Cheese!

I am excited to say that I started a new adventure in cheese making yesterday. I have been making soft cheeses for about 5 or 6 years now. I make Feta, Chevre, Cream Cheese along with buttermilk, butter and sour cream. Yesterday I made my first hard cheese….a colby!

My first lesson….never start this late in the afternoon when you don’t really know what you are doing…I won’t even mention when I finally hit the pillow. I used Riki Carroll’s book “Home Cheese Making”. Everything seemed to go according to plan…but it will be 2 months before we really know.

Lesson 2….you can’t add up all the times in the recipe and really think that you will be stopping at that point. It is not…I repeat NOT…..like baking a cake! I should have been done at 11:00 pm according to my calculations… a little late but do-able….let’s just say it was quite a bit past that point and I was so tired I was ready to chuck it out to the chickens!

I had wonderful advice from the Kansas Milkmaid…check out her link on this page and check out her new website….awesome! There were some concerns about the cheese sticking to the cheesecloth. This could be for a variety of reasons…some good and some bad. I will just go on in faith, wax the cheese and see what happens.

I am, however, undaunted and will be trying again in the next few days. Wheels of Parmesan, Cheddar, Gouda along with Mozzarella, Montery Jack and Pepper Jack are dancing before my eyes. I am cleaning out the small dorm refrigerator that has been out in the garden shed and dedicating it to my still to be pressed wheels of cheese.

This would be something you could do even in a small apartment. So, I encourage those of you who long for the homesteading life….or those of you working towards it….get a copy of this book or check out the links on the Kansas Milkmaid’s website and give it a try! I hope to hear lots of success stories….

.Good night folks…thanks for stopping in!

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Sometimes you just have to laugh….

In a previous blog I mentioned how much I love baling hay. I should have specified that I feel that way when everything goes right.

We had an interesting experience baling hay. It was really a comedy of errors – I can chuckle because I wasn’t involved in this baling experience. We had some guys over to help which relieved the boys and myself this time. Sometimes on the farm stead, things go so horribly wrong that you just have to laugh….helps to keep your sanity!

My husband left work early to get a small field baled and in the barn before the expected rain. The trouble began when the baler got to the field and refused to tie all those wonderful knots in the baling twine. After numerous adjustments, he seemed to satisfy the baler and work progressed…down two rows. Then evidently he hit a nest of some kind. Immediately the air around the baler was filled with some type of stinging insect that objected to having its nest baled. One of them hovered directly in front of my husbands face and then decided to go for the nose…a direct hit! Thankfully he had the presence of mind to grab some plantain, chew it and put it on the sting.

Since he couldn’t get back on the tractor he went to find some sort of wasp spray. He left the baler going…for a long time….with dry hay beneath it….and in it….get the picture? Smoke..then fire! He quickly jumped on the tractor and drove to the nearest faucet..which happened to be in the middle of the front yard. Smoke was pouring from the baler and from the row of hay out in the field, which caught the notice of our nearest neighbor.

Lloyd came quick as he could to see if we needed help. Aren’t country folk wonderful!! The fire was quickly quenched. Husband and neighbor got everything under control and the tractor and baler were working in perfect harmony for about 10 minutes when the clouds broke open and we had a down pour like we used to see in Florida. Thankfully the guys had been picking up what was in the field during the wasp, smoke, fire fiasco. We lost very few bales but spent a great deal of time and effort with little to show.

Thankfully days like this are rare…but they do happen…..lots of time, effort and frustration and very little to show for it at the end of the day. Perhaps it is God’s way of keeping us humble. We are very grateful it wasn’t worse. No damage to the tractor or baler…the fire in the field was quickly put out before the rows of hay were ignited, no one was hurt and we didn’t loose a field full of hay bales to rain. God blessed and protected us. We are thankful for the blessing, the protection and that we can laugh…

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Sweet dreams garden…

The last two weeks we have been busy putting the garden to bed for the winter. I like that phrase…I see myself tucking nice warm blankets around the garden beds as they nod off for the winter. Having a garden is a lot like having children….it is lots of work, you never know what you will find the next day, you get very attached very quickly, it exasperates you but is very rewarding at the same time and it requires daily prayer and attention or it goes to ruin!

We pick the last of the veggies as we go along. Yesterday I made the final gallon of fresh salsa with the jalapenos, tomatoes, tomatillas, and cilantro….yummy! We freeze our excess of those things during the summer. I lay them out on cookie sheets and by the next morning they are ready for the big freezer. They look and sound like giant colorful marbles! We put a large bucket (or several) in the bottom of a chest freezer and just drop those frozen goodies in them all summer long. Then during the winter we can thaw out a bowl full and make salsa that tastes so good and fresh – almost like we just picked it! We love spicy food at our house and going months without homemade salsa just won’t fly. I can’t abide the stuff in the store ….what do they make that from? I have tried canning salsa and freezing salsa but it just tastes better and is a lot less watery if I make it fresh.

We take out the larger plants and till in the smaller ones and then we sow a cover crop to help build the soil for next year. Our favorite mix is cereal rye, austrian peas and red clover. This protects the soil over the winter and adds great nitrogen to the bed when we till it under next year.

Although I am glad we are finishing up with this garden, it always makes me a little sad….sort of like saying good bye to someone you care about. I guess it comes from spending so much time in the garden. We are so thankful to God for His provision through our garden, it has kept us well fed all summer and now the shelves are lined with rows of colorful jars for the winter. Isn’t God good?

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The Importance of Saving Seed

There are many reasons to begin saving seeds on your farm or from your garden. The most obvious one is monetary. Seed saved is seed you don’t need to purchase next year. A step of independence!

Another advantage is taste. To save seed you must use open-pollinated seeds. These tend to be the older, heirloom varieties. Translate that into “taste good”! Many plants today have been bred for shipping, storage and long shelf life with nary a thought as to taste. This explains the tomatoes from the grocery store….they look great….but they taste like cardboard. They have been bred to have tougher skins, to be able to ship long distances and have a long shelf life….but they have lost taste. The heirloom varieties are what grandma and grandpa use to grow, they taste wonderful, have those delightful names (I know there is a story behind each one!), and will reproduce true to what you planted.

By using open-pollinated seed, you are also assuring yourself that you will avoid genetically-engineered seed…..something you definitely want to avoid!! I’ll speak to this in depth on another day.

We have learned on our seed saving journey that there is a much more profitable reason to save seed from your own plantings. God has designed a marvelous thing in a seed! When you plant a seed and grow it on your own place, it “learns” about it’s microclimate. It learns about your pest problems, your growing conditions, your weather, your disease problems… and all of this information is passed on to the seeds that this plant produces.

The next year your plant will be a little stronger, a little more disease resistant and a little more tolerant of your local weather. That information will again be placed in the seeds by God’s great design! Consequently, if you keep saving seeds, each year your plants become more resistant to the pest and disease problems you have, more tolerant to your weather and your growing conditions. You will actually be producing plants in the future that are designed just for your farm…super plants! Isn’t God’s design an amazing thing….it just takes my breath away!

So, what more could you ask for? Plants that are specifically designed to grow, produce, thrive and set fruit…. and to do it better on your farm than any other place on earth!

Do we save all of our own seed? No, not at all. But each year we try to save a little more.
We do save our bean, okra, tomato (some not all), herb (some not all), tomatilla, squash, zuchinni and pepper seeds. Hopefully next year we will add a few more. I also attend seed swaps at local garden clubs – a great way to get seeds that have been grown in your own region.

To learn more about saving seed I recommend the book Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth.
This book will take you through all the steps so that you can begin saving seed from your own plantings. Also visit www.seedsavers.org to learn more about saving seed. Remember to buy open-pollinated seed, you can’t save seed from a hybrid plant.

Some of my favorite places to shop for seed:

www.rareseeds.com, www.fedcoseeds.com, www.groworganic.com, www.seedsavers.org,

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Seeking freedom….

In our journey here on the farm, we have been seeking freedom…freedom from relying on others for things that we can do for ourselves with God’s help. I have seen this mentioned on several blogs lately so it seems that other hearts are being stirred as well. Just when we begin to congratulate ourselves on achieving freedom in an area, we are brought up short (isn’t God faithful!) and shown another area that we need to work on. It has amazed us how many times this has happened!

For instance, when we began raising chickens for eggs we felt independent….but we still buy feed…. When we began raising our chickens for meat and butchering them ourselves we thought “freedom!”….but we were buying the chicks. When we bought some calves and raised them for meat we felt “we did it!”….but we still bought the calves. We began raising our own veggies several years ago but realized we were still buying the seeds. And the list goes on…

God was gently showing us that we weren’t as free as we thought! We have been taking steps over the years to change this where we can. Will we ever be completely free? I don’t know…I hope so. Each year we try to walk a little more in that direction with God’s help.

Historically, this seemed an achievable thing…in fact it seemed to be the normative lifestyle for most agrarian folks. If they needed something that they didn’t raise they were able to barter with someone else to get that item. Surely this is achievable again….

Last year we started taking eggs and incubating them and raising our own chicks….it was very successful. This year we robbed eggs from a guinea nest and raised the young ourselves. This year we will breed our milk cows to a black angus bull and raise our own meat.

We began saving seeds several years ago. Do we produce all of our own seed….no…..but each year we get a little further along. We learned a lot about seed saving and why every farm should be doing this ….it goes much deeper than the cost savings, the independence issue or the desire to disengage from “Big Ag”. But, that is another post for another day.

We aren’t “there” by any means but each time we do a little more for ourselves there comes a satisfaction that is hard to explain. I believe it comes from fulfilling God’s original intent for our lives. Each step on this journey takes us a little further towards our goal…greater freedom from the world and it’s system and a deeper reliance on God. We praise Him for this great journey!

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Captured!!

Well friends…it worked!! The wild yeast has been successfully captured and is bubbling away on my kitchen counter. How did everyone else do? Milkmaid…this is good news (for the bread) but from your posts I would say bad news for the colby cheese I am about to try!

I am looking forward to sourdough pancakes, pizza, muffins and bread! Let’s see…I make these awesome garlic knots…in sourdough they would be even better! I’ll let you know next week!

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Multigenerational living/farming…walkin’ it out….

Scott Terry has a great post on his blog (Homesteader Life) about getting rid of nursing homes.
Since we are in the process of walking through this calling, I thought I would share.

Nursing homes have always been abhorrent to me. I never understood warehousing our old and infirm. I attribute a lot of this warehousing to the me generation, the instant gratification culture and our lack of respect for all forms of life…especially those inconvenient ones.

Many years ago, after my Grandma passed away, we asked Grandpa to come and live with us. He didn’t want to leave his church, friends and the small town he had lived in for 50 years. We visited and kept in touch through phone and mail often. Three years after Grandma died, I got a call that Grandpa was in the hospital. Of course the hospital would not tell me anything over the phone. So…I packed up the kids (3 at the time), the school books (praising God for leading us to homeschool) and we left for Indiana. I got to the hospital and found out that he had bone cancer, very advanced and was given a few short months to live. The decision was made, by those in the family with decision-making powers, to put him in a nursing home. It made my blood boil. Grandpa and I were very close. I just informed the decision makers that I was staying, the kids were staying and we were bringing Grandpa home. His wishes were to spend his final days in the home he loved. I am thankful that we were able to give him that. He was a blessing to me and to my children. Many things can be said and learned in those final days together.

What amazed me was how much this upset the decision makers. What it boiled down to, in my humble opinion, was that the decision makers recognized the fact that this was their responsibility but it was a distasteful one…one that they really didn’t want to handle themselves.
They felt uncomfortable that I was stepping in and taking this responsibility…I think the truth was that they felt guilty. They were shirking their responsibility and they knew it. It was ok to pay someone to do this but not ok to have another family member take it on. I was told “this isn’t your responsibility”, but I felt that it was.

Well, then Dad came down with Alzheimers. A very difficult disease. He was kept at home for a very long time. I kept Dad certain days of the week. My Mom eventually placed him in an assisted-living facility when his actions became dangerous. I did not agree with this decision but had no power to change it. Thankfully Dad was unaware of his surroundings.

Now, here we are on the farm. My Mom lived with us for 2 years but she is very independent…and we have 4 boys. Mom had gotten used to quiet, complete order (a “never anything out of place” type of order) and she wanted her own place. She decided to put a small house here on the farm.

In the last 7 years, her health has declined and she needs more help. The boys help take care of the yard, empty the trash from her house, change her light bulbs, help her clean. We do all the repair and upkeep around her house for her, help her with her checkbook, take her shopping etc. We fix a lot of her meals or she eats with us. We check in on her several times a day. We call if we are away more than a few hours. She calls often…even when we are home. We ask for her help in small ways…mending…watching kids…slicing veggies for the dehydrator. It is important to her to know that she is contributing and she is important . We are very grateful for her help. She takes a great load off of my shoulders many times. My boys know that I need her, that she helps carry the load.

This is not an easy walk. Often times this is inconvnient…especially as her patience seems to decline as her age goes up! We don’t always handle things well. Sometimes we really mess up and have to retrace our steps, retract our words and make things right.

We know that the time will come when she will need to be back in our home. We are preparing for that. We look forward to that. The lessons in this walk have been invaluable to our children. They see that you can respond to your elders with respect and love, even when they are difficult. They know that her life is valuable, that she can still contribute, that she is important in the operation of this farm…even if she isn’t out pulling weeds and hoeing corn. They have learned to treat the elderly with dignity and this carries over to the elderly in our church and our community. They watch us walk through the difficult days and learn to persevere with gentleness and love. They see us apologize when we are at fault and even sometimes if we weren’t at fault. We teach them that within the family, it is more important to desire peace than it is to desire to be right. These are important lessons. They know that Grandma will be here one day again.

I know when I am old and infirm that my boys will value my life. I will have a place in their homes and hearts. I know these things because they are walking this path with us now. They are learning the lessons and the fruit is showing in their young lives. We are not doing an extraordinary thing. I think we are walking the path that God designed for families. This is the way things used to be….before big cities, dual incomes and the entertainment lifestyle.

I can honestly say that having multiple generations living together has added something invaluable to all of our lives. Each one of us has learned great lessons and has been blessed through this….God truly knows best….we wouldn’t change a thing!

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Stalking the wild yeast!

First of all, I need to say that I am in the middle of this experiment so I don’t know if it will be successful or not. But here are the directions for those of you who wish to join me on this adventure. Wild yeast resides in your own kitchen…especially if you bake with yeast fairly often. The best times to capture wild yeast is summer and fall. Yeast doesn’t survive well in cooler weather. Here are the ingredients for the trap… 2 cups warm water, 1 tablespoon sugar or honey and 2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour. Mix the water, flour and sweetener together thoroughly in a clean, scalded, glass or ceramic bowl. Do not ever use metal when trying to catch yeast or when working with a sourdough starter. The scalding ensures that you are starting “clean”. Cover the bowl with a clean dishcloth. Put it where you think you might have the highest concentration of airborne yeast and where it will be warm so that it will ferment. I put it in the corner of my kitchen where I always mix and work my bread dough each week. If the surface starts to look dry, give it a stir. I stir mine each day. It should begin to “work” in the first day or two if it is going to work at all. If it does, your trap worked! Let it work for 3 or 4 days giving it a stir every day. When it’s developed a yeasty, sour aroma, put it in a clean jar with a loose lid and refrigerate it until you’re ready to use it. If it begins to mold or develop a strange color or odor instead of a “clean, sour aroma” THROW IT OUT!! There are other variations…for instance use water left from cooking potatoes to make your starter….yeast thrives on that and it adds a wonderful taste to your sourdough. I found this “Capture Wild Yeast” information on the King Arthur Flour Company’s web site.You can check them out for more variations or to order starter….just in case your trap fails.

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High Tunnels

Saw an awesome presentation tonight by a farmer friend, Paul Wiedeger. He is located in South Central KY .He and his wife Allison raise beef, chickens (meat and eggs), cut flowers and veggies. But tonight he talked of growing year round in unheated high tunnels.

During spring, summer and early fall, they sell at their local farmer’s market although they take pre-orders, via email, that can be picked up at that market. But during the colder months they grow the cool season crops in high tunnels. They service their customers 52 weeks a year.
As Allison says, “The good news is that you can harvest and sell 52 weeks a year.” As Paul says, “The bad news is that you can harvest and sell 52 weeks a year.”

They had a great video showing their farm, their marketing techniques etc. It was amazing to think of tromping through the snow, getting inside the high tunnel, shedding your coat and harvesting a salad for dinner, along with carrots, radishes, beets etc. Quite inspiring. They also use them come March to plant tomatoes, cukes, peppers etc into. They have BEAUTIFUL tomatoes by Memorial Day! You can check out Paul and Allison’s website to see their beautiful pictures….http://www.aunaturelfarm.homestead.com/

I am hoping that this is something we can add to our little venture here on the farm.

Well, the auction signs went up this weekend. It is being done by a local company that has a reputation for placing as many single wides as possible on the smallest pieces of land….sigh.
We are praying that this land will end up in the hands of a few instead of many. Many thanks to those of you who have offered to stand with us in prayer over this auction.

Another adventure happening right now in my kitchen…a great adventure…the trap has been set to catch wild yeast. We are working on trapping our own wild yeast for Sourdough starter…I’ll know in a day or two if our trap has been productive…this has been one of my favorite homeschool science projects…mainly cause it will taste SO good in the end!

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Sad News

We had very sad news this week. The people who own the land between our farm and the next farm are thinking about selling out. I have been amazed at the amount of farms that have been auctioned off since we arrived here 7 years ago.

This young man, Eddie, and his dad were dairy farmers. About 2 years ago, they had to sell off all their cows…the people producing the gallon jugs were making more on a gallon of milk than the farmers providing the milk! Eddie began working off the farm…he started taking contract work – all over the Eastern seaboard. He travels almost every week.. He leaves his wife, who also works full time off the farm, and his 2 young kids while he travels and tries to make enough money to keep things going.

Eddie’s farm is about 3 miles up the road but he happens to own this land next to us also. He used to plant tobacco on one field and bale the rest for hay to feed the cows. No cows…no need for hay. Eddie’s wife wants to move closer to her family. I’m sure she wants some support around her since Eddie is on the road so much.

It is a beautiful piece of land….backs up to a creek that runs at the bottom of the mountain ridge
along the length of this valley. The worst part…if they decide to sell they will auction it off. I don’t know what happens at an auction where ya’ll live but in this area it means only one thing…a mobile home park and unfortunately they usually end up pretty shabby….

My Mom, almost 80, is devastated…she has such a beautiful view from her screened porch and back windows. She is worried about noise, street lights, crime…..with good reason. We have seen it happen elsewhere in this little valley. She wants to move…I’ve explained that we can’t pick up and move every time a neighbor decides to sell a farm….just really sad news.

We are praying….

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