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.

Between Seasons

Currently it is snowing and underneath the snow is a fine layer of ice. No April fool’s day, its the 3rd, this is just plain old Midwestern Springtime. A day ago I was collecting sap and it was running well, and today I was doing the winter thing, making soup and hot buns to have for dinner.

The cattle are happy in any weather and they have been mugging for the camera. This little fellow is Splash, and below is his Dad, Scotty, everyone has been soaking up the sunshine that we had so much of last week.

This time of year there is little green for the chickens to find to eat. We are looking forward to Spring and Summer, when the birds will start out on grass and we will have nice orange egg yolks again. This day though I got the lucky text from my neighbor who farms micro greens. Often he has trays of the them that are not usable, either because he cut what he needed or they got too tall etc. He filled the back of my car with trays for the birds, and I left him with eggs. The birds were thrilled, and my kind neighbor was happy with the eggs.

This picture goes under the category of…sometimes you need more help. You reach a point in life where you want to keep doing what you are doing but you find it getting harder to do. That is when it is time to upgrade tools so the machines can do the harder work. This new unit will make hubs jobs infinitely easier. Looking forward to my driving lessons when things warm up.

And speaking of getting older…we go through so much of this golden broth!! We are firm believers in the benefits of bone broth for the joints, and so I make this much about every couple of weeks. I make it mostly from our stewing birds we have in the freezer. It is such rich and delicious broth! I know I have mentioned this before but it’s become an integral part of our routines, and so it continues to pop up in my posts.

Each year we hope to learn a few new things to add to our list of homestead skills. This year we expanded into smoking meat. We have so far smoked delicious ribs a few times, brats, pork hocks, that were great in split pea soup, and even a side of salmon from a local who fishes in Alaska. This past weekend though we went for the biggie. We pulled out the two pork bellies we had been scratching our heads about how to properly prepare. We had great guidance from someone with experience, and he coached us well.

Ready for the cure….

I rubbed the cure on the bellies. Then they went into the fridge for 5 days.

Day 5 they got rinsed and then put in the fridge to dry for a couple of hours. It was then smoked for 2 hours.

… and here is our uncooked bacon after it’s been smoked. It turned out really well. We enjoyed every bite. We have some tweaks to do to lower the salt a bit in it, but we are very satisfied with it! A new skill learned!

As the season struggles to show off it’s true colors, I found myself poking in places just to see a sign! Here it was, a sign of encouragement from my Rhubarb, showing me it has full faith in the season! Looking forward to rhubarb crisp already!

This will all look so different in just a matter of weeks!