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



Lovingly Posted by Melissa Wednesday, January 27, 2010 4 comments

I used to be extremely obessive about keeping my car clean.  Minus the head-on collision it had been in, it was practically brand new when I bought it a few years ago.  After a few months and about a thousand bucks in parts, my little red Scion XA was as good as new thanks to my husband and father-in-law.  It was the newest car I've ever owned (only a year old) and it wasn't teal green, unlike my previous two cars.  I had a 'no food or drink' rule for the longest time for fear of spoiling the spotless interior.  I even put down blankets when we would lay down the back seat for the dogs to ride in the back.  Those days are no more.  (Note: this image was snagged off Motor Trend as I don't have a photo of my car- it looks exactly like this minus the hubcaps which were lost during an unfortunate encounter with a Melissa-sized pothole.)

For about a month now I've had a tarp and a layer of gently-used straw in the back of my car.  We brought all 'the kids' up to my Mom's in Montgomery on January 1st for a late Christmas celebration and I never cleaned out the car after we returned home the next day.  At the time it was just from sheer laziness, then I reasoned that we'd have to bring May down to the breeder soon so we might as well leave it.  But now that she's been bred and I have no current plans to cart my girls around I have no excuse.

But I'm going to tell you a secret:
            I do have an excuse- I just like it there.

I got out of work Monday afternoon in a less than perfect mood.  It had been a long day and I was bummed about the rain which was spoiling my plans for the evening.  I trudged out to my car and as soon as I opened the door to escape the 'liquid sunshine' so intent on permeating my jacket, I was greeted by the smell wafting out of my car.  The hay and used straw had been steeping in the confined space of my small vehicle and the relative heat from the past few days had exponentially increased the aroma.  It's a sweet smell that strikes a chord in my heart.  That heavenly smell brings me back to childhood days in the horse barn with my Mom and reminds me of the beautiful things that I am a part of now.

It is so easy for me to get stressed and anxious (trust me, I do it all the time: I'm an expert) but when I think of the life we are bringing to our farm and the potential we are creating from our own hands, it brings me such peace and happiness.  Taking care of so many lives and running our home is no easy task.  We worry about sickness and disease.  Are our goats going to have healthy pregnancies and will their kidding be easy?  Will our garden be successful this year or will we continue to have to buy our produce?  We worry about things that would keep some people from venturing into a life like ours at all.

Things that used to seem so important are so trivial now; homesteading will do that to you.  It brings you back to earth and shows you in black and white what life is.  Its never easy and I can tell you for sure that we've still got a long way to go and a lot to learn, but I love it.  I love my life, and I love my dirty, straw-ridden car that smells like the barn.

Change of plans

Lovingly Posted by Melissa Saturday, January 23, 2010 1 comments

Well I had all these grand plans for today.  Kyle was working in town in exchange for some new cross-country ski boots so I was flying solo for the day.  My plans included doing some laundry, painting my bee hive, working on the guest bedroom (sanding the mud on the drywall around our built-in shelves), working on a new knitting project, place my bee order, and spend some time with the girls in the barn.

It started out as a lazy morning.  Kyle and I had slept in to almost 7:30 after a night out in Stowe celebrating the marriage of our friends, Anna and Matt.  Kyle had to leave around 8:15 and I sat down to my computer to work on a few blogs and read up about gardening.  Before I knew it an hour had passed and I hadn't even been out to the barn yet!!  The girls always have plenty of hay and water so they are fine but I like getting out there right off to get them a bit of grain on these chilly winter days.

I threw my coveralls on over my flannel pajama pants and slipped on my muck boots and jacket.  Ollie followed me out to the barn, as usual, and as soon as I went through the door the chickens were right on me.  They are a little more demanding of my time- ever since we started feeding them our kitchen scraps they've been absolutely rediculous.  Even when I drop a glove on the ground they fall on it like vultures on yesterdays meal.  Anywho.

So I'm going about my business, checking the water level in their bucket, tossing grain around for the chickens, and grabbing eggs before they can freeze.  As I'm about to leave to get some breakfast of my own I do a quick check of the goats.  Chutney was bred a month ago and the jury is still out as to wether or not it was successful, so I've been keeping an eye on her to see if she goes back into heat.  May on the other had, hadn't been in heat ONCE since we got her back in August and we were, frankly, a little concerned that she had some 'problems'.  But when I checked her over she actually had a little discharge which made me think that she could be in heat.

Now, not having any boy goats on site (neither buck nor wether) it has made it very difficult to really tell when the girls go in heat.  They don't have anyone to flirt with or moon over so I have to go by the little things.  May had a tiny bit of discharge and was holding her tail up in the air, wagging it ever so slightly on occasion.  Bear in mind that it takes me an hour to get them to the breeder so I didn't want to be wrong and bring her all that way for nothing.  But on the other hand, if she was in heat I'd have to wait another three weeks or so before she went into heat again.  Suddenly that possibly-a-waste-of-time drive to the breeder sounded pretty good.  So I called up Sharon at Willow Moon Farm in Plainfield and she told me to bring her down right away.

I still had the tarp in my car from when we brought the girls up to my Mom's house a few weeks ago so I just tossed in some hay and lured May and Chutney into the back.  They're getting really good at car rides, instead of pacing around the whole time they'll actually lay down and munch on the hay, which is really nice.

It was a beautiful day for a drive and the whole way to Plainfield I was giving May a little pep-talk.  I really hoped that I was right and she was in heat.  We arrived at the farm and Sharon brought out Sugar Moon Up Brioso- May's date (that is a photo of him Sharon took earlier last year).  She stood quite still as he checked her out (very promising as she had her tail glued to her butt last time we brought her down and wouldn't turn her back on the poor guy).  Next thing I knew the deed was done and Sharon and I chatted as we waited for him to 'recharge' for one more go before she put him back in the buck pen.

While I was there I got to see the new babies that have come around over the past couple weeks.  I just couldn't believe how little they were: literally smaller than our cats- Elvis totally could have taken one down if he really wanted to.  Lucky for Kyle they were all spoken for so I couldn't buy one.  But, hopefully in another four months Chutney will kid and in five months May should be due as well.  At that point we'll be able to start milking the girls and making our own cheese and maybe even butter.  The prospects are very exciting.

The whole way home, May was so tired.  She kept falling asleep in the funniest positions.  I wanted to stop the car to get a picture of her at one point but anytime I came to a full stop both the girls would stand up to see where we were.  As soon as we got home, May stood outside the car looking for her boyfriend and crying over and over again.  Chutney followed me straight to the barn but I had to go back and persuade May to follow me.  I'll be keeping an eye on her for the next couple of weeks- just to be sure she doesn't go back into heat.  But lets keep our fingers crossed that we'll have some babies on the farm this summer!

Brewing up something good (I hope)

Lovingly Posted by Melissa Tuesday, January 19, 2010 0 comments

Last night I got home from work and fully intended on laying on the couch for the rest of the evening.  My cold has finally taken over and I've been dragging a bit the past couple days.  But I had delusions of grandeur that I would make some bread to go with some soup for dinner, so I quickly whipped up the dough and set it in the living room to rise (its much warmer in the living room compared to our poorly-insulated kitchen).  As I was finishing up I noticed Kyle moving the brew pail that has been hanging on to almost six gallons of cider into the kitchen.

We'd been concerned about our first attempt at brewing hard cider.  There was spotty action in the airlock, where with beer we're used to a decent amount of bubbling, we saw hardly any with the cider since we started it back in the beginning of December.  Apparently Kyle was sick of waiting so we pulled out the hydrometer and set it in the cider.  When we measured it at the start we had a potential alcohol content of 13%, by the time the hydrometer sinks all the way to 0-1 the cider is done converting the sugars into alcohol.  Last night we watched as it bobbed a few times before settling in, and sure enough it was telling us that it was done.  I couldn't believe it.

We syphoned off the cider into a glass carboy, where it will continue to clear and become (hopefully) even more delicious.  We did take a quick taste of what we had so far and it wouldn't win any awards but it wasn't vinegar so I was pretty happy.  The stuff we let ferment in a wine bottle (letting it do its thing with its own, wild yeast) was actually even tastier I thought, a little less dry, but it might not be finished converting the sugars yet- we couldn't put the hydrometer in the wine bottle for fear of never getting it back out.

After a thorough cleaning we moved the next batch into the 'ale pail' to get it going.  Kyle is thinking of adding some sugar to this batch, so we'll see what we'll end up with after that.

I didn't manage to make any bread, instead I just let it rise before sticking the dough in the fridge for later.  I did, however, manage to make a soup for dinner while Kyle was dealing with our brewing projects.  Pork meatballs with onions, potatos, celery, and carrots in some rich, chicken stock.  I thought it sounded like good 'feel better' soup.  I guess thats what we super-homesteader-women do, right?  We just keep plugging along even when we'd rather be curled up in bed with a cup of tea, a box of tissues, and a bag of herbal throat lozenges.

On another note: its snowing again.  I guess we're not out of the woods yet.

January Thaw

Lovingly Posted by Melissa Sunday, January 17, 2010 0 comments

Hey folks.  Kyle is up shoveling our roof so I thought it would be a good time to hop onto the blog and say 'Hi'. 

This weekend has been a lovely taste of the coming Spring.  I am so ready.  This morning we went out to the barn and I didn't even have to put on a jacket, it is well into the 40s I think.  After feeding the girls we walked around our land for a few minutes, planning where we'd be putting our pigs, and where we want to put the grape vines that have been taking up prime seats next to our picture window this Winter.  I can't wait to get started.

We've decided we're going to get four piglets as soon as we can build them a shelter and get an electric fence set up.  Hopefully in a couple months.

We started back up work on our guest bedroom yesterday.  Kyle has been working on the trim around the windows and I've been patching up old nail holes and other irregularities in the built-in that Kyle made.  It was all recycled wood from some old cabinets we scored from a house down the road.  I'm hoping to be able to get it primed with some BIN primer today- good stuff to keep the stain from seeping through later.

Mom and Anders are stopping over later this morning.  Anders hasn't seen the recent 'updates' to the house as he's been on his ship for the past few months.  After the tour we'll be heading over to the Bees Knees in Morrisville for some tasty local food and perhaps a beer.

Its been a crazy week followed by a relatively lazy weekend.  But the prospect for Spring has my spirits up.  I know we've just hit our January thaw and I'm sure we've got plenty of cold, snowy days ahead, but its nice to have a little taste of mild temperatures to come.

Oh and those grape vines I mentioned before- one has actually started growing its leaves.  I'm not sure if thats really a great thing, since grapes are supposed to be sleeping now, but the new growth is exciting.  Also, Kyle's Christmas Cactus that I almost killed, then nursed back to health, has finally decided to bloom!  We've got some bright pink flowers in the works and I'm pretty sure any day now they'll open.  I love Spring, even when its just in my head.

Recycle your Chicken

Lovingly Posted by Melissa Monday, January 11, 2010 3 comments

Hehe.  Ok, that sounds a little gross, but it was the best I could come up with- and you have to admit its a pretty whitty title for a post on making chicken stock, don't you think?  Ok ok, enough self-appreciation, moving along.

I am just so excited about our chickens, I just can't even express how awesome they are.  While our laying hens are pretty sweet and have started generating their own income through eggs, I am quite certainly talking about our broilers.  Yep, those gigantic birds that we dispatched this past fall that have been taking up residence in our freezer.  Probably once every week or two we pull one of these ladies (or gentlemen, we're equal-opportunity eaters here) out to thaw.  A couple days later she (or he, see above) is ready for a little garlic/rosemary/butter rub before heading in to the oven (I usually do 500 degrees for 40 minutes to an hour depending on the size of the particular bird).  Normally I'll just stick the bird on top of a bed of chopped carrots, onions, and celery in a baking dish.  Sometimes I'll put out a roasting pan if the chicken is big enough to warrant the extra cleaning.

Kyle and I are a little picky when it comes to our roast chicken.  Most of the time we'll only eat the breast meat and the tenders.  This may sound wasteful to some, but hey, remember my superly-awesome title for this little baby?  Thats right, we don't toss the rest, or feed it to the dogs even (sorry Shyla and Ollie).  Sometimes the chicken gets tossed into the fridge for a day or two because, lets be honest, who really wants to get finished with dinner just to start cooking again?  Sometimes I do it this way- after carving off the meat for dinner, toss it all into a stock pot- but only when I feel like super-homesteader-woman.

So the next day (or right off if I'm feeling like SHW as I said just now) I'll toss a couple chopped onions, a few ribs of celery, and a few carrots into a stock pot with some olive oil, garlic, and some thyme.  After they get softened up a bit I'll add the chicken as well as the veggies that are in the pan with it (skin, bones, fat and all).  Fill the pot up to cover everything and get that puppy boiling.  Once it starts boiling, lower the temp so it just sort of simmers and let it go until the bones are pretty much all seperated (in other words; if you pull out the bones you shouldn't see the perfect skeleton of a chicken, just a bunch of bones).

If it tastes like chicken stock, sweet; pour that sucker through a colander into another pot or a bowl to catch the stock.  Now this is where you can go a couple different routes.  What I normally do is pour about half a gallon of the stock into jars to save for later use.  Sometimes I'll can all the broth like this and deal with the meat seperately, this works if you want to make something out of the chicken meat like sandwiches, enchiladas, or just put it on salads.

Pick through the contents of the colander, pulling out as much meat as possible.  I usually shred it up a bit before putting it aside.  If I'm going to make soup, or chicken pot pie, I'll also go through the veggies for any that are still fairly solid after all that boiling.  (If I'm not making soup or pot pie, the veggies go with the bones into the compost.)

At this point you have the makings for whatever you want.  If you'd like chicken noodle soup, toss that meat, veggies, and broth back into the stock pot and get cooking!  Pot pie?  Then mix some flour into melted butter, add some stock, the chicken, veggies, salt and pepper if you'd like, and walla!  You have pot pie filling (if you add a bit of milk or cream at this point it is super delicious as well)!  Sometimes I'll make a bunch of this (depending on how much meat I can get off the chicken) so I can store a couple meals of it in our freezer.  Make your favorite pie crust (even better, make a double batch so you can freeze some of that for later, too!), cover the filling in a pie pan, and toss that sucker into the oven!

Man, I'm hungry...

71 days until Spring

Lovingly Posted by Melissa Thursday, January 7, 2010 4 comments

Yeah I know.  We're solidly within the Winter months here in Northern Vermont.  We're looking at subzero temps again this weekend- at night at least.  I haven't been getting out to enjoy the snow enough so I've been wishing it away.  I just keep thinking about Spring plans and I'm ready to get started.

I can't even start our seeds until March (even that is a little optimistic).  Not that I've bought them yet (you know if I did they would be planted by now).  I've got my shopping cart at High Mowing Seeds saved so when I'm ready to order I can just click the checkout button and we're gold.  I've got a nice selection of everything from peas and beans, to onions, potatos, sweet and hot peppers, carrots and celery, spinach and salad greens to name a few.  The more I think about them the more I want to just click that 'checkout' button.

The other thing I'm itching to get going on is our poultry order.  We decided that we're going to get another lot of cornish x rock broilers this Spring so they'll be ready for slaughter early in Summer, then we'll probably get another bunch later in the Summer for slaughter in the Fall.

We're going to get another dozen egg layers, Silver Laced Wynadottes, I think.  I know, its just two of us and you're probably wondering what we're doing with almost a dozen eggs a day as it is.  Well, for your information, we've been selling around four dozen eggs a week, and I'm pretty sure we could sell more if we had enough to get rid of.  Not to mention that I've been looking forward to freezing some quiche's but haven't been able to because we're selling the main ingredient.  And I don't have enough eggs to eat for breakfast every day- only enough for the weekends.  This isn't much of a problem as I don't normally have time to eat before I leave for work (I typically take some fruit and cottage cheese for a later lunch at work) but I wouldn't mind having the option.

Also on the poultry order will be the turkeys.  We haven't decided yet how many we'll get, and we haven't settled on a breed, but they're in our radar.  I really want to go with the Royal Palm turkey but Kyle would rather have the standard Large White turkey...you know, the kind that won't even fit in your roasting pan with the cover on...yeah that one. 

My thing with the Royal Palm turkeys is that they're a heritage breed, not a commercial one, so they're better foragers and wouldn't require as much commercial feed.  Although, I guess they are a little smaller than most other heritage breed turkeys...so maybe we could compromise a little.  I just love those black and white markings.  Anywho. 

So the plan is to place our poultry order in March (or February and request a later ship date) so by the time these little guys and gals are feathered in a bit we'll be able to stick them outside as much as possible.  The sooner we can get them living outside and fending for themselves the better.  I do love a good grass-fed egg/chicken/turkey.

The last thing that is on the radar is our start into pork production.  We decided it was time we really start getting serious about this whole "self sufficient" thing.  So, we'll be buying a handful of piglets as soon as we can construct housing for them, and erect some sturdy fencing.  The plan is to keep them in a little grove near the house where they can dig up the ground all they want.  Once the little piggies are gone we're going to convert the space into a future buck pen so we can have our goat breeding done on site.  Unless we decide to get a breeding pair of pigs so we don't have to keep buying piglets year after year...which really would make more sense.  Either way- I'm going to insist on heritage breeds for the pigs, for sure.

So that is our plan for this spring.  Until then I'll just have to keep watching it snow...rushing out to the barn to collect eggs before they freeze, planning sledding parties, and drinking obscene quantities of hot chocolate, trying to make the best of it.  Because, lets be honest, as soon as the summer heat hits we'll be thinking back to these frigid days and long for the crisp, cool air once more.

A nice start to the new year.

Lovingly Posted by Melissa Monday, January 4, 2010 1 comments

New years eve, Kyle and I had a lovely evening of bonfires, margeritas, hors d'oeuvres and Alfred Hitchcock movies.  Standing around the fire, being dusted by snowflakes, we played fetch with Ollie until he could no longer find the frisbee in the dark and the snow.  The girls were warm in their barn, watching the festivities from the comfort of their window seat.  The new year was rung in without bells or whistles.  No ball drop, party hats, crowds, or bar bills.  Just us kids down here on the farm, standing around a fire in our muck boots, drinking frozen drinks out of authentic German steins in the crisp winter air.  In hindsight it probably would have been a little more pleasant if we were drinking hot drinks- like mulled cider...oh well!  We've got plenty of winter left for that.

Friday afternoon, we loaded all the kids up to head up to Mom's for our last Christmas celebration (except for the chickens- they don't care to travel).  We planned on spending the night so Ollie and Shyla went with Kyle in the truck while I took Elvis and Atticus in the car with me and the girls.  It was a lovely evening with family, enjoying shrimp, and homemade crab cakes and jalepeno poppers.  The goats all played together as did the dogs.  The cats enjoyed having free range of the house- Elvis and Atticus really appreciated how close to the house my Mom's birdfeeders are (Note: no birds were harassed or harmed in the making of the cat's entertainment).

We were gifted a beautiful, homemade, cedar storage bench that Mom made herself.  It is taking up residence at the foot of our bed and it is just absolutely beautiful.

The rest of the weekend was spent snowblowing (both with the john deere and the wind), shoveling, and staying cozy in the house when we could.  We brought our tree out to May and Chutney on Sunday but that was about as ambitious as we got.  The wind and the snow made spending time outside a little less than lovely.  I had grand plans of working on the guest bedroom but settled for making some awesome breakfast burritos, spicy homefries, and mamosas before spending the rest of the day in sweats with Kyle, watching Psycho and back episodes of Lost online at Netflix.

I did start shopping for our seeds for this year's garden.  We're going to be buying them from High Mowing Organic Seeds just a few towns over from us in Wolcott.  They're a great local company that sells organic seeds at fair prices- we like them.  Now my only challenge is going to be to wait to start the seeds once they arrive...I'm ready but if we start them now we might have a full-fledged garden in our house before Spring even shows its lovely face- not a good idea when you've got cats and dogs just dying to find something new to dig in.  Although, maybe I'll start some herbs and hot peppers just to get my gardening fix...good idea, I think I'll spend my break shopping.

Sunday- not just the day before 'back to work'-day.

Lovingly Posted by Melissa Sunday, January 3, 2010 1 comments

Last Sunday, after our awesomely-fabulous trip to Lowes that only cost us the price of gas and a couple breakfast sandwiches, we stopped patting ourselves on the back and got to work on the guest bedroom.  My dear friend, Stefania, had been planning on coming up for New Years eve and I really wanted her to have a decent place to pass out after hours of fun.

Kyle got to work creating a new door frame for the closet door while I got to work cutting drywall for the closet.  Luckily, as we still had the old door frame in place I had my own entrance into the closet where I wouldn't be harrassing Kyle during his project.  As I worked my way around the little closet, drywalling, Kyle finished up the door frame and started wiring up the new and improved wall sconce we picked up earlier that morning.  No more bare bulbs for our lovely little closet-to-be, no sir.

It took some time to finish the drywall in the closet, with its little kneewall, outlet, switch, and light, there were alot of calculations to make to be sure everything fit correctly.  But we got it finished, and I think we can officially call it a closet now.  After a quick break for an early dinner and a couple glasses of wine (normally beer is our home-renovation requirement but you work with what you've got, right?) we headed back up to start on the rest of the walls.

On the section of ceiling above where the funky, narrow hallway used to be, we secured a piece of foamboard to help insulate.  I fastened it up with an unnecessary amount of drywall screws before moving on to attach a piece of sheetrock over it (also with a large quantity of drywall screws...this time it was necessary, though, as we were only going into plaster/lath so the more the merrier).

My arms seriously needed a break at this point.  Being just under 5'5" doesn't help reach those places way up high where drywall screws need to go.  So we headed downstairs to feed the impatient dogs before going out to the barn.  The girls were happy to see that their dinner was coming and they all ate happily as Kyle and I looked around for the eggs.  The chickens were getting wise to the fact that we're taking their eggs, and must not be appreciating it because we had to search extra-hard to find more than a few.  All in all we found a dozen eggs, all but four in these new hiding places.

It was a busy, arm-killing day, but were we done?  Heck no!  How do you think I could possible have a mirror for our bathroom and just leave it in its box?!  You know me better than that.  With a level, some screws, and some good eyeballing, it took literally five minutes to secure the new medicine cabinet over our sink.  And 'whoa nellie!' we had a mirror and more storage in our upstairs bathroom!  Not to mention the fact that I finally got a good look at myself and couldn't believe my husband could look at my bed-head without laughing his face off.  After all, the guys at Lowes don't care if I brush my hair on home-renovation day so why should I?

So, there you have it folks.  Over the course of two days we were able to get our washer and dryer hooked up, drywall up in the guest bedroom (all but two small sections), install a light in the closet and a medicine cabinet in our bathroom.  And I was finally able to get some clean clothes, not too soon, too, as we all know what Monday means.