Small Homestead

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Weather or Not

January 20th, 2010 · 3 Comments

Virginia weather in January is, well, changeable.  For the first two weeks of January, we had frigid temperatures.  We were doing good if we got up to freezing during the day and we were in the low teens at night.  Everything was frozen solid and I spent two weeks, breaking ice in water troughs and tromping over frozen ground to carry hay.

Then it warmed up and we had a week of warm temperatures in the upper 50s and low 60s.  The ground started to thaw out and life got easier for a few days.  Then it rained.  Now the ground is rotten again and it’s raining again.  I come in with clumps and spatters of red clay up to my knees.

Larry came by to plow the garden last week and it was still frozen.  This week it is too wet.  It looks like it is going to be in a warm rainy period for the next week so we won’t get the garden plowed soon.

I’m going to quit complaining for now about things that I can’t control.   On the brighter side, rainy days are good days to browse through the gardening catalogs and place some early orders.  Burpee has some really interesting tomatoes this year.  I’m not sure that I am brave enough to even plant a black tomato but they also have some that look tye dyed.

Have you started planning your garden?

→ 3 CommentsTags: Farm Life

Have You Started Planning Your Garden?

January 5th, 2010 · No Comments

The holidays are over and the ground is frozen here in Virginia.   It’s too cold outside to want to do more than the bare necessities and you would think that gardening would be the farthest thing from my mind.   I actually like to spend these cold winter days planning my garden.  As I have mentioned, I am going to try to incorporate some square foot gardens into my plan this year.

I haven’t told Randy yet that he will soon be building me some simple boxes for the gardens.  These boxes are easy to construct and easier yet to maintain.  I think that we are going to make them out of left over laps.  These are the rough edges that are left over when you make boards.  A friend of ours has a pile of them so we have a free supply.

The expensive part of starting a square foot garden is the soil mixture.  It needs to be made up of a mixture of compost, peat moss and soil.  The last time I bought peat moss, I paid almost $4 per cubic foot.  If you are making more than a small garden this can add up quickly.  At that time, I was also buying compost as I did not have a compost pile.

This year I have a ready supply of compost material.  I started it last year and it has worked itself into a black, rich soil like pile.  I will keep adding to it this year and should be able to keep a ready source.  Compost is a natural fertilizer and enriches the soil.

The good thing about square foot gardening is that once you have built the first one, there is little to no expense or maintenance.  Unlike a regular garden, you do not have to plow it every year and you don’t have to cultivate it during the gardening season.  Vegetables are planted close enough together that it keeps the garden weed free after the initial plants have grown up.  There simply is no room for weeds.  You don’t walk on the garden so you don’t compact the soil down.  The peat moss and high organic matter in the soil also keeps it ‘fluffy.’

Most of the problems that we had with our garden last year, will be solved with the square foot or raised bed gardens.  First we battled wire grass and then we had the bunny wars over my green beans.  Unfortunately, last year we lost both of these battles.  The worst was the green beans which simply did not survive the bunnies.  Out of 5 rows of green beans we only got about 2 quarts of beans.  The bunnies simply cropped them all off at the stem.  The wire grass simply made the garden unsightly and made it difficult to find the vegetables but the plants produced just as much and possibly more because the grass shaded the plants and kept them moist.

Over the next few weeks, I will be planning what vegetables we will plant and when we will plant them.  I am going to go ahead and start constructing the raised beds in the next month as well.  I want to plant some of the colder weather plants such as cabbage, onions, peas, etc in the raised beds.

Have you started your garden plans yet?  Do you garden in the traditional way or do you use raised beds?

→ No CommentsTags: Gardening

Have You Met Rosebud?

January 4th, 2010 · 2 Comments

Rosebud

Rosebud

Rosebud is a very special mule.  She came to us as a rescue and was severely underweight.  She has been my project for the last 4 months.  Because of her age, it has been an uphill battle to put weight on her.  Randy has told me several times that it would be impossible to actually have her gain any real weight.

I must admit that I have almost given up several times.  It seems like no matter how much I feed her, she just doesn’t put on a pound.  When my daughter gave me Progressive envision which is supposed to put weight on fast, it was my last hope but thankfully it is working.  It’s very expensive at about $1 per pound but I can tell the difference after just a few weeks.

Rosebud is about 20 years old which is pretty old for a mule.  She has worked hard for most of her life.  We can tell this because she is very familiar with a work harness and a plow.  She also rides and pulls a cart.  I plan to use her to do some light plowing and cultivating in our garden this year.   We won’t do a lot of it at one time but she will be more efficient than either the garden tractor or a hoe.

Come back in the spring of the year and I hope to have pictures of Rosebud at work.

→ 2 CommentsTags: Gardening

Traditional New Year’s Foods

January 1st, 2010 · No Comments

I live in the South.  We have a traditional menu or food for every occasion.   There are traditional foods for everything from weddings to funerals to holidays and each food has some symbolism attached to it.  New Year’s is no exception and it brings not one food but several.

The family gathers each New Years day to eat hog jowl, collard greens and black eyed peas.  This year we are adding stewed tomatoes to the menu.  They don’t really have any traditional meaning but they go really well with the black eyed peas.

Black Eyed Peas are supposed to bring us wisdom in the coming year as the eye looks to the future.  Some also believe that they bring prosperity as the swelling of the dried beans as they are cooked symbolizes the swelling of the family fortunes over the coming year.  Whichever you believe, this is a simple dish to cook which bodes well for those who spent too much time celebrating on New Year’s eve.

Collard greens or greens of any type are also supposed to bring prosperity.  It is said that the leaves of the collard look like folded money when they are cooking.  Again, I’m not so sure I see the resemblance except for the fact that they are both green.  Regardless, they are delicious and very healthy.  Dark leafy greens contain tons of antioxidants including lutein which is supposed to help protect your eyes.

The last component of the traditional New Years Day supper is hog jowl.  Hog jowl is much like bacon only it comes from the jowl of the pig.  R fries it like bacon and it is delicious when eaten on a biscuit or even by itself.   Hog jowl is supposed to bring good health.  I have not been able to trace this tradition back to anything that explains it but we are going to include it because it is dang tasty.

One legend that I have heard regarding this menu is that it dates back to Civil War when the Union troops slaughtered all the livestock and took all the provisions from southern farms and households.  The only thing that they left behind was what they considered inedible such as  black eyed peas, ham hocks and heads.  Greens which grow all year in the south.  The southerners sustained themselves through the winter on what the Union troops left behind.

I am not sure that any of these foods bring health, wealth or wisdom but then again, why tempt fate when this tradition brings a simple, inexpensive meal is both delicious and easy to cook.  Menus such as this are also a reason why folks in the country will have an easier time surviving in tough economic times.  There is little waste and the foods are simple and inexpensive and usually home grown.

What are your New Year’s traditions?  Do you have a traditional meal on New Year’s day?

→ No CommentsTags: Recipes

Happy New Year

December 31st, 2009 · 2 Comments

HappyNewYear I am wishing everyone a Happy and Safe New Year!!!!

Wow, 2009 has been busy especially the last few months of it.  I have not been very good at keeping this site updated but with the gardening done, my focus has moved to other things not homestead related.

I am going to be posting more on what we are doing to get the garden ready for next year and I am going to be incorporating a couple of square foot gardens into the garden.

Randy is definitely not a square foot garden fan so this will be an experiment on my part to see what I can accomplish in the square foot gardens that we cannot in the regular garden.  I think I can eliminate two of our largest garden problems with the square foot garden.  Our number one problem was weeds.  I grew more grass in the garden than we had in the front yard.

The second problem was rabbits.  I lost 5 entire rows of green beans to the bunnies.  With a square foot garden, I can put some chicken wire around it easily so that the bunnies will have to eat something else.  This is an easy way to keep rabbits, dogs, crows, etc out of them.

I am also hoping to introduce Rosebud and a bit of mule powered gardening.  This will be a first for me and an almost forgotten art but it should be a fun project.  Rosebud needs a job and it will be a challenge for me to learn.

I can’t wait for 2010 to get here.  We have so much to look forward to this year.  I hope that everyone will join me in planning for a great year to come!

→ 2 CommentsTags: Uncategorized

Brunswick Stew Recipe from Brunswick Co, Virginia

November 7th, 2009 · 2 Comments

I live in Brunswick county, Virginia.  Brunswick is a small sparsely populated county in south central Virginia.  Brunswick doesn’t have very many claims to fame but it’s Brunswick stew is famous.  During the fall and winter here, the fire departments cook stew.  They do it as a fundraiser and they sell the stew by the quart.  These stews are cooked in huge cookpots and the best are cooked over wood fires.  Cooking the stew is as much a social event as the eating of it.

History of Brunswick Stew

According to the Brunswick Stewmaster’s website,

It all started back in 1828 on the banks of the Nottoway River during a hunting party. Dr. Creed Haskins, a member of the House of Delegates from 1839 through 1841, took a group of his friends on a hunting expedition.  While they were on the hunt, camp cook Jimmy Matthews stirred together the first impromptu mixture that has become known as Brunswick Stew. The original thick soup was made from squirrels, onions, and stale bread. When the hunters returned, there was reluctance to try the new mixture. However, the reluctance turned to demands for second and third helpings of the warm, thick stew.

There are many claims that Brunswick stew was first created in Brunswick Co, NC or Brunswick, GA but the Virginia claim is the best documented.  Wherever it was first cooked and eaten it is delicious and a staple here in Brunswick Co, VA.  Over the years, chicken has replaced the squirrel and rabbit that it was cooked with in the past.

The following is a recipe that you can cook at home:

Brunswick Stew Recipe

  • 2 chickens (about 3 pounds each), cut into 6 or 8 pieces
  • 4 oz of fat back, chopped
  • 2 (16-ounce) cans, drained, seeded, and chopped tomatoes
  • 4 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels
  • 3 medium white potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 2 large onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 cups fresh or frozen lima beans
  • 1 tablespoon salt, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon sugar, or to taste

Place the chickens and fatback in a large pot.  Add enough water to cover. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer, partially covered, until the chicken is falling off the bones and the broth is well flavored, 2-3 hours. Spoon out and  transfer the chicken to a bowl and cool.

Add the tomatoes, corn, potatoes, onions, and  lima beans. Season with the salt, pepper, and sugar. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook, stirring often, until the potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, pull the chicken off the bones. Add the chicken back and taste the stew for seasoning. Add more salt, pepper, or sugar as desired. Cook until very thick.  Serve hot in warmed bowls.

→ 2 CommentsTags: Recipes

Thanksgiving Dinner from Angels

October 26th, 2009 · No Comments

I have recently learned about a program called Angel Food Ministries.   The ministry provides food packages that cost a little less than half of their retail value through local churches .  The website states that the package should be enough to feed a family of 4 for a week and the cost is $30.   The value of the food is approximately $65.  Sounds like a really good deal, doesn’t it?  There are no income requirements for Angel Food Packages, they are available for anyone.

The Food

I looked at the menu for November 2009.  The basic package cost is $30 and includes the following:

  • 1.5 lbs rib eye steaks (3 8 oz steaks)
  • 4 Boneless Center cut Pork Chops
  • 2 lb bag fried Rice Skillet meal
  • 22 oz lasagna
  • 22 oz breaded fish patties (5)
  • 1 lb lean hamburger
  • 1.5 lb breaded chicken breast
  • 1 lb frozen zucchini
  • 1 lb frozen cauliflower
  • 1 lb broccoli
  • 1 lb hash brown patties
  • 8 oz breakfast cereal
  • 2 lb onions
  • Box of 2% milk
  • 1 dozen eggs
  • One family dessert item

I worked out pricing for this and it is truly a pretty good deal IF you will use all of the food that comes in it.  It would not work for Randy and I because we eat very little pre-prepared meals like breaded chicken or frozen lasagna.  However, I can see where it would be a great deal for my youngest daughter and her spouse who is in the military.   I can also see where it would benefit a great many people who are on a tight budget and their grocery budget was stretched thin.  When I had children to feed and worked full time, I often used convenience foods on those nights when there just wasn’t time to cook a full meal.

They also offer additional specials that are meat and fresh vegetables that Randy and I would use.  I am seriously considering ordering the assorted meat special.  I had considered the vegetable special but I honestly think I can do better than that at the local grocery store.

Thanksgiving Dinner

For November, Angel Food Ministries is offering a Thanksgiving dinner package for $36.  The package includes both turkey and ham as well as all of the traditional fixings.  It’s actually a pretty good deal.  This is an additional item and not the basic package.   It can be ordered through the local distribution sites through October 28th. You can find your local site at Angel Food Ministries website.

The Jury Is Out

I cannot in good conscience promote Angel Food Ministries without also mentioning the negative side.  It seems that the ministry is a non profit organization that was started by one family.  The family has come under some pretty negative press for receiving exorbitant salaries.   I don’t know the circumstances of this and I won’t pass judgment on something just from reading the press but it is something to consider if you are looking to donate to this organization.

If you would like to read some comments on Angel Food Ministries food, Frugal Living had a post that asked their readers to weigh in yay or nay.  My impression from reading a few hundred comments was that if you really need to stretch your grocery budget, it is a great deal.  If you are used to eating premium foods, you will probably not be happy.  Overall, I think that the packages probably are more appreciated by the people who need them rather than the people who are just looking for a good deal.

Have you tried their packages?  What was your experience?

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Green Tomato Relish

October 19th, 2009 · No Comments

Green Tomato Relish

Green Tomato Relish

With frost coming quickly here in central Virginia, I decided to pick the majority of our green tomatoes.  The larger ones I am going to cover with newspaper and set to ripen.  These will continue to ripen until probably Christmas or New Year.

The smaller ones I made into green tomato relish.  Green Tomato Relish is also called Chow Chow or Picalilli.  It is a good way to use up a surplus of green tomatoes, green and red peppers and onions.

It tastes like a spicy sweet relish similar to bread and butter pickles and it is excellent on hot dogs, pork, in soups, etc.   Randy can eat it right out of the jar.  I prefer it on hot dogs or hamburgers.

Green Tomato Relish

  • 4 cups of finely chopped green tomatoes

    Main ingredients for Picalilli

    Main ingredients for Picalilli

  • 8 bell peppers – green, red or yellow
  • 5 onions, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons pickling spice
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 3 cups vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons of pickling salt

All vegetables should be finely chopped.  You can use a food processor but I use my handy dandy Pampered Chef chopper.  It’s a bit more work but I try to keep our electric appliances to a minimum.  I have survived a year without a mixer or a food processor.

After chopping the tomatoes put them in a colander to drain.  Sprinkle them lightly with pickling salt.  If you use regular salt, your relish may turn cloudy due to impurities in the salt.

Chop the bell peppers and add them to colander sprinkling lightly with pickling salt.

Chop the onions and add them to colander sprinkling them lightly with pickling salt.

Chopped vegetables

Chopped vegetables

Let vegetables drain for 3 hours – 24 hours.

After vegetables are drained, add them and the remaining ingredients to a large pan.  Set temperature on med high and bring to a boil stirring occasionally.  Once it is boiling, turn heat to med low and bring back to a boil.

Once it has come back to a boil for the second time, you can ladle it into hot sterilized jars.  Add lids and then put them in a water bath and boil for 20 minute.

Remove jars from water and set out to cool.  Check tops to make sure that all have sealed.

→ No CommentsTags: Canning · Recipes

October Gardening

October 14th, 2009 · 2 Comments

It’s almost Halloween and I am still getting vegetables out of the garden.  I have to admit that I am tired of picking tomatoes.  I have frozen more than we will eat this winter and the extended family hasn’t wanted to pick anything.  I am also still picking cucumbers, squash and a few stray limas.  Oh and I forgot the okra.  I have more okra than I will probably eat in this lifetime and all off of 3 plants.

I want to put the garden to bed.  The weather has gotten much cooler so once the rain stops this week, I am going to start putting most of the garden to bed and preparing it for early planting.  The first step is to pick all the tomatoes, ripe or not.  I will use these to make green tomato relish or picalilli.   I will also need to pick all of the remaining bell peppers and squash.  The peppers will either be frozen or used to make the green tomato relish.

The next step will be to remove all of the old plants.  We could plow or till these into the ground but the lawn tractor has not been running terribly well and I don’t want to strain it in the garden.  Once removed, the plants will either be added to a fresh compost pile or burnt.  This will help to cut down on any garden pests that have layed eggs in the plants.

Once the plants are removed, we will start covering the garden with composted manure.  This manure is over a year old and has stayed warm enough to kill all of the weed seeds.  This compost will be added to the garden and tilled in to help fertilize and to keep the garden soil soft.

After the manure is worked into the soil, Randy wants to cover it with plastic.  This will keep the soil hot and help kill any remaining weeds.  Hopefully it will give us a head start on the wire grass next year.  The wire grass has been the bane of my gardening this year.  It is almost impossible to kill and it makes it really hard to find the vegetables.

With those tasks complete, the garden will be ready for early spring or late winter planting.  Overall, while our garden didn’t look very pretty because of the wire grass, it was very successful.  We had enough lima beans, corn, tomatoes, okra, squash, and cucumbers to feed us through the summer and well into winter.

How did your garden do this year?

→ 2 CommentsTags: Gardening

Making Adjustments

September 17th, 2009 · 2 Comments

Its been challenging over the last two weeks to find the time and energy to get everything done.  With the days getting shorter and going to work for most of the day, the garden is getting wilder and wilder and I am getting further behind.  I did get another 5 gallons of Limas picked the other day.

We are also still picking tomatoes, green peppers, squash, jalapenos and chilis and Okra.  Goodness, I have enough okra for 10 years.  I have not gotten the winter greens planted.  It has been a challenge since Randy was operated on and can’t ride the garden tractor.

On the brighter side, I am truly enjoying my job.  It’s nice to get out and have a purpose in life.  Honestly, once I adjust to the physical side of it, I think I will get just as much done at home.  It’s also really nice to have an income.

I haven’t been writing as much but as the days get shorter, I will have more time inside to get it done.

→ 2 CommentsTags: Farm Life