In February of 2009, my husband and I bought our first home located on a few acres in Johnson, Vermont. We live here with our dog, Ollie, two cats: Elvis and Atticus, six Nigerian Dwarf goats: May, Chutney, Poppy, Juniper, Willow, and Jokers Wild, and about fifteen laying hens. And to top it all off we welcomed our daughter, Isabel, into the world on January 11th, 2011.

We're slowly updating our 1850's farmhouse while steadily working towards a healthy, meaningful, self-sufficient life together.

This blog details our endeavors along with our successes and failures- all in good fun. Thanks for stopping by, hope to see you again soon!


May and I enjoying some sunshine


What Came First: The Apple or the Seed?

Lovingly Posted by Melissa Tuesday, October 27, 2009 2 comments

Fall is the very best time to buy trees.  Not only is the weather alot easier on the newly-planted, but most nurseries have amazing deals to try to clear out as much as possible to make room for next year's inventory.  So Sunday we took a drive to Elmore Roots Nursery who was advertising $20 trees and $10 shrubs.  These guys have been around for 30 years and trust me, if it can grow in Elmore its got to be hearty.

We packed the fifteen trees and three grape vines into the back of the pickup, covered them with a tarp, and headed to Stowe for an early birthday party for my friend, Ali.  Kyle and I planned a vacation day for Monday so we carved pumpkins, ate and laughed the night away with good friends.

We woke up on Monday to a clear sky.  After bringing the dogs and Elvis to their appointment with the vet we grabbed some breakfast sandwiches at DJ's and headed home.  By now the sun was high up in the sky and we set to work.

First we had to decide where exactly we wanted to plant our trees.  They would take up a considerable amount of space, needing about 25' between them, but we didn't want to take up potential grazing or garden space.  It was a debate between a nice little hillside behind the house where there are currently three birch trees and a beach tree in residence that faces west, or the flat section near the road that faces south.  It was a long debate but in the end we decided not to choose either spots. 

Instead we looked to the front yard where there is plenty of grass but unsuitable for grazing or gardening.  Not only would this be a beautiful spot for an orchard, it would also provide some great privacy from the neighbor across the road and people driving by.  And I love the idea of sitting on our front porch someday, enjoying the beauty of apple and pear trees in bloom.  While we debated on the layout of the apple orchard we planted the lone cherry tree (self-pollinating according to the orchard) in the front-right yard which gets some great southern sun exposure.

We set out the eleven apple and three pear trees and began placing them along our yard, twenty-five feet apart.  Kyle dug the holes and filled them with a bit of mineral mix, then I'd give them a big drink of water laced with some seaweed juice (highly recommended by the orchard) after we planted each tree.  It took some time, my hands were solidly brown from the soil which is always a good thing, and when we were finished we stepped back to enjoy our new landscape.

I painted all the trees with some special tree paint to protect them from sun and wind damage and we even clipped on some garlic-oil deer repellent to each tree.  I liked the end result- each tree was more visible with the white paint- at least Kyle will see them and not hit them with the lawn tractor.  Someday these trees will become a beatiful orchard and we'll cover their branches with white lights for Christmas and in the summer we'll have birds nesting in their branches.  But those days are far away, when our future-children are grown.  I like that; good things take time.

A New and Interesting Experience

Lovingly Posted by Melissa Saturday, October 24, 2009 6 comments

So last weekend was not only our big APPLE weekend, it was also when we had scheduled to butcher our fifteen broilers that we'd been raising.  This was more of my husband's project as I wasn't sure how ready I was to really actually kill anything.  So, for fear of becoming attached to them as I have with my laying hens (I use that term lightly as they haven't actually started laying yet), Kyle was in charge of the feeding and watering of these chicks during their time with us. 

They arrived and were little balls of fluff, cute and peeping, but after a month they were already the size of our 5-month old hens in the side yard.  We knew this type of bird was bred to grow fast and grow fast they certainly did.  Of course, they required an immense amount of food and water to support their amazing metabolism so I'm not sure that we had saved any money in raising our own chicken for food.  The point, though, was not to raise our own broilers to save money, it was to be responsible consumers.  This was our own little boycott on big commercial poultry organizations that claim to sell free-range birds but in reality keep them crammed in pens above eachother with just a small door allowing a few of them at a time into a slightly larger yard.  No, I did not feel good supporting that.

So the time had come.  Thanks to the hard work we had done with the apples the day before I was able to sleep through the night.  Otherwise I probably would have tossed and turned thinking about the chickens and their fate.  Sunday we woke up to a cool and cloudy morning and got to work.

Kyle created a workbench from some old wooden boards we salvaged from the part of our barn we had to tear down which I wrapped in some plastic wrap to try to keep things a little more sanitary.  He cut a hole into one of our 5-gallon buckets we had kicking around as sort of a make-shift "killing cone" and attached it to the tree next to the bench.  Much to my relief Kyle's brother, Sean, arrived who was going to be helping us with our task.  He is a hunter so we decided his experience and input would be invaluable.  He showed up with his very own home-made, McGyver-estque chicken plucker.  We all looked at it, basically a hand-held drill with a bit made out of a piece of PVC pipe with some pieces of rubber bungee cords attached to it, with a little bit of humor and went on with the preparations.

After some hot coffee (or tea in my case) Kyle and I began bringing the birds outside to keep them in our chicken run that we created for our chicks back in July.  Perhaps it sounds a little silly but I said a quiet 'thank you' to all them as they went outside.  It was an extremely poignant feeling as I looked at our birds for the last time as they laid calmly on the grass.  We had raised these birds from two-day old chicks, tending to their every need to be sure they were healthy and comfortable.  Now they would nuture us in return.

The boys grabbed the first bird and I stood by.  I was not ready to take a hand in the killing, but I wanted to be respectful to the lives that were being taken, so I stood there as a witness.  There were no axes, just a sharp knife and a quick hand.  I watched as the silent bird slowly drifted off into a hazy sleep with a few tears in my eyes.  This was going to be tough.  Just in time, my brother and sister-in-law arrived to help as this was going to be a long process.  My sister-in-law, Viola, is almost always up for a new experience and I think she was, frankly, a little excited to be involved in the cleaning that would come later.  She's a tough gal, that one, and I love her for it.

When the time came for cleaning the chickens we had quite the group- Kyle, Sean, and Viola standing by donning disposable gloves and my brother and I standing by trying to help with the instructions.  No one had any experience in this, all we had was Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens that was lent to me by a co-worker just a couple days before.  But as I am better with visuals I sought after some kind of video.  To my rescue I found the Featherman website which is a company who not only makes some great poulty-processing equipment (too rich for my blood, we were doing this old-school) they also provide links to a few videos on Youtube that are amazingly informative on how to process your birds.  So I brought the laptop out to show to the crew and they got to work.

Oh, and I forgot to mention, that little home-made chicken-plucker worked like a charm!  After scalding the birds in hot water, Sean put his contraption to the feathers and they literally flew off.  It wasn't perfect, mind you, there were still feathers here and there that had to be pulled out by hand, but it was alot quicker, cleaner, and easier than doing it all manually.

At this point my dear mother arrived to help with more of the apples (she wanted NOTHING to do with the chicken activities of the day) so after watching and trying to give pointers (having dissected animals in college during my brief stint as an animal science major) I adjourned to the comforts of the house to help peel and and slice some fruit.

It was a busy day.  I gave the birds a final wash in the sink, packed them in zip-lock freezer bags and tucked them away into our chest freezer.  While I had planned to roast the first-to-go to feed the group in thanks for their help, no one was really up for eating any chicken that day.  While the experience was relatively positive, let me tell you: these birds don't exactly smell like a bunch of flowers.  When I saw my sister-in-law last night at a little birthday dinner for yours-truly she mentioned that she still wasn't really ready to eat chicken, the smell had been that bad.

The "thank-you" chicken we sent home with Sean was the first to be consumed.  His wife, Andrea, cooked it rotisserie-style and they said it was delicious.  Zach and Viola's chicken is still in our freezer until they have room to house it themselves; we have more than enough room.  Mom didn't want one.  We have yet to cook one of ours but with this cold and rainy weather we're looking at for the next few days I might just have to pull one out of the freezer to try it out.

We're already making plans to raise our own turkey next year- probably a heritage breed after reading a blog on Antiquity Oaks- and we're going to raise another group of dual-purpose birds for slaughter next fall.  I would not recommend the Cornish x Rock broilers, they grow too fast for their own good.  I'm thinking of getting a straight-run of Sussex to add to the Dominiques, Black Australorps, and Easter-eggers that are in residence currently.  With this plan we should be able to dispatch the roosters (to keep peace with the neighbors) and whatever older birds that are no longer laying well in the years to come.

This was a difficult experience for me being such an animal-lover.  But I feel good knowing that we gave these birds the best life we could.  We could have brought the birds to a professional to be butchered, there is one just in the next town over, but we are thriving for self-sufficiency; the more we can do ourselves the better.

How you do you feel about raising animals to feed your family?  Have you had any experiences with raising your own food?  If not, do you think you ever could?  Let me know what your thoughts are on this, its nice to hear back from you.  Thanks for stopping in- take care!

An Apple a Day...

Lovingly Posted by Melissa Monday, October 19, 2009 2 comments

Saturday Kyle and I loaded into our little Ford Ranger and headed East.  We stopped in Jeffersonville at Jana's for some legendary donuts and a breakfast sandwich before we met up with Mom who was joining us on our little outing.  Three abreast in the truck (no easy feat, believe me) we made the long haul to Shelburne Orchards for a morning of apple picking.  The day was perfect; the air crisp and cool but the unending sunshine and happy company kept us warm.

Its amazing how beautiful the drops were.  We couldn't have found better apples hanging on the trees than those we found nestled beneath their canopies.  Sure there were some that were a little too past their prime but those we left for the local field mice and deer.  My brother, Zach, and sister-in-law, Viola, arrived to help gather.  Time flew as we filled the bed of the pickup and before we knew it we were done and it was time to head home.

As soon as we arrived we immediately set in to getting to work.  Two pots cooking apples for applesauce and the canning pot were set on the stove while we peeled, cored, and sliced apples to freeze for treats to be baked later during the chill of winter.  My dear friend, Ali, arrived to help us with our monumental task.  While we processed the apples I turned on the grill (maybe for the last time this year) to cook the burgers for dinner; black bean burgers for Ali and I, and regular beef burgers for Mom and Kyle (although I think Kyle had one of each, he loves those black bean burgers so much).  After our break for food, Ali started working on four loaves of apple bread which I think turned out deliciously!

By the end of the day we had finished off a good chunk of the apples from the back of the truck.  We managed to freeze six gallons of apples and can about twelve quarts of apple sauce.  It was a great day, full of good friends, good food, and lots of laughs.  Thanks to everyone who made a beautiful day even more special.

Our Last Store-bought Chicken

Lovingly Posted by Melissa Thursday, October 15, 2009 2 comments

Last night I got home and immediately set in to making dinner, it was just one of those days where I needed to keep busy.  I had bought a little broiler at the grocery store earlier this week to roast and make chicken soup from.  It is to be, hopefully, the last chicken we will ever buy from a store as we are set to butcher our fifteen broilers this weekend.

As a recently converted ex-vegetarian this was the first time in a LONG time since I had handled a whole dead chicken, so I had a little trouble remembering how this all worked.  I seasoned it all over with salt and pepper and rubbed it down with a little bit of butter mixed with six cloves of chopped garlic and some rosemary.  I set it in the pot on top of a few chopped carrots and onions and threw it all in the oven for the next 50 minutes.  I set myself to starting the massive amount of dishes that were sitting on the counter when Kyle got home from work.  The wonderful man had not only brought home a bottle of wine but he had in hand a little bouquet of yellow lilies for me.  I do love him so much.  I'd been upset all week about our poor cat, Elvis, who has been suffering from an acute urinary tract infection.  So this little thoughtfulness was very much appreciated.

My darling husband took over doing the dishes while I went upstairs to feed the cats and give Elvis his pills which is getting increasingly more difficult as he is really getting sick of it.  But, we managed and both cats set in to happily eating their new vet-approved cat food.  I headed back downstairs and cleaned up the dining room table which unfortunately ends up being the catch-all for whatever we happen to have in our hands when we walk in the front door.  By the time I had finished I had just enough time to make some garlic mashed potatos to go with our dinner.

I took the chicken out of the oven and it looked beautiful.  Only one thing was wrong; I had put it in the pot upside down.  So instead of the skin covering the breasts being nice and golden and crispy, it was regretably the skin on the back of the chicken that looked so appealing.  Sure enough, I turned it over to carve it and the skin on the breast was cooked, yes, but soft and kind of gross looking.  We never buy chicken with the skin on, so we haven't eaten chicken skin in a long time...so whatever, but it was still a little disappointing.

The chicken turned out beautifully otherwise, it was moist and smelled delicious.  As soon as we had finished carving it up I plopped the chicken carcass into a big pot with salt and water and a few chopped potatos and began my chicken soup (I hate to waste anything).  So now we've got three containers of chicken stock and a big thing of chicken soup in the freezer.  And by the end of the weekend we'll have fifteen fresh, new chickens in our chest freezer...I'll let you know how THAT goes.

The Tragic Story of My Broken Sole

Lovingly Posted by Melissa Tuesday, October 13, 2009 4 comments

No.  That isn't a typo...aren't you relieved?  My soul is in the same condition its been in for the past few years, I don't think about it much as I don't believe there is much I can do to change where it'll end up in the next sixty or seventy years at this point.  But thats not what I'm here to talk about, am I?  Nope, you're absolutely right, its not.

No, today is a very sad day, though, and that is what I want to share.

Two weeks ago one of my silly little Dansko clogs began squeeking as I walked down the hallway at my office.  It was just a little annoying, not at all embarrassing, mostly because it was just this cute little "ree...ree...ree...ree" as I walked along.  I just figured I stepped in something that was causing this new development.  It didn't really bother me that much, so I opted not to investigate any further.

Last week the partner of this clog picked up the habit as well.  It sounded like whenever I walked the halls here at my job my two shoes would be chatting together, perhaps wondering if I was going to take them somewhere cool for once.  They hadn't done any REAL work in a while and I couldn't blame them.  Walking carpeted hallways inside the building where I work doesn't really inspire any excitement for me either!

I couldn't figure it out.  I mean, leather shoes squeek sometimes, right?  But I've had these for at least a decade and I couldn't remember them EVER squeeking.  But regardless I continued on, just taking in the new feature of my worn leather footwear.  Until sometime last weekend when I bent to remove my well-worn shoes after coming in from visiting with my goats, at which point I saw the culprit for the squeekiness and my world seemed to slow and my feet simultaneously screamed "noooooooooo".

Sure enough, I looked down at my lovely, reddish-brown, worn leather clogs and there was a crack in the sole.  I looked a little closer and I saw a huge split across the entire width of it.  I was in shock.  These shoes were a throw-back to the days when my Mom owned Silver and Leather Tack, a horse-supply store in my hometown in southern Vermont.  I'd worn them thousands of times out to the barn where I spent half my free time with my Mom and our horses during my adolescence.  I can't even recall all the places they've been; Niagra Falls, Colorado, all over New England, New Jersey, Pennsylvania.  They'd walked the sidewalks and barns at the University of Connecticut to the grassy lawns and frolf course at Johnson State college.  They've seen so many seasons and have blessed my feet during countless days and nights.

So, today, I emailed Dansko in hopes they might give me a "good customer" discount but in reply only received amazement and happiness for having had my shoes for so long.  So here I am, sitting in my living room with my dog beside me on the couch and my poor, broken clogs on my feet.  I may try to epoxy them in hopes to gain another few months of happiness with them, though they will never be the same.  Perhaps I put a new pair on my "wish list" to replace them, but these will always hold a special place in my heart.  The shoes that saw me through adolescence, boyfriends, college, jobs, engagement and even marriage, first house, and first farm animals...through good times and in bad...these shoes have seen it all.  I'll cherish the memory of these shoes, perhaps its silly, but these shoes are all I ever hope to be: hard-working, versatile, and (even with all the creases and scuff marks) only get better looking with age.

Green Manure

Lovingly Posted by Melissa Thursday, October 8, 2009 0 comments

Due to the serious lack of attention to our garden this past spring/summer we have been really packing it full of green manure which is great for the soil...but not so great for our pantry. We're determined to focus more on the garden next year.  With the "major" things with the house being done and our wedding over I think it should be pretty feasible.  So, while I daydream about garden plans for NEXT year I've been working on my sad excuse for a garden this year.

Probably about a month ago we roto-tilled the garden to get rid of the grass that had started growing and to plow under the beans and peas that had gone by (as well as some that had apparently gone to seed...found that out a couple weeks ago).  I'm not really a fan of roto-tilling...but I didn't want to lose our plot in a sea of grass so I let Kyle take a pass with his father's tractor.  But of course, as with many of the men I know, once just isn't enough- so next thing I know he is going back and forth, side to side, back and forth again, until all the soil had been deep-tilled to his heart's content. 

So I'm staring at this bare patch of soil and thinking "this just isn't good".  I know deep-tilling is bad for soil so I started thinking about what to do at this point.  I remembered I had a couple bags of fertilizer my Mom had given us earlier this year, perhaps I could turn that into the soild and cover it with old straw bedding from the barn.  Maybe I ought to nix the fertilizer but cover it with straw.  Should I just leave it and let it do it's own thing?  Loaded down with a too-many-options position, I decided to wait and give it some thought.  A few days later we received our new edition of Mother Earth News and they completely read my mind and came to our rescue!  They had an article in there about cover crops we decided to give it a go. 

I had never (intentionally) planted a cover crop before but had heard plenty of information about how super-wonderful it is for your garden, so I got in winter-cover-crop-mode.  As most of the local stores in our area only carry seeds for flowers or veggies I went online where I could get larger quantities of seeds for our moderately sized garden.  Johnny's Selected Seeds had a specific area for seeds in this category and happily ordered winter rye, crimson clover, and hairey vetch.  When it arrived in the mail a few days later I happily skipped down to the garden and started scattering.  I went a little heavy with the winter rye on one end, thinking that the bag of seeds would be never-ending, so they're mostly consolidated on one end with the hairey vetch and crimson clover taking up the rest.

With all the rain and lack of sun we've been going through lately I wasn't sure how they'd be faring, but much to my delight I went down to check them out last week and the winter rye is dutifully plugging along.  Thats the only one I'm really sure about...mostly due to how heavily I seeded that one end.  I'm not really sure which is what for the clover and the vetch, but who cares right!?  I'm not going to weed it!!  I'm just going to let it do its thing all winter until next spring when we turn it all under.  How low-maintenance can you get!?  I'm definitely looking forward to seeing something growing down there again (next year I fully intend on growing winter veggies...but one thing at a time).

Damage Control

Lovingly Posted by Melissa Wednesday, October 7, 2009 2 comments

Shortly before our wedding we installed a new wire dog-fence because our dogs loved to visit the neighbors.  Our neighbor across the street always has a buffet of two week old garbage hanging around their back door so, since Shyla is such a garbage hound (and part beagle so, therefore, a wanderer), we figured we'd be better off by setting up some sort of fencing.  We didn't really like the idea of the shock collar but had few options as we couldn't afford to fence in our entire yard and both of our dogs need lots of exercise so we couldn't just make a small yard for them.  So, we gritted our teeth and gave it a try. 

It worked gloriously for the first few months.  It only took one or two corrections before they got the idea and they stayed in our yard without incedent.  But, much to our dismay, the town came mowing along the roads a few months ago.  This wouldn't ordinarily be a problem as this wire is typically buried.  Well, notice I say "ordinarily" and "typically".  Yeah, we hadn't buried the wire yet, just tucked it deep into the long grasses until we could rent a ditch-witch to make the task a little quicker.  So, as you can imagine, the mower did a nice job of tearing up a section of our wire and at some point the dogs realized that they were free to go where they pleased.

A few weeks ago I walked into our family room and asked Kyle where Shyla was.  He was busily scanning Craigslist for anything and everything as he muttered something along of the lines of- oh she's still outside.  It was a cold and drizzly morning and this dog doesn't normally like to be outside on a good day.  Ollie was happily chewing on his new stuffed animal- a bunny whose eyes and nose had recently been removed- so I knew they weren't out playing in the back yard.  I went to the front yard and there she was, nawing away at something undoubtedly stolen from the neighbor's trash.  Great.  Later that day Kyle got a reminder for why we don't like letting the dogs get into trash...all over the living room floor.  That spurred the current project that has been occupying our time for the past few weeks.

We immediately went out to patch the line where the town's mower had taken its toll and walked back up to the house to turn the receiver on, not even thinking that it might still not work.  Well, much to our disappointment, it just wasn't going to be that easy.  We walked the line, looking for more breaks but found nothing.  Last week Kyle decided he was going to pull it all up and re-do it all.  Great idea, that is what I was thinking.  But still, not that easy.  Apparently some of the wire was so hopelessly tangled (I didn't ask HOW) that he had to cut the wire, which just created more possibilities for bad connections.  Sure enough, when he re-ran the wire the loop indicator on the receiver was still screaming at us that it wasn't happy.

Now, we could spend $60 on a boundary wire break-locator, but that didn't really make me all that excited.  Confucius said "When you have faults, do not fear to abandon them."  So today I have decided to abandon our crappy wire and re-ordered another 1,000 feet of wire (for less than the cost of the break-locator) so we can just re-do it.  And I can tell you, THIS time we are going to do it correctly.

Time to Break the Mold

Lovingly Posted by Melissa Tuesday, October 6, 2009 0 comments

When we moved in to our new house back in February we didn't really have much trouble with water in our basement, not even after all that snow melted around our house.  But after a summer of Ollie digging under the front of our porch looking for his many tennis balls, and all this rain we've been getting, we've been noticing more and more mud on the floor down there.  We were only a little concerned at first but then we started finding spots of mold on the walls and on the dirt floor.  I promptly donned my ventilator, some rubber gloves, and a spray bottle of water and bleach and began my attack. 

It did the trick and proved to be good entertainment.  Although watching yellow mold turn red is very fascinating in an 'eww' kind of way, I'm sure it wasn't the best indicator of how healthy our air was down there.  We decided it was time we started preventing this kind of problem.  So, Sunday, we made a drive to Lowes (after remembering that all the places close to us are closed on Sundays) and invested in a dehumidifier for the basement and some gutters for the front porch.  We were psyched to see how relatively inexpensive gutter parts were, but a little frustrated by the lack of "this is what you're going to need" information in the general gutter-supply area.  We were standing in front of the boxes of parts at the store, laying them all out on the floor, trying to figure out what went where and how...but apparently didn't go quite far enough. 

We got home and immdiately got the dehumidifier running and Kyle set to putting up the gutters.  Much to our dismay (but not too awfully suprised) we had missed a few pieces.  But luckily we got enough assembled to at least funnel the deluge of water that comes off our roof where the two rooflines meet and direct it away from our house.

After only a couple days we are seeing a big change.  The basement doesn't have a river of slow-moving clay mud anymore and the air feels cleaner.  Once we get the missing pieces for the gutters we are going to finish it up and secure a buried pipe that runs the water completely away from the house to the road.  I wanted a rain barrel but we decided that neither of us wanted to see it next to the front porch, so we decided that once we install the gutters on the back of the house we'd put one back there.  This way I can run a line down the hill to our garden instead of always dragging the garden hose around to the back of the house whenever I need to water anything.

Do you have mold problems in your house?  Or maybe just worrying that you have optimum conditions for mold so it is just a matter of time?  There are some great instructions regarding how to prevent mold from living in your house at Ask The Builder.  This guy has some seriously good information.