Tag Archives: homesteading

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.


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.



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.


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


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.


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.


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

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.


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.)


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

🙂 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


Our First Adventure Raising Pigs

We have 3 acres on our homestead, which isn’t a lot of acreage to raise meat animals, but we wanted to raise more than chickens.  After researching beef cows, dairy animals and pigs…we settled on pigs.  Not just any kind of pig, but pasture fed Gloucester Old Spot pigs.  We read that GOS pigs have a docile personality, were great with other farm animals, and needed minimal grain to grow to butcher weight.  We found a local breeder and back in April we put our deposit in for 2 piglets.  In June we got the call to come pick them up.  The piglets were around 40 pounds and ready to leave their mama.


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How cute are they???  Pig 1 and Pig 2 quickly stole our hearts and we enjoyed playing with them for months…. until they grew too big to be safe for little children.

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The pigs are now 7 months old and about 250 pounds.  They are still very gentle, but they eat a lot more and find ways to escape their pen.  The electric fence no longer works for them, as they have discovered how to pile mounds of dirt up the side of the fence, forcing it to collapse (covering the electric part) and creating a land bridge to freedom for themselves.  So….they are now in the cattle fence pen only and are fed grain and some fruit and veggies.

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They are scheduled to be butchered during the week of Thanksgiving.  If the meat is as good as we have been told, we will raise even more pigs next year.

If you have a small homestead and are looking for a low maintenance, quick adventure in meat animals, I highly recommend smaller pasture raised pigs.

🙂 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


Meat Chickens – Take One..

You want to raise meat birds?  Woo hoo!!!  We had a great time raising meat chickens for the first time.  I hope the following information is helpful to your endeavors…. or at least entertaining. 

Step 1: Order chicks and pick shipment date **keep in mind the chicks arrive early in the AM and MUST BE PICKED UP at the local post office ASAP.  I got the call at 5:45AM.

Step 2: A few days before the chicks arrive, set up brooder using large box, heat lamp, newspaper, chick feed and water.  You want to get the area nice and warm before the chicks arrive.

After reading about the different kinds of meat chickens, we decided to go with the Red Rangers from McMurrary Hatchery.  Why you ask?  We didn’t want to raise birds that couldn’t walk on their own (like the X Rocks) and since the Red Rangers are also decent layers, we had the option of keeping one around if we chose.  We also liked that the Red Rangers reached maturity in 10-12 weeks (as apposed to laying hens and dual breeds that often take 20 weeks).

Step 3: When the chicks arrive, get them warm right away.  They will need constant food and water.  McMurray sends newsletters with great info on how to raise chicks.

We started with 20 Red Ranger chicks and a mix of 35 other chicks.  Aren’t they super cute?


The chicks grew very quickly and were ready to go outside in 4 weeks.  The Red Ranger chicks were also more friendly than the others and would come right up to us and arch their back like a dog to be petted. Awww, right?

We raised our chicks in the garage.  CAUTION: The chick down feathers get EVERYWHERE.  I had the shop vac going almost daily to keep on top of the mess.  ALSO, since these birds grow fast, they eat a lot and….ahem….. poop a lot.  Be prepared to clean up their pen often.


Step 4: Put the chicks outside and fatten them up

Once the chickens were fully feathered we moved them to their outside area which is 1/2 of a one stall horse barn.  We turned the “tack room” into the chicken coop and cut a chicken door out the back that lead into their fenced off area.  The fencing is about 5 feet high and the chickens were not interested in flying out.  I think they were more concerned with eating and growing.


Step 5: Find a good butcher in the area and drop them off to be processed.

After 11 weeks the birds weighed about 6-8 pounds and we dropped them off to the butcher.  In 24 hours we had 4-6 lb bagged broilers in the freezer.

Step 6: Find some recipes and enjoy!

We’ve been cooking one a week ever since.



Some other things that happened along the way….

We didn’t end up keeping any laying hens (thanks to a predator that killed a few), but one of the chickens was a runt and didn’t reach the needed weight at the time the others went off to the butcher.  The runt was added to our laying flock and now “Roosty” is king of the hen-house.  As you can see, they get pretty big.  So far “Roosty” is a very nice rooster. Red Rangers are hybrids and you aren’t supposed to use them in breeding, but he’s useful for breaking up hen fights and alerting everyone of intruders.

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As for the economics of things, raising our own meat birds doesn’t save that much money (if any).  There are other meat animals that are far more profitable (such as pigs which we are also raising).  However, we like the experience of raising the chickens on our own and deciding what they are eating.

Cost Break Down:

Chicks: $2.45 each= $50

Purina Non-Medicated Start & Grow for the first 2 weeks = $17.99

Purina Flock Raiser for the remainder (we used 1 bag every 2 weeks) = $71.96

Butcher: $3.25/bird (we lost some birds due to predators and butchered 12) = $39

TOTAL COST (not including wood chips, heat lamps, and start up costs) = $178.95 or $2.98 a pound

The grocery store is about $2.09/pound for an organic broiler.  If we had NOT lost 7 chickens, it would have brought the cost down to $2.12 per pound.  To make it MORE cost effective you can also raise extra birds to sell and recoup some money.

Overall it was a positive experience and we will be doing this again next year in hopes of selling some broilers.

Have you raised meat birds before?  Please share your experiences in the comment section!

Have a great day!

🙂 Mama Nice






2015 Garden Planning

Last week the sun was pouring across the backyard and into the kitchen.  I love these days. It’s like a little glimpse of spring (Charlie Dog thinks so too).


My yard in the winter is an ice-skating rink.  Literally, my kids go out and skate on the ice that overtakes the backyard.  I can’t even move some of the fence gates because there is an inch of ice keeping them frozen in place.  Going out to the chickens is a comedic adventure as I walk like a penguin hoping to stay upright.  My poor dog is depressed that he can’t run freely, so he mopes around and is gaining weight each day. When the “big thaw” begins, there is a river about 6 inches deep that begins to drain around our house.

As I write this post the sun is shining and Papa Nice and I just finished planning the garden for spring and I’m thinking warm thoughts.  We are more than doubling our raised beds and I’m so excited to see how much food we can grow for our family.


We are pretty picky about our seeds and we like to order from Heirloom seed catalogs. Most of our seeds are organic, but for those that are NOT organic – at least we know they are non GMO.  For the last several years we have ordered from Seed Savers and this year we are going to order from Johnny’s Selected Seeds also.

SSELogo (2)       johnny seed logo


We use raised beds in our garden and this year we are going to try hay mulching.  Here is our garden layout and seed planning list.

2015 Nice Family Homestead Garden Layout

2015 Nice Family Homestead Seed Planning Guide

I hope the ideas and comments are helpful as you plan your 2015 garden!

🙂 Mama Nice

Getting Organized in 2015 #2 Budget Binder

I must admit that I am not the biggest fan of technology.  I still like to have paper lists, paper calendars, paper schedules, I could go on.  There is something about being able to look at everything sprawled out on a table in front of me, with a highlighter in hand, that just makes me giddy.  The whole idea of using binders to organize is just so exciting to me.  I don’t know why God made me that way, but I’m going with it.

This week I tackled the School Binder and Budget Binder.  This post covers  the Budget Binder.  The School Binder is coming soon though!

My husband and I have tried various ways to keep track of our budget.  We tried the cash in envelopes method, computer spreadsheets, mobile apps and plain white paper.  Each system worked, in its own way, but at the end of each month I would stash the receipts and paperwork somewhere in the office.  It was hard to go back and compare month to month and therefore not intentionally setting goals.  I hope the madness stops this year.

Onto the HOW TO.  I assembled our Budget Binder with forms for the ENTIRE YEAR.  Here’s how it works.

2015 Budget Binder Graphic

  • The front of the binder includes a copy of our monthly budget goals and monthly budget tracker.
  • The front pocket has stamps and envelopes for bills that need to be paid via snail mail.
  • The next divider contains the forms for the current month with a pocket for receipts.
  • The last section contains forms for the rest of the year

Here are some free forms for you too…

My goal is to sit down each week and record our current spending in hopes that I can stay on top of our budget.  Wish me luck and happy budgeting!

🙂 Mama Nice