Welcome to Mama Homesteader!

Follow my family in year 3 of our homesteading journey. Along the way we try to answer the question ," What can one small family do to change their lives on little more than 1/10th of an acre?" Let's Find Out!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Hidden Treasures in the Garden

     When taking walks around the garden, it always seems as if new treasures are always being found. When we first viewed this home, we found wild strawberries in the backyard. They are small and seedy, with no flavor- but Sarah loves to pick and snack on them! I've uncovered hostas and ferns that I transplanted to a shade garden on the side of the house. I've found daffodils and crocus that I will later transplant to the flower beds. We've discovered hidden roses and dainty ivy. All sorts of beautiful gems gleaming in our garden!!
      In my latest walk, I looked up at a thick green canopy in a nearby tree. It suddenly dawned on me that we had wild grapes growing along the property line! Certainly I knew they had been there last fall, but I hadn't viewed them as a potential resource for our family. As I looked at the large leaves that day, I saw visions of stuffed grape leaves and it reminded me of my college roommate Alana. She had also been my bridesmaid, and these days we live states apart and I miss her. Part of her family is Lebanese, so I sent her an e-mail requesting her recipe for them. It's wonderful to be able to share something so simple as a way of bringing people together! I've collected, processed, and frozen several dozen of the large leaves already. I can't wait to be able to cook with them! I also have plans of making grape jelly for Sarah when they are ripe, and maybe some grape juice.
      Lo and behold though, the grape vines were not the only gem hiding in the back yard! As I studied the large tree on which they were climbing, I realised that it was a large mulberry tree. Mulberries are edible, and I can't wait to collect some ripe ones for tarts and jams!

                              What hidden gems can you find outside your house?
                                             Cheers!~ Mama Homesteader

Counting Blessings

   Lately it seems as if everything that could possibly break, pretty much has broken (knock on wood!). This has left our small family in need of replacing the refrigerator, the washer, the dryer, as well as repairs to our only vehicle. Some days it seems too much to bear. Especially when you factor in the other things we need for our home! This is our first time managing an actual house. Before our four year stint of living with family, we lived in an apartment. Meaning that such basic supplies such as garden hoses, weed whacker, gardening tools...were all items that we were /are without. It can be nerve wracking when odd jobs around the house and property need done and you don't have the tools to accomplish them!
    I'll fully admit that I find the ongoing, and lengthy, list of things that we could really use to be a major irritation. For once though I've decided that instead of focusing on what we don't have, that it was time to write down our blessings!

1. With our 2009 Tax return, we paid off most of our outstanding credit card debt and caught up other bills. This wise move paved the way towards our Independence!

2. We were very lucky to have Mark's 401K, from which we were able to borrow the funds to pay the initial rent and moving costs! Without this, moving to our current home would have been impossible!

3. Having a wonderful family friend, Dave. When the moving truck company made a mistake, and we had no truck to haul our belongings, he saved the day with his pickup truck and trailer!

4. With a lot of praying we've been able to manage the finances of running our own household.

5. My mother in law, Pam, kindly bought us a new mattress/box spring/bed frame so that we no longer had to sleep on a mattress on the floor.

6. When Sarah was ready for a big girl bed, her grandpa kindly gave her the bed from his guest room that he made. She now tells everyone that "Poppa Harry made it for me."

7. My mother bought an air conditioner for Sarah. That was she could sleep comfortably in her big girl bed when it got hot.

8. My friends Julie Ann and Jules, gave me a pressure canner. Which is something I needed. I was able to put the money I saved for one towards other things our family needed!

9. Freecyclers gave me a garden hose and quart canning jars.

10. I have an Aunt that is willing to let me use her canning supplies. This means that I don't have to buy as much.

11. When our car was broken down last summer, My dad, Aunt Patty, and my husband Best friend Bret, gave us money so that we could get it fixed. Without them we would have been vehicle-less for a long time!

12. My Aunt Sharyn gave us a working lawnmower  to replace the two broken down ones in the garage. She also gave us a pool ladder for the inflatable swimming pool my mother in law gave Sarah last summer.

13. My dad and father in law gave us shovels, hoes, and rakes for the garden.

14. My Dad gave Sarah and I a wheelbarrow for the garden.

15.A family friend, Dave tilled the beds for the garden.

16. Our washing machine is ancient and dying. My mother in law decided that she would get us one for our anniversary. But before that happened, the refrigerator started dying. So instead, she put a new refrigerator in layaway. By the end of July/ beginning of August our new fridge should be delivered and installed. We are also blessed to have had dad's mini fridge still in the garage. That way we can store the dairy safely.

17. With careful financial planning we will still be able to get our new washer in August, as well as fix the remaining problems with our vehicle by September.

18. Warm sunny days have made it so much easier to live without a dryer!

19. We have a garden that is now thriving. Which means putting up food for future use, and which means more Independence from having to be on state benefits.

20. Last but not least, having family that is willing to help when possible. And Having a wonderful family of Mommy, Daddy, and Kiddo. This makes life sweet!

                                              Cheers! ~ Mama Homesteader

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Love Thy Neighbor

     Many people know the commandment, "Love thy Neighbor." In this day and age, our neighbors come from all different religious, political, and cultural backgrounds. There has never been a bigger need for the commandment "Love thy Neighbor", than there is nowadays. But I want to point you towards a different kind of neighbor, one you may not even think of as a neighbor. They are indeed our neighbors, and we MUST respect them as we would any of our human neighbors and extend to them the same common courtesies. I'm talking about our local wildlife.
    Native peoples around the globe have a deep understanding and respect for wildlife etched in their cultural roots. This is something that seems to be lacking in modern society. Often these animal neighbors are treated little more than playthings, tormented, wanted as pets, or simply something that is an inconvenience.
    In this instance, it's a family of Raccoons in my neighborhood. They live right next door to us in a hollow tree in our human neighbors front yard. My family had known for quite some time that an adult raccoon was living nearby. We affectionately named it, and like any of our outdoor strays ate happily at the food bowl on our porch. She never caused any trouble. Having access to the cat food ensured that our trash cans remained undisturbed. I've had many a happy evening sitting on the opposite side of the screen door, talking to our furry neighbor. Odd, yes, but I respect this neighbor of mine.
     Our neighbor is a single mother of five toddlers, god bless her! I'm not sure how she manages! We've been overjoyed at seeing them play in the front yard or explore toys in the backyard. They forage and frolic- everything baby raccoons are apt to do. We've done our best to respect these animals and behave as good neighbors.
     But unfortunately others do not. One of my human neighbors is a photographer, and was taking pictures of these sweet fuzz balls. We chatted awhile, when it came up that her mother had been babysitting recently. She saw a man pick up one of these babies and try to stuff it into a sack! At first she thought it was a cat, but then she realized that it was a tiny raccoon. After some hissing and screeching, the man threw it out of the car and sped off! Sadder yet, middle school aged children (who should know better!) have run around the tree chasing these babies and tormenting them! I've seen people standing by the tree with cat carriers, claiming to be looking "for their lost cat." But tonight was by far the most shocking behavior I have ever seen. Two grown men circling the tree when suddenly a baby fell out of the tree and fell across both pavement and grass. One man picked it up and shook it, then it started toddling off. He kept chasing it, it shook as it climbed the tree. A third man jumped down from the tree, grabbed it by the tail and hind limb and shook it up some more. He quickly let go and the baby fell, this time headfirst onto the sidewalk. The tree is a few yards from my porch and yet I still heard the sickening thud of its skull hitting. It's a small miracle that it got up again and climbed its tree out of reach. These were three GROWN men tormenting a bunch of helpless baby raccoons and laughing about it!!!!
     I have to find it in my heart to pity these men, because obviously they weren't raised with the idea of loving and respecting ALL your neighbors. My husband and I have both taken to watching the tree closely and doing what we can to protecting them. I have been communicating back and forth with a wildlife rehabilitation specialist from Canton. We are hoping that they can, or can send us to, someone who will relocate our small neighbors. At this point we fear for their safety, and  fear that if they are not moved soon something terrible will happen to them.
    I'm asking you to search your heart and extend the  idea of "Love thy Neighbor" to your animal neighbors as well. Learn to respect them and cherish them. Be kind to them, defend them, love them.

                                                      Cheers!~ Mama Homesteader

Watermelon Rind Pickles

In my previous posts, I managed to use everything but the pit for apricot jam, syrup, and pie filling. It really struck a cord with me. Looking around our refrigerator I found another item that could go through this same kind of process: the humble watermelon. We all have favorite memories of eating this sweet summertime favorite. Juice running down our chin, who could spit the seeds farther. All that sweet red juicy middle. But what about the rest of the watermelon? You know, that white part that everyone tells you not to eat. I knew that some southern cooks pickled the white rind, and that in some circles it was fairly popular. But was it worth it for me to try the same technique? Yes that rind can be pickled. But did it taste any good? So with the rind of one watermelon on hand, I chose to find out!

Watermelon Rind Pickles

  • 3 quarts (about 6 pounds) watermelon rind, unpaired
  • ¾ cup salt
  • 3 quarts water
  • 2 quarts (2 trays) ice cubes
  • 9 cups sugar
  • 3 cups 5% vinegar, white
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon (about 48) whole cloves
  • 6 cinnamon sticks, 1 inch pieces
  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced, with seeds removed

Wash your watermelon.

Make your brine solution. Mix 3/4 cup salt with three quarts of cold water. Stir well.

Prepare the watermelon. Remove all the red flesh. Peel off the skin (throw it in your composter!), and chop into 1x1 inch cubes. Place cubes in a non metallic bowl and cover with the brine solution. Chill overnight.

After soaking overnight, drain and rinse. Add to pan. Cover with fresh cold water. Cook 10 minutes or until fork tender.

Prepare your pickling syrup. Combine sugar, vinegar, Spices, and water in a pan. Heat until sugar is dissolved. Bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes.

Drain the rind and add to the prepared syrup in a non metallic bowl. Add lemon slices. Chill overnight.

Heat the mixture and bring it to a boil. Turn down the heat and cook 1 hour.

Prepare your jars and lids. When mixture is done, ladle hot mixture into hot jars. Leave 1/2 inch head space.

Using the water bath method, heat the filled jars for 10 minutes at 200F for pints, 20 minutes for quarts.

Honestly I was surprised by the outcome. These are a sweet pickle, with a slightly different taste, not at all a bad one either. After sampling some of them, I have to admit that I do like them. Albeit not enough to make a TON of them, but the few watermelon we eat this summer should supply us with a few nice quart jars. I consider this project a success! My batch made one quart of rind pickles, and two quarts of pickling syrup- which I will keep on hand for the next watermelon that comes our way!

                                       Cheers!~ Mama Homesteader

Friday, June 17, 2011

Strawberry Jam

In light of my recent apricot jam making session, I decided to follow suit with a batch of homemade strawberry jam. Strawberries are coming into season here in Ohio, but for this purpose I went with Driscoll strawberries from California.  Driscoll berries have a reputation for being fairly consistent as far as flavor is concerned. I still intend to go berry picking, but those will be for the freezer.

Strawberry Jam
makes about 9 half pints

4 cups hulled and crushed ripe strawberries
2 tablespoons lemon juice
7 cups of sugar
1/2 teaspoon unsalted butter
1 (3 ounce) pouch liquid pectin

In a pan combine strawberries, lemon juice and sugar. Cover and let stand two hours.

Remove the cover. Over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, heat until all the sugar is dissolved.
Stir in the butter. Increase heat to medium-high, and bring the mixture to a full rolling boil. Stir in the pectin. Return the mixture to a full boil, stirring constantly. Boil one minute. Remove the pan from heat. Skim off any foam.

To prevent the jam from separating in the jars, allow to cool 5 minutes before filling prepared jars. Stir every minute or so to distribute the fruit.

Ladle the hot jam into hot jars. Following proper canning procedures, process in a 200F water bath for 10 minutes for half pints and 15 minutes for pints.

When I made my batch of jam, I ended up with two problems. One, my jam separated. Two, my jam never jelled up as it should. I ended up reprocessing my jam. I added a second pectin pouch, and left the jam to cool 10-15 minutes before ladling into jars. The end result is considerably thicker (and more distributed) than previous, but still not a fully jelled jam as I would like. The moral of the story is: pay attention to your fruit to sugar to pectin ratio. Carefully measure everything. Somewhere I miscalculated and my jam didn't become the consistency I wanted. It may not be as thick, but its far from being a failure. It will still serve the purpose satisfactorily.

                                                        Cheers! ~ Mama Homesteader

Thursday, June 16, 2011

That's too tasty to throw away!

  Indeed in my last post I told you to hang onto your apricot skins. With good reason: Apricots are expensive, delicate (meaning they don't keep extremely well) AND those skins are tasty! It makes no sense to throw them away, they can still be used to create more culinary masterpieces for your family. For this post I am going by what was left with my double batch of jam. (If you only made one batch, then it is easy to assume that you need to halve this recipe.)

Apricot Syrup

4 cups apricots skins (or chopped apricots)
3 cups of sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice

In a pan combine the skins and sugar. Cover and let stand for 2-3 hours.

Over medium low heat, warm until all the sugar is dissolved. Increase the heat to medium high heat, and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Remove pan from heat and skim off any foam. Let cool for 10 minutes.

Ladle cooled mixture into a sieve to drain. When drained, set aside pulp.

In medium saucepan combine syrup and lemon juice. Over medium high heat, bring syrup to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and skim off any foam.

Follow proper water bath canning procedure. Ladle syrup into hot jars, and process at 200F for 10 minutes (15 minutes for pints).

At the same time, ladle heated pulp into a prepared pint jar. Can according to the above directions.

There you have it. Two pints of golden apricot syrup, and a pint of lovely apricot filling for desserts!

Cheers! ~ Mama Homesteader

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Apricot Jam

   Recently, I made up a double batch of apricot jam for my family. Apricot of course is DH's favorite. As quickly as the jar in the fridge is evaporating, I may have to make another dozen half pints! In this instance though I used a recipe from Linda J. Amendt's "Blue Ribbon Preserves." Unlike most apricot jams, she calls for peeling them.  It is definitely worth the effort! The resulting jam has an intense apricot flavor and is smooth.

Apricot Jam
makes 6 -7 half pint jars

4 cups pitted, peeled, crushed or finely chopped apricots
6 tablespoons lemon juice
6 cups of sugar
1/2 tsp unsalted butter
1 (3 ounce) pouch liquid pectin

In a pan combine the prepared apricots and lemon juice. Add half of the sugar, cover and let stand one hour.

Remove the cover and add remaining sugar. Over medium low heat, warm the mixture until all the sugar is dissolved. Increase the heat to medium high and bring the mixture to a boil. Boil for two minutes stirring gently. Remove from heat and skim off foam.

Return the pan to the heat  and boil again. Boil one minute stirring gently. Remove from heat and skim off any foam.

Stir in the butter. Bring to a full rolling boil over medium high heat. Stir in the contents of the pectin pouch. Return to a full boil, stirring constantly. Boil for one minute. remove from heat and skim off any foam.

To prevent separation in the jars, allow the jam to cool five minutes before filling jars. Follow proper water bath canning procedures. Process in a 200F water bath for 10 minutes (15 minutes for pints).


First of all when I made a double batch of jam, I had the equivalent of 14 half pints instead of twelve. It would be wise to either prepare 14 jars for canning, or have a pint jar cleaned to have some ready for the fridge. Your family will love you for the later!

Secondly, don't throw away those skins! Apricots can be extremely expensive. Get the most use out of them as you can. In my next post I will show you how to turn those skins into a yummy apricot syrup and a scrumptious apricot filling! If you follow my ideas, the only things wasted are the pits!

What does your garden grow?

    I must say that after a brief period of doubt with my tomatoes, the rest of my garden is thriving! It had definitely lifted my spirits to find that I have many things starting to sprout- I've done something right:) Let's pour a glass of sun tea, and I'll give you a quick tour!                                             
     As you can see we have the laundry out to dry these days. It was my hope to eventually have a clothes line put in the back yard. There is nothing better than fresh laundry swaying in the breeze! Unfortunately its more of a necessity at the moment. Our dryer decided that it had dried its last load. It was an old dryer and had worked  beautifully for well over a decade (if not two!). They simply don't make them  like they used to. With hot summer days, its easy to rely on the method that most of our grandparents and great grandparents used. We don't mind a bit, the back yard seems much more "homey" now!

    The arugula is growing fantastically this year. The other greens (lettuces, cress, and spinach) seem to be struggling, but I believe that we'll have plenty of arugula for the summer. I can't wait to put it on salad or even pizza!

Our bean patch and two varieties of peas seem to be thriving as well. I can't wait to can green beans and peas for the year's use. In this bed in particularly are sugar snap peas. I doubt they will make it past the garden, because we love munching on fresh sugar snaps. They never last long at our house! At the moment the green beans (front) are larger than the peas (back). They won't be for long!

 The potato and eggplant bed are off and running as well. Our potatoes have started sprouting leaves, and our eggplant are growing rapidly. Sarah can't wait for her "tatoes"!

                                                                                    Potatoes (Top) eggplant (Bottom)
   After a period of rapid die off in the tomato patch, they are now actually starting to flourish.  I don't know if they will have a huge harvest this year, but we're hoping that we'll still have a decent harvest. I realized that the problem was a fungal infection. After much research I dusted the plant bases with cinnamon which has mild anti fungal properties. It seems to have done the trick, no more plants have died off. Actually the die off did give me the opportunity to plant my peppers among the tomatoes. It saves me the extra work of digging another bed for them! In this heat that's a blessing!

Our raspberry bush is prospering! We won't have berries this year, but next year we should have some. Maybe then we can find more bushes to add to it. I can't wait to make jams, pies, and ice cream out of those lovely berries!

    Of course Sarah just has to show off our red climbing rose in the back! I'm glad I didn't completely get rid of it. It's simply beautiful! Hopefully we can get a trellis at the end of summer for it and start training it to climb it.
   We also have broccoli, turnip, and cucumber sprouts as well.

   There's a lot to see in our garden, but for now let's get out of the heat. Sarah doesn't mind the heat, so she's off playing.Going home? OK. I hope that you come by soon to visit again, it was really nice having you here and showing you around! Next time you're here you should be amazed at what has grown here in our little patch of dirt. Until Next time my friend!

                                                     Cheers! ~ Mama Homesteader


Thursday, June 2, 2011

Wisdom, I need it!

   Watering in the hot sun is not the problem I'm facing with my tomato plants. Dampening Off disease is. Apparently I have a fungal infection spreading around in my garden, so tomorrow I'll be dusting everything with Cinnamon. Weird I know, but cinnamon is anti fungal. Other people have raved over its ability to stop the process in its tracks. So we shall see.
     In all I've lost 8 plants in the first bed, nearly all 21 plants in the second bed, and all in the third bed. It's quite depressing. But I'll add the cinnamon, and go back to having the third bed done in Peppers and Basil (and eggplant). Then it looks like I will have to replace several of my tomato plants with store bought...... A lot of work lost in two days time!
    The garlic and onions are planted, although I had to relocate the site I was planting them in. Apparently someone put a ton of gravel along the side of the house years ago. There is a layer of grass over that, so next year I'll  be setting containers along that side for growing.
      Hopefully a beer and good nights sleep will help me regain focus!

                                                   Cheers!~ Mama Homesteader

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Of Tomatoes and Toddlers.

   As much as I find that I like helping Sarah learn new things, I find that in the beginning stages of gardening its been best to do it myself. Most the time she's too excited to play in the dirt and WON'T listen to instructions. She also just keeps digging, often in a newly planted bed. Thankfully she's been distracted the past two days with her kiddy pool. That sounds evil, but I think her energy level will be best suited to the later stages of gardening like harvest time. What can I say, my little princess is a human ping pong ball bouncing everywhere!
    But even as great as it seemed to "do it myself", even sometimes I don't know best. I planted a tomato bed early this morning, and watered it in. Obviously this mama didn't pay attention, because by evening I had tomato plants with pinched wilted stems. There were about eight or nine that had to be replaced. (Thank god for all those extras!) Note to self: when watering in do not water on the plant. In this heat they cook. Off to the side is best. And in the evening when its cool , water well.  If I had been slowly going along having her help me, then I would have probably taken the time to realize that. Oh well life is a learning experience..... ( and I managed to kill some other greenhouse seedlings too this way. eek!).
   We have three beds of tomatoes now. With losing some, and replacing, that's still 63 plants! I hope that my family loves tomatoes. But if more die off I guess it wont be too horrible, even though I still have fourteen seedlings left. The potatoes and marigolds are planted, and the shade garden is done. What a day!
    For tomorrow, we'll see how the tomatoes hold up. Maybe we'll start the pumpkin patches or the garlic patch. Who knows. But I do know this, ready the bed early and plant in the cool evening;)

                                            Cheers!~ Mama Homesteader