Friday, November 29, 2013

Reflections of a Maine Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving. It's a act, it's a praise and it's a day with pie. In our family it's a day with a pie per person (or more). And, I love Thanksgiving. A holiday about nothing but food, fellowship and reflection. No gifts, no muddled meanings, it is what your family makes it but with turkey! As I have grown older I realize how rare and special our family's dynamic is. We are close. Sometimes too close, but nevertheless I am grateful for it. Yesterday, we gathered around the table and said no fancy words and had no fancy "table scapes" or place cards. We sat, took a group photo, blessed the food and ate. Four generations of us.

We ate the usual fare of turkey with sides but I did put my own little 'homestead' spin on some of it! The turkey was from a friend that raised it on her family's mini farm and I helped them butcher last week. Our pumpkin pies were from my own home canned pumpkin and the mince meat pie from my husband's deer I made with my grandfather. The rest was made by my mother and grandmother's hands. It was small this year, just nine of us, but I like it that way. It was quiet and relaxed.

Mr. Tom

My mom and me and Mr. Tom

Can I cook a bird or what?

Now, I can look forward to my little boy's birthday and Christmas. Our house is on a roll with the foundation walls poured, soon to be finished off and capped to begin above grade construction. More on that soon!

How was your Thanksgiving?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Check Out Our Feature On American Family Now!

I was so flattered when my friend Naomi wanted to feature us on her blog with an interview. I really admire her family and their mission in building an off grid home and homestead, homeschool their children and heart for Jesus. So check out her blog and the post!

Click here!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Farming With Small Children (video!)

When I first started really entering into this homesteading journey I had one small child but he was old enough to stay with me and being only him I could easily keep and eye on him while I did chores or rooted around in the garden. Then number two came along and I inwardly panicked. What was I going to do? How was I going to get basic chores done let alone keep adding to the barnyard? Let's face it, kids are a huge time/attention suck. Some days just taking a pee break is precarious in this house. So how do I get chores done twice a day, every day?

First of all I will say that my kids come first. Coffee comes second. Then comes chores in the morning. I don't kill myself (at present time) to do chores at the crack of dawn. Heck, I don't get out of bed until at least 7:00. Puzzle Boy always is up before me but he plays quietly(ish) for about a half hour until I wake up enough to get out of bed. I am not a morning person, can you tell? So, after we have all had our morning sustenance, I then do chores. Some mornings I am leaving first thing to run errands or pick up my friends baby to watch him, etc. In this case I would load the kids up in the car first and then do chores while they sit safely buckled up in my preheating car. Other mornings I will put Mini on my back and just take them with me or put them in separate contained places of safety while I run out to do the bare minimum. A lot of times the later is the case and I will just save the bigger more involved chores for when they are napping or supervised with someone who is not me. Like my mom. Or the dog. Just kidding.

Set yourself up for success! Honestly, when you are farming with small children there need to be continual reality checks. Do you really have time to milk three cows? Or, would just two or three goats be more manageable? 100 chickens? Geesh, that's a lot of poop everyday! Think realistically. Start small and know your own limits about what you can handle without outside help. Currently my weekday chores take less than 10 minutes twice a day. How is that you ask with a horse, a laying flock and a meat chick flock? I set it up for success!

My horse lives outside, not in a stall and he poops outside. The most his stall needs is a sweeping of the dirt he drags in every couple weeks. Time saved: 30 minutes of poop scooping. Throwing him his hay and giving a quick check over for ailments takes about two minutes.

The laying flock and rooster need to be fed once a day and the eggs collected. I collect eggs in the morning and feed at night. I clean the laying area every other day or as needed. They take about 3-5 minutes to care for.

The meat birds, while temporary are in my current schedule and take about the same time as the laying hens. They also get cleaned every other day and this seems to work well right now. * I will be doing an update on them soon.

On the weekend when Montana Man is home I will do what big projects need to be done while he watches the kids or we work together as a family like we did this weekend while we made a larger pen for the meat chicks. I had Mini in the Ergo and PB sat on a hay bale and safely watched us from there. Really, I do like having them tag along when MM and I are doing a project because not only does it show them farm skills, it shows them mommy and daddy working together (which we do very well!). Life skills all around!

In the spring we will be adjusting to a new schedule and ways of getting things done as things pick up in the growing season. With this I need to plan carefully and stick to that plan. I have just sent my deposit for two Nigerian Dwarf goats, a milking doe and a maiden yearling doe. I will be adding milking to my morning chores! But, again, I chose an animal that requires smaller increments of time to care for. I will only need about 20 minutes to milk total including sanitation steps and milk prep. I will be milking only my lovely Scarlett next spring, but the next year I will be milking both. Organization will be my friend.

Also next spring, the greenhouse will be full of seedlings to tend and cold weather veggies. New raised gardens beds will need to be made... next year will be a busy one. And, I will probably need to enlist help from a sitter to get some of these things done. For now though, we manage. Farming with kids can be fun, rewarding and enriching for both child and parent. Just remember to know your limits and theirs, have a plan and work together as a unit.

This video was one I did for a lady in LA that approached my about being in a reality show. Nothing ever came of that and I have forgotten I even made this! But, now I see it's true purpose... to share how I got stuff done this summer.

Update: Meat Birds

Update time! We finally got that stall organized and outfitted for the meat chicks. We used pallets to section off one side off it...

We used pallets because, well, that's what we had! It didn't require much of any construction other than nailing them to the stall walls to keep them steady. The middle one I can remove for cleaning and it also turns into a partition while I clean to keep them from taking off.

Getting big aren't they? After some trial and error and a sick chick that spent the night in my bathroom because she got squashed, I decided to feed them with more structure. Free choice was causing them to grow too fast so I feed them twice a day and let them run out in between feedings. The result is very lively and alert birds that don't lay around the feed dispenser all day. Yes, they are growing more slowly because of this but, I decided it was worth it in the long run because it's a more kind way to raise them. It won't be effecting my bottom line price per pound amount but it does push butchering time back about 2-3 weeks. We're looking at the first week of December right now as a rough estimate for butcher time.

Something I have learned when I switched to using shavings instead of straw: put the feeder/waterer up on a block of wood about 2-3 inches high. This keeps it from getting clogged with shavings the chicks like to scratch around. Ideally I would hang these but I don't have a good way of doing that at present time. In the official chicken coop we'll build at the house we will have a hanging set up.

Speaking of the house...

Footing forms are going up today! We have the inspection on Wednesday and then we are free to pour the concrete. Our ICF blocks should also be here Wednesday or Thursday this week and we will likely have the foundation walls up next week sometime. We are already getting snow showers here so we need to get this hole filled and covered up!

Til next time!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Meat Chicks

See, I told you I was going to get meat chicks this fall. And, I ordered 15 of them (plus a free rare breed, more on that in a bit!) just before the cut off for the season until January! Hatcheries do not ship during holiday seasons for obvious reasons... chicks need to be in your hands within 24 hours of hatching. Mine I tracked and they left Minnesota around 7:00 pm Monday and were in my post office by 11:20 am Tuesday. I didn't get the call as soon as they came in (bad phone!) but I picked them up before closing at 4:30 pm. Everyone was healthy and well and driving the post office staff up a wall with hungry peeps. Puzzle Boy was so excited and could barely wait to get the little fuzz balls home! We stopped off at TSC to grab some Save-a-Chick probiotic and smaller feed and water attachments since all I have is the big gallon sized feeders. I have to say I looked at these little attachments and then looked at the bottles that go with them (but bought separately, why?) and thought a mason jar could probably screw right in those. I've got those! And, it worked. Smarty pants over here.

So! I got the chicks and the kids in the house which is tricky if you don't make multiple trips. After I got Mini Me settled and occupied I set up my indoor brooder and prepped the water. Chicks are not born knowing how to find water. I mean, were you? Jeez, give 'um a break! So don't just dump your chicks in the brooder (aka a cardboard box) and wish them luck. Very gently (they just got flown across the country, have sympathy), pick up each chick and dip the tip of it's beak in the water. This one dunk teaches them how to drink and where water is. Cool right? This would be a total pain if you ordered 100 chicks but for 16 it took all of one minute.

After they have mastered drinking let them practice that for a few minutes before you introduce food. Sprinkle the chick starter feed on the papers for them to peck at and then you can put the feeder in. Let's talk about feed for a minute. I am raising these birds on certified organic feed from day one. This means although I am not a certified organic farmer I technically am producing organic chicken that could be certified. The feed I am buying is produced only 2 states over in Vermont. Score. Yes, it's more expensive then the feed store special that is full of antibiotics and pesticides, but really? Why would you want that crap? Spend the money, you'll save it in doctors bills when you don't get cancer and can still fight off infections. You are what you eat!

I have now moved the chicks to the barn stall and the set up while a little hobbled together seems to work fairly well for the moment. I have turned on it's side my unfinished TV stand and hung the brooding lamp on a nail. Then I have it covered with an old ripped screen (just a small hole) with a piece of cardboard over one half to help keep the heat in but not suffocate them. Then I weighted the covering down with paint can (for lack of a better way) to keep the cat out of there. So far so good.

I ordered all females because they tend to be more tender and tasty in the end result, roosters can cause some off flavors if not castrated (and who has time for that!). In about 6-8 weeks they should be at slaughter size as Cornish Crosses are the franken-bird that is bred to grow like it's on roids. I am hoping for them to finish out at around 6-8 pounds. Based on the reviews I read on the breed, this is entirely realistic. While this is ideal for a quick end of the year meat production it's like buying hybrid seeds every year. There is no way to perpetuate the flock, they are a one time deal. I will be researching dual purpose breeds to hopefully develop a breeding flock that will serve as both meat and egg producers. A girl can dream anyway!

I will update weekly to share how fast these little buggers grow. Day 2 and some of them already have sprouted feathers! Crazy!

Oh yeah! The rare breed chick that was free with my order...

What the heck. They sent me a Modern Black Breasted Red Game chick. What do I even do with this?! I thought, hey, it's free maybe it will be something super cool. Not cool! I don't mean to sound ungrateful and mean but, I do not plan on cock fighting anytime soon (what this bird was bred for) so I find it as a foreseeable problem. Darn cute as a chick though!

Til next time!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Final (maybe) Canning Totals for 2013

I say maybe because I do have the temptation of make some soups and canning them just for fun and convenience. Yes, I really did just say that. Let's move on shall we?!

So this year was my first year canning more than jam or dilly beans and also my first time using a pressure canner! Let me assure all you who are scared of the pressure canner, it's not going to blow up, if you can read at a 5th grade level you will be able to follow the directions to safely can those low acid foods that are oh so delicious and nutritious. So relax! Get one.

Top shelf: piccalilli, pumpkin, pickled beets.

What is on my shelves right now is not exactly what I have canned this year. Some of it I have used to bartered for items or just given as gifts to friends just because or eaten because, let's face it, some stuff is just too good to wait for! This will give you a pretty go idea though.

Piccalilli (a green tomato relish): 9- half pints, 1- twelve ounce, 5- quarts
Pumpkin: 8- pints
Beets, pickles: 6- twenty-four ounce
Beets, plain: 7- pints, 2- quarts
Cucumber, pickles: 3- pints, 6- quarts
Dilly Beans (pickled green beans): 4- pints
Tomatoes, plain: 4-pints
Salsa: a lot of all sizes!
Carrots: 6 pints
Cayenne Pepper Sauce: 1- half pint (in use), 4- quarter pints
Banana Peppers, pickled: 1- half pint, 3- quarter pints
Jalapeno Peppers, pickles: 1- quarter pint
Chicken Stock: 7- quarts
Applesauce: 3- pints, 7- quarts
Blackberry Jelly: 7- half pints
Wild Grape Jelly: 10- half pints

Middle shelf: cucumber pickles, chicken stock, plain beets and applesauce.

No, it's not as much as some put up but honestly I think it's pretty impressive for the fact that most of it I bartered for as produce with my eggs. The rest either came from the greenhouse or local farms/farm stands.

Last shelf: carrots, plain beets, tomatoes, cucumber pickles and dilly beans, salsa, banana peppers, hot sauce, etc.

A few tips I have for storage:

1. Take the rings off. Not only will this help in showing you a spoiled jar sooner but it will also allow you to stack some jars easier. Ideally you wouldn't need to stack but we don't all have the ideal shelving that looks like this. Although, someday I'd like to! Maybe two jars deep though. Three deep starts getting annoying.

2. Store in a dark place with a fairly constant temperature. These are in the basement and I will store them in my basement in the new house as well. Light and temperature fluctuations will effect your nutrition values of the food. Sorry to squash your dreams of the sunlight sparkling on your pretty jars. The bare light bulb in your basement or pantry will have to do.

3. Check them over every so often. Is anything leaking or bulging? If it is then the contents need to be destroyed. By destroyed I mean either sealed up like hazardous material and thrown away or burned. Sound like over kill? It won't if you find your dog suffering from poisoning because he ate it in the garbage. Please take it seriously.

Well, that's pretty much it. Have a good weekend everyone!

Til next time.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Pressure Canning Pumpkin (On My Anniversary)

I have to say that of all the veggies out there, pumpkin has to be one of my most beloved. It tells me it's my favorite season, makes one of my favorite pies and my very favorite certain latte. Yup, I love pumpkin. But, have you noticed the stuff in the can doesn't taste so good unless it is doctored up quite a bit (i.e. in a pie)? I have, ever since last year when I made my own pumpkin puree (and froze it). What a difference! This year due to my canning bug I wanted to can it. Pureed. But you can't! It's a safety thing. So I had to decide, freezer or canned? I chose canned, obviously, and I canned it reluctantly cubed. Although, honestly this really makes no difference because I can just drain it and mash it when I need it for something like bread or pie. No biggie.

So! This particular canned item started with 3 small/medium Small Sugar heirloom pumpkins from a farm a few towns over that we have been going to ever since our wedding in 2010. This is where we got the pumpkins to decorate our October wedding with, we made the small ones into vases and filled them with sunflowers and blue hydrangeas for centerpieces. They were beautiful. *sigh* Anyway, I am getting on a tangent... 'cause yesterday was our anniversary. Yes, I canned on my anniversary.

Let's break it down shall we?

I peeled, split and scooped out the seeds. Then...

... I split the halves in half and cut into strips then chunks, about 1/2"-1" dice.

Filled up a large pot and then covered with water (as best you can because pumpkin floats!). Bring to a boil and cook for about 2 minutes. You do not want to cook it through at this stage, the canner will do that for you.

Fill your jars and cover with cooking liquid leaving 1/2 and inch of head space (make sure to de-bubble). Wipe rims and place lids and rings on, tighten ONLY finger tight.

As you can see I have a double pressure canner which can hold about 18 pints or 9 quarts. Personally I do not like my jars to touch so I don't put more than 7 jars in one layer. And, also, as a side note this canner was made in 1942 and is being lent to me by my great-great aunt. No really. People in my family live a long time! My great-great-grandmother was still alive when my brother was little before I was born, therefore we have once had a true FIVE generation family! Currently we have four generations. Sorry that's another tangent. My bad.

Anywho! This canner has preserved probably thousands of jars of food. I cleaned it, put in a new seal and it was good as new. I will need to replace the gauge and petcock at some point but for now I just over shoot my pressure by and pound or two and call it good.

Put the canner over high heat and with your vents open wait for the steam to flow "freely". When it is set your timer for 10 minutes to exhaust all the air. When time is up close your vents (or whatever your canner's manual says) and bring up to pressure.

Ten pounds please. Set your timer for 55 minutes for pints, 90 minutes for quarts. Pints I feel are a smart choice for most home cooks unless you have a large family. One pint will equal about one can of commercial pumpkin (I assume) once drained and mashed.

After time is up I take the canner off the stove and let it rest on my wooden cutting board. Once it comes down in pressure to zero I open the vent (petcock) all the way and let it set a few minutes. Then I open the lid but don't lift it off, I just leave it resting on top for about 30 minutes. After that I take the jars out and set them on a towel in a draft free place to cool (like the above). Also, pictured is the book I have used this year for my instructions. It is a classic but it's the updated edition so everything is up to date (although it still gives instructions for using bail jars so it must be a die hard author). Bail jars are NOT considered safe anymore but those who grew up using them like my grandmother and mother-in-law still use them for acid foods like pickles. I see the appeal, I do. But, I prefer to use them for storing beans and rice dry.

I promise I will do a post this weekend on my canning totals! I know right now that I have filled over 100 jars with deliciousness. Wow, right? Not bad for my first year of serious canning and not a very good garden! Next year I plan to up that by about another 3-400. Wish me luck!

Til next time!

Monday, September 23, 2013

All Things Fall

Fall brings many different emotions to different people. Some morn the warmth and strong sun of summer, others can't wait to see summer go and welcome the colors! Here in Maine we have beautiful leaves, fields of orange pumpkins and crisp days. Fall is my favorite season hands down. This is what our fall is going to look like this year:

Finish canning. I started canning in August and have canned mostly foods from local farms and friends gardens who have traded for eggs. When I have finished I will share my list and totals and how I store them. Just so you know, I love canning. It's hard work but it's instant gratification as soon as you line up those beautiful jars and step back to see your food insurance policy.

Start on Christmas presents for friends and family. This is something I struggle with. I hate gift giving. Not because I am a crab but because of the message it can send. I feel like if I don't give them something perfect and meaningful that the recipient will feel I cheated them therefore I must not care much. Untrue, but it's so much pressure! Once I had kids I decided I need to really explore Christmas and how our family wants to celebrate not just follow my extended family's deep seated traditions. It's a touchy subject, but my first baby step that I am starting this year is that I will only be giving gifts made with my hands. I might need to do a separate post on this! To be continued...

Buy and raise meat chickens. Lord and money willing, I would like to buy 25 meat chicks and raise completely organic for slaughter. We have reduced or grocery bills to around $75 a month and that has consisted of a lot of sale chicken of all kinds and not organic. And, it bothers me. So, I did some research (of course!) and crunched some numbers and we should be able to raise these 25 birds for about $1/pound of finished chicken. Then I will have a freezer full of chicken for the winter and I can cross that of the list until spring when we do it again!

Homeschooling. This is our first "official" year homeschooling though I have been teaching Puzzle Boy the basics as he has grown. He knows his colors, can count beyond 20, knows his letters by sight, has improved his speech and is learning sight words. This year is kindergarten and I prefer to use this year to experiment with different types of learning and have fun! We school 3 days a week and are part of a co-op that meets all day Fridays. Our basic goals for the year are to start reading, start simple math, work on social skills (like stranger smarts, how to ask for help without mommy, working it out with friends), learn our states, homestead skills and so much more! Homeschooling is unlimited!

Build that house! Oh gosh, don't get me started! But, we should have walls and a roof by November. Perhaps moving in around Thanksgiving? Remember it won't be finished! Just needs to have hot water, hold heat and be functional.

Split wood. After discussing it with my parents, they have agreed to let me borrow their wood cook stove that came from my great-grandfather's home. I am so excited! Not only will this save me on propane cost for my cooking but it will also save a little on heating fuel as well. Cook stoves are not famous for heating but they do throw enough to help a small well insulated house. Plus I am nostalgic and like the idea of waking up to start a fire and set my percolator on the top to make me amazing coffee. It's been a dream for years.

Enjoy Maine. Yes, I live here. But, I rarely just drive out to the ocean or visit farms or go for a hike and enjoy my home state. Sad, huh? Fall is my favorite season to enjoy my state because it is just so beautiful! So we will be picking apples, go explore a trail, visit the lighthouses and enjoy the best weather all year!

Fall can be busy and slip right by. Winter is so long here, preparing for it is necessary not only physically (like firewood and buttoning up the house) but also mentally. I need a winter game plan! Fall gives me time to ease into winter and decide what I want those short and gray days to look like.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Do You Have Grungy Cabinets?

Let's just assume you do because, let's face it, no one washes and de-greases their cabinets daily. If you have cherry cabinets you probably have no idea just how nasty they are. If you have white like this household does then you look at the filth daily. Most days I just ignore with firmness. Yesterday morning I cleaned them with a surprising snowball effect... it started with the microwave buttons. You know, the buttons on the microwave, they seem to be magnetic to all kitchen grime. Well, for some reason this grime was bothering me at 7:00 am and it needed to be DEALT with. I scrubbed with the dish rag. Hahahahaha! Yeah, right. It's grease embedded with 478 finger touches worth of who-knows-what. But I want you to hitch up your britches 'cause I am about to blow your mind into thrifty cleanliness.

Ta da! I really can't explain how this so quickly was produced in my brain as the answer, but there it is. Dish soap (preferably the blue one *wink wink*) and baking soda. Mix together about 3 tablespoons of baking soda to 1 tablespoon dish soap and thin with water until a just pour-able paste forms like this:

Then it's just as complicated as finger painting. Smear this on the grimiest spots and let it sit for about 5 minutes (see first picture) and then scrub lightly with a barely damp rag and scrub the rest of the cabinet. After it has come clean, wipe several times with a warm wet rag and use a toothpick to get any paste out of the tiny corners if it doesn't wipe out. Dry with a dry towel to avoid water spots.

This will dry slightly as it sits so little bits of paste will end up all over the floor and counter as you scrub. They wipe up no problem, scrub the floor and counter as you do. The results of cabinets that look like you just repainted will make this worth it! See how this can snowball? I just tried to make it feel purposeful and called it my fall kitchen cleaning.

Reasons I love this breakthrough of brilliance:




Makes you get over your tactile issues with finger painting.

Your welcome. Til next time!