Simply Resourceful

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

Happy Holidays!

The holiday season is upon us and I want to thank everyone for stopping by my blog throughout the year. It's hard to believe that 2015 is almost here, and I have a feeling that there will be a lot of change for my family.  Looking ahead to the New Year, I am collecting future blog posts and want to ask readers for input on specific topics you would like me to blog about.   Just leave a suggestion in the comment section or send me an email! Happy Holidays to you and your family!

Contributing to a Sustainable Local Market

Beginning mid-October this year I started volunteering and selling items at the Wild Ramp, a local food and artisan store selling products grown and made within 250 miles of the store in Huntington, WV.  The Wild Ramp is like an indoor farmer's market where farmers personally drop off their produce and talk with customers; and where handmade artisan products are sold by local community members.  There are only three paid staff members at the Wild Ramp so the store relies heavily on volunteers to keep things going on a weekly basis.  I have been told for several years that Jon and I should sell our handmade toys and wood items that we make.  I always assumed that people wouldn't buy our stuff because of the price we have to charge to make it worth our time.  Well, come to find out, people are willing to pay and it seems that I can't keep up with the demand!  I included a few pictures of items I am currently selling.  Producers pay a $15.00 fee per month to reserve shelf space and receive 90% of the profits.

With the holiday season, I put together a few centerpieces made with holly, pine cones, dried berries, and pine boughs from our woods. 

I have been making holiday wreaths for five years now and they are super easy to make so I made a few to sell.  Like the centerpieces, I gathered supplies in the woods and even tucked a few turkey feathers in the greenery from a friend who raises turkeys.  This was my first year making bows with the help from youtube.

I made a mushroom rattle as a baby gift for a friend four years ago and they were so cute that I made more of them and expanded the rattle design to apple trees and ladybugs.  In less than a month, all of the mushrooms sold!  

On the top shelf in this picture are a bunch of my wooden toys that are really popular at the Wild Ramp.  To see the toys better, click the picture to enlarge.  In one month, I sold all but two of the cars on that shelf and even had a special order for two of the dump trucks.  Like the rattles, I continue to make more and restock the shelf on a weekly basis because they sell out quickly!

Most producers include specific information about their items and where they are located so customers feel more informed about the product.  For instance, meat and dairy products have labels for grass-fed only, grain-finished, free-range, non-GMO feed, etc.  For my toys I tell customers that I use re-purposed wood and seal it with a child-safe linseed and beeswax finish.

These log stools are really cute and modeled after the traditional milking stool.  The logs are gathered from our property.

We are also selling bag drying racks with the message, "Don't throw away your Ziploc bags!  Wash and hang them to dry on this rack."

Overall, volunteering and selling my wares at the Wild Ramp has been a productive use of my time while Paul is in full-day Kindergarten.  Whether it's seeing a customer get excited about my wooden toys or talking about different chicken breeds to the farmer who sells eggs, I have so much fun just being at the Wild Ramp.  It's a place where you feel part of the community and are surrounded by like-minded people. 

Homemade Wrapping Paper

Three years ago I wrote about Resourceful Gift Wrapping.  Since then we have taken it a step further by making our own wrapping paper.  We use plain paper that has been included in packages we receive in the mail and Paul's fingerpaint. If your children are grown and you don't know what to do with all that random, half-dried paint, this is a good project for it!

Having Paul paint on paper is a great way to pass the time during the long summer days.  We held the paper down using blocks of wood.  This picture was taken August 2013.

Paul had fun drawing pictures, writing letters, and just scribbling.  In the end, it doesn't really matter what the designs look like because the paper will be cut to fit the packages.  The key is to have a lot of colors and irregular lines. 

If you don't have a child to help with painting, you can do it too.  And don't say you aren't creative and artistic...dots, lines, and swirls look pretty awesome too!

Why Buying Food in Bulk Makes Sense

When people talk about "buying in bulk," there's the assumption that you have a grocery store with a multitude of bins that allow you to pay for items by the pound.  While living in Portland, OR, there was an abundance of these options in grocery stores, but where I live now, I have only found one store with 8 bulk bins that contain nuts, popcorn, rice, oatmeal, and granola.  I was a bit discouraged by the lack of options, so I did my research, made several phone calls, requested grocery stores to purchase items in larger containers, and compared the cost of purchasing small bags versus the added cost of shipping large bags.  No surprise, but even with the added cost of shipping, I could still save money by mailing large bags of oatmeal, flour, and peanut butter, to my doorstep.  I do want to clarify, that I purchase specific brands so I wasn't comparing store-brand labels.  If you watch closely, many companies offer free-shipping, especially during the holidays which give you an even larger savings.  Our bulk items are stored inside Rubbermaid totes in the cool basement.  

King Arthur Flour is our favorite brand of flour and we order it in 25 pound bags.  100 pounds will last us about 8 months.

We purchase our grains from Bob's Red Mill in the 25 pound bags.  Our family consumes about 50 pounds of oatmeal each year!

Okay, some of you readers may be laughing at this point with our oatmeal and flour consumption, but I challenge each of you to actually keep a log of what you consume, because I think you will be shocked to see how many bags or containers of a specific product you purchase every year.  Take for instance, peanut butter.  Paul enjoys a peanut butter and jam sandwich for school lunch.  I probably make peanut butter cookies and scotcharoos three or four times a year, and between Jon an me, we probably only have toast twice each month.  Given that information, I think you would be astounded to learn that we go through two, 9 pound tubs of peanut butter every year!!  Our brand of choice: Once Again Nut Butter.  The added benefit of this peanut butter is that it comes in a reusable bucket with a metal handle (makes a great compost bucket!)  Purchasing in bulk helps reduce a lot of the packaging waste...just think how many small containers we would be going through if we didn't purchase the bucket?

What else do we consume a lot of?  Cheese!  I was born in Wisconsin and have a serious love affair with cheese, eating it at least 5 out of 7 days a week.  Homemade pizza is a staple food for us.  We ask the deli department to cut a half wheel of Monterey Jack every 2 months. 

Weird Eggs Laid By Our Chickens

There are currently 4 hens and 1 rooster on our homestead.  This week one of our barred rocks decided that she wanted to stay outside the coop at night.  On the sixth morning, I found her dead.  I looked high and low for her every evening but her feathers are very camouflaged right now and I figured she had a good hiding place and was sitting on a nest of eggs somewhere.  It's our first incidence of a chicken taken by a predator in the 2.5 years we have raised chickens.  We think a hawk got her because the leaves around her body were not disturbed and we were viewing a hawk with binoculars the evening before roosting in a tree nearby.  Now we have 3 golden comets who lay an egg maybe once every 2 weeks and 1 barred rock who lays about every other day.  Like most of you probably already know, egg laying decreases during the winter months due to fewer daylight hours.  With our girls getting older, I have witnessed a few odd-shaped eggs the past 6 months and took pictures for posting on the blog.  Irregular eggs is considered normal when chickens age and not a concern if it happens infrequently.   

This is definitely an odd-shaped one.  If it wasn't in the nest box, I probably wouldn't identify it as an egg.

Eliminating School Lunch Waste

Have you ever visited a school cafeteria and been completely disgusted by the amount of food being wasted and all the one-time use packaging that is quickly discarded to the landfill? Well, if you haven't, it's an eye-opening experience revealing the wastefulness of our current society. In this post, we'll show you how our little tiger is doing his small part to help...

In keeping with our values on reducing waste, Paul has a waste-free lunch kit.  All of the containers can be used over and over again.  The lunch bag contains an insulated thermos, a stainless steel water bottle, a small plastic container, a metal spoon, a small stainless steel container, a cloth napkin, and an orange plastic food wrap that has a Velcro closure and can be used as a place mat.  I imagine some parents cringe at the very thought of sending containers and silverware to school with the worry that they will end up in the garbage.  Accidents do happen, and thankfully Paul has brought home everything, but I do send him with containers and silverware that don't go with my best matching Tupperware and silverware set.  In fact, the white plastic container was previously a cream cheese container.

In case you are interested, the orange plastic food wrap and small stainless steel container came from U-Konserve.  The U-Konserve website is a great place for waste-free lunch kits.  

Food packaging and food waste in general is definitely a problem in schools.  With pre-packaged lunches, snacks, and beverages, a lot of unnecessary waste is ending up in our landfills.  Not to mention the quality of food the children are eating and the excess spending from parents.  Pre-packaged foods cost a lot more money than making things from scratch.  There are some who may argue that finding the time to make a homemade lunch is too much of a time commitment.  To save time, I prepare things ahead of time such as cutting a weeks worth of cheese at one time from a big block so I only need to grab a slice each day.  

At the Kindergarten luncheon the parents attended last week, I was shocked to see one-time-use paper tablecloths covering every table in the lunch room.  With school budgets getting squeezed, I don't understand how this wasteful spending can be justified.

When Paul empties his lunch box every night for cleaning, we compost his scraps which are typically apple cores, grape stems and banana peels. 

How to Cook Squash in a Dutch Oven

This fall we discovered the best way to cook a dutch oven over the fire.  We have cooked golden hubbard, turk's turban, and acorn squash so far and they have all turned out great!

First, I split the squash in half, scoop out the seeds, and add about 2 T butter and 1 T brown sugar to each half.  Sometimes the squash is too big for the dutch oven so we have to bake the halves separately.  The most important part when cooking squash in the dutch oven is always keep water in the bottom; you don't want the pot to boil dry because you will ruin the cast iron.  I add about a half inch of water in the beginning and periodically add water throughout the cooking process.

This is our setup when cooking over the fire.  My dad welded us a stand with a hook for a pot.

Depending on the size of squash and the intensity of the fire, you want the squash to steam for about 30 minutes.  In the picture above you can see steam escaping.

The squash is done when the inside scrapes away easily from the shell.  Baking in the dutch oven keeps the squash moist and gives it a bit of a smoky flavor that we like. 

The Chickies Are Molting!

It is fall and the girls are molting.  I chuckle when I see them scratching around the yard leaving feathers in their wake.  At times the coop looks like the aftermath of a pillow fight! 

Not only are they quite mangy-looking with all the white patches, but they lose their tails too!  The chicken on the left has a little nub compared to the chicken on the right whose has a complete tail because her molt hasn't started yet.  

And here's a close-up of their new feathers coming in.  They are so little and cute!

2014 Preservation List

We have officially ran out of space on the canning shelves!  We still have a lot leftover from the previous two years so this year we selectively grew produce that had few jars on the shelves.  For instance, we still have about 45 quart jars of green beans from last year so we grew shell beans instead.  Here's the official preservation list followed by a few pictures.  Keep in mind that these totals are only the excess we grew.  There were plenty of berries and vegetables for fresh eating and pies!  And as you already know, we grow everything without using pesticides and chemical fertilizers.

5 quarts, 8 pints stewed tomatoes
15 pints tomato soup
10 half-pints BBQ sauce
18 quarts, 1 pint tomato juice
10 half-pints green tomato relish
13 pints tomatillo salsa
11 pints tomatillo enchilada sauce
5 quarts whole tomatilloes
13 pints peas
35 pints beets
22 pints pickled beets
8 pints dill pickles
17 pints picked okra
73 quarts carrots
21 quarts peaches (purchased)
2 quart bags full of dehydrated peaches
7 quarts applesauce (purchased)
1/2 gallon jar dehydrated apple slices
15 pints, 14 half-pints strawberry jam
10 pints strawberry lemon marmalade
3 pints, 3 half-pints strawberry-rhubarb jam
10 trays of strawberry fruit leather
2 gallon freezer bags whole strawberries
5 quart freezer bags raspberries
8 pints, 3 Weck jars blackberry jam
4.5 pints ground cherry preserves
5 pints sauerkraut
2 gallon bags frozen snap peas
3 quart bags frozen cabbage
2 quart bags edamame
3 Turks Turban squash
4 Golden Hubbard squash
3 Acorn squash
13 jack-o-lantern pumpkins
9 pie pumpkins
12 quarts potatoes and 5 gallons for fresh eating
70 garlic
18 lb, 4.1 oz dry beans

A nice variety of beets this year.  (Click to enlarge)

First year canning peas...not enough freezer space for everything!

First year canning Tomatillo Salsa.

Jon is really proud of the pepper plants this year. 

Just picked from the garden--a beautiful assortment of peppers. 

Our assortment of shelling beans.  These will be great in soup, chili, and casseroles!

Carrots and Beets.  Picture taken: 5-30-2014 

Carrots and Beets.  Picture taken: 6-26-2014

How to Make a Bag Drying Rack

We have been reusing our plastic Zip-loc bags for years.  We simply wash them and hang them to dry on our handmade log dryer. 

Making a bag drying rack is really easy.  A log is cut in half, sanded smooth, and coated with two applications of polyurethane.  We leave the knots and other features on the log because we like that unique look.  

Holes to fit the dowels are drilled randomly on the rounded side. 

We use a 3/8 inch oak dowels for our drying racks.  The dowels don't have to be symmetrical.  The longest dowel is 15 inches long and the shortest is 6 inches.  The racks in the picture above are being sold at the Wild Ramp, a local food and artisan store.  Reusing our Zip-loc bags is one simple thing we can do on a regular basis to conserve resources.   

How to Kill Yellow Jackets Without Chemicals

This month Jon came across a yellow jacket nest while mowing the lawn.  The nest is located about 3 feet from an apple tree so using chemicals or gasoline like many suggest, just wasn't an option.  Doing a quick Google search, we came across this idea: put a glass bowl over the hole so the yellow jackets can't escape.  The bowl lets light into the nest so they fight like mad to get out and tire themselves out without any access to food and water.  

We used two bowls to ensure that any yellow jackets that managed to sneak under the first bowl were caught in a second trap.  After four days we checked to see if there was activity and discovered the bowls off the hole and the nest dug out of the ground.  We're thinking a skunk found the nest and raided it since the yellow jackets were probably pretty weak at this point.  Problem is now solved! 

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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