Saturday, April 29, 2017

Farm Catch Up - A not so short update on all the things

It's been a very busy Spring around here! We've been so busy working outside that I've barely had time to keep up on my farm tracking sheets, much less write for the blog. It's pretty icky out today, which honestly isn't any different from nearly every other day we've had in the last few months, but I'm caught up on outdoor work for the moment. Time for an update!
Magpie Harlequin rabbit kits, a couple of days before their eyes opened.

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Great Chicken Experiment - 5 Week Chicken Check-in

We're over a month into The Great Chicken Experiment, and we're already seeing some pretty drastic differences in the birds. First of all, I did a weigh in for the first time today, and made a startling discovery: I have two extra chickens! Chicks don't exactly hold still for head counts, and apparently in all the kerfuffle, I missed a couple. Whoops!

At 5 weeks, the Cornish Rocks are in their own brooder in order to give them the extra room they need.

Friday, March 24, 2017

The Great Chicken Experiment

Updated on 3/27/17 to add the last two breeds.

Since starting with chickens a year ago, we've been talking about raising birds specifically for meat. The birds we have now were chosen for laying, and while the ones we've culled were eaten; we want to be stocking the freezer, not just having the occasional stew when someone meets an untimely end.

Life seems to have been crazier than usual this season, so after talking over all the pros and cons of heritage vs. meat bird crosses, we decided to go easy this year and bring in ten Red Rangers for meat. Instead of a big project, we'd have a manageable number of chickens ready to process in a handful of weeks.

Monday, February 27, 2017

The Birds! The Birds!

We can't have roosters, and while there are a lot of benefits to having one, we do okay with an all girl flock. There's always a head hen to keep everyone in line; chickens have a very complicated pecking order (see where that expression came from?) The biggest benefit to our flock in having a rooster would be in keeping the girls safe from predators. The other day, I heard an indignant squawk, and I turned around to find one of my hens staring down a chicken hawk that had landed on the ground in front of her. I don't know who was more startled, me, Beatrice, or the hawk! While I wasn't too worried this time - the hawk was about half the size and weight of my chicken - there are other very real threats to my flock we have to look out for.

Remember these guys? The sassy Leghorn, and the perpetually thwarted Chicken Hawk?

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Some days, I get discouraged

I just got back to the farm after being called away for a couple of weeks. It was weird being away for so long. I didn't need to get up and feed the critters. I didn't spend any time logging egg counts, or making notes on seed starts. I didn't water anything, prune anything, or mulch anything. I had so much free time, I didn't know what to do with myself.

It was great!

For about two days.

Then, I just missed the craziness of our homestead.

I've been back for a couple of days now, and I realize there's one thing I didn't miss: my own too high expectations. I have so many goals for our little homestead - too many to reasonably make happen - and then I get angry with myself when I can't meet them.

So if you're me, or if you're a homesteader, or a stay-at-home mom, or a writer, or a farmer, or a parent, or just someone who gets discouraged when you can't get it all done, I made this video for you.



Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Employee of the Month: February

February Employee of the Month
is....

Miss Percy!

Congratulations to the little rooster that wasn't!


This little bit of sweetness started out her career 
on the farm as our tiniest fluff nugget!


Even as a tiny chick, Percy had a bucket list of hopes and dreams.

Growing quickly through the awkward teen phase of chickenhood, Percy rapidly established herself as head chicken of the flock. Her dominant nature, combined with her majestic red comb made us wonder if this chicken was, perhaps, a rooster! Oh, dear!


Check out that majestic hood ornament! Any rooster would be proud to wear that crown!


And those stunning feather patterns! So posh! So artsy!

But...
We can't have roosters on the farm! 
Oh, no!
What shall we do about Percy?


21 weeks and 5 days after we brought her home...
Percy the maybe rooster laid the farm's first egg!


Pretty soon, Percy's peer pressure payed off, and all the girls started laying. 
Positively perfect, Percy!


And so 
because of your initiative in laying the first egg, 
your positive, can-do attitude about laying eggs all winter, 
and your daily attempts to roost on the top of the barn door in spite of the 
fact that we constantly try to thwart you, 
we are naming you, 
Miss Persistence Wilfried, 
employee of the month. 



Friday, January 27, 2017

The Burning Man of the Homesteading World

So when you're a homesteader, you start getting sucked into this whole world of people that you never would have known existed unless you started searching Google for things like "homesteading" and "permaculture" and "how to butcher a rabbit without traumatizing your kids and neighbors". This is something I can speak to as I actually did spend a fair amount of time googling rabbit processing* videos That's how I came across one of the best videos I've ever watched; it's how I discovered the Salatins.

More specifically, it's how I discovered the magic of Daniel Salatin. This is a guy that eloquently speaks to a crowd of onlookers about value adding as a way to create a sustainable income source, answers questions on the fly, and shares info on the statistics of running a farm, all while processing a batch of rabbits faster than anyone I've ever seen.

And, I can assure you that I've seen a lot of people process rabbits. When you know you have to do it yourself in the near future, you obsessively watch a lot of videos, trying to feel prepared. It's something you should first warn your family about though, otherwise, they start to get concerned when they keep catching you watching animal butchering videos on Youtube. 

Anyway, that's how I discovered the Salatins. Joel, Daniel's dad, is the driving force behind Polyface Farms, which is essential my dream farm. This family knows what's up. They get that we are stewards of our land, and that by carefully managing, as opposed to stripping and dumping chemicals, our lands can sustain us indefinitely. 

Fortunately for the Salatins, I don't live anywhere near them, otherwise I'd be trying to move onto their farm. I have to make due with just reading, watching, and following everything they do from a distance. 

Except...

JOEL SALATIN is one of the headliners at what is essentially 
the Burning Man of the Homesteading world!!!

You know what this means?

It means that if I can get to this conference, I can make a complete fool of myself over another celebrity! I wonder what idiotic things I might say? 

"Oooo! I just looove watching you guys kill bunnies!" or "Oh, MYgosh, I'm watching you. All. The. Time..."

You know, normal things that people say to total strangers. If you have no impulse control.

 Anyways, this conference is going to rock like a sustainably sourced, water retaining rock garden! 


* And by processing, I mean butchering, Jaime.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Kombucha, the Skynet of our Times

I just finished my latest attempt at making kombucha, and as I wrote in an earlier post, I followed ALL the directions. I checked. I double checked. I re-checked. I washed my hands. I measured the tea and sugar, and carefully filled the crock. I added the Scoby. And then I added the other Scoby. I check the directions again.

And guess what? It worked!
I made kombucha!
                                Woohoo!
I made KOMBUCHA!*

It looks so sweet and innocent, sitting back there in its crock.
*For about ten minutes. Apparently. I don't really know because I missed the actual kombucha part.

Here's something important to know about making kombucha - you need to check the progress frequently. Did you know that if you miss the window, that stuff keeps right on brewing? That little bacteria plantation in there keeps right on plugging away, converting sugars into your worst nightmares.

You heard me.

Your. Worst. Nightmares.

I'm now convinced that we don't need to worry about Skynet and the robot apocolypse, or about the polar icecaps melting and the resulting floods wiping us all out. No. Humanity's downfall will be via kombucha gone wrong.

Apocalyptic Invaders from the Kitchen. That's what the movie
version will be called. I'm guessing. We'll all be dead by then.
You see, I followed the directions, and on the appointed day, I poured out a half a shot glass worth of brew and tossed it back.

The fireball that seared through my mouth and down my throat left me staggering blindly for the sink. I dropped the shot glass, tears streaming, sinuses aflame.

I managed to get the faucet on, and my face under the stream.

No help there.

 I reached to the side and fumbled the drawer open, pulling a hand towel out. Wiping my burning tongue with the towel did nothing other than attract the attention of a passing kid, who, between belly laughs managed to ask me what I was doing.

To this day, I'm still not sure who it was. My streaming eyes and the steam pouring from my ears made it impossible to tell.

I went to answer, only to discover I had no voice.
             NO.
                       VOICE. 

None. Just a croak. That stuff literally took my voice away! The shock to my vocal chords was so great that I couldn't actually talk for nearly ten minutes.

And that, my friends, is how it's all going to end. The Scobys are all going to turn rogue, fed up with all our clumsy brewing attempts, and we're all going to lose our voices, and then our minds. It's the only logical conclusion.

Robot apocalypse, pfft.

__________________________________________________________________

While losing my voice would obviously be considered a positive by my kids, I'm fairly certain that it's not a preferred outcome for most kombucha drinkers. Here's how to avoid my mistakes:


1. Make sure that you've found clear instructions. There's a ton of great information out there about making kombucha. I like how simple the Yemoos website is, and how well it describes the process. I especially liked these encouraging words, even though I know find them a teeny bit suspect now...
Your own kombucha will be your best teacher, and you will inevitably find many of your answers through time, trial and error.  ... as a word of advice, just as in all things, use your best judgement in the end! Remember, kombucha is not an exacting science, so relax and have fun!
Riiiiiight. Have fun...

2. Clean, clean, clean! You really don't want to go to all the work of trying to make kombucha only to have it turn into something wonky.

3. Label your brew. Use a marker, pop on a sticker, slap a post-it on it. Just put the date you started it, and maybe the date you want to start checking it. 


4. Post reminders to yourself. This is where I went wrong. My kombucha is tucked in a corner in the kitchen, and while I see it every day, I don't really see it every day. Next time, I'll be setting an alarm on my phone, and putting a note in my daily planner, and possibly writing post-its to place all over.

5. Don't trust anyone. While I think this isn't necessarily the best way to go about things, it's a good rule of thumb when trying something new for the first few times. While all the directions I found said it takes 5 to 10 days, mine apparently took less. All sorts of variables will affect your brew. Check it frequently until you get the hang of it.

6. Have your bottling supplies ready. If you aren't ready to harvest the kombucha, it's just going to keep mutating into killer voice silencing hazmat drink, and before you know it, you'll be contributing to the fall of mankind as we know it. 

7. Have some milk handy. In case you catch it too late. It may help with the burn. Probably not. You're doomed. Better have your will updated before you try it. 

___________________________________________________________________

Resources:
  • Need bottles? Ikea and Cost Plus have some of the best deals on pop top bottles. Amazon also has them for reasonable prices. I don't recommend using second hand bottles. They're too hard to clean, and who knows what they've had in them.
  • Want to learn more? Check out Yemoos - this website also sells stuff for making kombucha, including Scobys, in case you don't have one laying around already. My favorite site for kombucha making info - The Wellness Mama. She lists all sorts of helpful charts and things, and if you follow her directions, it's less likely you'll end up like I did...
  • And if you do end up like I did... 5 Uses for Kombucha Vinegar
  • Hankering for Flavors? Check out all the fabulous suggestions on the Common Sense Homesteading site in this How to Brew Kombucha post!
  • Visual Learner? This is a great video by Joanne of Heritage Homestead.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Kombucha, 7 Tree Style*

Alright. I have a confession to make.

I've never actually made kombucha. I know, shocking. I'm sure I'll be getting grief from several kombucha-mad friends very soon.

I've had several Scobys, or 'mothers', or 'that horrifying alien thing in the jar', or whatever you want to call them. I have been taught by die hard kombucha addicts how to make the stuff. I once even babysat a kombucha mother while a friend was on vacation, going to her house to feed it, tuck it into its cozy warming blanket, and giving it snuggles. Well, the snuggles were actually for my friend's cats, but I'm sure the Scoby was okay with it.

I've gotten started several times over the years, but never seen it through. I'm scared to try new things,  you see, and I frequently set myself up to fail. Once, the concoction molded; one time I forgot about it, and it went to vinegar. There was the unfortunate time when one of my children, a recent graduate of the school's reproduction unit, mistook the Scoby lurking in a dark corner for a placenta. I let things stop me from seeing the process through. In the ensuing years, I've not had one around to try again.

I don't know about you, but I get scared to try new things. I'm always worried I'm going to botch it all up, waste stuff, look stupid, do poorly, make someone ill, or just plain fail. I get stuck in my fear, paralyzed, and I fail before I even start. Hence all my poor previous Scobys that never got to fulfill their potential.

It occurred to me, though, that I'm failing my own potential as well.

Back when I first started knitting, I was sitting on my couch, staring down a very lovely skein of the softest, most expensive yarn I'd ever bought, and I was terrified to start knitting with it. I knew I was going to botch it all up. I was so afraid of making a hash of it, I didn't even want to try. I sat there frozen, unable to put it down, unwilling to move forward. Thankfully, though, I have my own worst critic. My inner teenager sneered, and said, "What is the big deal?! So you mess it up! Then you can just start over, and try again! Duh!" 

Any minute now, it may begin oozing over the lip of the jar,
ready to entrap any unsuspecting victims within it's
viscous jelly of doom.
Ridiculously simple.

Just start.

If I mess up, just start over.

Duh.

I can do that. And I did.

So I have recently been gifted a new chance at fulfilling my potential, as well as avenging all those Scobys of days past.

It sat in its transport jar for a couple of days, this descendent of an enormous Scoby named Scooby. I was afraid of trying again, so I let it sit. Deciding by not deciding

Until I realized I didn't want to fail at trying.

Colleen is currently bobbing gently in a large crock on my kitchen counter, and I find myself frequently eyeing it out of the corner of my eye, waiting for it to make a sudden lurch in my direction. Likely, I've watched too many old black and white horror films in my youth.

To be honest, I'm still vaguely terrified of this thing. I have scoured the internet for instructions. I have followed the directions To. The. Letter. I'm really anxious about not poisoning my family again like I did during the Milk Incident of 2011 or the Yogurt Apocalypse of 2003. I have some fancy new bottles standing by, all ready for whatever comes out of the crock, be it friend or foe. I've got various flavorings planned for infusing. I've re-read all the posts, blogs, and Instructables I could find.

I'm ready to rock this.

I'm praying no one dies, smothered in a gelatinous blob.




* 7 Tree Style: with much drama, failings, and/or hilarity