We have had record rainfalls here recently leading to flooding of our creek, river, barns and basement! We are definitely knee deep in mud season and although it’s not my favorite season, I’m happy to not be freezing.
The rain has caused a few problems for us, mainly in the barn where our sows and gilts live and in the walkway of our horse barn. A few days ago my mare put a foot down and to her surprise and mine she went down 8-10 inches! The sows have their own indoor swimming pool at the moment, which is not ideal and I’m thankful we can turn them out into the back paddock. At least we always have a long to-do list in case we ever think we might be bored.
The rain and warmer days also mean that the woods and fields are greening up. I brought these fern fronds home with me after gathering sap last weekend. I hope all those new plants survive March, I’m sure we will have a snowstorm or two yet.
On the bright side the sunrises have still been amazing even with rain and storm clouds rolling through every morning. Grace snapped this picture one morning last week from our kitchen. One of our favorite things to do is watch the sun come up every morning, after living the first 13 years of our married life deep in the woods we both enjoy all of the open sky we have on this farm.
Although the rain and mud have caused us a few headaches, we are thankful for the mild temperatures and the moisture. We’ve had seasons of drought, and know to be grateful when the rain falls.
I try to keep this verse in my mind when the to do list starts to feel overwhelming. Approaching life with gratefulness can change your entire outlook!
We are almost through February and the changes I implemented in January now feel like our daily habits.
One of the things that I have noticed in slowing down and simplifying our life again, is that the smallest things can bring the greatest joy.
Our hens have started laying in abundance again, and finding nests full of rich brown eggs still brings a smile to my face as if I were a child.
Hearing a bird sing this morning before it was light out, and knowing that it was a promise of spring, even if we are still in February and March can always bring a snowstorm or two.
Opening windows in the house and letting the warm air breeze through, freshening both our home and our spirits.
Standing in worship, singing, and hearing my youngest sing and not miss a word.
A pile of muddy boots scattered across the side porch, and a trail of muddy clothes through the back hall and into the laundry room, because the children were outside making memories and having adventures.
A picture texted from my dad of new seedlings emerging for our spring gardens.
Shopping for fabric with my oldest daughter.
All of the family heads bowed, in prayer together, giving thanks.
When we take time to be grateful, for even the smallest of things the entire outlook of our lives changes.
Making bread is a part of every week for me, and has been for many years now, during that time I’ve made some good bread, and I’ve made some terrible bread, some loaves hard as rock, some with giant holes in the middle, tasteless, and overly salty. It’s disappointing to have something you’ve spent a couple of hours on go to waste, so I thought I would pass along a few tips I’ve learned the hard way.
One of the most important aspects to making bread, or pizza, or cookies, really anything that involves flour is producing the flour itself. I grind all of our flour right before I plan to use it. And lately I’ve been using Palouse Brand hard red wheat berries. These berries are non-GMO, and they can trace the bag of berries back to an exact field because they do everything from the growing, harvesting to the cleaning and shipping. You can learn more about them here.
I remember when a friend first introduced me to grinding my own flour by lending me her old electric grain mill. We were hooked immediately on this idea – it was essential to our hope of being as self-sufficient and self-sustaining as possible.
We initially purchased a GrainMaker grain mill from Montana, opting for the non-electric version with the option of adding a motor. (You can find them at grainmaker.com) For a few years I hand ground all of our flour, which was a bit of an upper body workout. Then one Christmas my husband surprised me with the motor and I’m not ashamed to say that I was relieved to no longer have to hand grind all of our flour. If you are interested in a grain mill, I highly recommend the GrainMaker because of its adaptability to both non-electric and electric situations, as well as it’s ability to grind both grains and nuts, including coffee beans! We have made flours, nut butters, and grind our coffee with our mill.
I also use a Bosch mixer at the recommendation of a friend who is a professional baker. The Bosch equipped with a metal dough hook has the power to knead enough dough to make four large loaves of bread for our family at a time. I previously had a kitchen aid, but soon burnt up the motor in it making dough.
You will need to experiment with bread recipes to find something that works for you and your family. My personal recipe is fairly simple.
I start with 4 cups of warm water, 1/4 cup of yeast, and 1/4 cup of maple syrup. I let this stand for at least five minutes, or until there is a nice foam top.
While the yeast is busy doing it’s thing. I add up to 8 cups of flour to my mixer bowl, 2 Tbsp salt, and 1/4 cup oil. I prefer a saltier bread, so if you are trying this recipe for yourself you may want to adjust the salt amount to your personal tastes. Also, the grain you use for your flour will impact the taste of your bread. I recently ordered my wheat berries from a small farm that mills it’s own grain. The grain is organic and non-gmo, and each bag comes with a tracking number that can be used to identify the field it came from. This wheat has a great nutty flavor and rich color. Ok, back to the recipe. I then add my yeast/water/maple syrup mix to the dry ingredients in my mixer, and turn it on. I let that mix for a while and then beginning adding flour slowly until I think the dough is the right consistency. As a general rule of thumb I watch for the dough to pull clean from the sides of the bowl. I then let the dough “knead” for about five minutes. Now, I’ve been using the proof function on my new gas range. I add a small bowl of water to the bottom rack, and then after turning my bread dough into a bowl with a light coating of oil, I add the bowl to the oven and set the proof setting on with a timer of 30 minutes.
When the thirty minutes is up I take the dough out, punch it down and shape it into four loaves by rolling it out with my rolling pin and then tightly rolling it up into a loaf shape. I then return these pans to the oven, set my proof for another thirty minutes, and wait. After the second rising, I take the loaves from the oven, preheat it to 350 and then add my loaves back for 30 minutes.
I’m certainly not a bread making expert, but this recipe has worked for our family to make sandwich loaf bread, and I hope it will work for yours too.
This year we are going to plant our own grains for harvesting and use. I’m very excited, and a little scared. I know that the harvesting, threshing, hulling, etc of grain will take time and labor on our part. Because we are just doing a small amount most of the work will need to be done by hand instead of by machine. I picked up a great book at Lehman’s hardware though to help us Home Grown Whole Grains by Sara Pitzer. And we have been looking on craigslist at seed cleaners and old farming equipment to help us on this new venture. I’m sure that I’ll have more to write about that later.
Our sow delivered right on time, and we were able to help her through what was a very difficult delivery.
I learned a few very important lessons this time. The first being that I need to slow down and read exactly what I write in my calendar. For instance, “Pigs due this week,” is significantly different than “Pig due today” . I would have saved myself several nights of getting up three or more times a night to bundle up and walk to the barn to check on her. And I would not have moved her into the farrowing room so soon. . . .
The second lesson we learned was to have more patience during the delivery. We could tell that this sow was having a hard time when she started. And after watching her struggle to push for what we felt was a significant amount of time, I went in to see if there were any problems. Sure enough, the first piglet felt very large and seemed to be having a hard time making it through her pelvis. There was no way to help pull the piglet at that point and we had to wait. And waiting can be very, very hard when you know that what they are going through is very difficult.
I will admit that helping our livestock through labor is usually difficult for me more so than my husband. Having had four children naturally without any pain medication and being one of those people who at the time needed to know all the biology of the process, I am acutely aware of what the mamas are going through. My husband on the other hand is a paramedic/firefighter and handles it much better. His experiences have given him a much different perspective.
The first piglet finally made it through the pelvis, only to somehow be pushed through the skin of her rectum, we had to push the baby back in and guide it out the right way. The piglet did tear her skin, and there was quite a bit of additional blood but after a few more babies were born that additional bleeding subsided. Three days later she seems to be doing ok, but this will be her last litter. There is too great a risk of complications for her and the resulting scar tissue from this event will most likely make it hard for her to be bred again.
The kids were there to help with most of the delivery, especially A. who was there for piglets 3-8, helping dry them off and guide them to a teat. Also A. was the principle photographer of many of these pictures.
For some reason this little one wanted to be nestled right up next to his mama’s jaw. They are three days old today and seem to be doing well. Last night we notched their ears and gave them iron shots. The kids are excited to take their first born, bred, and raised hogs to the fair this year!
While looking through our recent Countryside & Small Stock Journal I came across an article about vinegars which included instructions on how to make your own apple cider vinegar. I decided to give it a try yesterday, and in three to 6 weeks we should know how I did!
The instructions were simple, in two sterilized half gallon jars add your chunks of apple or peels, and cores until the jars are three quarters of the way full. You then add a sugar water mixture, which is approximately 1 tbsp. of sugar to 1 cup of water. Making sure that the sugar is fully dissolved before adding. Fill the jars until the apples are covered. The article suggested using a plastic zip lock bag filled with water to weight the apples down so that they remain submerged. I did that and then covered the jars with cheesecloth to keep out bugs. I then placed the jars in the hoosier cabinet in our pantry. I am supposed to check the jars every few days to make sure that no mold is developing, if it does you have to throw out the mixture and start over.
We really enjoy getting the Countryside and Small Stock Journal. In this issue the kids really enjoyed the articles on owls!