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A variety of homestead ideas from Texas.

Dottie and I would like to share with you a variety of homesteading ideas we have gleaned during the past couple of decades.

Onions and garlic

Surplus onions and garlic can be blended in a blender and frozen in ice cube trays to be kept in the freezer in plastic bags and used as needed. Surplus garlic bulbs and shallot onions can also be sold for fall planting. The going price around here is about a dollar a pound for the seed onion and two dollars a pound for the seed garlic.

We find garlic hardy and easy to grow and an excellent seasoning for many foods.

Surplus fruits and vegetables of all kinds can be run through a juicer and converted into fruit or vegetable juice. The remaining pulp can be thrown into the garden or added to the cornpost pile or fed to the hogs. Our juicer cost $39, so it has paid for itself in one season. We are looking at more sophisticated machines and may buy one if we feel we can justify it.

Pickled vegetables, frozen tomatoes

Surplus turnips, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, okra, kohlrabi, and other vegetables can be pickled with a dill pickle recipe or they can be diced and frozen for future use in beef stew, vegetable soup, or other dishes.

We place surplus tomatoes whole in freezer bags and use them as needed during the off season in stew, soup, and chili. When we get ready to use the frozen tomatoes, we run water on them for about 15 seconds and then rub off the skin. We enjoy these all year around and almost never buy canned tomatoes or tomato sauce. Dottie also makes tomato ketchup, barbecue sauce, picante sauce, and tomato juice. Yes, it's a lot of work, but we enjoy it and it reduces household expenses and attracts children and grandchildren. Those advantages make it worth the effort for us.

A catfish pond has many advantages for us. The fish require little work except for dressing them out. (Plenty of volunteers are always willing to help us catch them.) With some practice the dressing has become easier. Also, we sell live surplus catfish to eager buyers. In the spring we also catch baby bull frogs in the ditches and throw them into the pond for other gourmet meals.

Free nursery stock

Many trees, plants, and shrubs are dug up or propagated at little or no cost and used to enhance our homestead or sold to help pay expenses on the place. Dottie and I enjoy driving around the countryside on spring weekends, digging up plants, shoots and shrubs we can use or sell. It is amazing what we sometimes discover, especially on old abandoned farmsteads. Needless to say we cannot enter private property without permission.

Some of the plants we have gathered or propagated at little or no cost include native and hybrid grapes, privet, wild berries, hybrid berries, wild roses, climbing roses, native willows, weeping willows, sycamores, cottonwoods, Chinese tallows, and pecan trees. We are also trying to start bamboo plants from cuttings we got from a friend. Don't know yet if it will work.

We are also planning to graft quality native pecans onto native stock. The native pecans in our area are of exceptional quality. We are developing an orchard of native nuts. The maintenance requirements for native pecans are small and they are now bringing as much on the market as the improved varieties.

Homemade sausage

We freeze pork and beef in large quantities. When the fancy strikes us, we make pork and beef sausage at a modest price. Fresh venison mixed in reduces the price even more. Sausage grinders are not very expensive and sausage making is a relatively simple operation.

The meat from wild game can be boiled, stripped from the bones, and mixed with pork and made into tamales. Since my son and I hunt geese, we enjoy "goose" tamales all year around. We have an annual family get-together where we make a large batch and freeze them into meal-sized packages.

The goose gizzards, by the way, are cut into small chunks and used as bait in the catfish pond or when we go fishing in local rivers and lakes.

Occasionally we find beef brisket on sale and make a batch of beef jerky. This is somewhat of a luxury, but the cost is only a fraction of the retail cost of jerky, and once again, it attracts children and grandchildren. It also makes a nice gift at Christmas time.

Odds & ends

Mistletoe abounds in this area. Although we have not done it yet, my grandson Joshua and I plan to harvest some this Christmas season and put it in plastic bags and sell it.

We save the tongues from old boots and shoes and use them for leather hinges, pockets for slingshots or rubber shooters, and a variety of other purposes.

Canna lilies and various kinds of day lilies can be planted in rows in the garden, and as they multiply, be planted into pots and sold. They also dress up the homestead.

The plastic twine from round hay bales threatens to replace the old-fashioned bailing wire around here. With imagination we may find as many uses for it as our parents and grandparents did for the baling wire. We use it to stake tomato plants and grape vines and for many other purposes.

In the early spring we spade up volunteer bluebonnets in the pasture with clumps of dirt to transplant around the yard. This same procedure will work with almost all types of wildflowers, shrubs, and saplings, provided you get enough dirt with the roots. If the dirt crumbles, however, the plant, may die when transplanted.

Purple martin houses around our homestead enhance the atmosphere and reduce the population of mosquitoes and other unwanted invaders. We enjoy watching the martins catch mosquitoes and drink water from the pond on the fly. When we have a yard sale, we sell bird houses on steel pipes all set up and ready to go.

Tree house an asset

We find that a good tree house is an important asset to our homestead. Our children have long outgrown the tree house, but the grandchildren love it. We also use ours to check the cattle herd from a distance. Sometimes I climb up to the top deck to look over the homestead and sit and think.

We use plastic garbage cans with tight lids for storing feed out of the reach of rats, mice, and other thieves. The cans also make good containers to catch rain water from eaves of barns and out buildings. They are light and will not rot or rust. They also make excellent dust-free and rodent-free storage containers for many different items.

Versatile corn

Corn is a versatile crop on our homestead. We enjoy roasting ears in the spring and we freeze or can it for use the year around. The mature corn is ground into cornmeal or into feed for hogs, chickens, and other livestock. Native Indian corn is sold as ornamental corn. It is especially popular around Halloween and Thanksgiving. With the right equipment, ingredients, and inclination, corn can also be converted into a reasonably palatable beverage, I am told.

Watermelon rinds can be pickled and the pulp can be made into wine. Native plums can be preserved at little expense (jars, lids, water and sugar). The same holds for many other fruits.

If you don't have a hog and don't want to bother with a cornpost pile, household garbage can be thrown directly into the garden to be plowed or tilled under. It will provide nutrients for future crops. Barnyard cats and homestead dogs will also glean tasty morsels from the discarded garbage on occasions.

If you are like we are, you hesitate to charge friends and relatives for surplus items from your homestead. But, what's wrong with a little old-fashioned bartering? When people ask us what they owe us for a quart of homemade sour kraut or dill pickles, we say nothing, but we would appreciate you saving the jar and returning it to us along with a half dozen more that you might have lying around the place. Also, we sometimes suggest that they help us with the work and the garden. Many of them are more than glad to do this. If they are not, we are not so generous the next time. In many cases we find that homestead items given away are returned to us in many ways that cannot be evaluated monetarily. For example, home-canned vegetables, fruit, and jerky attract children and grandchildren. And that is one of the most important reasons we maintain the homestead.

Enough for everyone

Yes, it's true that children or grandchildren will sometimes cause problems, such as getting over-enthusiastic with pruning shears and clipping down a treasured shrub, or they will pick fruit or vegetables before they are mature.

The way we handle that problem is to have many fruit trees and a large vegetable garden. In that way there is enough for everyone including the birds and animals, and we still have enough to give away or sell or use ourselves. Even birds will become tired of stealing the fruit and vegetables if you have enough of them. And, in my experience, the birds usually eat the early, imperfect, wormy fruit and leave the best for us after they have had their fill. The behavior of children and grandchildren is not that different, we have found. We have enough native plums on the place, for example,that they would become weary before they could put a dent into our inventory. The hogs and chickens get the surplus. And, if the young ones get a tummy ache in the process, they experience a valuable lesson about over-indulgence that a good many of us adults could benefit from.

A "luxury" concrete slab

We have allowed ourselves the luxury of a five-by-twenty concrete slab in our hog pen. The wooden feed trough is chained down on one end so the hogs cannot push it away from the fence into the mud. Feeding the hogs is now a relatively pleasant chore, even on Sunday mornings when we have our nice clothes on.

The fall garden

August is hot, hot, hot around here. But we found that we can germinate broccoli,cabbage,cauliflower,kohlrabi, onions, and other cold-weather plants by planting them in beds and digging trenches around the and flooding them with water about three or four times per week. The water cools the ground and helps the plants to germinate. It doesn't seem as though it would work in 95-degree temperatures, but it does. Shading the seed beds from the afternoon sun helps a great deal.

In early August we also cover the small, leftover spring potatoes with hay in a shady, breezy area and sprinkle them with water about three times per week. As a result, the eyes are well developed for fall planting around the last week of August or the first week of September. This gives them a better chance to develop fully before the first hard freeze, usually in December.

A friend of ours claims that cucumbers, squash, and other tender plants can be germinated in August to get a jump on the fall garden. He says that the secret is to cover the ground around the plants with grass clippings or other mulch to keep the ground cool and moist. He says the plants can manage in 95-plus temperatures provided that the ground is cool and there is enough moisture.

We have also raised fall watermelons and fall tomatoes by planting the seeds in July. It takes a great deal of effort to keep the plants alive during July and August, but the fall harvest can be worth it if everything goes right. Watermelons are remarkably hardy and can stand 95-degree temperatures if they get enough water. Tomatoes must be protected with artificial shade which is removed as fall approaches. Lately we have taken a shortcut with fall tomatoes by buying early-maturing, heat-resistant plants from a local nursery about the third week in August. We only get a dozen or so plants that can be protected from the August heat and later from the early frosts. We raise the bulk of our tomatoes and watermelons in the spring.

An old-fashioned clothes line is a must on our homestead. We find that it makes a big difference on our electric bill, not to mention the cost of buying and maintaining a clothes dryer.

We do have a dryer which we bought years ago, but we use it only on special occasions such as on wet weekends when we have lots of company. Dottie also does dress shirts and certain Sunday clothes in the dryer because they come out wrinkle free and require little or no ironing.

We have a freezer we bought in l960 that has paid for itself many times over. I We almost never buy ice and, in this part of the country, we use a great deal of it. Also, the frozen onion, garlic, tomatoes, berries, and other items make a big difference in our grocery bill during the year.

Yard prunings for the smokehouse

Once each year we break out the chainsaw and trim low-hanging limbs from our pecan and oak trees and place them into separate piles according to the year they are cut. We use the two-and three-year-old wood for smoking meats and for firewood. I have been surprised at how much wood 20 or 30 trees provide simply from annual trimmings.

Two important homestead items we do not yet have are a root cellar and a wind generator. Since we live on a breezy hill, the wind generator is on my mind. Two reasons we haven't bought one yet are lack of expertise about wind generators and insufficient capital. Since we have two water wells, we would also like to place a windmill and cistern over one of them, but that will have to come later. A drip irrigation system for our fruit orchard is also on our wish list.

Don't expect to get rich

Those who expect to get rich on a homestead should remember that many of our grandparents left the farm for jobs in the city. Anyone who has gotten accustomed to the well-paying jobs will have difficulty adjusting to the monetary yields of homestead activities unless he puts a value on the lifestyle itself.

With some good planning and the willingness to work hard, a mother or grandmother can stay at home and enjoy the homestead and be there for children and grandchildren as mothers and grandmothers used to be. Money not spent and income tax and social security tax not paid is money earned. Being available when animals are giving birth and during other critical periods can result in hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in savings during a typical year on the homestead.

Our homestead generates less than a minimum wage income, but from a real estate point of view, it is a sound investment. The sale of it will eventually provide us with a nice retirement income or the farm will one day make a nice legacy for our children and grandchildren.
COPYRIGHT 1994 Countryside Publications Ltd.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1994 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Novosad, Jerry
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Jan 1, 1994
Words:2551
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