When Homesteading is Life

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When one is faced with starting over there is an underlying gift involved.  One that creates space.  Yes, it is sad to lose everything one owns and it is odd to have to reinvent one’s occupation and lifestyle but what this creates is a place to only bring back in what one loves.  What one needs.  What improves life and doesn’t clutter or overwhelm it.

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I am living in a beautiful home with friends.  Electricity is used as needed and sometimes when not.  I have relearned to use a dishwasher and a dryer.  We flip on lamps to read.  I walk around their house in the evening squinting for the overhead lights are so bright.  I do not like overhead or artificial lights.  My forever farm will have oil lamps again.  I miss them, love them, feel better by them, and will not miss turning on the switch.

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I rinse and lightly scrub dishes and put them in the dishwasher.  One more good rub and these dishes could be put away.  I do not feel I need one.  The dryer has been fun and makes laundry day a snap with these beautiful machines but I miss hearing the flick of the clothes as I snap them in the air before placing them on the line while listening to birds and taking a few breaths to myself as I enjoy the outdoors.  My clothes, wrinkle free and not shrunk coming off the line in piles of aroma that could not be matched with dryer sheets.  “Perhaps I will love city life again or at least modern conveniences,” I thought.  Wrong.

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Right now we don’t miss milking twice a day but we really miss our chickens.  I haven’t eaten more than four servings of fresh food all summer.  My gardens filled with bounty in my memory and planning.  No eggs, no produce, and no milk on hand is sobering.  Maybe we will get a milking goat again, I know not as of yet, but the chickens and gardens will be taking over available space on the forever farm.

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Our neighbors hope we get the place.  They miss us and our goats.  We have only been farmless for a month and a half so perhaps more things I miss will come up.  But we will start house with as little as if we have just left home.  Mementos and little else.  No clutter, only build what we love and treasure in our new home.

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We are having trouble securing work that pays over minimum wage despite our experience and education.  Another interesting dilemma.  But, we are following open doors and not trying to force our way through bolted ones.  Let’s see where this meandering path leads us.

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“It’s a good thing you know how to homestead!,” my friend exclaimed.  She said that most people faced with our situation moving to the country with little wages would think they wouldn’t survive!

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I know how to build a fire, how to can, how to preserve, I know friends who raise their own livestock for meat, I know how to make bread from scratch, and how to make a corn field come up in a driveway.  I am not worried.  I got this.

The Little Dairy (a homesteader’s necessity!)

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Every homestead would benefit from a goat.  These dog-sized animals come with mega personality and fun while giving delicious milk for the homestead dairy cupboard along with chocolate milk, cheese, yogurt, cream cheese, and ice cream!  Goats don’t cost much more than a dog does and the investment is paid back in crazy antics (like jumping 360’s off of a pile of tires), snuggles, and food.

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Goats are great with kids and teach them about farming.  There are many cities and counties that allow goats now.  There are many types of goats to choose from ranging from Nigerian Dwarves to Saanens.  Dwarves give one to two quarts a day of rich milk while Saanens and Nubians can give one to two gallons a day!  Not too shabby.

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I love cows but they are hard to sneak into the city and they eat a lot.  Our Isabelle gives more than a gallon a day.  It is illegal to sell raw, nutrient rich, frothy, delicious milk.  However, a share is a good way to help other families receive a bit of milk for themselves. Our shareholders pay a small buy-in fee and a weekly boarding fee which entitles them to a set amount of milk.  So, Isabelle essentially belongs to four families!

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Our household still has plenty for cooking, drinking, and putting into vast amounts of coffee before farm chores.  I also make two pounds of cheese a week.  Today I will make Manchego aged in truffle oil.  I expected to have Elsa in milk too (she is doing great at her new home, by the way) so I was going to use Elsa’s milk for our needs and cheesemaking and Isabelle could supply shares.  But our plans never work out quite like we think!  Isabelle is still giving us all we need and lots of kisses as bonus.

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Goats are one of the only things that pay for themselves on this farm!  They do better in pairs.  Isabelle is a little tired of being followed around by her two month old sheep brothers, adorable as they are.  We traded Isabelle’s doeling for a doeling from Poppy, our friend Jenet’s goat, who is due in a few weeks.  We are hoping for a girl!  Then a little two day old Nubian will join our humble homestead.  If not, then we will be on the lookout for a companion for Isabelle and future milker.

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The other side of having a delightful goat that gives sustenance to a farm is the time involved.  Every day, rain or shine, or blizzard, Isabelle is milked at 8:00 in the morning and 8:00 in the evening.  Every.  Single.  Day.  This halts one’s spur-of-the-moment plans, but it is worth it.

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This year, I have been cutting the rounds of cheese in half so that I have one pound wheels.  One to keep, one to give fine folks that donate to our farm.  I blended white wax with red wax and found it created a lovely pink patina to cover my cheeses with.  I love it.  My favorite color. I think it will be my new thing.

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I simply cannot imagine a homestead without a goat.  A homestead necessity!

The Joys of a Simple Life (goals, self reliance, a day in the life)

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Forget January first as New Year’s!  That is only one time of pondering goals for a homesteader.  There are several pivotal times in the year that homesteaders like us take stock and decide and dream and implement plans for the year.

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Our average spring day starts at dawn with strong cups of coffee.  Doug reads the news and I write.  We do outdoor farm chores like milking, feeding goats and sheep, letting the chickens and ducks out and making sure they are cared for.  We plant as the weather allows, watching the weather and clouds like an addiction.  Preparing soil, adding beds, caring for plants.

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Doug fixes fences and puts up gates.  He repairs things damaged from winter and makes sure we have plenty of firewood curing and in the house for the still chilly nights. We watch our beautiful granddaughter.  She wants to be a part of everything, carrying wood, making cheese, doing dishes.

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I keep up the farmhouse and put three meals a day on the table.  I preserve throughout the year to keep the pantry rotating.  Five pints of meat sauce put up the other day, seven quarts of broth last week.  Cheese rests in brine on the stove. (I will teach you that next week!)

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We watch owls swoop by, worry about family members from a distance, pray for sunny days, and relax in the evenings after milking, reading by oil lamp.  We lead a simple, busy, enchanting life.  In order to keep this lifestyle we have to find everything possible that we can do ourselves.  This allows us to live on very little money and enjoy the profound satisfaction of doing things ourselves.  We live softly on the planet and provide healthy food and peaceful living for ourselves and our children that came home.

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For the past six years we have added skill by skill and vast achievements but this year I would like to go one step further and do these things more intensely, more prolifically.  I have grown all my own green beans, but how about all our corn?  I have sewed a skirt, how about sew what I need this year? (I am in dreadful need of new aprons)  So, these are my goals for the next two and a half seasons and of course you will be drug along with me through my writings to see just how self-reliant we can be and how satisfying it is to live a life of freedom and work by hand and I hope I can inspire you to step back and live a little more simply and old fashioned too.

Can I: Grow all my own fruits and vegetables?

Make my own wine?

Prepare my own spices?

Make all my own dairy products?

Provide some of my own meat?  And source the rest from friends? (Whole Foods is killing me y’all!)

Bake all my own breads, tortillas, rolls, etc.?

Stock, organize, and fill staples so that we can practically eliminate the need to go to the store?

Grow enough variety to satisfy us?

Be creative with recipes?

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These are my goals for my farmhouse kitchen.  I have a list of what we need to reserve for winter.  How to improve my relationships. What to sew. How to rearrange the living room and kitchen.  But most of all I need to be present, unfettered,  and loving.  I need to not get so busy that I forget to hug my husband, sit and watch the rain from the window, read a good book, or play with the baby.  Our old lifestyle allowed a two week vacation.  This one allows a bit every day.  This is truly the best life for us.

The Art of the Cold Frame

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In this lifestyle bartering is a way of life and I was happy to trade an herbalist class for help moving and a homebuilt cold frame.  My friends built this beautiful wooden structure with windows that open and screens.  It is made from old barn wood and even has an old Christian fish symbol burnt onto a board.

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I was concerned that even at the height of day the entire box was not bathed in light.  The southern half was in the shade all day.  It is built so that the back is higher than the front.  The clever builder believed it would still work and indeed it did!  Pots lushly filled with peas, collards, chard, and kale and then promptly died.  The first real freeze came along and froze every bit of life out of them.

‘When the heck do you use the cold frame then?’ I wondered.  It extended the season until the end of October.  We did have that unusual cold snap (A bit of an understatement seeings how it was twenty-two below zero!) at the beginning of November.  Perhaps it would have survived longer in the average late autumn.

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This spring I was ready though.  I didn’t do it too early.  A few weeks ago I planted tons of pots of cabbages, cauliflower, broccoli, tomatoes, strawberries, and Chinese onions and placed them in the cold frame as an experiment.  Most things have germinated and are growing well.  Not as fast as last autumn’s batch but certainly the temperature is right for germinating.  The tomatoes have not come up yet but the ones in the greenhouse are a bit slow as well.

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A very cold night last week prompted me to take action.  I piled bags of soil up around the cold frame (I bet bales of straw would work too) and placed a blanket on top.  Everything is still growing.

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I am still experimenting with this new medium to extend the season but I think it could potentially bring greens and other delicious foods to the table later and earlier than expected.  It is doing a fine job of holding my seed starts as well.

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Remember that in any situation when starting seeds one must keep the soil moist until the plants come up.  They cannot germinate in dry soil!  Don’t overwater seedlings or they will dampen off, which is sad.  Check every other day to see if the top 1/2 inch is dry.  If so, give a sip!  When the plants are trying to germinate they like the hot, humid space but when they get to be plants open the windows of the cold frame on really warm days to let air through.

Plant what you love to eat and watch it grow!