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Smallest wood stoves

Fighting tomato blight with pennies

Propagating persimmons: Germinating seeds, grafting, and transplanting

How many batteries do I need for my solar panels?

Automatic chicken door

Nov 2014

A year ago this week:

Goat milking stand adjustments

Leaky gas line

Weight and longevity of row cover fabric

Wood-stove humidifier

Nov 2013

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livestock pulley gambrel

Our new pulley and gambrel system was lacking any kind of decent instructions.

Once I realized the top chrome piece functions like a mini blind it was easy to adjust the height by pulling up on the load slightly while at the same time pulling the rope with either a forward or backward motion.

Posted Sun Nov 29 14:40:42 2015 Tags:
Goat agility training

"Phew!" I thought to myself Friday as I walked home in the gloaming. My family and I had spent another long day feasting and walking and canoeing, then I'd cleaned up the community house and lugged home two gallons of turkey stock. I was ready to get back to my usual routine.

Prepping the car for a goat

But Artemesia was yelling her head off even though she should have been sound asleep. And when I pulled out the buck rag Saturday morning, she wagged her tail like crazy. It was time for our grand adventure.

Ready for a ride

Luckily, I'd chatted with a local goatkeeper named Tonya three weeks ago and had an open invitation to bring my doeling to visit one of her three bucks. For the sake of herd sanitation, she insisted upon a driveway date, but she also promised me a do-over if the first time failed. So Mark spread the tarp across the back seat of the car, Artemesia jumped gamely inside, then we wound down country roads for an hour and fifteen minutes until we reached Tonya's house.

Breeding pen

Tonya raises Nigerian dwarf goats and she recommended her largest stud, Monte, to do the deed. He's got the best milking lines of the three choices, and he also turned out to be a gentleman, willing to romance Artemesia until she got in the mood.

It didn't take long. Our doeling was pretty much in the mood from the get-go. We watched as he licked at her pee, licked at her back, licked at his own pee, then got to work.

Goat sex

He did the deed a couple of times, but Tonya wasn't 100% convinced. Despite seeing semen, she would have liked to also see Artemesia tuck the lower half of her body down as Monte climaxed.

Goat courtship

But after a couple of go-rounds, Artemesia was getting bored with the whole thing. "Been there, done that," she told us. So we took her home, knowing we'd get another chance for our $75 if she comes back into heat in December.

Mountain goat

All told, Artemesia's date went much more smoothly than I'd expected. She was a sweetheart in the car, Abigail didn't have a fit while her herdmate was gone, and we all got home by mid afternoon. And, hopefully, I can start calling Artemesia a first freshener after this instead of a doeling.

Now maybe we can have a restful Sunday with no family or goat dates to pull me off the farm.

Posted Sun Nov 29 07:32:56 2015 Tags:
mark Goat date
Monte and Arty

We had our first goat date today.

His name was Monte Cristo, and it only took a minute of small talk before he got down to business.

Artemesia rode nicely in the backseat of our car with zero accidents.

Posted Sat Nov 28 16:23:54 2015 Tags:

Tall mushroomI've filled about twenty pages of a notebook this year with tips and skills I've acquired from my quest to rewire my brain for happiness. It hasn't always worked, but I've definitely been happier than ever before.

The most relevant tip for the Thanksgiving season has to do with gratitude --- one of the five core skills of a happy camper. To play along at home, don't just tell the world what you're thankful for once a year around the family table. Instead, you'll get optimal results by writing down your gratitude once a week. (More often gives diminishing returns because you tend to go into robot mode and not really focus on how good you have it.) You'd be surprised how much you'll realize you have to be thankful for if you keep this practice up!

A similar technique is to focus on wonder and beauty in your daily life. I've improved both my sleep and my disposition by remembering five wonderful events of the day before I fall asleep each night. Then (if I haven't drifted off yet), I move on to anticipation of five wonderful things about tomorrow. My favorite part about this practice is that you know you'll need five fun facts to report that night, so you tend to spend all day taking in the beauty around you.

Why is this relevant to a homesteading blog? I think simplifying your brain is even more important than simplifying your life style. Because if you're focusing on wonder and gratitude day to day, then you won't need a fancy kitchen or new car to fill the void inside. And that lack of craving is what drives true voluntary simplicity.

Posted Sat Nov 28 07:00:55 2015 Tags:
Thanksgiving dinner

Thanksgiving --- feasting, family, and fun.

Basting the turkey

I outsourced much of the turkey to my father, not wanting to be responsible if it was imperfect. Despite both of our best efforts, the beast did end up imperfect...but it didn't matter.

Inspecting the greens

Our focus was on the food. But, honestly, I think we had the most fun pulling together to put each dish on the table.

Mashing potatoes

For example, my nephew Jeremiah saved the day by figuring out how to mash the potatoes with the implements in the communal kitchen. The space was well-stocked in every other regard, but we couldn't for the life of us find any kind of masher or beater. Pure elbow grease did the job in the end.

Playing cards

Meanwhile, Maggie kept the kids busy playing our family favorite card game --- Boot.

River canoe

After the meal, it was so sunny and warm most of us gravitated toward the river. I took the kids out on a canoe trip which matched my definition of success --- no one fell in.

Then I went home to decompress with the goats. For an introvert, six hours with nine people is a lot of visiting. But after a good night's sleep, I'm ready to join in the action again today.

Posted Fri Nov 27 08:00:57 2015 Tags:
Preparing to brine a turkey

"You'll probably want to brine your turkey," my pastured-poultry producer said when we picked up our 22-pound beast.

I've brined lots of chickens, but my mind drew a blank when I tried to imagine how to keep a tremendous turkey cool while submersing it in a bath of salt water. But the answer is simple --- brine in a cooler.

Brining a turkey in a coolerStep one --- scrub that cooler to within an inch of its life. After cleaning ours thoroughly, I also soaked the cooler in bleach water for a couple of hours just in case, then let it dry overnight to fully kill any bad critters. At the same time, I filled some tupperware containers with water and tossed them in the freezer to create homemade ice packs.

Next, I mixed salt and water and poured the combination into the cooler along with lots of ice. And the turkey of course! Put on the lid and your bird will tenderize in cool safety for eight to sixteen hours.

Turkey roaster

Next step, remove the turkey from the brine and let it air dry uncovered in the fridge overnight. This step is necessary if you want crisp, rather than soggy, skin. We decided the easiest way to do this was to put the turkey in the roaster....which didn't work until we turned the humongous bird sideways.

Then roast and enjoy. Have a great Thanksgiving!

Posted Thu Nov 26 07:03:35 2015 Tags:
goat breaks down door of barn with antler pounding

Abigail pounded on her door this morning until it busted open.

I knew when I first heard about the new pounding last week it would be a matter of time before something more heavy duty was needed.

The solution was to replace that beefy screen door latch with a heavy chain.

Posted Wed Nov 25 15:28:00 2015 Tags:
Picking frozen greens

Mustard, Swiss chard, and kale freeze all the time in the garden. They thaw out and keep on growing.

But what happens if you pick frozen leaves and bring them into the kitchen to cook later?

Answer: The greens turn into goo. Edible if cooked right away, but not really up to snuff.

Moral: Pick your Thanksgiving greens now and put them in the fridge for tomorrow's feast!

Posted Wed Nov 25 13:11:22 2015 Tags:
Making pies

Every fifteen years or so, Mom pulls a 1974 Good Housekeeping article out of her hat and makes me read it. I wish I could share the whole thing, but it's still under copyright, so I'll just sum it up with the title and subtitle:

"I Remember, I Remember": My 97-year-old mother tells about Thanksgiving when she was a girl --- cornmeal johnnycakes, five kinds of pie, turkey, goose and capon, blueberry flummer. And all the family home.

The story is written by my great-aunt Ruth Tirrell and tells about the feast her great-grandmother and great-aunts made for city relatives returning to the Rhode Island farm around 1885. And each time I read the story, I see something entirely different. This year's gem was the fact that the family relished potatoes, onions, turnips, and parsnips...but considered carrots only good enough to feed to cattle.

Cranberry raisin apple pies

I think I can probably sneak in another little quote about pies without being sued:

"The pies that kept well --- apple, mince and cranberry --- had been made --- all three dozen of them --- a month or so before and laid out on the attic floor. All the women pitched in now to make squash and blueberry pies...."

The family joining me tomorrow is much smaller than my great-great-great grandmother Mary Greene's massive clan. So I figure we'll get by with a 9x13 butternut pie and two deep-dish cranberry-apple-raisin pies. But I followed the family tradition of making dessert ahead to beat the rush. Pumpkin-type pies, especially, taste better on the second or third day!

(And thank you to my pie consultant, Joey, for deciding on the dessert menu.)

Posted Wed Nov 25 07:38:16 2015 Tags:
Turkey slaughtering

Monday was turkey pickup day. Our friends let us drop by early so we'd be sure to get home before dark, which means we got to see the whole butchering operation in action.

Turkey butchering station

The farmers apologized profusely because...the turkeys are too big this year! "That's good, right?" I asked. "More money for you?"

"No," they answered. "We have to give people a discount to get them to take the bigger Cooling a turkeybirds since most folks don't know what to do with leftovers."

"I love leftovers," I replied. "Give me the bird that's going to be the hardest to move."

They hemmed and hawed. "You really don't want that one. We can't really sell it. It has a bit of skin torn on the back due to the plucking process...."

"Looks a lot better than some of our birds," I answered. "Hand it over."

Pig and goat

By way of apology, they offered a pack of last year's bacon. I think I know who got the sweeter end of that deal. Thanks for the awesome pastured meat!

(Moral of the story: If you're buying meat or produce from a real farmer and don't mind a few cosmetic blemishes, you'll make their day if you tell them so. Americans eat with their eyes, and delicious grub can be hard to move if it has a spot. You'll probably get a discount too!)

Posted Tue Nov 24 06:23:34 2015 Tags:

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