I feel like we’ve moved up a level in homesteading. Or we’re in the process of doing so. I’ve spent a lot of time planning, sourcing and acquiring things this year; things that will improve our homestead and enable us to do more. This has also meant more tetris in the house and garage, with bigger things. It has taken up a lot of time and brain space, which has been tiring but also very exciting. It’s feeling a bit crazy trying to keep up with everything but it also feels good as I have been approaching these things with wisdom. I may be having trouble trying to keep up with our growth right now but the growth spurt will flatten out. I think. Or maybe it will turn into a giant. Anyway, bit by bit, things are getting organised and done, around the prevalent winter sicknesses, and I am being reminded to build rest into my days as well.
I figured I would talk about a bunch of these items at once as they are helpful things, although certainly not necessary for homesteading ways. I have gotten by for years without them but that’s also why I appreciate them all the more now. I feel like it’s important to be prepared in this season of life by having multiple ways of preserving things, to deal with homegrown produce, to deal with food bought in bulk sizes, to save money and to have more food security. I don’t believe it’s wise to assume that we will be able to get whatever we need at whatever time suits us and at prices we can afford from the shops. I also don’t believe in being afraid of the future. But I do believe in being prepared, which is an ongoing lifestyle of good choices, not sudden panic choices.
Let’s start with the kitchen. We got a pressure canner. Boom! We had to wait a while to get it as it was coming from Australia and was on pre-order, plus the shipping delays that are typical of these days. It is not a pressure cooker but a pressure canner. They aren’t available in New Zealand and most people here won’t know what it is, but pressure canning has been around for a long time in the US. Our pressure canner is a 21 liter Presto one and I bought it from Ozfarmer. It will enable us to ‘can’ (preserve in jars) all sorts of things that will be shelf-stable without having to be high in acid. I am particularly excited about the possibilities of canning beans and meat. We can have meals in jars on a shelf like soups and stews. We can have jars of tomato soup, pasta sauce or just tomatoes – that aren’t in the freezer. Anything that comes in a can on the supermarket shelves we can potentially do. This is a big step forward in homesteading for us.
I haven’t used the pressure canner yet as you do have to be careful with them and I want to get a handle on how to use it first. I bought a book to help with that and I am slowly making my way through it.
Of course, with all this preserving on the horizon I needed to get some more jars and I’m keeping my eye out for more. When I was explaining to The Husband about all the kinds of food we could have stored on shelves we had a good laugh because what shelves? We need more shelves.
I built an extra shelf in one of our hall cupboards and have cut the timber to make another one in another cupboard. That’s a start. I also cleared the board games out of the China cabinet and moved all the empty preserving jars and supplies into it. This freed up some space in the pantry for food storage. Now I have to sort through the bookshelf and make space for the games on it. I am also in the process of a storage mission in the pantry. The aim is to maximize the storage space by fitting in as much as possible but also having things reasonably accessible. I got some shelves, baskets and extra food storage containers. There’s improvement in the there but I haven’t finished yet.
The next step up for the kitchen and the preserving department is the vacuum sealer, which arrived recently. I am very excited about the vacuum sealer. We’ve been using it almost every day. That shows how ready I was for it. I chose the Luvele Supreme vacuum sealer, which also came from Australia. Oz is getting some love at the moment. I chose this one over a local one because it has amazing reviews for the product and customer service of the company and the bag rolls are cheaper, plus a bag roll can be stored in the vacuum sealer. So far, the vacuum sealer is living up to all my expectations.
So why a vacuum sealer? The vacuum sealer allows us to store things in airtight, thick plastic bags, which are washable and reusable, except when they’ve been used for raw meat. We buy meat and fish in bulk and separate it into meal-sized portions for the freezer and this will keep it fresh for longer, without freezer burn and conserving space. When you’ve been freezing things in regular snap lock bags for so long you appreciate this step up.
We can also use the vacuum sealer for freezing basically everything else: chopped vegetables, berries, pre-frozen soup, leftovers and more. So far we’ve used it for beef rump cut in different ways, bulk pork mince in 500g portions, bulk fish fillets, sliced fruit portioned out from large tins, chicken soup and bone broth (first frozen in food pods), beef fat scraped off bone broth (to use for cooking), cooked dry beans, bean stock (pre-frozen), mashed potato for Miss Scarlet and numerous portions of leftovers. And probably other things. Those all went in the freezer. You can also use it for pantry storage (we repackaged some pasta from a bulk pack into smaller portions), fridge storage (keeps things fresh for longer) and for items that you want to keep waterproof or save space with for camping, hiking and so on.
After a long while of watching on Trade Me I bought a large, good-quality chilly bin of around 100L capacity, for much cheaper than I would have paid for a new one. It is the kind that will keep food frozen for several days. I was originally looking for one for chicken butchering, for when we start doing more than the two or three I do by myself in one go. It can keep numerous chickens cool during the session. We can also use it for camping. Even more importantly, it is handy to have for when we clean out the freezers or for emergency storage for frozen or chilled items. Since we freeze so much food it is nice to know we have somewhere to put a chunk of items if need be.
We also got a manual metal juicer. It makes a breeze of juicing lemons, oranges, apples and almost any fruit really. This will make it much easier to freeze juice portions when we have an over-abundance of lemons or anything else.
We’ve been eating a lot of yoghurt, both dairy and plant-based, which is a great source of probiotics. But yoghurt isn’t cheap, especially coconut yoghurt. So, we now have a yoghurt maker to make our own, which is cheaper, fresher and gives us options to play around with. It’s a good stainless steel yoghurt maker and it can also be used to make soft cheeses, which I bet The Husband would like to experiment with.
I made my own moisturiser bars for the first time, which was easy, fun and a significant saving per bar from the ones I was buying. Since I got to choose my own ingredients I made them organic as well as all-natural. They smell amazing and soften with skin contact. I am enjoying using them on my face, hands and feet. I feel like these are just the start of more products I want to make…
The Little Fulla’s room has also been the centre of a storage mission. In the midst of the busyness and sicknesses The Little Fulla’s ‘tidying’ had turned into stuffing things into every space imaginable so he didn’t have to deal with them. Under the bed. In the wardrobe. In the cupboards. In the drawers. In the storage containers. He has a fondness for cutting up paper, cardboard and apparently crayons, and the mess of paper, bits and pieces, lego, other toys and even the peelings of sneakily transported fruit was discovered, much to everyone’s disgust. Thus ensued days of The Little Fulla dealing with his mess.
After more procrastination The Little Fulla finally got to the point where he realised that he didn’t want a lot of the toys and things in his room as he was no longer playing with them and didn’t want to have to deal with them again. I’m very proud of him for making big decisions about decluttering. Now I have to sort through the boxes of things and decide what will be thrown out, what will be kept for Miss Scarlet and where it will be stored and what we can pass on to someone else.
This storage mission is taking up a lot of time but it is necessary to deal with things we aren’t using, store well the things we are using and bless some other people along the way.
Something that was surprisingly exciting to me was the arrival of a workshop vacuum for our garage. I’m not normally that excited about cleaning, but boy, did this vacuum cleaner put some wind in my sails. The garage had become increasingly dirty since The Little Fulla started digging holes in the dirt ground of the back carport. It used to be hard dirt but his incessant digging has been constantly causing everything in and around the garage to get coated in fine layers of dirt. Not to mention the mess that was gathering in the garage while my storage solutions remained on stand-by. Or the mouse mess thanks to the worst mouse population around here that we’ve ever had.
The only thing that’s wrong with this vacuum is that I didn’t get it sooner. It cleans the things! It sucks up all the dirt and wood shavings off the floor. It sucks up the spider webs and spiders from the walls and rafters. It sucks up the mouse poop and the bits of egg carton and other things they chewed into. I chose the Mako Workshop Vacuum Cleaner from The Warehouse because, despite its cheaper price, it had good reviews and the 21L bag is easy to empty and is washable. It lives in the garage now so it is always ready to clean things.
We’ve had mouse traps set continuously in the garage and in the house roof to stem the mouse tide. It seems a lot of people in our wider area have had bad rodent problems lately. Weirdly, there don’t seem to be many rats around our place but the mice have been flourishing. We even caught two in the house. We’re only getting about one or two a week in the garage now, so we’re keeping on top of them.
If anyone wants to know, I highly recommend the grey plastic trap called The Better Mousetrap by Intruder, which can be bought from Mitre 10. These traps and peanut butter are all you really need, outside of plague kind of proportions. We also got the bigger rat-sized trap but haven’t caught any rats yet. I learnt the hard way by using rat bait in a bait station in the garage that even though pinned down, the poison doesn’t always stay in the bait station. It hadn’t occurred to me that bits of bait or mouse or rat poop with the poison in it could end up in the chicken pens. Unfortunately it took losing several chickens for me to realise that. Being so busy I was just trying to deal with the problem quickly and use what we had. Using bait doesn’t even line up with my values anymore. I will never use rat bait again. And the silly thing is the mouse traps are doing a better job than the bait was anyway. Oh well, that’s me being a horrible warning for someone else.
After getting the back ‘chicken corner’ of the garage cleaned up with the workshop vacuum, with an amount of glee that surprised The Husband, my reward was getting to put up the two new storage shelves. My original plan was to build one big shelf but the reality of life with a baby set in and I settled on buying two metal-framed shelving sets that fitted the dimensions I wanted. The Little Fulla enjoyed helping me to assemble them. Now they sit against the back wall of the garage, holding the chicken supplies that I have organised so far. I still have a lot more organising and cleaning to do out there.
We have had so much rain in the last month. Everything is muddy but the plants are loving it. We’ve got fine days this week so I’m trying to have a break from some of the inside things and get my hands in the dirt. If Miss Scarlet will let me. I will do a garden update in the next post, including the gathering of supplies to replace our front fence. Woohoo!