Category Archives: Homesteading

Soap Making Solo

Last week was soap making 101, taught to a class of one by a friend who has been making her own soap for years. My interest began a little more than a year ago and not wanting to get too involved in equipment until I was sure it was a homecraft to be enjoyed and appreciated by the family, only a simple mold, a few pounds of melt and pour soap base and a small assortment of essential oils not already in my supply were purchased. Several batches of that soap were made, once with daughter here to assist and learn. That was fun, but it just wasn’t quite there. The ingredients of the melt and pour were still a bit sketchy, not fully revealing what it contained and certainly not satisfying the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder part of my personality. Making soap from 100% pure oils and fats, lye, water and essential oils for scent was exactly where my goals were taking me. It was enchanting fun to carefully measure the ingredients, mixing them at just the right temperature, stirring until it resembled pudding, then pouring into the molds, covering with lids and towels to cocoon them in for 24 hours while the chemistry magic of turning oils, fats and lye, saponifying into soap. Fancy craft fair soap. After a full day, it is removed from the molds, cut into bars, and placed on a mat that allows air to circulate around the bars until they are fully cured, in about a month. No, it isn’t instant gratification, but the process and the anticipation have me hooked.
From my lesson, last week, I did get a couple pounds of soap. We did two different 6 pound batches, mostly dedicated for her daughter to sell at a fall craft fair. I understand now why it is so expensive at the fairs and at the Farmer’s Market, but the satisfaction just isn’t there when it is purchased. The morning lesson was fun, educational, and having someone with me both made it social and alleviated my anxiety about trying it myself. No one is perfect and my personality has it’s flaws, usually well hidden, but there. The OCD has abated or I’ve learned to control it more as I have aged, but the anxiety at trying new ventures has gotten worse. It is perhaps that I struggle with these issues that I do tackle new things, often on my own, having taught myself to knit, spin, make baskets, pressure can, make jam and now soap, and taking horseback riding lessons.
Today was the solo attempt, making a special soap for eldest son and hubby.
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Tomorrow the two molds will be uncovered, unmolded and we’ll see how the solo venture turned out.

Where is the color?

This is often a favored season. Cooling temperatures, vivid leaf changes, the start of the holiday season. This year just isn’t right. The temperatures are cooling, 40s and 50s at night, but still reaching mid to upper 70s during the day, but the foliage isn’t doing it’s part. Instead of vivid colors, the leaves are browning and dropping from the trees.

The large maple that is usually the first to show bright gold and orange is barren without ever turning. This year was unusually wet after two years of dry conditions. Perhaps that stressed the trees. Hopefully it doesn’t mean that huge tree on the edge of our woods is dying. Under that tree is where we camped the first summer we owned the property. It provided shade for our brand new 9 week old grandson, our first. It sheltered our tents and picnic table as we met with a soil scientist for the perk test and interviewed several well drillers to get water for our planned home. We were sitting under that tree when we met our first neighbor as he and his son came down the tractor road to get his half of the hay that had been mowed with his equipment by his cousin. That tree has been the focus of many photographs from blogposts.
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In spite of the government shutdown, I will venture up on the Blue Ridge Parkway in route to Meadows of Dan on Saturday, to visit a friend and to purchase some corn meal, winter squash, and Ashe County cheese. As the elevation is slightly higher than here, perhaps, there will be at least a glimpse of fall color.

A Week on the Farm – September 27, 2013

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Getting yarn dyed especially for me to match a hat I designed, now I need to design the scarf to go with it.

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Learning cold process soap making with a friend. Now I can do it myself, but it is much more fun making it with a friend.

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Mowing the 30 acres for fall. There are still 4 or 5 to do and a gorgeous weekend to get it done.

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An end of week harvest, more beans for dinner and the freezer, the first two heads of broccoli also for dinner and one for the freezer, tomatoes for the freezer. A dinner that came entirely from our garden except for the ground beef from the farmer’s market.

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A daily 6 to 8 eggs from the flock, but oddly, they will line up to use the same nesting box when there are 6 from which to choose, occasionally one will use a different box, but not often.

Life is good on our mountain farm.

Homesteading Fun Day

     We are in the midst of mowing our hay fields for winter.  The summer rains have produced very thick grass and the mowing seems to be taking longer than usual.
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     The chicken project is yielding 6 to 8 eggs per day, with one pullet still not producing.  I thought that number of birds would produce an excessive number of eggs, but find with the availability of fresh from the nest eggs, that we are using many more than when they came from the grocery or farmer’s market.  One dozen is dedicated each week to one of our farmer neighbors who is always willing to help us when we need it and any other extras are gladly purchased by friends with whom I knit or spin. The meat chicks continue to grow at an alarming rate. The breed grows so quickly that some of them are already having difficulty supporting their own weight and they have 2 1/2 more weeks before they go to freezer camp. I have decided that I would rather grow a heritage breed, maybe a dual purpose breed that will produce eggs and later meat, even if they take longer to mature, but will have the sense to get up on perches out of the weather.

     Today, one of those friends, invited me to have a cold process soap lesson.  I made two six pound batches of soap under her supervision and now feel confident to make my next batch of soap by this process instead of the melt and pour process that I had originally learned.  It is so great to know exactly what goes into the products that we use for our personal use and for the household cleansing.  From these two batches, she sent me home with two molds of curing soap.  The rest of the batches will go to her daughter for a craft fair or for her personal use.

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     The day ended, knitting with the group of friends that meet on Wednesday nights at a local coffee shop for some social time, dinner, and knitting.

     Each newly learned skill brings us one step closer to independence.

     Life is good on our mountain farm.

Farm and Fun

After our Horsemaster’s Club ride yesterday, we both arose sore, facing a 10 a.m. lesson. A biscuit and newspaper in town to fuel our bodies and minds, we arrived a bit early, knowing which horses we were riding today and mine being Daisy that I rode yesterday, in the top field, I dropped off hubby at the arena, grabbed a halter and rope and drove to the top field to get her. Yesterday, she was at the top edge of that very steep field, today since I was at the top, she was at the bottom, requiring a scramble down the slope to get her. The roan in the paddock with her wanted to be my friend today and tried to put her head in the halter, then followed me like a puppy as I led Daisy out. Our instructor arrived and we worked on some skills, both complaining of being sore, so she went and got a horse and tacked up and we took our first trail ride. Our first ride out of the confines of the huge enclosed and roofed arena. It was so much fun and once at the top of their property, realized that we could see the power tower that is closest to our house. As the crow flies, we couldn’t have been more than a mile from home.
A few errands to get chicken feed and we arrived home to farm work. As it is fall, the locals are either doing a fall haying, in some cases, their only haying this year due to the summer rain, or as we do, mowing the now very tall grass down for the winter. It will make better spring hay. Today was the day we began to mow our fields. This is always bitter sweet as we will now be able to walk our property, we will be able to see the deer and turkey, but the mowing takes out thousands of white Queen Anne’s Lace, Daisies, and clover; purple thistle and red clover; golden flowers of the hated stickweed and goldenrod; and the cornflower blue of Chickory. The tall seed heads of the grasses standing above the tops of the tall rear wheels of the tractor.
A dinner break of a homemade pizza with tomatoes, basil, peppers and onions from our garden, hot Italian sausage from the Farmer’s market and a couple of lumps of fresh mozarella. It was delicious.
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After dinner, some more mowing as the sun deepened the shadows as the sun dropped below the west ridge, leaving the eastern ridges still glowing from the setting sun.
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Life is good on our mountain farm.

A Week On the Farm – September 20, 2013

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Fall harvesting

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Pasta sauce for the freezer

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Free ranging and learning that my best layers are the Red Stars, not the heritage breeds. Hmmmm.

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Doggie walks off the farm

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Wild Asters

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and Bee Balm

The week has been cool and gray with more rain tonight and tomorrow. A horseback ride on a different horse, just reminded me how little I know, I guess I had gotten comfortable or complacent riding the same well schooled gelding all the time. Some doggie walks and another session with the doggie behaviorist, still trying to get the big guy comfortable again with strange dogs. He loves people and cats, but not so much, new dogs.

Life continues to be good on our mountain farm.

Fall Bounty

     Today dawned quite chilly, only 43f , gray and again foggy.  The sun peeked out briefly and it had risen to the low 60’s with another 40 something night expected.  We will awaken to a frost soon, within the next couple of weeks.  The stinky young meat chicks seem to be handling the chilly nights, still benefitting from the heat lamp and partially covered chicken tractor.  This breed will not go up on the perches, they huddle on the ground, so the partial cover will likely remain even after the heat lamp is removed, just to provide them some protection from wind and rain.

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     In spite of the very cool nights, the fall planting of bush beans is providing and still blooming and hopefully will continue to do so until the frost.  The only remaining tomato plant is a volunteer of a heritage variety of plum tomato that I planted last year.  It came up just outside the bed where they were planted, a bed that is now the grape bed.  It is providing me with a couple of hefty sized plum tomatoes every couple of days, which I accumulate until there are sufficient numbers to peel and freeze.  

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Today’s harvest, beans, a few tomatoes and 7 eggs.

     Tonight we will feast on fresh pasta from the farmer’s market, spicy Italian Sausages, also from the farmer’s market, and a big pot of homemade sauce, entirely from our garden harvest.  The onions, garlic, peppers, tomatoes, and herbs picked right out the side of the yard in the farm garden or from herb pots on the back deck.  There will be plenty to enjoy and enough to freeze at least a couple more meals worth for our enjoyment later in the season.

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     A handful of those fresh beans, sauteed with olive oil and garlic and we will feast like royalty.

Life is good on our mountain farm.

Fall is upon us

     Though officially still a few days away, fall has come to the mountains.  After a cool, rainy summer, we have had a dry spell of several weeks, today is chilly and foggy with a slight chance of afternoon showers as another front moves through.  It is unlikely that the colors will be stunning this year.  After two years of dry conditions and the stress of too much water this year, the trees that normally color first are browning and dropping their leaves instead

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There are hints of color change, the emerald greens of summer are now dull, hints of rust and reds appearing.
The weather lore is that the morning fogs we have been experiencing for several weeks portend early and heavy snow. Last autumn, we had a school closing snow in October. Hopefully that won’t be the case this year since I went to the effort of putting in a fall garden. We have only lived in the mountains for 8 years and I have noticed that none of our farmer neighbors put in fall gardens. As I was pulling spent summer plants, weeding beds and dumping the weeds in the chicken pen, I wondered if by now, they are just tired of their gardens, or if by experience, they know that the weather will win. Most of them don’t work to keep the weeds at bay after their plants are established. They till it all in come spring, or they put down huge sheets of black plastic, punch holes in it and plant through the holes. I don’t want my food growing in beds that have plastic leeching into them. I will continue to weed, mulch and hope for the best. Perhaps, one of the huge round bales of hay should be spread around the trees in the orchard and over the fallow beds and aisles soon.

A Week On the Farm – September 13,2013

As the week and the summer draw to a close, the fall garden is beginning to take off as the summer garden is almost gone. Today, we picked our first batch of fall bush beans and enjoyed them for dinner while preparing 8 more meals of them for the freezer to enjoy this winter when the days are cold and the snow falls.
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The tomato plants are all brown, the last of the tomatoes ripening or being attacked by grasshoppers and stinkbugs. The only ones left are small yellow, orange plum and Roma tomatoes. The volunteer that is sprawled through the grape bed, is producing the best crop right now.
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The potato growing experiment was less than successful. We tried growing them in half barrels putting a couple inches of compost in the bottom, planting the seed potatoes and then adding more compost as the tops grew a few inches. We were hoping for a couple of barrels full of nice potatoes, but only got about 10 lbs. They are tasty though, we had some mashed with dinner tonight.
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Today, for the first time, the hens produced 8 eggs. That leaves only one who still hasn’t figured out how to lay an egg.
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The freezer, in spite of the cool wet summer, is beginning to look like it will hold us through the winter months. If the beans continue to produce, the peas make it to production size, the cabbages and broccoli are heading nicely, the chard is developing this time, we will be able to put more away and enjoy some more fresh produce. Today only reached the low 70’s and it is going into the 40’s tonight. The weather “prognosticators” are threatening us with an early and snowy winter, I hope they are wrong for a while.
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The 4 1/2 week old meat chicks are tightly snugged in the chicken tractor with a tarp covering most of it and a heat lamp on to help them through the cold night.
On the craft front, our daughter in law asked me to make two Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle hats for two of our grandchildren as part of their Halloween costumes. One of the hats is almost finished, pictures will follow next week once they are finished.
Life is good on our mountain farm.