The dream has always been to live close to the land. The 5 acres came in 2009, when my husband Dan and I bought a neglected 1920s-built bungalow on 5 acres. The goal is simpler, sustainable, more self-reliant living, and a return to agrarian values.
Last fall I planted two beds of sugar beets. We had a colder-than-normal winter, so they didn't do terribly well, but I did get some, and my harvest was better than my tries in years past. I pulled them all the other day in anticipation of preparing the bed to plant something else.
Sugar beets make excellent livestock feed, which is my primary reason for growing them. Both the greens and the roots are edible, so I chopped some to feed fresh ad dried the rest for my goats' vitamin and mineral mix (the same one that the garlic leaves went in to). The goats got the smallest roots too, but with the larger once I decided to see if I could make beet sugar.
In the U.S. "sugar" is a generic term that applies to both cane and beet sugar. Unless an ingredient list on a product label specifically specifies "cane sugar," then it could be either one or a mix of the two. Taste-wise it doesn't seem to make a difference, but all the commercial sugar beets grown here are genetically modified. So for those of us wishing to not eat GMOs, understanding that is important. Non-GMO sugar beet seed is still available to home gardeners, however, and that's what I planted.
I used the directions in Grandpappy's Recipes for Hard Times by Robert Wayne Atkins. I reviewed this book awhile back (here) and it's still one of my "must have" self-reliance books. Instructions for making beet sugar is one reason, as is how to make pectin for jam and jelly making and how to make yeast from hops. (I'd love to have a copy of Grandpappy's Survival Manual for Hard Times, but yikes it's pricey!)
The directions called for finely chopping, shredding, or slicing the cleaned roots, placing in a pot, and covering with water.
There were simmered until tender, about an hour. Then the cooking water was strained out and put in my crockpot to further cook down. The cooked beets are edible, so at dinnertime I sauteed some in butter to heat them up and we gave them a try. How were they? I thought they were good but Dan said he likes red beetroot better. The cooked beets can also be squeezed to remove more of the juice. Pulp would be welcomed by chickens and pigs!
To make actual beet sugar, the cooking water must be cooked down until it crystallizes. Just like making maple sugar. The alternative is to cook it down to a thick syrup and use it that way. Mine cooked in the slow cooker for the rest of the day and was turned off at night. Early the next morning I fired it up again to continue cooking. By the following afternoon it was dark and still watery. But it was smelling sweet, so I took a tiny taste.
And? Yes it was sweet but it also had a bitterish aftertaste! Yuk! That was all I needed to know and abandoned the experiment.
This is about 3 cups of concentrated juice from 4 pounds of sugar beets. Cooked down more, I could probably anticipate about a pint of syrup.
Conclusion? Don't bother with making sugar or syrup; just use them raw for animal feed. In a hard times situation they certainly could be eaten by humans, and of course the greens are edible too.
So there you have it. If anyone else has tried this with better success, I'd love to hear about it!
May has mostly been a planting month, but there are a few fall-planted things that are ready to harvest. One of them is our garlic. The other day the ground was dry and with a new forecast for lots of rain, I wanted to get it out of the ground.
Garlic bed ready to harvest. I've replanted homegrown garlic for several years now and somehow have ended up with both hard and softneck.
When garlic leaves begin to die back, it's time to harvest. I've learned the hard way that if I wait too long and the leaves die off completely, then the bulbs are harder to find!
I lay them out on my front porch to cure.
Garlic needs to cure before it goes into storage. Curing allows it to dry thoroughly and it's usually dried with the green leaves attached. Sometimes they are braided together, which makes an attractive thing to hang in one's pantry or kitchen. This year, however, I decided to do something different.
When I was researching natural wormers for Prepper's Livestock Guide, I learned that some farmers feed whole garlic plants to their cattle as part of their deworming program. The raw bulbs are the most potent anthelmintics, but I suppose the leaves contain traces of garlicky goodness. As a source of calcium, potassium, magnesium, manganese, copper, and selenium, that's a lot of goodness. So why not add the leaves to my homegrown goat vitamin and mineral blend?
The difference between when I wrote that post in 2013 and now, is that I'm drying herbs and greens for my goats on a much larger scale. Several years ago I switched from my food dehydrator to air drying on window screens.
My somewhat wonky rigged drying set-up. Dan plans to build me a better one in my future milking room.
As long as the humidity is low, things dry within several days, and then they are mixed into the goat blend. If it's humid out they take longer to dry, and I have to stir it several times a day.
Something else that I harvested this month is my sugar beets. More on what I did with them next time.
After we put the skylight in the milking room roof, I found myself wondering if we could use the same translucent roofing panels to let even more light into the goat barn. Dan isn't crazy about those panels, so he suggested we take a trip to the builders surplus warehouse to see what they had. We bought all our new energy efficient windows for the house there at a huge savings.
We looked around and found door windows for $10 each. Some were for doors and some were front door sidelights. We found a small window that would be just right for the milking room.
It was perfect.
Then we started discussing the hay loft. I have a small solar shed light to put at the top of the stairs, but I would prefer to save the battery and use natural light during the day. Dan had the idea to install sidelight panels horizontally along the top of the hayloft wall.
We headed back to the builder's surplus and bought two sidelight panels. They were also $10 each.
They are 6'10" by 9.5"
The length of the barn loft is 16 feet. By using the windows, Dan needed only two sheets of plywood instead of four.
Plywood sheets installed horizontally, leaving an opening for the windows.
Ready for the windows.
The opening above the plywood was 16.5 inches. The windows were 9.5 inches wide. 2x4s are 3.5 inches wide. So the window and two 2x4s were perfect to fill the opening.
One 2x4 is under the window and the second one is being slid in over the top from the left.
Window and 2x4s filled the space perfectly.
Hayloft posts are four feet apart, so each window had run in front of one post. After the 2x4s were screwed to the posts, however, there wasn't room to accommodate the vinyl window trim. Dan cut it so that the window could fit snuggly against the post.
Together, the windows cover 13 feet 8 inches of the 16-foot opening. That meant there were some gaps to cover.
Three gaps to fill, on each side and in the middle.
Dan had a few 3.5-inch thick scraps lying around to fill them in.
Now I have plenty of light in my new hayloft!
The amazing thing is that all of this worked out providentially. We couldn't have pre-planned it this well! Step by step we're getting closer to goat-moving-in day. 😊
Yes! My newest book is scheduled to be released next month and is ready to pre-order at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or your favorite independently owned local bookstore! It is part of Ulysses Press's prepper series and is my first non-self-published book. I've reviewed a number of books in this excellent series, and was surprised when they asked me to participate with a prepper's book for livestock. I was excited to say yes.
Dan and I have always thought that the best preparedness strategy is to become as self-reliant as possible. We knew that if we wanted fresh milk, eggs, cheese, and meat as part of our preparedness pantry, then we have to figure out self-reliant ways to feed our critters, plus learn ways to preserve and store these items without having to buy supplies or rely on electricity. This book is a compilation of everything I've learned about self-sufficient livestock keeping.
Who is this book for?
Anyone who is interested in:
Self-reliant, sustainable homesteading
Feeding your farm animals from your land
Long-term food preparedness that goes beyond canned foods and dry goods
How is it different from other books on homestead livestock?
It approaches livestock keeping from the goal of self-sufficiency. It is written to help you transition from modern philosophies and techniques to sustainable, alternative, and off-grid ways of: managing livestock, growing your own forage, hay, feeds, and alternative feeds, preserving and keeping eggs, milk, and meat. In other words, it covers everything Dan and I wish we'd known before we got started!
I've included charts to help you compare various breeds of animals (some breeds are better suited for self-reliance than others!), and find important information at a glance such as pasture grasses, legumes, and forbs divided into warm and cool weather annuals and perennials. There are also supply lists for routine and emergency health care, pregnancy, labor, and delivery. It offers traditional and alternative methods for keeping your critters healthy. Also how to keep your livestock safe and how to identify predators from the signs they leave behind. An extensive resource list helps you find more information to meet your specific goals and needs.
The last chapter, "Keeping Things Manageable," is written to help you stay on track and avoid the pitfalls that can lead to homestead burnout. I think this is so important because it doesn't take long for things to become overwhelming. Helping you succeed is important to me.
Would it be corny to say "and more?" I know that sounds kinda salesy, but this book covers so much more than anything I've ever blogged about. I'm really pleased to offer it all as a handy resource.
The book is 192 pages and lists at $15.95. It will be available on June 15 in either paperback or eBook formats, but if you are interested in reserving a copy or two, you can pre-order now at:
It's one of two small unfenced areas near the road that we've designated for growing hay. When we bought the place these areas were lawn, but we're not lawn people and would rather put our ground to something productive. Now we get several cuttings of sudan grass here in the summer and grow wheat or wheat/oat hay here in winter. What I wanted to show you, though, is what it looks like at the back.
Small crabapple tree on the left. We planted it in 2010.
That leafy green mess of random shrubs and trees didn't used to be there. Originally it contained a few ornamentals, and I tried to grow a hedge of bush cherries there, but somehow the whole area grew out of control. I had overlooked how much until we were raking and hauling the hay. I asked Dan what he thought about trying to reclaim it so we can grow a little more hay. He agreed and we got to work.
The first step was to cut it all down. Much of it was goat-edible.
Next stumps were pulled. This clump is a crepe myrtle stump.
Then we raked out as many bits of roots as possible.
Lastly Dan smoothed it out with the scraper blade.
We gained a good 12 to 13 more feet for planting. In terms of large acreage that's just a wisp on the wind, but with our small acreage every little bit helps.
I added seaweed meal, hardwood ashes, and tiny amounts of borax & copper sulfate to the soil. The wheat stubble will add organic matter.
We used to wish we had more land. We still wish it sometimes, but we know it would be more work to steward - to nurture and keep productive. We'd have to have larger equipment and more time to manage it. It's relatively easy to hand scythe the area pictured above, but if we had acres-worth of hay, hand scything would be a huge undertaking. Right now our land is mostly in quarter- to half-acre areas, which is manageable for us at our age with the small-scale and low-tech tools that we have. Even so, we only had to buy two rolls of hay this past winter, compared to the four or five we bought the winter before. Our goal is to grow all of our own hay, but if push comes to shove I can downsize our number of goats.
Besides expanding the plot I'm also happy that it looks much tidier. I suppose the moral of the story is to not let it get out of control in the first place, but with so much to do that's easier said than done! Let's just hope I can keep it that way.
Several of you were curious about the egg-stealing opossums Dan bagged for dinner. Over the weekend he hot-smoked the legs on the grill, because that is his favorite way of cooking meat. In fact he no longer buys charcoal, but uses pecan wood to grill our meat. Hickory is excellent for smoking and pecan is in the hickory family, so our burgers and cuts are always tasty.
We liked it! How did it taste? Flavor was mild and not the least bit gamy. But it was pretty chewy, so I cooked the other two legs a little more in my slow cooker with a little bit of bone broth. It still had the smoked flavor but that tenderized the meat. That was all it needed and I can honestly say that we thought it was better than chicken!
One of the things Dan and I have been working toward in our homesteading is how to live with less money. While most people are investing furiously for their future retirement, we figured out a long time ago that this wasn't a reality for us. We've always lived paycheck to paycheck on a modest income, because we didn't want to sacrifice family in pursuit of wealth. We knew it would mean a lean "retirement" for us, with less money than our modest working income had provided, but we've been okay with that. The question was, how do we plan for it? The answer is to learn to live within whatever means we can manage by doing more for ourselves and relying less on the consumer system.
What have we done to work toward that goal? We've made upgrades and repairs to the house while learning to live with less electricity. We've learned to grow more of our food while making changes to our diet. We've worked to get our homestead infrastructure in place while we still had money for tools and materials. We've learned to ask, "do we really need that thing?" "Is there another way to accomplish the same goal?" And we've invested in low-tech equipment while learning how to use that equipment. For the most part, we seemed pretty much on track.
Then Dan had his accident. Long story short, "retirement" is now upon us several years earlier than we planned, and we suddenly find ourselves face to face with our new normal. Last month social security kicked in, so we have a new income level to adjust to. We've taken a hard look at our old budget to determine how we can adapt it. Can we cut back on utilities more than we have? Food budget? Phone? Internet? Do we really need two vehicles? What is a necessity and what can we live without?
When my computer's hard drive died last yearI thought long and hard about whether or not we really needed one. Cutting out internet would certainly save quite a bit each month, but it's also a valuable research tool. My old laptop came to the immediate rescue and eventually I was able to install a new hard drive in my desktop at a huge savings compared to buying a new computer. Then the view screen on my digital camera went out. But the view finder still works, and I can live with that. Now my 30-something-year-old washing machine is beginning to whine and I wonder how much longer we can keep nursing it along.
Keeping a little savings set aside is a need to consider for unexpected emergencies such as a dead washing machine or car repairs, and for expected expenses such as new eyeglasses from time to time. One savings is no longer having Dan's work related expenses. Few people think about it, but having a job costs money: work clothes and shoes, transportation, meals, work related tools and equipment, and for many people, childcare. Have you ever stopped to consider how much it costs you to keep your job?
Also on the savings side is that the goats mostly pay for themselves. That's a plus. The kids going to new homes next month will pay for whatever feed and supplies we can't grow for ourselves this year. Another plus is the royalties from my books. Dan and I agreed to designate that money for "extras." Long ago we heeded the advice to adjust our lifestyle to our primary income. That philosophy has served us very well. Too often couples take on a second income "just until thus-and-such is obtained or paid off." The problem is that once that second income finds its way into the family lifestyle stream, it's very difficult to go back. In our case, the book money is extremely variable. When we have it, we use it buy materials for projects and equipment.
I suppose most folks pin their hopes on their retirement investments, without keeping in mind that there is no guarantee on these. I remember my high school history teacher telling us that the Great Depression could never be repeated, because we had learned our lesson. Well, that generation learned the lesson, but the problem is that generational lessons never get passed on. What parent hasn't lamented that their kids have to learn lessons they themselves had to learn as youngsters.
I have never second-guessed the decisions we have made and where they have brought us now. I have been tempted to worry: what if this happens? or what if that happens? But I have to agree with what I once heard, that worrying is like paying interest on a debt you don't owe. The result is only more worrying, fretting, and discontent. The answer to it is always thankfulness. Because one can't be thankful and worry at the same time. The result of thankfulness is contentment. Considering that no one can control the future anyway, I'd rather live with that.
The floor boards for the hay loft aren't home milled, but they are locally milled. Dan's hand simply isn't ready for the chain saw, which is something he'd need to prepare more pine trees for milling floor boards. We considered waiting, but also really want the hay loft functional by the time we start harvesting hay. We didn't get a tax refund for federal taxes, but we got some back from the state; enough to buy the hay loft floor plus everything for a hayloft door. That is extremely encouraging! And the to-do list for barn completion is definitely getting shorter.