THE JOY OF CAMPING

peaceThe summer of 2017 will be a memorable one. Filled with outdoor fun, family and friends. We are seasonal campers this year, on a permanent site and the new camper feels just like home. Camping provides us the opportunity to explore and find pleasure in nature. We are blessed with trails, woods and lots of green beautiful trees, plants, and a friendly “like-minded” community. Cooking outdoors, sitting by campfires, falling asleep to the croaking of bullfrogs and awakening with birds in song is nothing short of heaven. This is our new journey, come along with us as we learn, and enjoy our adventure as seasonal campers!

So maybe some ask, what is seasonal camping? Seasonal camping is when you reserve one campsite for an extended period of time, and you are free to come and go at your own convenience. I enjoy the certainty of the site being readily available when I want to use it. For us short weekend getaways became even shorter when we factored in all the preparation and cleanup time. With our seasonal site, our RV is set up and ready to go upon arrival on a Friday evening, after a long work week. A huge bonus is that we don’t have to leave or check out on Sunday morning, instead we get to sleep in and enjoy a cup of coffee and a campfire breakfast, okay maybe avocado toast but breakfast just the same…there are no check out times when you are a seasonal camper! If we ever feel like hooking up the camper and traveling, we can do that, but for now the RV is parked and ready. All we have to do is show up with some clean clothes and a bag of groceries!

There have been a few transitional challenges we have encountered in our first few weeks out here such as learning to cook healthy outdoor meals consistent with our lifestyle, the art of container gardening, and the how-to of maintaining an RV as needed. Luckily I am a quick learn and my love for reading is certainly to my advantage! I have  already cleaned and inspected the roof, unclogged a toilet (yay me!) and built a fire pit! We have also been fortunate to have our friend Lisa help mulch the plant beds and the Zen garden this week, (Thank You Lisa!!) and we began to tackle planting tomatoes, herbs and lettuce in containers. I chose container gardening because we are surrounded by many tall trees, container gardening offers the opportunity to move the pots around as necessary to catch the sun. It is more about creating and personal expression. Much depends on a person’s individual taste and preference. I find the plant kingdom to be very rich in texture, color and taste offering us variance for a simple plant based diet; however it does seem the chipmunks feel the same way about my plants! They are cute, but I am inventive, keeping them at bay!

We haven’t had much problem with mosquitos or other insects in the woods and have really put my R.A.D Bath + Body Insect Repellent to the test. I still use only my concentrated all natural body products and all purpose soap here because they are multi-use, meaning I don’t have to bring a slew of products with me. We try to keep what we bring and the items in the camper to a minimum. Minimalist camping if you will. I think that is what I love most about living in a camper. It is small. It doesn’t leave room for the unnecessary. Anxiety and clutter go hand in hand. So clear your space clear– your mind. Keeping it light is a simple way to center, balance and let go.

My dogs love it here as well. Their favorite part of the day is going for a walk and I love the exercise. While walking the other day with my Chow Soso, we encountered a non-venomous rat snake, it was about three feet long and just basking in the sun, on top a pile of leaves, until we disturbed him, well he just sat up and slithered away. Scared me though and also reminded me to wear my hiking boots and not to wear flip flops when walking in or near the woods.

Our time here so far has proven to be exciting. I will continue to update as time allows and I will try to get some pictures up so you all can follow along with our new experience. Over the next few weeks we will try our hand at building a floating deck for outdoor cooking and may have to move the shed to afford more room and space.

I look forward to your comments and sharing your own experience with camping or outdoor living! — Good Vibes!

DIY Outdoor Couch

Okay so we purchased a 34′ Citation Camper. Yes we love it! We have also decided to go seasonal this summer and with that comes a lot of creative ideas to decorate our new space. Why buy expensive furniture when you can create a stylish custom outdoor couch out of concrete blocks and treated lumber? It’s an easy and inexpensive DIY project you can do in an afternoon and enjoy all summer long!

Why Didn’t I Do This Sooner?

If you constantly worry what harsh weather is doing to your new lawn furniture, maybe you should look into more sturdy options. A super cute couch made from concrete blocks and pressure treated boards is virtually maintenance free. This project is so simple you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.

Here’s what you need:6cdbbc793a01f2b017be8fa2d0ce6a1e

(4) 4 x 4 x 12 pieces of pressure treated wood

(12) Concrete blocks (Pre-painted or natural)

(1) Tube Concrete Adhesive

 Find the Right Design for You

Lay out how you want your couch to look. Move your blocks around until you find a design you like. Build it with or without a back or arms. Consider pre-painting the blocks and the ends of the wood if you want a finished look. Painting before construction is quicker.

6 Steps for Building a Concrete Block Bench:

  • Create two stacks of blocks – Decide how high you want your couch; you may need to bury your first row of blocks into the dirt to lower it to the right height.
  • Row 1 – Stand three blocks on their end, holes to the center.
  • Row 2 – Lay two blocks on their sides, holes to the center.
  • Row 3 – Stand one block on end, holes to the center, to form back.
  • Slide (3) wood poles through the blocks on the second row to form the seat.
  • Slide (1) wood pole through the blocks on the third row to create the back.

Concrete Adhesive Locks Blocks in Place

Once you have found the design you want, disassemble your practice layout and start again. This time apply concrete adhesive in between the layers of blocks to hold them in place. Allow the couch to dry overnight before attempting to sit on it. You can also bond the wood to the concrete if you want to restrict them from moving.

Have Fun Decorating Your Couch9c62cc497eb49cf932099fbfa00726d9

With your concrete couch complete, it’s time to decorate. Add long cushions to the seat and back. Keep them in place by attaching a strip of Velcro to the poles and the pillows. Tying the pads to the wood poles also works. You can decorate as little or as much as you’d like. Apply decorative tiles to the seat and back to give the couch a Mediterranean feel.

Endless Design Possibilities with Concrete Blocks

Place the couch up against a wall or use them as stand-alone pieces. The possibilities are endless. Concrete blocks can be used to build chairs, picnic tables or potting benches. You only have to cut the wood down to size and away you go.

Great Looking and Weather-proof

These inexpensive creations are perfect for any garden. They stand up to harsh weather and look great. No need to worry about expensive furniture any longer. Focus on important things like finding the perfect pillows for your new couch!

 

NATURAL EASTER EGG DYE

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Yes, you can dye brown eggs! Natural dyes work beautifully with organic brown eggs, creating rich, muted colors. Try natural dyes from beets (pink), turmeric or boiled onion skins (yellow), and boiled red cabbage leaves (blue), Cran-raspberry juice, carrot tops, and instant coffee.

Here’s how:

  • RED/PINK: Boil a few cut beets in a small pot of water till tender and the cooking liquid turns a deep pink. Pour liquid into a small bowl, and save the beets for a snack.
  • BLUE: Put a few red cabbage leaves in a small pot with 1 cup water. Bring to a boil till the cooking liquid turns a deep blue. Pour liquid into a bowl.
  • GOLD: Mix 1 heaping tablespoon of turmeric with ½ cup water in a measuring cup. Stir to blend.
  • TAN/BROWN: Mix one tablespoon of instant coffee with 1 cup water, stir to blend.
  • MAUVE: Pour one cup Cran-Rasberry juice in a bowl.
  • Boil eggs; remove from hot water and cool slightly.
  • Rub shells with white vinegar to help the shell take up the dye.
  • Place eggs in bowls with dye; let sit for several minutes – longer for deeper color penetration. Blot eggs dry with a paper towel and arrange on a festive plate.

Alternative Dye-its

Experiment with colorful herbal teas, black tea, coffee, grape juice, spinach, paprika, and even onion skins.

Food-grade egg dyes also work on brown eggs. Try preparing the solutions with less water, for strong, rich colors. They will not mask the brown entirely; rather they will blend with the egg’s natural color to create a unique, textured look.

Keep it Clean

Be sure to wash your hands (and any small hands involved) before handling eggs.

Cool It

Refrigerate hard-cooked eggs after coloring them. The USDA advises discarding any cooked eggs that have been held at room temperature for more than two hours.

Vegetable Seed Starting

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The much-anticipated growing season has arrived.

PLANNING

When planning our garden we need to keep a few things in mind:

Climate: What grows well in our region?
Space limitations: How extensive will our garden be?
Cooking/Canning habits: What would we like to eat from our garden?
Quantity: How many tomatoes do we really need?
Garden design: How would we like the space to look?

Before running out and purchasing seeds I began making a list of our top ten (and then some) most desired veggies. We Started with them. So I went for Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Radish, Eggplant, Cabbage, Lettuce, String Beans, Peas, Corn, Cauliflower, Broccoli, carrots, collard greens, potatoes, Scallions, Basil, Chamomile, Parsley, Sage, Cilantro.

SEED SOWING SCHEDULE
This seed starting chart http://www.thevegetablegarden.info/planting-schedules will help you determine your region’s frost-free date and when to plant different seeds.

SOWING SET-UP

Materials:
• Desired Seeds
• Spray bottle
• Containers/covers
• Seed-starting soil

Containers: We had the choice of separate pots for each plant or flats holding many plants. The choice depends on various factors including your space limitations and the fragility of your desired plants. I use the separate pots or seed starter trays for most of my plants because there is less of a chance of damaging roots when transplanting. Trays may be the more practical choice for lettuce, spinach, kale and other small seed crops such as herbs.

Reuse last year’s small nursery pots if you have them. Alternatively, ask friends and family for old cardboard egg cartons they work just as well. If neither of these options work out, any container two to three inches deep will do, including disposable cups, yogurt containers and milk cartons. You can also buy kits at your local plant nursery. My favorites are cardboard plug trays. Make sure your containers are clean by washing with hot water if using plastic. Ensure that each pot has good drainage, i.e. a hole or two in the bottom. Place containers in a water-catching tray lined with pebbles. This ensures that the drained water stays out of the pot preventing root rot.

Seeds and seedlings are extremely sensitive to disease and nutrient levels. Seedlings will appreciate it if you buy a seed starting mix from your local nursery. Fill each container with soil up to 1/4 inch from the top of the container.

Ready, set… SOW!

Sowing the seeds: Moisten the soil in the containers before sowing the seeds. Put two seeds in each container to ensure something emerging. Generally, gardeners cover the seeds to a depth about 3 times the thickness of the seeds. Be sure to read seed packets for seed specific instructions. Pat the soil lightly and water with a fine mist.

Cozy Climates: Cover containers with plastic wrap or plastic covers to keep their environment humid. Place containers in a warm, protected place. Most seeds with germinate well at about 70 degrees F (20 degrees C).

Labeling: Be sure to label each container with the plant name and date sown. Popsicle sticks are perfect for indoor containers. Commercially available plastic or metal labels from nurseries are better for the outdoors.

Leftover seeds and packaging: Empty seed packets should be filed for future reference. Leftover seeds need to be placed in an airtight container in a dim, dry place. Seeds over 2 years old may be past their prime. Decide whether it is worth the risk next year.

Whisper best wishes to your seeds until…

They’re up! As soon as the seedlings have emerged, remove the plastic wrap. Place containers in a south or east-facing window. You may also use lights to extend the `sunshine’. Seedlings need not be as warm as emerging seeds. Keep seedlings away from radiators and heat vents to save water. If more than one plant comes up, clip the smaller one at soil level. Do not pull the plants up by the roots as this could damage the other seedlings.

Ongoing Maintenance: Mist containers with spray bottle as needed taking care to not to drown the seedlings. Remove diseased plants immediately to prevent spread.

New digs: If necessary, transplant plants from crowded trays to their own pots after they grow a second set of leaves. Some plants that spend more time indoors may need to be transplanted into larger pots. Tomatoes and peppers are likely candidates. As needed, choose the healthiest seedlings to move to 6-inch pots.I may have a problem this year as I started my tomatoes to soon :/ but we will see.

Hardening Off: A week before the plants go outside for good, acclimatize them to the changing conditions. On a warmer spring day, move plants outside to a shaded spot for a few hours. Each day increase the plants’ exposure to sun and wind. After a week, leave plants outside overnight. Then transplant them into the garden.

Let them know you LOVE them and whisper “good Luck”!

Here are what my plants look like so far.–Namaste!

plants 2 2014

plants 2014

SPROUTING FOR CHICKENS

We are surrounded by snow, topped with a nice layer of ice and nothing green in sight. The path to the chicken coop is all ice. I am sure the chickens are dreaming of something green and natural to eat, so I decided to grow some sprouts for the girls. Sprouting is as close as I am going to get to gardening for now and is an easy way to provide our chickens with fresh, nutritious greens with very little effort. Sprouts are merely beans, whole grains or seeds that are grown with water before being fed to the chickens. Our chickens eat a three grain, corn-free, Non-GMO, organic blend daily, but sprouting my own greens would allow them supplemental year-round access to fresh greens regardless of the weather or outside growing conditions. Plus there is an increase in vitamin and protein percentage when grain begins to sprout and grow. I chose sprouts over fodder because chickens may have a hard time digesting fodder as the blades are over four inches in length, this can leave a chicken susceptible to an impacted crop. Sprouts are under four inches in length and are easily digested with less threat of impaction. I lost a 7 week old chicken to crop issues and it was very upsetting. I was a newbie to raising backyard chickens and one of my chicks developed an impacted crop. Looking back I beleive she may have had a small piece of pine bedding lodged in her crop picked up from the water dish. She didn’t eat and was only drinking and she had the dreaded hanging crop. After a week she was significantly smaller than the others in the flock and I had to separate her. I brought her inside the house and hand fed her water and some food, but to no avail she passed on. I never want to see that again, if I can help it. So sprouts it is!

How does sprouting benefit our chickens:

  • Year-round access to fresh greens regardless of the weather or outside growing conditions.
  • Entertainment for bored chickens
  • Makes the vitamins, minerals and proteins in the grains more bioavailable to the chickens. Think of grains as a nutrition packet wrapped in protective packaging. When eaten as-is with the seed packaging in place, the grain is prevented from being fully utilized nutritionally. Sprouting removes that packaging, freeing up the good stuff to break down and transform into even better stuff.
  • Sprouting improves the enzyme content, making it more easily digested than grains; after sprouting, a grain becomes 40-50% more digestible to the bird, which means that they are getting more nutrition and fiber than from the same amount of unsprouted grain
  • Sprouts are loaded with chlorophyll and beta-carotene, resulting in darker yolks and more nutritious eggs.

Source: http://foddersolutions.net/fodderforums/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Benefits-of-sprouts-for-feed.pdf)

I chose an organic lentil bean to begin sprouting. Lentils are not only high in protein, they also  sprout well and are perfect sprouts for chickens. However any grain or bean can be used, the most popular grains for sprouting are barley, wheat, and oats. You can usually purchase one of these through your local feed store. I am trying this for the first time and have posted pictures of the process.

WHAT YOU WILL NEED

  • An inexpensive container with drain holes in it (round, square, rectangle) ahem, Dollar Store!
  • Sprouting can be done with oats, sunflower seeds, alfalfa, lentils, clover, mung beans, soybeans, etc. (Don’t recommend Flax or Chia (Mucilaginous seeds) make a gooey mess)
  • Fresh water (I used a spray bottle)

THE HOW TO

In a large container, cover the grains with fresh water and soak a minimum of 8 hours to a maximum of 24 hours. (I soak mine overnight)

Create holes in container that are small enough that the grain doesn’t fall through them.

At the end of the soaking period, drain grains well and spread them to  ¼”- ½ inch deep in chosen container.

Place container over a second, slightly larger container to allow the water to drain off the grains fully. I placed the container in the light in a 65 degree room and they began to sprout the first day after soaking.

The sprouts should be watered (spray bottle) and allowed to drain fully, twice each day for six days.

By day six, the sprouted grains are ready to be fed to the flock and can be cut into portions.

day 1A

First night of soaking in container.

Day one  Day 2 sprouts

Day 1  (able to see some sprouting)

Day 2A day 3 close

Day 2

day 4 1544311_224512974406320_966376018_n

Day 3

day 6 day 6 close up

Day 4

Sabzeh-Adas-Day 6

Day five (fed to the chickens a little at a time)

Homemade Laundry Detergent

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Homemade laundry powder is a product that we easily make at home. It is easy and quick to make, MUCH cheaper than commercial powder and does a good job without harming us or our clothing. It’s the combination of three ingredients – soap flakes, washing soda and borax.  If you check the ingredients list on your commercial laundry detergent, you’ll find a list of toxic chemicals commonly used in many commercial cleaners. I use this recipe with Kirk’s or my homemade soap bars and find that my clothes are clean without overpowering scents, they are soft, and chemical free at a fraction of the price traditional detergent costs.  I encourage you to make some of your own. Not only will it save you money, it will allow you the peace of mind of knowing what you’re putting on your skin and on your clothes. There is a feeling of satisfaction that comes with knowing you are doing the best for yourself and your family without harming the environment. Homemade is a step closer to independence and away from commerce. I know many people who read here are already doing this, but many are not. So if you’re using your own non-commercial soap or laundry powder, please share your experiences with us so we can all learn from each other.

Ingredients

  • 1 bar of Kirk’s Coco Castile (Original or Fragrance Free)
  • 1 cup of Arm and Hammer washing soda – sold in laundry section
  • ½ cup Borax – sold in laundry section

Directions

    • Grate the bar of soap with a cheese or vegetable grater or gently hammer the bar while it is in its original wrapper on a hard surface like cement to create small pieces.

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    • Process the small pieces of soap, washing soda and borax together in a food processor or blender until it is well mixed. Avoid breathing in the dust produced from mixing.

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    • Store your laundry detergent powder in an airtight container.
    • Use 1-2 tablespoon of homemade laundry detergent per load of laundry.

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Tips

  • Top Loaders Machine: Add laundry soap while the machine fills with water.
  • Front Load Washing Machine: Mix the amount per load with a cup of warm water. This will allow your mixture to come into contact with all your laundry.
  • This powered recipe is great for High Efficiency washers because it is very low sudsing.
  • It is important that you grate the bar soap very finely for HE washers.
  • Add Oxyclean for extra whitening boost for stubborn stains
  • Any bar soap of your choice can be grated. I chose Kirk’s because it is an all natural vegan soap. (Other brands: Ivory, Fels Naptha, Zote)

Snow, Snow, Snow!

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Well it seems as though the chickens are braving the snow and cold. They appear to be comfortable and venture into the coop every now and then.  In anticipation of the snow, I put a tarp up on the north side of the pen to stop the snow from blowing into the pen. It seemed as though the rain would blow through the wire and soak the north side of the pen, so I figured the snow would get through as well. Nope, the tarp was up and the snow blew through the pen but on the other side that I did not block. So much for trying to be helpful :/  The chickens were inquisitive though, not exactly understanding what this white powder was in their pen. They were fine and pecking at the small amount of snow that did get in. I am still trying to figure out how to stop their water from freezing without using electricity to heat the bowl. If anybody has ideas please feel free to post them. For now I have been using two bowls inside of each other and it seems to be working, I mean it was pretty cold yesterday and they still had drinking water. I have also put one bowl of water inside the coop where it doesn’t freeze so fast. I get concerned because I hear chickens dehydrate easily and egg production decreases if they don’t get enough water. As of yet I haven’t had a problem (must be doing something right) with egg production, I have five chickens, four are laying and still waiting for one Americauna to lay. I get blue eggs from the Americauna… I think it is kinda cool…ready made Easter eggs! There is so much literature out there regarding extending their laying time, such as using light in the coop tricking them into thinking the daylight hours are longer. It just sounds stressful for the hens so I think for now I will allow them to follow their own clock and just be grateful I am receiving four eggs a day. I can’t justify using electricity for an extra egg and they have been doing fine, so sometimes change is not a good thing. I have over a dozen eggs in my refrigerator and have begun to sell them by the dozen. I am getting great feedback regarding the quality of our eggs. I have spent a lot of time caring for the hens and feeding them organic greens and food so it is good to hear that our hard work paid off. We can definitely taste the difference from the store-bought eggs. Our chicken eggs are flavorful and creamy with thick orange yolks and the shell is strong. These are some healthy eggs! After eating our chicken eggs we will never eat another store-bought egg. After tasting the eggs we got to thinking about raising broilers. After much research and a heightened awareness of the poultry industry and their shenanigans, we cannot eat store-bought chicken anymore. See how this homesteading lifestyle works? you go from one idea to the next. haha  We will purchase a few broilers this spring and try our hand at butchering our own chickens. I began making them what I call “Busy Biscuits” and they love eating these. They are pretty easy to make and it increases their protein while keeping them busy. I do not recommend snacking everyday as it is not healthy for a chicken to do so but every once in a while they enjoy this treat. Chicken Busy Biscuit Due to the weather canning and bread making was productive yesterday. I was able to can seven pints of black beans and two quarts of soup, it  would have been three but I made one quart for dinner and it was delicious! Nothing beats hot soup from scratch and warm crusty homemade bread on a cold snowy day. I will get the canning section of this blog going soon with a few recipes and tutorials. It is a beautiful day today…I think I will go check on the chickens  🙂  Peace!