Saying good bye to a good friend is hard.

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A week ago we said good bye to a very good friend, a dog who has been with us for 16 years. We were so lucky to have her that long. Does that make it any easier to say good bye? Barely, although it should. We know though that this little girl was struggling at the end and so we gave her the peaceful ending she deserved. The Vet was wonderful, we never even went in the clinic. There is a pretty spot on a river right behind the clinic, and it truly was a peaceful painless end. Well, painless for her. We still are trying to find our center in a house that feels oddly off balanced without her presence.

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This is our good old girl in her favorite pose, surveying the area in what we called her Princess of the Farm pose.

We miss her.

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Then strange things happen, like a surprise calf, and a reminder of endings and beginnings.

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The garden is growing in leaps and bounds. The San Marzano tomatoes I have been lusting for are still green but are getting to be a nice size, and there is NO possible way, short of a tornado taking them out, that I could run out of tomatoes, salsa, tomato sauce, ketchup, bbq sauce etc. this year, it’s just won’t be possible with over 20 tomato plants!

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Peppers are coming in nicely, all three varieties.

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My lovely eggplant.

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The chickens are getting so much bigger the last few weeks. Coop number three is almost done, at which point we will break up this group of 26 birds. The 8 hens will move to another coop and the roos will stay in this hoop tractor with an attached coop, however, the remaining roos days are numbered. These Delawares are supposed to be harvested in 12 weeks, I am going to let them go to 14 weeks which puts us at the last weekend in July. Last time, which was our first time butchering, it took us 6 hours to do 6 birds. That was from start to finish or from catch to clean up. This time I know it will go considerably faster but processing 20 birds will be quite the marathon, likely a two day marathon. The reward? We will eat only our chicken this year. We will know it was treated properly for all it’s life, and that we will be eating chicken that ate our grass, organic feed, garden scraps and bits of pig liver (from last years pigs) in the hardest part of winter. In October when our new hens are laying our older 4 hens will become stewing birds and so that adds 4 more birds for a total of 24 chickens in the freezer this year. Half of a chicken feeds the two of us for dinner and that makes 48 dinners for the two of us. That is almost a chicken dinner a week, but when I add in the broth it will make, that becomes the base for many more meals. This Fall we will bring our first steer and one of our hogs to the locker. (Two of the hogs are sold one will be ours, of which we will sell some of by the cut.)

We are reaching a new level of self sufficiency.

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Nice to have a neighbor that says, I can’t possibly pick all those berries, come and get ‘em! Beautiful and delicious.

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Pretty nice late night snack?

Yogurt is off the grocery list!

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Heating the milk to make…

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Yogurt!

So I am a bit afraid of other ways of making yogurt. I know that you can make it in a Crockpot, but most places I have read that people who do this have the kind of Crockpot that has a digital temperature readout, and mine has low and high. Not being brave enough to tackle the unknown, I purchased this yogurt maker on Craigslist. It was $20 bucks, and I offered $12 and  a bag of my Granola from my really granola business. She accepted the deal and the trade was made.

I wondered, with an excellent local yogurt maker in town here, why was I even trying this? So then I “mathed it out”, and yep numbers win. This yogurt costs 18 cents a cup vs. 95 cents -$1.25 at the store. Even with our wonderful local yogurt in town, their yogurt still had a couple more ingredients then mine, which is MILK, plus 2T of starter yogurt which I now have! So I have yogurt that costs almost nothing, and takes little effort to make, I now have my own “starter” for it, and my yogurt is made simply of milk, period. Additionally I am building up a supply of fruit for yogurt from now till next summer when fruit comes in again. We will have raspberries, strawberries, and rhubarb-strawberry sauce, apple cinnamon and peaches to stir into our yogurt.  All in all I would say a success story. If I ever replace my crockpot I may try the other method.

The gardens are growing like crazy, from all the rainstorms we have had, both the garden variety storms and some wickedly bad storms for which we were luckier than many. We are harvesting Kale, Collards, lettuces, and radishes so far. The green beans will be coming in soon, and I’ve seen a tiny pepper, and even an eggplant, although quite small yet. The picture below shows what I brought in yesterday. Our current hens are really slowing down in production, come Fall these will be stewing birds and we will have 6 new hens coming into laying in the at that time. We may have timed it just right!

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I have calculated the days and the 26 birds we brought here on May 1 will officially be 12 weeks on July 21st! These birds have kept us busy!

 

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Hubby was busy building this “Hoop Coop”, and we’ve both been busy moving birds around. These birds live in a coop in the old run at night but are in the hoop coop during the day. Hmmm if you think about that long enough  you may wonder…how do they get from the old coop and run to the hoop coop? By dog crate transfer! The first time we did this the birds thought we were crazy and completely balked at the idea, but now when we bring the crate to the old coop to load them up they cue up like they are waiting for the Metro. Then we carry the crate to the coop hoop and open the door and they all fly into the hoop coop. Then at night we do the reverse. It will be nice when the birds are in the freezer and we can stop doing this. Next year there will be a mobile coop to go with the hoop, so there will be no more transferring of birds. We may let them go till about the 28th, to give them one more week to fatten up. Hubby is going on a “mancation” shortly after with the brother boys and I sure don’t want to be doing chicken transfers on my own! (oh and the traffic cone [a.k.a. killing cone], is on top of their water because, well,  they perch on it otherwise which results in poopy water, yuk!

Thinking about meat for the year:

We got 18 males for butchering and 8 hens, thinking that if we lost any hens we wanted to still have enough layers, but since all 8 hens made it, I think we will butcher 2 of those as well, so we will have 20 birds in the freezer which with the two of us means 40 dinners. That is almost a chicken a week. I will also get 2-3 locally raised turkeys from the Co-op in November, and then with taking our Steer in early fall to the locker and the hogs in November, we should be all set to purchase NO meat at a store this year (other than said local turkeys at the Co-op).

We will have plenty of veggies in the freezer this year, but fruit for the year is the harder one in the midwest with our short growing season, and cold winters. But we will have plenty in the form of:

Frozen: strawberries, raspberries, rhubarb, peaches, (our cherry tree was very challenged over the cold winter) maybe local blueberries

Fresh: wild apples in our neighbors walk in cooler

Prepared: strawberry rhubarb sauce, applesauce, peach sauce,

Dried: apples and peaches

So all this is to say, we are well on our way to another year of delicious food for which we either raised, grew or bartered to get.

A few other farm pics…

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Patiently waiting for a new flush of Shiitakes. Well at least I am trying to be patient!

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Putting in a new pasture for the pigs. Yea, I’m learning to make fence:)

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While I did this Shadow kept a close eye on me, that is if she can see thru her pretty, pretty bangs!

Waffling on Beef…

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The gardens are in and this is what they looked like a couple of weeks ago. Now I am able to pick a few collard leaves here and there and the Lettuces and Arugala have been great. I have also been buying at local farmer’s markets and supporting small local farms. The rhythm of Spring has gone like this… box elder syrup season followed by radishes, rhubarb (rhubarb to freeze, rhubarb sauce to freeze for ice cream topping), and finally…

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Rhubarb Chutney which we love with Pork, of which we anticipate eating a lot of …

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Then we began to binge on Asparagus. Even with eating them almost daily I was still able to freeze about 14 dinners worth of Asparagus for midwinter treats. I freeze all the veggies in what I consider to be a 2 person serving which is just enough for dinner for us.  I also made…

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Pickled Asparagus which we really loved last year. Although I went pickle crazy last year pickling everything but hubby, I decided this year to pickle only our favorites.

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The Shiitakes are coming in beautifully and we are eating them and drying what we can’t eat. We have been enjoying delicious vegetable dishes using these mushrooms. Below is a salad with warm Shiitakes and Asparagus on it.

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Absolutely delicious.

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In addition to the beautiful mushrooms the garlic scapes were ready to be cut and so we are having them in most everything.

One of the biggest treats has been STRAWBERRIES! I feel if I eat many more I may turn red and grow little seeds. They are so sweet and so amazingly good.

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I’ve frozen about 6 quarts of berries so far. I want to freeze as much fruit as possible this year. I will be eating these yummy berries with homemade yogurt throughout the year. I can’t wait to find out how this yogurt tastes compared to store bought yogurt, of which we quite honestly have one of the best local yogurts here, so I probably should just support them. They do a great job, but then I saw this very inexpensive yogurt maker on Craigslist and well you know what happened. I wish I had the bravery to make the yogurt the other way, you know, on the counter for days or something like that.

farm updates:

We are faced with 26 chickens that are getting ridiculously big in front of our eyes. We don’t think that they will fit in their current coop much longer and the yard is getting pretty run down, so hubby is right now putting together a new portable run so we can split up this group of 26…of these 26 there will be 18 going to the freezer the last week of July. We only have to have this extra housing for a about a month and then it can to in storage in the barn. Hubby, you are the solution finder and the driving force behind the infrastructure that makes our small farm possible.

We are also faced with something else, and that is the reality that our Steer that is to go in to the locker on July 10 is possibly just not ready for butchering. Although Highlands are small we feel like this guy is on the smaller side of small. Hubby is fencing like crazy to get them moved out to the woods where they will eat all the things we don’t want and they will love doing it, and they will have endless food for quite a while, but for now, pastures have not been robust and we think we should finish him in the Fall. We have a farmer friend who may come out and give us an opinion. This is disappointing for our food plan because we were really looking forward to having beef this summer, and with no pork till Fall and the chickens not heading to the freezer till almost August, it seems like Fall will be full of variety but for Summer we will be eating more Veggie meals, and fish if we catch. We may go also out to a Grassfed Beef Farm and make a bulk purchase, it would be a good way to sneak in a tour of someone else’s Grassfed Cattle Operation at the same time!

Then hens are doing well in their chicken tractor. It has worked out super well, just another of hubby’s solutions to a problem. They are even settling back into laying after the…. hen pecking (solved), the broodiness (solved), and the move to a new coop (finally they are settling in) and beginning to lay again, which is awesome. Unfortunately they probably are going to go through their molt soon and will stop laying yet again though. So much reading and learning, I read last year when we got the chicks that at about 18 months they would molt, look funny and lose their feathers. Since the protein they eat either goes to making eggs or feathers they don’t lay eggs while they acquire their new feathers after the molt. Hopefully we can still get eggs till October when these girls will be stew birds. That will bring our freezer bird count to 22 birds which is awesome and way better than last year’s 6 birds!

The pigs are growing quickly and I’ve now weaned them off their morning feeding, which urges them to get out on pasture and forage for more food. Then I feed them a big serving in the afternoon, and by evening they are out on pasture again. It’s working well. They are loving strawberry tops and bruised berries, as well as lettuce scraps and mushroom stems. I have also been bringing giant handfuls of particular weeds they like. I bring these goodies mid-morning, as a snack, and I find that if I throw the treats out in the pasture they tend to stick around and graze afterward.

So all that said, all animals and gardens are growing and thriving and right on target, even with the torrential rains, the garden has hung in their like a champ. Craziest thing? A potato plant was growing in the garden randomly from last year. I pulled it out and it was perfect. How did a potato make it through that freezing cold 6 month winter? That tenacious little potato will be enjoyed tomorrow as a side to Saturday morning eggs, anything surviving that Winter should be celebrated!

What kind of busy? The good kind…Spring Busy!

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I remember taking this picture last year too. These are a colorful and welcome site! We actually had a salad yesterday! Heavy on the Asparagus and Radishes, and a bit light on the lettuce and Spinach but it tasted great! Looking forward to salad season!

It’s been a new experience going into this year. What is new is that it is officially not my first year anymore. I have a tiny bit of experience under my belt and am well aware of what we need more of, less of, what I planted at the wrong times, and what I didn’t plant that I should have. All that said, I am still a newbie in many ways to all this and so I am learning (and sometimes failing) everyday. At this point I am two gardens behind, although the last two are smaller gardens. The grapes need work, and I still want to put together some chicken tunnels so I can range the chickens in the grass rows between the garden rows. Hubby and I have been meaning to finish inoculating the logs for Shiitakes as well, so oodles to do. Along with all this, my business is hitting a busy time and getting ready for the arrival of a new variety of really granola which means that shelves will need stock on both varieties, which means you guessed it, more baking!  Additionally, food preservation season which creeps in slowly at first, is definitely starting, I have already frozen Asparagus, and Rhubarb and have Asparagus ready to pickle.

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Speaking of planting, this fair weather farmer planted at night with a headlamp on, the last few days were way too hot to do otherwise.

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The chicks are out of the coop now and here they are coming out for the first time. It took a while for them to venture all the way out, they would come out look around and run back in, and then finally they…

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…started down the plank to explore.

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We kept the piglets in their smaller pen for a couple days to get to know us in smaller surroundings where they didn’t have the choice to run off and be standoffish.

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Today they went out on pasture and were a bit timid in this first picture but they are sold on the idea now.

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The end of a long day, which resulted in an spectacular finish!

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Planning for Winter?

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We have been enjoying a lot of Asparagus this season. In fact I will be freezing and pickling some of them today. The pickled Asparagus were one of our favorite pickled foods last year. What I won’t be pickling? Rhubarb! Although it yielded many, “oooh interesting” comments when it was tasted, it definitely was not as interesting after that second bite. Oh well, live and learn! I may have gotten a bit overexcited about canning last year! I will be doing a lot more freezing this year, but there are still things I will want to can for sure.

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The Morels were great this year. The season started out iffy, but improved as things warmed up. We have some in the freezer, not a lot but just enough for treats sprinkled throughout the year for occasions.

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We have also enjoyed so much tastiness this Spring. Unfortunately the photo isn’t great but the meal was!

I am still involved in the Local Bite Challenge, although, I’ve not been much of a participant with the group lately, because it is a very busy time for my Granola business, really granola but I have still been participating in the challenge! The challenge has made me think about things I hadn’t and has made me even more aware of local eating than I already was.

One of the ways we eat locally throughout the produce drought months of November to May, is through our Winter Storage Shares that we set up with our wonderful friend and neighbor who is an Organic farmer. He has a lot more garden space than we do. We have quite possibly the most awesome arrangement ever! Today we worked out our winter shares.We are set up for potatoes at 100 pounds, carrots at 50 pounds, onions at 40 pounds, 8 heads of cabbage, and he will also store our wild apples (I will pick him a matching amount to cover for the cold storage he is providing for us – he has a walk in cooler for his vegetable business.) This past winter our shares lasted like this…Potatoes lasted through May, Carrots through January – although our kind neighbor shared some of his share with us through about March, and our Onions sadly only lasted though December – there were not that many available). Today we set it all up and with these bumped up quantities it may provide us coverage for the year until these items are available fresh again. All the cost of this food will be traded to our neighbor in beef this summer when we take our first steer in and pork in the fall when the hogs go in to the butcher. It is a perfect arrangement and it is one of the ways we maintain our local eating and it feels very good and right for us.

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Now, after this yummy cherry drink (water, tart cherry juice from our frozen cherries and a bit of Black Walnut Syrup for sweetener) I will head outside for more planting!

…around the farm news

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Mama Fox lays in our driveway and watches her babies play in our old barn structure. They are sooooo cute!

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Our neighbor gives us his microgreen trays after he cuts them for customers, this is making for some very happy hens and definitely something to cluck about!

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A little bit of Spring and a lot of last Fall yet! The carrots and potatoes are the very last of my bartered winter share with my amazing neighbor. The Asparagus? A green gift of Spring. Soon it will be time to do more pickled asparagus it was a big favorite here!

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Just when I was ready to give up on wild onions, Hubby found them down in the camping area! Yay!

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Well this day’s search turned up no morel mushrooms, but we know they are out there… definitely more hunting ahead of us!

Chicken News: Bratty, Broody, and Peeps

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Bratty

So unfortunately this very pretty girl was pretty mean, and I could not seem to stop the coop wars, so the best resolution was to make dinner. After catching her in the act over and over, and seeing the one poor hen run every time she approached, it was time. I decided this time to skin the bird and not have to deal with the hot water and de-feathering but it turns out I would not do it again, too hard to find landmarks for cutting with all the feathers all over! Her new name is… Coq Au Vin.

 

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Interestingly, she had all these developing eggs inside her. We added them to a couple of regular eggs and had a delicious breakfast!

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Broody

Broody is the chicken that Bratty was picking on, you can see she is missing some feathers from her head. We started putting her into sick bay at night because that is when the Bratty was being mean, unfortunately, the change of light and location put her in a broody mode and each time we brought her back to the run in the morning, she would run into the nest box, in theory to keep her chick eggs warm (of course there were not any eggs) she would refuse to move, refused to eat and stayed there all day. She wouldn’t even roost at night. So I read on how to “break” a broody hen, I pushed her out of the box, which was not easy at all, because she’d glued herself in and wasn’t budging. After I finally pushed her out I put upside down buckets in the nesting boxes so she couldn’t get back in, and after 2 days she gave it up! Yay! Another victory for the greenhorns!

 

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Peeps

I might have bitten off a bit more than I should have with these 18 cockerels and 8 hens! They will be in the garage in this old watering tank for about 4-6 weeks then out on pasture in the new chicken tractor, for the next 6-8 and then they head straight to the freezer. The new hens will replace our remaining laying hens in the fall, and the current hens will become stewing hens. I forgot over the year what messy little chicks these are, so so so much poop, I will be glad when they get out on pasture!