Tag Archives: garden

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

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

Our Favorite Seed Starting Products


Who’s ready to start some seeds??  We are, we are!!  We like to start our seeds early and simple around here.  Anything high maintenance just gets left behind and unattended to.  So when it comes to starting seeds indoors, the easier the better.  Here are some of our favorite products & tips for starting seeds.

1. Find a big south facing window and set up an open shelf (even better if there is a heat vent under the shelf).  We use this Ikea shelf:

ikea wood shelf

2. We pieced together this seed starting tray kit.  It’s heavy duty and will last many many seasons.  Fill the pots with soil/seed starter, plant seeds, fill the bottom tray with water, put the hood on and let it go for a bit.  The system will create a moist greenhouse (remember it’s by a window with lots of sun) and when the seeds start growing, use the vents to control air flow and prevent mold.

seed tray dome seed tray flat seed tray

3. Once the seeds have started to grow, the stems need to be strengthened so they don’t get long and leggy.  We clip a small fan like this to the shelf to simulate wind which helps to strengthen the plant.

clip on fan

4. Lastly, I found this super cute water bottle to gently spray the plants and tops of the soil.

glass spray bottle


Pretty simple right?  This is what our setup looks like:

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Stop back next month to see how the seeds are growing and what to do next!

🙂 Mama Nice


Fall Around the Homestead

Fall is here and the Nice Family Homestead is coming to a time of rest.  Aside from our pigs and Brussel Sprouts, everything else has been canned or put in the freezer.  I thought you might enjoy some pics of what Fall looks like around here on a sunny day (unlike rainy today)….


Welcome to the Nice Family Homestead…

 WP_20150926_08_53_00_ProPig 1 and Pig 2

 WP_20150926_08_57_31_Pro“Minnie” the Easter Egger

WP_20150923_08_03_05_Pro“Cottonball Head” the White Crested Black Polish


The cornfield at rest

WP_20150926_08_54_41_ProBrussel Sprouts still growing

WP_20150926_08_55_54_Pro Garden beds being prepped for winter.

Do you have a homestead? What do you do during this time of rest?

🙂 Mama Nice


Spring 2014…. Our Growing Homestead

This is our first season with our new garden on the new homestead.  When we first started planning our projects for the summer, I thought we were undershooting.  I wanted goats… like, NOW.  I wanted acres of corn… NOW.  I wanted to double the chickens and raise meat birds…NOW.  But alas, we did not accomplish all of that and I am so…GLAD.  What we have taken on has been more consuming than I thought.  The picture perfect dream of a productive homestead where I would go out to the garden in my perfect homesteading outfit (with apron of course) and harvest the produce, cook and can and blissfully appreciate all the God has given us is well….. not exactly how it all works out.

I’m learning that in the midst of our busiest days we find ourselves harvesting carrots before they rot.  On the rainiest days, a chicken gets sick and has to be tended to.  The beautiful sunflower hideout is infested with caterpillars that need to be picked and squished.  Yes, that is the reality of homesteading.  Oh, and my homesteading outfit?  How about pajamas, uncombed hair, glasses, chicken poop shoes and a cup of coffee.  Ha!

However, amongst all the chaos and imperfections I do find myself appreciating all that God has given us.  There are those moments of beautiful sunny skies when I see my kids picking produce or running with the animals, and I realize this is the dream we set out for.  Little by little, our dream is becoming a reality.

Here is a sneak peak of what’s been going on around the homestead this season.  In a perfect world I would post amazing pictures of the carrot muffins I made, or the best way to hardboil our fresh eggs… but when I start baking and cooking the kids in my house go wild and taking pics is the LAST thing on my mind.  So enjoy the pics I did manage to take 🙂


Our new shed/chicken coop in the works…

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The garden…

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Peach Tree                                   Apple Tree

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Tomatoes                                    Carrots

IMG_7312    IMG_7311

Beets                                            Peas

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Peppers                                             Raised Beds


Blackberry Bush


Our sunflower hideaway is growing nicely…

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Our first carrot harvest….

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Thanks for reading.  Stay tuned for more updates (and hopefully recipes)!

🙂 Mama Nice