How to Save Money on Real Food

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It’s no secret…

I’m a huge fan of:

a) Growing/raising my own veggies, meat, eggs and dairy products

b) Buying from local producers

c) Bartering with neighbors who may be growing stuff I’m not

But let’s face it… that doesn’t work for everything.

As stubborn as I am, I just can’t figure out a way to grow my own coconuts to make coconut oil here in Wyoming…

Or make my own sea salt…

Or grow my own coffee beans in our blizzard-prone climate…

So when I need those extra ingredients or natural living products, that means my options boil down to:

  • Costco — The nearest Costco is 2+ hours away… (I don’t even have a membership)
  • My local natural food store (45 minutes away) — I buy a few things here, but their inventory is small, and the prices are high
  • Amazon — Honestly, I probably buy from Amazon more than anywhere else… It’s usually a last-resort, but when I can’t find a natural ingredient in a 300 mile radius, they are my only option.

Until now, that is.

I’ve been wanting to tell you guys about this company for a couple months now, and I can finally spill the beans.

What if I told you there was a company that combined the best attributes of Amazon, Whole Foods, and Costco, but with lower prices and a sustainable-minded mission?

Too good to be true?

Nope.

Meet Thrive Market

I’ve been looking at Thrive Market for a couple months now, and I’m completely impressed. Here’s the facts—>

  • Thrive Market is a brand-new online marketplace with a mission to make healthy living easy and affordable for everyone. You can get everything from GMO-free food, snacks, vitamins, supplements, personal care products, cleaning supplies, beauty products, kitchen staples, pantry essentials, baby food and products and much, much more.
  • You’ll get wholesale prices on more than 3,000 of the highest quality healthy foods and products from more than 400 of the best-selling brands at wholesale prices (these aren’t knock-off or generic brands– they are the same items you’d find at your local health food store).
  • Thrive Market’s prices are 15 – 25% lower compared to other online retailers.
  • Free national shipping on orders over $49 (WIN!)
  • Every paid membership is matched with a free membership for a low-income American family.
  • All packaging, boxes and inserts are made from recycled paper and are recyclable.
  • Customize your shopping experience with the Gluten-Free, Paleo, Raw, Vegan, or Moms categories.

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What This Homesteader is Buying from Thrive Market:

So am I ditching my garden and my milk cow and buying all my food online now? NO WAY! :)

But I am using Thrive Market to fill in the gaps for things I can’t grow or find locally for good prices, like:

  • Natural dishwashing gel
  • Grade B maple syrup
  • Canned coconut milk
  • Redmond Real Salt
  • Grassfed gelatin
  • Chia seeds
  • Almonds

I was thrilled to notice they even have lard and tallow! I don’t need to purchase these, since I render my own, but if you don’t have access to high-quality pork or beef fat, this is a perfect option.

Now, I’ll be honest– I won’t be buying everything Thrive Market carries. I don’t buy the “organic” processed foods at my local health food store, and I won’t be buying them here, either. But they definitely have enough of the other natural pantry staples I use on a regular basis to justify my membership.

But is it really cheaper?

Let’s compare:

Up until now, I’ve been using Amazon Prime to order many of my pantry items.

Amazon Prime is $99/year.

Thrive Market is $59.95/year.

Costco memberships are $55/year (if you have a store in your area), but I know for a fact Costco doesn’t carry many of these specialized natural ingredients.

Since Thrive offers free shipping for orders over $49, I plan to make one big order each month, or split an order with a friend.

Here are some side-by-side comparisons of a few products (affiliate links):

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Free Trial Membership

I’ve been working personally with Thrive Market for the past couple months, and they have generously agree to offer Prairie Homestead readers a free 30-day trial membership, 15% off your first order, AND a chance to win a $250 shopping spree (who wouldn’t love that?)

Click here to sign up for your trial membership and to enter the giveaway.

Giveaway ends 3/22/15 at midnight. No purchase necessary to win.

DISCLAIMER: I am an affiliate of Thrive Market. It’s rare you’ll see me devote an entire post to an affiliate relationship, but I did so here because I like the company THAT MUCH. And yes, I am personally using them on a regular basis, and would continue to do so, even without the affiliate relationship. Many of you live in rural areas, with limited food options, like I do, and that’s the reason I’m sharing Thrive with you today.

How to Test Seeds for Viability

how to test seeds for viability and germination

You dig, you till, you fertilize, you plant, you water…

And then you wait. And wait.

And you scratch your head when nothing pops out of the ground…

Was it lack of water? A hungry animal? Poor soil? Bad seeds?

Whatever the cause, it’s always frustrating when you have to replant. Last year my bean rows had a germination rate of around 20%. It was dismal, especially considering all the big plans I had for those heirloom Golden Wax beans…

While there are lots of factors that could potentially cause your seeds to no-show, I’ll show you how to eliminate one of the variables today with this simple way to test seeds for viability

Seeds are tough little buggers, and can potentially withstand a decent amount of time in storage (especially if stored correctly). But if you come across a packet of older seeds, it’ll save you time and headache if you can test their germination rate before poking them into the ground.

This is what I’m doing with several of my packets this year, especially considering someone (aka: me) accidentally left them up in the shop attic where they proceed to get blazing hot, and then freeze in the fall before I remembered them. Whoops.

Better safe than sorry this year… I refuse to be beanless again!

how-to-check-seeds

How to Test Seeds for Viability

You will need:

  • Old seeds in need of testing
  • 1-2 paper towels
  • Resealable plastic bag
  • Sharpie marker (for labeling-optional)

Dampen the paper towel– it doesn’t need to be dripping wet, just nice and soggy.

Arrange the seeds on the paper towel. I like to use 10 seeds of each type, as it makes figuring the percentage easy, and ensures you’re getting a solid random sampling of the packet.

If you’re using seeds that look similar, be sure to label each area of the towel with the marker to keep them straight. Or just use separate towels.

how to test seeds for viability and germination

Roll up the paper towel, or place a second paper towel over the top, to ensure the seeds is completely surrounded by dampness.

Place the damp towel/seeds in the plastic bag, seal, and set aside in a warm place.

how to test seeds for viability and germination

Depending on the type of seeds you’re testing, they should begin to germinate anywhere from 2-14 days. (Seeds like peas and beans will sprout faster, while seeds like carrots or parsnips will take much longer). If your seeds are of the slow-germinating variety, you may need to spritz the paper towel with more water to keep it damp. If it dries out, the seeds will stop the germination process.

Once the seeds being to sprout, give them a day or two, and then take note as to how many sprouted vs. how many did not sprout. This will give you a germination rate. Example:

Out of 10 Tested Seeds

  • 1 seed sprouts = 10% germination rate
  • 5 seeds sprout = 50% germination rate
  • 10 seeds sprout = 100% germination rate
how to test seeds for viability and germination
This batch had a 90% germination rate. We’re good to go!

 

Obviously, the higher the germination rate, the better. Anything over 50% is decent. Anything lower than 50% still might be usable, but you may need to plant more seeds to potentially make up for the “duds.”

My beans had around a ___% germination rate, so I’m feeling confident they’ll work it the garden this year!

Seed Viability FAQs:

Do I need to do this for ALL of my seed packets?

Nope. If the packets are new, or you are confident in how they have been stored, you shouldn’t need to do this. I’m only doing it for my older seeds that have been sitting around for a while.

how to test seeds for viability and germination
little baby beans…

 

What do I do with the seeds after they sprout?

If gardening season has arrived, simply plant them. If it’s not quite time to start digging outside, you can just compost them, or feed them to your chickens.

How should I store my seeds?

Seeds store best in a cool, dry place. Heat and humidity is definitely the enemy here. If you have room in your refrigerator, that’s a great place to keep them between planting seasons. If stored properly, some seeds can last for years.

Where’s a good place to buy heirloom seeds?

My favorite resource is Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. I’ve been using them for years!

how to test seeds for viability and germination

Other Gardening Tips

How to Separate Cream from Milk

how to separate cream from milk

Some of you probably read the title of this post…

…and furrowed your eyebrows, wondering “Why on earth does is she even writing about that? It’s so simple!”

But it’s funny how quickly something can become a lost art….”

Take rendering lard and clabbering milk, for example. Not so long ago, lard and clabber were staples of every kitchen. And now, I’m betting if you were to take a random poll of people walking down the sidewalk, the vast majority of folks would have no idea what they were, or how to use them.

The same goes for cream. It used to be common knowledge how to quickly skim the inches of cream from a ice-cold jar of fresh milk and turn it into homemade sour cream, stiff peaks of whipped cream, or bright yellow homemade butter.

But for those of us who grew up with homogenized milk, seeing a creamline for the first time can be a completely foreign, yet awe-inspiring experience. I know it was for me.

how to separate cream from milk

I’ve received a number of emails from folks who bring home their first jars of fresh, local milk, and discover they aren’t quite sure how to separate cream from milk.

So for the cream-newbies out there–take heart. You’re about to experience one of the most beautiful parts of homesteading (aka fresh cream), and I’ll show you exactly what to do with it.

(Remember: This will only work with non-homogenized milk-- if you’re waiting to see a creamline on your homogenized gallons, it ain’t gonna happen…)

How to Separate Cream from Milk

There’s more than one way to skin a cat (er… skim some cream), so I’ll highlight some four of the most popular methods for separating cream from milk:

1. A Old-Fashioned Ladle

This is my weapon of choice because it’s fool-proof, with no extra equipment required. Here’s how to do it:

a) If you are dealing with very fresh milk, let it sit for at least 24 hours, so the cream has plenty of time to rise to the top.

how to separate cream from milk
The magnificent creamline. This will vary depending on your particular gallon of milk.

b) Identify the creamline, so you know what you’re working with. (You’ll be able to see it by looking at the sides of the jar)

c) Gently dip the ladle into the cream layer and allow it to fill. Make sure you aren’t dipping too deeply and getting into the milk. You’ll be able to see the difference– the cream is thick and yellowish-white, while the milk will appear much thinner and sometimes even blueish.

d) Pour the ladle of cream into a separate jar, and repeat until the majority of the cream layer is gone. (I like to leave about an inch of cream in the jar– it gives the milk a better texture, and also ensures I’m not swiping too much milk into my cream, which can upset the butter-making process.)

e) Use the resulting milk for drinking/cooking, and then turn the cream into a variety of beautiful projects (details below).

how to separate cream from milk

2. A Turkey Baster

If you have a smaller creamline, you can use a turkey baster to slurp it off the top (simply follow the same instructions as you would for the ladle). However, my turkey baster skills are rather clumsy, and I’ve ended up spewing stuff all over my kitchen more than once. Therefore, I tend to only trust myself with a ladle…

3. A Gallon-Sized Ice Tea/Lemonade Container

I haven’t personally used this method, but I know many homesteaders swear by it.

Simply pour the fresh milk into a glass ice tea/lemonade dispenser. (I’ve seen them for sale all over the place lately… In both one and two gallon sizes– like this one (aff link)).

Allow the milk to sit for at least 24 hours, then open the spigot at the bottom– the skimmed milk will come out, leaving the creamline floating at the top. Once you are nearing the end of the milk layer, you can capture the cream layer in a separate container.

I haven’t used this idea yet, mostly because my kitchen is tiny and I have limited room for extra “stuff.” But having a spigot of milk in your fridge does sound kinda handy, especially when it does double-duty as a cream separator.

4. A Cream Separator

And last but not least, we have the good ol’ fashioned cream separator.

I’ve seen more than one of these babies for sale on Craigslist, or hanging out in antique shops… Although I’m always tempted by them, I haven’t ever purchased one because:

  • They aren’t exactly cheap…
  • Some of the models are humongous– I don’t have anywhere to put it!
  • I just haven’t found them necessary, especially when my ladle does such a good job.

Now– if you had gallons upon gallons of milk to skim each day, investing in a dedicated cream separator would make sense. Or, if you are trying to capture cream from goat’s milk, a separator is pretty much a necessity. However, for the average homesteader with one or two cows, I just don’t think a separator is a must-have.

So I have my cream… now what?

You lucky duck… Fresh cream is the queen of the homestead, in my opinion. There are so many things you can do with it.

SO. MANY. THINGS.

Here are just a few:

how to separate cream from milk

Planning an Orchard for Your Homestead

planning an orchard for your homestead

I must confess… Just saying the word “orchard” makes me green with envy… Fruit trees do NOT thrive here in Wyoming, therefore, my dreams of a homestead orchard probably aren’t going to happen as long as we live here. So, I’ve invited Angi Schneider, author of The Gardening Notebook, to share her best tips for planning an orchard with us today…

Fruit trees and bushes are important on the homestead, with minimal effort they can supply your family with many pounds of produce every year.

Unfortunately, growing fruit is often one of the most neglected things on a homestead, especially on a small homestead.

Growing fruit takes time. Sometimes there will be years between planting and harvest. So, the sooner you get those fruit trees and bushes in the ground the sooner you’ll have a fruit harvest.

While fruit trees truly do take minimal effort, it’s not as easy as digging a hole, planting a tree and calling it good. There is some planning that needs to happen before you buy and plant your first fruit tree.

SchneiderPeeps - Mulberries ripening

 Planning an Orchard for Your Homestead

1. Make a list of all the fruits your family likes.

This is the time to dream. Even if you think something won’t grow in your climate, but your family likes it, write it down.

2. Do a little research to find out what varieties will actually grow in your climate.

You can search fruit trees for your gardening zone on the internet. If you don’t know what gardening zones you are in, you can find your cold hardiness zone by entering your zipcode in the USDA’s interactive map and you can find your heat zone on the American Horticulture Society’s website.  Talk with local gardening friends to find out what varieties grow well in your area. Also, don’t overlook your local nurseries. They have a vested interest in you being successful, so they are usually super helpful. Master Gardeners clubs can also be a helpful resource. One last thing to consider is chill hours, some fruits need a certain number of hours per year below 45°F to produce fruit. County Extension Co-operatives keep these records so if you cannot find your hours online you can always call your local office.
But don’t cross a fruit off your list just because you’re told it won’t grow in your climate. Some fruit trees grow very well in pots. Meyer lemon and Satsuma oranges are two citrus trees that can be grown in colder climates inside in a pot.

SchneiderPeeps - bee on citrus bloom
3. Learn what trees are self fertile and which ones are not.

Self fertile trees are exactly what they sound like – the flowers from this kind of tree will pollinate themselves. Here’s a list of most self fertile fruits: apricot, pomegranate, citrus, fig, grape, persimmon, most peaches, most berries, and European plums (although they do better with two varieties).
Some trees are not self fertile and need two trees to produce fruit. You need to make sure that the two trees are different varieties that bloom at the same time. Two trees of the same variety won’t work as pollinators and neither will two different varieties that don’t bloom at the same time. Now, that does not necessarily mean you have to have two trees on your property. If your neighbor has fruit trees, find out what kind he has, get a different variety and they can cross pollinate. This is a great way to get fruit in an urban yard, since the trees need to be within 50 feet of each other. Apples, pears, Japanese plums, cherries and nuts trees are not self-fertile and require a pollinator.

4. Determine how much space you have available to plant fruit trees and bushes.

If you live on an acre or less, you can still have an amazing orchard but you might have it spread out in different areas of your property instead of one large orchard area. Consider using any walls or fences and espaliering some of the fruit trees. An espaliered tree is a tree that you will prune in such a way that it fans out over the wall or fence. This is a great space saver and yet you’ll still get a lot of fruit. If you live on an urban or small homestead you will also want to consider planting dwarf trees. Dwarf trees are trees that are grafted onto a root stock that will not allow the tree to grow large so you get the same great fruit in less space. Standard size trees have about a 20 feet spread, semi-dwarf trees have about 12-15 feet spread and dwarf trees have about a 10 feet spread.
SchneiderPeeps - apple blossoms
5. Put your plans on paper.

This is the fun part! Get out some paper and colored pencils and map out your yard or acreage. Take your list of varieties and start putting them on your map.  Go outside and walk the map and make sure your plans will work. Is there enough space for a full size tree of the variety you have listed? Is there enough sun? Is there an adequate water source? When the tree is full size will it cast a shadow on an area that you don’t want shaded, your vegetable garden for instance?  When planning your spacing you can stagger your trees to get more in less space. Make sure you keep this map in a safe place, like your gardening notebook, so you can refer back to it when it’s time to plant your trees.
6. Don’t think you have to plant the entire plan this season.

An orchard is a long term relationship, so you have time. Try to add just a few new trees or bushes each year and before you know it you will have a full orchard. It’s a good idea to start with either the fruits that your family loves the most or the most expensive ones to buy.
Schneiderpeeps - full Meyer lemon tree

How Much Fruit Can a Home Orchard Produce?

Just to give you an idea of just how much fruit these trees can add to your homestead, a mature lemon tree can give you over 200 pounds of lemons, a mature peach tree can give you well over 75 pounds, so can a mature plum tree. That is a lot of fruit!
So, unless you plan on selling your fruit or have a lot of friends who you love to have freshly picked fruit, you don’t need more than one or two trees of each fruit. Diversity is key in the home orchard.

planning an orchard for your homestead
About Angi

Angi Schneider is a minister’s wife and homeschooling mom.  She is passionate about growing food for her family and living a simple life. She blogs their homesteading and homeschooling adventures at SchneiderPeeps.com and is the author of The Gardening Notebook which she wrote to help other gardeners remember all the great information they are learning.