2018 Year-End Homestead Review

Looking back over the previous year on the homestead is an excellent practice because it helps us see what worked, what didn’t, and helps us plan for the future.  It is also always very encouraging to me because even when I feel like we didn’t have a very productive year, seeing it all written out shows me all that we accomplished.  Our homestead has had to take a backseat to other parts of our life over the last few years due to our baby’s serious medical issues.  This year more than ever.  But despite that, we still are able to do some homesteading and it brings us stability and joy.

To read previous Year-End Reviews Click the following links:

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

Statistics

Chickens:

  • Started year with 20 hens, 9 young pullets and cockerels, and 1 rooster
  • Purchased 10 layer chicks and 41 meat chicks
  • 18 meat chicks died first couple of weeks, 1 layer chick died – 9 layers and 23 meat chicks survived
  • Because of large loss of meat chicks decided to buy 11 layer chicks to add to the brooder
  • 5 broody hen sets with a total of 15 chicks surviving
  • 1 cross beak chick had to be culled, 1 silkie hen licked to death by LGD pup, 1 hen killed by bobcat, 1 young pullet died for unknown reasons, and 1 hen died of egg bound
  • Butchered 23 meat chickens, 10 layer cockerels, 1 aggressive rooster, and 8 hens
  • Sold 9 hens
  • Ended year with 28 hens, 1 chick, and 1 rooster
  • Approximately 3,500 eggs laid

Farm Dogs:

  • Anya, our 2.5-year-old Anatolian Shepherd, is continuing to mature and be trained to be our lead LGD.  As a pup she accidentally licked a couple of chickens to death and therefore was living adjacent to the barnyard and continuing to be trained.  In December we were very excited to move her into the main barnyard and have her be mature enough to guard without any accidental killings.
  • We have had no bear break-in attempts on the barn since she took over.  The bears used to try to break into the barn multiple times each autumn, despite our previous wonderful guard dog living in the barn (he did keep them out and alerted us so we could chase them off, but they continued to try).  I am guessing it is the size difference, our previous guard dog was 55 lbs, Anya is over 100.  I think the bears can tell the difference when they hear her bark and such and they don’t think it is worth it to grapple with a dog that big.  Not sure what else would cause the change.

Sheep:

  • Did not have sheep most of this year.  Sold the flock December of 2017 due to son’s medical issues and hospitalizations.
  • Unexpectedly bought back three of our sheep a couple weeks before the end of the year!  2 ewes and 1 ram.  They are currently living together in hopes of squeezing in last-minute breedings for this year so we can have some lambs born this summer.

Goats:

  • No goats this year due to son’s medical issues.  Contemplating plans for a dairy goat in 2019, but have not decided yet.

Garden:

  • Over 490 lbs of produce harvested
  • Spent $134 on the garden this year, average of $0.27 per lb.

Heritage Arts:

  • I completed the following knit projects: 2 cabled hats, 1 cabled cardigan, 1 pair of flip-top mittens, 7 pairs of socks, 2 baby blankets, 1 baby vest, 1 shawl, 1 afghan and 169 squares for my scrap sock afghan.
  • I completed one cross stitch, and sewed 4 skirts for myself, 1 dress for myself, 4 skirts for the girls, 1 dress for Sunshine, 4 bibs for Mr. Smiles, hospital PJs for Mr. Smiles, several pairs of flannel PJ pants for everyone, and 3 flannel nightgowns for Little Miss. Plus innumerable amounts of mending and patching of clothes.
  • The girls did countless projects, each of them finishing more projects than I did.

Kitchen:

  • Canned over 350 jars of food this year.

Year Summary

January was much warmer than usual and we enjoyed the chance to get outside when we could, though the end was bitterly cold.  We spent a lot of time dealing with our son’s medical issues, with hospitals, surgery, and many doctor’s appointments.  We were able to get our garden planning and school curriculum planning done, along with building a new pantry area in the basement.

In February the girls and I spent the cold days working on my grandmother’s English paper piecing quilt, as well as a crocheted scrap afghan.  I also worked on finishing some of my crafty WIPs (works-in-progress) to get them out of storage and completed.

March brought a lot of garden prep work, building new garden areas, and remodeling older garden areas.  Our hatchery chicks arrived on the farm, including our first ever try with meat chicks.  We were very disappointed when a huge amount of the meat chicks died for unknown reasons.  It wasn’t our brooding techniques because none of the layer chicks being brooded with them died.  We also had our first hatch of the year under a mama hen.  We remodeled our bathroom, as well as a couple chicken housing areas in the barn.  And we enjoyed learning the art of dehydrating fruit.

In April we started plans for our medicinal herb garden, little green shoots started poking up their heads on our perennial plants in the garden, and our seedlings inside began taking over the house.  During the cold weather the girls and I spent a lot of time in the kitchen, canning jam and homemade ketchup, as well as starting to work through the Little House Living recipe book.  And we spent some time sewing PJ pants for the family as well as some skirts and dresses.  At the very end of the month the swallows arrived a little early, signaling that it was time to put our first seeds in the ground outside.

In May we didn’t get the big snows that we usually get towards the end of the month, which meant that our garden got a big head start over previous years.  We worked a lot in the garden and we butchered the first round of meat chickens and found the meat to be superior to the meat from our dual-purpose birds.

June was another month extra heavy on the medical stuff with our son.  We spent time in the ER, had unexpected hospitalizations and surgery, as well as many doctor’s appointments.  Somehow we were able to keep the garden going strong, started some harvesting, and butchered the last of the chickens.  And we squeezed in some sewing of bibs too.

In July we were busy gardening, harvesting, and started our canning season.  We had another 2 hens set and hatch chicks.  And the girls and I continued our sewing spree, making more skirts, PJ pants, hospital Pjs for Mr. Smiles, and a knitting bag.  We decided to try eating one of the silkie roos we butchered and were surprised to find their meat is black (more of a purple, really, but creepy nonetheless).  We wont do that again!  Our LGD had to spend some time indoors because of the flies eating her ears, but we finally found a repellent that worked long-term, after years of trying many many different things with no success or very short-lived success.  We also finished chopping and stacking all the firewood that we needed for the winter.

August was mostly focused on more of our son’s medical stuff.  But despite that we were able to continue with the harvest and canning, make herbal medicine, and we added our first root cellar veggie storage rack to the basement.  We competed in many ways at the County Fair and brought home a lot of ribbons and prizes.  We were surprised by a very early first frost.

September was so full of homestead work that I barely had time to blog.  We kept ourselves busy with gardening, harvesting, canning. freezing, hunting, and butchering – all things related to putting food up for the winter.  We added another root cellar veggie rack to the basement and really enjoyed using both the racks to put up the produce.  We also started remodeling one of our wood stove areas and had another hen set and hatch out chicks.

October was full of a lot of canning and we bought a new kitchen gadget to make it easier.  We filled the shelves in the basement pantry and used every empty jar we owned.  We wrapped up the gardening season and were really excited when we tallied everything and found that we had our most successful garden season ever.  I did some preliminary garden planning for next year while everything was till fresh in my mind.  And we also got our first snow of the season.

In November we stayed indoors while we had unseasonably cold weather outside.  We were able to put some more meat in the freezer through successful hunting and we made a lot of firestarters and a batch of hand-dipped beeswax candles.  We did our final chicken culling and re-organizing in preparation for winter, and we decided to try growing lettuce and spinach indoors under grow-lights for the winter months.

December brought a lot of Christmas candy making, as well as Christmas present making since we home-make almost all of our Christmas presents.  We said “no” to a lot of regular events and activities to keep a nice, calm, Christmas season and were so glad that we did.  I learned how to darn socks, and was able to fix several holes we had in some of our handmade socks.  We had two very exciting events happen for the homestead.  First, our LGD, Anya, was finally mature and trained enough to guard the livestock full time on her own.  And secondly, 3 of our sheep returned to the farm after being away for a year.  We ended the year with more medical issues, emergency rooms, hospitalization, and surgery, which will be pouring over into the new year as well.

Looking back we can see that it has been another very productive year full of blessings.

Sunday Homestead Update

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving!  We really had a great one.  Delicious food, nice fellowship, and thankful spirits.  We have found that a thankful spirit and attitude is the key to peace and joy in life, so we don’t just focus on thankfulness on one holiday a year – we make a constant practice of it every day.  We have a chalkboard up in our living room that is our “Counting Every Blessing” board.  Whenever someone thinks of something to be thankful for they go and write it on the board.  Once it is jam packed full we erase and start over.  It has really helped us keep good perspectives on life, especially through the hard times.

Christmas Candies

As is our tradition, we made Christmas candies the weekend after Thanksgiving while we decorated the house for Christmas.  Caramels, Old-Fashioned Hard Candy, Fudge (butterscotch and eggnog), and peppermint bark.  We will continue to make more throughout December and give it to friends and family and take it to Christmas gatherings that we attend.

Caramels

Old Fashion Hard Candy

Peppermint Bark

Eggnog Fudge

Butterscotch Fudge

Basement Garden

The lettuce and spinach in the basement garden under grow lights have sprouted.  We planted another tray so we can have succession plantings.  We are hoping for fresh salad through the winter from this basement garden since we have been very disappointed in the quality of greens we are finding for sale at the stores.

Advent

Advent starts today.  It is a way that we acknowledge and celebrate the promise that God gave to send a savior, and the time of waiting before His arrival.  Mtn Man made us a pretty log advent wreath many years ago that we love.  Each night we light a certain amount of candles and do a Bible reading and short study on different aspects of the promises about the messiah.  My favorite is Christmas Eve when we light all the candles – it is so pretty and meaningful!  Here is a pic when it is all lit:

Knitting and Sewing

I am still busy knitting Christmas gifts, hoping to complete them all in time.  But I made a goal for myself back in the spring to complete 15 squares on my scrappy afghan each month.  So I took a short break from the Christmas knitting this week to complete the 15 squares for November.  I am not hooking them on, just getting them knit up.  I now have 150 of the 192 squares I need.  If I keep up with my goal I should complete the squares in February, and then hopefully get it all hooked together and complete by March.

I figured out how to darn socks this week.  I have been putting it off because I had no one to teach me, but it got to the point that it had to be done.  Hand knit socks get holes just like other socks and it is much easier to darn them than knit a new one.  I do find that by reinforcing the socks I knit we have minimal holes, but they still occasionally happen – especially when one steps on the transitions strip between carpet and wood flooring and the screw tops snag the sock.

So I decided to go for it.  I knew the basic principal – weave a patch so there aren’t any lumps and bumps to be uncomfortable on the foot.  I got out my darning egg – I inherited this one from my great-grandmother in her sewing basket.

I put the sock on there and then cleaned up the edges of the hole a bit.  This was before I cleaned up the edges.

First I wove in vertically.

Then I wove across those horizontally.

 

I am not sure if that is the right way, or how long it will last…but it felt good on his foot and looks fine, so I am hopeful.

Every year I make the kids flannel pajamas and they give them to them on Christmas Eve.  I purchased all the needed flannel this week and am starting to cut them out and sew them now.  I am also sewing myself a special winter skirt that I will share more about later.

Fun and productive start to winter on the farm!

Sunday Homestead Update

Hard to believe it is November…and the time change already too!  It has continued to be snowy here, although we have had a lot of nice fall days in between the snows as well.

Driveway

When you live on a rocky mountainside, maintaining a dirt driveway can be quite a chore.  Thankfully, we have access to a tractor and Mtn Man knows how to use it to fix up the road.  So he has been working on that project.  He got a couple of loads of road base and added them and got it all smoothed out and the water running off properly to the ditches.  He also fixed up the ditches.  So that is done for another year until next fall.

Hunting

Mtn Man and Young Man have done some more hunting the last couple of weeks and put more meat in the freezer.  They each filled their buck mule deer tags, so we spent a couple of afternoons butchering those.  Mtn Man’s buck was a smaller one, we got about 30 lbs of meat and 5 lbs of dog food off it.  Young Man got a pretty good size one and we got 50 lbs of meat and 10 lbs of dog food from it.    It feels great to have all that meat in the freezer to feed the family this winter.

Our dog, Hazel, has a very important job during butchering…keeping the floors clean so no one steps in little chunks of meat that accidentally fall.  She takes this job very seriously and stares intensely at the floor so she can immediately clean up anything that falls.

It is exhausting work…

Earlier this fall Young Man filled his cow elk tag (125 lbs of meat), and we were gifted meat from another cow elk someone we know hunted (125 lbs of meat).  So we now have meat from 2 cow elk and 2 buck mule deer in the freezer.  We don’t buy red meat, so whatever we hunt is what we get for the year.  If we get less (like last year) we have to ration more strictly and don’t eat as much meat.  When we get more we eat more meat.  Mtn Man still has a cow elk tag, and if he is able to fill that we will for sure have enough to make it until next fall eating plenty of red meat, and probably even be able to bless some other families with some meat as well.  He has until January to fill that tag.

Gardening/Canning

We planted the garlic and put straw on the over-wintering plants.  I am trying to overwinter celery for the first time this year in an attempt to get celery seeds to save next year.  I have been able to do it successfully with carrots, so I am hopeful this will work too.

The tomatoes continue to slowly ripen in the basement root cellar racks.  As they ripen we use them and can them.

Besides the tomatoes the gardening and canning season is officially over for us.  We are having hard frosts often and a lot of snow already.  I am contemplating planting some lettuce and spinach under grow lights in the basement to grow us some fresh greens this winter.  I need to get that planned out and started.

Heritage Arts

I continue to work on Christmas present knitting.  I also got another 15 squares done for my scrap square afghan.  This makes a total of 135 out of 192.  I am getting there!

I also have some sewing projects in the works.  First I had to finish the items we were sewing for Operation Christmas Child boxes this year.  I am now done with that and can get to some of the other projects that have been waiting.

Sunday Homestead Update

First Snow!

Feels more like winter than fall this week.  We have had snow off and on all week – our first of the season.  It has been fun to have it, though I am hoping for some more of the warmer fall weather and I am hopeful that winter isn’t here early this year.  We still have some things to get done before winter sets in.

Our Anatolian Shepherd, Anya, loves the snow.

 

Canning

Our canning season is winding down.  We have finished everything except the tomatoes.  They are continuing to ripen in the basement.  As they ripen we will can them into marinara sauce.

We got the apples done into apples in honey syrup, applesauce, and apple butter.  We haven’t done apple butter in many years, so that was fun to bring back.

We also did the peaches in honey syrup, and then decided to try something new – peach butter!  We weren’t sure how the new sauce maker would handle it, but we decided to just pit and quarter the peaches, leaving the skin on, then boil them a little until soft, and then put them through the sauce maker.  It worked beautifully!  We ended up with a nice peach puree and the warm skins were given to the chickens, which made them happy in the cold snow.

So far, we have canned over 300 jars this canning season.  By far our largest amount in one season ever!

Garden

The garden is done for the year, and we are cleaning it up and putting it to bed.  This year we are planting fall garlic, which is one of the reasons I am hoping it will warm up a bit.  The garlic places ship mid-October, which is a bit late for our climate.  But I am hopeful it will still work out well and from now on we can plant our own in late September each year instead of waiting for the shipment.  It is supposed to arrive this week, so we will get it in asap once it arrives.  We added some compost to the area to prepare for planting it.

We are also putting straw over some of the newer perennials to help them through the winter.  And we are planting medicinal herb seeds and covering them with straw.  We learned this spring that many of the medicinal herbs grow better when the seeds are put in the ground in the fall.  Hopefully this will help our new medicinal herb garden really get going next year.

Chickens

Most of the older hens are finishing their molt, with just a few still at it, but their egg laying is still pretty non-existent.  The young silkie pullets are laying like crazy though, so we are overflowing with tiny eggs.

We even decided to try out pickling some.  We have never done this before and don’t know if we will like them, so we only did 3 jars.  We will open them up and try them in a month or so, once the full flavor can set into them.

Knitting

I am working mostly on Christmas present knitting right now, so I can’t show much because I want to keep them a surprise.  But since Mr. Smiles’ doesn’t read the blog yet, at 3 years old, I can show his present.  It is a blankie that I made using the Plymouth Yarn Hot Cakes in Denim Mix.   It turned out nicely, with a good amount of cozy squish to it.

 

Wood Stove Remodel Project

We got the antique wood cook stove hooked up to heat the dining room.  The remodel still isn’t finished, but it is complete enough that we can use the stove for heat now, which is good because we have definitely needed it this week.  We are learning the ins and outs of this particular stove and how to make it do what we want heat-wise.  There is always a learning curve with a new wood stove.  But overall it seems like it will heat wonderfully with the added bonus that it looks beautiful in and I could cook on it if I wanted.  Plus, it doesn’t back puff, which is why we did this remodel in the first place – because the last stove had to have 2 elbows in the pipe and thus back puffed terribly.

Canning, Canning, Canning – and a New Kitchen Gadget

We have been canning like crazy, and it looks to continue for another few weeks at least.

I am not big on kitchen gadgets.  I find that they take up space in the cabinets and only get pulled out on rare occasions for the specific special thing they are used for.  However, occasionally I find a kitchen gadget that I feel is worth it and earns its keep in the cabinet.  This week, we added one of those to our kitchen.

 

We had such a bumper crop of tomatoes this year that we decided that in addition to eating them fresh and canning them whole stewed, like we have always done previously, we would also make marinara sauce with them and can it.  Little did I know how time-consuming making marinara sauce is when you don’t have the right equipment.

We washed and chopped the tomatoes, added them to the other ingredients and simmered it all for 20 minutes.  Then we scooped them into the food processor, buzzed it, poured it out, and repeated that process about a zillion times (it took about an hour).  Then we pushed them through a mesh strainer with a wooden spoon to remove all the seeds and skins – this took about an hour and a half.  Then we simmered it down for about 5 hours to reduce it by half and thicken it.  And then we canned it and were dismayed to find that after over 8 hours of work all we had to show for our efforts was 5 pints!  😦

So after getting really frustrated and saying I would never make marinara sauce again, I calmed down and decided to call my friend who is my go-to for all things kitchen related and ask her if there was an easier way.  She, of course, knew of a much easier way – a hand-crank sauce maker.  The next day, with new gadget on hand (we got the Norpro brand one because it was what was available at a store close by), round two of marinara sauce making ensued.

We again chopped the tomatoes, added them to the other ingredients and simmered it all for 20 minutes.  Then we put them into the hopper of the sauce maker and cranked.  Out one place came the tomato juice and puree – much thicker than what we were getting before, and out another place came the skins and seeds which looked squeezed dry with not a bit of good tomato left on them.  It was awesome!  And it only took 15 minutes to complete the whole process!  Then we simmered down the sauce to reduce it by half, but we found that it was so thick that we didn’t need to reduce it as much and thus it took a lot less time, at only 3.5 hours.  Then when we canned it we were shocked with the results – because of the efficiency of the machine at getting more out of the tomatoes and the fact we didn’t have to reduce it as much we ended up with 11 pints!  In about 4.5 hours!  So over twice as much in just over half the amount of time!!!

And as an added bonus, it doesn’t just make marinara sauce…we used it to make applesauce the week after and quickly and easily canned all the applesauce we need for the year.  We didn’t even have to slice and core the apples.  All we had to do was cut them up,

cook them until very soft,

and then put them through the machine.

The skins, cores, and seeds came out one spot, and the applesauce the other.  We put the skins, cores, and seeds in our fermenting crock to make apple cider vinegar for the year – no waste!  We canned 65 jars of applesauce over a 2-day period and got them put up on the shelves for winter.

As a side note, as you see in this picture, we use tattler reusable lids.  We have been using them for 5 years now and continue to be very happy with them.  I just wish I had more!  I need to add to my stock because I don’t have enough to keep up with all the canning we do so I always end up buying some metal to finish off each year.  You can read the review I did on these lids by clicking here.

Overall, a wonderful learning experience and a great new gadget to make our canning easier and more efficient.