Thursday, September 29, 2011

Homesteader Wannabe

I would love to hear recommendations from successful homesteaders about how to start slowly. What is a good project to tackle this fall?

I read articles and blogs with pictures of happy families eating their homemade dinners, wearing clothes sewed at home, and stocking their pantries with preserves they canned in their own kitchens. They own goats and chickens. They're healthy and environmentally friendly and have a sense of accomplishment at the end of a day.

I'm reluctant to go for it, though. We had a garden this summer that was mildly successful. We got at least a few vegetables from every plant and a bountiful harvest of tomatoes. The tomatoes are still coming, in fact. I know it is possible to can tomatoes. In fact, I have explicit instructions about how to do so in my Betty Crocker cookbook. They look hard.

I don't want to try homesteading because I'm afraid I will waste food by preparing it wrong. I worry that the day-to-day work will become boring and frustrating. I have no confidence in my ability to make anything functional with my hands. At heart, I'm pretty lazy.

On Monday, though, I made hummus for the first time. It tasted good, even if it was simultaneously lumpy and runny. On Tuesday, I made my first batch of applesauce for the season, which was a success. Tonight, I'm going to at least start a cross-stitching project that I'll be giving away for Christmas.

Does that count?


  1. I think the trick is to decide what is worth doing yourself and what is not. My hubby is seriously into green in a way I don't see most supposedly green groups going. He buys frozen veggies in bulk and we have several freezers-- the reason being he wants the time for building other things. I can make my own clothing and find that is well worth my time, but a garden where we live is not unless we do a hydroponic garden indoors. On the other hand, we rarely have to pay anyone to do repairs on anything we own. I find that is a wonderful self sufficiently thing. What I like in the growing things arena is to plant trees and care for them, trees that will eventually produce things I like to eat. If black walnut trees would grow here I'd be begging people I know to let me gather under their trees for nuts to start into trees! A bit part of homesteading is to find what will serve you, what makes your heart sing? For neighbors of my parents they have dairy goats and make expensive fancy herb'd goat cheeses to sell. Another person might have alpacas to sell the fiber. Have you subscribed to some magazines like BackWoods Home? I love that magazine and their collections of past articles are full of interesting ideas. Which things you choose is up to you.

  2. I love me some homemade hummus! I find that it takes a time or two to get just right, but after that you can really start to play with it by adding in different herbs and spices and whatnot. I haven't made it in a while, but when I do, I cook the chickpeas myself instead of using canned and I think that it makes it taste even better!
    Now I'm in the mood to go and make some yummy hummus :o)

  3. I think the key is to not think about going from a first garden to homesteading overnight - I doubt most of those families did! Trying to figure all of that out at once is super overwhelming, but doing a few things at a time is much more manageable. With each garden you grow, you'll learn new things and the garden will get better and more productive. Canning 'can' be great, but it does take some getting used to - and, if you're careful, I find that there are things you can do to make it easier. I've also been very pleased with the small dehydrator that I used this summer - all I had to do was chop up veggies like peppers or cherry tomatoes, stick them in the dehydrator, and get on with life. But all winter I can use the veggies in soups and on pizzas.

  4. I think you might enjoy this page:

    Not a Catholic page, but I've known Sarah my whole life and she really knows a lot about drying and canning foods to store what grew in the garden.

    I think it is wonderful you are seeking to be more self sufficient.

  5. @Ann: Thank you for such wonderfully practical feedback! I hadn't thought of magazines, but I will look next time I am at the library to see what they carry. And that website looks great!
    I suppose I am most excited about tomatoes and berries, both of which we have been haphazardly growing. Perhaps I will do some research and make next summer's crop more intentional.

    @Donna: My mom said part of the problem is we have a chopper, not a blender. I'm reluctant to bring in more small appliances, but if I want to do this routinely, it might be worth it. We'll see. In the meantime, you can just ship me some of yours. ;-)

    @Colin: Hm, yes, I tend to want all or nothing. :-) The dehydrator intrigues me. Would that work for banana chips? I would love to make some of those. What kind do you have?

  6. Hi Liana,
    I love the idea of homesteading,specifically urban homesteading! I think I would wither and die in the country, LOL! I'm not sure if you read the D&C this past weekend, but here is a link to an article about my friend Maggie and her husband.( you may even know her, she graduated from OLM--is that where you went for HS?) They are homesteading in Hemlock. Check it out....|newswell|text|Home|p

  7. @Julie: Haha, that article was actually part of what prompted this post! And no, I am an Aquinas grad. I got a book out of the library today about urban homesteading... it's a lot to think about.

  8. I haven't tried making banana chips yet, but I don't see why it wouldn't work - although the resulting product won't be quite what you're used to from the store. I think they add some sort of oil, and often something to keep the color from changing as the fruit dries. Salt would be no problem though. And I can totally get things pretty cripsy crunchy in my little dehydrator. This is the kind I have -

    I got mine used from a friend for about $40, but depending on how big a unit you get you can spend less, or a lot more. Mine was plenty big enough for me this summer, and I did cherry tomatoes, peppers, basil, cherries, and hope to do apples soon.

  9. I've been trying to do a lot of this, too.

    Start small. You might ruin a batch or two of jam, but in the end, when you get your recipe perfected, it totally makes up for the initial trial and error.

    I had a reasonable garden on my 0.14 acre city lot. I have sheets upon sheets of herbs drying (sage, thyme, rosemary, fennel, dill, marigolds, and more) that I'll divvy into spice jars and use for tea. Between my tomatoes and my grandfather's, I'll be making some pasta sauce probably this weekend for my first time canning that. I just went and am going again to a local Fruit Farm to pick Concord Grapes for jam/pie filling and apples for applesauce, apple butter, apple jelly, and pie filling - all cooked at home and canned at home in half pint jars in a 10 quart stock pot.

    I also just started making personal care items for us at home, using local honey, local beeswax, raw cocoa butter, and the like. It's much nicer than things I'd buy at the store (and much more cost effective).

    I'll never be a good seamstress, though - I don't have enough time or patience. I did start making a blanket for Niko that I'll finish as soon as I clear out my sewing space, but who knows when that will be.

    It's hard in an urban environment sometimes to do all of this. It's possible, but takes some planning and "free" time to get the knack of it.

    I'm confident you can do it! Good luck!

  10. Thanks for the encouragement! Let me know how your pasta sauce canning goes!