Tag Archives: Homesteading

October 2018 Highlights

It seems that October just flew by. There are several things that I intended to write about but just didn’t get the posts finished, so I decided condense them into this not-so-short but sweet post.

Little by little my blog is acquiring new readers, so I want to start by welcoming newcomers to my blog. Feel free to look around and explore previous posts. Please leave me a comment if you find something you like or just to let me know you were here. I always enjoy hearing from readers.

October 2018 Highlights

The Garlic Is Planted!

October is the month for planting garlic in Michigan. The objective is to plant the garlic 4-6 weeks before the ground freezes in order to give the garlic time to establish roots. If you would like to more about our garlic planting process you can check out these two posts from our 2016-2017 growing season.

https://donteatitsoap.com/2016/10/13/a-year-in-growing-garlic-part-ii/

https://donteatitsoap.com/2016/10/18/a-year-in-growing-garlic-part-iii/

This year our wet weather and mostly below normal temperatures in October made for less than ideal planting conditions.  We watched the weather forecasts for our best opportunity and the week beginning October 21st, with several dry days predicted, seemed to be it.

Early that week my husband began preparing the garlic for planting (separating the bulbs into cloves). We, but mostly he, worked on this on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday while we gave the ground time to dry out. By Thursday we could wait no longer – the garlic had to be planted because there was rain in the forecast beginning late Friday.

Despite the ground not being as dry as we hoped, Thursday morning my husband got an early start and planted garlic until nearly dark. For several reason we decided to use a divide and conquer approach so while I attended to other projects my husband worked diligently in the garlic field. Friday morning he again got an early start. When I took the boys (dogs) to the farm for their midday walk he asked if I had checked the radar. Not having done so I couldn’t offer him any idea how long it would be before the rains came. It was late afternoon when he called me. “I just got the last clove planted he said – then the first raindrop fell.” “God is good!” we agreed.

Coincidently, or perhaps by God’s design, we ended up planting during the full moon. We have talked about experimenting with planting by the phases of the moon in past years, but weather and soil conditions have always been more of a priority.

We did scale back on our garlic planting this year. We still planted enough to meet the demands of the markets we currently supply and have seed for the following year. We hope in scaling back on garlic we can put more time and effort into areas where we have not been able to meet demands, namely honey and strawberries.

An Apple A Day

This year we had our best apple crop thus far. While not all of our eight trees produced well, two trees produced more than their fair share. The branches on these young trees were so heavily laden with apples that my husband built posts to brace the branches so they did not break due to their heavy load.

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We harvested 4 milk crates nearly full (we didn’t weigh them). Here’s what I’ve done with them –

Apple Sauce – I’ve canned 22 pints of apple sauce.

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Apple Peeler

When I told my sister I was making apple sauce she asked if I had an apple peeler/corer/ slicer. I laughed and said “Yep, it’s called a paring knife.” LOL. Then as I started peeling all those apples I remembered this antique that I had tucked away on a shelf and had never used. I decided why not give it a try.

One of the problems I have with this and some similar kitchen tools that I have is that they are designed to clamp onto a counter. My kitchen counters were not designed for such uses as they have about a two inch lip that the clamp will not fit over. To accommodate these tools I use a stand alone shelf, but since I don’t often use these tools that shelf is also used to store things. I first had to clear off the shelf and move it to an accessible area. I rinsed the dust off the old apple peeler then clamped it to the shelf. I placed an apple on the prongs of the peeler and began turning the crank. As I turned the crank the blade removed a thin layer of peel from the nice round apple. When it got to the end the apple was pushed off the prongs and popped into the pan I had placed on the shelf to catch the peels. The second apple I tried was not perfectly round and the blade did not touch the flatter areas, so it left strips of peel behind. Considering this, and that I still had to use the paring knife to core and slice the apples, I cleaned up this antique and put it back and the shelf. Lesson learned: My paring knife seemed the better way to go.

Apple Chips – Last year, when we had our first decent apple crop, was the first time I made apple chips (dehydrated apples). We discovered that apple chips make a wonderful snack.

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This year I have filled up my 9 tray dehydrator twice. Each tray holds 3-4 apples and it takes about 20 hours to dehydrate them. When they are finished I store them in small sealable bags usually putting one tray (about three or four servings) per bag. When eating apple chips it is important to consider portion size because they are so good it would be easy to eat too many. It is also important to drink lots of water because they still contain lots of fiber.

Apple Vinegar – This is something I have been reading about and wanting to try for a while. I have seen recipes posted on several blogs and had bookmarked Home and Harrow to return to when I was ready.  My vinegar is still fermenting so I’ll let you know how it turns out in a future post.

Apple Pie – Yesterday I made our third apple pie from this crop. There is just nothing better than homemade apple pie, except maybe homemade pumpkin pie, or homemade blueberry pie or homemade  cherry… well you get the point. It is just so good. I also froze enough pie filling to make six more pies.

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Coffee Cake –  Even with all of that I was still looking for ways to use apples so when I made this coffee cake, which is a recipe that we really enjoy, I decided to add apples. I peeled, cored, and diced three apples and added a layer of apples on top of the streusel in the cake. It turned out fabulous.

I think we are now down to our last 7 or 8 pounds of apples and our plan for those in the next few days is to start a batch of apple wine. Cheers!

Making Soap – You may remember from this post that I consider this time of year soap making season. I haven’t yet come up with any new recipes but I did upgrade a couple of recipes that I have previously made. Perhaps I should add “version 2.0” to their names. :)Let me tell you what I did.

Cocoa Soap – My cocoa soap is made with olive oil and coconut oil as the base oils and coco powder, powdered milk and sugar as additives (just like a cup of hot cocoa might be made). When I first decided to make cocoa soap it was really just for fun. I mean how many of you would love to just bathe yourselves in chocolate? or maybe have dreamt about swimming in the chocolate river on Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory? Fun eh? According to this article cocoa may actually have some benefits for the skin, but when it is made into soap I am skeptical as to whether any of those benefits remain. It does however make the soap a deep brown color. The milk adds a creaminess and sugar makes for an extra bubbly lather. What more could you want right?

Actually there was one other ingredient that I use in another soap recipe that just needed to go into this soap, because what goes better in a cup of hot cocoa than ——————————marshmallow. In case you are thinking that I have totally lost my mind – no, I don’t use those sweet little sugary puffs that we all know as marshmallows. What I use is marshmallow root from the marshmallow plants that we grow.

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If you would like to learn more about the heath benefits of marshmallow you can check out this link. https://www.herbwisdom.com/herb-marshmallow.html .

I have been using this herb in my hair care soap for several years now. The marshmallow root is said to add conditioning properties. For the past four years I have exclusively used my homemade soaps (usually hair care or coffee) when washing my hair and in all honesty my hair is healthier than it has ever been.  Don’t Eat It! Cocoa Soap (2.0 🙂 ) should be finished curing around November 23rd, so we will have to wait to find out how it turns out.

Coconut Soap – Like my Cocoa Soap the base oils used in this soap are olive oil and coconut oil.  The additive in this case, however, is shredded coconut. The coconut, while gentle on the skin, adds a little extra scrubbing power. It really is a nice soap, but I decided to make it even nicer this time around by adding yogurt. In the past year I have discovered that adding yogurt to soap gives it a super rich creamy lather and who doesn’t love that?

Incidentally, I once had a lady ask me “Doesn’t the coconut clog up the drain?” and you might be wondering the same thing. The answer is No – nor do the coffee grounds in the coffee soap or the oatmeal in the breakfast bar soap. What does clogs up the drain is hair.  Being the mother of 4 daughters, and all of us having long hair at various times in our lives, I can attest to the fact that hair is what clogs drains.

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Coconut Soap and Cocoa Soap

I also decided to stamp all the bars of these two batches. What do you think?

Thanks for reading. 🙂

 

 

 

Harvesting Herbs

With the threat of frost looming I decided that a herb harvest was in order.

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Bottom Left: Parsley, Bottom Right: Sage, Top Right: Rosemary and Top Left: Thyme

I collected these yesterday. (Are you singing? I was singing in my mind while I cut these.) After dinner I planned to come back for chives and lavender. I didn’t make it back and this morning frost blanketed everything. I was, however, thrilled to find that none of the herbs had been affected by the frost. I was able to harvest chives, spearmint, chocolate mint and lavender today.

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Lavender

I wasn’t the only one interested in the lavender. There were many bumble bees flying from blossom to blossom – collecting nectar I presume. Not wanting to take it all from them, I only harvested about 1/2 of the blossoms.

All of these herbs will be dried, then some will be used for culinary uses, others will be infused into oils for use in soaps or balms, and some (spearmint and or chocolate mint) might be infused in vodka since we enjoyed it the last time I made it.

Now that we have had a frost there are other things that can be harvested; these include rose hips and horse radish. Look for a future post on how I will be using them.

Thanks for reading and until next time – be well. 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

My Thoughts About Bee Keeping and Honey

We started our bee keeping ventures in 2013 and to date it has been the most frustrating farming activity we do. Hive losses are heartbreaking and we have had many. Probably our worst experience was when the bees we ordered did not even make it to our farm alive. You can read about that here. If you read that article you may understand when I say that bee keeping is also one of the most thrilling and rewarding activities that we do. Capturing swarms, observing the bees while they forage and pollenate our crops, harvesting honey and wax all make this so.

As with everything we do our bee keeping efforts are done on a small scale. We often use the word boutique to describe our farm. Since we started bee keeping we have maintained at least one hive and at times had as many as seven hives. Each year we have harvested honey and for the last 4 or so years we have harvested and processed our own wax as well. If you are interested in learning how I filter bees wax you can  read about that here.

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Beekeeping has given me a whole new understanding and appreciation of honey. Most of my life I have used store bought honey and never thought much about it. The color and flavor were pretty consistent. Honey was just honey. It wasn’t until we started harvesting our own honey that I realized that honey is not just honey. In fact we have yet to have any two honey harvests where the honey tasted the same.

When people find out that we are beekeepers they often have many questions. Below are some of the points I make when talking about bees and honey.

  • Each honey harvest is (should be) a wonderfully, unique blend of nectars and pollen from various plants that have been in season.
  • The color and flavor of honey should vary between harvests.
  • Mono cropping, the practice of moving bee hives to a particular location where a specific crop is in blossom in order for the bees to pollinate that crop, may be detrimental to bee health. (how well would you fare if you only ate one food for the majority of your life?)
  • Feeding bees sugar syrup is probably not good for the bees.
  • Local honey may or may not be effective as a treatment for allergies depending on what the bees were foraging to make their honey.
  • In the U.S. honey suppliers are required to put their address on the honey label. Buying honey that has a local address does not necessarily mean you are buying honey that was produced locally.
  • Raw honey is honey that has not been heated above 110 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Honey can be stored at room temperature and has an indefinite shelf life.
  • Honey might crystalize but it is still good.
  • Honey that has crystalized can be turned into liquid again by slowly heating the jar in a pan of water. Do not microwave!
  • Because the honey may crystalize and you may want to heat it to make it liquid again do not buy honey in plastic bottles.

Do you have any questions or thoughts about honey bees or honey? Leave me a comment and I will be sure to get back to you.

Thanks for reading and have a great day! 🙂

 

 

 

As Summer Comes To A Close

We are (too) quickly approaching the Fall equinox and it seems that Summer and Fall have been duking it out. Some days we have had cooler fall-like temperatures but on other days have been hot, reminding us that it is still summer.

I thought I would share some of my observations from my morning walks at the farm on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Tuesday morning was warm and humid. As I arrived at the farm a bunny, who was sitting in the driveway, scampered away. When I exited my van two deer, who were near the pond, made a quick exit into the woods as well. As the sun rose, burning off bits of fog, the dew was still heavy and glistened on blades of grass and clover leaves. My rubber boots were soaked but my feet were dry as I walked the path around the back field.

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While most of the sunflowers have gone to seed, we still have one patch that are smiling brightly with their faces turned toward the rising sun.

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We had planted sunflower patches several times throughout the spring and summer and this last patch is now being enjoyed by our bees and many other pollinators.

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Apple picking is not far off. We have tasted a few apples but have decided they needed a bit more time to ripen.

 

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I saw and heard many birds this morning, but this one seemed to be posing for me.

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The wild flowers in the field are in transition. Thistle and Queen Anne’s Lace have all gone to seed and Golden Rod is fading, but Asters are now blossoming. The bees will forage the Asters into the fall while they continue to build their stores for winter.

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The Maple trees are beginning to change color, ushering in the new season, yet the Hibiscus continue to bloom, holding tight to these last days of summer.

Wednesday morning was cooler. The sun was shielded by a thick blanket of clouds. I did not spot any rabbits or deer which is somewhat unusual. Although I wore my rubber boots, the ground was not wet and my farm shoes probably would have kept my just feet dry.

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The sunflowers seemed to be searching for the sun, their heads turned in various directions.

The air was still as I walked the path around the back field, but I was amused seeing the  weeds wiggled as grass hoppers jumped on them or hit them on their way by.

I didn’t hear the song birds like the previous morning instead I heard crows and then turkeys. I heard the turkeys several times as I walked the path across the field but I did not spot them until I reached the wood line.

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There was a flock of them in the neighbors yard – I would have liked to get a better shot but they seemed disturbed and had I gone any closer they would have scattered.

It seems that Summer has passed way to fast this year, and as she travels south for the winter I bid her farewell.

We’ll welcome fall with hopes of many pleasant days, as there is still much work to do before winter arrives.

How about you? Has summer seemed short to you? Are you looking forward to the change of seasons? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Thanks for visiting. 🙂

 

Staycation and My Favorite Things About Summer

I am really not in to trendy words, or a trendy lifestyle for that matter, but I think the word staycation really does describe our summer recreation. In 2012 when my husband said he would like to vacation somewhere “where we could just sit on the beach with our dogs and relax,” I chuckled, “they don’t allow dogs on public beaches, honey. Why don’t we put in a pond with a beach,” I suggested.

We knew it would be costly to have a pond dug, but we agreed that the money we saved on vacations away from home would easily pay for the pond in a few years.

The farm has many other features that you might find at a campground in the country. We have a campsite/ picnic area with a fire pit for cooking or just sitting around a campfire in the evening. We have both field and wooded areas with paths for walking or riding the 4 wheeler. There are hundreds of species of wildlife that live on or visit the farm and it is a peaceful and relaxing atmosphere. Thus we find it perfect for our staycation or summer recreation.

Our staycation is different than most as we do not have a week or two off from a job and cram all of these activities into that time period. Instead our recreational activities are interspersed throughout the day(s). It might be taking time out for an afternoon swim, spending an evening sitting around a campfire or inviting friends or family over for a day of fun. What I really love about our method of (v)(st)acation is that I don’t have to stress about it. We don’t have to make travel plans. We don’t have to do things according to schedule. We don’t have to pack what we think we will need for our time away. We don’t have to find people to take over our responsibilities at home (dogs and chickens) while we are away, and one of the most important parts for me is that I can sleep in my own bed at night.

With all that being said I wanted to share some of my favorite things about summer. They are not listed in any particular order; it is the combination of these things that make our summer enjoyable.

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Gardening – Planting, weeding, water, – there is something therapeutic about having our hands and knees in the dirt. The results of gardening are also very rewarding (see flowers and fresh produce below).

Riding the 4 Wheeler – A slow scenic tour around the farm, wielding my way though the winding paths through the woods or opening it up on the straight away, this is just pure fun!!!

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Swimming in the Pond – The best way to cool off in the heat of the day.

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Wildlife – The sights and sounds of wildlife create an environment that is peaceful and serene. While I am certainly not the best photographer I love trying to get photos of the wildlife. You can see more of the wildlife on our farm here.

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Flowers – No doubt they beautify their environment but there is so much more. You have probably heard the phrase “stop and smell the roses'”, well roses are not the only flower that deserve this recognition. By stopping and smelling, I have discovered that Canadian Thistle flowers have a sort of sweet scent and the Purple Irises have a spicy scent. This year I discovered that milk weed flowers have a pleasantly fresh fragrance.

While the flower may first draw my attention I will probably observe closely to see what type of foragers it may attract, and if I am not familiar with the plants I will likely try to identify it along with it’s potential usefulness.

Fresh Produce – We are currently picking and enjoying many fresh vegetables, among them are green beans, potatoes, Swiss chard, beets, carrots, celery and tomatoes. The flavors and textures of fresh picked produce simply can not be found in a grocery store. Even if you haven’t grown your own garden I encourage you to find fresh locally grown produce to enjoy this summer. Shop at a farmers market or a roadside farm stand and support your local farmer.

Campfires – Dinner always tastes better when cooked over a wood fire, and sitting around a campfire in the evening, listening to the frogs sing, and watching the moon and stars appear in the sky is far more entertaining than anything you may find on TV.

Visitors – This could be the elderly neighbors who dropped by Friday night for a tour of the barn and gardens; it could be the kids and grandkids coming to celebrate a holiday or a group as large as the family reunion we hosted last weekend. Regardless it is always a pleasure to share the farm with company.

Going Barefoot – Even though I put these in no particular order I did save my favorite for last. I love to take off my footwear and walk barefoot in the grass or on the beach.  According to this article there are many health benefits to going barefoot. I personally don’t care whether they are scientifically proven or not. Walking barefoot in the soft grass or digging my toes into the sand on the beach just feels good. While it feels good physically on the feet and has the potential to relieve other aches and pains, the emotional benefits are probably the greatest. I find walking barefoot to relieve stress – even more than that when I walk barefoot I feel young and carefree. It’s amazing that taking your shoes off can also take a load off your mind.

Now it’s your turn my friend. What are your favorite things about summer? How do you make time for them? When was the last time you stopped and smelled the roses or kicked off your shoes and connected with the earth? If it’s been awhile – I challenge you to make some time to do it this week. You won’t regret it.

Happy Summer! 🙂