Featured

The House from 1915

World War I is still waging on. Sir Robert Borden is the Prime Minister. The US reject the proposal for women to have the right to vote…..

The year 1915 – 

World War I is still waging on. Sir Robert Borden is the Prime Minister. The US reject the proposal for women to have the right to vote. The first coast-to-coast long distance phone call in the US, with Alexander Graham Bell. John McCrae writes Flanders Fields. The Rocky Mountain National Park is established. Pluto is photographed for the first time. The Vancouver Millionaires win the Stanley Cup. Babe Ruth’s first career home run. Einstein’s theory of general relativity is formulated. The 1 millionth Ford car is manufactured. Frank Sinatra is born.

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1915 has so many world changing events happening, and yet a family in rural Saskatchewan are in the midst of building their home. Little do they know the years it will age and weather, the many lives lived in it and the history made. If these walls could talk, the stories they would tell! I can only imagine the hard work that building a house in 1915 would be; none of our modern tools like air nailers, table saws, and shop lights.

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Old Farm SiteFast forward almost 100 years – Jake and I had been married just over a year and had been looking at buying our first house. We are both hard working, industrious, and like to think big. None of the houses we looked at in North Battleford were quite what we were looking for, so we kept looking and this once in a lifetime opportunity practically fell into our lap months later – with one day to decide if we would take it!

Now, we had seen this house many a time before as we had farmed land around it. It was abandoned, so we had ventured a peak around and knew what the place looked like.  But the farm land was being sold and as a last minute discovery on our part, the buyers and sellers were both willing to exclude the farm yard and a few acres from their deal to be sold separately, however their papers would be signed in 1 day!

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Obviously, you can guess what we decided, but it was a lot of discussion and hoping we were making the right call. This place was OLD and had not been well cared for in the last 11-12 years (from the timeline the neighbours have given us). It needed a lot of work. A LOT!

The Ugly – So what shape was it in? The one day we had to make our decision, we decided to take a walk around the acreage and revisit the house, sometime early May with snow still on the ground. I remember all the broken glass on the floors from vandals breaking out the windows. I remember the rain blowing in through where the glass should have been and the floor soaking wet. I remember the pigeons living inside frantically trying to escape the intruders through those empty windows. This poor, old house needed someone who was willing to fix everything!

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And we took it  –  to be continued…
If you have enjoyed the beginning saga of our adventures with the Old House on the Prairie, please subscribe to my blog for the next update on our story!

(Please note: historic information taken from wikipedia and dates for the house are from the best information we have gathered from neighbours and the library)
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How to Grow Tomatoes

The hope of spring feels stronger when it is finally time to start seedlings indoors!

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am always to impatient this time of year, wanting to get some seeds started – and now that March has arrived, the time has come!

Tomatoes and peppers should be planted in March so they have enough growing time to produce once our short growing season starts in the North.

Depending on the variety you plan to grow, the tomato plants will need anywhere from 60-100 days until you can harvest mature fruit.

And yes; I just called tomatoes fruit!

I know it can be a huge debate and I tend to call tomatoes fruit sometimes and vegetables other times, depending on the reference.

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Why grow tomatoes?

Tomatoes are a versatile veggie (see what I did there?) that are used in everything from ketchup to spaghetti sauce to salads to pizza… The list goes on and on!

Whether you like raw tomatoes or not, I would be willing to bet that you like at least a few of the other recipes they get added into.

Also, there is just something so satisfying about the beautiful colors you can grow; classic cherry red, bright yellow, and even some that are a dark purple!

Another great reason is the fact that tomatoes are easy to grow once you have all the know-how (which is why you are reading this blog).

But the biggest reason of all?!!

The incredible flavour is NOTHING like you have ever tasted from a grocery store tomato!

It will make you feel like you have lived your entire life in black & white and finally see (taste) color for the first time.

It will make you feel like you have lived your entire life in black & white and finally see (taste) color for the first time.

There really is just something about homegrown that kicks the taste up to a million times better! Especially if it is a hot tomato straight off the vine…

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So let’s get to it!

Germination

Tomato seeds need light, fluffy potting soil for ideal germination – DO NOT USE GARDEN SOIL!

The reason for this is that potting soil is easy for the new plant to poke up through without fighting through heavy-packed garden soil (plus potting soil tends to hold the moisture better).

Speaking of moisture, you should moisten the soil so it is damp, but not wet.

If you over-water the soil, your seeds will rot and you will find yourself spending $5 a pot for tiny plants at a garden centre.

HEAT: this is a big factor that I overlooked as a beginner gardener. Your seeds need enough heat to germinate and household temperatures aren’t always warm enough.

Tomato seeds can germinate at 60 F, however they prefer 80 F as an ideal temperature.

I use a heating pad with my covered seed starter kit to make sure they have the idea temperature and humidity – and let me tell ya! It makes a world of difference!

Not only do I have a better germination rate (a.k.a. how many seeds sprout), but my seeds also germinate much more quickly than they would at a cooler temperature.

You need to keep the soil moist (once again, make sure it’s not wet) while the seeds sprout.

Once the seeds poke through the soil and are close to touching the lid of the seed starter kit, remove the lid.

Lighting

Now that your tomato plants are up, they need proper light!

Early March where we live typically does not give the ideal amount of light, even with our huge South-facing picture windows.

I invested in a grow light that gives my plants the extra energy they need to get established during the “leaner” months of daylight.

Grow lights should be 4-6 inches from the top of the tomato plants to get the maximum benefit.

I won’t go into detail on the specifics of choosing a grow light on this post, so be sure to follow me here, on FaceBook and/or subscribe to my YouTube channel for when I go over those details.

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Hardening off

Once the weather warms up to temperatures that are consistently above freezing, it is time to begin hardening your plants off.

If you are new to starting plants from seed, you are probably wondering what I’m talking about.

Hardening off means that you gradually get your plants used to the temperatures outside, any wind they may be exposed to, and direct sunlight.

Most windows will block a certain amount of UV rays from the sun (some will block almost all of it), which means that your plants aren’t used to it – and can get sunburn, just like people!

Who knew?!

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If you have really strong winds (like we do on our acreage here in Saskatchewan) you will have to be very careful with taller plants to ensure they don’t just get blown over or get broken tops. Your best bet is to keep them as sheltered as possible outside during the hardening stage.

When you are hardening off your plants, place them outside for about an hour the first day and then bring them back inside. Repeat this step for the next few days before extending the time to a couple hours for the next several days.

The goal is to slowly get them used to the environment they will be living in.

When I plant my tomatoes in a greenhouse, I typically skip this step. There can still be some minimal sunburn, but nothing major.

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Planting tomatoes

Once your tomatoes have been hardened off, you are ready to plant!

First things first, we need to talk soil.

Tomatoes prefer soil that is slightly acidic (6-6.8 pH range), well drained, and high in organic material.

They love humidity and plenty of water, but (like most plants) don’t want to be drowned.

I use about a 50/50 mix of peat moss and soil in my beds; the peat moss is light, fluffy, and drains well.

When I plant my tomatoes, I add a banana peel (or even a whole banana if we won’t be eating it), a scoop of used coffee grounds, egg shells, compost, and a tablespoon of epsom salt in each hole.

Composting is another topic I will be discussing on my blog, so be sure to follow me so you don’t miss the “black gold” of gardening!

Why should I add any of this?

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The bananas add potassium that the tomatoes will tap into and it helps prevent blossom end rot, which is a deformity caused by deficient nutrition.

The coffee grounds add nitrogen and the eggs offer calcium, which also help prevent blossom end rot.

Compost is pure energy for the tomato plants to feed off of and the epsom salt offers calcium and helps promote blooming.

When you actually get down to digging your hole, take into account how tall your tomato plant is.

Every hair on the stem of your tomato plant is a root just waiting to grow, so you want to maximize that root base as much as possible.

Every hair on the stem of your tomato plant is a root just waiting to grow, so you want to maximize that root base as much as possible.

By planting your tomato with as much of the stem in the soil as possible with the topmost leaves above the ground, you will have healthier, more vigorous plants.

Be sure to remove any leaves that are on the part of the stem that will be buried.

If you have an especially tall tomato plant, you can actually plant it sideways so the stem runs horizontally in the soil and then bends upward for the part you want above ground (I do this ALL the time!)

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Varieties of tomatoes

Before we get deeper into the daily care of your tomato plants, let’s talk about my favourite varieties!

You can choose from determinate or indeterminate varieties of tomatoes; determinate means they will only grow to a certain size bush and indeterminate will never stop growing taller, if given the growing season.

All the varieties I list below are indeterminate.

Each year I end up with plants so tall they touch the roof of my greenhouse.

Cherry Tomatoes

Cherry Tomatoes

Aside from just being so pretty to look at, cherry tomatoes are such a tasty snack to munch on while I am watering the garden.

They are prolific producers and have such a juicy, full-bodied flavour that my husband and I enjoy all summer long – and winter, too!

Winter Too?! Let me explain: I am such a sucker for plants, I just had to bring a few cherry tomato plants into the house last fall… And they have been giving us DELISH tomatoes in the middle of winter!

There are many different varieties to choose from, which can range from 45 – 80 days to maturity.

I recommend doing research on varieties that do well in your particular zone and growing environment.

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Beefsteak Tomatoes

Beefsteak Tomatoes

These gigantic tomatoes are amazing for so many reasons!

They are traditionally what you would have on a burger, but they also have a lower water content than many other tomatoes – which makes them great for sun-dried tomatoes, pasta sauces, pizza, ketchup, etc.

Their flavour is milder than the cherry tomatoes when eaten raw, but when cooked down in recipes it is a nice, rich taste.

Plus, who wouldn’t feel a swell of pride while picking a huge basket of these from a plant that is bending from the weight of all those beautiful tomatoes?!

Beefsteak tomatoes average about 85 days to maturity, depending on variety.

Warning: they have more of a risk of blossom end rot than other tomatoes, so watch out for that.

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Pear Tomatoes

Aaah… Pear Tomatoes…

These are one of my absolute favourites because of their unique shape and color!

They are so pretty and their flavour is the sweetest of any tomato I have ever eaten.

Pear tomatoes are smaller than cherry tomatoes and have a similar growing season.

They can be difficult to find at times, so save your seeds if you want to be sure you can grow them year after year!

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Daily Care

I give my tomatoes a good soak daily, but try to be sure they are not “drowning.”

Typically, I will trim the bottom leaves off the plant up until the place the lowest set of tomatoes are growing.

Why? Plants put their energy into everything attached to them. If they have leaves, they send energy there.

I hated this concept until I tried it the first time. I thought, “Leaves produce energy for the plants, so I am going to keep them!”

While it is true that leaves produce energy for the plant, they also require energy. By cutting the lowest leaves off, the plant forced more of its energy into the top part – including the formation of tomatoes!

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Fertilizing

I have found that I have much more success when I am diligent on weekly or bi-weekly fertilizing.

I like using a combination of compost, liquid fertilizer, and pellet fertilizer from one week to the next.

If you choose to go organic, you can still use a compost tea weekly rather than the traditional store-bought fertilizer.

Pruning suckers

This is another counter-intuitive thing to do…

Suckers will produce tomatoes. Eventually.

We do not have a long enough growing season here to allow the tomatoes to spend all their energy producing suckers, so they have to go!

If you haven’t grown tomatoes before, suckers are the part that starts growing at the junction between a leaf and the stock of the tomato plant.

(Note: do not confuse suckers with blossoms; the blossoms will typically start growing on the stock where there isn’t a leaf growing)

I use small garden shears to cut the suckers off to make sure the plant isn’t damaged. You can also carefully twist the sucker until it breaks free from the plant.

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Read to the end for my secret to create more tomato plants using suckers!!!

Pollination

Tomatoes are self-pollinated, which means that they do not need a “male” and a “female” flower to create fruit.

They do, however, need wind or vibrations to get the pollen to fall into the stigma of the flower.

They do, however, need wind or vibrations to get the pollen to fall into the stigma of the flower.

If you plan to grow your tomatoes in a greenhouse or indoors, you will need to give a gentle shake or taps to your plants every few days to make sure they have been pollinated.

Within a few days, if the yellow part of the flower falls off, but the stem remains, you likely have a successfully pollinated tomato. If the green part attached the flower or the entire stem falls off as well, you will not get a tomato from that blossom.

Support

Indeterminate tomatoes need support so they do not fall over or break under the weight of the tomatoes they produce.

Some gardeners will use tomato cages, however I have found that my tomatoes typically grow much taller than the cages.

Instead, I tie a sturdy string from the ceiling of the greenhouse and use clips to secure the plant to the string, adding more clips as the plant grows.

I have also seen bamboo poles used; for this method you will need to have a deep enough bed for the bamboo pole to offer sturdy support.

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Ripening geen tomatoes

Frost is on the way; can you pick green tomatoes and ripen them?

Well, the answer is YES – and NO!

It really depends on how well developed they are.

If they are mature enough, they will ripen to a beautiful red with amazing flavour on their own.

If they are not mature enough, they will turn brown and rot.

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So how do you know the difference?

Maturing tomatoes on the vine will turn from their juvenile color of dark green to a lighter green and will be roughly the size they should be when fully ripened.

If they have a twinge of pink or red (or yellow in the case of pear tomatoes), you can certainly pick them and allow them to ripen in the house.

The larger the tomato, the more forgiving they are when picked early; beefsteaks can still be very green and will be okay, however cherry tomatoes and pear tomatoes have to be a lot closer to maturity in order to finish ripening in the house.

One myth that has been prevalent for many years is that ripening tomatoes need sunlight.

Not true!

I have ripened many green tomatoes without any sunlight just fine.

Tomato touched with frost
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What about frozen tomatoes?

If your tomatoes froze, I really hope you have a compost pile set up already… because they need to get chucked!

Okay, okay… I know some people may still try to use them, but let’s be honest here… they turn to mush.

So how about if you covered your tomatoes before the first frost and want to know if they are still good?

The photo above is an example of the veined pattern that shows up on tomatoes that have been touched by frost.

If they froze solid, they will turn to mush as soon as they thaw, however if they have just been touched by frost they can still be firm.

The tomatoes touched by frost will not ripen into a nice red; if you want to salvage them, you need to use them ASAP – otherwise they will go bad.

Pinterest has some interesting recipes and I may post some here later as well.

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Companion planting

Bugs can be a huge struggle in gardening, which is part of the reason companion planting is a thing.

Other reasons to companion plant include flavour, shade, and even added nutrients!

Planting marigolds with tomatoes helps reduce the pests that like to feed on your tomato plants. The flowers may smell stinky, but they are kind of pretty!

I LOVE (let me reiterate – I LOVE) basil with tomatoes!!!

They grow well together and I love pairing them in the same foods.

Some people swear by the fact that they enhance each other’s flavours when grown together…

My unconventional companion is green beans.

Why green beans?

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Beans are a “nitrogen fixer,” which means that they pull nitrogen into the soil and the tomatoes can then “eat” the nitrogen.

Runner beans also act as a natural support for the tomatoes if done correctly.

The downside is the fact that the green beans have large leaves that can block out sunlight, so I keep mine well trimmed.

Want to learn to grow green beans? CLICK HERE!

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Harvesting tomatoes

Congratulations!!!

You have successfully planted, cared for, and grown your own tomatoes!

Here is the fun part.

Your tomatoes are ready to harvest when they are a nice, deep color – whether red, yellow or purple will depend on the variety you are growing.

Their skin should still be glossy and they should be firm.

If you do not plan to eat your tomatoes immediately, either cut them off or break them at the knob above the tomato on the stem; they store better this way.

If you plan to use them right away, you can gently twist the tomato off the stem.

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Propagating suckers

Remember earlier when I said to read to the end for my secret on using suckers to make more tomatoes?

Well, here it is!

Suckers are the easiest way to expand your tomato crop – after you have pruned them!

Just like when you plant a tomato as deep as possible to use the hairs on the stem to expand the root system, the suckers can root on their own using those hairs.

You can either place the sucker in water for a week or two to get roots established or you can plant them directly into drenched soil.

They require enough heat and sunlight to do well if you plan to put the suckers directly into soil.

Whichever method you choose, they typically will wilt over and look as though they may have died for a couple days.

That is normal.

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Sometimes they may die, but I would have pruned them off in any case… so all the suckers that grow are just more free tomato plants!

Most times, however, the suckers will perk back up an a day or two and start developing roots.

It is important at this stage to keep them borderline “drowned.”

After the first 2-3 weeks, they should be ready to be transplanted.

At one point, I had pruned a sucker off a tomato in my greenhouse and simply chucked it at the base of the plant to decompose… And it ROOTED IN! While it was just laying on top of the soil!

Tomatoes are tough, resilient plants that just don’t give up.

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Preserving & Recipes

If you are interested in learning more – including preserving your tomatoes and different recipes, be sure to follow me!

I will also be posting about saving seeds to save you $$$ in the future, problem solving, and more!

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Fire Roasted Salsa

As summer draws to a close and fall sets in, my tomatoes typically begin to come ripe in the basket-full!

I use lots of the fresh tomatoes in meals like sourdough pizza, zucchini pizza boats, and chunky salsa – but there is always more than we can use without preserving the tomatoes!

Some of my favourite ways to preserve tomatoes is by making spaghetti sauce, sun dried tomatoes or this fire roasted salsa recipe!

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I often will make a couple of these recipes at the same time; in the photo above, I have a batch of tomato rounds in the dehydrator and the off-cut tops will be used for the fire roasted salsa.

That keeps my sun dried tomatoes in nice rounds, while the flesh left over from cutting the woody centre of the tomato out gets blended into the salsa.

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Why is fire roasted salsa better than raw salsa?

Don’t get me wrong – I love a good Pico De Gallo (chunky salsa) on my fried tacos, but fire roasted salsa is much better for preserving because of its thick, even consistency.

Roasting the ingredients before blending them not only brings out the heat in the peppers, but it also enhances the flavour in the tomatoes and reduces the water content (no one wants watery salsa!)

PRO TIP: Using beefsteak tomatoes will also help achieve the desired consistency because they naturally have lower water content than other varieties of tomatoes.

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Start by lining a large baking sheet with parchment paper and cover it with a layer of chopped tomatoes and onions, whole garlic cloves, and whole jalapeños and cayenne peppers.

Drizzle it with a bit of olive oil and mix well, then sprinkle a bit of salt to taste.

You don’t want the layer of veggies to be too deep or you won’t get the ideal results of an evenly roasted salsa.

Place the baking sheet on the top rack of a pre-heated oven, set on broil.

Watch your batch to make sure it doesn’t burn and flip once the peppers start to blister and the tomatoes start to brown.

This should only take a few minutes.

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Once the other side of the peppers blister as well, remove the baking sheet from the oven and allow to cool.

Next, cut the stems off the peppers and add the roasted ingredients to the food processor, along with the cumin, fresh lemon juice, and cilantro.

Blend well and give it a taste test!

The beauty of making your own salsa is that you can decide just how mild or spicy you would like it to be; if it isn’t spicy enough for your taste, just add a bit of cayenne powder to kick it up a notch.

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This recipe only makes about a pint, so you will need to roast multiple pans of veggies if you want to can large quantities of fire roasted salsa to use up the bounty from your tomato harvest.

If you just want a jar of fresh, homemade salsa to enjoy you’ll find this is the perfect size batch to whip up quickly!

Start to finish, this recipe only takes 15-20 minutes to make – including the roasting time!

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Recipe

2 cups tomato, chopped

1/2 white onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, whole

3 jalapeños , whole

2 cayenne peppers, whole

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 lemon, juiced

1 tablespoon cilantro dried or 1 cup fresh

1/4 teaspoon cumin

Salt & pepper to taste

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Instructions

Drizzle olive oil on tomato, onion, garlic, jalapeño, and cayenne peppers – mix well.

Roast on a lined baking sheet in a pre-heated oven set to “broil” on the top rack.

Flip vegetables when the peppers start to blister.

Remove from oven when second side of peppers blister and allow to cool.

Cut pepper stems off and place all ingredients in food processor.

Blend well.

Add cayenne powder to reach desired spiciness, if it is not hot enough for your taste.

If canning the salsa, place in sanitized jars and process in hot water bath.

Enjoy!

Serving size: 1 pint

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Rhubarb Steak Sauce

Fall-time in Alaska has the richest smell – one that is hard to fully describe to someone who has never experienced the amazingly overwhelming combination of a thousand scents…

The ever-present sappy smell of evergreens…

The musky scent of rotting leaves, scattered across the ground in the chill breeze…

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But most of all, the rich tang of ripe cranberries wafting through the crisp air.

Of all the mountain smells, ripe cranberry is the scent I miss the most!

I have always loved picking wild berries, so much so that my mom would have an extra task on her “to do” list when I would show up unexpectedly with a bucket of berries before I was old enough to process them myself.

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Cranberry meat sauce has been a traditional family recipe since before I was born – and I love it to this day!

We typically would use the sauce when we had fried moose steaks – I mean, how much more Alaskan can it get?!

BUT, living on the prairies is very different than mountain living in many ways.

We lack the wild cranberry plants and I hate buying something I grew up picking, catching or growing (buying salmon is a huge no-no!)

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Plate family original cranberry meat sauce recipe
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Without cranberries, I realized that rhubarb has a similar amount of tartness and decided to give this recipe a make-over to use my abundance of homegrown rhubarb!

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Highbush cranberries have much more water content than lowbush cranberries (did you even know there were other kinds of cranberries than your typical Thanksgiving spread..?) or rhubarb, so I added more water to the mix than the original recipe called for.

I cooked the rhubarb on low heat while I chopped and added onions and fresh celery.

Next came the vinegar, sugar, salt, pepper, and cloves.

But I didn’t have the allspice the recipe called for on hand!

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Oh! Guess what? Allspice is a mixture of cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg – so I simply added the cinnamon and nutmeg to get the proper taste.

I love the flavour profile some garlic adds, so I threw in a couple cloves.

And while I was changing the recipe a bit, why not add a few drops of liquid smoke?

I mean, I was substituting rhubarb for cranberries anyway – may as well go all in with my intuitive cooking style!

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Once all the ingredients were combined, I brought the mixture to a low simmer and turned it down so it barely bubbled.

Slow and steady wins the race here!

Trust me! If the mixture burns on the bottom, the entire batch will have a dark, burned taste that will ruin the sauce.

Thick sauces are prone to burn easily (even if stirred regularly) if the heat is too high.

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PRO TIP #1: The thicker the bottom of the sauce pan is, the less likely the batch is to burn.

Slowly cooking the sauce down to the right thickness also helps the flavours to blend and enhances the end result.

PRO TIP #2: Place the sauce in a crock pot on low heat to allow it to reduce to the desired consistency.

Once it has cooked down to the thickness of applesauce, place the meat sauce in sanitized jars and process with a hot water bath.

This recipe makes about 2 pints.

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Rhubarb meat sauce pairs extremely well with wild game, lamb, and other meats with its spiced tartness; it can also be used in wine reduction sauces and baked beans.

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Recipe

8 cups rhubarb, chopped

2 stalks celery, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup water

1 onion, chopped

1 1/3 cup white vinegar

2 2/3 cups white sugar

2 teaspoons ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

6 drops liquid smoke

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Directions

Combine rhubarb, garlic, celery, onion, and water. Cook until soft.

Add remaining ingredients and bring to a low simmer.

Cook on low heat, making sure not to burn, until mixture has reduced to a consistency similar to apple sauce. (NOTE: this can be done in a crockpot)

Place sauce in sanitized jars and process with water bath.

Serve with wild game, lamb or other meats. Can be used in wine reduction sauces and baked beans as well.

Enjoy!

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What recipe brings a “taste of home” to your cooking? Drop a comment below!

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Arched Garden Trellis DIY Build

During the long, cold winter months I tend to binge-watch DIY YouTube gardening videos – everything from how to grow blueberries, to composting, to building a greenhouse!

This past winter I came across the idea of expanding growing space by building an arched trellis using cattle panels.

I was intrigued!

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I love mixing “functional” with “decorative accent…” if you follow my blog, you’ve already seen the DIY garden arbor we built this spring for that very combination!

An archway in the middle of my garden, covered with vining foliage and flowers sounded like such an elegant, whimsical idea.

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First, we started off by building two matching raised beds as the foundation of our arched garden trellis.

Once they were in place, stained, and filled with a combination of compost and soil, we drove 4 metal t-posts into the ground so they were good and solid.

I wanted to have about 6 inches or so on the inside of the trellis so I could plant bush beans inside the archway and runner beans on the outside to vine upward.

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Next, we gently curved the cattle panels into a consistent arch and secured them to the t-posts; in some of the YouTube videos people used zip-ties to secure them, however we found they weren’t sturdy enough and used wire instead.

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The cattle panels were about $65 CAD from our local farm supply store, which was more than we had hoped they would cost but decided that it would be worth it in the end.

We added sand between the raised beds to avoid ending up with a muddy walkway when we got a heavy rain.

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(The archway seemed nearly invisible as just bare wire)

I planted bush beans inside the archway, as planned, and scarlet runner beans & purple runner beans on the outside of the trellis.

Check out my blog on how to grow green beans here.

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The raised beds were large enough that I had space to plant zucchini, summer squash, patty pan squash, and small rows of lettuce, spinach, kale, & arugula in the part of the beds away from the trellis.

And then the long wait began!

Slowly, I could see progress… vines crept upward inch by inch as I trained them to wind around the wire.

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By late July the beans were almost as tall as me – and by mid-August some of the vines had finally grown all the way up and over the trellis!

The whimsical tunnel of lush foliage, covered in flowers and peppered with fresh green beans was everything I had envisioned!

As far as the functional part of this DIY build, the cattle panels gave us an additional 128 square feet of vertical growing space!

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And as everyone knows, extra growing space = extra production!

(yes, we live on an acreage where we have plenty of space to grow veggies, but keeping everything as compact as possible makes weeding, watering, and harvesting easier)

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Over the last few months, we have had more than enough green beans to eat with every meal if we wanted AND lots left over for canning & pickling.

What innovative garden builds have you done? Drop a comment below!

Don’t forget to check out our DIY rain barrel that was *almost* FREE!

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Bagel BLT

We don’t usually have sandwiches for dinner, but when I have a fresh batch of bagels straight out of the oven it is definitely a tasty option!

Quick and easy dinners are a welcome thing when we have projects on the go, and bagel BLT’s hit the spot!

If you don’t know how to make your own homemade sourdough bagels, check out my recipe here!

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You can also find my homemade sourdough starter recipe here.

Sourdough bagels have the perfect flavour and chewiness to add something a little extra to a sandwich.

My personal favourite kinds of bagels to use for bagel BLT’s are jalapeño cheddar or sesame seed bagels.

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Slice a fresh bagel in half, then spread mayo to the bottom half and old fashioned mustard to the top half.

The old fashioned mustard adds a little extra crunch and I personally love the tangy flavour.

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Next, layer a generous amount of crispy bacon, then tomato, and lettuce.

(If your veggies are homegrown, all the better!)

You can even add a thinly sliced layer of red onion.

And viola! A classic sandwich is ready in a matter of minutes!

Sure, this is a pretty straight-forward meal to make – so why add it to my blog?

Lunch & dinner ideas! It is easy to get stuck in a rut of making the same few meals each week and it is nice to be reminded of outside the box options.

You’re welcome! 😉

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Loaded Stuffed Potatoes

If you’re anything like us, you’ll been firing up that grill all summer long!

On a hot summer day, there is nothing better than the smell of the BBQ wafting through the yard… except for the tasty food that comes off the grill!

Baked potatoes make a great side for steak or chicken, so why not try this loaded version that takes it to the next level?

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The creamy inside is packed with flavour, the crispy bacon adding that “WOW” factor, and the gooey cheese topping it all off… YUM!

As with most of my recipes, this is easy to make and bound to impress next time you host dinner on your patio.

Baked potatoes typically take about an hour to cook fully, so you will have to plan ahead a bit.

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First things first: choosing the right potato!

Russet potatoes are my first choice to use for baking because of their thick skin and starchy insides.

I have used Yukon Gold potatoes for baking as well, but the skin isn’t quite as thick and doesn’t get as crispy, which is part of the beauty of a baked potato.

I start by poking several holes in the potato in a few spots to help keep it from exploding while it cooks and allows steam to escape the skin.

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Grill on medium heat (or bake at 375º) on the top rack for about an hour.

Some people say to wrap them in tin foil, however I just pop the potatoes in by themselves; this helps with that crunchy skin.

Check the “done-ness” by stabbing a fork or knife through the centre; it should slide easily into the potato with no hard parts left inside.

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Once the potatoes are fully cooked, cut them in half long-wise and scoop out the insides (making sure not to damage the skins).

Next, whip the insides with cream cheese, garlic (you can use Garlic Plus or, as I prefer, roasted garlic), and crispy bacon (or bacon bits).

Salt and pepper to taste, then fill the skins with the mix.

You can top with your cheese of choice – I use cheddar as it browns so beautifully!

Place the potato halves on the top shelf of the grill again and allow the cheese to bubble into a nice golden-brown.

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Once you remove the potatoes from the heat, garnish with green onions and/or fresh parsley for an extra-fancy presentation.

Enjoy!

Stuffed mushrooms go well on the side or as an appetizer.

Pro tip: These also freeze well to be pre-made and thawed before hosting dinner; just allow enough time so they are fully thawed and place on the grill long enough to heat them thoroughly and finish browning the cheese.

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Recipe

2 large Russet potatoes

1/4 cup cream cheese

2 slices of bacon

2 roasted garlic cloves *or* 1/2 teaspoon Garlic Plus

1/2 cup cheddar cheese

Salt & pepper to taste

Green onions (garnish)

Parsley (garnish)

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Directions

Pierce potatoes with fork or knife in several places, then place on pre-heated grill at medium heat (or in oven at 375º) on top rack for 1 hour or until tender in the centre.

Cut potatoes in half long-wise and remove insides, making sure to leave skins intact.

Mix insides well with cream cheese, bacon, salt & pepper.

Spoon mix back into the skins and top with cheddar cheese.

Place back on grill (or in oven) until the cheese has turned golden-brown.

Remove from heat and garnish with green onions and parsley.

Enjoy!

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Makes 4 halves

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DIY Rain Barrel *Almost* for Free!

Did you know that rain water is much better for plants than tap water?

It contains nitrogen, which actually feeds the plants!

That is why things seem to grow like crazy right after a good rain (of course the thorough watering helps, too).

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Plus, rain water doesn’t contain chlorine and the tepid temperature is far easier on your plants than frigid water from the house.

And then there is the water bill. Yuck. Who needs more bills in their lives?!

Living in the country with well water, we don’t have to worry about a water bill – however a lot of people do have to take that expense into consideration.

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And I can’t tell you how many times I have seen notices in the city for “odd/even” watering schedules, which cuts down on how much water folks can use to keep everything green.

With all these factors in favour of a bit more self-sufficiency, rain barrels have become increasingly popular.

(Yes, I am aware that there is controversy in some States trying to regulate people collecting rain water – but thankfully that is not the case up here where I live)

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Did you say this DIY rain barrel was almost FREE?

Yep. You read that right.

We repurposed an old water softener barrel, weathered wood planking, leftover stain, and only had to buy some hardware for the tap!

The repurposed materials were things we already had on the acreage, however they wouldn’t be difficult to get for free (or cheap) for someone who doesn’t have these items sitting around their yard.

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Obviously this project required tools, which were not free, but with all the renovations we have been doing on our huge house we have accumulated many tools that will last us a lifetime.

(Check out our laundry room renovations here!)

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Where to start

Once you have collected a barrel, some wood planking, and hardware for the tap – and perhaps some rope as a decorative accent, you can get started!

Some people use an adhesive like PL Premium to “glue” the boards to the barrel, while others will use that rope as more than a decorative accent and have it tie everything together – literally.

For our rain barrel, we used drywall screws (once again, supplies we already had on hand from other projects) to secure the tongue-in-groove planking together at the top and bottom (making sure not to puncture the barrel).

We drilled a hole near the bottom of the barrel for the tap.

Installing the tap, the hardware had to have a good seal on the inside of the barrel so it didn’t end up losing water with a leak.

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A nice stain finished the look nicely; we used stain left over from the greenhouse, which makes the rain barrel look like a perfect accent piece in the garden.

The hole in the top of the rain barrel should only be large enough for the waterspout and protected with a fine screen to keep debris from getting into the rain barrel and clogging the tap.

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Once the rain barrel is in place and get your first good rain, you’re set!

No more relying on a mandated watering schedule and extra cost on your water bill!

And of course, enjoy the added benefit of water perfect for feeding your plants!

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Do you already have a rain barrel or want to get one? Drop a comment below!

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Luxury Chicken Tractor on a BUDGET

A luxury chicken tractor on a budget?!!

I know, those two words don’t seem to go together.

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“Budget” and “luxury” aren’t usually something you can combine, right?

My husband would certainly agree!

While this project turned out to be more time invested that he had banked on (and turned out much nicer than many chicken tractors we have seen on YouTube or Pinterest), it still WAS a budget chicken tractor!

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So what makes it “luxury” AND “budget” at the same time?!

Well, the fact that we repurposed so many materials to create this “tiny house” for chickens is a big factor for the budget argument.

The luxury part? How many chickens have such a sharp looking condo…

… opening windows, a spacious interior, and fresh greens to chow down on daily?

Yep! For chickens that is as close to luxury as it gets!

Let me back this train up a bit and explain why we are even working on this project in the first place.

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The year is 2020… Enough said!

Just kidding… We had actually talked about getting chickens well before COVID-19 was ever a factor (that being said, trying to buy eggs and the store being sold out at one point early in the pandemic confirmed our decision was a good choice!)

I grew up with chickens – I must have been so young when we first got them that I can’t remember a time in my childhood without chickens and fresh eggs.

Sure, the hens weren’t always laying consistently during the winter months, but we still had some fresh eggs even then…

We had Barred Rock hens that were nicknamed the “Hornet Sisters” because they dug up and killed an entire wasp colony – after I got stung multiple times when I accidentally stepped on their nest!

As children, we also had one bantam hen each that would come when we called and sit on our shoulder for treats (yes, sometimes they would poop on us… But not that often).

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And YES! We named them.

But we also learned to respect and appreciate where meat comes from at a young age.

And of course, the work that goes into keeping animals was a lesson learned first-hand.

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It certainly isn’t all fun and games; it takes consistency and diligence.

I learned the hard way once or twice as a young girl that shirking chores has consequences, and those lessons have lasted me a lifetime!

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Now, fast-forward back to 2020.

My husband, Jake, and I have been working hard on our acreage to become more independent and have a healthy lifestyle – so fresh, free-range eggs fit right into that plan.

BUT the big debate was where the chickens would live; would we go super cheap and fab a freezer or fridge for them to live in?

No!

So would we sink the money into the full-on chicken coop and run that I drew up – that would cost us about $4,000?!!

Also, no!

So what was the middle ground that wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg, but still get the job done?

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When we settled on the idea of a chicken tractor, we didn’t plan on it to turn out quite so… wellfancy.

It was supposed to be a quick, easy project to get the “cheeps” as they have been nicknamed (aka “cheep-cheeps” or “cheepos”), outside to eat grass.

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The push to make the build happen

Let me tell you – when chicks are 1 day old they are so cute!

They are fluffy and tiny and just adorable…

2 or 3 week old chickens in the house – well– they SMELL! Yuck!

We needed to decide on our plan for these cheepsFAST!

So we went with the chicken tractor.

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Personally, I think the plan turned out quite well…

The design is top notch, the color scheme is vintage barn red with white trim, and the cheeps love to stretch their little wings flying up and down their little yard space.

One of the biggest differences we made compared to many of the chicken tractors you will find on YouTube or Pinterest is the fact that we built their ramp on an angle and attached the bottom of the ramp to the frame of the run.

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Why is this an innovative idea?

Most chicken tractors have the ramp sitting on the ground and have to have the ramp lifted before transporting the chicken tractor to the next part of the acreage for new grass…

… Moving parts make for more work and more chance of breaking!

(Plus extra hardware costs more money)

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Having the ramp on an angle means that we do not have to worry about moving it up and down each time we move the chicken tractor.

One concern that was brought up was whether or not the chickens would fall off the ramp or if they would be able to figure out how to use it properly…

Well! Let me tell ya, they only use the ramp half the time at this young age.

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At this point, they are flying down from their coop door – and flying back up again!

Once they are fully grown we will see if they still do this, but for now I am happily amused by watching them try to fly.

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We installed treads along the ramp to make sure the chicks wouldn’t slip off when they were coming up or going down.

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The features

Laying Nests

The next highlight of this luxury chicken tractor (on a budget) is the laying nest setup.

As with many chicken tractors, the laying boxes open from the top on the outside so I can collect eggs easily.

If any of you have ever had to walk through a dusty chicken coop (or worse yet – one that needs to be mucked out) to collect eggs, you will know how nice it is not to have to step foot inside!

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Some of you are looking at the photo below thinking that we have a few eggs to pick… while others of you are wondering why on earth there are GOLF BALLS in the nesting boxes?!

Yep. Golf balls.

WHY?

They are there to help teach the hens where to lay. Weird, I know, but it works.

Also, if there are “egg breakers” in the flock, this will help cure them of the habit.

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Easy Cleaning

Another nice feature is the fact that there is no lip on the coop door opening, so I can simply scoop or sweep the dirty wood shavings directly into the wheel barrow below.

Easy coop cleaning is a must!

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Roosts

Chickens love to roost, especially at night!

This is an addition we still need to make at the moment, but once we do, they will have that much more space inside their coop to hang out comfortably.

We will be going with natural wood from small trees around the acreage for both the “budget” factor as well as the fact that it is supposed to be easier on the feet for the cheeps.

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Chicken Door

Obviously a sliding door to close them in at night is a good security feature…

Most nights they put themselves to bed around nightfall and are ready to simply have the door closed.

The first day we let the chicks into the chicken tractor, we put them directly into the run so they could enjoy the grass and figure out the ramp from down below (rather than fall out of the coop from above).

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That first night we had to catch them and put them into the coop, but since then they have gotten their new home all figured out!

Some people will even go as far as upgrading from a manual chicken door to one set on a timer to open and close at dawn and dusk!

But remember, we are doing a BUDGET chicken tractor here, right?!

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The window & vent

Chickens need natural light to lay well.

During the darker months, they often will not lay as consistently if they lack light.

While we could add a light to mimic sunlight, at least having a window to give them natural daylight helps a lot.

The vent is needed to keep fresh, clean air circulating in their coop.

Even during cool months, chickens need sufficient circulation to keep them healthy; if it gets too damp and musky in the coop it will cause problems!

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Height

The height of the coop is a HUGE benefit!

It is tall enough to allow the chickens to eat and play underneath the coop, offers shade, and is easy for me to clean out (remember the wheel barrow fitting right under the door for cleaning?)

It also allows easy access so I can reach in to fill their feeder, check their water, and open the nest box without having to bend down (or get a ladder) if we had gone with a shorter (or taller) height.

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Flooring

The flooring is a sturdy, plywood floor.

We painted it to help with the ease of cleaning.

Some people choose to use off-sale laminate or linoleum flooring; this makes the dirty wood shavings sweep out of the coop that much easier.

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You remember how I said this was a “budget” project?

Let me get into that part!

We used a window we had removed from the 3rd story when we ditched the old windows and replaced them with high-efficiency ones.

It would have ended up in a landfill if it had not been repurposed, therefore it is not only cost effective for us, but also more environmentally responsible.

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(Don’t get me wrong; I’m not one of those people worried about cow farts contributing to “climate change,” but I HATE people littering and I hate to waste resources)

Some other ways this was a “budget build” is the fact that we used a lot of scrap wood we had left over from other house projects.

LIKE A LOT!

We used so many small pieces of boards that would have been useless on most other projects, plywood, and even used shingles we had left over from roofing our house last fall (yes, they were still good strips that could be used to patch the roof later, but the point is – we had extras on hand)!

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What did we spend money on?

Wire

This was likely the largest cost for this project; quality wire is not cheap!

What they call “chicken wire” is okay for keeping chickens inside an enclosure, however if you need to worry about keeping critters out (foxes, dogs, etc) you need something much hardier!

Also, adding wire to the top of the chicken tractor was necessary to keep the chickens inside – AND keep the hawks and eagles OUT!

I have seen large birds of prey take out a few chickens over the years, so this was a big concern of mine…

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Lumber

With the scrap lumber on hand, we still did have to buy 2×4’s and plywood to finish the project.

Paint

Paint was something that we did not have on hand – at least not in the exterior variety that would hold up to our harsh weather.

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Hardware

We had hinges on hand from other projects, however had to purchase a latches for the run and coop doors.

Wheels

Well, as you can see from these photos we haven’t installed wheels yet… That is a purchase we still need to make at this point, but it will be a cost when all is said and done.

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Feeder & Waterer

You would not believe how hard it can be to find some of the basic items needed to raise chickens during prime-time in the spring!

I searched everywhere for a feeder and waterer when we were getting the chicks – only to find a feeder, but NOT a waterer that the tiny chicks would be able to drink out of!

I ended up making a homemade waterer using a Tupperware and a flaxseed oil bottle to mimic the “self-watering” capabilities of a store-bought waterer… And it worked!

However, when the chick were large enough, they got to start using a proper waterer.

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All in all, having a mobile chicken tractor to move around the yard has been a great choice!

Yes, it took time and thought to build, but we don’t have any dead patches of earth where the chickens have demolished their run (the way they do in a stationary chicken run) and I personally like the idea of fresh eggs that are truly “free range” quality without the worry of a chicken mysteriously disappearing due to a hungry animal!

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Now all I need to grab is a good ol’ fashioned metal egg basket for when our chickens start laying and I’m set!

I can’t wait to make my first batch of devilled eggs or potato salad with fresh, home-raised eggs!

(before wheels below & hardware installation on the coop door)
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Are you raising chickens for the first time? Drop a comment below if this post has been helpful for you!

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Devilled Eggs

If you have ever been to a potluck, you know that devilled eggs are the star of the show!

They are usually cleaned out well before the last person makes it through the line.

And the person who brought them? Well, they practically get hero status!

Devilled eggs seem to have a reputation for being a tough appetizer to make, but if you know how to peel the eggs with ease you’re set!

The trick is to cook the eggs correctly.

This is KEY!

If you don’t cook them correctly, you will wind up with shells that don’t want to peel off or over-cooked, rubbery eggs that have green yolks.

It has taken me many batches of practice to get this part down, so here are my secrets to perfect devilled eggs!

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Eggs in the ice bath.
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I grew up believing that boiled eggs need to be started in cold water and brought to a boil.

Not only does this take longer, but the eggs also are difficult to peel with this method.

Pro tip #1: place the eggs in a large pot with HOT water.

Salt the water and bring it to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer.

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Pro tip #2: simmer for exactly 12 minutes!

I have tried different cook times to find that perfect balance of being fully cooked through to the yolk without getting that weird green tinge.

If you are hosting a Saint Patrick’s day event, green yolks may be a hit – otherwise it just looks gross.

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Pro tip #3: IMMEDIATELY scoop the eggs out and plunge them into an ice bath.

This stops the cooking process and is the key for eggs that are easy to peel.

Allow them to cool fully in the ice bath before peeling.

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Perfectly cooked eggs with bright yellow yolks.
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Pro tip #4: peel the eggs under cold, running water.

Gently crack the egg on the counter (you don’t want to make the shells puncture the egg) so the shell is shattered on all sides.

Peeling the egg under running water helps pull the shell away from the egg.

Plus, you were going to have to rinse the egg anyway to make sure there are no surprise crunches when eating them.

So basically you are getting two birds with one stone… or should I say eggs..?

I find it easiest to start peeling at the rounded end of the egg rather than the pointed part.

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Overcooked eggs with a green rim in the yolk.
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Once the eggs are all peeled, cut them in half and carefully remove the yolk.

Pro tip #5: place the egg yolks directly into a ziplock plastic bag.

This makes for less dishes, which is ALWAYS a win in my books!

Add the Miracle Whip, mustard, salt, and a splash of pickle juice (not too much though, you don’t want the yolk mixture to be runny).

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For you loyal Hellman’s Mayonnaise supporters out there, go ahead and ditch the Miracle Whip for your Hellmans.

Zip the bag shut and mix the ingredients together with your hands until you have an even mixture with a creamy consistency.

Snip a small hole in one corner of the bag and squeeze the mixture into the egg whites.

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Classic devilled eggs.
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Sprinkle with paprika and chill.

Enjoy being the hero who brought the rare delicacy to your next gathering!

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Pro tip #6: Egg freshness

I know many people believe that older eggs are easier to peel, which may be true.

However, I would rather use the freshest eggs because the yolk color is so much better and – more importantly – are centred in the egg!

Older eggs tend to have the yolk more to the rounded end of the egg, which gives you a very thin egg white on that edge to hold the yolk mixture.

If you want the very best yolks, go with free-range eggs.

The difference in color is amazing!

Plus, free-range eggs are packed with nutrients.

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Recipe

6 large eggs

1/3 cup Miracle Whip

1 tablespoon mustard

1/2 teaspoon pickle juice

1/4 teaspoon salt

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Directions

Add eggs to large pot with hot water.

Bring to boil, then reduce heat to a simmer for 12 minutes.

Immediately remove from heat and place eggs in an ice bath.

Allow to cool fully, then peel under running water.

Cut in half and remove yolks.

Combine yolk, Miracle Whip, mustard, pickle juice, and salt and mix until creamy.

Use a plastic bag to squeeze the yolk mix into the egg whites.

Sprinkle with paprika.

Chill fully, then serve!

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Makes 12 devilled eggs

Enjoy!

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Classic devilled eggs.
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If you liked this recipe, don’t forget to subscribe and check out my potato salad recipe that is a hit for BBQ season!

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Peanut Butter and Banana Pupsicles

Looking for a way to help your dog beat the heat this summer?

This frosty recipe is a great way to reward your loyal pup!

Warning: it does melt fast, but your dog is faster!

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Oh! Did I mention that it only takes 3 ingredients?!

And they are ingredients you likely already have in your house; a banana, peanut butter, and plain yogurt.

They are quick and easy to make – the time they take to freeze is the longest part of making these pupsicles.

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Begin by mashing one ripe banana, then combine the yogurt and peanut butter so the mixture is a smooth, even consistency.

There are some really cute dog paw or dog bone forms out there, however you can also use an ice cube tray to form the treats if you don’t have anything fancy to use.

Fill the forms to the top, trying to minimize any air bubbles in the batter.

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Place in the freezer for 2 hours or until fully frozen.

And let the treat-earning-tricks begin!

The first time my dogs tried this recipe, they took a few slow licks before digging in – and the treats disappeared like magic!

As with all snacks, I don’t recommend giving your dog more than one or two per day because they still will make your pup chubby even though they are homemade.

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Recipe

1 ripe banana

2 tablespoons peanut butter

2 cups plain yogurt

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Directions

Mash banana well, then mix in yogurt and peanut butter.

Place in ice tray or form of choice.

Freeze for 2 hours or until fully frozen.

Let the pups enjoy!

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