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A New Firepit on the Homestead

Susan BerryIn every home we have lived in, we have built an outdoor fire pit. And our homestead now is no different. We hope to remove some trees and landscape the yard surrounding the house next year. There was an overgrown unsightly clump of trees in the front yard that I hoped to take out and seed for lawn. When we started cutting into the mass of brambles and dead branches we discovered that the bed was edged with large flat stones. Well, we were very happy to discover these beauties since we had just discussed saving up for store-bought landscape stones to build a fire pit in our backyard. Here is the bed that we removed after taking the stone edge down. 


After moving all the stones, we realized we had enough for two new projects. One was to build the fire pit. We like dry stacking but decided for safety we would mortar the top layer in place. 


Our friends came for the celebratory first fire.


We thought we would start a new Social Media site, Feetbook!


With the remaining stones I built a perennial bed next to the carport.

stones2  stones

stones7This took me about four days since I was working on it alone. The fire pit took three hours with the help of a friend. But it was very rewarding to re-purpose the stones on the property and get two beautiful new rock features for the cost of just physical labor. I hope to fill the bed with Gardenia bushes, daylilies, perennials and herbs.

I used aged manure from some old raised beds that I am relocating in the gardens, then layered old coop cleanings and carrot tops that were removed from two bushels of harvested carrots. This was all layered and filled in the bed nicely. 

The Girls, of course, thought that Mom made the new garden just for them to play in so they helped mix up the compost and stuff as I layered. 


I love receiving plants from friends and making a Friend Garden where I can look at the lovely plants and think of the dear friend who gave it to me. I was thinking about bartering with folks who would like some of our organic asparagus crowns in exchange for a few perennial plants. If you are interested in trading, please contact us via our Facebook page. 

My husband, Don, didn't know of my plan to build a fire pit and so I surprised him when he came home. This was our first romantic fire the day I built it, just the two of us. He loves it!


What projects have you completed on your homestead by re-purposing? Share with us, we would love to see your inspirations!

Watch for our next re-purpose project when we turn an old shelter that was here when we moved in into a pig shelter for our new pigs that we will be adding to our homestead in the spring. Part of our Barnraiser Project to grow our farm. 


Please consider gifting to our Barnraiser Project. In exchange for your generous gift, we are offering great rewards like asparagus crowns, seeds and 30-minute gardening consultations. Follow the link below. 

Itzy Bitzy Farm Antique Tractor Build and Pig Shelter

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Taste of Summer Coconut Cream Pie

Susan BerryWith Summer right around the corner what better desert to serve than a cool creamy pie? My favorite is Coconut Cream. I love anything made with coconut, and I love custards and pastry cream type deserts. So this combination is a winner any day for me.


coconut cream pie

It is easy, takes a little time but, to save on the clock, I prepare my pie crust the day or evening before and set aside, covered on the counter top. Don't store a baked pie crust in the fridge because it can absorb moisture and get soggy.

For a tropical fling, I sometimes add 1/2 cup very well-drained and squeezed out crushed pineapple to the custard just after it thickens. The pineapple and coconut together really make it a tropical cream delight.


Pie crust for single crust pie

For the Toasted Coconut Topping:
1/2 cup flaked, sweetened coconut

For the Coconut Custard:
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 cups half-and-half
5 egg yolks (reserve the egg whites in a zipper-locked bag and freeze for future use)
3/4 cup sugar
4 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups flaked, sweetened coconut
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon coconut extract

For the Whipped Topping:
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Prepare pie crust according to blind-baking instructions of recipe.

For the Toasted Coconut Topping:

Spread coconut evenly on a rimmed baking sheet. Place into 350 F oven for 8 to 10 minutes until coconut has just begun to turn brown.

Set aside to cool.

For the Coconut Custard:

Pour milk and half-and-half into a liquid measuring cup. Add egg yolks and whisk together. Set aside.

Add sugar and cornstarch to a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-low heat. Whisk egg and milk mixture together once more and then slowly begin to add to the sugar and cornstarch, whisking together constantly.

Bring custard mixture to a boil. Switch to a rubber spatula or wooden spoon and continue to stir constantly. Boil one minute.

Remove from heat and add butter, coconut, vanilla, coconut extract and salt.

Spread custard into pie crust. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator until set, about 30 to 45 minutes.

For the Whipped Topping:

Add sugar, vanilla and heavy whipping cream to large bowl. Whisk with an electric mixer just until stiff peaks form.

Spread whipped cream on top of coconut custard. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

When ready to serve, top with toasted coconut.

Enjoy a slice of Heaven.

coconut cream slice

For more great recipes, cooking tips and homestead goodness follow our blog at Itzy Bitzy And find us here on Facebook.

Safe Free Ranging Using Chunnels

Susan BerryAfter losing three hens to poisonous edibles in the woods behind the coop, I had to come up with a safe free-range solution for my girls. After doing a little research, I discovered these “Chunnels” on the internet and made a modified version that I felt would suit our needs. They give Mom a sense of comfort concerning safety and the girls seem to enjoy them a great deal. We also have a 10-by-16-foot enclosed roofed run area where they can stretch their wings if they so choose.

The chunnels that I found online were done in a few different versions, one being attached to 2-by-3s and were only built in one section, laid end to end and moved around to accommodate garden placement utilizing the hens as weeders and fertilizers. My yard is not large enough to utilize this model, and I personally don’t think as a horticulturist that fresh chicken manure is good to incorporate into the gardens, it should be well composted.

I opted to make my chunnels one continuous length. This limits moving capabilities but it has worked well for our small homestead. This version is also the least expensive to make. One other reason I like this variation is ... it is FUN! It sort of looks like a maze and can be laid out in a few designs with bends and curves and be put just about anywhere.

Here is the list of supplies you will need:

– Red Brand No Climb Horse Fence (or similar 12 gauge fencing) 36 inches or 48 inches in height

– Hardware cloth

– Landscape dtaples

– Zip ties (minimum 6 inches in length)

– Heavy cuty wire cutters

– Chickens  :)

You are working with the roll of fence standing on end in front of you. Open and unroll fencing and straighten out enough to be able to cut a section off roll but not enough to remove curve; you want the section you cut to still have a natural curve to it after you cut it. I counted 24 small rectangles wide and, using the wire cutters, cut that section, leaving half a piece of wire when you cut. So you are cutting the 24th small rectangle in the middle of that rectangle.



At this point, cut a piece of hardware cloth the same size and place it over this tunnel section for added protection. 

After cutting a few panels, now begin laying out your chunnel placement. Using the zip ties, tie the sections together. In straight areas, you can tie the sections together just meeting them at one another. At curves or bend you must overlap them a bit.



Once you have all your sections together, it is time to tie the ends into your starting point and final destination. I started mine from the main run. I cut an opening in the run wall, which is hardware cloth and tied the first chunnel section into the opening, measure this carefully so there are no gaps. I also cut a piece of plywood to fit and use that to close the opening at night to stop predators from entering. For the other end, I got lazy and used hardware cloth to close off the ends and stop escape.

Once the entire chunnel is in place and sealed off, using the landscape staples, simply go along the sides and push the staples over the tunnel wire into the ground. I spaced these out using about three staples per section on one side. Sometimes due to the lay of the ground, they pop out; in that case I just moved the staple to a flatter piece of ground. I have found over time I hardly need the staples, and with rain and the girls scratching and changing the lay of the ground many of the staples have come out.

The half piece of wire that you left at the cutting can be used to hold the sections to the ground. The hens are not going to be able to lift the sections and get out, so the purpose of the staples at the beginning was to prevent predators from digging under. But to be honest I don’t let the girls in the tunnels unless I am home. I simply leave them in the run and many times they want to be in the run anyway for food, or roosting.


I have been very happy with this set-up, and I have moved them around a little bit to place on top of fresh grass. The chickens will wear down the path pretty quickly so I move the chunnels from side to side a little. I did have to do a total move recently, which required shortening some of the chunnels by removing a few sections and laying it out differently. But again, I have limited space; I think if you have lots of area and can make the chunnels long or to go in different areas, you would possibly not have to move them at all.

Testimonial straight from the hens.


“We love our chunnels!” ~ Abigail of Itzy Bitzy Farm

Spring Means Peas

Susan BerryOne of my favorite early spring veggies to grow is peas. Easy to grow and abundant producers, this wonderful legume will provide lots of peas for fresh spring eating and many more for freezing to enjoy all year.

Pea Varieties

Peas, like lettuce, are a cooler season crop. To grow peas, the plants must flower and start bearing fruit prior to 80 degree Fahrenheit temperatures. Remember to plant your peas in your vegetable garden early to beat the heat.

Peas are grouped into three basic categories: garden peas, snap peas, and snow peas. Garden peas, also called English peas or Green peas, are to be shelled. The Garden pea, itself, can be wrinkled or smooth. The smooth ones are better to be used as dried peas or soup peas. The wrinkled textured Garden peas are popular for home vegetable gardens, because they are sweeter. With Snap peas, you eat the pod, too, like with Snap beans. And Snow peas, also called Sugar peas, are the very tender, flat pea pods.


Popular pea varieties

Garden Peas

Eclipse, Dakota, Tom Thumb, Knight, Canoe, Caseload, Alaska, Green Arrow, Little Marvel, Thomas Laxton, Wando.

Snap Peas

Sugar Snap Pole, Sugar Ann, Snappy, Sugar Bon, Sugar Daddy, Sugar Snap, Sugar Sprint, Amish Snap, Cascadia.

Snow Peas

Oregon Sugar Pod II, Oregon Giant, Dwarf Grey Sugar, Mammoth Melting Sugar, Snowflake, Snow Sweet.

Dwarf varieties are great for container gardening!

Preferred Growing Conditions

Peas do like full sun. But, because peas are a cooler season crop, they can stand a little shade as the temperatures start to climb.

Garden soil for peas should have around a 6.5 pH level. Compost is the best advice I can give to make your soil the healthiest. It fills your soil with nutrients, and organic matter that helps water retention for moist soil that peas love.

How to Plant Peas

Plant peas in early spring from seed. Peas do not transplant well, so don’t even try to start pea seeds indoors. Plant seeds 1 1/2 inches deep with about 3 inches between each seed. Rows should be about 18 inches apart.

Looking to get more peas into a smaller gardening space? Plant a double row of peas, but leave about 8 inches of space in between the double row. That way, you can get your trellis in between the rows for support for tall varieties. Short growing varieties of double rows can support themselves, making double pea rows even cooler!

Want peas for the fall season crop, too? There are heat tolerant varieties that can be planted in the late summer, and harvested in the fall.

Here’s a tip for planting peas from seeds: Use an inoculant on the seeds for nitrogen fixation, this can be found in most seed catalogs or at garden centers.

Companion Plants for Peas

Growing these companion plants around pea plants will be helpful: carrots, turnips, radishes, cucumbers, corn, and beans. Corn grown by pea plants can be a trellis for support, too!

Some plants actually are bad to the health of pea plants. Avoid these plants around pea plants: garlic, onions, leeks, and shallots. Here are my peas around the edges of my asparagus beds. With a short fence trellis, these Green Arrow peas add nitrogen to the soil, which asparagus loves. 


Maintaining Pea Plants

Vine pea plants will need to grow on something for support. You can stake or trellis these, or just plant in front of your fence. Pea plants will easily grab onto a trellis with very little effort. Don’t worry, it won’t be another scene from Little Shop of Horrors! Just give them something to grow on – trellis, fence, chicken wire, strings, tomato cages, or get creative!

When to Use Organic Fertilizer

Steer clear of high nitrogen fertilizers for peas. Over fertilization of pea plants, gives you great looking green plants. But, you will not have many peas. Stick with low nitrogen organic fertilizers for your peas, please.

Harvesting Peas

Don’t forget what kind of pea is growing in your vegetable garden. The pea type will determine when it should be harvested. Some pods you eat before the peas inside grow. Some pods are meant to be shelled, and you want a fully grown pea inside. Other peas, like the Snap peas, you eat the pod, but you want a tender pea inside the pod.


Harvest tips based on type of pea:

Garden Peas

Remember these are your shell peas. You want these peas mature, but still tender. Pop open the pod, and taste right in the garden if you are unsure. They should be sweet and tender, and have a round, waxy pod.

Snap Peas

Harvest Snap peas when they have a full pod. Remember, the pod is edible with Snap peas. The peas inside should be still tender.

Snow Peas

The pods will be flat. With Snow peas, you don’t want them to fill out, and don’t want the pea to develop.

Storing Peas

The best way to eat peas is raw! Edible pod peas are great on a salad or to dip in salad dressing. Most of our peas are eaten in the garden, and don’t always make it to the refrigerator, or even the kitchen for that matter. What peas do make it inside, should be stored in the refrigerator, keeping them crisp and less starchy. For later use, blanche and freeze peas.


Old Fashioned Corned Beef

Susan BerryI went on a search last year for a "gray" corned beef like my mother use to get. I never really knew why she preferred gray corned beef but all I knew was I couldn't find one. All I could find were red brisket in cryovac packs with a packet of spices in it. I tried one of those and, well, let's just say THEN I knew why my mother always insisted on gray corned beef. I still did not understand what made them gray but I knew I needed to find one or there would be no corned beef and cabbage dinner for St Patrick's Day. Being half Irish that was NOT an option. The other thing I discovered about the cryovac briskets is they are loaded with preservatives and chemicals. Well, being an organic farmer, that also was not an option.

I knew that to cure a ham took months, so as I sat down with my laptop to Google how to make a corned beef, I was pleasantly surprised to discover this is not the case with corning beef.


After reading a few articles on the procedure and getting an idea of a curing brine recipe I set out to create an ideal corned beef. If you have never corned your own beef brisket you have no idea what you are missing. It is incredible!

Corned Beef Recipe


1 1/2 cups kosher salt*

1/2 cup sugar

3 cloves garlic, minced

4 tablespoons pickling spice, divided

1 5-pound beef brisket*


brisket brineIn pot large enough to hold brisket, combine 1 gallon water with kosher salt, sugar, garlic and 2 tablespoons pickling spice. Bring to a simmer, stirring until salt and sugar are dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until chilled.

Place brisket in brine, weighted with a plate to keep it submerged; cover. Refrigerate for 5 days.

After day five I removed the cover from the pot and lifted the plate off. The aroma of the brine was so yummy, I could have drank it. As I lifted the brisket out ... Voila!! It was GRAY! Now I knew what made it gray.


Remove brisket from brine and rinse thoroughly. Place in a pot just large enough to hold it and vegetables that will be added later. Cover with water and add remaining pickling spice. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat to low and cover. Simmer gently until brisket is fork-tender, about 3 hours, adding water if needed to cover brisket. After first 2 hours, add potatoes, carrots and cabbage and cook with vegetables for last hour or until veggies are cooked.

I hope you will try this and enjoy homemade, preservative free corned beef.

* I was not able to get one brisket that was five pounds so I got two smaller ones that equaled five pounds, roughly.

Old Fashioned Gardener

Susan BerryWith all the discussion of GMO's and increased pesticide and chemical fertilizer use in commercial crop production homegardeners and even small farmers selling their produce are returning to old fashioned gardening methods.

After growing crops on 2 acres in ground/row crop method and plowing and tilling for eight years I was downsized to 21 raised beds. The first thing I noticed was I wasn't working as hard growing in raised beds. 

The second thing is I was saving lots of money since I wasn't buying gas for tractors and tillers. 

Victory Garden poster 

When families were growing their own veggies in their back yards during the Depression era and during the world wars, they utilized small spaces and grew kitchen gardens. Kitchen gardens were small gardens that were conveniently located close to the house for quick accessibility and small yards. Edible landscaping was implemented also due to minimal space, tomatoes and marigolds grew side by side for space conservation as well as aesthetics. 

Hand tools were the most important farm equipment, hand spades, long handled hoes, garden forks and a harvesting basket. 


I find these have become my mainstay tools too. In this day of computerized mega-tractors I like knowing I am keeping it simple, not polluting the air with gas-run equipment, and I am getting a lot more exercise moving, walking and bending to care for my gardens rather than sitting on a tractor. 

When I am turning the soil with a garden fork or adding organic soil supplements like bone meal to my beds, I love smelling the rich soil. The feel of warm dirt in my hands makes me feel a kinship to those people who gardened out of necessity and were the fiber of sustainability in a time when they knew the absolute meaning of self sustainability. 

vintage gardenI have met elderly folks who have shared their stories with me of growing vegetables in their tiny urban and city gardens in times when they couldn't afford to buy groceries and how those vegetables tasted so good to them and carried them through those lean years. Now, as they live in a time that in hindsight is not as tumultuous as the old days and they go to the store for their vegetables, you can see in their eyes how they long for those days when they grew their food because they had to. I hear the pride and fondness in their voice and words as they share about their gardening successes and failures. I love it. I have learned so much from these folks about gardening. 

Gardening is not just about growing food, it is a commitment that brings, satisfaction and rewards in our mind, our bodies and our spirit. Accomplishment and challenges are a great character builder and nothing brings more accomplishment then sowing a seed or planting a plant for the first time and watching it produce a harvest. 

Even if you have acreage and you still till and use machinery, I encourage you to plan some small beds or gardens. The kind that force you to get on your knees and bury your hands in the earth. Then breath deep and take in the aroma of warm soil. I guarantee it will be intoxicating.


Susan BerryDo you have a dream?

My dream is to have 2-5 acres to homestead again and raise pork, turkeys, more chickens, a dairy cow and of course grow vegetables. After eight years of farming on 3 acres in NC, we had to move up North and are on 1/4 acre. I have downsized considerably. 


It is very important to have dreams and hope and faith. Life would be so empty without a vision. As I get older it sometimes gets harder to wait for a dream to become reality. I find myself fretting that it will happen too late in life and I will be too old to fulfill the dream. Dreams are in our hearts and spirit. Fear and insecurities are in our minds and emotions, so it is best to stay out of our emotions. When I find myself getting sad and disappointed that my dreams are not coming true fast enough, I go to my gardens.

Somehow seeing plants growing and fulfilling their purpose gives me peace and occupies my emotions, carrying them from sadness to delight, from disappointment to wonder, and a contentment washes over me that seems to make the wait a bit easier. I remember the end of the Summer I walked around my gardens and looked at my sad, tired looking potato plants. I felt bad that the excessive heat we had endured for a week appeared to have taken its toll, and I worried that the potatoes had not had enough time to take nutrition from the plants and develop fully. I thought I might give them a boost of fertilizer and lots of water, but I knew they were past reviving so I decided to clean out the bed and harvest what they managed to make.


To my surprise, the plants produced abundantly, even better than I expected. They had completed their journey and my dream of a successful potato crop was realized.


As the end of the year approaches that is when I find myself dreaming more. Of next Spring and what a new year will bring. Yes, it will bring another birthday and I will be a year older, but I try not to think about that. I find the passion in me for homesteading seems to give me a youthful spark. New energy surges through me and I start planning, just in case that acreage comes along and my dream is realized. 

So don’t be afraid to dream and hold onto a vision that you have for your life. Dreams gives us hope and hope can carry us through very difficult and disappointing times.  Like a new day dawning, so our dreams bring hope for a new day.


When it comes, you are all invited to come by and visit us. 

Sweet Dreams,

Susan ~ Itzy Bitzy Farm

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