It’s 2016! Welcome to our little farm.

Few days old

When Farmer Cheese and I started raising chickens 4 years ago this March, I don’t think either of us envisioned nearly 90 of them! The funny thing is we are adding more. We can’t keep up with the demand for eggs and we are so infatuated with our little feathered friends. Since our humble beginnings we have learned a lot. We have suffered losses, watched new life hatch and can truly say this is what we really want to do now. In addition to the chickens this January we will be adding boer goats. We have been busy as little beavers getting the fencing ready. Milk goats are still in our future plans but yard goats are coming first. We are so very excited. We also garden to fill our freezer with fresh veggies. You will also find me in the kitchen canning and making jams and jellies in the spring and summer time. In Dec 2014 we processed a deer for the freezer so we still have plenty of meat for the upcoming year. We made sausage, steaks, roasts, and ground some for hamburger. We feel an accomplishment at having done this ourselves. (We have not been as lucky this year. The clear cutting of land all around us has scared all the animals away)
We are not nearly as self-sufficient as we’d like but we are working on it. Each day that we can spend less time and money in the grocery store is a step in the right direction.  We also plan on getting honey bees in the next year or so. We are working as hard as we can to prepare a homesteading life to enjoy when we retire. Some days it feels like we take a step or two backward for each step forward! Hopefully in a few more years we can both quit “working” and spend our time here on the farm. Thanks for joining us on our journey.

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Homesteading state of mind

Here in the South we have an expression “the north 40” meaning we have a lot of land and we’ve got to go way over yonder to plant, water, feed, or fix something! I’m sure everyone dreams of a homestead like that, me included. But is it necessary to garden, home some animals, and  live like a homesteader? Absolutely not. Homesteading is about becoming more self-sufficient, making wiser choices. It’s about eating healthier food that we grow ourselves and that our animals provide for us. It’s about making things simpler. Are we completely there? I wish. We still have a long way to go, but as long as we are moving forward toward self-sufficiency then I feel good about our progress. We do have some acreage around us. We also have a lot of planted pines so we use every space available. We use planter boxes for herbs and pots for cherry tomatoes. Planting my pot tomatoes is on my list of things to do very soon! We have actually had our best success with them on the deck in pots.  Each spring we do plant a pretty large garden area with potatoes, green beans, peas, peppers, okra, tomatoes, and some other foods we enjoy. But I also know of people who grow the same in their square foot gardens!

We live in the country so our chickens roam around wherever they please.  That would be difficult on an urban homestead but animals are possible. Just make sure you check all your local ordinances first!

Got a porch or deck? A yard or a window sill? Get a pot and some soil and plant something. Then enjoy the fruits of your harvest because you have taken steps toward becoming a homesteader.

Middles enjoying their cool treat
Middles enjoying a cool treat
Herbs
Herbs
Kale
Kale

It’s a New Year: Meet Farmer and Mrs. Cheese!

Few days oldWhen Farmer Cheese and I started raising chickens 3 years ago this March, I don’t think either of us envisioned nearly 70 of them! The funny thing is we are adding more. We can’t keep up with the demand for eggs and we are so infatuated with our little feathered friends. Since our humble beginnings we have learned a lot. We have suffered losses, watched new life hatch and can truly say this is what we really want to do now. In addition to the chickens we garden to fill our freezer with fresh veggies. You will also find me in the kitchen canning and making jams and jellies in the spring and summer time. Earlier in December and last week we processed a deer for the freezer so we should have plenty of meat through the upcoming year. We made sausage, steaks, roasts, and ground some for hamburger. We feel an accomplishment at having done this ourselves. We are not nearly as self-sufficient as we’d like but we are working on it. Each day that we can spend less time and money in the grocery store is a step in the right direction.  We would like to have milk goats and honey bees in the future. We are working as hard as we can to prepare a homesteading life to enjoy when we retire. Hopefully in a few more years we can both quit “working” and spend our time here on the farm.

Homestead life and full time jobs

I’d like nothing better than to never have to set foot in a grocery store again! Of course there are some things a person has to buy but to become as self-sufficient as possible is our goal. Unfortunately now we both still work full-time jobs. Then upon coming home tending to the gardens and the chickens is another full-time job. It isn’t easy making all this work but it is well worth it. One day we will be able to leave the working world jobs behind and focus on our homestead. Right now we are weekend warriors and work until dark or dark-thirty everyday, but we love our little farm. 🙂 Here is my little poetic thoughts on that subject. I hope you enjoy.

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Gardening in the spring, summer and fall
Canning, freezing, preserving it all
Making pickles, jams and jellies
Growing enough to fill our bellies
Hens and roosters running everywhere
Providing plenty of fresh eggs to share
Milk goats are next in our master plan
Along with bees for honey, making pies and jam
One day we’ll leave the rush of the world behind
And live content here in our homestead life!

Homemade Blueberry Syrup!

I absolutely love blueberries. Fresh, frozen, blueberry pancakes, muffins, cake, pie, and yes syrup too! In fact there is probably not a way to eat them that I don’t like.
I have worked on my blueberry syrup recipe now for a few weeks trying to perfect it, well as close as possible anyway. I’ve gotten it as low sugar as I think I can and in a large batch for water bath canning. And trust me, it is so good! The next batch I make I will probably add another cupful of juiced berries and a little more sugar until I reach a full 7 pints.

Blueberry Syrup: Makes 6 & 1/2 pints

8 cups of blueberries juiced -(For this I used my blender so I could use the whole fruit)

2 cups water

3 Cups whole blueberries

3 T lemon juice

1-1/2 – 2 cups sugar ( I used 1-1/2)

Stir sugar into juice and water. Add lemon juice and whole berries. Bring to a roiling boil. Turn to low and simmer for about 30 minutes or until mixture thickens. Ladle into clean jars and process in a water bath for 10 minutes.

The 1/2 pint is great drizzled over a lemon cake, or right now for pancakes or waffles!

I think I hear blueberries calling me. 🙂

Syrup cooking down
Syrup cooking down
Ladling into the jars!
Ladling into the jars!

Making black or blueberry Jelly!

Let me start by saying that buying my Roma food mill was the wisest thing I think I’ve ever done! If you don’t have a food mill, I highly recommend one for getting the seeds out of those berries or for just squashing the fruits up a bit if you prefer. It’s also a great tool when canning tomatoes.

I always start my jelly making by of course washing the berries and then running them through the food mill. Here are some pictures of what that process looks like and what you will see left over. On this particular day I started with blackberries first.

Berries in the bowl
Berries in the bowl
Squish the berries, save the juice
Squish the berries, save the juice
Out comes the seeds
Out comes the seeds

I repeat this process many times. As you can see in the last picture there is still a lot of juice after one time through. No waste here! I will run it through the mill 5-6 times at least.

After once through the mill
After once through the mill
Juice is all out!
Juice is all out!

After getting the juice all out I can now go on to clean up a bit and repeat the process with my blueberries and store all my juice in the refrigerator and make jelly the next day. Or I can begin making jelly now. It really just depends on the time I have and what I have to do that day. Either way works just fine.

Beautiful blueberry juice
Beautiful blueberry juice

On to the jelly making! The main point here is how much easier it is with a food mill. I’m not going to tell you one recipe is better than another but I will tell you that I use a lower sugar recipe and am currently experimenting with fruit juices to go lower and even no sugar. (3 cups is as little sugar as I could use without adding more pectin.) I will let you know how that goes! But this is the recipe I use currently.

6 cups of mashed berries or juice
3- 3 1/2 cups sugar or sugar equivalent
4 Tbsp. pectin

Place juice mixture in a large pot. Combine 1/4 cup sugar with 1 Tbsp pectin. Stir into juice mixture as you bring it to a boil. Add the remaining sugar slowly to reduce foaming. Bring to a second boil. Let boil for one minute. Remove from heat let stand 5 minutes and do a gel check. If it is the consistency you like funnel into jars. Process in a water bath 10 minutes.

Helpful hints: Adding 1 tsp butter will help avoid foam. Wipe the top and rim of jars before putting on lids and rings. Don’t over tighten rings.
Gel check: Put a spoon in a glass of cold water, dip a small amount of jelly out and let cool. Does it slide off or stay on? If it stays on and appears gel like, it’s good!