January 30, 2015

January Jam & Jelly Making

Of Dan's and my various uses of electricity, I have to say that probably the most useful ones are the refrigerator and freezer, followed by the computer. (Power tools for building and repair would be next). I do a lot of jelly and jam making throughout the summer, but being able to freeze various fruits to make jam and jelly in January and February is a blessing indeed. This works particularly well with things that I have to harvest over a period of time, such as elderberries. Over the summer I was able to pick and freeze four gallons of them. Once the holidays were behind us, there was finally time to make that jelly.

Elderberries cooked down and crushed for the juice. 

While the juice was cooking out of the elderberries I pulled out a gallon of frozen strawberries and a gallon of frozen figs.

A combination of strawberries and figs from last summer's bounty.

These I cooked together to make strawberry - fig jam. Dan loves his strawberry jam but I never seem to be able to make enough. I thought I'd try the two fruits together to see what he thought.

I ended up with enough elderberry juice for a canner load of half-pint jars of jelly, and enough strawberries and figs for a canner load of pints of jam.

Elderberry jelly and strawberry-fig jam

Does anyone else squeeze out the juice when making jelly? I read somewhere we aren't supposed to do that because it makes the jelly cloudy. I do it anyway because I can't stand to leave any juice in the pulp. I want it all for jelly!

The other thing we aren't supposed to do is blend fruits for jam in the blender. I think the idea is to have chunks of fruit mixed in. I don't care about that either, because my fruit bits always end up at the top of the jar. I like them evenly dispersed. I suppose my jam is more of a jellied fruit puree.

The last one to make is my annual mixed fruit jelly.

Sand cherries and blackberries. Boy, is it red!

It's last because if there's any elderberry juice left, I'll add that to the mix. This year I had a couple handfuls of sand cherries and a handful of wild blackberries. Today I'll strain and measure it. If I need more juice I'll cook down some frozen blueberries too.

I think this year's batch of elder jelly was better than last year. I think that's because last year I got a fair but not abundant harvest. The competition with the birds is pretty stiff so I tended to pick them while a lot were still green. This year was more bountiful and there was plenty for everybody. Next year should be even better.

So that's how I spent the last several cold, damp days. How are you faring these last days of January?

January 27, 2015

Crossed Off Dan's Wish List - Big Tank

1550 gallon stock tank

Two years ago we put in our first rainwater catchment system by stacking two, 275 gallon (1000 liter) food grade totes (photos and details here). Last summer we put in a second, single 275 gal tote in a different corner of the house (about that here). Because of the sizes of their respective roof areas, the first one catches 50 gallons per inch of rain, while an inch completely fills the second! As amazing as that is, it doesn't take long to use up all the water in the tanks during a hot summer dry spell. Because of that, Dan has been hankering for a 1000 gallon tank. No local availability has been one deterrent, prices another, plus, can you imagine paying shipping on something like that?

Dan was at Tractor Supply the other day for fencing materials, where he happened to have a look around. The 1550 gallon stock tank you see in the photos above immediately caught his eye. Pricing for most large tanks run about $1 to $1.50 per gallon of capacity. The price for this one was about 50¢ per gallon. Even more surprising was that the 750 gallon tanks next to it were the same price! When he inquired about that he was told, "We don't sell many of those big ones." Well, they sold one that day.

It will be awhile before we can put it in. Preliminary steps will include clearing and leveling a place for it, but I'd like to get my pasture hedgerow underway first, and of course spring gardening is imminent. So much to do! There's no excuse for being bored on a homestead.

January 25, 2015

Crossed Off My Wish List - Cream Separator!

Manual cream separator
I honestly never thought I'd have one of these. I've looked at them from time to time, but the typical price range for a manual cream separator is $600 to $1600. Recently, I found some on eBay in the $150 to $250 range, but these are made of aluminum and plastic and I doubt their durability.

Then the cream separator featured in this blog, Riddle Family Farm came available. Debby asked if I was interested and how could I not say yes!

It is a Kamdhenu, made in India and is extremely heavy, and heavy duty. The hopper (milk tank) will hold a gallon and a half of milk. The manual is written in (I assume) Hindi with an English translation. An additional detailed xeroxed handout in English came with it, which should help. I need to read through these carefully and oil properly before I give it a try.

Giving it a try will likely have to wait until spring. I'm only getting about a quart of milk a day now and most of that is going to feed my milk kefir grains and the pigs.

Once I think I halfway know what I'm doing I'll do another blog post about it. Until then, I'm just happy to have it.

January 22, 2015

A New Handle For My Old Hatchet

It's not that I'm terribly strong, perhaps the handle on my hatchet was just old, but I finally broke it. Just splintered off where it inserts into the hatchet head.

Old handle, broke clean off

I thought "oh no" but Dan said "no problem". He went to the firewood cutting pile, pulled out a stout hickory limb, and made me a new one.

This is actually the remains of the limb. Dan is not
always one to wait on me while I go get the camera.

He cut and shaped it, even woodburned a grip on it for me.

Ready to be sharpened and put to work once again. 

It feels comfortable in the hand and is heavier than the old one. This is a good thing for tools, because lightweight tools and equipment require more muscle power. He could have bought a replacement handle, but we're finding that replacement handles are becoming more lightweight as well. So nice to be able to make a sturdy one from what's on hand.

January 19, 2015

The Beauty of a Routine

In his book, Growing a Farmer, Kurt Timmermeister describes his daily chores as the bookends of his day. I love this analogy and it sticks with me as a comforting way of describing my own life too. Modern culture works so hard at getting out of work, to the point where, really, I think some folks work harder at not working than if they'd just do the job in the first place. Whenever did we decide that work was bad, anyway?

Our routine has evolved, so to speak, over the years. New critters certainly requires change, but we've adapted to our animals and their natures, learning to accommodate them, rather than trying to get them to accommodate us. When Dan is home we work as a team. When he's not, I stagger the chores a bit differently.

The girls, ready and waiting to be fed.

Chores start at the crack of dawn. We don't have electricity in our outbuildings so we try to begin as soon as we can get see outside without a flashlight. We've been up since 4 or 5, taking the time for that first cup of coffee, Bible reading, and for me, writing.

The chicken coop is opened first thing to let the chickens out. We do this mostly to keep our too-many roosters from squabbling inside the coop. The chickens are fed their scratch and then I go get the goat feed ready.

In winter time everyone is more demanding. If the girls aren't hollering for their breakfast I'll take the bucks a load of hay. The gate which separates the pigs from the billy boys is left closed until they've had their fill. If the gate is open, the pigs rush in and push the boys out of the way. However, it's not the hay they're looking to eat, it's the pile of dropped hay in front of the feeder. For some reason they love to burrow under this for an early morning nap. I figure they can have their nap later because the bucks need breakfast first.

This time of year all critters come running when they see me. Not that they
are particularly interested in me, they're just hoping I have something to eat.

Surprise and Lily are taken to be milked in the morning. I let Surprise out first, because she knows to go right to the milking room. I give her a head start before taking Lily on a lead. If I don't, Lily will take off at a gallop to try and beat Surprise to the milking stand. I let her do this a couple of times, but it created a problem after they were milked. Lily expects Surprise to be in the pasture when she gets there. She never figured out that if she gets milked before Surprise, then she goes back to the pasture before Surprise. She then starts hollering and looking frantically for her. So much easier (and quieter) to do Surprise first, so that she's already in the pasture by the time Lily gets there.

Morning milking is a lovely time of day. I can catch the sunrise if it isn't overcast and enjoy the peaceful, early morning sounds. It's one of my favorite times of the day. Lily is on the lead when I take her back to the pasture. If she isn't, she'll take off running just to see if she can steal a few bites from somewhere she's not supposed to be. As I return to the milking room I open the chicken gate into the pasture. If I open it too early, the chickens rush the goats' breakfast and I don't want them to do that. Funny how goats will rarely share their food with another goat, but will allow the chickens to help themselves. This is when I try to remember to open the gate between the bucks and pigs too.

Chickens waiting for their scratch

The others does are fed in the pasture. If Dan is home he's already done that, filled water buckets, and done manure duty. If he's not, I'll do a quick check of water buckets and fill those in need, or if frozen, get hot water into them as quickly as possible. After that, I take the milk into the house to strain and refrigerate.

Mid-morning I go out to make rounds, check water buckets again, and fill the girls' hay feeder.

Early afternoon I do a hay check and, in winter, fill hay feeders if needed. I take a quart of grain to the pigs and sprinkle it over the field they're working on. This is the field in which we plan to plant in corn and cowpeas next summer. Rather than give it to them in a feeding pan I make them work for it. That may sound tough, but the pigs love to root and hunt for food. I also figure they each get a fairer share that way, plus it keeps them busy for a long while, because after that I may go foraging for still-leafy tree branches for the goats to eat. If the pigs are around they rush the branches pushing the goats out of the way. They may eat some of the leaves, but mostly they trample them down, so it's better to occupy the pigs elsewhere.

One thing I'm hoping is that grain hunting will encourage more rooting.

In the late afternoon I get ready for evening feeding. All my critters think this should be at 2 p.m., but I think it should be closer to 4 (later in summer). I chop sweet potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes, greens or herbs if available, and any fruit rinds, cores, or other scraps I've saved from our meals. The pigs and chickens also get dairy and meat scraps. The pigs each get their pans topped off with a cup or two of whey, milk, and/or cooking or canning jar water I've saved. The pigs are one reason I plan to always keep a goat or two in milk all winter. Now that the hens are laying again, I beat a couple of eggs into this mixture too.


When Dan's home he tosses the chickens their afternoon scratch while I feed the pigs. They know it's feeding time and have been squealing non-stop to let me know they're hungry (as if I could forget). By this time all the goats are bellyaching hollering to be fed too. The bucks are next, though, because they and the pigs only get pan fed once a day.

Lastly the girls. They don't think it's fair they should have to wait until last, but I remind them they get fed in the morning too. They don't care about that, but I sympathize because I know that being pregnant and making milk is work. I'm milking once a day now, so Lily and Surprise are tied outside of the pasture at their feeders, while Helen, Daphne, and Bunny get theirs in the pasture. While I'm waiting on them I check and fill the chicken feeder, also water buckets are tended to once again.

Daphne & Helen are half-sisters. Even though they try to push the
other away, they eat pretty well from the same pan. When I tried to
feed them separately, they'd both finish off one pan & then the other.

Last rounds are made at dusk after the chickens have gone to roost. The doors to the coop are shut, as are all gates. If it's going to be very cold I'll top off hay feeders, because I know that roughage is how the goats will stay warm. This is another peaceful time of day. All the critters are settling down and I can catch a glimpse of the sunset if it's not too cloudy.

The time between morning and evening chores is filled with projects. We have indoor projects and outdoor projects. We have seasonal projects. For a list of what we hope to accomplish this year, click here. 

Theoretically, that hay feeder design works well and should be able to
accommodate three goats on either side.  I say theoretically because
the Nubians tend to each take a side and chase the Kinders else away.

The beauty of a routine is that once I walk out the door, the rest is set in motion. There's no pondering what to do next, decisions to make along the way, or trying to remember if I forgot anything. I make mental notes of things that will need tending to later, but by the time I'm done, I know the essentials of the day are taken care of.

How about you? Do you have a well-established routine or are you more spontaneous in your approach? Still experimenting? What are your favorite chores? Any tips and advice for the rest of us?

January 17, 2015

Garden UnReport

The garden is boot sinking muddy these days so the only garden activity going on is drooling over seed catalogs and planning. I have made an observation, however, that I'd like to share. Regular readers of my blog might remember that last November, we let the pigs and goats have the remains of the summer garden.  In early December Dan leveled out the ruts, but then it started to rain so we've left the ground alone since then.

The pigs spent all their time rooting in the upper part of the garden where the vegetables were growing. It now looks like this ...

They ignored the lower part, where the amaranth stalks remained (although the goats enjoyed those). It now looks like this ...

It catches my eye that nothing is growing where the pigs had been rooting. In the lower part all kinds of things are beginning to sprout thanks to our bouts of mild temperatures.

Coincidence? I don't know! I'd like to think that the pigs have done a superlative job in clearing out weeds and their seeds. Or is that wishful thinking? I suppose we'll just have to wait and see.

I know "nature abhors a vacuum" and things will start to grow there eventually. I'm curious to observe what and when. I even have a slight hope that I'll beat everything to it and get my spring garden in before that happens. Unlikely, but a gardener can hope!

January 15, 2015

Learning the Land by Observing the Weather

January started off with two and a half inches of rain over two days. We'd had a beautifully mild December with a little under four inches of rain, so the ground was pretty saturated by the time that January rain hit. As it finally began to let up I noticed the puddles seemed larger than usual. I was curious as to where the water was collecting, so I set off to take a look.

Our land is a series of ridges.

The house sits on the highest elevation which is on the base of our triangle shaped property. This is good because it means the house has excellent drainage. It also means that our collected rainwater can be gravity fed where ever we need it, another plus. Going toward the back of the property means going downhill through the woods. Last year we fenced an area of the woods to let our goats do some clearing there. It was loaded with poison ivy, kudzu, saw briars, and blackberry brambles. One year later, the goats have done a good enough job so that we can better see the lay of the land.

Randy getting ready to jump over a ridge long puddle of rainwater.

The same puddle continues along the ridge on the other side of the fence .

The next ridge had collected more water in a wider dip in the terrain, but ...

The water drains from the ridge by running down the path on which
  you can see Waldo and Polly (our pigs) scampering down the hill. 

The water continues to drain down the hill toward the back of the property, where it seems to disappear into some sort of indentation in the ground. I got to thinking that the ridges are almost natural swales. What I need to do is to stop the water from running down the hill.

The ridges are clearly defined with a short, steep drop.

Not a terribly good showing of the ridge. Randy is on the top of it.

I've also been thinking that the downside of the ridges would be a good place to start placing all our tree debris, in hugelkulture fashion. We had to do some clearing for the fence, but most of the debris has been fallen pine trees. These are mature, end-of-life trees that have done their job in forest succession. The pines were the fast growing, light loving pioneer species which gave shade tolerant hardwoods an opportunity to establish themselves. Now more hardwoods are establishing themselves, but the pines are tall and spindly, like light starved tomato seedlings. Because of that their trunks are weak, and it's amazing to watch them bend and sway like tall grasses in strong winds. And a little bit scary. It seems that after every major storm we can find new pine trees falling over. We've tried to clean the area up a bit.

The wood piles are all pine from wind-downed trees

What to do with them has been a concern, but I think lining them up parallel to and below the ridges might be a good plan. Perhaps in the future we could even plant something there. After Dan read Sepp Holzer'z Permaculture he envisioned a orchard on our downward sloping property, if we could ever get it somewhat cleared. It seemed impossible then, but now it looks as though it might actually be a possibility someday.

Two other natural swales are in the front pasture. A small one sits along the ridge where we are planning to plant a forest garden hedgerow.

Surprise & Lily. The fenced area contains our
blueberry bush and is downhill of the ridge.

The other collects at the top of this same pasture.

A puddle collects here anytime we get a good rain, but this was the largest
I've ever seen it. There is another ridge just to the left of the puddle.

I know from experience that these are not a year-round solution to water conservation. But if we can stop the runoff where it exists and build up the soil on the downside of the ridges, we can certainly help.

January 14, 2015

RIP Gruffy

I'm sad to have to tell you that Gruffy crossed the rainbow bridge last night. I kind of knew it was coming. He'd been slowing down and for the past couple days didn't leave the buck barn. His appetite was still good and he was just as talkative as ever. But at chore time yesterday afternoon I found him down and not interested in getting up, not interested in eating. He passed on shortly after that.

Pygmy goats have an average life expectancy of 8 to 10 years. Gruffy was going on 8. Bucks often have shorter lifespans because they tend to wear themselves out during rut.

He was Dan's favorite goat and has been a fixture on our homestead for the past three and a half years. We bought him to make Kinders but that never happened, so sadly, he leaves no legacy.

RIP Gruffy.

January 12, 2015

Planning for Forest Garden Hedgerows

One of our 2015 homestead goals is "doubled fences for protected diversity." This was my awkward way of saying "forest garden hedgerows between the forage areas." The idea is to run parallel fences about 4 to 6 feet apart, and plant permaculture hedgerows in between for the chickens, pigs, goats, and us. Cattle panel type fencing will give them some access without being able to demolish everything. This is a project we'd like to get started on as soon as possible. The first step was to update our Master Plan. I chose two places for our first hedgerows, one in a mostly sunny location, one with mostly shade. Eventually, we'll do the same for all our fencelines.

January 2015

The mostly sunny location is down the middle of our front pasture, which is about an acre in size. Awhile back we decided it should be subdivided. Previous Master Plans show a possible pond in the middle here, which is not on this newest version. (It may reappear in a future plan, who knows?) A curving line of trees, our blueberry bush, and a nearly goat-demolished wild rose bush already live there. This makes the perfect place to plant our hedgerow. It's a straight double red line on the Master Plan (red to indicate planned project), but we plan to follow the curving treeline when we install the fence.

The shady location is between the buck and doe pastures. It will get some morning sun. The goats have eaten down everything in that spot anyway, so it seems like a logical place for the first shade garden. To start, it will only require a second fence of cattle panels alongside the existing fence.

Once the hedgerow locations were decided, the next step was to make a list of possible plants. The criteria is that they must do well in our location and climate, and that they must be edible by our livestock (the goats are of particular concern). There are several good websites for lists of permaculture plants (a few are below), but for something like this I prefer a real, hard copy book, so I got out Edible Forests Gardens by Dave Jacke and Eric Toensmeier. Volume 1 Appendix One has "Forest Gardening's "Top 100' Species", an invaluable list. Appendix 1 to Volume 2 is a comprehensive table entitled "Plant Species Matrix", listing everything a forest gardener or permaculturist needs to know about hundreds of plants.

One of my concerns is hardiness zone. Hardiness zone maps show low temperature tolerances for various plants, but make no mention of heat tolerance. I'm in zone 7, but we can have some doozy temperatures in summer, easily topping 100° F / 37.8° C for days at a time. I've learned that some plants rated for zone 7 actually cannot tolerate our summer heat, rhubarb, for example. In making my list I also referred to websites and my nursery catalogs, and chose plants listed for zone 6 or lower, plus 8 or higher, especially if the description included heat or drought tolerant.

To check for edibility for our goats, I stumbled across a really great searchable database, "Guide To Poisonous Plants," hosted by Colorado State University. Another great list is at Cornell University's website, "Toxic Plants and the Common Caprine". I like these two sites because they explain why certain plants are a problem for goats (or other livestock). Some plants can be safe under some conditions but not others. Sometimes it's a particular species within a genus that is the problem, not the entire genus. I like those bits of information.

I only used three layers for my lists, rather than the seven or nine usually listed on permaculture sites. It was just simpler that way and avoided overlapping entries. These are preliminary possibilities. We'll do the actual choosing later.

Upper Layer
  • Already have white oaks, Quercus alba and lots of acorns, which the goats and pigs love. In addition these are dynamic accumulators and a coppice species.
  • Mulberry, Morus species. Zones 4 - 9. Berries and leaves edible, bark and roots medicinal, coppice species. Can be self-pollinating, or not, but cross-pollination recommended. Stark Bros. carries a self-pollinating Pakistan mulberry stated to be tolerant of heat, drought, humidity, sun, and poor soil; suitable for zones 6 - 10
  • Asian persimmon, Diospyros kaki. Zones 6 - 9. Edible fruit, medicinal bark, nectary. Some self-fertile varieties. (We have a mature American persimmon Diospyros virginiana in the woods but Dan isn't too impressed with it. D. virginiana is said to make a good coppice tree.)
  • Chestnut, Castanea species. (Not horse or buckeye chestnut, Aesculus species, which are toxic). Zones 4 - 8. Edible nuts, coppice and windbreak plant. Need two for pollination. The variety "Colossal" is said to be blight resistant with high yield. 
  • Pawpaw, Asimina triloba. Zones 4 - 8. Edible fruits, bark is a natural insecticide. Need two for pollination. Stark Bros. has several heat tolerant varieties. 
  • Hazelnuts, Corylus species. Zones 4 - 8. Edible nuts, nectary plant, bark medicinal, windbreak. I have two of these (American hazelnuts) I can transplant. They aren't really thriving in their original spot. Need two, have two.
  • Cornelian cherry, Cornus mas (not prunus spp). Zones 4 - 8. Edible fruit, medicinal, nectary, dye plant (bark). Two best for good production.
  • Sumac, Rhus species, not Toxicodendron vernix (poison sumac). Zones 3 - 8. Tea or "lemonade" from fruits, medicinal bark and berries, dye and mordant plant. Goats eat the leaves. I have some of these I can transplant too. 
Middle Layer
  • Blueberry, Vaccinium spp, I already have one which I believe to be V. ashei, rabbiteye blueberry. Edible berries, medicinal. Leaves edible by goats.
  • Rose, Rosa, I have one of these too, what I call a "wild rose". Hips for tea or medicinal. Leaves edible by goats. 
  • Honeyberry (edible honeysuckle), Lonicera caerulea. Zones 3 - 8. Edible berries, nectar plant. Need two for pollination
  • Wolfberry (Goji), Lycium barbarum, edible fruits and leaves, nectar plant. Self-fertile.
  • Aronia or chokeberry. Aronia melanocarpa not Prunus virginiana, which is choke cherry (and toxic to goats). Zones 3 - 8. Edible fruit when cooked, wildlife shelter. Drought tolerant. Self-pollinating. 
  • Jostaberry, Ribes nigrum x uva-crispa. Zones 3-8. Edible fruits, nectary plant. Self-fruitful.
  • Sea berry or Sea Buckthorn, Hippophae rhamnoides, Zones 3 - 8, edible fruit, nitrogen fixing, dye plant, medicinal. Need both male and female plants. 
  • Thornless loganberry, Rubus × loganobaccus, Zones 6 - 10, edible fruit, leaves goat edible. Heat tolerant, self-pollinating
  • Hardy Kiwi, Actinidia spp. Edible fruit, medicinal. The variety Issai is said to be heat tolerant and self-pollinating, zones 5-9. 
  • Sweet potato, Ipomoea batatas, annual, but apparently perennial in zones 9 - 12. Edible tubers, goats love the vines, medicinal, nectary plant.
  • Rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis, Zones 6 - 11, but my original rosemary plant froze out during the winter of 2013 - 2014. Culinary, tea plant, medicinal, drought resistant. Source of B1, B6, C, folate, iron, and calcium
Ground Layer
  • Comfrey, have Russian, Bocking #4, Symphytum peregrinum. Zones 6 - 8. Dynamic accumulator, medicinal, nectary. Source of protein, calcium, iron, and B12. This strain is sterile.
  • Good King Henry, Chenopodium bonus-henricus, zones 3-9.  Aerial parts edible, dye plant, medicinal. Self-pollinating. 
  • Horeseradish, Amoracia rusticana, zones 2 - 10, roots and leaves edible, nectary plant, and aromatic pest confuser. I have some of this, a hybrid variety that I can transplant.  Source of sulfur and copper. 
  • Stinging nettle, Urtica dioica, Zone 4 - 8, Edible leaves, dynamic accumulator, medicinal, dye plant. Source of iron, and potassium.
  • Oregano, Origanum vulgare, Zones 4 - 10. Culinary, nectary, tea plant, medicinal. Another one I can transplant. Source of vitamin A, B6, E, K, beta carotene, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium, calcium
  • Wintergreen, Gaultheria procumbens, Zones 3 - 8, culinary, edible fruit and leaves, tea plant, nectary, dynamic accumulator, medicinal. Drought tolerant once established. 
  • Yarrow, Achillea species, Zones 2 - 10, medicinal, aromatic pest confuser, dynamic accumulator, dye plant. I have a lot of this and can transplant. Source of copper.
  • Dwarf blueberries, Vaccinium, Creeping blueberry is zones 6 - 9. Edible fruit (and leaves for the goats). 
  • Thyme, Thymus vulgaris, Zoners 4 - 10. Culinary, tea plant, medicinal, natural wormer. Source of vitamins A, B1, folate, C, K, beta carotene, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, zinc, calcium

That's my list at present. I'll work out a more specific planting plan soon. 

For those who would like some internet resources for permaculture plants:

For a list of vitamins and minerals in plants:

Again, for the poisonous plant websites:

Next ... A Start on the Forest Garden Hedgerow

January 10, 2015

Introducing Book 4 in The Little Series of Homestead How-Tos: How to Mix Feed Rations With The Pearson Square

With every eBook I write I learn a lot. It's not that I don't already have a basic grasp of the subject matter, but as I seek to research and collect the most relevant information, I either find missing pieces to my own puzzle to understanding, or somehow the bigger picture becomes clearer. This newest book in the series is no exception.

Book 4 in The Little Series of
Homestead How-Tos
How to Mix Feed Rations With The Pearson Square: grains, calcium, phosphorous, balance, & more.

A step by step guide. Chapters include:
  • What is the Pearson Square?
  • Why Mix Your Own Feed Rations?
  • Understanding Feed Bag Labels
  • The Right Ingredients for the Right Critter
  • What is Protein? Crude Protein Versus Amino Acids
  • Protein Content of Selected Feedstuffs
  • Feeding to Prevent Hypocalcemia and Pregnancy Toxemia
  • Feeding to Prevent Urinary Calculi
  • Calcium and Phosphorous Content of Selected Feedstuffs
  • How to Mix Two-Ingredient Rations
  • How to Mix Rations with More Than Two Ingredients
  • But Is It Cost Effective?
  • Glossary
  • Resources
  • extensive, linked bibliography

It's available for $1.99 at Amazon for Kindle, and at Smashwords for all eReaders including PDF for reading on your computer. Today and tomorrow you can get it for free(!) at Smashwords with the code (expired). Enter the code at checkout and select the format you prefer (epub, mobi, pdf, rtf, lrf, pdb, txt, or html).

I'd also like to mention that with each new eBook I publish, I update the others. This is to keep the series titles and links up-to-date, but it also lets me make corrections (thanks Anna!) or updates on information. I'm not sure about Amazon, but at Smashwords, once you've purchased a book the updates are available as part of the purchase price. 

The webpage for How to Mix Feed Rations With The Pearson Square's is here, or you can visit the series' webpage hereAs always, feedback and suggestions are welcome!

January 8, 2015

How To Keep Your Tooties Warm

Riley, the ordinarily non-cooperative, and Sam, the persistent. 

Two posts in one day! I can barely get one out every two or three days, but how can I not blog about the weather!? After kicking off November with a snow shower, December spoiled us with its springlike temps; during most afternoons we didn't even need a jacket or sweater outdoors. We did get a lot of rain, however, which meant the garden was too muddy to do anything with. That's why we got so much done on the front porch. Now everything is frozen solid. We only got down to 10° F / -12 ° C last night, so I suppose I shouldn't complain. Sam's got the right idea, don't you think?

Backdoor Survival Book Festival 7 & Giveaway

I have been invited to participate in Gaye Levy's Backdoor Survival Book Festival Number 7. Today I'll be featured on her website in an author interview, and readers will have a chance to win a free copy of my book, 5 Acres & A Dream The Book: The Challenges of Establishing a Self-Sufficient Homestead. Please head on over and check it out!

January 5, 2015

Tweaking the Goat Minerals

Helen & Daphne

When I bought Helen and Daphne, I asked their previous owner what she had been feeding them. I always ask this question when I buy goats, because I want to make as gradual a transition in their diet as possible. She mentioned that she had been sprinkling their feed with Pat Coleby's mineral lick. When she told me her story, I was convinced I needed to try it too.

Besides the two Kinders she had two Saanans from a local goat dairy. She liked them but began to have problems with their hair falling out. When veterinary suggestions helped only nominally, she decided to try Pat Coleby's recipe. She sprinkled it on their food and their coats began to grow back. She ran out and stopped, and they lost fur again. She made and fed more, and it grew back again. Her goats had beautiful coats. That was all the convincing I needed.

Bunny & Lily

The recipe is in Pat's book, Natural Goat Care, but also around the internet, so hopefully I'm not violating any copyright by sharing it. Her instructions make a 37 pound batch, so I've quartered that to make 9.25 pounds.
  • 6.25 pounds powdered dolomite*
  • 1 pound sulfur powder
  • 1 pound copper sulfate powder
  • 1 pound seaweed meal (I use Thorvin kelp)

Mix well (dust mask recommended because it's all powders). Topdress feed with about 1/2 teaspoon (2 - 3 grams) daily. May also be left out free choice. Also recommended is keeping kelp available free choice, especially for dairy goats.

California AKA Clark

I put an asterisk (*) by the dolomite because I actually use dolomitic limestone. Dolomite is supposedly extremely common, but I'll be darned if I can find it. Hoegger carries it, but it's pricey (about $2 per pound) and often backordered. In her book, Coleby states that dolomitic limestone can be substituted. I can find this at the local nursery for about $4 per 50 pound bag. Note that it must be dolomitic limestone, not calcitic. The difference is the calcium and magnesium ratio, which must be twice the calcium to magnesium to be of benefit. Powdered is preferred to granular. My goats actually lick it up from the bottom of their feeders.

Gruffy, Randy, & Waldo

I buy the sulfur and copper sulfate from Alpha Chemicals. Their prices are excellent and so is their customer service. (They also sell ammonium chloride which is used to prevent urinary calculi in male goats, and citric acid, a necessity for making mozzarella!). I buy my kelp from Seven Springs Farm in Virginia. Again, excellent prices and customer service. Even with shipping the cost for a 50 pound bag is more reasonable than anywhere else I've been able to find.

While reading Pat's book about the lick, I happened to see the section on boron. It was the symptoms of boron deficiency that caught my eye - creaking knees. My two oldest goats (Surprise and Gruffy), in particular, had this. Since they get a loose goat mineral (Sweetlix Meatmaker Goat Mineral), a deficiency didn't occur to me. I thought the creaking knees and slowing down were due to their getting older. What I didn't realize was that my loose mineral mix doesn't contain boron. Even though we've been including boron in our pasture remineralization program, not all areas have been improved yet. But, within a couple of days of receiving the boron (as Borax), their behavior changed considerably - they went from plodders to prancers! What a difference! They get 1/2 teaspoon sprinkled on their feed once a week.


In my mineral feeders I keep free choice Thorvin kelp, the Sweetlix, and baking soda. Now that I've cut back on grain my goats rarely touch the baking soda. They don't eat much of the Sweetlix anymore, either. Because I feed Chaffhaye, they do eat a lot of kelp (alfalfa being goitrogenic). The other thing I continue to give them is my own homegrown vitamin and mineral mix. They get a handful on top of their feed once a day.

All in all, I'm very happy with the condition of my goats. Coats are thick and soft, with no bald tail tips. I'll keep the mineral blend available but it's not disappearing as quickly any more, so this may be the right combination for us.

January 3, 2015

Bay Window for the Living Room

We received an unexpected but wonderful gift for Christmas - the funds to do the living room window! Dan had extra days off over holidays, so we got an earlier than anticipated start on the project.

Old windows, original to the house - single glazed with no insulation
under the molding. The new energy efficient ones are in the corner.

The first thing we did was to take a trip to an area surplus building supply warehouse. We had decided that if we could find the right windows, then the bay window we wanted would be a go. Well, they happened to have recently gotten new stock and we found just what we were looking for - three new energy star rated windows (and for less than the cost of one at full retail price).

The next step was to take out the old windows.

It was a cold day and this promised to be a dusty job so we cleared
out the living room and covered what remained. Having doors for all
the rooms meant that all the cold and dust stayed in the living room.

As Dan feared, there was no header for the window opening. If you look carefully along the top you can see five studs spaced 16" apart on center.

Close-up of how the window opening was originally framed out.

A header would have supported the ceiling, but instead, the builder used the windows to prop up the opening. Not unsurprisingly, there was some sagging there.

With new header installed

Dan doubled two 2x6s with a strip of plywood sandwiched in between to make a new header. Having to do this meant having to rethink placement of the windows. We bought them the same height as the old, but the header decreased the opening by 5.5 inches. Lowering the opening at the bottom would mean having to cut the living room's cement board wall. The other option was the header as a beam effect. After finding several examples of this online, that seemed the simpler option.

Framing for the new windows

My original sketch showed only the windows projecting from the wall. Another option was to build it to look like a room bump-out. Bay windows are very heavy and are usually installed as one unit and attached to the house from above with cables. By building it like a bump-out, the weight of each window could be supported by it's own framing.

Here are a couple of close-ups for details:

How he framed out the top

Nailer on either side for siding and window trims
Next -

I'll paint the siding white for the time being, and then
do the final paint job once the entire porch is finished.

Dan stuffed every crack with either insulation or foam and then applied window flashing. The barnboard siding around the bottom is insulated with batting. He covered the floor with a vapor barrier and will also put down plywood cut to fit. This be covered with a window seat when we get to the interior.

Windows in!

This is a different style from what we've been putting in the rest of the house, but I like the picture window effect.

Siding up, trims installed, ready for primer and paint.

Like the front door, these windows brighten up the living room considerably. With the windows being energy efficient, I won't have to keep them heavily draped all the time. In fact, just yesterday evening Dan commented that this was the first time the living room felt warm in the six winters we've been here. In spring and autumn I'll be able to catch the lovely breezes because the front window is double hung with a screen.

The next step will be to prime and temporarily paint white. Then we'll get started on the inside. More on both of those here - "Progress on the Bay Window? Not Much".

January 1, 2015

2015: New Year & New Goals

Here's wishing everyone a very blessed 2015. As is our custom, we did not stay up till midnight. Nor do we make resolutions. Instead, we made goals. They are much more flexible than resolutions and more useful! Here are ours for the upcoming year.

House - finish the front porch. We accomplished quite a bit last year but still have a way to go. Up next will be replacing all the old windows with energy efficient ones; both those in the living room and the front bedroom. Then we can put up the new siding. Still under contemplation is replacing the porch ceiling. Finishing touches will be staining the decking and painting exterior, door, and trim.

Barn - the new goat barn still seems impossibly unattainable, but if we take it one step at a time we may eventually get there. The one thing we have definite plans to do is the branch removal I mentioned. Anything more depends on how far we get with the front porch.

Fences - this one makes the goal list every year because there is always something to fence, or there are fencing repairs to be made! There are several things we are hoping to focus on this year.
  • Gates - we have three gates needing to be installed: two in for the garden and one at the bottom of the doe browse.
  • Doubled fences for protected diversity - the idea here is to run a second fence about 4 to 6 feet parallel to existing fences. In between I plan to plant a perennial forest garden of fruit trees, shrubs, herbs, perennials, etc., that will help feed the chickens, pigs, and goats. Goats in particular will demolish things they like, but this way I hope they can gain nutritional benefit without destroying what I've planted. More on this soon. 
  • We'd like for the goats and pigs to forage more in our wooded area. There are so many downed trees back there, however, that fencing would be difficult. We're considering setting up cattle panels to let them into the most accessible areas. The beauty of cattle panels is that they can be tied to trees for a temporary fence, but moved easily as required. 

Goats - Kinders only. Our days of different breeds and different sizes are about over. I tolerated the Nubians while trying to make Kikobians and Kinders, but they really aren't for us. Both Dan and I prefer the Kinder personality so much more. This also means Gruffy will need a new home, but I honestly think he'd be happier with goats his own Pygmy size. I know he gets tired of being picked on by all the bigger bucks.

Pigs - 2014 was our learning year for pigs. Not that we have it all figured out, but we've seen how useful they can be in preparing the soil. It confirms my original plan of rotating pigs, field crops, and pasture as part of our land stewardship cycle. Also, we should get baby pigs this year, which makes Dan happy 'cuz he loves his bacon and sausage.

Field Crops - Now that we have the pigs to help, we're hopefully looking at not having to plow anymore. At the most, the clay clods may need to be disced and the area dragged to make it smooth enough for the scythe or sickle mower. In addition to wheat and corn, I want to add root crops for field growing. Turnips and mangels or sugar beets in particular for the livestock, especially as I get away from grain for the goats.

Chickens - the chickens should really be able follow the pigs around. The pigs turn the soil, through which chickens love to scratch. Plus, they both need to be kept out of areas that are newly planted. We need a better gating system for this, however, so that we can direct the chickens to wherever the pigs are. For this we plan to expand the chicken yard, which will also facilitate expanding our chicken aided composting, another experiment we are pleased with.

Honeybees - I have my first hive and bees are ordered! More on that soon.

How about you? What plans do you have for the upcoming year?