Ask a Homesteader: Dear Jessica…
Welcome to this week’s edition of Ask a Homesteader. Do you have a homesteading question or problem? Dear Jessica is here to help! Weekly homesteading advice column from The 104 Homestead.
Dear Jessica, I have a neighbor issue. I am like you a little land and smaller budget. I have new neighbors “over there” who have money to burn and dogs. He wants to build a privacy fence around their whole back lot. The problem is it will cut off my view and will be along my whole homestead lot which is several city lots on the edge of a rural town. I have placed garden plots and trees which will will end up a few feet from his new fence. Should I argue about this, or just move my garden and trees and live with looking at a 6 ft wood fence? I want to get along with my neighbors there are 4 houses around here none too close but we are friendly. This guy is new and loaded he lives in Colorado all summer and comes back here to hunt and stays for the winter. I was the new neighbor who bought the worst house on the block and am working to make it pretty and make me happy living my lifestyle. He says it will help us both and up the value of both our places I don’t think a privacy fence really does that. I would like to know what you think and what you might try to keep what you have built for yourself. Thanks I know it’s a long email but I would appreciate your opinion. I don’t have money for lawyers and surveys so not really an option for me but I do feel like just giving up and selling some days. – Kaankaleke
Hi Kaankaleke! I understand neighbor troubles. We have one neighbor who is just a few feet from our house and another who believes mowing the lawn at 5:00am is acceptable behavior. Here’s my suggestion (and I can’t guarantee it will work), try winning him over with bounty from your gardens to show him how happy and productive your gardens are right where they are. I did something similar when our ducks went visiting to the neighbor’s house. I brought them some cookies (because people can’t be mad at you when you bring cookies) and some fresh duck eggs. They were much more tolerant of the occasional visit after that.
If that doesn’t work, is there a living fence you might be keen towards? There are several edibles that can function as a privacy screen. He would get his privacy and you would get another food source. You can train vines like grapes or use shrubs like elderberries. You can also espalier fruit trees along a sturdy fence. If you’re feeling ambitious and you have the space, you could create an entire edible hedgerow. This would at least make a positive from a potential negative.
Dear Jessica, do you know how to store wheat? – Adelaide
Hi Adelaide! This is definitely a “do as I say, not as I do” situation. My bulk wheat and other bulk grains sit in the bags I picked them up in on the kitchen floor where they’re moved only when we need to get something out of a cupboard they’re blocking. This is an example of poor bulk grain management.
Food grade buckets are the best containers for storing wheat in. You can buy them, but often if you go to a bakery and ask, they are happy to give them away for free. You just need to clean them out. Wheat should be stored at lower temperatures for optimal freshness (I believe the suggestion is below 65ºF). A basement is a good option if you don’t have a cool pantry. If you choose to store in a basement, place the bucket on a pallet so the bottom of the bucket doesn’t get too cold on the dirt or concrete floor.
If you are planning for long-term storage, I would consider adding oxygen absorbers. These have nothing to do with freshness, but they prevent insect eggs from hatching. Yeah, there are insect eggs in almost every grain and given time they will hatch. If the grain is void of oxygen (what the absorbers do through the magic of iron) the eggs can’t hatch. If you’re storing small quantities for long-term, storing an an airtight bag in the freezer works well too.
Dear Jessica, I’m seeking advice or hints for the best way to introduce new chickens to the flock. – John from New Brunswick
Hi John! My first piece of advice is to quarantine new chickens. This is so important and something that shouldn’t be rushed. It’s one of those things that people overlook because they think “it won’t happen to me” and then it does. We nearly had our flock wiped out by a chicken that came from a clean flock and looked very healthy. She was a carrier of something nasty.
After everyone has been properly quarantined, it’s time to let the new and old chickens interact in a controlled environment. When we were free-ranging we would create a temporary pen for the new chickens that the old chickens could visit. Now that our chickens are contained in a run, we divide the run in half with new chickens on one side and old chickens on the other. This allows the birds to meet in an safe environment. You will see that some chickens don’t care at all about newcomers while others will rush the divider. There may be some epic battles, but the newcomers will have somewhere to get away and that’s important.
I find that two weeks of having them together, but separated, works well. Yes, it’s a long time to quarantine and then introduce this way, but it will be easier in the long run for all those concerned. When it’s time to remove the divider, it’s best done at night. Chickens aren’t the smartest birds and if they wake up with the new chickens, they might not realize they weren’t there the whole time.
One last piece of advice is to introduce several birds at one time. The number of new birds to introduce is contingent on how many birds are in your current flock. If you only have a few chickens, you can introduce just two or three new birds, but if you have a larger flock, you might want to introduce more so that no one is targeted.
Dear Jessica, name your top 5 fruits and veggies to grow. Things that are prolific and can be canned relatively easy without a lot of store bought ingredients. – Denise from Ohio
Hi Denise! I put a lot of thought into what we plant because we have limited space. I spend time researching what offers the biggest bang for our buck and these items get priority on the homestead. If there is space after our “priority” foods are in, those spots get filled with the fun foods. Having said that, here are my top 5.
No garden would be complete without tomatoes. They are winners in my gardens for several reasons. Because we grow our tomatoes on a fence versus in cages, they don’t take up a lot of space. Also, the seeds are very easy to save which means I don’t have to buy seeds every year. Finally, they can be eaten fresh off the vine or canned using a water bath canner. I know how to pressure can, but I prefer water bath.
An apple tree might take up a fair amount of space, but they are worth it in my opinion. We picked up a dwarf variety that has been grafted to grow five apple varieties. If space is an issue, you can espalier it along a fence. Apples are another food that can be enjoyed fresh off the tree, stored for long term storage, or made into applesauce or apple butter. And don’t forget about hard cider if that’s up your alley.
I love bush beans (which is good news since I accidentally planted bush instead of pole beans in my 3-Sisters plot this year). This is a plant that just keeps on giving. Even in our short season, we get three months of continuous harvest from our bush beans. I didn’t think I liked green beans until I had had homegrown. Frozen ones from the store were blah and canned ones were mushy. We lightly blanch ours for freezing and we raw pack for the pressure canner. This keeps them crisp and flavorful.
We have both high bush and low bush blueberries. We use the high bush to create a screen that blocks the view of the manure heap (good for us and our neighbors) and the low bush create a living mulch under the high bush. We enjoy blueberries fresh, but we also add them to our jellies and jams, as well as the occasional blueberry pie. If you haven’t checked out my friend’s book, Fiercely DIY Guide to Jams, Jellies, and Fruit Butters, she offers some wonderful flavor combinations. We don’t do “plain” jams and jellies anymore. All of them are mixed fruit and it’s so fun!
Pickles. Need I say more? You get a lot of bang for your buck with cucumber plants. In the summer we let them grow to maturity and enjoy them fresh. When we don’t think we can eat one more cucumber, we start pulling them early so we can make pickles and relish. You can also enjoy them in cocktails, soups, salads, and sandwiches.
Do you have a question for the homesteader? Email me at [email protected] with DEAR JESSICA in the subject line. Make sure to tell me your first name and where you’re from. Happy homesteading!
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