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.

Fermentation Fun

I recently said I was learning a bit of Fermenting but wasn’t quite ready to jump on the Kombucha train. Well, never say never because I can see I am working my way down that path. Let me say first, that I am not the only one who tried one Ferment and then turned their kitchen into a secret lab of bubbling bottles. It starts with Sauerkraut. The mushy Sauerkraut that comes out of a bag is all I’d really known till now. Yes, technically Sauerkraut from a bag or homemade are the same thing but only in the same way that a Lion and a barn Kitten are both cats. They are that different. I also love the process. No more frustrating appliances to slice it in mere minutes. A knife and a cutting board is all I use, I am not looking to be efficient with time here, I enjoy the process. It then goes into a large stainless bowl where it gets salted and sits, waiting for it’s massage;) Once the salt starts drawing liquid out of the Cabbage it gets a good massage, and it softens a little. It is then packed by heaping handfuls into wide mouth jars. It gets packed in with a wooden tool and then the waiting  begins. It’s very pretty to watch it change over time.

kraut done

Here is a beautiful bowl of Sauerkraut, that is amazingly crunchy and so delicious. I had to wait 3 weeks for this pretty bowl. It is said that for the best probiotic effect to wait 4-6 weeks or even more, but I couldn’t it just looked too good!

This is the thing about making Sauerkraut, once you start you have can’t stop. Sauerkraut is the gateway vegetable to full blown Fermentation Frenzy! I keep trying new things. I did discover that Brussels Sprouts pickled, are a bit intense when you smell the jar after opening it. I have gotten a bit of complaint from Hubby on that one. I learned that the brussels sprouts jar I did with radishes was more smelly, but still tasted very good, and the one I did with just carrots and dill and Brussels Sprouts was much less so, but also very good. I think of it in the way great cheeses are smelly! My Great Grandmother used to make pickled Brussels Sprouts and so I like them because they taste good, and because they make me think of her.

What else am I fermenting?

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These jars were newly set up in this photo. The left one is mixed veggies with Beauty Heart Radishes, Green Peppers, Red Peppers, Cauliflower, a few Thai Chili Peppers, Garlic and Dill. The one on the right is Sauerkraut, or will be in a few weeks.

veggie ferm done

This jar is the veggie jar on the left side of the above photo, but it was 3 weeks later. The veggies are crunchy as can be, a little salty, a little sour, and a lot delicious, similar to a Kosher Dill Pickle. The Brine is also delicious, but, not surprising, because I am that girl who sneaking hits of green olive brine while pregnant!

veggie ferm served

Here is what the veggies look like served up, I had to take the picture fast because they lasted only a couple of minutes!

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The secret lab is growing. The Raspberry Honey Wine continues to bubble, the Kimchi was doing it’s thing (my version of Kimchee that is), and the middle jar is filled with a variety of hot Peppers, garlic, onions, and dehydrated tomatoes. This jar after about 3 weeks got strained, and the veggies got pureed, and it made…

hot sauce

THIS HOT SAUCE! I personally am scared of it, but will use it as a base to make several types of sauces. I will be cooking all my tomatoes down after Thanksgiving and will be using this in combination with the tomato sauce.

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This is a variety of goodies. 2 kinds of Kraut juice, vinegar pickled green tomatoes and cukes, and fermented sauerkraut, pickled beets and mixed veggies. I love them all.