Sunday, February 26, 2012

Garden Plans

Even though they are talking more snow today - grrrrr - I'm trying to ignore that fact in the hopes that it's hype and I'm distracting myself by developing a "proposed" garden plan. I say "proposed" because there are a couple of other people involved in the proposal. :-)

My seedlings are holding strong and hopefully developing into strong and sturdy plants and I'm slightly worried that I will have way too many plants for our garden to manage this year.  But hey everything is experimental and I felt last year our garden was tremendously better than the previous year so I think that's what it's all about - learning what works and what doesn't work, growing from those experiences, and try to improve annually.

Following is an old overhead view of the farmhouse and property.  It's an older view but generally gives you an idea as to what we are dealing with this year.  It is missing the master bedroom suite that was added on the West side.  I have drawn in my "vision" for this year's garden(s) proposal. 
Now let me explain a little bit about the above photo to hopefully make things a little clearer.  The top of the photo is North. The homestead property has been expanded on the East side as indicated by the very fine orange box line.  The house sits on the South Side of the property; the garage is located in the middle; and the outbuilding barn (where the chickens are housed) is on the North Side of the property.  The darker green items are obviously pines and trees.  Our original garden is located on the West side outlined in a black box directly behind the garage.  On the East side of the property in the grassy green area is our orchard (the big tree near the middle has been removed) and the square black box in that area is northern part of that area is where our new barn will be located.  And lastly, the boxes on the East side and arrowed lines on West and East side are vegetables gardens/patches. 

So I've drawn in the proposed new areas with arrowed lines on the the West and East Sides.  Our current garden which is located directed behind the garage is 40 x 40.

Here's a sketch (I know it's pretty rough - click on it to make it larger) - of what I am proposing for these garden areas:

To be planted in area behind garage

To be planted on the East side of the property

So what do you think?  In the second sketch (please excuse that I ran out of paper for the squash patches), I am planning on planting 3 or 4 - 150 foot rows on the east side at different planting times with five foot sections of each item.  I hope that this will help guarantee the items are ready at different times for processing and preserving. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Yesterday's Happenings...

Well I had a lot going on yesterday - story of my life - So much to do, so little time...

Well I finished transplanting a couple of straggler plants that I swear grew an inch overnight. So if everything goes ok my starts should be more than ready by mid-May. I've planted all Heirloom seeds - so I am thrilled that everything has worked out so smoothly so far.  Started watering the plants in the bottom of the trays in hopes they keep reaching for the water down below! I think this has completed my transplanting.  See below for updated photos.

Next I started making a recipe called "Campfire Beans" that I read about on Ree Drummond aka "Pioneer Woman's" website. Here's the  RECIPE LINK.  The house smelled wonderful especially after I added the seasonings! It was cooking and simmering for half the day...and was delicious (I could hardly wait to try it)!!! We also plan on serving the yummy beans over tacos.

And back by popular demand :-) I made another loaf of French bread! The kids were begging again! Slowly but surely I think I'm perfecting my technique!! But I will let the family be the judge of that fact. See below - a few photos from this loaf.

Lastly I made a chicken dish called Lemon Skewer Chicken over rice. DH sent me the recipe and requested I make so how could I say no?? LOL - that recipe was fairly easy. I was a little worried though because the recipe called for fish sauce - and - I usually do not like that ingredient but I was completely wrong!!

And after all that cooking, cleaning and gardening I was tuckered out. Had a well deserved cup of herbal tea with honey and relaxed before heading into another work week.

Sunday, February 19, 2012


So I just realized that I have never really shared a lot of background information into my personal life. I hope this isn't too boring.

I'm in my mid-40's, have three kids (2 in college and 1 HS sophomore); and my husband and I are fast approaching an empty nest.  I can't believe it, time has flown by, but I have been together with my husband for 29 years (married 24 years).  High school sweethearts (aw isn't that sweet?). I love him dearly.

I grew up in a divorced family with 3 siblings.  Visiting my Dad was not always easily arranged but when I did visit him - we would sometimes head to the farm. Had an absolute blast each and every time - just running around playing, fishing, feeding chickens, observing animals, shooting, playing in the hayloft and lots of other things.  Needless to say, these visits made a very large impression on my life and I have fond memories from these experiences that have truly affected my life and will be with me forever.

Now this family farm that I visited in my youth is about 3 miles down the road and around the corner (literally) to the current family farm that we are purchasing.  You see my grandfather's family lived down the street and around the bend from my grandmother's family...and thus we have two family farms in the same area.  How cute is that.  Because of this fact we have a lot of family history and family still remaining in this region.  In fact, many of the neighbors are related and are cousins related from both side of my family.

I currently work as a legal assistant at a law firm in Chicago.  I have been in the same field of law for 28 years and I have been at this firm for about 21 years (not including extended maternity leaves). Everyday I commute by train to and from the big city - just like thousands of other people in the suburbs. As you might expect, there is a lot of stress that goes along with that and working in Chicago has taken its toll on my health.

So as we are approaching an empty nest and process of downsizing, me and my husband have decided to take the plunge and leave the city for the country life. Our goal is to try and become as self-sufficient as possible. We believe living off the land - no matter what size property you have - is completely an attainable goal.

Just to put this in perspective, the city that we currently live in has a population of 27,317 based on the 2010 census. The town we are moving to in the country has a population of about 1675 (excluding cows - ha ha).  I am a little surprised by those statistics I just found but I think it is perfect.

These are some photos of common views that you see in the country we are relocating to:

Corn Fields

Mint Fields
Dutch Belted Cow
We both absolutely love this area in the country - even though most people probably do not understand that fact.  People wonder - what will you do in the country - but you are so far away from stores - won't you be bored (and the list of questions goes on and on).  I laugh everytime I hear these questions. 

My husband and I have decided that we are going to make this big change at a point in our life when our youngest kid will be leaving home for college.  As I believe I have mentioned in earlier posts, next year we will buying out my Uncle and the family farm. The farm consists of a 110 year old farmhouse sitting on an acre and a half, 2 car garage, outbuilding (20 x 40), and a pole barn that will be added this year too.  The farmhouse property is completely surrounded on all sides by a cousin's farm field. We currently have chickens, an orchard, and our garden which currently is about 40 x 40 (but plans for expansion is in the works). 

Our newly planted orchard consists of multiple apple, pears, peach, and cherry trees...and we have grapes, blackberries, blueberries, and strawberries.  Our garden has garlic growing, as I write this, and we are expecting a large harvest of asparagus this Spring. We also have started a horseradish area and had one harvest already - see HORSERADISH POST.

The reason for making this change are too many to mention.  We have always had this desire to live off the land in the country.  We love gardening, beekeeping, nature, cooking, and enjoy learning new things.

So follow me as I get closer and closer to the living in the country.

Saturday, February 18, 2012


I found a fabulous new book - you have got to check it out!!  It's called "Country Wisdom & Know-How" - Everything You Need to Know to Live off the Land - CLICK HERE NOW TO SEE BOOK.  It's published by The Editors of Storey Publishing Country Wisdom Boards"

It's the homesteader's assistant!  I think it's a must have.  Anything you might need to know you will definitely find the answer(s) in this book! There's a huge amount of in-depth information on the following:  Animals, Cooking, Crafts, Gardening, Health & Well Being, and Home.  It claims to have 987 useful skills and step-by-step instructions including attracting hummingbirds, backing basic bread, brewing homemade wine, constructing a chicken coop, drawing maple syrup, excavating a pond, grafting fruit trees, etc. etc.  The list is endless is seems.

Check it out!!!

Thursday, February 16, 2012


Well it's been about 20 plus years since I've made homemade bread. So after reading various other self-sufficient blogs and getting inspired I figured it was time for me to get my hands dirty.

So a few days ago I embarked on a simple French bread recipe to see if my skills have improved and if the recipe was truly simple.

Here's the bread recipe I followed:

1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
1 cup warm water (110 degrees to 115 degrees)
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 egg white
1 teaspoon cold water


In a large mixing bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Add the sugar, oil, salt and 2 cups flour. Beat until blended. Stir in enough remaining flour to form a stiff dough.

Turn onto a floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes.

Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour. Punch dough down; return to bowl. Cover and let rise for 30 minutes.
Punch dough down. Turn onto a lightly floured surface. Shape into a loaf 16 in. long x 2-1/2 in. wide with tapered ends. Sprinkle a greased baking sheet with cornmeal; place loaf on baking sheet. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 25 minutes.

Beat the egg white and cold water together; brush gently over dough. With a sharp knife, make diagonal cuts  2 in. apart across top of the loaf.

Bake at 375 degrees F for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from pan to a wire rack to cool.

The recipe was simple to make but I noticed a couple things - the dough took longer to double in size and I think it might have been because I didn't make sure the water temperature was between 110 - 115 degrees.

But I think the bread may have been a hit because, believe it or not, it didn't even last longer than 24 hours! I will make some more soon!

Give it a try - enjoy!  :-)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


Surprisingly enough there are many wild plants out there that we all call "weeds" that are very healthy for you.  I've just started learning about the many wild plants out there.  Here are a couple that I just discovered that I know for sure are in our garden. 

The first image is Purslane and the second image is Chickweed.  Yes, they are healthy edible wild plants.

Chickweeds - You can use the stems and leaves to make a salad or boil the greens for 5 minutes. 

Allegedly, chickweed contains a succulent flavor that enhances raw vegetable salads. Herbalists have found that chickweed is effective in treating hemorrhoids, eczema, and other irritating skin conditions.  Chickweed has also been found to have antioxidant and anti-cancer properties.
Purslane - Soft, succulent Purslane or "Pusley" has more omega-3 fatty acids than in some of fish oils.

Other common names for this green vegetable are pusley, pigweed, or verdolaga.

Many health benefits of Purslane:

  • This wonderful green leafy vegetable is very low in calories (just 16 kcal/100g) and fats; but is rich in dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
  • Fresh leaves contain surprisingly more Omega-3 fatty acids (α-linolenic acid) than any other leafy vegetable plant. 100 grams of fresh purslane leaves provides about 350 mg of α-linolenic acid. Research studies show that consumption of foods rich in ω-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, and help prevent development of ADHD, autism, and other developmental differences in children.
  • It is an excellent source of Vitamin A, (1320 IU/100 g, provides 44% of RDA) one of the highest among green leafy vegetables. Vitamin A is a known powerful natural antioxidant and is essential for vision. This vitamin is also required to maintain healthy mucus membranes and skin. Consumption of natural vegetables and fruits rich in vitamin A is known to help to protect from lung and oral cavity cancers.
  • Purslane is also a rich source of vitamin C, and some B-complex vitamins like riboflavin, niacin, pyridoxine and carotenoids, as well as dietary minerals, such as iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium, and manganese. 
  • Also present in purslane are two types of betalain alkaloid pigments, the reddish beta-cyanins and the yellow beta-xanthins. Both of these pigment types are potent anti-oxidants and have been found to have anti-mutagenic properties in laboratory studies.
Who knew that these two weeds were so nutritious!  I've also read that Purslane is a wonderful snack to give your chickens and it provides them with the natural omega 3 fatty acids that they so desperately need - FREE!  If you look in the stores - omega 3 enriched eggs are VERY expensive stuff.

They sell Purslane at many farmer's markets for top dollar.  Here's a recipe for Purslane salad:

3 cups purslane leaves (detach from stems unless the stems are small and easy to chew)
2 cups chopped tomato
1 tbs minced onion (or more, to taste)
Salt to taste

Cut the tomatoes across the midsection, halfway between stem and tip. Squeeze the tomatoes over the purslane until much of the seeds and juice have been expressed. Use this as a dressing for the leaves. Chop the tomatoes, making sure to scrape any remaining juice/seeds into the bowl with the purslane leaves. Add the tomatoes, onion, and salt to taste. Toss and serve promptly.

Here's another couple of tips/ideas for Purslane usage:

Chop fresh purslane stems and leaves into green salads, or using the wild herb to thicken soups. Pickle the stems to add depth to their sweet-and-sour flavor, or dredge them in flour to top casseroles. Purslane "tea" made from the fresh cuttings contributes some nutrients, but the stems and leaves resist drying for tea. Foragers with huge amounts of the weedy herb sometimes partially dry purslane to harvest seeds for use in cereals and baked goods.
I'm going to be very careful about my "weeding" this year and pick me some fresh snacks and salad fixings!!! Enjoy!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

What's all the buzzzzz.....about

The items I ordered for my beehive came in late last week. We had to order an additional deep, two honey supers and, of course, protective gear!

From what I've read, you have to be ready for the expanding bee colony... And it grows rapidly! So I think we are about ready.

I want to check out this honey farm I heard about yesterday that's not too far away - I need a bee brush and maybe a couple of other items.

Thankfully Dh put together the deep for me and tried on the protective gear (along with my son) ... They make great models! Watch out bee community!

Here's a few photos -

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Future Root Cellar

At the farm there's a room that has always been referred to as the root cellar in the basement.

I'm not sure how to utilize this space just yet. The trouble is the cellar is about 3 feet off the basement floor so in order to get into the 6x6 root cellar I would need a stool or stairs or small limber kid. I think once I get in there I would be able to stand but I would have to watch my head.

I've been reading and looking at photos of other root cellars and I think this room has definite potential as a true root cellar.

I think the first step would be to secure and seal the cellar. Since the room is underneath the kitchen, potentially I would need to insulate the ceiling rafters.

I could just imagine the space with shelving units full of canned veggies, fruits, bags of potatoes hanging, onions and garlic and baskets of winter squash!! That would be ideal!

Any ideas you might have would be welcomed!

Here's the photos of the cellar as it stands now.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Little Sprouts!!!

Well I went in to check on things in the greenhouse and to give all my trays a spritz of water and low and behold there they were - on the bottom shelf of the greenhouse I saw the Golden Acre Cabbage was starting to sprout! (see photos below - sorry they are not the best quality).  The tray that sprouted first was the Burpee tray - which actually was my least favorite.

Its only been three days so that was a pleasant surprise this morning! Since this is my first attempt at growing my own heirloom vegetable plants I wasn't sure exactly what to expect.

From everything I've read you take the covers off once the seedlings start sprouting so that's what I did on the one tray.

It's kind of dreary out so I probably will have to move around my trays later today since I only have two grow lights in the middle of a four shelf greenhouse.

Keep your fingers crossed!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Garden Ooze Tube Watering System

Well I stumbled upon a brand new water idea here today HERE.  At least I think it's brand new - it's brand new to me.

It's supposed to be super easy and perfect for watering your vegetables.  It automatically releases the appropriate amount of water for your tomatoes and vegetables.  You pretty much set it and forget it about it!  It is 8 feet long and holds 40 gallons of water.

Here it is:

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Seeds Started - 2/5/2012

I started my seeds yesterday! I started them in a variety of containers to experiment with what works best. That process reminded me of a few science experiments in high school - hope I do better this time around! Ha

The rest of my seeds will just be planted after the last frost. With this weird winter we are having I guess we just go by traditional planting times (after Mother's Day). Otherwise who knows when the last frost might be... It might be right now!

I am growing them in the new greenhouse. DH installed grow lights in the greenhouse to assist with the growing. So if all goes well we should have something happening within the week. I will be watching them like a hawk and as soon as I see progress I will be snapping some photos to share.
Keep your fingers crossed.

Here's the list of vegetables:

Brandy wine tomatoes
Yellow pear tomatoes
Roma tomatoes
Gardener's delight tomatoes
Cayenne pepper
Luffa Gourds
Golden Acre Cabbage
Habanero Hot Pepper
Sweet Banana Peppers
Beefsteak Tomatoes
Chocolate Cherry tomato
Early Jersey Wakefield Cabbage
Thai Hot Peppers
California Wonder Peppers

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Around the Farm...

Here's a couple of farm photos.

Backyard view of farmhouse (before new deck)
Front yard view in the Summer

Rhode Island Reds and Silver Laced Wyandotte Hens
Chickens getting some fresh air
Winter view 

Friday, February 3, 2012

Barns are us...

So we are getting ready to build a pole barn. Very exciting next step that has been in the works forever (it seems)!! With the weather being so unseasonably warm (50's and 60's) for February - we are itching to get the barn going.

The plan is to order a pole barn kit, have it delivered, and put it up ourselves with a few extra helpers.  The process is going to take us a little while - as we still have full time jobs!  As you can imagine though, we will save a ton of money putting it up ourselves and hopefully we can redirect the saved money into our master suite addition and kitchen remodel - which I will talk about at a later time!

There are so many types and sizes of pole barns out there I can hardly believe it. I think I have changed my mind about a hundred times already - driving my husband and my Uncle a little crazy - but hey its my job!! Below are the pole barns we are considering.

The first barn looks "pretty" with the cupola and everything and, of course, it is a little more expensive.  The second one is more economical and will give us a little more space (width and height-wise) and we can make it look pretty later.  So I think we are going with the second one (even though I like the "look" of the first one). 

We plan to put the barn on the SE section of the property (at the back of the orchard).  The location should work really well since my Uncle purchased additional property last year. 

Wish us luck!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Our First "Beekeeping 101" Meeting!

Wow what a great first meeting with the NWI Beekeepers Association! I am their newest member! There were about 50 or more people at this meeting. I learned a ton and have gained some confidence that I can handle beekeeping.

So I went ahead and ordered a 3 lb packet of Carnolian bees from California.

They should arrive in April. The association ordered them through Dadant and they privately will deliver a truckload of bees to our area.

So I will be giving you updates and maybe even some video documenting the entire process. Stay tuned!