Create · Grow · House & Home · Learning & Media · Lifestyle

Homesteading Skills To Build This Year

How can it be that we’re already 3 months into 2019?! On one hand it feels like it was just yesterday that we were celebrating the holidays, and on the other hand, this feels like the winter that never ends.

We are experiencing a record-breaking cold snap here in Alberta right now, both in temperature and duration. In my 27 years, I don’t remember it ever staying this cold for this long. It’s really getting people down (myself included) so I wanted to take some time today to chat about the homesteading skills I am planning to build in 2019.

2018 was a very productive year. I dove head-first into expanding the garden, I learned how to water bath can and dehydrate tons of garden produce, I began learning about basic herbal medicine, my future sister-in-law taught me how to fly fish, and I took up sewing – which I promptly gave up on because damn – it was hard! Maybe I’ll try it again some day, but for the time being, I have put my needles and bobbins to rest.

In 2019, we will be beginning the search for our first acreage. We will be taking the first realistic steps towards realizing our homesteading dream, and moving from suburbia to the country. In the mean time, here are the 5 Homesteading skills I will be working on.

5 Homesteading Skills To Build This Year

1, Seed Saving

Seed saving is an essential gardening skill for so many reasons. It breeds desirable traits into your plants, it saves money, and it creates further self-reliance.

The amount I have spent on seeds this year is laughable. I’m not sure if it’s the cabin fever or what, but I’ve ordered more varieties than I could ever possibly have room for in my little space. And while I’m probably never going to be able to resist those gorgeous, glossy seed catalogues at the start of each year, I would like to begin saving seeds from our favourite and most-used varieties.

I purchased the recently released book “The Seed Garden” from Seed Savers Exchange, and while I am finding it quite scientific and overwhelming at times for the total newbie, the information contained is invaluable and easy enough to understand with the odd google here and there to further break it down.

2. Accurate Record Keeping

This may seem like a frivolous skill, but hear me out. If you want to become more self sufficient, you need to know what, where, when, and how much to plant, harvest, and preserve to feed your family.

I purchased the very helpful Complete Garden Planner from Jill McSheehy at The Beginner’s Garden, printed off as many sheets as I needed for each category, and I plan to keep track of all kinds of things; what I planted, when I did things like fertilize, transplant, thin and harvest, issues I had with pests and diseases, successes and failures with yields of different varieties, how much I harvested by weight, the weather, and how much I was able to preserve.

Jill’s super helpful garden planter can be purchased and downloaded here for only $9.50 USD. Also, be sure to check out her podcast, The Beginner’s Garden. Whether you’re a newbie or a seasoned pro, I’m sure you’ll learn something.

3. Knitting

When I was a little girl, I spent a lot of time with my Grandma, and she loved to knit and crochet. She taught me the fundamentals of knitting when I was 6 years old, and I’ve toyed with it on and off for most of my life. This year, however, I want to commit to expanding and refining my knitting skills, explore new stitches and patterns, and learn to knit something other than a scarf or a dish cloth.

There are plenty of resources out there for learning new crafting skills. There may be in-person classes offered in your area, or you can check out sites like Craftsy and Udemy for reasonably priced online courses. And, of course, there are always library books and YouTube!

4. Budgeting

At a first thought, budgeting may not exactly seem like a “homesteading skill”, but it is going to be essential in our journey towards further self-reliance. Learning to live below your means, using what you have, sticking to a spending plan and – often times the hardest thing of all – buying only what you need and less of what you want, will all help you along as you move closer to realizing your dreams of freedom.

At the beginning of the year, I set a realistic (realistic is the key here – I am human, after all!) budget in an app called EveryDollar. The app makes it easy to track all of my expenses day by day right at my fingertips, see where my money is going, and remind me to stay on track. There are several different tools out there. Whether you use a fancy paid app or just a basic excel spreadsheet, figure out what works for you.

5. Making Natural Personal Care Products

2019 is going to be the year that I slowly phase out the majority of my store-bought lotions and potions and begin crafting my own. I plan to start with simple things like face lotion, lip balm, and herbal salves. If that goes well, I may move into soap and shampoo, bath bombs, deodorants and more – but we will see! I’m a recovering sephora addict, so I need to be gentle with myself along the way. 😉


Every change you make and every skill you learn, no matter how simple or how small, is just another step towards realizing your own idea of self-sufficiency and self-reliance. At the end of the day, we need to focus on the things that are important to us and the things that will have the largest impact on our families. Whether it’s planting your first pot of herbs on your apartment windowsill, baking your first loaf of homemade bread, or purchasing your first flock of backyard chickens – I challenge you to learn even just one new skill this year.

So, what’s it going to be? Let me know what you’re working on this year in the comments below, or join the conversation on Facebook or Instagram.

Grow · Indoor Gardening · Outdoor Gardening

Grow Your Own Herbal Tea Garden

I don’t know about you, but as winter drags on and on (it seriously does feel like January 74th), I can’t help but spend the majority of my spare time dreaming up my spring garden.  Most winter nights, you can find me with a glass of wine in one hand and a seed catalogue in the other, leafing through all of the colourful pages and fantasizing about the gorgeous varieties of flowers and vegetables I want to grow.
One of the most rewarding and productive parts of my little garden last year were my herb containers, both culinary and medicinal.  And the best part about that is that I’ve been enjoying my dried herbs all through the winter, mostly in herbal teas.
Today, I want to share my top 5 must-have plants in my herbal tea garden, and hopefully inspire you to grow something this spring that you can use for months to come.
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Top 5 Herbs for your Herbal Tea Garden

 

1. Lavender

It wasn’t until I became a gardener that I fully learned to appreciate real, pure, fragrant lavender – which smells nothing like the synthetic, commercial perfumes that sometimes use the same name.  Lavender is well known for its relaxing properties, but did you know that you can also add dried lavender to your favourite tea blend?  It adds a delicious floral flavour and a deeply calming aroma.
Lavender can be a bit finicky to start from seed, so I prefer to buy organic starts from my local garden centre.  English lavender is my favourite – it attracts beneficial insects to the garden, looks gorgeous whether planted in the ground or in a large pot, and, oh, did I mention the smell?
Harvest your lavender as soon as the tiny purple buds appear, before the flowers open.  Closed buds will retain aroma and colour better, and also fall off the stem much easier once dried.

2. Catnip

We all know that cats go crazy for catnip – it’s a powerful stimulant for them – but did you know that catnip acts as a moderate sedative for humans?  Catnip (also sometimes called catmint) is my personal favourite herb to add to my night time “sleepy” teas.  It’s gentle enough that it won’t make you feel overly drowsy, just relaxed and ready for a good night’s rest.
Catnip is extremely easy to start from seed.  Follow the directions on your seed packet and harvest the leaves frequently for continuous growth.  The leaves can then be dried and stored in an air-tight container for optimal freshness.
Fresh Catnip
Freshly Harvested Catnip

3. Mint

Last summer, I had a bit of a love affair with mint.  At one point, I was growing peppermint, spearmint, chocolate mint, pineapple mint, and strawberry mint.  I became obsessed with infusing them into my water during the summer.
There are so many amazing varieties of mint available – both as seeds and as plants at the garden centre.  Feel free to experiment with as many varieties as you want – just be sure to keep them in their own container, as mint has a tendency to take over everything in its path!
Stems can be cut and dried as often as needed.  Store the leaves in an air-tight container and enjoy the comforting, minty freshness well into the winter months.
Pineapple Mint
Pineapple Mint

4. Chamomile

I began drinking a lot of chamomile tea a few years ago to aid in the management of my anxiety, but, like so many other things, I didn’t fully appreciate these incredible little flowers until I began to grow them myself.  A fresh chamomile flower smells like crisp, sweet apples, and there is absolutely no comparison to store-bought teas.
Chamomile is a totally fool-proof annual that grows well in most conditions.  I had a small window box full of it last summer on my back fence, and I was harvesting about 1/4 cup of mature flowers every single day at the height of the summer.  It was unbelievable.
Once flowers begin to appear, they can be pinched off, or cut off at the stem – whichever you prefer.  Once dried, they will still smell like fresh apples, and you won’t believe the taste when you steep these whole flowers in hot water.
Fresh Chamomile
Fresh Chamomile Flowers

5. Lemon Balm

Lemon balm makes a fantastic base for almost any herbal tea.  Its mild, citrusy flavour lends itself well to most other herbs, and its uplifting, calming effects are a welcome addition to whatever you’re in the mood for.  It’s also flavourful enough to stand on its own as a herbal tea if you’re after something simple.
Easy to grow from seed, lemon balm grows beautifully in containers and thrives in part to full sun.  Harvest, dry and store lemon balm much the same way you would mint or catnip.

Herb Storage Tips

Label, label, label!

You may think you’ll be able to remember what’s what based solely on appearance or aroma, but you’d be surprised how similar some herbs can seem when they’re just crusty, dry leaves.  Labeling everything you harvest and store from your garden is a really good habit to practice.

Ensure dryness before storing.

Most herbs should be dry enough that they crack / crumble when bent in half.  Herbs with residual moisture are susceptible to mould, and nobody wants a mouldy tea.  I like to use my Nesco Dehydrator, but herbs can also be dried by hanging or spreading out in the sun.
Dehydrating Herbal Tea
Drying Catnip in the Dehydrator

Mason jars = life.

Whether you’re an urban gardener or a full-on homesteader, soon enough you will realize that mason jars are the best way to store pretty much everything in your kitchen.  They’re see-through, air-tight, and come in a variety of sizes – you can never have too many mason jars.

Store whole when possible.

Storing whole, intact leaves will preserve freshness, flavour, and seal in every last bit of those aromatic and medicinal oils that the plants hold.  If space is an issue, the dried leaves can be crushed and stored, but I personally prefer to crush them up right before I use them for maximum quality.
Chocolate Mint Herbal Tea
Dried Chocolate Mint

Continue reading “Grow Your Own Herbal Tea Garden”

Cook · Grow · Indoor Gardening · Learning & Media · Lifestyle · Outdoor Gardening · Skills & Techniques

8 Homesteading Podcasts You Need In Your Life

When I first began my journey into modern homesteading, I was like a sponge. I could not get my hands, eyes and ears on enough information to satisfy my appetite for learning. It was around this time that I discovered the wonderful world of podcasts…a brilliant form of media that I had been previously unacquainted with.

If you’re not familiar with podcasts – let me first say, welcome to your new addiction. A podcast is essentially a series of radio-style audio recordings, usually on a specific topic, available entirely free through outlets such as Apple Podcasts or Stitcher. Podcasts exist on literally every topic you could ever imagine – I listen to food and wine podcasts, dog training podcasts, running podcasts, business podcasts, sex and relationships podcasts, and of course – homesteading and gardening podcasts.

Below is a list of my current favourite podcasts related to the topic of homesteading. There are many more available, and even some that aren’t recording anymore, but are still full of great information. I encourage you to use this list as a starting point as you explore the wonderful world of podcasts for yourself – there is an unbelievable amount of information out there.

1. The Modern Homesteading Podcast with Harold Thornbro

This was the very first homesteading podcast I ever listened to, and it holds such a special place in my heart. In fact, this show was my true introduction to modern homesteading, as I was looking for gardening podcasts at the time.

Harold is just your standard, regular guy – he loves his family and his grandkids, he works a regular job, he lives in a regular house in a small town…but what he does in his free time is extraordinary. He experiments in gardening, building, raising small livestock such as meat rabbits and coturnix quail, aquaponics, making his own kombucha, canning…you name it. He is a true inspiration and I’m not sure where he finds time for it all!

On top of all that, Harold is a cancer survivor who attributes much of his recovery to beginning to take responsibility for his health through the food that he was eating. He is a passionate teacher and shares his knowledge generously.

(Check out The Modern Homesteading Podcast)

2. The Beginner’s Garden with Jill McSheehy

Whether you’re a brand new gardener or you’ve been growing your own food for decades, Jill has something to teach you. She breaks down gardening in simple, no-nonsense, easy-to-understand terms for the newbie. When I was planning my first garden two years ago, Jill’s podcast was my bible.

A busy wife and mom, Jill keeps it real. She records less in the summertime when she’s busiest, and I respect her boundaries and self-awareness so much. She also interviews some fascinating guests, and together they answer all of the gardening questions that you never even knew you wanted to ask.

(Check out The Beginner’s Garden Podcast)

3. Encyclopedia Botanica with Hilary Dahl

This podcast is my go-to, nerd-out, in-depth explanation of individual plant species, pests, processes and gardening techniques. Episodes are around half an hour each, and may focus on topics such as JUST potatoes, JUST pollination, or JUST tomato horn worms. It’s a really great way to hone in on one particular garden topic and learn all about it in a simple, easy-to-digest way.

Hilary is a wealth of knowledge based out of Seattle, so she is especially relevant to anyone living in the PNW.

(Check out the Encyclopedia Botanica Podcast)

4. The Joe Gardener Show with Joe Lamp’l

If you’re familiar with the TV show Growing A Greener World, then you’ll recognize Joe Lamp’l as the creator and host. Joe has a very accomplished career in the world of organic gardening and horticulture, and he is a massive wealth of knowledge. On his podcast, he breaks down relevant and seasonal gardening topics, both on his own and through interviewing experts in each field.

The best part about The Joe Gardener Show is the way that Joe and his guests are able to take even the most complicated gardening topics, and translate them into simple language that even the newest gardener is able to understand.

(Check out The Joe Gardener Show)

5. Living Homegrown Podcast with Theresa Loe

Also from Growing A Greener World, but on the production side, Theresa Loe is an urban homesteader living in Los Angeles. Her show is professionally produced and covers a wide variety of topics that help you to – in her words – “live farm fresh without the farm”. These topics include growing your own food, preserving the harvest, and exploring artisan food crafts such as baking your own bread.

Theresa has brought on experts in fermentation, the “locavore” movement, keeping backyard chickens, and more. She is also a canning expert and runs a variety of online courses and academies through her website. I always find something inspiring to take away from Theresa’s show, and she is the sole reason that I finally found the courage to begin my canning journey!

(Check out the Living Homegrown Podcast)

6. The Grow Guide Podcast by Gardens Manitoba

This podcast is especially close to my heart because it is Canadian! Hosted by Sage Garden Greenhouses’ master grower, Dave Hanson, and “rookie grower” Maggie Wysocki, this podcast tackles seasonal garden topics mostly relevant to Manitoba, but really, all Canadians (and northern growers) will love this podcast. The reality is, our season is short, and our conditions can be harsh. Dave and Maggie are full of tips and tricks to help you thrive in our unique northern climate.

Sage Garden Greenhouse also hosts a variety of really cool events in and around Winnipeg, so if you’re in the area, you’ll have even more to gain from this awesome show.

(Check out The Grow Guide Podcast)

7. The Pioneering Today Podcast with Melissa K Norris

Melissa is something of a celebrity in the world of modern homesteading. She runs a huge facebook group, an online academy, and produces her podcast that covers all kinds of fascinating topics. Melissa is passionate about old-fashioned skill sets and wisdom, and dedicates much of her content to things such as natural house cleaners, organic gardening, cooking without electricity, interviewing off-grid homesteaders, cooking in cast iron, and implementing frugality while still maintaining a healthy diet. Let’s just say, you wont find a topic that Melissa hasn’t covered on her podcast or her blog.

At the end of each podcast, Melissa usually spends a few minutes on her “verse of the week” from the bible – which isn’t necessarily my thing, but I almost always glean something from her wisdom nonetheless. I look forward to her episodes every week.

(Check out The Pioneering Today Podcast)

8. The Orvis Fly Fishing Guide Podcast with Tom Rosenbauer

First of all, I have to admit that I definitely don’t consider myself a fly fisherman (fisherworman?) by any stretch of the imagination. I went fly fishing for the first time this summer, and then went out again a few weeks later. I loved it, but I haven’t been making it much of a priority lately. That being said, I have been listening to The Orvis Fly Fishing Guide Podcast in my spare time, which has been a massive part of my education on all things Fly Fishing.

The host of the show, Tom, is a friendly, funny, realistic guy who breaks down the ins and outs of fly fishing so that even the most novice (ahem, me) angler can understand what the heck he’s talking about. Fishing – and fly fishing especially – can be incredibly intimidating when you’re first starting out, so I’ve found that learning about terms and techniques when I’m off the water has helped me to build my confidence.

(Check out The Orvis Fly Fishing Guide Podcast)


I hope this list provided you with a few podcasts that you haven’t heard of before, and hopefully you’re inspired to give them a try! There’s nothing better than learning something new while you’re stuck in traffic, walking the dog, or cleaning the house – and that’s what I love so much about podcasts. Happy listening!

Talk soon,

-Ashley


Do you have any favourite podcasts that weren’t included on this list? Please share them in the comments below, or join the conversation on Instagram or Facebook!

Grow · Outdoor Gardening

2018 Garden In Review

As our 2018 garden season winds down, I’ve been feeling very reflective, and thinking a lot about what worked and what didn’t this year in my garden. One of the many challenges of our northern climate is the incredibly short growing season (this year it was less than 4 months for warm weather crops) so we really have to focus on maximizing the little time that we have.

A few things to know about my garden – it is small. Very small. I grow exclusively in raised beds and containers, and this was my second season as a gardener. I still consider myself a newbie, but this year taught me a lot.

I wanted to share what I learned, what I loved, and what I plan to do next year – because, yes, I am already planning for next year! I never said I wasn’t crazy.

Things That Worked

Carrots.

My carrots were unbelievable this year. I got them in nice and early, around the last week of April, and my harvests were incredibly abundant. I grew three varieties – Scarlet Nantes, Bolero, and Paris Market (all from West Coast Seeds) and they all did incredibly well. I was religious with thinning them, which I think helped a lot, and I made sure to feed the soil with worm castings throughout the season.

Golden Beets.

We finally found our favourite variety of beet – Touchstone Gold – also from West Coast Seeds. They grew incredibly well, their greens were sweet and delicious, and the beets themselves were huge and flavourful. Even Sean – a self-proclaimed “beet hater” – couldn’t get enough. If you or someone you know thinks they don’t like beets, perhaps because of the bitter or “earthy” flavour, give these sweet golden beets a go. You won’t be disappointed.

Hot Peppers.

I grew a wide variety of hot peppers this year, and started them all from seed – Serrano, Cayenne, Jalapeño, Paprika, Ghost Chili, and Ancho. I can happily say that they all produced in surprising abundance on my hot, south-facing front patio.

Cherry Tomatoes.

We had two varieties of cherry tomatoes this year, both in pots on our front patio – Black Cherry and Red Robin. I wasn’t optimistic about the red robin plants. They were tiny and didn’t seem to be producing much, even into late July. And then, all of a sudden in mid August – they absolutely exploded, and I was harvesting gorgeous, ruby-red cherry tomatoes faster than I could use them! Pleasantly surprised.

Chamomile.

I am a huge fan of chamomile tea, so I thought I’d try my hand at growing my own this year. Without much thought, I chucked some seeds into a hanging basket, and they went absolutely wild. Gorgeous, fragrant, apple-scented blossoms just kept producing vigorously to the point that I was harvesting a large handful every single day. A few hours in the dehydrator, and now I have enough chamomile tea to keep me warm and happy through the winter – hopefully!

Things That Didn’t Work

Cucumbers.

My poor, poor cucumbers. I’m not sure where I went wrong. I planted the seed directly into the raised bed, maybe a bit late, but the plant grew nonetheless. There were plenty of blossoms, even plenty of tiny cucumbers! I was diligent in my hand-pollinating and watering, but, alas, only one mature pickling cucumber was produced. Maybe the raised bed wasn’t large enough, maybe I didn’t add the right nutrients to the soil, maybe the cucumber gods just weren’t on my side this year…I’m not sure. I’m hoping next year will be better.

Roma Tomatoes.

I had two beautiful San Marzano Roma Tomato plants that were growing and producing like crazy all through the season. I pruned and staked and fed them like it was my part-time job. I was so excited to create all kinds of delicious goodies – pasta sauce, salsa, roasted tomato basil soup, you name it. But when the thick, heavy smoke from the forest fires rolled in mid-August, everything stopped. The fruits sat stagnant, small, green, and hard. Then, the temperatures began to fall near freezing at night, and the tomatoes began to crack and rot. I salvaged what I could, brought them inside to ripen, and they have, but they certainly aren’t the big beautiful Romas I’d been dreaming of.

Apples.

Another not-so-fun part about gardening in our Southern Alberta climate is the summer hail storms. At the end of July, a massive hail storm ripped through our city, and pulverized my father-in-law’s beautiful apple tree. We lost 417 apples to that storm, the majority of our harvest. We were still able to salvage about a half-bushel of beaten and bruised apples to be made into sauce and pie filling, but it was a very rough loss. There were tears. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be a career farmer, where your harvest is quite literally your livelihood, after a storm like that. My heart definitely goes out to those folks.

Looking Ahead To 2019

Build a new garden bed.

As Sean and I have accepted that we will, in fact, be staying in this little townhouse for at least a few more years, so we spent an entire afternoon this summer dreaming up even more ways that we can maximize our little space. By rearranging a few things in the back yard, we should be able to squeeze one more raised bed in there. Luckily, Sean likes projects. Or at least, I tell him he does. 😉

Grow more vegetables vertically.

One of the best ways to maximize a small space is to grow up, instead of out. This means more space for things to climb, such as peas and vining cucumbers, and planting things like pole beans instead of bush beans. We already produce a surprising amount of food in our small space, but my goal is always to try to do more.

Explore seed saving.

One thing I meant to do this year, but just didn’t get around to, was seed saving. I mean, what could be more sustainable than saving seeds from your own vegetables to re-grow the next year? In 2019, I want to spend a lot more time learning about how to save seeds from things like beans, peas, peppers and tomatoes.


I am continuously amazed by the myriad of lessons that the garden can teach us. No two years are the same, and nothing is guaranteed. But that is half the fun, isn’t it? I cant wait to see what next season brings us. Until then, I’ll be dreaming up my 2019 garden and obsessively browsing seed catalogues…

Talk soon,

-Ashley


What worked well in your garden this year? What did you struggle with? What are you planning to do next year? Join the conversation in the comments below or reach out on Instagram.