Archive for March, 2009

My turn to detail a “typical” day at our farm.

Spring time is a time of great change here. Life moves from the steady grinding pace of the winter marathon to the full out sprint of the spring time decathlon. The pace of everything picks up and the number of projects needing to be attended to explodes. Organization is key. With the goats starting to freshen comes milking, cheese making, and bottle feeding duties. The grass starts growing so pasture management, paddock rotation, fencing, and all the bits of a MIG system have to fit into the schedule. The start of the Farmers Market is just a bit more than a month away. Planting and garden chores ramp up considerably to get ready. All the regular chores still have to fit in plus the additional warm weather things like mowing. The kids are still doing school every day and extra activities on at least half the afternoons. Finding a balance between the important things that need to get done and the urgent, in-your-face daily crisis that inevitably arises is a sometimes impossible juggling act. When we miss one ball it is chaos.

To survive, and possibly thrive in the midst of chaos we try to live with a schedule. It looks something like this:

Monday House Projects

Tuesday Baking

Wednesday Farm Projects

Thursday Cheese and milk projects

Friday Market Preparation and Crafts (Inventory for the farm store.)

Saturday Farmers Market

Sunday Church, Rest, Family time

Everyday there are regular chores that must be done. Feeding, milking, pasture moves, weeding, watering, planting, school, extra curricular activities, meal prep, laundry, dishes, cleaning, etc.

A “typical” day looks like this;

4:30 a.m. Time to get up, start the fire to take the chill of the house, make the coffee, and start breakfast. We get going early so C and I have a bit of time to talk, plan, and prepare for the day.

6:00 a.m. C starts getting ready for work; I pack lunches, and get the kids breakfast ready. Mix the goat feed, prep the bottles and milking supplies, possibly start a load of laundry.

6:30 a.m. The kids get up. They usually go from sound asleep to a full sprint in a matter of minutes. Things go better if breakfast is on the table when they come down stairs.

7:00 a.m. C leaves for work. The kids get dressed and start their chores. I start the morning animal chores, feeding babies, graining goats, setting up pasture and hay for the day.

7:30 a.m. Kids start school. They start with warm-up exercises or yoga. Then they have 30 minutes of independent reading. This gets body and mind into school mode.

By quarter after 8 they are logged on and working on the days lessons. We are using an on-line public school (Connections Academy) this year. I love it! It lets us focus on the best parts of home schooling and also ensures the kids get the full state curriculum. It frees me from the daily lesson planning and paper work that doing home school on our own required.

While the kids start their school I finish the chores. The goats get milked and the milk gets processed. Everything gets turned out to pasture. The chickens get fed. The greenhouse gets checked, watered, and covers taken off the baby plants.

From about 8 am until noon I do household chores (dishes, laundry, cleaning, meal prep, etc.) and monitor the kid’s school. Their lessons are pretty well structured and they are quite independent. They get lots of support from their teachers on line, but they also need help from me. When I can I try to fit in a bit of blogging, reading, or research on the computer.

Afternoon is project time. I try to follow the schedule so all the projects keep moving forward. It works most of the time.

Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays we have extra curricular activities in town in the late afternoon. We try to also get any shopping, trips to the library, or other errands done on those days.

By about 5:30 it is time to start the evening chores, dinner, and close things down for the night. It is pretty much the reverse of the morning, without school.

By 8:30 or 9:00 p.m. everyone is ready for bed. As the days get longer this time gets later. C and I usually find a few moments to talk about the day and maybe read before drifting off to sleep.

Sleep is important! Morning will be here soon and it all starts again.

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Want to hear a story?

O.k…..2 want to be farmers ask 2 part time farmers if they will drive them to pick up their new pigs. The 2 want to be farmers don’t have a truck or a trailer and they need to borrow the 2 part time farmers small trailer (and in this case the car that pulls it) to go pick up their new pigs. These are the 2 new pigs they are not sure if they will breed or maybe eat: choice to be decided in the future by one of the 2 want to be farmers after he decides if he will like caring for them or not. So….the 2 want to be-s and the 2 part timer-s set off for a long trip high up the mountain and far away. Round the bends and over the many many dales driving many long hours. Long hours through the rain that has been alternately pouring and drizzling down for days. As they drive up to the 2 maybe breeders maybe dinner pigs place —2 brand new farmers come out to greet the others (at this time brand new was an unknown factor in this story). So one of the part timers gets out and asks where the best place to back up the trailer to pick up the 2 maybe breeder maybe dinner pigs. The brand new farmer says “well…I guess right here”. So the 2 part time farmers back up to the guess right here spot (the 2 part time farmers are really good at that part) and get out. That’s when ….Ick!! …. they notice “the smell” With all the drizzle and pouring rain for many days the 2 maybe breeder maybe dinner pigs stink. All the way to piggy heaven! But hey…..no big deal except—oh my and they ARE dirty. (Hmmmm…..the lady part of the part time farmers thinks maybe they should have brought extra shoes). So the 2 part time farmers get the trailer door all squared up to the side of the pen—making an almost chute. On the other side one of the want to be farmer is told by one of the part time farmers to hold a metal piece of roofing (found laying on the ground) to finish the chute for the maybe breeder maybe dinner pigs to follow straight up to the no ramp trailer. ( Hmmmm….the part time farmer wife thinks about the fact that the 2 brand new farmers didn’t tell the part about not having a place or way to load the 2 maybe breeders, maybe dinner pigs). Then while the female part of the part time farmers says “oh I forgot to bring some corn…. do you have any??”…. the brand new farmer stands outside the “chute” and opens the pig door and says….come on. O.k…so the 2 maybe breeder, maybe dinner pigs are very tame and no corn is needed. In the middle of the doorway there is a huge, as big as the whole doorway, water bowl blocking up the works. After a number of attempts to cross this barrier neither of the 2 maybe breeder maybe dinner pigs have made it out yet—though they have tried. However the 2 maybe breeder maybe dinner pigs pig pen is full of mud from all the rain and it is slippery and they can’t jump over the big water bowl without getting hurt. Well….this part confounds the brand new farmer a bit and the female part time farmer has to say politely to him “I think you will have to move the water bowl.” So reluctantly the brand new farmer gingerly steps in to the “chute” area and moves the water bowl —and practically gets run over by the one maybe breeder maybe dinner pig that flies out of the gate and squirts immediately under the very low to the ground trailer with no ramp —-and out the front and into the yard. Ooops. So brand new farmer — the female part— then chases said pig around the front yard until it finally decides that going back to familiarity is the better choice and runs through an opening left just for that opportunity— and back in with its mate. So…..a second attempt is made with brand new farmer still on the outside of the chute area. Yet again the brand new farmer, staying well out of the range (biting range??), allows the same maybe breeder maybe dinner pig to fly back out and squirt back under the trailer with no ramp and back out into the front yard. And again poor maybe breeder maybe dinner pig decides to go back after being chased around by the brand new farmer wife. So…third attempt. Brand new farmer, staying well out of the range, allows out maybe breeder maybe dinner pig for a third attempt and as it ducks to squirt under the trailer with no ramp yet again —-Yeah!! The stronger part time farmer grabs it! Maybe breeder, maybe dinner pig squeals of course. Extremely loudly—to put it mildly. But part time farmer ….trying not to hurt maybe breeder maybe dinner pig—is NOT willing to let it go. Part time farmer then yells at brand new farmer who is just standing there still out of range to “GRAB IT”—-and they lift it into the trailer with no ramp. Whew! One maybe breeder, maybe dinner pig down. However now….. part time farmer is…well a bit dirty. Dirtier than any of the other farmers: want to be, brand new or the other part timer. So…by then… the other maybe breeder maybe dinner pig doesn’t want anything to do with this and decides to hide in the back and not come out. And still the brand new farmer won’t go in to get him (by now it was understood pig number one was a female) and just stands near the door and attempts to call him out. Finally….while the 2 want to be farmers and 2 part time farmers stand there wondering what they should do, since it really isn’t their farm and they don’t feel they should “take over” even though it is obvious brand new farmer has no clue……brand new farmer says “hold on—lets grab some corn”. (Now….didn’t somebody….like maybe the part time farmer wife SAY something about corn earlier in the story???) So…corn is quickly retrieved by brand new farmer wife and maybe breeder maybe dinner pig number 2 gladly….with a slight lift to help get the back end up into the trailer with no ramp…..goes right in… and happily eats corn all the way to the 2 new Farmers home down the mountain and far away. Round the bends and over the many many dales.

Of course the part time farmer who got dirty?….He stunk all the way home.

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Making a Garden Apron

When I’m in the garden, I’m always carrying stuff around with me: seeds, tools, camera, etc.  I’ve found that this simple garden apron gives me a few extra pockets and is more comfortable than stuffing my skirt or pants pockets with the same items.

This is a child sized apron tied around a garbage can.  The principle is the same, just the size is different.

This is a child sized apron tied around a garbage can. The principle is the same, just the size is different.

For an adult sized apron, you need two pieces of fabric measuring 24″ by 18″ (of course you can vary this depending on your own measurements).  You’ll also need two strips of fabric for the straps, usually 20″ x 2″ is a good size, again you can adjust to your own measurements. 

Sew your two large pieces of fabric together (right sides together) on three sides, basically making a pillow case.  Turn your pillow case right side out and fold the edges of your open end inside.

I exaggerated the folds here for demonstration purposes, you just need to fold them in about 1/4".

I exaggerated the folds here for demonstration purposes, you just need to fold them in about 1/4".

Top stitch the edge you jut folded in.  Now fold your apron over, about 2/3 of the way.  so that you form a pocket.  Top stitch the each side to form one pocket the length of your apron.  Now you can add more pockets by stitching up the middle to form two pockets or add more pockets of varying size by stitching up the pocket.  I find that two to three pockets is sufficient.

Make your straps:

Fold each end of your strap in towards the center and press.  If you have a bias tape maker this is super easy but it can be done without one.

Fold each end of your strap in towards the center and press. If you have a bias tape maker this is super easy but it can be done without one.

 Fold the raw edges of the end of the strips in and then fold the entire long strip in half again, so that all raw edges are are in the inside of your strap.  Press then top stitch the entire length of your strips and each end.  


Attach your straps to the apron in the back of your apron by top stitching around the entire strap:

I used red thread to make it more noticeable for this tutorial, you might want to use a coordinating thread.

I used red thread to make it more noticeable for this tutorial, you might want to use a coordinating thread.

Cut your loose thread and voila a garden apron perfect for working outside or in.

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So it begins,

A new adventure…a new blog adventure to be exact

‘Not Dabbling In Normal’ could not better describe my life, and I am pleased as punch to be here and writing about my crazy life!

My name is Kim aka the inadvertent farmer, I live on a small 10 acre farm in Western Washington State (yes is does rain as much here as legend has it) I garden in zone 8.  My vegetable garden consists of raised beds for veggies, a melon patch, a berry patch, as well as a orchard.  I garden organically, sustainably and quite often lazily.  I  battle to the death slugs, voles, moles, thistles, and killer wild blackberry vines!  I try to live in harmony with the large herd of elk that come through as well as the occasional deer, coyote, and bobcat….although I have been known to stand on the porch and yell at them…

“Just leave the garden alone!”


Much to my sweet hubby’s shock and horror we have somehow come to be the guardians of 4 llamas, a goat, a growing flock of chickens, ducks, turkeys, a new puppy and our minor celebrity Gizmo the camel….yep we have a camel!  I will save his story for a later post…I don’t want to scare any of you away too soon!

We also have been blessed with 5 children…4 of which are boys…proving God does indeed have a sense of humor!  Our first batch is of college age, our second batch is of potty training age.  I home school the younger ones, and pray for the older ones.

I love to sew, garden, bake, blog and take pictures.  I hate to clean house, shop, wear heels, and speak in public.

There you have it me in a nutshell…a small farmer raising organic fruits, veggies, critters and kids!

I will have the pleasure of your company every Saturday and am looking forward to getting to know you all.  I will try to share my limited knowledge in a manner that is both entertaining and grammatically correct…politically correct may be a bit more dicey!

If you are of the adventurous sort and have a strong stomach for manure, a messy house, and a farm that is part wildlife refuge then you can also find my daily adventures over at my blog the inadvertent farmer

And since I just cannot seem to post without pictures, here is a random sample of my life…


Gizmo the wonder camel!


Baby Boy lovin' life and eatin' dirt!


Elk...deer on steroids!


I am totally in love with my macro lense!


Apple cake with homemade applesauce, all together now...YUM!

Spring is here...shoes are gone!

Spring is here...shoes are gone!

Daisy...our pound puppy!

Daisy...our new pound puppy!

Little red apples all in a line...playing with my food again!

Little red apples all in a line...playing with my food again!

Next week  I will be letting you peek at what I do on a typical spring day here on the farm…I might even try to explain why I do what I do on a spring day here on the farm…then again it may not be explainable…Kim

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not dabbling in typical

 For my post on a typical spring day, I decided to keep a diary for one day.  Most of my chores are the same every day during the winter and late spring and any extra projects that get done are weather dependent.  Meaning do I want to work outside or inside?  Or in other words – no monsoon or monsoon, or even snow this last week.  I try to get at least one “job” done each day outside of regular farm/household duties.  These could range from hauling in more firewood, to sorting through stored apples or digging the weeks root crops for the house and the milk cow.

5:00 am – get up and start the fire in the cookstove, so I can have my coffee and make breakfast. 


While I’m waiting for the cook stove to heat up, I check emails and read East coast blogs that I check in on daily, and generally enjoy the blessed quiet.  I am a total morning person.

5:30 am – start breakfast, and go open the perches for the hens so they can start their laying.

5:45 am – wake-up hubby and child, he packs his lunch and we all eat and visit.

6:15 am – hubby leaves for work and we close the gate behind him and let the dogs loose to run to their hearts content.

6:30 am – wash morning dishes and put away, and get jars out for milking.  Straighten the house up and fight the kid for the computer, or go over her on-line school work and log that into the computer.  Check the web-mails from her teachers and take care of any school business that needs immediate attention.

7:30 am –  feed the bucket calf and milk the cow, and leave her to eat her special hay and to finish her roots.  I am only milking once day, so I can milk later than I normally would, since I don’t have to milk at night.


7:50 am – process the milk and wash up the buckets. 

8:00 am – scan the obits for my name, and catch up on the local news.

8:15 am – go back to the barn and fill the feeder for the milk cow, her yearling steer, bucket calf, and MCIT (milk cow in training).  By this time the horse and the milk cow have finished their feed that we don’t want them to share – the milk cow goes to the shed with the others and the horse is turned out.

After that, we walk up to the other barn and shoo the cows out, and while my daughter beds the loafing shed, I fill the feeders, water trough and feed/move the sheep, and check the hens feed, water and bedding.  When the shed is bedded we let the cows back in to eat. 


Every morning while we are at the barn/greenhouse area, we check on the seedlings in the greenhouse,  water, and uncover the flats if the day will be warm enough.  On cold days, we are still leaving the heat mat on.

9:00 am – now that the regular chores  are done, my daughter usually starts her school work and I am free to do whatever project needs doing that day. It was raining, so the extra task of the day will be inside.

However, since it is spring vacation, I collared her to help me harvest the last of the cabbage in the greenhouse.  She didn’t mind too much, since she can eat a 1/4 head of braised cabbage for lunch. 

Contrary to popular belief, I’m not too much of a slave driver – we talk and visit while we work, and she took quite a few photos for me of the different stages of the harvest.

We harvested all we could for the house, and pulled some partially rotted cabbage heads for the hens, and sheep.   


11:30 am – time for lunch, she fixed cabbage for herself, and I had an apple and some carrots.
We both read during our lunch break, and I started a load of laundry. 

12:30 pm – I wanted to take a nap since it was such a cloudy day, but I knew the cabbage would not wrap itself in plastic wrap and store itself in the refrigerator, so I finished up the cabbage and jotted down notes from the harvest in my garden notebook.  Amazing!  Little seeds I started last June are still supplying us with meaningful work and food 10 months later!

1:30 pm –  back up to the barn to flip the hay back in the feeders for the cows and top off their water.  Usually at this time, I check for eggs too.

It is also a good time to wander into the greenhouse and look at the seedlings and dream of warmer days to come.  I never get tired of looking at those little seedlings struggling to break ground. 


2:00 pm – this time in the afternoon I can work on bookwork, bills and general paperwork, and make or return phone calls. 

3:30 pm – back to the barn to check on the cows and gather the final eggs, and close the nest box perches.  I button up the seedlings for the night.  After putting away the eggs, I feed the bucket calf again and put more hay in the feeder for the motley crew at the house barn.

4:00 pm – this time of year, I start a fire in the furnace to take the chill off of the rest of the house.  I straighten the house up again, and start dinner, and hang up any laundry that needs drying over the heat registers. 

5:00 pm – hubby comes home from work, and needs to decompress, so he tells us of his day, while dinner is cooking.  After we have all settled down, we eat.

Some evenings  we watch TV or a movie, read, or stay up late writing posts on the computer 🙂

Bedtime comes at 11:00 –

This was a rainy day post, but if the weather was nice, we would be back outside after dinner and working on something until dark, those days will be here soon enough though, so a slow day harvesting cabbage and doing regular chores feels kind of good! 


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i have 4 children, 2 are from a previous marriage and attend the local schools. greg gets them up around 5 to get the animals fed and watered. on days when they are not here, he takes care of the animals before heading off to work.dscn3831

after nursing my 2 year old back to sleep, i creep out of bed around 6am. i make myself some herbal tea to start my day and get on the computer to try to get things done that i need to focus on before my 2 and 4 year old get up for the day. unfortunately, i get very distracted by emails and blog comments so i usually don’t get much done! while doing so, i oversee breakfast and lunch for the older ones and get them out the door by 7am. starting tomorrow, this early morning relaxation will be out the window as i trade in the free computer time for milking the goat. this normally takes about 10 minutes for the actual milking and another 10 minutes for processing the milk (straining and putting in a cold water bath to cool down). we have 3 goats that will freshen this year so it will take me about an hour when i’m doing all 3. i also try to record the previous day’s events in my gardening journal at this time.

generally, the older two leaving for school coincides with the younger two getting up so i make the 3 of us breakfast.  on bread making days, i try to get the yeast proofing while i prep breakfast and have the bread dough rising by the time we are eating so i can toss it in the oven when we are through.

after breakfast and bread making, i try to get some laundry started. generally, i try to do 2 loads a day. this time of year can be tricky since we no longer use the wood stove but days outside can be cool and gloomy and rainy. however, we have great winds almost constantly from now until winter so clothes dry pretty fast, usually within 30 minutes to an hour which means i hang up the next load then remove the first load, folding as i go so i can take it right inside and put it away. i hate having laundry sitting around!dscn3832

mornings are spent in a variety of ways…ironing shirts (my least favorite task and one i put off too often!) for greg to wear to work, watering the indoor plants, baking cookies or cupcakes, working on various projects and cleaning house. projects can be anything from my herbal roots monthly publication to starting seeds. i also do work on the computer and the laundry as needed. now that we’ll be in milk, i’ll add making mozzarella, yogurt and kefir to this routine. i am giddy with excitement thinking about eating fresh mozzarella again! dscn3814

between 11 and 1 we have lunch. around this time, sage nurses down for a nap and it’s time for school. although not always, i usually wait until he sleeps so that jaden and i can work one on one without him trying to be in the middle of what we do. we currently are working on math using math-u-see, reading with ‘teach your child to read in 100 easy lessons’, copywork to practice writing plus books on the season we are in. jaden picks out books at the library and we read 3 or 4 of these a day as well. i let her choose art play: clay, water color, drawing and sometimes when we are doing a story from the keeper series for science, i help scult animals to represent the story out of clay. we also have a variety of language programs we use for french and spanish learning. muzzy is watched on the dvd at times and we have a few cds in french and spanish as well for them to enjoy. i also try to get them some show such as diego to watch to become familiar with the language as well.dscn3826

after schooling, on nice days, we head outside to work on the garden. this time of year, we do a lot of cleaning up. i pull out dead plants/stalks and throw them in the compost. weeding the garlic and strawberries, mulching them and planting cool weather crops such as peas, kale, chard, radishes, cabbages, lettuces, spinach and carrots are also done now. also, i am usually tending to seedlings now but we are behind in sowing our seeds this year. i will hopefully get that done this weekend.dscn3818

by now, sage has woken up and the two are playing and riding their bikes outside. i try to finish up my gardening and straggling laundry loads by 3pm and start doing the rounds with the animals. everybody has to be watered by hand. we fill buckets from the hose by the house and carry it out to the layers, broilers, goats and sheep, dogs and all the stalls in the barn for the goats and turkeys. hay is still given to the goats and sheep as the grass has just started returning. does and ewes are given a small supplement of grain to boost their protein intake. chickens are fed and during not critical gardening times, are let out to free range until dusk when we lock them safely in the coop for the night. right now i don’t let them out because they scratch up and eat all my seeds/small plants. we hope to get a fence around the garden soon so we won’t have to worry about this anymore and can let them free range all day long.dscn3816

eggs are gathered and brought inside. since we are certified to sell graded eggs, i clean and grade them and get them in the fridge. dscn3829

after the animals are taken care of, we straighten the 4 downstairs rooms (kitchen, dining room, living room and play room), picking up toys, sweeping the floors, mopping the kitchen floor and putting away blankets and pillows that made tents and beds for all the dolls and kids. once everything is picked up, i start dinner.

after dinner, i clean off the dining room table, sweep the floor, put away any leftover food and wash the dishes. if any food needs prepped for the next day’s meal, i try to do it at this point such as beans for soaking. sometimes i’ll make pasta dough and let it sit overnight covered to roll out the next morning. it is easier to roll out when it’s more on the dry side.

in the evening, greg prefers to watch a video. sometimes i join him, sometimes i take advantage of the free time (on the rare occassion that sage and jaden fall asleep early) and work on the computer, catching up on various things such as the checking account, articles, handouts for my monthly study group, herbal roots, etc. he usually heads to bed around 9:30pm while i stay up until about 11pm relishing the peace if all the kids are asleep.

this routine varies greatly…when my older kids are home, they relieve me of the animals so i only need to milk in the mornings. they are also in charge of dishes and straightening the downstairs. while jaden, sage and i still pick up toys, i generally leave the sweeping to them. and, on thursdays, we have a playday so not much gets done after 10am. i try to get our schooling done before they arrive but since we school year round, schooling 3-4 times a week works well for us and i don’t worry if we miss a day unless we are working on a tricky concept and then i may try to just review that one subject for 10 minutes.

weekends also vary greatly since greg is home all day and we have up to 6 kids here half the time. milking, laundry and cooking remain constant while everything else changes according to the need of that particular weekend.

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Today I am guest posting for Robbyn. She is having unfortunate computer issues but hopefully will be back next week at her “normal” time.

Since I began gardening I have been interested in herbs and uncommon edible things to grow in my garden. My first garden was in the Dallas/Ft Worth (Texas) metroplex which is a very hot and dry segment of north Texas that is sits on top of an ancient limestone lake bed. It is perfectly suited for growing many of the Mediterranean style herbs. Rosemary, sages, lavenders, santolinas and thymes were just a few of the herbs produced in my small yard under the huge pecan trees that bordered it. I can’t say that I was as good as some herbal folks in using my sometimes capacious amounts of herbs for any real practical purpose though. Usually I just enjoy them dried in my dresser or a bowl or sometimes in my food. I rarely ever made salves or ointments. However as the years have gone by I find that I like making “salves” more and more even though I now live where it rains much more than the DFW area. I can no longer grow those commonly used Mediterranean style herbs so often found in many hand creams/salve/ointments. However there are many other plants available for my uses that will grow in the climate zone I currently occupy. Salves are quick and easy to make and small changes of herbs and flowers make them practical for many different applications.

This year as some of you know, I now have a milk cow. As I have been recently training her to stand and be handled I noticed the other day that she looked as if her teats were chapped. Maybe somewhat dry would be a better description. Either way, I am not sure why since she hasn’t had her calf yet and is not being milked yet. Irregardless of the how and why…. she needed some “chapstick” for her teats. I had already been perusing organic/natural udder salves since before purchasing her and had come to the conclusion that they were somewhat pricey, but I knew I would need some irregardless. A cow will need much more in the long run than say a women washing dishes once a day would because an udder is a pretty big appendage and takes quite a bit more salve than my hands do. I could of course go a bit cheaper with a something like Bag Balm, the most commonly known teat salve on the market, but Bag Balm is a petrochemical based salve and besides that it is sticky and gooey and doesn’t absorb well in my opinion. (by the way…if you are considering a milk cow please don’t clean the udder with a bleach/water solution. We would never clean our hands with that and their skin is just as delicate as our hands. Besides bleach requires a certain saturation solution and a soaking time of about 10 minutes to work. That is a strong base to leave on cow skin for 10 minutes)

So, though I had some beeswax/olive oil salve for my own use here in the house that I used last night on Girl, I am planning for the long run by starting some calendula plants to make the base for my own home made dairy salve. I figure it will be much cheaper to buy or grow the ingredients for my udder salve instead of constantly repurchasing it. Besides making salve is easy and enjoyable though I cheat often and use concentrated oils for my own personal use.

For the udder salve I would like the base oil to be infused with calendulas. Traditionally known as a healing herb research does support that calendulas have anti inflammatory and wound healing properties which made it one of my top choices. Comfrey and plantain (plantain already grows wild in my yard) were two other good choices.
I decided on the flowers though since I can fancy up my veggie garden at the same time as growing something I need. Calendulas are also good for this since they are one of the easier flowers to grow and make infusions with and, again, I can get away from having to purchase purchase purchase. I can just make it myself—part of the whole homesteading philosophy right? I have grown calendulas before but not for a while and the colors that they have out now are spectacular. The pictures I have here are of two varieties available from Johnny’s Selected Seeds which is where I got my seeds. For herbal use any color is fine which is why I am trying the kind of multi color varieties. Calendulas are also completely edible and often called pot marigolds because they are traditionally gold in color and commonly thrown into pots of food. * Do make sure you buy Calendula officinalis and not members of the Tagetes family as some of them look similar and go by similar common names. *

To make my home made udder salve I will start with some flower petals, after they bloom of course, dry them and then gently heat them with some oil either in a crockpot or in a warm sunny window. You can use any oil. Olive is common but also safflower, grape seed, organic canola, coconut oil and on and on. Just depends on what you want to buy and also how you want it to feel and smell. Some oils will always leave a bit of their smell behind. Some are covered up easily. Some are expensive…and some cheap. Some will last a long time, as in a year, and some will last a few months. It is really your choice and there is technically no wrong choice. You can also extend shelf life if you need too buy adding a capsule of vitamin E to the mix. I have never had a problem with it though so I have never done that.

After I have an oil infused with the flowers I will add my beeswax and a few other concentrated oils like lavender and roses for a nice soothing scent or eucalyptus and peppermint for a bit of cooling. Some homesteaders say the cooling herbs help with udder edema, hardening and also helps mastitis. I don’t know about this since I have never had an issue with these things but it is something to keep in mind.

One last thing about growing the seeds of calendulas. Supposedly you can plant them outside after frost. You can also start them inside like any other seed. I have always had a difficult time getting many of mine to grow. This year I sprouted some in small pots (very few came up) and the rest in a paper towel with the seeds folded inside and the paper made dripping wet. Put it all into a container/zip lock baggy, seal and set on top of a heating pad on low. With that set up—I had serious sprouting and just checked them daily and put the rooted ones into the soil. This is my best sprouting ever and the way I will do it from now on. Sometimes we just have to think outside the box to get the job done.

If you would like some suggestions for salve ingredients and combinations see here: http://www.mountainroseherbs.com/salves/salves.php

If you want more information about Calendulas see this article: http://www.gardenspirit.net/calendula_earlysummer2007.htm

If you need more information about making salves see this easy to follow article (there are lots more on line though) : http://www.ehow.com/how_2100495_make-herbal-salve.html

If you need to know more information about infusions start here: Http://candleandsoap.about.com/od/coldprocesssoapmaking/ht/htoilinfusion.htm.

And if you need beeswax you can try a number of sources. We buy ours from the blacksmith club—they use it for I don’t know what but we can buy it by the pound for cheaper than anywhere else. You can also try a local beekeeper (ask at a feed store or your local agricultural office) or you can buy it on line (ebay etc). I buy in large ( 5 pounds at least) batches which last me a very long time. If you buy from a beekeeper don’t worry about it not being fully clean. Just trim off the “less clean” part of the wax that is the bottom layer and also known as slumgum—or you can use it. Slumgum is a thin darker brown layer of the settled leftover bits on the bottom of the wax. Usually I trim it off carefully for salves and hand creams but throw it in to the beeswax cotton waterproofing I make and also a bit will get into my furniture and metal waxes. No biggie really.
Hopefully this encourages some of you to make creams/salves. It’s a very very easy project to try.

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The taste of place

The Essence of Canada

Birch syrup rendering over an open fire.

Birch syrup rendering over an open fire.

Well, it wasn’t exactly cost-effective, but we did taste the terroir of our own birch/maple syrup for the first time yesterday. Yes, that word ‘terroir’ extends beyond wine to other earthy products, because syrups do have local flavours, too.

Most people think of maple sugar production as quintessentially Canadian, and located either in Quebec or Ontario. It’s just not an activity one associates with the prairies or here on the western Cordillera–but we did it! We found six birch and three maple trees in our front yard which looked likely producers, and tapped them last week. Over the weekend we continued to clear the front forty, and in the process of burning the small dry sticks and undergrowth, we rendered down our first batch of maple/birch syrup. The rendering ratios are 40 and 100 to one respectively, and because the maples produced more sap, the ratio of syrup was about 40:60, so by my calculations (and believe me, during the day we had time to calculate!) we ended up with a mix of about 20% maple,  80% birch.

My friend Clarence came by and stood amazed at what we were doing, never having witnessed this activity in this valley. As I looked across at my little yellow buckets hanging from their spiles in the tree trunks, I wondered why we are not all harvesting from our woodlots in this serene, labour-free way. Much of our radio news these days is filled with so-called ‘catastrophists’ predicting global economic ruin, and advocating getting out of cities, and I’m glad we are in a place where there is still so much knowledge of how to fend for oneself (Clarence’s friend supplied me with the spiles, buckets and advice on which trees were best), and enough space to do so.

Birch syrup rendering continues inside for the final stages.

Birch syrup rendering continues inside for the final stages.

I had read that you can easily burn syrup in the last stages. Mind you, you can easily boil it all away thinking it’s still just water, because it looks that way for most of the process: no amber colour, no viscosity. We had been away for a few days and weren’t sure how much of the buckets was in fact rain water–but we remained hopeful. After a day’s boiling, I brought the pot inside to complete the task on the stove. Sure enough, miraculously, at about one inch depth the liquid suddenly thickened, darkened, and looked like maple syrup. I took my first, tentative, frugal sip. Delicious! I read that boiling over an open fire imparts a camp-fire, smokey taste, and that’s true; this seems to enhance the caramel flavour, while underneath (almost literally) is an earthy, mineral flavour. I contrasted this with the more ‘clear, crisp’ taste of some birch syrup we buy in Quesnel, a town northeast of us, up on the plateau.

So, after a day and a half, I had about a quarter of a cup of pure gold in a jam jar, and we’d burnt all our windfall sticks and branches. We’d also shared two days outside under grey skies with temperatures heroically hovering just above freezing, but we were able to celebrate our ‘spring’ break pleasantly warmed by the fire and dreaming of future spring days, when the air will smell of turned earth and chlorophyll rather than smoke and birch sugar. My food sovereignty year started with gathering fiddlehead ferns in early April, but this new discovery has extended my growing season into March. My attitude towards time has shifted; as a self-provisioner, it is now geared to food availability rather than the clock and the calendar. I used to regard my year of activity as beginning on May 24, the traditional date for beginning safe frost-free outdoor gardening; with the discovery of fiddleheads it regressed, and now it has regressed even further. My world is measured by food: not only in time, but in space also, because wherever I walk or drive I remember what food I gathered there, or what i might gather in the future–that berry patch, that bend in the river. This must be how animals map their worlds, too. Last week while clearing the front of our property I realized from their trails that bears travel east/west and deer travel north/south, because their food sources lie in those directions (the bears follow along the streams to the salmon rivers via the berry bushes, the deer to the meadows via my vegetable garden). Like the Aborigines of Australia with their songlines, I am making my own tracks across this valley. Like the deer and bears, my map is taking shape along paths of sustenance.

The results of the first rendering of my maple-birch syrup--tiny, but tasty and worth its weight in gold!

The results of the first rendering of my maple-birch syrup--tiny, but tasty and worth its weight in gold!

And while my project of food sovereignty is not always about cost effectiveness, this exercise renewed my appreciation for how cheap our food is: Quebec maple syrup in a jug at our supermarket is about $12. The more self-sufficient I become, the more I learn about how much effort it takes to feed myself. As with other food items  for sale in the store, I now think $12 for a jug of maple syrup is far too cheap for the resources used–even considering the so called efficiency of mass production.

I’m also looking at my land and its resources differently. What only a month ago was a tangled mass of ‘Wine Maple’ (that I was told should get taken out because it is ‘no good for anything’) has become a precious resource to me. I already have a second batch on the stove and will likely make several more batches over the next few weeks. I’m thrilled to have access to this wonderful sweet liquid–one less jug I’ll buy from the store. I feel a sense of accomplishment having added another dimension to my personal food security. I also feel a deeper connection to my land and an increasing sense of place; I now look at those trees on my place and think, ‘I know where you are and what you taste like!’

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This is part of a series we decided as a group to do. I understand a number of readers where interested in how we all spend our days.

I start out my morning at about 7 everyday. I rise, like clockwork (and without one) to say goodbye to my son as he goes off to school. I am an early riser compared to the rest of my family, though I am a slow starter. I have always risen by 7:15 at the latest, late nights and weekends included except for a few rare occasions. I do unfortunately have the worst time making it anywhere consistently before 9 – to the frustration of my family when I have to drive them somewhere. However…I work at home so I don’t have to be anywhere before then generally – super lucky me.

In the spring, before I leave my room in the morning, I turn on my grow lights on the plants that I still have under lights. I don’t have another room or area to designate for my plant starting but I would like to eventually. Having it in my room does make it easy to remember to turn on the lights without a timer though—because they are right there in my sitting area. And off in the evening since I wouldn’t be able to sleep.

Besides using the lights, I also place some of the plants outside if it will be at least in the mid 40s all day. I move things like pak choy, kale and even tomato starts out side to the patio to spend the day –watering them if I find I missed some the night before. The tomatoes don’t go out if it will only be in the 40s though—I put them out only when it will be a bit warmer than that.

Afterwards, I go upstairs and start my tea water and my computer if I have time. While I drink my tea I try to take the time to check my email or post things to my blog(s) if I don’t have to be somewhere in a hurry. Sometimes instead of checking email I pick up from the night before. Pans that may have been soaking from dinner, clothes left out, papers/books/magazines may get organized —maybe even start some laundry if I need too. After tea, I get dressed, wash my face and brush my teeth and then get started on the “real” part of the day.

Now here is where it diverges. This spring we no longer have sheep for the first time in a long while. If this was a sheep spring I would already have gone outside—before my plants, tea, tidying and computer—to check on any ewes that may have lambed. Lambing would have started somewhere by mid March for us and gone on, depending on number of ewes and when bred, up to the first of May usually. If I had a ewe that had lambed I would have then spent time bringing them into a pen in the barn so that I could watch them until the next day, longer if I had triplets or one had a rough start on a cold night. I might help dry them off if they were still damp and then feed, hay and water mom, while taking just a bit of time to watch them interact before going in. If it was an older ewe I would spend less time watching interactions than a first time ewe. First time ewes are a bit flaky sometimes. They are kind of like teenagers—their brain doesn’t always click quite logically and you have to focus them. During the day I would have also come out periodically to re-check on them and spent some time just enjoying them. At this point I would usually be taking a number of pictures too.

This year we no longer have sheep, though we do now have a milk cow (technically she is a bred heifer but we’ll call her a milk cow for simplicities sake). We don’t know exactly when she will calve—sometime in the next two months at the most I believe. Maybe sooner. The new routine now is to stay in line with how we will milk. So…I have my tea, wash and brush and then go out to water, hay and give a tad bit of grain to my Girl (that’s her name) and tie her and brush her all over. I also touch and handle her udder like I am prepping her for milking. I then walk her around, starting/stopping and turning at points so that she will learn some commands. I also want her to understand that when I lead her she will go somewhere she will like to be. Each day I spend a bit more time walking her than I did the first couple of days we had her, but I never go beyond say 10 to 15 minutes. I would rather come out more than once during the day for practice than to wear her out with one lonnnnggg practice session.

When I am done I free her into the pasture she will graze in that day— which is where she wants to go instead of eating that “nasty” old dried grass that I leave for her to munch during the night. I want, and try, to be out there a bit after 8 since my milking routine will probably be 8:30 ish. I have not yet made it around to picking up her feet but I stroke her legs too while I am grooming her. All this is to get her used to us because we want her to be easy to milk and easy to handle. Sticking with a routine is the way to do it. Routines are calming to cows. They like consistency best. They like the same place, same time, same routine. Kind of fuddy-duddy-ish isn’t it?

After messing with the cow I go in and feed the dog along with myself if I feel like breakfast that morning. I am not a big breakfast eater and have a tendency to stick with the same thing over and over — so sometimes I just skip it because I am bored of eating it. Actually bologna sandwiches, fritos and dr pepper seem like a great breakfast to me—or maybe tuna—but I watch the health aspect of my foods a bit better than that so I rarely ever eat something like that in the morning (or even the afternoon).

Afterwards the dog and I go out to feed the birds (ducks and chickens) and check on the pigs and give them some breakfast if for some reason we didn’t get them dinner the night before. Sometimes they have huge amounts of scraps during the afternoon depending on what I am cooking or doing and so they don’t always get dinner. If that is the case…by morning they are “squealing hungry” and need a snack to tied them until later. My pigs are guinea hogs, a somewhat uncommon and rare breed of pig, and this is our breeding pair. Since we are not fattening them for slaughter we have to help them watch their weight — which is why they don’t get fed quite the same as a hog for slaughter would. They, like all of us, would like to eat like they are going to slaughter though 🙂

Since the pigs and birds are right near the garden I will then usually work there depending on what needs to be done and how the weather is. Some of the things I might do are:

*Hand pull or hoe weeds


*Mulch plants

*Plant plants

*Start seeds that will be started outside

*Prep beds that haven’t been prepped—like turning, tilling, making rows or just lightly weeding.

*Sometimes I spread fertilizers —always organic —into new beds I will soon plant or side dress growing younger plants.

* Uncover if I have been covering them because of the weather

*Put up trellis, netting or fencing —depending on what will be planted—to get ready for taller growing plants not yet in like beans and tomatoes. Since they don’t always follow the peas I have to trellis new spots for them

*Harvest anything ready to harvest (which right now is nothing really except an occasional leaf or two)

*Prune or trim things I have missed

*Tighten wire trellising around permanent beds or repair it if it needs it. I have permanent cross T posts with wire through them to hold up my asparagus and raspberry. Some of the Ts had been coming lose and needed repair since the cross bar screws had come lose. Instead of tightening them as I had been doing I decided to replaced them all with threaded rod all the way through the main post and cross T. Hopefully this will hold them on better and I will not need to re-tighten them each year as I had been – on any of the beds like that.

* Water if we have not had enough rain –especially on the seed beds. I like to water my seed beds in the morning and the evening. I think they stay moister that way and sprout better.

By the time I do all that, along with other flim flamming in the yard, it is usually around lunch time. Usually I come in and eat lunch. Hopefully leftovers from dinner since they are more reasonably priced. If not though (maybe I hated what I made or it was so good it all got eaten) I will run down occasionally and get something from one of the local diners and run errands at the same time. If I eat at home I will finish the household stuff I didn’t in the morning. Things like clean up, do laundry, plan what to have for dinner if we are eating here and thaw it, read through my mail/pay bills/budget and handle any office work I might need to do for the household. I also take the time to shower if I need to and get “spiffy’d” up — unless I will be going out to do something really dirty again…then I wait until later. If I eat out I will run errands like go to the feed store or grocery store or even up to the mall if I need something from there.

By this point (usually about 3) I am a bit tired and I will sit and read or research things that we would like to know or need more info on while I have an afternoon tea. Relaxation time. By summer….I give up the afternoon tea since it is just to hot. If I don’t use the a/c it’s to hot to drink hot tea and if I am using a/c I feel like it is a waste to cool the house so I can drink something hot. Silly.

Before I know it the kid is home from school and it is time to start getting dinner ready and he and I will chat for a bit. Sometimes, if I have heavy or difficult tasks I will go out again with my free laborer to help me and finish whatever it is that I needed help doing. Like yesterday…he tilled down the cover crop of wheat for me so I can start prepping the bed for the sweet potatoes that will go there in about a month. Sometimes it’s digging holes for new fences (or digging out poles for a design change on the fence ) sometimes it’s cleaning out hay from the barn. In the case of the hay, with the sheep ,we cleaned out the barn only in the fall before the bad winter weather and in the spring right before lambing so it usually was a big pack and could get quite matted down. Very heavy and much easier with two or even three people to work it. Other things that need two people are hanging gates or moving heavy objects or big limbs. Sometimes if I am going to pick up something that I will have trouble loading or unloading without someone else to help — I will take my son with me. The list goes on of course–all things I am glad to have a helper for. One that even comes home early –or earlier than my husband anyway. My son is a fabulous worker. Working without complaint almost all the time. When I say something about that he always says it’s because I work beside him. He says he can’t have his mother look stronger than him.

Around 6 my husband gets home—usually. Then we eat dinner, clean it up and then sometimes run errands or work outside together or separately depending on what needs done and the weather. We don’t watch much t.v. Only about 4 hours total a week. I may go out and mow the pasture or work in the garden again and he will sometimes do things I know nothing about—like rebuild all the mowers and machinery I use while he’s gone but have no clue how to upkeep (and don’t want to know). Sometimes we go hang out with friends or talk over projects we want to accomplish over the next week or two or even month. Occasionally we’ll take off and go play pool or go to the movies together or even relax just watching our animals. As with all spouses we have goals to work toward and things we have seen and heard throughout the day to talk about and share.

Eventually it gets almost dark. We check on the cow and bring her in for the night around 7:30. Repeating almost the same thing we did in the morning. We may eventually leave her out but right now she is new and we don’t want her to get a bee in her bonnet because we aren’t handling her enough. Then we will go in and read or maybe play on the computer(s) for a bit. Sometimes watch a netflix movie or something like that. A few days a week I will do a small bit of yin style yoga while watching t.v or reading a magazine or book at this time of night. I find yoga has made a huge difference in how my back and shoulders feel since I began doing it consistently. I have always stretched because of an ongoing shoulder issue but added a more consistent yoga practice this last year and a half to my life and really enjoy it. I do also go once a week to a yang style power yoga class—which is fabulous and has really built up my strength.

Eventually…10:30 comes and I go off to my room. Before I go to bed I bring in my plants that have been outside if I haven’t already done it, water them if they need it and turn off the grow lights. If this was a sheep spring…I would walk the pasture first and check them all before coming in to go to sleep to see if any looked as if they would labor that night. If I thought one might I would bring her up to the barn so I could get up and check during the night. I have on just a few occasions had a ewe that needed help in the middle of the night but rarely. Better safe than sorry is my philosophy. Then I hit the pillows – like clockwork without the clock – and am asleep by 11 (typically).

As I read back over this it sounds like I “work work work” all day. However many of the things I do I don’t consider work. I actually like doing them. A lot. I know some people would never think of weed pulling or hoeing as fun, but I do not find them un fun and kind of like them. Of course doing it in the middle of a 95 degree day isn’t my favorite—but that’s why I try and do it in the mornings. Obviously some of the other things are more enjoyable (like the animals) but to me, my day is full of mostly pleasant things along with time to do whatever I want. And what I want just happens to be gardening and care of animals. So it works out…..typically 😀

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Over the course of the next few weeks each of us will be sharing what a “typical” day in spring is like for us.

A typical week-day for me always starts at 4:30 AM when the alarm goes off.  I get up, make coffee, and head out the door by 4:50 to hit the gym when the doors open at 5.  After working out anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, I come home to shower, make breakfasts, pack lunches, and head out the door to work.  It’s after work and on weekends that I get to all the other things that are so dear to my heart.  Weekends generally start around 5am with the donning of an apron before sitting down to a nice cup of coffee and the newspaper at the kitchen table with my love.

In spring, I’m thinking about gardening if not actually gardening by the spring solstice (generally speaking snow is still covering my garden on the solstice).  Seeds are getting a jump start indoors with a little worm water from the compost bin.  In another month, I’ll be starting potatoes, greens, onions, and other cold hardy plants (I hope).  Once the seeds get started, I make sure to do something gardening related each and every day.  Gardening related activities include:

  • Watering and transplanting of seedlings
  • Harvesting compost from the worm bin
  • Shredding newspaper for mulch and the worm bin
  • Looking for manure and moldy hay in the newspaper, Craigslist, and Freecycle for the garden and paths
  • Preparing the garden and containers for planting
  • Actually planting in the garden when the time is right
  • Covering plants for an unexpected frost
  • Weeding

In the spring, we’re still carrying wood into the house and lighting fires in the woodstove.  Though, we’re starting to only burn them in the night and early mornings, allowing the fires to die out during the day and even opening a window or door to allow in the cool spring air.


There is some baking and cooking that goes each and every day, of course, we have to eat after all.  Big baking projects like bread generally happen on weekends, while everything else can and does happen before or after work.  The crockpot and leftovers are both used liberally during the work week, but everything is always cooked from scratch – no meals from a box around here.  Meals are also usually very simple: beans and rice, soups, roasted chicken and veggies, etc.

I try (but don’t always succeed) to clean one room in the house a day.  If I keep up on that, it takes no more than 15 minutes to dust, tidy, and vaccuum that room.  It’s much easier to do it that way than try and do entire house cleans once a week for me.  Dishes are always kept up at the end of each day, but that’s more because I enjoy doing dishes than for any real belief in that’s how a kitchen should be kept.  Laundry is done in spurts and Jeff helps me with that, being only two of us its not something we have to tackle more than once a week.

In the evenings after the sun has set, I spend time with my Jeff, talking about our days, dreaming of the future.  We like to have a cup of hot cocoa during these chats from time to time.  Sometimes we get involved in our individual hobbies or crafts, sometimes we read or watch TV, but either way we try to make sure the last hour before bed is spent relaxing in the company of each other rather than busily trying to dust one more shelf or start one more seed or any number of other things.

Bed time is anywhere between 9 and 10 PM most of the time.  I love crawling into my bed at the end of a busy day – its just so very cozy.  Flannel sheets still cover our bed this time of year as well as a comforter and my grandmothers quilt to keep us toasty warm.  There is usually a little spiritual reading, prayer, and mediation before the lights are turned out and (hopefully) sweet dreams visit.

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