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Pasture Deficit Disorder

Food Preservation Doesn’t Have To Be Go Big or Go Home

This Week's Garden Harvest 

Is the thought of growing or preserving your own food overwhelming? I’m here to tell you, it doesn’t have to be. You don’t have to “Go Big or Go Home” and spend days on end hoeing rows in the garden or toiling over chopping boards and canners. Doing little batches is perfectly okay, and a lot less intimidating when you are just getting started in food preservation.

This weekend is a great example of that. My little garden that I almost didn’t plant has had a pretty good year this year. (See My 2020 Garden Mantras: Better Late Than Never And A Little Bit Is Better Than Nothing)

This week I had way too many tomatoes to eat before they went bad, even with eating sliced tomato on my sandwich at lunch every day and toast with tomatoes for almost every dinner lately. Oooh, and on a side note, try topping toast and tomatoes with a little crumbled goat cheese – oh. my. stars!

Anyway, I decided to put up some diced tomatoes in the freezer this weekend. I just like the taste of them frozen better than canned (same with corn).

Tomatoes in Ice Bath

Chopping tomatoes

Once I peeled them and diced them up, I ended up with eight cups total. (I wish I had thought to weigh them first just because I’m curious how much it took to make the eight cups.) I put two cups each (equivalent to a 14 oz. can from the store) into freezer bags and squeezed as much air as possible - carefully without squeezing out the juice (as me how I know). I like to lay my bags of freezer foods flat - they can be stacked neatly in the freezer and they are also quick to thaw out!

Tomatoes ready for the freezer

It took me about an hour to do. Will eight cups change the world in my food supplies? No, but I sure will enjoy every bite of those extra flavorful homegrown tomatoes later. I love knowing that they came from my very own garden and there’s nothing but beautiful tomatoes at the peak of ripeness in there. We use two to four cans of petite diced tomatoes a month in our cooking. Having these in the freezer means four fewer cans of diced tomatoes I’ll need to buy.

We also harvested over a pound of jalapenos this past week and needed to do something with them before they shriveled up. I canned four half-pint jars of pickled jalapenos that we can store easily and have an extra almost-full pint jar that will go straight into the refrigerator to eat now. That also took me about an hour.

Jalapenos from the garden

Pickled jalapenos

Our green beans also had a great year! We pressure-canned beans in three different batches as the beans came in. Each time we put up 17 to 21 jars and we ended up with a total of 58 pints of green beans. Now that is enough to last just the two of us for a year - those small batches add up!

Here's just some of the beans we pressure-canned this year.

Jars of green beans

You also don’t have to grow everything yourself to preserve food for your family. We still throw the cashiers for a loop when we roll up the grocery checkout with a couple of full flats of berries when we find them at a good sale price. I freeze those for future use in pies, cobblers, smoothies, jams, and my (should be famous) berry syrup. ;)

We also used to purchase corn by the box/case at the farmers market when we lived in Colorado. We would spend the day shucking, blanching, cutting the corn off the cob, and freezing it. Oh man, nothing tastes better all year long than sweet summer corn put up at its peak.

So, if you can get fresh fruits and vegetables on sale or at your local farmer’s market, take advantage of that and put them up – canning, freezing, or dehydrating. It’s okay to preserve foods in small batches. Do what you can with what you’ve got. Every little bit gives you more control over the food your family eats!

Until next time, you can visit us on our website, Facebook, or Instagram.

Homestead Routine Maintenance Plan

Favorite machinery - the air conditioner 

Do you have a routine maintenance plan for your homestead? After we moved onto our homestead, and usually after we encountered a problem, we developed a homestead routine maintenance plan that will hopefully prevent some big headaches! Remember the old adage an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure?! It's an important aspect of self-sufficiency.

One of the first things we added to that list was checking the drainage from our air conditioner condensation. Hubby just happened to notice one day that it didn’t seem to be dripping into the bucket outside. We opened our system up inside only to find water flooding out of the drainage pan because the pipes were clogged. UGH. Once we got that resolved, we also resolved to routinely check that a couple of times a year. We also pour a little vinegar down that drainpipe occasionally, if the drainage seems slow. With those simple tasks, we’ve never had it back up again.

broken tree

I have a monthly reminder on my calendar to check our propane tank so that we never get close to running out. While I do check it monthly, we usually only have to fill it up once every 10–12 months.

We’ve gotten in the habit of walking the perimeter fences after any storms. I guess it’s Murphy’s Law of fences and trees, but if a tree or even part of a tree falls, it always falls on the fence. And for us it’s always trees from the neighboring property that fall towards us onto the fence, never from our property the other direction. Regardless, they still have to be cleaned up because now the cows can get through (and coyotes, and feral hogs, etc.). We seem to be the only property owners concerned about is, but that’s a whole other story. Good fences make good neighbors, even when you're the only one that cares about doing the right thing!

tree on fence

Another biggy for us was checking our water meter. This is a good way to make sure that we haven’t developed any leaks underground where can’t see them – at least not until they’ve caused a huge problem. We added this to our routine maintenance after another “incident.” We were pulling out of our gate to go buy a washing machine because ours had just died. As hubby locked the gate, he noticed water in the bar ditch. Hmmm. That’s odd. It hadn’t rained in weeks to months. Ruh roh. Turns out the water company had replaced the water meter with a fancy digital one recently. But the connection to our water pipe was just a little bit wonker jawed. Eventually the pipe cracked and because it was on “our side” of the meter, we had to fix it. (I did successfully argue with the water company that their installation of the new meter caused the pipe to eventually break, so we didn’t have to pay for all the water that ran into the bar ditch. But still, what a waste!) That’s another lesson - never buy just one of any plumbing part. Thankfully, we had everything on hand to fix it right then and there and THEN go buy a new washing machine. Now, about once a quarter, when I know all the water is off, I go check the meter and make sure it’s not moving. If it is we know we have a problem somewhere. When we installed our water lines, we put in shut off valves strategically along the way to make sure we could isolate leaks rather than digging up all 300+ feet to find one!

water meter

Our newest addition to our homestead routine maintenance plan. Three years in a row we blew out our capacitor on our air conditioning unit. (Sounds like something out of Back to the Future – flux capacitor anyone?) I think they got over-taxed in the Texas heat and humidity. Plus around here, it’s not unheard of to have to run the air in the winter sometimes. So our air conditioner doesn’t ever get an extended break. Anyway, the last guy that replaced it asked if we ever rinsed off the panels of the air conditioning unit. Huh?? Well duh. Those panels get gunked up with grass and dirt and the air conditioner has to work even harder to move air through them. WHY has no one ever told us this before? We treasure air conditioning around here, so we pamper that wonderful hunk of machinery now!

You've heard "if momma ain't happy, no one is happy?" Well, if the air conditioner ain't happy, momma sure ain't happy around here!

I’m sure there are other things we routinely do without thinking about it too much. What tasks do you have on your homestead routine maintenance plan?

Until next time, you can visit us on our website, Facebook, or Instagram.

My 2020 Garden Mantras: Better Late Than Never And A Little Bit Is Better Than Nothing

seed organizer 

My goodness, it's been entirely too long since I've haunted these halls of the fabulous GRIT reader blogs. But I'm back and endeavor to be a regular around here.

My garden last year was an epic failure. I think it got too hot too soon and then the grass and weeds started growing with a vengeance. It’s like the garden was determined to return to a state of pasture. Ugh. I was so disappointed, but I have to say, I really didn’t miss standing out in 100 degrees with 85% humidity last summer to keep the garden watered. When this year rolled around, I wasn’t even going to plant anything. I found myself missing the whole process of starting little seeds, delighting when they sprouted, tending to them as they grew, and eventually harvesting the fruits of my labors. I always have such a sense of wonder when something that started out as a tiny little seed is now providing me with food to eat.

And then, enter a global pandemic. Dun dun dunnnn!

I started thinking that it might be a good idea to get serious again about growing some of our own food. Something. Anything. I was already late to get things started in our area, but I thought better late than never, and a little bit is better than nothing. Thus, those became my gardening mantras this year.

My “tomato fence” was still up in the “jungle” (aka garden), so I chopped and hacked enough grass and weeds out to plant green beans on both sides of the fence. I usually use t-posts and a stretch of 4 ft. welded wire fence for tomatoes, instead of tomato cages, tying the plants to the fence as they grow. It works WAY better for me than those cages. It’s also easy to water because I can water the plants on both sides from just one side. Anyway, back to beans. I usually grow Roma bush beans, but this year I decided to grow pole beans and let them climb my tomato fence since that was about all I could manage to hack clear.

I also have these wonderful cases that I got last year to organize all my seeds. It was kind of hurting my feelings to not be putting any of them to good use. I pulled them out and got some zucchini, yellow squash, basil, cilantro, and jalapeno seeds started. Plus I got to use my beautiful potting bench that I built last year! I didn’t have a plan for where to put all those yet, but I got them started anyway. We had some weird weather and late cold spells this spring and it ended up being an advantage to all my seedlings being started late – I was able to bring them inside when it got too cold out for them.

potting bench

I started rethinking my garden strategy and thought about switching to raised bed gardens. I just didn’t know if I could get anything ready in time for this year. On a day off from work, I went to buy some supplies for a raised bed and using cedar decking boards, I built a 4 ft. x 8 ft. x 1 ft. all by myself while hubby was stuck at his computer for work. Yes! Unsupervised with the power tools. ;)

cedar raised bed

My hubby has 10 green fingers and 10 green toes, but he has no interest in vegetable gardening, so I’m usually on my own. I was planning on putting the raised bed in the “jungle” but hubby surprised me by suggesting we put it in the area near the barn we built (a whole other story since I was last here – in 2018 we built a 28 ft. x 56 ft. post-frame barn – all. by. ourselves!!). The barn “yard” is secure from chickens, cows, and dogs, so it’s pretty good growing space. We had all kinds of herbs growing in containers there last year. We have slowly been transferring the herbs that came back over the winter from containers to planting them in the ground all around the barn yard. He even started talking about where we could put even more raised beds in the future. Woot woot!

I also got six big heavy duty empty cattle protein tubs from our neighbors for container gardening. I drilled holes in the bottom and filled them partially with soil from the pasture and then topped them with good container soil. I ended up planting all my tomatoes and cilantro in those. I planted seven squash in the ground in along a fence and another four in my raised bed. All of the jalapenos are in the raised bed too. The basil in several five gallon pots.

garden containers

As I mentioned, everything is late for our growing area. Most gardeners around here are already harvesting squash and beans. I just remind myself of my new gardening mantras - better late than never and a little bit is better than nothing. Seems like life is settling back down a little bit. We’re able to buy almost everything at the store again. But fresh, homegrown food is always better. Eventually I’ll get back to the point where I’m preserving as much as possible from our garden each year. It’s a long-term goal of mine to put up enough beans and maybe tomatoes to get through the year.  

We heard from a cousin that lives about an hour north of us that the baby chicks were selling out as fast as they could get them in a local feed store. Have you noticed an uptick in the number of people deciding to try raising chickens in your area?

How are you and your family faring during these turbulent times? I hope you’re doing well. What has been the biggest change in your family’s routine? Are you doing anything differently? Will you continue once things are “back to normal?” Or have you made permanent changes to your lifestyle? Do you think there will be a resurgence in victory gardens?

Until next time, you can visit us on our website, Facebook, or Instagram.

This Life in the Pasture: Balancing our Dream Life with Reality

A Wannabe Pioneer

We love our life in our pasture. And we appreciate our jobs in the city that pay for this beloved pasture. But I’ve gotta tell you, it’s not easy to balance the two.

I don’t know exactly when the idea to have some land actually took hold.  When we got married over eleven years ago, we had no thoughts or plans to own acreage and raise livestock. We started growing a few vegetables and herbs in raised beds and containers in our tiny backyard with a very short growing season in Colorado. It was there that we learned how to make our first jelly and jam. And I can distinctly see myself sitting in our living room in Colorado, reading John Seymour’s The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It for the first time.

My grandparents on both sides had farming/ranching roots.  My paternal grandfather was a cattle rancher his whole life.  My maternal grandfather always lived in the country and raised animals, fruits and vegetables, and canned jams.  My husband’s grandparents on his dad’s side always had land and farmed.  And his dad raised hogs for a short time when my husband was very young. My husband and I have always gardened, but when we moved back home to Texas in 2010, we started exploring the idea of living on some acreage and raising as much of our own food as possible.

We have always tried to be somewhat self-efficient. We’re crafty – enjoying making our Christmas gifts rather than buying them. Back in Colorado, we bought a table saw when we put in our own laminate flooring. And we, especially my hubby, learned to build many more things from there. We did our own landscape makeover in Colorado and our yard was the star of the block. Living on our land now, we've learned to build fences (lots and lots of fences!), chicken coops, cattle shelters and decks. We did all our own plumbing on our land in preparation for our modular house arriving – including planning for future water uses such as the chickens, gardens, and other livestock.

Something I read in John Seymour’s book really stuck in my brain, and more importantly in my heart. “Self-sufficiency does not mean ‘going back’ to the acceptance of a lower standard of living. On the contrary, it is the striving for a higher standard of living; for food that is fresh and organically grown and good; for the good life in pleasant surroundings; for the health of body and peace of mind that come with hard, varied work in the open air; and for the satisfaction that comes from doing difficult and intricate jobs well and successfully.”

This whole notion of homesteading or self-sufficiency is certainly not for the timid or faint of heart. It’s not easy. Especially when you’re starting from complete scratch like we did, and it’s just the two of you (with some occasional help from some amazing neighbors). And that’s where the struggle for balance comes in. We are not off-grid and we are not self-sufficient to the point where we don’t need our jobs in the city. With a long commute and a standard work day, it gets hard to fit it all in. Seems we’re always short of two things: time and money.

Upon returning from work each day, there are always animals to be fed. We currently have dogs, cats, chickens, and cows. In the winter, you come home and do that in the dark. And in the summertime, there are the additional tasks of gardens to water and harvest. Sometimes you come home to find a sick animal, or a missing one. Or something critical that is broken. No matter what plans you had, that situation takes immediate priority. Something that seems to come far down the list of priorities each day is spending time writing for my blog and work on my first children’s book.

Here are just a few examples of tasks that have instantly changed our plans for a day/evening – I’m sure many of you can relate:

• Finding the bull over at property next door.
• The washing machine dying.
• A tree falling on house.
• Discovering evidence that someone came over our locked gate.
• The property owner next door starting a brush fire on the fence line.
• Finding a snake in the chicken coop.
• Just before bed, discovering a skunk in the backyard and the dogs getting "misted".
• Having to redo a gate when we realized the hay equipment couldn't get through … and they were on the way to cut hay.
• Discovering a nest of fire ants in the fiberglass "fin" on the back door to our minivan.
• Hurt or sick chickens.
• Hurt or sick dogs.
• Finding a tree has fallen on the fence.
• Discovering a vagrant stole eggs from us.
• Rescuing our cows from swiftly moving and rapidly rising flood waters.
• Repairing downed fence.
• Directing traffic on state highway for over an hour at a bad accident scene.

And like many people, we are working hard to be healthier and lose weight. You would think that with everything we have to do around here, it would be enough to keep us fit and slim. But alas, it is not. So that means finding time to exercise. And then hopefully, we get to finally have a healthy meal. But often it’s not before 8:00 p.m. Only to have to go to bed soon after and get up early to start it all over again.

Often when I regale people at work with tales from the pasture, I get one of two responses: “I don’t know how you get all that done” or “You need a vacation.” Try as I may, it’s really hard to get them to understand how we’re building a life we don’t need/want a vacation from. I don’t know whether we’ve both always been homebodies at heart – but we certainly are now. And then there is the complication of finding someone to care for a house full of dogs and cats and a coop full of chickens. The cows at least, are pretty self-sufficient. Even if you found boarding or someone to care for the dogs and cats, it would be hard to find someone willing to let the chickens out at first light and secure them before dark. And bring them cool treats in the evening when the day is at its hottest. (Why, yes our animals are spoiled, thank you.)  And if you did find such a person, it would probably cost about the same as the vacation itself!

Are there places I’d like to visit? Sure. But the world seems to be a very crazy, scary place these days. Leave me in our pasture any day. I’m completely and utterly content, and never, ever run out of things to do or find myself bored!

Our big picture plan is to build this place in preparation for retirement. It seems that for every project we complete and get to cross off the list, twelve more have replaced it. But that’s okay. We enjoy the challenges. We are very proud of how much we have accomplished in less than five years. And we’re equally excited to see how much more we’ll accomplish in the next five. So in the meantime, we will continue to work on that delicate balance between our dream life and reality. Because for us, nothing beats this life in the pasture.

Beautiful sunset recently in the pasture:

Recent sunset in the Pasture

My First Winter Garden

A Wanna Be PioneerI've never attempted a winter garden before. Which is a shame, because here in central Texas, we have a very long growing season and pretty mild winters. This year, on a whim, I grabbed some 9-packs of cabbage, broccoli and Brussels sprouts. I started working in the garden pulling up the finished-for-the-season tomatoes and tomatillos, and trying to get rid of some of the grass that was trying to reclaim my garden. I got the first few broccoli and Brussels sprouts in the ground. But before I could finish planting those or any of the cabbage, something had sneaked into my fenced garden and not only eaten every one of my cabbage plants, but also most of my Brussels sprouts and all but two of my broccoli. Eaten them to the ground.

I immediately thought of our resident squirrels, because they were the only critters I could think of that wouldn't be deterred by the fence. Hubby said I was spouting nothing but false accusations with no evidence. He likes squirrels. We both do actually. We have a designated squirrel feeder.

But something was eating my plants. So I caged each plant that was left with tomato cages and chicken wire. Inside the fence. Overkill? Maybe. But I didn't battle all that darn grass for nothing!

The plants that were left have all been growing well. The rains have been interspersed enough that I haven't even had to spend much time watering. I went out last week to check on everything. And this is what I found.

First broccoli at PDD

Well hello beautiful! My first ever broccoli. May be the only one we get this year. But I'm already excited and encouraged to try again next year.

Just like I'm plotting a much bigger patch of roma green beans this spring. Oh my stars, are those the best canned green beans I've ever eaten. Funny story on that canning adventure. You can read about it here.

Do you grow a winter garden? Do you use cold frames or a green house?

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Wintertime Is Work Time On Our Homestead Construction Projects

A Wanna Be PioneerThe first project we tackled in the fall was a deck at our back sliding glass door.  It was still pretty warm out this fall, but doable. 

The builder left us these steps.  We don’t even think they used treated lumber, and after three years, they were getting downright dangerous.  I don’t think it even took us five minutes to tear them apart.

 PDD back steps

We built an 8 x 16 foot deck instead.

 PDD deck work

We decided to mimic our fencing style instead of using traditional balusters/spindles.  It’s safe, but has an open feel and doesn’t block our view of our beloved pasture.  :)

PDD finished deck

Notice how all the pictures are photobombed by our furry kids in the sliding glass door?  HA

The next big project on the list was a shelter for our growing herd of longhorn cows.

We went with a loafing shed structure that is 10 x 32 feet.  (The roof is 12 x 34 feet.)

The project begins. The week of Christmas was unseasonably warm, so we were yet again working in shorts and t-shirts.  But with all of our weekends that have been “rained out” so far this fall, we’ll take it.

 PDD cow cabana 1

Don’t let anyone tell you a minivan can’t be a farm truck!  It’s all about making do with what you’ve got. (This was just one of several trips.)

 PDD farm truck

Rafters ready to be installed.

 PDD cow cabana 2

We still have a little bit of framing to do.  But we’ve discovered that the roofing and walls are the most expensive part of the project.  So unfortunately, those will have to come a little bit each paycheck.  But we’ll get there.  If only we had a woodworking shop/barn for those logs stacked there.  That wood will make beautiful woodworking projects some day!

Thanks to my sister-in-law, this has come to be known as the "Cow Cabana" (thanks Krista!). :)

 PDD cow cabana 3.5

We’ll keep you posted on the progress as the Cow Cabana comes together.

Until next time, worms rock, bees rule and chickens are my Zen.

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DIY Chicken Feeder

A Wanna Be PioneerI don't know about your chickens, but ours were wasting a lot of food. We had one of those galvanized hanging feeders. It wasn't hanging, but it was up off the ground on blocks. We even had a clay pot turned upside down inside the feeder to take up some excess space and cut down on the amount of feed in there. When it rained on it, the feed was ruined. So we kept a piece of wood across the top to try and keep the entire bucket of food from getting wet.

galvanized feeder

Our chickens will not eat feed after it has been scattered on the ground. Really? They eat bugs, for heaven's sake. And mice. But, oh no, not perfectly good feed that has touched the ground. Let’s just suffice it to say, for so many reasons, that feeder wasn’t working for us.

There are lots of ideas for feeders online. We used one as a model, but quickly figured out we needed to make adjustments and modifications to suit our setup and needs. You will probably want to do that too. But maybe this will be a good starting point for you.

Here's what we did:

We used all 3-inch PVC pipe and fittings for our feeders. Each feeder cost us about $20. The parts list for one feeder, with prices from our local home improvement store, includes one of each of the following:

Cap socket, $4.15
3-inch piece of pipe (see pipe price below)
Wye connector - $5.89
2 1/2-foot piece of pipe (5-foot pipe - $11.21 – enough to make two feeders)
Threaded female adapter - $3.54
Clean out plug - $1.77

PVC bottom and wye 

threaded adapter and cleanout plug

whole feeder

new feeder in action

Starting at the bottom we put it together like this: cap socket on the 3-inch piece of pipe, wye connector to the other end of the 3-inch pipe (the cap and wye connector should pretty much butt up next to each other on that 3-inch piece of pipe), the 2 1/2-foot piece of pipe goes on top of the wye, then the slip end of the threaded female adapter on top of the pipe, and finally the clean out plug screws in to the adapter.

There's is no real need to glue the pieces. They fit pretty snugly and the contents are not under pressure. The 2 1/2-foot piece of pipe can be as long or as short as you like, depending on your needs and where you are installing the feeder.

To install the feeder, we put a 2-by-4 against the wall behind the feeder so the top wouldn’t be right up against the wall. This little bit of spacing seems to make it easier to pour the feed into the opening. Then we used metal pipe hanging strap to secure the feeders to the outside wall of our coop. We built two and put them under the “patio cover” (see it here) we recently built on the north side of the coop. Even in our record 7.93 inches of rain in one day last month, the feeders and the food stayed dry.

With this feeder, we are using pellet food instead of crumbles. We tried pellets before in the old feeder and still had the same problem. But in this feeder, pellets have worked great.

The only issue we have encountered is the "dust" from the feed will accumulate in the bottom. But these feeders are so easy to clean out. Also, sometimes the food gets just a little packed and doesn't fill the wye fully. So occasionally we just reach in there and kind of rake the feed from the pipe into the wye. No big deal. And now that we know we have cut our feed bill in half ... yes, you read that correctly, in half ... it's a small price to pay.

Until next time, worms rock, bees rule and chickens are my Zen.

Pasture Deficit Disorder – Because Life in a Pasture is the Only Cure

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