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gardening

Growing and Drying Your Own Herbs

As a new gardener, I often found the task of growing prize winning tomatoes and succulent melons very daunting. Can I say succulent melons here? Get your head out of the gutter! But growing and drying your own herbs, now that was a new task.

Gardening has never come naturally to me. But I learn and grow each and every year. I finally began to master tomatoes by the third year of gardening. But I’ve still never mastered the green bean.

It’s easy to get discouraged when you’re gardening, but I’ve found one thing that I can never kill. I suppose I could if I drenched it in chemicals, but ultimately, they’re very forgiving. What is it, you ask? Why, herbs, of course!

Herbs are one of the easiest things in the world to grow and maintain. Drying your own herbs is one of the easiest skills to learn, and will come in handy often.  Whether you’re drying them once harvested, making a tincture, preserving dried herbs into spice rubs, or simply hanging them until you’re ready to use them. There are plenty of ways to grow and preserve herbs on your homestead.

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Expanding Our Farmhouse Kitchen Garden

When we bought our home, it was a foreclosure and a major fixer upper. We had no intention of creating a small little farmhouse out of our home, but here we are, killin’ it. There are chickens in the backyard, a kitchen garden in the front, and a few meat rabbits scattered about the property.

I’ve tried so many types of gardens on this property, and each one presented its challenges. Because we live on a steep hillside, gardening has been a challenge in and of itself for the entire time we’ve lived here. But in 2017 we created our very first official “Farmhouse Kitchen Garden”. . . and I fell in love. I fell in love with the way we laid it out. I fell in love with the mulch that kept down the weeds. I fell in love with the cattle panel arches that we created to grow vertically and save space.

In the 2017 farmhouse garden we planted:
  • 15 tomato plants (different varieties)
  • 14 bean plants
  • 12 cucumber plants
  • 6 pepper plants
  • a large patch of lettuce (seen above under the first arbor)
  • 1 row of peas
  • multiple patches of garlic
  • a too many herbs to count

From that, I was able to can multiple batches of spaghetti sauce, harvest multiple gallons of beans, pickle and can over 20 pints of pickles, feed on lettuce and other veggies through October, and make herbal products throughout the entire season.

This year, we’re expanding. In fact, we’re doubling our garden space from last year. Last year was our test run, this year, the gloves come off.

In order to expand the garden, we had to have 4 loads of fill dirt delivered so that we could fill in some holes in our backyard. We seeded the back yard (our “mini pasture) will pasture grass, so that we can create a deep root system to help hold in the hillside and offer a multitude of delicious forage for the chooks. After the fill dirt was laid out, we finally had space in the front to expand the garden (where the fill dirt had been).

Here’s what I’m planting in 2018:
  • 1-2 long rows of potatoes
  • 20-30 tomato plants (mostly canning tomatoes, with some heirlooms for eating)
  • 1 arbor of green beans
  • 1 arbor of cucumbers
  • 2 rows of peas
  • multiple new herb varities
  • 15-20 pepper plants (different varieties)
  • 1 large patch of lettuce
  • White Icicle radishes
  • Purple carrots
  • Multiple rows of garlic
  • Multiple rows of onions
  • . . . and lots of other things I haven’t decided on yet.

Talk about an expansion!

See what I’ve been up during this process in my most recent video on my YouTube channel.

 

Starting Herb Seeds and Homemade Potting Soil

It’s time to start planning my herb garden now that spring has finally arrived. Though the Virginia weather has been extremely unpredictable and dreary, I’m starting my seeds indoors, and showing you how to start your seeds indoors efficiently as well in this week’s new video. I’m also going to give you a super easy DIY potting soil mix!

Here are the top herb starting tips to keep in mind, along with the video and potting soil recipe.

Starting Your Herbs:

  1. Start with an organic potting soil, or use the recipe below.
  2. Pre-wet your potting soil that you’re going to use. This ensures that the soil doesn’t lose depth once it compacts.
  3. Firmly pack the soil into your seed pots, again, to reduce compaction and loss of soil.
  4. Place small indents into the soil with your finger, add a seed or two, and loosely cover with the soil.
  5. Place your pots on a cookie sheet or shallow pan, and always water from the bottom up.
  6. Place your seeds in an extra sunny place, a green house, or under grow lights for best germination and growth.

 

The Ultimate Potting Mix (homemade)

Use this mix to place in your pots when starting seeds indoors.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 6 parts compost
  • 3 parts soil (any soil from your property, or bagged soil)
  • 1 part sand
  • 1 part manure (rabbit or store bought)
  • 1 part peat moss

Mix together in a large trash can or container outdoors. Use as needed. When you’re ready to transplant your new seedlings into bigger pots, add some bone meal to the individual pots.

 

Watch How to Start Herb Seeds

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Starting a Medicinal Herb Garden

 

When you begin your homesteading journey, you typically start because you want to become more self-sufficient. It often looks like getting a few chickens, maybe some goats. You then venture into dairy cows, beef herds, turkeys, large garden plots, canning and preserving, and other expeditious skill sets. But the one thing I most often find surprising is that many homesteaders quickly bypass the thought of creating one of the most important additions to their  homestead—a medicinal herb garden. 

If you’re homesteading because you want to take control of your food—knowing where, how, and why it grows—and because you want to become more reliant on yourself than a system, then taking control of your healthcare is just as important as taking control of your own food system. In fact, inevitably, on a homestead, at some point or another, you’re going to need a doctor, stitches, or come down with an illness that needs medical attention. What then? The argument is quite good in the case of growing your own medicinal herbs and venturing into holistic healthcare, because just as you need food and water, you need good health in order to keep your homestead running.

Where do you begin? How do you even start a medicinal herb garden?

It’s the question that homesteaders often ask, normally out of fear of getting it wrong or growing something that could poison your family. But starting your herb garden isn’t as overwhelming as you may think.

 

 

As you may remember from past articles and posts, our homesteading journey actually began with holistic medicine. It didn’t begin with chickens or livestock, not even gardening. It began when my son was diagnosed with childhood asthma, and that’s when I decided it was time to take control of our lives—our food, our exposure to chemicals, and our healthcare. I quickly began researching herbs and essential oils that could help us, and I found it far less overwhelming by narrowing my search down by 3-5 different reasons I wanted to take control of my health.

My initial reasons looked a lot like this—asthma/respiratory, seasonal allergies, common cold/flu, wounds, pretty things. Yes, pretty things, that was definitely on my list. I wanted some herbs to just be around for their aromatic reasons, like lavender, and yet be pretty, too. I failed miserably at lavender all three times I tried growing it, but I’ll continue to try!

But as our homesteading journey expanded, so did my needs. My list now looked a lot like this—respiratory, common cold/flu, nausea, leaky gut, boils/cysts, chicken health, bleeding, tooth ache, broken bones, deep wounds, high blood pressure, migraines, rabbit health, parasite eradication, culinary uses, and so much more. Wow, what a list, right?

As we dove further into homesteading, I found that when the simple things worked, I wanted more. I wanted to dive more into herbalism and essential oils. I didn’t just want to only grow for the common cold, I wanted to grow for everything that we may need, and preserve it for long lengths of time (like creating tinctures, salves, soap, and more).

 

Choosing Where to Grow Herbs

We live on a very small property, a half acre to be exact. And only a very very small portion of that is easy to grow plants, flowers, and vegetables on. So over the years, I’ve utilized a lot of containers and garden beds, and rightfully so. They are easier to manage, can be moved with the sunlight, and they look pretty! I first began growing all of my herbs in pots (typical flower pot) or large containers (think 10-15 gallons). They thrived in both. Being mindful of the herb, I was able to successfully grow peppermint, echinacea, thyme, rosemary, oregano, lemon balm, cilantro, and spearmint in containers the first year I began venturing into herbalism. Some were strictly for medicinal uses, others were medicinal and culinary.

You can grow herbs in just about anything. Herbs are very forgiving, unlike the tomatoes that suffer my wrath each year. If you’re just getting started, try the containers. Container herbs can easily be grown on the back deck, and even in a window sill. Just be sure you prune back creeping herbs, like lemon balm and peppermint, as they spread like wildfire. In all honesty, they belong in a bed where they can grow for miles, but containers do work well for them when maintained properly.

Should you choose to create a garden bed specifically for herbs, as we did just this past year, keep the creepers in mind as well. For example, you don’t want to put lemon balm in a group of low growing herbs, as the lemon balm could suffocate them. But for herbs like Black Eyed Susan, the lemon balm can easily grow close to the ground while the Susan’s soar tall. Then again, sometimes it’s best to give it a garden bed of it’s own. The nice thing about creeping herbs is that they do pretty well in partial shaded areas, and sometimes even full shade, so planting them at the base of a tree isn’t out of the question.

 

Choosing & Growing Your Herbs

It can be quite fun when choosing which herbs to grow your first year. Many homesteaders start growing herbs for culinary purposes, and they would be surprised to find out just how many of those culinary herbs are medicinal as well.

That being said, don’t overwhelm yourself the first year you begin your medicinal herb garden. Here are the things I suggest contemplating before choosing your herbs.

  1. What are your top 3-5 reasons.
    Sitting down and writing out why you want to get started in medicinal herbs really helps move the process along. Choose 3-5 things that you really want to focus on for your family or homestead. Whether it’s common colds, allergies, headaches, blood pressure, wounds, livestock health, or simply preventative health (like incorporating oregano into your chicken feed as a natural antibiotic and preventative, or preventatives for your family), write down your 3-5 top reasons, and then research your herbs, choosing only one herb for each reasoning, unless you feel completely confident in taking on more your first year. **Make sure you do your research on herbs that should not be used if you have certain medical conditions, or are nursing or pregnant.
  2. Consider your hardiness zone. Some herbs are more heat and cold tolerant than others. You’ll need to research thoroughly (after you’ve chosen your herbs) to see if you’ll need to house your plants indoors, or if they will be ok outside during their growing season. Some herbs may need to be started inside before Spring, while others can be directly sown into the ground and do better because of it.
  3. Prepare your spaces and methods of growing. Think out your spacing ahead of time. For herbs like thyme and oregano, I use them often in meals, so I still grow them in containers on my back deck. I can bring the containers indoors when it gets too cold, or regrow them from seed the following year. If you’re not growing in containers, prepare your ground or raised beds ahead of time. Once  you’ve planted your plants or seeds, mulch the area liberally so that it dramatically cuts back on weed invasion and requires little maintenance.
  4. To harvest or let go to seed? That can be a big question. If you love the herbs you’ve chosen, you may consider letting many of them go to seed so that you can seed save, or allow the seeds to naturally fall to the ground for perennial growth. Don’t harvest everything all at once, only to be disappointed that you didn’t hold back any seeds or let the seeds naturally re-seed the soil beneath the plant. Have a list ready, a sort of garden journal, so that you can remind yourself not to harvest everything at once. In fact, you may not want to harvest most things all at once anyway. You can get multiple harvests throughout the season off of one batch (even a container) when only taking the top portion of herbs, or only taking a section of the batch (cutting down to the ground for new growth).
  5. Preserving your harvest can be daunting without proper preparations. To ensure proper preservation and space (because your herbs are going to be harvested in bunches at times), make sure you have your dry racks, dehydrator, and product materials necessary before you need them. If you’re planning on making tinctures, go ahead and buy the alcohol ahead of time. If you’re hoping to dry herbs naturally, without an oven or dehydrator, create your drying spaces and racks weeks in advance so that you aren’t scrambling and then end up losing your precious harvest because you didn’t have time to preserve it properly.

Don’t Forget About the Wild Herbs

Each year, when cleaning out my beds, I always let a few of the wild strawberry vines grow among the rest of the herbs. Before you rip up those pesky vines or weeds, do a little research. You just may find that the weeds growing in your flower beds and backyard are actually medicinal wild forage that can be used on your homestead and for your family. Instead of ripping them up, encourage them to grow.

Take these wild strawberries, for example. Strawberry leaves have one of the highest sources of Vitamin C in a wild growing plant. It can be used for aches and pains, as a diuretic, dysentery, rash, ulcers….the list goes on. Just be sure you properly research how to preserve and use wild herbs, as some can be poisonous in their raw form.

 

Some of My Favorite Herbs to Grow

To get you started, here are some of the most common herbs that people grow when they first begin, and what they can be used for.

Oregano

Oregano is most popular for it’s anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. It also has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-parasitic properties as well. Over recent years, many hatcheries and commercial poultry farms have been using oregano and thyme to combat parasitic and infectious issues in their chicken flocks. But more importantly, they use it as a preventative and as a replacement for commercial antibiotics—though not all have made that switch.

Oregano has been proven to kill MRSA, show anti-cancer properties, and aide in respiratory health as well.

 

Garlic

Garlic is a fabulous preventative on your homestead and for your animals, but it’s also necessary for your health. Now days, garlic is more widely known for its ability to help with high blood pressure and heart issues. Garlic is also now know to help prevent several different kinds of cancer, and even has anti-inflammatory properties. Garlic is naturally anti-bacterial, which means it can help rid the body of infectious bacteria, and can even help treat the common cold in children.

Garlic can treat fungal infections, fevers, cough, sinus congestion, low blood sugar, diptheria, whopping cough, ringworm, and more.

 

Thyme

Thyme and oregano are often used together in culinary dishes. But they are also often used together when it comes to medicinal purposes as well. Thyme is most commonly used to aid in respiratory and digestive issues. It has been proven to aid in respiratory conditions like asthma, bronchitis, and whooping cough. Thyme also helps with parasites (internal), fungal infections, anxiety, kidney issues, and more.

 

Peppermint

My friends, every single person in the world should grow peppermint. It is literally the easiest thing to grow, and it has incredible medicinal benefits. It’s widely known for it’s ability to help with nausea. If you’ve eaten something that didn’t agree with you, or just feeling nauseous, this is the herb you want. Tea form is best for nausea. Peppermint can also help treat IBS symptoms, colic, and gastrointestinal disorders.

The other thing peppermint is well known for is its ability to aid in respiratory health. For people who suffer with asthma or restricted airways, peppermint is a must have. During allergy season, when our airways become restricted, we go out and pick a peppermint leaf, rip it in half, and inhale deeply. It instantly opens our airways and brings relief. In studies, peppermint (essential oil) was proven to almost immediately reduce the pain and inflammation of tuberculosis. Peppermint is great for pain and does act as an anti-inflammatory as well.

 

 

Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)

Lemon Balm is most often used in its essential oil form, but it is very easy to grow and use as an herb.

Lemon Balm was used as far back as the Middle Ages to reduce stress and anxiety, promote sleep, improve appetite, and ease pain and discomfort from indigestion (including gas and bloating, as well as colic). Even before the Middle Ages, lemon balm was steeped in wine to lift the spirits, help heal wounds, and treat venomous insect bites and stings. Today, lemon balm is often combined with other calming, soothing herbs, such as valerian, chamomile, and hops, to promote relaxation. It is also used in creams to treat cold sores (oral herpes). Some evidence suggests that lemon balm, in combination with other herbs, may help treat indigestion. Others reveal that lemon balm oil has a high degree of antibacterial activity. In one study, lemon balm showed adequate activity against Listeria monocytogenes and Staphylococcus auerus. And a few studies have found that lemon balm may help improve cognitive function and decrease agitation in people with Alzheimer disease. [source: University of Maryland Medical Center]

 

Echinacea/Black Eyed Susan

Echinacea is probably the most commonly known herb for people who’ve never even gotten started into herbalism. It’s widely known for its ability to help prevent the common cold and flu, and to help boost the immune system. What people don’t realize is that Echinacea and Black Eyed Susans are part of the same family, and have many of the same medicinal benefits. This is why we grow both, many times finding that the Black Eyes Susan are more valuable than Echincea.

We use it through out the year for our animals and for ourselves. Be advised, if you have a ragweed allergy, then stay far away from Echinacea. It could, in fact, make your symptoms worse. If you are not allergic to ragweed, then this can be used to help boost the immune system, treat infection, and cure illnesses. Other uses are in the treatment of boils, yeast infections, snake bites, diphtheria, low white blood cell count, strep throat, anxiety, migraines, indigestion, pain relief, and more. We give this to our animals through out the year to keep them healthy and strong. Echinacea was the go to herb before antibiotics came along. That alone should tell you something!

“But Herbalism Scares Me”

When I ask homesteaders why they haven’t dived into holistic healthcare yet, they often respond with, “herbalism scares me, what if I kill my family”. Well, howdy doody, that’s a mighty fine comeback. The fear around herbalism is very real. What if you give your family something that you shouldn’t have? That’s why starting slow, with only a few herbs each year, is extremely important. As you master 3-5 medicinal herbs, and you research more and more, you’ll become more aware of the health benefits, do’s and don’ts around herbalism. Having a healthy dose of fear about anything is a good thing, but never let that deter you from taking control of your health.

Just think, not that many generations ago (some only once or twice removed), hebalism was the norm. This was a skill set that our ancestors had mastered. They instinctually knew what wild forage and herbs were good, how to prepare it, and what should be completely avoided. This skill very abruptly disappeared when populations increased and modern medicine came onto the scene. Miracle drugs, such as penicillin, were now the new norm. Yet here we are, decades later, discovering that these generations of penicillin ridden people has left us a generation of super-bugs that can only be combated with herbal medicine. Isn’t it funny how history repeats itself? Will us humans never realize that our bodies were created to be nourished by the earth, completely and wholly?

Take it slow, narrow down your ailments or reasoning for wanting to start a medicinal herb garden, and have fun with it!

Herbalism doesn’t have to be intimidating, in fact, it’s quite satisfying the more you grow in your herbal knowledge. When we begin to trust our bodies, our knowledge, and we saturate ourselves with getting back to our roots, these old skill sets slowly begin to seep  back into our blood and we not only create a better life for ourselves—one full of confidence in our abilities—but we also leave behind a legacy for our children. Our children will be healthier, our children’s children will benefit because their parents’ bodies were healthier when they were created. And the vicious cycle of unnatural  medicine stops with our generation.

I encourage you to take the leap into herbalism this year, and enjoy it! After all, it’s just one more step to becoming more self-sufficient.

**DISCLAIMER: I am not a medical professional. Please use caution while using herbal remedies and medicines and pursue what is said in this article with utmost attention and caution. In all ways, do what’s right for you and your family.

{Garden Project 2015}…when things go right.

 

I was whining just a couple of weeks ago about how things never go right. Sure enough, when you plan something on your homestead, the exact opposite happens. A quick run down — we had big plans for a large garden this year, 6-8 large raised beds to be exact. But we realized that our septic field is in the backyard, right where the beds would be, and it cannot constantly be saturated by the watering of plants. Therefore, our entire plan was scratched.
We thought for sure that we would just do some container gardening this year — tomatoes, peppers, and carrots — and hope for a garden next year. We would utilize our local farmers market again….a lot. I was bummed and completely unmotivated to start planting seedlings for containers.
However, when push comes to shove, sometimes, you just can’t give up.
Which brings me to this year’s new gardening plan. While it’s much more small scale, it still allows me to can some of the things that I was really looking forward to canning this year.

 

 

 

Husband has decided that we have enough room in-between our front walkway and our large shed where we can place 2 large raised beds. They will be 8ft wide and 4 foot in depth. These raised beds will house vegetables such as beets, green beans, corn, lettuce, carrots and some herbs.

Beside our shed, we can place several containers for gardening, such as our tomatoes, peppers, and other vegetables that grow up, instead of down or around. We’ll also section off a place for our cucumbers and watermelon. This is our first year planting watermelon here. We planted melons often when I was a kid, and they were delicious! JR is excited about the watermelon possibility. He picked them out last year but we were unable to get the seeds into the ground in time.

I’m extremely excited about this possibility, because it will allow most of our fresh produce to come right from our yard, but we will still visit the market often.

We were throwing around ideas about Winter gardening the other day, and have considered turning our very over-sized chicken coop into a green house, and building a smaller chicken coop now that we have less chickens (and it will remain that way). It is something we might consider this fall, depending upon whether we are actively still searching for a new property or not. If we decide to do so, that will be a very fun project!!

We will begin planting our seeds this week, and into the ground they will go in the coming weeks. JR can’t wait, and neither can I!

{Garden Project 2015} Nothing Ever Goes As Planned

They say that man plans his steps, and God laughs. If you’re a true homesteader, then you know that without a shadow of a doubt, you need to find who the heck originally said that quote so that you can get on their (and Gods) good graces. Because, well, let’s face it, it’s the cold hard truth. And then you realize, it was God all along….
It’s true, almost every single thing you plan as a homesteader, you have to understand the real reality that it may not, and probably won’t, ever happen. And if it does, it will probably be a miserable fail.
Which brings me to this years garden….

Here I sit, watching everyone plant their precious little seeds of life, either indoors or cold hardy things outdoors. I’d be planting mine right now too, but instead they sit in a bag on my dresser. Hundreds of tiny little seeds just begging to be planted. And unfortunately, I just don’t know if they will actually be planted this year.
As you might remember from my first garden blog post a few weeks ago, I was super excited about building raised garden beds this year. You see, we literally live on the side of an extremely steep hill (aka, small mountain) and it is impossible to just till a garden and have at it. I know this, because I tilled an entire (small) plot of land one year, completely by hand (no tractor or rototiller), and it was a miserable fail. The first rain took most of the seeds with its rushing water down the hillside. And the Summer rains exposed all of the roots from the plants that hunkered down and grew. The only thing that really ended up growing were peppers, peas, mint, some tomatoes that got eaten by the squirrels, and potatoes.
This year was going to be an awesome garden year, because I had high hopes of canning most of the extras for the following Winter. But it looks like, once again, we’ll be utilizing the Farmer’s Market more often than not. Which, I won’t complain. I get to support my local farmers and get amazing produce, but it’s just not the same.
Here’s our dilemma….
We only live on a half acre, that’s our first dilemma. You always hear me say that you can do a lot on a 1/2 acre, and you can, but there are limits.
Our second issue is that our entire property is surrounded by tree’s. This means that there’s really only one place that gets sun most of the day, and that is our backyard, as it faces the East and would get the least harsh of sunlight.
The next issue is that our entire septic and drain field is in our backyard. And if you know anything about that, you know that it’s a big no-no to place large raised garden beds on top of your septic field. Oh, there’s totally other space in the backyard to plant a garden….but it’s being used by chickens and rabbits right now! Great….
That brings us to only one other option…the front yard.

Our entire front yard is in use, constantly. It is about a little less than 1/4 acre, but it has a large shed, most of our driveway and parking, mostly shade to one side, and the rest is the play area. Where the heck am I putting a garden??

I’m not….

We went from having a huge garden, herbs, flowers for the bee’s….to maybe being lucky enough to have 1-2 raised beds and some buckets strategically placed about the property.
Of course, it’s better than nothing, and more than most. So we are grateful for even the littlest of space. But my goodness, “more land” cannot come quick enough for me. I know that this is Gods way of teaching me patience and gratefulness, but it’s never easy…ever.
So here’s to the garden of 2015, the garden I’ll never have. You were awesome in my dreams, but as always….
….nothing ever goes as planned…..

Garden Project 2015 | The Planning Process

I had these huge plans to do a nice little garden last year……but it never happened. You see, we live on the side of a steep hill, what I refer to as a “mountain”. I have fallen a countless amount of times down that hill in the rain, snow and even on the driest of days. I’ve almost broken a wrist, sliced my leg open on a stray nail sticking up in the ground, and I’ve fallen on a chicken or two and had to apologize profusely. It must hurt being fallen on.

Last year I dug a small garden, by hand. That’s right. I whipped out the hoe and diggers and had at it. I got a few potatoes, some peas, tomatoes. But ultimately, almost everything I planted died because of water run off from the hill. Bah-hum-bug.

Husband decided that he would build me eight large raised beds this year. To say I’m excited is an understatement. I am ecstatic to finally have vegetables back. Don’t get me wrong — we loved utilizing the farmer’s market last year. We met some awesome new farmers and locals. But it just wasn’t the same as having your own right at your fingertips.

This year we’ve decided to do 4-6 beds of vegetables and 2 beds of flowers/herbs. The flower beds are strictly to help bring bee’s into the area. I know, I sound crazy, right? Unfortunately the honey bee population in Virginia (and in the country) is quickly diminishing because of the pesticides that large corporations and small farms use. We will be a pesticide free area, and I can’t wait to welcome the bee’s when they come. No bee’s, no veggies. No veggies, no happy mama.

I have ordered seeds from the same catalogs every year, and every year, they never disappoint. This year, however, we plan to save our own seeds from our own plants. If we continue to collect and plant the seeds from our plants, by the third generation, they will be much more bountiful and fruitful, as they will have acclimated nicely to our soil and weather conditions. I’m not sure why we never did this before, but this year, it is definitely a “must” on our to-do list.

Seed Savers Exchange is a completely non-gmo, organic, non-hybrid, non-chemical based seed company. Every single seed in their catalog is completely organic, non-gmo, and heirloom (not hybrid).

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange is a company based right here in Virginia. Many of their seeds are also organic and heirloom, but not all. Make sure you go by the heirloom and organic symbols by each product in the catalog. We still use SESE because there are certain plants in here that I can get that are not in the Seed Savers Exchange catalog.

The below is a quick (albeit, messy) layout of what I would like to have in the back this year. It will also help with re-sale value when we decide to put our house on the market.

 
Veggies we are planning to grow:

Empress Green Beans
Edmonson Pickling Cucumbers
Bushy Cucumbers
Dwarf Blue Curled Scotch Kale
Red Cherry Tomatoes
California Wonder Sweet Bell Pepper
Stone Mountain Watermelon (Juniors pick)
Abraham Lincoln Tomatoes
Brandywine Tomatoes
Green Arrow Peas
Jalapenos
Tom Thumb Bib Lettuce
Kentucy Wonder Snap Bean
St. Valery Carrots
Danvers Carrots
Detroit Dark Red Beets
Country Gentleman Sweet Corn

Flowers we are planning to grow:
Night Phlox
Gift Zinnia
Outhouse Hollyflock
Bee’s Friend
Sensitive Plant
Echinacea (also an herb)

Herbs we are planning to grow:
Lavender
Oregano
Cilantro
Thyme
Mint
Lemon Balm
Rosemary
Yarrow

Every year, husband becomes more and more intrigued with everything “all natural”. It has been a slow process for him, but I find it absolutely adorable when he gets into making lists of things to do with me. He is a burly, hardworking man by day, and the last thing he wants to think about when he gets home is gardening (oh, and that extra rabbit hutch I need him to build), but he’s a trooper. And he has quickly begun to realize that this isn’t just something that I “want to do”, it’s something that is important for our family.
We are currently pricing out lumber for our raised beds, so once that process is complete and everything is delivered, the fun blogging and DIYing begins!!

Preparing for Spring Gardening & Homesteading With Children Underfoot

While we are still in the depths of Winter here in Virginia, we homesteaders often start thinking about Spring, seeds, gardening and new life on our homesteads at the beginning of January. We’ve made our New Year’s goals and wishes, and now it’s time to implement them. We are doers, not just dreamers, and we make things happen.
But not all of us have spare time with which to work. Many of us, like myself, are parents. Parents of newborns and toddlers, while delighted in their children, just don’t have enough extra hands to get everything done in the time frame they wish. And let’s not even talk about when Spring and Summer actually begin.

Preparation and planning are key this time of year for parents of little ones, but so is involving and training them. Here are a few things we’ve found help us train our child to be a mini-homesteader, even at a very young age. Not only will this help you have better efficiency on the homestead, but it will also allow your little one to grow and learn amazing new things.

Involvement and Patience

Even a two-year old child knows whether they are wanted or not. And while many may scoff at the idea of allowing a two-year old to help you dig in the mud, bring you small pitchers of water, and tend to the chickens — it is completely the norm on a daily basis here. And you know what, they love it. But let’s start from the beginning — it doesn’t just begin when the seed planting and other Spring chores begin, it begins during the preparation period as well.

First and foremost, patience is a virtue. If you have a newborn or child that isn’t walking yet, I hate to tell you this, but you’ll probably just have to strap that baby to you and submerge them into your daily chores — however, this might be the easiest of all ages, and they will begin to take a natural interest in your daily routine.

For toddlers and older children, keep in mind that you aren’t just letting your child help, you are literally training your child on how to become self-sufficient, reliable, disciplined and diligent. These are character traits that they will use throughout their lives, not just in homesteading and self-sufficiency. Patience, on your part, is a huge necessity. But, I promise, the outcome will be totally worth it. Your training and patience methods will depend upon your child’s personality and age. You know your child better than anyone. Never force your child to do something they don’t want to do, otherwise, they will never take interest in it. For children that are willingly eager, run with it. For older children that might not have any interest at all, take this as an opportunity to teach them on an educational level rather than just hands-on involvement. Offer them free worksheets and garden journals as an educational resource. You can find many of these for free online. This is also a great project if you homeschool, make it part of your curriculum. Explain to them the importance of self-sufficiency — not that they have to do it, but that it’s a skill that is beneficial to them now and in the future, and it is a skill that came naturally to their great-great-grandparents.

Second, involve your children (toddler and older) in the seed buying and planting process. Allow them to pick out at least one seed packet at the store or in a catalog. Even if it’s something off the wall or that you didn’t plan to plant (as long as it is suitable for your zone and preferably a transplant) — who knows, you might end up liking it! The key is finding something that they want and that they will be passionate about planting and tending to. When ready to plant indoors, set out several planters for your child. Allow them to fill them with dirt while following your instruction. In the coming weeks, whenever it is time to tend to the seedlings, involve them in every step. Do not do their work for them on their seedlings — their seedlings are their project, not yours. Give them responsibility over it. They will imitate what you do under your guidance. When it comes time for the plants to be transplanted, from beginning to end, involve them — again, allowing them to own and be responsible for their own plants. It is their responsibility to transplant, prune and harvest their crop (yes, even a toddler). The best part might be getting into the kitchen with them and letting them help you cook and preserve their harvest.

In the beginning of the process, your child may eventually become impatient, as we often do ourselves when we are excited about new growth. Share in their excitement and in their frustrations. Don’t just blow them off. While it is necessary for your child to want to be involved, it is also necessary for you to share all of the emotions, strengths and weaknesses with them in their involvement.

 

Involvement In Other Homestead Chores

My son takes more interest in tending to the animals than he does in gardening, and rightfully so. He’s a bull in a china cabinet but he has a tender soul. When we first got chickens, I hated letting him collect eggs because I just knew that he would break half of them on the way back up to the house. And the very first time that happened, I still remember it so clearly. He was so proud of himself. He had carefully walked all the way up the hill with his eggs, meticulously paying attention so that he wouldn’t drop them. He finally made it into the house and was ecstatic to show me what he had collected. He was hiding one of the eggs in his little hands behind his back and said, “Mom, guess what I have!” I turned around, and as he quickly pulled his hand from behind his back to show me the egg, his hand stopped, but the egg didn’t. Splat…right there all over the kitchen floor. His precious little heart was just broken and those big crocodile tears began. I knew then, just how important it was that my reaction not be one of condemnation, but of grace, followed by an encouraging hug and a “you are so big and helpful and you’ll do better next time, I know it.”

I get it, I do. Many times we don’t want to allow our younger children to help in other homestead chores because they are just too complicated and time consuming. Gardening is simple, other things are not. But keep in mind that a ten year old will not understand and be efficient in helping you with larger jobs around the homestead unless you involve that ten year old when he is a younger age. Here are a few age specific jobs that might help you involve your children a little better. Please understand that you know your child’s mental maturity, so these are just age ranges.

Ages 2 to 4:

Learning things by mainly watching rather than “hands-on”.


• Collecting eggs with supervision from the chicken coop.
• Helping with the garden — planting, watering, harvesting with supervision
• Feeding smaller homestead animals with supervision (chickens, dogs, barn cats)
• Crocheting and other crafts
• Watching while preserving and canning
• Cleaning up around the homestead under supervision, this includes household chores (vacuuming, sweeping, folding wash rags).

Ages 5-7:

All of the above, plus…

• Collecting eggs from the chicken coop (unsupervised)
• Helping with the garden — tending to plants under supervision but independently.
• Feeding medium sized homestead animals with limited supervision (tamed goats and livestock, chickens, etc)
• Learning how-to and milking animals under supervision.
• Cleaning up around the homestead, unsupervised for small jobs (leaves, cleaning small coops/stalls/hutches, etc), supervised for more complicated ones. This includes household chores (helping with laundry, helping prep meals)

Ages 8 and up:

If you have been doing all of the above with them, then they can move on to these next steps. Do not allow an 8 year old to do the things listed in the next level if they do not have the basic concepts and experience as mentioned above.

• Collecting eggs, feeding animals, cleaning coops/stalls and gardening independently and without supervision.
• Helping with the preserving and canning process independently and with supervision for more complicated projects.
• Milking independently with you there beside them in case help is needed and to ensure that milk is being extracted properly. If you have multiple goats or cows to milk, get them set up and then milk alongside your child. This gives them independence but also allows you to supervise.
• Helping tend to new livestock births with supervision.
• Aiding in the breeding process of livestock, incubating eggs independently with guidance, tending to smaller young livestock independently (chicks, rabbit kits, etc.)
• Tending to household chores — doing laundry (washing, drying, folding), preparing and making age appropriate meals with limited supervision, sewing and mending clothes.

These are just a few idea’s to get you started. Each homestead is different and each child is different. However, the ultimate goal is starting young (with patience) and allowing that to grow into a very handy helper and a self-sufficient child. Not only is it about having your children help around the homestead, it’s about teaching them life skills that will be so beneficial to them throughout their lives. It’s about giving them responsibility and fueling their desire to learn. And honestly, it’s about spending time with them and teaching them. The best way to learn is to watch and be submerged into it. Do not underestimate the ability of your child. If they are never given the chance to have responsibility, then you cannot blame them when they are older for not efficiently taking on responsibility. At the same time, do not overwhelm your child. Allow them to do the things they are passionate about, while watching what they aren’t as passionate about.

All in all, make planning for Spring and upcoming projects fun for your kids — and I promise, you won’t regret it in the long run!

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