March: Sustainability Checklist

March Sustainability Checklist

Several months ago, we started sharing the monthly project lists we make to help us work toward sustainability. We began doing this when we realized a rough truth- if we’re not ahead on the ranch, we’re behind-  and creating these lists keeps us ahead of schedule.

The spring months are always our busiest. Spring is when we prepare for summer. The work we do in spring is directly connected to our summer successes and fall harvests and ultimately, to our sustainability throughout the year.

As you work on your own list this month, focus on preparing for new life in your space. Whether that new life is an animal or plants, begin to prepare. The onset of spring always creates a busy arrival. So, prepare yourself. Prep garden beds, expand shelters, mend fences, and enjoy another new season! This is what we’ll be working on:

Bed 1Clean out this bed- Somehow, this garden bed managed to grow an incredible amount of grass over the winter months and it’s got to go.

Bed 2Prepare this new bed- We began putting this in last fall. This space will serve as our potato patch. It needs to be cleared of weeds, rocks, and have the soil amended. This will be a two-man, full-day project. Bonding time!

Create our living wall- We’re building a living wall in a section of our back space to create more privacy. Peas will be planted at the base and liven up the otherwise desert landscape view we have out our back window. Pea planting is March 17, so we must get building!

Pea planting- Pea planting is just around the corner and they’ll be the first seeds in the ground this year.

Bring home chicks- Unfortunately, we didn’t get any roosters from last year’s group of chicks. This year, we’ll be buying more in the hopes of taking on a rooster.

Clear weeds- We’ve been able to clear at least 2 acres of weeds, but there are 3 more to go!

Buying our first riding lawn mower- We plan to use this to cut weeds and haul smaller supplies throughout the property. There are some great mowers that will do all these jobs at a fraction of the price of an ATV. This will be our first big piece of equipment for the ranch.

Most of these are time consuming projects. Consider this when you are making your own spring plans. Clearing space and prepping gardens is time consuming, but taking the time now will save you work in the future.

So what’s on your spring list?

Posted in Monthly Checklist | Leave a comment

5 Food Scraps You Should be Saving

I recently began rereading one of my favorite books, An Everlasting Meal. You can read all about the first time I read it here. It is essentially a how-to guide on eating economically.

And although this book focuses on feeding ourselves in an economical fashion, its founded on the principles of sustainability. “Great meals rarely start from points that look like beginnings. they usually pick up where something left off. This is how most of the best things are made…”

I can’t help but to consider this approach within the context of sustainable living. This is, in fact, how the best things are made- utilizing recycled materials, passive energy, permaculture concepts.

I couldn’t help but think why don’t I apply this frame of thinking to the kitchen more often. I look for ways to start a project from recycled materials. Why do I not spend more time looking for ways to begin a meal from leftover materials?

This list is a place to start, a place to consider your needs, your resources, and a way to increase the resources available to you.

1. Pasta water- A kitchen gem. Decrease your water use by reusing pasta water. Use it in soup, to boil vegetables, or to make #3.

2. Sour milk- This is your buttermilk substitute. Freeze in jars and use in biscuits, breads, pancakes, and cakes.

3. Broccoli & cauliflower stems- At times, these parts can make up the majority of your standard super market bunch. Stems and leaves can be made into a flavorful and nutritious pesto with just water, olive oil, garlic, and salt.

4. Eggs- Whether the eggs have been separated because you only need egg or white or they’re getting old because your hens are producing a surplus in a given season, they can be saved. Separated egg pieces can be refrigerated for future use and you can try this technique for the egg surplus.

5. Cheese rind- Especially from hard cheeses, like Parmesan. Boil the rind with soup to give it more flavor and body.

What kitchen scraps do you use? 

Posted in Recipes, Self-sustaining | 2 Comments

10 Steps to your Best Kitchen Garden Yet!

February is garden planning season.

Each year, I find it hard not to get ahead of myself. I order all of these great seeds, make a rough plan of how I’ll get them all to fit, and then I wait. 

Suddenly it’s the middle of June, nothing is in the ground and I’m losing valuable growing time. Part of a great garden is planning- being prepared so seeds and seedlings are ready to sow the first day possible.

Over the years I’ve come to learn that during the Spring months, if you aren’t ahead, you’re behind. There is no middle ground. Consider these 10 steps to stay ahead of your garden’s needs and grow your best kitchen garden yet.

Grow the best garden

1. Decide what space you’ll use. How much space will you have? Will it be a window sill, community garden space, or a 4×4 plot? What ever you decide, identify how much space you have to work with and become familiar with the space. Take note of lighting, potential pests, and soil composition. Not counting the newest beds we’re installing, we’re working with about 175 sq. ft. of space- we have a lot of planning to do.

2. Make a list of your favorite dishes. Think of your favorite seasonal meals to cook. Don’t think about your garden. Go.  stir-fry, salads, soups, more stir-fry, bread, burritos, pad Thai, more stir-fry…

3. What can you grow for these dishes? Creating meals out of produce you’ve grown yourself is a part of what makes gardening so satisfying. So think about it. What can you grow for the dishes you listed in step 2? onion, garlic, chicken, egg, lettuce, peppers, beans, cilantro, green onions, peas, cucumbers, tomato, squash…

4. What else do you buy a lot of that you can grow? Think of what you enjoy buying to snack on or add to dishes that you might enjoy. Do you stock up on strawberries when they are buy 1, get 1? Do you eat a lot of quinoa? Consider these things as you’re thinking about what to grow. It may surprise you what can be grown in a backyard garden.

5. Put all of these things in order of importance. Consider what you will use the most of. Whether it’s a window sill garden or our 175 sq. ft. of garden, it helps to know what is most important to fit in.

6. What can you fit into your space. This is where you do a little research and draw a plan. What will fit where, will it do well with certain neighbors, and what type of watering will it require.

7. What is your growing season? The root of this question is really- what are the planting dates for everything you plan to grow.

8. Find a reliable seed source before planting dates. I love the unique varieties offered by RH Shumway, and I’ve had luck with seeds from the Territorial Seed Company.

9. Prepare the space before planting dates. This could be a post on it’s own. In short- create the beds, test the soil, and establish a plan for watering.

10. Keep notes. Keep notes about success and troubles in 2014 to create a bigger and better garden in 2015!

Don’t want to miss any of our spectacular garden updates in 2014? Subscribe at the top of the page to join our adventures on the Ranch’s garden this year. You can also like us on Facebook and Twitter for day-to-day updates!

Posted in Garden, Self-sustaining | 2 Comments

February: Sustainability Checklist


“There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is supposing that breakfast come from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.”

~Aldo Leopold~

February Sustainability

February is when we start planning so we can avoid these assumptions. It’s no longer imperative to own a farm to create a more sustainable way of living. Urban settings have developed fantastic farming co-ops, farmers markets bring what you cannot produce, and bloggers like this have shown you just how much you can do with a city plot.

I like to think of February as a time when new beginnings actually begin. January is for thinking and a little planning. February is for making serious plans and putting them to action.

Here in the Wild West, the snow has melted, and our winter days have warmed to a comfortable place in the mid 40’s. As soon as the mud dries enough, we’ll be clearing more of our land to prepare for spring planting and I can’t help but to day dream of breaking from our weekends indoors.

Our list for the month is rather short. Over the course of the next four weeks we’ll find ourselves spending time in 3 states and two countries- leaving us a small amount of time to get work done around the ranch. This is what we’ll be working on to work toward increased sustainability:

  • Spring cleaning- I actually prefer this get done in fall, before we start spending entire weekends indoors. But it didn’t get done this past fall, so it’s a chore for the spring.
  • Garden planning- Our cool weather spring crops will be in the ground March 16, which means their beds need to be ready even sooner.
  • Prepare for chicks- Last year we brought these ladies home. This year, we’re getting a few more in the hopes of adding a few more hens and a rooster to the flock.
  • Simplifying- AKA. Declutter! We have a few approaches to this process. Read about one here.
  • Closet shelves- One last indoor winter project on the list, custom shelves for our home office closet. Stacked crates of paperwork just don’t cut it.
  • Clearing land- [time and weather permitting] We’ll start to tackle some of the weeds that have officially taken over. We have a lot of landscaping we’re hoping to finish this summer and the weeds must be gone before we can begin.

Love reading about monthly sustainability efforts? Don’t forget to sign up for email updates in the upper left column and follow us on Facebook for the latest happening on the ranch!

Posted in Monthly Checklist, Self-sustaining | Leave a comment

Is Homemade Worth It?

At what point does your time become more valuable than your dollar? When does the satisfaction of a job well done become less important than the money saved?

The motivation for homemade is fueled by the satisfaction of your own work, saving money, a healthier life, a simpler way of living, a love of learning. The list could go on. It is these answers, that makes the question have more than a yes or no answer.

Is homemade worth it

In short, yes- homemade is worth it- I also LOVE homemade, DIY work. But the answer isn’t that simple.

I’ve heard people say make the bread, buy the butter. And this is exactly the general concept we use on our Ranch. We make when it is cost effective, mostly enjoyable, and fits into our schedule. We buy when we’re tired and short on time. The hard part, is finding the balance that fits your life and your goals.

To answer whether homemade is worth it, I’m sharing just a few thoughts on homemade/DIY v. the convenience of store-bought.

FOODS

This is the most obvious place for many to start their homemade revolution. It provides rewards that you can smell and taste and can change the nature of dinner conversations. So what’s worth it?

Bread- Take the time. Not sure how to master the art of homemade bread during busy times? Bake in bulk. Bake enough carbs for the month, cool, wrap in freezer paper, and freeze together in a clean pillow case. Allow to thaw overnight or bake for a warm, fresh loaf.

Pastries- When you have time, homemade is always best. But when you’re in a pinch, support local and spend time with the people you love.

Produce- If you have the time and space, grow the veggies you buy most often. If your short on time and space, keep it simple. Potted herbs on a window sill can liven any dish and bring life to any room.

Dinner- It doesn’t matter what you make, a homemade meal is better than dinner from a box any day. To make it happen, make a menu and cook ahead.

These are just a few of our favorite food resources: bread, pizza, and meal plans.

CLEANING

Laundry Detergent- I’ll admit, this is something I hate making, but love using. Homemade is more gentle, maintains colors better, and produces a cleaner finished product. Make your own. This is my favorite recipe.

Glass Cleaner- Don’t waste your money. Make your own streak free cleaner with this recipe.  This also doubles as a great all-purpose cleaner throughout the house.

General Cleaners- Keep it simple. Borax, washing soda, vinegar, and the occasional splash of bleach are all you need to keep your house clean.

General House- Not quite DIY, but helpful none-the-less, a good vacuum goes a long way. It can be used to dust just about every inch of your house and prevent you from needing to purchase general household cleaners. We use a bag less upright that doesn’t have any operating expenses after the initial purchase.

HOME DÉCOR

Generally- This is an area where it’s quicker to buy than make, but if you check out some of your favorite decorations, they could be easily replicated with unused items at home. If this is something you enjoy doing, it’s absolutely worth the time!

Furniture- This is something most people overlook, but when you take a closer look at what can be made and what needs to be bought, you realize there is a lot more you can do than you may have thought. Start here for some great ideas.

GENERAL REPAIRS

Home- Given the accessibility of how-to videos and step-by-step tutorials. Home repairs are worth giving a try. For the most part, we try our hand at repairs, but call the experts for the bigger jobs. When we do call for a professional, we make sure to ask lots of questions to help us tackle similar work in the future.

Car- Surprisingly, a lot of car work can be learned online. For basic repairs and maintenance, we recommend trying the work yourself, but for larger more difficult tasks, leave it to the pros.

What’s your experience with homemade. What DIYs have proved to be worth your time?

Posted in Self-sustaining | Leave a comment