farming, Homestead Rescue, homesteading, pigs

Homesteading Lessons When To Call in The Experts

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The truth is you can never be prepared for, or know, everything.  After years of learning through both study and trial and error, I am often reminded of how little I know.  We all like to think of ourselves as an apex predator, as someone who can get the job done.  We fix our own equipment, and we work tirelessly to keep our homesteads running.  But every once in a while its time to call in an expert.  It is so hard to know when to call in the Calvary, in fact most of us probably push it too far.  This week we not only called in an expert, we learned a few valuable lessons about the difference between real farmers and what we do.  It all started several weeks ago when one of our pigs developed what we thought to be an abscess on its belly. img_3678

As we usually do, we researched treatments and causes.  We asked friends with more experience, but still were unsure of what we were dealing with.  We toyed with the idea of lancing it ourselves and as it grew, so did our stress level. We did not have the knowledge of a pig farmer, who probably would have culled this pig as it was 100lbs or so and could have been of some use.  This was the moment that we realized that it was time to call in the expert.  We are fortunate where we live to still have a real country vet.  A small but important side note: It also helps that his daughter and our son will soon be married.  Doc Caucci from Orson Corners Veterinary clinic took time out on a 90 degree Saturday to come down and take a look at our pig named “Olive”, with the mystery swelling, Yes, we know, we should not name our food, but somehow it brings us peace when the “appointment” day comes. img_3775

When doc arrived he was ready for business,  we had only seen him work on our cat before, and in all of our time spent together at BBQ’s and family functions I had never seen this side of him.  He gathered his tools as a master carpenter would and went to work.  First it became very apparent that Olive, our most skittish pig of course, would need to be sedated.  Doc jumped into the pen like a veteran boxer and went to work.  After several attempts, and with all hands on deck, we were able to corner Olive with some plywood boards.  Luke, our younger son, was instrumental in this process.  After she was sedated, we removed her from the pen and placed her on a clean tarp.  Again having a strong 17 year old son was a blessing.  As Doc plied his trade, the truth was revealed.  It was not an abscess, but in fact, a hernia.  It was at this point that I was very happy I didn’t try and lance it by myself.  Doc, wearing his blue vet’s coveralls, went to work.  We placed olive on her back in a chute that we constructed.

Luke and I held her legs as Doc went to work.  The confident ease with which Doc worked was astounding.  It made me think of a great guitar player, how their fluid movements make it look so easy, until you pick up the guitar and realize it isn’t.  Within minutes Olive’s muscle layer and skin were stitched up.  As we stood looking down at her I was again thankful for both Doc and my decision not to take matters into my own hands.

We then placed Olive in isolation in her own house with fresh hay to recover.  It struck me how drained we all were after this experience, except doc, who disinfected his boots and looked ready for another round.  I guess when you flip cow stomachs and deliver calves, a little hernia surgery is no big deal, but for us it sure seemed like a miracle.  After several days she was back with the other pigs.  I’m not sure she even remembers what happened.  Homesteading  blesses us with challenges, and teaches us solutions.  It never is boring or just the same old thing over and over.  So many people ask us if we think it’s worth it, or if it’s fair to the animals, but when was the last time you gave your pork chop surgery, or misted her tongue with refreshing water as she recovered from anesthesia?  We care about these animals and give them a great life full of pets and treats. I am certain they are happier than any factory farmed pigs.  We are also not naive, we know that there is no way everyone can live this way, but we are thankful that we can. The decision to call in an expert is never easy, and when we need to it doesn’t make us weak or any less, it makes us human.

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cooking, farming, gardening, Herbs

Dehydrating Herbs Pays Dividends All Year Long

If you are anything like us, you are always looking for ways to add more growing space.  A few years ago we found a great way to add growing space and beautify our outdoor living space at the same time.  We started using containers on our deck and in our pool area.  We can grow almost anything in containers, but our favorites are herbs. Growing herbs in containers allows us to have fresh herbs for cooking right outside our back door.

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It is amazing how productive even a small pot of herbs can be.  It is important to have good soil and water often.  Every night we clip a few leaves for dinner.  It was not long before we realized that these little marvels produced more than we needed.  It was time to learn a new skill, preserving herbs.  After some research and weighing the pros and cons of each, we settled on dehydration.  This method was quick, simple, and easy.  We already owned a dehydrator so the investment was zero, and this method used much less space than hanging them to dry.

We waited for our basil and oregano plants to have an abundance of leaves, which would allow us to harvest and still leave enough leaves for the plant to flourish.  We then harvested the largest leaves of basil with a scissor.  We also used scissors to snip the longest stems and leaves of the oregano, sort of like giving it a haircut.

We then placed the leaves on the trays of our dehydrator in a single layer keeping the leaves from touching to allow for good air circulation.

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The oregano is a bit unruly

 

We then set the dehydrator to 105 degrees Fahrenheit, and let the dehydrate for 24 hours.  Our house smelled faintly like an Italian restaurant and we waited patiently for the results.  It is important to let the herbs fully dry or they will not keep, so this is a step that cannot be rushed.  The should feel kind of like tissue paper and fall apart easily when crushed.

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The dried herbs were then placed into a bowl and then crushed.  We removed the stems from the oregano before crushing.

img_3296 The last step was to put the herbs into a mason jar for safe keeping.

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Herbs preserved in this way will last for more than a year, and there is something about a mason jar full of anything that appeals to us.  Opening the jar in the middle of winter and inhaling that amazing aroma takes you back to warmer days and excites you about the upcoming spring, even if it is months away.

Preserving herbs in this manor was one of the easiest things we have ever done on the homestead.  We are able to dehydrate pesticide and herbicide free herbs every other week from just 6 pots on our deck.  We make so many big plans on the homestead, but sometimes it’s the littlest ones that pay the biggest dividends.

cooking, farming, gardening, homemade, homesteading, kale, recipes

Freezing Kale, The Test of a Marriage

Why would freezing kale for the winter be a test of a marriage? Let us explain….

We live in the Northeast and our winters can be very long, and for an anxious gardener, it can be tough mentally. So as soon as possible, we like to get our hands dirty and get our cold weather crops in the ground, those that can tolerate a cold spring and even a little frost, such as spinach, collards, broccoli, some lettuces and of course, kale.

We jumped on the kale bandwagon a few years ago. We were curious about this proclaimed “super food”. We already loved spinach and all the ways it can be used, so why not try kale? It was love at first bite. We use kale in many ways, sautéed with a little garlic and olive oil, raw in salads, creamed kale, used to stuff pork loin and venison roasts (see our recipe for Kale and Sausage Stuffed Venison), mixed in our morning eggs, the list goes on and on.

Back to the marriage thing. Kale is just one of the vegetables that grows in abundance and gives you more than you think one little plant could. So, on an early June day, the question came, “Do you have anything I can put all this kale in?” I was a little frightened, but I suggested one of our large coolers as we have used a big cooler in the past to clean kale. So happily my husband went about his business picking kale and not one, but two, coolers arrived on our back deck and were full to the top!

Uh-oh, now the work of preserving begins, and the test of our marriage. We have a very traditional marriage here on the homestead, and not because we think each other has a place, but because we both enjoy our responsibilities and do them well. He loves everything outdoors and she loves to cook, preserve food, and take care of the house. It just works. But, an overwhelming amount of kale can be stressful to anyone!

The first step is to fill the coolers (sink or large bowl, whatever your cleaning vessel is) with enough water so that the kale floats. Give the kale a little agitation with your hands and leave it alone for at least 10 minutes. What happens is that any dirt, which is heavier than the kale, will fall to the bottom of the cooler. This trick also works for lettuce, broccoli, etc.

After the dirt has settled, the cleaning and stripping process begins. Get yourself set up with three large bowls. One for the un-cleaned kale, one for the leaves and one for the stems. You will see later that nothing goes to waste on a homestead.

Grab the kale stem by where it was removed from the plant and slide your other hand down the stem. The leaves will come off easily. For some of the bigger leaves, there is a secondary thick stem-like vein that will run through the leaves that we also remove.

Because of the overwhelming amount in this kale harvest, we decided to process it in small batches. It helps with keeping one from going “kale blind”. Once your cleaned kale bowl is full, it’s time to move to the kitchen. We were lucky, it was a beautiful June day so all of the cleaning could be done outside.

On your stovetop, bring a large pot of water to a boil and on your counter have a large bowl of ice water, a slotted spoon (or our favorite tool for this job is a spider, which is used for frying) and a colander for straining excess water.

Once the water is boiling, drop about two large handfuls of kale in the water and push it down with your spoon to immerse. In about five seconds, yes only five, the kale will wilt and become the most stunning shade of green. That’s your cue to remove it with your slotted spoon or spider and put it immediately in the ice water. This method is called “shocking”, which stops the cooking process and keeps that beautiful green color.

Once ice cold, transfer the kale to the colander and our trick here is to weigh it down with a small, but mighty, cast iron pan to aid in removing any excess water as we are not trying to make kale ice cubes here. Additionally, once the excess water is strained in the colander, we also hand squeeze bunches of kale to remove any remaining water.

The kale is then transferred to a large cookie sheet lined with wax paper, placed in one layer. Put the cookie sheet in the freezer for about 30 minutes to just set the kale enough to put in a zip top freezer bag or vacuum sealer bag. The pre-freezing helps with not making that giant kale cube. Trust us on this one, that mistake has been made. Label your bag, put in your slightly frozen kale, and before sealing, press out any excess air to keep away that dreaded freezer burn. Whenever you need, just grab a bag out of your freezer and take out a handful.

Remember all of those stems……fellow homesteaders know, nothing ever goes to waste!

It’s that easy, just time consuming, and hopefully, once you have spent your entire day processing two large coolers full of kale, you will still be married, and love your spouse for all his or her hard work. I know we do, especially next winter when we are enjoying the fruits, or vegetables in this case, of our labor!

backyard chickens, carpentry, chickens, farming, homemade, homesteading, turkeys

Building a Turkey Coop

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So many times on the homestead projects are born from necessity.  When we want to plant a new crop, or raise a new animal, there is always an investment to make.  Sometimes its as simple as a trellis for beans, other times its an 8’x8′ turkey coop.  This project was born several months ago when we were at the feed store. There were chick order forms laying on the checkout counter.  We took a quick look and to our surprise they also offered turkey poults. (baby turkeys)

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We had been interested in trying to raise our own turkeys for the the holidays, but shipping was always an issue, so this was a golden opportunity for us.  We did some research after placing the order and found out that the turkeys would need a separate area because disease can be passed from chickens to turkeys.

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When we began designing our turkey’s coop,  we decided to make it a more generic structure that could also be used for other purposes, just in case the turkey rearing didn’t work out.  We also wanted it to fit our homestead and look good.  We designed it to match our chicken coop.

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We finally decided on an 8’x8′ structure, which would allow us to use it as storage in the off season, or maybe a small barn for a couple of sheep.  Since we chose the same roof design and materials as the chicken coop, our next stop was Porosky Lumber.  img_2978

My good friend Scott is a purveyor of both fine hardwood and beautiful rough cut hemlock.  He also makes beautiful cutting boards, wood art, and is one of the best conversationalists you will ever meet.

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Scott loaded us up with some of the most gorgeous 12″ boards and 3″ battens you have ever seen.  These will be used for the exterior of our coop.  It also has some natural rot resistance which was a bonus.

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We began by framing the floor from 2″x4″s and used some pressure treated for runners that would contact the ground and would also allow us to move the coop if necessary.  After squaring the frame up by measuring diagonally from corner to corner we added 3/4 inch cdx plywood for the floor.

We framed the walls adding openings for doors and windows.  After this we mocked up our rafters.

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We then cut all of our rafters and made the frame for the roof.  We installed the corner boards on the frame to stiffen the structure before we climbed onto the roof, which we covered in 1/2″ cdx plywood.  We also framed in the gable ends and added framing for vents on both sides.

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We then covered the structure with those beautiful 12″ boards

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Next we installed the soffits and capped the fascia, and installed the metal roofing. We also had an unexpected guest. (Take a look at the upper window/vent)

The next step was to cap and trim the windows, and install 1/2 inch hardware cloth into the windows and vents to keep out predators.  Finally, we installed the battens ripped them down to 2″ for aesthetic purposes.

The last thing to do was build the doors.  We used the same hemlock boards so that everything matched nicely.

img_3103We now had a great looking addition to the homestead.  This building is versatile, and is built with quality materials that should last for decades.  We can’t wait for our little turkeys to move in.  They say that “necessity is the mother of invention”, and that is certainly the case on the homestead.  Over and over we take on new projects that not only make us use our bodies, but also challenge our mind.  Innovation is still alive and well on the homestead, and every time we take on a new challenge, we are rewarded with a feeling of satisfaction that we can’t find on a screen.

cooking, farming, gardening, homemade, homesteading, recipes, salsa

Pork Empanadas with Primo and Mary’s Black Bean and Corn Salsa

As our fellow homesteaders are aware, the barter system is still alive and well. We have traded many things such as pickles, vegetables and honey for many other things, including the fertilized egg that gave us Mr. Wing (remember him?).

But, a new trade came about recently that was a little unconventional. Eggs and maple syrup for salsa. Yes, salsa. We have many of your basic pantry ingredients like flour, sugar, salt and spices, the usual suspects. We don’t buy or eat many pre-packaged foods, but this is the exception, and one we like to keep in the pantry. We have all heard the term, “if you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it”, and there are some very scary labels out there, but not this one! It is Primo and Mary’s All Natural Salsa (primoandmarys.com). We know, seems like a shameless plug, but we assure you, it is not, and you won’t regret it.

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So, back to the trade…we had an abundance of chicken eggs for sale as well as some maple syrup and an old high school friend contacted us, the owner and founder of Primo and Mary’s. She wanted to buy both eggs and syrup. Now, we have had her salsa before, and loved it, so we knew that we had to at least try to arrange a trade since her products are not readily available to us locally. So a meeting was made, and of all places, in our Church parking lot one Sunday morning after services. So our proposition was to trade the maple syrup and eggs for some salsa and in return we would also create a recipe using her product and share it with all of you.

Pork Empanadas with Primo and Mary’s Black Bean and Corn Salsa

Empanada Dough

1 ½ c flour

1/2 tsp salt

2 tbsp shortening (Crisco)

3/4 c ice water

Empanada Filling

2 tbsp olive oil

1/2 lb ground pork (feel free to substitute ground beef or venison)

1/2 lime, juiced

1/3 c Primo and Mary’s Black Bean and Corn Salsa

1/2 avocado, diced

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

1 egg white mixed with 1 tbsp cold water

To make the empanada “shells”, using a hand or stand mixer, combine the flour and salt, add the shortening and mix until the mixture looks like coarse sandy crumbs. With the mixer on, slowly add the water until the dough sticks together and cleans the side of the bowl. Gather in a ball, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

While the dough is resting, prepare the filling. In a cast iron pan, heat the olive oil on med high heat. Add the meat and cook until browned and no longer pink. Turn heat to low and add the salsa, avocado and cayenne pepper and the juice of the 1/2 lime. Stir to combine. Remove from heat.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Now the fun part! Grab about 1/4 of the dough and roll out to about 1/8th inch thickness on a well-floured board.  Using a 4” round cutter, or in our case a 4” round plastic container (homesteaders are great at improvising!) cut out the shells and set aside for filling. Gather the extra pieces and by hand, mix back in with the remaining dough.

Lay each shell out flat and in the center place about 2 tablespoons of the filling, we use our trusty 2 inch cookie dough scoop. Fold over the shell to create a half moon shape and using a floured fork, press the seam together to seal. Set on a greased baking sheet and repeat with the remaining filling and shells.

Mix together the egg white and water. Brush the tops of each empanada with the egg wash. Bake at 350 F for about 25 minutes or until the tops are golden brown. Serve with a side of the salsa for dipping and a black bean, corn and avocado salad dressed with a little lime juice and a sprinkle of cilantro. Enjoy!

There are lots of variations on the empanada, some are baked, some are fried, and they are all filled with an abundance of different ingredients. Use what you have in your pantry, and get yourself some of this amazing salsa!

We are blessed on the homestead with delicious fresh food, and bartering some of our surplus has become a great way to get more from our harvest than just the food itself.  Bartering allows you to make new connections and see old friends.  And it seems like every time we do it everyone leaves smiling.