Sweater Weather.


Hello there. I hope everyone's weekend was marvelous. The cold front we have all been waiting for blew in Friday night, and I am sitting on the couch cuddled in sweater that is much too big for me as I write this. I love the changing of the seasons.

As some of you know, we recently returned from a trip northward. We spent four days in Atlanta attending Dragoncon, a sci-fi convention ... thing. Dad was invited as a panelist for some writing and worldbuilding discussions, and also for a book signing. It was an interesting experience. I was also glad to see my Aunt and Uncle and cousin again, who we stayed with during our visit.


On our way back home we stopped in Celina, TN to stay with Ashley and her family for a few days, and then to visit my Amish friends just over the border in Hestand, KY. It was a short but fun time. We rode horses in the pouring rain, raced them in the dark, and stayed up talking waaaay to late as is our custom. On the day after our arrival, Ashley and I went around and visited all of my dear Amish friends, smiled with the newlyweds and cooed over the precious new additions. The group of unmarried girls that I "run with" tried to persuade me to jump into the frigid Cumberland River which flows through their backyard, but after I dipped a toe in and came up numb, I swore it off and begged them not to throw me in. Jennifer went in on a dare and the other girls jumped in more than once to relax from a day of cane stripping in the Sorghum fields. Then we ate an amazing amount of watermelon because this year the community had planted so many watermelons that they lay on the sides of the road in piles and the hogs have tired of them. After the girls had dried off a little, we went and visited the livestock and I had to refuse to follow the barefoot girls into a 7 foot tall field thick with ragweed to look for the donkeys. Maybe I've become a stick in the mud in my old age, but it was hot and I claimed an allergy to ragweed. So once again Jennifer ran ahead with the brave ones and my most faithful pen pal and I sat by the barn and plotted my next invasion. She also returned my "autograph book", which Ashley purchased for me at the Amish general store to be signed by all of my friends in the community. The Amish had passed it around and it is now filled with pages of gracefully copied scripture, illustrated poetry, well wishes from and the names of all of my dear friends in the Hestand community. I wanted so badly to thank everyone who had written in my book, but I am always so rushed, and I promised and promised I wouldn't come back until I could stay a week.

So now we are back on the homestead. It's cloudy and breezy and in the sixties. The duck yelled at our doorstep from 5:00 am until about thirty minutes ago. I really need to unpack, it's been a week now. I also have been pulling out boxes of winter clothes and sorting out blankets. Maybe I'm jumping the gun but I'm so glad that it's going to be a cooler month. We are working on the fall garden, pulling out summer things and tilling in the weeds we ignored in the hot weather. Jennifer and I are looking into getting a pony to pull things around, inspired by our friends in Amish country who use a pony cart for basic here and there. 

My work laptop crashed while we were in Atlanta, so I will be a little scarce on the writing front, but that's probably good because the homestead could use a little more focus these days. I'll schedule my laptop into the shop sometime later in the month. I'm not too worried about it. 

I am still working at the bakery 1-2 days a week, and this week we have a huge catering order that's going to be tricky. But we will get it done. Our sourdough is selling gangbusters and the peach pies are seeing a lot of business, as well. The restaurant portion of the outfit is set to open again in a few weeks, too, which should be interesting to say the least. We are going to be very busy. I am still on them to let me make tortillas and sell them by the dozen, but we will see.

Thought of the week? I'm really not any good at this homesteading thing. But that's okay because God is. It's a powerful thing to realize that good things happen in spite of your best efforts, not because of them.


Have a good week. 

Tracy M.

August Things


It's August. That means the mild summer we have been so wonderfully blessed with has gotten a little more intense, but it will soon come to an end. A little bit of a rainy storm blew in last night, and it cooled off, but I expect the temps will climb back up today. The moisture was much appreciated. I may have walked barefoot in the mud with a smile on my face, but that was an accident, of course.


Yesterday morning we got up really early and headed up to a tiny town called Cottonwood to work at a beautiful vineyard located there. We harvested all of the Viognier grapes, and are due back in the morning to begin the enormous Tepranillo harvest. It will be a wonderful time for my family, for within a vineyard is an endless wealth of spiritual wisdom. Perhaps we can learn to grow grapes, too.


I am still working at the bakery, and have recently begun making artisan sourdough. I've had limited experience with sourdough in general, but I am grateful for this oppurtunity to hone my skills. Sourdough is such a wonderful project, and a great option for a healthy and frugal home.


I hope to start more sourdough at home this fall, for the summer heat makes a beginner like me a little less successful.

The gardens are doing okay - I'm sure they enjoyed the recent rains. They had become a little parched. We are brining in peppers, cantaloupes, tomatoes, herbs, beans, okra and the odd squash here and there.


Some things get lacto-fermented, but a lot of it gets eaten as soon as it comes in, and we eat a lot of stir-fry and grilled sandwiches in this part of summer. I already have a scribbled list of things we will be planting in the fall garden.

One thing out of the ordinary that we have been busy with is canning meat. We usually don't do this in the summer but a kind and generous friend of ours has given us a few pigs. We pick the meat up from the butcher in batches and can it as fast as it defrosts. I'm grateful that it is mostly ground sausage - we love pork sausage. There are also some pork chops and bacon. So we have been busy processing all of that to go into the root cellar, we should be done quite soon and it will be wonderful to have so much meat put away.

At the end of this month we will be venturing northward for a book conference in Atlanta, GA. I have already talked to my Amish friends and we will staying with them for a few days on the way home. I'm so excited to see all of them again, it should be a fun trip.


Well I had better sign off - I am supposed to be working on a secret writing project.

I can't tell you about it.

Because it is secret.

Blessings,
Tracy M

What is Milk Kefir?



(This week I have chopped up an excerpt from my book, Off-Off Grid Dairy, for you. This book is still in post production, but why not post teasers? I hope you enjoy. -T)

Milk kefir (pronounced kee-fir or keh-fir) is a cultured, fermented milk beverage that originated in the Caucasus Mountains of Russia.  The original definition of the word kefir was- “good feeling”, probably because milk kefir makes you feel just plain good.  

Kefir is a microbial-rich drink that works by restoring the inner ecology of your system.  Strains of beneficial bacteria and yeast work together to make kefir a shot of antibiotics to your gut.  Kefir will not usually bother those that are lactose-intolerant.  It will sometimes be thick and mucous-like, but this consistency is exactly what makes kefir good for you, because this mucous covers the lining of your digestive tract and will cling there, creating a “nest” where the beneficial bacteria and microbial enzymes can grow and disperse into your system.  Some studies show that kefir whey neutralizes most pathogenic bacteria within 24 hours. 
Kefir is tangier than yogurt but sweeter than buttermilk, and is well described as the “champagne of milk”.  It is bubbly and sometimes has a small amount of alcohol due to the fermenting action of the kefir grains.  Kefir grains are small, white or yellowish tapioca-like blobs that swell and grow with each batch of kefir you make. 
Dehydrated Kefir Grains- Kefir grains are generally sold dehydrated.  You must revive and feed them in milk before you can begin your kefir-making process.  Kefir grains contain no actual grain, they are merely called that because of their grainy appearance and because of the fact that there can be so many of them.  (They are also called “jewels”, less commonly.) The grains are made of yeast and bacteria clumped together with milk protein (caseins) and complex sugars in a symbiotic relationship.  They sometimes resemble small clumps of cauliflower or coral.  Once your grains have done their job in a jar of milk, you strain them out and put them into another jar, repeating this process indefinitely.  Kefir grains must be cared for at least every 24 hours, by straining out the previous milk (now kefir) and supplying them with fresh milk.  Since they are alive, they require care and attention.
Kefir Starter- If you don’t want to continue taking care of kefir grains every day, kefir starter culture is sold for those with less time.  This starter is added to milk and incubated in much the same way as yogurt or buttermilk.  Kefir starter is kept in packets in the freezer or refrigerator and when you want to make kefir, you simply pull out a packet of culture and do so.  Some people argue that “real” kefir can only be made from grains, though.  That is left to personal opinion.  Specific instructions for making your milk kefir from powdered starter should be included with your purchase of them.
Using Milk Kefir in Your Kitchen
If you choose to purchase grains to make kefir, you may start to feel overwhelmed by the amount of kefir you are producing, feeding those grains every day.  But kefir is very versatile and is by no means confined to the beverage category.  Kefir, having much the same acidity as buttermilk, sour cream and yogurt, can be used in baking with fluffy, tangy and yummy results.  It can be used in dressings and dips, sauces and spreads, and can be used in lieu of fresh milk in some cooking. 
Culturing with Milk Kefir
Some say that kefir is the one and only culture you need in your kitchen – meaning that it can always be used in place of buttermilk, yogurt or sour cream, or can be used to make these products.  It can even be used as bread yeast in some recipes.  Both hard and soft cheeses can be made from milk kefir culturing.
You can use kefir as a base for every breakfast: in yogurt and smoothies, pancakes and scones, and biscuits and muffins.  It can be used to soak grains for bread, to culture cream for butter, in bases for soups, and to make dressing for salads. 
You can effectively use kefir in every meal, and it is delicious and so very nutritious, so why wouldn’t you?
Want to learn more about milk kefir or buy grains to start your kefir adventure? Click here!
Any tips, suggestions or recipes involving milk kefir? Share them in the comments!
Until Next Time,
Tracy M.

Summer Rain (and I'm back)



Well, here I am. It's always awkward coming back when I've been absent for a while, but so it goes. I've had my reasons, but let's get on with it, shall we?


Rain. So much rain. And no one is happier than I am about it. We have had an amazing amount of moisture and the gardens are starting to look like a jungle. Well - a jungle that's half weeds, but I'm an optimist. I think. Anyways it's looking wonderful out there and the produce is starting to roll in at a steady pace. I've been working on some lacto fermenting, but we have mostly been eating what comes in right now. Pretty soon it will be just too much (Lord Willing) and I will have to kick it up in the cultured department.


This morning was a slow one (because it was raining) but I eventually got started and was able to get the kombucha bottled, the water kefir just started, and the house pretty clean before I disappeared behind my writing. I still have some things to do before I go to work at the cafe this week - a brown dress and apron to be made, a pattern traced for a friend, a rabbit butchered, chicken and rice to be canned, laundry, and on and on it goes. You won't catch me complaining. I'm always glad to be busy. Oh, and garden work. Always garden work. Jennifer stays on top of the weeding and harvesting pretty well, though. She has really good instincts when it comes to gardening. Better than I ever had. Robert caught the bunny that got out a few days ago (finally) and hopefully he can finish my totally awesome new bunny hutch this week. I need to take a picture to show y'all when it's finished - you'll see how awesome it is.


I don't know if y'all know, but I recently turned 21. 21 years old. Wow. Me?

I think that 21 is a retrospective age. (laugh it up) I mean, you have an era decidedly behind you and (Lord Willing) one before you. I look back and I try to see things right. I shake my head at some times and cherish others. Sometimes both. Lessons don't always feel like lessons at the time. But I've had my share of lessons. I'd say my childhood and teenage years were a win, for the most part. I'm glad for every moment of them. Every single moment. I will say one thing - I can never thank myself enough for keeping a journal. It's crazy to look back at a page I poured my heart out on a year ago today, and know that I can remember just what I was feeling and why I was feeling it at any time I open that book. I'm not really an emotional person in real life (writing makes me so) and so to know that I felt something real and learned from it later is priceless to me. If that makes any sense at all. Just start keeping a journal. It doesn't have to be Shakespeare, and it doesn't have to be particularly coherent. Just date it and write what's up with you. Even if it's that you planted tomatoes and cooked a chicken and decided to read the rest of the day. It's all good.

 

So the reason I've been out and quiet is that I've been to busy to be inspired. Maybe that's a dumb excuse. Maybe I am hitting a bit of writer's block. Wouldn't be the first time.

I plan on doing another wild edibles post soon - maybe do a just pictures post, too. Other than that I'm too busy to think these days. Have any suggestions?


"But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation." {Psalm 13:5}

Always, and with the Lord's help.

Until Next Time,

Tracy M.

Working at The Cafe'

It's been a while.


We have gotten a ton of rain these past few days - Praise the Lord for that. It's been wet and muddy here, and the smell is simply fabulous. The gardens are loving it, and the beans are taking off. Maybe we will have a good year after all! Praying for even more rain sometime soon, we will take all we can get.


Recently, I have been working a few days a week baking at a cafe in the nearby town. It's called the Mesa Emporium, and it's been a blast working there so far. We keep the baking case pretty full with whole wheat bread, pies, scones, cinnamon rolls, flatbreads, muffins, brownies, cookies and breakfast breads. I am pretty exhausted at the end of the day, but it's a wonderful way to help our friends, the owners, and to do a little of our own business. I plan to sew some Amish Dolls and maybe some bonnets and aprons to sell in there, and Dad's books already have their own little corner. So I'm busier than ever these days.


I am still trying to squeeze in my writing, though. Maybe one day all I will do is write and homestead. One day.

A common sight in our kitchen.

Another 100 percent home produced meal.

I sold a lot of the bunnies a few weeks ago - I just have a few left to sell to a friend and to butcher.

But until then I'm running here and there, and praying the Lord shows me the way in His timing. I learn a little more every day.

I hope your week is marvelous. Do you have any special homestead projects in the works?

Blessings.
Tracy M.

Small Town Blessings



Today I was in town with the children, and we stopped by the hardware store on our way home to pick up a little sack of black eyed peas to plant that evening. We were checking out, and the nice gentleman at the register took us outside and showed us a ton (60+) plants sitting on the ground that he said he had to throw out, and he asked us if we wanted to take them home. Um, YES! So we folded the seats down in our little Bronco, smashed Sarah into the front seat, and took home a ton of free plants that will, Lord Willing, be producing food for us this summer. The Lord is so Good, and he put us in a wonderful place here in Coleman, Texas.

On Friday of last week my brother Robert and I got up early, loaded up a borrowed trailer with junk metal from around the homestead and took it in to the recycling center, where they bought it from us. When I was starting up the vehicle to drive it to the scales for weighing, the motor hesitated, and I shut my eyes and leaned my head on the wheel in frustration. The man who was working with us to unload metal saw me do this, and immediately suggested that we find another battery for the Bronco from the pile he had, and he said we could trade. He installed the brand new, better battery and took our junky one off of our hands, and when I shut off the vehicle at a gas station in town that very same day and it wasn't charged enough to start again, he drove over from the recycling center to jump the Bronco with his own car, playfully reminding me not to turn it off again, okay? He also calls me Tracy, not "miss" or "ma'am", and I know I like that better. The Lord is so Good, and I love the people of Coleman, Texas.

My mother and I were in the little tiny department store in Coleman, picking up some necessities. We were in line behind this woman who kept turning around and smiling at us. Finally she asked - "Do you guys want a rooster? I have this little flock I've been keeping in my backyard, and I have an unexpected rooster from my last batch of chicks. He's really a pretty thing, I just can't keep them and I figure y'all could use him or butcher him." Yes, please! So we followed her home and she took us into her backyard and boxed up that chicken up for us. The Lord is so Good, and he uses the people of Coleman, Texas to bless us every day.

These are just a few examples, ones that have taken place in the last week or so. I didn't mention Paula at the bank, who invites us to her beautiful old house to pick as much dates as we can carry, and sends us home with cuttings of every plant in her yard. Or the two smiling bank managers who gather around my siblings and me every time we go into the Santa Anna Bank, merely there to make us smile and to ask how we are. Or the man who works in the produce section of the small little grocery store who sends boxes and boxes of old produce home for my thankful bunnies, and always smiles and says "Hi ladies!!" when my sister and I walk in. Or Jack, the man who owns the grocery and says good morning no matter what time of day it is, because morning is his favorite time of day, and it makes him happy. Or the people who work at the soda fountain and love my mother, or the feed store fellas who are always the friendliest part of our day, or the people who give us firewood, and grazing land.Or the phone calls - "I have hogs in my trap!" "I made too much soap!" And I haven't even mentioned the things we find left by our mailbox or tied to our gates. The Lord is amazingly and awesomely gracious, and he uses the hearts of the people in our little piece of the world to bring joy and smiles and blessings to our lives.

Oh and here is a picture of the bunnies. Just because.

Passover and A Ton of Bunnies.


I hope everyone is having a blessed week so far. Our week has been so busy, and it shows no signs of slowing. On Friday night of last week, we took a load of trash to the recycling center in Brownwood and brought back a load of wood chips for the garden. A huge load of wood chips. So that is due to be spread in the Back to Eden garden in the morning. The greenhouse is a hive of life, with close to eighty tomato sprouts, okra, cantaloupe, various squash varieties, cucumbers, and some potted herbs waiting to be moved to the raised herb bed. Lots of work to do. We had an almost freeze on Sunday night that killed our little peppers, but thankfully the tomatoes, squash, chard, collards, garlic, and onions were all okay.


The cold front was just in time for us to butcher a sheep for Passover, which we did on Monday morning. The sheep we butchered was a cut male, and he was a hefty guy. Sarah called him a polar bear because in addition to an already chunky frame, he had about four inches of winter coat on him. But we got him slaughtered and butchered and on ice before lunch. I carved off the loins and shoulders for Passover, and we canned the rest.


On Tuesday morning I spiral cut the loins and seasoned them with garlic, rosemary, salt, lard, and basil and rubbed them down with lemon juice to cut the musky sheep taste (and it worked!!). I put them back in the icebox until I was ready and then seared them, roasted them and made a gravy for them. The shoulders I merely slow cooked with rosemary and garlic. Everything surprisingly turned out well and the Seder was as blessed as ever. We have been observing Passover since I was very, very young and I would greatly encourage anyone who hasn’t ever done it to look into it. It is a wonderful biblical holiday that is educational for children and adults alike, every year.


Oh! The bunnies dropped this last week, and boy howdy what a bunch of bunnies I have now. It never ceases to amaze me how fast your bunny bunch can grow in a matter of hours. I went from five rabbits to almost thirty in two days. What a profound blessing. And so far we haven’t even lost the runts, so hopefully our good run keeps up. Lots of bunny butchering to do this late summer/fall!!


Well, I had better sign off. As a reminder, if you haven’t already liked our Yellow Rose Facebook page, please do by following this link.

I hope the rest of your week is blessed.
Until next time,
Tracy M.

Wild Edibles III: Summer Purslane


Portulaca oleracea - I have always just called it purslane, but as it turns out there are a lot of types of Purslane, and our variety is called Common or Summer purslane. Other names for this plant are pigweed, parsley, or moss rose. See? I write these things so I can learn!

Purslane is a blessing and a curse to us here on the homestead. A blessing, because it grows everywhere at an overwhelming pace, and a curse because it grows everywhere at an  overwhelming pace. I’m sure we could do better about finding uses for it, because for now we really just snack on it when we are in the garden and it is ridiculously hot outside, and sometimes we toss it into salads. I have a lot of little seedling trays in the greenhouse right now full of tomatoes, and it seems like every morning I have to pull little purslane seedlings out. They literally grow everywhere, and they are biggest in the middle of summer.

Purslane is a succulent plant that grows outward in a creeping fashion. It’s little leaves are juicy and sour and slightly salty. Summer purslane is commonly called a weed, but it is really a leaf vegetable that grows wild and quite prolifically. It also grows fast and drops seeds throughout the summer. Summer purslane is an annual that grows best in poor, compacted soils (sigh) and is highly drought tolerant. So in short, it’s right up our alley, climate-wise. I’ve always been told that purslane is most present in Greek cuisine, and it makes sense because Greece would be the right climate for purslane to be ever-present. 
Like I said, our family usually just snacks on this plant and it is present in the random salad, but purslane is really good for you and we should use it and appreciate it more! (I wonder if I can lacto-ferment it?!) According to Wikipedia, purslane contains more omega 3 fatty acids than any other leafy vegetable plant, and the particular type of omega 3 fatty acids present in purslane are actually also found in fish, which is odd and cool. Purslane is also rich in vitamins and minerals such as magnesium, calcium, potassium and iron. One of those little juicy leaves packs a nutritional punch!
Medicinally, purslane is said to support and build weak digestive systems, and when crushed and placed on the skin can provide relief from bee or wasp stings, rashes or other types of skin irritations. It works great on fire ant bites, which are  just as common as purslane in our summer garden adventures.
In the garden, we do not pull this plant unless we have to. Leaving a creeping purslane plant to grow will stabilize soil moisture; protect your garden plants’ roots from the sun, and at the same time will save more water than it will take. The roots of the purslane plant go deep, and bring moisture to the surface that the surrounding plants can use. So purslane is a great ground cover plant, especially in a dry climate like ours.
More than likely, you have some type of purslane growing on your property, even in your potted plants! Please do not pull this beneficial little plant! Learn how to use it and if you have any recipes, medicinal or culinary, please share them with me as I am determined to appreciate and use Summer purslane more often here on the homestead.
You can share your knowledge of purslane in the comments or on the blog’s new FB page, here. As you can tell, I am not especially knowledgeable about this wild edible, so any extra info will be appreciated!! I will be posting pictures of the purslane plants around our homestead on the Facebook page, so stay tuned.
Hope everyone had a great weekend.
Blessings,
Tracy M

Some Things.



Things are blooming and sprouting and blossoming and budding and it’s just so wonderful to see, a miracle that is new and exciting every year. Spring is such a beautiful gift to us here on the homestead.

All of the mama bunnies are big and round and biting mad, so I hope that means that we will have bunnies in a few weeks. Nothing says spring like roly poly baby rabbits.

Regretfully, there is still some butchering to be done before the really warm temperatures hit, so I really hope we get a cold-but-not-too-cold snap so that we can finish up some slaughter business.

Did you know my Dad opened an online store? Well, he did and you really should go check it out here. It’s great and you may see my Amish dolls in there, too! We are working on coming up with a lineup of more handmade items, so keep checking back for more merchandise.

I know I say this every time, but I really am writing a lot more these days. I regretfully decided to drop the job writing for the Coleman paper so that I can start work on the Off Off Grid Meat book and hopefully launch the first of that series by May. We will see. When it comes to getting things in print, I am learning a lesson in patience, it seems. I am still writing steadily for Cultures for Health so if you haven’t checked out their website, please do! They are a wonderful resource to the Off-Off Grid kitchen, to be sure. Don’t forget to sign up for their newsletter, and check out their series of eBooks on so many different topics. You won’t be sorry.

Also, if you haven’t seen the blog’s new Facebook page, you can check it out here (don’t forget to like it, please!) and also you may notice the new Instagram feed in the sidebar. If you are on Instagram you can follow me @tracymbunker.

Well, I have to be off, chores to do and more peppers to plant!

Blessings,

Tracy M

Off Grid Laundry.



It’s a daunting thing, I know. Doing your laundry by hand and totally off the grid is not easier, it is not more fun, and it is usually not more appreciated. That’s that. But, your clothes will generally get cleaner, you can have more control over what kind of soaps and conditioners go into your clothes, and you will have a much deeper sense of accomplishment when you bring in a basket of clean, folded laundry. You will use less water, no electricity and have no real need for anything that you can’t produce yourself. That’s worth something. It’s worth a lot to me.
Washing laundry without the help of machines is a hefty task. I know once I started doing all of my laundry by hauling buckets of water out of the cistern, vigorously scrubbing on the washboard, wringing, carrying and dumping tubs of water, I started to get stronger. And it makes sense. This lifestyle just plain makes women stronger. Not just mentally, but physically as well. I’d put an Amish girl up against any non-Amish boys I know. Seriously, shaking hands with those girls is almost a painful experience. I tease them about it a lot.
There is an assortment of neat little contraptions that you can find online or even in antique or junk stores that are designed to make off grid laundry easier, and I cannot possibly have seen them all. We have this one that we just use for socks. We refurbished it after finding it rusted and in need of a few patches. But it works well now and it is handy for soaking and agitation.
 
When I was talking about OGLaundry on the Christian Farm and Homestead Radio show with Scott Terry, someone mentioned those little plastic numbers that are oval shaped and have a little plastic stand. You can find them in the Lehman’s catalog and some other homestead supply stores. They spin all the way around, and you crank them with a tiny little plastic handle. We bought one of these when we first moved to the land, and they are just … just junk in my humble opinion. They are too light to stay put with a load of water and clothes, so we ended up screwing ours to a board to try to keep it from jumping around. Ours started leaking really quickly. You cannot wash more than a few light things in them, and you can forget about a pair of pants. Mrs. Bowman agreed with me on this assessment (that they are junky), and you should always take her word before you take mine.
 
I wash my laundry in metal tubs. Two of them – one for washing and one for rinsing. I haul the water out of our cistern – which isn’t too far from where I wash the laundry on the picnic table. I could pump it, but I just don’t have the patience. I don’t usually soak my laundry because I am bad at forward thinking and I don’t  have a ton of stains I’m worried about. I recommend soaking your laundry if you have young children or other reasons for set stains that could use some extra time in the water. Soaking socks is a great way to avoid scrubbing them – which can get tedious. In the summer, I suggest soaking your laundry in the sun or in a sunny place to warm the water, because soaking is more effective with warm water. You can add your soap to the water before or after soaking, I don’t think it makes much difference.
The old faithful washboard. I love ours. Ours is really big and it is glass. It’s great because it is double ribbed and it doesn’t rust or get weak like a metal one would. It stays cleaner than a metal one, too. I have seen plastic models, but have never used one. I suppose they would work just as well if you could keep them out of the sun and weather. I have a feeling we might need to replace the frame of our washboard before we have to replace the actual washboard. I highly recommend a glass washboard if you are looking to buy something that will last.
 
We also have this neat tool – we call it a Rapid Washer, because that is what it was called in the Lehman’s catalog when we bought it. We originally bought a metal Rapid Washer, but it quickly rusted and it really isn’t as effective as the plastic one we have now. I don’t know why, but I just like the plastic one better. It is basically just a glorified plunger, and is used for agitation. It works great, but it’s a workout to use. If you don’t want to buy a Rapid Washer just yet, you could always purchase a new, cheap toilet plunger. It won’t be as effective, but it will be better than nothing.

Just know if you have decided to do your laundry by hand that you will find yourself scrubbing Cinderella-style at a spot at some point. It’s just part of the job. There are a lot of tips and tricks to getting out stains and spots, but nothing really beats a good, rough scrubbing on the washboard. Elbow grease is always my first answer when people ask about how to get dirt, sweat, grease, and most anything out of clothes. Farm life will provide some pretty interesting spots and stains, so be prepared. Of course there are ways to make getting them out easier, but one day I will write all those things into my book.
If you want to make your own soap, you should check out this post. When I haven’t had time to make soap (which happens most of the time) I just use cheap, dollar store detergent in small amounts and vinegar in the rinse water. My mother knows how to make soap. She is the soap maker in the family. Someday I will have her teach me.
Then, just get after it! There are tons of different ways to actually wash your laundry, and no wrong way. As long as they come out clean, you are doing it right. Be sure to get all the soap out of them, and hang them out fast so they don’t wrinkle. Wringing your clothes out by hand will lend them a few more wrinkles than usual, but a really good wringer can be kind of pricey, so stress yourself out about it. We got our wringer as part of a pre-y2K barter deal. It’s a really nice one. I only use our wringer for towels, sheets, men’s pants, and things like sweaters and jackets. The rest I do by hand to save time. It’s up to you what you use your wringer for, just make sure it stays clean and that you aren’t in danger of smashing any buttons or other fastening devices. I’ve broken more buttons and smashed more snaps than I am willing to admit.
 
 Another tip – keep your clothespins in a bag and inside when they are not in use. If you leave them out on the line, be they metal or plastic, they will become weak and the metal parts of them will rust. Rust will get on your clothes and it will irritate you to no end. So keep them in a bucket or a box in the barn, or a shed, or in your kitchen where they are out of the sun and weather. A cute little bag works well, too. We hang our bag of clothespins in the outhouse when we aren’t using them. My mom also has this really neat apron with a huge, deep front pocket, and she uses it to store clothespins, only wearing it when she is hanging up laundry. It works well.

If you get your laundry hung out fast and let it snap in the breeze for a few hours, you really should not need to iron any freshly clean clothes, except maybe head coverings (for the creases and folds) and men’s shirts (if they are nice ones). Everything else should be okay. I don’t like ironing so I only do it when I have to. Sunday morning is usually the only time I find the need for an iron, or when I am sewing a new dress or apron.
For years my Mom taught me to hang my laundry inside out to save the outside from fading in the Texas sun, but I got so sick of turning clothes right side out to wash them, inside out to hang them, then right side out to put them away. So now I only hang my Sunday dresses and aprons inside out, and the rest are all right side out so that I can immediately put them on hangers. I’m lazy.
Speaking of me being lazy, I have to stress something. Don’t bite off more than you can chew with this whole laundry thing. Don’t think you have to be doing all of your laundry Laura Ingalls-style overnight or that you have to make the big switch all at once. Start doing your laundry in a bucket. Small things like socks, and underwear. Do your kitchen towels in the sink. This is a process, and don’t feel badly about having to run to the laundromat some weeks. Also – make your children do their own laundry if they are old enough! Once we started moving off-off grid, every one of us children was on our own for laundry, (except my baby sister) because there was no reason for my Mom to be doing six people’s laundry. They can do it, and they don’t have to be perfect, the clothes just have to be wearable. It’s a great task for little hands, and keeping children busy with something productive is a priceless thing on a busy homestead.
I hope I covered everything. Let me know if I missed anything or if there is anything you want me to talk about. I’ve wanted to do this post for a long time, I hope it is all I wanted it to be, and all that you expected. As always, feel free to ask questions, add suggestions, correct me, or share your own OGLaundry experience and advice in the comment section below.
Blessings.
Tracy M.

Spring is Sprout Season and Shameless Self-Promotion.


Okay, so first things first. I have started a Facebook page for the blog. It sounds weird when you say it like that, but I had been posting the blog updates on my personal page and sometimes there were pictures, quick things and random thoughts I thought should go on the blog but this isn't really the format for sporadic and short stuff. So, here is the Facebook page for The Yellow Rose, bear with me because I just started it today and I have no clue what I am doing. Hopefully it will get better and more useful with time. I will try to figure out how to put a like button on the sidebar for this page soon, but may have to enlist more knowledgeable help for that. Oh, and I put an Instagram feed in the sidebar, if you will notice. Hope that's okay.

Things are very busy here on the homestead, and I would say spring has sprung but with the fruit trees blooming and so many plants in the ground, I don't want to speak too soon. It is chilly and rainy here today, but I am happy about that because the amazing amount of seeds that we have planted, the barley, the wheat, the onions, the garlic, the collards, chard, trees, and strawberries will all be grateful for it.


Look at the three little ducklings! I went back to the charming highschool-gym-made-cosy-home guy who sells chicks and ducks this time of year and bought some more Rouen duckings. I bought three last year, and sadly just lost one last week to a skunk. But the adult ducks now live on the pond, and I hope to get at least three more ducklings to raise this year to send down there with them at some point. Maybe one day we will be hatching our own ducklings with our little flock... group... whatever you call more than one duck.

Other than planting and watering and general gardening, we have been taking some scrap metal and old machines into Coleman when we have the time, cleaning up around the place and making some extra income. That has been a blessing. So has my little brother's great knowledge of trailers - how to hitch, back up and safely pull them. I learn a lot from that not-so-little guy. Turns out I can back a cattle trailer or a 15 ft flatbed trailer like a pro, but this little trailer gets me every time.


Well, I had better go. Lots of writing and other work to do. I haven't forgotten about the laundry post - still working on that!!

The mantra of this blog should be - "One day...."

Tracy M.

Wild Edibles Part II: Agarita Berries.


Okay, so first of all, this post is titled part two because I have gone back and changed the stinging nettles post to Wild Edibles part one. I hope to do a few of these talking about the things that we harvest from the land and how we utilize them on the homestead. We do a lot of wild edible harvesting, so stay tuned for these scattered posts as things come into season or I think of them.

Today I wanted to talk about Agarito, or Agarita berries (Mahonia trifoliolata). Here is the wikipedia page. We call them Agarito, but I have heard them called both names, and I won’t argue which one is correct because I have not the foggiest idea. I do know that they are wonderful and the bushes are in full bloom with little yellow flowers that smell simply marvelous.
 

As you can see in the picture, these bushes have holly-like leaves and are not very friendly. When they prick you they leave a little stinging red dot that gets itchy later.

Note: You may begin to notice as this series goes on that most if not all wild plants and animals in this part of Texas can and will poke you, scratch you, sting you, bite you, make you itch, make you numb, or make you want to cry. We deal with it, because some blessings have to be unwrapped. Since moving here, I have been cut, scraped, sprayed by a skunk (more than once), bitten by a Black widow, stung by countless hornets (which I am mildly allergic to), chased by snakes and terrified by monster-like bugs (and I don’t spook easy). So it goes. My siblings and I quickly learned to adapt and avoid. End note.

 
Agarito bushes are dark green with yellow blooms in the spring like you see above, and then little hard green berries in the spring, and then soft, aromatic red berries in early summer. The bushes are hardy, drought tolerant, desert-acllimated and they grow pretty fast from what I have observed. They like to grow at the base of other trees, usually oaks, but I have seen very large bushes standing out on their own before. The bushes can get quite large, we have more than on on the land that are as tall as me and quite big around.

The berries are small and red on the outside, and yellow and seedy on the inside. They are about the size of a pearl. They are a little difficult to harvest, but they are small and sweet and worth it if you can get a lot. We usually start harvesting in the beginning of May, and there are plenty of bushes so we never get them all.  We have developed a lot of silly little ways to get them. Jennifer uses a fork to reach into the plant and dislodge the berries with minimal sticky leaf contact. Robert usually uses gloves, which can get bulky but works okay if you tuck your sleeves into them. I usually just reach into the plant and get them, because I have never had much success with the other methods. I get poked and scratched but it doesn't bother me too much. Someone suggested laying a tarp under the bush and just beating it until the berries come out, but I don't think anybody has tried that yet. Seems like a lot of damage might be done to the plant. The berries are sweet, but if you bite into the seeds they taste bitter. We usually harvest them into a quart jar and then just rinse them and dump them into our crank food mill, which is really good at removing the seeds and despite being small they actually make a good amount of juice.

We have made both wine and jelly from the juice of the Agarita berries, and both were very, very delicous. I can't really describe the taste, they are sweet but slightly sour, and the juice is very light and refreshing. You do have to be careful, though, because we have had small children eat their fill and later found out that a large amount of berries can clean out your system pretty well. I suppose a lot of things are like that though.

You can find a lot of recipes online for the jelly - I will do a post this summer with our recipe and procedures. I would love to try to do a second ferment for water kefir with some agarita berry juice and pulp, I think it would taste wonderful. So hopefully I can do a part two of this part two someday and let you know more about how we cook and use these berries. (You may also notice I am always promising future blogs. I'll get there, I'll get there.)

I hope this was helpful or at least interesting. I will try to be back with part three soon - I hope to do one on mesquite pods for coffee, cactus fruit for an awesome, refreshing summer drink and jelly and wine, cactus pads for pickles and side dishes, wild plums, and wild garlic. These posts will be sporadic and as things come into season, so please stay tuned.

Blessings.

Tracy M