Homesteading Ain’t Cheap: Talking About Money on the Croft

So….Money. That’s Awkward.

I’ve mentioned in other posts that I am undertaking Keeper’s Croft on a pretty tight budget and it seemed like it was time to do a whole post about homestead personal finances. To represent this WHOLE experience, money has to be a topic.

There is a belief out there that homesteading will save you money. That it is a more economical, simple and less consumerist way of life. It’s not that this isn’t true but I think it is a little more complicated. It depends on the homesteader! I subscribe to the notion that homesteading is a wide umbrella that covers many ways of living but which are all united under striving for a more sustainable existence. And that’s a worthwhile goal regardless of the money that is or isn’t involved!

In particular, it’s important to consider money when thinking about starting to homestead. For many people it will NOT be cheap. I think the money saving aspects is a (I hope) long term prospect but there is a lot of initial investment to get there. There are certainly more economical ways to do it but that can also be influenced by many different things, from your personality to the real estate market.

Believe it or not, I’m not bringing this up to be discouraging! I feel incredibly grateful and privileged to be living the life I am. However, I think it’s good to go in knowing all the possible considerations. Money has 100% been the most stressful thing for me on this journey. My story and experience has of course shaped my views but I hope the thoughts below are helpful. I will first present some considerations that might play a role in your homestead’s financial picture and the talk about some ways I’ve been addressing them.

Some Considerations

  1. Your Income: This is maybe a DUH but it has to be said. In my case, my income is great! If only I didn’t also have an embarrassing amount of consumer debt. *cue lecture of past me* If you were born frugal with a bit of whiz kid money manager in your genes, you don’t have to have a huge income. However, you do need to think about whether your income can not only cover your monthly expenses, which may be more on a homestead, but also cover the cost of all those dream projects. Moving a block into the country (I am literally a block from town limits) has almost doubled my utility expenses. If you are planning on going off grid, that’s great, but will likely require an initial investment in infrastructure. If your income is only barely able to cover living expenses, are you patient and disciplined enough to wait and take things slowly? And what about the unexpected things which seem more prevalent on a larger property. How will you deal if…say…both of your mowers aren’t working and you have an acre of grass to mow? If you’re a veteran budgeter, you are likely scoffing but if you are not, you’ll need to become one fast. I felt like I was so thoughtful and conservative making my plan for this year and I laid out all the expenses, trying to only get what I needed. The seemingly modest projects still wiped me out, so I am entering a period of extreme frugality to climb back out and prepare for the net big onslaught of needs.
  2. Your Existing Situation: I was living in a house in town on a small lot that I bought for under $100 grand. It was enough of an investment to be able to upgrade to a bigger piece of land but the expenses there were much less. I didn’t need much equipment, so therefore came to Keeper’s croft with a push mower and a few shovels and that’s it. The yard there had no trees except two that were in the parking strip and therefore were mostly the responsibility of the city. Currently, there are roughly 15 dead trees at the croft, half of which are threatening the house/outbuildings. You get the idea. I was taking on a much bigger responsibility and doing so from scratch when I moved to Keeper’s Croft. What’s your situation?
  3. Your Skills: Are you a mistress of DIY? Unafraid to tackle any building or repair project? THIS is going to be a huge asset and can compensate, partially, for a smaller budget! Better yet are you skilled enough at certain things that you can barter with others to accomplish the things you are not skilled at? I unfortunately have none of this but I do enjoy learning, which is at least something!
  4. Equipment: There’s a lot of equipment that comes in handy on a larger property from a shovel to a tractor. What are you starting out with? I started out with practically nothing but you can see a list here of the tools that came in handy the first year: http://keepercroft.com/beginner-homesteading-my-first-tools-on-a-limited-budget/. In the first year and half, I’ve purchased a chainsaw (plus additional chains and a chain sharpener), a weed and brush cutter, a new push mower, a new battery, belt and blades for the riding mower (that came with the place), another shovel, a wheel barrow, an electrical current tester, a post driver and a post digger. That’s at least what I can remember! And that’s before adding any livestock. So be prepared for some expenses here unless you are already pretty set with tools.
  5. Infrastructure: What does the property already have? What will you need? I am THRILLED that the croft already has a chicken run and coop built onto/into the shed. If that wasn’t here, I’d probably be years from getting chickens and instead am hoping to add them next year. Other infrastructure to think about: fencing, barns, greenhouse, water collection system to name a few.
  6. Your personality: Are you crazy independent or do you have no problem asking for help? Does the idea of bartering rather than paying for something make you embarrassed and shy? Are you high or low energy? How creative are you especially with problem solving? The point is that you can learn a lot – our brains are A-mazing – but some things are going to come harder than others based on your personality and who you are. That’s okay but it’s good to be honest with yourself and know where your natural inclinations may make certain things harder.

These are just some of the considerations that immediately come to mind that have influenced my endeavors. They’ve been important factors on what I can get done within a small budget. Do you have others that you could add to this list?

Don’t be Discouraged!

I can’t say how many times I’ve said and will continue to say to myself “what was I thinking?” It usually comes during a period when I am particularly stressed about money. So that encouraging wink from Cal above and the hopefully encouraging words below are as much for myself as they are for you, if you also find money to be a stressor. I also try to sprinkle in some tools and techniques that I’ve been finding helpful.

Patience

As much as I hate it, this has to be the number one thing on this list. I am not a patient person, so this is my mantra. What’s that saying about enjoying the journey as much as the destination? That’s an idea to embrace with every fiber of your being. I hate it but it’s a lesson I need to learn.

NOTE: Social media can really damage patience so beware. The times when I am most discontent is when comparing myself to other homesteads which started about the same time I did but have 7 different kinds of farm animals and an enormous raised bed garden and, and…. When I start to get anxious about this, I remind myself that all our journeys are different and that’s beautiful.

Creativity

I want to be super thoughtful about every penny I spend on the croft. I could easily spend $10,000 on equipment and projects tomorrow. And $20,000 the day after that. There’s a lot to do but once I’ve broken through the worry and anxiety, it is teaching me to be more self-sufficient and think creatively.

What does the thoughtfulness and creative thinking look like?

The biggest example of the self-sufficiency is the french drain I installed last year. Hiring it out would have cost $2,500. I did it myself for roughly $170. Is it done as well as the pros? Meh. But I learned things and it is currently working so it’s a win. When something breaks these days, instead of immediately calling in a professional, I do some research and try to figure out if and how I can do it myself. It’s surprisingly rewarding!

Shopping my own house is a major strategy for me to exercise creativity. Whenever it pops up that I need something, I look around the house and see if there might be something that would work. It’s crazy how often I am able to make something else work. Akin to this is also sitting on that “need for something” for a bit because often, with time, I figure out another, cheaper way to get something done.

The most important thing here, is that I’ve come to enjoy this exercise of problem solving. It would be easier to throw money at it but in the last 2 years, I’ve learned that it’s not nearly as satisfying!

Say Yes

To generous offers. To opportunities to learn. Sometimes I feel awkward or tired or overwhelmed and I just shy away from offers of help, of hand me down equipment or produce or anything. I’m working hard to say yes as much as I can because it’s saying yes to community and not just to an object or knowledge.

Side Hustle

I’ve been researching this a lot lately and have ideas. Selling rabbit poop. Selling “super” compost by having my vermicomposter compost my rabbit’s poop, lol. Selling unique vegetable starts and native plants. Selling microgreens. Selling pollinator friendly garden plans. ??? This is where personality comes in though. I am NOT a seller or entrepeneur, nor a risk taker. Every idea I have would require up front investment and what if there’s no marke? Or I sell a product that just isn’t good. UGH!

I have doubts but DO think developing a small side income to specifically support projects on the homestead is a terrific idea. So, for those of you with bolder spirits – go for it!

Budget Help

This is a (unsponsored) tool recommendation. I started using YNAB (You Need a Budget) at the beginning of 2021. It is very detailed and demands attentiveness. It demands that you think about every dime spent. This is exactly what I need. It has a pretty steep learning curve and it’s not free but I think it is my forever budget program:).

You can do it however you wish but if living under a budget is not something you’ve done before, I highly recommend finding something that works for you. A spreadsheet or program that not only allows you to plan how you will spend your money but then tracks exactly how you spend it. It then becomes a learning tool as well as helping you stay organized.

It’s a Journey….

I have a lot of work to do in this arena of money and I feel quite behind. However, pushing myself forward in my life also forces me to learn and develop new muscles. In the end, it’s not about amassing a huge fortune and having all the nicest things. It’s about lowering stress and anxiety, taking care of my animals, living more sustainably and frugally, and being able to give generously.


If you want to know more about me and Keeper’s Croft, check out the ABOUT page.

Checking in with the Prairie | 8 Months After Planting

STOP! If you are curious about the beginning of this story read this post about how I planted the prairie seed. That is a very detailed post about the beginning of the process and includes some “how to” information. This post is just going to be a quick check in and will talk a little about first year management.


Prairie Plants?

Talk About Nerve Wracking

As a reminder, prairie restoration/planting is a process and a relatively long one at that. I will not know whether I have established anything worthy of being a called a prairie for another 2 YEARS. However, I want to document this process at every step so here goes the first update.

I planted the prairie by broadcasting seed on bare earth late October 2020. Iowa proceeded to have about a month and a half of no precipitation. OH NO! I watered a little but it’s a large area so It likely did little good. We had a fairly “normal” winter for Iowa – snowy, with persistent snow cover. YAY! But the snowy weather didn’t really move in until mid-December so there was a solid month and half where the seed just baked on the ground and was available for birds and other seed foragers. OH NO!

There was one period of bitterly cold weather. I have no idea how this may have impacted the seed which was under an insulative layer of snow. MEH? Late winter after snow melt we got unseasonably warm temperatures and a full week of rain. YAY! Then we entered into a month long period without a drop of precipitation. OH NO! Now we are back into drought conditions. OH NO!

If it’s not clear from the above, it’s been a roller coaster and I’ve second-guessed my timing and planting process a millionty, billionty times. If you’re thinking, “WOW, lady, just chill out. You can always plant again.” I can. You’re right. But did I mention it takes three years for prairie to even start coming into its own? Did I mention this seed cost over $300 (this is a lot in my budget!)? Did I mention I was gifted a generous amount of seed from a friend who hand harvested out of his own prairie? Basically, I’m really invested in this prairie.

What Does It Look Like Now?

After all those ups and downs, how is it doing now? First, it took a long time to fill in with green. It was bare ground with a few scraggly plants here and there until about a month ago (so until early-mid May). Currently it is covered with green… but it’s almost ALL weeds and not of the prairie variety. Lots of plantain, dandelion, some ragweed, a few grasses, clover, wood sorrel.

However, in the last week, I have finally, FINALLY, started to spot some scattered plants that are clearly prairie plants. The collage above shows several of them. I can’t identify most of them but I’m pretty sure there is echinacea, gray-headed coneflower and, the one I did positively i.d., a tiny Whorled Milkweed, which is a great find. They are still by far in the minority but they’ve made me a little less anxious.

First Year Management

Now that there is some vegetation, I’ve started to more actively manage the planted area. This first year, that means keeping it mowed to about 6″ height. This keeps the weeds in check, while the prairie plants take the time to develop their extensive root systems. It’s an attempt to give the prairie plants a competitive advantage.

I also broke down and watered with a sprinkler as we are in another period of semi-drought. I’ve never even owned a sprinkler in my adult life because I associate them with watering lawns which is just dumb. I’m borderline, anti-sprinkler. Regardless, I went out and bought one so I could baby this little patch of prairie. To be clear, I don’t have to water this with the same frequency and intensity I do my vegetable garden or other establishing perennials. Plus, once established the prairie plants will be very drought tolerant. However, for this first year, I am trying to give them every little boost that I can. If we continue without rain I may try to water every 10 days – 2 weeks, if we don’t get put under water use restrictions.


That’s the 8 month(ish) check in on the prairie. Establishing prairie takes patience…something I don’t have in abundance but it’s been interesting and I hope will end up being rewarding. Have you ever tried to restore some native prairie? What was your experience like?

Take care everyone and remember to get rid of as much lawn as possible!


If you want to know more about me and Keeper’s Croft, check out the ABOUT page.

How to Radish | Ideas for Eating Those Glorious, Spicy Globes

Hello gardeners! The earliest bounty out of my garden this spring is the radishes. I planted two varieties: 1) Saxa 2 which is pictured above and is a fast developing radish and 2) Easter Basket Mix, which technically is a bunch of varieties. I got both of these from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and they have grown wonderfully.

But what to do with them all? Honestly, I’ve shied away from growing radishes in the past because, while I like them, I didn’t think there was much to do with them besides eat them raw. In the last couple of years, that’s changed however and, for my own benefit as well as others I hope, I thought it would be helpful to put together a roundup of some ideas on how to consume these spicy globes of goodness!

STORAGE

First things first, though! If you are like me, I can not always go from harvest to prepared vegetable in a matter of hours. So, what’s the best way keep them as fresh as possible until you can work with them? There are many ways to store but the consensus is that if you need longer term storage, (2 weeks +), it’s best not to wash them first. Trimming them, then wrapping in some damp paper towels in a plastic bag with all the air sucked out, will keep them in the fridge for up to two weeks. I have had luck with this, even with keeping leaves on.

If you want less prep and only need to keep them fresh for a few days, you can stand them up in a container with about an inch of water in the bottom. Putting them in the fridge like this will keep them happy for a few days.

For longer term storage you can, apparently, bury them in sand like carrots and keep them in a cold, dark cellar, but I don’t have personal experience with this.

Okay, with that out of the way, lets get to preparation!


1. Pickle ’em!

Radishes apparently do not do well being canned for long term storage (they get mushy), but they make great refrigerator pickles and can keep for a couple of weeks this way. This is probably my favorite “new” way to prepare radishes. It’s a pretty basic formula: clean and chop radish and onion into a clean jar, and then pour over a heated brine of your choosing (water, vinegar, salt and a little sugar – I used monkfruit sweetener). I’ll include a link below. These go well on sandwiches, tacos (like the fish tacos below), BBQ meats etc…. Korean cuisine uses pickled radish (usually Daikon), so this is a good place to look for some ideas. And they look so pretty!

2. Roast ’em

Cooking radishes mellows them out. They still have a nice flavor but not as strong, so they can pick up other flavors. Their texture also becomes a bit more starchy, like a potato, but with some juiciness. I roasted these in olive oil, salt and an Italian seasoning mix. And roasting isn’t the only option for cooking them as a side dish. Seeing that someone’s (sorry, I can’t remember who!) favorite way to eat radishes was simply sauteed in butter was one of my inspirations to try cooking the radish harvest. In fact, there is a rumor that radishes and butter are a match made in heaven.

3. In the Raw

I think this is probably the way most people think about eating radish but it’s not just for salads. Some ways I enjoy them is sliced and added to a wrap or sandwich, on a bagel with cream cheese, as a side and if I’m feeling fancy with a honey mustard dip. One way I’d like to try is sliced thin on a buttered baguette (again the radish-butter love affair). There are also a number of recipes out there for radish centric salads. The greens are also edible but I admit to never having tried them, mostly because I am always desperate for greens for the voracious vegans in my household (see below – give us the greens or we give you the butt!). If you are wary of eating the greens straight up, and you don’t have the demanding vegans, they can be whizzed into a pesto like so many other greens. Obviously the whole radish shines in the raw!

4. Dehydrate

This is something I haven’t yet tried but will before the radish-palooza is done. I sometimes struggle to use dehydrated veggies because dehydrating is a relatively new method of preservation for me. However, you can throw dehydrated radish into soups and stews as a less carb-y substitute for potatoes. I really like this idea as a pre-diabetic that is trying to watch my crab consumption. [NOTE: I am not a NO CARB warrior. Carbohydrates are important but I try not to eat them in excess.] They can also be dehydrated as slices and eaten as chips!

Links Roundup


This is by no means a comprehensive roundup of radish recipes (ha!) but hopefully it is enough to spark some ideas. It was born out of my need to get more creative with my abundant radish harvest. As I up my veggie production in the garden, I don’t want anything to go to waste! I love being able to use every last thing harvested and increase the proportion of veggies in my diet.

What’s your favorite way to eat radishes? Anything not mentioned here?


If you want to know more about me and Keeper’s Croft, check out the ABOUT page.

Watching the Fluff of the World Floating By… June 2021

It’s been almost 6 months since I last did any writing in this space. I’m not sure why I’ve been so quiet. I expect it is the weight of the last year… and the weight of the future to come… that has caught up to me, making it harder to be creative. The post title came to me as I was sitting at my desk, looking distractedly out and seeing all these little white pieces of fluff drifting by the window. Dandelion seeds? Cottonwood? Bird feathers? I don’t know but the feeling felt familiar. Sitting inside, distracted, fuzzy-brained just watching the results of unknowable, and uncontrollable, happenings.

Helllooooooooooooo! LOL. That’s where I’m at. And I mean that in the present tense. I’m still not flooded with inspiration or motivation but I am feeling the need to try to be creative again. Fake it until you make it? How are you? I hope you are thriving like a spring garden!

Catch Up

While activity here at virtual Keeper’s Croft has been non-existent, I have managed to plow through my 2021 goals list. A quick refresher:

In the first 5 months of the year I’ve:

  • Planted 6 fruit trees
  • Fenced in the main garden
  • Added a few lights and second shelving unit to my seed starting set up
  • Established beds and planted in about 30% of the main garden space
  • Experimented – somewhat lamely and unsuccessfully – with starting native plants but I did it and did learn some things.
  • I’ve been working on tackling the burdock, with mixed results and have added some native starts.
  • Worked on limbs and in fact cut a lot of the bigger branches to serves as sides to some of my garden beds.
  • Potted half and planted out half of the 20+ paw paw seeds I had but don’t have any documented germination yet:(.

Most of the major expenses I identified for the year have been spent much to the chagrin of my bank account. Everything is planted in the garden except for the cucumbers and a few more lima beans. And the thing that nearly broke m; I also put in an asparagus bed. The herb garden is the only place that’s been relatively ignored. So, not bad for someone who hasn’t been operating at their best!

Early Harvest

June Forecast

My pottering and puttering goals for June 2021 on the Croft are:

  1. Weed, refresh and edge the herb garden.
  2. No spend. Every month this year has had some major expense. I need to recover. Fingers crossed nothing unexpected arises!
  3. Plant cucumbers and cut limbs and create a trellis for the climbing beans.
  4. Make some Beeswrap and get back to my crochet practice. HOMECRAFTS. MUST DO HOMECRAFTS.

And I think that’s it. I’m going easy on myself and it feels good to be heading into the maintenance part of the year. *Deep cleansing breath*

Early Spring Herb Garden

What are you hoping to do this June? Hopefully it is as little or as much as you wish and that you can take some time to watch the fluff drift by as well.


If you want to know more about me and Keeper’s Croft, check out the ABOUT page.

The Amazing, Grand, Very Good Plans for Keeper’s Croft in 2021

Woohoo! It’s 2021! Yeah!

……And everything is pretty much the same. Regardless, I have to say, never has a new year felt more cathartic even if only in a symbolic sense. I also happen to be one of those people that does like to reflect and plan at the changing of the year. So that’s what I’ve been doing, though as far as homestead planning goes I’ve actually had my plan for the next year drawn up for a month or two.

Why so premature with the plan? Well, it all goes back to the nervous breakdown I had in November…or maybe October? I don’t know. 2020 was 5 years long. As I’ve said at least 75,356 times (maybe more), I am trying to do this thing solo, on a slim budget and with no real practical skills. It’s hard on the nerves and has caused fairly regular bouts of self-doubt and concerns for my sanity. What on earth was I thinking?!?

It was during one of these moments in “Novemtober” when I realized that I needed to get to the bottom of why I get so upset at the slow pace of progress at Keeper’s Croft. I’m almost 50 and part of me worries I am running out of time. Out of time for what exactly? Only having chickens for 15 years vs. 20? I also don’t tend to enjoy the uncertainty of the between time – the “journey” time if you will – I want to get to my destination and just start having fun. I’ve already addressed this on the blog so I won’t belabor it but the point is I really needed to start appreciating and enjoying the process.

So how does that work?

I need to start seeing the fact that I have zero skills as crippling and see it as an opportunity to keep learning and experiencing new things which is a more and more precious commodity as life goes on. So what, if it means my kitchen light is non-functioning and has been for the last month because I couldn’t figure out how to change the switch and am too cheap to call an electrician? Who needs light in the kitchen? My cooking has never been so tasty – HA!

It is this new, more patient Stephanie that is heading into 2021 and it is she who sat down and was brutally honest about what could get done in the next year. Wanna see what I’ve prioritized for the next year?

2021 Homestead Plan

Garden and Growing Food

  • Get to 50% capacity: This will involve continuing to use the chicken run (so no chickens this year) as well as starting to build beds and use in the main garden space.
  • Temporary fence up around at least parts of main garden: Anything I plant in the main garden area will need some kind of protection from deer/rabbits but I don’t know that I will be ready (or have the money) to build the permanent fence. So maybe snow fencing or more flimsy wire fencing around at least part of the area?
  • Seed Starting Set Up: I want to have a pretty robust set up so that I can not only start vegetables but also some native plants to give away and sell.
  • Fruit Trees Planted: These take a few years to start producing so prioritizing these as well as any other longer terms plants this year.

Habitat

  • Cut and treat invasive understory (honeysuckle and buckthorn) in woodland: This is mostly just labor and the cost of chemical.
  • Treat burdock areas and plant more native plants: The burdock is a native and was a huge favorite of the bees and butterflies last year but it’s seeds are just too obnoxious with two long-haired dogs.
  • Start some native plants: Growing starts of prairie wildflowers is not entirely straight forward so this will be my experimental winter.
  • Paw Paw Tree!: I have been gifted some Paw Paw seeds and I am going to see if I can turn them into seedlings!
  • Can I cut down small trees? Clean up in woodland: The property has a LOT of dead trees and a lot of downed limbs and trees in the woodland. Woodlands aren’t meant to be clean but it is a tangled mess. And I’d like to test my self and see how brave I can be about taking down some of the smaller trees that need it.
  • Plant native shrubs if free or inexpensive can be found
  • Prairie Maintenance: I dormant seeded the prairie in late fall and it will need to be mowed a time or two this summer to keep the competition of the non-natives in check.

Herbs

  • Fill in holes: I got a fair start on the herb garden in 2020, but it’s not full and there will be plants that don’t make it.
  • Calendula and Comfrey: I’d like to identify some space to grow substantial amounts of calendula and comfrey.
  • Start Seeds: Grow as many plants from seed as I can.

Home and Kitchen

  • Learn to crochet
  • Learn to make candles
  • Expand my home crafts
  • Continue to expand my food preservation knowledge and activity: Fermentation!
  • Continue to work on cutting my food waste

That’s It

No chickens. No fence for the dogs. No permanent garden fence. No greenhouse. No hiring someone to take the big trees down. No farm truck or UTV.

It doesn’t mean I won’t take advantage of opportunities when they arise. There will also be things that need attention that I couldn’t plan for. But as much as possible, I will focus on the above items and enjoy working on them!

I also identified what I will need to spend money on:

  • Fruit Trees and Seeds
  • Seed starting equipment (primarily LED grow lights, trays, native plant conetainers)
  • Big load of compost
  • Herbicide
  • Some Fence supplies including a post pounder
  • Extra chain, chain sharpener, steel-toed boots, and perhaps a second bigger chainsaw.

I will avoid spending any big cash outside of this list.

Homestead Planning

There it is! My to do list for 2021! And also my to don’t list! I am still working on my finances and budget, so I really tried to focus and stay away from too many big ticket items (like chickens, trees and fence). I made sure to include things that will give me the opportunity to learn and hone new skills. Looking at the list, I feel happy for the year ahead!

I’d really love to hear how you approach planning on your homestead? Do you plan on an annual basis or do you just have some overarching long-term goals you keep in mind? If you’ve been doing this homesteading gig for a while, what’s something you wish you had known/done early on?

Happy New Year!

As a reminder to always appreciate the moment we are in and be grateful for the beauty of this world:

May you always be blessed

With walls for the wind

A roof for the rain

A warm cup of tea by the fire

Laughter to cheer you

Those you love near you

And all that your heart may desire

Irish Blessing

If you want to know more about me and Keeper’s Croft, check out the ABOUT page.

Year One at Keeper’s Croft

Today marks the one year anniversary of Keeper’s Croft! Below I reflect on the top ten highlights that tell the story of this first year.


1) The First Morning and First Christmas – 12/20 and 12/25, 2019

Seeing the sunrise behind my new home and the welcoming lights on that first morning was a new pleasure. Prioritizing decorating for Christmas and making sure Rudy had a new toy to destroy was also important for me to start feeling like this was our home.

2) My Favorite Trees – March, 2020

The first winter was all about adjusting and as spring started to creep in I finally started to explore and found some trees to admire. My two favorites are both oaks. This is how I start to connect to this land.

3) Callum

Callum joined the family in late March. Part of the reason the winter was so quiet was because I was grieving. In late September 2019, just as my 3 month bid to buy Keeper’s Croft began, I lost my sweet boy Jasper very suddenly to undiagnosed cancer. It was incredibly heartbreaking and because I was in the middle of this endeavor, I didn’t have a lot of quite moments to mourn. When I was able to welcome Callum in, he came charging in full of love and hijinks. He woke up Rudy and I and I am so glad to have him in my life!

4) Birds

To my never ending delight, Keeper’s Croft is not just my home! I want this to be a paradise for wildlife and I have been THRILLED with the birds that have used the resources they found here. It was almost as exciting as my next discovery….

5) Rusty-patched Bumblebee

The rusty-patched bumblebee (Bombus affinis) is a federally endangered species, so I was beside myself to discover that keeper’s Croft is providing habitat for it! It is one of my top priorities to continue to add habitat for this species and other pollinators. And while I would love to have some honeybee hives, the presence of Rusty-patched has convinced me to abstain. There are studies that have found that European honeybees can outcompete native species for nectar resources. Maybe some day if I feel like I am really overflowing with nectar.

6) Herb Garden

I cleared an area and started my herb garden, which included: Horseradish, Anise Hyssop, Dill, Lemon-Mint, Bee Balm, Lavender, Rose, Chives, Oregano, Thyme, Butterfly Milkweed, Borage, Chamomile, Sage, Wild Indigo, Echinacea….and a few more I can’t remember. It didn’t look like much this year but I have high hopes for 2021 and will be continuing to develop it.

7) Vegetable Garden

Thanks to the brilliant idea from a friend, I turned the existing chicken run into a protected vegetable garden and it was incredibly productive! It is an excellent temporary garden space until the main garden is developed and fenced.

8) Derecho! And Chainsaw!

A derecho, which is basically an inland hurricane, tore through Iowa in August. It damaged so many trees and took many completely down. I bought and learned to use my first chainsaw which was a real milestone for me in learning to be self-sufficient. I even successful cut down my first tree, under supervision.

9) Prairie!

I planted about an 1/8th of an acre of high diversity prairie mix on the front part of my property. I will be adding more pockets of native prairie on open areas of the croft but this is the first and a significant chunk! I have all fingers and toes crossed that it will successfully establish but I probably won’t entirely know for another 2 years! The agony!

10) Main Garden

One of the last projects I started before winter, was to begin developing the main garden area. It will likely take several years before it is in its in full swing – it needs a fence and will be primarily raised beds – but through the use of sheet gardening and no-dig techniques, it is on its way!

Honorable Mention: French Drain Installation

This isn’t a very exciting project but it was the one that was furthest out of my comfort zone. It was also a biggie that required digging 95 feet of trench, approximately a foot or a bit more deep. The project helped me feel one bit more confident about tackling my own projects!


There is so much more I could have included! I bought dehydrator and used it to really up my preserving game. I stuck a first tentative toe into fermenting, too. I learned how to drive a riding lawn mower. I fostered 8 rabbits and have seen 7 of them successfully adopted. I transitioned to working from home and have discovered that I love it. I expanded my vermicomposting abilities. Progress feels slow but I have actually been very productive and busy!

I am attempting to do this homesteading thing solo but I also have to say that I had many people who contributed and helped; with advice, with physical help and with free plants! I have so much to be grateful for and can’t wait to see what this next year brings!


If you want to know more about me and Keeper’s Croft, check out the ABOUT page.

Setting December’s Goals on the Croft

POTTERING AND PUTTERING ON THE CROFT

December 2020

Pottering: As in pottering around | definition – to spend time in a relaxed way doing small jobs and other things that are not very important He spent his holidays pottering around the house/garden. (From Merriam Webster)

Puttering: As in puttering about | definition – to busy or occupy oneself in a leisurely, casual, or ineffective manner: to putter in the garden. (From Dictionary.com)


Well it’s almost mid-December and I am just now sitting down to write this. This is a symptom of an overall feeling of ennui. A pretentious word but also very accurate for where I am at as we transition from fall to winter. I’m equal parts dissatisfied, bored, listless, confused and unmotivated. Given that we are in month 4,567 of a global pandemic, I’m going to give myself a pass but I have to admit that this is a pretty typical response from me to winter. I don’t like it. It’s the pits. I’ve done my best to embrace a Hyggeligt mindset but the heart does what the heart does. The solstice is only 8 days away and light will start to creep back in.

December in the upper Midwest is generally cold and often snowy. The day to day tasks change. I don’t yet have animals so that work is not yet familiar to me. But other outdoor tasks that remain mostly revolve around wood. Winter is a good time to prune and take down trees. Pruning because many of the diseases which might attack a tree through a pruning scar as dormant. Taking down because many species of wildlife will not be using the trees for sheltering while they raise young (such as bird or bats). The frozen ground is also more stable for and less likely to be damaged by any heavier equipment. Splitting firewood is also a major task during this time of year.

Despite my lack of motivation, I do have a to do list in mind for this month and have been casually poking at the items on the list already. And this is how December will get done.

A Dog and His Stick

Sooooooo, What’s this post about?

I’m a Planner. I love having to do lists with tasks that can be crossed off and both short and long term goals. It’s a bit of a sickness. And it’s led me to believe that a recurring post with my main monthly goals for the homestead is a great idea! It might not be, since many of the goals seem very particular to Keeper’s but I’m hoping they spark some ideas for others.

Point is, I love to potter around and putter about though in a slightly more effectual manner than their definitions suggest! Here are my homestead goals for the month of December 2020.

My To Do List

  1. Organize the garage…and the shed…and the basement.
  2. Seed and Tree orders!
  3. Take a breather before diving into work.
  4. Start learning to crochet.
  5. Play with recipes and meal plans.
  6. Set up seed starting area and start growing some greens.
1. Organize The Garage, etc…

I strung the garage, shed and basement together because these are my three major storage areas. For the last year, they’ve mostly existed in chaos. I hadn’t yet given much thought to what should be stored where. All year I’ve had to go through the motions of needing a thing and then just having to guess where it might be. Some tools were in the shed, some were in the garage, with no logic as to which went where.

Each space represents differing levels of protection from rodents, dust etc… and different temperatures. One change I’ve already made is moving my canning supplies and “cold storage” items (like canned veggies etc…) into the garage. It’s attached so doesn’t generally get below freezing and the connecting door is into the kitchen so this move makes good sense.

2. Seed and Tree Orders

I want to get my orders in extra early for 2021! The influx of people taking an interest in gardening in 2020 was all to the good but it caused a seed shortage which was not. It may not be the same this year but just in case…

For my trees/fruit, I am planning on getting 4 apple, 3 cherry trees, 1 Lingonberry bush and 25 everbearing strawberry plants. I’m also going to order a songbird packet of trees from our state’s forest nursery which includes a number of native shrubs (ex. serviceberry), small trees (ex. wild plum) and a couple of larger trees (bur oak and white pine).

I haven’t settled on my veggie seeds yet so I have that fun ahead of me:)!

3. Taking a breather before diving back into work

January through about mid-April is the busiest time of my work year. Even though December can also be busy, I try to take at least 1 week off to metaphorically gird the loins for what is to come. This way I can hopefully tackle the onslaught with some semblance of good humor and with my home life in order. Ish.

4. Crochet!

My birthday present to myself (I have a birthday in December) was a starter kit of crochet needles and some yarn. I’d like to take time each winter to try a new craft or skill and crocheting is this year. Hoping it is easier/more my thing than knitting which didn’t stick, sadly. My first project is to make some pot holders because my current ones are grody.

5. Play with Recipes and Meal Plans

This will likely be a whole winter endeavor. I’m diabetic and have high cholesterol and I’m not very good at eating like I am either of those things. I love food and I didn’t grow up being instilled with the healthiest of eating habits. In 2021, I really want to at least be able to say goodbye to the cholesterol medication I am on, so I am going to have to find some recipes that I really love and crave but which are easier on the cholesterol and triglycerides. I also need to start expending the extra energy again to be a more intuitive eater.

6. Set up seed starting operating and start growing some greens.
One of my current fosters, Inkblot

I’d like to grow the greens for my foster rabbits this winter, so want to get moving on my seed starting set up!


I’ve already started on a few of these but it still seems like a lot to get accomplished this month. Hopefully, I will use my time off fruitfully and not still be in my current, non-productive funk.

So that’s my monthly homestead goals! What are you hoping to get done this month?


Book Recommendation

I love books and reading, so I can’t resist including a book recommendation with each post. The book will, in some way, correspond to the post.

I’m not sure if this should be a December or January recommendation, but regardless every year for the last several I have picked up a book by Barbara Pym at the end of December, which I usually read into the first part of January. Barbara Pym was a British writer in the 1950s and had success at that time. I found her through a list of authors that weren’t read as much now but should be. I always characterize her books as melancholy yet hopeful, which in my mind makes them perfect for this time of year. They are light but not shallow and often focus on the mundane, which may sound boring but Pym’s wit makes them anything but. I recommend the first of book of hers that I read, which is still my favorite; Excellent Women. And if you have a goodreads account here’s a link to my review of the book and the link on the cover will take you to Bookshop.org so you can purchase!


If you want to know more about me and Keeper’s Croft, check out the ABOUT page.

November 2020 on the Croft: Wrap Up

Pottering and Puttering

November 2020 on the Croft

Pottering: As in pottering around | definition – to spend time in a relaxed way doing small jobs and other things that are not very important He spent his holidays pottering around the house/garden. (From Merriam Webster)

Puttering: As in puttering about | definition: to busy or occupy oneself in a leisurely, casual, or ineffective manner: to putter in the garden. (From Dictionary.com)

Hello!

Even though the winter solstice isn’t until December 21st, November always feels like the true start of winter in Iowa. And I have to be honest, you’ll notice that I didn’t post much this month AND I’m a week late posting this and the December goals posts. That’s because I’m struggling a bit; with the change of season and discouragement. I’ll address that a bit more in the journal below.

October Journal

So why has this been such a crappy month? It really hasn’t been in any objective sense but I’ve definitely been more than the regular share of anxious and depressed. Besides the surging pandemic and the fraught U.S. election, there are a couple of different causes for this.

I do not love winter in Iowa and always dread it and that is true this year too. It has an effect even though it’s been mild and I shouldn’t have as much foul weather travel as usual because of the pandemic. I’m a southerner and get very anxious about driving even in relatively wimpy snows.

I also tackled a couple of projects that didn’t go so well and that has spiraled into me feeling like this whole endeavor is a mistake. Mole hills meet mountains:)! I have started this journey with virtually no skills. While I can learn some skills by watching youtube videos, some issues, like electrical problems and fencing, I really need an instructor to get me started. I learn best through being talked through doing something for the first time. I don’t have a mentor for things like this. It’s made me feel helpless and frustrated and is not helped by the fact that I can’t compensate for these weaknesses by hiring someone. It’s just not often in the budget.

I also started the croft with very few tools. For example, to “make” my own firewood, I’ve had to buy a chainsaw, protective gear for using the chainsaw, chain sharpening kit, a maul, and steel-toed boots. That’s roughly $700 – $800 worth of equipment just to be able to split my own firewood! So, can you start a homestead from scratch with no previous experience? Sure! But it’s not going to be free. WOW. I am a bundle of joy and inspiration right now, ha,ha! This should not be discouraging to anyone because I do think I’m pulling out of this spiral.

SIDE NOTE: Regarding gear! I have not yet bought from this company so I can’t fully endorse it but I just stumbled across it and think it is so cool! I’ve been looking for steel-toed boots that don’t cost a fortune and found the Safety Girl Website, which has a wide selection of affordable work boots (as well as other safety equipment) especially for women!!

Coming Out of It

So what has started to help cure this funk? I needed to drop my sense of urgency. The things that cause me the most frustration and anxiety is when I realize that I’m not going to be able to accomplish something on the schedule I want.

I’m 47 and feel a sense of urgency to get everything going RIGHT NOW. It isn’t helped by seeing a lot of homesteaders on social media who are much further along than I am. Social media can be such an inspiration but, wow, can it also create some expectations that stress me out.

It’s important to realize that everyone’s situation is different. My situation is a little different than most folks and so I am going to travel a slightly different path. A slower path. And that’s not only okay, it’s awesome. I can focus and savor.

The Plan

From a practical standpoint, I sat down this morning and sketched out my reasonable priorities for the next year. For example, I am going to shoot for a 50% capacity garden – more than this year but not quite where I am going to be eventually. I’ll get some fruit trees planted but hold off on more quickly developing fruit producers like blackberries and grapes. I’m also going to try my hand at learning to crochet this winter. These are reasonable goals for the next year and will move the croft forward.

No chickens. No fence for the dogs. No permanent garden fence. No greenhouse. No dealing with dead Ash trees. That stuff can wait, it really can, and I will appreciate doing the other things because I can focus on them and appreciate them as they unfold.

Thanksgiving

There were also so many things this month to be grateful for, some of which are represented in the collage above. The skies this month have been STUNNING and being in the country makes it so much easier to appreciate them. My colleague and friend gave me a whole bunch of cleaned prairie seed to play with! A pileated woodpecker has been tearing up some of my dead trees! I cut down my first tree though I admit it was terrifying. My chimneys got cleaned and I had my first fire. And my very favorite beer, Vanilla Bourbon Imperial Porter, was released by the local brewpub.

And that’s just a small sampling of the great things that November brought!

Wrap Up

Since taking on Keeper’s Croft it has helped me to set some monthly goals. I had five main goals for the month of November!

  1. Organize my seed starting area? Mostly yes. My intention was to make a plan for this and I did. I identified a second shelving unit to empty and convert for seed starting. I bought an LED grow light to try out. And I made a plan for where I want to set things up. Now I have December and January to get it set up!
  2. Winterize the house? Mostly! I sealed up the doors and put in some outlet insulators. I also closed up things outside. I’ll probably continue to work on this as it gets colder.
  3. Change out some electrical switches? Yes! And No! I tried and failed. I watched several youtube videos and read about it in a household maintenance book I have but my switch didn’t look anything like any of the diagrams or videos. I’ve called an electrician….who hasn’t bothered to call me back. This was one of the things that really frustrated and made me feel like I was in over my head this month.
  4. No Spend? Mostly! I did okay until the last week of the month when I bought some winter gear from Columbia. It was stuff that I needed but was not accounted for in my budget.
  5. Lots of Fire? Yes but not lots! I had my first fire in the fireplace but again didn’t do any outside because it has remained pretty windy.
Moonset

Posts This Month

I had trouble writing this month so there are really only four posts. I am continuing to think about and decide what I want this blog space to be!

I’d love to hear what you all would like me to write about? Here’s this month’s posts.


November’s Best Reads

This is maybe my favorite part! Reflecting on and picking a favorite book for the month!

Not surprisingly, given my state of mind, I also didn’t read a lot this month. Lord, what a mess I was! But I had a couple of reads that I very much enjoyed.

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland asks the question of what it might look like if the U.S. civil war was interrupted by a zombie apocalypse breaking out. It’s a young adult novel that is told from the perspective of Jane McKeene a black woman who has been sent away from the plantation she grew up on to learn how to be a zombie slayer. She’s a total badass and incredibly smart, and independent, which winds up landing her in a heap of trouble. A fun action packed story with great characters that doesn’t fail to examine the many forms of racism and the damage that it wreaks.

I also had a really great time reading Born in Fire by K.F. Breene this month. It’s the first in a series that, you guessed it, features a badass heroine with unique magical skills that she uses to hunt down misbehaving magical folk. She’s got a big secret to hide but when she is forced to work for the vampires on a big job, it becomes harder and harder to hide who she really is. It’s got mystery, is laugh out loud funny, a ton of action and a little bit of romance to boot. It also gave me distinct Kate Daniels (series by Ilona Andrews) vibes. Why, yes, I do really love books with strong heroines that can kick ass; why do you ask?


That’s a wrap for November! How was your month? Any notable accomplishments or things that brought you joy? Sorry my month was a bit of a downer and I hope yours was much better! Thanks so much for reading!


If you want to know more about me and Keeper’s Croft, check out the ABOUT page.

Cocktails on the Croft | Cranberry, Rosemary and Clementine Cocktail

Cranberry, Rosemary and Clementine Cocktail

Living alone, I do far too little drinking.  Somehow, drinking alone at home feels vaguely unseemly to me and I’ve decided I’ve got to nip that nonsense in the bud!  So once a month or maybe every couple of weeks I’m going to try a new mixed drink….and maybe some old favorites, too.  I’m also going to try to use some harvested or foraged goods from the croft as much as possible.  What good is having an acreage if it can’t get you drunk?!? Heh, heh *awkward laugh*


Simple Syrups

I don’t know if it’s just because I am new to cocktail making, or if there truly is, a current craze for making flavored simple syrups. Whichever it is, it is a technique I am discovering which really opens up the cocktail vista. True to their name, simple syrups are very simple to make! This particular recipe, which was taken from the blog Coley Cooks, starts with making a rosemary and clementine peel infused simple syrup.

To infuse the simple syrup, mix 1 cup sugar, 1 cup water, 4 sprigs of rosemary and the peel of 2 clementines on the stove. Heat slowly, stirring occasionally until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is warm. Turn off the heat, pop on the pot’s lid and let the mixture sit for at least an hour. Mine probably sat for two, which may have been too long for this particular mixture. More on that later (spoiler alert – the syrup may have been just a tad too rosemary forward).

The finished simple syrup

This simple syrup revolution, whether it be in my head or in reality, is seriously opening up the world of cocktails for me. The sky’s the limit! With a cup of sugar, a cup of water and whatever flavoring you can imagine, you can add that flavor and bit of sweetness to some booze. I am excited about this!

Here’s the rest of the cocktail recipe

This one was simple to make but has a lot of different flavors going in. I used a double shot glass to measure my “parts”. One full shot = 2 parts.

Doubleshot of VODKA
  • 2 parts Vodka
  • Ice
  • 1 Small Clementine (like one of the ones’ you peeled earlier to make the simple syrup)
  • 1-2 parts simple syrup (I did 1.5 and think I will cut it to 1 next time)
  • 3 parts unsweetened cranberry juice NOT cranberry cocktail (um, OOPS – totally didn’t catch this and all I had was cranberry cocktail)
  • Club soda or dry sparkling wine to top off (I had neither of these so used seltzer)
The ingredients
Instructions
  1. Muddle the clementine in the shaker
  2. Fill the shaker with ice, then…
  3. Add vodka, cranberry, and simple syrup
  4. Give it a shake
  5. Decant into a glass with ice, leaving enough room to…
  6. Top off the glass with your sparkling whatever
I’m really flummoxed by the muddling process – what does one use to muddle in a tall shaker? This is what I improvised; rolling pin. I muddled the crap out of those clemetines!

My Verdict

This was tasty….BUT would have been better, I think, if I had put it together exactly as the recipe was written. I can’t believe I am saying this, because I am a sugar fiend, but it was too sweet. It needed the tart of the unsweetened cranberry and a dry sparkling wine would have also helped keep it balanced. Adding just 1 part and not 1.5 parts of the simple syrup would also help.

And the rosemary. The rosemary was a tad too strong – not really overwhelming but a bit too… present. In future incarnations I think I would only use 1 part instead of 1.5 parts of the rosemary infused simple syrup.

I liked the idea of this cocktail so much that the next night I decided to play with it. I subbed this lovely boreal spruce gin at the same ratio as the vodka. Ah. Gin. How I love thee.

From a distillery in Duluth, MN – Vikre Distillery

Left out the clementines (they were one of the worst sweetness offenders) and cut the simple syrup back to only 1 part. Finally, I went for tonic water instead of the seltzer. Sooooo, basically a gin and tonic with cranberry juice and a little orange-rosemary simple syrup. THIS was amazing. Still too sweet but better and I think the gin melded better than the vodka with the hint of rosemary. Or maybe I just really love gin?

Final Scores:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

3 out of 5 stars for the original recipe which I also didn’t completely replicate sooooo…

Rating: 4 out of 5.

4 out of 5 stars for my abomination with gin and sans clementine. A beautiful abomination.

Book Recommendation

I love books and reading, so I can’t resist including a book recommendation with each post. The book will, in some way, correspond to the post.


I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. Buying the book below from amazon will earn me a commission.  

One of my very favorite genres of book, especially in the last 3 or so years, are historical mysteries. Mysteries set in the 1920s are particularly prevalent, probably as an homage to Ms. Christie. Murder at Archly Manor, the first in a series by Sara Rosett is one such book (every book set in the 1920s makes me think of cocktails) that I particularly enjoy. The heroine for these books is especially independent and sassy and all the mysteries in this series have been great fun. Overall reliably enjoyable reads and a series I quickly read all the installments available. Olivia Belgrave is from a well-to-do family but has determined to work for her living. In desperation she takes on the job of investigating the dodgy fiance’ of a friend but soon finds herself mired in a murder investigation.


If you want to know more about me and Keeper’s Croft, check out the ABOUT page.

Bird Feeding 101: How to Feed Birds Like a Boss

It’s the time of year, when temperatures get a little nippy, that my mind turns to feeding birds. Bird Feeding is one of the most enjoyable, and easy, ways to interact with wildlife. It provides the opportunity to observe birds up close, learn how to identify them and start a property bird list. In this post, I will give tips for attracting birds and some dos and don’ts of bird feeding.

Birds and Keeper’s Croft

When I moved to Keeper’s Croft, I was STRESSED. The house-buying-selling-moving situation had not gone smoothly and investing in this place was a really big stretch for me. I questioned more than once whether I had just made a huge mistake.

One of the first turning points for me was the birds.

One of my favorite birds and an unusual feeder visitor: the gray catbird.

I don’t even consider myself a bird person but, dang, they are just really cool. I put up a feeder that first winter and I was able to see that I was in the right place because Keeper’s Croft is home to a wonderful diversity of the feathered kind. My feeder gave me the opportunity to meet them all! I’d found my home.

In this post, I’ll provide a quick but hopefully thorough overview of the best practices when feeding birds. I’ll address, how to best attract birds and how to do so responsibly so you are not having an unintended negative impact on them. ANNNNNNND… of course I will provide some tips about how to be kind of lazy about it so that keeping the birds fed doesn’t become a full time job!


Types of Birdseed and Feeders

Top 3 things to feed birds

First of all, try to feed as high a quality a food as you can afford. Those bird feed mixes in the grocery or farm store with lots of tiny little seeds are not ideal and not preferred. You’ll have a lot of wasted seed. Beyond that, here are the different kinds of seeds and the feeders needed to serve them. If, you just feed only these top three, or even just the very first one mentioned, you will have happy birds and keeping up with the feeders will be easy peasy.

Number ONE with a bullet! If you are just starting or want to keep it simple, I have three words for you: Black. Oil. Sunflower. If you serve up one seed it should be this. It has a high fat content and all your winter birds will eat it. Even the finches (see exhibit A over there on the left) and the woodpeckers. It’s the most popular all around seed and it can be bought in bulk and can be provided in an array of different kinds of feeders. Be sure to get the BLACK OIL sunflower. Most stores also carry striped or just “sunflower” seed and these generally have a tougher shell that is harder for birds to get into. Again, you can just feed black oil sunflower and you’ll make a lot of birds very happy. And probably some squirrels.

To provide some variety, the next on my list in “priority” is suet. Suet is a block of fat with usually some seeds and/or berries mixed in. It is beloved by woodpeckers and nuthatches in particular and does require a particular kind of cage feeder.

I’ve seen pileateds in my yard and would FREAK if I got one to come to a feeder. Image by heronworks from Pixabay

The final of what I would call the “major” bird foods, is nyjer or thistle seed. This is the seed of the thistle plant and is quite small, so must be offered in a thistle feeder. A thistle seed feeder can be anything from a fabric mesh sock (see picture) to a more substantial metal and plastic affair. Regardless they all tend to be long and tubular and have small openings which tends to exclude larger birds. Nyjer seed is meant particularly for finches who love it.

photo of goldfinch on sock feeder: Image by Paul Brennan from Pixabay

The Other Feeds

If you are feeling like you’d really like to get creative with bird feeding, there are a number of other possibilities. You can feed peanuts in or out of a shell (UNSALTED) in a feeder especially for peanuts. Peanuts are supposed to be very attractive to jays.

Peanut Feeder is the cage cylinder on the right. In this photo it has some pecans that had insects.

I really enjoy feeding big seed blocks, which probably technically count as suet but they hold together better and often come in big cylinders that last a long time.

You can find mealworms pretty readily these days which are generally for birds that primarily eat insects and which only reluctantly switch to other foods in winter (in my area the most common would be American Robins).

Finally, you can also play around with the style of feeder. You can feed pretty much any or all of the above feeds on a platform style feeder. As its name suggests, it is just a platform with a shallow rim. Be sure to make or buy one that has a roof, to keep the seed as dry as possible however.

Heck, why do you even need a feeder? You don’t. The feeders do help keep the seed more contained, and dry which is important. They also discourage rodents. But if you want, put out a small quantity of fresh seed daily on the ground or a deck railing.

Finally, I will just briefly mention sugar water and oranges/grape jelly which are foods that are for specialist species in the summer. Hummingbirds are great fun to feed and just need a 1 to 4 ratio sugar to water solution (no red dye necessary) served up in a special hummingbird feeder. In my area (the upper midwest of USA) you can also attract Baltimore Orioles or catbirds with halved oranges or a bowl of grape jelly.

Feeder Placement and Maintenance

Run (fly) for Cover!

A lot of advice would have you stick feeders out in the middle of a manicured lawn for best visibility and to thwart squirrels. In reality, this is a terrible idea because it provides no cover for the birds at the feeder. They are putting themselves at great risk visiting a feeder like that! If a Cooper’s Hawk happened by they would be hawk food. Which is okay in the grand scheme of things, Hawks gotta eat too, but the songbirds will appreciate having a fighting chance by having some cover within 5-10 feet of the feeder. Shrubs are best. Last winter I had my 2 feeders hanging off my deck and they really were in no mans land, so I laid my christmas tree out under the feeder and the birds loved it. Especially the Juncos which spend more time under rather than on the feeders.

Avoid a Cluster!

Have you ever seen those metal feeder trees with like 20 feeders hanging from them? Don’t do this. You don’t want your feeders in groups larger than 3. If you have 20 feeders you should have at least 7 different groupings spread out across your yard.

Clustering birds in really large groups is never a good idea. They are essentially mini-dinosaurs and are rather ill-tempered so gathering too many in one place will cause a lot of fighting and stress. It also increases the risk of spreading disease and makes them more likely to attract predators.

Angry Dinosaurs. Image by ivabalk from Pixabay
Some Other Considerations

Don’t place feeders too close to windows. Consider installing bird friendly decals on any of the closest windows. Birds are prone to flying into windows and it can injure or kill them.

If you have some feed that isn’t being eaten very fast or if it gets too wet, you’ll want to swap it out for fresh very regularly. Moldy seed isn’t any better for birds than moldy food is for us.

You should also clean your feeders regularly with a 10% bleach solution to help kill any mold or bacteria in the feeder. If you’ve got nice cold winters, this is less of a problem during those months but any time it’s a little warmer, stay on top of cleaning the feeders.

Don’t do that!

A couple of things that I think you should avoid as a general rule.

  1. Don’t Feed Year Round: Sooooooo…. birds are actually quite good at feeding themselves. The time when a little extra, easy food might be appreciated is during the dormant season. There are a couple of birds that are fun to feed in the summertime, like hummingbirds and Orioles in my neck of the woods, but for the most part birds should be able to feed themselves during the growing season. Definitely stay away from feeding suet during the heat of summer because rancid fat isn’t anybody’s friend.
  2. Don’t Neglect Habitat: Related to the above. Birds are going to benefit more from naturally provided food through planting fruit and nut bearing trees and creating a friendly environment for insects. So, don’t set up 20 feeders in your acre of manicured lawn. Yick! Instead, plant some native plants, beautify your property and create a paradise for birds! I hope to do a post on creating natural bird habitat in another post.
A Cedar Waxwing, chowing on a serviceberry. Waxwings won’t come to your feeders so if you want to see them create habitat and natural food sources! Image by DivaDan from Pixabay

RAGE ABOUT SQUIRRELS

I reluctantly bring this up only, because someone is going to be seething about the squirrels. And it’s not just them that will steal from the birds! I mean who doesn’t like a tasty seed. But squirrels are particularly persistent and creative in their pursuit of the seedy goodness.

And my answer to you is a big I don’t know. There are baffles, there are “squirrel proof” feeders, there are all kinds of gadgets and gizmos for which most squirrels will eventually figure out a workaround. If you don’t believe me, you must watch this BRILLIANT video. You owe it to yourself. It’s longish but I predict you will be glued to the screen.

There is a new type of food that includes hot peppers in with the seed. It doesn’t bother the birds because they don’t have taste buds while the mammals, who do, will not be impressed. I haven’t tried it yet so I don’t know how well it works. It is on the pricey side.

My advice? Put up enough feeders so that everyone gets what they want. Learn to love the squirrel:).

Go Feed Them Birds!

I think, hopefully, that covers the basics. Birds are a joy to watch and will help brighten the gloomiest day. So give ’em a snack and give yourself hours of enjoyment and entertainment!

My haphazardly kept property bird list for Keeper’s Croft

Book Recommendation

I love books and reading, so I can’t resist including a book recommendation with each post. The book will, in some way, correspond to the post.

I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. Buying the book below from amazon will earn me a commission.  

This post’s recommendation is a twofer! It’s the first two books in a series that has a lot of dragons! Since birds are modern flying dinosaurs and dragons are fantastical flying dinosaurs, I think this works:)! The books are Heartstone and Dragonshadow by Elle Katharine White. Heartstone is a retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice set in a fantastical world where “Darcy” is a dragon riding, monster slayer. It still has all the gentility and manners of a regency era novel but with a large dollop of adventure. I loved it!

Dragonshadow, follows on after book 1, when the two main characters have married and I was quite nervous I was going to hate it. Instead, I think I liked it even more though it is a very different beast than book 1. There is a third and concluding novel that I am saving for when I want, I need, a special read. It’s one of those series I don’t want to get to the end of!


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