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As I look back on the last four years of this blog, I realize how far we’ve managed to come. We have realized so many of our dreams! We have paid off our debt. We have bought land. We have built a house. We have chickens. We have one HUGE garden in full swing. We have an orchard. We have wood aplenty to heat our home with. We have learned skills like building, baking bread, sewing, hunting, canning, home maintenance, and pantry rotation. We have accumulated many of the tools and supplies necessary to a homesteading lifestyle: a lawn tractor, a dehydrator, a grain mill, a full wood working shop, a pressure canner and waterbath canner, tons of canning supplies, every garden tool I could think of, a rototiller, a snow thrower, an enormous trailer, a woodstove… and so much more!

So what is left? What more could we possible want?

More.

Yes, the house is nearly finished, but we already have expansion plans that we hope to put into effect next spring. My husband searched high and low for inspiration, and ended up finding this gem. We love everything about it, but instead of a plain old fireplace we’d do a baker’s oven, maybe with elements of a rocket mass heater thrown in. A heated bench would be lovely on crisp fall days. I’d also like to do an outdoor kitchen on the porch – just a small strip of cabinets with a stove-top on the counter. Canning inside in the middle of summer heat sucks. It sucks hard. Canning on a screened-in porch outside? Sign me up!

Porch

 

Of course there will be a bigger garden in our future. I am pretty set on turning most of our south-facing hill into an earth-bermed green house, if not this year then next. My husband found a source for patio door glass at $3 a sheet. Score! He’s also drawn up plans and priced out all of the materials. We can afford it, but I’m not so sure we can afford the time to finish it before winter hits with everything else we’re working on. In case you’re curious what it will look like, I just drew up this quick sketch in Paint.

greenhouse

When the greenhouse is in, I’ll build raised beds in front of it to house a small herb and flower garden. At the bottom of the hill is where I eventually plan on raising our own grains like wheat, rye, and oats. The bottom of the hill is super fertile. Crazy fertile. The grass down there grows twice as tall and thick as it does anywhere else on our land. It should be a great place to grow grains.

Our orchard might grow by a few trees, but not too many. We are at 21 trees now, since four (two peaches, two cherries) have perished. I would eventually like to fence in the orchard to run geese. At the bottom of the east side of the hill is a low, soggy spot. If we could clear it out, it would probably make a decent small pond. This year when we start cutting wood I hope to take down the birch that are growing in this soggy area.

We have been discussing getting back into raising bees again, this time with our own equipment. We’ll order the pieces for two hives this winter and get those put together. Next spring, we’ll get some bees to fill them. A homestead isn’t complete without those buzzy girls roaming all over the place.

We also talked about raising rabbits for meat and fur. No concrete plans there yet. Pigs and some sort of dairy livestock are also on our wish list, but we need to work on fencing in some pasture first.

Our neighbors in Michigan have the Cottage Foods laws that allow them to sell any baked goods made in their home kitchen, but we folks in Wisconsin need to have an annual license and all food items must be produced in a commercial kitchen. Here is a pdf file that shows the hoops we have to jump through in order to create a commercial kitchen that will pass inspection. My husband and I have talked about this a few times. I think I am a pretty good baker. I know for a fact that my cookies, muffins, and bread would sell because we have friends, family, and neighbors request these items from me. Maybe if we build a large pole building someday, we can dedicate one corner of it to a small commercial kitchen for my baking. I already have a name picked out for it. 🙂

If we build the pole building, a kitchen isn’t the only thing we’ve talked about. My husband had a lot of fun creating things on a plasma cutting table when he was overseas. Giving him a workshop is high on the list, especially since it would mean our basement space could be used for storage or another bedroom instead of a workshop.

When I was in college I really got into ceramics. I would love a little shed with a wheel, shelves, and small kiln so I could make pottery again. I got to where I could make a complete mug in about seven minutes back then. I bet I could get back into it and be even faster, more productive. I have yet to meet anyone local who putters around with clay – yet another niche that I could use to my advantage. I still have no idea where I would get the clay from. Probably order it online. We have some on our land, but not enough to go through the trouble of digging all the way down for it and spending all the time to process it.

Other projects that are in the back of our minds include building a rain-catchment system with a cistern and mulch pits around the trees in our orchard. My husband drools at the thought of having our house off of the electrical grid, but I’m not so sure we could afford the start-up costs any time soon for solar. The acre pond out back desperately needs to be re-dug. It was last cleared in the ’60’s. It’s completely choked with cattails, weeds, and cottonwood saplings. I don’t think it will be deep enough to raise fish in unless we provided a heat and aeration system, but digging it out would at least give wildlife and our future livestock a clean water source. And I might be able to raise rice and water chestnuts without having to build a permanent paddy up by the gardens.

Oh! I haven’t showed you my little temporary paddy yet. I got it all set up and filled. The rice is planted, and several fish are swimming around in it to keep the mosquito larvae down. A frog has even taken up residence in it. My next post will have to be a pictorial update. In the next couple of days. I’m busy weeding and mulching to get it all looking good for some company we’ll be having this coming weekend.

 

I am officially an author at Heritage Homesteaders now. Yay! Go check out my introductory blog, soon to be followed by my first post!

From Alaska to Wisconsin – A Homesteading Transplant Takes Root

No idea why they chose to focus on my boobs in the top picture, but hey… everyone has to have at least one good asset to look at, right? Made me giggle.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately on my garden and pantry. I’m excited to be able to grow as much as I can handle, but I don’t want to go overboard and end up with more than I can eat in a year. I once planted several zucchini plants naively thinking that I would only get a couple fruit from each plant. Haha! Yeah, anyone who has ever grown zucchini knows that I had the damn things coming out my ears that year! I’ve done the same with green beans, cucumbers, and peas. I’m pretty good at over-doing the garden. This year I want to be smarter about it, so I’ve started calculating out what we go through in a year.

Some are much easier to calculate than others. Like carrots, for instance. We go through about a half pound of fresh carrots a week, but I can see us going through up to twice that if I have them on hand. A half pound times 52 weeks means about 26 pounds of carrots a year. I’ve only ever grown about 10 pounds at a time, so I’ll be planting at least three times as many seeds as I have in the past.

Tomatoes are my biggest hangup right now. I need them to can up diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, ketchup, salsa, spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce, whole tomatoes, and chili. I’d also like to have an abundance of dried tomatoes for various recipes and snacking. It seems like no matter how many tomatoes I grow it won’t be enough. We eat a lot of tomatoes! As I have my list right now, I’ll have 72 plants. A few are new varieties, a few were free, and a few are tried and true. Of the 72, 32 are the tried and true. I’m grappling with whether I should even bother with the new and free ones this year. I could always sell or give away the extra fruits, I suppose. I’m so torn! I hate not planting perfectly good seeds. I guess for now I’ll plant them anyway (in a few weeks). I can sell extra plants along the way.

Thinking about food for a year got me going on the things I can’t grow, like sugar and flour and rice. Yes, I will be growing tiny plots of rice and wheat, but nothing on a grand scale yet. This year is going to be an experiment to see how much I can get from how many square feet. Anyway, this summer I’d really like to get a jump start on the next year’s groceries. It’s so nice not having to run to the store multiple times a week, and to have that food security would be a wonderful gift. I’m anxious about my husband coming home because we don’t know where he’ll work or what he’ll make when he comes back. We have been in rough patches before, and I want to mitigate the risk of that happening again. I have many reasons for thinking about stocking up on food, and those are only a few.

I started thinking about simple things that I make, like bread. I’ve had a few months of a break from making my own bread due to not having the time or space to do it, but I’ll be getting back into the swing of it in the next week or two. Once I do, I’ll be baking at least three loaves a week. Each batch takes about 2 pounds of flour, so over the course of a year I’ll need 104 pounds of wheat to keep us in bread. Each batch takes a half ounce of yeast, so I need 26 ounces of yeast for a year. Each batch takes 3-7 ounces of sugar or honey, so I need about 23 pounds to last a year. That’s all for bread alone! I also make biscuits, rolls, tortillas, pizza dough, breadsticks, pies, cookies, cakes, and muffins. I think I could easily breeze through 400 pounds of wheat in a year if I baked all of our own goods, which I plan to.

Sugar is another big one. I need a bit for breads and baked goods, but it’s also a main ingredient in jellies/jams, preserves, ketchup, sweet pickles, and many other recipes. If we do get started on bees this summer, we’ll need to stock up on powdered sugar for keeping track of the mite population in our hives.

While I was making all of these calculations, I came across a great chart with conversion rates for basic baking ingredients. It has been very handy for calculating how much I’ll need of certain ingredients for each recipe. I’m going to put it here on my blog so I can come back to it in the future.

Dry Goods

 All-Purpose Flour: 1 cup = 4.5 oz
Bread Flour: 1 cup = 4.8 oz
Cake Flour: 1 cup = 3.9 oz
Pastry Flour: 1 cup = 4.25 oz
Whole Wheat Flour: 1 cup = 4.25
Cornmeal, coarse: 1 cup = 4.85 oz
Cornmeal, fine: 1 cup = 6.3 oz
Oats, rolled: 1 cup = 3 oz
Walnuts, chopped: 1 cup = 4.3 oz
Walnut/pecan halves: 1 cup = 3.5 oz
Coconut, dry shredded: 1 cup = 2.5 oz
Chocolate Chips: 1 cup = 5.35 oz

Eggs and Dairy

 Egg: one large egg = 1.7 oz
Egg Yolk: one egg yolk = .7 oz
Butter: 1 cup = 8 oz
Milk: 1 cup = 8 oz.
Heavy Cream: 1 cup = 8.4 oz
Cream Cheese: 1 cup = 8.2 oz
Sour Cream/Yogurt: 1 cup = 8.6 oz

Sugars, Syrups and Oils

 Granulated Sugar: 1 cup = 7.1 oz
Brown Sugar, packed: 1 cup = 7.75 oz
Powdered Sugar, sifted: 1 cup = 3.6 oz
Powdered Sugar, unsifted: 1 cup = 4.4
Corn Syrup: 1 cup = 11.5 oz
Honey: 1 cup = 12 oz
Molasses: 1 cup = 11.6 oz
Vegetable Oil: 1 cup = 7.7 oz
Solid Shortening: 1 cup =7.25 oz

I know I’ll still have to run to the store for the occasional things even if I am able to store up flour, sugar, rice, beans, canned/dried fruits/veggies, etc. There are perishable things like dairy products, exotic fruits (bananas and citrus), meat, and whatnot that I will need to replenish on a weekly basis at the very least. We’ll have chickens for eggs and meat in the start. That should help. We’ll be able to hunt deer and turkey on our own land, too. If I didn’t have so much on my plate already with the house and garden, I’d probably be pestering my husband for a dairy animal like a cow or goat, or some more meat animals like rabbits. For now, the best I can do is try to hit sales and stock up for what is likely to be a low-income year. Plan ahead. Maybe in a few years we’ll work our way up to being self-sufficient for our meat and dairy.

Whew! Meant this to be a quick post to keep those conversion rates handy. Rambling over. Hope y’all are enjoying this beautiful winter day! I know I am, because we finally get to see something green sprouting…

Artichokes are popping up some cute little cotyledons!

Artichokes are popping up some cute little cotyledons!

Today it was 24ÂșF out when I dropped my boys off at school. I could tell by looking out the windows that it was below freezing by the thick layer of frost covering every surface. When the weather starts to get this cold, that’s when I break out the winter gear: hats, mittens, winter coats, scarves, boots, and in my case earmuffs. It’s a no-brainer. Cold outside? Wear something warm. We’ve been wearing winter gear for a couple weeks now.

I am appalled and a bit frustrated at the lack of concern over this cold weather from other parents. Each morning I drive to school, I see well over half of the student population in nothing more than a thin sweatshirt. No coats. No mittens or gloves. No hats. Heck, there were kids getting off of the school bus in nothing but a tee shirt! I saw one enterprising youth in a tee shirt with a fleece throw pulled around her shoulders instead of a coat.

Seriously, parents?

So here’s a reminder to all of us living in cold areas. It’s BELOW FREEZING outside right now. Our highs are only getting into the low 40’s, which is just a few degrees above freezing. It’s cold! And on top of the cold, it’s going to be raining and snowing. When you don’t properly dress your child for this kind of weather, you run the risk of exposing your child to hypothermia, frostbite, chilblains, frostnip, and trenchfoot. Among other things.

Hypothermia is when our body dips below acceptable bodily temperatures. Normally, we sit at a cozy 96-100°F. Hypothermia begins when our core body temperature falls to 95°F or lower. It is caused by excessive heat loss due to improper covering of skin exposed to cold and/or wet. While hypothermia just means a drop in temperature, it can come with some horrifying side effects like cold shock. Cold shock is when breathing becomes uncontrolled and rapid, blood pressure increases dramatically, and cardiac strain occurs that may lead to cardiac arrest or panic. Cold incapacitation may also happen. This is when the body becomes so cold that it begins shutting down the peripheral muscles of the limbs in order to protect the core and keep it warm. Blood flow may become restricted to fingers, toes, arms, legs, and the brain.

Which leads us to frostbite and frostnip. Frostbite occurs when blood vessels in a specific area exposed to extreme cold constrict. The reduction in blood flow causes the exposed tissue to freeze, causing itching and minor pain. The skin may develop white, red, and yellow patches. This is the beginning stage of frostbite, known as frostnip. It effects only the epithelial layers of skin, and usually doesn’t cause permanent damage. If left exposed, however, the skin may freeze and harden, causing blisters and blackness within days of occurring. No damage to core tissues has occurred yet at this second stage of frostbite, and recovery is usually full within a month, though parts of the exposed tissue may lose sensitivity to heat and cold afterward. The third and fourth stages of frostbite are the most concerning. This is when muscles, tendons, nerves, and blood vessels freeze. Deep frostbite results in the loss of effected digits, limbs, and effected tissues. It can lead to gangrene and other infections. It’s not pretty, and it’s so easy to prevent with proper protection from the cold.

Chilblains is a medical condition that effects genetically predisposed individuals when they repeatedly expose their tissues to extreme cold. It causes superficial ulcers on the skin, itching, swelling, redness, blistering, and inflammation. The condition is usually treatable with steroids and protective clothing, but it will reoccur if an individual continues to expose their skin to cold temperatures. Not pleasant, folks, and again… totally preventable.

Trench foot, or immersion foot, is when the feet are exposed repeatedly to wet, non-freezing temperatures. Say, a child walking to school in the rain or snow with wet sneakers on day after day. Affected feet may become numb and turn red or blue as a result of poor vascular supply, and feet may begin to have a decaying odour due to the possibility of early stages of necrosis setting in. As the condition worsens, feet may also begin to swell. Advanced trench foot often involves blisters and open sores, which lead to fungal infections; this is sometimes called tropical ulcer or jungle rot. Unlike the previous ailments mentioned, trench foot can take place in temperatures up to 60°F. The condition can occur in as little as 13 hours exposure to wetness. Have  you ever stepped in a puddle or wet snow and your shoes were still wet that night? That’s all it takes, and it’s not uncommon for a child to wear the same shoes from early in the morning until late at night. Prevention is easy, however. Give your child a pair of dry, clean shoes to keep at school or in their backpack. Let them wear boots (winter boots, galoshes, hiking boots… whatever) to school, then change into their clean, dry shoes while at school. On the way home, they can wear their boots again, then the boots can dry by a heater overnight to be ready for the next day.

For me, those are some compelling reasons to keep my children dressed warm and dry. It’s my job to protect them, and that includes from cold weather. Please, parents, remember to dress your child appropriately for the weather. If there is ANY reason you are unable to, please get assistance. Don’t let your pride lead you into exposing your child to these horrific cold weather ailments. Many schools have a stock of used coats, hats, and mittens that they are happy to give to families who need them. There are charities and organizations that will give you winter gear at little to no charge. Protect your children from the cold. There’s really no excuse.

You all know that old saying, right? Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “Fish and visitors smell in three days.” In my humble opinion, he was right on. I like visiting friends and family, but after about three days, no matter how welcoming a host is, I feel like I’ve started to wear out my welcome. No offense, but I feel the same way about people who come to visit us. Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE having people over. It’s just that after a few days I really like to get back into my normal routine.

Our new house is going to be fairly small. We won’t have guest rooms. We won’t even have an office that we can convert temporarily. About the only place guests are going to be able to sleep is on our pull-out couch in the small living room. While that works short-term, we have been wracking our brains for years to think of a way to accommodate long-term guests without having to interrupt our daily lives so drastically. The solution? Guest housing.

No, I don’t mean we’re going to attach a motel to our house. And I don’t plan on erecting yurt platforms or constructing tent sites. I’m talking about tiny houses. They’re perfect little homes that don’t take up a lot of space, can be built just about anywhere, and won’t cost us a lot. They can even be built on trailers and moved around if need be, though I would like ours to be more permanent items on our land. They can be used for other purposes, too – as hunting blinds, rentals, employee housing, sleepover  central for the kids, or just a place to go when someone in the family needs a break.

I’m definitely not the first to come up with this idea. There are actually a lot of folks who have already built these tiny houses on their land or in their backyard. Some call them  mother-in-law houses. Some rent them to their out-of-school teens to keep them close to home yet teach them rental responsibility. Some house college kids during the school year and visiting relations during the summer. They’re a brilliant addition to a parcel, city or country.

I’ve recently been looking around for ones that catch my eye. My original plan was to do a 3 Little Pigs theme and make one tiny house of of stones, one out of wood, and one out of straw. I still think that’s a cute idea, but then I saw a video on youtube by a Permie who was touring an ecovillage somewhere in the US. The ecovillage was still in the forming stage and needed temporary housing for incoming members to try out the lifestyle. They built three tiny houses, and they were sooo cute!

Here are two snapshots I took from the video:

guesthouses

 

guesthouses2

 

They’re perfect! I think a little rocket stove or tiny wood stove in each would keep them useful year-round. They’re big enough to house a bunk on the one side and a full/queen mattress in the loft. Add a dresser and some shelves. Voila. Of course, we’d probably locate a heated bath house nearby. Maybe a little outdoor kitchen with plenty of seating and tables for large gatherings at meal-time.

Yep. Our home isn’t even finished, and here I am planning out all the details for big family get-togethers and small neighborhood festivities. Once we have something like this set up, only the fish will smell after three days. 😉

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