backyard chickens, chickens, farming, homesteading, pigs

Adventures in Homesteading, a not-so-country girl’s perspective

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Often when we blog, it’s a joint effort, we both share our thoughts collectively. But, in this particular blog, I am going to give you the perspective of some of the adventures in homesteading from a girl who in no way, shape or form, grew up country or as a farm girl. In fact, I am a product of suburbia. I grew up in a nice house with a neatly manicured lawn on a tree-lined street, everything you might envision a suburb to be.

Fast-forward almost 27 years and here I am, on a small homestead helping to grow and raise our own food. I use the word “help” because I am definitely not the brains of the operation, I can’t even keep a house plant alive. However, I can blanch, freeze, preserve, can and cook just about anything you can imagine, often with rave reviews. Any good employer would tell you that the work team is only as good as its weakest link. And, until last week, I really felt like a pretty weak link. Then I had one of those “adventures in homesteading”.

If you follow us regularly, you know that here on our homestead we raise chickens and pigs. I have certainly experienced the occasional “chicken in the garden”, and anyone who knows me, knows I absolutely hate birds. My way of corralling them is usually with a gentle push from a plastic garden rake and if I have to, and only if I have to, I have been known to use oven mitts or my husband’s welding gloves to pick up a chicken and relocate it to where it belongs. (Just envision Ace Ventura in “When Nature Calls” returning that disgusting bat to its cave.) But, last week’s adventure was way beyond an escapee chicken.IMG_0301

I was pulling in the driveway after a long day, (these things always happen when you are maxed out!), talking to my husband on the phone when I said to him, “Oh my gosh, there is a bear in the yard!”. Now this is not really an unusual occurrence because we have seen bears on many occasions in our yard and on trail cameras not far from our home. But on second look, I quickly realized that it was not a black bear but our almost 300 lb black pig, Olive (named so because of her resemblance to a black olive as a piglet) in the yard, out of her pen! Then suddenly, her co- conspirators, “Pinky and Spot”, came to greet me at the car. Now what? Remember I told you that I was speaking to my husband, the brains of this homestead, on the phone? He was on his way home from work, but still nearly an hour away and instructed me to go get some food to try and lure them back into the pen.

So, time to dig deep. I am certainly not afraid of the pigs. They are sweet, loving, smart animals. But all three at nearly 300 lbs scared me a little because I am no match for a pig that size. If one them leaned on my legs, I would be knocked over in a second. Here is the ironic part, and you just can’t make this stuff up, all three were scheduled to go to the butcher the following morning. Somehow, I feel like they must have known and decided to escape.

Back to the luring. I quickly ran to get the food, and of course, as things happen, I needed to open a new feed bag. I opened the first one I saw and filled about half of a 5 lb bucket, ran back to the front yard and fortunately, we do sell a bit of what we grow, and the rascals, I mean pigs, found a pile of ornamental corn that we had for sale. Ok, this is good, they are all in one place.

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We live on a pretty quiet street that a lot of people walk, run and bike on. A lovely couple passed by as the pigs were annihilating the ornamental corn, and just like it was perfectly normal to see 1000 lbs of pigs in someone’s front yard, they commented on how beautiful they are. I tried my best to smile and thanked them, but you can only imagine what was going through my mind. Back to the wrangling. I grabbed some of the corn and put it in the feed bucket. I made a “trail of corn cobs” towards the pig pen. At one point, “Pinky” desperately wanted the corn in the bucket and she went whole head in. I finally lured Pinky into the pen, and knowing their eating habits, I poured out the contents of the bucket and the other two slowly followed.

Keep in mind, my husband is still on the phone, I am sure feeling helpless and laughing quietly at the same time. (I don’t frequently use foul language, but I needed to wash my mouth out with soap later that night.) He instructed me to try and find how the pigs got out. I surveyed the fence but could not find anything on first glance. After my 45 minute adventure to get them back in, there was no way in you-know-what, that I was leaving them un-attended until the brains got home. So I watched, and waited until….

Pinky bolted, and I mean bolted, for a lower part of the fence. I truly had no idea that pigs could run that fast. (not a country girl, remember?) Fortunately, I followed her and got there first. She lead me right to where they got under the fence. I was able to hold the fence down with my foot and when she realized she was not going to win, she went and laid down for a nap, which I also needed. This was about the time that my better-late-than-never husband arrived. The first thing he said when he saw the food pile, “you gave them chicken food!” We laughed and at the same time, I was exhausted from yet another “adventure in homesteading”.

When I lay my head down every night, I often survey my day and I always hope that I accomplished something. On this particular day, I went to sleep pretty proud of myself for being able to get those pigs back in their pen on my own. I still don’t consider myself a farm or country girl, and I am not ashamed to admit that I paint my nails and get my hair done every month. But on this day, I definitely graduated to a “Homestead Momma”. And oddly, I smiled a bit knowing that not only did I have another “adventure in homesteading”, but I was able to share it with those pigs who were off to freezer camp the next morning. Thank you, girls.

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cooking, farming, gardening, garlic, homemade, homesteading, how to make garlic powder

Make Your Own Garlic Powder

Years ago we were gifted several heads of delicious garlic by our dear friend.  She was even kind enough to give us lots of tips on growing it.img_4270

Those few heads have now become over 100 heads per year.  Besides selling garlic we were looking for a use for all of our extra heads. IMG_0091

We hate to waste anything, so we researched a bit and came up with the simplest method we could to make garlic powder.  Like most things we do here, making garlic powder is a simple, yet time consuming task.  I would dare say that our ancestors would definitely not have time for twitter, instagram, or candy crush. Their lives were filled with shelling, drying, smoking, and a litany of other tasks.  Life was simply about living, not watching other people live, we have quickly discovered.

We started out making our garlic powder by taking cloves and slicing them into 1/8″ slices.  This is the time consuming part, like many other tasks it is much more pleasant with a glass of wine.  We sat sipping, slicing, and chatting and before you knew it, we were done.  We laid the slices out on a dehydrator rack, but you could also dry them on a screen in the sun. img_4173

Next we placed the racks of garlic into the dehydrator at 135 degrees.  We let them dehydrate overnight and the next morning we had nice dry garlic nuggets. And trust us, we kept all of the vampires away that night!

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The next step was almost as easy.  We took our dehydrated garlic and placed it into a spice grinder.  img_4179

After several bursts in the grinder we knew we were on the right track.  We had made rough garlic powder.img_4180

We then sifted it through a fine mesh strainer.  We would return the pieces that were too large to the grinder.img_4182

What we were left with was beautiful delicious homemade garlic powder.  It was probably the first garlic powder we ever tasted that didn’t have any pesticides or herbicides in it. And just like anything else we make from our own hands, it just tastes better.img_4183

Of course it went directly into a Ball Jar for safe keeping.

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We are always happy to have home grown ingredients to cook with, and garlic is in so many of our meals.  We learned a few things while making garlic powder.  For example,  it takes a lot of garlic to make just a small amount of garlic powder.  It took ten heads to make what you see in this pint jar, so we will never look at those big jars in the store the same.  We also learned that a good slicing buddy and a good bottle of wine make the task seem a lot less like work, and while you are slicing garlic you can’t check your FB status or respond to emails.  The only thing you can do is talk , and that is probably even more valuable than the garlic in the jar.

backyard chickens, cooking, farming, homemade, homesteading, raising turkeys, turkeys

Raising Your Own Thanksgiving Dinner

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When we decided to raise our own turkeys it seemed like something we should have been doing already.  Thoughts of a huge Thanksgiving dinner complete with our own bird ran through our minds.  We had several years of knowledge with other types of poultry,  so we dove right in.  Once we started our research, we found that we would need to order our turkeys fairly early and that a local farm store would be a better option than mail order.  Mail order required a 6 bird minimum and shipping was very expensive.  Because room is at a premium on our homestead we opted for the farm store, their price per bird was less, and they only had a 4 bird minimum, perfect for our needs. We also chose broad breasted whites, due to the fact that they had the best feed conversion (2:1), and grew the quickest.  Now that the birds were ordered, we jumped in with both feet.  Chickens can spread disease to turkeys, so they would need to be kept separate from our chickens.  We understand that there are varying theories on this, but since it was our first experience, we opted for the separation method. We would need to build a separate coop and run.  We settled on an 8×8 coop to give the birds plenty of inside room. And, as we are sure any homesteader will agree, it could also offer us possible future animal or storage space. A 20×20 run with 3′ fencing was also constructed.  We covered the building of the coop in a previous blog, so if you are interested check it out. IMG_3157

When we picked the birds up from the feed store, they peeped the whole 30 minute ride home in the car unless music was playing.  Once home, we settled them into the brooder in the garage we normally use for chickens.  The brooder had a heat lamp to keep them warm and cozy.  They also loved food.

It wasn’t long before we learned our first lesson about turkeys,  they can fly.  They also liked to be outside the brooder.

You know you are a homesteader when you come into your garage and find turkeys scratching, pecking, and pooping in the middle of the floor.  Moments like these always make us smile and remind us that we are not the ones in control.  After several days of the turkeys going rogue , we knew it was time to be moved out to their coop. IMG_3233

They were so happy with all the new space, but most of all they loved the roost.  We also kept a heat lamp in the coop until they had all of their feathers.  Once they were in the coop for a week we started letting them into the run.

At first they were timid, but they soon found their favorite spots to scratch and lay.  As they grew a bit more, we learned more turkey lessons, how they like to roost outside and a 3′ fence is not high enough to keep them in.  At dusk the toms would fly up and roost on the tallest point they could find just outside the fence.  Every night we would have to pick them up and put them inside.  This became more and more difficult as they pushed over 20 lbs.  On occasion they would all decide to fly over the fence and forage in the lawn, they never went far and just like when they escaped in the garage, it made us smile. Walking in the yard and finding a small flock of white turkeys enjoying their life and gobbling is something we became accustomed to.  After 4 months it was time for the turkeys to go to freezer camp. img_4057

We had processed chickens before, so we were confident we could handle the job.  Dispatching a 23 lb turkey is a 2 man job, you will also need a much bigger scalding pot than the one you use for chickens, so plan accordingly.  Lesson learned. The butchering went well and was much easier than we imagined.  The turkeys dressed out at 23 lbs each. img_4058

We used shrink bags and froze 3 turkeys for future use.  This also required a bigger pot than we were used to. Again, lesson learned.

We decided to cook one right away as we had never had a fresh turkey in our lives.  The beautiful bird was brined and placed in the smoker, it was a tight fit but we made it work. img_4159

We also were able to smoke it over apple wood , that we had saved from pruning our apple trees.  After 8 hours of smoking our turkey was done. img_1417

We were amazed by the juiciness, and how different the texture of the meat was compared to ones we had bought from the store.  Because this first bird came out so well, we are confident that this year’s Thanksgiving bird will be amazing.  When we place it on the table surrounded by our family, it will be the fulfillment of a dream that is American as apple pie, and another reminder that learning on the homestead should never stop.  We will never be connected to the meal on our plate more than this Thanksgiving.  And when someone asks us to pass the turkey, we will know exactly what we are feeding our family, and that our food was raised happy and healthy right on our own small, but mighty, Homestead.

canning, farming, gardening, garlic, glass gem corn, growing corn, homesteading, kale, peas

Homestead Harvesting, When the Real Work Begins

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As summer begins to wind down and the warm days of August begin to get shorter, we are blessed with the fruits of our hard labor. Plans made in February have now come to fruition. If we are lucky, large bags of produce begin to come in from the garden.  In some years we have failed crops, which have turned into lessons.  This time of year is a busy time and it is easy to see why our forefathers would have a party or festival after harvest time ends.  A few times of year will test your resolve as much as harvest season, that is why it is important to not only have a plan, but to posses the skills needed to make the most of your harvest.  Another consideration is space for your freshly grown food.  Early on we would often run out of freezer space and/or mason jars.  This is why it is important to think about the harvest early as you would when planning your garden. img_4011

Over the years we have learned how much food we really needed for the winter, we found it best to package our food so that we know how many meals are in each freezer bag.  Too many years we were down to only beans by February. There is one of those lessons learned!

 

 

Early on in the summer, kale, spinach and lettuce begin to come into the house.  We blanch and freeze the kale and spinach (see our previous blog on freezing kale).  We try to keep it in meal sized bags because it can be hard to break apart once frozen.  Sometimes we freeze it in ice cube trays in order to make smaller servings, each cube is perfect for an omelette in the morning.

 

 

Later, onions and garlic are harvested they are laid in the sun for a day or two, then hung in a cool place to cure.  It is important to have good airflow so an oscillating fan on a low speed can really help.  This year we braided the onions which not only helped them dry but made a beautiful display in our kitchen.

 

Next up are the squash and cucumbers.  These guys come in by the bucket load.  They can overwhelm you quickly.  We make lots of pickles and can them with a hot water bath canner.  They are very easy to make.  The squash becomes bread, dinners, and this year we pre-breaded and froze some.  Even with all of these uses we can not use up what we grow.  We came up with a great idea to build a small farm stand when our boys were little.

 

It encouraged them to help in the garden, and taught them a little bit about money.  As they got older and had jobs we took over the stand and use it as a means to offset our ever growing feed and seed costs.  It is fun to design the chalkboard that lists the prices.  And our neighbors are always happy when it is full.

 

In mid August, the tomatoes will start to ripen and it is time to put your nose to the grindstone.  Skinning, seeding, and canning every night can test even the best marriage. We know that there are food mills and products out there to aid in the process, but we find that hand skinning and seeding works best for us and has the highest yield. Plus, getting so up close and personal with your food just makes you appreciate it a little more.

Wave after wave of beautiful fruit will have you seeing tomatoes in your sleep, but you will be happy in December when you pop open a fresh jar from your own garden. A glass of wine while working makes the task seem less like chore, and if your are smart you buy your wife’s favorite vintage.  We can the tomatoes using a water bath canner as well.  If you are getting into homesteading this will be one of the first harvest tools you will need. You will never look at a can of tomatoes in the store the same again.

 

As the tomatoes slow down the peppers will speed up these are easily processed.  You can freeze smaller hot peppers whole.  We like to slice the bell peppers before freezing to save space. We also pickle some of the hot ones for sandwiches.  Along with peppers we harvest corn which we blanch on the cob and then cut off and freeze to save space.

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It is important to freeze in a thin layer on wax paper and then put it in a freezer bag.  If you don’t  you will have one big corn cube.

 

Throughout the summer and fall there are many other vegetables that get harvested such as peas, pumpkins, turnips, beets, beans, carrots and hops.

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Sometimes it seems like the harvest never ends and It can be overwhelming.  The real key is to put something up every night.  When your kitchen table is full of produce you need to attack it the way you attack a dirty room.  Start in one corner and work your way around.  Harvest time can seem glamorous and who doesn’t love to post their harvest pictures on instagram or facebook.  Never forget that these pictures are just a snapshot of hours of hard work and planning.  So the next time you bring in a bag of tomatoes and say “honey we have to can tomatoes tonight” make sure you stopped for that bottle of Chardonnay first.  Happy harvesting.

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.