This morning I stepped into the chicken coop to see all but two of my hens slaughtered or seriously injured. After examining the surroundings, we came to the conclusion that there was likely a predator in the coop when I shut them in last night. That means that I shut the little chicken door, counted the chickens, shook down their feed, and checked for eggs in the midst of the chicken murderer. Thankfully my siblings took three of the hens to the 4-H fair this week, so they were completely out of harm's way. I've NEVER had anything like this happen, so it was a real blow.
On top of that, I found poison ivy in my strawberry patch last week. Unfortunately, I found it by pulling it out with my bare hand, while weeding. So now I have itchies on the fingers of my right hand, my left wrist, and the right side of my neck. It could be a lot worse, but still... why me???
In the midst of everything I left undone last week, I did actually accomplish some things.
1. Groceries: I spent a lot of time this week cleaning out our freezer, fridge and pantry. I worked on using up eggs, milk, and fresh produce from the fridge. I also made broth from chicken bones in the freezer, and used up (almost) all of the frozen bread ends by making a french toast casserole. We did spend some money at Walmart for bread and lunchmeat for sandwiches. Ice cream was on sale at Kroger for $0.99 per tub, so we spent $4.95 on ice cream. I cooked up a bag of chicken thighs that was in the freezer, so that is not taking up space anymore. Even though I'm not as "hard core" as I used to be about our food budget, I still get a kick out of making economical meals. The casserole probably cost about $0.75, and the meal I made with the chicken thighs was pretty cheap too, at about $0.75 per plate.
2. Gardening: I harvested beets, Swiss chard, raspberries, kale, cucumbers, basil, thyme and cilantro this week. I dried the beet leaves and powdered them to use as greens powder during the winter months. I cut some flowers from the garden and made a centerpiece for the kitchen table.
For the first time ever, I started seeds for a fall garden! I've always liked the idea of a fall garden, but in the hustle and bustle of summers past, I never managed to start one. The seeds I started indoors were lettuce, kale and endive. The endive and kale seeds have already germinated!!!
3. I threw out some junk that we no longer needed. I also cleaned the excess canned goods out of my pantry, which set me wayyyyyy behind on dishes. Boo. But at least the pantry is cleaner. I organized our canned goods in the new basement by month, starting with the month of October. You can read more about that below.
4. Thrifting: I bought two kid-sized cabinets at a garage sale for $5.00 each. I think in their former life they may have been a kitchen set; one piece a sink, and the other a pretend fridge. The doors sagged on one piece, but they are nice wooden Montessori-style cabinets that will look wonderful with a little TLC. I also bought three kids' books at the same sale for $0.25 each
5. Mending: I fixed a hole in a pair of Hubs' shorts.
6. Books: I found two books on Scribd (aff. link) instead of buying them (Carrots Love Tomatoes and The Complete Book of Chalk Lettering, if you're wondering). A friend loaned me her copy of Joanna Gaines' book, Homebody. I've learned a lot from all three of the books already, and I've only browsed or just started them.
So, those are my main frugal things for the week. Apart from that, I had some thoughts I wanted to share regarding food preservation. As I dumped out several jars of canned food, I kept asking myself, who let out the canning monster? When we were first married I had from a "food shortage mentality" and canned everything from chicken feet to squash. Alas, we did not starve. After homesteading for a few years now, I'm realizing that too much food is more of a hindrance than a help.
How Much Preserved Food Do You Actually Need?
As I was organizing jars of pineapple and grape jelly, I got to thinking about how little food we actually use in any given month. It's not like we're light eaters. It's just that two adults and one child can only eat so much fruit. Especially when we have plenty of fresh fruit, here on the property, April through October. That's about seven months during which we don't have to buy fruit OR eat canned fruit. That leaves November, December, January, February and March to can, freeze or dry fruit for. As I was redistributing the pineapple to different shelves (one for each month), I asked myself, how many half-pints of pineapple will we use in November? I thought about what people normally eat in November; Thanksgiving-style meals, warm soups, pumpkin spice everything. Nope, no need for pineapple in November. What do we eat in December? Party meals, cinnamon spice, more warm soups and cornflake casseroles. I guess I might use one little jar to cook a ham. I put one jar on the December shelf and redistributed the rest between January and March.
I went through this process for all of the months. Applesauce and pumpkin are pretty much fall items, but there was so much applesauce that I put some on every shelf. I will probably be looking for different uses for the applesauce (baking or using as sweetener, for example) just to use it up. Again, though—realistically, there are so many other fruits and fruit items I'd rather eat than applesauce; many of them cheap or even free. It's not like I never use applesauce, but I think one pint per month is more than enough. And if you consider the fact that we only "need" two or three months' worth.... well, four to six pints per year is plenty, if I continue to can applesauce.
Regarding freezer foods, I discovered the same thing. In the past, I would ask myself, how many frozen strawberries will we use per month? I thought we could use about one quart per week, so I froze 11 gallon-size bags of strawberries. I figured that I would use the berries in smoothies, and four smoothies per week doesn't sound unreasonable. But think about this: do we drink cold smoothies in the winter? Or, do we want to have only strawberry smoothies during the spring, summer and autumn months? When there is fresh fruit available, you can use that and blend it with ice during the summer. All that considered, I only froze five or six quarts of strawberries this year. Over the past week I put the same amount of raspberries in the freezer. We bought a bunch of fresh blueberries last week for $2.00 per pound, but to our disappointment, they were bitter and not great for fresh eating. So I put the last of them (1 quart) in the freezer as well. 12 quarts of berries should be enough to last from November to March. Of course each family is different, but we never use as much frozen fruit as I think we will.
So, that's fruit. What about veggies? We go through a fair amount of frozen vegetables between November and March. This year, though, I'll likely have some acorn squash and kale, and a few indoor-ripened tomatoes in November. Supplemented with crazy-cheap Thanksgiving vegetables from the store, we won't need much in the freezer for that month. I'm also hoping to have some greens in March, (but we'll see). I will only have to freeze vegetables for the four remaining months; greens and a small assortment of other frozen veggies like beans or bell peppers. I'll buy onions, carrots, cabbage and other frozen vegetables at the grocery store.
And what about canned tomatoes? I think I can make our current stash of canned tomato products last at least six months. During the summer we hopefully won't need as many canned tomatoes, if I base meals around other in-season foods. Next year, I'm hoping to do a little more tomato canning, but enough for several years.
Egg Preservation Thoughts
Eggs are another example of seasonal efficiency. We have enough eggs from March through October. It's lean in November and February, but there are still some fresh eggs. We don't have any fresh eggs in December or January, but we DO have a surplus in April, May, June and September, it seems. In the past I've tried getting the chickens to produce during the winter, and also freezing the eggs; neither of which worked very well. Last year I tried waterglassing the eggs. Overall the experiment worked, but about half of the eggs were not usable. Neither were the "good" eggs good enough for scrambled eggs; they were only good for cooking and baking. Furthermore, later on I learned that waterglassing works better for unfertilized eggs, and ours were fertilized.
As I was organizing jars in the basement, I had an idea. What if I took just a few of our September eggs and waterglassed only enough for December and January? I could separate the rooster from the hens for that one month, and then put him back in. Further, by storing the eggs in several glass pickle jars, instead of one green five-gallon bucket, there would be less chance of a single bad egg spoiling the whole batch.
I think I might try it.
Edit: Since the chicken massacre happened, we may not have extra eggs for waterglassing. But I'm going to keep these thoughts here to reference later.
So, those are my thoughts for the week. How has your week been?