the mixture in several batches to a food processor and chop until finely ground.  Store in airtight container. 

Add 1/3 cup cocoa mix to ~1 cup milk, or mixture of milk & water. (Milk by itself definitely gives it a better flavor.)

**I tried adding dry milk to the mixture so I could use just water, but I found it didn't have the same flavor and there's always a pile of dregs in the bottom no matter how much I stirred.**

**I have made this recipe dozens of times and the best cocoa was the result of quality ingredients.  Hershey's cocoa powder and Ghirardelli chocolate chips produce a far better tasting cocoa than store brand ingredients.**

The Ultimate Garden Deer Fence!

When we moved here everyone told us that to have a garden and fruit trees, we HAVE to put up fencing to keep the deer out.  After a lot of research and talking with other gardeners, we decided to put up 5 ft. wire fencing around the entire perimeter of our garden with electric fence extending another 3 feet above that. The berry bushes outside the garden only have 2 strands of electric fencing about 3 feet tall and surprisingly the deer don't jump it.  I am happy to report that after 2 growing seasons, we have not had ANY deer damage.

We use a 30 mile solar electric charger.  This charger is awesome!  It has always kept a charge and you can hear a slight audible click so you know when it's pulsing.  A few times we have woke up in the middle of the night because a slug slimed its way between the charger housing and the terminal which shorted out the charger.  (This sounds bad, but really the slug was fried on the electric wire while the charger ticked on - though it did take Jon a few midnight runs out to the garden to see what was going on.).  We disconnect the solar charger in the winter and store it inside.

Using zip ties, fiberglass poles were attached to the fence posts and extended another 3 feet above the regular wire fence.  Two strings of electric fencing were attached to the fiberglass posts.  

We put in 3, 8 foot grounding rods for the charger.  In hindsight we could have probably used just one.  A word of advice when putting these in, make sure they are in a location that won't be in your way!

In the foreground of the picture you can see the deer damage on the blackberry canes outside the electric fence and the untouched canes on the inside of the fence.

The Case of the Disappearing Honey!

We've had quite the year keeping honeybees and already had to combine the two hives on August 25th.  I fed them immediately after introducing the two colonies and checked for new brood.  Everything looked fine by the end of September and I fed them right up to when the fall nectar flow began.  By the beginning of October, the hive was a good weight and I left them alone.  This past weekend I decided to heft the hive and was thinking of feeding them since the weather was warm Veteran's Day weekend.  Come to find out, the hive was light as a feather!!!  Jon and I suited up and went into the hive to find maybe one frame 1/3 full of nectar, a few cells of pollen, and no brood.  The queen was still alive and moving around.  What's interesting about this scenario is that this is the exact thing that happened to one of the hives before we combined them in August...they were completely robbed of all their honey stores!

I think this is a bit odd considering the hive was a good winter weight less than 2 months ago and they were busy during the nectar flow.  I think the hive had been robbed out by another hive...perhaps one in the woods or from another beekeeper's hives 1 mile away?  This May during swarm season, Jon and I were gone for 2 weeks and we suspected that one hive swarmed so perhaps they found an old tree and got established?  The yellow jackets have also been up by the hive a lot the past few weeks and I squish them when I can, but in hindsight, I should have reduced the hive entrance to discourage robbing.  Whatever the reason, we're not happy because there really is no way to save this hive.  In a month or so I'll gather up the empty boxes and store them for next year.

Cheap and Easy Leaf Mulch

Last spring in my post about fruit trees I wrote about mulch and how well the chickens shred the leaves and fertilize it into mulch.  This fall we have been raking leaves from all over the yard and storing them for use throughout the winter so we can get a head start on the mulch and have it ready early spring.  The chickens benefit greatly from these leaves because they have something to scratch when the days are cold and they are cooped-up indoors; and the outdoor run doesn't get muddy from the wet weather.  The leaves also add a layer of insulation in the coop and outdoor run which I think keep bugs closer to the surface for them to hunt.

The process is fairly simple, I first spread two old bed sheets on the ground and rake leaves onto them. 

I had to convince Paul that there would be an even bigger leaf pile up by the barn.

Together Jon and I carried the leaves to the barn. 

After all the hauling we took a break to play in the leaves!

Some new leaves were added to the outdoor run and the rest were left in a pile to be added throughout the winter.  Before fall ends, the pile will reach the bottom of the coop window.

Time for the chickens to go to work and shred the leaves while at the same time fertilizing it with their poop!

How to Shell Black Walnuts

This fall the walnut tree dropped really large nuts with hulls that were really easy to remove.  This is our third year harvesting walnuts and each year I learn a little bit more about the process.  Most people put the walnuts on their driveway and drive over them to remove the hulls.  We have a gravel driveway leading up to a cement driveway and I really don't want the cement stained so I just step on the nut wearing old shoes and the hull slides right off.  If the hull is hard and doesn't separate from the shell, I toss it in the woods because the nut isn't fully mature.

I also don't keep any nuts that have these white worms hiding under the hulls.  These nuts are usually bad. 

After the hulls are removed I put them in cardboard boxes in partial sun.  Every couple of hours I shake the box until all the nuts are dry.  The two boxes on the right are butternuts...given to us by some friends. 

Jon and Paul found a unique way to remove the hulls this year...hitting them with a baseball bat!  Our son likes to go find them in the yard afterwards.  If you use this method, make sure to check your nuts.  If they get cracked, open them immediately because they will not store well if air gets inside the shell.

2013 Garden and Homestead Review

Fall is here and while there are a few items left in the garden, I decided to tally up our stash for the winter. Keep in mind that what I've listed is what we put up for the winter.  I didn't include all of the
fresh produce we ate throughout the summer (e.g. peas, cauliflower, tomatoes, lettuce, beans, etc.).

If you've been following this blog for awhile, you may remember the post about record keeping and having a preservation log.  This binder is a must-have for me and helped me put together this list in about 5 minutes.  I also posted about the canning shelf last year which makes organizing your canned goods so much easier if you have the space.  Overall Jon and I say we had a very successful year despite the wet conditions that rotted all of our root crops. Thankfully we have carrots left over from the previous year and the third planting may survive into the winter with enough mulch.
If there is one thing I have learned from homesteading it is this: always think ahead and prepare more than you need because you never know what the following year will bring.  You just can't predict the weather, the pests, your health, and everything else. This summer I had an appendectomy and threw out my back and was basically unable to help Jon for 10 weeks this summer.  Thankfully my husband shares the workload, otherwise the garden would have never happened.  With so many unknowns, you can never really have enough excess; and don't forget about all the jars that will be given away to friends and family!  : )
  • 85 bulbs garlic (10 bulbs will be used for seed)
  • 14 meals of frozen corn (7 full quart bags)
  • 10 pie pumpkins for eating (15 for decoration)
  • 30 butternut squash
  • 58 quarts bush beans
  • 31 quarts, 10 pints stewed tomatoes
  • 22 pints tomato soup
  • 25 half-pints tomato paste
  • 35 pints salsa
  • 12 half pints green tomato hot dog relish
  • 3 quarts tomato juice
  • 4 pints, and 7 half-pints strawberry jam
  • 1 gallon strawberry wine (5 bottles)
  • 1 gallon freezer bag srawberries
  • a lot of strawberry soda and mashed strawberries in freezer for ice cream etc.
  • 26 quarts peaches
  • 15 quart bags frozen peppers (sweet green, beaver dam, poblano)
  • 1 gallon peach wine (5 bottles)
  • 1 gallon pumpkin wine
  • 31 quarts applesauce
  • 5 pints apple butter
  • 21 quarts apple cider
  • 1 gallon apple wine
  • 3 gallons hard apple cider
  • 3 gallon jars of dried apple slices
  • 5 gallon bucket of hulled walnuts, butternuts, and hickory nuts
  • 20.25 pounds honey
  • Updated 11-30-13   
    • 14 pints venison
    • 13 pounds ground venison burger
    • 2 frozen venison roasts
    • 1 batch venison jerky
Golden peaches in jars don't last long!

This summer marked our first honey harvest!

The rains really flooded our seasonal creek and the culvert couldn't keep up with the water so it went over the road.  Neighbors who have lived here 35 years have never seen it flood like this before. 
With the flooding, many skunks were out digging at the ground eating the grubs.  They were up by the beehives but left them alone because there were so many grubs in the ground coming to the surface from all the water.  The flood was dubbed, " The Two Skunk Flood" by Jon's coworkers (kind of an inside joke).

We added 3 barred rock chickens to the coop this year which has been exciting!  They are a bit more skittish around us, but they are beautiful and can be hard to find when they're free-ranging in the woods...
The chicken coop now has 6 chickens.  We're still waiting for 2 of the barred rocks to begin laying.  Last year all of the golden comets were laying before the end of August, and here we are in October and the barred rocks haven't really started.  Not sure what that's all about?

Paul really helps us with the chickens.  He lets them out, puts them away, and helps with feedings and filling the outdoor run with leaves.  If anything, he has socialized them and made them gentle to handle.  Above is a picture of Paul holding our favorite chicken (affectionately named Turkey)...she is the head chicken in the roost who seems to always get more than her fair share of the scratch, crawfish, mice, and assorted grubs we give them as treats.

The green manure is filling out very nicely.  This past weekend we planted the final few rows!  Everything has been put to bed for the year and Jon anxiously waits for the seed catalogs to start arriving!

A Large, Cheap and Easy Greenhouse For Under $300

The finished product
We've battled for years about spending a lot of money on a greenhouse. Most greenhouses that fit our growing needs cost $2000-4000. We just couldn't bring ourselves to cough up the money for that. Then Jon came across a Youtube video that used cattle panels as the skeleton and voila, we had a weekend project. The video that Jon watched will about make you nauseated (the camera jumps around everywhere) so we fast-forwarded through it and got the basic idea and went to town improvising the rest.  In the end, what we came up with has turned out to be fabulous and only cost us about $255.80.

Dimensions: 16 x 8 feet of growing pleasure
20x20' of greenhouse plastic*- $62.80 
2 Earth Anchors - $14
14 - 2x4x8's ($3/board) - $42
15 haybales - $45
Barrel Latch to hold window - $3
4 - 16x4' Cattle Panels: $80
24 - zip ties - $3
1 lb - 2 1/2" Wood Screws - $6
10' of pretty thick wire -  Leftover from another project
1 - Pipe insulation foam - Leftover from another project
10 Concrete blocks - Free - found them on the property
2 door hinges - Free - found them in a box of misc parts
5 old windows - Free - re-used from our previous home
Misc. scrap pallet wood - Free
* from Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply (RPK Tufflite IV) 
Leveling the foundation.
Notice the braces on the corners---they help with stability.

A trial set up in the garage. This was key in getting the length and angle for the support posts. To make the angle right, we held the full length 2x4 up and penciled the angle onto the 2x4 where the cattle panel intersected it.

Zip ties add stability between each panel.

Pipe insulation helps keep abrasion between plastic and panels to a minimum.
The skeleton is ready for plastic.

Earth anchors with old electric fence wire keep the structure anchored to the ground in strong winds.

Using the cinder blocks to raise the greenhouse off the ground allows Jon to stand up without hunching over.  The cinder blocks also keep the wood off the ground so they won't rot.  We did not use treated lumber. 

Looking good, we need some doors now.  Logs temporarily held the plastic down until the haybales arrived.
We probably didn't buy enough plastic (25 feet may have been a better choice), so we improvised.  We had some old windows laying around for cold frames and they happened to be wide enough to fill the door gap, so we just framed them in with 2x4's. We used scrap pieces of wood to ensure they didn't fall out and those subsequently also doubled as door handles.
Inside looking out the front door.

Blocks of wood screwed into cross pieces held the plastic in place. 

A latch was added to the back window for easy removal when we need more ventilation.

A view looking at the back window from the inside.

This is our Listada Vi Gandia Eggplant.  All but one plant died this summer from flea beetle damage.  This one finally made flowers, but now it's too cold to produce so Jon transplanted it inside the greenhouse and it is thriving!

Our friends who helped deliver the cattle panels in the back of their truck had a great idea  to use hay around the perimeter as insulation.  After a year of rain they will be added to the garden as mulch and replaced with new bales.
So majestic..

About this blog

A weekly update on our adventures of trying to be more self-sufficient by using resources wisely. We explore a variety of topics that most broadly fit in the "Homesteading" category, i.e. beekeeping, organic gardening, edible landscaping/fruit forest, food preservation/canning, woodworking, soap-making, and environmental stewardship.

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