on loving, caring, killing and eating

**If you would rather not read and see pictures of the butchering of our animals for meat you may want to skip this post and come back another day. However, I would encourage you to read on because as long as we remain disconnected from the realities of our choice to consume animal products the longer are food system will remain broken, and I dare say, harmful to both the animals’ lives and ours. It’s so easy to divert our eyes from the reality of being omnivores, it also seems as though many living this lifestyle are skirting round the realities that come with raising one’s own food and avoid articulating their experiences in favor of not ruffling feathers. In the name of authenticity I am choosing to share both the realities and the emotions that accompany them. 

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Spring and Fall. The most frantic time of all for anyone who grows/raises the majority of their own food. Eh, who am I kidding there is really never downtime when it comes to living the way we choose but there’s just something about Spring and Fall, that manic hurrying, the need to get so many of the things on that “to do” list done, like yesterday, or you’re gonna throw the whole damn schedule off.

In reality, that schedule is a mirage, something that never actually existed because the second you decided to be a homesteader your were already behind. You should have started 5 years ago, you should have learned a hell of a lot more a hell of a lot sooner. 

Summer is abundant and feels at time languishing. The humid, hot days seem to stretch far in front of you, the light lasts forever and you feel like you have all the time in the world to get it all done. There’s always new life running and bouncing in the pastures or rising up from the cool earth of the garden. When one thing stops ripening two new things start and there is always something to look forward to.

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Then one day you wake up, walk out the door and realize you’re missing a layer to protect against the morning chill. It never seems like Autumn arrives gradually, at least not in our neck of the woods, but rather all at once, catching you off guard, unprepared and suddenly you’re behind…again.

Fall is harvesting and closing up the garden, moving in the firewood, repairing anything that might not make it through another winter, winterizing of structures, recalculating and sending out a quiet prayer that you have enough hay, breeding of most of the livestock, and moving everyone closer in to be nearer to the food, water, the electric to keep the water from freezing and the farmer. (The shorter the distance you have to carry a square bale in two feet of snow, the better. Especially come February when your patience with the white stuff is already wearing thin.)

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Also, it’s butchering season, at least around here.

We do most of our butchering this time of year for a variety of reasons. It’s cooler for one, there are fewer bugs, more rapid cooling of the carcass and an overall more hospitable environment for us throughout the process. Also, most things reach the age required at this time of year. I think there is also something that results from our closer connection to nature and the seasons (and I believe a pleasant side effect of this lifestyle) flipping that primeval switch that still lies somewhere deep inside of us all- winter is coming, protein rich food needs to be acquired and put in reserve to help us weather the long cold months that are ahead.

This past week we butchered both a steer and the the final turkey that remained after an apparent coyote visit this summer (we are lucky to have a local farm that we can buy free-range turkeys from to replace the loss.) Within the month we will butcher the lambs that need to be culled and Kevin will hopeful get a deer or two and that will stock our freezers full of meat until this time next year. We would also be butchering pigs and meat chickens but they were two of the things that didn’t make the cut this year when we had to rethink where our energy was spent.

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In the name of full discloser we did not butcher the steer ourselves (we like to do our own butchering when ever possible) only because we do not have a large enough cooler (yet) were we can hang the sides of beef for 3 weeks. So instead we reluctantly loaded him on a trailer and took him to a local, family run butcher shop that can do it for us.

Bert, the first animal born here on the farm two years ago, was Lilac’s baby. We touched him and carried him within an hour of being born. We watched him nurse and grow and nurse some more even after he had grown. (See? when left to their own devices all mammals practice full-term breastfeeding.) We fed and watered him, giving him a scratch on the head whenever we did. He was precocious and possibly more friendly than even his mom, by far friendlier than the other bovine in our herd.

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He was funny and entertaining, running fence lines whenever we walked by, often telling us a story while doing it. He is the headliner in the best story that has come out of this homestead of ours. He was originally scheduled to make his trip to the butcher earlier this fall but secured his month long reprieve the morning that Kevin and my dad tried to load him on to the stock trailer we had borrowed. They had parked the truck and trailer in the alley way that runs alongside all of our pastures. The plan was to run him from the pasture into the blocked off alley and then up into the trailer. All went according to plan until the second they got him up to the the trailer, Bert suddenly realized what they had in mind, froze and took a mental accounting of his surroundings and remaining options. Without missing another beat he reared up onto his hind legs, all 1000 lbs of him, and gracefully leapt over our seven wire, electric fence, just barely grazing his belly hair against the top wire and gently came down in the same pasture he had just exited, reunited with his herd. According to the guys, they looked at one another, threw their hands in the air and said “you win today, Bert.”

This week, using a revised plan (the same plan I had suggested the first time around, ahem) he loaded immediately and was delivered without incident.

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Now here is were it all gets confusing and murky. As the trailer pulled away there was sadness, melancholy and few tears (mostly from the youngest one) but there was also gratefulness, relief and something that felt a lot like excitement, though I am terribly reluctant to use that adjective in regards to a situtation such as this, but it was there none the less. After all, within a month we would have a freezer full of high quality, grassfed, extremely nutrient dense food to feed our family and that would last us well over a year at a fraction of the cost (a fraction of a fraction?) than if we were buying from a local farm, not to mention the grocery store.

With these emotions still fresh in our memories we finished off the week butchering the last turkey ourselves. Both kids were present, though they always have a choice to opt out, just as they always have the choice to not eat meat. (I would like to mention here that mine and Kevin’s bodies feel better and stronger when we eat meat and considering the life we are living both of those things become paramount. We have also, at times, consumed a far more vegetarian based diet, mostly out of necessity (read cost here) and before we lived in a place where we could raise our own meat.) We said our goodbyes and thank yous and watched as Kevin delivered the life ending swing of the ax. See there it is again, the confusion and murkiness. Things have to die, we have to kill, in order for us to live. Be it a turkey, or cattle, right on down to the lettuce chopped out of the garden. And while I understand the it is easier to see the similarities between us and an animal then between ourselves and a head of lettuce the truth is everything is going to expire, including us. We are all going to return to the ground and feed new life.

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The hard truth is everything is going to be something’s dinner. 

My point in all of this is not to sound callus or to find fault with anyone who chooses not to eat meat, the point is that life is complicated, full of gray areas- raising, killing and consuming our own food is one of them. What’s not a gray area is that if your meat is coming from the grocery store you are actively supporting a substandard life for the cow that is going to grace your grill (and that you are likely to overcook all the nutrients out of but that is an entire post unto itself.) That cow never stood in the middle of a lush green field, sipping fresh water void of dung and getting a glorious scratch between the ears. He most likely hasen’t seen his mother since she licked him clean and has definitely never drank milk from her udder, no less at 18 months old.

Don’t even get me started on what the life of that turkey you will be setting on your Thanksgiving table was like. A quick internet search of factory farmed poultry will be education enough.

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If we are going to eat meat, it feels most honest to have the proverbial (and often times literal) blood on our own hands. 

Now, I’m sure those of you who are still here reading this ridiculously long post are thinking “That’s all great but you have acreage and I live in the city or suburbs, I don’t have the land, knowledge, resources to raise animals to meet all my meat needs.”

To this I say hogwash (How punny was that?) not because I think you should get a steer or a batch of meat birds and let them trim and fertilize the grass in your backyard, though I do dream of a day when everyone has a sheep or two on their lawn and they finally throw out their lawn mowers, but because you have options. Minimize your meat consumption like we did when we lived in the city. Go to the farmers market and introduce yourself to a local farmer, ask him/her about their animals or better yet make a visit to their farm. Join a meat CSA or go on LocalHarvest or eatwild and find a local, grass based farm near you. Offer to help during butchering time to offset the cost of buying better meat because, yes, this is a more time consuming and labor intensive way of raising meat animals just like buying a hand-carved, wooden toy is more expensive than a piece of plastic from china, which is to say, it is an investment. You are investing in your future health, in the health of those you love, in the health of the animal you are going to consume and the health of the earth.

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Kevin and I have had a lot of discussions over the years in regards to the feelings that arise from the raising and subsequent killing of our animals for meat. We agree that it never feels easy and we are always reverent. But the truth is, there will always be a new baby being a born, often times shortly after the butchering of the last one. The circle continues, until the circle comes around and sweeps us in too.

Living the way we do seems to create a life with a lot of uncertainty (Is it going to rain too much this summer…is it not going to rain enough? Are we giving the kids enough off farm experiences…are we away from the farm too much? You get the point.) while at the same time presenting us with some absolute truths.

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Ruminants are meant to eat grass, not grain. Truth.

Animals are meant to live out in the sunshine and moonshine, laying on the earth, napping in the fresh air. They are not meant to live in a dark “barn” that is covered in shit and other animals. Truth.

Most often if an animal eats what it is meant to, and lives as it is meant to, it will likely never become sick and never require a single dose of antibiotics, where as  factory farmed animals will receive these and other medications prophylactically because they will inevitably need it. Truth.

When an animal is living as it should (and grazing in a natural manner) it can do more to help and heal the land than its carbon footprint will undo. Everything form fertilizing and aerating the soil to fighting against invasive species and revitalizing native ones. They will help us save the earth and ourselves. Truth.

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And when the moment comes just before the final swing of the ax or the final pull of the trigger you look into the animals eyes, the animal that you have cared for since the day it was born, and that good life you have given them and all they have done is replayed in an instant. All at once you are grateful and sad, you are killing and loving.

And the circle continues. You will nourish another animal until the day it begins to nourish you.

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We will be nourished by the earth until the day we nourish her. Truth.

here

I might not have all my ducks in a row but my eggs are another story.

I may not have all my ducks in a row but my eggs are another story.

I’m not sure if there is anyone left around here to read these words but I think I will type them none the less. A 9 month absence must be enough to kill a blog, especially a little one like mine, but I will write because I need to dump all of these words and thoughts out of my head. I need to keep a record of our days and experiences if for no other reason than that I want my kids to have it. So, I suppose, it doesn’t really matter if there is anyone here reading this as long as someday in the future the kids do.

I know I have said this before but this was meant to be a journal of our homesteading experiences and this year has been real short on the homesteading bit. I mean, we are still here, still chopping firewood and moving sheep, still butchering our own animals for food, still pulling a plant or two out of the ground to grace our dinner table but it all seems far and few between and certainly not noteworthy enough to write a post for. Really, what would that look like anyway?

We woke up this morning and walked the 10 sheep 10 feet from pasture 1 to pasture 2 today.

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We harvested carrots for tonight’s dinner from our one and only row planted this year.

Awe inspiring it is not.

So rather than manufacturing posts and scraping together a few pictures, I just avoided it all together. Spring and Summer around here were spent mostly in doctors’ offices, either for my issues or for pre-op, op, and post-op (which in the end lasted months longer than it should have) on Kevin’s right knee. Our two biggest projects consisted of Kevin digging a new waterline out to our overwinter pastures (which took nary a long weekend) and him rebuilding our back deck, a highly boring job but one that had to be done, lest the whole thing went crashing down sometime this winter, buckling under the weight of two feet of snow.

Of course, we still felt busy because while none of those things look all that impressive individually, string 1000 mundane moments together and they still take up a hell of a lot of time. Add in that half of those 1000 things involve an animal with an instinct, an agenda and a mind of its own you might as well multiply it by a million. On top of it all there are two little kids needing time and attention (Exhibt A: while just typing this I had to field a question from PJ as to what is actually happening when we burn wood in the woodstove. This led into a discussion of atoms, molecules, hydrogen, carbon, waste products, atmospheric gases, incinerators and how it all impacts the environment.) Granted, we got our science lesson for the week (month? next year?) out of the way but you can see how this might all make a mom (and dad for that matter) a little too tired to muster a weekly blog post.

So what else is there to say? I have missed writing and all the cathartic side effects that come along with it. I have struggled with what to write about and how to walk that line of feeling like I have to share and sharing because I want to. I want to connect with other like minded people as well as people that can help me expand my mind. I’m not going to make any broad sweeping statements that I am going to show up here every day, or every week for that matter, but I do know that I want to show up. How that’s all going to play out I have no idea but I do know if anyone wants to come along I sure would enjoy the company.

the july garden

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Our new, improved and smaller garden is in full swing as July comes to a close. We have already harvested and pulled our shelling peas and sugar snap peas to make room for our winter beets. As much as I enjoy pulling peas right out of our backyard, the time, energy and space that they take up is hardly worth it when I can buy peas locally for a nominal price. I think we will most likely forgo planting both types in the future.

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Yellow squash, zucchini and round zucchini are all producing abundantly. PJ has become skilled at identifying when each is ripe and can be trusted to harvest all three on his own. Now if only we could get him to eat them as well!

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Mountain after mountain of green and purple beans have been vacuum sealed and tucked away in the freezer for winter. I also planted a row of wax beans so that we could make my great-grandmother’s cold bean salad for lunches .

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The baby lettuce and Kohlrabi are both doing well and thanks to the small-scale of the garden this year we have been successful in decreasing our garden workload by laying down grass mulch in between the rows. My dad, very kindly, sweeps up the clippings after mowing and makes me a pile which we (usually with the help of PJ) distribute; laying down a nice thick layer after initially weeding each individual space. This year I also think we finally figured out the correct schedule for succession planting of our carrot patch, which should mean we will start harvesting full-grown carrots this fall and continue well in to next year with proper mulching and over-winter care.

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The potato plants have grown lush and green in this year’s steamy weather. I am hopeful that all that beautiful growth above the mound is a sign of things to come at harvest time. Our early season Yukons are beginning to die off, so by next month our potato diggin’ treasure hunt will commence. Next door the corn is also growing tall and green and I have spotted ears on some of our earlier varieties.

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Cherry tomatoes have slowly been ripening and PJ has enjoyed them for a mid-afternoon snack most days. As much as I wish my kidlets would pick up their own messes, I secretly love finding little tomato stems laying about the house; evidence of some nutrients being consumed by the same child that has firmly entered the “all beige” dieting stage.

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The most exciting news coming out of the vegetable garden this year is the presence of cucumbers. With total crop failures the previous two growing seasons, we are finally, once again, swimming in cukes! Granted, I had to buy our starts from a local organic nursery (all of mine died this year) but I’m still going to count this one as a win. We have eaten them fresh at almost every meal but we have also canned dill pickles and sweet pickle relish. Next on the agenda is some bread and butter pickles. As there is no end in sight, I would welcome any and all cucumber recipes that you might be willing to share.

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We are still pulling everbearing strawberries from a few rows in the patch and a handful of raspberries from our tiny plants. The weather here, in our part of the world, has been perfect for fruit growing this year. All around us local berry farms and orchards are have a fantastic year and bumper crops. Happily, we finally found a huge area at the back of our property covered in wild black raspberries that we have been harvesting and freezing and we will soon be gathering wild blackberries from a neighboring spot as well.

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What are you harvesting, foraging, pickling, fermenting, canning and/or freezing this month?

*It’s been one year since I started on the adventure of writing this little blog. I am grateful for the people it has introduced me to and the insight and reflection that it has afforded me. Happy Blogiversary to us and thank you for all the love and support you have shown us over the last year!

Much Love -L ❤

if it’s not working…

Change it!

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The new garden plot.

Well the last couple weeks have been all about reconfiguring. Reconfiguring our plans, our wants, the things that we truly need and, most of all, our (often times unrealistic) expectations.

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Kevin preparing the soon to be potato patch.

Truth is, things had gotten a little out of hand; stuff on the homestead had seemed to take on a mind of its own. We were trying to do so many different things, in the hopes of being guided toward that which fulfilled us and that we honestly enjoyed. On the contrary, we were each being pulled in so many different directions that we were all suffering. Oh, the perks of restructuring you life and mindset all while in your 30s, raising two kiddlets and completely overhauling one’s living arrangements. We also found ourselves drifting away from some of our original intentions which had, of course, led us to this lifestyle in the first place. We were so busy everyday that Kevin and I found ourselves with little time and, unfortunately, sometimes even less energy and patience to really engage with the kids, what with constant farm chores, three meals a day to prepare (often times from scratch), businesses to attend to and any other general tasks all of us have to do in our daily lives. We also found that we all had little time left to pursue our individual creative endeavors, those things that refill each of our respective cups, allowing us to return to the group refreshed and recharged. The environment that we were unintentionally generating was in direct contrast to how we so badly wanted to live.

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Last year’s garden partially turned back into pasture.

Late this winter while discussing this season’s upcoming pasture rotation schedule we came to realize that the front pasture we used for our garden last year would need to be reseeded and transitioned back into grazeable land. I officially started off spring feeling deflated and firmly planted behind the proverbial eight ball. After all the work and soil amending we had done on the space, with tremendous help from the pigs no less, we faced the 2013 gardening season back at square one. We also sat down and discussed which livestock groups were working here, which we would like to possible add, and those that we would rather transition away from. Taking into consideration ease of keep (especially during the winter months), upfront and subsequent feed costs, resale value and whether or not the products that each inevitably provided could be purchased from other farming friends at a reasonable price, we started laying out slightly adjusted plans for the future.

I hope these guys get to stay!

I hope these guys get to stay!

As is usually the case, the further we move forward with these new plans of ours, the more the resulting benefits become apparent. We have scaled back the vegetable garden, finally convincing my father that we would never be able to make a living from market gardening if Kevin and I were the only two working at it. However, we can save quite a bit of money if we focus our efforts on the produce that we eat all year and put our energy into growing those crops well, then preserving them for winter. The garden is now much closer to the house which makes taking the kids out with me to tend to it much easier and tremendously more productive for me (this girl of ours is a runner, a daredevil and a huge majority of my days seem dedicated to keeping her from mortally wounding herself during one of her stunts). It also seems to be much more enjoyable for the kids, thanks to their play set and other toys soon being moved near by and a new picket fence that is being erected, allowing them to play safely within its confines, without me having to chase after the littlest every two minutes (that two minutes is not an exaggeration, by the way). We have already established various fruit trees and bushes, including a large strawberry patch that Kevin and I planted on the slope of a small hill, near the new garden area. As the new layout and design unfolds before us, my creative heart is happy with the aesthetic we are achieving, as well as the resulting increase in efficiency and more realistic goals we have set for ourselves.

It's a work in progress...

It’s a work in progress…

All of this reconfiguring has also allowed Kevin and I to begin focusing on creative endeavors that before had only received a fraction of our attention while we worked mainstream jobs and before we began cohabiting and pooling all of our respective resources. Our move here was supposed to allow for pockets of time, and interpersonal support for each of us, to rekindle these talents. I am so thankful that we were able to step back, re-evaluate where we wanted to end up, accepting where we currently were and having the courage to say “this is no longer working for us, we need to change it.” Sometimes the choices are tough, other times the decisions are a no brainer, what’s important is that we realize when things are heading in the wrong directions and have the strength and confidence to turn the train around. Granted, admitting that I can’t accomplish everything on my list(s) is certainly not my strongest quality but that is why I have Kevin. He, thankfully, plays the part of my brain (which I dreadfully lack) that tells me when I have reached the reasonable limit of things that can be accomplished, figures out which of my “to dos” really do not matter in the grand scheme of things and identifies those that will need to be left until another day.

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Sunset over the apple orchard down the road from us.

I have a feeling that exciting things are on the horizon and I think we will now have the time and energy to enjoy them.

What’s new with you? Has Spring’s arrival inspired exciting changes in your neck of the woods?

December 3rd

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The moment right before we all sit down to a dinner of (mostly) homegrown goodness.*

Our sweet potatoes roasted in butter and brown sugar then topped with flaked salt, just before serving. Canned dilly beans from the garden. Homemade baking powder biscuits, canned applesauce and, depending on whose plate, pan-fried venison and onions or grilled pork chops.

Those minutes just as dinner is hitting the table usually feel rushed and stressed, with patience running low and emotions running high. But once we all sit down and gather (whether the blessing gets forgotten or not) we all calm down (obviously low blood sugar issues run rampant in this family) and share these meals, happily, together. I want to remember this moment when I get tired of weeding or fighting off pest in the garden next season.

*She is always the first to show up when I call everyone to the table. She knows where it’s at!

And around it goes

Right now we sit here, counting down the days until our scheduled wood stove install (7 days people-7 days), donning our wool socks, long underwear and sitting under a plethora of blankets, the wee ones running about, dressed just the same, while also modeling their mama-made wool sweaters and hats. It is hard to believe that 3 weeks ago we were running around in shorts and tee shirts planting the last crop of the 2012 gardening season.

We had aimed to plant our garlic right around Halloween but when a summer-like bit of weather hit we decided to seize the moment and plant a little early. All hands were on deck (whether they were 90 years old or 18 months old) as it was going to take a group effort to cram what was realistically a 6 hour job into the 3 hours of day light we had left.

We set up right next to the bit of garden we planed to use for our garlic plot and started separating the organic seed garlic, bought earlier in the summer, into individual cloves. Kevin had plowed up this little bit of land last spring, the pigs had worked their magic on it and then any cow, chicken or sheep manure we had collected was laid out on it to bake and compost in the sun. Kevin, every few days leading up to planting, would turn it under to mix in the compost and right before planting he rototilled 6 inches down to loosen up the soil.

While the rest sat working at separating the bulbs, eating the picnic lunch I had thrown together and sipping on lemonade , Kevin and I worked at measuring out and digging rows. We planted about 25 cloves per row and 18 rows which could result in approximately 450 garlic plants next spring, more than enough to supply us with seed garlic for next year, garlic to use ourselves, and some left over to sell, hopefully offsetting our initial investment.

As we all talked and worked in the garden I realized that we were fast approaching our one year anniversary as homesteaders. We had officially completed one gardening cycle, with quite a bit of success, a bunch of new knowledge to propel us forward into next year, and a good amount of wholesome, clean food to fill our bellies this coming winter. So, our first go could probably be filed under a win. I am struck by how fitting it is that our anniversary here so closely coincides with the end (beginning?) of the growing season. Some of us were definitely more excited about the move to the farm than others, especially at the outset, but here we all were gardening together, talking and enjoying life.

I have been told that when you plant garlic someplace new it will adapt to its new environment. It will take on characteristics of the soil, of the environment that it grows in and be changed forever. Much like grapes, those characteristics will then be detected in the way it smells and the way it tastes. Our garlic, no matter the variety, will be specific to our farm, will hold unique qualities that can’t be found any place else in the world and have a new and different character than it did before.

Like this garlic of ours, I think this homestead is transforming each of us. We are learning to adapt and change, how to peacefully live everyday with each other, to be, even more, grateful for the food on our plate. We are figuring out how to balance our day-to-day chores, to prioritize between the things that are really important and have to be done now, versus the things that can be left till later. Each day we learn how to best thrive here, where we are now planted, all the while, becoming new, unique version of ourselves and also living as an extended family unit.

We have completed one trip around the sun and we’re still here, relatively unscathed, a lot tougher, a little stronger and I think more thankful for all that we have. We are still Kevin or Laura, Phillip or Linda, but now we have a little bit of this farm encoded in us.

Can you sense the difference?

Autumn Surprises

Here are some beautiful sights we stumbled upon on the farm this week. A week that started off wet and dreary, then morphed into a replay of summer. Before we were done in the garden Friday afternoon, a cold wind started to blow in from the west and the mercury dropped 20 degrees within an hour. All standard operating procedure for autumn in Western New York.

We are now settling in and waiting to see what the hurricane might possibly deliver. We have heard everything from snow with freezing temperatures to gale-force winds or just a gentle rain shower. I am actually more than willing to welcome a week of weather that keeps us inside, to be together, rather than being strewn about these forty acres, sprinting to get all of our individual chores done before darkness or winter (depending on the nature of the current chore) sets in.

I think it is safe to say that we are all feeling tired and worn from running this marathon that is the first year of starting a homestead. However, there is plenty of beauty and joy, most often in the unlikeliest of places, sneaking up and grabbing us when we need it the most, keeping us motivated, looking and moving forward.

Here’s to Sandy changing her mind at the last minute and taking a sharp right-hand turn! And if she doesn’t? Well we will pick each other up and just keep running, together, toward our future.

I hope everyone stays safe and enjoys their last weekend of October.

Where we’re at

“The real things haven’t changed. It is still best to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasures; and have courage when things go wrong.”  -Laura Ingalls Wilder

The past few weeks have been a blur and the next few promise to be more of the same. It’s a busy time here on the farm, especially since it’s our first Autumn. No big posts are on the horizon but I like checking in and keeping everyone updated, so here is what we have been doing…

>Celebrating not one, not two but three birthdays. PJ, my mama and Kevin are all another year…wiser!

>Preparing for two new arrivals. It is very exciting and extremely nerve-racking, all at the same time.

>Anxiously awaiting the arrival of our first little calf, trying to soak up all the information and knowledge that we can about birthing and milking. All the while, knowing that we won’t truly “know” anything until we are in the thick of it.

>Picking, reorganizing and constantly shifting sheep breeding groups, on paper, in the hopes of getting spring lambs with the characteristics we are looking for.

>Desperately trying to get the girls back to laying after a sudden cold snap that made them stop, overnight!

>Trying to come to terms with the fact that we now have not one but two roosters in residents. Which is quite funny considering we paid extra for sexed chicks. (As long as they continue to behave and be respectful they can stay. If that changes they will quickly become dinner!)

>Working on getting Mum and Poppy to eat out of our hands and to let us give them a good pat or scratch.

>Thinking that the time spent last week carefully monitoring the weather for frost advisories was a complete waste of time. We were trying to strike that balance of soaking up more time to ripen the produce without losing it.

>Feeling fooled when we awoke to a frost, considering the weatherman said it wasn’t supposed to drop below 40 degrees overnight. Our best guess is the windstorm that unexpectedly blew through brought with it a windchill that dropped temperatures below freezing.

>Feeling sad that I lost all of the remaining basil to said frost.

>Feeling irritated that a good amount of squash got compromised by the frost and now, rather than tucking it away to use later in winter, I need to process it immediately.

>Prepping for next year’s sweet potato plot and how we are going to fight what ever it was (rodent?) that gnawed on     almost half of our crop, which rendered that half inedible for those of us of the human persuasion.

>Patting ourselves on the back for buying the pigs because they, my friends, ate all of those previously nibbled sweet potatoes after a careful trimming by us. In the end, we will eat that produce one way or another!

>Processing bushel after bushel of apples from our local apple orchard. Juice, applesauce and apple butter, oh my!

>Watching Kevin’s first go at hard apple cider bubble away upon the kitchen counter…teasing us!

>Searching for a local provider of organically grown pears and striking out.

>Desperate for those pears because I whipped up a delicious dessert this week and I need to tweak it so I can share it here.

>Finding others around us who are striving to live the way we are and feeling comfort in the fact that there are kindred spirits “nearby”.

>Considering adding a breeding flock of heritage breed turkeys to our motley mix of livestock.

>Contemplating other heating sources to use in the house, in order to alleviate our dependence on oil. I personally wish for a woodstove to sit beside and knit (or just create in general) at.

>Composting, plowing up and preparing to plant next springs garlic plot.

>Using the last of the previous years venison just as opening day of bow season arrived.

>Sending the hunters out with high hopes, feeling like it is still too early to expect any venison to be coming back in with them.

>Remembering that we have to stop at the local sugar house (who also happens to be a neighbor) to stock up on maple syrup since we’re almost out.

>Walking around our little bit of woods thinking that we should mark our own sugar maples and try our hand at tapping them this winter, just for fun.

>Savoring the last warm weather days that are sprinkled throughout fall, while also looking forward to the coming winters activities.

>Working hard at re-instituting a family rhythm that allows us to feel connected and grounded during these busy days we are now living.

>Feeling the pull of our quiet, winter routine and looking forward to attending to indoor activities that desperately need to be done. As well as, giving time to each of our individual creative outlets that we have missed so much during this busy summer and fall.

What is new and exciting in your neck of the woods?

Missing in action

So, thanks to a combination of being at the height of harvest, and in turn preserving season, and what little creative juices I have left channeled into a few household and craft projects that desperately need finishing before winter sets in, this here blog has seemingly been abandoned. From the end of August to the beginning of October we hit our busiest time of the year. Kicking off with my birthday we then have 6 birthdays, usually a wedding or two to attend, throw in some other assorted autumn festivities such as harvest festival, local fiber festival, grape and apple picking…and holy crap we have 7 straight weekends completely booked.

In the madness of it all I have a lot of posts written in my head but have yet to find time to sit down and type them out. In the mean time, I have been working on a little time-lapse photography, of sorts, to help demonstrate what we do with our feeder pigs while waiting for them to reach market weight.

When we decided to homestead, a huge driving force was the astonishing cost of clean, grass-fed meat, not to mention the astronomical pricing of anything labeled certified organic. Vegetarians we are not, with the exception of PJ, who declares meat to be “yucky tasting and bad smelling,” so we knew that our ideal of wanting to know where our food comes from meant that we would most likely raise our own pork, beef and poultry. It was the logical next step, after Kevin began to hunt, and a responsibility that we treat with great reverence and, in turn, do not take lightly. So, we aim to give them a good life, filled with lots of fresh air, sunshine and the food they are meant to eat and in return they will, eventually, sustain us.

Our pigs are Gloucestershire Old Spot crosses, a heritage breed, like all the other livestock residing here on the farm. Tamworths were our first choice, owning to the fact that they are referred to as the “bacon breed” and everyone here, including the otherwise self proclaimed-vegetarian 4 year old, really, really loves bacon. But alas, there are no Tamworths to be found around here and ones about a 3 hour drive away have a waiting list two years in advance and 10 people deep. So GSDs it was! We also chose a heritage breed because of their superior rooting capabilities and their ability to thrive on pasture. While they still receive a large helping of local, organic grain every evening to speed up weight gain (mostly because we got them so late in the year and this crew has no interest in over-wintering our porcine friends) we want them to be mostly grass-fed. Since their arrival, our compost pile has been void of any green matter or food scraps, all of which finds its way into the slop bucket and then out to the pigs. They have also been the beneficiaries of any of mishaps resulting from my initial foray into cheese making, which thankfully takes the sting out of failure…no milk wasted during my learning curve!

We picked this group up just after they were weaned, back in late spring, and quickly sent them to work tilling the barnyard after a short quarantine in the barn. When moving day rolled around we decided to set them out on a bit of pasture reserved for garlic planting later this fall. With the help of a portable solar charger and some electronet pig fencing we have our own rototilling crew. We broke the area up into three sections and here is an example of what happened in each section in the span of four to six days, depending on rainfall…

Here is Day 1 about 10 minutes after we moved them onto a new section:

Day 2:

Day 3:

Day 4:

As we move through fall and into winter we will turn them out onto each garden row after we pull the final harvest and allow them to turn over the soil and winterize for us, a job that would take Kevin and I the better part of a week to accomplish on our own. Many people have said to me, when they find out we are homesteading and striving to raise all of our own food, that they could never raise an animal and then send them off to the butcher, not to mention eating them for dinner. I, however, find great peace and solace in knowing the life that my dinner lived and being assured that it was a good one and that it had minimal impact upon the earth.I also know that sometime late this winter, over a dinner of pork chops, roasted garden potatoes, sugared carrots and homemade applesauce we will give thanks and marvel at how these pigs are not only feeding us but also, tilled, weeded and fertilized our garden, provided lard for soap making and entertained us daily with their antics. For as hard as it is to raise an animal from birth to table, I wouldn’t trade those blessings and assurances of traditional living for a shrink-wrapped grocery store package of unknowing any day!

My ode to the tomato

Until I started growing my own, I had no idea there was such a thing as heirloom tomatoes, nor the huge spectrum of colors they came in!

Ok, in the name of full disclosure, I need to tell you all something. There is a good chance that a large percentage of this month’s posts will contain tomatoes, in one form or another, for a myriad of reasons. First there is the simple fact, that here, it is officially tomato season. We tomato freaks lovers planted seeds indoors, in March, tended the tiny seedlings that sprouted, until they were strong enough to head outdoors, where we then protected them, supported them and worried over them for months. (Honestly, my tomato seedlings took a beating this year, so we saved what we could and supplemented with seedlings from our local, organic greenhouse.)  I personally have a hard time waiting for the first ripe tomato. Whenever I head out to the garden, the tomato patch is the first place I go, to both check in on everyone and see what offerings are waiting for us. Second, we can grow awesome tomato plants. I don’t mean to toot our own horn…well at least not too loud…oh what the hell, toot-toot. We have been known to grow 8 foot tall paste tomato plants and the only tomato failure that Kevin and I have suffered, occurred during our absence and was due to my father’s overzealous watering (we were in the middle of a drought and he thought giving them all the water they could take would insure their survival) which caused Blossom End Rot on all but the cherry tomatoes. Lastly, nothing, and I mean nothing, beats the taste of a freshly picked homegrown tomato. One bought at a grocery store, may look and feel like a tomato but they, most decidedly, will not smell or taste like one. 

The first heirloom of the season, this one is a Cherokee Purple.

I love tomatoes and I love eating them, in any form. Whether they are sliced up in a salad, slapped between two pieces of bread with a little mayo, salt and pepper, as a quick, just pop in your mouth, afternoon snack, sun-dried on homemade pizza, tossed in olive oil and served with fresh-cut basil and mozzarella or made into my great-grandmothers yummy tomato sauce, I just can’t get enough.

Just as pretty on the inside.

I think part of my tomato prowess, and borderline obsession, is due to my genetics. My family is almost completely Sicilian and Italian. After wine, garlic and macaroni (yes, they always called it macaroni, never pasta) tomatoes are the most important sustenance in our lives. To further prove my point, PJ, ever since he first had solids as a baby, has gobbled up tomatoes in any form. It’s the Sicilian in him, I’m sure of it.

Diced and ready to go.

So, to honor tomato season, I wanted to share my salsa recipe. I know, I know, it’s not an Italian tomato recipe, but right now, in our garden, all of the ingredients are ripe so, this is the one you get! Plus, it’s not really salsa, I think it would be considered more of a Pico de Gallo, but it’s what we eat as salsa because I, personally, don’t like the taste or texture of the conventional stuff. I have also been experimenting with canning it. If I am happy with the results, I will share that process next season, after I am sure that it truly has a shelf-life of a year, and a decent flavor when finally cracked open.

You can’t make salsa with out these little hotties!

Homegrown Pico de Gallo

3 medium to large heirloom tomatoes, with seeds removed, and diced. (I sometimes throw in cherry tomatoes too, to add different colors.)

1 small to medium yellow onion, diced.

6-8 cloves of garlic, minced. (Yes, I know my Sicilian is showing through, and this is what makes the whole house (and us) stink when I whip up a batch, but it just doesn’t taste the same with less.

1 small jalapeno pepper, with seeds removed, diced.

1 handful of fresh cilantro, finely chopped. (I usually add more because I’m a cilantro junkie, but a handful should do.)

1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil.

1 tablespoon of lime juice.

Salt and pepper to taste.

If Kevin is around when I make it, he tends to walk by and throw in some Frank’s Red Hot and a half a shot of tequila. This, right here people, is the only downside to being married to a cook. I think it is delicious and fresh tasting without these additions.

If I’m not canning it, I store it in a container, with a tight-fitting lid, in the fridge. (The bit about the lid is very important, otherwise your entire fridge is gonna stink.) It doesn’t usually hang around for more than a night anyway, so this is rarely ever a problem. We enjoy eating it on chips, as a snack, or over some chicken, rice and black beans, as dinner. I also like to take two fresh avocados, mash them up, and throw in 2 -3 tablespoons of the finished salsa. Voilà, we have instant guacamole! I bet it would also be delicious, over some eggs, in the morning. Ha! There! You can eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Now, as my grandmother used to say, “go, eat…manga, manga!”

If you try it, let me know what you think. Do you have any special ways you like to prepare your tomatoes?