Six Years and 8 Days Ago – What have we learned?

Six years and eight days ago, I began blogging about our homesteading journey and decided to name this blog, “Incrementally Stepping Towards Homesteading”.

It’s been an incredible journey and it’s still really only the beginning. Today I am looking back. I read back to six years ago, and the things we talked about doing, did not always turn out to be what happened. Things took different shape but that was all part of learning as we went. Nope, we never raised 4 turkeys named; Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter, a feast for every season, as I said we would. We also didn’t put the garden in the old goat yard, as it turned out we ended up putting 2-3 hogs a year in the old goat yard instead. Things I found out that turned out not to be easy? Selling our meat and vegetables. We are licensed to sell meat from our farm, and I thought it would be easy to get people out here, and turns out it is not, so while selling our meat didn’t go as planned, we do sell some, and the money we used to spend on meat is just not spent anymore so it’s still a win.

We learned about raising baby chicks, laying hens, roosters for meat, and how to butcher our own chickens.

We learned how to keep hogs, and feed them so they are fat but not too fat (yeah we did that one year).

Hubs had started some Shiitake mushroom logs many years ago, and we loved having fresh and dried Shiitakes so much that we have learned more and now have many, many logs going with them, and we are currently experimenting with several varieties.

We learned how to tap trees, and cook down the sap into delicious syrup…

…and in the Fall we learned how to press cider from our own apples.

My garden 5 years ago, on our first Spring, was much smaller and I am now much better at using the space to it’s maximum benefit. Hubs built an excellent fence around our garden and that really took gardening up a lot of notches. Each year I plan, and think I have it perfected, but I still, at the end of that season, am filled with ideas for the next season.

I learned how to start garden plants properly, and in fact last year I started all but just a few herbs.

I will never be able to believe how all those pounds of foods that feed us, all the rest of the year, came from those rows of tiny starter plants that I start on my plant rack! I have yet to become accomplished in the area of seed saving but it’s on my learn list. I did successfully save pepper seeds and grew those the next year, but they are easy keepers, saving some seeds are more complicated then others.

I’ve learned so much about food preservation! I had water bath canned a bit in the 80s, but had some failures, and the floating tomato and glass soup, after all that hard work, really sent me into a canning spiral. Thanks to a friend, I gave it a go again and have been canning ever since. Recently, I added something new to this area. Despite being terrified of a pressure canner, I started pressure canning, and I love it. I have always depended heavily on my freezers, we have several, but when we process animals we need more space in the freezers and my dozens of quarts of broth and other quarts of finished soups take up crazy amounts of room, and when you want to use them they of course have to thaw. Additionally keeping food in a plugged in freezer that could be stored on a shelf doesn’t make that much sense. I now have more room in the freezer, and soup on the shelf that I can open and pour into a pot to heat up, or to use as a base for other soups. When you raise animals there is never a shortage of soup bones, so there is never a shortage of bone broth and now it’s ready to use, and on the shelf! Hub’s has learned to smoke meat and also built a cold smoker which we need to break into use. His smoked meats have turned out great!

A couple years I began learning about fermenting, and about krauts, kimchi, fermented pickles, kombucha and more. This is a great way to preserve veggies. I make our Krauts and Kimchis in the Summer and they last all Winter in the fridge.

I learned about bread. Let me restate that, I have been learning about bread for 6 years, and I am still learning.

This is my most recent conquest. Unfortunately it was not as tasty as it was beautiful, but I am getting there.

Foraging for food and for learning about medicine…

A few years ago, I felt a draw to become more familiar with what we had here on the farm. As I started learning about the plants and weeds, and found out more about treasures to hunt for, it became a fascinating study. I have jars of at least 40 or more dried plants that have valuable purposes for food or health. I have not made use of all of them yet, I gather them to have them, so that I can spend winters learning about them and I have made various tinctures and salves from them. I have become an Elderberry spokesperson! Don’t say you have the sniffles around me, because I’ll end up on my Elderberry soapbox. The stuff is amazing. Oh and foraging for mushrooms, I can’t forget that. We have always done some Morel hunting, but now we successfully have found, identified and eaten, Golden Oysters, Turkey Tail, Pheasant Backs, Inky Shaggy Manes, Chicken of the Woods, and Puffballs. There are so many others to be foraged for, but this was a big jump in our mushroom foraging education.

When we began all of this, it was a bit of an off shoot from something Hubs started. He got 3 Scottish Highland Cattle 6 years ago. It’s been wonderful watching him get the rhythm of the animals, and learn to communicate with them based on their body language and they way they move. The Cattle were originally purchased to clean up all the scrub brush in our woods. Highlands are great at this, they are browsers and grazers so they clean up the grounds and the brush. When he got our bull a year later, we might have rushed into that, but in the end it turned out well, He and our 3 mamas, have produced many calves for us.

We are still developing the direction of our small beef program here yet, but in the meantime, we haven’t bought beef in years, our woods look much better, and we’ve even sold a couple of calves

We still have a long ways to go, but we haven’t bought meat or eggs at the store in years, and in fact we just don’t buy much at the store. If we don’t have what we need we often get it from local farmers around here. I do of course buy coffee, and baking essentials at the store, and dairy from local dairies as we don’t have that on the farm and of course I definitely don’t see myself making olive oil in our parts of the country, so there are always things we will buy, but it sure is not much, and I never dreamed 6 years and 8 days ago that we could have achieved this level of food sustainability.

All this learning and lifestyle change, has changed me in ways I didn’t expect. The more quiet around me, the more I need more quiet in my life. I find going to the city to be overstimulating, overly loud, and that it lacks the quiet moments I need. My trips to the city for things has been paired down to only 1 time in a month or not even, in some months. I try to get it all done so I don’t have to return too soon. There are weeks where I leave the farm only once, and I love it. Farming has also brought us closer to our community and neighbors. We enjoy trading goods and sharing knowledge. I have a friend who is wonderful about trading her forage finds and I trade her some, of mine in return. I have another friend that came out after a snowstorm to help me drag wood on a very cold day. We have neighbors we would do anything for night or day, and they would do the same for us. This lifestyle has brought me peace and comfort, and unending gratitude for being able to do what we do here. No, we are not off-grid (hoping to expand into solar this year), and no, we don’t live in a tiny house. We definitely live a modern homesteading lifestyle a hybridized version for sure but it’s our definition and it allows us to provide our food, eat close to home, know where our food comes from and be more dependent on ourselves.

It’s been amazing 6 years, and I look forward to continuing my education, everyday is another day to learn.

Early Fall

I have posted about this mini high tunnel plenty before, but there is always something new going on in there. A week ago we put the plastic over the tunnel. Nights are down to the low 30’s and days are in the low 50’s. When the sun is out though, the tunnel, with the plastic on it, can get upwards of mid 70’s and close to 80s, so it has to be watched carefully and vented to be sure things don’t cook in there! That means of course that it needs closing up as the sun goes down, and it’s hard to remember to do it, while cooking dinner and other things are on my mind.

It’s all so worth it though because I have beautiful spinach and radishes coming up in there, and so we will have salads probably till December/January when even this tiny but mighty tunnel winds down. It’s funny the spinach doesn’t die, it just stops growing in December and January, but when February rolls around and the longer days offer the tunnel more sun, it gets very warm in there and it grows while you watch it!

The radishes needed thinning the other day, so I kept the little fellas, they seemed too perfect to cast aside, so we had a radish green salad with blue cheese that night.

This is a puffball mushroom. This variety does not grow huge like the others, to my understanding. I only found one, we cooked it up, and it was very good!

Inside of the the mushroom.

The cooked puffball.

I am so happy to have soup weather again. What is a day without soup? Home canned tomato puree, and loads of dried herbs, and vegetables, and some homemade bone broth. YUM!

We have been enjoying loads of pumpkin seeds. They are a real treat. We had so many pumpkins/squashes, that we grew for the pigs. I let them have some of the seeds (as the seeds are a good natural wormer for them), but usually I take the seeds and give them the pumpkin. I saved the little pie pumpkins for pumpkin puree for breads and pies, for our Thanksgiving table.

There is a lot of Summer in these jars. I have been working hard to grow and forage more herbs and seasonings. Seeing these on the shelf, and being able to use fresh dried herbs is wonderful. I love how good they smell when I open them.

Our Fall pond. It changed a lot over the Summer, we had so much rain this year. It will never be the pond I hoped it would be, but it is still pretty and the wildlife around here loves it.

Peppers dried, powdered, pureed, fermented, sauced, candied and stuffed!

Honestly at this point the big garden is bare, but just a couple of weeks ago, I was collecting peppers by the bucketful! Those tomatoes were the very last of the last! I needed a lot of ways to use all my peppers so it went something like this…

Shishito peppers became…

…dried peppers and the dried peppers became…

…paprika! It may not have been the right variety for making Paprika but it works for me! It was a great way to use a lot of them up.

Ha, ha, still haven’t used them all up yet…there were still more! I decided to cut them and put them in a pot and just barely cover them with water. I simmered them till they were soft and strained them out. Then I put them in the blender and poured them into this ice tray.

Once frozen they went into this bag and now when making tomato soup, I can make it tomato red pepper soup very easily by tossing in a few cubes.

Then there were all the Jalapeños and my one Habanero pepper that grew all on it’s own from seed in the garden. Must have been a seed leftover from last year’s that volunteered into my garden, yielding me one pepper. That’s ok, Habaneros are too much for me! I did make a fermented pepper mix using the one Habanero and a lot of Jalapeños, and a few Shishitos, and of course garlic! It will be used for hot sauce.

When this is done fermenting, I will strain it and puree it, and then add back some of the brine it has been fermenting in, so that I get the consistency I am looking for in a hot sauce.

These pretty Jalapeños went into something called Cowboy Candy! It is a sweet spicy combination, and it is supposed to be good on sandwiches, and I am pretty sure my grandson will think it is great on most things! He was very excited to learn about cowboy candy!

Done! Most of the jars are the Cowboy Candy, but on the left is leftover syrup from it, and that can be brushed on chicken, or pork for a nice carmelization on the outside of the meat, and of course the sweet and spicy flavor will be good on it. Well so far I had taken care of the last of the Shishitos, Jalapeños, and my one Habanero, but I was still left with a handful of green bell peppers.

Stuffed peppers took care of the last of the peppers! These were stuffed with wild rice, leftover diced peppers from omelet making, garlic, dried mushrooms, cutting celery, a few cubes of my frozen pesto, dried tomato pieces, and our ground beef. I love having the wild rice here. It is a treat, and found in the more northern parts of the state, we picked some up when driving back from an up north wedding. I topped it with some local 5 year cheddar shavings and wow, it was great! We had them twice this week, and I still had enough to freeze for a dinner for us this Winter when looking for something quick and easy to serve.

That is the final part of the never ending pepper story. Time to move on to pumpkin puree, pumpkin seeds, pumpkin pies, pumpkin bread…. As always, enjoying the journey.

 

Dried, sauced, diced, chipped, “cidered” and fermented…

We have so many of these “wild” apples trees. Whether they were planted by the cows years ago, or maybe by a farmer years ago, for whatever reasons they are here, and they are an endless bounty of apples for us. Put this together with the apple trees we planted years ago, and the abundance is amazing! This year in particular was a great apple year, and I am hearing it all around our area. We even had a huge showing of pears on our pear tree, which often leaves us with only a bowlful. Generally most of the pears are on the top of the tree, which is above any sized ladder reach, well ok, if the fire department came out with their ladder truck it would reach those top pears!

So much prettiness!

I made quite a few jars of applesauce that I froze for future pork chops or visiting grandchildren. Our poor littlest grand was so sad last visit. Teething is just no fun and cold applesauce was the ticket to making him happier.

I’ve dried over a gallon of apples into little chips for snacking on. These small chunks were dried for baking into breads or cookies and stirring into Oatmeal.

They turned out chewy and delicious.

While we attended a wedding, well north of here, we let the apples sit, as they are better for making cider after they have sat a bit. When we returned it was time to get to work!

Hubs popped an old motor he had onto this apple crusher unit and it crushed them about a million times faster than when we crank it ourselves. It was a game changing addition to the process!

Turns out that this stainless steel fish poaching pan, (a great Goodwill find, that had never even been used) came in very handy. If the cider was coming out slowly it tended to drip under the spout instead of straight down, so this pan didn’t let a drip get away!

This giant tub is the “apple smash” after crushing it for pressing.

The smash makes for some very happy pigs!

While most of the apple cider and also pear cider, went into our freezers, we still had some leftover when we ran out of containers in which to freeze the cider. So what does one do when you are out of containers?

Make hard cider of course!!! This is bubbling away in the basement. It will be a while before it is fully ready to drink, looking forward to this in early Winter.

Our Farm to our Table

Farm to table means many things to many people. This is our farm to our table. These birds arrived on June 7 and were butchered on September 1. They were 85 days old at butchering day. The days in between were spent, in a brooder in our garage, while we watched them carefully for developing problems that we could lose chicks to, if we were not watchful. The first week, there is a lot of rear end cleaning, this is to be sure they do not suffer from “pasty butt” when their poop can dry and stick to their bottoms because of the heat lamps they need to regulate their temperature. This can result in death if not carefully monitered. After the first week, this hurdle is generally behind us.

While the garage was busy with the brooder chicks, we planned their move up to their new home in the big coop. After about 4 weeks in the garage they start getting rambunctious and this creates lots of dust in the garage, so out they went to the big coop which had a carefully regulated temperature in it, as they didn’t have their full feathers yet. After about 2-3 weeks they were big enough and it was warm enough to let them out, first into their protected run so they were on grass, but then we opened them up to the big world in the latest part of the day so they didn’t range too far and forget where home was for them. We lit up their run that leads to the coop so they would see the light and come home to it. Within a few days they were full on free ranging, and exploring. We have lots of fir trees for cover for them, and they were pretty savvy to danger or hawk shadows up above. Finally butchering day came almost exactly 12 weeks later. We could not be more pleased to have birds going into the freezer at 4-5 pounds this year. We will stick with this breed, a heritage breed bird, comprised of a mix of 2 other heritage breeds. They grew much faster than our Delaware birds did, are much bigger, and we butchered 4 weeks earlier. I’ve never been a fan of Cornish Cross chickens that grow way faster and bigger, we always prefer to raise a heritage breed here on our farm. We will be sticking with these Red Rangers!

Day 1

Day 75

Day 85

The effort that went into these birds is well rewarded. This bird was delicious, juicy, and flavorful, beyond anything I have ever purchased in a store. This is what “our farm to our table” means to us. It means giving up the garage to the brooder and checking on them every couple of hours the first week, and it means hot days feeding and watering chickens, and early mornings letting them out before it was too hot in their coop, and even hotter days butchering the birds, which is an all day event. None of this is complaining, I enjoy the process, but it is a process, it is work, and it sure is rewarding.

Sitting down to the table to eat this bird, after the effort that went into raising it, becomes more than just dinner. This dinner started, actually on June 7, and to me, nothing tastes better or has more meaning, at a meal, than the food, that we spent months, bringing to the table.

Turning the corner into Fall

This past month we got rain. This was not your garden variety rain, this was more than an inch an hour. It came down in sheets, and the volume of water was incredible. Fortunately we are lucky to have our house on a hill, so flooding was not an issue for the house. The driveway washed out quite a bit, but we are again fortunate to have the heavy equipment to fix it. All in all we were very lucky, so many others did not fair so well. The above picture is of our “pond” which is not much of a pond at all. Mostly a large wildlife watering hole, but now it is a pond, till the water goes down again.

This was our little creek after the storm. Normally one can jump across this creek!

When we want to get a “flush” of mushrooms we soak a log in water. The storm however, essentially soaked all the logs at once. We got over 7 lbs of mushrooms! We have never seen that much from our small mushroom set up, at one time.

We celebrated with turkey mushroom soup.

The garden has peaked. It is now producing just small amounts of large tomatoes, a fair amount of cherry tomatoes, (shown above) some Swiss chard, kale, collards, parsley, basil, and cutting celery. The onions have been picked and are drying, the cucumbers are done, and I am officially done canning tomatoes. If I save anymore, they will get frozen whole, and used later.

These are the cherry tomatoes shown up above, but they are dehydrated for winter time snacking. Hubby loves these.

This was a couple of weeks ago. It was not a normal garden year but turned out to be a pretty productive one, in the end.

Hard to stop taking pictures of vegetables. They are so beautiful, and colorful!

Well, my carrot crop was not huge, by any standards, but it’s the best I have done. Carrots, it turns out, are not super easy to grow. I think, though, that I learned some things from these, and now I could possibly have a decent crop turn out next year. I did, this year, actually manage to grow enough potatoes for most of the year and that was a first. Carrots, onions and potatoes are traditionally crops I have purchased from local farms in a quantity to last us through the winter. We just haven’t had a fenced in garden that is big enough for these crops. Now, though, I am starting to think about that larger hoop that we have stored up the hill. It would be nice to have a larger tunnel than I do now and be a able to use it for crops like onions and carrots, so they are protected from the critters.

Carrots with parsley, tomatoes with Cilantro, and Shiitakes with, gathered, dried ramps (wild leeks).

This Elderberry cluster will be all purple soon. It will be picked, so that I can make Elderberry syrup, tincture, and liquor all to be used in warding off colds this winter. The netting you see around them is so the I can be sure to get my fair share of them. I net some for me, and then let birds have their share.

These chickens were ready for butchering. Since this picture we had butchering day. We had 3 extra people and the 26 birds went quickly. We are getting it down to a smooth system. These birds were a new variety here on the farm. Still a heritage breed but they grow larger and a little bit quicker. The birds are now “resting” in the fridge, and will get shrink wrapped tomorrow and put into the freezer. I have weighed about half of them and am happy to say that they have gone from a range of 2.9-3.7 pounds last year to 3.10-5.5 pounds this year. Hopefully we will like the taste and texture, and if that is the case then we would definitely raise this breed again. It’s good to have them ready for the freezer. One step closer to closing out this years growing season. We still will have some tomatoes, and lots more apples to pick and press, and pumpkins to puree, and then lastly the high bush cranberries to pick. We are definitely seeing things winding down.

These are Aronia berries. They have more anti-oxident power than blueberries, and even the recently fashionable Acai berry. They are native to Wisconsin. These will be made into an Aronia/Cherry jam. They are not tasty on their own, but mixed in jam with other fruits and it tastes great and is oh so healthy.

Thee are some of my honey ferments. Aronia honey on the left, and pineapple honey in the middle. The pineapple honey is to be used as a cough syrup in the winter. The cherry honey, on the right, is to be used as an aid for achy sore joints. I still need to make my elderberry honey, I am a firm believer that Elderberry helps to prevent colds, or at the least shortens their duration.

Just another sign of change. The pumpkins look beautiful on the hill.

 

The Kitchen Brings Such Comfort

We had some fun family time this past weekend, which included a wonderful meal out, which was a gift from my daughter and her husband. It was a delicious meal in a very beautiful, location, out of the way of most everything, apart from some kayakers and canoeists, that we saw. It was a special evening!

The next day while the guys worked on hay, we did some baking. It resulted in amazing goodies. These Challah loaves came from a recipe from my west coast daughter, and it’s the perfect recipe! They turned out quite pretty!

These little squares of cheesy goodness are completely addictive and really very easy, especially after hubs said, “wouldn’t those roll out easier with the pasta maker”? Sometimes I forget to put two and two together! It was a great idea, it helped make them thinner which also, made them crunchier. The ones that didn’t come out of the pasta maker, that I rolled out, taste just as good but I would call them cheesy biscuits, rather than crackers. Absolutely delicious.

I haven’t been on top of my sourdough starter as I should have been. I am feeding it but not as often as I should, it therefore is not active enough yet for making full on sourdough bread. It’s fine though because I have been making English muffins and waffles with the discard from my sourdough feedings.

I have written about these before, but now I have perfected the breakfast sandwich! It took some tweaking to get them right. The scrambled egg kept falling out, and so now I use the muffin cutter to cut the eggs, as well, so the eggs are a circle that just fit and no more egg fall out! Oh and no that isn’t mustard in the sandwich, it is just our bright, beautifully colored yolks that do that! A sign of a well pastured chicken. These are made of our breakfast sausage and eggs, and some amazing local cheddar from a small cheese factory near by us. These are mostly his breakfasts, and occasionally mine if I plan on working outside much of the day.

The beginning of tomato season! Tomatoes can make the meal, this time of year!

This was absolutely delicious recipe. Minnesota wild rice, our dried currants, leeks, celery and lots of homemade chicken bone broth. Healthy, in so many ways, and definitely the best rice dish I have ever eaten. It makes a large recipe, so I froze a few quarts of it for later. I have enough of my dried currants to make one more batch to divide into quarts to freeze for an easy dish on Winter nights.

Gazpacho, a wonderful cold Summer soup. Well in reality it is a wonderful fresh Pico De Gallo that I thought would be great frozen salsa, but since it was not cooked salsa, and because vegetables have so much water in them, when thawed it was too full of liquid and the vegetables were of course not crunchy. Lesson learned. Fresh salsa is way different after the freezer. It did, however, still taste amazing. I had many 2 cup portions frozen, and I was expecting company. I decided to serve Gazpacho, by thawing the 2 cup portions and pureeing them. Everyone loved the Gazpacho. This year I will freeze fresh Pico De Gallo again, but I will know I am going to serve it as Gazpacho.

Pickle season has definitely begun. Lots of cucumbers, and it hasn’t nearly peaked! Looks like there will be loads of them. Cucumbers, beyond what you can eat fresh, either have to be canned or fermented as pickles, chow chows, or relishes. Surely you can’t freeze them. The good thing is that we have hungry pigs and chickens so they get what we can’t eat or process. In exchange they give us pork, eggs and chicken meat. It works.

First kraut of the year, from the garden. It’s been a while since I got my ferment on, and made kraut! I’ve been doing a lot of vinegar pickles, but I think I will start making some Kimchi and  fermented pickles, the kraut inspired me!

I still had frozen strawberries, from a local farm, from last year. Since things last so long in a deep freezer, they are still perfectly fine. This is Sherbet, made from last year’s strawberries, and this year’s wild blackcap berries from the farm. I doubled the amount of fruit the recipe called for and this helped to reduce the sugar per serving, it also has milk in it and I added about 1/4 cup of cream to the about 6 cups of Sherbet that it made, so that it would be a bit richer. It is so good and so refreshing! The great thing is that no ice cream maker is needed. Just frozen fruit, lemon juice, sugar, and milk and it’s all made in the food processor. Takes 5 minutes. Since we always have fruit in the freezer, we will be able to make this all year. I am very happy to have stumbled upon this very easy recipe.

Now just a little bit of farm, since this has been all kitchen, kitchen, kitchen!

There is nothing hubs loves more than a beautiful day to make hay! It just makes him very happy. Yes, he was having a hay day!

Wednesday we will have the mobile slaughter unit out to process our steer. He’s over two years old, which is about time for a Highland. We usually process between 26-30 months. We have had mobile slaughter come out for the pigs for a couple of years now. There is a state inspector here for every bit of it, and s/he never takes their eyes off the animal from start to finish. The people are great to work with, and it goes very smoothly. They use an electrical stunner, which takes the pig down in a literal second. Then they bleed them out. This is the most humane way we have seen. We’ve tried loading and transporting and off loading at the locker, but after a life on green pasture and no stress it is very tough on them with the gates, and the cement floors and the clanking of equipment. We never wanted to do that again, it was hard on them and hard for us to see them stressed. Many people don’t have an option, but we are fortunate to have this mobile slaughter unit. We sell our meat so it must be done with inspectors on board at all times. The pigs though, are with us only 6-7 months, since they are feeder pigs. This steer has been with us, over 2 years, and this makes on farm slaughter harder for us. We really know this guy. We aren’t just dropping him off somewhere this time, we will be here for the whole process. The most important part though is the steer. If he is eating hay one minute, in his normal surroundings, and is out the next second, we know at least that his end is extraordinarily quick, and that is much more important than how hard it feels to us. I have said this in other entries. It should feel hard. Raising animals and getting to know them, makes it harder, come slaughter day, but it should be hard. I never want taking a life for food, to be easy, for me I always want it to be felt.

John Boy and Kleitos have really grown. They will be with us on the farm till their date comes in December. John Boy is the littler one, and he also seems to be the more clever one. Kleitos gets so excited, when I come with food, that he can’t think straight, and can’t even remember that the food is out, at the end of the pasture.  John Boy knows right where it is, and while Kleitos is running in circles excitedly, John Boy runs right for it, and shows him the way. They really are fun to watch!