Category Archives: Radical Homemaking

Spring Fever

Will sell soul for fresh lettuce

Even though the official start of spring is a few weeks away, I have finally succumbed to spring fever.  I was doing really well at staying accepting of the lingering winter, not getting angry or resentful about the below-average temps, and just remaining quite zen-like about the seemingly never-ending situation.  But yesterday I picked up two new books at the library  that have fully unleashed all the green yearnings  I had buried under a deep blanket of cold and snow.

Perusing Grow Vegetables by Alan Buckingham and Made from Scratch by Jenna Woginrich has unleashed upon me a fever of wild excitement that led me to draw up a list of outdoor-related urban homesteading plans that I thought I would share with you.  Here they are, organized categorically of course, and without any reality-induced censorship:

Last year's garden mid-season

Garden Plans:

  • Complete seed order, buy some nursery plants later on
  • Purchase all potting materials and start seeds (next month!)
  • Plant kitchen garden in backyard (more time-intensive and often-used vegetables such as tomatoes, kale, spinach, peas, carrots, beets, beans, basil, etc.)
  • Plant storage crops at community garden plot (potatoes, onions, squash, possibly melons)
  • Plant annual and perennial herbs in containers and barrels
  • Buy composting bin/barrel  (we ‘ve realized we need to do something more than a casual “compost pile” in our urban environment)

Sweet, sweet cherry tomatoes...can you taste them?

Fruit:

  • Create raised bed to plant strawberries
  • Plant raspberry bushes
  • Plant an apple tree

Flowers:

The chickens also want it to be spring, they told me so last time I trudged out to feed them in 13 degree temps

Chickens:

  • Build a “shade hut” alongside the chicken coop
  • Paint coop
  • Spruce up the chicken run, fix fencing, and clean out winter deep bedding from coop
  • Plant sunflowers along west side of chicken run

Other:

  • Install gutters on garage and create rain barrel to catch water for garden and chicken usage
  • Hang shutters back on the house
  • Re-pot houseplants  that need it
  • Buy a canner
  • Purchase a small chest freezer for garage
  • Dig a small backyard root cellar like this one
  • Purchase that long-awaited bike trailer for Harper

Family aglow in Vitamin D

I have visions of warm days outside in the garden with the little one, suppers on the grill, evenings around the fire pit with Wyatt on the guitar, hikes at Great Bear and Newton Hills, Saturdays at the Farmers Market,  sunset rides along the bike trail, and running outdoors.  Oh man, bring on spring!!!

So have I passed along the fever?  What spring plans do you have?

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Earth-friendly laundering on a dime

Our choice to cloth diaper created the need to change our laundry practices.  Cloth diapers can’t be washed in anything containing additives or petroleum products, so upon purchasing my first set of dipes I also bought a little tub of locally-made laundry detergent from Elegant Mommy.  The ingredients in the detergent were simply soap, washing soda, and borax.  Well now, that’s simple enough!

It took me a good long while to run through this little tub of detergent since only a teaspoon or two is required per load.  But as I was nearing the bottom of the box, I ran across a blog from another Sioux Falls Mom, IngridBarlow.com who had created a quick video on how to make your own laundry detergent.  Perfect!  (There is also a recipe for dishwasher soap, which I tried, but with our old creaky dishwasher it didn’t work well.)

I create my own detergent by using 2 cups of Borax, 2 cups of baking soda, and a bar of pure soap.  Simple as that.  Ingrid adds some dry bleach to her mixture, but I have omitted that ingredient.  Borax is a naturally-occurring compound that has a variety of uses, one being a cleaning agent.  It is inexpensive and can be found at most grocery stores.  For my soap I first purchased a laundry bar from CarlB’s Farm, which smelled deliciously citrusy and worked very well.  When I ran through that batch of soap I ended up having to pick up some Kirk’s Coco Castille soap from the grocery store for my second batch.  It doesn’t have the same wonderful orangey smell, but it has been working just fine.  You will need to grate the soap, but a cheese grater makes short work of the task.

laundry essentials

laundry essentials

grating the soap

You can also include vinegar in your wash (especially for diapers) for a little extra cleaning power.  I haven’t found it necessary yet, but it’s an incredibly inexpensive, natural cleaner that you can also use in many other household cleaning tasks.

By the way, we use this soap for ALL of our laundering!

Backyard Baked Chicken, or The End of Mr. Rooster

Over the weekend we found out that we undoubtedly had a rooster in our flock.  We caught our lanky, very tall bird in the act of terrorizing trying to be amorous with one of our hens.  It was quite the ruckus.  Feathers flying, hens screeching…not a pleasant sight.  It was the first time we had witnessed aggression in our otherwise quiet, gentle Mr. Rooster.  Still, that’s what roosters do, isn’t it?  And since he was still quiet and not causing any other problems, we let it go.

The next day Wyatt was out mowing the lawn and heard a sound over the whine of our mower AND the neighbors mower.  Listening a second time he realized it was the rooster…CROWING!  The neighbor stopped what he was doing and listened as well.  Over the course of mowing the  lawn the rooster continued on, his crow echoing off the nearby houses in our otherwise nearly silent neighborhood.

A rooster is not a “city-friendly” chicken.  We’re lucky enough to live in one of the few towns in South Dakota that allow city chickens.  The only stipulation with having them is that your neighbors don’t complain.  Before purchasing our chicks last spring we spoke with our neighbor and cleared the whole chicken-raising idea with him.  “No problem,” he answered, and added with a chuckle,  “just no roosters, right?”  Right.

What to do.  Wyatt came in and told me of the predicament.  Could we give him away?  Maybe a family member at a farm would take him?  Wyatt’s anxiety about the situation grew as the rooster continued his somehow excruciatingly loud crowing.

I’ve always dreaded the idea of killing an animal I raised.  Yes, I want to farm.  Yes, I eat meat.  Yes, I would like to raise my own meat.  But still, I’ve got some hang-ups about doing the deed my self.  I’ve been a vegetarian in the past, mostly because I objected to (and still do) the industrial meat production system, but also because I felt that since I didn’t have it in me to kill an animal for food I shouldn’t be eating meat.  Having found farmers who raise animals OUTSIDE, on GRASS, on small farms, and who humanely process meat, I went back to an omnivorous diet feeling content to support local farmers raising REAL FOOD (and just not dealing with the “but I couldn’t do it myself” thoughts…sound familiar to any readers?).

However, being fresh from a chicken butchering skill session, the “how-to” knowledge was right at my fingertips.  I had experienced the journey from taking chicken (bird) to chicken (meat).  And it went well.  But those birds were strangers to me, not with my own animals.

And the rooster crowed on.  I thought about the (purchased) chickens in my freezer, and about the real risk of having one of our neighbors complain and possibly losing our ability to raise layers.  The decision was made.  Time to meet our meat.

Wyatt was excited to try his hand at backyard chicken butchering.  Since we live in town I suggested we spare the neighborhood children and complete the task in the garage.  I talked Wyatt through the steps and he went out to take care of the bird while I started heating water to scald the chicken.  When he came back in he looked a little frazzled and admitted the “doing the bird in” process was a little more gory than he had expected.  Without a killing cone, the bird wasn’t contained (you’ve heard about the headless chickens running around, right?) and as he hung from the rafters he made a bit of a mess of the garage door.  But the hardest (in my opinion) part was over.  Time to get on to processing the bird.

We dunked him in hot water (heated to 160 degrees) in our cooler until his feathers  were easy to remove, then hung him back up and did the plucking.

Plucking

And a clean bird

Afterward we moved on the the evisceration, which would have been a LOT easier had we actually had any sharp knives in the house.  Wyatt did a good job and got the main mass of innards removed in one sweep.  We then looked in the cavity and scraped out any leftover organs until it looked clean and  empty (we found later a few bits were left in, but it did no harm).  We then rinsed him well and popped him a cooler of cold water to chill.

At this point the bird looked just like the beginnings of Sunday dinner…say…

Time for supper!  I pulled out some potatoes (ours) from the basement, dug up some leeks, threw in a few carrots, seasoned the bird, and popped him in the oven.  While we were waiting I made up a batch of fresh goat cheese.  Why not?  We were on a roll with this food processing kick (the night before we had harvested and processed much of our garden, but that’s another blog…).

Preparing a unique supper

An hour and half later we enjoyed a nearly “zero mile” meal (the carrots were purchased since ours did so poorly this year).  It was a delicious chicken dinner, and we marveled at our newly gained self-sufficiency.  We had raised a healthy bird on grass, garden scraps, and sunshine and had ensured a humane death and a clean processing.  That is sooo much more than can be said for any bird coming from the industrial food system.  We took responsibility.  And it tasted really good.

Carving up the bird

Homegrown Chicken Dinner

In stitches

Sewing:  a great radical homemaking skill.

The last few weeks I’ve had a little more time during the day to do things other than office hours and baby care.  This is due to having some day-long work commitments that took up nearly half of my week’s hours at one shot, which leaves me with a few hours in the day to fire up the ol’ sewing machine.

I grew up in a family of crafters.  For as long as I can remember my Mom (and my Aunts and Grandma) have been selling at craft shows.  For much of my child hood my parents were self-employed and ran their own business, operating two stores in Mitchell, SD, and selling at craft shows on the side.  They created all sorts of items, usually using vintage and antique materials.  Their main line was clothing made from fabric printed with reproduction feed sack labels.  We traveled all over with the business, and I grew up believing I too would be an entrepreneur like them one day.  I learned to sew at a young age and enjoyed creating dolls, pillows, etc .

As you can imagine, sewing fell to the wayside as I aged.  Sewing is um…some might say, “uncool.”  Especially if you’re like, 16.  But as I’ve aged a little I’ve gained a new perspective.  Sewing is um…like so cool!  If you know how to sew you can create what ever you want to.  You can tailor clothing to your body, you can create that baby blanket in the “perfect” colors, and you can repurpose old textiles and use them in a fresh, new inspiring way.

Well, with a tad bit of free time on my hands, I’ve been stitching up a storm.  I finally got my sewing area set up downstairs and am making good use of the machine.  Since last winter I’ve been sewing for my Mom’s business, Pieces of Olde, which sells through Etsy and the South Dakota Local Foods Co-op.  I sew her grain sack tote bags, which are made of vintage grain sacks and are perfect for farmer’s market, grocery shopping, etc.

Sold!

Still available

Recently I was checking out Etsy looking at natural, soft toys for Harper.  Etsy is wonderful.   I absolutely love having the  largest network of artisans and crafters in the world at my fingertips and being able to buy from and support them directly.  As we’re on a limited budget around here I don’t get to purchase very much (however, I do have a birthday special order coming soon…), but I do find tons of inspiration from browsing the shops.

After checking out some adorable woodland creatures, I said “I could make that” and swiped a few felted  sweaters (the result of Wyatt doing the wash) off my craft shelf and whipped up this little guy:

What an unusual owl perched in that bush!

He has embroidered eyes and is made with soft, felted wool.  Felted wool is one textile I really like sewing with.  As a knitter, I find wool just to be a delicious fiber.  Felted wool makes an excellent “fabric” because it doesn’t unravel and has neat edges that don’t require serging when cut.  I like to felt old sweaters that I find at thrift stores.  Felting is an easy process.  You do exactly what you’re NOT supposed to do with your wool clothing:  throw it in the washer on hot and dry it in the dryer.  Many of you have probably unwittingly felted a sweater or two in your day.  Sometimes you can find “pre-felted” items at the thrift store…they’re those suspiciously tightly woven wool sweaters often found in the children’s clothing section…

After creating my owl, I thought I could branch out in the animal kingdom.  I wanted to create a little hedgehog or mouse for Harper.  I experimented by creating paper patterns to get a “3-d” body, but found I couldn’t figure out the construction very well.  I went online and looked for a free mouse pattern and quickly made this simple little guy out of some scraps of felt:

 

Yes, this was made using a "free cat toy pattern"

I wanted to create a bigger, more “pillow-like” animal using that similar construction, so I dug out a couple of thrifted baby receiving blankets that I had purchased for the purpose of using as fabric and threw together this friendly fellow:

Can you guess why he's named "Mr. Whiskers?"

Harper checking for quality control

Harper checking for quality control

After all of that I’d quenched my stuffed animal making thirst, so I moved on to clothing.  I had a few fabrics that I purchased a long time ago with the intention of making into a skirt, so I finally dug them out and whipped up this fun little number for myself:

Well, then I thought it was only fair to make Harper a little something, so after checking out a quick and easy tutorial online, I recycled a flannel receiving blanket and made him these cute little pants:

Cuteness

Cuteness

just chillin'

I’m definitely going to make some more pairs of these pants.  They cost next to nothing to make (I used 1/4 of a receiving blanket that cost $1.50).  They’re soft, comfy, and can be sewn up in about a half an hour.

I’m loving having a few more moments to do something creative.  I especially like making the items for sale through my Mom’s shop.  It’s a great feeling to make a unique and quality item and have someone order it for themselves.

Embracing my sewing heritage and stitching on.

 

Meeting our Meat

Rebecca Terk over at Big Stone Bounty saved me the trouble and wrote a great blog about the chicken processing skill session I attended at Glacial Lakes Permaculture with the Farm Beginnings students on Saturday.   Check it out!  Also, there’s a photo album here that provides highlights of the whole day, including a canning demonstration and a tour of the Glacial Lakes Permaculture demonstration plot.  Wow, hyperlink overload!

It was really a great day, despite the fact that I had been dreading the chicken butchering all week.  It went very well and was done a tidy, respectful manner.  All the students and mentors were able to participate in the various stages of processing.  It gave me confidence that perhaps someday we could raise our own meat birds if we want.

The permaculture demonstration plot is fantastic and it’s been interesting for me to watch it evolve over time.  GLP founder, Karl Schmidt, is doing an awesome job converting his property from lawn to an edible, perrenial landscape.  I hope one day we can implement some permaculture design at our own farm property!

By the way, if you’re intersted in the Farm Beginnings class, DRA’s still accepting applications!  Classes start at the end of October.

Chickens and other goodness

We finally have a coop and a chicken run!

The Coop

Wyatt and his Dad built the coop and we welcomed the chickens to their new home a few weeks ago. We added two Plymouth Rock pullets to our small flock. These girls are from Wyatt’s Dad, who is raising a few layers this summer and was getting too many eggs. Since our chickens won’t be laying for a while the Plymouth Rocks will provide our eggs this summer. They’re beautiful birds!

Our flock

Our baby chicks are no longer babies…they’re looking like real chickens now. Our little chicken run has attracted some attention in the neighborhood, but nothing negative. Our little neighbor kids certainly seem to enjoy them!
Life with a new baby, two dogs, six chickens, and a garden is pretty busy! We’re finally starting to eat from the garden. Our spinach and lettuce is looking (and tasting) good, and our chard is coming along well too. Potatoes and onions are looking awesome. Our carrots failed to germinate well, so we’ll probably just be getting a small handful of them. Much of our other garden produce isn’t far enough along to make a judgement yet, but our garden is looking like it may produce some food for us.
Summer’s just trucking along, isn’t it?

Rapidly growing chickens

baby and a backyard chicken

Day One: Buying the Urban Homestead!

Yesterday we signed the papers and became the proud owners of the urban homestead, a small cottage on the edge of the city and the edge of the prairie.  We have big plans for this little stamp of urban land: a big garden, a few laying hens, composting, putting up food, simple living, cooking, and baby-raising.  It’s our first home.  And we can’t wait to get started.

This blog will be a place to share the adventures of urban homesteading, for better or for worse.  You’re welcome to read along as we recount the journey!

The Urban Homestead