May 31, 2018

May Flowers

It is said that April showers bring May flowers, so I'll close out May with exactly that.




Lamb's Ear






Actually, we've had so much rain this month that it's been nearly impossible to get much done outside. Anyplace we've prepared the ground for spring planting is too soft and muddy to walk on, so not much is getting done in the garden. Still, the flowers are happy, and that's always nice.

May Flowers © May 2018 by Leigh 

May 28, 2018

Volunteer Pigeon

Dan had been hearing what he thought sounded like an owl - almost. We do have owls around, Great Owls mostly, which have a distinctive hoo hoo HOO. But this wasn't like that and we weren't sure if it was an owl at all. The identity of the mystery bird was solved last week when Dan went out to feed the chickens and discovered that a pigeon had joined them.

The pigeon was pecking for scratch in the chicken yard and seemed quite at home, but the chickens were in an uproar. Still, it came back for the next several days and finally the chickens settled down.

One day Dan saw our visitor at the coop chicken doorway looking in. Checking things out? The next day we found it inside the coop, cooing away quite happily!

Now it spends the night inside the coop, settled on the roof sill. So it looks like we've got ourselves a volunteer pigeon.

Apparently pigeons are rather difficult to sex, so we don't know if it's a male or female. Dan named it Walter, so if we ever figure out it's female, oh well.

It looks as though Walter has a leg band, so he must have escaped from somewhere. He won't let us get anywhere near enough to try and catch him. I've checked several lost-and-founds, but no one seems to be missing a pigeon. So I guess he's here to stay for as long as he wants.

Volunteer Pigeon © May 2018 by Leigh 

May 25, 2018

Hay Chute

Having a hole in the hay loft floor didn't feel very safe.

 Building a wall around it feels much better.

Dan made it from lumber scraps and leftover plywood.

All that's left to finish the loft is to install a small light and make a door.

Hay Chute © May 2018 by Leigh at  

May 22, 2018

May Harvest: Sugar Beets

Last fall I planted two beds of sugar beets. We had a colder-than-normal winter, so they didn't do terribly well, but I did get some, and my harvest was better than my tries in years past. I pulled them all the other day in anticipation of preparing the bed to plant something else.

Sugar beets make excellent livestock feed, which is my primary reason for growing them. Both the greens and the roots are edible, so I chopped some to feed fresh ad dried the rest for my goats' vitamin and mineral mix (the same one that the garlic leaves went in to). The goats got the smallest roots too, but with the larger once I decided to see if I could make beet sugar.

In the U.S. "sugar" is a generic term that applies to both cane and beet sugar. Unless an ingredient list on a product label specifically specifies "cane sugar," then it could be either one or a mix of the two. Taste-wise it doesn't seem to make a difference, but all the commercial sugar beets grown here are genetically modified. So for those of us wishing to not eat GMOs, understanding that is important. Non-GMO sugar beet seed is still available to home gardeners, however, and that's what I planted.

I used the directions in Grandpappy's Recipes for Hard Times by Robert Wayne Atkins. I reviewed this book awhile back (here) and it's still one of my "must have" self-reliance books. Instructions for making beet sugar is one reason, as is how to make pectin for jam and jelly making and how to make yeast from hops. (I'd love to have a copy of Grandpappy's Survival Manual for Hard Times, but yikes it's pricey!)

The directions called for finely chopping, shredding, or slicing the cleaned roots, placing in a pot, and covering with water.

There were simmered until tender, about an hour. Then the cooking water was strained out and put in my crockpot to further cook down. The cooked beets are edible, so at dinnertime I sauteed some in butter to heat them up and we gave them a try. How were they? I thought they were good but Dan said he likes red beetroot better. The cooked beets can also be squeezed to remove more of the juice. Pulp would be welcomed by chickens and pigs!

To make actual beet sugar, the cooking water must be cooked down until it crystallizes. Just like making maple sugar. The alternative is to cook it down to a thick syrup and use it that way. Mine cooked in the slow cooker for the rest of the day and was turned off at night. Early the next morning I fired it up again to continue cooking. By the following afternoon it was dark and still watery. But it was smelling sweet, so I took a tiny taste.

And? Yes it was sweet but it also had a bitterish aftertaste! Yuk! That was all I needed to know and abandoned the experiment.

This is about 3 cups of concentrated juice from 4
pounds of sugar beets. Cooked down more, I
could probably anticipate about a pint of syrup.

Conclusion? Don't bother with making sugar or syrup; just use them raw for animal feed. In a hard times situation they certainly could be eaten by humans, and of course the greens are edible too.

So there you have it. If anyone else has tried this with better success, I'd love to hear about it!

May Harvest: Sugar Beets © May 2018 by

May 19, 2018

May Harvest: Garlic

May has mostly been a planting month, but there are a few fall-planted things that are ready to harvest. One of them is our garlic. The other day the ground was dry and with a new forecast for lots of rain, I wanted to get it out of the ground.

Garlic bed ready to harvest. I've replanted homegrown garlic for several
years now and somehow have ended up with both hard and softneck.

When garlic leaves begin to die back, it's time to harvest. I've learned the hard way that if I wait too long and the leaves die off completely, then the bulbs are harder to find!

I lay them out on my front porch to cure.

Garlic needs to cure before it goes into storage. Curing allows it to dry thoroughly and it's usually dried with the green leaves attached. Sometimes they are braided together, which makes an attractive thing to hang in one's pantry or kitchen. This year, however, I decided to do something different.

When I was researching natural wormers for Prepper's Livestock Guide, I learned that some farmers feed whole garlic plants to their cattle as part of their deworming program. The raw bulbs are the most potent anthelmintics, but I suppose the leaves contain traces of garlicky goodness. As a source of calcium, potassium, magnesium, manganese, copper, and selenium, that's a lot of goodness. So why not add the leaves to my homegrown goat vitamin and mineral blend?

The difference between when I wrote that post in 2013 and now, is that I'm drying herbs and greens for my goats on a much larger scale. Several years ago I switched from my food dehydrator to air drying on window screens.

My somewhat wonky rigged drying set-up. Dan plans
to build me a better one in my future milking room.

As long as the humidity is low, things dry within several days, and then they are mixed into the goat blend. If it's humid out they take longer to dry, and I have to stir it several times a day.

Something else that I harvested this month is my sugar beets. More on what I did with them next time. 

May Harvest: Garlic © May 2018 by Leigh

May 16, 2018

$10 Windows for the Barn

After we put the skylight in the milking room roof, I found myself wondering if we could use the same translucent roofing panels to let even more light into the goat barn. Dan isn't crazy about those panels, so he suggested we take a trip to the builders surplus warehouse to see what they had. We bought all our new energy efficient windows for the house there at a huge savings.

We looked around and found door windows for $10 each. Some were for doors and some were front door sidelights. We found a small window that would be just right for the milking room.

It was perfect.

Then we started discussing the hay loft. I have a small solar shed light to put at the top of the stairs, but I would prefer to save the battery and use natural light during the day. Dan had the idea to install sidelight panels horizontally along the top of the hayloft wall.

We headed back to the builder's surplus and bought two sidelight panels. They were also $10 each.

They are 6'10" by 9.5"

The length of the barn loft is 16 feet. By using the windows, Dan needed only two sheets of plywood instead of four.

Plywood sheets installed horizontally, leaving an opening for the windows.

Ready for the windows.

The opening above the plywood was 16.5 inches. The windows were 9.5 inches wide. 2x4s are 3.5 inches wide. So the window and two 2x4s were perfect to fill the opening.

One 2x4 is under the window and the second
 one is being slid in over the top from the left.

Window and 2x4s filled the space perfectly.

Hayloft posts are four feet apart, so each window had run in front of one post. After the 2x4s were screwed to the posts, however, there wasn't room to accommodate the vinyl window trim. Dan cut it so that the window could fit snuggly against the post.

Together, the windows cover 13 feet 8 inches of the 16-foot opening. That meant there were some gaps to cover.

Three gaps to fill, on each side and in the middle.

Dan had a few 3.5-inch thick scraps lying around to fill them in.

Now I have plenty of light in my new hayloft!

The amazing thing is that all of this worked out providentially. We couldn't have pre-planned it this well! Step by step we're getting closer to goat-moving-in day. 😊

$10 Windows for the Barn © May 2018 by

May 13, 2018

A Very Exciting "Coming Soon!!!"

Yes! My newest book is scheduled to be released next month and is ready to pre-order at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or your favorite independently owned local bookstore! It is part of Ulysses Press's prepper series and is my first non-self-published book. I've reviewed a number of books in this excellent series, and was surprised when they asked me to participate with a prepper's book for livestock. I was excited to say yes.

Dan and I have always thought that the best preparedness strategy is to become as self-reliant as possible. We knew that if we wanted fresh milk, eggs, cheese, and meat as part of our preparedness pantry, then we have to figure out self-reliant ways to feed our critters, plus learn ways to preserve and store these items without having to buy supplies or rely on electricity. This book is a compilation of everything I've learned about self-sufficient livestock keeping.

Who is this book for?

Anyone who is interested in:
  • Self-reliant, sustainable homesteading
  • Feeding your farm animals from your land
  • Long-term food preparedness that goes beyond canned foods and dry goods

How is it different from other books on homestead livestock?

It approaches livestock keeping from the goal of self-sufficiency. It is written to help you transition from modern philosophies and techniques to sustainable, alternative, and off-grid ways of: managing livestock, growing your own forage, hay, feeds, and alternative feeds, preserving and keeping eggs, milk, and meat. In other words, it covers everything Dan and I wish we'd known before we got started!

I've included charts to help you compare various breeds of animals (some breeds are better suited for self-reliance than others!), and find important information at a glance such as pasture grasses, legumes, and forbs divided into warm and cool weather annuals and perennials. There are also supply lists for routine and emergency health care, pregnancy, labor, and delivery. It offers traditional and alternative methods for keeping your critters healthy. Also how to keep your livestock safe and how to identify predators from the signs they leave behind. An extensive resource list helps you find more information to meet your specific goals and needs.

The last chapter, "Keeping Things Manageable," is written to help you stay on track and avoid the pitfalls that can lead to homestead burnout. I think this is so important because it doesn't take long for things to become overwhelming. Helping you succeed is important to me.

Would it be corny to say "and more?" I know that sounds kinda salesy, but this book covers so much more than anything I've ever blogged about. I'm really pleased to offer it all as a handy resource.

The book is 192 pages and lists at $15.95. It will be available on June 15 in either paperback or eBook formats, but if you are interested in reserving a copy or two, you can pre-order now at:

Any of the above links will take you to a blurb about the book, but if you have any questions, please ask!

May 10, 2018

Growing More Hay

I showed you a picture of this year's first cutting of hay in my "Hay Loft!" post.

Cut wheat hay drying. The tree is an almond, planted in 2009.

It's one of two small unfenced areas near the road that we've designated for growing hay. When we bought the place these areas were lawn, but we're not lawn people and would rather put our ground to something productive. Now we get several cuttings of sudan grass here in the summer and grow wheat or wheat/oat hay here in winter. What I wanted to show you, though, is what it looks like at the back.

Small crabapple tree on the left. We planted it in 2010.

That leafy green mess of random shrubs and trees didn't used to be there. Originally it contained a few ornamentals, and I tried to grow a hedge of bush cherries there, but somehow the whole area grew out of control. I had overlooked how much until we were raking and hauling the hay. I asked Dan what he thought about trying to reclaim it so we can grow a little more hay. He agreed and we got to work.

The first step was to cut it all down. Much of it was goat-edible.

Next stumps were pulled. This clump is a crepe myrtle stump.

Then we raked out as many bits of roots as possible.

Lastly Dan smoothed it out with the scraper blade.

We gained a good 12 to 13 more feet for planting. In terms of large acreage that's just a wisp on the wind, but with our small acreage every little bit helps.

I added seaweed meal, hardwood ashes, and tiny amounts of borax &
copper sulfate to the soil. The wheat stubble will add organic matter.

We used to wish we had more land. We still wish it sometimes, but we know it would be more work to steward - to nurture and keep productive. We'd have to have larger equipment and more time to manage it. It's relatively easy to hand scythe the area pictured above, but if we had acres-worth of hay, hand scything would be a huge undertaking. Right now our land is mostly in quarter- to half-acre areas, which is manageable for us at our age with the small-scale and low-tech tools that we have. Even so, we only had to buy two rolls of hay this past winter, compared to the four or five we bought the winter before. Our goal is to grow all of our own hay, but if push comes to shove I can downsize our number of goats.

Besides expanding the plot I'm also happy that it looks much tidier. I suppose the moral of the story is to not let it get out of control in the first place, but with so much to do that's easier said than done! Let's just hope I can keep it that way.

Growing More Hay © May 2018 by Leigh 

May 7, 2018

Good Eating: Smoked 'Possum

Several of you were curious about the egg-stealing opossums Dan bagged for dinner. Over the weekend he hot-smoked the legs on the grill, because that is his favorite way of cooking meat. In fact he no longer buys charcoal, but uses pecan wood to grill our meat. Hickory is excellent for smoking and pecan is in the hickory family, so our burgers and cuts are always tasty.
How did we like it?

Homegrown dinner: hot-smoked 'possum, oven
baked sweet potato fries, and deviled eggs.

We liked it! How did it taste? Flavor was mild and not the least bit gamy. But it was pretty chewy, so I cooked the other two legs a little more in my slow cooker with a little bit of bone broth. It still had the smoked flavor but that tenderized the meat. That was all it needed and I can honestly say that we thought it was better than chicken!

May 4, 2018

Hay Loft!


+ beautiful weather

+ first cutting of hay drying

= motivation. Dan got the hay loft floor down in two days time.

Then it was time for our first small harvest of hay. How'd we get it up there? Awkwardly!

We had a forecast for deluge right around the corner, so we managed the best we could.

Dan plans to put an easier system in place eventually, but for now, this got the job done.

Besides railing for the hay chute we need to put a door on the loft. Because of the forecast, we used a tarp to keep rain out.

What do the goats think about the progress?


They do love our homegrown hay, though, and prefer it to the supplemental hay we buy. Our goal is to eventually grow all our own hay and hopefully this year we'll make good progress on that goal.

Hay Loft! © May 2018 by Leigh at