Thursday, May 28, 2009

Planting a Bed of Chocolate Mint

chocolate mint bed
Today I decided to work on the "less lawn, more garden" project and made a new raised bed for chocolate mint (my favorite tea). I marked a place off in the lawn with some small cedar logs, placed cardboard on the ground inside the logs to help kill the grass and started covering it. On top of the cardboard I put some food scraps that had not yet made it to the compost pile. Then I spread out a few bags of leaves left over from banking the house. Next came wheel barrow loads of finished compost (it took about 4 to fill this area). That was it. No tilling. I dug up some mint that I have growing along the driveway and planted it in the new bed. That easy, and now I have a nice spot for the mint to spread and grow.

Chocolate mint does not spread as fast as some other mints, nor does it get as tall. It does get little flowers mid summer, which the bees love. The taste is wonderful, minty, and yes, a bit chocolately. It is an herb that is great to share with friends, since it is not as commonly found as some of the other mints, and children love to run their hands through it (I love hitting it with the lawn mower, that nice sent fills the air).

As my obsession with less lawn and more plants takes hold, mints are finding their way here more and more. Be careful planting any mint. They will spread and can be very difficult to get rid of, plan your spots wisely.

I would love to find a creeping mint to use as a ground cover. That could just be the solution to my mowing problems.
chocolate mint plants

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Garden Pictures

Our garden is just beginning to show some color. It's still early here in Maine (we had a frost last night), but some of the flowers are just beautiful.

Tulip, Close Up
tulip close up
Lilac, Almost Ready
Apple Blossom
apple blossom
Purple Tulip
purple tulip
Almost Blue Lilac
almost blue lilac

Rhubarb Recipes, Rhubarb Spice Cake

Finding recipes for rhubarb can be challenging. My mother gave me this one last year and it has become a favorite. This is not a "cake" in the traditional, sweet way. More like a cake-bread. Delicious flavor, and not too sweet.

Rhubarb Spice Cake

3 eggs
1 3/4 cups rhubarb; chopped, fresh
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup honey
1/3 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon clove
1 teaspoon nutmeg

Heat oven to 350°F.

Grease and flour a 13 x 9 x 2 baking pan.
Beat all ingredients until well blended.
Pour into pan.
Bake 20 to 25 minutes, until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean.

Frost as desired, or great plain or with whipped cream.

NOTES : If using frozen rhubarb, use 2 cups.

rhubarb spice cake ingredients, ready to be mixed   

rhubarb, growing and ready to be harvested                                                                                                    

Rhubarb Recipe, Rhubarb Chutney

This is one of my favorite recipes for canning rhubarb. It goes great with meats and is a nice change.

Rhubarb Chutney

2 quarts rhubarb; chopped
1 1/4 cups raisins
1/2 cup onion; chopped
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup vinegar
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger

Combine all ingredients except the spices and cook over medium heat until thick, about 25 minutes. Stir frequently. Add spices, lower heat, and cook 5 minutes more.

Makes about 2 1/2 pints.

To can, place hot into hot, sterilized jars, leaving 1/4" head space. Process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.

rhubarb flower stock 
rhubarb, getting ready to go to seed

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Herbs for Repelling Insects

Each year I enlarge my herb gardens and shrink my lawn. I try to plant herbs that will spread and serve more than one purpose. Repelling insects is just one of the many things these herbs will do, but that in itself is enough to warrant a place in my garden.

Basil: Rub on skin, it repels mosquitoes and flies.

Catnip: The scent is said to repel mice and rats.

: Moth repellent.

Hens and Chickens: Break open a leaf and rub on wasp stings.

: Repels ants.

Lavender: Rub on skin, it repels flies. Also acts as a moth and flea repellent.

Peppermint/Spearmint: Keeps away mosquitoes, ants and fleas.

: Repels mosquitoes.

Rue: Repels ants and ticks.

Sage: Repels mosquitoes.

: Dry the herb and it will repel moths.

: Repels moths, is a fly and mosquito deterrent.

Summer Savory: Rub on a bee sting to alleviate the pain.

: Rub on the coat of cats and dogs to prevent fleas. Hang indoors to repel flies. Place chopped leaves and flowers around your doorways to deter ants and mice. Tansy is one of our favorites. We hang it high in the cow stalls and put it in the chicken coop.

Thyme: Repels ants and mosquitoes.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Easy Baking Recipes: Corn Bread


1 cup corn meal
1 cup flour
1 tablespoon baking Powder
1 tablespoon honey
1 Large egg
1 1/2 cups milk
4 tablespoon butter; melted

Preheat oven to 425°F. Grease an 8 or 9 inch cast iron skillet.
Place all ingredients in a large bowl and mix well.
Pour in to skillet and bake 20 to 25 minutes.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Who Started the War on Dandelions?

Dandelion: one of the most valuable healing herbs, and great addition to our garden pharmacy.
Every time I hear an ad for dandelion killer I want to scream, “What’s wrong with dandelions?!” It’s bad enough that they are promoting chemical weed killers (as if the earth didn’t have enough problems), but really, why the hatred of dandelions? They are a pretty flower, great for bees and other beneficial insects, they provide food (as long as we keep the chemicals away) and dandelion is one of nature’s great herbal medicines.

There are many tales involving dandelions. It has been said that if you blow on the seed ball, you can tell the time of day by the number of times it takes you to blow off the seeds. Also, the number of times you blow will indicate how many times you will be married. If you blow on the ball three times and some of the seeds have not blown away, the one you love is thinking of you.

The flowers are loved by children; they make necklaces, crowns and bouquets for mom. If you hold a flower under someone’s chin and can see yellow, you know they like butter.

The entire dandelion plant has uses, from tea, to wine, to salads and more. The root is rich in potassium and calcium and can be dried, roasted and used as a coffee substitute. The entire plant is highly nutritious; the leaves are high in vitamins A, B, C & D.

Dandelion flowers can be used to make wine.
The flowers make a good appetizer dipped in a batter and fried.
Boil the flowers with honey for a cough relief.

The white juice is said to dissolve warts

Pick the leaves before the plant flowers and use them in salads.

Teas can be made from the root as well as the leaves. It is apt to be bitter, so add dried apples, orange slices or honey as a sweetener.
The tea can help ease liver and gallbladder problems.
It is good for digestion-drink after a meal and it is said to relieve indigestion.
Dandelion root mixes well with other herbs for healing tea mixtures, such as fennel, peppermint and nettle.
It is one of the best herbal remedies for liver and kidney problems.

The roots will make a yellow brown dye.

Dandelion can be used in making skin creams and lotions and can be added to bath water.

Guinea pigs, gerbils and rabbits love dandelions, and they are as good for them as they are for us.
Dandelion is healthy for livestock; goats love it, as do cows and others. It will help with all liver problems, sluggish blood flow, constipation and more.

A good source of copper, dandelion makes a great herbal fertilizer--use the whole plant, place in a bucket and cover with boiling water. Let sit 30 minutes, strain and use immediately.

With so many important uses, I don’t understand the big problem with dandelions, happy little flowers that they are. I love driving by fields full of them, what a beautiful sight. Besides, without dandelions, how would we know who really likes butter?

Easy Baking Recipes, Honey Muffins

honey muffins

1 large egg
3/4 cup milk
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup honey
2 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking Powder
1 tablespoon orange peel; grated
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400°F. Grease muffin tin.
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix well.
Fill muffin cups 3/4 full.
Bake about 20-25 minutes. Remove from pan immediately.

Note: These are delicious drizzled with maple syrup.

Makes 8 muffins

Emergency Cake

This is a recipe my great grandmother had. I love the name "Emergency Cake." I have not changed it at all, this is how she wrote it.

Sift 1 3/4 cups cake flour once before measuring. Sift flour, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1 cup sugar and 2 1/2 teaspoon baking powder together. Measure 1/3 cup shortening (softened) and fill the cup with milk (not too cold). Add these with one unbeaten egg to the flour mixture. Add 1 teaspoon flavoring and beat well for 2 or 3 mins. Pour into greased and floured pan and bake. Time 25 to 35 minutes. 350°F.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Easy Baking Recipes: Lavender Cookies

Lavender Plant in Pot
These are a nice change from an ordinary cookie.

Lavender Cookies
1/4 cup butter; room temperature
1/4 cup honey
1 large egg
1 tablespoon organic lavender buds; finely crushed
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Cream butter and honey. Add remaining ingredients, mix well.

Drop by teaspoonfuls on to lightly greased cookie sheet.

Bake 8-10 minutes, being careful not to over brown.

Remove from cookie sheet and cool on a wire rack.

Makes about 14 cookies.

Cheatin' Rhubarb Pie

cheatin' rhubarb pie

Easy Baking Recipes:
I love to make pies, but sometimes feel a bit lazy. This recipe is great for when you are in a rush. This can be made with rhubarb, apples, or a combination.
Cheatin' Rhubarb Pie
2 cups rhubarb; sliced
2 tablespoons honey
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup flour
1/2 cup honey
3/4 cup butter; melted
1 Large egg
1/2 cup walnuts; chopped, optional

Place rhubarb in the pie plate. You may need more, or less, rhubarb, depending upon the size pie plate you use.

Sprinkle the cinnamon and drizzle the 2 T honey over the rhubarb.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, 1/2 cup honey, butter eggs and walnuts.

Mix well. Pour over rhubarb.

Bake for 45 to 50 minutes.

Note: Apples can be used instead of the rhubarb, just cut back to 1 T of honey instead of 2 T.

Read about cooking this pie in the sun


Easy Baking Recipes: Single Serving "Baked " Egg

baked egg
My husband has been wanting to try this "eggsperiment" for a long time and when I told him the other night I needed some easy baking recipes, we decided to give it a try. It came out great!

Single Serving "Baked" Egg:

1 large egg salt and pepper; to taste
1 tablespoon milk

Preheat oven to 400°F
Generously grease a custard cup with butter.
Drop in egg.
Add salt and pepper to taste (optional)
Add milk. (do not stir)
Bake 15-20 minutes.

Notes: For a "scrambled" egg, simply mix the egg and milk with a fork.

Easy Baking Recipes, Popovers

Popovers are a family favorite. I used to be intimidated to make them, but once I tried, I was amazed at how easy they are! I adapted this recipe from several.

In a large bowl combine:
3 large eggs
1 cup flour
pinch of salt
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon butter; melted
maple syrup; for dipping (optional)

Preheat oven to 400°F
Mix all ingredients well and let sit 10 minutes.
Grease a muffin pan and fill each cup 1/2 to 3/4 full of batter.

Bake 35-40 minutes. Do not open oven door while baking (this could cause the popovers to fall). Once you bake them a few times you will learn the correct time for your oven, for us it's 38 minutes.

Note: If using whole wheat flour the popovers will not rise as much as with white flour, but the flavor is wonderful.

Serve with butter and maple syrup (we put some maple syrup in small bowls and dip our popovers into it...yum, yum!)

Makes 9-11 popovers if using a muffin pan, 5-6 if using a popover pan.


Feng Shui on the Homestead: Part Three

The Living Room:

Your living room should be an extremely relaxing room in your house, a place to go to kick off your shoes and get comfortable.

Make sure the room is not over run by clutter and that the lighting is good. If necessary, add some lamps or candles to dark areas.

You should be able to see the entrance to the living room from chairs and couches. It can feel uncomfortable to sit with your back to the door.

Use colors you love to make the living room relaxing. What colors do you tend to lean towards? Try them as throw pillows or blankets.

Home Office:

If possible, place your desk at a diagonal in the farthest corner of the room, facing the door way. You want to face the entrance without being in direct line with it. This is considered a “power position.”

Be sure your desk is not full of clutter.

A crystal hanging over your desk is good for energy flow.

Yellow is a good color in a home office, as long as it is not overwhelming.


Water draining symbolized money draining; therefore the bathroom is a very important room in the house.

Green and blue are relaxing colors and can easily be added to a bathroom with towels.

It is not good for a bathroom to be located in the center of the house. If this is the case, place a mirror on all 4 walls and even on the outside of the door.

Fix any leaks, as they represent money dripping away.

It is best not to see the toilet when entering the bathroom. If possible place a screen or plant to block the view. If not possible, hang a wind chime half way between the door and toilet. This helps to create a positive energy flow.

If your bathroom is small and feels cramped, try painting the walls a light color or add candles and fresh flowers to brighten it up.


The bedroom should be used only as a bedroom, if possible, and not as an office as well; work and rest do not mix well. If you must have an office in your bedroom, try separating the two areas with a screen, curtains or other object to define the two spaces.

The foot of your bed should not directly face the door way, and the bed should be accessible from both sides.

The bed should be on a solid wall rather than under a window.

It’s best not to store anything under the bed; this allows for the best energy flow and will help you sleep better.

A round mirror in the bedroom will strengthen relationships; however do not place one directly across from your bed.

The room should be clutter free.

It’s best not to place your bed under a slanted ceiling. If moving it is not possible, hang something that symbolizes depth or movement on the ceiling, such as a colorful kite, scenery pictures, hot air balloon poster, waterfalls etc.

The Front Door:

Many people don’t even think about their front doors, but this is the first thing people see upon arriving at your home. The doorway should be clutter-free and welcoming.

Prune back any bushes or trees that conceal your door and be sure the door is easy to find.

Wind chimes and hanging plants encourage positive energy to your front door, as does a pretty door mat.

Your front door should not line up directly with the back door, use furniture or hang a wind chime or crystal to slow down the energy moving through your home.

Try to look at your entrance as though you were seeing it for the first time. Is it welcoming? (This applies to apartments as well) If not, what needs to be changed?


Feng Shui is a huge study-hopefully these few tips will spark your interest and you can explore from here. Lots of books have been written and there is so much to read. We have only highlighted a very few points. For us, Feng Shui has made us aware of little things, such as removing things from under the bed and sleeping better, and how much “lighter” we feel after cleaning out a closet or cabinet. It’s all about harmony and balance.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Feng Shui for the Kitchen and Dining Room

The kitchen is a very important room in your home because it is where the food is prepared. The room should be welcoming, well lit, and ideally have lots of natural light.

Because the stove represents wealth, it should be in good working condition. Ideally the cook should not have their back to the door, so if possible, place a mirror on the wall behind the stove so you can see behind you as you cook. Regularly use all the burners on the stove; this can help your prosperity.

Having a well stocked larder symbolizes plenty and abundance.

If the kitchen is small, try painting the walls a light color and increase the amount of light in the room. Earth colors are good in the kitchen.

Use ceramic and earthenware pots to cook in the oven-this helps balance the elements of fire and metal from the stove.

Wind chimes and crystals are great Feng Shui remedies for trouble spots. If your bathroom is off your kitchen, hang a wind chime in the door way.

It is best not to see pipes and drains in the kitchen or bathroom, as they symbolize wealth draining away. Conceal them with a pretty curtain if you do not have cupboard doors. We have lace curtains hanging under our sinks. They are beautiful, plus they let warm air in under the sinks during our cold winters.

Dining Room:

Oval or round tables are considered good Feng Shui because of no sharp corners. Also, they seem to have a harmonizing effect in a room.

Mirrors hanging on the walls symbolize having twice the amount of food.

Chairs should be comfortable, and the room should be clutter free.

If you do not have a dining room separate from the living room, try to create the illusion of a separate room, either with a screen, bookcase, plants, or anything that fits your style.

Next: The Living Room

Feng Shui on the Homestead, Introduction

The study of Feng Shui can fit well into homesteading because they are both about harmony and being in tuned to one’s surroundings.

Sometimes life can be overwhelming and there are some basic Feng Shui ideas that can help us create a more peaceful home.

There are many schools and studies of Feng Shui, but we are just going to cover some basic guidelines and ideas. For more in depth studies there are many great books (see our library).

Getting Started:

When you walk into your home it should feel comfortable and welcoming; it should feel as though the energy flows freely and is not stagnant.

Sometimes something as simple as moving a piece of furniture can make a difference, or changing the color of throw pillows or a tablecloth. We look at the items in our home everyday and don’t really give them much thought, but some items can create negative feelings (a gift from a person we no longer get along with, for instance).

Reducing clutter is such a huge emotional release. We all have so much we hang on to “just incase.” That’s OK, up to a point, as long as the item has a home. Look around your house. Do you have a lot of things lying around you wish you didn’t? Clearing clutter can be an overwhelming task, but just tackle one small area at a time- a drawer today, closet tomorrow. Ask yourself why you are hanging onto an item. Do you use it, love it, or are you keeping it just because? Make sure you fill your home with things you really love.

There are some simple steps for each room in your house that can make a huge impact on the overall feel and energy flow of your home. We will look at each area separately.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Easy to Make Bug Spray for Horses and Cattle

The Three Horses
We’re getting into bug season soon and it seems as though the horses and cows suffer as much as we do. The flies can be terrible for them, and being good owners, we want to ease their discomfort.

Here is a recipe that a friend gave us last summer that has worked quite well on both horses and cattle.

1 gallon water
½ cup Murphy’s Oil Soap
¼ cup vinegar (we use homemade apple cider vinegar in ours, but regular vinegar works fine, too)

Place in spray bottle, mix well and apply as needed, taking care around the eyes.

Wild Strawberries

wild stawberry blossoms
There is more to the wild strawberry plant than just tasty berries. The leaves and roots can be used as well as part of your garden pharmacy.

Many forms of the wild strawberry exist, and all are very tasty and useful. We love our wild strawberry plants- no work to keeping them, no cost involved, just lots of tasty little berries. We have moved a few of ours around and have cut a few bushes growing in the patch, but there is so little work involved that it doesn’t feel like work.

Each spring we look forward to all the white blossoms (as do the bees) knowing that in June we will have the sweetest tasting berries you could ask for. They may be small, but they make up for their size with flavor.

Wild strawberries that are growing in an inconvenient location can be moved, and they will also grow in containers (however they may not come back the following spring if the container is too small). They are lovely in hanging baskets.

Uses for Wild Strawberry:

It is best to pick the leaves for drying before the fruit sets.

Leaves can be used to make a mouthwash for sore gums--mix about ¼ cup of leaves to ½ cup boiling water. Let steep 30 minutes, cool and use twice a day.

Add fresh or dried leaves to your bath water for a relaxing bath.

A tea from the leaves is said to strengthen the blood.

Leaves and flowers are a good tonic for nervous livestock. They are used for treating diarrhea, impure blood and are good for fever. Sheep and goats love them, as do most livestock.

Dried leaves can be used in potpourri.

Dried roots can be used as a tea to relieve diarrhea.

Roots can be used in making toothpaste.

Crushed berries can be applied to sunburn (cover with a damp cloth). Let sit about 15 minutes and then rinse off the berries with warm water.

The fruit is high in Vitamin C.

To help remove stains from your teeth, rub strawberries over them.
Dry the berries and use in herbal wreath making.

The fruit has many uses: add to cereal, salads, eat with cream, or do as we do-- pick a spot within easy reach of the berries, sit down and start eating!


No homestead should be without the plant, comfrey. Its uses are endless and range from fertilizer to bone mender. We have comfrey growing all over the place, and add more each year.

Comfrey roots grow deep into the soil, therefore be sure to think about where you want to plant it, it will be there to stay. Also, comfrey can grow quite tall (up to 3 feet) and wide. It makes a great border plant if you need some height. It will spread and likes full sun or partial shade.

Uses for Comfrey:

Comfrey makes a wonderful liquid fertilizer. Pack a 5 gallon plastic bucket half to three quarters full of comfrey leaves and add water to cover well. Put on a lid and let sit 3-4 weeks. Drain off the water to use as a fertilizer (it will most likely smell). It is great for potatoes and tomatoes and is high in protein.

Compost piles will break down faster when comfrey leaves are added.

Boil fresh leaves for a gold dye.

Leaves can be used in the garden as mulch. They are a good source of calcium, phosphorus, potassium and vitamins C and A.

Comfrey has quite a reputation as a bone mender. I broke my finger last summer and each day for about a week I wrapped a comfrey leaf around it. I can not say if the bone healed any faster (first bone I every broke, so I had nothing to compare it to), but there was not much pain and I have not had any trouble with it since.

Livestock love comfrey- we dry it in the summer and fall and feed it to our cows as a treat in the winter.

Bees love the little purple flowers. We grow some in the apiary for them.

For sore muscles soak a cloth in comfrey tea and apply to the affected area. You can also add the leaves right to your bath water.

Mix ¼ cup dried leaves or roots with 1¼ cup vodka. Let sit 4-6 weeks, strain and use on acne twice a day.

Making Apple Cider Vinegar at Home

homemade apple cider vinegar
Making apple cider vinegar is just one way we become a little more self sufficient. It is so easy and tasty. We make gallons of it each year and use it for pickles, cleaning, cooking, animal health, our own health and more.

If you have your own apples and press your own cider all you have to do it put some unheated (raw) cider in a glass jar (we use a 3 gallon glass carboy, like the kind used for brewing, and also one gallon jars), be sure to leave some head space, and secure cheese cloth on top with an elastic. Place cider in a cool, dark place and taste in about 4 months. If it is not strong enough for your taste, let it sit longer. You will see the “mother” forming in the vinegar. The “mother” keeps the vinegar working and makes it stronger.

If the vinegar is to your liking, you can strain the mother off and rebottle. We sometimes leave the mother in the vinegar and have not had a problem with the vinegar getting too strong for our tastes. A lot of times we use a one gallon wine bottle to make the ACV and when we remove the cheese cloth we just replace it with the lid from the wine bottle (make sure to sterilize all bottles and caps before using).

If you don’t press your own apples, try to find someone who does and get some fresh (unheated) cider to make your vinegar.

If you are unable to make your own ACV vinegar and have to buy it, make sure to buy some that is raw, and preferably, unfiltered. You don’t want all the goodness taken out of it!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Easy Baking Recipes, Hermit Cookies

I love to bake, but with so many projects going on, my time is limited. That's why I love to make easy recipes. Mix it together and be done with it! But it has to be homemade. No packaged short-cuts. Here one some recipe that is a favorite of ours. Fast, easy and yummy!

hermit cookies
Hermit Cookies

1/4 cup honey
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
11/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup butter, room temperature

Preheat oven to 350°F

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients and mix well.

Drop by teaspoonfuls onto a lightly greased cookie sheet 2" apart. Bake for 8-10 minutes.

Place on a wire rack to cool.

Makes 18 cookies

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Growing Hops: For Beer & Pleasure

Hops, ready to be picked


Growing hops (humulus lupulus) is very easy, whether you want them for home brewing, crafts, or just as an ornamental. The requirements are: somewhat fertile soil, plenty of sun and water and something rugged for them to climb on (they can grow up to 30’, although ours have never gotten that tall).

Each winter they die back and start over again in the spring. They are such prolific growers that you can almost watch them grow.

We started out with two types, Cascade and Perle, but they have been dug up and moved so many times that we are no longer sure what we have. Hops are very easy to move and to share with other people. Once your hop plants become established you will want to thin them out every few years (great for a plant swap).

We grow some of ours up concrete reinforcement wire that we attached to our woodshed with hooks. At harvest time we unhook the wire, lower it for easy hop picking and re-hang the wire for the next year. In the spring we remove all the dead vines.Hops growing up side of woodshed

Some of our hops grow up wrought iron posts on the corner of our deck and become entwined with an apple tree. No harm done.

The best way to obtain hop rhizomes is from someone who already has hops growing. If that is not possible, there are a lot of places that sell rhizomes.  Keep in mind to choose a variety best suited to your growing area and season length.

Be sure to keep weeds cleaned out the first few years, especially grass. After they are well established (3-4 years), they seem better able to deal with weeds, but it is still a good idea to try and keep the hop bed weed free.

A great guide for growing hops and brewing herbs is The Homebrewer's Garden: How to Easily Grow, Prepare, and Use Your Own Hops, Malts, Brewing Herbs by Joe Fisher and Dennis Fisher.

We have never had a pest problem on our hops and we attribute that to healthy soil and no chemicals. We put some compost in the soil when we first plant, and top dress with more each year, mid season. Compost tea is also good to spray on the vines as they grow. The best time to spray is in the morning or evening (just like watering, it’s best not to do it in the middle of a sunny day)


The time to harvest your hop cones is when you see a yellow, powdery substance clinging to the cone. There should be a strong hop aroma when you break the cone open, and a resin that sticks to your hand when you pick the cones.
We dry/store our hops in paper bags. Put only enough hops in the bag so when you fold the top over and lay it on its side the hops are not piled on top of each other; you want breathing space. Every so often shake the bag to aerate them a bit. If you have too many hops in one bag they are apt to mold or not dry well. We place our bags in a spare room (sometimes all over the bed) and leave them for a few months. They don’t need to be completely dry to use in beer, in fact fresh hops are tastier, but if you are going to use them for a craft project, you will want them completely dry.


Besides the obvious beer making, hops have many other uses.

Hop tea is said to help insomnia, diarrhea and intestinal cramps--note: very bitter, add honey.

In early spring the young side shoots can be steamed and eaten like asparagus (we have never had enough to try this, maybe next year!)

The leaves can be used to make a brown dye.

Spent hops make great mulch, or can be added to the compost pile.

Hop pillows are said to help people sleep.

Cut a few branches with hops attached and dry for flower arrangements.

Fill a tea ball with hops and add to bath water for a relaxing bath. Add some chamomile and valerian for a nice treat.

Dried hops can be added to potpourri.

Place a few hops in a piece of cloth (cotton), warm just a little in the oven and apply to a tooth ache; it will help reduce the pain.


The best part about hops is you don’t have to make anything. They are a beautiful plant in their own right and are a lovely addition to any home garden. Toads hide in them, birds fly in and out looking for bugs, and they can make a great privacy screen. With a little care they will reward you for years to come.

MR.BEER® Home Brewing Kits. American's #1 Home Brewing System. Makes a great gift!


Rhubarb is one of the first spring edible plants we have, and we are always excited to see it sprouting up. It means winter is over. Finally.

It doesn’t take long for rhubarb to be useable, and the first thing we always make is a rhubarb pie.

Growing rhubarb is very easy. We have ours in a raised bed, but almost any spot will do, as long as it’s sunny (it will grow in part shade, but not as well). Remember, though, that rhubarb can get quite large, so plan accordingly. Also, plants can live for many, many years. Be sure you pick a place that suites their habits.

For the best growth and largest stocks, mulch your rhubarb plants with compost every fall. Also, pick off the seed heads as they develop to extend the harvest.

Rhubarb freezes well. Early spring pickings are the best to freeze. Remove leaves (they are poisonous, even to some livestock) and discard any tough ends. Cut into 1” slices, place in a zip lock bag and freeze. We like to freeze rhubarb 2 cups to a bag because that is what most recipes we use call for. To use, simply thaw and you are ready to cook.

We make a rhubarb sauce just like applesauce with honey and cinnamon. Very tasty.


Strawberry Rhubarb Jam

1 quart strawberries, hulled
1 ½ pounds rhubarb, cut into ½” pieces
3 cups honey
1 orange, juiced

Combine strawberries, rhubarb and orange juice in a large kettle. Heat to almost a boil (stirring frequently) and stir in honey. Mix well. Lower heat and boil, stirring constantly until jell stage is reached. Remove from heat, skim of foam and pour into hot, sterilized jars and seal.

Rhubarb Pie

2 9” pie crusts, unbaked
2 cups chopped rhubarb (more if desired)
¾ cup honey
4 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons butter

Preheat oven to 425° Grease pie plate and put in bottom crust. Combine rhubarb, honey and flour. Mix well. Place in pie crust, dot with butter. Put top crust on, crimp edges and cut in some vent holes.
Bake about 10 minutes, then lower temperature to 350° and bake about 30-40 minutes more.

Serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream.


Try replacing rhubarb for half of the blueberries in your favorite blueberry pie recipe.

Combine equal parts of chopped rhubarb and water to make a tea. Boil together for about 20 minutes, strain rhubarb and add honey to taste. Good hot or chilled.

Rhubarb can replace apple in a lot of recipes, you may need to add a little more sweetener.

We add some chopped rhubarb to a stir fry for a zippy taste.

Make a rhubarb sauce just like applesauce with honey and cinnamon.

Even the Death of a Chicken is Sad

Rocky and Baby
Last night one of our bantam hens died. Little Rocky (she was a barred-rock bantam). We are not sure what caused her death, our rooster had been bothering her one day (he is a lot bigger) and he may have hurt her.

She was acting funny for a couple of days, tail feathers down and a sad look about her. We tried the burnt toast trick (charcoal is supposed to help bring out any toxins in their systems) but had no luck. So, last night she we buried her in the compost pile where she will become part of the earth.

Rocky was a sweet little hen, we got her as a day old chick. When she was a baby she was great friends with one of our guinea hens. As they grew older, they grew apart and each one hung out with their own kind. We had wondered if that would happen.

Two years ago Rocky hatched out 4 eggs. She had wanted to sit on eggs for awhile, but we kept taking them away. Finally she found a spot under a tree (it took us almost a week to find her). We decided to let her sit and put up a fence around her to help protect her at night.

We were having our morning tea on the deck one day and suddenly heard peeping. We looked at each other at the same time said “That’s baby chicks!” Sure enough, there was Rocky and her entourage.

We have had many chicks, but this was the first time we had them here at home from one of our hens. We put a little house out so Rocky could move the babies inside if she wanted to, which she did. She was a very good mommy and the chicks thrived. We were concerned about our cat, Jasper, but he never bothered them.

So while we no longer have Rocky around we do still have one of her babies, Gwen (3 of them were roosters that we gave to friends). While Gwen is not as special to us as Rocky was (Gwen never lived in our house as a baby like Rocky did), she is a nice little bird and maybe there is part of Rocky’s spirit living on in her.

Rocky is not the first bird we have lost, nor will she be the last. As my husband always tells me, it’s part of farm life. But each animal has its own personality, and when you get a special one, it makes the loss a little harder.

Good-bye Rocky, we will miss you.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Our Love Affair With Dexter Cows

I never thought I would say this, but I love cows. My husband grew up with cows, but the past few years have been a first for me. What gentle, wonderful creatures. I should actually say "little creatures" because our cows are Dexter cows, an old breed that originated in Ireland.

They are a lot smaller than your typical cow, therefore easier to handle around the barn yard. Our cow had her first calf last summer (my first calf, too) and I was so pleased at how easy the birth was. We bonded that day, Molly was in labor and I sat with her under the trees, keeping the flies away from her. When the time came for the calf, I was right there with her. Not that she needed me. Instincts kicked in and everything went smoothly. It was a happy day for both of us, and Emma entered the world. Emma is half Hereford, half Dexter (Molly was already bred when we got her, or else we would have bred her with a Dexter).

When the calf was born, we thought we would try letting her nurse and also try to milk Molly as well, so that we could get a little milk. That worked for about 2 weeks, then, the little pig got all the milk. I am not sorry, because Emma has grown into a beautiful cow. All that good milk, all she wanted, was good for her.

Dexters make a nice homestead cow because they produce a decent amount of milk, are good for meat, plus, with the addition of a yoke, are good workers. We haven't tried that with ours yet, but it is in the plans for the future. I would love to be able to use our own animals to haul out our firewood (no noisy gas engines). They are quite easy to train, ours love carrots and apples, and we have them trained to come when we ring a bell (we always give a treat.....I think bribery is a great thing).

I hope Molly's labor goes as easily this year as it did last, and I hope I can be right there with her.
Molly and Emma

A Little Sun

solar panels
The sun is actually shinning today a little bit. The first time all week. It's really tough on the solar panels with no sun! We have a gas powered generator that we run for back up, but we really hate to and are trying to do away with that. I am not sure if that is possible. We use propane as well, and would like to do away with that as well. Very tough.

The biggest problem we have here in the summer is refrigeration. While I would love to have a solar frig, we just can't afford one right now, so we have propane. We also use gas for cooking (only in the summer, in the winter everything gets cooked on and in the wood cook stove) and we have an on-demand water heater. Last summer we put in a wood water heater and used that all winter. I think I may try using it some in the summer just to see how it goes.

We are hoping to build a solar oven this summer and a solar dehydrator (I dry a lot of produce in the summer in the gas stove, not very efficient).

We would love to hear ideas from other people who are trying to do the same as us. I am always looking for ideas on how to cut back.

On a happy note, the strawberries I panted the other day are looking good. The rain was very good for them.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Planting Time Has Begun

Friday we went to the Fedco tree sale ( to pick up our order. Every year we try to add more perennial vegetables and fruit to our garden, and this year we added hardy kiwi. We are quite excited to finally have these plants, however hardy kiwi take 5-9 years to produce fruit (should've done it 5 years ago!) We also came home with asparagus, strawberries and a few grapes. So, yesterday was planting day.

We do all our gardening raised beds. One of my favorite books is Lasagna Gardening: A New Layering System for Bountiful Gardens: No Digging, No Tilling, No Weeding, No Kidding! by Pat Lanza and all our gardens are made following her ideas (somewhat....being true homesteaders we are not able to follow directions exactly and love to improvise). The raised beds are nice because we can make more garden spots as needed, have large ones, small ones, square ones, triangle get the idea. And, most importantly, no tilling. Lots of hoeing, but no tilling. This is a better choice for us for a few reasons. We don't own a tiller, hate listening to gas powered equipment if we can avoid it, and it is better for the soil life. And, actually we could cut back on a lot of the hoeing if we had more compost.

Ah, compost. A gardener's best friend. Our goal is to make all our compost here, but we have not done that yet, so therefore we are getting a load today from a local organic farmer. We will barter something for it and tomorrow, weather permitting, more strawberries will be planted.

Our goal is to grow and preserve almost all of our food. We are doing a pretty good job so far with fruits and vegetables, but more on that at another time. We are also always on the lookout for substituting ideas and creative uses for what we do have an abundance of.

Last year we put up a greenhouse to experiment with year round (unheated) growing. So far spinach is doing well and now we have a place to start seeds. we would love to hear from anyone who has had luck with unheated greenhouses in cold climates.

So now, back to the weeds (I have a new love for dandelions; powerful greens, coffee substitute, wine and friends to the honey bees. Maybe they can stay!)

Gardener's Supply Company

Journal of Sorts

Homesteading in Maine is great fun, but can be very challenging. Our weather dictates most of what we do. Since we live off the grid, our days are ruled by the sun, and most days require careful planning. Things don't always go according to schedule, and emergencies can pop up anytime. A friend of ours has a saying "which emergency shall I deal with first," and sometimes this is how we live our life. But each day is different, rewarding, and getting us closer to our goal of becoming more self-sufficient.

This blog will be a journal of what we do day to day, information about living with solar, raising our Dexter cows, and some of our crazy ideas that work, and some that don't.

We hope you will join us in learning about homesteading (even urban homesteaders...lots of what we do is great for city living as well) and share some of what you do with us.