Learn how to get a jump start on your early Spring garden with these tips for warming up your soil enough to get plants in the ground NOW!
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It’s time! It may not feel like it, depending on where you are in the world, but for Josh and Carolyn, it’s time to start making preparations for their early spring gardens. And of course, they’re here to share their thoughts on that with you …
In this episode of Pantry Chat, Josh and Carolyn get ready to bring the homestead around to spring, focusing specifically on getting early spring gardens growing in the ground!
In this Episode:
- The whole side of beef incoming to their freezer
- Grinding pig fat down to 50 quarts of lard
- How to extend your seasons and increase your harvest
- Getting seed started and working it into a new system
- Why the basement is not great for germinating seeds
- Getting hundreds of starts going in the kitchen
- Why you want the most intensive projects as close to you as possible
- The long-term survival food benefits of freeze drying
- Their brand new cheese cave (cheese and dairy classes coming in September!)
- How to culture and use raw milk in butter making
- The challenge of growing zones and the last frost date
- When to start thinking about planting out in the garden
- A number of ways you can speed up the soil warming process
- The standard varieties that are suited to early spring gardens
- The most overlooked and easiest growing method
- When to Start Your Seeds Indoors
- Harvest Right Freeze Dryers
- Anatomy of Raw Milk
- How to Make Homemade Butter (3 Ways)
- Clyde’s Garden Planners
- How to Use a Vegetable Planner
- Eliot Coleman
- 5 Steps to Great Garden Soil
Josh: Hey guys, this is Josh.
Carolyn: And Carolyn.
Josh: With Homesteading Family. Welcome to this week's episode of the Pantry Chat: Food For Thought.
Carolyn: This week, we're going to be talking about getting an early spring garden growing in the ground.
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Josh: All right. Hey, it's great to be back with you guys, here in the Pantry Chat.
Josh: Today, we're going to be talking about early spring gardens. We don't mean starting your main garden early in the spring, but we mean early spring gardens. Getting that first garden going as early in the season as possible to extend your seasons and increase your harvest.
Carolyn: A lot of times when you're starting out gardening, and I know this was true for us, we think about gardening in that main crop season when you've got... After your last frost. Last frost and until your first frost. The reality is that in most places, you can get at least three different crops in. You can get your early spring garden, your main crop and your fall garden. So, today we're going to be talking about that early spring garden that happens before your main crop garden.
Josh: Absolutely. If you're going to grow some serious foods, you got to get serious, get out there early, and extend your systems. So, we've got some good tips today. But before we get into that, let's catch up, a little chit chat and answer a question. So what's up with you? How are you and what are you into lately?
Carolyn: What am I into?
Josh: You're into trouble of some sort.
Carolyn: Well, I'm always into trouble. Actually, right now, we have a whole side of beef just about to hit the freezer.
Josh: I don't know about you guys, how it's been in your area, but our butchers got overwhelmed this year because of the whole COVID thing and everybody getting serious about meat production. Usually, we'd get that beef butchered in November. Sometimes, we do it ourselves, but it's been way too busy, just didn't work. It's just now, getting it done.
Carolyn: Only now. Yeah. What that means is I have to make sure there's room for the beef to fit into the freezer, which means I have to deal with all the pig fat that's been sitting there for a month or two that I didn't actually render. We're grinding all that pig fat and rendering it down into really good lard, both the back fat and the leaf lard. So, we are going to end up with probably about 50 quart jars of lard, which I'm really excited about because if you guys have been on the homestead for very long, or if you've ever thought about completely producing your own food, one of the real challenges of producing your own food is fat.
Carolyn: That is actually sometimes harder to acquire than meat is, if you're having to produce your own food, because you've got butter, if you have a milk cow, unless you have an olive Grove, you're probably not going to be making your own olive oil. Maybe you could do some sunflower oil. So the backup system is lard and tallow. Anyways, I'm really excited to get the shelves filled because I have not been able to keep up with our fat needs, with the milk cow and the butter. We're actually consuming more than we're producing.
Josh: If you're going to use natural fats, some people might be thinking, why do you need so much fat? But, there's a lot of places in your baking, in your cooking where you need fats and if you're not going to buy the hydrogenize and this and that synthetic oils and everything, and you're going to try to produce your own, doing that with butter, which we all love, You can never have enough butter, but that is a hard task to do. Then you just don't get enough butter, especially for a family of our size. That lard is a very low cost, high quality item, for getting those fats into the larder.
Carolyn: Yeah. So I'm excited to fill that shelf back up in the pantry because it's been a little empty, but it is taking a little bit of work right now. what about you? What have you been up to?
Carolyn: Well, two things, two main projects and one sitting around watching the snow melt, waiting twiddling my thumbs, okay, let's get the soil warmed up, which we're going to talk about accelerating that process here in two minutes, but no, getting seed started and getting ready to get seed started in working out a new system. This property here that we bought, two and a half years ago had a greenhouse. And so I started using that to start seeds because we didn't really have the space for it indoors. That's worked well, but you just can't... The temperature fluctuations for getting, especially a lot of your warm season plants like tomatoes and peppers and cucumbers and squash, has started early. It's just a challenge besides its way back there so that wasn't working, so we tried the basement. Basement went okay, but it's a long ways away. It's a little cool. Even with the heat mats, it's great for sprouting, but the plants weren't that happy.
Carolyn: It's really good for storing root cellar veggies and fermented goods. Maybe not for germinating seeds.
Josh: Right, but not so much for starts. It gets the job done, but you got to pay a lot more attention and it's still a long ways away in our house. So I'm taking over the kitchen and I'm building an upright system on shelves, just a simple DIY system where we can start hundreds of starts in a kitchen where the temperature is stable and warm. And I think I've even got Carolyn talked into bringing her startup system in the kitchen.
Carolyn: When you have two of you guys starting seeds and gardening, we have multiple different gardens and we divide up responsibility and ownership almost in those gardens. There becomes dueling seed starting stations.
Josh: It's a lot to start.
Carolyn: Last year Josh took over my seed starting station for the main crop garden.
Josh: Your seed starting station?
Carolyn: So this year I decided, I'm going to get my own.
Josh: That's alright, you can have the basement and I'm going to take the kitchen.
Carolyn: I'm like, wait a second. I want the kitchen too. So anyways, we're working out our seed starting systems.
Josh: The main takeaway from that is, and this is in permaculture design and zoning, you always want to get the most intensive projects as close to you as possible. When we think about it, we're going to the greenhouse, its temperature fluctuations way away when it's still cold and even snowy outside and we're going to the basement and the furthest part... That's just really not the way to do it. The seed starts today are crucial to our garden season and growing all of our food. So, it really makes sense to give up a little space temporarily as close to us as we can, where we've got eyes on it multiple times a day and we're giving those starts the best care until we can come up with something else.
Carolyn: The challenge is to keep all the little fingers out of it, from all the kids running through the kitchen, that's going to be the hard part, [crosstalk 00:08:09] but that's all right, we'll work it out.
Josh: We'll work it out. One other one real quick that I'm excited about. We are working with Harvest Right. They're a freeze drying company that makes a great freeze dryer, so we hear. They have provided us with one that we're going to test out and use and hopefully get you guys videos and some knowledge on freeze drying. So we're in the process right back over here in the harvest kitchen of setting that up and getting that going. So I'm really excited about that.
Carolyn: What's going in, in that section too, that I'm excited about. I'm excited about the freeze drying, that's going to be a lot of fun, especially for long-term survival foods, it's just amazing for, but for things like traveling and backpacking, those freeze dried foods for when we go, hunting trips, camping trips, road trips, anything like that, I'm really excited about because it gets expensive fast, and you eat awful food on the road, to be honest.
Josh: Freeze dried food is expensive.
Carolyn: So making your own is exciting.
Josh: If we can make good use of it, its going to be very worthwhile.
Carolyn: Also, going on that wall with the freeze dryer is the brand new cheese cave. I'm so excited because I am getting ready to start filming the cheese class, the dairy class, you guys, is coming out this September.
Josh: That's what you guys asked for, we told you, was that late December. I forget.
Carolyn: Somewhere in there.
Josh: Was it January, and that was the top request was a dairy class. So, that is coming your way.
Carolyn: It is really exciting. I have the whole syllabus laid out. I'm getting really excited about this. I know you guys will get excited about that because you were wanting that class, but some of the setup and infrastructure going in with that new cheese cave coming in so we can do some age cheeses.
Josh: Good stuff happening. All right. We'd better move along. We've got a question here. This one's for you today from John Doe, hey John Doe, on the what to do with raw milk video. John Doe wants to know how does one culture the milk, and then use it for butter as per your video on butter making.
Carolyn: So the butter making video. So you can do that actually two different ways, John, you can either culture the milk that has not been skimmed yet. Then once it's cultured skim the cream off the top, so that it's cultured, or you can skim the milk right away, and then just culture your cream. For the least amount of fuss, I would recommend skimming the milk first and culturing your cream. The easiest way to do that is going to be to just get your cream into a jar, put a tablespoon or so, if you have a quart, about a tablespoon, if you have a half gallon, about two tablespoons of a live cultured buttermilk. All Buttermilks you buy in the grocery store are cultured. So you can just get a big thing of buttermilk and just put a little bit into your cream and then let it sit out on the counter for about 24 hours before you make your butter and you'll have a cultured butter. It's a great way to do it. You could do a wild ferment on it.
Josh: I was just going to ask that.
Carolyn: Say that. [crosstalk 00:11:26] You can do a wild ferment on it, where you literally just put your raw cream, this would have to be raw cream out on the counter and let it sit until it starts to thicken down a little bit on its own, but you tend to get stronger flavors, if you go with that wild ferment, if you like strong flavors, give that a try. If not, then I would really recommend starting with a starter cultural already, which would be that buttermilk. It's a good way to go.
Josh: Good question. Thanks, John. You ready to dive in here?
Carolyn: Dive into some early spring gardens.
Josh: So you guys know, we're always trying to encourage you to grow more food, more sufficiency and do it in a healthy way. One of the ways to do that is multiple plantings throughout the year and getting an early spring garden garden, which is actually one of the most challenging things to do in most locations, just because of weather. Of course, for us here in North Idaho, that's really challenging because the snow sits on the ground for a long time and it takes a while, not just for temps to warm up, but for that soil to warm up. So we're going to talk about how to go about that.
Carolyn: First let's cover what an early spring garden is because an early spring garden is going to fall in a different place on the calendar, according to your growing zones and your last frost date. I'm getting confused between first and last frost dates today. So it's not a technical time on the calendar. It's not like we'd call early spring right there in the first 30 days of the technical spring season. Your early spring garden may happen at a very different time than our early spring garden, but it's going to refer to the time where your ground is not frozen anymore. Your soil is workable and you're mostly dealing with frosts. You're not really getting hard freezes anymore, but you're getting some light frost, maybe even some heavy frost, but during the day it's warming up. So that is the season that is called early spring for your gardening efforts.
Josh: And help too. I don't have one down here, but you guys have heard us talk about garden planners and specifically Clyde's garden planners. We don't have one here today.
Carolyn: Look and see we usually have one lying around.
Josh: We've got a few videos on this and blog posts on how to use one. That's really going to help you so that you can look at your season knowing your last frost in the spring and help you plan for the things we're talking about here. So when you done with this, go check out some of those resources and we'll leave you a link also with a discount to Clyde's garden planner. So you can get one of those if you don't already have one.
Carolyn: Absolutely. So instead of focusing on dates on the calendar, what you really want to be looking at is your last frost date. That's how you judge most things for your early spring garden. That's where that garden planner comes in handy.
Josh: That's where it's going to help you figure out those dates, where you can start things where you might be able to get things in the ground outdoors, where you should be starting things indoors to get them into that early spring garden.
Carolyn: Right. Absolutely, good.
Josh: So you want to dive into soil a little bit here. We've got four ways to get it going, but you really got to talk about soil for a few minutes because you've got to get that soil temperature up. That's the only way you're going to get things growing and sprouting is to get the soil temperature up.
Carolyn: So when do you know when you can even start thinking about planting out in your garden?
Josh: Well, the snow needs to be gone for one. If you're in an area that gets a lot of mud, you need to dry out enough that you can get out there. You don't want to be tromping around on your soil, in the mud. So you need that friable soil, workable soil.
Carolyn: So friable is a term that you're going to run into often in garden planning material, and that refers to garden soil that will hold together in a ball when you squeeze it, but you can crumble apart into your hand. What that means is, it is dry enough to start working without causing collateral damage in your garden. If you get out there and you work in your garden when it's too muddy or too wet, you're actually going to cause problems for your entire gardening season. Not just for that moment.
Josh: Essentially, it just needs to be not too cold and not too muddy. But you can help that process along, if you've got mud, you just got to let the water dissipate. There's not a lot you can do with that other than you can create systems to drain off some of the water so that it does dry out faster. Otherwise, you've just got to let it dry out. When it comes to the cold, you can create some systems to melt the snow faster and bring the soil temperature up and you need that soil temperature up in a good range. We didn't really have that on the notes, but you want to talk about that for a minute?
Carolyn: Yeah sure, absolutely.
Josh: Soil temperature, things can germinate, spinach and a few crops will germinate as low as 35 degrees, doesn't mean they're going to grow well, but they'll germinate. Some things like all the way up to 85, 90 degrees that they do best in. While we can't work towards those, we want a general average of about 65 to 75 degrees is the real happy medium, that's your target. You can still plant things earlier and we'll get into that in a minute, but that's an average soil temp that works well across the board. So how can we get there? How can we move towards that in the spring to get that soil ready for seeds?
Carolyn: I think there's actually a couple of different things that we can do. The first one that comes to mind is solarizing the area by putting down some black plastic. We're not big proponents of using plastic all over the place, but this is a really good application for it. You can actually get plastic that is just for doing this in the garden, but you could also use black plastic trash bags if you want to be cheap about it. You can just wait those down in your garden, warm up a small space of land.
Josh: Yeah, absolutely. You can even use that to melt the snow or as soon as the snow is gone, you can use that to warm up the seeds. Another benefit of that is that it will actually germinate the weed seeds that are near the surface and then kill them. So that is another benefit to that method.
Carolyn: We've used that in quite a few garden beds that we have problems with weeds coming back regularly to kill those off before we plant the plants that we want. So you get a dual benefit right there.
Josh: You really do.
Carolyn: Its really good. Another way you can warm up your soil that I can think of is by placing some large rocks, right around and into it.
Josh: Movable. Large movable.
Carolyn: Movable. To help hold onto that heat from the sunshine, when the sun does come out and heat up the area around, it'll slowly diffuse heat off into the soil.
Josh: When you do that, take those rocks and dig them in a little bit. So you get a good size rock, or a few of them in your space, depends on the size of your space, and how many. But plant those around to the backside, especially if you've got a good southern exposure and burying them in because they will take in the heat down into them and will transfer that into the soil during the night and will start to help warm the soil up.
Carolyn: Which is a really good way to go.
Josh: Most of us have rocks. We can find rocks. You probably don't have to buy them. We just have to put our shoulder and back into it a little bit.
Carolyn: Another way that I thought of was to choose your location wisely for your spring garden, because if you can get an area where you have this beautiful... The sun is coming in from here and then you've got some sort of solarizing backdrop, right in front of your garden bed, you are going to pick up a lot more heat in that. So that could be as simple as... I've seen people use stacks of firewood to solarize their garden right in front of it, put a wall behind their bed. You could maybe be against a garage wall or other wall that's in your space. Or maybe you could even build up a little brick wall behind your garden.
Josh: I was just sitting here thinking of some of the Victorian gardens that were walled in and they really use those spaces. They would really get advanced and actually burn fires and heat the brick up to get ahead of it. That wall not only takes in the solar gain, it's got a foundation that goes into the soil. So it's going to transfer some of that heat into the soil nearby. So along the edge of those, they would have some of their trees that they would have spoliated or whatever along them and in some of their very early stuff. That's more advanced, but you can definitely, if you've got the resources and the ability to do that, build a stone wall and that's going to bring even more heat gain in, but that's getting into one side of using a lot of resources. So there's still some other in between places. Cold frames, great way to go.
Carolyn: A cold frame is a really good way to go. And that is usually a glassed in box that you can just put over your soil. In this case, you can also grow your plants inside of it, just to help capture that sunlight when it comes out and protect the ground from frost. So it's going to start heating things up really quickly.
Josh: Then an extension of that is the hot frame, where you're adding heat to that frame, either through manure, you could do heated rocks. You could even run some hot water in pipes below it. Or a few different systems, depending on how advanced you want to be, manure is a real common one.
Carolyn: Hot manure. Raw manure that hasn't been composted. So it's still giving off a lot of heat. Now, obviously you don't want to put any plants right into that maneuver, but you can use that to heat up your soil. And then you can also put pots of plants. Like your seed starts right into that too, to help heat up the area.
Josh: I've got to say we tried something one time where we were doing bailed beds inside of bales, and we took hot manure from the barn, laid it down and then built up several inches of soil above it and then planted into that. So that the roots didn't get into there very quickly. But the heat came up and warm the soil.
Carolyn: I recall that, that got us some greens for a long time.
Josh: It did. It worked very well.
Carolyn: Another system, and this is again a much more advanced system, but it's working really well. We actually have some friends who have put this in where they've actually done raised garden beds and run hot water piping through the bottom of the raised garden beds. So they can heat up their garden beds way earlier than the ground around it.
Josh: That's without even a hoop house and they're getting tomatoes in our climate in early June, which is just phenomenal.
Carolyn: We're feeling good if we get them in early September.
Josh: One more, again this is a larger structural, but if you're serious for the longterm, and this is something we plan to do here eventually is, a hoop house, a full-size larger hoop house. That's going to give you a layer, you can then do smaller hoop houses inside of that. I think Elliot Coleman does them down to three, to where there's a large one, another one and even a smaller one and you get those layers of insulation. That's another strategy you can use depending on your environment. We're getting into really cold environments, but this is where we really want to extend the season. That's worth the effort to do what you can with the resources you have to start to warm the soil up.
Carolyn: No matter how simple you go on the system or how advanced you go, the idea is to go ahead and warm up that soil before it would naturally warm up because you read about how you can put these frost hardy vegetables in the ground. You can plant them as soon as the ground is workable. The reality is, just because you can put those seeds in the ground doesn't mean they're going to grow. They're just going to sit there. Maybe they'll germinate and then they'll sit there. Then they'll grow a little bit more on the first sunny day, they're still waiting for the warmth to come into that soil. They're going to grow little bits at a time, but you're not going to get any extraordinary growth if it's still very cold. So the idea is, warm up that soil so that when those frost Hardy vegetables go into that soil, they're ready to really start growing.
Josh: It can be very deceptive because in our climate, sometimes the days get real nice and it feels like things should be growing. The reality is, these early spring plants that we're going to talk about. They can take the cooler air, but they still need the warmer soil to get going. You've got to help them out to get them up.
Carolyn: Absolutely good. We've broken it down into four different types of starting an early spring garden. You can do any combination of these. In fact, I encourage you to do multiple of each one. I know we'll be employing every single one of these, but the first one is to start frost Hardy veggies indoors so that you can transplant them outside really early, still in that early spring season to get a real head start on the season. These are things that maybe will grow in that frost, light frost sort of climate, but they may not germinate and they need to be a little bigger before they're ready to handle the frosts.
Josh: It's going to be easier to get them up indoors and get them matured up a little bit. This is where that planner is going to help you figure out how to do that and when to start them indoors. Some of the varieties that you can do this with are leeks, any kind of greens, your spinach's, your chards, your kales, certainly cold hardy lettuces. Most of your lettuces like cooler temperatures. Some of them can take colder temperatures.
Carolyn: So make sure you're looking on the variety selection to say that it can handle cold temperatures. That's the key, especially for the lettuce.
Josh: Cauliflower, broccoli.
Carolyn: Brussels sprouts, cabbage, onions, all of those things can be started indoors ready to plant out, well before your last frost day.
Josh: Onions, you got to play with in your area. A lot of times you're getting sets because they pre started the fall before. You need to know your area and you really got to plan for those. They need to get in early if you're going to get a harvest in the same year for onions. Another one is to plant the frost hardy varieties right out in the garden as soon as you can, as soon as you get that soil going, because there are a lot of things that will sprout in pretty cool temperatures. The warmer you can get it the better, but still, if you have them out there ready to go, they're going to get a good start.
Carolyn: These are the varieties that aren't like that last one we talked about where they have to get started in doors and hardened off a little bit first. These varieties can actually handle that hard frost just from seedling stage. There we go. That's... Just from seed stage.
Josh: You can plant them right out. Most of these are leafy greens. Your mustards.
Carolyn: Specifically, the one we've had a lot of luck with in really cold is that green wave mustard. So mustards are a little more heat loving. So make sure you're getting a cold hardy variety of mustards.
Carolyn: Yeah the mache, there's so little when they mature that I'm not sure that they're even worth growing to tell you the truth, but they will grow really early. So if you're just a single person or just a couple, and you just want a little garnish of green somewhere, the mache, also known as the corn salad is a good way to go.
Josh: My personal favorite spinach. It comes up early. I love the thickness of the leaves. It's great cooked, its great raw, however you want to have it. It's super easy to grow. So if you're looking for a place to start and you want to make it easy, you could plant a ton of spinach and get it going early.
Carolyn: The arugula can go in as soon as the soil can be worked. So that's a really good one to start with too. Fava beans and a lot of kales fall into this department too. They can just get direct sewn right into the soil.
Josh: Yeah. We should do more kales. I have a hard time with kales. It's not my favorite.
Carolyn: Not your favorite in the kitchen?
Josh: Yeah. So there are some things you can do to even get ahead of the spring. That is to plant the winter before.
Carolyn: It depends a lot on your climate, what you can get away with because in some places you can get away with starting your peas the winter before and having them start to grow. But if you're going to get really hard freezes throughout the winter, you may not be able to do that. And it may limit you to things more like garlic, the really hardy leeks and things like some fava beans. That'll start in the winter and come back really early in the spring.
Josh: Another one we don't have on here though, is your carrots. Getting your carrots in season before and having carrots to harvest as soon as things start to warm up.
Carolyn: A lot of the root vegetables can handle the freezing throughout the winter. That's a good point.
Josh: You want to play with the varieties and find a variety that works well for you in your area, but those are good ones to have on there. Even through the winter, our ground freezes hard. So we don't do a lot of that because we're not going to go out and just harvest throughout the winter. There's no point in that. The snow's too deep, but you can leave them there and so when things start to thaw, you've got some produce right there in the garden ready to harvest.
Carolyn: That can be really important for that early spring season, because that's when typically you're really low on stocks. Thats when you really need the food, right? It's in the spring your pantry's already run down to nothing and it's going to be a month or two yet before the garden's producing. So that's great to have some veggies that are ready. You can just go harvest them as soon as the ground thawed.
Josh: Absolutely. Number four, getting your early spring perennials in. So basically just perennials, having perennials in the kitchen garden, cottage garden, right close.
Carolyn: Yeah. That's going to be things like your asparagus, your rhubarb, your sorrell, Good-King-Henry, lovage, all the things that are just going to pop up first thing in the spring and just start growing because they have that root mass that has taken in all that energy from the last year and is ready to expend it, even, before it gets warm. I know that I can be harvesting my sorrell from the garden before we can even generally be planting spinach seeds outside.
Josh: I was going to say, really, this is the most overlooked and the lowest work, easiest growing method. You just have to dedicate space because it is perennial. So you're not going to be turning that over or swapping out. But this is really the most overlooked system, is these perennial greens. It's hard for us to do enough [crosstalk 00:30:08].
Carolyn: For our family.
Josh: Huge batches, but a lot of you with smaller families could grow a lot of these vegetables and they're coming up early and they're adapting to the climate and they're just going to be the fastest up. Start creating a space in your garden for more and more perennials, preferably close to the house, close to the kitchen as you can get it.
Carolyn: That would absolutely be right. So you know that if you start doing those four different types of things, you are going to have food probably six weeks to eight weeks before you're going to be getting it out of your main crop garden. That's a lot of time that you're going to be eating fresh food out of the garden. So, that's a really exciting thing. We totally encourage you guys to be taking those steps and getting your spring gardens in, looking if you can do it right now, some of you can do it absolutely right now.
Josh: If you have any questions, let us know, drop us some questions in the notes below, and we'll try to cover some of those either in a story or in an upcoming pantry chat where we can answer any specific questions about this topic.
Carolyn: If you're looking for ways to get your garden ready for this year, make sure you check out the download that we have for you guys on the five steps you can take to great soil on your garden. Good to talk you guys.
Josh: See you soon.
Josh: Thanks for listening to this episode of The Pantry Chat: Food For Thought. If you've enjoyed this episode, please subscribe, rate, and review.
Carolyn: To view the show notes and any other resources mentioned on this episode, you can learn more at homesteadingfamily.com/podcast.
Josh: We'll see you soon.
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