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!

Elderberry everything, and an accidental FB cow sale!

The Elderberries we put in three years ago have been a great addition to the farm. Not only do they smell wonderful in June, but they have so many uses. Since some of the branches hang over very low, I use those for gathering the flowers. Once these low clusters begin to fruit they would end up on the ground with the added weight. The rest of the beautiful, flowering clusters are left to become berries. Elderflower tea has many healthy benefits, and one of my goals this year was to gather more plants for Winter time tea. My pantry now has a new section, and in it are many types of herbs I grew and also foraged for over the course of late Spring, Summer and Fall.

This was gathered and dried last June.

This is an elderberry liqueur. First I made an Elderberry Tincture, using Elderberry and Vodka, knowing some of it would be used as a tincture, and then the rest, with the addition of sugar and time, became Elderberry Liqueur. The berries were picked in August, when I made the tincture, and in October I started the Liqueur which was ready at the end of November. I will, and have, use some of these as gifts.

This is Elderberry Syrup, that can be added to sweeten tea, when a cold is coming on, and throughout the cold. It offers vitamin C, an antioxidant punch and helps to strengthen the immune system.

 

Right now I am starting to have flashbacks to the movie, Forest Gump, here. You know, the many ways to prepare shrimp, according to Bubba. Well, that aside, this is another way I use Elderberry. I keep berries in the freezer and just toss some into my kombucha for the second ferment, and I have enough frozen elderberry to last all year.

This last batch of Kombucha (2nd ferment or “2f”) turned out quite pretty.

Outside things are getting pretty quiet, but we had an interesting cow sale right after Thanksgiving.

This is Maggie and she has a new home.

We were needing to move Maggie off the farm and were were not finding a buyer for her locally. We didn’t want her Papa mating with her in the upcoming months and so we were facing no choice but to use her as beef. I posted, on a homesteading FB page, that I was wondering if we would want to do the butchering differently because of her size, and was hoping for some guidance. I thought maybe people would have different recommendations for the cut sheet since she wasn’t full grown. THEN, someone posted a comment that they would like to buy her! This person lives in Missouri, and well, there is always the concern that you don’t know them, and will they show up and follow through with the deal. Well yes they did! They were here on time, and were very kind people who were very excited to take our Maggie home with them. The loading went perfectly and they were off. It was amazing how it all worked out!

In other outdoor news, although the garden is long gone, I did get in a few last Fall tastes before it was completely over…

These are fried green tomatoes, made from the last batch of green tomatoes that came in from the garden. They were delicious!

Also with the last batch I made some salsa verde. I will definitely make this again!

The mini high tunnel is still providing us a limited, but greatly enjoyed, variety of vegetables. The picture below shows what I brought in yesterday.

Parsnips, carrots and spinach. The eggs just got into the picture since they came in, in my bucket!

This photo was about a day. A pumpkin baking – chicken broth making – kombucha bottling – bread baking day, but it was more than that. Since selling my small granola business, I am finding that there is even more joy, in cooking and processing food, now that I am not in a hurry when I cook or bake. I am able to take more time with the process. In my previous life, if you will, it was about being efficient of time, because there were so many things to do with jobs, a house and kids. Now the time I take, which in the past I would have thought to be inefficient, I see and feel differently. I am seeing a lot of things differently as I am getting older, and entering a new phase of life. I am loving having the time to feel and enjoy the processes, of everything I do. We hear a phrase often these days, that comes from the recent popular book by Marie Kondo. The phrase is, “does it give me joy?” She is referring, of course, to more tangible items, but in general, there is something so peaceful about finding what gives you joy and fills you up. Not sure when the “golden years” start but this time of life is golden already. The children are off and doing well, and we find ourselves alone together on this farm a lot. It absolutely gives us joy and I feel grateful everyday, and to be honest, I’d say many, times in a day.

Topping off the day, was an absolutely stunning sunset.

The even more amazing thing was that we had another showstopper of a sunset the next night!

November and still on pasture!

It was 2012 when we brought Highland Cattle to the farm. We only had 3 at first, but as we had calves Hubby’s focus was adding new areas for them to graze and browse. Now here it is November and we still have some areas we can turn them out in, and it is exciting to not be feeding hay yet and to know the farm is able to support them better. Countless hours of work went into this fencing, and I’m happy for him to have achieved this goal! Nobody can work harder then him, anyone who knows him would agree!

This is what we laughingly call “Artisan Compost Grown Squash”! It was all volunteer and there were at least 100 of them on the hill of compost! It is feeding both us and our pigs very well this time of year! Now that we had a frost and harvested them all, Hubby went in an scooped off the whole compost pile and moved and turned it. Now the spot where the compost was is a wonderful fertile, cleaned up spot for the garlic that will go in this weekend! We did this last  year and it worked great! I am trying soft neck garlic this year in addition to the hard neck we always plant. I hear it is milder but stores better so we would likely use up the hard neck first and then move on to the soft neck.

A benefit of having a ridiculous amount of Squash is that we have an seemingly endless supply of yummy roasted Squash seeds. We did get a few pumpkins and will cook up those seeds but these Squash seeds are just as good!

The chickens too, are eating well with all the garden leftovers as I processed the last of the garden produce.

Loving the Fall goodies.

This is a new addition. Hubby built a cold smoker but this is a hot smoker. We picked it up online for $50 and it will be great for learning on, and for taking care of some of the pork we set aside for a hot smoker. We have a pork belly, and loads of ribs, It will be fun to try a new adventure, and maybe next time we will do some of our own smoking instead of having the butcher do it all. We sell meat so legally it has to be processed at the butcher, but we could take our cuts home in the future to smoke ourselves.

This is the beginning of a Wine Cap Mushroom garden. The inoculated pegs go into the dirt and then get covered with wood chips. The mushroom spawn will eventually cover the whole bed under the chips. Not sure if we will see our first mushrooms in the Summer or maybe not until Fall. This is a new type of mushroom for us to grow. We have been growing Shiitake mushrooms for years and love them. They take to drying very well, and at this point we have them year around, either fresh or dried.

This little girl is Messy Maggie. She forages and browses well, but seems to always prefer the toughest places to do this, and then she comes out covered in brush and burrs! Hoping Maggie will be finding a new home this week, we have someone thinking hard about her. She already came to look and loved her, messy and all. Fingers crossed, as we have to move her off the farm soon.

It’s exciting to me that we’ve had enough time on this journey that we are really seeing substantial strides towards growth and productivity both in us and on the farm. We’ve seen this in more pasture, increased cattle numbers, increased vegetable, fruit and mushroom production, and also I have increased my skills at many methods of food preservation. Each day we become a bit more sustaining here and each day we couldn’t be happier doing this.

Summer Food Processing, New Pigs, New Pastures, and Heat!

It is really feeling like Summer, with high temps and it’s accompanying elevated humidity. I am not a Summer person. While I love the produce Summer provides, and how pretty and lush it is outside, I am counting down till Fall begins. Summer is beautiful, hot, sticky, and filled with hard work. Once Fall and Winter hit, all of the bounty from the Summer stickiness becomes comfort food, and it warms the kitchen and fills the house with delicious smells while the wood stove warms us. To me, this comfort in Fall and Winter give Summer it’s worth.

This is a Purslane ferment with garlic and last year’s dried cayenne peppers. Purslane is a super healthy food, and I am lucky that not only does it grow nicely and wild here, but it kindly grows right in my garden! Since Purslane is so healthy, fermenting means that we can eat it all year instead of just Summer. The carrots were from our local farmer’s market. I have been itching to ferment, and my garden does not have too much to harvest yet. Next to the carrots is an Echinacea Tincture. It has leaves, buds and flowers of the Echinacea plant (Purple Coneflower). This is covered in vodka and will sit till Fall when I add some of the roots to it, once the plant has gone dormant. Once ready it will get strained and this tincture will hopefully help us when cold/flu season comes around. The last jar on the right is Spruce tips in sugar, for Spruce tip syrup. It has a ways to go as all the sugar has not melted yet.

I was ready to feed the carrot tops, from my farmer’s market carrots, to the chickens, when my friend said, “do you know you can eat them”, well NO was my answer. So, I looked up some recipes and made something delicious. Thank you friend.

Here it is, carrot top Pesto! I used carrot tops, basil, almonds (it’s what I had left from my granola business I just sold), garlic and olive oil. It’s absolutely delicious!

First harvest of fresh broccoli:)

These are collards, stacked for chopping. They went into the freezer for Winter.

My kitchen table, in the summer becomes my drying area. Here I am drying some red clover to add to what I have collected already, it is good in tea mixes. Also Mullein in the front right to be used for colds/coughs. Pineapple weed (wild Chamomile) in the back right will be wonderful in tea, and smells so much like pineapple! I pick off the flowers and dry them. In the picture I had not done this step yet. There is Yarrow in the back left, which has many uses which I am learning about now in my readings, and lastly a few Mullein flowers. I had quite a few Mullein plants around here last year, but I am not seeing as many this year. The yellow flowers, take a long time to harvest as only a few flower each day on the very tall stalk. They are often used for helping ear infections, by making a medicinal oil from them.

The grapes, despite our poor training for them, look like they are growing well. Last year our grape juice had so many varieties in it, it tasted nothing like store grape juice. It tasted like grown up grape juice, with a really nice flavor to it.

Piggies! We just got these adorable little girls. They are more friendly than their counterparts last year, and cute with their little spots!

This was a big morning at our farm. Hubby has worked so hard to get things fenced in the front of the farm where we have wonderful grazing land. It was a big job! This was their first day down there, and they couldn’t have been happier. They have a stream to water at, and lots of grass to eat, and tree branches to browse. We are pretty happy to, because they have just begun what we have wanted for a while, they are going to clean up the area. When they are done it will be beautiful. We know this, because they cleaned out our woods already, which are now more beautiful than ever! Highlands are amazing cattle.

Now I am off to give fresh cold water to our 45 younger chickens, our 11 two and three year old chickens, and to two cute little piggies. They will all feel refreshed from this, however, with 93% humidity, I will not. Shower time.

Garden Touring

One of the things I love about our farm is the layout of our gardens and livestock. It is similar to the old small family farm, which really was a goal of mine. These farms didn’t specialize in large scale livestock, instead they focused on raising a varied diet that could feed a family year around, as well as, hay to support their livestock in Wintertime, and to raise enough extra here and there to trade for things that were needed that weren’t raised on the farm. Our layout of the gardens, the pig area, the cattle paddock, the chicken coops, and the mushrooms is based around the home site. While we do have a small orchard area, we put in, that isn’t by the home site and of course many forage foods all over the farm, the rest is focused close by with the exception of the cattle grazing the hillsides on the farm.

Our “big” garden, it is not huge but is very productive. It currently has cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, swiss chard, lots of tomatoes, and peppers, plus onions and, what will be, a good supply of cucumbers.

This garden near the house has Elderberry at each end, Currants, a Goji, Lemon Balm, Sage, Spearmint, and some Rhubarb that is just outside the edge of the photo.

These are our grapes. There are a variety, including champagne, table, seedless, and a few others. Next year training the grapes properly will bump up on the triage list.

My first Aronia bushes. Starting small scale. Aronia’s are said to pack a higher antioxidant punch than blueberries and even the acai berry. Someone let me harvest theirs last year and I made Aronia syrup. Hopefully we will get berries this year on these new bushes.

This garden already had a nice violet patch so I left that and added lavender, 3 small rose bushes and in the front 3 chamomile plants (in cages so the chickens won’t dig them up).

Our Raspberry garden. Yes it needs clearing out, there are old canes to pull. It’s on the agenda this weekend. Also on the agenda is picking some of the young raspberry leaves for tea this Winter.

This is our blueberry bed. It’s a bit of an experiment, we have been amended the soil to be the appropriate ph for them, but blueberries in our zone are new for me, I like to start small and learn about things before I try a larger amount of plants.

This is our mini high tunnel. In the Wintertime it has plastic on it and grows Spinach year round, although slowly during the coldest months. It sits on top of a hay bale wall all the way around. This makes the tunnel tall enough for me to walk in for planting and harvesting. In the Spring the plastic comes off and here it has lettuce, some overgrown Spinach that got pulled shortly after this photo and some beets that just went in, as well as some lettuce that is providing us more salad than we can keep up with so far.

Our neighbor shared some of his rhubarb plants with us, and so this is a newly planted area.

This year we moved our garlic to a new bed up the hill behind the grapes, and near to the compost pile, squash garden and melon garden.

 

Potato growing in buckets. The buckets are food grade, and it helps to prevent potato beetles, as they can not climb up the smooth sides of the buckets.

Seems funny to weed a compost pile but since we have so much growing on them, I thought why not? The front left of the photo shows a nice potato plant. All volunteers and all appreciated.

Mushroom area. These logs are pre-inoculated for next year. I am hoping to sell these logs next year to backyarders who might want logs that quickly produce after purchasing, rather than plugging their own and waiting a year. Hoping these will sell well on a pre-order basis next year, it will also be a good way to get people out here to see what else we are selling.

We are excited now for a big move for the cattle! Hubby has now expanded the grazing areas to the front of the farm where we have a stream and great valley land, it was a vision of his for a long time, and now the fence lines are ready!

It will be a very special moment seeing them wander down to the valley together for the first time.

Here is a well deserved, homemade Kombucha, toast to our 2017 gardens, may they be productive and successful!

When loading and unloading doesn’t go as planned…

on grass

Hubby came in the night before loading up and said, he’d run them through the chute, all was smooth, all gates looked good and so we went to bed thinking things would go close to as planned.

The next morning our helpful neighbor came in his truck hauling his older trailer and we were ready. The 2 steers were separated and ready to send through the chute and into the waiting trailer. As he encouraged the first one and then started to close the gate behind it, which should in turn gently force him, by the nature of the set up, into the narrowing chute and onto the truck. As the gate closed this steer literally jumped straight up and over the 5 plus foot fence. This was something we had not run into yet. Greenhorns. There is no reason to know why he did that and others hadn’t but it may be that the gate was closed at a speed that was just more than he could emotionally handle and he went for flight and thankfully not fight. He knocked a board down and so Hubby nailed it in with special nails so it would be in tighter. We repeated the procedure and that animal did it again, except this time he busted the top two boards. Hubby put up an oak board this time and raised it higher and with that and a bit of good luck the animal did as he was supposed to and walked right into the trailer to get the hay that was waiting for him. Now the gate was locked in the front of the trailer and we successfully loaded the second one into the second compartment, and with great relief, drove in the truck behind the our farmer friend who was hauling our feisty animals.

As we rode there, in the car, and thought the hard part was over, we discussed that morning’s loading and what might have created the problems, and how we can change things next time either in the way we move the animals, the materials we’ve used, or our physical set up. We got to the locker, which is a short ride from home, and waited while someone unloaded their unruly pigs. I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me that we could have the same problem, I assumed it was going to go as smoothly as last year. Well, you know the thing about assumptions. We offloaded the first one and then we quickly realized the second one now had the run of the trailer and was not going to make this easy. The last thing we wanted was more tussle as we do all we can to move the animals calmly and not overly upset or stress them, but after enough trying I asked, can’t we put him down in the trailer? The reply was for another $20 bucks, which at that moment seemed cheap, so within in a minute he was down.

We will get better at this, we will keep learning, but we also will be greenhorns for quite a while yet.

As the blood rolled out of the rusted holes, in the bottom of the old trailer, and pooled in the lot, I was reminded that when you are working with animals, there is no being sure you’ve planned for everything.

Names and Stories

DSC_0718

This is Jack and his Mama, Shadow. Shadow, and Jack (and Jacks sister, Jill) came to us together. They were our first cattle. The was no way to resist calling him Jack, since his sister was already named Jill! Jack was a funny guy, who liked to kick up his heels at the most unexpected time. Good thing that when you have cattle with horns you are expecting the unexpected all the time!

runaway

This is Runaway. He came to us with his Mama Caramel about a year after we got our first Cattle. His name is Runaway for well, obvious reasons! Little Runaway always found a way to be on the other side of the fence! He had a beautiful reddish coat and managed to continue to nurse till his last day, leaving him with a bit more fat on him than Jack. Runaway gave us quite a scare when he knocked his horn off over a year ago. I am a nurse and personally never saw so much frank red blood. It was one of our green horn experiences that when we got through it we realized that we had another challenge under our belt that resulted in success. This always feels good, of course then there are always new challenges that come up that we aren’t sure how to handle either, till it happens!

I can not say how many people have said about out animals, “oh you can’t name them”, explaining that then it will be too hard to take them to the dinner table. I’m not sure why not naming them makes anything easier,  perhaps people feel that if I don’t name them then I will have less connection making it more comfortable for me to process them? I don’t want to be more comfortable. I want to know the animals, and have a connection. We want to feel what we are doing, completely, and we do.

runaway and jack

This is Jack and Runaway, they have names and stories.

I do not wish to forget them or their names. This is the morning that they went into the processor. They were our very first beef to process. I wouldn’t say it was a hard decision, that day, to process them, because that very hard decision had been made long ago, but it was deeply felt, knowing we were going to end the lives of these beautiful large creatures. We are beyond grateful, to them, for the food they put on our table, and the meat we sell retail from our freezer will help pay for the exorbitant costs of purchasing and licensing our freezer, insuring our meat business, and getting our LLC formed. This is the beginning of our farm business.

Every time we process animals we know why we are doing it and we feel good that we gave them a peaceful and safe life with good food to eat. We also feel good, literally knowing our meat, and how and where it was raised. We are meat eaters and it feels profoundly good to know that we’ve taken responsibility for providing for ourselves. Not everyone who wants to do this has the opportunity to, and we are so very grateful we can do this.

Here is our beef.

hanging beef

The two steers hanging in the foreground are ours. The butcher kindly took the time to let me come in and see them hanging, to learn a bit more about what we are doing. He shared thoughts with me, and he has been doing this for 40 odd years, so it was helpful. It was startling to see the other room of cows that had the grain fed beef. Wow, what a difference. They were completely white with fat as compared to the “red” cows you see up above. He thought they looked just right for grass fed, which we enjoyed hearing. We picked it up about 3 weeks later and happened to have company the next night because it was basically Deer Camp 2015 here this year, with lots of people in and out and even some out of town guests. We cooked 6 different cuts between the steaks, burgers and a slow cooked roast. We had concerns since it was our first time. Were our grasses good enough? Did they get enough to eat? Would they be too lean? All of our worries dissolved away when we shared our beef sampling meal together. Everything tasted wonderful. Nothing was dry, all cuts were full of flavor and we couldn’t have been happier with our product. We had our first beef sale yesterday, and it felt great knowing that we were providing them with delicious meat!

We have learned and grown so much since we started this 3 years ago, (and of course we have so much more to learn), but I couldn’t possibly be more pleased with our progress. I knew this growth would be an incremental process and in looking back on this blog I am reminded of some of the many steps we took. We started with 3 cows, and the next year we added 12 chicks, and 2 hogs, then another cow, a bull and a young bull. The next year we had 3 hogs, 9 cattle and 24 chicks. This year we had no hogs, because we were processing our first 2 beef (no more freezer space). We had 58 chicks this year and processed 50 of them, we also sold our first calf this year. Additionally we have learned so many new things…hubby has built three chicken coops, installed an automatic waterer, added miles of fencing for the cattle, and kept us warm with ample firewood. We learned about new mushrooms to find, how to tap many different types of trees, doubled our garden space and I even learned to get over my canning disaster of 1985. The pantry is loaded with canned and dried foods, I have learned to ferment successfully and learned how to blanch veggies for the freezer without turning them to mush. We buy very little at the store anymore, what with chicken, beef, eggs, a large vegetable garden, apples, pears, berries, grapes and rhubarb we only lack for dairy and I do barter for goat milk when I can get out to the goat farm. We have learned to barter all kinds of things, and it always is a win-win for all involved. Sorry to quote a T-shirt but Life is Good!

I wonder what I will be looking back on a year from now?