December 29, 2017

Year in Review: A Look Back at 2017

All in all I have to say is this year has been a good one.


Garlic in the snow.

January was cold and snowy. Dan worked on the front porch and I canned the year's supply of jams and jellies.


Jessie with her twins - Racer and Ellie.

February was kidding month, with seven Kinder kids born. While I played goat midwife, Dan finished the front of the house.


Fall planted wheat, peas, and oats growing.

March brought friendly weather, and it was a great month for working outdoors. Dan did some general clean-up while I planted pasture, made a second permaculture hedgerow, and redressed the hoop house in shade cloth in anticipation of a hot summer.


In April we had two things under discussion: the barn and a workshop. Dan had been making do with a temporary workshop in the carport for eight years, so it seemed time to do something about it. Our first thought was to enclose the carport and make it a proper workshop, but when it proved un-repairable, I said, "Let's make my temporary goat barn permanent and just build you a new workshop." So that's what we decided to do, and Dan made piers for the foundation.


Homegrown home-milled timbers became posts, beams, and bents.


Harvesting our winter wheat was the "must do" for June. In building, Dan framed out the concrete slab for what was then still the workshop.


In July I did my first little solar energy experiment, a 12-volt fan. We had another long discussion about whether the building Dan was working on should be a workshop or a goat barn. Goat barn won. It all boiled down to set-up, with the temporary "Little Barn" better suited to becoming a workshop and the building-in-progress better for the goats.


Tomatoes and cucumbers

I spent most of my August picking and preserving, while Dan made a little progress on the barn.


Dan got a start on the hay loft while I continued with the harvest.


Most of the summer produce was put up by October and I had plenty of milk, so I experimented with recipes from a new cheesemaking book. Dan framed out the walls and roof for the hayloft.


Autumn color got a slow start this year.

Dan finished framing the milking room and loafing overhang on the barn, then installed the milking room roof.


Winter started early, with December bringing cold and snow. While I contemplated a floor plan for the milking room and worked on my book, Dan built a cupola for the barn and worked on the roof.

We'll probably always think of 2017 as the year of the barn. Maybe 2018 too, because building it has been the biggest project we'll ever tackle on our homestead. But also, it seems like finishing it will be a turning point. Sure, there are other one-time projects we'd like to do, but the barn seems significant in terms of having our homestead infrastructure in place.

December 26, 2017

Computer Woes

Computer woes. Doesn't that make you groan? The other evening I woke up my computer to check my email. It wouldn't wake up. I restarted the computer and got a bunch of error messages, so I started working my way through some diagnostics. Long story short, it thinks there is no hard drive. The hard drive is there, but the start-up program can't see it. The computer is only 16 months old, which makes it especially annoying.

Fortunately, I don't have Windows, so I was able to use my Xubuntu installation DVD to load the trial version of Xubuntu into RAM (one reason why I use Linux, other reasons here). That got me to a temporary desktop and web browser. Then I could get online to ask for help at UbuntuForums, my go-to for all things computer

First question - is there anyway to recover my files and photos??? We all know the advice to backup, backup, backup, but how many of us actually do it? I do, but not religiously, so I have probably lost a lot of good information and quite a few photos. The one thing I have been faithful to make several copies of daily has been my book manuscript. I do that every day I work on it. On this particular day I hadn't gotten that end-of-the-day task, and so I lost the day's work, but at least I didn't lose the whole thing.

I have been able to verify that there is power going to the hard drive, which hopefully means I can just replace it rather than having to buy a new computer (whew). There's also a remote possibility that I can access the old HD with an external HD caddy and USB cable. Doesn't seem likely, but it's worth a try. At least for now I'm able to use my computer for basic tasks with my Xubuntu installation disk; I just can't save anything on the computer itself.

More to the point, this is a very severe reminder of how fragile our electronic digital world is. Hard drives and storage devices will eventually die, become corrupted, outdated, or otherwise fail. How many of you had stuff you never got off those old 5.25" or 3.5" floppy disks? Or on CDs or DVDs that have gotten scratched or otherwise unreadable? I know the modern answer for storage is The Cloud, but how many of you deep-down really and truly believe that to be permanently and eternally secure and infallible? And then what do we do with all this expired hardware? We throw it away, so that our tree and carbon saving are for naught.

Thankfully I work on making hard copies of reference information I want to keep, but there are still plenty of files and bookmarks I didn't copy. So if I can't recover anything off my hard drive, hopefully they're still out there and I'll run across them again sometime. The internet certainly is handy for that. It would be the photos that would be the most regrettable loss. Digital photography is more convenient than using old-fashioned film, but 100 years from now I wonder how many of those digital photos will anyone have anymore?

Things like this are always something of a wake-up call, aren't they? And a reality check of how dependent I really am on my computer. I think some people would go absolutely bonkers if an EMP or CME knocked out all electronics and the version of reality it has created. My computer is a handy tool, but I have to admit I'd probably get a whole lot more done around the homestead if I had to do without.

So there's my tale of woe. I know you all can relate!

Computer Woes © Dec 2017 by Leigh

December 24, 2017

December 21, 2017

A Cupola for the Goat Barn

Dan and I have always liked weathervanes, so how could we not want to put on top of our new barn?

Made by Swen Products. We spent hours looking at all the design
choices and finally chose a traditional rooster. It cost about $60.

Dan built a cupola for the top of the hayloft and the weathervane will be the crowning touch. The cupola will allow for some ventilation, plus (maybe) let in a little light (?). Ours isn't large or fancy, just as simple as possible to build.

Cupola base made from scrap oak boards.

For vents, we first looked at regular gable vents. We could get four inexpensive ones for around $60 total. But we also looked around at other options and settled on these.

Vinyl shutters found at a surplus building supply warehouse - $20 a pair.

Dan cut the shutters in half (sort of) for front, back, and two side vents.

No, they don't look identical on front and sides, but for the savings, we don't care. Here it is painted and with the sheathing for its roof.

I had to bring it inside to paint because our outdoor
temps aren't in the recommended painting range.

The roof will be metal, just like the rest of the barn. Once the cupola is installed on top of the hayloft roof (in progress), the weathervane will be added. The kit came with a base to attach it to the roof.

The cupola and weathervane will be a nice personal touch to the barn. I'm excited about seeing it finished and on the roof.

December 18, 2017

Contemplating My Future Milking Room

While Dan has been working on the hayloft roof (pictures soon), I have been contemplating the layout for my new milking and feed storage room. Here are a couple of photos I took earlier this month, both from what will be the front doorway.

Doorways line up with the door in the Little Barn, which will become
Dan's workshop and home for equipment. Hoping stable doors will allow
the summer breeze to pass into the Little Barn and help keep it cool. 

It's pretty roomy - 13.5 feet by 15.5 feet. Part of that, however, is on a slope, because the concrete slab was originally a carport attached to the old outbuilding that used to be here.

Notice the slope, also how rough the concrete is.

The slope will be handy for entering the room with the wheelbarrow, but isn't useful when it comes to floor space. Ignoring the slope gives me 13.5 x 13.5 to work with. One idea is to build shelves or a work bench over top of the slope. I've drawn it out on graph paper to try out some ideas.

One idea. Cutouts are for cabinet and milking stand, circles would
be food storage barrels. Also contemplating shelves, an herb drying
rack, a work table, maybe a corn crib, and where to feed the girls.

This first floor plan is similar to the my milking room set-up in the Little Barn. It has worked well, as you can see in the photos here, although there are a few improvements that could be made. But I'm open, and so making more sketches to try out several ideas.

It will be awhile before we actually get to this part, but Dan knows I'm a slow thinker, so he's been asking me to start working on it. So here's my start!

December 15, 2017

December Days Around the Homestead

December is plugging along, and it's hard to believe the month is half over! Its early days were beautiful. Autumn arrived late and lingered longer than usual, so the color and mild temperatures were still here to enjoy at the beginning of the month.

Colby and my blueberry bush. The bush was late to
turn this year, and never fails to offer eye-catching color.

An evening fire in the woodstove was enough to warm the house.

Sam never fails to get a comfy spot in front of the fire.

The afternoons were lovely so I spent them outdoors gathering kindling

The girls come along to hunt acorns and choice leaves.

or raking leaves to mulch the garden.

First bed done. There's something about the contrast
between the brown and green that makes me happy.

And we do have plenty of leaves to rake.

Meowy in the leafy woods.

Then our first winter cold front came through and we got rain and ...

Snow! Two inches on the first day and more the second. But
the temp didn't get below freezing so it didn't stick for long.

We don't usually get snow until January! December is now more like its old self with lows below freezing and highs above. On chilly or drizzly days, I'm in the kitchen with the wood cookstove going. I'm making jam and jelly from the fruits I froze last summer,

Blueberry-fig jam in the making. I'm using my homemade pectin
in this one and find the slow cooker works well to cook it down.

and bone broth and soup from the frozen bones.

Bone broth. Next I'll strain it and can it.

Besides working on the barn, Dan took down the last of our two old oak trees.

We've trimmed away the dead branches over the years
but this past summer was the end of it. It's dead now.

Always sad to see old trees die, but they inevitably do. Lots of firewood tho.

But! New life elsewhere. In the garden some of my late planted seeds are starting to sprout!

Mustard greens seedlings

Spinach seedlings

Honeybee on radish flowers

Every time I see honeybees I can't help but wonder where they came from and if they didn't originate from one of my absconded hives.

We're eating lots of salads, and still have the last of summer's tomatoes ripening in the house.

Our first frost was at the end of October and I picked these the day before.

Pretty soon I'll be pulling the rest of the tomatoes out of the freezer and making more pizza sauce.

Also starting to dream over seed catalogues.

Catalogues from Sow True, Baker Creek, and Strictly Medicinal. 

I haven't ordered seeds in several years, but I've really got a hankering to try something new!

So how is your December faring? Care to share?

December 12, 2017

Cranberry Apple Pie

I tried to grow cranberries a number of year's ago. They were called American Cranberries and didn't require a bog, so I thought they would be prefect for cranberry treats around the holidays. They didn't make it, unfortunately, along with a number of other plants I've tried over the years, plants that might be considered exotic for our area, such as a potted olive tree and rhubarb. But we love cranberries, so I like to keep a bulk supply in my pantry.

Dried cranberries - moist and sweet.

These came from a company I recently learned of which specializes in wholesale bulk - Gourmet Nuts and Fruit. Yes, they only sell nuts and dried fruits! They sell mostly at farmer's markets and online, and have good prices and good service. From their blog I learned that cranberries are antioxident, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory. (Actually lots of excellent nutritional information there). So eat more cranberries, right? I think this pie is one way to do it!

Cranberry Apple Pie

  • 5 cups peeled sliced apples
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup unbleached flour
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • About 2 tbsp butter

Roll out dough for pie pan. Mix filling ingredients and fill bottom crust. Cut butter into small pieces and dot filling. Add top crust and bake at 450°F (230°C) for 40 minutes or until done.

Colorful, festive, and delicious - all excellent qualities for a holiday pie.

We also like dried cranberries in spinach or broccoli salads with pecans or almonds. And they pair well with pumpkin or sweet potatoes, and I thought I had my "Sweet Potato Cranberry Bread" recipe on my Recipes Page, but I see I don't. No matter, that's the perfect excuse to make some.

Anyone care to share your favorite recipes for dried cranberries?

Cranberry Apple Pie © Dec 2017 by Leigh

December 9, 2017

2017 Homestead Goals: So How'd We Do?

It's that time of year when Dan and I take some time to analyze our plans and goals for our homestead. We start by taking a look our current list of goals: what we accomplished, what we didn't, and what caused alterations in course: weather, vehicle or equipment break-downs, trees falling on the fence, or tearing into a project to discover that a whole lot of preliminary work needed to be done first, etc.

Many of our goals are long term, so these we break down into manageable chunks. We had two major projects for 2017.

1. Finish the exterior of the house
  • front end gables
  • front window in sun room
  • front porch ceiling
  • last two windows in front bedroom
  • back end gable

Finishing the outside of the house is a carry-over goal from 2016 (longer actually!) We didn't get it all done, but we crossed off two of the five sub-goals, as you can see in these two photos.

December 2016

February 2017

Will we resume work on the house in 2018? I suppose most folks would consider the house a top priority, but our primary goal of self-reliance often pulls other things to the top of the homestead to-do list. What we can get to next year remains to be seen.

NOTE: For those of you interested in remodeling old houses, take a look at my Our Old House blog here. I haven't updated it in awhile, but there are lots of links to step-by-step and before-and-after blog posts and photos.

2. Build the barn

We've been talking about building a barn since 2013. We've gone through half-a-dozen plans at least, but it wasn't until last year that things finally seemed to fall in place. It started with Dan getting the sawmill. He went to work milling beams and posts, and we were ready to get started.

We probably would have the barn by now, except we were faced with a problem: roof rot in the current goat shed. If we did nothing, we would lose the building. After a long discussion we decided to save the building by re-roofing it. And since we were doing that, we enlarged it as well! So no barn for 2016. Finally, this year, we got to it.

April 2017

December 2017

Finishing the barn will be the number one project for 2018. As we contemplate other projects we're taking a look at our Master Plan with a few revisions in mind. More on all that soon.

How did you do on your 2017 goals? Any carry overs for next year? Or are you getting ready to make new ones for 2018? Do you have an evaluation process to help you prioritize them? It's not always possible to stay on track, but I find having a plan in place really helps.

December 6, 2017

Fried Cheese

Remember fried cheese sticks? They were the rage once upon a time, usually mozzarella, sometimes cheddar, made by battering frozen cheese sticks and popping them into the deep fryer. Crispy on the outside, melty on the inside; a favorite of any cheese lover! When I found a photo of fried sliced cheese in David Asher's The Art of Natural Cheesemaking, I thought it would make a great side dish for burgers. 

The frying cheese I made is known in many cultures by different names. We usually see it called Paneer or Panir (Indian) or Queso Blanco (Mexican). The recipe is the same as for whole milk ricotta. In the U.S. it's sometimes called Farmer's Cheese, although that is more of a category of fresh cheeses than a specific kind. No matter the name, it's probably the simplest cheese to make.

  • 1 gallon milk (any kind except ultra-pasteurized)
  • 1/2 cup vinegar (any kind), lemon, or lime juice or 1/2 gal. yogurt or kefir
  • 2 - 3 teaspoons salt (optional)

Heat milk to boiling (stir to prevent scorching), gently stir in the vinegar, and let rest for about ten minutes. Carefully scoop out the curds, let them drain, salt if desired, and hang or lightly press in cheesecloth.

Yield: One gallon of milk gives me about two pounds of cheese. This is heavier than most, because boiling the milk plus adding an acid captures both milk proteins: casein and albumin.

Once it's cool it can be sliced or cubed and when cooked, it won't melt! That's what makes it popular for frying, plus all sorts of vegetarian dishes in place of tofu.

To fry: slice and brown in your favorite fat or oil.

Variation: In Northern Caucasia (where it's called Circassian cheese), slices are dipped in egg and bread crumbs before frying.

To store: As a fresh cheese it won't keep long, about a week without salting, several weeks with salt. It's one of the few cheeses that can be frozen, however, which is appealing to me since my milk supply is seasonal.

The flavor can be changed by changing the acid used and adding herbs and spices. After a successful plain version, I tried an Italian version.

  • 1 gallon milk
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 - 3 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 cup dried Italian herbs

To fry: slice and brown in extra virgin olive oil until crispy.

A delicious accompaniment to pasta and your favorite sauce!

Hopefully I can get a couple of these tucked away in my freezer before my experiments in cheesemaking come to an end for the year. I am now milking only one doe instead of three, so I have less milk to work with. She's giving me a gradually decreasing quart per day, but hopefully she'll stay in milk until kidding next spring. It won't be enough for cheese, but if it's enough to keep our kefir going I'll be happy.

I have one hard cheese aging in wax. Only one as an experiment in curing without a cheese cave. If it turns out well, I'll tell you about it.

Fried Cheese © Dec. 2017 by Leigh