Monday, March 31, 2014

Our "Grow Your Own" Experiment

Over the next two years (2014 and 2015) we are setting out to find out just how much of our own food we can produce.

We began working towards this 3 years ago:  

In the beginning of 2011, Darran and I sat down and took a hard look at our lives. Instead of just letting life bump us along we decided we wanted to live more deliberately. On purpose. 

Darran had been working very long hours at a job that would not provide any long-term financial security for us. While he was away at said job our children were growing up. He deeply wanted to be more present, more involved. We missed him. 

What we decided was that we wanted to live our lives differently. We truly wanted our family to be the center of our priorities. 

Around the same time we began devouring Joel Salatin's books. We watched Food Inc together and I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. These things called to us, brought back memories of childhood, and stirred something deep inside. We began having a strong urge to make different food choices. Choices so different that they would change our lifestyle, not just our grocery shopping. 

We both grew up in rural areas. In farming and ranching communities. Our long term plan had always been to have land and return to that lifestyle with our children. But why not start? Right then, where we were, with what we had? Why not live our lives the way we wanted?

We decided to LIVE our priorities.

You can read about some of our misadventures and learning experiences over on my old blog 4 Acres FarmOver those 3 years on our little 4 Acres we learned a lot and now that we will finally have more room we are ready to go all in!

Just how much of our own food can we grow/raise? We're ready to find out.

Currently, our plans include:
  1. A huge garden. Focusing on heirloom varieties. Brimming with everything from squash, to tomatoes, to greens, to root vegetables...
  2. Berries. We're going to attempt strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries. Possibly more.
  3. Wild foods like berries, herbs, and whatever else we can forage. Wild foods are very nutritious and I plan to tap into that.
  4. Pastured laying chickens (which we already have, but will be adding more) and expanding into meat birds and possibly turkeys.
  5. Grass-fed cattle (which we have) and a milk cow.
  6. Indoor mini citrus in containers.
  7. Herbs.
  8. Grass-fed buffalo.
  9. Bees.
Currently my table is covered in plants.
Starting them inside early is key to beating our uber short growing season.

At just above 7,000 feet in elevation there are obviously things we will not attempt (some just won't grow here and some, like nuts, we may try eventually) and will be excluding from the experiment. These include:
  1. Coffee and tea.
  2. Chocolate.
  3. Nuts.
  4. Coconut products.
  5. Oils.
  6. Certain spices and herbs.
  7. Fish.
Everything else we hope to be producing for ourselves within the next 2 years! We realize this is a huge commitment, but we are excited for this adventure. It's a labor of love and we are truly all in.

I've added a menu tab labelled "Grow Your Own" so this series of posts will be together in one spot for anyone interested.

Every. Single. Sprout is like a little miracle. I hope this never gets old.

Just how much of our own food can we produce? Can we feed ourselves? We're about to find out. 

Wish us luck!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Super Easy Recipe: Slow Cooker Applesauce

Growing up we called it a Crock Pot. My mom always had a Crock Pot, as an adult I had a Crock Pot, it was a Crock Pot. It was actually not until I was in my 30's that I heard the term "slow cooker". OH, so that's what it is...

But around here, you'll still hear us call it a Crock Pot. We also call tissues Kleenexes. I can't be the only one?!

Anyways, I decided this time around to make all of my own baby food. It's honestly more convenient for me. Good organic, no sugar, no grains, baby food is scarce unless I drive an hour. I prefer to just prepare things we eat. It works for us.

This recipe is delicious and not just for babies! The whole family will love it. Promise.

Slow-Cooker Applesauce
3 lbs organic apples - any variety that isn't too tart. I used Gala here. I like to play around and try different type of apples, even combining several. This can also be a great way to use apples that have been on the counter almost too long.

Wash, peel, core, and rough chop the apples. My goats and chickens don't mind if I'm not too precise here since they get the scraps!

Add apples to your slow cooker and set to low.

 Cook for 3 to 4 hours. Slow cookers will vary so you may want to try this recipe for the first time when you can be home to watch it. The time may need adjusted or you may even need to add some water. My Crock Pot is perfect with just the apples cooked on low for just over 3 hours.

Once the apples are done (easily mashed with a fork) I blend well with my immersion blender.

You can add a sprinkle of cinnamon here if you'd like. I haven't tried that with Baby O. yet, so right now I just make it plain.

Yep, that's really it! One ingredient. Perfection.

This recipe makes about 24 ounces. It's just right for our family for a week. There's 8 ounces for Baby O. and 16 ounces for the boys (if your family is big on applesauce you may want to double this). We store this in the refrigerator and it's generally gone within the week. You could also freeze portions in an ice cube tray if you're making this strictly for your baby.

What's your favorite super easy Crock Pot recipe??

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The First 6 Weeks

It's been 6 weeks since my last what's-going-on-around-here update?! Appropriately so my last life update was titled Calm Before the Storm. My intuition was right on there!

If we're Facebook friends you've heard bits and pieces of what's been going on, but I'll elaborate here. Darran got a job hauling off scrap iron and junk for an estate. We expected it to be a 3 week job, but it turned into a 6 week job. Unfortunately this means he didn't make as much money on it as we'd hoped, BUT he did come home with many a treasure that we are going to need (and paid the bills and we should have enough leftover to buy sawmill blades and maybe a bit more, so woohoo!).

He's brought home everything from a wind turbine, to sawmill parts, to windows, to a back-up generator. It's been amazing! One man's trash...

However, he's been working long days, 6 or 7 days a week. This has left him pretty exhausted and left most everything around here to me. On top of my usual homeschooling, house-cleaning, 4 kid-wrangling, laundry-doing, blogging, cooking, and general mom-ing I had a lot to get started on for our spring and summer plans to go off without a hitch. It's been a tough 6 weeks, but I know it's only for a season and we've kept focused on the gorgeous light at the end of this tunnel.

When the seed and poultry catalogs show up I start pining for spring!
The first task at hand for me was garden planning. (I'll try to get a more elaborate post on that up soon. It's quite the different affair planning to try to entirely feed your family.) I ordered seeds. Ok, and ordered seeds, and ordered seeds. I have a bit of a seed-buying problem.

I also ordered sweet potato plants. They won't ship until May, and it seems people say it's impossible to grow them here. I guess I just don't know any better so I'll just grow them. I was super excited to find purple ones!

We had a cold snap the first week of February and were having lows of 15 to 20 below (and highs of 5?!). Keeping everyone with non-frozen water during that time was quite a trick. Ellie and Fiona as well as the chickens stayed in their houses most of that time. I don't blame them, I did the same.

Once the weather warmed up all the animals were feeling feisty. 

Ellie and Fiona decided while Darran was away was the perfect timing to be little twerps.
As Darran was often gone past dark it was sometimes my job to do evening chores. A few nights my sweet little angels decided they in fact did not want to go in their house. They proceeded to run off through the thick brush juuust far enough ahead that I couldn't get their collars. 

Ellie and Fiona weren't the only ones that decided to take this opportunity to run-a-muck. Goldie (ever the one that wants to be in the yard no matter the weather) chose to take every opportunity to sneak out while the boys fed the chickens. She'd immediately bolt to the yard and hide in the lilac bush or cedar tree where we couldn't get to her.

Much cardio was accomplished on wild goat/chicken chases.

Though it still looks like this outside, my mind is already on planting time.
We fully understand that we're up against a short growing season here and I've been researching like crazy and asking for advice from my garden guru Facebook friends. Aside from just getting as much out of what we do plant we also plan to grow many things that most people don't even try in this area, so I'm seeking out all the gardening hacks I can find. I've also found it a challenge to figure out how much to grow to feed our family.

I was ridiculously excited at the first sprout of the year! It feels like the new beginning that it is.
As part of that season-extending I started planting seeds in February. So far I've planted several varieties of tomatoes (144 plants, but who's counting?), peppers, and a few eggplant. I also planted some marigolds because they're great to plant around the garden to discourage pests. 

Next I'll be planting cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli. Followed by melons (Everyone I have asked says I'm nuts, I'm OK with that. Just wait for pics of watermelons and cantaloupes next fall. I know they'll be here!), tons of squash varieties, cucumbers, and pumpkins. 

Hopefully everything else can fare well enough planted directly in the ground. Pretty sure my house will be jam-packed with plants by May as it is.

Valentine's Day came and went. Darran brought me presents. He gets me.
I've also been working on drawing out the house plans. It is much tougher to design a small house than a large one I've decided. We want a smaller house for many reasons, I'll keep working at it!

Darran took a beef down to slaughter (in his spare time, ha!) and we now have 620 lbs of our own home-grown, grass-fed beef in the freezer. Depending on how our other efforts go, that will hopefully last us a year+.

The chickens have also decided it's spring and are laying around 9 eggs a day. At least I know we'll have beef and eggs!

Red is thoroughly done with winter and enjoying the sunny days playing in the mud. I hate to tell her we're likely to get snow through May.

Normally we're big on gradual sun exposure. However, as Baby O. is very fair and all of our sun exposure is about to go up exponentially with all the outdoor work we have coming up, so I ordered ingredients to make my own sunscreen. I'll post the recipe as soon as I get it figured out.

I also ordered new running shoes and put a race on my May calendar. Because, why not? OK, it seems like a lot, but running is my stress relief.
I posted this on my Facebook after only the first week: 
People have asked me a lot lately how I do everything I do. My answer: my husband. Lol, he's amazing and we make a good team. And this week? With him gone so much? This mama needs a NAP! 

It's been a long 6 weeks. We're tired, but we're smiling.

Darran is off working on the sawmill right now and I'm sipping coffee, writing, planning for the week ahead, and listening to the baby monitor and the boys drawing at the table. Life is amazing. We are grateful.