Browsing the archives for the Urban Homesteading category.

Keeping chickens & eating them: Thoughts on our first experience processing

It’s a cold and gloomy day here, we are in the upper 50’s this afternoon and the vibe is very lazy.

Everly has been watching childrens movies on the couch today, specifically snow related holiday ones. She knows the seasons are changing and is excitedly dreaming of lots of snow this winter.

I’ve been spending some much needed time on my own blog’s todo list between caring for the girls and the home.

On days like today an effortless, home-cooked, nourishing meal is best. So, I’ve got one of our roosters in the soup pot in prep for Everly’s favorite dinner, chicken and dumplings.

Remember my blog post about Helga Crowing back in September? We always knew we needed to learn the art of chicken processing, for the sake of self sufficiency, homesteading and respect for the life cycle/ process but we weren’t all that excited about it. If we were keeping chickens and eating chicken we knew that it was logical to be able to process them when their time was up.

We’d heard lots of negative hype surrounding killing and processing your own meat so we weren’t sure if we’d be efficient and effective… Or if the process would sit well with us. The morning a rooster crowed we knew it was time to find out. Turns out we had two surprise roosters.

Luckily, Nathan was a champ and he singlehandedly remedied that situation, he did great.  Once the bloody part was over the girls and I came home, we went to the store so no gory blood scenes would be witnessed.

When it came to plucking we were pleasantly surprised and Everly was curious. Chicken feathers are her favorite so she was curiously watching all the feathers that would soon be hers. I think we’ll make a dreamcatcher with some eventually.

 Two roosters went in the freezer that night and today I am finally cooking one up. Thanks to Helga #1 we’ll enjoy a homemade, nourishing meal on this cold fall evening. Thanks Helga for your meat and for the learning experience.


A peek inside the Ryder Homestead – 2012

Here is how the growing season shaped up in 2012:

Got something you’d love to see us blog about in detail when it comes to the garden? Let us know:

I’m no Martha Stewart… As you’ll see.

Since I have no staff to do my grunt work, test my recipes and generally make me look good it’s no surprise I’m not showcasing “Martha Stewart” quality baked goods right? Somehow that fact doesn’t make my pissed-off-at-the-damn-pie-dough attitude any better today…

Mama had a melt down last night. Almost two days of solo parenting was coming to a close, we just picked 24lbs of cherries, canned some rhubarb and were on to making/ eating dinner and making a cherry pie. Everly was helping with everything too (which means it took my brainpower to direct and supervise her).

After many attempts at rolling the chilled dough, the dough-covered rolling pin flew from my hands at high speed and crashed in to the cabinets before falling to the floor. I threw it, I was so mad! And my kids had to witness it.

I have an explosive anger tendency that is typically well managed. Last night, the first time since becoming a mother, it reared it’s ugly head. Luckliy, unlike some wife-beating relatives, my anger isn’t people directed but it is still a nasty thing to carry around.

Today I took another stab at the pie crust and was partly successful but still unpleased. Here is why:

Whether it was the newly introduced animal lard I used (instead of the yucky Crisco/ vegetable shortening I have mastered) or the fact that I had kids underfoot, the pie didn’t turn out as I had hoped it would… but I am damn glad it’s finished. May be ugly but it IS done.

This whole city dweller gone homesteading wife thing is both a challenge and an adventure. Growing to eat and then eating all you grow is a valuable learning experience for us (and most city raised people) that is littered with bumps along the way. Most of the time bumps are met with humor. Occasionally struggles seem impossibly hard and things are thrown.

And why are you blogging this total failure?

Because I think it is important to embrace the bad with the good and “keep it real”. I hate seeing all those “I am so amazing look at me” posts from people who try to put themselves out there as these shiny, perfect little things. It isn’t real and it doesn’t help me when I am looking for solutions.

So if you land here looking for homemade animal lard pie crust tips or experiences, revel in my failure and laugh. It is one of these moments and that is okay…

The next time I try out Betty Crocker’s damn pie crust recipe I’ll be sure to do it without kids underfoot because I believe the temperature and the dough combined with the amount of water added is key as well as timely action when the dough conditions are right.

Pastry for pies and tarts – Two-Crust Pie Recipe

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup +2 tablespoons shortening
  • 4 to 5 tablespoons cold water

Betty Crocker says:

Pie pastry that is too tender or falls apart is caused by too little water or too much shortening.

Pie pastry that is dry in merely, or not flakey is  caused by shortening being cut into finely or too little water.

Gee that’s helpful. Thanks Betty!  – Nope.

If you have animal lard pie crust tip or perl of wisdom please do share it in the comments. This blogger could use some HELP!


Toying with lawn alternatives, cheap flower bulbs, huge cow bones and chicken poop ideas.

We had quite the eventful weekend around here. Most of our progress was homesteading related of course.

We built a spiffy fence panel that will divide our deck area from the rest of the backyard so that the free ranging chickens won’t be able to come up onto the deck and cover it with poop this year.


While grocery shopping over the weekend we scored some fun discount flowering bulbs to add to our garden that include hyacinth, lily of the valley and peony.

Bulb buying tip: buy spent plants!

I love buying the reject pots of decorative seasonal flower bulbs that have already bloomed. Sooo many people over look these for lack of knowledge about the plant and don’t realize they CAN be planed in the garden and will rebloom next year.

Also, the discount/ reject price is often way lower than what you’d pay for the plain old bulb it’s self in a catalog.

Take my hyacinth bulbs for example (I am so very excited about these!). I scored them for just under $1 a bulb when they normal sell in catalogs for $8-12 a piece. That is anywhere from a $63-$99 savings on the nine hyacinth bulbs I bought. Squee!!

Nathan planted about 5 rows of corn this weekend so now we have the tomato trellis behind our back garden fence and a mini cornfield growing in addition to our square-foot garden beds and our sunflower/bean tee-pee that we added this year.

One of the things we’ve been particularly annoyed with this year is the lack of grass freely growing in our front and backyard.

We decided to experiment with grass alternatives instead of re-seeding the lawn this year. Not only is re-seeding the lawn a financial burden but it also wastes a lot of water and precious time that could be spent focusing on more important things.

So, in the backyard we have several wild clover transplants that we are allowing to take over since all the dormant grass roots have been ripped out by our rambunctious, running dog. All winter and spring the backyard has been a mud bog.

Clover is a great, low growing ground-cover that the chickens will enjoy eating plus it doesn’t require as much mowing. When it blooms the flowers will benefit wild bees and the bees will benefit our garden, added bonus! Hopefully the clover will better withstand our soggy winter months and all the foot traffic!

In the front yard we are converting the lawn to a cottage garden that is a mix of flowering perennials and edible annuals. We already have a service berry bush bordered in irises as the focal point of the yard. When it’s done the goal is that it will not only be visually appealing but also a great source of produce for our family.

We also remedied our restless dog syndrome. Some of you may have seen my post on Facebook about our latest dog frustrations.

Dixie has been ripping our chicken fencing so that she can get to and scarf the chicken feed each day. Not only is this frustrating because she is destroying the fencing but it’s also frustrating because she’s taking food away from the chickens who need it right now since our yard has no grass for them to eat.

Turns out, a giant cow bone can occupy a high energy dog for days and days. The bone may have been the best $10 we’ve ever spent.

So those are the updates here on the half-acre homestead. How does your garden grow? Are you working on anything new this spring for the house or garden?

Brewing Homemade Kombucha: A DIY Healthful, Homesteading Adventure Shared

I am pleased to share the next step in our homemade kombucha adventure and our recipe. If you are wondering what got us started on the kombucha and fermented foods craze you can find out more here or why kombucha is known as the miracle health elixir read more here.

As I wrote about previously, before you can brew your own batch of kombucha you need a starter. You can either buy one somewhere online (which apparently isn’t as good since live bacterias are killed off in transport), get one from a friend/ company locally or simply grow your own.

Since a kombucha SCOBY is a raw live bacteria culture that can easily be contaminated with unknown mater I felt better being 100% responsible for the growth and sanitary conditions of mine rather than trusting the technique and working conditions of another person I didn’t know. What you decide to do will depend on your own comfort level of course.

I shared my own recipe, photos and experience growing my SCOBY here if you want to grow your own.

Before you start your brew be sure you have a large, unleaded wide mouthed jar to hold your brew. Also take time to sterilize your jar and materials so your brew and SCOBY aren’t compromised.

Once your slimy starter is done you can follow the steps below to begin brewing.

To Make 1/2 Gallon of Kombucha

  1. In a large 1/2 gallon, non-leaded glass jar or container begin your brew with 8 cups of hot water and 4 tea bags. Brew your tea and let it cool to room temperature, preferably overnight. You can use green or black tea from what I’ve read. I used black tea for mine.
  2. Sweeten your tea with 1 cup of sugar and mix till dissolved. I used Sugar in The Raw for mine since I had it on hand to use up but my recipe called for white sugar. Note, more natural sugars will work differently than white sugar. I believe my brew needed a bit more time since I didn’t use white sugar but it still worked out great.
  3. Pour 1 cup of the reserve kombucha (that your SCOBY grew in) in your sweetened, brewed tea. Reserve your SCOBY’s leftover fluids though (and recover with a cloth), it will grow a backup SCOBY on top and will later be your SCOBY’s “hotel”.
  4. Transfer your SCOBY from it’s growth jar to the sweetened, brewed tea jar. Place on top but know it is fine if the SCOBY sinks or floats. Mine was floating initially and then sank but then came back up.
  5. Cover with a cloth, secure cloth and wait 5-7 days for it to brew. Taste test it from about day 5 on. If it is too sweet it needs to brew longer. It will go from sweet to vinegar like as it brews so frequent taste tests will allow you to end the initial brew when it suits you. Mine was ready at day 6 this round. Don’t let it get to vinegar like, you may not be able to stomach it. It should taste like the unflavored kombuch sold in stores but without the fizz. The fizz and carbonation happens in the next ferment.

Secondary Fermentation & Flavoring Your Kombucha

Your secondary fermentation happens once you bottle your Kombucha and add any flavorings to it. Here is how we did ours:

  1. Sanitize about 6 swing-top/ flip-top bottles or you can use regular mason jars.
  2. Move your SCOBY and about 1-2 cups of kombucha back to your kombucha “hotel”. A new SCOBY will likely have begun to form on top while your kombucha was brewing, this is great. Just reach in and grab your SCOBY even if it appears to have a thin milky film on top of it.
  3. Once your SCOBY is out of the brewed kombucha it is time to add some flavoring. The easiest way is to add fruit purees to the kombucha. We added a kiwi, strawberry, banana puree this time. Add about 3/4 cup for your half gallon of kombucha and mix. Don’t be alarmed about foam and any bubbling reaction. Ours produced quite a bit of “head” on top of the kombuch once the puree was added, we just bottled it that way. We also didn’t opt for straining the fruit puree before adding, this did result in quite a bit of fruit pulp in our kombucha but we think the added fiber and nutrients are great. Strain if you prefer a less pulpy drink.
  4. Next siphon or use a funnel to fill your jars with brew. My half gallon of kombucha ended up making 5 bottles of finished brew. Or fill your mason jars and cover them with their lids.
  5. Allow the flavored, bottled brew to sit out on the counter for an additional 3 days for the secondary fermentation process. This is when the brew becomes carbonated.
  6. Once your 3 days of secondary fermentation is up transfer the bottles to the fridge for a minimum 1/2 day so the carbonation settles a bit and your brew gets cold. Opening the bottle prematurely is reported to cause major kombucha sprayage much like a shaken soda does so you’ve been warned ;P
  7. Lastly, enjoy your kombucha and start a new batch

Be aware that refrigeration will slow fermentation, but it will still occur – so if you drink your kombucha over months instead of days or weeks, be sure to release the pressure and excess carbonation every few weeks, and realize that it will continue to consume sugar and grow more tart, even vinegar-y, over time.

We learned this the hard way with some older bottles of brew. I am still cleaning off the walls and ceiling!

Stay tuned for other fermented food adventures shared like saurkraut, kefir and cheese. You can subscribe to the blog updates at the very bottom of this page.

“Change Comes to Dinner” and thoughts on eating locally.

I just started reading a new book titled Change Comes to Dinner, I’m only halfway done and I’m already in love! It’s an inspiring book about all the individuals across America working to make local, sustainable, natural foods more of a realistic option.Eating locally is no doubt important to us as many of you already know but it can be hard to do. During these bleak winter months, it is no doubt difficult to find fresh food options locally. The limited availability of fresh food is a bummer in winter and I’m not ashamed to admit we are in serious food rut as a result.

Regardless of the limited availability, we still believe investing our food money locally is the best option. Actually, I stubbornly refuse to hand over our hard-earned money (whenever possible) to companies that truck in, mass-produced fruits and vegetables. You can read more about why here.

The 1st chapter of this book shares the story of an individual whose mission is to make locally produced foods a viable buying option for community members. He does this by filling an old school bus with produce and other local food items, essentially he is operating a rolling–school–bus–farmers–market in his area.

How cool is that? It actually reminds me a lot of the types of people you would find living at The Farm in Summertown Tennessee since many arrived at The Farm on a school bus caravan of sorts when the community was established.

Heck, I would even be willing to buy and operate a rolling–school-bus–farmers-market of my own here in the area.

The lost art of local food is a total shame. And I wish more people would understand why and get on board to support their local farmers.

Not only is it good business to support local food growers but it also protects the community from suffering the consequences of any unforeseen fallout or production issues or contamination that may occur at one point or another on the few large-scale farms that basically monopolize the agriculture business and provide us with all our food.

If you are curious about eating locally or if you are jaded about the state of our country’s local food affairs this book is a must read.

Garden woes and thoughts of fleeing the homestead to have a baby…

It is not easy to up and leave in the middle of your season harvest after putting in all the hard work and anxiously awaiting the payoff.

We are fixing to abandon the garden now and turn our focus to the upcoming birth of Baby Sister. It isn’t as bad as it could be considering the garden hasn’t been all that productive. It’s been an off year for us, probably because Nathan isn’t ever home to tend the garden and with me all big and pregnant things weren’t planted to tended to as well as they should have been.

[POPUP=IMG1]The disappointments for us this year were peas, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, squash and potatoes. Squash vine borer and squash beetles killed off our plants right after the first setting of fruit. We had zucchini, pumpkin, gourds, butternut squash and they were all destroyed right away. It was the year of pest attack for us, I guess we weren’t proactive enough in the beginning cause the bugs pretty much killed off all the stuff we had going out back beyond our yard. Other than the tomatoes, beans and corn.

The successes are of course tomatoes, our favorite lemon cucumbers, pretty popping corn, lettuce did well, beans (soup and fresh ones), okra, swiss chard, radish, turnips, strawberries, collard greens, carrots, grapes, sunflowers and blackberries have done great.

We figured out the mystery of our Etna Bush Beans and were happy that the early ones we picked turned out okay. Apparently, the pods get white with red stripes (much like the beans inside the pod). They are best picked for drying and soup making once the pods show red and have turned white and begun to dry out.

Another Etna Bush Bean note is that once the first round of pods are removed, the plant will re-flower and set new pods… or at least our have begun to. This is a welcome surprise since our 8 plants didn’t yield as many as we had anticipated and many more will need to grow before we are making soup with them.

I was hoping to get a quart mason jar filled with soup beans this year, you know to grow a pound or two of soup beans for winter… Not sure how many rows and rows I’d need to plant for that. I’ll keep you posted though.


Mmm Blackberry Sorbet: A From Scratch Recipe Shared

Our well appreciated thornless blackberry bush is producing ripe fruit now. This is it’s 2nd year since we stole it from an alley way where it was forgotten and buried under weeds behind our crappy rental house.

This time last year (the first year it fruited) Miss Everly enjoyed gobbling up every single ripe berry she could get her hands on. She loves her raw fruits!

This year, after picking several unripe ones against our advice she’s not chomping at the bit to eat freshly picked ones. Big surprise huh?

She does still love the responsibility of finding and plucking off the ripe ones, even if she’s not going to eat them. She is really taking an interest in deciphering which are ready and which are not, this also applies to other garden goodies like the grapes, squash and tomatoes.

Last week when we came in with an entire bucket of fresh blackberries I knew it was time to find a recipe for them, rather than letting them spoil in the fridge.

In light of our recent heatwave I was thinking some homemade sorbet really sounded good so I did some hunting and found a recipe that looked great and also worked great for us and it is even works without an ice cream maker if you don’t have one. It was actually easier without one, and we have one.


1 cup of water
1 1/4 cup white sugar
1 pound fresh blackberries
2 tablespoons lemon juice

The recipe calls for “simple syrup” or basically a sugar and water mixture of 1 cup water and 1 1/4 cups of white sugar. Then you take about 1 pound of berries and puree them up good, combine them with the sugar syrup and remove the seeds by straining them well. Then you add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice to the syrup and berry mixture, taste test and freeze.

The Joy of Baking says you can add more sugar or water to the mixture before freezing to obtain the preferred taste and sweetness if you find the above measurements leave your sorbet too sweet or too tart. I thought ours was just right though.

We froze our mixture in a plastic yogurt container and would check on it each day to give it a quick stir and to keep it mixed well as it froze. It does take about a day to freeze and isn’t a super hard freeze (at least for us) but we like our sorbet soft and keep it near the opening of the freezer door and not in the coldest part of the freezer.

Oh, I must confess I didn’t have the heart to toss out all the perfectly good blackberry seeds that we strained off so… I am drying them now and they can be planted I guess according to the internet. Not like blackberry bushes need to be sprouted from seed but I hate to waste anything.

Now that we have a second round of berries harvested I’ll make more sorbet I think. It really is the perfect yummy and healthy treat for a heatwave, summer day.

P.S. Like the well placed bucket in the photo of her picking berries? She loves running around naked these days. Ha, ha!


To harvest or not to harvest? Etna Bush Beans that is…

Google has led me astray. I’ve got my hands on the soup beans I’ve been coveting, the Etna Bush Bean but there seems to be no consistent information about the proper harvesting of these beauties. Google has failed me this time…


Updates and happenings at 34 weeks pregnant

Last night Nathan and I celebrated our 9 year anniversary with a dinner out. Nothing real over the top since date nights and getting super keyed up is something I lack the energy for these days being that I am 34 weeks pregnant now.

Everly was along for the dinner and we all had a great time, baby sister enjoyed the steak dinner too! I am loading up on the red meat these days thanks to mild anemia remember?

Everly grows up before sister arrives: Miss Everly is quite ready to meet her baby sister. Have I mentioned that she’s in the process of potty training herself in these last pre-big-sister days… Well she is!

We had no desire to force her to grow up any faster now that a new baby is on the way. I didn’t want to rush her to wean but she did so herself, I didn’t want to force a toddler bed but she really let us know it was indeed time and now she is adding potty training to the mix. It really blows my mind.

When looking back, I guess her pattern has always been to dive right in to the next stage when she was ready. Like when she stole noodles right off my fork one day and started her solid food journey at 7 months old.

We’ve been explaining that Baby Sister in in my belly all along and have been talking about what will happen when she gets here. While it doesn’t seem like she gives it much thought I guess she really does comprehend more than we think. And her instincts and development are pretty right on.

With all her self led transitions we’ve been a little slow to realize and have had some rough patches as a result. In the instance of potty training it’s been this constant battle of her wanting to be naked and stripping herself and then having small accidents.

The thing about her (and I guess myself also) is that when an idea is planted there is no stopping the forward motion or going back. So letting her run naked is all we could do. We are working on the big girl undies and keeping them on, she still struggles with pulling them up and down a bit but that will come with time.

Everly has had all sorts of potty success all on her own this week. One day she just asked me to help her open up the potty chair lid, I did so and walked away to finish the dishes. She sat there for a bit, peed and then came to get me so I could see it.

Yesterday she asked me to bring the potty seat out to the deck for her and she peed and pooped, several times. Today has been more potty success so it seems we are on the right path. Fingers are crossed that she doesn’t revert to non-potty-chair-use when baby arrives, but if she does that will be fine too.

Pregnancy news & updates: I am 34 weeks pregnant. Baby Sister was “sunny-side-up” (or posterior) and head down over the weekend and I am NOT dilating or effaced which is good.

We aren’t stressing over her orientation in the uterus because babies turn themselves all around even during labor for best positioning. Besides my midwife is confident even if baby stays in the same position labor wont be an issue for me. They would even attend my home birth if she was breech, so position is not an issue.

Also, with the lack if dilation and no thinning of the cervix my fleeting thoughts about labor beginning before I get to The Farm are history, for now. I was advised to lay more, to chase Everly around less and to chill with the homestead tending… but I am stubborn about these things.

My energy levels just don’t permit me to lay idle and someone has to care for Everly but I am taking it easy on the outdoor work and am tuned in to my body for signals to call it quits.

Been trying to get life to a good stopping point. That is laughable huh? There is blogging and website work for clients I want to get all squared away. The house, pets & garden all need loose ends tied up before we leave and come back with baby. My home birth kit and newborn supplies/ gear aren’t all gathered up or even purchased. I am dreaming about someone doing a meal train for us when we come home. I’d love to have some readers register here and be guest bloggers while I am on hiatus too!

I am revamping the “Updates from The Farm” page to create a hub for those of you looking for labor/ birth updates when my hiatus begins in a month. I think that is all I have to report. Now what is shaking with you this week?