Sunday Homestead Update – Gardening Season?

Could it possibly be true that gardening season is starting? It doesn’t feel possible. And yet here I am, starting my first seeds of the year indoors. At our previous farm I didn’t start seeds until mid to late March. But our new climate means a longer growing season and an earlier last-frost. And so it is true…gardening season is starting. This will take some getting used to.

Cold Frame

We have wanted to build some cold frames for many years to extend our season. But at our previous farm there was really no good location to build them so it kept getting put off. The new farm has a great location, and so we were excited to get one built to plant this spring and hope to do more this fall if it works well. We lined up bottles full of water along the back to add thermal mass. We got down to 18F one night and the cold frame only got to 30F. So that is promising. This week I planted our first spring crops in the cold frame. Seeds and plants in soil in February? Again…this will take some getting used to.


Root Cellared Veggies Update

We are still happily eating out of the root cellar. We finished up everything we had except winter squash and pumpkins. So we don’t know the exact length that the onions and garlic could have lasted given time. The potatoes were all eaten, with a few withered sprouting ones left. But the winter squash and pumpkins are still going great. We have decided to purposefully slow down our consumption of them so we can see how long they will last. But the root cellar is holding a great temp and we are really happy with it.

Cheesemaking

I am working through all the frozen sheep milk from last year that we couldn’t make into cheese due to the move. I have now made 6 gallons of it into cheese. There is still over 20 gallons left to get through before the milk sheep begin lambing in March.

We set up two repurposed refrigerator cheese caves. One is in the root cellar. It is a mini fridge and is holding perfect temp without being plugged in due to the root cellar temperatures. And a few dishes of water in the bottom of it are keeping the humidity in a good place. The second one is in a regular temperature room, so it has to be plugged in to maintain the temp we need, and, because it is a full-sized refrigerator, we are using tiny fans in the bottom to blow across the water drawers with humidifier wicks in them. That keeps the humidity up enough.

To read how we made a small refrigerator into a cheese cave, you can click here. At some point I will write up how we did it with the larger one. The main issue with the larger one that makes it different than using a small one is humidity. Especially if you live in a dry climate like we do.

Birthing Barn

The new farm we moved to is not set up for birthing out sheep and goats, especially not in the colder months. We don’t have any enclosed barns, only large and tall horse loafing sheds. We have been discussing and contemplating what to do about this issue on and off since we moved in. We have toyed with several different ideas of converting the loafing sheds, but eventually landed on building a small birthing barn and pen to be used until we eventually build a full-sized barn for all the sheep and goats to use all winter. We attached it to the poultry barn.

With our first lambs due in March, we have been working to get the birthing barn built and ready so we could move the first two ewes that are due into it. It has 2 jugs (birthing stalls) with the possibility of setting up a temporary third one as needed. It is closer to the house so we can easily keep an eye on them. And it is warm and cozy to help decrease the chance of hypothermic babies. We finished the important aspects of it and moved the first two girls in this week. When warmer weather hits we will be able to finish the trim, painting, and all the little details. But for now, we are ready for lambing and kidding season!

We always enjoy building as much as possible with free pallet wood. High lumber prices definitely brought our pallet-wood building to a whole new level with this barn build.

Heritage Arts

I am only working on one knitting projects right now (gasp!) because I just want to get it done. It has been on the needles for like 2 years and just keeps getting put off for other projects. It is an alpaca shawl with a lace border. It will be nice to finally finish it (hopefully!).

Daniel also bought me a couple of jelly rolls of fabric to make us a new quilt for our bed. I decided on a bear paw pattern and have started piecing it. I am really excited about how this will turn out, but nervous about how long it will take me to complete with everything else in life. 🙂

Feeders, or Beds?

We have had LGDs and goats using the feeders as beds lately. Cushy hay up off the cold ground on a sunny winter day…makes sense to me. The rams just go on eating right around the dog.

Sunday Homestead Update – Cheese Sink

It has been very cold lately, and thus our snow has been hanging around, which is nice since we didn’t get any to speak of until the last couple of weeks.

The guinea fowl continue to dislike the snow – which is not a surprise, we had heard they hated snow before we ever got them. Daniel had built a roost outside their coop for them last summer, but they never used it. Well, now they have decided that it is the place to hang out so that they don’t have to stand in the snow. All except Dino, the outcast, they wont let him on the roost. Poor little guy.

The “Cheese Sink”

We make a lot of cheese with our raw milk, especially the sheep milk. Right before the move we ate all the cheese that we were aging in the “cheese cave” (converted refrigerator) because we didn’t want to have to deal with it through the move. Then, once we got somewhat settled at the new house and I was ready to start making cheese again I realized that I couldn’t. The kitchen at the new farm is a wonderful, big farm kitchen. But it has two problems. First, the sink is tiny. Like barely bigger than the sink in our camper. Why someone would build such a big kitchen and put in such a tiny sink is beyond me. I can’t even wash big pots in it, I have to take them to the bathroom tub to wash because they don’t fit in the sink. The second thing that bugs me about the kitchen is that the hood over the stove is very low. This causes issues for a farm kitchen because when I am canning, or using my large stock pots to make stock or something else in large quantities, the pots barely fit under the hood and it is very difficult to take the lids on and off and pull anything out of them or even stir them.

Many of the cheeses that I make require indirect heating, which means not on the stove. So I heat them by setting the pot in the sink and putting hot water in the sink to heat them. I drain and add more and reheat as needed to keep the temp where I want it. Well, at the new house the sink is way too small for my cheesemaking pot to fit in (I make the cheese in two-gallon batches, which is a bit pot). And with the hood being so low, I can’t figure a way to set up a double-boiler-type set up on the stove to try to indirectly heat it there. So all summer, while we were milking, we froze all the sheep milk because we couldn’t figure out how I was going to make cheese at the new house.

We planned to just replace the sink. But as we moved forward with that plan and Daniel looked closer at how things were built, it became clear that to do that we would have to put in all new counters and potentially deal with some cabinet issues as well. Not going to happen right now. So that plan was out.

We had a utility sink in storage, and we started looking at the end of the kitchen that is connected to the mud room. There is a strange diagonal section of counter that butts right up to our second refrigerator, which is kind of the start of the mud room area by the back door. Yes, we have two fridges – family of 7 living on a farm and milking sheep and goats means a second fridge comes in super handy. We decided we could install the utility sink there, and it could work nicely for cheesemaking, as well as a nice place to wash the bigger pots and milk buckets, and to wash hands and such when we come in from outside. It even had the backsplash already there, so we wouldn’t have to come up with something and try to make it somewhat match.

We found a very inexpensive cabinet at a thrift store. It doesn’t match, but I am OK with that because eventually we will re-do the whole kitchen anyway. Daniel was able to do quite a good job of making it mesh right in with the rest of the counter and such, and in some ways it feels like it was always meant to be there. I am really happy with this new addition and how useful it will be for all things farm-kitchen related.

I have to step in here a minute and say that my man is so amazing. I come up with all these crazy ideas and he can always figure out how to make them reality. I am so blessed by his abilities in this area. This homestead wouldn’t be half of what it is without him being able to figure these things out and I am so grateful.

So now that I have my sink, I need to start chipping away at a freezer full of frozen sheep milk waiting to become cheese. We got the cheese cave up and running and I am hoping to make my first batch this week. I would like to get through all of it before we start milking again. Our first dairy ewes are due in March, and with 28 gallons of frozen milk to get through (at two gallons per batch) I need to get going on this project.

Sunday Homestead Update – New Year

Our year started with our first snow and very cold weather. We got about 3 inches of snow and temps down to -12F, with our high yesterday only in the teens. Brrrrr, a cold start to the new year, but it felt very past due with how warm and dry it has been this fall and winter.

Goals and Planning

We are getting back into routine life after the holidays. We like routine, although we enjoyed the time away from it as well. Our minds have shifted into planning mode as we face a new year at the new farm. We have so many visions and dreams for the place. There are so many things we want to do. We are working to prioritize and break it down so we don’t bite off too big of a piece. We need to be realistic about what we can handle and use our resources wisely. It can be hard to say that certain things will just have to wait, but if we spread ourselves too thin we won’t accomplish anything well and will end up with a bunch of half done projects.

So we have focused our plans on a few certain things for this year:

#1 Do well at managing what we already have. Keep working at our selective breeding, and keep all the animals healthy and productive. Continue to use the animals to feed our family with eggs, milk, and meat from our own farm.

#2 Continue to work at the intensive grazing and restorative agriculture plans with the hoofstock and poultry to improve the pastures.

#3 Make improvements to the animal housing, fencing, and human housing. We have a specific list of what projects we are taking on this year as far as this goes.

#4 Get the first vegetable garden built, planted, and producing (spring) and the second one fenced and start building it (fall).

#5 Add a few fruit trees and berry bushes.

#6 If possible after doing the above list, add heritage turkeys.

We were really hoping to add bees to the farm this spring, as well as raise a flock of meat-breed sheep from weaning to butcher, but those were a few of the things that had to be cut from the list and put on hold.

Poultry

This was the first snow and major cold for the guinea fowl and ducks. The guineas were very much not impressed. They decided to spend their day in the coop, warm and snug. Except first they kicked out the outcast.

As I have said before, there is one outcast guinea that is constantly a few feet from the flock. They won’t allow him (not sure if it is a girl or boy) to be with them. We don’t know enough about guinea behavior to know why. But since he is the only one we can tell apart from the others, due to the fact that he is constantly outside the group, we gave him a name. We call him Dino because he looks a little like a dinosaur because the feathers on his back are always ruffled up kind of like spikes. It seems to be because of the body posture he constantly keeps, as the outcast.

Anyway, they kicked Dino out of the coop. So Dino flew up on top of the coop and roosted there. By noon it was still only 10F, and Dino was still alone on the metal roof. So we decided to chase him in and close them all in for the day because we were worried Dino would freeze and die out in the elements alone. As we learned back when we first started free ranging the guineas…the only thing harder to herd than a group of guineas is a single guinea. A half hour later, and four freezing and frustrated humans finally got him in and closed the door. I guess we will learn from this and just keep the guineas indoors in inclement weather.

The ducks are also less than impressed with the weather. They came out, drank from their pond (we had a de-icer in it) and promptly went in to spend the rest rest of the day cozy inside.

Garden

We finished the year off by getting started on construction of the new garden. We got all the fence posts in, thanks to our neighbor bringing his tractor auger over for us. We wanted to get those done before the ground froze and made it impossible.

January Kitchen Project

Before we moved into the house, back in May, the girls and I gave the whole place a good scrub down. But we found that trying to clean the cabinets in the kitchen was nearly impossible. They had that build-up of greasy dust gunk that happens in a kitchen. You know, the stuff you find on top of your fridge if you don’t wipe it regularly. Plus just basic yucky dirt build-up around the handles etc. We tried a couple different cleaners, but it seemed that whatever we tried just made it sticky-er. We needed a major de-greaser to get the job done. But we were limited on time and couldn’t do it before the move. Then life went crazy busy. So, while it has been clean enough to be useable, it has been in the back of my head that I needed to really scrub and de-grease the cabinets and drawer fronts at some point.

The time has now come and I am making it my goal to do all of the kitchen by the end of January. I am doing it in small chunks so as not to overwhelm myself and so I can continue to focus on homeschooling and basic life (cooking, cleaning, etc). Daniel is taking the doors off for me, a couple at a time, in the morning before he leaves for work. When I have time during the day (or over a couple of days), I remove the handles and hinges, then give them a major scrubbing with degreaser (being careful not to overdo it and accidentally remove the finish on the cabinet), and then once they are dry they go back up.

I have been shocked to see the difference it makes. The small section I did last week looks almost brand new! It will be a tedious project, but will definitely pay-off in the end.

2021 Year-End Homestead Review

At the end of each year I like to do a homestead review post where I sum up the year and give some statistics about each area of the homestead.  It helps me see how we did, what we succeeded with, what we didn’t do as well as hoped with, etc.  Usually, it encourages me because I realize we accomplished a lot despite potentially feeling like we didn’t as I lived in the day-to-day chaos of life.

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

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

2018

2019

2020

This year is quite a bit different.  In January we started preparing our house to go on the market, and then the rest of the year was quite the whirlwind of selling, buying, moving, and settling at the new farm.  So there were pretty much no records kept about the homestead the way I usually do.  Plus, we did not have a garden, since we moved too late in the season to start it.  So this year’s update will be a little different.

Statistics

Chickens:

  • Started the year with 36 hens and 3 roosters.
  • Sold or butchered the flock down to 10 standard hens and 1 standard rooster, and 5 bantam hens for the move.
  • Put 7 store-bought chicks under broody hen to raise.
  • 1 bantam hen and 1 standard hen died.
  • Ended year with 16 standard hens, 1 standard rooster, and 4 bantam hens.
  • No idea how many eggs we got this year, but enough that we didn’t have to buy any and were able to sell some.

Ducks:

  • Started the year with 1 drake and 1 hen.  Both older.
  • Butchered older drake and hen before the move.
  • Purchased 10 Muscovy ducklings and 4 Welsh Harlequin ducklings to add to the new farm.
  • Butchered 2 Muscovy drakes and 2 Welsh Harlequin drakes.
  • Ended the year with 6 Muscovy hens, 2 Muscovy drakes, and 2 Welsh Harlequin hens.
  • Not sure how many eggs we got, but the Harlequins started laying in about November and laid about 10 eggs each week between the two of them.

Guinea Fowl:

  • Purchased 8 Guinea keets.
  • Had some issues getting them free-ranging but were able to get it figured out.  They roost in their coop overnight.
  • 1 was killed by one of the LGDs.
  • Ended year with 7 free-ranging Guinea Fowl.

Farm Dogs:

  • Anya, our 5.5-year-old Anatolian Shepherd continued to do well guarding the flock, even through the move to the new farm.  She has matured into an excellent LGD who loves her job and her flock.
  • Since the new farm had more space and created two flocks instead of just one, we added another LGD to the family.  Ayla is almost 2 years old and is learning and growing into a good guardian dog.  She is Anya’s half-sister.

Sheep:

  • Started year with 2 wool ewes,  2 dairy ewes, 1 dairy/wool ewe lamb, and 2 wool rams.
  • 1 ram lamb and 1 ewe lamb born, both survived.
  • An unknown (because we didn’t keep track), but good amount of milk produced for cheesemaking.
  •  4 fleece shorn from our wool sheep, for a total of  24 lbs raw, skirted wool.
  •  3 fleece shorn from our dairy sheep, for a total of  14 lbs raw, skirted wool.
  • We weren’t able to process many of the fleece due to how busy we were with the move, so we only processed one for a total of  600 yds of yarn.
  • Did not sell any sheep this year due to the expanded size of the new farm and our desire to expand the flocks.
  • Purchased 1 East Friesian (dairy) ram lamb, 1 BFL (wool) ram lamb, and 3 BFL (wool) ewe lambs.
  • Breeding season Oct-Dec: confirmed 2 pregnant dairy ewes, don’t have confirmation on the rest yet.
  • Finished year with 5 wool ewes, 1 wool wether, 2 wool rams, 4 dairy ewes, and 1 dairy ram.

Goats:

  • Started the year with 2 pregnant Nubian does.
  • One doe died
  • 1 buckling born, sold at weaning.
  • Purchased fresh (milking) Nubian doe.
  • Unknown amount of milk produced, but plenty for our family through the year.
  • Re-bred 2 does in Nov.
  • Ended year with 2 pregnant does due to kid in April.

Garden

  • No garden this year, but we were blessed with a lot of produce from other people’s gardens.
  • We did bring our container herb garden with us, and expanded it.  We harvested a lot of fresh herbs as well as harvesting and drying them.
  • Brought cuttings from our Lilac bushes with us and planted those.
  • Gifted an apple tree which we planted and it survived.
  • Purchased comfrey roots and planted several of those for next year.
  • Gifted some garlic and planted it for next year.
  • Started construction on the new vegetable garden for next year.

Heritage Arts:

  • There was a lot of knitting and sewing done, but I did not keep good track this year, so I have nothing to report here.

Kitchen:

  • Canned apples in honey syrup, applesauce, pickles, and crabapple jelly.
  • Root cellared garlic, onions, potatoes, pumpkins, and squash from a barter with someone.
  • Made quite a bit of aged cheese.  Mostly from sheep milk, a few from goat’s milk.
  • Made a lot of soft cheeses and dairy products, mostly from goat’s milk, some from sheep milk.

Year Summary

January was busy with house remodel projects to prepare it to go on the market.  I did some knitting and spinning, and we made firestarters to help keep the firemaking easy as we used them to warm our house.  We wethered our infertile BFL ram, and were excited to add a new breeding ram to the farm – an American Bond.  Unfortunately, he would later prove to be infertile as well.

February started with a hard loss – our sweet goat Pansy died after a long struggle with medical issues.  We had a deep freeze with days barely in the single digits and nights well into the negative numbers.  One of our dairy ewes, Daisy, gave birth to twins – a boy and a girl.  Her milk production was even better than last year (last year was her first freshening).  We decided to just let the lambs have it as we were up to our eyeballs with getting ready to sell the farm.  I did some knitting and decided to take a break from blogging as we were closing in on listing the homestead on the market.

I didn’t blog in March or early April.  But life kept marching on (of course).  Our house sold, with the stipulation that we find a suitable place to buy.  We looked and looked, but didn’t find anything during this time.  Our 5-year-old son had more liver issues, an ER visit which led to another hospitalization and his 24th surgery.  We continued to watch for our new farm.  The market was crazy with very little inventory, very high prices, and offers being placed and accepted in less than 24 hours.  It was easy for us as sellers, but hard as buyers.

In late April our Nubian doe delivered a buckling.  And we finished shearing all the sheep.  Just a few days before the contract on our previous house was going to expire, we found our new farm and our offer was accepted.  It was official – we were leaving the Rockies we had called home for many decades and heading to the High Plains.

In May we got really sick as we scrambled to pack and prepare to move a family of 7, plus grandma, a school, a business with large machinery, and a farm full of animals.  Thankfully, we were healthy in time for closing on both places and at the very end of May we signed all the papers and started the move.  Sadly, one week before the move, our sweet 15-year-old kitty, who we had owned since he was a kitten, passed away.  In hindsight, I am glad he didn’t have to go through the stress of the move at his old age, but we still miss him very much to this day.

June was crazy.  We spent two weeks prepping the new farm for us, the animals, and the machinery, then moving everything, and trying to somewhat settle in.  We saw our first tornado, way too clearly, on the third day we were here.  We added a new LGD to the farm family and she got right to work guarding one of the flocks (now that they were split into two at the new place with more space).  We started pasturing the sheep and goats and learning the ins and outs of intensive grazing with electric netting fence.  We started putting together a container garden with what we brought from our previous farm, plus some additional containers left on the new property.  Fencing the perimeter of the property with field fence to keep dogs out and sheep, goats, and dogs in became a priority, and big project, that wouldn’t fully get finished this year.  We also spent a ton of time weeding.  Weeding, weeding, and more weeding.  The area around the house that was covered in gravel was a jungle of weeds to the point you couldn’t see the gravel at all in some places.  We got a safe play area built for our youngest son.  Through it all, we were learning the new climate, the new views, the new landscape, the new wildlife….everything was new and different!  I continued to write online for Mother Earth News through the whole year, and I was really excited when I had my first article ever to make it into the print edition of the magazine printed in the June/July issue.

In July we thought we might just die of the heat.  We had more days in the triple digits than not, and several days got up to 108/109.  It was miserable for us as we had previously lived in the cool, high-altitude Rockies and had never experienced temperatures like that before, and certainly not day after day.  We continued to do what we could with the little container garden, but the temperatures were not helping.  Plus, pest bugs started killing everything we were working so hard to keep alive.  One of our sheep bloated, and we successfully tubed him and saved him since the vet couldn’t come.  We added ducklings, some chicks, and guinea keets to the farm.  By the end of the month the ducklings were out grazing in duck tractors we had built from odds and ends around the farm.  Milking the sheep and goat in the open with the flies and wind and heat was getting miserable, so we converted an old shed into a wonderful milking parlor.  Lastly, we built a door for the hay barn in preparation to put up hay for the year.

In August we started to feel somewhat settled at the new farm.  We added another Nubian milking doe and 4 Bluefaced Leicester sheep to the farm.  We did a lot of fermenting and canning.  Now that we had a couple of months under our belts, we were reading books like crazy and doing research to try to figure out how we want to manage and build the new farm in so many different areas – livestock, gardens, etc.  We started a new school year, our first and the new farm.  Sadly, our sweet, old house-rabbit, Wilbur, passed away.

September included a lot of illness and some death among the livestock, as well as illness among the humans.  We enjoyed a drop in the very hot temperatures and found we were able to spend more time outside.  I got my antique treadle sewing machine fixed and started to learn how to use it.  We built the poultry barn and moved around all the poultry to new housing.  We started to feel a bit overwhelmed as we tried to get to everything we needed to get done before winter hit.

October was full of guinea fowl adventures as we attempted to get our guineas to free-range but stay on our property and go indoors to roost at night.  I had another article published in the October/November print edition of Mother Earth News magazine.  Our youngest son had another round of liver issues with hospitalization and surgery.  I also spent a lot of time sewing on my antique treadle machine, making a quilt and aprons for gifts.  By the end of the month I felt completely proficient on the machine and it became my go-to sewing machine for most all my projects.

In November I was excited to be able to speak at the Homesteader’s Livestock Summit.  The whole family helped with my presentation and we all really enjoyed the opportunity to share what we love and teach about raising sheep for high-quality wool production.  The Nubian does headed to the breeder’s farm to get bred, since we don’t keep a buck for breeding.  Our sheep breeding season was proving challenging and we decided to try using ram harnesses with marking crayons to help figure out what was going on.  We finished all our “before winter hits” projects in time, including a root cellar/tornado shelter.  The girls had a very successful booth at a Christmas craft fair in the area.  And we got our first dusting of snow at the new farm.

December was shockingly warm, and we enjoyed it.  We also enjoyed the slower pace from a year of crazy busy.  We stopped all “projects” and just spent time enjoying our family.  We all got sick with a nasty cold, but it helped keep us slowed down, at home, and resting for the first time in a very long year.  The ducks started laying, and the goats came home pregnant.  We made our final plans for next year’s vegetable garden, and started working towards making it a reality.

It has been a crazy year of change and so much hard work.  But it is all a blessing and we are glad for the move and all that we have gone through.  We are looking forward to 2022 being our first full year at the new farm.  We are excited to see what every season is like here.  And we are busy dreaming and planning as we build this new homestead out on the High Plains.

Sunday Homestead Update – Candy, Flood, and Wind

We had a problem with our well pump this week, which caused a pressure surge in the water lines, which caused some flooding. It broke an apparently weak spot in a pipe under the kitchen sink, which flooded part of the kitchen and dining room. Thankfully, someone was home and thus it was dealt with as quickly as possible, which decreased the damage. Had no one been home, the damage would have been immense. It also caused the pressure relief valves on both the house water heater and the mill water heater to pop. Good, in that those protected the heaters, but bad in that it caused some minor flooding in the crawl space (not as big of a deal) and in the mill (a bigger deal). Fans have been running, everything has been cleaned up, and we are glad the damage is so minimal. The pump has a temporary fix and will get fully fixed this week. Daniel has dealt with several different water systems over the years and this one is completely different than what he has dealt with before. So he is expanding his knowledge and learning the new system and how to maintain and repair it.

Wind

We did get some of the terrible wind that hit the area this week, but thankfully no damage. It was interesting to watch the weather move in that morning. It was hard to capture fully with a camera, but we saw some interesting clouds formations that were pushed over and then down the side of the Rockies. They were almost reminiscent of wildfire smoke. It was a cool sight, one we had never seen before.

Christmas

We have been busy making Christmas goodies – candies and cookies and sooo much sweet stuff! Not to mention dressing up jars of jelly and applesauce to give as gifts from our homestead.

We have also been doing a lot of work on homemade Christmas gifts. I can’t share any photos because it would give away the surprises. But it has been fun to see all the awesome things everyone has been creating. Very thoughtful and well-made gifts.

Have a wonderful Christmas!