Sunday, May 30, 2010

No Vegetation Challenge: May Wrap Up

Things started off slowly, with a bit of whining from the kids. They aren't pleased to be missing their apples. They seem to understand the point of the challenge though, which is half the battle.

They baked 4 loaves of banana bread & four loaves of rhubarb bread. Fruit breads used to be their basic breakfast, but somewhere along the line we fell out of the habit, and fruit breads became more of a treat. It's good to see them coming back. I don't actually do much baking these days. I supervise, wash dishes, help with new recipes, etc. The kids do most of the ingredient gathering, measuring & mixing. We're down to 7 bags of frozen rhubarb now, with fresh rhubarb almost ready to pick, and half a laundry basket of frozen bananas.

They've been adding blueberry & raspberry sauces to ice cream. They've had blueberry smoothies with a batch of very watery home made yogurt.

We finished off the last bag of corn in the freezer. We have a bag and a half of green beans left. We had a couple of good stews, using some of our frozen turnip, the last of the brussel sprouts, and a bit of frozen cabbage.

Grandpa picked us some wild leeks. We've been looking for them in our woods, but haven't found any yet.

Twice we attempted dandelion greens, but didn't get to eat them. The first time I left them soaking in a bowl of water and forgot about them. The next day they seemed slimey, so I tossed them. The second time #2 was cleaning the dandelions, and left a large root attached. I didn't notice until I started serving. Yuck. Want some sand with that? We did make two batches of doggie stew with dandelions as the base for vegetation. I don't worry about cleaning them as thoroughly for the dogs.

Dandelion buds have been on the table at least twice a week. I think they're a winner. They're easy to pick, easy to clean. It's easy to throw a handful into soups, stews, and casseroles. No one really even notices them. I fried some in butter last night with mushrooms and garlic. Very yummy, but a little soggy. Next time I'll leave them out until the mushrooms are closer to being done. I've also got half an ice cream bucket put in the freezer for next winter.

Hubby bought his own green onions for steak one night. He couldn't live without them, and I just planted ours. The kids are still eating carrots. Can't really stop them when they're in the house. Of all the things to complain about, my kids are eating carrots! lol.

Asparagus is just starting to sprout, and as soon as the rain clears, we'll be out to harvest some cattails, which are supposed to be a lot like cucumber or asparagus. We'll see.

All in all, I think May went fairly well.

No Vegetation: The Challenge

It's been 2 1/2 years since we moved here to the north land, and while I've diligently foraged, picked, frozen and canned, we still haven't quite adjusted our diets to the fact that we no longer have an apple tree.

I love apples. The kids love apples. Even hubby eats an occasional apple. Living down south, we had two well producing apple trees on our property, as well as three trees available at my parents, and an abundance of cheap apples available locally through out the fall. By now we should be missing our apples terribly. But we're not. We don't miss them at all. Why? Because I fell into this habit of buying apples. Not once in a while in season apples. No. That would be a treat. No. I started buying apples EVERY week. On average, 6 pounds of apples a week, but when on sale, as much as 20 pounds a week.

I know we should eat local. Fresher, more nutritious, fewer food miles, less oil used for production, storage and transportation, cheaper, sometimes free... I grow and preserve what I can. I forage in the woods. I make my family eat weeds. And yet, here we are in our second spring with a cold room still mostly full of blueberries & raspberries, and rhubarb still in the freezer. Meanwhile, all winter long I continued buying apples. (and green beans, and mangoes, bananas, and pineapples. and oranges. and broccoli.) Hmm. That just doesn't seem right.

So I decided at the end of April, that I would not buy any fruit or vegetables from May 1st until either the first snow or October 31st, whichever comes first. We will use what we have stored. We will garden, we will forage, we will eat locally, from our yard and woods. We will not buy apples. I am allowing two exceptions- potatoes and carrots. We simply can not grow enough potatoes to last through the winter, let alone keep them edible through spring and summer. Must buy carrots for critters. Our soil has not been very welcoming to the growth of carrots so far, although we do get some nice baby carrots, again no where near the amount needed to make it through our winters for us, let alone the critters. All of our critters- dogs included, except the cat- eat carrots. It's a treat and a training tool. I don't think it should be a hardship for anyone. A little strange maybe, but no fears of malnutrition.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Food Storage Plans for Fall

It's only spring now, but the fall freezer plans actually began a few months ago. The fall freezer plans begin the first time I stick my hands in the dirt to start seedlings in January. I try to grow enough of the foods we like every year to avoid having to buy them in the grocery store. The garden gets bigger every year. I start more seedling every year. I have never been successful. But I keep trying.

Spring is also the season to order chicks. I ordered 50 hatch day choice chicks this year. It's the season to buy a pig. It's the season to buy cattle. Freezer planning starts early in the country when you're trying to be self sufficient.

Here's my plan for this year. 365 days, 365 meals.

35 chickens. I plan to keep some for eggs next year.

8 hams. Each hind quarter of our pig should be large enough to divide into two meals for us.
8 pork chops. (That's meals, not individual chops.)
2 ribs.
8 pork stew meat
1 tenderloin
4 quarts of lard.
That's based on what I remember getting off of each of our previous pigs. Pig could be much larger by fall than our previous pigs were, so we may have a bit of a windfall there.

30 rabbits. I bought 4 bucks & a doe in the spring. One of the bucks is already in the freezer. I need time to butcher two more. The doe has her first litter now, with six bunnies. I expect her to have three more litters by fall.

20 fish. This is dependent on us finding a decent lake & making the time to go fishing.

5 partridge- dependent on how hunting season goes this year.

That leaves 248 meals that I need to plan for. The current plan is to buy a bull calf, who will hopefully manage to impregnate my cow by fall, and then butcher him. We won't butcher until after hunting season though, on the chance that we may need freezer space for bear or moose. Although it would be nice if we got a small bear and a calf moose, leaving enough space to butcher the bull as well, giving us more variety. Can't be choosy though. Butchering is weather dependent, since we do it ourselves at home. It must be cool enough to keep the meat from going bad, but not freezing.

I aim for 365 servings of vegetation as well.
150 green beans
40 stew mix veggies- That's a pot of stew every week all winter. It includes green beans, turnip, brussel sprouts, dandelion buds, & carrots.
10 dandelion greens
10 asparagus
10 peas
10 parsnips
10 spinach
20 broccoli
10 cauliflower
43 corn. I love corn, but we're slightly too far north to grow our own. With a bit of luck I'll be able to buy a couple of bushels of local corn from the city south of us.
20 tomatoes (If they survive)

52 jars of pickled beets (one a week) will also be added to the cold room.

And 365 servings of fruit.
Our easiest and most plentiful fruit is blueberries. Between the freezer and the cold room I'll end up with at least 100 servings of blueberries.
80 raspberries. They're not quite as plentiful as the blueberries, but still we manage a good harvest.
30 rhubarb. I have a large rhubarb patch and it's almost ready to start harvesting.
35 pears. My parents have a tree, and they'll bring 2 or 3 feed bags full of pears up when they come to visit.
20 strawberries. I may be pushing my luck here, with new transplants in the garden this year.

In addition to these staples, I also pickle dill pickles, pickled carrots, pickled peppers, pickled garlic. These tend to be eaten more like condiments than servings. I can salsa. I make jams, jellies, fruit sauces & syrops.

We'll also store cabbage, carrots, onions, and potatoes in the cold room.

Cold Room, Pantry, Freezer & Menu Planning

I have a huge cold room in the basement. Huge to me at least. It was one of the big selling points for me when we bought the house. It holds two large book shelves, and a shorter shelf. Two skids. 4 rubbermaid bins. There are two shelves that came with the house, both about 6 feet long. And room for more storage. I love my cold room.

I love my cold room because I live over an hour from the city. If I run out of something, it doesn't get replaced until I go to town. I love my cold room because I grow, forage and can as much food as I can through our short growing season. I love my cold room because I butcher my own meat, and sometimes attempt things like making my own ham. I love my cold room because I don't have to worry about keeping extra drinks in the fridge. They're cold enough downstairs. I love my cold room because I can store large amounts of root vegetables over the winter.

On one bookshelf I keep mostly store bought canned goods. I have minimum amounts of items that I keep there, so that I don't run out unexpectedly. Like at least one extra bottle of ketchup, relish and vinegar. I also have room to stockpile items we use frequently, so I can stock up when they're on sale. Like 8 cans each of pasta sauce, mushrooms, and cream of mushroom soup.

The other bookshelf is filled with fruits, jellies, jams, fruit sauces & syrops that I can myself. The smaller shelf holds dill pickles, pickled beets, and pickled carrots from my garden. It also holds about 4 weeks worth of pop & drinks.

On one skid I keep a large box of lard that I buy from a restaurant supply store. Occasionally cases of canned pop, onions, carrots, and empty jars make their home there. This is where I kept my buckets of hams in the making, as well as my first attempt at raspberry vinegar. The other skid is devoted to potato storage. I grow what I can, but also buy 50 lb bags from a local grower when I run out of my own. We eat a lot of potatoes.

One rubbermaid bin holds three 10 kg bags of flour. One holds three large sacks of rice. One holds onions and carrots.

Smaller, more perishable food stocks I keep in the pantry cupboard in the kitchen, along with dry goods currently in use. That's the pasta, beans, baking supplies, corn starch, salt, sugar, etc.

I have two large chest freezers, roughly 20 cubic feet each. They're usually each at least half full. Hopefully by late spring I have them emptied enough to combine them into one freezer and do a proper cleaning before I start refilling them for next winter.

That brings us to menu planning. Normally when I grocery shop I buy large amounts of whatever is on sale. Around February things in the freezer start getting pretty skimpy. It gets harder to find those pork chops that I know are still in there somewhere. I start wondering why I keep buying green beans when I still have frozen turnip and dandelion greens in the freezer. So I start menu planning. I pull everything out of the freezers and reorganize it. I make a list of everything in there. Then I take an extra calendar and start planning out menus from what I have left in the freezer. This year I had enough food to last through May.

Now it's the end of May, so I just went through the freezer again. There's still a ton of food in there. I didn't stop grocery shopping when I made the first menu plan, and sometimes leftovers last longer than I originally expected. So I make a new list, and another menu plan. We're currently stocked up enough to make it through July. It's almost empty enough to do that cleaning now though.

Pig in the Garden

The search for piglets has ended. With the weather turning from 'maybe early spring' to 'is it summer already?' I ran out of patience looking for piglets. I had to get the garden started. Another trip to auction, and no piglets.

I came home with Pig.

You see how bad the weeds are? The garden looks more like lawn than garden. You can see how well Pig was working though. This picture was taken the day after we set up her pen.

Pig is a sow, and roughly a year old. She's almost as big as the last two pigs we butchered were. That scared me when we bought her. The last two pigs refused to be contained in their pen, escaping several times a day and wandering off in the woods. Too much time was spent chasing them home, and worrying about what had happened to them when we couldn't find them right away.

The price of Pig made her pretty irresistible though. $105 for roughly 200 lbs of pig. Less than 99¢/pound. Even if she was a complete pain and I had to butcher her right away, I just couldn't go wrong. I could not possibly raise a piglet to that size for that price. Wow.

So home she came. And she has been delightful! She seems so shy! Very quiet, well behaved, and happy with her little pen in the garden. She hasn't shown any interest in escaping. We've moved her pen over three times now, and we're almost ready to move her again. She is doing a great job!

I've transplanted strawberries & onions that I started indoors. Planted peas, lettuce, spinach, beets, radishes, parsnips, zucchini, squash, alexanders, brussel sprouts, and a few potatoes.

A Note on Frugal Living

In general, I don't consider myself to be a very frugal person. Not that I'm a spendthrift either, I just tend not to worry too much about what I buy in relation to my overall budget.

The pay cheque comes in, I pay the bills. I try to set aside some savings for future goals- hubby's week off for hunting, repairs for the big truck, retirement, etc. Then I spend what's left over between groceries, gas, clothes, farm needs & wants, household needs, etc. The pay cheque varies all the time, which makes real budgeting next to impossible. I just do the best I can with what I have.

I've been reading a number of other blogs recently. I haven't been looking for blogs on frugal living, but rather one blog tends to lead to another. A lot of them do seem to follow a theme, or sometimes several themes, and frugal living seems to be a common one.

Most of the tips and tricks that people list in their efforts don't strike me as frugal living. Not that they aren't frugal- it just seems odd to me that people are making such a conscious effort to be frugal, when most of the time what they're talking about is just a natural part of my ordinary life. So here are a few common themes in frugal living that I just wanted to comment on.

Gardening- of course I grow a garden. As did my parents, and all of my ancestors. How else could we eat the way we do?

Preserving- well, naturally, if you're growing a garden, you need to preserve your produce. That is the point, isn't it?

Foraging- I may be a little extreme in the foraging department. It's normal here to run across tons of other people in the woods during blueberry season, but I think I'm one of the few out gathering dandelions, puffballs, elderberries, choke cherries, ferns and cattails. I also attempted birch sap this year, but with our wonky weather that didn't work out.

Clotheslines- Ok, I admit, I'm a hermit in the winter. But spring through fall- why on earth would I want that extra heat in my house?

Buying used- Thrift stores, garage sales, pawn shops, etc- Why buy new when you can get more for your dollar used? Especially for the kids? I'd much rather buy used toys that have been loved and tested by others than cheap Chinese plastic that falls apart in days or weeks. Clothes that they'll outgrow in less than a season? Bring on the hand me downs!

Cooking- I know there's a big push for fresh local foods, but in Northern Ontario that pretty much means malnutrition and scurvy. Or pine needles. For 9 months of the year there is no such thing as fresh and local. The other three months, it still means limited variety and expensive. Of course I cook. I couldn't afford not to. I use a lot of preserves and staples. Preprocessed foods simply cost too much.

Leftovers- I cook them on purpose. Cooking enough for two meals means I don't have to cook tomorrow. Some things, like chili, soups and stews, don't even taste good until the second or third day. What little there is left after that usually gets eaten for lunch, or packed in the freezer for hubby to take to work. The rare bits and pieces still in the fridge get thrown into doggie stew. More often than not I'm debating whether I can call something old enough to warrant it going into doggie stew. Then there are all the other critters that will beg for fruit & veggie scraps. Nothing gets wasted.

Grocery shopping- I don't know whether it's a Canadian thing, or just Ontario, but we don't get free or nearly free toiletries around here. Or any of the other great deals I hear about on the other side of the river. Coupons are practically unheard of in my neck of the woods. Occasionally I'll find a manufacturer's coupon in a product/magazine/store aisle- but generally it's still cheaper to buy the store brand. I have a huge cold room & pantry. I check the grocery store flyers. I buy on sale and stock up. I buy in bulk when available.

Firewood- it's our heat source. We do have oil back up, but we keep it set at 15°C, the lowest setting on our thermostat. Just to keep the pipes from freezing on those nights when it's -40°C. We cut our own wood, from dead fall in the woods.

Combining errands- It's an hour drive to anywhere from here. I go to town once a week or less if I can avoid it. The only reason I go that often, is to keep the boys in Sea Cadets. It's their social activity, as well as a wonderful instructional experience- and FREE! Anything that needs to be done in town gets done on those trips. If I run out of time, so be it. There's always next week.

Cleaning supplies- The kids were utterly shocked last week when I used bleach for the first time in years. The layer of dust on the bottle was pretty astounding. Not for the laundry either- I had a clogged drain and baking soda and vinegar weren't cutting it. Bleach is a carcinogen- why would I want that on my clothes, touching my skin?

I don't use any of those spray cleaners. I don't even make my own vinegar & water mixes. I use a dish cloth, or a cleaning cloth, and I wipe things down. Nope, I'm not killing 99.9% of germs. That frightens me. I don't want to live in a lysol house and have my immune system panic when I walk outside. I use dish detergent. Usually sunlight, although I do ocassionally grab a larger bottle of a knock off brand in a store I don't frequent often. It seems to work pretty well.

I use cheap store brand laundry powder. Less than $4/box. I use about a tenth of what they recommend. I did splurge on my washing machine. Heavy duty agitator. Agitation cleans your clothes, not lots of detergent. Yes we do have clothes with stains. We call them farm clothes. Or play clothes. Paint doesn't wash out anyway, and it seems there's always something that needs painting. And I could buy a new wardrobe at the thrift store for less than what it would cost for stain removers to keep everything looking pretty. No fabric softener. I avoid materials subject to static cling, and dryer balls in the winter.

I use vinegar in the toilet and dishwasher. Comet on the bath tub. Some sort of dishwasher liquid- store brand. That's pretty much it. I see commercials for all sorts of cleaners and smelly things. Febreze, scented candles, glade. I wonder why. If you don't like the way your house smells, stop making those smells. Seems simple enough to me.

I'm sure there are other things. I just never considered them 'frugal'. Simply doing what needs to be done.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Chicks move outside

I ordered 50 chicks this year- hatch day choice. Hatch day choice means that the hatchery chooses what type of chickens to send me, based what they have extras of. They need to hatch enough to fill all their orders for specific breeds, and specific sexes, so the leftovers can be ordered cheaper than if I had requested something in particular. It appears that all but two of my chicks are barred rocks. I've never raised them before, but from what I've read online, it sounds like they will be very nice, hardy, large birds.

I brought them home, April 7th, and took them to the basement where we had set up a nice box and heat lamp for them. In previous years I had left my chicks in the chicken coop, and suffered high losses due to temperature, the older birds picking on them, and drownings in the water dish. About a week ago I got another box and expanded their living quarters. They were starting to get cramped in the starter box.

The last few days they've been hopping out of the box, so it was time to move them out. They are mostly feathered now, with just their little heads still appearing fluffy. Yesterday we moved them out to the coop. They survived their first night, but I think goose was mean to them. They were all huddled in a corner until I let the older hens and goose outside this morning. It was wet and cool, so I'm keeping the little ones inside for now. If the sun comes out I might let them explore the new chicken run this afternoon.

The chicken run is a fenced in area around the coop, about 50' X 25'. One side is the edge of the pasture, the back and other side we made from bits and pieces of chain link fencing that we found around the property. #2 dug & installed the fence posts. I hung chicken wire over the pasture fence, which has the big 6" x 12" holes. I really should add more chicken wire to the chain link fence. The chicks can fit through the chain link right now, and it's not safe for them to wander off on their own.

Our first year here I let the chickens free range, as I had at our old place. We had some very well fed foxes- not so well fed people. I ordered 100 chicks that year, and ended up with 30 in the freezer, and only 6 hens and a rooster to keep. This spring we were down to 4 hens. The winters here are very hard on chickens. I'm hoping to keep 10 hens from this batch, and put the rest in the freezer. If we can keep them safe and away from the foxes, we'll order more for next year.