Ask Andi

theveganfarmer.com marketI’ve received some questions lately about Harper Farms and what we do so I thought I’d share a few. Feel free to contact me with any and all questions. I’m more than happy to answer them.

I’ve noticed pictures of chickens in your Instagram feed lately. What made you get chickens and how hard are they to keep?

We’ve talked about getting chickens for a couple of years. We knew after our move in 2013, it wouldn’t be too much longer. We finally had a nice size chunk of land to devote to them and the time to care for them. We’ve settled on 6 and so far, 4 are laying eggs. As someone who reads every label and is super picky about what we eat, this just made sense. I love knowing exactly what my daughter and husband are eating. Our chickies have lots of space to roam, plenty of fresh food and water, and most importantly, tons of love from Emme.

As for their care, they are super easy. I clean the coop daily. Chickens poop A LOT. As long as they can roam, have fresh food and water, some sand to bathe in, they’re pretty happy. We occasionally give them treats of kale or lettuce. When it’s hot I give them frozen watermelon and carrots. They are a pretty quiet bunch. We live in the city and several of my neighbors didn’t know we had them.

How hard is it to build a chicken coop?

It can be as simple or as difficult as you make. You can build it yourself or buy one already fabricated. We started with 3 chickens and used our daughters old play house. She had outgrown it and it housed our chicks perfectly. We built an insulated rolling base, attached a prefabricated run and called it a day. Then we decided we needed 3 more chickens. We had a storage shed attached to our garage we weren’t using so that became their new coop. We cut a few milk crates to use as nesting boxes. Since we doubled the number, the run was no longer large enough. We put up fencing and gates and now they have room to roam on one side of the house. They love lying under the fig tree.

Your farm doesn’t seem that big yet you have a huge variety of fruit trees and vegetables. How do you squeeze it all in and did it cost a lot to get started?

The best advice I can give regarding this is to start very slowly. Figure out what is important to you and how much time you currently have to devote to your garden. You don’t want to go into debt and/or burn yourself out. We started with just a few vegetables and have added a few new things each year. Starting slowly also allowed us to build our skills, make errors, and for me, learn how to be a better from scratch cook. As for our yield, we use every inch we can that isn’t dedicated to our chickens, dogs, or daughter. We plant in containers, raised beds, fenced in ground, and pots in the house.  Inside plants are mostly herbs and mint. We also pair complementary plants together like tomatoes and basil.

How hard is it to can/preserve food? Can you recommend some books to get me started?

It can be quite simple. My husband and I tend to can different things using different methods. This works well for us since I have less patience for the more labor intensive canning. Which isn’t really all that labor intensive. It just takes more time. I tend to use the water bath method more. I also like to freeze some things like bell peppers and fruit. The peppers can easily be thrown into stir fry’s. The fruit I bag with either spinach or kale and dump directly into the blender for smoothies. A quick Google search or trip to your local library will offer some great books to check out. Here are a few to get you started-

Canning for a New Generation by Liana Krissoff

You can Can by Better Homes and Gardens

Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving

What are some of the ways you’re living more simply or sustainably?

Day in the Life

Our normal isn’t so normal lately. Between Emme’s hit or miss napping and adding a new puppy to the family, things have been more than a little sideways. Yesterday we managed to get it right. The day started with a trip to the craft store. As you can see, Emme’s favorite part is the animal section. She’d stay there for hours if I let her.

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Next up was a trip to Home Depot. We set aside a small garden plot for Emme to plant flowers in. She chose yellow marigolds and pink snapdragons.

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We met daddy at home to plant her flowers and mulch the rest of the garden beds.

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By mid afternoon we needed a break. Our community was hosting a fishing event so we walked the trails to the water. Rob loves to fish and Emme’s been wanting to learn. She mostly dipped her butterfly net in the water and played with some neighborhood friends. We brought Baxter with us and had a really nice family outing. The weather was deceptive. It was warm, but not overly so. I ended up with a bit of a burn.

We came home, grilled our dinner and turned in early. Emme was asleep by 7:45, a true rarity these days!

How was your weekend?

 

Crayon Resist Easter Eggs

I’m stuffing 350 plastic eggs for the kids to hunt on Sunday. It took me 2 hours to stuff 150 last night. I’m on top of things this year, no? I decided today would be a good day to dye eggs with the munchkin. Since Easter’s two days away and all. See? On top of things.  We made it super fun by drawing on them first.

eggs3Here’s what you’ll need-

hard boiled eggs

water

vinegar

food dye

crayons

munchkin

 

Boil as many eggs as you’d like and allow them to cool completely. Pour about a cup of warm water into a small cup or bowl, add a tablespoon of vinegar and about 10 drops of food dye. Do this for as many colors as you want.

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Use the crayons to make pretty pictures. Or completely abstract art. Frozen crayons aren’t necessary. Unless you’re three. Then make it happen. Also, say hi to our new puppy Baxter. Gently place the egg in the dye and let sit for 5 minutes or so. Take them out and allow them to dry completely. I didn’t and now can not get the dye off my fingers.

This is what we ended up with-

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What awesome art projects are you doing this Easter?

Free and Fun Kids Activities

theveganfarmer.com storyvilleI’m always looking for free or low cost activities to keep Emme busy. Ideally, they’re also fun and educational. I’ve compiled a list of some of the fun activities we like to do. If you’re in the Baltimore area, or your city has one of these businesses, check them out.

Lakeshore Learning Store– They offer free crafts for kids each Saturday 11am-3pm.

Home Depot– Their kids workshops are usually the first Saturday of each month. The first time you go, your child is given an apron with his or her name on it. After each project, they get a pin of that project to put on their apron. They even get a snack at the end of each workshop.

Lowe’s- This is similar to Home Depot with the exception you usually need to register your child. They fill fast.

Storyville– I’ve written about it before. We adore Storyville. We visit at least once a week. It’s a tiny village for kids 0-5. Infants have a separate gated area.

Baltimore Museum of Art– They have family drop in art workshops each Sunday 2pm-5pm.

Walter’s Museum– This is nearly free at $5 an art class. They also have free drop in art activities on Saturdays 10am-3pm.

Marshy Point Nature Center– They have Pre-K drop in nature classes on Mondays. They run on donations so please give a few dollars. The rangers are super knowledgeable and awesome with the kids.

Barnes & Noble– Story time. It varies by store so call first.

Port Discovery- They have $2 Target family nights once a month. The next one is 2/20/15 4pm-8pm.

AC Moore/Michael’s- They offer kids art workshops as well. Call your local store to find out when.

Playgrounds– Here are just a few we love- the 33rd St. Y (Stadium Place), Herring Run, Gunpowder tire park, Meadowood Regional, and Linkwood Playground.

What free, or nearly free, activities keep you busy?

Intentions

lotus12014 was a very crazy, chaotic year for us.  We made some relatively quick decisions at the end of 2013 that had us relocate quickly.  We downsized in a big, sudden way that left me feeling disoriented and out of control for the majority of the year.  I just couldn’t seem to find solid ground and I also couldn’t seem to say no to any need or demand of me.  Somewhere near the end of the summer I snapped out of it and came back to reality.  Just in time for the holiday crazy, right? I managed to make it through holding tightly to my resolve to get my shit together.  My Christmas gift to myself was time to get organized.  I’ve spent the last two days neck deep in paperwork, bills, broken toys, and basement junk that makes me shudder.

The first thing I did was find my desk.  I threw out every non essential item, whether it was a pen, paper clip or bill.  Why did I have bills from 2011 in my file folder? I don’t know.  Everything now has a home and makes sense TO ME.  As it should. Since it’s MY DESK. Good bye broken Minnie Mouse. Adios hubband’s tools. Once that was done, I made a giant list of everything that either needs to be done or that I want to do.  I broke that list down further into weekly priorities like dropping off party supplies next week for Emme’s birthday. I printed out 2015 monthly calendar pages for my bullet journal and noted major events/tasks for each month.  They are all neatly stashed in my journal and easily accessible.

Once my office returned to a happy place I want to work, I turned my focus on the basement. Six months into moving both dryers blew up.  I know. First world problems.  We broke two dryers.  Wah wah. I decided I didn’t want to spend the money to repair or replace them. Especially since I’m trying to simplify and find my zen. Instead, I bought two buckets, some bags of cement, and brought both umbrella clothes lines in from the yard. Problem solved.  I can now line dry my clothes regardless of the weather and I save money not running a dryer. The final step is clearing space for a workout area.  I’m throwing out pretty much everything we haven’t touched in the past year.  It’s obviously not that important to us or we would use or display it.

My head is clear as are my intentions for 2015. I will be organized. I will continue to simplify. I will strive for contentment with where I am and the choices I deliberately make. What are your intentions for 2015?

Finger Puppet Play Pillows

theveganfarmer.com playpillow My kitchen has been closed the last week while we lay a new floor.  I am beyond excited about this.  While I’ve been away from my stove, I’ve been working on Christmas gifts.  Each year I make presents for all the kids in the family.  For the younger ones, I decided on finger puppet play pillows.  This was a labor of love as I totally underestimated how much time it would take to make each one.  Especially since I really only had free time while Emme napped.  Which wasn’t much this past week.  She’s fully embracing the holiday spirit.

What You’ll Need

theveganfarmer.com playpillow1

felt- various colors

pillow forms- found mine on Joann.com for less than $4 each

yarn- for the hair

string- to attach puppets to the pillow

thread and needle

scissors

permanent marker- for the faces

fabric glue

I rough sketched a finger puppet form, castle, crown, dragon (for the boys), dress for the princess, and shirt for the knight. You can find the pdf here- finger puppet. I traced each onto a piece of felt then cut them out.  You’ll need two each of the puppet form, dress, and shirt.  Once I sewed the puppet forms together, I turned them inside out.  The dress and shirt are a little bit bigger than the puppet to make it easier to sew on.  I just added a few stitches at the shoulders and under the arms. I originally tried gluing the yarn hair on but wasn’t very successful. So I stitched it on. For the crown, sew the ends together and attach to each puppet head with just a few stitches. I used a quick drying fabric glue to attach the castle to the pillow as well as the string to the puppet and pillow.  It survived the yank test after about 4 hours.

Each pillow took roughly an hour and cost approximately $5. I love that it cost so little to make something so fun. I also love that it’s not some commercially packaged present that everyone else will have. These pillows are super versatile and only need a little imagination and time to create.  Instead of princesses and dragons, you could make a barn and farm animal finger puppets.  Get crafty!

theveganfarmer.com dragon

 

Cheap And Non-Toxic Household Cleaners

non toxic cleanersI love cleaning.  Seriously.  I clean every day. I also love knowing it’s done in a safe, non-toxic way.  I am very mindful of what I use around my home.  We all also know I am cheap. Thankfully the two happen to go together quite nicely.  Here are the products I use around my home, their effectiveness, and why you should use them too.

1. Hydrogen Peroxide.  If you’re not currently using this, I urge you to run to your nearest dollar store and pick up a bottle.  Or twelve.  Trust me.  You’ll thank me later.  It’s a miracle cleaner.  It is an excellent, odorless disinfectant. I use it to clean everything- cutting boards, kids toys, bathtub, kitchen sink, floors, and even as a bleach alternative in the laundry. I screw a sprayer on to the bottle, spray surfaces, let it sit a few minutes, and wipe away.  You’ll know it’s working because it’ll bubble.  I like imagining the bubbles are devouring the germs.

2. Vinegar.  Another amazing liquid.  Not only does it kill bacteria, it shines wood floors, cleans windows to a streak free shine, softens laundry (That’s right. It’s a fabric softener.  Slip a cup into the rinse cycle.  I promise your clothes will not smell like a giant salad.), and even repels fleas and ticks from your pets.

3. Baking Soda.  Combine it with a little water to form a paste and you have an amazing scrub.  I use this paste to clean my stove top. It also deodorizes rugs and removes smells from fridges. Sprinkle a little on your carpet, let sit 15 minutes then vacuum. Baking soda mixed with vinegar makes an excellent drain opener.

4. Dr. Bronner’s castile soap.  Love this in peppermint.  It can literally be used for anything from washing dishes, laundry, floors, and even your hair. This is the most expensive of the products I use.  It averages about $10 a bottle, but it lasts quite a long time.

5. Lemons. They smell lovely and are fantastic for cleaning windows, removing grease stains from clothing, and killing germs from cutting boards.

These are the only cleaning supplies I have in my home.  They are cheap, effective, and take up very little space.  What amazing, natural products do you use?

 

November Goals

nov1It’s the beginning of another month and time to set new goals.  First, let’s see how we did with last month’s list.

1. Read more- I managed to read two books- Getting Things Done by David Allen and  Goodnight, Beautiful by Dorothy Koomson.  Both good reads.

2. Finish living room- this is still a work in progress.  I added a few pieces to the walls.  I have a vision of what I want.  I’m having a hard time applying the vision. When this happens, I tend to jump to another project.  Like my very tiny, VERY ugly bathroom.

3. Letters for pantry donations- These went out and we’ve scheduled a few pick ups this month.

4. Gym schedule-  Our schedules work better with spontaneous workouts like hikes.  And dance parties.  I consider this a win even though we’ve not been in the gym.  The goal was really to move more and we are doing that.

5. Potty training- We were spot on until we all came down with what seemed like a super bug.  No one’s got time for potty training when they can barely breathe.  I’m making this priority #1 for this month.

Here are November’s goals-

1. Potty train the nearly three year old.  THREE!  This is happening too fast.

2. Finish decorating the living room AND very tiny, still rather ugly bathroom.  I’ve ripped out the seriously dated, gold shower doors and hung a shower curtain.  I’d post pictures of this project, but I’m afraid I’d blind you with the hideousness.  Seriously.  Think press on floors, weirdly textured walls, and gold and wood fixtures.  There are plans to tile the floor and find a pretty new light fixture.

3. Finalize holiday gift lists.

4. Create a drying station in the basement.  It’s tropical island hot down there during the winter.  I may as well use that heat to dry my clothes instead of spending money on running my dryer.  I’ll let you know how it turns out.

5. Finalize a vegan menu for Thanksgiving.

Overall, I did very well balancing Emme’s social calendar and tackling my goals for October.  Hopefully I can keep this up with the upcoming holidays.  What are your goals for November?

October Goals

theveganfarmer.com cheerI’m working on this accountability thing.  I have massive goals and to do lists that, instead of motivating me, end up overwhelming me. I have implemented a few tricks to keep me more on track- my bestie and I check in with each other once a month and I’ve created a bullet journal. Now, I’m putting it out to all of you.  Here are my top goals for October-

1- Read more.  I’ve subscribed to Oyster and while I went all crazy with setting up a reading list, I’ve read very few of those I’ve bookmarked.  My goal is to watch less mindless television after Emme goes to sleep and do more reading of the words.

2- Finish decorating my living room.  It’s sad and bare and in need of personality.  While I’d LOVE to get new furniture, it’s just not feasible with a toddler and approximately one million cats.  This doesn’t mean I can’t have pretty walls and pretty things on said walls.

3- Finalize and mail letters for pantry donations.  Have I mentioned my family runs a small food pantry?  We run completely on the kindness and generosity of others.  As well as donations from chain stores during the holidays.  While we give out baskets weekly, the holidays are always rough.  We try to supply full meals for at least 20 families for each holiday.  We have a lofty goal of doubling that this season.

4- Get back into a regular gym schedule. It’s all too easy for me to make this a non priority when really, it should be my first priority.  I’ll accomplish nothing if I don’t keep myself healthy.

5- Potty train Emme.  I can’t express how done I am with diapers.

6- Keep my damn sanity.  This month is packed so tight with activities I’m going to have to remind myself to breathe on the daily.

What are your goals for the month?  Do you have any tips or tricks for staying on task? And more importantly, for completing those tasks?

Creating a Writing/Art Station for Kids

IMG_0368I feel very strongly writing and creating art are extremely important for children.  Writing contributes to language development and communication.  It is quite a complex process.  It requires more basic skills than most others. Creating art develops motor skills needed to write, visual learning, inventiveness, and language development.

Until recently Emme’s had free reign to create wherever she wanted.  Her craft supplies sort of just exploded all over the house.  While I don’t discourage her from creating elsewhere, I thought it important to create a space for her within my office.  She likes hanging out with me while I work and now that she’s a bit older, I feel comfortable with her having access to her own paper and art supplies. Our first step was to empty one of my cabinets and fill it with all of her writing and art supplies.  It now houses various types of paper (construction, sticky pads, composition books), washable paint, dry erase letters for tracing, coloring books, play doh, ink pads and stamps, and scissors.

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Our next step was a trip to Ikea to find an Emme sized table and chairs.  I let her choose the one she wanted.  It’s important she feel comfortable and part of the process. Lastly, we came home and I gave her two options where her “office” could be.  I had a few criteria for her spot- accessible, inviting, well lit, and easy to keep organized.  She chose the spot and I got to work putting together the table.  While I was building, I had her gather some of her favorite supplies and completed projects to hang.

She’s absolutely in love with this space and so am I.  This was by far my favorite project. She spends a lot of time here creating and that is so fulfilling for both of us.

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