Gardening Series #3: Now What? How to get your Garden Ready!

This is the 3rd installment in the series. 

#1: Reasons to Plant a Vegetable Garden

#2: What Kind of Garden Should I Plant?

Welcome back to the third installment in my Gardening Series. If you missed the first two, the links are at the top of this post.

If you ask any successful gardener what the most important aspect of their garden is, they will tell you that it is SOIL. Having your soil just right is the difference between a bumper crop and devastating failure. Today we will be talking about soil prep and how to get it as good as you can.

How Do I Know What my Soil Needs?

The easiest way to find out is to talk to successful gardeners in your area. They have been tackling your area’s trouble spots for some time and know the tips and tricks to propserous yields.  Another way is to take a soil sample from your prospective garden to your local agriculture extension office for testing. You can get most soil samples back in a week or two and they will counsel you on what your soil needs.

prepare the soil

If this is your first time gardening in a specific area (in-ground, or raised bed) there are a few things you need to keep in mind.

  • Determine the soil ph – Get yourself a Soil test kit and find out the ph of your soil. If it is too acidic, it can be neutralized by using lime. If it is too basic, you might need gardener’s sulfur and some compost to make it more acidic.
  • “Double-dig” – Dig down a foot or so and turn the soil. Remove all rocks and roots. You can do this using a shovel, or a pitchfork. Using a tiller can work too, just be careful when using.
  • Check the moisture – The soil should be dry before planting. As soon as you plant you will need to water, but not prior to putting plants or seeds into the ground.
  • Adding organic matter – Organic matter (such as compost or manure) gives soil the nutrients that it needs to fuel plant growth. You can either create your own compost pile, or buy it through your local garden center. Be careful though, a little can go a long way.
  • Level the soil – It may seem like overkill but it i necessary to level out your soil in your garden to make sure that water is uniformly absorbed by your plants.
  • Mulch your paths –  Adding mulch or hay in between garden rows will help with deterring the growth of weeds.

Learning about soil preparation is not hard, it just requires your attention and a little bit of time. This will definitely be time well spent and will help you have a healthy and fruitful harvest.

Gardening Series #2: What Kind of Garden Should I Plant?

Welcome back! This is the second in a series of posts for beginning gardeners. If you missed the first installment, you can go to it here

Gardening was not an easy road for me. I didn’t grow up gardening and I just thought all food came from the grocery store and why did you need to grow anything. My husband grew up around his grandparents and great-grandparents large farm gardens so he expected the same.  My advice here is purely that, advice. I’m using what I have learned along this journey to help guide you in yours.

1. How Big of a Garden Should I Grow? My advice here is to start small. The first time I decided to garden I did about 20 different pots on our porches. They did great for awhile, but it became too many for me to take care of properly. I didn’t have the habit of taking care of them regularly. That takes time. My advice would be to start small. It will grow exponentially in the future as you get a handle on it all, and learn each season.

2. Where Are You Going To Put A Garden? Depending on the space you need and the time you have you need to determine if you are going to have a container garden, raised beds, or an actual plot. Again, small is best to start.  Most vegetables need 6 to 10 hours of sun (whether direct or indirect), so even though you have this beautiful spot under a tree in the backyard, nothing is really going to grow there and you’ll just end up feeding your local backyard creatures.

3. What Should I Plant?  Stick with hardy vegetables your first foray. In my area, spring is good for lettuces, radishes, and spinach. Summer veggies that are easy are tomatoes, peppers (bell and jalapenos), herbs (basil, rosemary, sage, oregano, peppermint), and if you have the room zucchini or summer squash.

4. Should I Start From Seed or From a Plant? Personally, we start all of ours by seed, indoors. However, we have been doing this for a while and have an intricate indoor growing set up (some neighbors thought we were growing pot a few years back).  If you are just starting, finding a good source of plants and just buying and planting them is probably the best solution. It is a little more expensive, but you’ll yield the best results and be more likely to continue gardening in the future.

5. When Should I Start Planting? It all depends on what zone you are in. To find out you can go here and find which zone you land in. In that link it will also give you a planting schedule as well as a list of what grows best in your area.  This year I wanted to plant ginger, however I’m on the line of zone 6 and 7 and it grows best in zones 8-11, so I’ll just have to decide if I want to try it.

What Are We Doing? Our plans are to continue our acre gardening area, as well as we have two raised beds up next to the house on the west side. In our raised beds we will do climbing spinach, rosemary, basil, oregano, sage, chives, and lemongrass. We might add a few heirloom specialty varieties of tomato or cucumber as well as a salad mix. Out at the farm in our large garden space we grow garlic, onions, potatoes, corn, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, tomatoes, asparagus, jalapenos, hatch chiles, cayenne peppers, bell peppers, summer squash, zucchini, and spaghetti squash.

Word of Advice. If this is your first year, don’t go crazy. Gardening takes time and discipline. You have to make the time to care for your plants, not just when you plant and harvest. It takes time to form those habits and if you do too much you’ll be overwhelmed and more likely to give up.

Next Up: Preparing Soil and Other Ways to Get Your Garden Ready!

 

Gardening Series #1: Reasons to Start a Vegetable Garden

Earlier this month, I was crowd sourcing on Instagram about questions people have about gardening. I decided that since there were so many questions that people had and truly didn’t know the answer to that I would start a Gardening series here on the blog.

One of the biggest things that a potential new gardener should ask themselves, is if gardening is a good fit for them, especially before you begin. Gardening is a lot of hard work, but it is definitely worth it . Look through the reasons I have listed below and see if it trips your trigger to dive into vegetable gardening.

5 Reasons to Start a Vegetable Garden

1. Learning Something New: I am a seasoning gardener and each year I plant, weed, harvest, and preserve I am always learning some new tip or trick. Gardening is an ongoing  learning experience and if you think you have it mastered, the garden usually lets you know you don’t.

2. You Know Where Your Food Comes From: When you grow your own food, you not only have a grocery store at your disposal, but you know where it came from, how it was grown, what chemicals (if any) have been used, and you can eat it with a clear conscience.

3. Saving Money: When you grow your own food, you are usually only out the cost of the plant and/or seed. Some gardeners like to have a more elaborate set up, however no matter which route you take you will be saving money and have delicious and beautiful produce to show for it. In addition, if you are like me, and tend to over plant, you can always sell your leftovers, or preserve them through canning, freezing, and dehydrating.

4. Exercise: Gardening is a great form of exercise. It’s not like you can skip it, like you can the gym. There is always work to be done such as weeding, watering, planting, harvesting, etc. Depending on the size of your garden and how much time you spend in it, you can give yourself a daily workout.

5. Dirt Therapy: I use this term to describe the time I spend in the garden. When I’m in the garden it is my time to think, work through emotions, and just generally clear my head. Time in the garden also tends to be quite solitary as no one wants to weed through it with me, ha. The therapy also comes in handy when you are able to be proud of your harvest accomplishments.

If any of this sounds good to you, then stick around this week for another installment in the gardening series. The topic will be How to Get Started Gardening. If you have any gardening related questions, please feel free to add them in the comments, come to my Facebook Page, or email me at houghfamilyhomestead@gmail.com 

 

A Legacy Not Lost….

Towards the end of the summer I was in a panic! I was almost out of canning jars.  In fact I was headed to my local farm store later in the day to get more when I received a phone call. I was butt deep in the garden so I didn’t answer. I eventually called my friend back and he asked if I was interested in some jars.  A distant relative was moving out of her house and moving in with her daughter and needed to get rid of all her jars.  Of course I was on it in a hot minute.

When I arrived I was in awe. The garage was full of shelving that contained years of canned goods. There was pretty much anything and everything there. I told the people who I was and who had sent me. They apologized for the jars being full and told me I’d have to empty them myself.

They started piling the jars in boxes and started loading my SUV until it was completely full and couldn’t hold anymore.

 

The woman’s daughter asked me what I needed all the jars for. I informed her that I would be using them to can things from my own harvests, as her mother had done. She then asked me to come in and talk to her mother. I walked into the house, now empty of just about everything, and saw a small woman with a homemade dress and a neat bun on top of her head. I introduced myself and told her thank you and what my plans were for the jars.

A petite  elderlywoman rose and walked over to me, she put one hand in mine and the other on my face. She told me, “Thank you for taking the jars and using them the right way. I worked very hard to provide for my family the only way I knew how. They have no idea how much love is in each one of those jars”.

A lump rose in my throat. Again I thanked her and told her I promised I would take care of the jars and their contents and I quickly left.

I took the jars to the farm. Unloaded them into a shed and went through them. If they were too old, I put the contents in a bucket and fed them to the hogs. The rest of the jars were put away for safe keeping and eating.

IF there is a lesson from my story, it is that I realized that my lifestyle of homesteading and food preservation is important, but it’s also my way to show others that I care about them. I care to spend the time and give them the very best. I also realized how important it is to carry this tradition on to others and my own children.  The way was paved for me by many women in homemade dresses and buns doing what they could to make sure their family was cared for and it makes it all worth while.

Frozen Fruit Snacks

 

Our family goes in “Banana spurts”. If I buy a few pounds sometimes they inhale them in one day and other times no one will touch one for a week and they start to turn brown. I used to make lots and lots of banana bread or muffins, but let’s be real, it can get old and I end up throwing out the banana bread too.  If you know me I’m kind of a food preservation nut had to throw anything away, so here is what we do now, and it’snot just bananas!

Freezing Bananas

On a cookie sheet, place wax paper. Chop up bananas into 1 and 2 inch pieces. Place on the cookie sheet careful not to put a cut side down on the wax paper. Put into the freezer until hard (about 3 hours).

Take the piece carefully off of the wax paper (no one wants a fruit snack with a side of wax paper), and place into freezer bags. Put the bags back into the freezer until ready to eat. The bananas will not stick to each other and you can pull them out one piece at a time to munch on, put into a smoothie, or as my girls like it to dip in chocolate or peanut butter.

 

Not Just Bananas

Another great way that I freeze fruit is doing something similar is with grapes. In fact the frozen grapes are a favorite quick snack in our house for everyone.  I have been known to also do this with strawberries, mangoes, and pineapple.

I also feel that this is a lesson to my family about not wasting things. Sometimes I won’t even buy fresh fruit and when they go looking for it, I encourage them to use what is in the freezer.  Snacking can be healthy and not wasteful! What have you tried? What works for you and your family?

Hunting: A Way of Life #HuntersKloak

This post was sponsored by Hunter’s Kloak in conjunction with The Women Bloggers, LLC. All opinions are always honest and my own.

When I first met my husband a million years ago one thing I wasn’t used to was his family’s lifestyle. They were outdoors-men. I had grown up mostly in the city and suburbs and I just thought that meat came from the store and why in the world would you want to go out and kill your own, let alone eat things that were WILD!!!

 Fast forward about 25 years and I’m fully immersed in the lifestyle. In fact, even though we are cattle ranchers, there is very little beef in my freezer, it is mostly wild game.

My husband and teenage girls are the  providers in our household when it comes to wild game. Personally I am not a hunter. I tried it, it just wasn’t for me, but mostly because I can’t sit still for long periods of time. BUT, I am a hunting coordinator! What is that? I’m in charge of getting the clothes ready, shopping for things that they need, getting everyone to bed, waking everyone up early to hunt, getting licenses, and of course preparing and cooking the end result!

The hubs and our youngest were out in the stand last night for the first day of youth rifle season here in Oklahoma.  You can tell by Nan’s face that she’s just as excited to be spending time with her Daddy as the opportunity to shoot a big buck. That is one of the best things about being in a family in hunters. The experiences help bond the relationships in a way that I can only pretend to understand.

One of my jobs as the “hunting coordinator”, is to make sure that the family can #hideyourstink . What does that mean? Part of hunting is that you need to make sure that the wild game cannot smell you. You have to be a “scent ninja”. I wash their clothes in a no smell detergent, dry them with a no scent dryer sheet, and then take their clothes outside. One of the things that I really don’t like is the no scent sprays that they cover themselves with on the way out to the stand.  I tend to get a little nervous when spraying synthetic things on their skin and hair.  Enter the Hunter’s Kloak Electronic Mist System!

The day before bow season started for my husband, I hoofed it over to our local Wal-Mart and picked up this great system!

From the Wal-Mart website, here are the specifications:

The Hunter’s Kloak mist system is a game changer when it comes to the reduction of human odor. With Hunter’s Kloak you no longer need to spray yourself with scents. The electronic mister is rechargeable and reusable – simply replace the scent cartridge. The rugged exterior is water resistant and built for the hunt.

  • Mist travels naturally on the breeze.
  • Can be used with concealment and attractant mists.
  • Time control mist flow: Delay options of 3, 6, 9 and 30 seconds.
  • Lanyard included for easy transportation or to hang from a blind or tree.
  • Rechargeable and reusable.
  • Water resistant.

My husband used the Earth scent for his first trip out. He used the lanyard to wear around his neck on the way out to the stand. He said that it was completely silent and was pleasantly surprised at how easily he was able to get it all set up and ready to go.

He hung the Hunter’s Kloak system on his stand and got to the business of hunting. I texted him a few times about it and he said that he didn’t even notice it, besides the light mist coming out of the system. The wind started to blow slightly and he watched as the mist went downwind.

 

A little while later, I received this picture. He was covered in does and they didn’t even notice him at all. For him, it is a total winner and he has already asked me to get more cartridges for his hunting season here, as well as to take with him to his Elk hunt in Montana next month.

The overall consensus is that the lead hunter, Hubs, gives his seal of approval and the “hunting coordinator” also approves greatly because of the fact that the system is a great alternative to sprays .

Want to check it out for yourself? You can find it on Walmart.com here, or you can learn more about it on Hunter’s Kloak various social media channels!

Website

Instagram

Youtube

Facebook

Get busy and #hideyourstink!

 

The first bird out of the nest.

For the past few months it was really quiet over here at HFH. The blog and my social media presence took a major time out. Back in March when I launched HFH I was really naive to think that I would have the time and effort to do this site justice.  Then in May it hit me like a ton of bricks, my first baby, our hard working farmhand, our precious daughter was graduating high school and leaving us.

I know that this is a hard time for many people in our situation. I made the conscious choice to just stay in touch through my Instagram page, and otherwise just soak up every minute left with my oldest under our roof. I’m happy to say that it was the best decision I could have made.

The summer months went by like days and the days went by like seconds. Before I knew it August was here and it was time to move my girl to school. I was sad because I would miss her, but happy for the exciting things that would happen in her future.

(One last picture after we set up her room and I left her on her own)

The days and the past few weeks that followed were hard on us for a few reasons.

  • Our house felt so empty (even though we still have one more at home and added another as a host family for a college student).
  • I was scared and worried for her safety constantly.
  • I worried that the “real world” would chew her up and spit her out.

(Her first day of college picture that she sent to please her mama.) 

She’s been there for a month now, and I’ve had some time to think about it and while I still worry because I am her mother and she’s only 17 and living 100 miles away from me, I’ve come to peace with it for the following reasons.

  1. She’s a farm kid. – One of the biggest compliments we heard about this engineering school is that they LOVE farm kids. They want them in their programs because they are hard workers and are able to problem solve better than kids who were not raised on or near a farm.
  2. Her incredible work ethic. – Farm/Homesteading kids have a great work ethic, because they learned from an early age that chores need to be done and done well before any fun begins. Animals, crops, family members, all depend on them getting their work done and done right.
  3. Trusting my parenting. – This was the hardest for me the first few weeks, but I’ve honestly come to peace with it.  My husband and I have spent the past 17 years parenting her and doing the best that we know. And now it’s time to trust ourselves and our parenting and let her navigate the world on her own.

I’m sad, because I miss her, but I know she misses me, or at least I think she does….enough to text or call me when she doesn’t know how to do something. I know she still needs me, and goodness knows, I still need her.

Best Damn Soup Evah!

It’s fall y’all! Well, not really but it is September, the month of my birth, the month that fall will begin, and the time when all things tend to get busy for me as a teacher, volleyball mom, cabinetmaker’s wife.  I talk often about putting veggies away for winter and #preppingforwinter, and I’m not talking about some random fierce winter because…. I live in Oklahoma. Next week the highs are supposed to be in the 90’s all week, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t want something easy to fix for myself and my family on a busy weeknight. It also doesn’t mean that I don’t want to use all natural ingredients.

Enter….the best damn soup evah! What makes this soup so great? Well, it’s wonderful on it’s own as it’s a just a homemade vegetable beef soup, but what makes it even bettah’ is that every ingredient in the soup was either grown and harvested by me, or killed/butchered by us. I know where EVERY. SINGLE. INGREDIENT. comes from and since I’ve either frozen or canned all the ingredients, it’s super easy to make.

This is why I do what I do. Gardening, farming, homesteading, plus having a full time job is hard work, but it’s so worth it in times like these. In fact, when I said I was making this soup, my oldest farmhand (daughter), a freshman in college, decided to come home for the weekend so she could eat the soup!

***Hint – Want to make it even better? When serving plop down a nice dollop of your favorite grass fed buttah! Butter makes everything better, and enhances the taste even more.

Best Damn Soup Evah!

Ingredients

  • 2 quarts canned tomatoes
  • 1 quart canned green beans
  • 1 quart canned carrots
  • 1 quart canned potatoes
  • 1 pint frozen corn
  • 1 quart frozen cabbage
  • 1 Tbspn garlic powder
  • 1 tsp rosemary
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp bail
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1 Tbspn salt
  • 2 pounds beef (I use elk, venison, axis venison, wild hog, etc)

Instructions

  1. Turn crockpot on low (7-8 hours) or high (4-5 hours)
  2. Pour tomatoes into crockpot, using an immersion blender to blend them smooth.
  3. Brown meat of choice in a pan. Keep all the drippings. When done browning pour meat and drippings into the crockpot.
  4. Add carrots, potatoes, corn, green beans, and spices into the crockpot.
  5. Thaw cabbage just enough that you can chop it into small pieces, and put into crockpot.
  6. Stir all ingredients together and leave alone.
http://houghfamilyhomestead.com/2017/09/13/best-damn-soup-evah/

Preserving Your Harvest: Freezing Broccoli

I know that I’ve been MIA for awhile. I’m learning how to balance this new life we’ve entered into. I can’t express how much your life changes when you add livestock to your homestead. Currently we have 28 chickens and have also added 4 hogs (meat hogs). However, I’m back on track. The garden exploding at an exponential rate and the harvest is coming quickly.

Many have asked how I preserve our harvest and have been begging for videos of how I do it. I’m new into the foray of videos, especially those I upload on YouTube. However, I have a series of them that will be coming this week. The first one is one of the easiest to do. You can use this method with broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, zucchini and squash. It is simply blanching and preparing for the freezer.

Watch the video below. Let me know what you think and what you would like to see next!

The making of memories….Squash Jam (recipe)

This time of  year is when the garden typically starts to explode. I am feverishly trying to get all of the harvest frozen, canned, or dehydrated. But this is also the time where I tend to make memories. If you’ve been following me for any amount of time you have heard me mention Grandma Polly (my husband’s grandmother). I credit her, and her mother for teaching me just about all I know about homesteading. Grandma is getting older, and doesn’t do as much in the kitchen, as a result I am blessed to be able to do her canning and preserving for her.  Last year for her birthday I gifted her with her favorite Squash Jam. She eats it almost every morning with biscuits or toast. Last week she mentioned that she was almost out and hinted that she would like me to make some more.

Being able to serve and give back to the woman that has given so much to me is one of the greatest things that I feel like I can do, so of course I agreed. This is not something that I personally use or make for our family, as we don’t use much in the way of jellies or jams outside of apple butter. But it’s incredibly easy. One of the neat things about zucchini and summer squash is that it takes on the flavor of just about anything, which is why the secret ingredient to this is Jello! Want to make some easy jam? Here’s the recipe.

6 cups of squash peeled and ends cut off.  Using the food processor, I blend the squash until smooth.

Cook the squash, on medium heat, until completely soft and excess what has been evaporated. Be careful not to scorch.

Add 1 box of pectin, stir in thoroughly, and bring to a hard boil.

Add sugar, bring back to a hard boil. Remove mixture from heat and then add 1 box of Jello.  I used peach Jello for this recipe, but I have used strawberry as well in the past.

Spoon in to hot jars and then wipe the jars clean.

Place in a hot water bath and process half pints for 10 minutes, pints for 15 minutes, and quarts for 20 minutes.

Remove from the hot water bath and wait several hours until jars are sealed and cool.

Squash Jam

Yield: 12 half pints, 6 pints, or 3 quarts

Ingredients

  • 6 cups Squash grated or blended
  • 5 cups sugar
  • 1 box (3 oz.) Jello (I use Peach, but you can use pretty much anything else)
  • 1 box Sure-Jell Pectin

Instructions

  1. 1. Peel zucchini and/or summer squash.
  2. 2. Either grate, or use a food processor and blend until smooth.
  3. 3. Place in a pot and under medium heat, cook until soft.
  4. 4. Add pectin, stir thoroughly, and cook to a hard boil.
  5. 5. Add all sugar at once, stir thoroughly, and cook again to a hard boil.
  6. 6. Remove from heat and stir in Jello mix.
  7. 7. Spoon into hot jars.
  8. 8. Place lids and bands on jars.
  9. 9. Place in a hot water bath. Process jelly jars for 10 minutes, pints for 15 minutes, and quarts for 20 minutes.
  10. 10. Remove from hot water bath and allow to cool and seal completely before storing.
http://houghfamilyhomestead.com/2017/06/14/making-memories-squash-jam-recipe/