Fresh Picked Organic Strawberries on Lemon Pound Cake

Rows of berreis flowers in rightYesterday we picked 48 lbs. of organic strawberries. Then we came home and I made 5 batches of freezer jam while Gene cord, sliced and packaged up the rest of the strawberries for the freezer. It was a long and tiring but oh so satisfying day.

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I estimate that we have enough strawberries for eating and spreading on toast for more than a year and likely longer. Gene requested a homemade lemon pound cake with strawberries on top for Father’s Day and he definitely will be getting one from me! (Recipe below.) I’ll use our organic eggs and the farm’s strawberries…a marriage made in heaven.

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A weathered old barn, quilt patterns and a John Deer tractor. How picturesque is that?

I feel that we are very blessed to have this wonderful organic fruit orchard, Pleasant Hill Farms located just 10 miles from us in Fennville, MI. They converted their operations to organic about 10 years ago and have been building a client base ever since.

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Their berries are U-Pick only. Consult their Facebook page for days and times to pick.

As always I feel very fortunate to live in the plentiful fruit belt of Michigan and have Pleasant Hill Farms so close by us.

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A quilter, Joan uses favorite quilt patterns as designs throughout the farmstead.

Owned by Joan and John Donaldson, Pleasant Hill Farm is a small operation run by the Donaldson’s with the help of an occasional apprentice or two. They grow U-pick strawberries, blueberries and peaches, make maple syrup to sell cut wood and generally farm their land with the highest of ethics and care. I truly believe that food and it relationship to health is important to us all.

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Nothing like the rich red color of a fresh picked strawberry. Sweet!

They also sometimes farm with oxen which I find most fascinating. Their farm is pristine, well-managed and prolific. I am writing about them today because I respect their farming practices and hope that others will read about farmers and growers who are organic and realize that perhaps they to can make that formula work for them.

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A close up of the farm’s field of oxeye daisy’s.

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Sitting in the strawberry field.

It was a long and tiring but oh so satisfying day.

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Johns enjoying planting a entire field in oxeye daisy’s making a beautiful scene out of a field.

I estimate that we have enough strawberries for eating and spreading on toast for more than a year and maybe longer.Gene requested a homemade pound cake with strawberries on tip for Father’s Day and he definitely will be getting one from me!

I feel that we are very blessed to have this wonderful organic fruit orchard, Pleasant Hill Farms just 10 miles from us in Fennville, MI. They converted to organic farm practices in 1977 and have been building a client base ever since.

Berries close

Our day’s pick.

As always I feel very blessed to live in the fruit belt of Michigan and have Pleasant Hill Farms so close by us.

They are a small operation run by Joan and John Donaldson with the help of an occasional apprentice or two. The grow U-pick strawberries, blueberries and peaches, make maple syrup to sell cut wood and generally farm their land with the highest of ethics and care.

They also sometimes farm with oxen which I find most fascinating. Their farm is pristine, well managed and prolific.  I am writing about them today because I respect their practices and hope that other will read about farmers and growers who are organic and realize that perhaps they can be organic too.

I snuck away from our picking duties yesterday to take these photographs. It was a pleasure to enjoy their beautiful farm for a couple of house on a nice June morning.

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Contact Joan and John Donaldson at Pleasant Hill Farm, 269-561-2850. www. Pleasanthillsblueberryfarm.com

Lemon Pound cake

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar, plus 1/3 cup
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice, plus 1/3 cup

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 6-cup loaf pan and line it with parchment or waxed paper. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a mixer fitted with a whisk attachment (or using a hand mixer), cream the butter. Add 1 cup of the sugar and mix. With the mixer running at low speed, add the eggs one at a time. Add the vanilla.

Working in alternating batches, and mixing after each addition, add the dry ingredients and 1/4 cup of the lemon juice to the butter mixture. Mix until just smooth.

Pour into the prepared pan and bake until raised in the center and a tester inserted into the center comes out dry and almost clean (a few crumbs are OK), 65 to 75 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the glaze: In a small bowl, stir together the remaining 1/3 cup sugar and the remaining 1/3 cup lemon juice until the sugar is dissolved.

When the cake is done, let cool in the pan 15 minutes (it will still be warm). Run a knife around the sides of the pan. Set a wire rack on a sheet pan with sides (to catch the glaze) and turn the cake out onto the rack. Peel off the waxed paper.

Using a turkey baster or pastry brush, spread glaze all over the top and sides of the cake and let soak in. Repeat until the entire glaze is used up, including any glaze that has dripped through onto the sheet pan. Let cool at room temperature or, wrapped in plastic wrap, in the refrigerator (Well wrapped, the cake will last up to a week). Serve at room temperature, in thin slices.

Recipe courtesy of Gale Gand.

Small House homesteader, Donna

 

Potato Planting Day at the Homestead

Today I planted our organic potatoes seeds.

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Organic seed potatoes going into the ground.

I had ordered a sampler set of seed potatoes from Wood Prairie Farm www.woodprairie.com this past February to test what variety does best in our soil and conditions. Then I’ll know exactly what to order next season.

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This seasons garden layout plan.

I have been sprouting them in the dark warm closet in our laundry room the past two weeks and they have finally sprouted. You can order toll-free at 1-800-829-9765. They also have a help line at (207) 429-9765.

Sas USEsy the garden helper

Sassy the garden helper.

Wood Prairie farms is a family owned farm in Maine that grows and sells USDA certified organic potatoes and cover crops and other roots crops as well. Everything they sell is organic and GMO free. I wrote about them last winter on my blog and that detailed piece can be seen here https://smallhousebigskyhomestead.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=1497&action=edit

While I was planting our potatoes Gene was putting up the stakes and strings that will be our trellis for our climbing beans and peas this season. He also sucked up leaves and put them down as mulch around our shallow raised bed to hold the weeds down.

Gene putting up string for trellis USE

Up goes the stakes and string that will hold the climbing beans.

I decided to try the “Experimenters Special” sampler box that holds four different kinds of potatoes; All Blue, Elba, Dark Red Norland and Yukon Gem to test to see what does the best here in our soil and our USDA Zone 5b growing conditions.

10 Tips for The Organic Potato Patch

  1. Faithfully rotate garden crops. Never plant potatoes after another nightshade like tomatoes.
  2. Treat your garden to generous amounts of organic matter; cover crops , leaves, straw.
  3. Potatoes love fertility; barnyard manure is wonderful when composted or fully aged.
  4. Promote plant health with regular sprays of liquid seaweed and liquid fish.
  5. Plant the best certified seed available.
  6. Warm seed for a day or two or greensprout prior to planting.
  7. Cut seed tubers into blocky pieces containing at least two eyes.
  8. Plant shallow for fast emergence;1” deep in the north and 4” deep in the south.
  9. Hill soil around plants, 2-3 times beginning when they are 4 to 6” inches high.
  10. Keep well watered
  11. Handpick and control insects.
  12. Harvest anytime you desire after tubers reach marble size.

Last seasons beets and carrots USEWhile digging I found some lovely beets and carrots from last years garden. They made a tasty side dish for lunch today.

More photographs to come when the leaves and stems come out of the ground!

Small House Homesteader, Donna

Chickens “Live Greens” Fodder Experiments

Recently I’ve been researching growing fodder for my chickens. I know how much they miss fresh green grass during the cold winter months. And I began looking for a way to provide live greens during the off-gardening season.

Learning about growing fodder on my own meant computer research, reading and asking many questions. I also became interested in sprouting too. Because I could provide green sprouts easily I switched to learning about sprouting first and am back on track for my fodder. Guess I can easily get led off track! Lol!

Three heads down combs

Thee three amigos attack the fresh fodder barley grass.

But now it’s fodders turn and I am in the experimentation stage.

First I had to find out what type of seeds make the best chicken fodder.  I learned almost any seeds can be used and some of the chickens known favorites are wheat and barley.

Row of pans in laundry room

Preparing the tins and seeds.

 Then I had to locate these seeds at my local feed store as well as on-line. When I found out that my regular feed store sold barley seeds that are grown for them by the Amish and are untreated, I knew those were the one for me. I bought 1 pound of seeds since I am in the experimentation phase. I did not want to get stuck with 50 lbs. of barley seeds if this did not work for me.

barley seeds in pan close

The barley seeds before the soil and water were added.

I began growing some barley in pie tins in potting soil on my dining room table. I was amazed that they germinated in just two days and by day four were already 5″ to 7″ tall. Fast growing!

I made two mistakes with the tins; 1) I did not plant them thickly enough and 2) I used my household potting soil with perlite in it. I didn’t think this through until afterwards that I should have used regular soil without the toxic white perlite. Lesson learned!

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Growing fodder in a boot tray on my dining room table.

Then I began to get a small plot ready in the chicken run using part of our old chicken coop and some soil we dug up when we recently fenced in the raspberry patch. Today I planted the seeds and planted them more thickly this time. I covered them thinly with more soil and watered.

Fodder planted and watered

The proactive screen over the barley seeds in the open chicken run.

If this idea works like I hope it will, I’ll use two other areas in the vegetable garden for two additional “fodder beds.” Later on this fall I think the hoop house will also work after it is set up. There will be sunshine; heat and plentiful water close by.

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Snowball is happy to be eating the barley fodder!

Here is my first rudimentary experiment with making chicken fodder.

What I did wrong:

  1. I did not soak the seeds overnight. I did just not know about this step.
  2. I didn’t think and pulled out my regular indoor potting soil (with perlite in it) to sprout the fodder. Then it occurred to me the perlite are a kind of asbestos and not healthy for the chicken. Busted!

What I did right:

  1. I found untreated barley seeds grown by the Amish at my regular feed mill. They offer 50 lb. bags or by the pound. I bought one pound for just 65 cents to give it a try. It amazingly sprouted within two days. Fast growing!

But like most mistakes it was a good lesson learned for me. Now when I start these barley seeds outside under the chicken “screen” I used regular dirt so there are no perlite to hurt the chickens.

I still have a lot to learn to get this right but it is coming.

To Grow Fodder Indoors on Inexpensive Wallmart Metal Stand:

  1. Use trays or pie tins Use one pound of seed per tray. Ends up being 1-4 pound of fodder per tray.
  2. Put grains in a bucket and let it soak for 12 hours, and then pour off extra water. If you need two trays of fodder per day, make two trays of fodder each day.
  3. Smooth the grains out. Put trays on your food shelving rack or growing spot.
  4. Waters tray lightly twice a day. Do not reuse water.
  5. Barley seeds need 65 to 75 degrees to grow.
  6. Depending on your seed choice, fodder grows from 4 to 8 days.
  7. When ready to feed, flip the fodder tray upside down. Using a box cutter cut through the thick mat of fodder. Cut out a chunk and most chickens eat the grass, the sprouts, and the mat.

If you care to know more about growing fodder for your chickens you can visit YouTube or the Facebook page Fermented Feed and Fodder on the Farm page at https://www.facebook.com/groups/809758232387115/

Small House Homestead and chicken keeper, Donna

P.S. I didn’t let the chickens eat the perlite in the above photo. I set the pie tin down just long enough for a photo and then removed it. I pulled out the barley grass one at a time and tossed them on the ground. No chickens were harmed in the preperation of this blog post!!

I Discovered a New to Me Seed Potato Catalog

Have you seen the new Wood Prairie Farm catalog, the Maine potato catalog for 2015?

A photo illustration from this attractive well done seed catalog.

I’ve never heard of this catalog before and when it arrived in Saturday’s mail I was thrilled. It has nothing but USDA Organic and best of all NO Monsanto seed items or split gene products.

It’s published by a family owned farm business from Bridgewater, Maine. They maintain the highest of products standards which means growing and selling ONLY certified organic and they make a point of making it clear that no Monsanto seeds are involved.

It’s petite catalog, just 5 ½” X 8 ½” in size but it is full of the most lovely illustrations, quotes and options for gardeners and cooks. In fact, this little gem of a catalog reminds me of the Old Farmer’s Almanac –  there’s definitely an old Maine theme going on here for sure.

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Wonderful potatoes and seed potatoes of many colors and varieties.   

I ordered a sampler of organic potatoes so I can test four different varieties (purple, red, yellow and brown) in our soil to see which has the most flavor and which grows best here lean sandy soil and our USDA Zone 5b garden. Then the next season I will order our favorites.

In addition to seed potatoes for gardeners this company also sells a nice selection of related products;

* Grains for Bakers and Cooks

* Organic Cover Crop Seeds

* Organic Vegetable Seeds for Gardeners

* Gourmet Potatoes for Cooks

* Specialized Fresh Organic Vegetables

* Gifts from Maine

I am not receiving anything for this commercial. I just like what I see and want to support it. If you would like to know more, go to their website at www.woodprairie.com or phone 1-800-829-9765.

Small House Homestead gardener, Donna

Today’s Breakfast: Fuel for the Journey

 My body definitely craves more food in the morning and less, and often, nothing at night. So I fuel up more heavily in the morning to satisfy those cravings and to give me sufficient energy for my active day.

Full egg in the pan

Put the eggs into the pan, add the spinach and mushrooms and cook about one minute.

This is a typical winter day breakfast for me; three organic eggs (I eat half then and save the other half for a second meal.) I top off the eggs mixture with a small handful of fresh organic spinach, two small organic portabella mushrooms and after folding in half, I add tiny slivers of Applewood Smoked Cheddar cheese with fresh ground black pepper on top.

This omelet is accompanied by two pieces of whole wheat Ezekiel Bread (Food for Life brand) a hearty sprouted toast and my two capsule of CQ10, (200 mg. total) per day. This is lightly cooked in a vintage cast iron pan (no plastic coating) that has a light smear of virgin olive oil in it.

Sliced then, I also enjoy an organic orange for fiber and Vitamin C., often later on in the morning to assure I get enough Vitamin C.

Half omlette in the pan

Flip over in half and add the cheese and pepper.

This omelet is especially tasty and extremely satisfying. Today I am caring for my chickens, dog,  and house, shoveling the sidewalks and driveway and late this afternoon I feed the horses, goats and chickens at Red Horse Ranch where I volunteer. I need a lot of healthy fuel for this kind of outdoor day!

Omlette on plate

Plated and ready to eat.

Later in the day I’ll snack on my ½ cup of Kiefer (probiotic) and my aloe vera gel and enjoy a light lunch, most likely a fresh spinach and lettuce salad with fruit, sunflower seeds, 1 thinly sliced portabella mushroom, chia seeds, and a sprinkle of feta cheese.

Dinner will likely be a light snack like a piece of fruit or a bowl of fresh steamed green vegetables. Or some days, nothing at all depending the amount of energy I have expended during on the day and if I am hungry or not.

I know that this is not the typical American way to eat but it is the way my body-type needs. And that good enough for me.

Small House Homestead, Donna

 

It’s Been One of Those Weeks

When it rains it pours….

A stone hit the windshield of my Subaru last week Wednesday and it cracked. I drove the 45 miles to Holland on Friday to get it replaced. That was a day gone out of my week the week before Christmas but at least I had insurance that covered its replacement, right?

Sometime last week we had a computer glich that took away the photo header at the upper left hand side of this blog page. I had to recreate it and reposition it, so that was an unexpected project also.

On Sunday while printing off Christmas letters the HP Office Jet Pro quit after two letters. So now I drive again to Holland tomorrow to buy a new one. Normally I would wait until my normal monthly errand day but I really would like to get my personal holiday letters out before the new year.

I also need to pack up the old one to send it back to HP to receive credit on the warranty we bought. But how do you print out a mailing label when you can’t print? Duh!

I have a real thing about mechanical and electrical items that have been manufactured to break and be replaced. If I was in charge this is NOT how things would be made.

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Gene unloading repurposed roofing panels

On a positive note, we did make progress on the covered chicken run. The frame is partially built and we picked up the bartered roofing panels. We bartered “sweat equity” for the panels and some wood.

White Roof pieces on ground and wood

Corrugated roofing panels weighted down by wood and waiting to be washed.

Two more days until Christmas…hopefully I can get those letters printed off and in the mail soon.

Small House Homestead, Donna

 

Field Trip to the Last Standing Beech Tree

I took a field trip this week to capture the fog and rain at Ely Lake Primitive Campground.

I walked the North Loop to the Beech Trail, a trail I have been walking now for fourteen years. I’ve walked that trail to visit and to document the last standing Beech tree.

Ely Lake white spacing jpeg w text

I call it The Grandfather Tree.

For me that tree is a metaphor for life and what we humans are doing to our environment…

I enjoy the quiet, the wildness and the peace I find there. Our Labrador Sassy loves to run and swim there. Ely Lake is magical place that I hope will be protected in the future from fracking.

Small House Homesteader, Donna

Taking Advantage of the Short Thaw

Walkway lined w grasses

These grasses were cut down this weekend to complete our fall garden chores.

I was up with the chickens this morning and washed a load of perma-press clothing, fed the chickens, posted a story on our blog about our homestead and baked a black raspberry crisp to have with our lunch today. The crisp is a special treat for my husband for our 18th anniversary that we celebrated on November 30th. In addition to making him happy, there is a great deal of satisfaction in knowing that these tasty berries are our own black raspberries from our garden patch that I picked and froze last summer.

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A December snapshot after the grasses have been cut down at the pool shack.

Gene shoveled the driveway while I cleaned out the chicken coop and began our lunch. I am making Alaskan salmon patties to have with left over sweet potatoes and a tossed salad today. Gene popped Sassy in the truck for her run and combined a trip to the recycle stations while I swept the floors. Our plan is to get to work on the outdoor project this afternoon that was delayed due to the snow.

Gene trimming garden cart

Taking advantage of the snowmelt to cut back the ornamental grasses.

With winter coming on so early this year combined with our two-week long get-away trips we did not finish all of the outdoor garden work. So today when the weatherman predicted a 30 to 40 degree warm up with sunshine we decided we had better get right on cutting down the last of the ornamental grasses.

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The side garden at our simple and basic farm-stead type swimming pool.

I know some gardeners leave the grasses up all winter for interest and for the birds to eat their seeds but over the years we have found it works best for us to cut ours down in the fall. The songbirds have plenty to eat at our year-round bird bed & breakfast bar!

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This is our big compost bin where we toss the tougher grasses to compost. They often take two years to break down. Our Vermont Cart is indispensible for such garden clean up projects.

Here in the land of 6 ft. snowfall the grasses tend to get beat down anyway from the heavy snow fall. While I am more of a cut them down with your hands kind of person, Gene prefers to saw them off with the electric hedge trimmer.  It’s a guy thing! He wraps them in a rope, saws the canes off and I toss them into the Vermont Cart and haul them off to the larger compost bin.

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The chickens free ranging in their fenced in pen.

I let the chickens out to free range and we began the garden project.

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Micanthensis Sinsethisisa favorite type of ornamental grass.

Small House Homesteader, Donna

Sunshine! Big Steps for Little Chickens

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Clover and the chickie babies brave the snow on their feet today for the first time.

Today the sun came out on the homestead; the winds died down, the temperatures rose from the teens into the 30’s and our chickens came out of the coop for the first time in more than a week. O happy day!

Our area of SW Michigan had, like many other parts of the US, have been hit by the Polar Vortex of cold, snow and high winds. The poor chickens had been stuck inside of the coop for days on end. Momma Clover will not bring those babies out when it is windy and momma knows best!

Clover 4 babies all sun USE THIS ONE

Chicken scratch farm!

I wasn’t sure if the 8 week-old-chicken babies would actually come out into the snow but I opened the coop up and swept the snow off the gangplank and give them the option. Low and behold, out they came, slipping and sliding down the gangplank and a while later we found them pecking at the green grass, scratching about and trying to dust in the still frozen dirt under their coop.

When we designed the coop and run we purposefully put the structure on a 2″ X 4″s stilt-like-base to create a place that we hopes would become rain free hangout if caught out in the rain. But we didn’t know if it would really work…

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The tarp is snug under the bales of straw holding it down while creating a draft free “play pen.”

When it began to snow we tied up a tarp on the west-facing side in the hope that not only would the tarp break the wind it would give the chickens a small snow-free space to peck and scratch.

I am proud to report back that this strategy worked!

Let me explain in more detail. When we built the straw bales wind block wall  we purposefully attached the tarp on the inside of the straw wall to leave them an area that had the potential of staying snow free (at least until the real winter snow arrives.)

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This is the snow free area under the coop where Clover decided to dust today. It worked!

Today I found them working that grassy area, happy as well…. chickens! This gave them a mostly snow-free, wind-free sunny area to hang out and peck to their hearts content. It feels wonderful and satisfying to know that our theory succeeded!

To help them stay warm enough for their outdoor playtime, I gave them a handful of thistle seeds and a half of a handful of dried meal worms. Meals worms are quickly turning into their favorite treat for sure. In fact, Momma has already figured that the plastic bag represent meal worms and she come right over to me and pecks at the bag.

I sat very quiet and put the mealworms on my knee and they came right up to me and pecked them off my knee for the first time. More success!

While they ate and scratched I took the opportunity to open up the coop to air it thoroughly out, sifted through the litter to remove frozen poop and add more cedar shavings to build another layer warmth.

The airing out of the coop also helped with our ongoing humidity issue which dropped from the 80 percentile to the 50 percentile. And more success!

It was an absolute blast to not only know that my plan worked but that the chickens are getting more and more use to me. They pecked for food all around my body, not at all concerned that I am 100 times bigger than them. They are getting more and more tame and definitely gentled. I think they have finally come to accept me as “The Food Machine.”

I am imaging that my farmer and chicken keeper grandmother is up in heaven looking down on me and laughing. Today made me very happy!

Small House Homestead Chicken Keeper, Donna

 

Seed Saving at the Small House Homestead

This is the first year I have attempted to save my own garden seeds.

Seeds Saved all jars

A row of garden seeds in air tight jars sits on my window sill.

I bought my organic seeds from Territorial Seed Company, Oregon this spring and I was not sure I would have the time or energy to save seeds this year so I didn’t make a commitment one way or the other.

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One of the Territorial Seed Company catalogues.

But when fall was coming on, I began to think maybe I would just let some of the beans pods rest on the vine and dry out. Then on the day we pulled out the old beans vines we found a lot of pods that had been hiding underneath that were dry and full of seeds.

Then I found myself feeling inspired… and the race was on.

I saved five varieties this year; snap and dried beans. And tomorrow when my 5-year-old granddaughter comes to visit for the day I plan to show her how to open the dried pod, take out the beans and save some for next year.

I really want her to know where her food comes from.

I also saved some carrots for her to pull up from the ground too and well eat those for dinner.

This is an age-old experience, the elder passing on their knowledge to the next generation. I am proud to be a part of this lineage of teaching self-sufficiency.

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The Homesteads vegetable garden at its peak last summer.

If you want to read all about seed savings and the how-to’s this is a great site: http://www.howtosaveseeds.com/whysave.php

Should you like to contact the Territorial Seed Company you can call then toll-free at 800-626-0866. For a free catalog, you can go here: http://freebies.about.com/od/free-gardening-catalogs/p/free-territorial-seed-company-catalog.htm?utm_term=territorial%

I received nothing for this post. I am just a satisfied user!

Small House Homestead, Donna