Fall Readiness

It’s time to start planning. Don’t we all, and most of the time? Each morning as I open my eyes, stretch, smell the crisp cool air, I begin to contemplate not only the day’s needed activities, but start planning for fall and winter. It seems like summer is barely gone. Fall is beautiful, the colors, the cool respite after a long, hot summer. But, soon to follow are the harsh cold winter months. Living on a farm is glorious, but it sets off a whirlwind of activities that absolutely must be done before winter coldness puts a stop to it.

We’re busy gleaning the last of the garden. Ripe tomatoes are picked daily and frozen until a large enough batch is ready to can. Squash and pumpkins are beginning to turn their lovely shades of yellow to orange, the corn is being harvested and the garden, slowly, but surely is being cleaned out to receive her yearly dose of compost and manure. This year we will plant cover crops on top of the garden for green manure also. I have turnip seed and buckwheat to sow. Our rabbits, chickens, ducks, geese and goats will appreciate that feast as it grows. And, our garden will benefit from the nitrogen content of the plants as we till it under next spring.

But, planning ahead, we have a list of other things that need to be done. I suspect that this list could and would apply to those who live in urban areas too.

Water. water barrel on palletThis is at the top of the list. Water storage for the “what if’s” that happened more time last year than we’ve seen since the ice storm of 2007. What if you are suddenly without power and are unable to draw water from your well? Do you have an alternate means such as a hand pump that will work for your depth of well? Hand pumps on deep wells are available, but try to pump water from a 180 foot well. By the end of the power outage, you will have excellent deltoid and trapezius build. Do you have a generator? A wind mill? A well bucket? If you live in the city and depend on municipal services, many times they don’t fail, but how many times have you experienced “boil water” orders? In the event of a natural disaster, how reliable will your municipal water supplier be?

 How much water do you need? That depends. Most sites recommend at least 1 gallon per person per day for drinking and minimum sanitation. Quite honestly, for our personal needs, this isn’t enough. What we do, and this is a personal preference, is to store at the bare minimum, 2 gallons per day. We also keep our swimming pool filled summer and winter. Our pool has about 7000 gallons of water, which will go a long way in a power outage.  Swimming pool water is not potable for humans, but it is an excellent water source for the farm animals since we don’t have a pond…yet. The pool water can also serve for bathing and commode flushing if needed.

Storing water. How? In almost anything. Glass and food grade plastic are the most common choices. Long term, bulk water storage requires a little extra. It’s at this time of year that we empty, sanitize, refill and add 8 teaspoons of bleach to a 50 gallon, food grade barrel, cap and store on pallets.

Food.nutty squirrel Again, the amount to lay back depends on the number of people in your family, finances and room to store food. There are several food storage calculators online. The one we find most useful is  http://lds.about.com/library/bl/faq/blcalculator.htm .  One must take into consideration special needs of diabetics and those on other diet restrictions, infants, the elderly, and your own personal likes and dislikes. A key factor to food storage is to keep it fairly simple, easy to prepare, allow variety, wholesomeness and nutritive values. I’d not recommend storing a year’s supply of pizza, even though it truly is a healthy food, when you look at it’s contents. Many people think that food storage is a bulky task, hard to find places to store. It truly isn’t. Space under beds, couches, even behind and underneath dressers or entertainment centers is a possibility. I’ve seen closets converted to pantries, and even bases of kitchen cabinets made with hinges on the baseboard and canned goods stored under those. Those with basements are indeed blessed. Rafters can serve as excellent canned good areas if needed. Shelving units can be purchased or hand made. I’d advise never to store anything directly on concrete floors though as concrete can react with plastic containers as well as metal containers, corrode and/or disintegrate those in time.                                                                                                                                food storage between wall studs  food storage under couch water food storage pantry 4.5 inches wide in a mobile home hallway. built from 1x4s and 1x2s


Don’t forget to remember your animals in your food storage plans. Buy, can, or freeze enough food for them to get them through precarious times. Our outside animals necessitate a little extra. We store food for them, in the barn, in large 55 gallon barrels with lids. Goats are notoriously nosey, and piggy, and, well, determined. We have to use the large metal, lidded barrels in their barn just to keep the food stuff intact and also free of rodents. It also means that we need to check drinking water heaters to make sure they’re operable, make sure that we have enough extension cord in good repair to service the heaters. It means that we need to lay back enough hay, and soon, to last through the winter. As another blogger wrote, shortages are common in the winter. Many farmers keep what they have for their own livestock first. It’s better to stock up while you can, as it becomes available, rather than waiting until the last minute or in the middle of a crisis.

Housing.chimneyman It’s time to check for any outside needed repairs. Is the power line coming into the house secure? During the winter ice storm of 2007, we saw many conduits leading from the power lines to inside the house, bent and ripped away from the house. Check those, secure with clamps as needed and be safe. Windows, shutters, faucets, outbuildings need inspected and repairs made as necessary. This includes storage sheds, barns, garages, and your home. There’s nothing worse than having to go out in the middle of a freeze to make a repair that’s become mandatory when it could have been fixed simply and with much more ease during the warmth of summer or fall. It’s also time to pull out snow shovels, blowers, ice melt, and auto windshield de-icer.    

     fixing a water faucet

Heatwood fireplace How do you heat your home? Take into consideration the rising cost of propane in the winter months, the potential for a shortage of dried wood for wood heated homes, and the potential for electrical outages in total electric homes. Do you have a safe backup source of heat? Safety is a key word here. I’ve heard people tell me that they have a kerosene heater to use. That’s fine, but make sure you have a way to ventilate that kerosene heater well. Make sure you have a way to ventilate your gasoline powered generator that you will use for space heaters, very well. Carbon monoxide poisoning is, or can be deadly. It sneaks up on the unsuspecting individual and overcomes them before they know it. My husband could tell you a hair raising story about such an event with him just this summer. Ventilate, ventilate, ventilate. Wood. If this is a primary or back-up source of heat for you, you are most likely aware of how many cords of wood is needed for a winter. Stock up now, place it up on pallets and keep it covered and dry. Do this while the weather and supply allow you an ample stock. Wood pellet stoves, again, you know how many bags of pellets your stove needs. The math is easy. Lay back at least enough to get you through an anticipated crisis. For those who use a fireplace, now is the last chance you will have before winter sets in, to clean the flu, make necessary repairs and ready your hearth for use.

Clothing and blankets. gmbbigI can remember my grandmother using this time of year to finish quilts. She had quilts made from all sorts of fabric, from Grandpa’s coveralls, to pieces of flannel and wool. I still have one of her wool quilts that is lined with several layers of flannel, has a flannel back, and is so heavy that it held me fast in bed when I was only 5 years old. She mended boots with patches, mended coats, stockings and gloves. Winter wear and heavy curtains were brought out and aired in the crisp coolness of the fall afternoons. Living in an old farmhouse meant drafty and chilly rooms. Now, 50 years later, I have learned that it wasn’t just her house that was drafty at times. Most of us experience the same…ummm…memories. We’ve discovered the art of using window quilts in some of the back rooms during the winter. I’ve made smaller quilts to fit those windows that have a tie back to use during the daytime. At night, the window coverings are closed and keep the day’s warmth in for quite a while. The same inspection and repairs, if needed, is a memorable task we make to this day, just as my grandmother did so many years ago. Items such as boots, gloves, hats, scarves, are purchased well in advance of the winter’s need. Again, no one knows what the winter will bring and it’s better to be prepared rather than in need and the supply not available.

The last item I want to share with you is light. It’s not a necessity, but a welcome luxury in the event of a crisis situation. What are your backup sources for lighting? Battery operated? Candles? Oil lamps? Make sure you have enough fuel stored, and safely for oil lamps. Make sure you have enough matches or lighters stored away to light them, or the emergency candles you have stored. And, with candles, make sure you have a way to use them safely, sans the possibility of them tipping over or having a breeze blow flammable items into the flames. Batteries need to be purchased and stored in a cool, dark place for longer viability. One favorite that I’ve seen used recently are solar powered outside lights. They’re safe, inexpensive (most likely going on sale shortly) and give a fair amount of luminescence for a small sum of money. Here are just a few ideas.

mason jar lamp  oil lamp II        Solar Accent Lights.  batt lights

I’m sure that most of you could come up with a much longer list than this for your fall chores either around your city or rural homestead. The most important thing to do, is to get them done. Procrastination isn’t an option if you want to be prepared. If you need to procrastinate, do so when the ground is covered with a heavy blanket of fresh fallen snow, cover up with your nice, warm quilt, have a pair of thick wooly socks on and curl up in front of the fireplace that has been cleaned, repaired and is stock full of the wood you’ve gathered for just this very pleasure.

                                                                  family feet







And One Last Elderberry Recipe to Share with you

elderberry flowers

Refreshing Elderflower Drink

At the beginning of elderberry season, you have about 2 weeks to gather elderflowers before they drop off, forming the tiny green pellet sized balls that will eventually turn into the wonderfully, medicinally, rich in Vitamin C berries that are well known for their health benefits. Elderberries grow on canes, with a smooth tan-gray bark, usually in clusters along the wetlands as I explained earlier. Elder flower clusters are a creamy white, have a lemony smell and are in clusters about the size of a dinner plate. If you’ve ever taken walks in the woods, along the creeks or a river bank, there’s no mistaking an elder cluster from another tree. The canes can grow 8-10 feet high or higher, are very pliable, and actually, can be transplanted in their smaller stages to a place on your own farm.

For a wonderful, crisp, lemony flavored drink that’s high in Vitamin C and antioxidants, gather the flower clusters, rinse in a mild solution of vinegar and water to dislodge bugs or other debris, rinse and drain.

Use about 2-4 small clusters of the flowers from a flower head, put into boiling hot water and allow to steep for about 20-30 minutes. Strain the liquid, sweeten if desired.

It can be consumed as a hot tea, or chilled and ice added for a refreshing summertime drink.

NOTE: If you’re really crazy about elder flower tea as I am, you can dry elder flowers, store in an airtight container and use 1 teaspoon full in a tea strainer or a small muslin tea bag, in a cup of boiling water, steep and strain as above, to enjoy the summery fresh flavor of elder tea all winter long. It makes a nice gift too!!!


Medicinal Herb of the Day: Dill



We commonly think of it as a culinary herb, but did you know that it has many medicinal uses too? I didn’t, at least until my Native American adopted dad started teaching me the why’s and wherefores of Native American lore. You see, I am part Cherokee from my father’s side. My great-grandmother was full blooded Cherokee and I found her name, plus many other family members on the Dawe’s rolls. That’s a story for another day. But, in keeping with my heritage, and with what dad #2 has taught me, the need to share this knowledge leads to this blog, the way we live, and what we share with others. Back to the subject.


Anethum graveolens is the Latin name for this plant. It grows in gardens to the height of about 16-24 inches with thin, delicate leaves, It is an aromatic plant, sometimes used in companion planting in your vegetable garden to ward off destructive pests and to lure in beneficial insects to keep your cucumbers healthy. As a companion plant, don’t plant it near tomatoes or carrots.  I keep an herb garden specific for my many herbs that I use in natural remedies, cooking and as a place to sit in the cool evenings and partake of the many scents that the garden provides.

As a medicinal plant, it’s know to have a calming effect. It can be used for the following:

To help alleviate flatulence, abdominal bloating, indigestion and colic

The oil is said to relieve stomach cramping, especially with diarrhea

Combined with another antispasmodic herb, caraway or crampbark, it helps to alleviate menstrual cramping

It can increase lactation in nursing mothers, but, understand too, that mother’s milk will have the anti-spasmodic effect in the infant and it will help if you have a colicky baby.

It can help prevent bad breath when chewed

It can help alleviate motion sickness

And, last but not least, it can help, when added to other herbs, to prevent coughing spells

It is an antibacterial, especially for use with staphylococcus aureus


Harvesting Dill Seeds

Wait until the seeds on the top of the stalks become brown and dry looking. Wait until the morning dew has dried before harvesting seeds. Place a paper bag over the tops of the heads, bend the stem downward and gently clip off the stalk with a sharp pair of pruning shears or scissors. After you’ve harvested all the dill seeds you want, take them inside the house, and on a piece of waxed paper, gently shake the stalks inside the paper bag. Pour them out on the waxed paper and allow to air dry. Do not put the seeds in the oven or microwave since heat will destroy the beneficial effects of the volatile oils contained in the seeds. You can also dry the seeds by tying the stalks together at the ends, with the paper bag over the seed heads and hanging them from a rafter or in your pantry to completely dry. The seeds will fall off the heads easily when dried. Store the seeds in an airtight container until ready for use or replanting. I do leave some of the seeds on my plants to naturally reseed the garden and increase production for the following year.

To Harvest the leaves.

Leaves should be harvested before the seeds develop, otherwise they become bitter. To harvest, gather in the early morning, rinse and pat dry with a paper towel. You can dry dill leaves by tying the branches in clusters, and hanging upside down, just as you would the branches with the seed heads. Allow to dry thoroughly, and store in an airtight container until ready for use. They can be used medicinally as well as culinary. Fresh dill is wonderful when a few sprigs are placed in jars of dill pickles as the oils will be released in the brine, making the pickles have a wonderfully deep, dill flavor. Dill is also good when placed fresh or dried on poached salmon.

To use medicinally. as a tea to help prevent gastrointestinal issues:

Steep 2 teaspoons of slightly crushed dill seed in a cup of boiling water for about 10-15 minutes. Strain, and sip slowly.

Tinctures may be used at the rate of 1-2 mls, 3 times per day to help relieve gastrointestinal disorders.


CAUTION: Dill may cause dermatitis with some people if used excessively. It may have a phototoxic effect if used and the consumer goes out into the sun. Use sunscreen with aloe if you experience any sort of dermatitis or sun burning after the use of dill tea, or stop using the tea altogether. Personally, I have not seen this happen with anyone I’ve known who use it, but the words of caution appear in my herbal books, so I feel compelled to share them with you.

Disclaimer: Any words of wisdom on herbal remedies is meant for entertainment purposes only. It is not a substitute for proper, licensed medical care and should not be construed as such. Alternative medicine is wonderful for some, but it is not for everyone. Even with the use of herbal remedies, it should be done with the understanding and approval by your licensed healthcare provider as some herbs may interact negatively with prescription medications. As always, if you use herbs for alternative medication, and the symptoms do not subside within a few days, it is best to seek the advice of your primary healthcare provider. …and that being from the words of a retired nurse…me.


Creating an Adequate Pantry

A major challenge when living from your stockpiled foods is getting enough fruits and vegetables.  Without produce, your family can be at risk for nutritional deficiency diseases like scurvy and their immune systems will be compromised.  A minimum of 5 servings per day is recommended, but during the long winter, how can you meet that goal with the contents of your pantry?

Supplying your family with produce that will provide the necessary nutrients that their bodies need to thrive is a twofold process.  Not only should you preserve the summer’s bounty for the winter ahead, but you should also come up with ways to add fresh greens outside of the growing season.

Building a Produce Stockpile

When creating your produce stockpile, you have to look at what actually constitutes a “serving” for the people you will be feeding.  It may not actually be the amount that you expect. For example, a child’s serving of green beans is anywhere between a quarter cup to a half a cup (depending on their age), but an adult’s serving is a full cup.  So for a child, plan on 1-3 cups of produce per day and for an adult, plan on 5 cups of produce per day.

Whenever possible, focus on organic produce.  The use of pesticides in conventional farming is rampant.  Even the hijacked Environmental Protection Agency has to admit that the ingestion of pesticides can cause health problems.  They warn of the risk of “birth defects, nerve damage, cancer, and other effects that might occur over a long period of time.”  (Keep in mind, however, that despite this warning, the EPA just RAISED the acceptable limit of glyphosate at the behest of Monsanto.) Especially at risk of harm from pesticides are prepubescent children and fetuses.

It’s also important to avoid GMOs (genetically modified organisms).  Particularly avoid anything non-organic that contains corn or soy ingredients. (Learn more about why GMOs are not even safe in moderation.)

What to shop for

At the grocery store, look for sales to build your supply of produce:

Dried:  Dried fruits such as raisins, banana chips (without sugar), and dried cranberries can pack a lot of nutritional punch into a tiny serving size.  Think of them as concentrated vitamins. An adult serving of raisins is only 1/4 cup, which means that you can pack a lot of nutrition into a small amount of space with dried fruits.

Canned:  Canned goods such as tomatoes, green beans, and peas can go a long way towards providing nutrition.  The benefit to those rows of tin cans is that you don’t require power to store them safely, and they are fully cooked so you don’t even have to heat them up in a grid down situation.  You can also find many varieties of canned fruit but beware of heavy syrups, which are often made with GMO corn syrup.

Frozen:  Frozen fruits and vegetables are the closest to fresh that you can get.  This is a great way to build a stockpile for good times, but don’t put all of your produce in the freezer.  During an extended power outage, you stand to lose a large portion of your deep freeze contents. If you do purchase a large amount of produce for the freezer, have canning jars, lids, and an off grid method for canning them if the electricity goes down for the long-term.

Freeze dried:  This is a more expensive option, but freeze dried fruits and vegetables maintain nutrients, require little storage space, and need no special storage conditions.  You can add a great deal of variety to your pantry with a selection of freeze dried ingredients and the foods, if sealed correctly, can last up to 25 years.

Preserving fruits and veggies

There are many effective ways to preserve fruits and vegetables that you acquire fresh.  Whether you harvest them from your own property, buy them at the farmer’s market or a local orchard, or even make a bulk purchase from the discount bin at the grocery store, having the supplies and skills to quickly preserve them can allow you to make the most of your windfall.

Dehydrating:  Whether you use an actual dehydrating machine, hang the items in a sunny, dry place, or use your oven, dehydrating can be an easy way to store a lot of food in a small amount of space. One drawback to dehydrated food is that you require a substantial amount of water to reconstitute it.  Fruit roll-ups are an exception – they are a healthy, dehydrated treat that requires no soaking time and they make a great addition to backpacks and bug-out bags.  For more information on dehydrating fruits and vegetables for your pantry, check out this handy chart for instructions and click HERE to find out how to store the food once you have dehydrated it.

Canning:  As always, canning is my favorite way to preserve food.  Many fruits can be canned using the water bath canning method but vegetables (with the exception of tomatoes and pickles) require pressure canning to be safely preserved.    I have row after row of sliced fruit, colorful veggies, pickles, salsas, jams, and applesauce lining my shelves and waiting for their turn on the table.

Root Cellaring:  Another way to store produce is by root cellaring. Many fruits and vegetables will last the entire winter if they are stored under the proper conditions. Autumn harvests tend to do particularly well when root cellared – apples, garlic, hard squash, potatoes, and carrots can all last for many months.

Fresh greens: anytime, anywhere

If you are anything like my family, fruits and vegetables make up a huge part of your diet.  When we did a one-month pantry challenge, the first thing that we realized was how much we missed fresh produce.  No matter how big your pantry is, it’s important to be able to provide yourself with some fresh nutrients too.  In the off-season or in an apartment or other place with no outdoor growing space, learn to adapt and provide your family with some fresh produce.   Grow herbs and lettuce in a bright window.  Set up a hydroponics system in a spare room (but look out for the SWAT team – they like to come after indoor tomato growers!)  Go even further and look into aquaponics. Create a little greenhouse with a grow light for year round veggies.  Sprout seeds and legumes for a healthy addition to salads.



Make your own Instant Potato Flakes

Instant Potato Flakes

Makes 1 pint jar

  • 5  potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • Water
  1. Cover potatoes with just   enough water to cover them. Over medium heat, boil potatoes for 10-15      minutes, or until soft. They should be at the consistency of ready to be mashed.
  2. Once potatoes are soft, drain water and mash potatoes until smooth. Do not add any milk or seasonings.      *Reserve the water to make a yeast starter
  3. Set potatoes on dehydrator fruit roll sheets or a parchment paper lined dehydrator tray. Dehydrate on  145 degrees Fahrenheit for 6 hours or until dry and all moisture is removed.
  4. Break the sheets into chunks, put in the blender, and pulse until ground into flakes.The finer the flake, the stickier the potatoes will be when you reconstitute them.
  5. Add to a glass jar or container and store in a cool, dry area for 6 months.

To Reconstitute the Potato Flakes:

For flavoring soups, casseroles, and dishes add by the tablespoon until desired thickness is met.

For Mashed Potatoes:

Add potato flakes to boiling water, then remove from heat. Add additional ingredients such as cold milk, butter, salt, seasonings and stir in reconstituted potato flakes.

2 servings: 2/3 cup water, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1 tablespoon butter, 1/4 cup milk, 2/3 cup flakes
4 servings: 1 1/3 cups water, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 2 tablespoons butter, 1/2 cup milk, 1 1/3 cup flakes
8 servings: 2 2/3 cups water, 1 teaspoon salt, 4 tablespoons butter, 1 cup milk, 2 2/3 cup flakes
16 servings: 5 1/3 cups water, 2 teaspoons salt, 8 tablespoons butter, 2 cups milk, 5 1/3 cups flakes