Posts Tagged With: Urban Homesteading

September Garden Photo Tour

Time for a garden update!  I’ve had a particularly good year in the garden this year.  It’s not been without failures, but overall, I’m pretty happy.

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I really feel like the new bed layout has done wonders for our little crops.  They’ve gotten more sun, the drip system has given them more consistent water and, as you can see by the GIANT tomatoes, they are loving it.

We’ve pulled the beets, garlic, and a few other crops, spread some finished compost and have room to start more crops.  Rotation plans are in the works for next spring.

I even peeped over the neighbor’s fence (the other neighbors).  They moved in this spring, in the rental tri-plex unit next-door.  And two of the households worked together to plant a huge garden in a tiny strip of dirt.  I’ve been so impressed with their hard work!

Want to show off your homestead?  Denver Botanic Gardens is still looking for entries for the upcoming 2012 Urban Homestead Tour on Saturday, September 22 from 10am to 4pm.  Click here for an entry form.

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Categories: Food, Garden, Hugelkultur, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments

Homestead Failures: Confessions of What I Didn’t Do

Every once in a while I come across someone who describes me in the most peculiar way.  There’s a great homesteading blog that says something like “the most organized homesteader I know.”  Or, one that shocks me even more, “This woman can do it all!”  Yeah.  Not so much.

I’m a bit bothered by these statements actually.  I try to be pretty honest on my blog – not just all shiny-happy all the time.  I’m not joking when I call myself the LAZY homesteader. I’m really, really great at coming up with an idea, gathering all the materials, and not following it through to completion.  Rick often plays clean-up to my projects.

I’m not sure if I’m more bothered by the fact that I’m somehow failing to communicate the realism of my life ( I have THREE kids that sometimes drive me to drink, people), or if it’s the imagined (implied?) pedestal that someone thinks I’m on that gets to me.

There are a lot of Judgey-Judgertons out there ready to tell you you’re not doing enough, you’re doing too much, you’re doing it wrong, or what you’re doing isn’t as important as what they’re doing.  I’m so not that.  I don’t ever want to communicate that.

I’m not sure exactly what the communication break down is, but I wanted to pause a moment to illustrate for you just how imperfect my life really is.

Please, come with me into the urban homestead confessional.  Forgive me Followers, for I have sinned.  It’s been 11 months since my last confession:

  • This year I planted beets that I failed to harvest until they were good for nothing besides pig food.
  • I’ve completely lost track of my Independence Days challenge this year.  I still have an egg count going though.
  • I never made pickles this year.  And I ignored the fact that my melons and cukes didn’t germinate, I didn’t replant them.
  • I decided to take on the Riot for Austerity.  And then I didn’t.
  • Last summer, I over-bought peaches.  I feel like I still have as many peaches in the freezer this year as I did last year.
  • This spring I used not-quite-finished compost in the garden and then grew lots and lots of weeds.  I generously gave some of this same compost to the neighbor.  I send H to pull weeds for him.
  • In 2011, I gave myself a 20 week organizing challenge: twenty weeks to organize twenty things.  I stayed on track for 8 weeks, went all sporadic, took a five month break, did three more posts on it at the beginning of the year, and then completely blew the project off.  I still have four items to go.
  • I collected too many chickens.  I was like the crazy cat lady of chickens.  We had 14 and they were all stressed and dirty and it stank.  We butchered three and are holding steady at 11 right now.  They are much happier and we’re loving the eggs.  But really I need to find a home for 4 more of them; I’m putting it off because I’m all attached or something.
  • I bought a grow light to start seeds with.  I sat it on the dryer and never opened it.  After four months, I dusted it off and returned it to Lowes for store credit.
  • I drove two hours, round trip, to pick three boxes of tomatoes from my CSA.  I let the husband wash them and then left them on the counter for 19 days until all but 22 were rotten.  At that point, I divided the remainder between the chickens and the compost bin.

What are some things you had the best intentions for but didn’t pan out as planned?  Have anything to confess?

Categories: Top 5, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , | 33 Comments

How to Tell if an Egg is Fertile

At the end of June, we had friends who needed to find a home for their chicken.  They bought it as a chick; presumed to be female and ended up with a cockerel on their hands instead.  I encouraged them to butcher and eat the chicken, use it as a lesson in life cycles, etc. for their kids, but their daughters ended up loving him as a pet and they couldn’t do it.  So I said they could bring him here.

He was a cool chicken.  Very tall with long legs.  If we had planned to keep him, and I was the chicken naming type, I would have rechristened him to be “Edward I” (aka Longshanks).  And he was a rooster through and through.  In the short two weeks we kept him he roughed up all our hens.  Two went broody.  We briefly thought about letting one hatch some chicks.   But instead we decided that ole Longshanks had a dinner date to keep.  On July 7th, he met the same fate as Anne Boleyn, and was quite tasty after all.

I had read somewhere that hens can continue to lay fertilized eggs for up to two weeks after having been with a rooster.  We figured that most, if not all of our (11) girls mated with him.  I had a moment of hesitation over eating fertilized eggs, but then quickly realized that the alternatives weren’t real options. Let them hatch and then what?  We had too many chickens already.  Waste them?  Definitely not.

So for a couple of weeks, we collected eggs diligently (chicks only develop if the eggs are incubated) and I just scrambled breakfast without looking too closely.  The broodiness resolved itself within a few days.  The hens calmed down after King Ed was gone.  Peace in the chicken yard ensued once again after the strict matriarchy and celibate ways were restored.

Imagine my surprise when I cracked open some eggs for breakfast on Friday (August tenth). And found this:

See those white spots that look sort of like bulls-eyes?  That is a sure sign that the egg was fertilized.  ALL of them.  Fertile.  I gathered these eggs on Friday.  Over a month after Longshanks was dispatched.

Here’s another view:

I am completely certain that all of our other chickens are hens (or pullets).  They are all laying.  They are all still laying fertile eggs.  I am amazed at the virility of chickens.  Way to go Eddy.

And yes, we still are eating the eggs.

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

Seed Saving: Kohlrabi

I’ve mentioned before that we grow a variety of kohlrabi that get very large without getting woody.  The seeds are from Slovakia, Rick’s grandfather brings them to us.  Because we’ve never found this variety of kohlrabi in a seed catalog or garden center, and because Rick’s grandparents don’t go back to Slovakia regularly anymore, I decided that I better figure out how to save kohlrabi seeds.

Kohlrabi is a biennial, meaning it won’t go to seed until its second year of life.  Which meant in order for us to gather seeds, we’d need to keep it alive during the winter.  Last fall I left five large, healthy, likely looking candidates in the ground.  I imagined that I’d heavily mulch them with straw or leaves or something, but I never got around to it before the snow came.  So we took our chances.

Spring came and the kohlrabi looked a little sad.  The leaves were very droopy.  Some of the smaller ones didn’t make it at all.  But by April, the three largest looked like this:

As they continued to grow, they cannibalized their bulbs and sent up great big stalks.

By May they had grown flowers.  Yellow ones.

At the end of June they were setting seeds.

In July the pods started to dry and the birds started pecking away.  I was pretty nervous about losing everything that I’d been keeping alive for two years.

But I held out a little longer and when most of the pods were brown, I cut the stalks off and took them to the garage to dry completely.

And I am happy to report success in saving our first seeds ever.

I’m still working on separating them from the chaff.  I’m sure there’s a better way than what we’re doing… there has to be.  But I am very pleased that we will still have these special seeds.

Have you saved seed before?  Do you have a trick for separating the seeds from the chaff?

Categories: Garden, Sustainability, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , , | 10 Comments

May, June, July 2012 Independence Update

So, I’ve fallen so far off the Independence Days record keeping wagon, that to do an update is almost laughable.  ;)  Just going off of the egg counts I’ve kept, and memory, here is what our summer has looked like.  But keep in mind, I’ve not kept track the way I intended to this year at all.  I’m not sure if I’ll keep record for the rest of the summer or not.  I will for the eggs… I’ve really enjoyed watching that tally.  But the rest?  I’m not sure.

Plant:  In May it was tomatoes, onions, basil, habanero peppers, chives, strawberries, beets, carrots, beans, cucumbers, zucchini, watermelon, sunflowers, Mexican sour gherkins, GIANT pumpkins, rhubarb, and lavender.  I transplanted a few things in July, but otherwise there was no planting after May.  Also – our strawberry plants all died.  :(

Harvest:

Eggs: 617, plus or minus.  There were about five days in July where we missed counting.
Spinach, chard, arugula, peas, mint, beets, garlic scapes, zucchini and summer squash, kale, cherry tomatoes, beets
Strawberries: 7 quarts
Asparagus: 12 lbs (approx.)
Sour cherries: 8 lbs after pitting
Garlic: 9.75 lbs
2 old hens and a cockerel

Preserve:

Frozen: 9.5 quarts chicken stock, 2 quarts turkey stock, 2# pizza dough, 5 quarts strawberries, 2.5 lbs cherries
Canned: 3 pints peach ginger preserves, 8 half-pints cherry jam, 7.5 half-pints strawberry preserves, 3.5 pints garlic scape pickles
Dried: 3 lbs sour cherries

Waste Not: Scraps given to chickens and/or compost pile

Want Not: 6 gallons of white vinegar, 10lbs baking soda, bulk baking powder, bulk pasta.  Got a few huge bins of clothes for C from friends (she’s covered until 3T!).

Eat the Food:  yes.

Build Community:

Neighbor shared rhubarb with us, hosted the May and July potlucks

Skill Up:

May: started on the flagstone patio
June: learned more about harvesting our honey (though still have not), and tending our top bar hive
July: learned to grout and repair tile

Categories: Chickens, Garden, Independence Days, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

When to Harvest Garlic

If you follow me on Facebook, you know that last week I harvested our garlic.   This was our second year planting garlic and it has become on of my favorite crops to grow and harvest.   Garlic is so incredibly easy.

In the fall, you plant your garlic cloves, cover them and then just wait.  When spring hits, your hardnecks will send up scapes.  Cut those babies off; they make a delicious dish, and cutting your scapes will force the garlic plant to put its energy into making a bulb instead of a flower.  Trust me.  Cut the scape.  This year, I missed about three scapes, and here are the garlic heads to compare.

These two heads of garlic are the same variety.  The one on the left had the scape cut off, but the one on the right got overlooked during scape cutting time.  Amazing difference, isn’t it.

Last year I harvested my garlic in a fit of nesting during the pouring rain, a mere week before C was born.  I was insanely driven to pull all the garlic right then.  It couldn’t even wait the extra day to let the soil dry from the rain.

But if you are not nesting a week before your labor, how do you know when your garlic is ready to harvest?

By looking at the leaves.

When the leaves at the bottom of the garlic plant start to turn brown and dry, your garlic is ready.  As you can see from this picture, my leaves are almost all brown.  I probably could have harvested a week or so earlier than I did, but as you might guess from all the weeds, I was sort of neglecting the garlic beds.  Not to worry, garlic will usually keep as long as it’s not an overly soggy summer.

This year we planted three different varieties of garlic; a mystery variety that I’ve been saving from our CSA farm share (Monroe) for the last couple of years, Georgian Fire, and Erik’s German White.  Judging by size alone, you can guess which has made me happiest.  I’ve yet to do the taste test.

Categories: Food, Garden | Tags: , , , | 9 Comments

Denver Botanic Gardens Urban Homestead Tour

I’m excited to announce the first (and hopefully, annual) Denver Botanic Gardens Urban Homestead Tour.  Check out the tour photo (featuring Rick in the bee suit and E with one of our hens) along with the official press release below.

DENVER – Denver Botanic Gardens will host its 2012 Urban Homestead Tour of Denver and surrounding communities. The tour aims to inform, educate and inspire the community by featuring a variety of traditional and innovative efforts in the urban homesteading movement.

Local homesteaders all throughout the Denver metro area will open the doors of their homes to provide guests with an opportunity to see what urban homesteading is all about. Come prepared to be surprised because “urban homesteading is not only growing vegetables in your yard and raising chickens. It also includes activities like canning, making soap and using alternative energy sources in your home,” says Sundari Kraft, author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Urban Homesteading” and founder of EatWhereULive, one of the community supporters of the tour.

CALL FOR ENTRIES: Urban homesteaders who want to participate as a tour stop, share their efforts, their joys and their experiences with the public can find information and applications at www.botanicgardens.org

The tour, which counts with the support of community partners like Anisa Schell, author of the LazyHomesteader.com, and Lisa Rogers, founder and director of Feed Denver, is completely self-guided.  Participants are encouraged to drop-by whatever locations they see fit from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Tour map sales will begin Aug. 22nd and tour participants will receive them starting on Sept. 19th.

Date and Time:
Saturday, September 22
10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Admission:
$5 per person
Ticket sales start August 22
For more information and to register visit www.botanicgardens.org

About Denver Botanic Gardens:
Green inside and out, the Gardens is considered one of the top botanical gardens in the United States and a pioneer in water conservation. Accredited by the American Association of Museums, the Gardens’ living collections encompass specimens from the tropics to the tundra, showcasing a plant palette chosen to thrive in Colorado’s semi-arid climate. The Gardens’ dynamic, 23-acre urban oasis in the heart of the city is now in its 52nd year, offering unforgettable opportunities to flourish with unique garden experiences for the whole family – as well as world-class education and plant conservation research programs. Additional sites at Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield, a 750-acre wildlife and native plant refuge in Jefferson County; and Mount Goliath, a high-altitude trail and interpretive site on the Mount Evans Scenic Byway, extend this experience throughout the Front Range. For more information, visit us online at http://www.botanicgardens.org.

I’m really excited to be working with Denver Botanic Gardens to bring more awareness about urban homesteading to the community through this event.  We all hope it’s a huge success.  If you’re a local, this is your chance to see other urban homesteads up close.  Mark your calendar!

Make sure to click through to the other community supporter links:

EatWhereULive
Feed Denver

Categories: Community, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , | 8 Comments

Dried Sour Cherries

Last weekend while at my in-laws’ house, I noticed that my mother in-law’s very ripe cherry trees had not been picked.  Lucky me, she told me to have at it!

Rick’s younger brother, was there and he helped us pick.  The cherries were so ripe that some were almost sweet.  As we all picked, the adults all remembered being kids, waiting for the cherry trees to ripen (we had cherries at the house I grew up in too), thinking that this year, this year, the cherries would be sweet.  I always expected them to taste like a maraschino cherry.  Of course, they never, ever did. They were always sour and I was always disappointed.

As a child, I assumed that these small, sour fruits were not real cherries.  That they were just for birds and to look pretty.  I didn’t know how good they really were. Rick, on the other hand, had some home-made pies and jams made from his backyard trees, but still most years the harvest went to the birds and squirrels, and his largest memory of the trees was putting the pits to use in his sling shot.

Maybe that’s why he never thought to mention to me that his parents still had the cherry trees.  Most years, my mother in-law said, they let a passing neighbor pick the trees.  (!)  I had been considering going to a pick-your-own orchard this year to buy some, when I noticed her trees.

We didn’t even pick half of the two trees, yet we came home with an incredible haul of gorgeous sour cherries.

My younger self would be so jealous of me now.  Now, I know how to turn these babies into the sweet, delicious fruit that I always hoped they’d be.  See sour cherries (sometimes called tart cherries) are also know as PIE cherries.  (Once I tried making a pie from bing cherries.  Yeah…. horrible).  Sour cherries will give you a pie to die for.  We ended up with eight pounds – PITTED.

After washing and pitting them, I immediately put six cups in the freezer for a pie.  The rest I divided between the jamming pot and the dehydrator.

Dried sour cherries are pretty expensive to buy in the store.  But they are delicious in baked goods, rice, salads, sauces, over pork, granola and trail mix, or just plain as a snack.  We hope to dip some in chocolate for Scott as a thank you for helping us pick.

Drying the cherries was incredibly simple.  Just wash and pit the cherries, and then spread them on the rack of your dehydrator.  make sure they each have a little room so they don’t end up stuck together.  I tried to pick the best, most perfect cherries to dry.  Any squashed or under ripe ones, I tossed back into the bowl to be made into jam.  Our food dehydrator puts out quite a bit of heat, and since it has been so hot here, I set it up on an old plywood table on the back porch to do its thing.  I set the dehydrator for 135° and let them dry for about 24 hours.

We dried about three pounds of pitted cherries and ended up with just about a pint after they were dry.  You have to watch them towards the end of the drying; you don’t want them to get crunchy.  They should still be soft, kind of like a raisin.  Yum.

Categories: Canning and Food Preservation | Tags: , , , , | 17 Comments

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