Category Archives: homesteading

Our Aquaponic Journey: Part Four – Choosing Media for Grow Beds and Other Product Selections

aquaponic media grow beds

 

The system I built is from the Endless Food Systems DIY plans. I used untreated pine for all my grow beds, and treated pine for the sump tanks that will sit on the ground, as well as the leg supports. To line the beds, I did a lot of research, and settled on DuraSkrim pond liner. It’s what aquaponics farmers use to get organic certification. I was overly concerned with using plastics and how the leaching could impact the quality of the plants. It’s really hard to get away from plastic, since galvanized metal is poisonous to fish. Unless you have the time to let algae coat all the surfaces, the zinc will be toxic. I emailed a friend of mine in the plastics industry, who happens to have a lot of the same concerns I do, and she recommended I go with the DuraSkrim. I ordered a roll online, but realized later that my local aquaponics store (Brite Ideas in Austin) carries it as well. I could have saved so much on shipping!

 

For the plumbing, I chose to use polyethelyne pipe (aka pe pipe) for the main units. PVC has a bad reputation for good reason. You can have leaching at high temperatures, and the chemicals used in their construction are still controversial. PE pipe has a much higher temperature threshold, and generally speaking has a better reputation. I like that the parts all snap together without having to use toxic glues, and are easy to cut and assemble. As someone with virtually no plumbing experience, I appreciated it! I tried to use 2″ PE pipe to connect my sump tanks, but I couldn’t find the fittings I needed nor figure out how to get the tools to connect them. So, we went ahead with PVC for the sumps. I’m not entirely thrilled about it, but it will do. I’m pleased to say I also did this myself! Hopefully I didn’t lose too many brain cells in the process 😉

 

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Choosing the media to fill my beds was an obstacle. At first, I planned to only have media in my main grow bed to act as a filter for two raft beds. But talking to a few pros and attending some classes led me to decide to go with media in all three beds. It seems rafts are best for leafy greens only, and if you want fruits or vegetables you need something a bit more sturdy for them. I talked to a lot of folks about different options, and it seemed that granite would be the most affordable and easily available option. At least, so I thought. My dad mentioned he had several cubic yards of decomposed granite on the property that I was free to use. And that was the key word, FREE! I was so thrilled. I set out sifting and rinsing all the dirt, piling it into a tub and filling up my first bed. It took me four hours and something like 200 shovels worth of granite. All to find out that it was too small. Oy. I posted a photo along with a question to the Facebook aquaponics group I’m in, and the consensus was that the rocks were too small to work well as a media bed. Ouch. So I set to work emptying the bed. The good news was it only took 30 minutes. The bad news was my entire body ached to high heaven.

granite aquaponics media

 

I was told to look for 3/4″ granite rocks, and to make sure to do the vinegar test to check for pH neutrality. Basically you drop a few stones into a jar of vinegar, and if it fizzes, you don’t use it. Luckily this passed. I searched for a couple of weeks to find a stone yard that carried the size granite I needed. Finally, I found it at New Braunfels Mulch. They had 3/4″ – 2″ granite for $55 a cubic yard, and offered delivery. I ordered two yards, and it turned out to be exactly enough for my three beds! Considering bags of the stuff at box stores run $6 per half cubic foot (meaning I needed about 100 bags) I consider it a great bargain.

The rough part was rinsing and moving, but I managed. I’m thinking I’ll start a new diet program: Body by Aquaponics! I drilled large holes in the bottom of a five gallon bucket, put in 5-6 shovels of rock, rinsed it then dumped it. Registration offices Several hundreds of buckets later, my beds were filled. Whew! Now I just need to finish up the leak checking, bribe my husband to finish wiring the electrical, and it’s time to fill up the beds! SO CLOSE NOW!

Homemade “Nomato” Marinara – Tomato Free Pasta Sauce!

tomato free marinara sauce

Let me begin this post with a disclaimer: I am NOT a food photographer. Obviously. I’m also not really a food blogger either. But as we travel along the road that is food intolerance, I find recipes that are hits and misses. I had been searching for a good replacement for marinara. Something I can use to replace canned tomatoes in recipes. I found several good options, and combined and tweaked and edited those recipes to come up with this super tasty version.

I have to say, my husband and I were pretty surprised at how easily this sauced fooled us. It tastes just like the real thing! It’s great to make a big batch for the refrigerator and reach for it any time a recipe calls for tomatoes. If you are struggling with acid reflux (from a rough pregnancy, perhaps) this is a great alternative for you. Plus it’s full of fabulously nutritious veggies and healthy chicken stock!

“Nomato” Marinara:

DIY All Natural Tinted Lip Balm Recipe

Processed with Moldiv

 

Part of my zero waste initiative of 2015 has been to start making my own toiletries and beauty products. For the most part, I use recipes I find online, but sometimes I tweak and alter them until I have something that fits my tastes. This is one of those recipes. I’ve been trying out a few different combinations of ingredients to get a lipstick like texture. So far I haven’t found it, but this recipe makes a great tinted balm that leaves a good amount of color on your lips.

vintage-revlon-bullet-tubes

 

I started by searching for vintage lipstick tubes. I didn’t want to spend time and money making all-natural products just to store them in plastic. Especially when a big part of zero waste is eliminating plastic completely. I browsed several styles on Etsy, and decided on these vintage Revlon tubes from Frugal Resale. They appear to be brass, and since brass commonly had lead in their composition, I picked up a surface lead test from my local hardware store. They were negative, which means, hooray, lead free! I scraped out the remnants and boiled the containers for a few minutes to clean them. I did have one of the labels fall off, so I’ll be gluing it back on. I’m particularly fond of that “Touch of Genius” shade 😉

diy-natural-lip-balm-ingredients

Many online recipes call for specialty ingredients you have to order online. Since my goal is to hopefully one day source all the ingredients locally, if not completely from my homestead, I tried to find some more basic supplies. Most of this can be found at your local grocery or health foods store. In fact, I ground up dried hibiscus leaves from my HEB bulk section (it was with the spices), and peeled, sliced, and dehydrated and then ground fresh beets into a powder.

grinding-hibiscus-flowersOne tip that I found handy with my hibiscus powder was to strain it through a fine mesh sieve. In this case it was a tea strainer. This keeps the larger clumps and flower parts from getting into your coloring powder, keeping the shade a bit more even. Still, hibiscus is a bit more finicky than the beet root. In the stick, it’s hard to tell a difference.

diy-natural-tinted-balm

Beet root is on the left, hibiscus on the right. I had a bit of clumping there since I waited just a touch too long to start mixing it up and pouring it into the tube. Here is the beet root balm (it appears a bit darker in real life):

beetroot-balm

And below is the hibiscus (also a bit darker and slightly more even):

hibiscus-balm

You can see the graininess that the hibiscus can have. It’s less noticeable in person, and you can rub your lips together and work most of it in. I would also say that while the beet root gives the better color, I like the flavor and texture of the hibiscus more.

Now enough hemming and hawing, let’s get to the recipe!

DIY All Natural Tinted Lip Balm Recipe

Our Aquaponic Journey: Part Three – Adding a Ventilation Window to Ana White’s Barn Style Greenhouse

Ana White Barn Greenhouse

 

The plans for this Barn Style Greenhouse don’t include any ventilation. Which in Central Texas, where I live, mean that it could easily get over 100 degrees in a flash, wilting all my plants and killing the fish in my aquaponic system. That can’t happen! So I decided to make one wall of the greenhouse a “window”, and give it the ability to flip and be propped open for air movement. My original method, above, was a bit too flimsy. A mild storm flipped it all the way up and ripped it off my tiny supports. So I built a whole new frame and rigged up a good solid support to hang it. Here’s what I did:

greenhouse-window-support-beam

 

I started by adding a 12′ 2×6 (I should have measured twice before I cut! This was just a touch short, make sure yours goes all the way to the end) by drilling 2 1/2″ screws into each of the trusses.

 

greenhouse-window-frame

 

Next I rebuilt my frame. Before I just pieced together some scrap boards, which made it weak. This time I used a solid 2×4 for the top and bottom. Then I measured the distance between the top of the paneling side, and the bottom of the 2×6. I subtracted 7″ or the width of both 2×4’s, then cut five center supports. I attached them with pocket hole screws, then removed the greenhouse panels from my old frame and put them on the new one.

 

greenhouse-window-hinges

 

I just used a bunch of old hinges to attach the window to the support, pulling back the greenhouse panel a bit so half would be below it. I want to keep the water away from them.

 

greenhouse-window-water-covering

 

Lastly, we cut a spare greenhouse panel in half width wise, then removed some of the screws from the panel on the top, fed the new sheet below it, and reattached the screws. Then we folded it over the top of the window, added more screws, and voila! Easy, water resistant ventilation. Eventually I plan to take down the panels on the other wall, and build another window frame so I can get a good cross breeze going in the summertime. It should also help let pollinators in. Or if pests or critters start being pesky, I’ll add some hardware cloth and screening to keep them out. Whatever it takes to get a happy, breezy system!

Our Aquaponic Journey: Part Two

aquaponic media bed

 

Happy February everyone! I’m not normally one to apologize for long blog absences, as they’ve been happening a lot for the past year. After doing some thinking, however, I decided that it was either time to get back into blogging more, or say my farewells and move on to new things. So, without much hoopla, I’m putting it out there that I plan to be more regular with posting and share more about what it’s like for an everyday “conventional” family to move toward greener living. I’ll do my best to post three times a week, without stressing too much over pretty pictures. I do a lot of “microblogging” over on my Instagram account, so it should be easy to elaborate more with some tutorials and information here on the blog instead of clogging up my feed with long descriptions. Anyway, that’s that.

In aquaponics news, the system is moving slooooooooowly. Very slowly. The cold weather and rain isn’t exactly a great motivator to lug around gigantic, heavy boards and beds. But it’s moving. I finished up the first grow bed, a 4’x8′ media bed over the fish tank. I’m planning to fill it with gravel, and keep this for my perennials. I got a little whimsical and ordered a couple of dwarf banana trees, some coffee plant beans, and berry bushes. Cranberries, actually. I also grabbed a variety of perennial herb plants that are good for teas and remedies, like Anise, Toothache Plant, and St. John’s Wort.

aquaponic raft bed build

 

I also finished up the second grow bed, which I’m planning to use as a raft bed. That means it will be filled up with water and have styrofoam floats on the top, with little baskets for the plants. Here’s where I plan to try out vegetables and greens. I have one more bed to build identical to that one, which will fit on the left side. It’s going to be a tight fit in here! I’m planning on building a frame for each side of the greenhouse and removing the fixed greenhouse panels onto the frames so they can lift up for ventilation and pollination, as well as making harvesting a bit easier. It seems my goal of having it finished on February first was a bit too over-zealous, so now I’m hoping for March 1st to get things moving. I made things harder for myself by jumping into building before watching all the videos and reading completely through the instructional pdf, and now I’ll need to take a break and stain/seal the grow beds from the moisture. It would have been so much easier to pre-stain before installing them! But, at least I figured that out now, so I have a bit of wiggle room left in there. That’s it for now, I’ll be back soon with another update, as well as some more fun homesteading adventures!

Our Aquaponic Journey Part One: Building the Greenhouse

Ana White Barn Greenhouse

 

Have you ever heard of aquaponics? It’s the practice of growing food using fish in a water-based system. I heard about it last year, and have been learning all I can about it ever since. This past year was fine with my conventional garden, but I wanted more. I wanted year-round vegetables, in abundant quantities. I wanted a simple system that was self-sustainable. I wanted aquaponics! After a lot of research, I decided to take the plunge and build a greenhouse specifically for my system. I chose the brightest spot, which happened to be just to the right of our house, in the gravel area we designated as a driveway overflow. My husband was generous enough to give up this spot for the good of the larder. We had just enough money left in our house building fund to cover the costs of the greenhouse, which was just under $800.

Screen Shot 2015-01-06 at 10.47.34 AM

 

It took four days to build Ana White’s Barn Style Greenhouse. We purchased all our supplies at Lowes. The first day was spent digging a foundation in for the cement blocks. We decided to add them into the plan since we get such serious winds around here. They have since been buried, so I’m hoping it will be enough to keep the greenhouse in place. I also decided to make the lower “wall” on the left side, the one covered in greenhouse panels, have the ability to open for ventilation in the summertime. You can see the darker brown frame that I used to attach the greenhouse panels to. I just made sure the uppermost panel threaded beneath the one above it so water wouldn’t get in. I’m planning to add some spray foam to each edge to keep the winter chill out, as well as some pool noodles along the base where it meets the metal wall as there is a 1″ gap due to the frame construction. But overall, it’s nice and warm inside.

Screen Shot 2015-01-05 at 2.06.21 PMThere are thousands of ways to set up your aquaponic system. YouTube is overrun with tutorials, system tours, and the like. It became overwhelming. I knew I wanted to build my own system rather than spend thousands on a pre-built one. So I decided to invest the $40 to get the Endless Food Systems DIY tutorial, which will fit perfectly inside my 10 x 12 greenhouse with a few small tweaks. From what I’ve read, to feed a family of four you would need 100 square feet of grow bed space. My system will have 78 square feet, so it will be close. Couple that with my outdoor conventional garden, and my dreams of food self-sustainability may come to fruition sooner than I hoped! This 300 gallon tank should hold about 30 pounds of fish, we’re planning on starting out with catfish since they’re so hardy in our area. The limestone rock we live on means we can’t bury our tank, so the fish will need to tolerate some temperature fluctuation.

 

That’s it for my first installment of our aquaponic journey! I’m hoping to get our system finished and running before February 1st, so I can get some early spring plants started. I’ll be sure to update each step of the way!

 

SnapPower Review and Giveaway

I am so excited to share this amazing new product with you today! If you’ve been reading my blog for the past few months, you’ll notice that I have been focusing on ways to “go green” and be a more conscious consumer. I’ve been contacted to do reviews and giveaways for a lot of different products, but have turned them down since they didn’t really mesh well with my lifestyle. That was until the amazing folks at SnapPower sent me an email asking me to take a peek at their website. I am SO glad I did!

SnapPower_Duplex_White_FrontPerspective_v01

 

You’re probably thinking, “Um…Brooke that’s just an outlet cover. What’s so special about that?” Well, what makes it special is that this simple little cover goes from this…

SnapPower_Desk_Day_FullRes_JPEG_v01

 

To this!

SnapPower_Desk_Night_Normal_FullRes_JPEG_v01

 

That’s right! They’re NIGHTLIGHTS! They are outlet covers with LED lights built right in, so you don’t lose a socket to your night light. And in the example above, they’re great for kitchens, bathrooms, bedrooms, well, everywhere! I see those battery-sucking under-cabinet lights in stores, and though they seem handy I never really liked the plastic, or the cords, or that you push them on and off. With these, I can just pop in a new outlet cover and have automatic backsplash lighting with NO hard wiring required! Plus there is a tiny little sensor that will turn the lights on when it’s dark, and off when it’s light so that you aren’t wasting any power or life-hours on the LEDs. Isn’t that amazing? They’re also ridiculously simple to install. You just unscrew your old cover, press in your new one, add the screw and bam! Light! Want to know the best part? It only costs TEN CENTS A YEAR to operate! And it lasts twenty five years! I’m so pumped about that. It works on all standard outlets (not GFCI) so you really can put them anywhere.

SnapPower_Duplex_White_Back_PerspectiveAngle_v01

 

I kid you not, these are amazing. I put one in my toddler’s room, since her nightlight has already burnt out once, and plug space is at a premium what with sound machines and humidifiers. I also added one in the nursery, and I’m grateful that I did! I’m still feeding my one year old at least two or three times overnight, and it’s nice to have a dim, unobtrusive nightlight that I don’t have to remember to turn on and off. Because let me tell you, it’s never any fun when I forget to turn the nightlight on at bed time and have to fumble around with my phone’s flashlight trying to not shine the baby in the face while I’m getting her out of the crib!

 

I’m already planning to order several more for my kitchen, to make that long walk from my bedroom to the nursery a bit less, um, painful. It will be so nice to be able to find my way without bumping into things or leaving on a brighter light to waste energy. Because who can beat ten cents a year? I urge you to head on over to SnapPower and take a look. And of course, enter the giveaway to win an LED outlet cover of your very own! Enter by sharing your favorite “going green” tip, and follow SnapPower’s Facebook and Twitter for extra entries!
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Zero Waste Bulk Shopping at HEB

zero waste grocery shopping

This Zero Waste thing sounds good in theory, but how can you take the principles and easily adapt it into your every day life? That’s the challenge, and today I’m here to help with one of the biggest offenders of packaging and single-use plastics: The Grocery Store. Just think about it. They have handy little plastic baggies to separate and weigh vegetables. Sometimes they even have each individual vegetable vacuum packed in it’s own plastic! Meat comes on styrofoam platters wrapped in plastic, which takes over ONE MILLION YEARS to decompose. Yes, one million. I wish I had learned that little fact earlier in life so I could have avoided it sooner! Things just continue down the line as you progress further down your grocery list. Boxed pastas, bagged flours, individual containers sold in larger groups. Then you get to the checkout and things are placed into plastic sacks for easier carrying. Do you know how many of those bags are recycled? Less than 5%. Considering we as Americans consume over 100 BILLION bags per year, that’s a lotta bags in the landfill. I like to save the ones that cycle through our house, but over time I hope to completely eliminate plastic bags from our home and use completely. Anyway, you get the picture. Conventional grocery shopping practices are incredibly wasteful, and over time we’ve adapted to it since it’s the only thing we’ve known how to shop. I grew up with the bags, and boxes, and cans. But! Here are a few very easy ways we can do things differently to make BIG changes.

 

 

First up: the reusable bag. I know, I know, I forget them sometimes too. But I’m able to do all my shopping in just four bags, which get wiped down or washed in between uses. I haven’t had to use plastic bags from the grocery store in over a month since taking more time to plan out my trips. I have a few different cloth bags collected over time (you know the drill, from handouts, conventions, random goody bags and such) but you can also try to source eco-friendly commercial bags or totes, or even make your own from worn out fabrics and belts! Even produce bags. I decided to go with these Earthwise produce bags to completely cut out the flimsy plastics when I’m grabbing mushrooms or peas. There’s also a lot of great tutorials on how to make them from old t-shirts. But you’ve all heard about reusable bags for a while now. Let’s move on to the fun stuff!

 

The Bulk Section.

heb-montrose-bulk

Image from Swamplot

Most HEB stores will have a bulk section. I’ve also seen them at Brookshire Brothers, and other grocers in Texas. You may be wondering, why should I buy in bulk? Well this is where you’ll want to go to reduce your packaging consumption. You can also adjust your sizes and not be tied down into whatever portion the manufacturers decided for you. So, if you need one cup of beans, you get one cup of beans. If you only think you’ll use a tablespoon of some random, obscure spice, you can get that! The bulk sections vary, but they tend to have a wide selection of spices, nuts, beans, grains, and treats. I can usually find gluten-free flours like coconut, almond, and even arrowroot. There are so many different organic and natural options too! I can’t usually find organic beans in the aisles, but they’re here in the bulk section. Along with raw nuts, which are great for paleo eaters because I can make my own preservative-free almond milk and cashew cream. This does require a bit of planning, because I need to pack jars and reusable baggies for weighing and storing. So now I make my list and pack my “grocery kit” the night before, which has my bags, produce bags, jars, and weighing baggies as well as a wax pencil for any marking I may need to do.

Things work a bit differently than some other stores, and it took some trial and error to find a good system. At first, I weighed my jars, marked them, filled them, re-weighed them and marked the filled weight then subtracted the tare and wrote and circled the net weight. Um…yeah. Not only was that a lot of math, but the cashiers and managers HATED me. I still feel bad about that. I’m notorious at the Dripping Springs store as “That Hippie Girl” who lost them a whole bunch of money one day when the cashier gave up in exasperation and just entered in random numbers for all my bulk goods. So, don’t be like Newbie Me. I was learning my way. Now, however, this is my “Manager Approved” method:

bulk-step1

 

First I fill up my jar with the item I need. This time it was black pepper. (please excuse my horrible photos, but I didn’t also want to add “that weirdo blog girl” to my reputation with a big camera taking photos in the bulk section, so I just sneakily snapped pics with my phone) I bring my own reusable bag. This is a Neat-Os bag, which is pretty darn awesome (and means I don’t have to buy zip lock bags ever again!) Now I’ll be honest with you. The tare weight of the plastic baggies is .001 and my Neat-Os bag is .004 so there is a tiny, tiny difference in price. If you are a stickler for saving money, you can pick up one of the provided plastic bags and reuse it for all your bulk weights and bring it home and wash it to use next time. But I find that difference to be so minuscule that I would rather go with my easy, more durable Neat-Os. If I’m weighing larger items like chocolate chips or nuts, I just use the lighter produce bag. Okay, moving on.

bulk-step2

 

I pour the contents of the jar into the bag. Why? Because it’s obviously lighter in the jar. And while it may seem like it makes sense to just fill and weigh the bag, THEN pour, I want to make sure I have the correct amount in the jar first and it isn’t over or under filled. So, I fill the bag, enter the code, weigh it, and put the printout sticker on my jar. There’s just no way out of the stickers at these stores, sadly. It’s the only way the cashiers can ring up the purchases because they would have to add the weight of your jar at the register. But a small piece of paper that can biodegrade is better than a larger baggie, so I take what I can get at the moment. Once that’s finished, I pour the contents back into the jar from the bag, and then start over with my next item.

Now, you may need to bring a few bags to prevent cross-contamination. I try to plan things in order and do solid items like beans first, then flours, then spices. It takes a few tries to figure out the system that works for you. But don’t be discouraged! Once you get into the swing of things it goes by very quickly and you’re no longer spending an hour in the bulk section 😉

 

The Meat Section:

heb-meat-market-services-250X194

 

Now as I mentioned before, most of the meat sits in coolers on display, where you casually walk by and grab pre-packaged goods. In an effort to A) eat better quality food and B) reduce my consumption of packaging and styrofoam, I decided to stop first at the meat market to get individual cuts. Now, Bea recommends bringing glass containers and asking them to put the meat into the glass instead of the paper. But I haven’t called up the courage for that just yet, so I have the meat packed in freezer paper which I then toss into our “dirty” compost pile out back to decompose. (note: I don’t use meat-tainted materials in my garden. It’s more like an open-air recycling area where things can break down without being packed into a landfill) Sometimes I can’t avoid the packaged meats, but I’m trying to work out alternative sources for them. We’ve already run out of our home-raised chicken, so occasionally I buy a package at the store. You don’t have to go all-or-nothing on your first round with Zero Waste. I’m treating it as a process. We are striving to go completely packaging-free, but in the mean time I’m not being heavy-handed about it. This is just supposed to provide a jumping off point for others who are also interested in bringing Zero Waste practices into their homes. It can be intimidating and overwhelming to try and find an answer for every problem right away. So this is a learn-as-we-go blog series. I hope you enjoyed a glimpse into the methods of my new madness, and hopefully it inspired you to make a few changes in your grocery shopping trips as well!

 




Zero Waste 2015

zero waste shopping materials

 

Over the past several months, I have expressed my desire toward different homesteading ventures. Gardening, raising meat chickens, preserving and building have been on my radar for quite some time now. It’s just been over the last year or so that I’ve begun to execute those goals. Yet it still seemed a bit scattered, in my head. It didn’t seem like the articles I read or people I followed espoused all the different facets of “going green” that I was interested in. Then I found out about the Zero Waste movement. Have you heard of it? It’s fantastic! I purchased Zero Waste Home on my eReader, and encourage everyone to check it out as well. Basically the author strives for a zero waste lifestyle, which means eliminating all packaging like single-use plastics and not buying into the consumerism of today’s society.

 

garden-plan

I was so inspired by Bea’s writing that I decided we were going to do it. How could we not? We’re already halfway there! I’ve been cloth diapering for almost two years now, and we haven’t had paper towels since we moved to our new home. I feel like I’ve been slowly making my way over to Zero Waste before I even knew there was a name for it. So, what does this mean for the blog? Well, the focus will basically stay the same. I’m still going to build and write about our projects. Because of course building your own furniture is economical and ecological. I also plan to write more about our self-sufficient adventures, like gardening (that’s my garden diagram above, with over 50 varieties!). And the new aquaponics setup we are currently building. We’re paving the way to providing most of the food we require ourselves, and I think that’s a great journey to chronicle. But it’s not necessarily one everyone can feasibly do, so I want to cover other things. Things like…

 

fabric scrap rag dolls

 

Making holiday gifts out of scrap materials. These rag dolls are gifts for Caroline’s first birthday, and I used fabric remnants along with some new, made in the USA eco-friendly felt and stuffed them with tiny scraps of fabric and all those unmatched baby socks that seem to multiply. I’m really excited to share about these!

 

stevia-extract

 

Making my own pantry staples that used to be all store-bought and full of preservatives. Like this stevia extract I’m steeping with my home-grown organic stevia plant and local vodka. I have several great recipes and tricks I’ve found online, so I think a regular round-up post would be beneficial.

 

freezer-mealsfreezer-meals

 

Freezer cooking, and making my own “ingredients” like enchilada sauce and tomato paste. And of course the hardest part, Zero Waste Shopping. I’ve been hitting up the bulk aisles and toting my recycled jars to and from the grocery store long enough now that I feel I can share my methods.

 

So, there you have it! A new, bright focus for Killer b. Designs that truly has me fired up again. I have been struggling for a while with the consumerism of DIY blogging, as well as sponsor partnerships that didn’t seem to mesh with my new personal goals. I’m very excited about the months to come.

 

 

 




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Our First Attempt at Raising Chickens for Meat

meat chicken harvest day

 

I have a 10 Year Plan. It’s nothing fancy, but it is a big one. In 10 years I want to be able to provide all the food our family needs from home. Last year was my first garden, and this year is my first “big” garden. Yet while the herbivore side is being taken care of, what about the carnivore portion of our diet? Previously we relied on venison my husband shot during hunting season, along with some wild hog here and there, and then shopped for chicken and pork. But that just isn’t enough anymore. In order to cover *all* our previous grocery store bases, we needed to try our hand at chickens. I didn’t want to replicate the CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations), I wanted to grow happy, healthy chickens that were free for their brief lives. Here is a quick rundown of what the past three months were like:

delaware-meat-chickens

 

We started with 10 Buff Orpington chicks, 10 Delaware chicks, and 8 Cornish Rocks (it’s half of what the Cornish Cross breed is, designed to grow well for meat but not so quickly their legs break and their organs/quality of life suffer).

An Inconvenient Life

I’m going to warn you in advance that this post may sound preachy, but I really hope it doesn’t come off that way. I’ve been meaning to write it for some time now, but couldn’t organize my thoughts exactly how I wanted to say things. Please know that I do not judge anyone for living differently from how I choose to live, I simply wish to explain some changes in my (and my family’s) lifestyle in case someone else is looking to adopt some of the same practices.

 

Over the past couple of years, I’ve had a strong conviction to pay more attention to the things in my life. Things like food, medicine, appliances, clothing, and other “dry goods”. It has been weighing on my heart, all this stuff we preoccupy our minds with. All the commercials to buy more things, wear new clothes, get the latest gadget. I started watching documentaries and reading books about living green, growing your own food and supporting sustainable practices and production. A lot of my friends and family tease me for this new “hippie” lifestyle. But I’ve found that the more I delve into it, the more I enjoy it and find more satisfaction in my day to day life.

organic-ingredients

 

One big decision has been buying better food. Yes, it’s more expensive. Yes, I know that “organic” doesn’t always mean healthy. But after reading enough frightening articles about GMOs and abusing animals, I wanted to set aside a higher budget toward food and skimp on other things. For instance, we cut cable and only have local channels and Netflix. It’s inconvenient. I would love to be watching the DIY Network and HGTV, but I knew this was the best choice for my family. For starters, the tv isn’t always on so we have more quality time together. But the most important part was feeling that we prioritize putting the best possible foods into our bodies. It’s a trade, and one we are all happy to make.

 

homesteading

 

One of the most rewarding aspects of the homesteading lifestyle I’m pursuing is the home garden. It’s my first garden ever, and it’s had it’s hits and misses. Zucchini has been growing like a weed! But I learned that cucumbers in the blasting Texas sun don’t last long, and neither does anything when you leave a gate open for a hungry calf to tear apart nearly all your okra and pole beans. Whoops! We also decided to give raising chickens a try. We started with four, and are down to our original one chicken. One was lost early to rough play by a very, very sad Red Heeler (it was our favorite too! An Americauna which lays blue eggs, and Juno was really upset that she killed it and hasn’t touched another chicken). Another suffered a large wound on a stick and needed to be put down. The last was the worst. Our Rhode Island Red (or Elmo Chicken, as Charlie dubbed her) had just started laying a couple of weeks prior and went into the coop to lay her afternoon egg. It broke inside her and she died. The small silver lining to all this has been exposing my daughter to the way of farm life. We were together when I found poor dead Elmo Chicken, who she pronounced went “night night”. A life lesson, that’s for sure!

storing-harvest

 

Preserving this bounty has also been a new experience. Yes, I spend a significant amount of time in the kitchen blanching and packing and freezing. It would be much more convenient to simply grab a bag of frozen zucchini or okra from the store. Yet I feel that not only is it immensely satisfying to know exactly how this produce was grown (without chemicals or treated water), but that I’m learning new skills to serve both myself and my family as well as preserving a little bit of history and independence. I’m not particularly comfortable with how reliant we have become on centralized food production and enjoy knowing I can start providing for myself. Over time I would love to expand this even more and do my best to grow all the produce and meat we consume every year. That may be a pipe dream, but it’s one I feel value in pursuing.

 

reclaimed-materials

 

If you’ve followed my blog for any amount of time, you’ll have noticed that I do my best to salvage old materials and recreate them into new things. I’ve become even more vigilant about this. It began by wanting to save money, but now I also strive to save as many resources as possible. Buying furniture is certainly simple, if expensive. Building furniture is great, especially when it’s derived from sustainably forested lumber found locally. Though I really enjoy finding old cast off materials and doing my best to make them into something unique and interesting. I may not always achieve this, but at least I saved it from clogging up another landfill.

 

Another new “quirk” I’m getting the side-eye for is recycling and composting, in an effort to bring our home to zero waste status. Our area does not have recycling pick up, so I sort it into large bins and take it to the local recycling cache every other Friday. I also asked my husband to screw together some old pallets lying around at my dad’s barn and make me a composting heap for our kitchen scraps and yard waste. It’s already been a huge help! It’s not a huge time suck, but I do invest about 5 hours a month into recycling and composting. We also put out two rain barrels so I can water my plants without dipping into our well water supply, from an aquifer that’s been declining over the past few years. One day I would love to get a two thousand gallon cistern, have wind energy, and go completely off the grid. Will that happen? I’m not sure, but I’m going to do my best to try.

 

If you have been considering taking steps to a greener lifestyle, I highly encourage you to do it. It isn’t always easy, and I get that. However, it is incredibly rewarding on a personal and global level. Every little bit helps. You’d be surprised at all the things you can recycle, and that it’s not a huge time investment. Or that you find pleasure and emotional satisfaction at keeping a garden. You can easily support local small farms by visiting a farmer’s market or local grocer. It’s worth it, I promise.

 




The Bountiful Sprout – Joining a Local CSA

As I continue along on my whole “go green” journey, the next logical step from finding a local Farmer’s Market and starting a garden of fruits and veggies was sourcing a CSA. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, a CSA is typically when you sign up for a share of a local farm’s seasonal crops. But this? This is so much more!

I was looking online for local food sources, and stumbled upon The Bountiful Sprout. It’s a coop of local farms coming together and providing their products for sale all on one website. What I love most about it is that the website has a listing of all sorts of different foods, from veggies and fruits to meats and grains and even soaps! Instead of signing up for a “mystery box” each week, you can pick out the individual items you want to buy, just like the grocery store! Then you pick it up at one of their three delivery locations. The Bountiful Sprout currently delivers to Austin, Fredericksburg and Wimberley (my town). So it was a no-brainer to sign up! Here’s what I picked for my very first order:

Grass fed beef (sirloin and cubed steak), sliced pork belly, corn tortillas, cheddar cheese, salad greens, farm-fresh strawberries and I was gifted a giant goose egg for my first order. Was it cheap? No. It was $75 for all this, mainly because I loaded up on prime meats. Is it worth the expense? Definitely. For me, it’s worth spending more money on better food to fuel my family. I’d rather know that what we’re eating is free of GMOs, that the meat comes from happy animals free ranged on farms, and that it’s all locally sourced no farther than an hour and a half away. Not only do I get to support our neighbors, but our food is fresher because it didn’t have to travel so far or be stored as long!

So if you happen to live in the Texas Hill Country area, I strongly suggest taking a look at the Bountiful Sprout. It’s a bi-weekly setup, so I’ll still be supporting my local farmer’s market on off weeks. It’s just nice to know I can reserve what I want to eat since Charlie is still on a flex nap schedule and sometimes doesn’t wake up in time to make it to the opening of the market and we miss out on some good stuff.

Have you signed up for a local CSA? Locals, got any reps for more in this area?