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!

Sharing some things I have seen…

While this poster likely may be more for the SHTF Prepper world, I like the list. The one thing we have not attempted is to save our own seed. This year maybe? Working to become self sufficient? Yes, this is an ongoing process, and relates to the very title of my Blog,” Incrementally Stepping Towards Homesteading…because each step forward is one step closer”.

take control

These last few years have taught us a lot and has brought us so many steps closer to this goal. Three years ago we had a small garden, and a few Cattle. Now we have sold a calf, processed two cattle, and currently have 7 on the ground here as well as two piglets. Our garden has grown and is exponentially more productive, and we have 14 laying hens now. We have increased our fruit on the farm each year, and have freezers full of our fruits, veggies, beef, chicken and apple cider we made last Fall. We have more than enough eggs for ourselves and now are licensed for retail sales here on the farm for eggs, beef, chicken and pork. I’ve learned about the health benefits of fermentation, and have enjoyed creating with this newly learned skill.  We are also learning to be better foragers, although I want to get so much better at it! My foraging adventures have taken me to become interested in natural medications that are easily made, such as teas for colds and congestion, and salves for irritated skin. I am only just learning about this and there is so much to learn! Interestingly, I am reading The Clan of the Cave Bear and my plant research parallels the book as young Ayla learns about medicinal plants from the medicine women. It is all so very interesting and I am so excited for the things we have learned and will learn.

ww2 poster

About being more self sufficient… This is an interesting World War II poster, my own Mama remembers about planting victory gardens. The result of the victory gardens was that more than 20 million gardens were planted, with 9-10 million tons of food being produced, unfortunately when the war was over this initiative was no longer promoted and there was a shift to relying on the developing grocery stores and commercially made foods, instead of ourselves.

I can not stop myself from inserting this Joel Salatin quote…

hstead collect

Ok, (shown below) this really is the last poster, it hits home for us because whatever we can provide ourselves with, translates to needing less money to live on, which ultimately translates to us continuing to step towards self reliance, it is a simple way to live and it is a very powerful feeling to know how well we can take care of ourselves.

like printing your own

So, now I will hop off my soapbox and tell what’s up on our farm…

spring cows

The cattle are thrilled to be out on fresh green grass. The weather has been great, apart from a few too hot days, well too hot for me, anyhow!

first asapargus

Asparagus are poking up!

a morel

It’s so far not been a good Morel year, we are hoping from more, but the window is short for these.

spruce tips

This is a first. I read about dried Spruce tips. They are said to be a helpful for sore throats and colds, it can be made into a tea. It can also be made into a syrup, but I ended up drying all of these. They looked like this once they were dried. (see below)

dried spruce tips

Dried Spruce tips.

dandelion salve

This is Dandelions infusing in Olive oil, the oil gets mixed with coconut oil and beeswax to make a salve for irritated skin or sore muscles, Dandelion is supposed to have pain relieving qualities. I have never tried anything like this!

beeswax

This beeswax is from the honey farm down the road. It smells lightly of honey.

breakfast ingredients

Breakfast the other day… Pheasant Back mushrooms, chives, garlic mustard, day lily, watercress and hosta all sauteed in our rendered pork fat, with our eggs. Everything from the farm!

morels, p.b's and watercress

Wild mushrooms and watercress, yum!

kvass and strawberry yogurt

After making a strawberry fruit Kvass, I took the strawberries, now a rather light pink shade as most of the coloring went to the Kvass, and blended them in with the yogurt to make a yogurt drink, this gave the strawberries two uses. It is May and I am now officially out of blueberries, strawberries, peaches, and  what is left is applesauce, and lots of rhubarb. I could make the applesauce more interesting by mixing it with some rhubarb for an apple rhubarb sauce, and I could use the rest of the frozen rhubarb to make some rhubarb jam. We have plenty of rhubarb coming up right now, so I need to get that frozen stuff used up! Made the first Rhubarb Crisp of the year last week. We were lucky enough that when MIL and FIL came over for Mother’s Day they brought, what turned out to be, our second Rhubarb Crisp of the the year and of the week!

family shoot out

Finally it was time to take a break from productivity for a bit of fun on the weekend with family.

Deer Camp 2015

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks, with friends here hunting, Thanksgiving and 2 different sets of visitors that happened to pop in to town at different times. We basically have had Deer Camp 2015 for the last week and a half. There were several days of no deer and then one of them did get one. It was almost the one that got away. They actually didn’t find it till the next day. Thankfully they did and it was my first time seeing someone skin a deer. I secretly wanted to take the knife and do it myself, as he was in a bit of a hurry and I actually see butchering as an art and would have enjoyed taking the time to do it it a bit more tenderly, either way the task was done, and he did go home with a deer in quarters. I am sure he had a lot more work to do that night when he got home though. We couldn’t honor the heart the way I would have wished to, because we are in a CWD zone and so you have to wait for the test results (not everyone does this but we would), and so therefore I wouldn’t feel ok eating the heart the day of the hunt:( The coyotes will have no misgivings about taking care of it though.

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In other news…

firewood

It’s fire wood time. Again.

honey ferments

Since the Winter is around the corner I’ve started some honey ferments. They are pretty and delicious. Our house seems to be too cold for them to ferment so they are really infusions. I am not much of a tea drinker but add a little pineapple honey to tea and suddenly it is tasting a lot better:) I learned that people used to store fruit in honey as a way to preserve fruit for Winter. I also have a garlic honey ferment going, people swear that the honey fermented garlic is good for colds. The fermentation process does not offer probiotics like most ferments, but garlic and honey are both great for the immune system so why not try it? So far, thankfully no colds yet!

I haven’t posted a dinner in a while, but it looked so delicious on the plate I had to do it!

pork veggie dinner

Locally raised pastured Red Wattle Pork, our brussels sprouts, our wild appleasauce, and our cabbage, fermented into Sauerkraut. I know I’ve had “too much of the Kool Aid” but I take a lot of pleasure in looking at my plate and thinking about when and where it came from, before I begin to eat.

Names and Stories

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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?