Thursday, April 18, 2019

Homestead hardships and how you choose to handle it.

Happy New year!
This is my first post for 2019 .
Yes, I know it's April...lol
I felt it was good and would shed a light on the way we make mistakes and learn from them!!


House was almost sold...
Processing our chickens...


You might have a decidedly romantic notion about homesteading. But let me tell you what it takes to make your homesteading dream  come true, if your not rich.

When Gary was fired from his job after working there for 40 + years, we had to make some serious decisions. That took us almost a year to implement. Looking back I think we would have done a great number of things differently. But hindsight is funny that way.

1. We would have sold more of our stuff, purged more of our stuff and given away more stuff. Before we moved.

2. We would have found out more about what we needed to do to sell our house( we have a deed restriction) before we started the process.( can't sell the house for 15 more years!)

3. We would not have moved forward with the purchase of our Homestead. Not before we had all of our debt paid off.

4. We would have paid more attention to the local laws about building codes and their enforcement.

I look back at all the early mistakes we made in our rush to start a new life here on the Homestead, and those are the most obvious mistakes I feel we made.
I hope that this will help someone elses transition to a homestead life a bit easier than ours has been.

But once we were here we had to start from scratch almost entirely.
We did make sure there was a building, a drilled well and septic. Other than that we were at square one with this property.

So we dug right in and started to create our living space in the garage. We partitioned off a portion of the garage for our little one room apartment. Then we started building an addition for a bathroom.
To this day it is not complete, but that is not because we don't want a bathroom, we just won't be able to build it where we planned to. Again we had to roll with the situation. It was about the local plumbing laws this time.
So we changed our plans and kept on moving forward.
I have spoken about this at length on my Vlog on youtube if you want to check it out here:

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLAlWicC5Mc7mty7njqGcE9HectXvCKyE2

As we moved forward with the infrastructure on our homestead we made sure that all of our structures were small enough to not need permitting.
We built our chicken palace first.





We are not done yet with the exterior, and there are a few more things I want to do inside as well, but we have come pretty far in the past 2 years.
Last year we raised 24 chickens and 2 turkeys.
12 chickens were meant to replenish our laying flock and we made a few mistakes there as well.
1. We ordered 6 straight run Black Australorps so that we would get a rooster. What we didn't expect was 5 of the 6 would be roosters!
2. We ordered 6 sexed layers and 1 turned out to be a rooster!(odds are 1 out of 10 will be even if sexed)

If you're keeping count that makes 6 roosters out of 12.
That is not really a laying flock at all! So again we had to roll with it and figure out what to do with all of those roosters we ended up with!
All 4 of the extras went to good homes with flocks of their own, instead of processing them into stock and dog food.
I didn't want to do that because I raised them and handled them daily so that they would be sweet boys.
But nature has a way of taking over and that many boys in one space means that they fight and become territorial. We have enough hens to comfortably keep 2 roosters, but not 6.

This is Lancelot our Arcauna Rooster.

This is Danny Kaye our Black Australorp Rooster.


Speaking of processing chickens...we ordered 6 Cornish X
and 6 Freedom Rangers for meat birds as well as 1 Bronze turkey and one white (like the butterball).

We had a really bad experience killing the first one of the Cornish X and neither of us could do it again for several days after that. (Gary is the designated Artery cutter now)
All I can say about that is no matter how many videos you watch and books you read you will not be prepared for taking a life, no matter what you think it's going to be like.
It was hard. Very hard.





But I had made the decision to do this, I had all these birds that HAD to be processed, because they were getting too big very fast.
You can't ethically raise and care for an animal that is 100% meant as food, and then decide to keep it. It is cruel to the animal.
So we soldiered on. We have processed all but 2 of the Freedom ranger as of today. ( doing very well despite their size, and laying eggs)But they are on the schedule for this spring.






We realized that we were not going to be able to process our turkeys here on the homestead. We don't have the proper pots (large enough to hold a large turkey) to dunk the turkey in to get all the feathers off easily.
So we took them to be processed at a local farm that does it for you. It cost $.69 lb. to do the deed. $40  total, you do the math!
I did find this sad in a couple of ways.
1. I really loved their personalities. They were so much fun to watch and the white one was such a sweet girl.
2. But as I said before about the chickens, they are bred as a meat bird and must be processed at a specific age or weight. I do not want them to ever suffer.

I talk about all of this because if you were not raised on a farm or homestead, hell even in a farming community or rural area, you just are not prepared.
You don't know what it takes to eat. You don't know how long it takes to grow food, to raise birds for eggs or meat. How it feels when it is time to kill that animal and eat it. You saw it the day it was born and you knew what it was like to snuggle it and talk to it. To have it's little eyes looking at you, and If you believe that they have emotions, loving you.
All the while knowing that one day it will nourish you.
You have to be able to keep your humanity alive during this entire process.
You can't divorce yourself from any of it.
You must care for them. Nourish them. In the first week of their lives I watch them like a mama hen. I clean their little butts, so they don't get pasty butt. I keep their pen/box clean. I change their water 4 to 5 times daily. I make sure they are snuggled and loved.
I am the only one keeping them alive.
It is a very loving and sad decision that we made.
To only eat what we raise. To have complete control of what we eat. To take on the care, and the very long process of growing our own meat.

It is hard. But it is what we choose to do.

I hope this is helpful to you and gives you a better understanding about why we do what we do, and why we do it the way we do.

There are so many more lessons for us to learn this new year.
And hardships and hurdles to get past.
Please follow along with us as we grow our homestead and share what we learn!

With love from the homestead!
Gary and Victoria




Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Keeping a Homestead Binder

Homestead Binder



It has been a long time in the making, this binder.  I started with just a simple journal page.   



My goal was to keep track of  the weather, egg counts and harvest amounts. Simple stuff..... Things have a way of morphing into something else once you get going.  It only took me a little time to add multiple categories to what was once a simple journal style page.  It became what you see above. A two sided daily journal for all the things we could possibly do on the Homestead each day, year round.

But then we started our  MOFGA Farm Beginnings course in the fall of 2016 and we started to realize that we needed to track so much more.


The next thing that started the wheels turning for me was one of my favorite fellow You tubers, Esther Emery of Fouchomatic Off Grid.
She started a year long homestead skill of the month club.
Find that series here
The first month was on planning and preparedness.
What caught my eye was the homestead binder that she uses. It was used in a similar way to mine, or what I would like mine to be, but also not quite all that I needed.

So I worked very hard to emulate her binder, as well as add all that I needed to it, to make it my own.

The first thing I did was make up our Homestead Goals for 2017



I think some of them are lofty goals, and I most likely will not get a garden shed, or an outdoor kitchen this year. But it is a place to start from and build on!

This is at the front of our binder, in a place of honor to keep us moving in the right direction.

Next is our weekly goals and lists. Where we each write down our good intentions for the week ahead. We might not get it all done, and that's okay. If there are items left we just move them to the next week and try again! It helps to keep us accountable.

 

Next we have scheduled things, daily, weekly and monthly appointments and scheduled events that we know about ahead of time. I also will use this to schedule days for myself to work on my YouTube videos, blog posts and website design. I need to schedule it to make it happen, otherwise I won't make the time for it.


 

Next are our financial tracking and accountability worksheets.  We have never done this before and we are suffering for that now. Let me clarify. We check our accounts and make sure that we have all the money going where it needs to go( no bounced checks ever!).
What we didn't do was keep detailed records of every purchase we made and what it was for.
We never stuck to a budget that we made.
We didn't keep records of all of our infrastructure projects we did on the homestead or our house on Cape Cod.

Since taking our Farm Beginnings course we now know how very important it is to plan and track everything we spend money on.  I keep every receipt, and I even print out receipts for anything we buy online. I keep each months receipts in envelopes so they are easy to find if I need them.



























Now that I have this new information I have added it to our binder.
All of these worksheets are created very simply with Open Office spreadsheets.
I have to say that many of the worksheets I created, once in use for a week or month, do need to be tweaked. There is always room for improvement so don't fill your binder with your first drafts. Use your first draft for a week or month and then remake it to work better for your needs.

The next chapter in the binder is about Meal Planning and grocery lists.

Monthly Menu Plans


Month's worth of grocery lists.

I have to say that we have tried doing this a few times before but I never followed through.  I have never gotten the satisfaction from meal planning as I have this time around.
We have been following our monthly meal plans almost to the letter since mid January and I am so proud of that.
This degree of planning is made easier because of the amount of food we have on hand in our pantry and freezer.
In our Pantry we have bulk foods, home canned foods and commercially canned foods. In the freezer we have meats(our own and localy raised and some store bought), cream, cheeses, many pounds of butter, and gallon and quart sized bags of fruits and veggies( mostly from our gardens).
Without this food storage our food budget would be close to $600 a month!
As it is I strive to only spend $300 a month. That is for replenishing our bulk storage and for fresh organic veggies and half and half and other things that we use on a weekly basis.  Some times we do go over budget, but I am working on fixing this.
As we plan our monthly menu I will also make up the weekly food shopping lists and use our past receipts as a guide for figuring out how much we will spend each week on fresh foods from the grocery store.  This makes our shopping trips easier, as well as shopping sales flyers for what we need to restock our pantry with.

This month we are going to spend a hefty amount of our grocery budget on corned beef brisket.
Every year for the last three years we have canned our own corned beef hash for our pantry. Every year we make more and more, so we have enough on hand to have a jar a week. It is our special Sunday breakfast. We look forward to it all week!
Filling our jars with potatoes and corned beef cubes.

Our canner holds 7 quart sized jars at a time.

Corned beef hash from our pantry, eggs from our chickens, spinach from our garden and avocado from the store(for now). Our regular Sunday brunch.

This year we are planning on buying 12 corned beef briskets to hopefully make 52 jars or more for the pantry!
By doing this every year, we are adding shelf stable long term food to our pantry. Even though we are spending a large amount all at once to buy the briskets and potatoes, we are spreading the meals out through the year, as well as the initial costs.
I would have to buy a couple of cans of the commercially canned corned beef a week to replace what I am doing myself, all at once this month. That would add about $6 or $7 to my budget a week. That's $364 a year I won't spend at the store.
I have calculated that I will be spending about $188.72 on 12 corned beef briskets, 1 case of jars(an investment I won't have to make next year), 4 new sets of single use canning lids, and 16 lbs. of organic potatoes. Total per week over a year is $3.63.
This way, I have control of what is going into my food, and I am saving money over the long run and adding to my food storage all at once.
This is what meal planning, budgeting and cost sharing over time can do for you.
It seems like a lot of work, I know. But this is a way I save money and prepare for our future. I am a homesteader and I need to be able to save where I can so I can spend where I need.
It has given us a sense of pride and joy to see all of our food on those pantry shelves. We know we are feeding ourselves good food and we will be secure in the future. Planning is the key!

Next we have our Food Storage records......
 




As we do our canning we add the name of the food, size of jars used and number of jars we made to our list.
When we do our corned beef hash this month, it will go on the list.
As we eat our food we can determine what we need to replace and what we need to try to can more or less of for the next year.
When you are canning the foods you grow, or what is only available to you seasonally, it is important to have these records.
Last year, for example, I canned 14 half pint jars of nectarine preserves. This year I will double or even triple that amount, because we loved it so much!
But we are still working on our strawberry rhubarb preserves from last year so we won't make as much of that this year.
Without this sort of record keeping you could end up with more of the things you don't eat as much of, and less of the things you love.

Now since we are talking about food lets move on to where so much of it should be coming from, or we would like it to be coming from...The Garden!

This is a plan of where all of our garden beds will be this year.
This is how we plan our planting schedule by plant.


This is how we plan out our planting schedule by date.


This is how we plan our planting schedule by month.



First we organized all of our seeds.I have plastic baggies, paper envelopes and mason jars full of seeds that we have either ordered or saved ourselves.  In line with our getting super organized, we needed a good picture of what we actually have and what we were going to need to order for this year.

So I spent a few days this winter going through all of our seeds and getting rid of all the seeds that were older than 2013. Then I made baggies to hold each type of seed or a category of seeds, like all kitchen herbs, all medicinal herbs, all flowers or all tomatoes.
You get the idea.
Once that was done, we were able to see clearly that we did not need to order very much at all this year.

So then, with our list of seeds to plant, we went through each seed packet and using our first and last frost dates, a calculator, a calendar and a pencil with a good eraser...we started to map out our seed starting journey.

This was all done by the end of January.

Then with these lists in hand we mapped out what would be started indoors each planting day, what would be directly sown in the ground and when we would be planting all of the seedlings that we should have. We also have plans to move as much as we can out to our greenhouse, when it is ready, in early spring.


Which brings me to our next set of records.
Planning for your homestead projects.
I know, sexy right?






This is our second draft and it is still in need of some tweaking.

Here is a filled out sheet for our greenhouse addition to our chicken coop!

Now let me say, if you are a homeowner looking to add value to your home for resale, this is a good thing to do.
If you are a farmer looking to make capital improvements to your farm, this is essential to do.
If you are a homesteader, making an improvement to your property is essential to the future of your family.

 Things like gardens, garden fences, chicken coops and runs, goat houses and runs, barns, greenhouses and many, many other things that will come up as you grow.

Each of the projects that you are planning need to be thought through before you start.  Think about the process of building your own house.  Now realize that most of the time as a homesteader you are going to be the designer, engineer, contractor, electrician, plumber and builder.
Now you have to draw out the plans, figure out all the dimensions and measurements, all the materials that will be needed to build with.
Every step of the project must be considered and calculated.
If you are building it all yourself, you have to consider the time that it will take to build it.
If you study our worksheet we have listed each step of the building process, each material with dimensions and quantity, then we have listed the prices to get an idea of what it will cost and each step has an amount of time we think it will take to complete. That we add up to get an idea of how long it will take to complete the project.

Why is this so important?
It is important for homesteaders in areas of the country that have a long winter. Therefore we can only build in a limited time of the year.
When there are so many other things requiring our attention on the homestead, like animals and gardening,food preservation and time enjoying friends and family, this type of planning helps us to decide what is most important for us to get done each year, how much it will cost and how long it will take to complete.
Again, planning is the key, not only to helping you control your costs, but also to help you plan your time.

Next is something most of us never do. We never did. That is keeping track of the maintenance we do on our homes and out buildings.
Keeping track of things like cleaning out your chimney, replacing your water heater, replacing your water filters or painting a room.I call this Home keeping.


Home keeping records, this month we will be installing our hot water heater, last month we cleaned the chimney.

All of this record keeping serves to keep you organized and on track.
We want to make our homestead as efficient and smooth running as we can. To do that we don't want to forget doing something that is important and or waste time or money doing things that have already been done.

By keeping maintenance records we know that we may need to start saving money to replace things that are getting older. We will know this because our records are telling us that things are starting to need more and more repairs done.

If you have things that need to be maintained on a yearly, monthly or weekly basis, these records will keep you on top of those things.

This type of record keeping will keep you on track and help you get the longest life out of your property.

The next set of records are all about our Livestock.
Since all we have are chickens, that is what we are keeping records on.


Chick order for this year.

Co Op Chick order for this year.

Last years chicken records.
This section of records are to help us maintain our layer flocks and our meat flocks.
Because we have decided to raise a special meat flock or two this year we are keeping detailed records on their development, so that we can keep good records on the amounts of feed they consume, how long it takes to get heritage breeds to a good weight, and then future breeding records.
It is a lot of information that we need to successfully raise our food.
Just like we do for our gardens, we need this data to be efficient and successful.

For our layer flock I keep records of hatch dates, and when they start to lay. I also keep track of our daily egg counts and the amount of feed we buy. These numbers help us to budget our feed costs for the year, our egg production from our flock, which helps us to decide how many to cull and how many to hatch each year. It will also help us to determine if we are selling our eggs at a fair price and if we are making money or just getting our name out in the community. ie. they are a marketing tool for us, because we don't make money from selling our eggs. We consider them to be a loss leader for our farm business. Without these records, we would be ignorant to all the costs associated with raising our own eggs and meat. So they are very important to us.

Last but certainly not the least is our daily journal.


Side one

Side two.


We end where we started this journey. With the page that launched a 3"- 3 ring binder of record keeping, and has changed my life.
No I am not exaggerating.
It has changed my life.
I am more focused.
I am more conscious.
I am more organized.
I have important information where I can find it easily.
I have a sense of where we are going with our homestead.
I have an immediate knowledge of our finances.
 I have time for things I want to do and I know when I need to do things.
I have a set of goals I am working towards and the pre planned means to do them.
I know what my limitations are as far as weather and time and finances are.

When we started this homestead journey so many years ago I would have liked to have known about this sort of a planning guide.
I would have paid money for this tool.
Hell if this was a class in college or even high school, I would have taken it.
Homestead Binder Keeping 101.
I think we would have been here much sooner. With more money, and a different method of execution.
But now that I have the skills and the tool I am hoping that I can help even just one other person to get to their dream a little faster and better armed than we were.
I mentioned before how easy it is to build your own spreadsheets using the free open office program.
But if you don't know how and or don't have the time to spend the many, many hours designing your own, then I hope you will consider helping to support our Homestead, and purchase the Homestead Binder System from us.

If you would like to buy our
Homestead Binder System
It includes

  • A customizeable title page

( just email me your logo or farm name)

  • Each Chapter Section Page (also customizeable)
(10 sections in total, but more to come in the future)
  • Each Sections worksheet/s                                                        (20 in total) And 4 future updates.

  • The yearly calendar at a glance and the blank monthly calendar for menu planning, egg tracking, garden planting, planning and anything else you can think to use a blank calendar for.
I have worked very hard on this Binder system since last fall and have many hours of time in this.
That being said I really want this to be accessible to anyone who wants to live a life that is more sustainable and fulfilling to them.

This Homestead Binder is not just for those living on a large piece of property. It is for anyone that needs to be more organized and keep track of a life they are living now, or plan to live in the future.

Like I said before, I wish I had this when I was a teen or young adult. I would be so much further ahead than I am now if I did.

I am offering this system to you for $10.00

I will do all the Logo and Title customization's for you and send you the documents to print out and fill your binder with.

It will only take me 24 hours to get them to you once payment is made and you send me your Logo or desired Title in an email.

If you would like this Homestaed Binder System
I accept Paypal for now. I will be accepting other forms of payment in the future from our website.

Email me at maine.homestead.project@gmail.com
for more information and to get the ball rolling.

With Love from our Homestead to yours.
Victoria


Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Homestead Eggnog: Two ways!

Welcome back to the homestead!
Before we jump into this glorious eggnog recipe, I need to thank Gary for helping me with the filming. I have been strugling with the notion of making more cooking videos but I don't have the room to set up lighting and recording equipment, in order to do it justice.(type A personality here, do it right or don't do it.)
It seems that Gary also wanted me to do more videos about the things we are cooking here on the Homestead, so we agreed something is better than nothing, and off we went, I do hope you all enjoy the video and do watch at the end for an out take....




I found the recipe that I used as my guide while scroling through Facebook. It was providence I tell you! I follow Alton Brown, you know from Good Eats? Too far back for you huh? How about his more recent Cut Throat Kitchen? Okay, well Alton Brown is one of my all time favorite chefs/cooks. He is smart, funny and matter of fact, and I love that!
He has this amazing recipe for Aged Eggnog on his site. I read through the comments section for the reviews for about 45 min. I kid you not, I am kind of a review geek! I decided that the reviews were just too good to ignore.

We set about gathering all the ingredients we needed to assemble the concoction that gets better over time. We went to the store to retrive from it the bottles of liquor they were holding hostage, only to find out that they didn't have one type we needed. But as I read through so many comments I knew I could replace the Congnac with Brandy. So we did.

I normally like to buy all organic if I can find it. In this case I was not able to get Organic cream. (Boo Hannaford)
So with the ingredients in hand we went home and prepared our first batch.
Because I am LCHF/Ketogenic, I decided I had to do my best to make a no sugar version. I followed the recipe to the letter, but used Lakanto Monk Fruit Sugar replacement for the sugar called for in the recipe.
Since making and trying it, I would adjust the recipe to only using half  of the Lakanto sugar. It is extremely sweet. It may just be my non sugar eating taste buds, but If you are sugar free as well, then that is my personal suggestion!
I do not know how it will affect the consistancy of the nog yet, but I am going to make a non alcoholic version soon and I will report back on how that turns out. 

So on to the recipe.

If you want to try to follow it I say go for it.

Homestead Eggnog Sugar Free Version

Ingredients
  1. 12 large pasture raised egg yolks (store bought pasteurized if you need peace of mind)
  2. 1/2 pound Lakanto Monk fruit sugar
  3. 1 pint half-n-half
  4. 1 pint whole milk
  5. 1 pint heavy cream
  6. 1/2 cup Jamaican light rum
  7. 1/2 cup Jamaican dark rum
  8. 1 cup French Brandy
  9. 1 cup Evan Williams Honey (kentucky straight burbon whiskey)
  10. 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (plus more for serving)
  11. 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Instructions
  1. Separate the eggs and store the whites for another purpose.
  2. Beat the yolks with the sugar and nutmeg in a large mixing bowl until the mixture lightens in color and falls off the whisk in a solid "ribbon."
  3. Combine dairy, booze and salt in a second bowl or pitcher and then slowly beat into the egg mixture.
  4. Move to a large glass jar (or a couple of smaller ones) and store in the fridge for a minimum of 2 weeks. A month would be better, and two better still. In fact, there's nothing that says you couldn't age it a year, but I've just never been able to wait that long. (And yes, you can also drink it right away.)
  5. Serve in mugs or cups topped with a little extra nutmeg grated right on top.
If you would like to get the microplane that I use, I have linked to it in my Amazon store Here.

So this recipe is only slightly tweeked, and only because we couldn't find the congac. While we were shopping another shopper over heard us talking about what we were going to put in our eggnog and kindly mentioned the Evan Williams Honey as the best in eggnog. We figured we should give it a try and we think it was a great suggestion!

This is our first time making homemade eggnog and if we can do it you can too! It is easy (if a little expensive, ingredient wise) But for a nice holiday treat I think it is worth it!

The time it takes to prepare right now is minimal. And if you make two batches and store one away for next year, your job is done untill next year when you do it all over again, starting a new holiday tradition for years to come!

Give it a try and let us know how yours turned out! If you used a different combination of alcohols. Or if you went by Alton's or my sugar free recipe. We would love to hear from you.
As always, sending out love from the homestead,
Gary and Victoria


Cheers to great food and good health!