Growing & Saving Garden Herbs

Greetings faithful readers!  It’s October and I can’t remember the last time I wrote a post.  I always have high intentions at the beginning of the summer, then summer takes over, the garden gets out of hand and life just flies by (cause we are having so much fun)!

This past summer the garden did…OK.  Everything I planted grew, but the harvest was minimum and not very exciting.  However, my new herb garden did AMAZING!  At first I thought the herbs would never grow, but as soon as the summer heated up they were happy as can be!

Here are some tips & tricks that worked for us this year.  Hopefully you will be able to start enjoying your own herbs year round!

How to GROW Herbs:

We chose to plant in large planters from COSTCO, filled with organic potting soil.  In years past we purchased plants from a local nursery, but this year we started from seed.  I tried to start the seeds indoors, but they burned out when transplanted outside.  I replanted directly outdoors and viola!

Containers work best to control the herbs that are invasive, like mint, from taking over your entire garden.  Drill holes in the bottom of your planters to prevent drowning your plants during a hard rain.

Plant herbs with their companion herb to save space and encourage growth:

  • Parsley, Rosemary & Thyme
  • Basil & Oregano
  • Mint (always alone)
  • Lemon Balm & Lavendar
  • Dill

Make sure the herbs get plenty of sunshine, without the chance of being burned out.  I have found that putting herbs on a patio that gets direct sunlight will dry them out and kill them, try to find a full sun spot that also has a breeze passing through.  We put ours along the fence and that worked well.  Remember to water your planters often, but don’t drown them.

 

During the summer, we enjoyed picking fresh herbs for cooking, making tea, adding to animal feed , using herbs to freshen up animal pens and to keep flies away.

Now that the growing season is over, it’s time to save the remaining herbs to use for the rest of the year.

How to Save Herbs:

First, cut off bunches of each herb and tie together at the bottom.

Find a dry place indoors to hang the herbs upside down to dry. I hang ours from our pots & pans rack which hangs over our sink.

There are several ways to save your herbs once they are completely dry.  Remember to only save the leaves, not the stem or flowers.

  1. Grind the dried leaves with a Morter & Pestol.
  2. Grind the dried leaves in a food processor or coffee grinder.
  3. Save the herbs whole and grind when needed. (I like to save dill whole since most recipes call for a “sprig” of dill).

Lastly, pick out pretty jars, fill up with herbs, label and store!  Now it’s time to start making soups, stews and more (using your dried herbs or course)!

    

I hope you found this info helpful.  If you have any tips or tricks regarding herbs,  please share!

🙂 Mama Nice

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When Homesteading Doesn’t Go as Planned…

It’s May….the end of May.  The last time I wrote a post was the beginning of March.  You would think I’ve been spending all this time planting, prepping and planning and THAT’S the reason I haven’t written a post.  Some of that is true, but honestly Homesteading isn’t going as planned this year.  The weather hasn’t been cooperating, life isn’t going as planned and time keeps running out.  My planting schedule on the fridge hasn’t been keeping me on track like I thought it would and outside obligations have taken priority.  Sigh.

This is just reality.

Homesteading doesn’t always go as planned.

Every year in January Papa Nice and I sit down to plan the upcoming year.  What will we plant?  How will we move the crops around? What new crop will we plant this year?  What new item will we build this year?  We get so excited about the upcoming season.  We order seeds and create a plan.  The reality is that there is really only a 2 month (or less) window to get things in the ground and ready to go in order to yield the most produce and get things up and running.

We crunch numbers in the winter and I get excited at the potential for increased profit and the chance to try new things.  I even thought this might be the year to start a small CSA.  Well….it’s not working out that way….and that’s ok.  Life is like that, you gotta roll with it.

I recently gave a Career Day presentation at my kids’ school and a faculty member came up to me at the end and said “I think I would like your life, it sounds so peaceful”.  I laughed inside.  In truth, there are some very peaceful aspects of my life, but running a homestead with a family of 5 is many times chaotic.  Like the other night when I had to move the sprinkler every 30 minutes while making grilled cheese (yes, running to the garden in between flipping grilled cheese and hoping nothing burns).  Or the time the pigs got out on a Sunday morning and I chased them down in my “Sunday Best”, took off my stylish belt, wrapped it around them like a leash and coaxed them back to the pen.  Or when we find chickens (that aren’t ours) in our garden tearing up our crops.  Not so peaceful…

 

If you think Homesteading will always go as planned, you’re wrong and it’s best to hope for the best and expect the worst.
The many tomato and pepper plants I started indoors are struggling to survive, let alone thrive.  Some have died and I’ve replanted with back ups.  The super hot days followed by cold days have left their mark.  I thought I planted extra tomatoes and peppers to sell….nope.  The piglets that were due to come in May were born later than expected and we are still awaiting their arrival, which means our pork orders will be filled later this year.  The asparagus isn’t growing properly and the bugs keep coming back.  Spinach and carrots? I’m still waiting for more seedling to pop up because I’ve replanted 2 times already.  We kept running out of time and I gave up trying to haul wheelbarrows of compost around and went to Costco, bought a bunch of bagged soil, drove the van right into the garden and dumped the bags.  I’m sure that will cut into my budget.

 

BUT, there are good things happening that were unplanned too!  I tried a new technique on the fruit trees and they are now yielding fruit and appear to be disease free (knock on wood)!  We thought our peach tree was dead, but there are peaches on there right now!  The apple trees were struggling last year, but after a good pruning and extra care we have apples galore and the trees are getting stronger!  Our berry bushes are OUT OF CONTROL!  Yippee!!

 

The unexpected comes in good and bad.  The sheep are doing well and beginning to tolerate their halters without flailing on the ground.  Our lettuce looks amazing too and our first year of snap peas is looking great!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, if you plan to homestead, prepare yourself for things to NOT go as planned.  Nature has a way of doing it’s own thing and it’s easy to have big ideas for each year only to find out that the “big ideas” leave you exhausted, and some might have to take a backseat.

Homesteading in the Northeast is not for the faint of heart.  It’s not like down south where you can pretty much grow food year round.  I’ve heard it said that folks in the Northeast are always “in a hurry” because that’s how it’s always been.  Short growing season forces the rush and need to store and grow food in a few short months without a second to waste.  Even though we can now buy food at a grocery store year round, if you are like us, we still hurry around to not waste a second or a bit of homegrown food.

I will say that our move towards a more minimalist lifestyle has allowed us time to relax and spend time with friends too.  Although we do a lot in a day, we still find time to relax at night and visit family and friends.  Thankfully we are spending more time enjoying our lifestyle, and life in general, and spend less time worrying about what we DON’T have or what we AREN’T doing.  I didn’t see that coming either.  A welcome new mindset for sure.

 

3 Questions to Ask Before Starting a Garden

It’s that time of year again when we plan the garden, purchase seeds and get set up to start our seeds indoor.  Each year we reevaluate what worked in previous years and plan to try something new.  We ask ourselves 3 questions…

 

  1. What do we like to eat?
    • Green Beans might grow great in your backyard, but if you don’t like eating green beans after they have been frozen and preserved…don’t grow 10 plants worth (ask me how I know…no don’t).
  2. What does our summer and fall schedule look like?
    • The idea of 20 tomato plants might seem great, but keep in mind that making sauce and canning tomatoes takes time in the fall.  Think about the time you will have to commit to preserving your harvest.
    • Each plant will need different care when it comes to pest management, watering, weed control and harvest time.  Making sure we are home and able to care for the garden at various times is important to a successful harvest.
  3. How much room do we have in the freezer?
    • Many garden items can be frozen as an easier option to canning.  However, you need a freezer big enough to store it all.

    

Wondering what we make from our garden? Here is a list of what we grow and how we use them. Our garden isn’t huge, anyone with 1/8 acre or more could grow the same amount.

  1. Lettuce – fresh eating
  2. Kale & Spinach – fresh eating, freeze for smoothies & hot winter dishes
  3. Carrots – fresh and freeze
  4. Tomatoes – fresh, can as sauce, diced, ketchup or salsa, freeze as sauce
  5. Brussels Sprouts – fresh and freeze
  6. Broccoli – fresh and freeze
  7. Strawberries – fresh, freeze and can into jam
  8. Peppers – fresh, freeze, can in salsa and hot pepper jelly
  9. Raspberry & Blackberry – fresh, frozen and can into jam
  10. Corn – fresh and freeze
  11. Asparagus – fresh and freeze
  12. Grapes – we just started last year and hope to produce grapes this year – fresh, freeze, can in jam and grape juice.  Wine??? maybe…
  13. Apples – still in the beginning stages – fresh, can into applesauce and pie filling
  14. Sunflowers – decorations and treats for chickens
  15. Herbs – fresh and dried
  16. NEW THIS YEAR Snap Peas – fresh eating
  17. NEW THIS YEAR Pumpkins – fall decor, pumpkin seeds, and perhaps pie filling.

   

A NOTE ABOUT STARTING SEEDS INDOOR: We have tried to start various seeds indoors, but only tomatoes and peppers seem to be worth the time.  Most of the other plants we started indoors would die once they were outside (even after hardening off) and replanting seeds right into the ground was just as successful.  In fact, there have been years when we planted a transplant tomato right next to a direct seed plant and they both grew to be the same size at the same time.  If your soil is warm (which will likely happen this year in PA after the mild winter) your seeds will germinate quickly anyway.

We can’t wait for another year of fresh backyard produce!  What do you like to grow?

🙂 Mama Nice

Summer Programs 2017

Nice Family Homestead LLC is excited to offer another year of summer fun for children of all ages.

Download the PDF (summer-2017) or go to our EVENTS PAGE to learn more!

Spots are limited, register soon!

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Our Journey to a Simpler Life…

If you caught my FB post in January, I mentioned that our goal for 2017 is to simplify our life.  This has been harder than I thought, but we are well on our way to a life with “less”.  Below are our experiences thus far and some great resources for those that wish to embrace the idea of a more simple life.

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OUR TIME

This is probably the hardest part of our life to cut back on.  We have a lot of family close by, and we don’t want to miss special occasions.  We are involved in our church, which takes up time.  We have 3 kids with 3 sets of homework, 3 sets of activities, 3 sets of friend birthday parties and playdates, and 3 sets of unique needs that all pull at our time.  Let’s not forget to sandwich in time we want to spend with just the 5 of us.  Point blank, it’s hard, life is BUSY.  For now we’ve been able to schedule less get together’s with friends to make room for family time, and we hired some youth to help on the farm so we don’t have to spend all day Saturday catching up from the week.  Instead, we’ve been able to free up time to spend together as a family enjoying games and activities.  We’ve had to learn to say “NO” more often and realize that our family comes first, not everyone else.  I have found that many families sacrifice time together in order to please those around them and in the end, the family unit suffers.

OUR CLOTHES

Getting rid of stuff is super easy for me.  If it were up to me, we would all live in a Tiny House with a giant barn full of animals.  Of course, it’s not just up to me and each one of us is at a different stage of letting go.

I purged my wardrobe last year and have maintained a pretty simple “capsule” wardrobe that I switch out each season.  I also went through the kids’ closets and have begun to do the same thing.  We are blessed to receive many hand-me-downs, but I used to keep most of them and the closets were overflowing.  In reality, the kids had their top 5 favorite outfits and the rest of the clothes just sat there.  Now, I’m more choosy about what we keep and I donate the rest.  This had made it much easier to pick out outfits and it takes less time to wash clothes (since there is less to wash, I am forced to do the laundry more often but then it doesn’t pile up as much).  Here is a great resource to create a simple wardrobe for your kids: Capsule Wardrobe for Kids

OUR DECOR

As for all our other stuff, I take it one day at a time.  Since I began in January, I started with purging a lot of holiday decor.  I spent years collecting decor in hopes of creating a Pinterest looking house for every holiday.  My basement stored many, many, many boxes full of wreathes, ornaments, lights, garlands, etc.  While I do like to decorate for the holidays, I didn’t need to decorate as much.  For me, this didn’t bring me a ton of joy and the rest of my family did not partake in this activity.  I dwindled each holiday down to about 1-3 boxes.  It felt AMAZING.  Who was I trying to impress anyway?  Again, my family time was more important than pleasing (or impressing) those around me.

KID STUFF

I’m going to tackle this one at another time.  This is so huge for many Mamas and it can be very hard.  It deserves a post all on its own.

BENEFITS THUS FAR

I already feel more calm.  While purging and simplifying take time, I’m not rushing my days to get “done”.  I don’t have an end in mind, so I don’t know if I will ever get there.  The whole point is to slow down.  Instead of overextending myself to reach unrealistic goals, I’ve cut back.  Not as many posts, not as many items in the Etsy shop, not as many workshops, not as much time away from home… less.  Less money spending, less TV watching, less time spent on organizing all our STUFF.  More time with my family, more time reading, more time enjoying the life we have.  Being content in the moment.

This is the video that really kicked my butt in gear, maybe it will inspire you too:

Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things

 

🙂 Mama Nice

Money Management for Kids

Back in 2015 I wrote a post on Chore Charts for my kids.  We’ve been sticking to this system (for the most part) for the past 2 years, but we have come to a new phase and feel the need to revamp the way we are teaching our kids about money.

Our moto for 2017 is “LESS is MORE”.  Less stuff, less obligations, less running around, less arguing, less indulgence in unhealthy habits…..less.  It’s time to slow down, think more, and spend our time and money wisely (after all, we started Homesteading to simplify life and get back to the basics).  So how do we teach this concept to our kids in a world of consumerism and go go go go!?

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Our first step is to tackle the way our children think about their money.  In years past, if the kids received some money (birthday, Christmas, chores, etc.) they needed to record the money in their binders.  They could use the money on whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted.  What we noticed was that every time we were out, the kids would see something they wanted and would say “I have $5 at home, can you buy this and I will pay you back when we get home?”  Or, they would begin asking to browse Amazon just to find something to spend their money on.  Our oldest began carrying his money around everywhere we went just in case he saw something he wanted to buy.  The kids were constantly looking for ways to spend, indulge and consume.   The thrill of buying something was greater than the thrill of using the new item.

This had gotten out of hand.  My kids (now 7, 8 & 10) were throwing toddler sized tantrums in the store when we told them “no”.  They felt so wronged by not allowing them to spend THEIR money the way they wanted to.  This had to stop. We developed 3 new guidelines to help our kids (and ourselves) spend more wisely.

MONEY GUIDELINES

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Rule #1: The saved amount will go into their long term bank account.  This amount will be recorded in the Money Tracking Binder so the kids can see how saving can really add up.  The saved money will not be used until they are older…think car, college, computers, etc.

Rule #2: When the kids see something they want, they write it on a Post-It note, put the date on it and stick it on the Refrigerator.  After 2 weeks, if they still want to buy that item, they can.  Our hope is that some items (like another deck of Pokemon cards) will lose their intrigue and the Post-It will be tossed in the trash (along with the urge to spend).

Rule #3: We hope that when the kids start to really think about why they want to buy something.  They just might realize it’s not the best way to spend their money.  Maybe, just maybe they will start to see the savings add up and want to add more to their savings than just 25% (a mom can hope, right?)

The point is, these are 3 tangible ways to get kids to think about money and spending.  If you are interested, here are the forms we use in the Money Tracker Binders:

blank-money-tracker-form (Excel File)

blank-money-tracker-form (PDF File)

Have any suggestions on how to teach kids healthy spending habits?  Comment below.

Thanks and Happy 2017,

Mama Nice

 

The Homestead Binder

We’ve been at this “Homesteading” thing for about 5 years now.  At first it was just a small garden and a few chickens, but now we have 2 rabbits, 4 ducks, 10 chickens, 2 sheep, we raise meat chickens and pigs each year.  Our little hobby farm has become part of our income and so…I kinda had to start keeping track of things.

Last year was the first year I used my Homestead Binder and it proved to be very helpful to keep track of yields, health of the animals and financials.  Thanks to the binder I was able to see what kind of grain worked best for our pigs based on their health and final growth (and I learned that I need to rotate the pasture more next year).  I’m also able to keep track of how many eggs are being laid vs how much I spend on feed which factors into the cost of egg sale.  I could go on…the point is, it’s useful.

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I’ve created my own Homestead Log Forms that are now available in our Etsy shop for immediate download.  You can purchase forms based on the animals that you have (although I only posted forms for the animals we have.  I didn’t want to make forms without knowledge of what needs to be tracked for other animals.)

2017-homestead-log-forms-sheep-sample

I hope you find them useful and if you have any questions, please ask!

🙂 Mama Nice