Candace's Backyard

Suburban homesteading in a neighborhood near you...

Moving Forward in the Backyard and Beyond…

Swiss chard growing in the garden.

It’s been an enlightening journey.

Initially, when I signed up for the ENG 304 class, I thought that I was going to blog about historical research.  As I considered it though, I realized that my family was actually doing something that a majority of other residents in Saco are not.  Perhaps it was worth blogging about!  I also had numerous pictures and topics that I could share with readers. 

I’ve learned numerous things.

While blogging and linking, I have read countless blogs to learn what others have to say about my topics.  I have had to investigate a little deeper into subject matter and gain an improved understanding in order to clearly communicate issues to readers.

Red mulch sheeting for the tomatoes.

My enthusiasm for the backyard is re-energized.

I’m in the amazing city of Montreal, and all I want to do is be home with my family, working in the garden.  I know the carrots and beets need thinning.  I want to eat our fresh produce, feed our egg-layers, and see how much the broilers have grown. 

By the time I get back, we’ll be placing red plastic mulch down on certain areas of the garden; especially for our tomatoes and peppers.  The mulch absorbs sunlight and warms the soil and prevents weeds. 

Since my last blog on compost, Joe has gotten inspired and we have purchased a compost rotator to improve the process.  We are hoping that this tool will help us process the compost more evenly, quickly, and in larger quantities.

Thanks for sharing my journey.

We’ve discussed health benefits of a garden, how to regain an awareness or connection with our food, and soil testing.  I’ve shared my burger recipe-I hope you will try it sometime!  I’ve shown you that the backyard is an ongoing process of experimentation as we explore improved methods with our chickens, compost, and garden.

Now go interact with nature and grow something!

As Alena Hall states in her Huffington Post article, you really need to put down your cell phone now and walk outside.  Step into an urban garden, plant some flowers in front of your house, or start some seedlings.   Don’t forget to re-connect with nature!  Mark Sisson, primal enthusiast, reminds us to get back to nature and Grok on!






Is Living Off the Grid Possible?

Our family jokes about the zombie apocalypse quite often.

Perhaps Chrissy should stop watching Zombieland so much.  However, we actually talk about what we would do if a natural disaster happened.   If you had to survive through a natural disaster, how well would you hold up without modern conveniences?  I think most people wouldn’t fare so well.  Even in Maine, once word of a snowstorm hits, people are running to the store for milk and bread, as if they couldn’t sustain themselves for a day or two. 

Our homesteading practices would help reduce the impact that certain disasters might present.  We have a wood stove for heating and cooking purposes.  The family works together to preserve our own produce for food storage.  Our chickens lay eggs throughout the year.

How much further would it take to live off the grid?

These thoughts make me ponder if living totally off the grid, without reliance on any outside sources, could be possible. Imagine growing, storing, and preparing your own food.  It would be a lot healthier than depending on the grocery store.  Could you utilize a renewable energy source?  It would be a huge amount of work-but would it be a fair trade to not run the typical “rat race” most Americans are running?

For the next few days,  I’m in Montreal, Canada. 

A view of Montreal from my hotel room.

So far, it looks a lot like a larger version of Portland, Maine, with taller buildings.  I’ve been eating poutine and crepes.  You would never think that a short distance away, people are living “off the grid”.  As I Google search “live off the grid”  in my hotel room, numerous articles pop up regarding how to live off the grid in Canada, why it isn’t possible for most Canadian citizens, and how to choose an alternate energy source if you’re really serious.  

There are critics, but we may be forced to partially live off the grid anyway.

Many people are skeptical about the concept.  Adam Ozimek, a Forbes contributor, argues that those that choose to live off the grid are hypocrites.  He states that most benefited from society and have the economic means to now make a lifestyle change.  He might be right.  However, if society doesn’t find a way to make our population sustainable, we might have to live without the “necessities” as our resources are being depleted.  Ed Essex, a contributor to Mother Earth News, talks about how living off the grid could achieve a happy medium. 

What are your thoughts?  Could you live off the grid?

Do you think this method of living could help combat climate change?  Or is it just a pipe dream?  I’d love to see what you think; please post below.


Hygge…In June?

It’s been an end to a disappointing spring season.

If you’re from the New England region, specifically Maine, you can agree that this past spring wasn’t so stellar.  In Portland (on the first official day of summer) the high was 77° in the morning , but then abruptly dropped to the low 60’s.  I wore a sweater all day.

Maybe that’s why my thoughts have wandered to hygge.

Our energy-efficient wood stove provides hygge in the winter.

You know, hygge (pronounced “HOO-gah”).  It’s a Scandinavian concept that has been sweeping Pintrest, Instagram, and Twitter (420 tweets on the topic so far today).  As ConsciousWorks puts it, “Hygge is a feeling closely tied to being relaxed, happy, content and at peace with oneself.  It is the absence of all pretense and worry.”  Usually it is associated with a feeling of coziness and warmth.

Hygge concepts can help us sustain long winters.  Supposedly it is the secret to the health benefits and well-being for peoples of Scandanavian countries.

A neighborhood bonfire adds some hygge this spring.

The Paleo lifestyle and hygge have a lot in common.

Ok, well minus the cocoa and cookies prominent in hygge posts, both schools of thought focus on people reconnecting to the basics, which in turn, promotes happiness.  As you know, it seems that in our modern world we are losing the most fundamental connections.  So switch off those electric lights, set up the candles, invite some friends over for some comforting (yet healthy) food, and light the fire.

Well, it might be a little warm to start a fire…

Our patio offers some summer hygge.

Right-maybe it’s not that cold out,  but the concept of hygge applies to the summer too.  In a couple of weeks, I think all of the members of the ENG 304 class should indulge in some hygge practices.  This is how you can start:

  • Plant some colorful flowers
  • Go on a picnic
  • Eat on the patio (turn on the string lights)
  • Invite friends over for a bonfire-options for entertainment abound

    • start a ukalele led sing-along
    • stargaze
    • make s’mores
    • have a read aloud session (our family usually breaks out The Princess Bride)

Hygge may not be for everyone; there are skeptics.

Olivia Petter, British lifestyle writer, warns people not to be caught up in a trend like hygge.  She states that people should observe at the happiest individuals they know and try to understand why they are so content, versus following a set of rules.  Laura Byager, a journalist for Mashable, brings up the point that the popularity of hygge is marring the concept, making it a target of commercialism.   

In my opinion, if the concept of hygge gets us thinking about slowing down and enjoying the simple things in life, then I’m all for it.  I’m not buying extra candles and blankets; I’m just thinking about how I could make our daily experiences more enjoyable.

What are your thoughts?  Do you think hygge is an overrated fad?

Have you ever tried any hygge practices, or are you already employing them?  I’d like to know-post your reply below.




Backyard Progress Report

In just four weeks, the backyard has transformed!

Garden on 5.26.19.

Garden on 6.19.19






Since my first post, spring has finally sprung (even though it is almost summer)!  Our broiler chicks are almost five weeks old.  The pitiful little patch of garden I showed you in my introduction video has been planted.

Joe built a new broiler chicken run.

The broiler chicks new run.

This year, we increased our typical flock of 10 chickens to 25, so our old chicken run was inadequate to accommodate the increased number of birds.  Joe constructed the new run using a mixture of new and recycled materials.  The broiler chickens do have a separate pen where they can run around, but the walls are not high enough to be secure.  The new run will serve as a safe shelter for the remainder of their lifespan.

The new water distribution system.


Since the chickens drink massive amounts of water, Joe added another great feature.  He installed a five gallon water distribution system, which took the chickens some time to get the hang of, but it is efficient.


The chickens transitioned into their new home.

Broiler chicks 5.30.19.

Broiler chicks 6.16.19.

If you remember some of my earlier pictures, we kept the chicks in a kiddie swimming pool in our back shed with a heating lamp.  As it grew warmer and the chicks became bigger, we would bring them out once a day into the grass to roam and play.  Once the new chicken run was built, we finally transitioned them fully outside. 

Check out this blog post by Debra Ahrens, a poultry project leader for the Wisconsin, Kewaunee County 4-H organization.  She discusses her techniques for raising boiler chicks, which mirror ours.

The seedlings have been transplanted to the garden.

This year, Joe is experimenting with a new technique, no till gardening.  The concept is that tilling actually brings more grass seeds to the top, depletes nutrients, and lets precious carbon escape the soil.  So this spring, besides having our egg layers break up the organic matter in the garden, we refrained from tilling. Kai Hoffman-Krull discusses how tilling is a contributor to global warming.  In addition,  implementing the no-till gardening technique is actually easier for the farmer: it’s a win-win!

Cara and Joe adding compost to the seedlings,


Prior to transplanting our seedlings, we lightly broke up the top garden soil, spread compost over it, measured our rows and used a pro-plugger tool to make holes in the earth.  More compost was inserted to the soil, the plant was placed in the ground, and additional compost piled on the top. 

Note:  You will observe that there are no pictures of me working.  I really do assist with the garden; at this point I was just busy taking the pictures!

Want to learn more?  Here are some ideas to get you started:

Have you ever implemented new ideas in your garden?

I’d love to hear about them and if they were successful!  Please share your experiences below-



Regain a Connection with Food

Out of bananas for breakfast? Make a quick stop at the store.

It’s Wednesday and you realize you need to stop by the grocery store to pick up a few things.   As soon as you walk through the automatic sliding doors you behold a wide expanse of a clean, modern store that boasts an abundance of ripe produce.  Ok, well maybe the avocados or bananas are the exception; they’re usually green.

You may want to consider what you’re buying.

Have you ever wondered the process that the broccoli went through to be in the vegetable case?  I know what you’re going to say…everyone knows there are huge industrialized farms in the U.S.  that raise mass amount of vegetables or livestock.  You’ve seen the videos:  produce is picked by migrant workers, the livestock is confined, the fields are sprayed with pesticides.  At some point, we have all been exposed to the truth regarding these horrible acts.  Yet Americans still willingly visit the grocery store weekly.  Why are we so quick to forget about how their food is sourced?

Maybe we just don’t want to think about it.

Ignorance is bliss.  It’s tough to face the facts and realize that due to industrialized agriculture’s practices, we are poisoning ourselves, torturing animals and exploiting other human beings.  How can consumers fight back against a toxic food industry that has been established for over 50 years?

We have to snap out of our oblivion and regain a connection with our food.

Cara eating okra from the garden.

There are many ways that we can start.

  • Visit your local farmer’s market– It’s the best way to witness farmers in your community growing their own food.  I have asked many of them questions about their organic farming practices.  All of the vendors I have encountered are passionate about their work, are open about their techniques, and want to educate others.
  • Support local farmers whenever possible–  The more people purchase locally, the less the huge food retailers earn.  It’s their massive gross income that creates a “monopsony”, where they can dictate the price they want to pay farmers.  This stretches the farmers’ resources and reduces pay to laborers.
  • Grow your own food-I know we live in New England.  There’s not a great growing season, but anything that we can produce that we don’t have to buy at the store counts.
  • Become more aware-  There are amazing documentaries out there.  Besides Food Inc, Unacceptable Levels, Food Chains, and Sustainable are eye-openers.

Here are some other great resources for you to check out:

Do you typically do most of your shopping at the grocery store?

How and where do you purchase your food?  What are your reasons?  I’d love to have you join the discussion!

Compost: Waste At Work

Plum tomatoes from our garden.

The best thing about raising food in a garden is harvesting-

It can be a chore, but harvesting is also a calming experience.  If I close my eyes right now, I am brought back to a late summer morning.  The girls and I are collecting plum tomatoes in buckets.  There is still some dew lingering on the grass surrounding the garden.  I can feel the warm soil under my feet…I can smell the tomato plants.  I’m not really a raw tomato fan, but I love the smell of the plants.  I feel happiness.  It’s a meditative moment for me that I can travel back to anytime.

Without properly balancing the soil, our plants wouldn’t meet their potential.

Besides soil testing, we also utilize compost and compost tea to promote ultimate growth for our plants.  When Joe and I initially moved into our house, there was a small compost bin in the backyard.  We would add a few things to it and turn it once in a while.  However, we quickly found that the small bin wasn’t meeting the needs of our garden or processing the waste properly.

We decided to take a closer look at what we could compost.

Compost and chicken scrap containers.

After conducting some research, we found that a majority of our food waste could be composted.  For convenient storage, we use old Olivia’s Organics greens plastic bins to separate scraps for the chickens and the compostable items.  Food waste that attracts scavengers (typically meat) is thrown in the garbage. 

I had used some fancy bins that had charcoal filters to reduce smells, but they never seemed to work.  The plastic bins don’t look pretty on our counter, but they get the job done!  If they get too gross, they are washed out and recycled.

Other biodegradable items, such as chicken coop waste, grass cuttings, and leaves are deposited into the compost.  We don’t add cow or horse manure because that waste contains undigested seeds which, if not processed properly, later become weeds and grass for us to pull out of our garden.  A compost pile needs to be turned every couple of weeks in order to continue breaking down the organic matter.  Most of the time, Joe uses a tiller because our compost pile is so large.

The final results:  additional compost for the garden and less waste ending up in a landfill.  Seems like a win/win!

What is compost tea?

Compost tea is a concoction of compost and liquid.  It is brewed to encourage existing bacteria to multiply exponentially.  The bacteria breaks down the organic matter in the soil for the plant food.  Overnight, you can breed billions of bacteria.  This bacteria is beneficial to the plants and deter pesky insects and diseases.  Obviously when you have an organic garden, you are unable to use pesticides, so an alternative method is needed.

This Joe’s recipe, which makes enough to fertilize an acre:

Compost tea brewing.

  • 2 cups of compost
  • 1 Tbsp organic unsulphured molasses
  • 1 Tbsp liquid kelp fertilizer
  • 1 Tsp of liquid fish fertilizer
  • 5 gallon bucket with room temperature water*

Directions:  Stir all the ingredients together.  Using an aerator from a fish tank, let sit and bubble for 24 hours.  However, after 12 hours, add more molasses.  In a large 2 gallon watering pail pour two cups of tea and then fill with water.  Water your crops liberally with this mixture and repeat the process until the compost tea is depleted.

Rainwater collection barrel.

*If possible, use collected rainwater.  If you use city water, it probably has chlorine in it, which kills the good bacteria!

Do you compost?  Even if you don’t have a garden, you can reduce your carbon footprint.

Here are a few resources to get you started:

Composting info for UNE campuses:

I’d love to know your thoughts or tips on composting!  Please post your thoughts below.  Thanks everyone-

Develop Your Own Greenhouse

Maine’s climate doesn’t support a great growing season.

Just ask my long-haired chihuahua and she’ll tell you.

New Mexican chihuahua swimming in snow.

If we planted seeds directly in the ground once the soil was warm enough, we’d never get any produce.  On the other hand, buying seedlings from a greenhouse or the farmer’s market is pricey.  It is even harder to determine if they were grown from  genetically engineered seeds.

Every late spring, we start planting our seeds inside.

The Baker girls planting seeds in 2008.

Joe has purchased seeds from expensive online seed distributors, small hardware stores, or big-box stores.  The seeds seem to have similar quality results.  However, he only chooses organic, non-GMO seeds

We have experimented with different starter planting options, such as peat soil pellets and small planters.   We found out the difficult way that the peat soil pellets are definitely the best method.  After planting the seeds in the soil pellets, we place the plastic top on the tray and set them in our living room by the big picture window.

Once they sprout, we bring the trays to grow in our little greenhouse.

Seedlings to be placed in the greenhouse.

Our greenhouse has evolved over the years. 

We don’t have a large space to store one inside our house, so we set it up in our unheated backroom/shed. The greenhouse is always a project to build.  Each year Joe tries to improve upon its function and structure.

This is what it looked like in 2008:

Humble origins.

Originally the greenhouse was built upon wooden crates with two sets of dual fluorescent lights acting as a large grow light.  Joe had constructed a wooden frame and wrapped it in plastic on the sides. This structure was designed so that it could be lifted easily to water the plants.  A space heater sat inside to keep the seedlings warm.

Fast forward to 2019. 

New and improved structure!

Joe wrapped the inside of the frame with reflective Mylar sheeting and obtained a professional T5 grow light. The structure is lifted by a pulley system to gain access to the plants without disturbing the light. 

An electric thermostat placed inside controls a space heater to keep the temperature uniform.  The lights are controlled by a timer to ensure that the seedlings are exposed to 16 hours of light every day.


Seedlings in late April 2019.

We love the results!

There’s a sense of accomplishment in achieving this task by ourselves.  Our seedlings grow quickly and once we get them in our garden, there’s no stopping them!

Want to get started on your own unique greenhouse?

Here are some great articles with some amazing ideas .  It doesn’t matter where you live or what your budget is:

Do you currently have a greenhouse?

I’d love to hear from anyone that has a greenhouse, has suggestions, or could offer any tricks of the trade.  Post below and join the conversation!

The Ultimate Burger Recipe

The struggle is real-deciding what to make for dinner is a pain.

Although our kids have grown up eating a variety of foods, they have inevitably become pickier with their selections over time.  It is a herculean effort to pinpoint meals that we can all agree upon.  Luckily, we have an automatic standby-moose burgers.  Yep, even Cara loves them, and that’s saying something!

Moose burgers with pickled jalapenos from our garden.

Why moose meat, you ask?  Why not grass-fed beef instead?  There are a few reasons:

Our family hunts wild game in the fall to supplement our diet.  Usually by November we are lucky enough to have a full freezer to last us throughout the year.  We apply for the moose lottery every June and have been fortunate to have some of our family members selected over the past decade.  In addition, my husband and daughter hunt deer in the Saco countryside.  Deer are overabundant in the outskirts of our town, and bow hunters are encouraged to obtain additional permits to hunt on one side of the Maine turnpike.

To our family, hunting is an ethical and humane choice.

Poutine and moose steak.

Although I respect others who may not make the same decision, our family’s opinion is that consuming wild venison and moose is a healthier alternative to purchasing store bought beef.  During their lifetime, deer and moose have not been injected with hormones or fed processed grains.  They roam freely versus sitting around waiting to be transported to the slaughterhouse.

For any recipe that calls for beef, we use either venison or moose meat.  Venison is slightly more gamey, so I use it in dishes that require more spice, such as chili or spaghetti sauce.  Venison is also leaner, so I avoid making meatloaf and burgers with it-they’ll fall apart!  Moose meat is closer to beef in taste and texture.  It is the perfect beef replacement for other dishes.

Venison steaks cooking in the iron skillet.

Here’s my moose burger recipe (don’t use venison, it’s too lean)

1 1/2 lbs. moose meat

1 large egg

1 Tbsp. Montreal seasoning

1/2 tsp Sea Salt

1/2 tsp Fresh ground pepper

2/3 cup crushed french fried onions

6 strips of nitrate free bacon

Cooled bacon grease (see explanation below)

Cook the strips of bacon on a griddle until crispy; blot with a paper towel.  Once the strips have cooled, dice them.  Set aside.  Combine the moose meat, egg, spices, french fried onions, bacon bits, and cooled bacon grease* thoroughly with your hands.   Form the patties with your hand and set on the warm griddle.  Tamp down with a spatula.  Let the burgers cook for about 5 minutes.  Since they are so lean, you want to only flip them once.  After they have been flipped, let them cook for another 3-5 minutes.  Add sliced cheese to melt on top if desired.

*Bacon grease is needed for a binder as the moose meat is so lean. 

Don’t forget your favorite toppings and the pickled jalapenos!

Our last jar of 2018 jalapenos.

Want to learn more?  Try these additional sources:

Joe Perry, Chris Pratt, and Tom Brokaw hunt wild game.  Do you use wild game as an alternative meat choice? 

If so, what meals do you prepare?  Post below to join the discussion!


Avoid This Epic Garden Fail-

It has taken us years to develop our organic gardening method.

Chrissy doesn’t seem to mind the overabundance of leaves.

Our family has found that we are constantly learning new processes that work for us…and we are still making mistakes!  For instance, a few years ago my husband put raw leaves in the garden to break down over the fall and winter.  Sounds okay, right?  Well, the following spring we planted our seedlings and nothing grew.  By dumping the carbon based leaves directly on the soil, they absorbed all of the nitrogen in the garden to break down, so our plants were nitrogen-deficient.


Your soil could be lacking nutrients.

Don’t be complacent and guess which fertilizers you might use:  you’ll have a no show crop.  There is an inexpensive and informative way to discover how you can maintain balance.

Opt for a testing service.

Our garden in spring of 2012.

We have found the best deal for the money is a service run by the University of Maine in Orono.  A test will cost about $20.  If possible, send your soil sample in the fall and you will find yourself prepared to add nutrients in the spring.  You will need to specify if you are growing a regular or organic garden.  A student will test the sample, and in a few weeks you’ll receive this handy report:


Review the deficiencies and correct them.

Our soil sample report from Spring 2017.


The report clearly presents what major and micro nutrients you need to add (or perhaps minimize) in your garden soil.  The instructions tell you exactly what products you will need to supplement your soil to maintain an optimum balance.  We have been sending a sample in every year and has helped us create the best possible results.



More information:

I highly encourage you to check out these resources to avoid common garden mistakes:

Have you run into any garden obstacles?

I’d love to hear what you think about our garden fail story.  Do you have experiences to share?  Please post below!



The Great Chicken Debate-

I was stunned when my husband suggested we raise chickens:

My reaction:  “If you think I’m cleaning the coop, you’re crazy!”

My daughters’ reaction:  “Finally…we get to own pets!”

Our broiler chicks on 5.30.19

Despite the cuteness factor (they don’t stay cute for long by the way), I started compiling a list in my head as to why we should not embark on this journey:

    • Limited space- we only own 1/3 of an acre
    • They’re dirty and smelly
    • Cost considerations- coops and feed
    • Protecting them from predators

This all happened about six years ago.  Diligently ignoring my concerns (why is my family so good at that?), my husband Joe, and daughters Chrissy and Cara loaded up in the truck and went to the local feed store, Long Horn, and returned with eight egg layer chickens.  To my dismay, the girls had immediately named the flock and to this day they swear they know who’s who.

Fresh eggs ready to be used.

Fast forward to the present:  As a family, we all cooperate to take care of the chickens.  We have plenty of fresh eggs.  Besides the egg layers, we raise broiler chickens (otherwise known as meat birds) every year.  My list of excuses proved correct:  the chickens do take up space, they’re definitely dirty and smelly, predators have snagged a few, and raising chickens has not been beneficial to our pocket book.

So you might be surprised when I say that looking back over the past few years, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I encourage others to raise chickens.  This is why it matters:

Respect:  I never thought that I would be writing about respecting chickens, but evidently it is a new day.  Like a majority of families in Maine, we eat meat.  Regardless of our carnivore lifestyle, we do respect chickens as living things that deserve a high quality of life.  Buying chicken breast at the grocery store may seem easier or the more humane option, but a majority of the food industry’s methods of manufacturing and harvesting chickens are atrocious.  If more people raised their own birds for food consumption they could provide chickens a healthy diet, ensure that they are not cramped in crates, and let them truly free-range on the property as much as possible.

Egg layer chickens in front of their coop.

Chrissy comparing a double yolked egg with a regular sized egg both produced from our chickens.

Quality of meat and eggs:  As I mentioned, when we feed our chickens we ensure that they are fed quality food and scraps, encourage them to wander in the garden to eat bugs, and don’t use any antibiotics during their lifespan.  Therefore, the meat and eggs produced are already at a better standard than those offered in the mainstream market.


Benefits to the garden and lawn: My husband uses a corral system to change the areas where the chickens may roam.  In the early spring, he sets up an impermanent fence in the garden where they can naturally till the soil, eat unwanted larvae, and consume seeds that were not broken down in the compost pile.  These actions reduce plant diseases, insect infestation, and the amount of weeding later in the growing season.  In the late spring throughout the summer, he corrals them outside the garden, where they can eat bugs and ticks on the lawn.  Once the garden has been harvested, the chickens are again re-introduced, where they break up plant matter.

Want to get started?

Here are a few great resources:

What is your stance on the debate?

Would you raise chickens in the suburbs?  Why or why not?  Share your thoughts by posting below!

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