Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Building habits

Each year, I try out a few new "homesteading" skills. Mostly just to see how it goes, learn something new, and stash any knowledge gained away for some day when I might actually need it. But some of the things I've learned over the past few years have become habit: homemade laundry detergent, homemade sausage and pepperoni, homemade noodles and bread, canned tomatoes and fruits and jams. These things have become habit, in the same way we form the habit of making our bed each morning or brushing our teeth, or fixing lunch.

Each year, I add a few new habits. Homemade dishwasher detergent is a new one in our home, and after trying out a few different recipes I'm finally satisfied. All it is is washing soda and borax (also ingredients in laundry detergent) and the secret ingredient: citric acid. Without the citric acid, dishes come out spotty and cloudy. I tried lemon juice and it helped, I tried white vinegar and that wasn't bad, but powdered citric acid turns out dishes that are beautiful and sparkly every time. I found that I can buy citric acid online in bulk for far less than what our local health food store carries it for, and citric acid is the same thing as Fruit Fresh, meaning I can also use it in my canned goods. Fancy. :o)

The chickens are another habit we formed this year: never again will I be able to imagine life without laying hens. No one ever could have convinced me I'd love having chickens as much as I do, but man are they great. Not just for the eggs they lay, but for the compost they produce, and for the fantastic entertainment value. When you don't watch TV, you learn to find amusement by watching other things... like Two Little Girls and the Adventures of the Four Chickens. Chickens take hardly any time at all to care for - five minutes a day to feed, water, and collect eggs, and an extra five or ten minutes a week to clean out the manure and compost it. Of course, this isn't including the hours that Two Little Girls spend outside holding and rocking and petting and combing their hens. But that part isn't necessary, it's just bonus. And even through winter, our girls are providing us with a couple of eggs a day still. We're already looking forward to brooding a new batch of chicks this spring.

On my list of things to try out next year (or some year thereafter):
*Making soap. I'd love to try it with elk or goose fat, just to see how it turns out. I also want to give castille soap a try, since it's the basis for so much everyday cleaning.
*Pressure canning, so I can put up more vegetables without having to worry about running out of freezer space.
*More homemade dairy. I've gotten pretty good at farmer's cheese and yogurt, but I'd love to try out some mozzarella or colby. I'd love it even more if the milk came from our own goats...
*Homemade oils and herbs for medicine. Feverfew was a success this year, and I know certain herbs and teas work great for different minor ailments. I'd love to have my own "medicine garden".

Any other homesteaders out there forming habits, or trying out new skills? I'd love to hear about them, so I can start adding to my list!


Mama Kautz said...

Nope. I just live vicariously through you

Wendy said...

well, you could do the beer... I love castile soap - use it for spraying annoying bugs on my plants from time to time. The bottle says it does just about everything. I like your list - you may have covered it all! Oh, my dad has a big stand of bamboo and makes a lot of stuff with that - brooms, spoons, as well as mulch and garden supports. If you have room on the farm, you could try that. He's also told me stories of my grandmotehr making shoes (long and heartwrenching story of survival and necessity). Also stories of silkworms and feeding them mulberry leaves - and at the end of the season, cutting the mulberry branches, steaming them, using the outer bark for twine in the garden and the inner white bark for mkaing baskets. I'm going to try these projects someday to channel my grandmother whom I never knew. My dad has also grown bottle gourds and says the vessels are virtually indesctrutable. He uses them mostly as scoops - duckfeed, water scooper, etc.