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Homestead Update 8/8 ~ Building our Passive House

We returned from Paris on Sunday and finally got back home to Iowa Monday night. The last few days have been crazy as we attempt to get back to normalcy around here, whatever normal is for us. Of course my garden needed attention and the fridge was empty. There was tons of laundry to do and we had to catch up on life with the kiddos. I’ve finally got a few minutes to catch up with you!

Big things are happening on our little homestead! Check it out…we are finally building our Passive House!

passive house holeWe have been planning for YEARS to build a passive house on our homestead and I mentioned a long time ago that we were finally moving forward with the build. Well, one entire year later, here we are, actually moving forward! It’s taken us a long time to get to this place in our lives. Life for self-employed home builders is very complicated and my husband deserves all of the credit for getting us to this point. We are very excited to see progress finally! The excavators showed up yesterday and started digging.

digging the passive house foundationThey dug all day yesterday. And they are still digging today.

watching the diggersEveryone is having fun watching them dig. It’s really amazing actually. Can you imagine having to dig that hole by hand? Wow. It must have taken forever to build houses in the olden days.

Anyway, if you’re curious about the Passive House, it’s a European concept. Essentially, the passive home is so well insulated that we will not need a furnace to keep us warm – even on the coldest of days out here in Eastern Iowa. Our entire house will be heated by the heat we generate ourselves {appliances etc} and the sun. Our home will use 90% less energy than the traditionally built home because it’s positioned in such a way to maximize solar energy and minimize energy loss.

We will have enormous south facing windows – 3 stories of them, in fact, as well as a state of the art ventilation system to keep our indoor air quality high. I don’t understand all of the specifics, but essentially, our home design has been through rigorous computer models to make sure it will preform as advertised. We have to minimize thermal bridges and maximize solar gain. Every little detail has to be taken into consideration. It’s taken a long time to figure it all out.

I can’t wait to see the finished product and I will be blogging about our progress. If you’re interested in the Passive House concept, head over to the Passive House website to read more!

In other news, at our homestead…

organic garden haul 8/6

My garden is still looking nice! I’ve got more green beans to freeze, tons of onions and potatoes! The peppers are coming on and one of these days my tomatoes are going to explode as they all turn red. They are loaded but I’m  not sure how I’m going to pick them as I didn’t bother to tie them or prune. 😉

crop dusterAnd here’s the rub with trying to live a clean life. Crop dusters came out yesterday as we were watching the excavators dig. UGH!

crop dustersWe certainly can control a lot, but I can’t control this. I made my kids go inside. Call me a freak or over reacting mom, but I just cringe at the amount of chemicals being spewed just feet from my kids.

crop dustersOh man. The entertainment factor was high, though! We had our own private air show. If you’ve ever seen crop dusters in action, you know that they are maniacs. They fly low and bank quickly. They zip and zoom and we were all enthralled. Last year, a crop dusting helicopter {weird, eh?} crashed about a few miles from our house. I know the “experts” say the stuff they drop is safe-ish, but let me tell you, that helicopter dropped its load in the little creek and killed the fish. The locals were warned to keep their kids out of the area. That doesn’t sound too safe to me.

So, while we are happy to finally build our clean, environmentally responsible home, I am saddened that I live so close to practices I can’t control. Please send me $1.5 million so I can buy the adjoining acres. 😉 Money always wins, eh?

And that’s what’s been going on around here. Have a great week!

Garden Update ~ July Progress Report

It’s the middle of summer already and I thought I’d take a few minutes to show you the pluses and minuses in my garden so far this year! I’ve grown some really awesome food already, but I’ve also had a few things happen that have made me pretty sad.

july progress report simplifylivelove gardens

Here is my July Progress Report!

First, here are some veggies I am proud of:

purple kohlrabi

I’ve got a nice looking row of purple kohlrabi! Some are even ready to pick. I love eating kohlrabi raw, but it’s also good sauteed!

carrots

Carrots are coming along… This one’s looking pretty good!

flowering garlicMy garlic is starting to flower. If you’ve been reading my gardening posts, you probably know this is the first year I’ve grown garlic. I can’t wait to dig it up and see what I’ve got down there.

red onionsI have a really nice stand of onions this year! I planted 100 red onions and 100 yellow onions, and most of them are doing great.

tomatoesI planted Riesen Traube Tomatoes and San Marzano tomatoes that I started myself from seeds. This is the first year I have started tomatoes from seeds and successfully transplanted them! They are setting on some delicious looking tomatoes.

cabbageCabbage! I’ve already picked one and made delicious no-mayo cole slaw. I’m picking this one later today and throwing it in the slow cooker with some of my homegrown potatoes, carrots, and sausage from Costco. Can’t wait to eat that later tonight. You can see everything we’re eating this week at my weekly menu plan.
broccoliMy broccoli has done quite well, too. I’ve harvested 4 big heads already and lots of side-shoots. This is my last big head to pick and then I will only have the side-shoots left. They are still yummy though!
green beansGreen beans! They are coming in nicely and taste delicious.
sunflowersSunflowers!  I.Love.Them. I have sunflowers almost all the way around my garden and I love them. Did I already say that??? I love my sunflowers! 😉 They are all volunteers from last year. My 7 year old and I moved a bunch and it looks like I have a sunflower wall around my garden. It’s so pretty!

And, now, the sad things in my garden… 🙁

japanese beetles on fruit trees

Japanese Beetles are devouring my baby fruit trees. I’ve been picking them off and drowning them, and after doing that for several days and making little headway, I finally did break down and spray Sevin on the two worst trees. I know, I know. It’s not organic and it’s a terrible pesticide. The two trees I sprayed are so young though, and were so covered with the nasty beetles, that I wanted to give them a fighting chance. I also also bought a 25 yards of netting at JoAnn’s and am working to cover all of my fruit trees to keep them off so I don’t have to spray again. I’m not sure one tree will make it. They devoured at least 85% of the leaves.

dead pumpkin plant

Although the Diatomaceous Earth is keeping the Cucumber Beetles at bay, it is not working on the squash bugs. So far, the squash bugs have killed one zucchini, one squash, and one pumpkin. I am picking them off and drowning them every morning and evening, and I’m also drowning the eggs. But the blasted bugs are still winning.

drowned squash bugs

Today, I drowned the whole plant as I don’t want the eggs to hatch. I do not know if I will be able to save my watermelon and cucumbers from the squash bugs, but I am still trying.

Other sites I don’t really like: my cauliflower and Brussel sprouts are not producing anything. I’m not sure what’s going on there, but no heads are forming on either of those plants so I intend to start researching a bit to see if I can find out why. Any ideas?

organic garden haul

So far, I’ve dug up a few potatoes, harvested lots of broccoli, peas, onions, green beans and cucumbers. Friends have given me their extra zucchini so I’m still able to enjoy some of that, and I got lots of yellow squash before my plant was murdered. I’m looking forward to tomatoes, peppers and okra!

And that’s what’s going on in my garden! How’s your garden growing?

Garden Update – Tips for Weeding!

Another week has passed! So quickly…as I look back at my goals from last week, I realize that I accomplished very little. 🙂 But I did get a few things accomplished in my garden this past week. Come take a look at my weekly garden update!

weed carefullySo the big task that is going to consume me this summer is weeding. So far, anyway. I keep thinking I will get the weeds out, and then mulch, but I still haven’t finished mulching. My father in law gave me this antique rake last week and I’ve been trying it out. I love the way it looks, but I’m not sold yet on its function. It does a really nice job on teeny tiny weeds, but I’ve got some pretty big, nasty ones already that need a strong hoe. But isn’t it nice anyway?

Last week I decided to finally clean out my carrot area. I hadn’t found any carrots after 2 plantings, so I decided they just never germinated. I headed over there with my hoe and was just about to start whacking when I spied it!

carrot in the weedsCan you find the feathery carrot in there? I’m so glad I saw it. Once I found one, I put down my hoe and started weeding by hand. I found a lot of baby carrots in there. It helps to weed carefully and sometimes, I just have to use my fingers.

weedy carrotsAnd there are smaller carrots! Look for two long, skinny leaves and the start of a little feather, an you’ll find it! There are actually a couple tiny carrots hiding in this picture. While weeding other areas of the garden, I found many more volunteer tomatoes, and transplanted a few of them and I also found a lot of flowers. The zinnias finally germinated as well as a few marigolds! It really pays to weed with an eagle eye and light touch sometimes.

Here are a few tips for weeding:

1. I wait to weed – unless I’m certain that the weeds are in fact, weeds, I leave them alone until I can tell for sure. Patience is a virtue.

2. I use my rakes and the hand cultivator like the one my father in law gave me, but I’m not afraid to put them down, get down on my hands and knees, and weed with my fingers.

3. Know what your plants will look like after they germinate! This Vegetable Plant Identification from Seed to Seedling at Gardening-Advice.com is a great place to look!! I can’t tell you how many little seedlings I’ve accidentally disturbed because I wasn’t careful. 🙁

4. Use carefully prepared soil to minimize weed growth in the first place. One of the ideas behind  square foot gardening {not that I’m a square foot gardener}, is that planting in tight plots reduces the need weeding. I might have to look more carefully at that option, myself! 🙂

5. I have found that weeds come out easiest after a nice rain! Don’t be afraid to get a little muddy. In fact, next to my hoe, my mud boots are my number one must have in the garden!

How do you weed? Please share some of your own tips!

Here’s what else is going on in my garden:

planting pumpkins

My son helped me plant watermelon and pie pumpkins. We still have giant pumpkins, cantaloupe, and another type of melon to plant. We have to get that done tomorrow! I also planted my orange Okra. I can’t wait to see it grow!

flowering cucumbers

The cucumbers I started from seed and transplanted are flowering! The cucumbers I direct sowed are up and looking good, but not flowering yet.

cabbageMy cabbages are looking good! And so are the cauliflowers, brussel sprouts. I’ve been harvesting a little broccoli already. Unfortunately, I don’t think I will get a big head this year, but I’ll keep harvesting the side shoots as long as I can.

field mice holesThe disturbing discovery in my garden are these little holes and the disappearance of all of my sweet corn. I had two gorgeous rows of sweet corn and then they ALL disappeared, expect 2 lonely little corn stalks. I’m guessing these holes have something to do with it, and that it’s probably field mice, but I don’t really know. Has anyone experienced this? Please let me know!

But here is the real reason for the lack of progress at my garden:

Iowa BarnWe are actually moving into the barn, temporarily. If you missed my announcement yesterday, we are finally starting our Passive House and will be living in the barn while that happens!
iowa barn houseHere’s a sneak peak at the inside of the barn. Don’t judge my dirty floors… I’ll share more photos later, once we get all moved in! But moving this past weekend is a big part of why I didn’t get very far on my to-do list.

And that’s what’s going on in my garden. What’s going on in yours? Do you have a tip for weeding that I didn’t mention? Or, know what the annoying holes are in my garden? I’d love to hear!

 

Quick & Easy Way to Freeze Corn

Keep the mess and heat out of your kitchen with this quick and easy way to freeze corn!

Keep the mess outside with this quick and easy way to freeze fresh corn

I love freshly frozen corn for use in taco soup, vegetable soups, and other recipes as well. We (me, hubby, father-in-law, kiddos) froze 50 quarts of corn a while back in fewer than 3 1/2 hours! Total cost – $1.25 and time! Three and a half hours of time was the biggest cost, but that’s all the time it took to shuck it, clean it, boil it, cut it off the cobs, bag it, and store it! I was shocked we got it done so quickly, especially since it’s usually all day affair featuring me and other female relatives. Turns out men are very hard workers and pretty industrious! Here’s how we did it!

How to Freeze Corn

shuck and clean corn

We’ve been pretty lucky the last couple of years to have awesome neighbors who grow the corn for us. We just have to show up and pick it out of the field near our little homestead. We brought the corn home in our tractor and then involved the whole family in shucking and cleaning in the shade of the garage. While the water came to a boil in the outdoor cooker, everyone was busy in the garage.

boiling the corn in a turkey burner outside is an easy way to freeze corn

The real secret to keeping the mess out of your kitchen is to clean and cook the corn outdoors in an outdoor cooker. Seriously, if you freeze a lot of corn, invest in an outdoor cooker! For real! Boiling the corn outdoors keeps my kitchen so much cooler and cleaner, plus the pot is so big I can cook so much more corn at once. I love using the outdoor cooker for freezing corn. Boil for 4-5 minutes (after you’ve shucked and cleaned it).

cool the corn in an ice water bath

Cool in a big, clean tub until you can handle it. It’s helpful to use ice to cool the corn more quickly.

take the corn indoors to cut it off the cob

Take it inside to cut off the cobs. I’ve used a Pampered Chef Corn Slicer in the past and also a knife to cut the corn off the cobs. Cutting the corn off the cobs is the worst part I’m excited to try out the Kuhn Rikon Corn Zipper next time I freeze corn. Have you tried any special corn cutters?

bag cut corn, clean, label, and put in freezer

Bag it up, clean off the bags, label them and freeze! I use quart bags because I have a large family. But you can use whatever size baggies you’d like.

Quick & Easy Way to Freeze Corn

Quick & Easy Way to Freeze Corn

Keep the mess outside with this quick and easy way to freeze corn

Cook Time 4 minutes
Total Time 4 minutes

Ingredients

  • Tons of fresh corn

Instructions

  1. Bring water to boil in the largest pot you have.
  2. Shuck, clean, and cut off any bad spots.
  3. Once the water is boiling hard, add corn and let the water return to a boil. Once the water is boiling again, boil the corn for 4-5 minutes.
  4. Cool the corn in a large pot using cold water and ice until the corn is cool enough to handle.
  5. Cut the corn off the cobs and bag the corn. Flatten the bags, clean, and label then.
  6. Freeze!

Total cost for 50 quarts of corn: $1.25 for the freezer bags because I scored a super sweet deal. 30 minutes to pick. 3 1/2 hours to process. 15 minutes to tidy my kitchen. Those numbers make me happy. And my father-in-law’s sweet corn isn’t even ready yet. If we can keep the raccoons out, we may have more. 🙂

Do you freeze corn? Have you ever used an outdoor cooker? This is our go-to method for freezing corn.