I wanted to homestead by the time I was 16 years old, but finances never allowed for it, and so when we moved from a small town to a larger city, I just brought some of the country here with me.
By the time we could afford to buy a house, we all ready had our eight children. These were home-birthed, home-schooled kids who were free-range for the most part. It was harder for the older kids to move from a lot of (rented) acreage to a small city lot, but it did not take too long for them to assimilate. The house was large enough for all of us, though the lot was small, just 123′ long by 50′ wide, with a house and an unattached 1 1/2 car garage. This was not the several acres I’d envisioned, but I loved my house, though I did not love where it was. This is where we could afford to live, so this is where we’ve been for the past 22 years. The kids are now all grown with kids of their own, and the house is just about paid for. Hopefully, my near future holds a small farm.
In the meantime, I decided to bring some of the country to town with me. I dug up the ground against the south side of the house and planted twelve tomatoes and six green pepper plants that first year. A small step, but at least a step. I had four kids under the age of six and plenty to keep me busy.
I put in a lot of flowers, a few of which were herbs, and I began to think I was never going to achieve my dream of self-sufficiency.
The second year, I told my husband we needed a compost bin and a rain barrel. He thought I was crazy. It would take several years for me to get him on board, but now besides the compost, we have five rain barrels, which saves us more than $100 per year in water costs. It also keeps our food and medicine plants from being full of fluoride.
Once my husband began to see the benefits of raising our own food here in town, he began to help me garden in earnest. It became his hobby where he would plant and take care of the crop, and I would help harvest and put the food up.
Our gardening now consists of potatoes (both red and white), onions (both yellow and red), heirloom tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, bell peppers in various shades, cayenne, serrano, and jalapeno peppers, cabbages, carrots, radishes, pole beans, eggplant, broccoli, zucchini, yellow squash, garlic, and an occasional ‘fun’ plant like gourds or beans for drying.
We can only grow on the south side of the house and garage, along a 22′ fence, and a couple of raised bed areas. We also have a small area in the yard where we took bricks and made a round growing space for strawberries.
Behind the garage we put in red black raspberry bushes; we have two dwarf blueberry bushes against the house, and a dwarf raspberry bush. Otherwise, there is no room for fruit trees or other fruit bushes. For fruits, we rely on bartering and trading with friends, and buying from the local fruit farms.
My eggs, milk, and most meats come from local farmers. When I buy half a cow or a pig, I will also get the suet and lard so they can be rendered down for use in cooking, baking, as bird food, in cold-process soaps, and as candles.
All foods that are not eaten fresh are processed by either canning, dehydration, or freezing. Though we do share the bounty with family and friends.
I make my own soaps, cleansers, body butters, lotions, laundry soap, all-purpose cleansers, window cleaner, room fresheners, herbal capsules, and more.
Almost all foods are made from scratch as I’ve been cooking since I was eight years old. And we rarely eat out.
I also make herbal preparations from the weeds (herbs) that grow in our yard. I am able to pick red clover, oat straw, purslane, plantain, dandelion, violets, chickweed, and whatever else I can identify. These are used in balms, salves, tinctures, and as foods. I also forage for weeds in other areas and am able to take advantage of making herbal honeys and syrups.
Many of the items I am able to forage can also be made into foods that we enjoy eating. I often employ small grandchildren who find it fun to pick a basket of violets or dandelions, which I can then make into various foods for us to all enjoy. They also love to help grandpa in the garden.
Our lives reflect our goal of being as self-sufficient as we are able to be while living in the city. We cannot be off-grid, raise farm animals, or live as sustainable as we’d prefer, but by living life as we do, we are able to achieve many of the goals we set for ourselves many years ago.
I am going to share a couple of recipes that I have made recently with my grandchildren. These are still in bloom in most of the northern states.
Violets are high in vitamin C, grow profusely, and can be made into syrup, candied for decorating cakes, eaten in salads, and as a jam. I’ve also made Queen Anne’s Lace Jelly, along with other jellies from wild foods. This jam is easy to make and a beautiful color.
1 cup firmly packed violet blossoms
1 ½ cups water, divided*
Juice of one medium lemon*
2 ½ cups sugar
1 pkg (3 oz) powdered pectin
In an electric blender or food processor, blend 3/4 cup of water, the lemon juice and the violet blossoms until the mixture resembles a smooth paste. Slowly add 2 1/2 cups of sugar and blend until dissolved. In a small saucepan stir the powdered pectin into 3/4 cup of water and boil for one minute. Pour into the violet blossom mixture and blend about one minute. Quickly pour into small sterilized glass jars and seal. After the jam has cooled, keep it in the refrigerator for three weeks or store it for up to a year in the freezer.
*The use of spring or distilled water would be better than tap water.
*Make sure you ream a fresh lemon so you use real lemon juice.
A few years ago I came across a recipe for Red Bud Herb Muffins which sounded odd and delightful. I changed the recipe up a bit to reflect my own tastes. I like to play around with recipes and often make them different each time for a change of pace. These are easy to make and are also high in vitamin C.
Red Bud-Herb Muffins
Preheat oven to 375°
2 cups Red buds
2 tablespoons minced fresh lemon balm
½ cup sugar or sweetener, of your choice.
Minced zest of 1 lemon
1 ½ cups unbleached flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon Real sea salt
1 large egg
1/2 cup yogurt (any flavor)
3/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon freshly reamed lemon juice
1 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Fill 18 muffin tins with paper muffin cups; set aside.
In a medium bowl, combine red buds, herb, sugar, zest. Let sit 30 minutes.
In a small bowl, sift flour, powder, baking soda, salt large bowl.
In 2 cup measuring cup or small bowl, combine egg, yogurt, milk, oil, lemon juice.
Combine the flour mixture in with the flower mixture, toss to combine.
Add wet ingredients, stirring just dry ingredients are moistened. Do not over mix.
Fill your muffin tins 3/4 full.
Combine sugar cinnamon the topping sprinkle some each muffin Bake for 25 minutes, or until tops spring back when lightly touched.
Remove form muffin pan and cool on a wire rack. Makes about 18.
Thanks to Lori Matheson-Smith for participating in the [Grow] Network Writing Contest. We have over $1,500 in prizes lined up for the current writing contest, with more to come. Here is a list of the current pot of prizes:
– A 21.5 quart pressure canner from All American, a $380 value
– A Survival Still emergency water purification still, a $279 value
– 1 year of free membership in the [Grow] Network Core Community, a $240 value
– A copy of The Summer of Survival Complete Collection from Life Changes Be Ready, a $127 value
– 2 copies of the complete Home Grown Food Summit, valued at $67 each
– 3 free 3 month memberships in the [Grow] Network Core Community, valued at $60 each
– The complete 2014 Grow Your Own Food Summit interview series, a $47 value
– 4 copies of the Grow Your Own Groceries DVD video set, valued at $42 each
– A Bug Out Seed Kit from the Sustainable Seed Company, a $40 value
– 4 copies of the Alternatives To Dentists DVD video, valued at $32 each