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  • Creative Seed Storage: Save and Organize Your Garden Seeds

    This site is supported by our audience. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases (at no extra cost to you). However, I only recommend products I love and/or use. I’ve been gardening in one form or another my whole life. My parents would send me out to water the garden after school when I was little, and as I grew, so did my gardening responsibilities. I find working around plants and fresh soil to be deeply relaxing—originally a reprieve from homework, and now a kind of escape from the busyness of daily life. I guess that’s why this plant addiction followed me into adulthood: container gardens in apartments and sprouting greens on my kitchen counter, then raised beds in my backyard, and now farming our homestead—really too big to be called a garden at all. You hear many people talk about gardening, but you rarely hear about one of the side effects of gardening addiction: saving and storing seeds. I seldom use all the seeds from a packet, and all of those leftovers can pile up. Add in the seeds I’ve saved from produce I’ve grown (or even store-bought organic produce), and my seed stash rapidly gets out of hand. In this post, I’ll share a few of my favorite seed-storing tips and ideas, plus some products that will make your seed fetish more manageable. What’s the best way to store seeds? Proper seed storage is essential to ensure the best chance of germination in the following year.  Most seeds should be stored in a cool, dry location out of direct sunlight. I’ve stored garden seeds in the back of the pantry, a box in the linen closet, and now in a designated seed-saving area of my basement. Seeds should not be stored where temperatures fluctuate rapidly or where they can get overly hot or freeze. Of course, there are some exceptions to this rule (like if you’re intentionally freezing seeds that need to be stratified), but this is the general guideline for the majority of common vegetables and herbs. If you are saving fresh seed—harvested from your garden or other produce—let the seeds dry thoroughly to prevent mold before packing them away. I once saved a large amount of yellow dock seeds from my medicinal herb garden bed only to discover months later that a drop of moisture somehow entered the packaging, and I was left with a plastic bag of fuzzy black mold. What is the best container for storing seeds? Whether saving a tiny tomato seed or hard-shelled pumpkin seeds, you’ll get the best results using an airtight container. Your goal is to protect the seed coat (the hard outer shell nature provides around the endosperm) from pests, light, and moisture. While store-bought seeds are usually packaged in paper envelopes, long-term seed storage requires more protection to preserve germination rates and avoid disappointment during planting season. The simplest airtight long-term storage container is the ever-reliable glass Mason jar. With sizes ranging from 2-ounce spice jars to much larger gallons, Mason jars are easy to find and affordable. Try thrifting them from your local secondhand store or looking on sites such as Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist. To keep your seed collection organized more compactly, try storing seed packets in photo storage cases. These stackable cases look tidy and provide a way to group similar varieties together. A similar idea to the photo storage case but with the added benefit of preventing light contamination, a light-blocking seed organizer with little round storage containers and seed-saving envelopes is best for small seeds. Think flower seeds, tomatoes, and herbs. I like to keep seed packets that I plan to use within a few months organized in a three-ring binder with clear plastic seed storage sheets. The sheets have divisions the perfect size for standard seed envelopes, and the binder tucks away nicely on my bookshelf right beside my gardening books. Because these seeds will be planted quickly, and my bookcase is in a dry area, I don’t need to worry as much about moisture. If you want to store a small quantity of seeds within easy reach, a vintage-inspired metal seed storage box might be just what you’re looking for. It reminds me of an old-fashioned recipe box my grandmother used to keep on the kitchen counter—I think it’s perfect for storing sprouting seeds since I rotate through those all year long. How can I organize my seed storage containers? Now that you have an idea of the type of containers you’d like to use to store seeds, you need to decide what to do with your neatly labeled boxes and jars. Here are a few ideas to get you started: Try converting an old dresser or nightstand into a seed storage chest. Designate a corner of a pantry for seed storage jars. Hang a cute shelving unit on a wall in a spare room or your office—and fill the shelves with jars boasting color-coordinated labels. Repurpose old-fashioned bread boxes and fill with frequently used sprouting seeds. Fill vintage suitcases with seed storage containers and stack them in a corner for visual appeal. Conclusion Whether you store a few flower seeds gathered on long walks or bulk-buy garden seeds for a large vegetable bed, keeping seeds viable and organized is key to simplifying your gardening hobby. Find a storage method that fits your personality and homestead, and have fun filling your world with colorful flowers and home-grown food! BONUS: Did you know gardening reduces stress? Check out this post to find out How Gardening Relieves Stress and Helps You Unwind! You can also check out more gardening posts from our friends at Homesteading Tips 101!

  • Stressed Out and Pregnant? These Herbs Help Calm Anxiety

    This site is supported by our audience. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases (at no extra cost to you). However, I only recommend products I love and/or use. Expecting a new bundle of joy is a wonderful time filled with anticipation, excitement … and oftentimes, stress and anxiety. During pregnancy, a woman’s hormones are changing and fluctuating with the growth of her unborn child. Together, mother and child grow both physically and emotionally. Although some stress is a natural part of pregnancy, too much stress can cause physical issues for both mother and babe. From worrying about the baby’s health to stressing over upcoming financial challenges, pregnancy can cause a woman to spend too much time worrying when she could be basking in the beautiful changes happening in her life. If stress and anxiety are interfering with your joys of motherhood, these four herbs might be just the thing you’re looking for. Oh, one more thing—since the first trimester is a delicate time for your new baby, wait until after the first trimester to try the herbs listed below. (Always consult a qualified medical professional before adding herbs or other supplements to your routine.) 1. Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis): Lemon balm is a soothing and nurturing herb that relaxes both body and mind. Lemon balm can calm your nerves, boost your mood, and help with insomnia that naturally comes with the nighttime discomfort of a changing body shape. 2. Rosehips (Rosa canina and Rosa rubiginosa): Rosehips are the fruit of the rose plant. Usually a rich red or dark orange color when ripe, rosehips add beauty to a rose bush after the petals have faded in the fall. Rosehips are a rich source of vitamin C, and their mild flavor blends well with other earthy herbs. Rosehips assist with the absorption of iron and calcium—both necessary for the nourishment of mother and baby. 3. Oat straw (Avena sativa): Oat straw or milky oats come from the tops of unripe oat plants (the same plant that gives you your morning bowl of oatmeal). Oat straw is a nervine herb that tones and calms the nervous system. Its mild, nutty flavor is easier to drink during bouts of morning sickness than some more strongly flavored herbs, and it combines well with fruit juices such as apple and peach. Try making oat straw tea and apple juice popsicles, or use oat straw tea instead of water when you make flavored gelatin desserts. 4. Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata): Passionflower is an excellent anti-anxiety herb that also induces sleep and relaxation. Use it in small doses and only under professional guidance, since large doses can be a uterine stimulant. What can I do to relieve stress during the first trimester? If stress and anxiety are confronting you during the first trimester of pregnancy, or you would like options other than using herbs internally, try some of the following suggestions. 1. Yoga: Gentle prenatal yoga and restorative yoga poses and stretches can be beneficial stress relievers during pregnancy. Yoga encourages us to still the mind and relax the body while focusing on the breath. Avoid hot yoga and other strenuous practices, and make sure you drink plenty of water and stay hydrated. (Mayo Clinic, February 2021) 2. Walking meditation: Walking meditation is a form of active meditation. Walking is a wonderful exercise on its own, and when combined with mindfulness to create a walking meditation, this activity can decrease stress levels and bolster a sense of well-being. You don’t need any special equipment to do a walking meditation, and you can practice both indoors and out. 3. Eat right: Healthy eating is always important, but it can be difficult to eat normally if you have waves of nausea at odd times of the day. Try to maintain a healthy diet by eating nutrient-dense foods in frequent, small portions. Oatmeal is a stomach soother that can be lightly sweetened to make it more palatable or adorned with fresh fruit to boost its nutrient value. 4. Curl up with a good book: If you’re one of those people (like me!) who can get lost in a good book, use this opportunity to read that book you’ve been longing for. Let yourself get carried away in a fantasy world, and put your worries on the back burner. You’ll have fewer chances to read grownup books after baby arrives, so treat yourself to a little extra you time right now. Other things to remember … There is no need to feel guilty for feeling stressed or for taking extra time to pamper yourself. If you’re feeling stressed or anxious during your pregnancy, know that some stress is normal now, just as it is during other times in life. But also know that through loving self-care, you can reduce your anxiety and enjoy your pregnancy and the new life you are creating. (Please consult a medical professional or mental health practitioner if you have any physical or mental health concerns, so they can provide you with extra support and guidance during this time.)

  • Solar Cooking in the Snow! GoSun Sport Product Review

    This site is supported by our audience. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases (at no extra cost to you!). However, I only recommend products I love and/or use. Hey, friends! I recently purchased a GoSun Sport solar oven (I’ve wanted a sun oven for ages!), so today I’d like to do a quick product review so you can decide if you’d like to get one, too. Cooking with solar energy (power from the sun) saves electricity and fuel because, well, you don’t need anything more than a partly sunny day to get the job done! Food is less likely to burn in a solar cooker, and natural moisture from the food gets trapped inside the GoSun’s cooking tube, lending itself to the creation of delightfully moist baked goods. You’d have to put a pan of water in your gas or electric range to get the same effect. I looked at a variety of ovens for solar cooking, including DIY varieties and portable vs. stationary models, but I wanted something easy to pack, lightweight, and that didn't require heavy pans (like Dutch ovens or casserole dishes). I also wanted the cooker to rely strictly on solar power – no preheating pans or prebaking anything ahead of time. I decided to get the GoSun Sport Pro solar oven kit. It comes with a sturdy carrying case and all kinds of fun things to use in the cooker. It even has little silicone cupcake liners I can use to bake snack-sized chocolate cakes. Two food trays were included in the pro pack; each tray holds 5 or 6 cupcake liners, a whole package of hot dogs, or enough food to feed three people. Everything arrived nicely bubble wrapped and securely packaged for safe shipping. You’ll want to line the food trays with parchment or aluminum foil to reduce the amount of cleaning the trays require. Make sure you don’t overfill the trays, either – you don’t want excess spillage in the glass cooking tube. But if you do need to scrub out the tube, you can use this little green scratchy cleaning brush that fits perfectly inside the oven’s tube. Just screw it onto the end of a food tray, and voila! – the tray turns into a handle for the scrubber. The pro pack includes a second food tray, so while you have one tube cooking, you can fill another tray to pop into the oven after it cools back off (don’t put cold trays in the hot glass tube … I’ve broken enough glass canning jars to know that’s a no-no). The GoSun pro pack also came with a small kettle for boiling water (hot cocoa while camping – yes please!) and a user guide with a handy cooking chart that tells you how long different food products take to cook in the sun. The GoSun has black wire handles that fold all the way around towards the back (behind the parabolic reflector) and become the legs of the oven. Use the legs to position it exactly how you want it, and make sure your solar oven is facing the sun. Pro tip: stand between your solar cooker and the sun, and make sure your shadow is falling perpendicular to the glass tube. Or pretend you’re making a letter “T”; your shadow will be the stem of the T, and the glass tube will be the part that crosses the top. To challenge my GoSun, I decided to try it out on a snowy day. An arctic blast passed through this weekend, and today it’s only 27° F. With the below-freezing temperature and partly cloudy skies, I could really put this little oven to the test. I made chocolate cake batter from a box mix (shortcut) and filled up half a dozen of those little cupcake trays. The tray easily slid into the oven nice and snug. At the top of the seal on the end of the tray nearest the handle, there’s a little V-shaped notch. That notch is your vent, so the steam can escape while your food is cooking. Make sure the vent is facing up. I left my GoSun sitting outside surrounded by snow on a cloudy day for about an hour and 20 minutes while I went and did some grocery shopping, and when I came back, I opened it up. The tube was cool enough for me to touch, but I burned my hand on the actual food tray – so be smarter than me and make sure you wear oven mitts! My little snack cakes baked perfectly. They came out moist and fluffy and steaming hot. I was amazed at the amount of heat that collected inside the oven's glass tube, and I have no doubt it could grill meatballs and bake potatoes with the same efficiency – even under a cloudy sky! I hope that you enjoyed this quick review showing that the GoSun Sport oven really can cook in all different temperatures. All you need is a little bit of sun and something wonderful to cook! PS – If you want to kick your solar cooking up a notch and use your GoSun grill 24/7, take a look at the GoSun Fusion! It's the best of solar cooking combined with a USB connection that connects to a battery pack for late-night meals when you're on the go.

  • 5 Tips to Avoid Buying Bad Property

    This site is supported by our audience. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. However, I only recommend products I love and/or use. We bought property during the pandemic, but it wasn’t an impulse buy. We weren’t suddenly trying to escape from the confines of society in a mad dash to find fresh breezes and room to stretch. We’d been on our search for several years. We had finally decided against building in the forested areas (too many wildfires) and agreed to buy property on the plains just over an hour’s drive from the closest big city and about the same hour or so from my job. If anything, we were even more driven than before due to my successful completion of chemotherapy and the realization that we needed to stop putting our dreams on hold and start enjoying our lives together. Like, really enjoying ourselves. And for us, that means stretches of blue sky, pastel sunsets, the sound of birds instead of sirens, and fresh soil bursting with the food we grow for our family. So when we stumbled upon 70 acres of rolling farmland with mountain views on a well-maintained county road, we were hooked. We found the property during the summer, and by autumn, it was ours. We spent the winter dreaming about what we would build: a home, a barn, a Walipini-style greenhouse, and acres and acres of native grasses that would attract wildlife, control erosion, and restore the area’s natural beauty. But then we met our first neighbor, and our excitement started to dwindle. They let us know that their well water was undrinkable. We would need to filter our household water and acidify the water for the garden. Not exactly what we had hoped for, but it was manageable, so we put in for our water well permit (and rain catchment permit) and started collecting bids from well-drilling companies. Next was our perc test. The test came back showing that our soil had high levels of clay and absorbed water instead of letting it drain through. That meant we would need to install an engineered septic system (to the tune of more money) instead of having a simple, gravity-fed system. And finally, the soil test for our house came back as our biggest disappointment. Our foundation would need to be supported by caissons—not because we were on a hillside or had a high water table, but because the soil expands and contracts too much, so it can’t support a house without the extra stabilization. *sigh* Each of these—the lousy well water, perc test, and soil test—were a surprise to us. But you don’t need to end up with the same surprises after you purchase your dream property. Read on to discover five things to look out for before signing a purchase agreement. (You might be able to add water and soil tests in your contract as contingencies, but expect to foot the bill for testing since the seller isn’t obligated to pay.) Well water If the property you are interested in already has a well, ask to have the water tested. You may be able to take a sample to a local well company or county extension office for lost-cost testing to make sure the water is safe to drink and use for household purposes. If the property doesn’t have a well yet, try talking to your neighbors. Ask them if they’ve had any issues with the water, if they need a whole-house filtration system, and what aquifer they’re on. You can also check your state’s water quality division to see how deep the water wells are in your area, so you’ll know how deep yours will need to go, too. (The deeper the well, the higher the drilling costs.) Septic perc test This one’s a little trickier unless the property you want to buy already has a septic system. Again, talking to your neighbors is a good way to gather opinions, but checking with the county to see if the septic systems in your area require engineering is a safer bet. If you don’t want the extra expense of an engineered system, it’s better to find out before you’ve signed on the dotted line. Soil test (core drill) Some counties require a core sample before they will grant a building permit. Check with your county, then find out if you’re going to need engineered plans for your home. You can ask your neighbors, but we learned that not all soil is created equal, and just because properties are nearby does not mean they share the same type of soil. Our soil contains more clay and is more expansive than our neighbors’. We’re also just slightly uphill from them, so our increase in elevation might be part of the reason for the difference. They were able to plunk their house down on a standard foundation, while we were required to have an engineered foundation with caissons to keep our home steady on the expansive soil. Zoning requirements Although this might sound obvious, check your zoning requirements before purchasing your land. Some of the counties we looked at would only allow site-built homes (no modular or manufactured) and had stricter regulations than an HOA—even though there were no HOAs in the area. Other counties have more of a you-do-you attitude and allow homeowners to build anything from an Earthship to a ranch with multiple dwellings. Make sure the property you’re interested in meets your needs. If you want a property with agricultural zoning to raise livestock and grow food for the table, make sure you understand what is required to keep the property in agricultural status (which usually means lower taxes, too). Just owning a horse or a few chickens won’t do the trick. You will generally be required to raise food or fiber for profit—or own a large enough acreage to keep the status simply due to size. Another option is to register as a farm with the FSA (the USDA Farm Service Agency) and get involved with the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The NRCS can help you conserve your soil, apply for federal grants, and possibly receive funding by signing up for a Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Property taxes We found some beautiful, rolling farmland closer to town than the property we eventually settled on. What made the difference? Several thousand dollars a year in taxes! Check your county and find out what the taxes are for agricultural land, residential property, and vacant land (which sometimes has a considerably higher tax rate than either of the previously mentioned types). Resources For more information on how to buy land without buying a lemon, check out these helpful reference books. Land Buying Tips From the Pros: How to Buy Rural Real Estate by Pat Porter Land Investing Mistakes: 11 True Stories You Need To Know Before Buying Land by Erika Benson 10 Things You Need To Know About Land: A How-To Guide About Lots and Vacant Land for Agents, Investors, and You! by Cheryl L. Sain There are even more books on Kindle. If you haven’t joined yet, click here to sign up and enjoy free books and discounted prices.

  • Top 10 Cruelty-Free Beauty Products for A Luxurious Self-Care Routine

    This site is supported by our audience. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. However, I only recommend products I love and/or use. As the saying goes, Il faut souffrir pour être belle (beauty is pain). But is that really the case? I think beauty routines should be gentle, loving, and make you feel great about taking care of yourself. And when you know your beauty brands are cruelty-free, you can feel good about supporting products that nourish your skin without harming animals (or the planet). Not everyone can afford top-dollar beauty products, but adding one or two to your routine will give you that extra pampering you so deserve. A skin-firming moisturizer or organic facial oil might be just the thing to provide you with a fresh, dewy look and rehydrate dry winter skin. Here are my top 10 cruelty-free luxury beauty product recommendations to get you started. Marula Beauty Organic Facial Oil Marula oil comes from the marula tree, which grows in sub-Saharan tropical Africa. The oil is cold-pressed to maintain high levels of antioxidants, amino acids, and fatty acids. Clinical studies of marula oil show improved skin elasticity with continued use. Add some to your vegan beauty routine today! REN Clean Skincare: Instant Firming Beauty Shot Ren Clean Skincare was inspired by Jane Buck, the wife of Antony Buck. While pregnant, Jane found that her skin had become more sensitive, and she was having bad reactions to her usual skincare products. Synthetic ingredients irritated her skin, and the limited natural products she could find didn’t have lasting benefits for her skin. Unable to find “clean” products on the market, Antony Buck and co-founder Rob Calcraft created the REN skincare line. REN’s Instant Firming Beauty Shot absorbs quickly and helps skin feel firmer and more resilient. Neocutis Neo Firm You know those age spots that develop from too much sun exposure on your tender neck and upper chest? The spots and thinning skin that glare out when you wear an elegant blouse with a low-cut neckline? After all, our young years were all about laying out in the sun to get a tan and naturally highlighted hair without thoughts of how we’d look in another 20 years—right? Neo Firm Neck and Décolleté Firming Cream is specifically created to help firm skin and lighten age spots on the neck and décolleté. And even better, it’s free from animal testing. Artisanal Spa Collection Paraben-free, sulfate-free, and cruelty-free beauty products make up this collection of luxury bath products. We all know that applying moisturizer to damp skin helps products work even better. So instead of taking a hot, drying shower before applying moisturizing creams, why not create a spa experience at home and give yourself the extra pampering you deserve? Specially crafted soaps, bath bombs, and bath salts comprise this beautiful kit and include fragrances such as Pomegranate Passion Fruit, Palo Santo, and Scarlet Rose. The kit is perfect for gifting to your favorite vegan, too! RevitaLash Cosmetics Volume Enhancing Foam RevitaLash Cosmetics Volume Enhancing Foam is the perfect unisex hair care solution for thinning hair. Apply this physician-created, cruelty-free product to clean hair (don’t rinse it out!) daily to give thinning locks an extra boost. And if your eyebrows are starting to get a little on the thin side, too, RevitaLash also makes RevitaBrow—an advanced serum eyebrow conditioner! Clean Skin Club Clean Towels Looking for a way to create less waste while removing vegan makeup and cleansing your skin? Instead of making more laundry or tossing another disposable wipe into the landfill, try Clean Skin Club’s biodegradable face towels for truly clean beauty. Free from chemicals, artificial fragrances, and without animal testing, these natural towels will help your face feel cleaner and cut down on landfill waste. Unicorn Fruit Whipped Body Butter by Truly The name lured me in on this one, but nourishing ingredients like shea butter, kokum butter, and jojoba seed oil locked in the deal. This thick, creamy, luxurious body butter is perfect for smoothing onto damp skin after a relaxing soak in the bath. Another benefit? The sweet, fruity fragrance is phthalate-free, and the body butter is infused with matcha, acai, chia, and rose. (You may have seen another Truly product, Buns of Glowry smoothing butt butter, on TikTok!) Pili Ani Ageless Concentrate Owned and created by mother-daughter duo Rosalina Tan and Mary Jane Ong, Pili Ani products contain two ingredients from the Chosen Tree: pili nut oil and elemi oil. These oils are like a superfood for your skin. Rich in antioxidants and vitamins A and E, pili and elemi oil nourish and enhance your skin’s barrier protecting it from harsh elements and creating a youthful glow. Pili Ani Ageless Concentrate is a moisturizer that works with all skin types and reduces fine lines, leaving skin plump and smooth. Each & Every Natural Deodorant Nobody talks about the tender skin in their armpits. Why not? Although more people are switching to aluminum-free deodorants, I don’t think people realize just how delicate and sensitive this underarm area can be. As a breast cancer survivor whose skin changed during chemo, I can attest to just how tender and delicate underarm skin is and how gentle, natural ingredient products can help you feel fresh without causing redness or irritation. If you have sensitive skin or just want to try using a product that’s aluminum-free and vegan, try Each & Every. Their deodorants come in sustainable, plant-based packaging (made from sugarcane) and are free from synthetic fragrances, alcohol, parabens, baking soda, and phthalates. Native Deodorant While we’re on the subject of deodorants, Native makes a variety of cruelty-free, vegan deodorants to suit every style. Tested on both men and women, Native products provide effective odor control without the harmful addition of aluminum or artificial ingredients. Bonus product: Dr. Squatch Men’s Soap Everyone needs a little self-care. For those who love a masculine scent and want natural, organic ingredients, try Dr. Squatch products in fragrances like Greek Yogurt, Alpine Sage, and Bay Rum. Conclusion With so many beauty and self-care products on the market, it’s hard to choose just one. Instead, try a variety of products, one at a time, and find the brand that works best for you. What’s your favorite cruelty-free brand?

  • What Is a Septic Perc Test, and Why Do You Need One?

    This site is supported by our audience. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. However, I only recommend products I love and/or use. In an earlier article, I discussed waste. Waste is one of the things you need to manage on your own when living an off grid lifestyle, and installing a septic system is a common management method. But installing an onsite sewage disposal system isn’t as simple as digging a hole and attaching a septic tank to your home’s plumbing. First, you’ll need a permit. And before you can get a permit, you’ll need a perc test. What is a perc test? A septic perc test (or percolation test) checks how well your soil allows water to drain. This test is usually required before a septic system is placed and installed to ensure the soil can support a drain field and allow the proper functioning of your septic system. After all, if your septic tank can’t drain, you’ll end up with costly (and smelly!) consequences in the future. A septic tank works by separating the solid and liquid waste into layers: scum (floats on top of the other layers), effluent (the liquid layer in the middle), and sludge (solid matter that settles at the bottom of the tank). Beneficial bacteria help break down the solid matter so that it can liquefy and drain from the tank. The liquid that drains from the septic tank goes into an underground leach field or drain field (the soil absorption system). The drain field must allow the fluids to quickly soak into the earth or risk oversaturation and backing up the entire septic system. Perc testing is vital to ensure proper sewage disposal and protect environmental health. (If you'd like a book to have handy, try The Septic System Owner's Manual.) Septic jargon People in every field of business have their own jargon, and if you’re not sure what they’re talking about, you can get lost in the barrage of new words. Here are some key words and phrases you might hear from your soil engineer or perc test team. Percolation rate: This measures the rate at which water moves through the soil. You want a rate between 10 and 60 minutes per inch. (It takes about 21 or so hours for your soil engineer to test the soil.) Soil condition: This is the capacity of the native soil to function for its desired purpose (in this case, for perc tests). Water table: The water table is the boundary under the soil where water saturates the cracks and crevices in the rock and soil layers. Your soil engineer will look for mottling and moisture in the perc test hole to determine the seasonal high water table. Septic permit: This is the permit you need before installing a septic system. You’ll need the report from the perc test when you apply for your septic permit. Leach field: The leach field, or drain field, is where the liquid from your septic system drains into a designated area, thereby protecting the surrounding soil and properly disposing of waste without contaminating groundwater or areas where food is grown for human consumption. What to expect on perc test day I wasn’t sure what to expect on our perc test day. I knew we were meeting with our excavator and soil engineer, and I knew they needed to dig a hole, but that was about it. The whole process was fascinating and went by more quickly than I expected. We talked to our excavator about where we plan to build our house, the GPS coordinates we provided to the county for our water well permit, and where we envision a future barn, livestock pens, and pasture. From that information, he suggested the best location to place a septic system for optimal downhill flow and (hopefully) the installation of a gravity-fed system instead of using a pump. (We won’t have the final thumbs up on a gravity-fed system until the soil tests come back, but we’re crossing our fingers!) The location he suggested wasn’t at all where we had initially imagined it would be, but we listened to his reasoning and decided to take his advice. After all, we’re paying for his expertise! After we agreed on the best location to place the septic system, our excavator unloaded his backhoe and started digging. In our county, two holes are required, and they have to be 100 feet apart. The first hole was eight feet deep, as wide as the bucket on the backhoe, and long enough that the soil engineer could walk down a steep slope to get to the bottom of the hole. He scooped out a few handfuls of dirt, placed the soil into plastic bags, and then signaled for the excavator to fill in the void. In a matter of minutes, you could barely tell where the hole had been. They repeated the process about 100 feet away, and before we knew it, it was time to go. What happens if you fail your soil test? A failed soil test means you can’t install a standard septic system. If you plan to build your home in a rural location without access to a city sewer system, you need a septic system to dispose of sewage and other unsanitary waste. If you live in an area that allows gray water systems (a.k.a. greywater systems) and composting toilets, you may still be able to figure out how to build your off grid home. If your lot is large enough, you may be able to request a new test at another dig site and reimagine where your house will sit. And in some cases, a soil engineer can design an alternative engineered system customized for your location and soil type. But if a standard septic system design is your only option, a failed test may mean using the land for some other purpose or selling it to purchase land where you can build. The waiting game … Our soil test will be back in a few weeks. It could be done sooner, but our soil engineer will run all of our tests simultaneously. (We need a soil test for the building permit, too, and that one requires a core drill.) Check back in a few weeks for our update! UPDATE: Our test came back not-so-great. We have highly expansive soil, so we will need additional support under our foundation. Called "caissons," these concrete piers will reach bedrock around 14' deep and extend a minimum of 12 more feet into the bedrock to support our Quonset hut home!

  • Putrid Well Water and How To Fix It

    This site is supported by our audience. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. However, I only recommend products I love and/or use. Last weekend we met a lovely couple who live in an earth-bermed home about a mile from our ranch. They built the house after they retired and did most of the work themselves. They hired subcontractors as needed and put in long, knuckle-busting hours of manual labor to save costs. Their home is amazingly light, bright, and airy. Sun tubes brighten rooms without windows, and the walls are covered with the rich, earthy tones of a product called American Clay. The neutral color scheme—reflected on their walls and tile floor—tie everything together and provide a cozy, welcoming atmosphere. As they gave us a tour of their home, we took notes and a few photos to remember the pointers and helpful advice they were generously sharing. “You can install your own plumbing in this county, but if someone else installs it for you, they have to be licensed by the state.” “We changed the tile color in this room because of the way the sun hits the floor in the winter; a darker tile means it absorbs more heat.” Speaking of heat, they installed a radiant floor heating system entirely powered by the sun. This solar heating system, also known as hydronic radiant floor heating, transfers heated water and glycol through a closed-loop system from solar panels to long loops of PEX tubing under the floor and then circulates it back up to the solar panels to be reheated. That’s the simplified version, but I’ll go into more detail in another post. The important thing is that their home is toasty warm (with floors that feel great on bare feet!) even in the midst of a blizzard. And there are no air ducts collecting dust, pollen, or spores to trigger allergies. Amazing! They don’t really need window coverings for privacy since their earth-bermed home is in a remote location, but they made their own custom insulated window coverings to hold in the heat on extra chilly days when the sun is in hiding. The window coverings are made with a product I can’t wait to get my hands on—Warm Window, a multilayered insulating fabric from The Warm Company. We asked them how their well water tastes since we’ll be drilling into the same aquifer, about 500 feet below the surface. That’s when things started to get disappointing. First, they gave us a glass of water from the sink. It was delicious. Then they took us out to where the well water comes directly into their home before it enters a filtration system, and they opened the spigot to get a glass of water. The yellow liquid fizzed when it hit the air. “Don’t drink it! Just smell it.” That was great advice but unnecessary since the rotten egg smell reached my nose before the glass was up to my lips. It smelled like sulfur. And I was shocked. At my childhood home, the well water was a beautiful thing. It tasted great. It was crystal clear. And it was completely safe to use. That wasn’t the case with this glass of yellow yuck that we were presented with. So we asked, “How do you fix putrid well water?” They use a whole-house filtration system that removes the extra iron and softens the water. What comes out of the tap is an entirely different beast than what comes out of the well. Their filtered drinking and household water is soft, sweet, and allows them to use less soap for washing (bonus for sustainable living!). How can you tell if your well water is bad? First, make sure that your groundwater is the problem. Check your water heater and any filtration systems you currently use. Do you have a water storage tank or cistern? Check those, too, for sources of bacteria, algae, mold, or other contaminants. Well water that has an off color, fizzes when it comes out of the tap, or smells like sulfur, rotten eggs, or sewage should not be used for drinking or bathing until you’ve had it tested. Other signs to look for are cloudy water; green, pink, or brown stains on faucets and in sinks; or a salty, metallic, or chemical taste. Our house in town continually had pinkish-brown rings that would form wherever the tap water sat—like that little ring of water that stays right around the sink drain. We had the city come out to check it, and they said it is a type of iron bacteria. They also said it was safe to drink, but I’m glad we filter all our drinking water through a Berkey! If your well water smells like rotten eggs, it may be caused by hydrogen sulfide gas (which can naturally occur from the breakdown of organic matter deep below the surface). You’ll want a whole-house system if hydrogen sulfide is present—no one wants to shower or wash their clothes in stinky water! Call a local well service company to get your well water tested. You can also contact your state’s water quality division at the Department of Public Health and Environment to ask if they can test your water. Oh, and remember this: don’t use chlorine bleach to clean the ring out of your sink if you have a septic system. You don’t want to kill off the helpful bacteria while you’re getting rid of the bad! How do you fix smelly well water? What kind of system do you need when your well water smells like rotten eggs or has an off color? There are quite a few options to choose from. I’ll go over just a few here to get you started. A simple point-of-use countertop system, like Berkey filtration systems (which I love and use daily!), can remove the junk from your water and make it safe to drink. But this only takes care of drinking water. What if your well water is so bad that you don’t even want to shower in it? A whole house water filtration system, or point-of-entry system (POE)—like this one by Express Water—works to make all the water in your home safe to drink, wash dishes, and shower with. POE systems can even help reduce scale buildup in your water heater. Express Water has an under-sink reverse osmosis system, too. Pro+Aqua Elite makes a 3-stage whole-house well water filter—and it removes dissolved solids and heavy metals (like the iron in our water). Bad well water can destroy a garden Although this couple has a lovely garden area to the south of their home, there weren’t any plants growing in it (and not just because we went in the winter). Hard water is alkaline, and their well water is so alkaline that they spent two years figuring out how to get acid-loving vegetables to grow before they learned the water was the problem. Now, they acidify their garden water with a dose of white vinegar (they have a large reclaimed water tank for this) and easily grow an assortment of herbs. We plan to use the vinegar trick if needed, but we’ll also be dosing our vegetable garden with healthy servings of compost tea to make sure our plants get the nutrients they need. If you want to try this to acidify your water, start with one cup of white vinegar per gallon of water. If that's too much, try a half-cup of vinegar instead and gradually increase as needed. Use pH strips to check the balance before your pour the water on your plants. Wrapping it all up Smelly or discolored well water is a warning sign you should heed, but it doesn’t mean your water is useless. With proper testing and filtration, you can remove the foul odor and contaminants and turn your bad well water into safe, clean water for drinking and household use. Want more off grid living tips? Check out our other topics, like gardening for stress relief or grocery shopping once a month!

  • How to Wildcraft a Buddha Bowl (Plus Sauce Recipes!)

    This site is supported by our audience. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. However, I only recommend products I love and/or use. Meals-in-a-bowl. They come by many names—Buddha bowl, nourish bowl, hippie bowl, poké bowl—and they all share the similarity of a one-bowl meal filled with nutritional goodness. We eat them at least twice a week at our house (sometimes several nights in a row). Honestly, we’re not boring; we just know how to combine leftovers into various dishes that delight the eyes and the tastebuds while making leftovers seem brand new. Seriously—meal prep has never been more fun than when I’m thinking up new combinations of ingredients, and it’s even better when I’m adding in flavors and colors fresh from nature’s bounty. I should tell you … there’s something that shows up in our meal bowls that you might not find elsewhere: wildcrafted herbs and flowers. It’s not unusual for flower petals and dandelion greens to find their way into our evening meals in the spring and summer months. Why not add that freely available nutrition (and color!) into every recipe that we possibly can? And here’s the thing—you can too! Just imagine walking out the door with a basket over your arm, heading off into the fields or forests to gather greens and berries. You hear someone ask, “Where are you going?” “Oh, I need to go meal prep!” you reply as you skip out the door feeling blessed that you can use dinner as an excuse to add a mindful walk to your day. Okay, so maybe I got a little carried away, but I truly enjoy foraging and ethically wildcrafting ingredients to feed my family. It’s fun, it’s healthy, and it gives me one more opportunity to get outside in the fresh air. Nourishing bowls are simply delicious when you follow the basic formula for success. (I’ll give you the five-part path to goodness in a minute.) In this article, I’ll share the five components you should include in every Buddha bowl, plus a few ways to incorporate your wildcrafted harvest and some of my favorite sauce recipes. Pro tip: The sauce you use can make or break your bowl recipe, so make sure your sauce is flavorful and pairs well with your ingredients. You know I’ve gotta say it—always be certain that the ingredients you wildcraft are an edible species, and check for food sensitivities before serving to your friends and family (and you!). If you have any doubt about what you’re harvesting, leave it be and come back with another field guide or an expert! What’s the difference between a Buddha bowl, hippie bowl, nourish bowl, and poké bowl? In simple terms, here’s the breakdown of each kind of bowl (although definitions abound and vary wildly). Buddha bowl: Buddha bowls typically include only vegetarian or vegan ingredients. Nourish bowl or harvest bowl: A nourish bowl includes non-vegan/non-vegetarian ingredients such as grilled chicken or grains cooked in a meat-based broth. Poké bowl: Poké means to cut or slice (in Hawaiian) and refers to raw fish, so a poké bowl includes raw, marinated fish as the protein. The traditional grain served in a poké bowl is rice. (Choose from sushi rice, jasmine rice, or brown rice, depending on your flavor and nutrition goals.) Hippie bowl: “Hippie bowl” is really just another name for a Buddha bowl. Think vegetarian superfoods when you’re building this kind of meal: goji berries, roasted sweet potatoes, avocados, sprouts, and quinoa might be on your ingredients list. Whatever name you’d like to use, make sure you select a generous bowl size to hold all of the deliciousness you plan to fill it with. You can even pack a Buddha bowl for a meal on the go by using a bento box to keep hot and cold ingredients separate. Combine them at the last minute when you’re ready to eat. 5 key components every bowl should include The basic formula for creating a nourishing Buddha bowl full of flavor and healthy goodness can be broken down into five simple categories (with examples in parentheses). Grains (brown rice, quinoa, millet, or wheat berries) Vegetables (sweet potato chunks, dandelion greens, roasted peppers, grilled mushrooms, avocado) Protein (grilled tofu, chickpeas, or lean poultry) Sauce (creamy sriracha, buffalo ranch, hippie sauce) Toppings (think “crunch”—pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, cashews) So how do you take those five components and add wildcrafted ingredients? Try this: Grains (These are a little more challenging to wildcraft, so think “wild” with your purchased ingredients: wild rice, black rice, or ancient grains like spelt, Kamut, or teff) Vegetables (dandelion greens, ramps, morel mushrooms, sunchokes, purslane, sliced nopales) Protein (wild-caught fish, nuts, homemade cheeses—okay, cheese isn’t wildcrafted, but if you make homemade cheeses, that’s wilder than most people ever get!) Sauce (dandelion and pine nut pesto, nettle pesto) Toppings (fried dandelion flowers, pine nuts, sunflower seeds, edible flower petals) Here’s where the magic comes in … A great sauce can take a bowl from blah to bang! Experiment with different sauces and toppings to make the blandest ingredients pop with flavor. Here are three of my favorite sauces for you to try and some toppings ideas you can wildcraft or harvest from your garden. Feel free to adjust the ingredients to suit your taste! Creamy Sriracha This super simple sauce is a family favorite. Double the batch if you need more to go around. Topping ideas: spicy golden marigold petals or bright yellow sunflower petals. ½ cup mayonnaise (regular or vegan) 1–2 tablespoons sriracha Fresh lemon juice (just a squeeze) Paprika Combine mayo, sriracha, and lemon juice, and whisk together until well blended. Sprinkle with paprika and serve in a pretty bowl with a spoon for drizzling. White Tiger Sauce Unlike red tiger sauce, which gets its heat from peppers, this white tiger sauce variation takes its kick from a generous helping of horseradish. Add a pinch of garlic powder to take this sauce to the next level. Topping ideas: nasturtium blossoms or crispy fried dandelion blooms. ½ cup mayonnaise (regular or vegan) 3 tablespoons sour cream or cashew cream ¼ cup prepared horseradish 1 teaspoon ground dry mustard Pinch salt Black pepper, cracked Combine the first five ingredients and stir well to thoroughly blend the flavors. Top with cracked black pepper after drizzling over your favorite roasted veggie bowl combination. Hippie Sauce My slightly sweet version of hippie sauce uses tahini as a base instead of mayo or sour cream. This vegan sauce is full of nutrients from tahini’s sesame seeds and the added nutritional yeast. Topping ideas: peony petals or clover blossoms. ¼ cup tahini ⅛ cup water (or more if needed) 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar 1 tablespoon honey or maple syrup 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard ½ teaspoon ground ginger 2–3 tablespoons nutritional yeast Pinch of finely ground sea salt Add all ingredients to a small mixing bowl and whisk until blended. I especially enjoy this sauce with bowl ingredients such as bean sprouts, edamame, brown rice, butternut squash, and snow peas. Want to learn more about healthy ingredients you can grow at home? Check out my post on sprouts and microgreens!

  • Creative Sprouting Gadgets for Micro Gardening All Year Long

    This site is supported by our audience. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. However, I only recommend products I love and/or use. Spring is my favorite time of the year. I love listening to the sounds of singing birds and seeing new leaf buds opening on the trees. My garden comes to life in the spring, and the whole world seems fresh and new. I enjoy digging in the warm soil and planting the seeds that will feed my family in the months ahead. Gardening is a natural part of homesteading and living off the grid. But you don’t need acres of land to grow sprouts and microgreens for fresh produce all year long. A sunny windowsill and a few handy kitchen gadgets (some you can make at home!) will get you started no matter what the weather is like outside or where you live. I’m in the process of planning my Walipini-style greenhouse (a sunken greenhouse, a.k.a underground greenhouse, designed to maintain a more even temperature since it is earth-sheltered). Until then, I garden in raised beds during the spring, summer, and fall—and my winters are filled with tiny gardens in jars and containers indoors. I use a grow light in the corner of my basement to start seedlings a few weeks before the last frost. And the windowsill in my kitchen is the perfect spot for growing a variety of sprouts and microgreens. I’ve tried a few different methods for sprouting seeds: Mason jars with screen lids, space-saving plastic sprouting trays that stack on top of each other, and hemp bags that allow the air to circulate around the tiny seedlings from every angle. What I’ve learned is that different types of sprouts grow better in different systems. And sometimes, a combination of systems works even better. Let’s take a look at a variety of sprouting gadgets, tools, and supplies and which types of sprouting seeds work best with each type of container. What is the difference between sprouts and microgreens? Sprouts include the whole baby plant from root to leaf. Sprouts grow without the need for soil or a growing medium. Microgreens typically grow on a growing medium such as soil, coconut coir, or a growing mat. They can also be grown hydroponically as long as the roots have something to anchor themselves to (like in this self-watering microgreen kit). To harvest microgreens, use scissors to cut the plant's stem, and leave the roots in the growing medium. What can I use as a sprouting container? I’ve used Mason jars with screen lids, upcycled leftover jars from store-bought ingredients with muslin tied over the top, and I’ve even started sprouts on plastic mesh suspended in a baking sheet. Basically, you can use anything that will allow you to rinse the sprouts two or three times a day and provide sufficient airflow between rinses. When you choose your container, keep in mind the size of your seeds before they begin to sprout, the size of the holes you’ll be letting the water drain through, and the size of the finished sprouts. Is sprouting at home safe? Like any raw food, sprouts can carry bacteria. Always begin with clean, organic seeds that have not been sprayed with fungicide, and rinse them thoroughly before soaking. Refrigerate the sprouts once they’ve grown to the desired stage, and eat them within a couple of days. If your sprouts smell bad at any point during the process, toss them out and start over. They may have stayed too wet and started to rot or been contaminated with mold or fungus. Are sprouts good for you? Sprouted seeds are miniature superfoods that contain the growing energy of the whole plant condensed into a tiny micro ingredient filled with goodness. The vitamin content varies depending on the type of sprout, but the ratio of nutrients is considerably higher in sprouts than in the fully grown plant. You can check out some of the amazing nutritional benefits of broccoli sprouts on What temperature do sprouts grow in? Sprouts will grow at room temperature, and seeds generally need a little more warmth during germination than they will after you see the root start to grow. Try to give your tiny sproutlings a cozy 70°–75°F for a day or two after soaking, and use cool water (not cold) for every rinse. Then, you can keep the temperature in the low 70°s or drop it into the upper 60°s and still produce a bountiful harvest. Which method is best for different seeds? Think in terms of size when you look at sprouting equipment. Large holes will let small seeds fall through and can cause delicate sprouts to break. Use large-holed mesh lids and fabric bags for large seeds. Use fine mesh for small seeds. Sprouting trays can be used for any seed size as long as the seeds don’t fall through the holes. Sprouting gadgets you can make at home Jars with screens Empty glass jars, either new or used, make perfect sprouting containers. It’s easy to check on the sprouts from all angles, the glass maintains a little bit of humidity and prevents the sprouts from drying out, and you can choose the lid design that fits your budget and style. Make sure your jars are completely clean and free from food residue and soap before starting. You can soak your sprouts in the same jar you plan to sprout them in—an added bonus and less cleanup, too! My mom used to use old canning jars and worn-out pantyhose. She’d simply cut a few squares from the clean pantyhose, drape two or three over the top of a Mason jar (using several layers gives it more strength), and secure them with a wide rubber band (like the kind stores use on celery). Even the tiniest of seeds were kept safely inside the jar during rinses. If you don’t have old pantyhose lying around, you can substitute muslin, cotton cloth, linen, or even a stained (but clean) handkerchief. I’ve used plastic craft mesh as the screen for larger seeds, like peas and mung beans. Just cut the mesh the same size as the mouth of the jar and screw a jar band over it to hold it tight. Fabric sprouting bag Most natural fabrics with a loose weave will work for your DIY sprouting bag. Hemp is preferred for store-bought bags, but I’ve been successful with unbleached muslin and linen, too. Cut two rectangles of fabric about 6 ½” x 8” and sew them together along three sides. You can fold over the top edge and hem it, leaving about ½ to thread a drawstring through—or you can leave it with a raw edge and just tie a string around the outside to keep it closed. To soak seeds inside a sprouting bag, just dunk the whole bag in a bowl of clean water and let it soak for the recommended length of time. Once the soaking is finished, you can rinse the sprouts by gently swishing the bag in a bowl of water two or three times per day. Hang the bag up and allow it to dry between rinses. Sprouting equipment you can buy Sprouting kit Sprouting kits are an excellent way for beginning micro gardeners to learn about different seeds and sprouting tools. Sprouting kits typically come with small amounts of a variety of single-harvest seed packs in addition to some basic sprouting tools. Sprout seeds Part of the fun of growing sprouts and microgreens is trying out various new flavors. Radish sprouts add a touch of spice to fresh salads, and mung bean sprouts are perfect for tossing into your favorite stir-fry recipe. Try this sample pack of organic sprouting seeds from The Sprout House if you’d like to experiment with new flavors before committing to purchasing a large quantity of something you may or may not like. Sprouting jar with a stand If you’d like to try the glass jar method of sprouting, you’ll love this kit that includes two Mason jars, screen lids, and a jar stand with a drip tray to catch any excess water draining from your upside-down jars. Jars with mesh lids work well for small, delicate sprouts (like alfalfa sprouts or clover sprouts), and you can also use them for larger varieties, like sunflower or bean sprouts. Mesh sprouting lid for glass jars Plenty of jars but no lids? These screen mesh lids for wide-mouth jars are the perfect addition to your kitchen gadget drawer. I prefer fine screen to plastic mesh and have found that screen lets the water run through better than some of the plastic lids on the market. You can use a regular-mouth jar for growing sprouts, too but a wide-mouth Mason jar makes it easier to remove the sprouts once they’re grown. Hemp bag Hemp bags are great for large seeds and sturdy sprouts—think mung beans, peas, lentils, and sunflower sprouts. The Sproutman Hemp Sprout Bag can be dipped in water to rinse your seedlings and hung up to dry for 360-degree air circulation. Stacking trays Grow more than one type of sprout at a time with these clear plastic stacking trays that let you watch your sprouts grow. Or, if you prefer the look of stainless steel, try these 3-tier stackable stainless steel sprouting and germination trays. Terra-cotta sprouter For a sprouting gadget that adds beauty to your home, I love this Terradisiena Terracotta Sprouter. The stacking terra-cotta trays enhance the down-to-earth feel of a farmhouse kitchen, and reviewers report that since the trays breathe better than plastic, germinating seeds have better airflow as they grow. You’ll need to set each tray out separately when your sprouts are ready to green up since the terra-cotta prevents light from getting through when the trays are stacked. Chia pet If you’d like to get your children interested in growing sprouts, how about getting a chia pet? For a modern twist on the 1980s chia pet trend, check out this puppy chia pet … or add to your Star Wars collection with The Child (baby Yoda). Although chia pets are a fun introduction to micro gardening, they are not necessarily safe for growing food. If you plan to eat your chia sprouts, I recommend using a sprouter that is certified to be food-safe. Conclusion Sprouting is a wonderful way to produce fresh food for your family all year. With the right container and a little water and sunlight, you can grow nutrient-rich leafy greens to add to smoothies, sandwiches, and dinner recipes. Bring a little springtime into your home and start growing sprouts today!

  • Grow, Forage, & Preserve Your Own Food: Homesteading Skills

    This site is supported by our audience. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. However, I only recommend products I love and/or use. In an earlier article, we talked about nine essential off grid skills every homesteader should know. But what if you haven’t moved off the grid yet? How do you prepare for homesteading? Can you get started learning the necessary skills you’ll need once you move to your new homestead? The answer is yes! Homesteading is living a lifestyle of self-sufficiency. But you don’t need acres of land or an off-grid home to start becoming self-sufficient today. With all the news about supply chain shortages and food crises in multiple countries, self-sufficiency is regaining the importance it once held for people in earlier times—like our great-grandparents during the Great Depression. Adding simple homesteading skills to your weekly schedule is a way to grow your skillset and step out of your comfort zone. If you don’t want to learn alone, invite a friend or loved one to learn along with you. You’ll both benefit from the shared experience. In this post, we’ll talk about the important skills around feeding yourself and your family: growing and foraging food, and cooking and preserving it for food storage. To get started, choose a skill from my list below, or pick something you’ve always wanted to try. Start simple and work your way to more advanced levels. Before you know it, your confidence and homesteading knowledge will be growing by leaps and bounds! Keeping track of your progress I highly recommend finding a way to keep track of your progress so you can look back and see how far you’ve come while you practice homesteading skills. You can make a chart or keep a journal specifically for recording the skills you practice, your results, and what you’d like to try next. Or you can just jot down each skill on a calendar on the day you practice it. Tracking your progress can be as simple or as complex as you’d like it to be. However you decide to log your practice sessions, you’re sure to feel great about the results. Success is often the result of taking a misstep in the right direction. ~ Al Bernstein Food skills you can practice right now Cooking with solar energy One of my favorite off grid skills is cooking outdoors. I learned to cook over a campfire when I was growing up, but I’ve always wanted to learn how to use a solar oven, too. I live in a sunny state, so why not take advantage of all that free energy, and use it for cooking a meal? Solar cooking is silent, smoke-free, and easier than you might think. There are a lot of solar ovens on the market and some creative DIYs if you’d like to try to make an oven yourself. But my favorite solar oven is the GoSun (I have the Sport, but all sizes work similarly). GoSun solar ovens preheat fast and cook efficiently. I baked cornbread muffins in my GoSun to practice using it and try my hand at learning a new skill. The muffins turned out perfectly moist, evenly cooked all the way through, and tasted delicious—much better than the egg I tried to fry on a tin can the summer I turned 12! Motivation: Learn to use a solar oven so you can show off your cooking skills at your next outdoor picnic! Simple foods, like the cornmeal muffins I mentioned above, cook in only 20 minutes in a GoSun. Your guests will be amazed when you serve them fresh, steaming hot bread straight from your solar oven. Baking in a Dutch oven Dutch ovens are a favorite among campers and are frequently associated with campfire cobblers and stews. If you’ve never baked dessert in a Dutch oven, I recommend starting by using the Dutch oven in a regular electric or gas oven—then progress to cooking in campfire coals once you get a feel for how a Dutch oven holds heat and bakes the food inside. When you decide to buy your first Dutch oven, make sure you get one that will stand the test of time and hold up against campfires and hot coals alike. I prefer Lodge Dutch ovens—I’m still using the Lodge Dutch oven my parents cooked with at our cabin many years ago. If you need recipes, Country Living magazine has some great ideas you can try. Motivation: Kick your next camping trip up a notch by serving piping hot apple cobbler from your Dutch oven. Move over s’mores—there’s another dessert in town! Growing food When you think of gardening, where does your mind go? Outside to beautiful garden beds bursting with fresh vegetables and leafy greens? Or to an indoor windowsill overflowing with microgreens and sprouting jars? Gardening is a skill you can practice on a micro or macro level. If you have the space, create a small garden bed in your yard and plant two or three of your favorite, easy-to-grow vegetables. Tomatoes and squash are easy starters with rewarding harvests. Grow them outside since they require a lot of space to spread out. In the winter, or if you don’t have yard space, you can grow sprouts and microgreens on a sunny windowsill. Purchase clean seeds specifically produced for sprouting; you don’t want any of the additives that are sometimes sprayed on garden seeds to promote growth or inhibit insect infestations. Growing sprouts and microgreens is a gratifying experience with a quick turnaround time. You can harvest and enjoy your harvest in a matter of days instead of weeks. Sprouting is proof that there's no need to hold back on improving your gardening skills due to lack of space. Sprout People is my favorite site for sprouting info and supplies if you’re just getting started. But you can also find seeds and sprouting equipment on Amazon, like this Mason jar sprouting kit that even comes with a ceramic drip tray (so you don’t have to try to balance your jars in a bowl). To grow sprouts, soak the required amount of seed in clean, filtered water (check the package for the number of hours to soak). Then, rinse and drain your sprouts two or three times a day, and watch them grow. No soil required! Motivation: Your next work potluck is the perfect place to showcase vegetables you grew at home. Slice tomatoes over a crisp green salad, or bake zucchini bread from your abundant summer squash harvest. Foraging for wild food Foraging and wildcrafting are skills typically associated with long hikes in nature spent gathering nature’s bounty. But urban foraging is becoming more common—just make sure whatever you pick hasn’t been sprayed with pesticides or other contaminants before you eat it! Consult a reputable field guide before you start harvesting plants from either rural or urban areas, and never take more than what you need. A good rule of thumb is to leave 10 for every one you pick. By leaving plenty behind, you can protect the species you’re harvesting from and help ensure that it will grow back again next year. Begin by foraging foods that are easy to identify and unlikely to have toxic look-alikes. Dandelions are a delicious addition to salads and teas and grow just about everywhere. City parks may have fruit trees, like hawthorn or crabapples, that you can turn into jars of jams and jellies or enjoy freshly picked. Bring the right tools with you when you head out to forage: large, reusable bags and containers or jars with lids will help you tote your harvest home and protect berries and small fruits from getting bruised. Motivation: Foraged foods are perfect for creating specialty items you can’t find at the supermarket. Try making hawthorn jelly or crabapple butter and gifting it in mini jars for the holidays. Food preservation Along with growing food and foraging is food preservation. After all, you’ll want to save some of your harvest for use at a later time. Food can be preserved through proper storage techniques in a root cellar, drying or dehydration, and canning or freezing. There is definitely a learning curve when becoming versed in how to can food, but this valuable skill will help you stock your shelves with nature’s bounty to see you through a long winter or leaner times. I suggest beginning by learning to preserve foods that only require a water bath canning method (used for acidic foods, jams, and jellies). Once you’ve mastered that, you can move on to pressure canning and more complex recipes (like low-acid vegetables and meats). My favorite canning guides are the Ball canning books—specifically the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving and the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving. Dehydrating food is another important homesteading skill that is much easier to learn. I love making dehydrated fruit snacks and fruit leather, and my dogs appreciate the crunchy, dehydrated sweet potatoes I make for them every fall. Shop your local farmer’s market for affordable produce, or look in the discounted section of the grocery store. You’d be amazed how much your food storage will grow when you bring home produce on its last leg and pop it into the dehydrator to preserve for future snacks. (And don’t forget to compost all those food scraps you trim off. Your garden will thank you!) Motivation: Amaze your hiking companions when you share homemade dehydrated fruit leather or trail mix with dried apple slices on your next adventure. Conclusion Growing, foraging, cooking, and preserving food are important skills every modern homesteader should learn. Whether baking sourdough bread, fermenting pickles, or learning to use a solar oven, everyone must start somewhere—and there’s no better time to start than now!

  • Kick the Caffeine and Grow Your Own Coffee Substitutes!

    This site is supported by our audience. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. However, I only recommend products I love and/or use. I’m not a coffee drinker. In fact, I rarely even taste the stuff unless it’s coffee-flavored ice cream or coffee-flavored candy … or maybe a milkshake with a chocolatey mocha flair. But I have plenty of friends who rely heavily on their morning cup of joe. There’s even a sign hanging on the wall in our office building that reads, “This office runs on laughter, love, and strong coffee.” Coffee is one of those plants that will only grow in a particular climate and growing zone (zones 10–11). Not all of us are fortunate enough to live in tropical areas with plenty of moisture and just the right amount of warmth and daylight to grow every plant we desire. However, there are plants you can grow in just about every growing zone that make an absolutely delicious morning beverage to help you get out of bed and get your day started on the right foot (without those caffeine-heavy jitters)! The key to creating a successful coffee substitute is that you’re not looking to replicate the authentic flavor of coffee (everything will fail to some degree if you’re expecting an exact duplicate). Instead, aim to create a flavorful brew that satisfies the craving for an earthy, roasted flavor and early-morning energy boost. You can create a pleasing, aromatic brew by combining flavors from two or three different roasted ingredients. The flavor profiles of each component will determine your signature blend’s overall taste. Add creamer and sweetener to your liking, and voila!—say goodbye to unhealthy caffeine and good morning to your new favorite functional beverage! If you’re looking for a coffee substitute that you can grow on your homestead (or stockpile for when the SHTF), check out my herbal coffee suggestions below and create your own delicious designer blend. Pro tip: All of the following ingredients should be dried and roasted before brewing. See the instructions in the dandelion section for starters, and repeat the process for whichever ingredient you choose to grow, harvest, and brew. Dandelion root (growing zones 3–10) Dandelions are one of those pesky weeds that everyone tries to eradicate from their yard. But did you know that every part of the dandelion plant is edible, and roasted dandelion root makes a delightfully refreshing coffee substitute? You will need to dry the roots in a dehydrator or let them air dry in the sun, then chop or break them into crumbs and roast them in a hot skillet over low heat until they turn a rich brown color. Alternatively, you can roast the roots in a 350F oven until they darken. Stir every 10–15 minutes to make sure they roast evenly—and to keep an eye on the color so they don’t burn. Once the dandelion root is roasted, run it through a spice grinder or coffee grinder in small batches to make a fine to medium grind with more surface area to release the flavor. Approximately one teaspoon of dandelion root to one cup of water makes a delightfully earthy brew. Add the dandelion root to boiling water and keep over low heat for about 5–10 minutes. You don’t want it to boil, but it should stay very hot while it steeps. After brewing, strain the solids out by pouring through a coffee filter. Add your favorite sweetener and creamer, and enjoy! (You can also serve this iced if you like iced coffee beverages.) Chicory root (growing zones 3–10) The chicory plant has beautiful blue flowers, but you’ll use the root to make your chicory root coffee substitute. Chicory root is loaded with inulin, a healthy prebiotic fiber that can help keep things running smoothly in your digestive system. Chicory root has the added benefit of eye appeal, mimicking traditional coffee's rich, dark color and lending itself to various creamy caramel shades of lattes and mocha blends. Sweet potato (growing zones 7–8) This sweet tuber shows up in casseroles loaded with marshmallows at Thanksgiving and as a healthy baked side dish all year long. But sweet potatoes can also be part of a deliciously smooth brew you can enjoy in the morning or as an evening wind-down drink. Combine dehydrated, roasted sweet potatoes with chicory or wheat for a dark brew that more closely resembles the rich color of regular coffee. Or combine it with dried turmeric root and ginger for a nutrient-boosted variation of golden milk. Wheat berries (growing zones 7–10) Wheat berries are the whole grain of wheat, minus the inedible husk. The same wheat berries that we grind into whole wheat flour can be dry roasted and ground into a nutty-tasting beverage. Dry roast the wheat berries in a skillet over low heat, stirring frequently, until medium to dark brown (like the light to medium roast color of a coffee bean). Allow them to cool, then grind and add to boiling water. Use about one tablespoon of ground wheat berries to one cup of boiling water per serving. Burdock root (growing zones 2–10) Another common weed, burdock grows in disturbed soil throughout much of North America (it is native to Northern Asia and Europe). Sticky burrs from the burdock plant cling to socks and animal fur alike—one drawback to growing this nutritious vegetable—so if you choose to plant some in your garden, keep it somewhat contained to prevent it from taking over and causing more trouble than it’s worth. Burdock roots are long with a thin brown skin that can be easily removed with a vegetable peeler or the back edge of a spoon. The white root quickly begins to turn brown once it is exposed to the air, but this discoloration does no harm and won’t be noticable after it’s dried and roasted. Acorns (growing zones 3–8) Acorns are used as a food source by both humans and animals and star in Native American recipes such as acorn stew. To process acorns into a beverage, you’ll need to add in an extra step beyond what I described above. Before drying and roasting the shelled acorns, first boil them for about 20 minutes (or until the water looks like tea) to leach out some of the bitter-tasting tannins. Start a second pot of water boiling before the first 20 minutes is up, and transfer the boiled acorns into the second pot after the first pot’s water has colored. Boil the acorns in the second pot until the water (again) turns color, then switch back to another pot of clean, boiling water. Repeat this process a third or fourth time if necessary—you’ll know they’re ready when the water remains relatively colorless. Strain and dry your boiled acorns, then dry roast and grind them the same way as the dandelion roots. (The oven method is easier than the skillet method since acorns are larger than chopped dandelion.) Rye, barley, and other grains (growing zone varies with grain type) Grains such as rye and barley can be roasted and ground like wheat to make a coffee substitute. Just follow the skillet roasting method, and grind them when darkly colored and completely cooled and dry. Sunchoke (growing zones 2–12) Sunchokes are a member of the sunflower family and have chunky edible roots that look similar to ginger but have a mellow flavor (similar to a potato). Sunchokes are simple to grow and will easily take over a garden if left unchecked. If you already enjoy sunchokes roasted, boiled, or pickled, why not try dehydrating and dry roasting them to create one more coffee substitute variation? Thinly slice or grate your sunchoke tubers before dehydrating them, then chop finely and stir continually while dry roasting in a skillet to avoid burning the small pieces. Carob (growing zones 9–11) I used to have a carob tree growing in my front yard when I lived in the desert, in USDA growing zone 9. Unfortunately, my tree was a male, so I was never able to harvest carob seed pods to use in cooking. But the tree grew well in the heat with just the right amount of weekly watering, and I would encourage anyone who lives in zones 9–11 to add a pair or more to your edible landscape. I love the flavor of carob, but since I can’t grow it in my current climate, I purchase carob powder (like this Chatfield’s brand) and add it to my herbal coffee blends. Carob is naturally sweet, low-fat, and contains calcium. It makes a wonderful hot chocolate substitute when added to milk, too! Figs (growing zones 8–10) Figs are delicious fresh or dried, and they offer yet another option for a caffeine-free coffee substitute. Although most fig varieties flourish in zones 8–10, there are a few cold-hardy varieties that grow well in zones 6 and 7. Simply dehydrate and chop your figs (black mission figs work best) before roasting them. You’ll need to make sure they’re super dry before you start, or the sugars may burn in the skillet even with constant monitoring. Coffee alternatives you can buy Would you like to taste test some of these herbal coffee alternatives beefore you devote an entire growing season to producing the plants? Here are some of my favorites you can purchase and try at home: Dandy Blend is a combination of barley, rye, chicory roots, beet roots, and dandelion roots. It dissolves instantly in water (like instant coffee) and is a great way to explore the pleasures of root- and grain-based coffee substitutes. Mushroom coffee isn’t exactly a coffee substitute; it combines the health benefits of dried mushrooms with the flavor and caffeine-boost from ethically harvested coffee beans in one deliciously nutritious functional beverage. Coffig is an herbal coffee substitute made entirely from dried and roasted figs. Orzo is an Italian roasted barley beverage that tastes great when added to hot milk. Cafix is another healthy coffee alternative made from roasted barley, chicory, barley malt, figs, and sugar beets. Pouring it all together Although no coffee alternative tastes exactly like traditional coffee on its own, you can replicate the deeply roasted, slightly bitter flavor of coffee by combining flavor profiles and adding your choice of sweetener and creamer to create your own healthy brew. By using plants you grow in your garden (such as wheat or chicory) or harvest in the wild (like dandelion or acorns), you can create a flavorful and sustainable morning beverage routine to boost your health and vitality.

  • Winter Solstice Self-Care to Welcome the Turning of the Year

    This site is supported by our audience. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. However, I only recommend products I love and/or use. In the heart of the darkest night of the year, we look forward to the longer days that will slowly approach and bring us new life and birth with the spring. Winter has begun, and as we huddle together around a crackling fire or cuddle deep into our favorite comforter, we are reminded that winter's sleep is but a moment in time. We turn inward to ourselves and our community and celebrate the light within as we practice ancient rituals made modern: feasting, gathering around a Yule log, lighting candles, and singing songs that bring merriness and joy to an otherwise cold and dark time of year. Winter solstice marks the time of year when the northern hemisphere is tilted at its furthest point away from the sun. It is recognized as a time of rebirth, renewal, and the returning of the light. Cultures and religions around the world celebrate winter solstice—although they may give it their own name and attach varying customs and rituals to satisfy their community’s requirements. Whether you celebrate the winter solstice in solitude or with the gathering of friends and family, remember to make time to care for yourself during this sacred time of the year. Self-love bath I’m all for a warm, leisurely bath any time of the year. But there’s no more relaxing way to wash away winter’s chill than soaking in a steamy tub filled with fragrant flowers. Add chamomile, lavender, and rose petals to a muslin tea bag, and toss the bag into your bath to let it steep. Light a white candle surrounded with clear and rose quartz, or place a white tealight candle into a rose quartz candleholder (like this one) to create a soft, peaceful glow while you relax. Imagine the worries of the year fading away as warmth and light fill the room. Mindful walking How about taking a mindful walk early in the morning or on the evening of the winter solstice? As you quietly walk, listen to the sound of your feet on the soil or the crunching of snow under your boots. Look at the trees—have they lost their leaves, letting the sunlight through, or are you surrounded by evergreens that gather clusters of snow and drop them to the earth when the wind blows? Can you see animal tracks in the mud or snow? Are birds chirping in the branches or flying overhead to a warmer clime? Journaling How about creating a solstice journal? Unlike a daily journal, a solstice journal is something you only add to during the turnings of the year: the summer and winter solstices, and the vernal and autumnal equinoxes. Looking back on your year a quarter at a time can give you a broader perspective on changes that have occurred or that need to be made as you move forward. You can use the same journal for decades, adding to it and watching the shaping of your beautiful life as you build upon it year after year. Pour a cup of dream tea Settle in for a dream-filled sleep on the longest night of the year by brewing a cup of dream tea with herbs reputed to encourage creative and lucid dreams. Dreaming allows the subconscious mind to work through challenges and overcome stress. Why not help the process along by adding a teaspoon of mugwort and ½ teaspoon of passionflower* to a cup of hot water and steeping for 5–10 minutes? Sip the infusion before bedtime, and remember to keep your dream journal close by so you can write down any dreams you remember as soon as you wake up! Set intentional moments Too much time is wasted worrying about the future or despairing over the past. Bring yourself into the now by sitting quietly in a safe, comfortable location and focusing on the present moment. Think of all the things you are grateful for—no matter how large or small—and allow yourself to truly feel the gratitude in your heart. Look back on the past year while only allowing yourself to visualize the people and things you are grateful for, and set an intention to regularly practice moments of gratitude in the coming year. Like water off a duck’s back If you’re ready to shake off the past year and start the new year on higher ground, try this visualization technique to give yourself a fresh start. When you wake up in the morning, rub your hands over each part of your body in short, downward strokes as if you were a duck oiling your feathers. Imagine all of the negativity that has clung to you in the past dripping off and fading away. Visualize yourself coating your shiny new feathers with a beautiful, sleek gloss that will repel any negativity that comes your way (just like water running off a duck’s back). You can repeat this visualization daily upon waking if you find it helpful. New beginnings However you choose to celebrate the winter solstice, remember to set intentional goals for self-care in the coming year, practice kindness, and feel gratitude for the gifts in your life. May you and yours be blessed always! *Consult a medical provider if you are taking any medications or sedatives that these herbs could interfere with.

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