Happenings on the Half-Assed Homestead: Projects Galore

So spring has sort of, kind of, almost come to New England. Not that you’d know it lately since we’re back to lows of 30s and highs of 40ish. But we’ve taken advantage of the few warm days to start tackling a million different projects – stacking random firewood that got lost under our 12 feet of snow this year, adding an invisible dog fence for our fearless Plott hound Grover (which necessitates replanning much of my garden, oops), trying to remedy the damage done by Grover to his previous dog run, digging up beds, planning paths… If my yard looks like a wreck under the best circumstances, it’s that times infinity right now. So here’s what’s been happening, in no particular order. Stay tuned for progress pics as all these projects (HOPEFULLY) approach completion!  Continue reading

Quick Tip: Use Oregano Oil in Your Homemade Hand Sanitizers

Last week I did some last minute pinch hitting for some friends of mine with a very young baby. They both had norovirus, and were terrified of their tiny infant getting it. I took their baby out for the day to both allow them to get some rest and to get the poor kiddo out of germ central. Norovirus is something I emphatically don’t want to get. Ever. So I threw latex gloves, antibacterial hand wipes and a hastily prepared”hand sanitizer” of sorts into my bag before I left.

I had purchased oregano essential oil a while ago based on some research I’ve seen suggesting that it is effective against MRSA and a host of other nasties; I wanted to use it in a combo lotion bar I was making for my sister, who was just finishing up her degree in Early Childhood Education.

While I’m big on homemade and natural remedies, I’m also a researcher at heart, and very skewed towards science. I’m not going to eschew modern medicine because some random natural living blogger says I should (sorry random natural living bloggers). But I read through a few articles on PubMed on various essential oils, and felt good enough about the research I found on oregano oil to give it a go. Continue reading

Super Lazy Bone Broth in the Slow Cooker

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but “bone broth” is becoming a THING. Bone broth shops are popping up in major cities, where you can pay upwards of $8 for a steaming hot cup of stock in a variety of flavors. I’ve seen folks spending crazy amounts of money at farmer’s markets for mason jars full of chicken or beef stock. For sure there are a ton of health benefits to drinking, using, and cooking with homemade stock. And like any good half-assed thrifty homesteader, I’ve been making my own stocks and broths from leftover bones and vegetable scraps for years. I didn’t realize I was so on-trend, I just thought I was being frugal!

While I love always having homemade stocks and broths to use for cooking, I really hate babysitting a big pot of chicken stock for hours. So with the exception of vegetable broths, I now just throw everything in the slow cooker. The benefit of the slow cooker method is clearly in the sheer laziness factor. Toss in your bones, add some water, turn on, leave it alone until you feel like dealing with it. But the other big bonus is how incredibly easy it is to get rich, gelatinous stock (or bone broth if you’re fancy) with a minimum of effort. The difference between a simple broth and the health-boosting bone broth is all in the cooking time. By the time you’re done simmering, your bones should crush between your fingers. And once chilled, you’ll have a gorgeous bone Jello rich in nutrients. To really achieve this, you need to simmer for 24-48 hours (24 for chicken, up to 48 for beef). So I just turn on my slow cooker and let that baby simmer away for a day or two. No skimming, no fussing, no babysitting. It’s so easy, I almost feel dumb writing up a recipe for it. But I know from talking to friends who don’t make their own stock that the slow cooker thing is a revelation, so I’m sharing for all those who haven’t made the jump to making their own stock. It’s easy, cheap, and allows you to get more use out of things you would have just thrown away. Your thrifty grandmother would be proud. Continue reading

Growing Potatoes Two Ways

As most of the snow has now left my garden (not all of it yet!), I’m beginning to emerge from my long hibernation and really start garden planning in earnest. I keep looking outside at my still frozen sad looking garden and dreaming. Maybe I’ll put a strawberry tower over there, or experiment with growing something fun like hardy kiwis over here… I’d like to put in more fruit, perhaps some golden raspberries, or a blackberry patch. My difficulty is that even though I have a pretty large space to work with, once I start planning I realize that there isn’t enough room for everything I want to do. For example, last year’s potato patch would probably be a great place for a future blackberry or raspberry patch, but then where to put potatoes?

I think my solution this year will be to build some potato towers so I can maximize my space. Once I do that I’ll be sure to post pictures and plans, but in the meantime, I thought I’d revisit the previous ways I’ve grown potatoes – the 5 gallon bucket method, and growing in straw. Continue reading

Garden Planning 2015: What Shall We Use to Fill the Empty Spaces?

Since turning my backyard into a giant vegetable garden, I don’t have too many empty spaces left in the back of my house, but the ones I do have are haunting me. Then there’s the front yard. A bare, unused small patch of grass with some torn up spots where I pulled out the ugly shrubs I hated. I also hate these unlandscaped sad empty spaces, but landscape design is not my jam. I am a total loss for what to do with these bits and pieces. Do I plant some blueberry bushes over there on that one weird slope that’s so hard to mow? Do I turn my front yard that no one uses into a butterfly/pollinator garden? Plant a bunch of veggies out there with a sign for my neighbors to wander by and help themselves?

I turned one empty space into a dog run (showcased in my post on poop composting) but I’ve still got this:

Unused space #1

Unused space #1

Continue reading

Compost All The Things!

Let’s talk about poop, shall we? More specifically, dog poop. We have a large dog and he poops a lot. I hated the idea of just picking it all up and throwing into the garbage to get sent to a landfill, but I can’t just leave it sweltering in the sun stinking up the joint either. So I started researching dog waste composting. I found cool instructions for building your own in-ground dog waste composter and figured that was the perfect solution.

So last year I redid the dog’s whole side yard (he’s since totally destroyed my efforts, bad dog) and installed my very own in-ground dog waste composting system. You can just see the lid of the in-ground composter in the far corner. Continue reading

When Life Hands You DIY Fails…

A while back I posted about making these lovely clay face mask bars from a recipe on one of my favorite sites for DIY beauty, Humblebee & Me. I’m back today to share with you what an abject failure they were. Not because of any problem with the recipe as written, but because I am the problem. I am habitually unable to follow a recipe as written. This is great for cooking, as I often just sort of toss things in and see what happens. This is not so great for DIY projects.

Sometimes, sometimes, every now and then my experimentation and “let’s see what happens!” attitude result in some pretty awesome things. And since there are very few recipes out there using tallow, a lot of those projects have been heavy on the experimentation aspect and turned out pretty great. This was not one of those times. I knew as soon as these babies dried I had gone horribly awry.

Not pretty

Not pretty

I didn’t have all the ingredients that Marie used in her original recipe, so I improvised a bit. And thought, why not add some ground up flowers in one?  When I’ve made traditional face masks in the past, I’ve often added these types of things, so it seemed like a good idea to try to replicate those in bar form. No.

Okay, well maybe it would have worked, but I didn’t manage to grind my flowers (lavender, rose petals) fine enough. It wasn’t obvious at first, but once the bars dried and they looked more like pumice stones than anything I’d want to rub on my face, it was abundantly clear. As soon as I wet a bar, all the tiny stems and bits that didn’t grind up were sticking out like tiny barbs. Ouch. I didn’t fancy a face mask that started with taking off the first 12 layers of my skin.

Use on your face only if you're looking to remove all your skin.

Use on your face only if you’re looking to remove all your skin.

Okay, so a big fail. But I also hate wasting stuff. So I tried to think of other ways I could use these. Clearly never getting near my face. First I thought, maybe a body scrub bar of some kind? But again, like sandpaper. Then I’m standing there in my shower, holding this little puck of horrors and realized that their resemblance to a pumice stone was my answer. Feet bars! So I’ve now been using these as a combo foot scrub and clay mask for my ugly ugly dry cracked feet and they’re lovely! My feet feel all soft and smooth.

My recipe combined the French Green Clay bars I linked above, plus these Pink Rose Clay bars, because they used coconut oil, which I had on hand. I also made a few with tallow, because if you’ve read my blog with any regularity at this point, you know I try putting tallow in EVERYTHING. So if you want to make your own DIY FAIL Clay Foot Mask Scrub Bars, just mostly follow Marie’s recipes, and add some not so finely ground flowers (I also made one with green tea and jasmine flowers), some essential oils if you want, and scrub your sad feet pretty just in time for spring!