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Christmas 2018 (Say what?!?)

Amanda Kemp 

I know, you’re thinking that you’ve just finished with this Christmas.  If you're like me, you feel like you've been run over by a sleigh and never want to see another roll of wrapping paper in your life, but now is the time to start planning for Christmas 2018.  The farther ahead you plan, the least likely you are to suffer an epic stress meltdown, not to mention spend unnecessary cash.

Christmas in a Box

First, get yourself a box designated for squirreling away presents. Hide it away somewhere and label it something boring, like “extra linen” or “tax returns and receipts 2000-2004.”  Most likely, your family will be deterred by the label, unless one of them is an over-eager accountant who wants to start an AirBnB.  Start filling the box with inexpensive Christmas presents as you find them all year round. If you find something that someone will like, buy it, then bring it home to put in the box. 

Now is the perfect time to look at the presents you received. Egads! Am I suggesting regifting? Oh, yes, I am!  As a caveat, regifting has to be done with a certain amount of tact and grace.  Make sure you put a label on the present indicating who gave it to you originally.  Nothing could be more embarrassing that giving back a gift or regifting within the same social circle.  Don’t regift the present to an inappropriate recipient.  Regifting that glass vase to your outdoorsman brother-in-law is probably not a good idea, unless he also appreciates fine china.

Makin’ a List

Keep a running list of the things you have purchased.  You may find 30 different things for Auntie Grace, but have difficulties finding anything for Cousin Merv. If you don’t keep a list, you’ll have too many things for one person and not enough for another.  Though, if you think the gifts for would keep from year to year, by all means, buy more than a year’s worth.  I once bought ten different CDs my mom would love for a dollar a piece.  I gave her a few each birthday and Christmas until they were gone.  

Homemade Gifts

If you are at all crafty, now is the best time to plan and begin projects.  For instance, knitting is beautiful, but it also takes a lot of time to complete a gift.  Same goes for crochet, quilting, sewing, and any other handcraft.  You need to get ahead of the ballgame by figuring out who would appreciate your hard work and which gift would be right for them. Then, pick one to get started on. If you start now, you should have quite a few done by December. 

 yellow finch
This painting was based on a photograph my aunt took. 

Mission Impossible

What about the Cousin Mervs who are impossible to find things for? Set up a Christmas fund at your bank or even a coin bank at home.  I recommend setting up automatic withdrawals if you can.  At any rate, just make it an automatic, regular contribution, so that you’ll have money at Christmas to do “regular” shopping or buy a gift card.

Alternative Gifts

If you’ve been longing to eschew the tradition of gift giving, now is the time to discuss it with family and friends.  A charitable contribution in honor of someone is a wonderful gift that doesn’t clutter your home. I love the idea, because it truly reflects the spirit of the season. Another alternative gift is a gift of experiences, like movie tickets or season passes to a wildlife park. These types of gifts require a conversation that can sometimes be difficult for those who love the whole hoopla of gift opening. January or February of the year before is a better time for it than November.   

Plan ahead, avoid the stress

While the rest of the world is stressed during the holiday rush of 2018, you’ll be able to leisurely enjoy the holidays.  With advanced planning, all you’ll need to do is wrap gifts and visit with family.  Besides, isn’t that what the holidays are about?

What are some of your favorite ways to plan ahead for the holidays?

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Selling Points

Amanda KempAs we begin to move the Freehold to another location, I look around at all the homestead positives. Of course, the population at large has no interest in these things. The large raspberry patch that I started from six plants that a friend gave me is considered unsightly, though I think it beautiful, especially laden with fruit, glittering precious gems.

raspberry canes along the fence line

The mulberry trees give a veritable shower of berries every year. They are incredibly sweet and easy to harvest. Just put sheets on the ground and wait for the berries to fall. Mulberry syrup over whole wheat pancakes is one of the finer delights in life.


Honeysuckle weaves its way through the hedge and the fencing. Not only are the flowers a delight for children to pull out the “honey,” the flowers can be steeped in hot water, making a tea that can be used for making jelly or sore throat syrup.


Lamb's-quarter and violets, the first green harbingers of spring, grow all over the yard that was once only sisal grass that my grandfather took great pride in. These greens are packed with vitamin C and other nutrients. They make excellent salads before the garden starts to produce.

lamb's quarter


The soil is so rich that a shovelful seems to wiggle on its own. The dark and loamy soil is full of earthworms and beneficial critters.

The three grape vines along the fence grow huge and produce an abundance of grapes that are seedy but tasty. Not really very good for fresh eating, they make tasty jelly and jams. I'm sure my neighbors will be thrilled when the new owners tear them out. I know they can't stand the vines that poke through the fence.


Blackberries grown along the front fence line, though I made the mistake of having people come dig them out, so there won't be any harvest this year. Fortunately, it's almost impossible to get rid of them, so I can dig up the new plants, transplanting them in our new locale.

Though this is a suburban lot, it is still considered county. Though the new owners probably won't take advantage of it, the codes dictate that they could have any livestock other than swine, which need to be so many yards from another person's domicile. We have had turkeys, chickens, ducks and rabbits at varying times for meat production.


Odds are good that the volunteer potato plants, holdovers from last year's garden, won't be appreciated, but I just can't bring myself to tear them out. I put tomato cages over some volunteer tomato plants, just in case the buyers might like them, however unlikely that may be.

While the many lifestyle choices we made may not help to entice buyers to the short sale, I look around at our tiny homestead. And I'm proud.

Cheap Ain't Easy

Amanda KempAround the Freehold, my fervor for projects has always outpaced the rate at which our coffers fill. Since I have been unemployed since last September, this has been doubly so. Luckily, as a blackbelt tightwad, I have an extra dose of creativity and an absolute lack of shame about raiding interesting looking trash piles.

In years past, I have always started my plants indoors, crowding them on a table in front of a window. I would suspend an old aquarium light over them. They would create a mess for months in my living room as my dogs bumped the table or my son decided to run his Matchbox cars through them. Finally, the bedraggled survivors would be transplanted into the garden, their survival thus far a testament to their hardiness.

brick cold frame This year, I decided to make cold frames to put the tiny seedlings in after giving them a good start inside. I had windows that I found after putting an announcement on freecycle that I was looking for windows of any size. For a base on this cold frame, I constructed walls made from stacking bricks together without mortar. Once the bricks for our front stoop, they were scavenged when our house burned down. The contractor was going to throw them away. However, my tightwad alarm blared loudly, and visions of a rocket stove danced in my vision. All right, so I didn't end up using them for a rocket stove. And it MAY have taken me five years to finally actually put them to use, but who's counting?

At any rate, the bricks were nice in that they radiated heat that they absorbed during the day. Also, they were repurposed in my front yard to keep mulch in the landscaping.

The lid on the second cold frame is a door I found on the side of the road sporting a sign with my favorite word on it: free. I whipped a screeching U-turn and loaded it in the back of my truck. The base is constructed entirely from wood that a contractor considers to be “scrap” lumber, and my husband dutifully brings home.

Top of cold frame 

Thanks to these cold frames, the survival rate of seedlings has sky-rocketed on the Freehold. Now, what am I going to do with over one hundred tomato plants?

cold farm tomato plants 

Winter, Winter, Go Away

Amanda KempAs I stepped out into my garden, the infamous words of Dorothy Parker echoed in my head. "What fresh hell is this?" 

There was snow on the ground.  Snow!


Snow on the ground... in Zone 7... in April

Ice on Cold frame

Ice on top of my cold frames. 

Oh, my poor peas!

My poor peas, all covered in ice.  Not to worry, they are showing no worse for the wear.

Now, for a little background, I live in Delaware where there are years when we don't get any snow all winter long. This year, we have had quite a bit of it (for us; my friends in colder climes point and laugh at me). At any rate, winter has been the loser cousin whose weekend visit turned into three months of  couch surfing and bogarting the remote. 

My friend, Wendy, from Surviving the Suburbs, raised the question of what folks might do in the case of another Year Without a Summer like 1816 when a volcanic eruption and low solar activity combined to cause record low temperatures and crop failures.

My first thought? Cry. Then, pull myself up by my big girl overalls and get down to work.

1.  I would keep using my cold frames and perhaps create an inexpensive greenhouse from sheet plastic and PVC.  However, I might have to give up on tomatoes all together. 

2.  Maintain the usage of my very high tech, individual plant protection devices (5-gallon plastic buckets).

Spinach under cover

3.  Keep growing cold weather vegetables like peas, kale, lettuces, cabbage, carrots, etc. While they lack the sex appeal of the hot-weather tomatoes, peppers and corn, these crops are just as nutritious.

4.  Rely on years past canned and dried vegetables. Crop failure is exactly why I stay up late into the night during canning season, processing every vegetable I can get my hands on. I might not need over a hundred quarts of tomatoes before the next gardening season, but who's to say I'll get any then? Bird in the hand ... you know the rest.

I pray that this is only a hypothetical exercise, but it never hurts to be prepared. Just in case. Though maybe we could try an intervention to get winter to leave. Anyone know a good seasonal mediator?

Weeding Weakling

Amanda KempLet me start by saying, I hate to weed. Yes, I know that if you do it after a rain, that it's easier. But I still don't really like to do it, so I've used a combination of methods to avoid it. 

First, I send my rabbits through the aisles to eat the grass as low as possible. In the past, I have used ducks to eat and trample it. I'd like to say that I meticulously planned my rows to accommodate the repurposed dog kennels that I use for grazers. 

That would be a lie. I'm just not that farseeing. Generally, I kind of bumble along and things tend to fall into place. As you can see, Rodgers is pretty happy to help. 

Rodgers Grazing
My Silver Fox rabbit, Rodgers, grazing. Buck named Rodgers. Get it? 

After the grass is low, then I lay cardboard down over it. I avoid any cardboard with coating and color printing on it. Since the tape doesn't breakdown, I remove it as well.

Flattened cardboard that I got from the school I used to work at.

Once the cardboard is situated, I put mulch over top of it. Now, to be honest, I have a nearly unlimited supply of mulch, as my husband has a tree removal business. It isn't pretty, but it does the trick. I don't know if it would be cost prohibitive to use this method if you had to purchase mulch. I guess it would depend on how much you hate to weed.

It keeps down the weeds quite well, though you will need to keep a watch out for pests that may like to live in the mulch like mice, rats or voles. I have four cats who keep them under control.

Even though it's not dyed, it's free. And that makes it beautiful!

If you want to plant full-sized plants in the mulch, just scrape back the mulch and use a sharp instrument to cut the cardboard enough to dig a hole in the dirt. After planting, just push the mulch back up around the base of the plant.

Over the season, the cardboard breaks down, adding bulk to the soil. While I doubt this method would be a useful method for a really large garden, it works great on my tiny suburban homestead.

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