cooking, farming, ham hock, ham shank, ham soup, homesteading

Sometimes Happiness Looks A Lot Like A Pig

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Sometimes things just happen for a reason.   Last fall we had our first set of pigs butchered.  Our first time raising pigs was very rewarding, and all the meat in the freezer was a great reward.  However, I was feeling a little blue without them on the homestead.  They gave me so much joy and without them around things were a little boring.  One day while looking at Facebook, I saw that my neighbor had a post that said there was a pig loose.  We live on the edge of a small village and a pig running around was a first for us.  My son, wife, and I went to investigate, and sure enough there was a spotted pig running around.  We tried to catch him, and soon realized that he belonged to another neighbor who erroneously thought he could keep a pig in a small dog kennel.  Finally we caught him, but he just kept escaping.  I knew that life for this pig was not going to be pleasant so I offered to buy him.  Luckily my offer was accepted, and  I carried the pig like a big baby back to my house.  We named him Houdini because he was an escape artist.  We found out later he was brought home in the trunk of a car. Because of it, Houdini was traumatized. We gave him hay and a heat lamp, but he was so unhappy.  He would just lay there and not move. So after some research, we came to the conclusion that he needed company.  We were able to acquire another pig, and when we brought her home Houdini perked right up .  We named her Dottie (Dorothy was Houdini’s assistant in real life) and after a few days they were inseparable.

I was so happy to have some buddies again.

They warmed up to us after a few more days and would even take apples from our hands.  Keeping pigs in winter was a whole new experience.  We insulated their house with hay and put a heater in their water.  We would find them in the morning buried under hay with just an ear sticking out.   They would often pull the heater out of their water so it had to be checked often.  They did not seem to mind the snow and spent a lot of time outside.

On the coldest days, they would lay right next to each other and just snort at me when I went by.  When the weather finally warmed, we opened the fence into the garden so they could till and fertilize for us.

They grew at a slightly slower rate than the pigs we raised in the summer.  In the end they wound up being about 20 lbs lighter with the same amount of feed.  Soon it was time to go to freezer camp.  I was sad to see them go, but it was much easier than the first set of pigs.  I also knew that more piglets were coming in a few months.  We chose a USDA butcher and ended up with 317 lbs of responsibly raised pork.

These pigs gave us the most amazing pork chops, but that is a story for another blog. img_0576

Again our freezer was full.

We have even been selling some of the pork to offset our costs.  I find the best experiences in life are never planned, and you need to recognize opportunity.  So the next time life throws you a hanging curve, knock it out of the park.  To me raising pigs is a home run every time.

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cooking, farming, gardening, homemade, homesteading, peas

Take a Step Back in Time and Grow Peas This Spring

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One of the first crops we plant every year on the homestead is peas.  They give us our first opportunity to really work in the soil.  They are also one of the first vegetables we harvest.  They are very easy to grow and preserve, so they are a great addition to any garden.  You can even plant peas again in late summer for a fall crop.  We start planting peas as soon as the soil can be worked.  We plant both bush and vine varieties,  we also plant sugar snap peas for stir fry and salads.  We start planting seeds by turning over the soil and then making a small 1/2″ deep trench.  We then place the seeds about 4″ apart in the trench.

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Finally, we cover the seeds with soil.  Some varieties require a support to grow on, and for those we construct a simple trellis system made from t-posts and some used garden fence.  Over the years we have used all kinds of different materials, but these are the simplest to install and seem to last the longest.  We simply put a t-post every 8 feet and then tie the fencing to the posts with wire.  The least expensive wire we have found is in the masonry department at our local lumber yard, it is used to tie re-bar together so it is strong enough to do the job and the price is right.  Sometimes we use wooden stakes for additional support.

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In 7-10 days you should see your seedlings begin to emerge.  It is so exciting to see new green in the garden. After a long winter those little green leaves can really lift your spirits.  They grow fairly rapidly and really enjoy the cool weather.

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Those little marvels will send out tendrils and climb up your trellis.  We keep the weeds at bay by using an extra heavy weed guard, but weeding by hand is also a snap.  As the days grow longer the peas will stretch for the sky .

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Eventually white flowers will form and it is from these flowers that your pods will emerge.  You can eat the pods when they are young or leave them on the plant to grow big round peas. We pick sugar snap peas when the pods are about 3″ long, but the best and most fun way to see if they are ready is to taste them.  Peas are perfect for a snack in the garden, and often more make it into our mouths than into the house.  Kids love to pick peas and eat them.  You can teach them quickly how to pick them without damaging the plant.  Some of my first garden memories are of picking peas and beans in my grandfather’s garden.  Even then, very few made it back in the house to grandma.

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We pick our peas when they are nice and round inside, again it takes a little trial and error to get the right size.  Once the peas are picked it is time to shell them.

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Sitting on the porch shelling peas truly brings you back to a simpler time.  We often shell them at the end of the day and have an adult beverage with great conversation.  The most wonderful part of shelling peas is that you cannot use your cell phone while doing it.  Two hands are required and after a short time you really get the hang of it.  A big bowl of pods does not yield a big bowl of peas, but they sure are worth the effort. We also feed the pods to our chickens and pigs so nothing goes to waste.  Unless you have grown them you have no idea how good a fresh pea is.  Frozen and canned peas are not even close.

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Preserving peas is a snap.  You just have to toss them into boiling water for about 30 seconds then shock them in ice water and freeze in a single layer.  Once they are frozen you can put them into a good quality freezer bag.  Every year we grow more and more peas aside from being a great side dish, they are a great addition to salads.  They can also be a healthy snack.  Growing anything in our garden has to be worth the effort and space we give it.  Peas take up little space because they grow vertically,  and because they grow quickly you can grow more than one crop a season.  The time spent shelling them is almost as valuable as the nourishment they give us.  Growing peas takes us back to a simpler time when people actually talked to each other.  And after growing them you will never look at that big bag in the grocery store the same same.  So grow some peas this year, and don’t forget to wave to your neighbor when they drive by.

farming, gardening, homesteading, how to grow potatoes

Planting Potatoes to Save Freezer Space

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Homesteading is all about food.  Being self-sufficient should just be called surviving because that what the first homesteaders were doing.  They were not trying to shrink their “carbon footprint”, or save “green space”, they were trying to harvest enough food to make it through the winter.  After winter was over, and if they made it, they started all over again.  We are trying to follow in their footsteps.  One of the things we noticed early on in our quest to grow our own food was that we had become very dependent on our freezer.  So we sought out crops that could be harvested, and stored without refrigeration.  One such crop is the simple potato.  It keeps well and fills your belly, so it is a wonderful homestead food.  We start our potato planting as soon as the soil can be worked, but there are a few things that need to take place first.  We choose varieties that we normally don’t buy at the store, like purple and red potatoes.  We also grow Yukon gold and German butterball.  We always choose certified seed potatoes, because they are disease free. img_2702.jpg

Potatoes are related to tomatoes so we are unwilling to risk both crops by saving our own seed.  The homesteaders did not have this luxury,  but we are not so immersed in the homestead life that we are willing to take that risk.  First, about a week and a half before planting,  we take the potatoes out of their bags, and put them in a warm sunny spot indoors.img_2701

This gets those eyes to start growing.  After a week we cut the potatoes into pieces containing two eyes per piece, and put them back into the sunny spot.img_2721

This allows us to get more out of our seed potatoes.  After two days the potatoes should form a callous over on the cut end.  This callous will keep the potato from rotting when planted.

To plant the potatoes we dig a ditch 8 inches deep, and place the potato pieces cut side down in the ditch. img_2770

We then pull 4 inches of dirt back over the potato pieces.  We do this so that when the potatoes are 12 inches tall, we can put the rest of the dirt in the ditch.  This will keep the newly growing potatoes under the soil.  If they make their way to the top and the sun is directly on them, they will turn green and be useless.  Often we have to add additional dirt to keep those pesky spuds below ground where they belong.  We wait until the tops of the plants die off before we harvest.  Harvesting potatoes is like Easter morning, but instead of looking for eggs you are looking for delicious tubers.  The potatoes we grow last us well into the winter.

We store them in a cool dark place in a potato sack.  We know they will not last all winter, so we make sure we use them up before they go bad, and are wasted.   Growing potatoes is so easy because the plants really don’t take much care.  Thy grow very dense vegetation that keeps the weeds down as well.  So if you are looking to save freezer space, potatoes are a must.  They were a staple for our ancestors, and are a valuable addition to any modern homestead.

 

We made a YouTube video covering the whole process

 

backyard chickens, cooking, duck eggs, ducks, farming, homemade, homesteading, raising ducks, recipes

Maple Bourbon Smoked Duck, what “farm to table” means to us

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The term “farm to table” is another one of those terms, in our opinion, that is way over used and frankly, not even used properly. If we were to define our way of homesteading, we would say that the term, “farm to table” applies. On our homestead, we have ducks and chickens. (Our ducks were introduced to you in an earlier blog, so look that up if you did not see it) In all farm or homesteading life, most of the animals serve a purpose, such as eggs from the hens and ducks as well as their meat.  Last fall, we hatched 14 ducklings and ended up with a total of 7 males and 7 females.

As in life and nature, too many boys are not a good thing! Frequent fights and domination can cause quite a ruckus in a flock of ducks. So the tough decision has to be made, it was time to thin the flock. We have a friend that already had a female duck that mentioned that they wanted to get another duck for a mate. So of course, we offered one of our boys and they gratefully took it off our hands. As for three other males, we carefully, and as respectfully as possible, butchered them. No other details necessary here. They went into the freezer for a later meal.

Easter was fast approaching and in thinking of what we had in the freezer for our Easter dinner, we remembered the ducks. One of our favorite ways to have any of our fish or meat is brined and smoked. We have yet to perfect our home-built smoker, so in the meantime we use one that is a part of our gas grill. The wood we use for smoking is apple wood, and yup, you guessed it, from our small orchard of apple trees.

Maple Bourbon Glazed Smoked Duck

1 duck, 2-3 lbs

Cracked black pepper

The Brine (also great for chicken and pork)

4 cups of cold water

¼ cup of kosher salt

¼ cup maple syrup

1 oz of bourbon

1 tsp cracked black pepper

The Glaze

¼ cup maple syrup

1 tbsp bourbon

Whisk together the brine ingredients until the salt is dissolved. Pour over the duck in a large bowl. If you don’t have enough brine to cover the duck, don’t panic, just add a little more water. We also use a trick here that we learned from making sauerkraut. Place a small plate over the duck in the brine and it helps to keep it immersed and to keep it from “floating”. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours.

About an hour before cooking, soak the apple wood chips in warm water.

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After 6 hours, remove the duck from the brine and rinse the duck inside and out thoroughly with cold water. Place the duck on the smoker rack, and season simply with a sprinkle of black pepper. (let the smoke do the seasoning for you!) Smoke the duck according to your smoker’s directions with the wood chips that you have been soaking. We smoke ours at about 225 degrees for 2 hours or until the internal temp reaches 165 degrees. (There are varying degrees of duck “doneness”, this is just our preference.)

After the first hour of smoking, mix the glaze ingredients. Brush the glaze over the duck, then brush again every 15 minutes. After the agonizing wait for your duck to be done, remove from the smoker and enjoy!

So there it is, the epitome of “farm to table”, or in our case, “homestead to table”. We strongly believe in treating our animals, which also become our food, with dignity and respect from their births all the way to nourishing our tired bodies from the homestead life. It’s not any easy life, but the rewards are countless. A meal in our house never goes by without thanking the animals for giving their lives for us, or thanking each other for the time spent caring for the animals, gardening, canning, freezing or preserving, and cooking the meal.

backyard chickens, chickens, farming, homesteading

The Reality of Life on the Homestead

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Homesteading shows on television give you a glimpse into the reality of life on the homestead.  There are trials and tribulations along the way and the don’t always work themselves out.  The reality of living this life style is that animals and plants must give their lives to allow us to live.  Nature can be cruel and everything does not go as planned all the time.  When our pigs go to the butcher we are thankful but a little sad. When we come out in the morning to do chores and a predator has taken one of our flock we are angry and sad. And when we have to cull an injured animal we are just plain sad.  It is not a lifestyle for the faint of heart. Things die and that’s the way it is. So last week when we had a chick born with what looked to be a birth defect we knew what the outcome could be.  Its leg was twisted and he couldn’t walk.  It flopped around and couldn’t stand at all. IMG_2585

We searched the internet for answers.  Chick leg problems are common, but this was not the typical problem.  We decided to put it in a separate incubator to stay warm while we made a plan.  This was a normal homestead situation, often you have to come up with a remedy to a problem that is unique.  Whether it is fitting plants into a garden or building that pasture fence in your special location, you have to make the decision because you are your own boss.  So we decided to set the chick up in the incubator with a towel on the bottom so it was soft and it wouldn’t hurt itself, and could also get footing if it tried to walk.  We gave it a very shallow water dish so it wouldn’t drown, and a bit of food. The poor thing would just flop all over the incubator.  Tracy decided it would need food and her motherly instincts took over.  She mixed some food with water and fed it with a medicine dropper.  She would hold it to make it comfortable and feed it several times a day.  Just like a newborn baby,  the chick would let us know when it was hungry or needed something. Things did not look good so we tried to splint the bad leg but that made it worse.  At one point, we even found the chick soaking wet and cold from falling in its water and used a hair dryer to warm it up and dry its feathers.  Every morning we would check on it, expecting the inevitable.  After a few days we looked into the incubator and noticed it was standing braced up against the wall.  We were so happy to see this progress.  The problem was as soon as it was away from the wall it would tumble over.  We kept up with the feeding and watering, we even named it little foot.  The next day we were holding it and noticed it was using the injured leg to push down.  We saw this as a great sign.  The chick was also eating and drinking so we became optimistic.  The next day it ran across the incubator and stood up on its own.  It was still wobbly, but was actually standing.  By the next day it was running around in its space and chirping. The chick wanted out.  We moved it to a small brooder and it seemed to be doing well.  It could hear the other chickens, and would call to them. So finally we put it with the other birds.

The other chicks were a little bigger, but it began nipping tails and pushing his way into the food.  We hope that the little one will continue to improve but we know that life is very fragile.  We love to see it running with the big boys and girls and can’t wait to see what a pretty bird it will become.  Life on the homestead or anywhere else is never guaranteed.  Living this life style brings that fact home to us time and again.  It makes us appreciate our life and it makes us  appreciate where our food comes from and the animals that provide it for us.  You can never take things for granted and it really makes us understand how delicate the original homesteader life was.  One bad crop or a sickness going through their animals could also spell death for the original homesteaders.  We learn so many lessons from our homestead life style and we even come out on top once in a while.  Little foot is a great reminder that sometimes prayers are answered, and there never is a good time to give up.