Trees, Shrubs, and Bears.. Oh my!

A county tree order form and gummy bear molds…  How could they possibly relate to each other?  Hang with me for a minute..  (if you already figured it out, I think we would get along grand!)

It is that time of the year again, time to start planning out what plants we will be putting in the ground this Spring.  April is only a little over two months away… and this was us last April 12th:

That is right, we were planting trees!    Hard to image right now, looking outside and seeing snow covering the ground.

Spring came pretty early last year.  This year, we will be ready for the thaw, whether it comes in early April or late May.

When planning out our gardens, yard landscaping, and tree planting, I like there to be multiple purposes behind each choice of plant whenever possible.  Some choices and their resulting benefits are obvious, like apple trees are planted for their flowers, fruit, and firewood, blueberries as a natural hedge and obviously, their berries,…  Others, may not be so obvious, at least to the average suburbanite eye. For instance, this year we have some landscaping to do in our yard.  Naturally, we want it to look pleasant, but we also want it to be edible, both for ourselves, our animals, and the area wildlife (not to mention our honeybees).  We have ordered elderberry, juneberry, and several other varieties of plants that fit into our plans of transforming our yard into a food forest. Before choosing a plant, I first do a quick search online to see if we can eat it or if it has known medicinal uses.

There was nothing worse than being a kid and being told not to eat any berries or fruits growing around the yard or house.  That will not be the case on our homestead!  While most of what we plant can be eaten raw, we will take the time to educate our children on what can only be eaten after processing, like acorns and elderberries.

For trees, we will be adding a few more apple trees to our existing small orchard.  Who doesn’t like a good apple tree?  Last year we planted plenty of white oak, plum, cherry, and sugar maples.  This year, in addition to the apple trees, we are adding some pines and willows to provides some quick shelter and privacy.  We also purchased some walnuts for a great free source of protein in the distant future.

So here is where that county tree/shrub form comes into the story.  Contact your county soil and water district office before ordering your trees.  You may find you can save some significant money purchasing them through the county than you would through a nursery or big box store.  Most trees cost less than $1, purchased in bundles of 25.  If you are a homesteader or are into preparedness, why not pick out some edible variates when filling out the form.

So with the potential for so much fruit available, I latched onto an idea that was brought up by some fellow homesteaders on steemit.

Besides the common juices, wines, jellies, and such, how about making some gummy candies?  I love chewy candies but avoid purchasing them as I know they have no nutritional value.  So, how cool would it be to combine the homesteading activity of growing berries with the kitchen activity of making healthy gummies from fruit juices, collected right here at home.  So this year, I purchased some gummy bear molds as a family Christmas gift.

The possibilities are endless, from teas to strawberries, nothing will be safe from being transformed into cute little bears.

We will be sure to update you on any good recipes that come from our own, picked-fresh-from-the-homestead berries!

Have any good (edible) plant suggestions?  Have you stumbled across any good gummy recipes?  Let me know!

Happy tree, seed, and shrub planning!

-Jeremy

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(Almost) Homemade Root Beer (and the inevitable tangents of a Homesteader)

Remember the 90s?  Those days when everyone consumed sugary, caffeinated pop (I think they call it “soda” outside of my mid-west bubble).  That was the era of my childhood.  Probably, for the best of everyone’s good health, consumption of pop is down for the twelfth straight year (in case you didn’t know).

Our family homestead rarely has pop on-site.  But, there is that occasional moment where I do get the desire to consume a good, cold old-fashioned root beer.  Being the homesteader that I am, I set out to make my own.  How hard could it be?  On a tangent, I once had a licorice craving and attempted to make some chocolate licorice at home.  The result was not all bad, it actually turned out with the same taste and texture as a Tootsie Roll.  Not the biggest fan, but hey, it could have been worse.

Back to my quest of making homemade root beer….  Quickly, I discovered that I did not have any of the plants needed to produce root beer on-site.  What a surprise!  I also learned that our climate in northern Minnesota was also a bit too cold to support those plants 🙁  Time to quit?  Ha, not for the average homesteader!!  So I discovered a little thing called root beer extract.  Not exactly homemade, but it’ll do…

The first time I followed the instructions on the bottle.  Gag!  Hmm, time for some rework.  As it goes with many homesteading activities, time to open up Libreoffice Calc and put together a spreadsheet.  So I started to make some notes with each batch I made over the next few months:

By batch 4, the root beer had a pretty decent flavor that satisfied that root beer craving!

Above are the ingredients, here are my quick and dirty instructions:

* Dissolve yeast in warm water for 3 minutes.

* Add sugar and stir until dissolved.

* Add extract and spices.

* Fill bottles (about 8-16oz bottles)

* Let sit in warm place for 3-7 days to build carbonation.  Make sure you keep an eye on the bottles.  They can exploded (mine never have).

(Links to the Funnels and Bottles, also great for kombucha)

Enjoy!

But, wait…….

That is not how it works on the homestead!!  Come on.  Kids, farm animals, winter…

Somewhere in there, we added some free chickens to the farm..

Some friends were slimming up their flock for winter and passed a few birds our way (they are still a bit shy).

Chickens aside..  When I started filling bottles, well, due to our short winter days, I overfilled the first two.  With the dark brown bottles and no sunlight, it was hard to estimate when the bottle was nearly full.

Time for a project before I fill the rest of the bottles!  I plan to build new kitchen cabinets next summer, but for this winter, we are living with what we have.  Earlier this year, I purchased under counter lighting for our future cabinets.  Well, why not install those lights quick now to help make getting through the dark winter that much easier?  That is just what I did!

(Link to the lights and remote)

That’s better!!

(here is a link to our stainless steel kid-proof cups (small size) (larger size))

Besides handling chickens and kitchen, Stephen and I also planted the garlic and a few hundred white oak acorns.

Now, to wait until next weekend to enjoy some homemade root beer!

-Jeremy

 

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