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


Productivity is on the rise.

Lovingly Posted by Melissa Monday, November 30, 2009 3 comments

For the past five days we've been consistently getting about one egg a day.  So we felt confident in saying that only one of our gals had started laying eggs.  Today Kyle called me at work, he stopped by the house during his lunch break to check on everyone (the dogs, cats, goats, and chickens).  He told me that he saw one chicken sitting over a freshly-laid egg in the usual spot where we find the eggs; on top of the platform that we made for the goats to play on- not the best place to lay a fragile egg.  Also, there was one chicken in one of the eight nest boxes- this was encouraging as we had yet to see any of the girls even think about checking them out.

When I got home from work I jogged to the house- pulling my hat down over my ears in response to the wind and snow that finally graced us.  I let the kids out (Ollie and Shyla), threw on my warmer, Carhartt barn jacket and my muck boots, and headed out to the barn to collect a couple eggs!  Yippy!  My excitement grew with every step- I would have run had I not worried about colliding with Ollie who is always adamant about trotting right in front of me.

As soon as I stepped inside the barn I could immediately tell a difference in the temperature since we covered the windier sides in plastic wrap.  In the past, even with the doors closed, we would have a breeze coming through the barn on the really windy days.  This past weekend we finally patched all the larger holes and the plastic wrap will take care of the multitude of smaller gaps and cracks.  The barn is nowhere near air-tight, which is just fine because you need some ventilation to keep it from getting really offensive in there.  But at least we can keep the girls a little more comfortable now.

So, I entered the barn to the sound of chickens clucking away and goats calling to me.  It was a little too early for dinner, not that they really knew that, so I went about my task.  First thing first, was to grab the exposed egg off the platform.  I looked, looked some more...but no egg.  What the heck?  I scanned the floor around the structure just in case, the goats demanding my attention, still nothing.  I moved over to the nest boxes and did a quick scan through those, looking for an egg.  No chicken sits in a nest box just for the heck of it....but no egg.

I trudged back to the house and called Kyle up at work to ask if he had decided to grab them before he left this afternoon- nope, they had to still be in the barn somewhere.  So I grabbed a flashlight (not that it is dark in the barn now that we have lights out there, but every little bit helps) and once again headed out into the damp and windy weather.

Ok, I got my game face on, this time I was on an honest-to-God egg hunt.  After giving the girls their dinner to keep them occupied while I went about my task, I checked around the platform again.  This time I dug through the dirtied hay a little more than I really wanted to sans-gloves, but this is the life of a homesteader; you get really dirty, and its never just dirt.  Nothing.  Back to the nest boxes.  I looked extra-carefully in each little cubby and 'hello!' there was a little brown egg, hiding in a nice little nest of hay.  Ok, cool, so we've found one of the two eggs we knew were laid today.  As I turned to do a general survey of the barn I saw a suspiciously flattened area of hay in the manger; it was definitely chicken-sized.

This past weekend we took a few small steps to try to prohibit the chickens from going into the manger.  We just bought some really nice second-cut hay (read: extra tasty and nutritious) that the goats were going crazy over and we didn't want to waste any by letting the chickens hang out on it.  But apparently our efforts were in vain- to a small degree.  Today, after the hay had been eaten down enough, some little chicky decided she wanted in, so in she went.  Luckily for all those involved, when a chicken goes to lay an egg it prevents her from defecating.  Its kind of like the esophagus/tracea set up we have in our necks; when one process is working, the other one is stopped- same for chickens and their egg-laying.  So, not only is our hay in fine condition, but we had another egg!

So, we had officially collected two eggs today, but nowhere could we find the one that Kyle had discovered earlier.  My only thought is that perhaps a goat crushed it and then the chickens found it and ate it- leaving no trace.  But now we can be sure that three out of our twelve hens are laying, three out of the four Dominiques.  I am really looking forward to the eggs from our Easter-Eggers, with their naturally-colored eggs, that will be a novelty.  I can't wait to see what we'll collect tomorrow!!  Nothing like hunting eggs and finding a few treasures to really brighten up your day.

A little Thanksgiving Day gift

Lovingly Posted by Melissa 1 comments

I hope everyone had a lovely Thanksgiving!  We had a small gathering at our place with my mom, my brother and his wife.  It was potluck style so I only really had to worry about cooking the turkey and the hors d'oeuvres which was really nice.  We had a little fire on our stove the day before (never leave a plastic cutting board on a burner) so we got all our bad-luck out of the way ahead of time.

After some snacking and socializing we headed out to visit our girls (the chickens and the goats)- a day just isn't complete without a visit out to the barnyard.  We snapped some photos, gave the chickens some kitchen scraps and headed to the barn to show off the new platform that Kyle made for the goats to play on inside.  Well, there sitting on the top of the platform, in a huge nest of hay we left there for the goats to eat, was an egg!

Our first egg!  We were ecstatic!  We paraded it back to the house to place it in one of the many egg cartons that had been gifted to us from various friends and family members.  Granted, it is so small that it swims in one of the spaces, but it is ours- a healthy, grass-fed egg!  This is just the beginning!  We've got three eggs so far, our little Dominique will lay two eggs every three days or so.  Hopefully soon the other ladies will follow suit and start laying eggs as well.

Happy holidays!!!

Not everything is as easy as you hope it will be.

Lovingly Posted by Melissa Monday, November 23, 2009 4 comments

Well, we were bound to run into a little trouble with our house at some point.

We decided to tackle the last two windows this weekend.  We started out on Saturday with our go-getter attitude and the feeling that we'd have this all banged out in a few short hours.  It didn't take long for that idea to go out the window (pardon the pun).  As soon as the old window was removed we saw that the footer for the window was significantly more rotten than the ones we had seen on the previous two.  No big deal, we had replaced these before.  But looking a little closer we found a good deal more rot than we had anticipated.  The studs, the footer, everything was crumbling.  We dug and dug to try to find the end to the rotten wood and once we got there we realized we were getting into much more than a three-hour window project.

The studs would have to go.  One was a regular 2x4 but the other (pictured above) was a 4x4 - all rough-cut wood so those dimensions are solid.  We had no way to get those suckers out as they spanned all the way up to the roof line.  So we made a trip to the local hardware store.  We were going to need some wood to replace the rotten framing and a new toy; Kyle seemed really disappointed that we had to buy a reciprocating saw so we could get the studs out (read: this sentence seriously weighed with sarcasm).  All in all we only spent $150 on a decent Sawzall and the lumber so we were pretty pleased with that.  We got home and set straight to work.

I really didn't miss doing demolition; we had done plenty of it during the first few months that we lived here.  It could be worse, I mean, we did invest in a couple good ventilator masks (old houses can literally kill you with the dust in their walls).  We periodically stopped to pick up plaster, lath, and insulation so the room wasn't as much of a mess as it could have been.  We've learned that cleaning up smaller messes a bunch of times is much better than doing a huge clean-up at the end of the project, so we get to take our ventilators off from time to time when there isn't nasty, old blown-in insulation all over the room.

It didn't take too long to get the new studs and footer installed, it was more of a pain in the butt to get the raw opening just right.  Because we had already purchased our new windows we had to be sure that they would fit when we were finished.  But between the two of us, a few diagrams, and a whole lot of math we managed to get it right and the window went it with no problem.  After it was secured to the house I went crazy with the spray-foam insulation.  Word to the wise: with this project be sure to use the kind that is meant for windows and doors or else you'll run into some problems later.  Also, only fill the space about one third or else it will expand way past the point where you need insulation, and that is just waste and a whole lot of extra clean up later.  You can always go back after its all dried and add extra if you really need it.  Whatever is too small to fill with this spray foam insulation can be covered with some silicone caulk (which is needed around the outside of the window anyways).

So we got the window in, just in time to get to our 2nd Thanksgiving celebration over at my Mother-in-law's house.  This is what it looked like right as we were leaving.  You can see that Atticus was pretty happy to be allowed back in the room...thats his favorite window.

We woke up on Sunday and decided that we were going to just do things right this time.  When we renovated this room earlier this year, we just put sheetrock up over the plaster walls.  We were in too much of a rush to worry much about the lack of insulation in those walls.  It was time.  We ripped open the walls to get measurements between the studs to be sure we got the right size of insulation.  Then, we headed off to Lowe's (all the local hardware stores are closed on Sundays).

We came back with both spray-foam, foam-board, fiberglass insulation, sheet rock, and a lot of lumber.  The plan is to add a 2x4 onto each stud so we can put more insulation in the walls.  We filled all the gaps in the wood paneling (the stuff underneath the two layers of siding) with the spray-foam insulation, then started covering that with the foam-board insulation.  Once we get the additional framing set we'll cover the foam-board with the fiberglass insulation and then cover that with drywall.

We only got a few sheets of the foam-board installed before we decided to quit for the night.  But Kyle has the whole week off and I am only working Monday and Tuesday so hopefully we'll make some good headway before Thanksgiving.  This picture was taken before we removed the old insulation from above the window to the right- we also removed all the plaster/lath and insulation to the right of that window. 

Before we call this room done we are going to add more insulation to the other exterior wall, install the second new window, build some shelves underneath the knee-wall, and make a new door into the wierd hall closet- as this room has literally no storage.  Our plan, then, is to move into this room while we finish our master bedroom.

So, we started off with a practically finished room...with crap windows and spotty insulation.  We'll finish with a properly insulated room, that isn't being watered by the gable-vent (yeah, we discovered that up in the attic on Sunday- probably the cause of the rotten wood and the stains on the ceiling).  It really kind of sucked to destroy the room, but I'm looking forward to having it really finished this time.

A warm-day project

Lovingly Posted by Melissa Monday, November 16, 2009 3 comments

We've been having an interesting warm spell the past week or so, temperatures have been hovering around the 50s.  So on Sunday we decided to tackle our window project.

As you may well know, our house was built in the 1850's.  So our house has old blown-in insulation (read: NO insulation) and single-pane windows (most of which are cracked/broken).  We were lucky in that all of the windows in the downstairs of our house had been updated a few years before we bought it so that left us with only the windows in the upstairs bathroom and bedrooms to deal with.

Due to the unconventional size of our windows we had four special ordered to replace the larger of the seven windows we would be dealing with.  We picked them up a few months ago, but as we've never replaced windows before we've been kind of putting off the project for fear of leaving a huge hole in one of the bedrooms should we fail.  We'd discussed hiring someone to install them for us, but in the spirit of saving money, we just decided to bite the bullet and give it a go.

So Sunday morning we got to work.  We decided we'd just try one to see how it went.  Taking the old window out was rediculously easy- a few screws here and there and wall-a!- we had big hole in the wall in our bedroom!  So, with Kyle outside on the old wooden ladder (better to use that one then the aluminum ladder that was mysteriously run over by the excavator when we tore down half of our old barn) I passed the new window through so we could see how it fit.

We had done careful measurements when we ordered the new windows so we breathed a sigh of relief when the window fit generally well.  The only trouble was that we had a window sill about two inches thick that extended past the point where the flange needed to sit.  So we pulled out the sledge hammer and the circular saw and it was out in no time (yeah, I'm serious- we don't do things halfway here)- Kyle then installed a new sill.  It took a few more tries- Kyle on the ladder, me inside trying not to drop the window to the ground- before it really fit.  When we were sure everything was level we shimmed around the window and secured it into place.

All we needed to do was insulate between the window and the framing for the raw opening (we sounded like a couple kids as we discussed who got to use the expanding foam insluation) and seal around the outside with silicone.  It took little time and we were so pleased that we decided to go ahead and replace the second window in our bedroom.  This one definitely went alot quicker and by 3:30 we had two new energy efficient, double-hung, thermal pane, Pella windows in our bedroom.  The only thing that is left to do is put trim up around the inside of the window to cover the shims and insulation, and put trim up around the outside of the window to cover the flange.

We always knew that we got breezes through our old windows, we just kept wedging things around them to try to get a better seal.  These new window are not only breeze-resistant, they are also SO much quieter!  When we went to bed last night I didn't hear a single car go by.  I kept laying there in the dark waiting for the usual sound of passing cars (we would hear cars passing on the road across the river as well) but there wasn't a sound.  Now I can't wait for the next night we have high winds.

Let there be light!

Lovingly Posted by Melissa Monday, November 9, 2009 2 comments

We had a wonderful bit of luck this past weekend.  Saturday was overcast and cool but at least it didn't rain, and Sunday was absolutely amazing; sunny and warm.  We took our good fortune as permission to get going on the major project we needed to get done before winter- running electricity to the barn.

We'd been trucking out there after dusk to feed the critters in the dark- half the time to find the chickens already roosting for the night, not willing to descend for their dinner.  We try to catch them before they head off to "bed" but with the time change it is getting increasingly difficult to manage.  On top of this we are always worrying about frozen water buckets.  So Saturday we started right in to digging a ditch to run the wire.

It didn't take as long as we had thought to dig the 100' ditch, even at 18" deep.  We worked side by side, silently going about our work.  Only occasionally did we stop to take a break and comment excitedly on how quickly it was going.  We headed to the local hardware store to get our supplies: outdoor 12-2 wire, conduit, junction boxes, wire nuts and connectors, a new breaker for the breaker box, and of course switches and outlets.  Kyle got right to work running some indoor 12-2 wire from the breaker box to the corner of the workshop where we would connect it to the outdoor wire for the long stretch to the barn.  I got to work trying to push the wire through the non-metallic conduit- this was the hardest part of the entire job I'm pretty sure.

After probably half an hour of trying to force 100' of wire through 100' of conduit and only making it probably five feet I gave up and we went to the hardware store again for a spool of fish tape.  It only took about five or ten minutes using the fish tape to pull the wire through the conduit, well worth the $40 if you ask me.  At this point the sun was beginning to set so we fed the girls and shut them in the barn for the night before heading inside to take care of Shyla and the boys.  Dinner was Morrocan-spice hake wrapped in wheat tortillas with some jasmine basmati rice and plain yogurt.  I'm sometimes amazed that my husband used to cringe at the thought of fish for dinner as this dish is one of his favorites.

Sunday we woke up early, had our Sunday breakfast of eggs benedict with home fries, and got right back to work.  Kyle began wiring the barn while I started filling in the ditch, covering our wire.  I can say that I would rather dig two more ditches than have to bury one.  It didn't take long before I had to stop to take a break.  The sun was shining beautifully and the temperatures were solidly in the 50s so I was glad to strip down to a sleeveless shirt as I fought the piles of soil.

It took me a few hours to fully fill in the ditch but when I was finished Kyle was still working away in the barn.  I went in to help and to patch a few places in the walls where wind would come through.  Of course this whole time May and Chutney just couldn't stand to stay in their paddock- Chutney continually jumped over the divider in the barn to escape.  We gave up trying to restrict them and so let them out to play and graze in the yard in front of the barn.

By about 2:30 Kyle had finished wiring a light and five outlets throughout the barn.  This was the exciting moment we had been waiting for.  Kyle went in to switch the breaker on and I waited as he walked back.  Apparently something wasn't quite right, the breaker kept tripping.  So Kyle began checking his work while I headed inside to clean up the house and get some food in the oven for some company that would be coming over later on that evening.

A short half an hour later Kyle walked into the house, grinned at me and said that everything was set.  One small oversight with the light switch was the culprit and a quick fix.  We officially had lights and power in the barn.  I was ecstatic.  I'm still ecstatic.  Now, if needed, we can set up a couple heat lamps during the really cold/windy nights to keep the gals warm, and we will certainly be installing a heated water bucket shortly so no more frozen water.  Just knowing that we have the ability to keep our girls in comfort throughout the winter makes me a happy homesteader.

We worked hard all weekend, side by side, never complaining about the difficulty but smiling to eachother as we enjoyed some good Vermont beer in the warm sunshine during a well-deserved break.  Ours is truly a happy union.

Apples apples everywhere but not a drop to drink...oh wait...

Lovingly Posted by Melissa Monday, November 2, 2009 3 comments

What a gorgeous weekend!!!  We had a nice little heatwave on Saturday and I spent the whole day clad in a tee-shirt and burying our new in-ground dog fence with Kyle.  We learned in the past that it was not wise to leave it above ground for very long so we were extra excited when we got it finished and loop indicator didn't scream at us saying that all our work was for nothing.

As soon as we finished the rain began and the wind started picking up- perfect timing.  We retreated to the comfort of the house and I started dinner while Kyle hopped down the road to pick us up a bottle of wine.  I took a chunk of the dough I had made almost a week ago and began stretching it out to make a pizza.  I have seriously fallen in love with the no-knead dough that I found in Mother Earth News months ago.  All week we've enjoyed fresh-baked bread with dinner and lunch the following day.

I wasn't sure how the pizza crust would turn out, I mean, how can one dough be so versatile?  But I spread it out on a cookie sheet (my favorite; Williams Sonoma Goldtouch nonstick brand...NOTHING sticks to this sucker) and covered it with a bit of sauce, some mushrooms, peppers, sun-dried tomatos, and some great chevre (we like to switch it up from the same old mozzarella) that is made locally.  Hopefully next summer we'll be making our own chevre when May starts milking.

After just a few minutes in the 500 degree oven we slid the pizza off the cookie sheet and onto the wooden cutting board.  The crust was perfect; thin and crispy.  We ate the entire pizza that night and I still could have had more- I love chevre pizza.

Sunday was our official apple cider day!  We had two huge boxes of apples that had been sitting on our porch from weeks ago and it had taken on a lovely caramel-apple smell but it was time for them to go.  We had borrowed a home-made cider press from Kyle's employer and it made quick work of the apples.  I, personally, love the look of old-style cider presses but let me tell you they take forever to make much cider.  This loud, metal monstrosity took away alot of the romance...but produced fast and delicious results.

We fed the apples into the ginder, powered by some kind of small engine, and pulp shot out the bottom into my canning pot.  (Kyle walked away covered from the waste down with apple pulp.)  We, piled the ground up apples between layers of cheesecloth and plastic trays; three layers of apples and three layers of trays at a time.  Kyle pumped the hydraulic jack which squeezed the juice out of the layers of pulp as I held the hose over my stock pot which was covered in another few layers of cheesecloth.  Each batch provided about 3 gallons of cider, sometimes as many as five.  Pouring the cider from the stock pot into the jars proved to be a little difficult and we inevitably spilled what probably amounts to a couple gallons of cider in all.  But, between all the spilling and the taste-tests we ended up with about 25 gallons of fresh, unpasturized cider. 

So, for $50 we filled up our pickup with perfectly good apples and made six gallons of frozen apple slices, at least nine gallons of apple sauce, and 25 gallons of cider.  I'm not sure how much the cost of frozen apples are but when you consider that local applesauce is $3.75 a pint and a gallon of local apple cider around here costs $12.95 we've saved ourselves almost $550 by making it ourselves.  Now if THAT doesn't sound like a good investment I don't know what does!!  Of course this doesn't consider the cost of the jars...which would probably total about $100, but those are re-usable and we still saved alot of money.