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, gardening, homemade, homesteading, sauerkraut

Making Sauerkraut Simple Deliciousness

IMG_3473There are few foods more polarizing than sauerkraut.  Some people love it and some people hate it.  It is no different here on the homestead.  One year we had an abundance of cabbage, and wanted to preserve it.  When the subject of making our own kraut arose it was met with mixed emotions.  I believe the word “yuck” was used.  We had picked up a nice 5 gal crock at a yard sale so we had the perfect vessel.  So we took our abundance of cabbage and went to work. IMG_0260

We were immediately amazed by the list of  ingredients, cabbage and kosher salt, that was it.  We started by taking our cabbages (5 pounds) and removed the outer leaves, we then washed any dirt from the head. img_3650

We quartered the heads and removed the stem, setting it aside.  Next we shredded the cabbage by cutting thinly with a sharp knife.

 

 

After the cabbage is shredded we placed 1/3 of in the crock and sprinkled 1 tbs of salt over it, and then mashed it with a big wood dowel (which, to be honest, was the cut off end of a closet rod). img_3654.jpg

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We mashed until we didn’t hear and more crunching, we then did the same with the other thirds.  We also add in the stems, which make a tasty snack.  Once the cabbage was salted and mashed we covered it with a clean dish towel and let it sit over night.  The next day we looked to see how much water had been drawn from the cabbage,  we were looking for enough water to cover all the cabbage.img_3662

We wanted to have at least 3″ of water over the cabbage.  If there is not enough water you can make your own brine by combining 1 tbs of salt with 1 qt of water.  When you have enough brine covering the cabbage, you simply take a plate and put it over the cabbage being careful not to trap any air under the plate. Then add a weight to hold it down. Our favorite method for this is a sterilized mason jar full of water. Finally, skim any stray cabbage from the surface.img_3663

We cover the crock with the dish towel, place in a cool location, and wait for the magic to happen. img_3659

The magic is fermentation. Sauerkraut is a fermented food and wonderful for your gut.  We check on our kraut every week and skim any mold that forms on the surface of the water.  There will be an interesting aroma that rises from the crock and you may be accused of flatulence if you are standing near it.  After a month or so we taste the kraut to see if it is tangy enough, if not we wait another week. IMG_3269

When the kraut flavor is to our liking, we remove it from the crock, and since it has been such a long wait we have no choice but to cook up our favorite kielbasa and try it out. img_3708

This is when our “yuck” was turned into a “wow”.  Any extra kraut is canned (process 20 min/qts) and saved for another day.IMG_3473

Home made sauerkraut is totally different from what you get in a store.  It is fresh, mild, and the perfect compliment to a homegrown meal.  It is not often that you find a simple recipe that works so perfectly.  Home made sauerkraut is two simple ingredients and some help from mother nature.  Making home made sauerkraut is exactly what homesteading is about, getting back to basics.

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!

gardening, Home Brewing, homemade, homesteading

The Best Father’s Day Gift Ever, Hops!!

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Many years ago on Father’s day, I received one very special gift.  It was a gift that would keep on giving.  No it wasn’t a membership in the “jelly of the month club”, it was a small Columbia hop plant.  I had brewed beer for years and always fantasized about growing my own hops.  I say that it was the gift that kept on giving because hops are perennial and come back every year.  I began to do some research and soon found out that hops can grow more than 20′ tall in a year. I would definitely need to build a hop trellis, and I also had to pick a location where they could grow year after year.  Hops are also deadly to dogs and cats, so I needed to keep them away from our pets.  I constructed a trellis from landscaping timbers and secured it to the ground with guide wires.  The wires would also serve as the place where the hops could climb.  I prepared the soil with peat moss and composted manure and planted my hops. IMG_5781

I was amazed at how fast the vine grew, sometimes more than a foot a day.  It curled its way up the wire and reached the top of my 16′ trellis quickly.IMG_6100

The vine then began to branch out and formed the beginnings of hop cones.  We stripped the leaves from the bottom few feet of the vine to prevent mold growth.  As the cones formed, I began to contemplate all of the delicious beer I would be brewing.IMG_6772

When the cones are fully formed, they will be full of lupulin inside.  It is a sticky yellow substance.  As I checked for ripeness, I smelled that familiar aroma.  Hops are ready to be picked when they sound like tissue paper being crushed.  We picked our hops and dried them on a screen, turning them twice a day. IMG_3139

After a few days we packed them in vacuum bags and put them in the freezer for future use.  Harvesting hops is a joyous occasion and it is customary to drink a beer when harvesting.  Hops have become a fun addition to the homestead and because they do not require replanting each year, they cost us almost no money to grow, just like our apple trees and vineyard.  We usually brew beer in the winter and adding our own hops to a recipe gives us a wonderful sense of satisfaction. Picking up a handful of your own hops and sniffing them makes you feel like a master brewer for a day.  Growing these hops will always remind me of that Father’s day, and I hope that bine(what the hop vine is called) and memory lasts as long as I do. So if you are a dad, drop a hint. If you have a dad, you now have a gift idea.  And when you brew your first batch of beer be sure to send one my way.

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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.