Spring 2015 Garden and Homestead Update and Recap

Things are starting to get busier for us here now that Spring is really doing its thing. I swear after all the snow we got here in Massachusetts this winter, I don’t think I really believed we would ever see bare ground again,  let alone green grass! I sketched and listed and drew out plans for the garden so many times I thought I would go insane, but I think I put something together that I am happy with – even though I have a couple different options listed on my “final” plan. I have a to do list a mile long and dozens of tomatoes started.


The grow light mid April

Outside,  the peas are just finally starting to sprout, we have some swiss chard and rapini under row covers, and carrots are just starting to germinate, spinach should be up soon, all in a new, long no-dig bed I put together with  loads of compost, old composted chicken bedding,  and the soil from a different bed I dismantled this spring. Last year I built a no- dig bed by layering newspaper,  straw, and ordinary loam and had great results with my bush beans which I needed to move, so I was happy to see it teeming with earth worms and I can’t wait to see how things grow there this year! I planted 75 strawberries last year and it looks like they all made it through winter just fine. I cannot WAIT for fresh strawberries! Squeee! I love having things like that to look forward to.

Onion transplants are in the two raised beds and interplanted with Ruby Glow romaine and Buttercrunch lettuces. I ordered transplants this year after poor results with sets, so I am looking forward to seeing how they turn out. I grew only heirloom tomatoes last year which did very well but I fell slightly short of my goal of replacing all of my tomato sauces and salsas with home grown and home canned tomatoes. This year my focus is on soil building, composting, and increasing yields, while last year I went for variety.  Eventually I’d like to find a balance between great yields and variety but since my main goal is to feed my family with what I grow, I need to make sure I grow the best producing types I can.

I have another large no-dig bed to build (I will probably need to truck in soil and compost for this one), and have also started an experimental hugelkulture bed along the front chicken run fence to grow some extra greens for our flock and winter squashes. In the picture you can see the stack of branches, then a layer of leaves and aged chicken bedding is added, which will then be covered with soil and compost to be planted in. I think I’ll try some different greens like red mustard and maybe I can find some fun varieties of kale to go there.


Small hugelkulture bed. Permaculture is cool!

Our 6 pullets who arrived to us way back in February are ready to join our established flock- this weekend I will be putting a temporary enclosure within the run to gradually integrate them. We have three Easter Eggers, a Rhode Island Red, and two Black Copper Marans. They are very sweet and already have great personalities. Our 8 Welsummer pullets will be able to move out of the basement brooder and finally call the grow-out coop home now that the nights are forecasted to be warmer (they are much younger than our first pullets and needed to feather out better so I have waited for better night time temps!). We thankfully also have new avian netting coming this week since the netting from last year was destroyed by the snow and I have to have them covered after so many visits from the fox and now a gosshawk.

We have a Buff Orpingting hen, Betty, who has gone broody and she is just refusing to give up egg sitting duty. I’m working on separating her out and letting her try to hatch a few new chicks for our flock! We had a minor hiccup this morning when she stepped out for her daily break and one of our naughty Barred Rocks helped herself to sitting and eating an egg out of the nice clutch that had built up over two days. While I shooed the hen away, our youngest, Nathaniel decided he could “help” by collecting those eggs and then being almost 2, dropped and smashed them. sigh Thankfully the eggs were barely 24 hours old! Our daughter, Bella, at 3 is the perfect age to be a great helper. Nathaniel is right behind her and adores his “chicky babies”……as long as we don’t have him on egg duty I think we’re alright (And of course theres Jacob’s lack of enthusiasm at 8 going on 18! He humors me though, such a great kid!).


Bella freshening up the nesting boxes

We will need to upgrade our poor decrepit old coop and replace the wooden base it is sitting upon. The base is falling apart after many years of weather and we have mice and moles and who knows what else burrowing up into the run. Right now the plan is to construct a hoop house style coop with plenty of room to roam on days with bad weather and plenty of ventilation on our hot -albeit short- summer stretches. I’m not sure yet about the materials for the winter, I’m concerned about below zero temps and frost bite so I need to do more research on that matter. This project should be done by June.


Sigh. It was full of heavy, wet soil!

Otherwise I am looking forward to planting some more greens, getting seedlings out, and working further on my focuses of soil building, better composting, and increasing yields- along with building the new coop. I am also working harder on keeping better records on egg production, planting dates, and gardening and homesteading expenses. Even when times are rough, whether emotionally or financially, having plans in place to have our garden productive, to know that I am contributing not only to my family’s health but to our food security and teaching the kids many valuable lessons about life and our food, makes me feel good and fills my heart.


My heart is so heavy these days. I can’t say it hurt to hear his words.  I have been dreading it for a while now. Not because it hurts,  but because to hear him say it makes it possibly true. Even now I’m unsure, even after how ever many times I’ve talked it out in my head and with God about what to do.

“I love you”, I said.

……”No. No, you don’t.”

He had been drinking all afternoon and a good part of the evening. His words were slow, quiet; it was late.

I’ve tried so hard to believe in our relationship. Be happy, for the kids. We can be great parents together.  It’s better for them to know they have both parents here for them. Except, for when one is either always at work,  or otherwise if he is home, the awful possibility of him having a massive, loud fit of anger looms near. The good times are good- but these days, even the good times have been impossibly overshadowed by the worry and stress over how to keep us fed, taken care of, and in a safe space away from tantrums of anger and bitter and hurtful words and things being tossed and broken. I tell myself he needs me, he really won’t do well without me. I’ve tried so hard to brush aside how many times we’ve been let down. That’s just life- those things don’t really matter. Except for when we reached a point where so many things haven’t worked out the way we hoped they would, and the things that have held us back are things he has done.

Sure. I’m not perfect. But let’s just say that even he says I have done everything right.

“I wake up every day,  wondering if today will be the day when things are better.” I said, “but I know, that no, they aren’t going to be.”


Last week, it started with two missing batteries. He wanted to get some work done on the laptop, which had been accidentally splashed on with some juice a few months ago. We now use an external keyboard and mouse and the keyboard’s batteries were gone. I was upstairs with the little ones, doing pajamas after their baths; our oldest was watching TV downstairs. He pounded on the table. He slammed a couple things around. He called up the stairs, firmly but not yelling,  tension wrought across his face. “Would you please tell me where you put the batteries.” Not having a clue what he meant,  I said nicely that I wasn’t sure and he could check the drawer for more? There was silence for a few minutes. Then mumbling. Then a crash, followed by a bang and a thud and our son starting to cry. I rushed downstairs to see the huge Lego bin smashed on the floor and it’s contents strewn across the entire living room, dining area and beyond. Shocked, I asked what happened and that’s when the yelling started. Our son stood in a sea of legos, devastated and bewildered. He was being blamed for the missing batteries. For the damaged laptop. For anything and anyone that had made his dad’s day bad. I ushered my son upstairs,  away from the chaos, and gave him a reassuring hug. “Mom, don’t go back down there!”, he said. My heart broke a little bit more as I said as bravely as possible,  “mommy’s just going to go make sure we don’t step on legos in the morning. You three can sit quietly and put whatever movie on you want in mommy’s room.” He slammed his hands on the table and tried to smash the laptop and yelled about everything and nothing while I cleaned up, all the while, I responded only by saying I wouldn’t tolerate this behavior,  when he’s done yelling we can talk. Or just by saying “it’s time to stop now. I won’t have you act like this towards us.” It only serves to infuriate him more, as if I flicked an irate hornet and then said it wouldn’t be allowed to sting me. It’s one thing to have a healthy discussion or even a bit of an argument. It’s another to be an adult and throw a giant, angry, hurtful tantrum.

The next day he eventually apologized. He tries even harder to be nice and helpful, then it wears off, then a couple weeks down the line, we’ll face another outburst.

Maybe my heart broke a long time ago. Maybe that’s why it just doesn’t hurt anymore. Because after him saying so many times, in so many different ways, that he already had a foot out the door- I just don’t feel it anymore. After dealing with an arrest, a major car accident, cheating (many years ago), a separation, as many angry outburts as there are people in the world, I can only feel the words “no more”. No more taking me for granted. No more taking his anger out on our kids, yelling at our oldest until he cries himself to sleep. No more drinking at all hours,  or before work. So yes, maybe my heart *did* break a long time ago.

I’ve prayed for answers. I’ve tried to get him help. I’ve tried so many things and have tried so many ways to be better.

We still have days where we can laugh. We occasionally talk about our dreams. He works incredibly hard, many many hours upon hours, saying its all for us. The difference now is, I know the truth.  I know the dreams really won’t come true. I know how bad it is. I know how long we’ve swept things under the carpet, how long I have put on a brave face. How many moments of our family’s life I’ve done solo. Because the truth is, no matter how badly I have hoped that things might finally get better,  the most terrifying thing is knowing what has to happen for that to be. For us to not be together, after all these years, despite the bad, makes me feel like I don’t have a clue how to do this thing called life- but knowing that staying together could be worse……might be the worst truth of all.


A Fox in the Hen House

We have an interloper. He’s cunning, fast, and very sneaky. And he’s hungry for our nice fat, healthy laying hens.

Yes, we are being plagued by a neighborhood fox. He caught us being a bit….casual…..with our hens late this winter- and we were surprised back in February when we found a pile of feathers and were missing a hen when we closed up the coop after an unusually warm winter day here in Massachusetts. It had been such a ridiculously snowy season so far and they were so happy to get out and stretch a bit further than the run.

Well, the first time it happened, we chalked it up to nature, the circle of life, and moved on. Down one hen out of last spring’s stock, we still had 10 more and once the weather improved their production would be improving significantly. No big deal.


Then he returned. That nasty fox, testing our limits and patience, has snuck into our yard at all hours, searching for more of that nice organic chicken dinner! He has succeeded now a total of five times this spring, once after another nice afternoon we were duped into free ranging our ladies once more, and again on two separate occasions when our naughty Barred Rocks escaped their runs. Lucy and Rosy, two of our Barred Rocks, and of course our three year old’s favorite, just loved doing anything they could to be out in the yard. Escape artists to the extreme! Our poor rooster, Earl, is beside himself, strutting back and forth in their run all day- clucking his alarm if the tiniest twig snaps nearby.


This was on top of losing several of our day old chicks early this spring. Our luck has been awful and we have some very heartbroken kiddos around here (who are also learning very valuable lessons about life and nature). Predator loss is just part of the homesteading life, but thankfully it is something that can be prevented. Unfortunately we won’t be able to let our flock wander wherever they please in our yard and garden until further notice, but they have a spacious run we have added new netting to and have repaired a few gaps in the fencing we discovered now that our five foot tall snow banks have finally receded. I am definitely glad we have pullets in the grow-out coop and more little ladies in the brooder. Plans are in the works for a new, larger and more secure coop and run this season already- so I am thankful we have even more justification to make that a priority!

Budgets Can Get In the Way of Everything, Even Dreams

You know, this thing called life is a funny, fickle thing. I get these great, AMAZING ideas, have the completely OVERWHELMING need to do all.the.things. involved, and then I NEED to blog about it. Great! Then. THEN. Life gets in the way, our lack of any budget freedom totally gets in the way, and there shoving those things over and being an even bigger in-the-way pain in the butt is this voice in my head. It will never be good enough. I will never be good enough. It won’t amount to anything. No one is going to see this teeny tiny piece of internet land, and even if they do, I don’t have a big enough budget to keep it up and make it pretty and shiny and all the things nice anyways. I love doing this little thing called blogging because its a place to spill my brain out, to have a little piece of sanity in my world of motherhood and crazy- but I rarely if ever get around to updating things and then I forget about it and give it up.


So then I think, Who the Hell Cares?! I’m dusting this baby off and gettin’ to it.

If you didn’t notice yet, I used that “B” word. Yup. I said it.


Ordinarily I’m a huge, giant, flag waving, parading member of the “Budget is not a dirty word” club.

Budgets help us and make us plan and get us to where we need to be. They help us reach our dreams. Except. When there’s such a lack of space in the budget that you are so far beyond the level of “sticking to rice and beans” that you can name 100 different ways to make ramen. Yes, for us, some of it is an income problem. Of course it is. Duh. Circumstances right now have meant our budget literally has its pants down because baby, bending over isn’t going to shake any more pennies out. 

For real though. I’m not complaining. Okay, maybe I am a bit. But its the card that’s been dealt and for reasons that stay out of fantasy internet land, we are in a ‘wait things out’ period, while hopefully we are able to get things straightened out. We are lucky in that we have a great support system and our kids are perfectly happy and content and maybe they don’t get a trip to the Target toy department as much as they’d like (or ever), but I’m good with that!

The point is, Budgets can really sometimes actually get in the way of dreams.

They can be a total drag. Sure, all those people out there who say their budget is ‘totally freeing’ are having a great time on their budget. But when you’re trying your damndest (that’s really a word. no, really) to stretch a  $60 a week -try $35- grocery budget for a family of five, and just praying nothing bad happens like a car repair or pretty much anything, staying in budget isn’t freeing, its an absolute, do or die, necessity.  So, yes. budgets can get in the way of everything, even dreams. Because when you’re tired of giving your husband the stink eye for snacking on something that was meant for a meal, when you cry in the morning over making breakfast for the kids and they complain about what it is even though you planned and scraped just to make it possible, its seriously easy to stop dreaming.

I know there are people right here in this corner of the world who have it way worse than us. People are hungry, we’re fed. People are cold, poor, tired, and have no relief in sight, we’re warm and have a safe, comfortable place to be. My children are wearing comfortable clothes and are perfectly healthy. I tell God every single day how grateful I am for what we have. I don’t wish for riches or extravagance. What I do wish for is to know that I can hope for things to be better. That its okay to dream a little because that would mean the possibility of some of those dreams actually coming true.

So. If you’re in that hole, like me, where it feels like even though you’re doing everything you can to make ends meet and it won’t, can’t happen, DON’T GIVE UP. Keep going. It will get better, things will work out. Because we can’t let even the tightest of budgets, the trickiest of times, get us down.

Over time I will be sharing ways I like to make things work, including how I make our food budget work while keeping us on as healthy of a diet as possible, and how a bit of gardening and homesteading can help, and what dreams I try to hold onto, even when things are looking bleak. (:

– Kate

Garlic Growing and Garden Plans for 2014!


Our Fall shipment of garlic and some garlic from Europe!

This year my garden was a total flop- between having Nat in the spring and some other craziness of life it just completely fell off the list-so this was a step towards a better planned garden next season. We picked some tomatoes here and there, and a meal or two’s worth of green beans and swiss chard. I’m so disappointed I didn’t can up loads of tomatoes and I didnt grow a single potato, the shame!! I have decided a better garden is on my priority list. Next year it will be so different and I am excited to have taken steps this fall to make sure we have a great start next spring!

We finally did our last planting of the season,  right down to the wire for New England weather- complete with tiny snowflakes blowing around in the air! Yikes! Thanks to help from Chef and my mom to get the garden tilled in with new compost and to dig the rows- I threw my back out and there’s no way my back could have handled that and we couldn’t wait any longer to get the garlic planted!!

Here are my little helpers, dont you just love those outfits? They had instructions to find good ‘work’ clothes and wouldn’t let me help. (; They’re standing in the freshly tilled garden,  next year we’ll hopefully have fall crops to harvest still!


"Thanks, Mom, but we will dress ourselves!"

Three rows of garlic, including Elephant Garlic, a Hardy German Hard Neck Variety,  and the few bulbs my mom snuck back home from her recent trip to Europe (giggle!)…we’re set! After many jokes about making sure the cloves were pointing the right way (gotta make sure they won’t “grow towards China!”), they are tucked in for winter nap and we’ll be buried in garlic next season! I loved the bit of info the fabulous Mavis of One Hundred Dollars a Month shared here about planting garlic- I really enjoy her spunky attitude and she’s really cool! I also enjoyed this article about a man who grows his garlic as a perennial.  For decades he has simply left the smaller stalks in the ground to let them grow next season and has had an enormously productive garlic patch because of it!

We also moved the cold frames to a better location for easy Spring access for an early start, and I took advantage of the 50% off sale at Seed Savers Exchange and ordered several varieties of Heirloom tomatoes, squash and pumpkins, beets, and zinnias. Can’t beat packets of heirloom seeds for $1.38 a piece!! I am aiming to have as many of our seeds as possible be heirloom and organic, and am so excited to have a large variety of heirloom tomatoes next season! We hope to grow a fair amount of our produce in an effort to get away from all those GMO’s and to make sure our family is eating as healthy as possible.

To help me along with the plans for a much larger garden next year, including changes in our usual methods and layouts, more variety,  and extending our growing season,  as well as preserving what we grow, I’ve been spending all sorts of time perusing ahem, researching garden ideas on Pinterest! I just love the creativity and skills people share on Pinterest, so be sure to stop on over and follow my Garden and Backyard board to get in on the fun! What steps do you take in the fall for next year’s garden?

Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies with Oatmeal and Raisins



Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies with Oatmeal and Raisins.

Yup. I did that. My Oatmeal Raisin Cookies are also Chocolate Chip Cookies. We put it to a family vote and the decision was, they wanted both. And what those short little humans wanted, by golly, they were getting it today. With a Secret Ingredient added in!

We had a true treat this afternoon to have Chef home for dinner! Its rare to have nights off in the restaurant business so we treasure any opportunity we get for a nice family evening, even though the poor guy is usually exhausted!

After lots of playing and yard work today, we all sat down together for a dinner of herb roasted chicken (I got a great deal the other day!), mashed Yukon Gold potatoes,  and vegetables.  While I was making dinner, I took some time to throw together some cookie dough, loosely interpreting Sally’s Baking Addiction’s Chewy Chocolate Chunk Cookies, allowing them to chill while dinner cooked. Just before we cleared up from our nice family dinner,  I popped some cookies into the oven for a warm,  gooey treat for dessert!


Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies with Oatmeal and Raisins


My boys, coloring and waiting for their cookies!

Now for the secret…

I have always loved my mom’s cookies and she let me in on her ‘secret’ ingredient years ago- add a few tablespoons of cooled coffee to the cookie dough for just the right flavor. Trust me, its my favorite “secret ingredient” and I just can’t make cookies without it! It also helps balance the moisture with the oats added to this recipe.

Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies with Oatmeal and Raisins

2 and 1/4 c Flour
1 and 1/2 tsp Baking Soda
1 and 1/2 tsp Cornstarch
1 tsp Salt
2 tsp Cinnamon
3/4 c Light Brown Sugar
1/2 c Sugar
1 and 1/2 sticks Butter, melted
1 Egg
1 Egg yolk
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
1/2 c Rolled Oats
1/2 c Chocolate Chips
1/2 c Raisins
3 to 4 T Brewed Coffee, cool

Combine flour, baking soda, cornstarch, salt and cinnamon in a bowl, set aside.

In a separate bowl,  stir together the sugar, brown sugar, and melted butter, making sure there are no lumps. Add in the egg, then the yolk and vanilla extract.

Combine the egg mixture with the flour mixture, stirring.  It will be fairly thick. Fold in the chocolate chips, oats, and raisins. Add the coffee, a tablespoon at a time, stirring to combine to acheive a well mixed, slightly sofetened cookie dough.

Cover and chill the dough, a minimum of 2 hours, up to 3 days.

To bake, spoon the chilled dough evenly onto baking sheets, bake in a preheated oven approximately 10 -11 minutes. Cool slightly then transfer to a rack to cool completely.  Yields 18 2″ cookies.

Recipe adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction. Sally took a great amount of time testing her recipes on her blog, and I have to say, she’s never let me down! She has very specific techniques involved in achieving the perfectly chewy, soft baked cookie, so be sure to pop on over to her page to understand why her recipes call for certain steps, like chilling the cookie dough before baking, and using cornstarch to help keep them soft. Sally recommends hand mixing with this recipe. 

I linked up! The ladies that put together Showstopper Saturday are amazing and readers could spend all week exploring the amazing blog posts linked up to share. Be sure to stop on over to check out the other super blogs that link up each week- I just love the wonderfully creative projects to see!

for some reason I cant get the cute button to show up- in the meantime, be sure to visit Simply Gloria!

How I Keep Our Small Pantry Stocked on a Tiny Budget…

Recently I wrote about the importance of keeping a fully stocked pantry. I am the type of person who likes to stay stocked up all the time so that we’re ready for whatever life sends our way. Unexpected guests for dinner, emergencies like a loss in pay or job loss, injury or illness,  storms or natural disasters- things come up without warning and I sleep better knowing we’re ready! I like to think of it as an edible ‘savings’.

What if I want to keep a stocked-up pantry but have limited space? And what if I just can’t afford to buy a lot of extra food?

Its okay! We dont have a lot of room at all! And, we are on a serious budget.

Today I am sharing photos of our little pantry. Even though we have limited space,  its easy to see we are fairly stocked up, and between the nonperishable items in our pantry and the can’t-fit-anything-else-in-it deep freezer, we could go a fair amount of time without having to buy food, if it were ever necessary!

How do I do it, though, with a limited budget? I buy ahead on sale, in season, and I hit the clearance racks with a vengeance. I do use coupons, but not consistently. My brain is too scrambled to always be chasing coupon deals all over town, and I got burnt out quickly trying to rely on coupons. Can you relate to that? It means sometimes missing out on the “best” deals, but it helps simplify the task when I’m squeezing in a stock-up trip with three kids in tow!

I also keep a basic meal plan rolling all the time, always using leftovers,  and I try to make the majority of our treats from scratch. Keep in mind that I generally would prefer to always make my family dinner from scratch, but it can be really nice in a winter power outtage to be able to pop open a can of soup for a warm dinner by candlelight or camp lantern.

Just make sure you are stocking up on things your family will eat! Sardines are shelf stable,  but you aren’t going to ever catch me taking advantage of them being on sale, yeah?

To stock up, I choose one or two things to focus on, each week. Today for example, I knew I wanted to add some veggies,  a bit of fruit, and soup that was on Buy 2 Get 2 Free Special (making them about $1 each. Coupons would have made this even cheaper). I also knew I wanted to check for any meats that had been marked down, and boy, I hit the jackpot!


Markdown meats- $0.63 lb Purdue Roasting Chicken, and Pork Roast for $1.97 lb!

There are plenty of couponers out there who wouldn’t have called these prices great deals, but for my area stores, I was pleased! After the markdown coupons, the chickens were an average of $0.65 a lb! I get so giddy over having a freezer thats chock-full of deals, like the eight loaves of bread I brought home last week for $0.59 each! Woo!

Next week I know we are in need of restocking our pastas, pasta sauce, and all canned tomato products. Somehow I managed to pretty much run through all of those and we use enough of those items for me to want to restock asap!  I also want to make sure I pick up some hardy squash each time I shop to get some frozen.

This cupboard was built by my dad, and I am honestly not sure of the dimensions. It is a two-tier, large lazy susan. Lazy Susans are a great way to organize your pantry items in a small space and to keep them accessible!


Back up Baking Items, Peanut Butter, and Soups


Canned Beans and Tuna, Canned Veggies and Fruits


A few treats, and Shelf Stable rice milk, Evaporated Milk, and other beverages

Rices, pastas, cereals, juices, not pictured, are along the left side wall of the cupboard. We also keep baby cereal,  formula, and some jarred baby foods in the opposite side.  Even though I am a staunch breastfeeding mommy, who’s a bit of a stickler for the healthiest (um, and cheapest!) ways to feed our babies, I am realistic and realize there is always a chance of an emergency where Nat could possibly need to be fed formula.  Remember,  much of the purpose of a stocked pantry is to be prepared *just in case*!

In addition to this cupboard,  we have a cabinet with spices, open baking items, and large glass jars with various lentils and dried beans.  Its not very pretty but it works! Underneath that is more flour, a huge amount of olive oil (a perk of a husband being a chef is being able to order items in bulk!) and oatmeal canisters. We also have a small cabinet in the basement with all sorts of jams, jellies, and sauces, next to the deep freezer.  Both my mom and grandmother are wonderfully ‘gifted’ canners and one of my goals next year is to get serious about building my canning skills! We are planning a large garden next spring and I cant wait to get creative with sauces, jellies and salsas from our garden!

Some people are able to devote entire rooms and basement areas to their food storage and aim for 6 months, a year, or even more of food. We are not seeking to store that much food long term (right now I would like to work on a solid 3 months, then 6), but its great to see how some people go about organizing their pantries,  large or small! Be sure to check out my Pinterest board, Home Organization, to take a peek at all sorts of ways to keep your pantry, kitchen, and home organized!