Incorporating the Simple Living Review, the Preparedness & Self-Reliance Review, as well as the Outdoor & Survival Review

Tend to Your Garden in Winter

Although many of the perennials grown in the garden slumber through the winter months, the gardener is far from inactive.

In fact, winter in the garden can be as busy as any other season of the year.

Here are some essential gardening tasks that are recommend green fingers take care of when it gets frosty outside:

1./ Check in on your plants: Examine the greenhouse (or cold frame) regularly for any sign of pests or disease it could be harboring. Remove any dead flower heads, yellowing leaves, and other plant debris before mold starts to form, to cut the risk of infection.

Heavy snowfall can settle on conifers and evergreens with larger surface areas, causing the branches to buckle or break under all that heft. Knock the snow off to help reduce damage, because a torn branch leaves an open wound for infections in spring.

2./ Protect them from the cold: Insulate your greenhouse and cold frame with bubble wrap or similar insulation, because reducing drafts saves on heat loss and plant casualties.
Outdoor evergreens, container plants, tall plants, and plants introduced since the previous winter will need protection if the weather takes a nasty turn. (They can be severely damaged by wind, which can loosen roots.) Consider planting a windbreak or shelter to reduce the airflow.

Another problem caused by the wind is foliage drying out, which happens when freezing gusts draw moisture from leaves faster than it can be replaced. Erect a screen of woven plastic mesh or horticultural fleece on the windward side of vulnerable plants to reduce the wind's effects and protect the leaves. During heavy frosts, some plants may even benefit from being bundled up in protective fleece, which absorbs some of cold.

3./ Prepare the soil: Because winter frost can break down sticky clay soil better than any cultivation tool, it can be an ally when it comes to preparing heavy soils. This is the time to incorporate compost or other organic conditioners that will improve soil structure and boost plant growth.

4./ Deal with construction and landscaping jobs: Because sections of the garden will be bare, it's easier to see the garden layout and make changes for the coming spring. If the soil isn't too wet to be structurally damaged by foot traffic and wheelbarrows, you can take the opportunity to install or improve drainage systems.

5./ Handle repairs and maintenance, and that includes repairing handles: Consider the lack of vegetation a bonus, because this is an ideal time to drain and clean pools and ponds, as well as repair pond sides, walls, and liners. Or use this time to re-level, change the shape, increase the shape and size of borders, and reseed areas where growth is sparse. However, no work should be carried out if the grass is frozen, because footprints made on frozen grass can cause it to turn brown.

Repair, sharpen, clean, service, and otherwise maintain tools that are used in your garden, whether the lawnmower, the strimmer, bill hooks, secateurs, etc. A well-maintained tool or piece of machinery will give you good service for many, many years and will make life and work easier.

Michael Smith (Veshengro), January 2008


By Ralph Waldo Emerson

Editor's note: The great American philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson, wrote this essay in 1841, when individuals in his country were far more free, independent, and optimistic than today. When he writes about self-reliance he's not talking about digging our own wells or chopping our own firewood; all that was taken for granted in his day. He's talking about relying on our own minds and taking our own independent actions, regardless of what others may think, or what "authorities" may demand. Emerson's eloquent message is one that deserves repeating in this day when people are increasingly afraid to speak their minds or stand up for what they value.

Man is his own star; and the soul that can Render an honest and a perfect man Commands all light, all influence, all fate; Nothing to him falls early or too late. Our acts our angels are, or good or ill, Our fatal shadows that walk by us still. --Epilogue to Beaumont and Fletcher's Honest Man's Fortune

Cast the bantling on the rocks, Suckle him with the she-wolf's teat, Wintered with the hawk and fox, Power and speed be hands and feet.

I read the other day some verses written by an eminent painter which were original and not conventional. The soul always hears an admonition in such lines, let the subject be what it may. The sentiment they instill is of more value than any thought they may contain. To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men,--that is genius. Speak your latent conviction, and it shall be the universal sense; for the inmost in due time becomes the outmost, and our first thought is rendered back to us by the trumpets of the Last Judgment. Familiar as the voice of the mind is to each, the highest merit we ascribe to Moses, Plato, and Milton is that they set at naught books and traditions, and spoke not what men, but what they thought. A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his. In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts; they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty. Great works of art have no more affecting lesson for us than this. They teach us to abide by our spontaneous impression with good-humored inflexibility than most when the whole cry of voices is on the other side. Else to-morrow a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and felt all the time, and we shall be forced to take with shame our own opinion from another.

There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better for worse as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried. Not for nothing one face, one character, one fact, makes much impression on him, and another none. This sculpture in the memory is not without pre-established harmony. The eye was placed where one ray should fall, that it might testify of that particular ray. We but half express ourselves, and are ashamed of that divine idea which each of us represents. It may be safely trusted as proportionate and of good issues, so it be faithfully imparted, but God will not have his work made manifest by cowards. A man is relieved and gay when he has put his heart into his work and done his best; but what he has said or done otherwise shall give him no peace. It is a deliverance which does not deliver. In the attempt his genius deserts him; no muse befriends; no invention, no hope.

To read this piece in its entirety please subscribe to The Homesteader Magazine, an annual publication, the next number which will come out shortly in PDF.

Cooking with Cast Iron

I know that I am going to be preaching to the choir but nevertheless I am going to sing the praises of cast iron for cooking.

Recently I acquired a set of three cast iron skillets made by Wagner in the USA and although being of a Gypsy family and cast iron was used by my grandmother and mother in the form of the big iron pot and the griddles and skillets that hung from the “kettle iron”, I never used it myself, always haven chosen to go for the lighter options, such as enameled steel pans and pots.

Now, having laid my hands on this set rather cheaply as the prices for such cook ware go here, brand new, via a Charity Shop here in the UK, and having seasoned them, of a fashion, and begun to use them I am starting to become a convert.

First of you need very little fat for cooking and secondly the food seems to taste so much better.

For the first few times I made the mistake of immediately running the pan under the water tap of hot water (not a good idea, I have been told) and then using a metal scourer to get off the food residue. All that is, however, so I find now, required it to let the skillet cool by itself and any food residue can just be wiped off nearly.

Wow! I am beginning to love the stuff. Well, in fact that is an understatement. The problem is, however, that, generally, cast iron cookware of the kind that this set of three skillets are, are extremely difficult to come by here in the UK and when one can get them are extremely expensive.

If any readers have tips and hints for others that are looking to use cast iron cookware for cooking, baking, etc. please feel free to share them via the comments section. You may also, if you have an article or such on cast iron cookware – your own article please and not one taken from somewhere else (copyright infringements could cost us, I am afraid) – you are most welcome to submit such via the email link.

Now, let's here it for the cast iron pans and pots.

© Michael Smith (Veshengro), January 2008

Safe Can - Product Review

Store your valuables where thieves won't find them.

SafeCan is a ground-breaking product which makes it easy for people to hide their valuables in ‘dummies’ of everyday objects, like cans of beans or books. Branded products from household names, like Heinz or Collins Dictionaries, mean the dummy containers can be concealed with other household objects for maximum safety. The brands are fully licensed from their parent companies, so they look exactly the same! In other words, a very subtle low cost safe.

SafeCan is a exciting product that could help people protect their property, whether in their homes, their garage, in a caravan or a boat.

Recognised by Police Forces, Neighbourhood Watch Groups and Insurance Companies Worldwide as an excellent deterrent to theft. The SafeCan is the ideal place to hide money and jewellery.

Upon attending DIY & Garden and Totally Tools every visitor, including us media guys, were handed a goody bag at the door sponsored by Henkel which had a Can Safe in the form of a spray can of a Henkel product in it.

This is, I most say, the first time that I had a chance to get a closer look at one of those little low
cost safe solutions and I can only say, “ingenious”.

More information on SafeCan, now part of the Sterling range of security solutions, can be found at

The Outdoor Kitchen

a.k.a. the Summer Kitchen

We are soon going to be headed for the warmer months, yet again, when those of us living with and cooking with wood could do without the added heat from cooking indoors.

For this very reason those especially in the southern States and other warmer climes, including the settlers in Australia, have built and used outdoor kitchens. Some of those are and have been elaborate structures, brick-built some even, some simple, often just wooden shacks or lean-to structures, and some folks simply cooked outside over an open fire, and such.

An iron cooking pot over an open fire and the deep skillet suspended from the iron tripod of the “kettle iron” was the way it was done with the poor Blacks in the South of the United States and with the Gypsy, and how it often is still dome with the Rom, the Gypsy, in Eastern Europe.

This way is not, however, a very fuel efficient way and method of cooking, even though wood is, theoretically and practically, a renewable resource and in some places, where many of the homesteads are, quite abundant. A well-designed and -constructed summer kitchen with the right kind of wood stoves is the much better option than just cooking over an open fire. Added to that the convenience of a roof of sorts just in case it should rain.

Anyone with his own permanent homestead, in my view, even if not in the warm and hot regions, might well consider an outdoor kitchen, even if just on the back porch, for instance. This way the cabin, the homestead, is not, unnecessarily, overheated in summer from the heat of cooking and baking, often either resulting in tThe outdoor Kitchenhe residents being uncomfortable and that's it or the use of air conditioning, ceiling fans and other fans and such like, all requiring energy to run.

By removing the heat from cooking and baking from the interior of the house to an outdoors facility, that is to say, into the summer kitchen, more than one bird is being killed with one stone.

Depending on the area, as in geographical area, of residence such an outdoor- or summer-kitchen will have walls or not and where there are walls to be used then ideally those should be wooden and constructed rather like large doors that can be opened in real hot weather, and when it is not raining, to make work over stove and oven a little less hot.

Now, before summer cometh, is the time to look at building or setting up your very own summer kitchen and, as we have said before, this can be an elaborate affair of a special building, just a porch kind of construction, like a car porch, a lean-to at the side of the house, arranged on the back porch (or the front porch even) or just cooking outside over and open fire or, using a stove, such as were used in Gypsy caravans of years gone by, the so-called “Queenie” stoves, or similar, just outside in the yard. My grandmother and mother cooked like that for years.

No, I am not about to give you – at least not on this here Homesteader Blog – detailed descriptions and blueprints for the creating of such a “summer kitchen”. This is because no two situations are ever the same as regards to where and how to put up a summer kitchen. All I intend to do here is to give you food for thought for a summer- or outdoor kitchen.

© Michael Smith (Veshengro), January 2008