After snowball time, a month, March, of fits and starts, winds,
Rain, spring hints and wintry arrears.
James Schuyler, “Hymn to Life”
Spring arrives this month and with it, a renewed commitment to building a wiser, kinder, more self-sufficient existence. Whether you’re thriving in the city or ready to go off the grid, this month’s newsletter delivers ideas for homesteading at every level.
Golden Barn watercolor by Deb Burns
This Month’s Giveaway:
Grow Your Homestead
Our Grow Your Homestead Giveaway celebrates homesteaders of all stripes, whether you live in a country cabin or a studio apartment.
We’ve teamed up with our friends at Peaceful Valley Farm Supply to assemble a grand prize package worth over $500, including a potting bench, a personalized bundle of Storey titles, a generous gift certificate for homestead supplies — and a chance to be featured in our April newsletter!
All you have to do is tell us, in 200 words or fewer, how this prize package would help you grow your homestead!
Entries accepted through March 31.
Full details available when you enter.
As a subscriber, you’re the first to know about this month’s Fresh Picks Flash Sale: The Backyard Homestead Book of Building Projects ebook is just $2.99 for three days only!
On Sale March 14 – 16
Need more shelves for canning jars or a hoop house for vulnerable vegetables? With Spike Carlsen’s easy-to-follow plans for building projects from root cellar to beehive, woodworkers will revel in the rewards of constructing practical fixtures for home, garden, and yard with their own two hands.
Missed the Flash Sale? You can still receive The Backyard Homestead Building Projects Sampler as a free download on our Fresh Picks page.
Start on the path to self-sufficiency and hone your skills with a collection of Storey titles handpicked for the homesteader.
Free! The Backyard Homestead Building Projects Sampler
Build the items your homestead requires without years of woodworking experience under your tool belt. In this sampler you’ll tackle a chicken ark, a seedling rack, and a bench for relaxing when your hard work is done.
My kids and I will be poking around the bins at a thrift store or flea market and one of them will yell, “Grab that! It’s got a hand crank! Mom will want it.” They’re right: I'm a sucker for anything minus a power cord.
It’s easier than you might think to replace loud, energy-sucking appliances with low impact versions. Once you start looking for alternatives, you will find plenty of options. Make great toast in under a minute using a camp toaster on your stovetop or woodstove. Replace electric coffee grinders and can openers with manual versions. Forget bread machines: I found I enjoy the rhythm of kneading by hand. Cut down on heavy vacuuming with a carpet sweeper.
My life is quieter, I spend less money on repairs, and if the power goes out, it barely registers as an inconvenience.
Photo of Ann on her International, courtesy of the author
There’s a reason farmers like to have extra hay in the barn, and I’m looking out the window at it: unusually deep snow and frigid temperatures. The cattle need extra calories this winter.
The first time I made hay was with a lawnmower. The kids and I spread out the clippings, let them dry for a few days, then piled them loosely in the garage for their pet rabbit. These days I use tractor-drawn machinery, but the steps are still the same: cut, dry, rake together, gather, and store. Anyone can make hay if they have a patch of grass and a scythe.
Ann is the author of The Organic Farming Manual, Electric Fencing, Finding Good Farmland, and the forthcoming Making Hay.
Grow a Crop for Seed
Photo courtesy of the author
I love pumpkins as a homestead crop because they are so productive, and because ripe pumpkins will keep for months. I love pumpkins as a garden crop because they grow like gangbusters in a compost heap outside the garden. I like eating pumpkin seeds, too, and this year I’ll plant the “Kakai” variety, known for its plump, nutty seeds.
Mostly I grow pumpkin varieties classified as Cucurbita moschata because cunning squash vine borers leave them alone. Chickens like the seeds, which have but a small, flat nut inside. Last year, the five “Dickinson Field” pumpkins I grew produced more than we could use. When asked to bring a dish to an event, I’m alternating between pumpkin pie and pumpkin cake until my supply of frozen purée runs out.
Barbara is the author of Starter Vegetable Gardens and The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual, and co-author of The Complete Compost Gardening Guide. Find more from Barbara on her website.
If you have some dry wood and a place to safely make a fire — technology understood by humans for eons — you’re ready to cook.
Sharpened greenwood sticks and a nice bed of hardwood coals in your fireplace can be your ticket to an entertaining DIY appetizer. Instead of a cold cheese platter, put out 1-inch cubes of melty cheese (fontina, gruyère, gouda, cheddar), along with some crusty bread and tasty pickles or thinly sliced red onion. Each guest carefully skewers and patiently toasts her own delicious gob of cheese to gooey perfection, then slathers it on bread and garnishes as desired. Inevitably, everyone learns a bit about how coals work, how wonderful the simplest foods can be, and how sometimes, one false move can end in a cheese-filled disaster. All crucial lessons in hearth cooking!
Paula is the author of the forthcoming Cooking with Fire (May 2014).
Many things harvested in summer have to be hustled into the canner for optimal nutrition and flavor. With a little extra planning, however, some things can be deferred until winter. For instance, fall-hatched pullets start laying their first small eggs — which are the perfect size for pickling — around the beginning of the year, when I have plenty of time to pickle. Meanwhile, the surplus cockerels get canned as taco meat and chicken soup. When I have extra strawberries come spring, I freeze them for next winter’s jam-making sessions. Spreading the canning into winter gives me something productive to do when the weather is too cold for outdoor work, and frees up time to spend with my chickens and garden when the weather becomes conducive.
Gail is the editor of The Backyard Homestead Guide to Raising Farm Animals, and the author of Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens, The Chicken Health Handbook, and The Chicken Encyclopedia.
D. Phillip Sponenberg, Jeannette Beranger, and Alison Martin of The Livestock Conservancy
Raise a Heritage Breed Animal
From left to right: Alison Martin, D. Phillip Sponenberg, and Jeannette Beranger. Photo courtesy of the authors.
Homesteaders have a heart for traditional, sustainable practices. Heritage breeds, with deep roots in history, tradition, and adaptation, are tailor-made for modern homesteaders. Raising them is not only enjoyable, but conserves important traits like disease resistance and self-sufficiency — traits often left behind by industrial agriculture. Best of all, the right heritage breed exists for just about any interest, ability, or goal. Need a good dual-purpose chicken? Buckeyes, Javas, or Delawares might fit the bill. Pastured pigs? Large Black or Red Wattle could be the breed for you.
Phillip, Jeannette, and Alison are the authors of An Introduction to Heritage Breeds. Visit The Livestock Conservancy’s website and blog, and connect with them on Facebook and Twitter.
An Introduction to Heritage Breeds
Raising animals? Return to their roots! The Livestock Conservancy’s An Introduction to Heritage Breeds is a fascinating look at livestock and poultry breeds that have historic ties to early days of American agriculture. Now threatened, these animals, with genetics shaped by place and purpose, represent a compelling path to sustainability. Colorful breed profiles and in-depth guidance for choosing a breed make this book essential for any animal raiser dedicated to living in harmony with the land.
This month, a pair of Storey books on butchering, by Adam Danforth, will appear on shelves. Perhaps no one can state the significance of their arrival more eloquently than the inimitable Joel Salatin, whose foreword from Butchering Poultry, Rabbit, Lamb, Goat, and Pork, is excerpted below.
A majority of Americans today fear food because they don’t know much about it. But as we learn more and more about the shortcomings of industrial food, concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOS), and the shenanigans of the food processing industry, we yearn for an antidote but don’t know where to find one.
The book you hold in your hands is a recipe for self-reliance and faith rather than dependency and fear. Faith in the ability of individuals — thousands of them — in their own backyards and homesteads to access nature’s bounty with home-scale meat preparation.
Unlike formal butchery textbooks, this one assumes beginner understanding, rudimentary equipment, and do-it-yourself (DIY) labor. Indeed, this is exactly the kind of information that empowers people to try new things, that dispels the fears and anxiety, and propels all of us to reconnect with our ecological umbilical.
I especially appreciate Storey and Danforth encouraging backyard butchery because it is exactly the kind of democratized, centralized food system our country desperately needs. While self-empowerment makes food regulators shudder (“What, turn a bunch of novices loose with butchering animals in their backyards? Goodness, they’ll kill themselves!”) those of us who have done this for generations and encouraged others to do it realized the benefits of food safety.
This book is yet another indication that the burgeoning local food tsunami continues to gain strength. If we’re ever going to move our food system to a place of regeneration, accountability, integrity, and transparency, we have to tackle the issue of how meat is produced.
Danforth opens a world of can-do that invites the most timid onlooker to participate in this dramatic farm-to-plate choreography. It’s a world of profound sacredness — the sacrifice of life to sustain life. While that may sound repulsive to some, for many of us, it speaks to a deep yearning, a primal call, to rediscover the foundations of human existence and the integrity of ecological cycles.
Foreword (excerpted) by Joel Salatin, from Butchering Poultry, Rabbit, Lamb, Goat and Pork by Adam Danforth