Posts Tagged With: Top 5

Five Things No One Tells You About Chickens

Over the last five years I’ve learned a few things about keeping chickens in the back yard.  And while, for the most part, chickens are really fun and the positives far outweigh the negatives, it’s not all roses.  No, they are not noisy.  No they don’t stink.  But there are a few lessons we have learned about the urban homestead’s favorite creature feature:

  1. cactus poppyDon’t name them.  Chickens are so far down on the food-chain that they are pretty much dinner for everything except insects.  Naming them is just setting yourself up for heart-break.  We named our first five chicks.  But the tears when Daisy was killed by a fox were enough to cure us of this.  The next two rounds of chicks were nameless.  While we still knew them as “the red one” or “the big one,” it kinda kept our feelings a bit more protected.  And we were able to eat the ones without names when the time came.
  2. Every one will ask if you need a rooster to get eggs.  I’m not really sure why this is a question?  If there is no rooster, the eggs will never become chicks.  Eggs are not baby chickens.  Eggs are just eggs.  At some point you will find yourself, once again, explaining that eggs are basically like a tasty chicken period that happens daily.  Yum, right?
  3. Baby chicks are messy.  Very, very messy.  Our first chicks were raised in a box in our office.  They were so cute.  When they finally moved outside, the office was completely covered in a very thick layer of dust.  It was awful.  The next chicks got the luxury of a heat lamp in the garage instead.
  4. Chickens dig deep holes.  Like, to China.  We used to let them free-range through the whole back yard.  Our yard is small, but they never ate all the grass.  They pooped everywhere, but we could hose off the patio.  The real bummer were these gigantic, deep holes.  They use them for dust baths.  Later, we moved the coop to one area of the yard.  The hens still free-range, within their area, and they’ve eaten all the grass back there and dig to their hearts’ content.  And we are no longer breaking ankles in the giant holes.  Bonus: the kids can now roll a ball in the remaining grass, poo-free.
  5. You will be spoiled by the eggs.  If, for some reason you need to buy eggs from the store, you will scowl at their sickly, yellow insides and scoff at their bland taste.  They literally pale in comparison to your awesome, dark-yolked, delicious, home-grown eggs.

So while others continue to extol the merits of the back yard flock, don’t come to me saying you weren’t warned.  ;)

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Categories: Chickens, Top 5, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , | 23 Comments

Boot Camp Bonus: A Well Stocked Pantry

Yesterday I mentioned keeping a reasonably well stocked pantry in order to allow for some flexibility in my meal planning.  I got to thinking about what a well stocked pantry looks like.  It will probably different for every household, and it varies for us as well, depending on season, tastes, moods, how well we stocked up last year, etc.

In general, this is what I came up with for our version of a well stocked pantry (in no particular order).

  1. Oats – I keep a half gallon to gallon size container of oats on hand at all times.  Sometimes I switch between steel cut oats and rolled oats, but I have found that rolled oats are more versatile.   These whole grains make oatmeal, of course, but they can be added to desserts (cookies, crisps), muffins, breads, and are the base for home made granola.  They are insanely less expensive than boxed cereals, and better for you too.
  2. Rice – I use both white and brown rice, and at times I’ve kept quinoa on hand instead.  Rice is a great belly filler, another whole grain, and it keeps.  Good with stir-fries, in soups and stews, as a side dish, the star of risotto, and Rick even eats it for breakfast with butter and cinnamon.
  3. Canned beans – the hero of emergency meals.  Dried beans are far cheaper, and we keep them on hand too, but canned beans can be used instantly with no soaking or hours of cooking.  We add them to up the protein on pasta dishes and soups, sprinkle them over salads, as easy finger-food lunches for the kids, we let them star in vegetarian meals.  Keeping beans on hand saves the day if I forget to defrost meat for dinner.
  4. Olive oil & balsamic vinegar – Together, they make an easy, delicious and cheap salad dressing.  Separately, olive oil can be used for nearly everything we cook.  I do keep other oils on hand too, but if I had to keep only one, olive oil would be it.  The balsamic can be used in other ways too.  A friend brought over a dessert once of mascarpone cheese spread on sugar cookies, topped with sliced strawberries and drizzled with balsamic reduction (heaven).  I use balsamic as a secret ingredient in certain soups and other dishes.
  5. Broth – you can’t really make risotto without it and it makes soups super fast.  It’s a decent substitute for white wine in a pinch.  It’s a fast way to up your flavor without much effort.
  6. Canned tomatoes – if I’m crunched for time or feeling lazy, you can bet I’m reaching for a jar or can of tomatoes.  They can become anything.  I use them for enchilada sauce, pasta sauce, pizza sauce, soup, stew, chilli, roasted with other veggies, you name it.  This is a true staple for us.
  7. Onions and/or garlic – the other day I told Rick, “We’re out of onions.  I can’t make anything without an onion!”  I know, strictly speaking, onions and garlic are perishable, probably not really “pantry” food, but stored well, they last a long time and I really feel like I can make anything taste good if I have an onion or garlic.  This makes my mom laugh.  When I was a kid, I “hated” onions, I even gave my mom a homemade citation for using too many – her punishment was to not be allowed to use them for a whole week.  She was a good sport and went along.  I pray my children don’t ever punish me this way.  You can make rice and beans delicious with a little onion and garlic.  If times are tough, and your cupboard is nearly bare, you better have an onion.
  8. Dried herbs/spices – I love me some spices.  I can’t understand how people cook with nothing but salt and pepper.  An average spice rack should at least include thyme, rosemary, oregano, parsley, dill, red pepper flakes, bay leaves, savory, and cumin powder.  Mine better have extra red pepper flakes and Chimayo chili powder too.  You don’t have broth?  Make some with your meat, an onion, a bay leaf and some thyme, parsley, and savory.  Chili?  You need that cumin and those ground chilies.  Rosemary will make your plain ol’ rice and chicken amazing.  A bit of dried herbs go a long way, and they can make the most basic of meals delicious.
  9. Pasta – Another go-to for us.  It’s versatile, cheap, it keeps forever and I can buy it in bulk.  Sometimes I feel like the number of pasta dishes is limitless.
  10. Soy Sauce & rice vinegar – If you get tired of tomato based dishes, the cure is soy sauce and white vinegar.  The combo makes the best fried rice, and you can use them to make many Asian sauces.  Soup, Thai, stir fry, peanut sauce, marinade, jerky,  the list goes on.  Practice using the pair and you can impress anyone.

Obviously this list doesn’t cover baking basics like flour, which I almost added to the list.  But I’m curious how your pantry matches up to mine.  Is it similar?  Very different?  Did I miss something or surprise you?  Does your region or culture affect your list?  Tell me what is on your list of pantry staples.

Categories: Food, Simple Living, Top 5, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Tips to Make Menu Planning Manageable

To tell the truth making up a menu can be easy for a week or two, but then it can sometimes become a chore.  When it gets daunting, it helps me to remember a few things to make it a bit more manageable.

1.  Take turns.  At least two nights a week, my husband does the cooking, and plans what we eat those days.

2.  Make a routine.  During the summer especially, we have homemade pizza every Friday.  I make large batches of pizza dough and freeze it in one pound balls.  We use it as a way to clean up any left over veggies.  That means we have weird sounding, but delicious tasting pizza.  Steak, onion, and bell pepper;  tomato, basil and chard; potato and rosemary; eggplant, thyme and Swiss cheese; etc.  This makes every Friday a given on the menu.  Combine with whatever my husband has planned, now I only have to think of four more meals.

3.  Be flexible.  Keeping my pantry reasonably well stocked means that if I really don’t feel like fixing what I had planned on the day I planned it, I can usually go another direction without impacting the rest of the week’s meals.  Also, if your neighbor invites you over, feel free to delay you menu by a day.  It’s ok to plan take out once in a while.  Give yourself a night off.  The plan is more like a guideline, really.

4.  Use those bulk purchases.  The elk needs to get used up.  So I make sure to plan one or two meals a week using elk meat.  This removes still more brain damage in coming up with a plan, because I only have so many meals I can make out of red meat.  In the winter, there are lots of stews, chilli, steak.  The summer, we use less, mainly grilling, always with a big salad, sometimes stir fried or fajitas.  When I had to get us through a hog, we had pork a couple times a week too.

5.  Cook once, eat twice.  Plan for left overs.  Your pork roast on Monday becomes Wednesday’s pulled pork sandwich.  Tuesday’s left over pasta becomes Thursday’s frittata.  Cook a little extra early in the week to make it easier on yourself later, when your willpower starts wavering.

What tips do you have for making and sticking to a menu plan.

Categories: Menu Planning, Thrift, Top 5 | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

Boot Camp Bonus: When to Harvest

This week’s boot camp focus was on vegetable gardens.  It turned out to be a bigger subject than I could cover in just one post.  Coincidentally, Erica at Northwest Edible also made a timely post covering some great tips on How to Plan Your Harvest Based on What You Eat.  Make sure to check it out.  I won’t repeat anything she posted here and I’m really grateful she put it up.

For me, one of the things that was hard to learn when we first started gardening was knowing when to harvest.  Some vegetables are easy to tell when they are ready to be picked; tomatoes turn red (or yellow or purple or what-have-you), but some things are a little harder to tell.  You can certainly count days, as implied on your seed packet: 60 days; 75 days; 53 days, two hours and thirteen minutes… where did I put those torn, empty paper envelopes again?  Right.

Here’s what I’ve learned for some of the trickier crops.

  1. Test green beans and peas early and often by picking one and eating it.  If it’s plump, sweet and good, they’re ready, if they are hard – too late.  When they are ready, pick them every day.
  2. Corn is ready when the silks turn brown and are dry.  If you want to check the kernels before picking, slice along the husk with your thumbnail about an inch instead of pulling it back.  Peek in and if it’s not ready yet, just close it back up.
  3. Watermelon is ready when the curly tendril nearest the melon shrivels up.
  4. Winter squashes (butternut, acorn, pumpkins, etc.) are ready when the vines fall to the ground.
  5. Pull your onions when the tops fall over.

What indicators do you use to know when your crops are ready?

Categories: Food, Garden, Top 5, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments

The Top Ten Posts of 2011

If I hosted an awards show for my blog, the ten 2011 posts that I would give an award to would be pretty hard to pick.  My blogging grew a lot this year.  I went from barely writing in January to really getting committed in April.  We had a lot going on, from crazy experiments to having a baby and getting the house organized.  So in a miss-mash of ten categories, here are the results from 2011 on this here blog.

Best DIY postDIY Pallet Compost Bin – lots of hits on this one, all year.  I think I took great photos and I’m happy with the bins.

The most practical postHow to Peel an Acorn Squash – Who knew this was a universally tough squash for people to peel?

The most shared postOccupy Denver – I’m a little surprised at this one.

Post with the most comments20 Weeks: The Boys Closet – Cleaned! - Apparently, I’m not the only mom trying to keep their kids’ stuff organized!

Post that was hardest for me to push the “Publish” button onConquering Fears: Homeschooling, Josie and Postpartum Depression

Biggest epiphany of the year: Garden Layout and Crop Rotation – Duh!

The most popular post of all-timeHandmade Halloween – Garden Gnome Tutorial pulled ahead this year in October, beating out the former all-time most popular post since 2009, Thrifty Thursday: DIY Garden Gate.

The most overlooked post of 2011:  it’s a tie between Photo Friday: Putting in the Bees and Thursday Tip: Tomato Tags.  I got hardly any hits on either one.  The bee photos were just plain cool, and I thought the tip about zip-tying tags to tomato cages was brilliant.  It worked great this year, by the way.

The 2011 post I’m most proud of:  Unplugging the Fridge: Cost vs. Inconvenience and Project Review – Some of the math gets fuzzy before I suss it out properly in the comments.  But bottom line is, without a fridge, we’re saving about 30% on our electricity bill, give or take.

The most popular post of 2011Gardening and Culture: Are Food Gardens Just for the Poor?

Which posts did you like best?  Rick liked all the ones where I talked about cutting down the tree – but that saga was just too long to get an award from me.  ;)

What are you hoping to see more of here in 2012?  Chickens?  Bees?  Canning?  Gardening?  The kids (Mom)?  Recipes?  Organizing?  Crazy Experiments?  Anything you want me to cut down on (I make no promises on the crazy)?

Have a safe and happy holiday ringing in 2012!

Categories: Recommended Reading, Top 5 | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

The Homestead Resolutions for 2012

I hope you all have enjoyed the holidays so far.  Our family has agreed that this was ones of the best Christmases we’ve had in a long time.  Health-wise, we are in a holding pattern and I’ll keep the blog updated if anything changes on that front.  In the mean time…

The other night, my Hard-Working Hubster looked at me and said, we need to set some goals for the new year.  Yeeah… I’m not so into New Years resolutions, and I sort of figured he was hinting at setting financial goals, which are my least favorite, so I was not really excited about what I figured he was about to say.  But, it turns out that’s not what he meant at all.  He was referring a bit to my 101 in 1001 list and some other personal goals, as well as to some things we’d like to do together.

Something that I’ve been working on in 2011 and really want to continue to work on in 2012 is building community.  I loved that last year our next-door neighbor enlisted our help to put in a garden and then shared his harvest with us.  He’s up for round two this year and I want to keep the momentum going on things like that.  I’d really like to strengthen the community between our neighbors on our block.  I also want to increase community between other friends that live nearby but are further out than our immediate neighborhood.

One thing I really want is to increase our self-sufficiency on the homestead.  I want to grow more food and process our own chickens for meat.  But by “self-sufficiency” I don’t mean by ourselves.  I mean, “not relying on the grocery store.”  And, I really want to make a fun special place for the kids in the garden… something they can look forward to, play in or around, and take care of.

So with those things in mind, here are my top five goals for the Schell Urban Homestead for 2012.

  1. Grow a giant pumpkin.  The neighbor has already volunteered a spot in his yard for this.  We’re scouring seed catalogs for the biggest one we can find.  It’ll be a pet project, but out in his front yard for the whole neighborhood to see and monitor.  And the kids can really get in on this one (I’m hoping).  Maybe in the fall, when it’s time to harvest we can do something cool with the results!  
  2. Grow enough in our own neighborhood gardens to feed ourselves for the summer.  I’d like it to be our own garden in our own yard, but I’ve realized this just isn’t realistic.  We eat a lot of veggies and have a lot of people to feed and not much garden space.  So instead of setting our sights on the impossible, I’m hoping to make it possible between our place, the next-door neighbors and the neighbors across the street.  I think they are all open to this.
  3. Process chickens.  We wanted to do this last year – order meat birds or a straight run of chicks and then process them for the table.  It didn’t work out in 2011, but I’m hoping we can work it out for 2012.  This will include culling any hens that are eating eggs and getting egg production numbers to where they should be.  Yay homegrown protein!
  4. Harvest Honey.  Our bees are still here, doing well, and we’re hoping to get a good harvest this coming year.  We even have a neighborhood contact to help us with the first go-round. 
  5. Start a monthly potluck circle involving neighbors and homegrown or locally raised foods.  I really, really want to do this.  I’ve mentioned it to a few friends here and there, but gotten no real commitments.  I might just have to jump in for it to take off.  ??

What about you?  Any gardening goals for the new year?  Is community a part of the goals you are making?  How do you plan to get others involved?

Categories: Beekeeping, Chickens, Community, Food, Garden, Top 5, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , , , | 11 Comments

Getting Kids to Eat Their Veggies

This weekend our boys, once again, amazed friends by eating vegetables.  And it wasn’t even pizza. They ate winter squash, green beans, salad (with garlic, cilantro and cabbage), sliced kolhrabi, beets…

We always get comments on this, apparent, oddity.  Our five-year old and two-year old beg us for carrots and green beans.  I’ve been known to complain to my sister that H ate all  the carrots and now I don’t have enough for tonight’s dinner.  And I’ve had to hide tomatoes from them.

People always ask how we got them to be this way.  My number one rule is that I’m not a short order cook.  What I make for dinner is what we all eat together.  No exceptions.  Besides that, here are my tips on how to get your kids to eat their vegetables:

  1. Grow Veggies.  It is cool to see something go from seed to plant to fruit to table.  Let them plant.  Let them water.  Let them harvest.  I betcha they’ll eat it.  If I ask H which vegetables taste the best, the ones from the garden or those from the store, his answer is not surprising… the garden!
  2. Let Them Shop.  After the garden, H likes vegetables in this order:  “The Farm” (our CSA), the farmer’s market, then the store.  He loves knowing where his food comes from.  Our dinner conversation typically involves some, “where is this from” Q & A.  He is more invested in the farm vegetables, because he has seen the ground it was grown in.  The farm is fun.  He like the farmers market because we talk it up, and because he usually gets to pick something out to take home.  But even at the grocery store, he gets to weigh in on choices.  “Would you rather have kale or broccoli for dinner this week?”  Making a choice, gives them an investment in eating the vegetable later.
  3. Let them cook. Even little kids can pull up a step stool and wash carrots and potatoes.  Older kids can stir the onions as they sauté.  If they’ve helped make it, they are more likely to want to help eat it.  Putting work into it makes it more appealing.
  4. Eat YOUR Veggies.  Kids don’t buy the “do as I say, not as I do” garbage.  They will do what you do.  If I hear my kids saying something I don’t like, chances are they heard it from me first.  Same goes for food.  If you don’t like something, only eat a bite or two.  But eat some, and eat it with a happy face.  This applies to your partner too.  If Dad doesn’t want to eat the green stuff, you kids probably won’t either.
  5. Offer Veggies.  I know that I’ve already grown tired of hearing “Can we have a snack?”  But I know I can grab the bag of green beans from the ice box and they can go to town.  This is because I say, “Sure, would you guys like green beans or carrots?”  They usually say yes to both.  If I offered green beans or bunny crackers, they’re going to pick the crackers.  So I don’t offer the crackers.
  6. Remember, Tastes Change. Remind them of that too.  Just because they didn’t like it last time, doesn’t mean they won’t like it this time.  Babies and children need to try foods several times before they really know if they like them or not.  At every meal, they have to at least try every thing that is served.  This is good practice as adults too, and it’s great for teaching good manners as a dinner guest – just because you don’t like Mom’s potato salad, doesn’t mean you won’t like Mrs. Dickinson’s.  You need to at least try a bite.  It’s polite, and you might be surprised.
  7. Don’t Buy Junk.  Just don’t.  If potato chips aren’t available, they’ll eat an apple instead.  You will too.  ;)

The recurring theme here is investment.  The more work they put into their food, the more they will want to get out of it.  And you can’t argue with delicious results.  We don’t draw battle lines with food, but we do negotiate.  This summer, the only vegetable H really didn’t like was zucchini.  That was tough at first.  I still made lots of zucchini.  But at every meal, I told him, he didn’t have to eat all of it, but he had to try it.  By the end of the summer, he had no problem with it.  It still wasn’t his favorite.  I put one into a late ratatouille, and when he asked for seconds, he said, “but no zucchini, please.”  I’m ok with him picking it out, especially on seconds.   Especially because he ate some with his first serving.

It’s not automatic.  We still have to remind them to try things.  Sometimes although I offer two veggies, they ask for crackers.  But generally, it works.  You too can amaze your friends!  ;)

Moms, what are your tips for getting the greens into your kids?

Categories: CSA, Food, Garden, Top 5 | Tags: , , , , , | 7 Comments

Top Five Reasons We Hunt

Rick is home from 10 days straight of hunting in the Uncompahgre national forest, north of the San Juan mountains with his uncle.  When he planned this trip, I sort of imagined that since I’d be alone in the evenings, after the kids went to bed, I’d have plenty of quiet, uninterrupted time to sit and write blog posts.  Boy was I wrong.  By the time I got dinner made (and to tell the truth I ordered both a pizza and Chinese take-out this week), got the boys in bed and the dishes done each night, I was wiped out.  I played single mom to three kids, and I don’t know how the military wives and real single mothers do it.  Hats off to all of you!

I had started this post before Rick left, and since this trip concludes four straight weekends of hunting for our family, I had planned to do some hunting themed posts.  I wanted to give updates on Rick’s trip as it happened, our hopes for the year’s meat and what strategies he used on the mountain.  But in all honesty I didn’t have the gumption to get on the computer and type.

Now that Rick’s home, I hope to get back on track.  You might even get some hunting morsels here and there as we process the game this week, if I can organize my thoughts to type it.  In the mean time, here are the top five reasons (in no particular order) our family chooses game meat.

  1. Sustainability.  In comparison to conventionally raised meat, wild game and the way it is harvested has very little impact on the earth.  You don’t get venison or elk from a CAFO.  Game is not polluting the land and waterways.  It is unlawful to hunt with lead bullets, so there is not a concern of lead in the meat or on the land from hunters.  Of course, it uses some gasoline to get up in the mountains, and we use plastic and paper or aluminum foil to package the meat in the freezer, but all of this is pretty much nothing compared to what it takes in those resources to get the same amount of commercially raised meat.
  2. Health.  Game meat is lean and high in protein.  It is antibiotic and hormone free.  It’s organic and needs no certification.  We know where it came from, how it was processed, what went into the sausage.  Plus it’s tasty.
  3. Cost.  Where else can you get 400 – 600 pounds of organic, grass-fed meat for the cost of a license, a tank of gas and two .30/06 bullets?  We can eat very well for a year from one successful hunting trip.  Butchering the meat ourselves saves us even more, and we get the cuts we want.
  4. Tradition.  Rick and his brothers were taught to hunt by his grandfather and his uncles.  He learned how to walk in the woods.  How to track a deer.  How to handle is gun safely.  How to shoot an animal so he wouldn’t ruin the meat.  How to skin it and butcher it.  And he is teaching these things to his own sons.
  5. Connection.  With the animal we’re consuming, the food chain, the earth, our creator, and each other. When we hike in the mountains, we feel a spiritual connection to the earth and God.  As we walk logging roads looking for Dusky grouse with our boys, or when they watch us cut an elk into steaks, they understand where our food comes from.  When Rick sits in a duck blind with his uncle or hikes a mountain with his brother, they grow closer. 

There are more reasons.  Rick would probably modify this list, but this is what is important to me.  Do you hunt?  Why or why not?  What value do you see in it?

Categories: Food, Hunting, Top 5 | Tags: , , , | 11 Comments

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