Sunday Homestead Update – Winter on the Homestead

Spring, Summer, and Fall are definitely very busy seasons on the homestead.  Spring means farm babies and getting the garden in, summer days are full of managing the garden and livestock, and fall days are spent hunting, butchering, harvesting, and putting up food for winter.  Winter is definitely the least busy of all the seasons, but it too has its important work.

For us winter means planning – gardens, breedings, goals, new projects, etc.  It is a time for cleaning, sorting, and organizing.  It also is our chance to get in a lot of mending, sewing, and other heritage arts.  It is basically the time we can get around to all the indoor things that don’t fit in the other seasons where we are outdoors most of the time.

Cleaning and Organizing

We have been going through closets, storage, cupboards, shelves and drawers tidying and organizing and purging.  It feels great to get rid of stuff we don’t need, and to know what we have, why we have it, and where it is.

Sewing

The girls and I have been doing a lot of mending and sewing.  I have been making several new skirts for the three of us.  I was particularly happy with this brown corduroy one that I made for Sunshine:

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Sunshine has been trying out different patterns for pin cushions:

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Little Miss has been helping me with the skirts, and also knitting some boot cuffs for a friend.

Fermenting

Three weeks ago we started our first kraut fermenting in the new 3-gallon crock we got for Christmas.  We used a new recipe, one that came with the crock.  It included red cabbage, onions, potatoes, marjoram, thyme, salt, and olive oil.  It can ferment up to 8 weeks, but you can try it out after 3 weeks.  So we took some out this week and tried it.  It was SO good.  And I don’t generally like sauerkraut, but I really like this recipe.  So yummy.  Now we can take it out of the crock as needed and let it continue to ferment as well.

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Goat Kid Prep

We got out the lambing, kidding kit and checked it, cleaned it, and restocked what needed restocking.  You can read about what we put in our kit by clicking here.

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Heidi is our first goat due and she is due February 14, which is about 3 weeks away.  We have been told that the tendons near the tail are the most accurate way to predict when a goat is getting ready to kid.  Heidi’s tendons have started relaxing just today and her udder is filling.  We are not sure if it is just the start of a three week process of those tendons relaxing, or if potentially she is going to go sooner.  Time will tell.  Once we learn these particular goats’ signs and symptoms it will be easier for us to each year.  We know our sheep, Fiona, very well because we have gone through two lambings with her and she did the same thing both times.

Incubation

We are beginning to prepare for an incubation.  We don’t have fertile eggs at this time because we don’t have a rooster, but we are going to incubate some Blue Laced Red Wyandotte eggs from a friend.  The plan is for them to hatch right at the same time that the chicks we ordered from the hatchery arrive so we can brood them all together.  We haven’t done an incubation in about 2 years, so we are pretty excited!  The eggs are coming from a lower altitude, and we have learned through experience that our high altitude definitely effects hatch rates, so it will be interesting to see how it goes.

Homemade Baby Food – So Simple

14 years ago, as I was cuddling my first baby, who was about 5 months old at the time, and visiting with a friend who also had her first baby in her arms we began discussing baby food.  At that time our diet still consisted mainly of things that come from a box or can because I didn’t know any better.  In my eyes, baby food obviously came out of a jar.  I was surprised to hear my friend talking about making her own baby food.  What?  Make your own baby food?  Doesn’t baby food come from a jar?

As I often do, I went into research mode.  I wanted to learn more about this.  As a new stay-at-home mom I was anxious to find anything that #1 kept me busy, #2 stimulated my brain by teaching me something I didn’t know, and #3 saved my family money since we were now surviving on one income.  Interestingly, this became a repeating state of being for me over the last 14 years, and thus we now have a full homestead where we raise our own livestock and grow our own food.  It all occurred mainly because of those same three points….but I digress.

I was excited to find that making your own baby food is not only easy, it is also much healthier for baby, AND it saves SOOOO much money over the jar version.  So I began making my own baby food with my first baby, and here I am 14 years later, still making it, with my 5th baby.

I like to make my baby food all in one day, and then not have to deal with it until my next major baby-food making day.  But it is also easy to make a little each day.  The basic premise for most foods is #1 cook the food in whatever way is appropriate for that food, #2 buzz the food up to a good consistency for the baby in a food processor or blender or both, #3 freeze the food in ice cube trays, then pop out the cubes and put them all into a labeled freezer bag, #4 thaw and/or heat and serve!  Pretty darn simple!

One of the great things about making your own baby food is that you have control of the consistency.  All baby food from jars is the same, very runny, barely any texture, consistency.  While that is good for a 6 month old that is just barely learning to eat, after a few weeks they are able to handle more and more consistency up to the point of being able to chew on soft table foods.  With jar food you can’t work them up in consistency as easily, whereas with homemade you can make it more or less chunky as you see fit.

This last week when I was making food for our little guy I made yams and butternut squash in the oven, then scraped them out of their skins and mashed them up just a little bit with a fork because Mr. Smiles is old enough to do a small amount of chewing on soft things.  I cook the peas, green beans, and spinach by steaming them.  I used the food processor on the green beans and they turn out quite chunky, but when he was littler I would add the cooking water to help make them smoother.  The peas always end up watery, so I usually mix them with something else.  I like to boil carrots, beets, apples, and pears separately and put them through the food processor one at a time with some cooking water if necessary as well to get them to a good consistency for his needs.

Meats can be a bit harder to get a good consistency.  We usually boil the meat and use the cooking water or some homemade stock to help smooth it out.  However, the best thing with meats is to mix them in with veggies.  The watery peas blended up with beef makes for a better consistency.  As do yams blended with any of the meats.  Mr Smiles LOVES ham with yams.

Once you get the hang of it you can start making all sorts of mixes and medleys.  I like to mix them together in the blender before I freeze them, but it is also possible to take out a couple cubes of different types of food and mix them when you thaw/reheat them.  There are some great baby food making books out there if you find yourself lacking in inspiration for what to mix together.

Once the baby gets older you can start using the food processor to get whatever you are eating to a consistency baby can eat.  Like if we are having a soup or stew I will put some in the food processor or blender and buzz it up to a consistency the baby can handle and then he can eat what we are all eating.  I usually try to buzz more than he needs and freeze a few cubes so that if later that week we are having something he can’t have I can thaw/reheat the cubes I made from that dinner.

As for traveling or eating away from home with homemade baby food – that is almost as easy as taking the jar food from the store.  I have some baby bowls with lids so I just put the cubes in there and throw it in the diaper bag.  Depending on where we are going and how long it will be until we eat they can thaw while in the bag, or I sometimes put them on the dash board when we are driving to let the heat from the car and/or the sun through the window thaw them out (veggies & fruit – not meat).  You can also reheat them wherever you are going.

Homemade baby food is so much more cost effective than store-bought.  You can buy produce on sale, or get it from your garden, and make the equivalent of many many jars of food for less than half the price.  Even if you buy the produce at full price you will be saving from the price of it store-bought in a jar.  And the nutritional value will be higher because the high temps they use to can the baby food decreases it’s nutritional value more than freezing your own homemade baby food.

I am so glad my friend brought up making my own baby food all those years ago!  It has saved us so much money through 5 babies, and been much better for them nutritionally and in its varied consistency.

Sunday Homestead Update

Snowed in…well more like drifted in!

All barn projects and plans came to a halt this week because we had to spend our project time digging ourselves out of a big snow drift.  After 18 inches of snow accumulated last week we had a full day and night of major wind, which caused a 5 foot high, by 20 feet long snow drift to form right down our driveway.  Then, of all crazy weather events, it stared to rain.  It NEVER rains here in January.  It rained for hours and hours, but it was cold, so it formed a nice ice crust on the already packed drift.  Mtn Man, Young Man, and two other men with shovels and a snow plow worked on digging out the drift for over two hours.  When they were done we had a way to get through the driveway, but it was a very narrow cut and had 5-7 ft high walls of snow on each side.  There was no way that the propane truck was going to be able to get through to bring us our propane for heating.

So they let it sit a few days in the warmer temperatures that we were getting (in the 30sF), and then it got snowed on again – about 4 inches, and then more melted again.  Finally, yesterday they were able to go back at it.  This time there was three of them and it took another couple hours with shovels and the plow.  They were able to make the cut much wider and clean up the whole area so the road is much better now.  They also did some digging and installed a snow break fence right along that area so that if we have this snow-and-then-wind weather pattern again we hopefully wont end up with another bad drift.

Soap Making Time

We haven’t made soap in SO long.  Way too long.  We were having to buy it at the store (gasp!) :-).  So it was time to finally get to it.

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So we have over 20 bars curing now.  They are a lavender scent blend  with lavender flowers in them, and they smell amazing.

Kitty Cake

We had a birthday recently and it was requested that I make a cake that looks just like our indoor cat, Mo.  So I gave it a go and think it turned out really good.

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fullsizerenderAnd speaking of cats, the 3 barn kitties have been spending most of their time tucked up in the hay loft during all this deep snow and cold temps…who would blame them?  When we go to do chores they hang out above us, watching and waiting to be fed.

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What Have We Been Eating?

It has been a week since we said good-by to pre-processed foods.  So what have we been eating?  As you will see, we are still using some pre-processed items, like flours and such in our baked goods.  But we are doing our best to avoid white sugar and replace it with honey when possible.  And we always use natural sea salts so that wasn’t a big change for us.

Breakfast:

Breakfast was my biggest concern going into this because our favorite breakfast lately has been cold cereal.  It’s quick, it’s easy, the kids can serve themselves – and in the hustle and bustle of morning-time in a family of 7, that is exactly what I needed.  But it is cringe-worthy when it comes to health.

I have been surprised at how un-stressful breakfast has been this last week.  We have been having things like toast with eggs, oatmeal with home-canned peaches in honey syrup on it, fruit smoothies, and biscuits with gravy or biscuits with honey.

The toast is made with my home-baked GF bread.  I shared that recipe here.  The recipe we use to can our peaches (and pears, and apples) in honey syrup is found in the book “Puttin’ it up with Honey” by Susann Geiskopf-Hadler. We love that book.

Our smoothies are made with fruit and what goes in it varies.  But the basic smoothie we make includes spinach, fresh squeezed orange juice (the OJ actually negates the spinach taste, which is great if you don’t want to taste that in your fruit smoothie), banana, mango, raspberries, strawberries, and kefir.  Everyone in the family absolutely loves them.  To make them faster and easier to make we like to buzz up a bunch of spinach and OJ in the blender all at once and freeze it in ice cube trays.  Once frozen I fill a freezer bag with the cubes.  Each time we want to make a smoothie we pull out 3-4 cubes and add them in.

The biscuits we make are similar to old-fashioned baking powder biscuits.  We have tweaked the recipe enough over the years that I feel fine sharing it here.

GF Old-Fashioned Biscuits

  • 3/4 C Brown Rice Flour
  • 3/4 C White Rice Flour
  • 3/4 C Tapioca Starch
  • 1T Baking Powder
  • 1t Sea Salt
  • 6T Butter, cut into pieces
  • 3/4 C Milk
  • 2t Xanthan Gum (added to GF baked goods to help hold them together)

Whisk together dry ingredients and cut butter into them with a pastry blender.  Add the liquid slowly mixing with your hands until dough forms.  Knead dough a bit and then form into 1/2 inch thick biscuits.  Bake at 400 for 20 minutes or until tops are golden brown.

We make our gravy to put on the biscuits with our homemade canned broth and potato flour.

I have been surprised how quickly breakfast comes together as well.  Since the bread and biscuits are already baked all we have had to do is cook the eggs, oatmeal, or hot cereal.  Or buzz up the smoothies.  It really hasn’t been as hectic as I expected.  Yes, it takes more time than pouring a bowl of cold cereal, but it hasn’t been enough to make a big difference in our rush, whereas it makes a big difference in the healthfulness of what we are eating.

Lunch

For lunch we have mostly been having leftovers from dinner.  We have also had egg-fried rice a few times because we had rice with dinner the night before and I purposefully made extra so we could use it at lunch.  We make egg-fried rice with rice, eggs, peas, butter, and salt – all fried together in a pan.

We have also had a lot of salads at lunch.  I was quite surprised to find that salad without dressing actually tastes great.  We add a bit of sea salt to it and it really brings out the flavor of the vegetables in it.  We start with a base of greens (we do NOT use iceberg lettuce – it has no flavor, and is mainly water with very little nutritional value), then we add a few (not all) of the following toppings: tomatoes, avocado, hard boiled egg or cooked chicken (see below), cucumber, carrots, and shredded cheese.  Then we sprinkle some sea salt on and eat it.  Delicious!  One unique combination of toppings we have found we like is pomegranate, green apple, goat cheese, and almonds.

The chicken we put in the salad is cooked in olive oil with some seasonings.  We cook a big batch and chop it up and put it in the fridge so we can use it over several days on salads.

Dinner

This week, with the weather being what it was, we had mostly stews and soups made with our hunted or home-grown meats, vegetables, and our home-canned broth.  We had bread or biscuits with them.  Mtn Man also made us a delicious stir-fry with olive oil, veggies, chicken, and cashews.  We ate it over brown rice.  And one night we had elk roast and veggies.

Snacks

Second to breakfast, snacks were a big concern for me going into this.  We have always eaten fresh fruit for the kids’ morning snack.  But afternoon snack has been snack bars, chips, crackers, pretzels, etc.  We have continued with the fresh fruit in the morning, and for afternoon snack we have been having chopped up veggies (with no dip) such as bell peppers and snap peas, or nuts, hard boiled eggs, or a piece of bread with butter or honey on it.

So far so good.  It has been a lot easier than I expected, which is nice.  I must admit though – I really miss my diet soda!  But I have been drinking water like crazy, and that is SO much better for me.  And I have definitely already felt more energetic than I used to.  Normally I start to feel an energy crash in the early afternoon and go downhill from there.  But this week that has been much less pronounced.  In addition I have lost 2 lbs and Mtn Man has lost 6 lbs since we started a week ago.  It feels great to be losing some of the extra weight.

2016 Year-End Homestead Review

Despite the struggles, life is always full of blessings, and as we finish off another blessed year on the farm we are happy to look back and see what happened on the homestead.

To read previous Year-End Reviews, click the following links:

2015

2014

2013

Statistics

Chickens:

  • We had anywhere from 7-21 chickens this year
  • We don’t have complete records of how many total eggs were laid, we are estimating from what records we did keep that the total was around 1,500
  • We kept approximately 78 dozen eggs
  • We sold approximately 47 dozen eggs
  • 7 eggs were set by our broody hen
  • 3 eggs hatched successfully
  • No chickens were sold
  • 14 chickens were butchered for meat for us
  • 1 hen died from being egg-bound and 1 hen was attacked by a hawk but survived

Rabbits:

  • 32 kits born live
  • 6 stillborn kits
  • 8 kits froze at a few days old
  • 17 rabbits butchered and sold for pet food
  • 7 rabbits butchered and canned for our own meat
  • 3 adult rabbits butchered for our dog food
  • 2 adult rabbits died
  • Angora rabbit sheared 5 times

Sheep:

  • Started the year with 2 pregnant ewes and 2 yearling ewe lambs
  • Twin ewe lambs born successfully
  • Second ewe miscarried and was replaced with a ewe lamb
  • Sold twin ewe lambs
  • Butchered one yearling – 20 lbs of meat
  • 6 fleece shorn this year – approx 18 lbs of wool after cleaning
  • Purchased 2 new bred ewes
  • Ended year with 4 pregnant ewes and 1 yearling ewe lamb

Goats:

  • Purchased 2 pregnant Nubian goats in the fall

Garden:

  • Between our vegetable garden and our berries we harvested 220 lbs of produce this year
  • We spent $80 on the garden this year, thus averaging $0.36/lb

Heritage Arts:

  • I knit 3 balaclavas, 1 ribby neckwarmer, 2 hats, 1 shawl, 1 infinity scarf, 1 hooded sweater (baby size), 4 pairs of socks, and 1 pair of reading mitts
  • The kids sewed 100 bandana backpacks for Operation Christmas Child
  • I altered 2 pairs of pajamas for Mr. Smiles to wear during his hospitalization and surgery
  • I sewed 24 placemats and 48 cloth napkins
  • Sunshine and Little Miss continue to be amazingly productive with heritage arts projects.  I was unable to keep track of them this year, but they sewed, knitted, crocheted, crosstitched, and embroidered MANY MANY items.

Kitchen:

We canned over 118 qts of food this year –

  • 20 Qts Green Beans
  • 9 Pts Pear Sauce
  • 5 Qts Pears in Honey Syrup
  • 9 Qts Applesauce
  • 18 Qts Apples in Honey Syrup
  • 4 Qts Plum Syrup
  • 8 Qts Plum Jelly
  • 22 Qts Nectarines in Honey Syrup
  • 28 Qts of broth (some chicken, some lamb, and some beef)

We froze 28 lbs of carrots.

We made several pints of syrup from our gooseberry and currant bushes.

Highlights

January through June our life revolved around surgeries, hospitalizations, and specialist visits, for our baby, hours from our home.  Life continued on the farm, and the routine and rhythms of the farm was a healing balm to us during a trying time.

June brought a terrible hail storm to shred our young, newly growing garden plants.  I also finished our first set of seasonal placemats and cloth napkins.  We had some visits from bears, and one chicken was attacked by a hawk, but survived.  We sold our twin ewe lambs, and replaced one of our breeding ewes with a new breeding ewe lamb.

July included unseasonably warm weather, and the start of the harvest from our garden and berry bushes.  We painted the exterior of all the buildings on the property, and we had another bear incident.

In August we enjoyed participating at County Fair and bringing home many ribbons and prizes.  The garden harvest continued, and canning season started.  We continued to have bear struggles, including a break-in to our camper.

September brought another surgery and hospitalization for Mr. Smiles.  The Pediatric PJs I sewed him worked wonderfully to allow all the tubes and wires to be accessible.  Despite the time away from the farm, we were still able to have a very productive month with harvesting, seed saving, canning, freezing, and working on starting to build the ram shed, and building the root cellar, a new gate, and the smokehouse.  The adventure was never-ending when our farm dog partially amputated his toe, and we continued to have bear problems – our worst year ever for bear issues by far.

In October we added two milk goats to the farm and did a bunch of winter prep and building projects.  We put the garden to bed, and filled the freezers by both butchering livestock and hunting.  We finished the smokehouse and root cellar.

November included a lot of building projects, including new hay racks indoors and out for the sheep and goats.  We took down a few trees and we finished the new retaining wall on the onion/garlic patch.  The sheep went to the breeder and we smoked our first meat in the smokehouse.  And Little Miss took quite a ride when the goats broke out of the yard!

December was filled with working on homemade Christmas presents and making Christmas treats while we celebrated advent and awaited the chance to celebrate the birth of Jesus.  We purchased two new breeding ewes which are pregnant to provide us with our future flock sire ram and we prepared for the upcoming births of anywhere from 11-14 lambs and kids this coming winter and spring.  I got my livestock record book in order and ready to keep better records in 2017 and we planned for more chicks this spring as well.  We finished phase 1 of the barn remodel, and were shocked to still be enjoying fresh tomatoes from our harvest in September!

 

What an amazing year we have had here at Willow Creek Farm!