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Farm Crawl 2014 Preparations

Farm Crawl signOn Monday, January 13, the owners of five farms gathered to begin preparations for the 3rd Annual Livingston County Farm Crawl.  The date has yet to be determined, so we will keep you posted.  The farms participating this year are:  M2A Farm, Farmer in Odell, Cherokee Winds, Eden’s Harvest and Antiquity Oaks.  These are the same five farms that participated in 2013.

We are all looking for way to improve the event for all who come.  We wish for the attendees to have an enjoyable time at each location.  We’ll keep you up-to-date as time goes on!


The Farm Crawl is fast approaching and my website is still not right.  I can’t seem to get the slideshow on the home page to work at all.  Sometimes it seems ok, other times I lose the picture, and still other times I have half a picture.  The main text on that page is partly cut off by the pictures on the right.  I never could get the store to work properly, so I dropped that and still have to have customers call or email to place an order.  I have so much to do to prepare for the crawl, that this website is just going to have to wait for my help.  So, please continue to be patient with me.  We’re still here – we’re just not terribly website building-literate!   So, here’s a peaceful photo of the sunrise I took one day last week when I was walking the dogs.  Maybe looking at it will help me relax about the website issues.  Sunrise

Seasonal Eating

Chopped chard, red pepper and red onion

Chopped chard, red pepper and red onion

In the spring, in the midst of the craziness of May (one son’s college graduation in another state, and another son’s wedding 3 weeks later), I had this idea of blogging weekly on the topic of seasonal eating.  Then next year focusing on eating locally.  Then, if I’m really ambitious, in the third year moving to eating mostly what we produce on our place.  I can’t completely separate those because what we produce ourselves, as well as food that is grown locally, is also seasonal by default.  But not everyone grows a garden or raises chickens and I want this to help everyone think more about eating seasonally.  The pictures on here are from tonight’s dinner.  At the end I’ll tell you what it is.

Onion, pepper and chard stalks cooking

Onion, pepper and chard stalks cooking

With our 21st century American grocery stores, we don’t really know what seasonal eating even is.  Everything is available all the time, or most of the time.  There are a few exceptions.  One is sweet corn.  Because of shipping long distances it is available for an extended time, but for most of the year you cannot get fresh sweet corn.  You must buy it canned or frozen, but it’s still available.  A few exceptions are some tropical fruits.  I can’t always buy an avocado or kiwi.  Maybe those of you in much more highly populated areas can, but in our area we can’t.

Chopped chard leaves

Chopped chard leaves

Some of you may be thinking, “So what’s the big deal with eating seasonally?”  The main reason to do it is to save money.  Food in season is a lot cheaper.  I can generally buy fresh pineapples year-round but I can tell when it’s in season (wherever it’s grown) because the price goes down to around $1.50, and sometimes it’s as low as 99 cents.  When it’s not in season it’s as high as $3 or more, and they are also usually smaller out of season and bigger in season.  So when it’s in season it’s really a lot cheaper because you get a bigger pineapple for a lower price!  Another good example comes from my son’s wedding in May.  I was making their wedding cake.  The bride doesn’t like regular cake so I was trying to figure out what to make.  It wouldn’t be fair for the bride to not want to eat her own wedding cake!  Then I found out she likes cheesecake.  So I made cheesecake covered with strawberries.  I was concerned with not getting good berries – I needed them to be relatively close in size and shape, plus I needed them to be ripe and not spoil quickly.  But, fortunately, the wedding was May 25 – PRIME strawberry season!  BIG packages were at the store for very little money, and they were in excellent condition, perfectly ripe and pretty uniform in size.   If their wedding had been in October, it would have cost a lot more money and there would probably have been a lot more wasted berries due to spoilage.  Another reason is freshness and increased vitamins and minerals.  Food in season is more likely to be closer to local, which means it wasn’t picked unripe and shipped hundreds or thousands of miles to the store.  Obviously pineapple isn’t a locally-grown food for and IL resident, though.  But the strawberries were grown closer to home.

Adding in cooked garbanzo beans and chard leaves

Adding in cooked garbanzo beans and chard leaves

So this is my challenge to myself – to do my best to buy food for my family that is in season.  That means that sometimes we won’t be eating something we might really want, even though it’s sitting on the store shelf.  We’ll just wait for the right season when it’s cheaper.  There’s always something in season.  I think it will be fun and help us get out of the routine of eating the same kinds of food all year.  Buy what’s in season and look up new recipes to use them.  I also want to use those times to buy a little more than usual and can or freeze the extras so we can eat it out of season – at the same price as in-season.  For example, blueberry season is upon us.  I’ll be buying a lot of them and freezing them for use in my smoothies over the course of the year.

Salt, spices and lemon

Salt, spices and lemon


My plan is to blog once a week about what we’ve eaten and highlight the seasonal items.  And in so doing, encourage you to start to think about eating seasonally yourself!  Tonight our seasonal item was Swiss chard.  Our garden got a late start and so far we’ve had lettuce and spinach.  Even the peas aren’t ready yet.  But kale and chard are doing well now.  A few days ago I took out a bag of garbanzo beans from the freezer.  I’d cooked a bunch of them a couple of months ago.  We used some that night and the rest were divided into several freezer bags to be used in other meals later.  So this is what I did…  I chopped up a red onion and a red pepper and the stalks of the chard.  Those were sauteed together in olive oil for 5-7 minutes.  Then I added the thawed beans and the chopped chard leaves.  I cooked that for about 5 more minutes until the leaves were wilted and the beans were warm.

The complete meal - Garbanzo chard saute with homemade whole wheat bread and butter

The complete meal – Garbanzo chard saute with homemade whole wheat bread and butter

Then I sprinkled on salt, pepper, chili powder, cumin and garlic powder.  Normally I’d have used fresh pressed garlic, but I ran out.  I mixed that up well over the heat, then removed the pan from the heat and squeezed the juice of one lemon over the whole thing.  I really enjoyed it!  And other than the complaint about the red pepper from my youngest child, everyone ate it.  They didn’t beg me to make it again, but I’m still working on getting them to learn to like a wider variety of foods :)

Chicken Tractors

Chicken tractor

Chicken tractor

Chicken tractor?  What is a chicken tractor?  I think most people who have done some homesteading or small-scale farming have heard of chicken tractors by now.  I think I’ve known about them for 10 years.  But for most other people they haven’t a clue.  Basically a chicken tractor is a smallish, portable chicken pen.  It allows you mimic free-ranging your chickens without the hassles of letting them free range.  Some that we experience are:  Chickens that decide the barn (or garage) is a better place to sleep, poop and lay eggs than their own building complete with roosts and nest boxes.  Holes in the middle of your yard where they have decided to dust themselves.  Holes in your tomatoes from chickens “tasting” them as they meander through the yard.  Despite these problems, we still tend to let our layers completely free-range throughout our yard because of a few benefits:  Serious reduction in feed costs.  Their pen doesn’t get too nasty and full of poop.  Health benefits for the chickens – not living in poop and being able to eat a natural diet full of plant material, seeds and bugs.  And, with the “bug” part, that means fewer bugs in our yard.

Inside the chicken tractor

Inside the chicken tractor

Several years ago, some smart people decided that movable pens are one way to get the benefits of free-ranging – clean ground, bugs, plants, fresh air – without the problems – chickens roosting everywhere and eating things you don’t want them to eat.  They had to come up with a catchy, short name, and the term “chicken tractor” was born.  It’s a portable, fully-enclosed “building”.  There are many ways to make them, but basically they are around 4′ x 8′, relatively lightweight, covered with chicken wire or netting, plus some kind of solid roof over part of it for shade and protection from rain – it may just be a tarp.  If  it’s for layers, then there is a nest box or 2.  Or 3.  It is usually moved daily to get the chickens on fresh ground.  That gets them out of their poop and gives them fresh greens and bugs.  Another benefit is the fertilizing of your lawn.

Like I said, we usually let our layers free-range.  Now and then we lock them up in their permanent pen for various reasons.  But when we raise meat birds, they usually spend their time in a stationary brooder – and that gets rather dirty after a couple of weeks.  It’s not healthy for the birds and the reason we are raising our own meat as much as possible is to eat animals we know are healthy.  We’ve considered chicken tractors for several years.  But, since we haven’t always raised them, it’s been put off a lot.  This year we decided to go for it.

Outside access for feeding the chickens in the tractor

Outside access for feeding the chickens in the tractor

Keith had made plans that required a lot of wood, and wheels because without wheels they would be too heavy to move.  And this won’t be successful if I can’t move them daily without help.  But after looking at a couple of videos on YouTube, he changed his mind and made most of it out of PVC pipe.  Only the bottom frame is wood.  He also chose to abandon the wheels because he believes it will now be light enough to just drag it.  We’ll see.  I haven’t had to move it yet, as we just put the chickens in last night.  They can be added if needed.  And instead of wire, he bought a woven plastic netting that’s been UV treated.  It’s extremely lightweight and will keep the chickens in.  Our only concern is that it probably won’t stop coyotes.  But then, neither would the brooder they were in, if the coyote was truly hungry.  So again – we’ll see.  We don’t often have coyotes showing up ON our property.  We’ll see.

He’s made one of them over the past 2 days and started the second one last evening.  It should be done today.  We bought 50 meat birds and want 25 in a tractor.  It will get a little tight for the last week or two, and we may need to move them twice a day, but it will still be a lot better than when they were in a permanent pen.  Plus we won’t have to keep buying straw for bedding.

As I’m writing this I can see the tractor out my window.  The peacocks are walking around it, checking it and the chicks out.  It’s rather amusing.  One has his small tail all up and spread out, like he’s trying to tell the chicks just who’s boss!

In 4-6 weeks these birds will be big enough to go in the freezer.  They are already 4 weeks old.  I don’t think we’ll get another batch done before fall, I’ll have to see if the hatchery has any available.  We don’t really like butchering when it’s cold.  But starting next year we could get probably 3 batches of 50 done in good weather and that should be enough chickens for us for the year :)

Andrew hugs a chicken in the chicken tractor

Andrew hugs a chicken in the chicken tractor

Andrew hugging one of the chicks

Andrew hugging one of the chicks

Christmas Time!

Announcing our 2012 Clearance Sale

Yesterday was a great day with family.  Talking, laughing, eating.  The leftovers are in the fridge and ready for lunch time.  And now most of us are preparing for Christmas.  Some have already started and are, as I write this, scouring the malls and stores looking for great deals.  Some, like me, would rather find my deals online where I can sit down and not wait in line :)  So, for those who would prefer that, we announce our annual clearance sale :)

All items are 10% – 20% off, except the herbal salve which is still available at the same very reasonably price.  I’ve seen similar products for $20 or more. Quantities of all items are limited.  I won’t be making more soap until spring.  I have a pretty good supply of lotion ready to go and some unscented lotion left that can be custom mixed, but not in all sizes because I don’t have a good variety of bottles.  I have a few sugar scrubs ready and eleven 8-oz jars available for custom mixing.  Ready-made lip balm is only available in root beer and black cherry, but I can make a small batch or two of another flavor, if there is enough demand for it.  A small batch makes about 23 tubes.  For the details, go to the Bath and Body Products page.  If you want anything not listed, email me and ask.
Unfortunately, we still haven’t gotten an online store up and running.  To place an order, you can email us at or “like” us on Facebook and send a private message.  You can pay through Paypal or send a personal check or USPS money order.  When sending a check, we’ll send your order after the check clears our bank, so if you want it quickly, send a USPS money or use paypal.  Then it will be shipped within 2 days of receipt of payment.  Our goal for 2013 is to get that store going for your convenience.

Have a great time shopping!

Farm Crawl – Just one week away!

I was needing to add a new post about the farm crawl.  Then Janet from Eden’s Harvest Farm sent a copy of what she is putting in our local paper to advertise it.  I decided that it was perfect, so I just pasted a copied it below.  (I know – I’m cheating.)  There’s only a week to go and SO much work to do and so many other things keep coming up!  At least we did get a little rain and it should make the weeds easier to pull.  But today there are errands to run and tomorrow is farmer’s market (which I haven’t been to in a month or more.)  But our church’s youth group will be here for a little while tomorrow to help get sticks picked up around the yard, and during the coming week weed patrol will be the main thing on the agenda – plus wrapping the last of the soap, mixing up some lotion and making the herbal salve (as soon as my oils arrive…)  So, anyway – here is that ad!

Brand-new pea chicks you'll be able to see!

Attend a FARM CRAWL on Saturday, August 18! What’s a Farm Crawl? It’s a chance for you to spend a day in the country visiting a variety of small, family farms on a single day. All of the farms are in the vicinity of Dwight, Blackstone, Odell and Cornell. You’ll be able to see a variety of livestock and buy locally grown products directly from the farmers who grow them! Visitors to various farms will be able to see alpacas, peafowl, chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, sheep, goats, cows, pigs, rabbits and even Patagonian maras! And of course, there will be friendly barn cats and livestock guardian dogs of various breeds!

Available for sale: Fresh, natural produce, including heirlooms, eggs, honey, alpaca fiber and roving, llama fiber, wool roving and raw wool, yarn, goat milk soap, lambskins, bath and body products, herbal products, clothing made with wool or alpaca, alpaca beans (manure plant fertilizer), potted plants and handmade crafts.

Pick up a “passport” from the first farm you visit, have it “punched” by all four farms, and drop it off at your last farm visit to be entered into a raffle. The winner will receive a gift valued at $50 consisting of products from all four farms. Lunch will also be available for purchase at Eden’s Harvest Farm from Noon to 3p.m. The Starlights 4-H Club will be selling food and drinks as a fund raiser for their club.

Important!! There is no charge for your visit. Please be aware that these are real working farms, and there are risks involved in any visit. By participating in a farm visit you accept those risks and agree not to hold the farms responsible for any injuries that may occur during your visit. The farms are not petting zoos or parks, so children must be supervised at all times. And as excited as the farmers are about meeting you and your family, you are asked to leave pets at home. The farms reserve the right to ask you to leave if the safety of guests or animals are at risk. Visit the farms from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, August 18, 2012.

The participating farms are M2A Farm/Dwight, Eden’s Harvest Farm/Blackstone, Farmer in Odell/Odell and Antiquity Oaks/Cornell. See complete details, pictures and map at

Death of an Apple Tree

Where the tree was. The remaining trunk is in that little clump of weeds just to the right of center.

Last night before going to bed I saw that there were severe thunderstorm warnings for our area, and even a tornado watch until midnight.  I went back out to the barn to close and secure the double doors to make sure our hay stayed dry.  At that time there was a lot of lightening to our west and north.  Not too far away – we could hear the thunder – but we got no rain.  That was a good thing because our oldest son had ridden his motorcycle to work and would be on his way home.  He works south of here and to the south the sky was almost clear.  He said the lightening had freaked him out a little as he drove home, but he arrived safely.  The storm continued to go away from us and at 10 we (well, Keith and I) went to bed.

After sleeping for a while, some new, closer thunder woke us up.  Then the wind picked up.  I went downstairs to make sure the windows were closed.  They were and I said goodnight to the oldest son who had been closing the windows before he went to bed.  I climbed in bed  and then decided to go back down and check the weather report on the computer.  I didn’t know what time it was, so I didn’t know if it was before or after the tornado watch was scheduled to end.  And even if it was after midnight, that didn’t mean that there wasn’t a new one.  I wanted to know if we should start gathering children and head for the basement.  As it turns out it was after 1:00, and there were no tornado watches or warnings in effect – just very high wind.  Up to 60 mph.  And possibly hail.  We looked at the radar picture and saw that the worst would be over in about 10 minutes and the big storm behind it was likely going to pass north of us, which it did.  And we never heard hail.  I commented that I was glad that I had NOT planted my tomatoes yet.  Keith commented that we’ll never find our garbage cans because our middle son hadn’t brought them back from the street yet.  I was thankful that I don’t have children that are woken up by storms and tried to get comfortable.  We mostly slept the rest of the night (no worse than any other night).

Apple tree trunk in the middle of weeds

At 7 I got up.  I realized that the peacock hadn’t been crowing on and off all night like usual.  That was a nice change.  Keith was already at work.  I went to the front door to let the dog out and saw that our trampoline was missing from it’s usual location.  I looked to the east and saw that it’s in the farmer’s field.  Not too far away, but far enough to be really annoying.  The hard part will be bringing it back without destroying his field, which I’m pretty sure he planted last week.  It’s going to be rather wet.  We’ll have to try hard to walk between rows, if we can tell where they are.  One trash can, at least, is in the field across the street.  Not bad.  I didn’t see the other one, but haven’t left the front door yet.  I’m sure it’s not too far, either.  Three of the youngest children were up.  Ben, the 6-year-old, went to the dining room window and exclaimed, “There’s a bush next to dad’s truck!”  A bush?  We have no bushes in that area that could be uprooted.  Just fruit trees.  With a minor sense of foreboding, I put on my shoes and went back to assess the damage in that section of the yard.  Just as I thought.  The “bush” is my largest, most productive apple tree.  The wind snapped the trunk about 6″ above the ground.  Quite cleanly, actually.  The empty space in the photo above where you can clearly see the barn…  Yesterday from that angle, you’d only see the barn roof.  I have one other equally mature tree, that’s a moderate producer when things work well.  I have two other new trees in the front yard, but they’re a few years from producing any fruit.  *sigh*  Oh, well, it could have been worse.  No tornado, no other damage except small branches down here and there.  But I am sad about losing that tree.  Oh, and the peacock?  He didn’t blow away.  He’s still in his tree and just now crowed.  I’m guesing the storms freaked him out a little bit too.

It’s Triplets for Petunia!

Right on her due date, Petunia had her 2nd, 3rd, and 4th kids!  Last year, her first year, she had only one kid, so this year I was expecting her to have twins, but she surprised me with 3.  All three are does, two are brown and one is black.  We went out to feed the goats and pigs their dinner and were looking more at Daisy, since I’ve been waiting 3 days for her kids.  Keith had thought he heard the little “maaaaa” from a kid, but there were none.  Then we both heard it coming from the other side of the barn, and there, tucked in a corner were three newborn kids – still a little wet.  So we helped dry them off, and moved in a heat lamp.  Everything looks good with them for now and we’ll check on them again in a little while.  We saw one of them nursing, but the other two were more interested in staying under the heat lamp.  I’d stay in there and try to help them along, but Petunia still isn’t terribly friendly with us and our presence is more of a hindrance than a help in that area.  Now we’re just waiting on Daisy & Lily…


No – I never took German in high school.  I took Spanish.  Below is a link to an article that I got through a website called Farm Dreams.  I found it through my friend, Deborah Boehle.  I forget how, exactly, but I joined the site and have become a member on many of the forums which interest me.  This article was in the Gardening group.

Hugelkultur is a way to build a REALLY raised bed with logs covered with dirt.  The logs hold a lot of water from the spring rains and if it’s 6′ tall, you shouldn’t EVER have to water that bed all summer.  As time goes on and the logs decompose it fertilizes the bed.  There are several videos on this page showing how to build one of these beds and the results.  I’m totally fascinated!  One reason is that we have a bunch of huge trunks of poplar trees that “our” farmer cut down last summer in preparation for a new barn he built, and he let us have the trees for firewood.  The problem is that the logs are too big for our chain saw, so they’re just sitting in our yard killing grass and serving as playground equipment for our children.  I’ll have to show this to Keith and see what he thinks.  The only issue will be finding the dirt, unless we dig some out and partially bury the logs…

Take a look – maybe this is something you can do, too!

A Brief Review of Homegrown & Handmade

by Deborah Niemann, my friend and neighbor

I’ve known Deborah since shortly after she moved to the area.  Her family moved here about 3 1/2 years after we did and we met because we were both homeschooling families.  Her 3 children are basically the same ages as my oldest 3.  Her youngest daughter is the same age as my oldest and they hit it off pretty well and have spent many hours scouring their 32 acres and the area around our acre and-a-half.  Theirs is much more interesting!

I knew she was a journalist and in the past I’ve read some of the articles she’s had published about homeschooling.  I’ve always enjoyed her writing – it’s very personal – like she’s sitting here talking to me.  She’s also had a website and blog for her farm for years, which I follow, as well as a facebook page, once that became the new thing to do.

Not too long ago she was approached  by a woman from New Society Publishers and asked if she’d be willing to write a book on sustainable living, and she decided to give it a go.  The result of that, Homegrown and Handmade was released this fall (2011).  I finally got over to her house and bought a copy 2 weeks ago and just finished reading it.  Just as I expected, reading it was just like having her here in my living room.  I bought it for that reason.  Though I’ve been doing the same sort of thing for a couple of years longer than she has, she’s far more knowledgeable in many areas than I am, and call her on occasion to ask her questions – mostly about goats.  I figured if I have her book here, I might not have to bother her with phone calls as often!

I’ve found the book to be a great introduction to the basics of sustainable family living.  And not just for people who have 30 acres.  She points out that everyone – even apartment dwellers can do little things to provide some of their own food, fiber, soap, and maybe eggs.  I loved the introduction, which reminded me of some of the reasons we started this journey 13 years ago, and gave me a few more to continue.  It sometimes gets hard to go out into the cold to milk goats and I wonder why I don’t just buy it in the store…  Then she reminded me about the antibiotics, rBGH, and who knows what else, is probably in the milk at the store.  Not to mention the easier digestibility of goat milk, the enzymes that are in the raw milk, and the security of knowing WHERE it came from.

There are five main parts to the book.  Part one:  The Sustainable Garden.  Part two:  The Backyard Orchard.  Part three:  The Backyard Poultry Flock.  Part four:  The Home Dairy.  Part five:  The Home Fiber Flock.  Each section gives chapters on planning, managing and using the products you can raise.  She has side notes telling about what they’ve learned from mistakes they’ve made over the years, as well as notes from other people and why they’ve chosen this lifestyle.   She’s included recipes for using the produce from the garden and orchard, goat milk, eggs, meat and instructions on making things with the fiber from sheep, llamas, etc.

A lot of things in here I already knew, but I learned quite a few new things too that I hope to incorporate around here.  I wish I’d read it a couple of months ago, because I would have liked to have set up a hoop house for a winter garden, but it’s a little late now.  There’s always next year.  But I’m thinking of getting a tomato plant started in a pot soon.  One of her “I wish I had known…” sidebars hit home.  She told the story of how her goats got into her newly-planted orchard and they ate all but one tree.  Ours wasn’t quite so dramatic, but we did lose one apple tree because it was planted too close to our buck’s pen and he ate it.  We only had 3, so it was very sad.

I was surprised at how quickly I was done reading the book with just little snippets of time during lunch or breakfast over the course of 2 weeks.  It’s a very easy, yet informative, read!  If you have any desire to do something, no matter how small, to start providing for yourself even a little bit – get this book.  You’ll come away with several ideas to help you get started on this journey.