Wednesday, August 25, 2010

August Homestead Tour: Thy Hand Hath Provided

There are so many wonderful bloggers and homesteaders out there, I thought it would be fun to get to know some of them better. Each month, I hope to feature a different homesteader and interview them with all sorts of fun questions; things I'd like to know about them! And then, you can perhaps ask some questions in the comments, too! 

I'm excited to be starting with Thy Hand Hath Provided. She's so gracious and humble about everything she does. And trust me, she does a lot of stuff really well! Like cooking. Her family eats well, she grows a ton of her own, and the food looks fabulous! You'll find her blog has an extensive listing of great recipes. 

And did I mention she cans in bulk? Serious stuff here. She feeds her family for the entire year! I don't think she calls herself a prepper or even uses that term, but she would put some of us who call ourselves such, to shame! Then there is the gardening. Because she's so thrifty, she grows almost everything she puts up. And I love her chickens - don't I always! You can never have too many sweet hens.

I really should stop and let her tell us in her own words... 

Why do you actually practice homesteading?

It means a lot to us to be able to grown much of our own food so it doesn't have to be trucked (or flown) in from other parts of the world.  Homesteading takes a lot of work and attention, but we would prefer to all be together, doing meaningful work instead of being off in different directions participating in less fulfilling activities.  

We like being able to watch first hand as God's creation responds to care and in turn provides for us.  We want our children to understand where food (including meat) comes from and the effort and care it takes to bring it about.  

All this leads to a greater appreciation for what we have- a value that we want to instill in our children amidst a society which doesn't always seem to appreciate what it has.  Growing much of our food and living frugally frees up extra income for giving to those in need.  It also makes returning to school full time more feasible (Jamey is currently in his fourth of five years of pharmacy school and I stay at home and homeschool our three children ages 7, 4, and 1).

How long have you been homesteading?

Almost 6 years ago, we moved from a development to the country so our kids would have more room to run and play and so we could start a little garden.  Over time, we kept adding and improving our property of 1.6 acres.  We've found that this is more than enough space for us to do everything we want to do right now.  As we gained experience and confidence, we increased our garden sizes, made use of outbuildings we originally thought we'd tear down, acquired chickens for eggs and meat, planted fruit trees and made other improvements.  It's just been a natural progression for us that occurred over time, not something we just decided one day to do.

Was this something you grew up doing, or did you have to teach yourself?  

Since both Jamey and I were raised (and remain) Mennonite (to learn more about our faith, you can read an interview I did on Clover Lane- the link is found in the “Who I Am” page at the top of our blog), that doesn't mean we knew the ins and outs of farming/homesteading.  Jamey and I both grew up with gardens, but neither of us enjoyed helping with them much.  Animals were pets.  We had to learn a lot on our own because we failed to care or pay attention when we were growing up.  It has helped having parents to go to for gardening advice, but much of what we've done, we read about and learned about our own.

What resources have you found helpful for learning new homesteading skills?

Friends and family have provided us with helpful recommendations on gardening and chickening.  The internet is an absolutely amazing resource.  Particularly websites like Mother Earth News offer reliable, respected advice on all things relating to homesteading.  Even youtube came in handy when we wanted to learn how to skin chickens (to avoid having to pluck them and since we don't enjoy eating the skin anyway).  Other homesteading blogs have also been helpful.  

Do you raise any animals or garden on your homestead?

We currently have one cat and about 35 chickens, 11 of which will soon be harvested and stored in our freezer.  We have two large vegetable gardens, four peach trees, six young apple trees, a pear tree and a sour cherry tree, red raspberry bushes and a sunflower patch (my brother's grew and sold sunflowers this summer).

Tell us about how a typical day looks?

Our days look very different depending on the season.  Other than egg collection and feeding and watering the chickens, there are very few “homestead” chores during the winter.  Spring involves a lot of garden prep, starting plants indoors, and planting.  Summer is full (to the gills!) of weeding, watering (from rainwater collection tanks) harvesting, canning and freezing.  Fall includes more harvesting and storing of vegetables.  The changing seasons are such a blessing.  I am VERY ready to move on to the next one as the current season comes to a close.  It's the variety of life- our Creator knew we would appreciate it.

What is your favorite part of homesteading (or benefit)?

There are many!  I love watching our chickens roam around in their yard, eating plants and bugs.  I love looking at a full pantry at the end of the summer after hours of work and know that my winter meals will practically take care of themselves.  I love walking around the property as the sun sets- it makes even the weeds look lovely.  I love watching Sam chase chickens back into their yard, Sadie eat tomatoes out of hand and Miriam toddle around after our cat.  I love knowing that we are leaving less of an impact on the earth and that our children are experiencing God's miraculous creation and the way it takes care of us.

Do you have plans to expand your homestead in any way?

If we have an opportunity to acquire more land in the future, we have talked of raising sheep and/or highland cattle.  We have also talked of adding turkeys to the mix since we already have a great place for them (minus some fencing).

What new skills are you hoping to acquire in the future?

As our children become more independent and some time is freed up, I look forward to trying my hand at cheese making (I've only dabbled so far) and grinding our own wheat.  We're also considering other ways to use up more lawn space (the sunflower patch gave us a wonderful taste of this) to utilize space and decrease the need for mowing.  Overall, I am very satisfied with what we are doing now.  

You’re quite accomplished at storing food, whether in the freezer or by canning. What advice would you give to someone who wanted to start doing this on such a large scale?

Start slow and small.  This has worked very well for us.  Each year, we've increased garden size and amounts preserved based on our confidence levels.  Jumping in too fast and taking on too much would have left me stressed and overwhelmed.  Keep doing what works well, try a couple new things each year and when you've mastered them (to your satisfaction), move on to the next couple things you'd like to try.

Putting that much food up each summer requires a lot of work! How do you pace yourself so that you can get it all done?

I wish I could pace myself!  Unfortunately, the garden and local orchards don't coordinate their schedules based on how busy I am:-).  Recently, I had about three straight weeks where I had at least one canning/freezing project per day.  It's tiring work and I've been know to break down and become quite irrational (tears and everything!) this time of year.  I ask myself WHY in the world I am doing all this.  Thankfully, it's a fleeting thought and after a good night's sleep and the jars are on their shelves, I tackle the next project.  The benefits far outweigh the drawbacks for us.

Tell us about your wonderful recipes on your blog so that readers can find them when they visit and what inspires you when you cook?

Since we grow about 90% of all the vegetables we eat all year long, what we eat is based directly upon what is in season or that which we have stored.  I'm very much a seasonal cook and that is why our recipes are organized two ways on our blog- by category (baked goods, side dishes, etc.) and by ingredient (apples, green beans, zucchini, etc.).  Both recipe indexes can be found across the top of our blog, just under the title.

I love trying new recipes, so I'm often adding to our indexes.  Finding new recipes that are true to the season or include food we have stored can be challenging and this is why I value our indexes so much- I use them a lot and I hope others find them useful as well.

You've provided a nice sketch of your layout! You really have utilized your area well. Perhaps it will inspire others with ideas for their own homestead!

Thank you, friend! I've thoroughly enjoyed hearing more about your homestead! If you'd like to ask THHP a question, just leave a note in the comment section. And I want to encourage you to visit her blog at Thy Hand Hath Provided and get to know even more about this incredible woman who inspires so many!

Happy Homesteading!


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