Monday, October 26, 2009

We had a productive weekend this week. Saturday was dry and mild, so I mucked out our buck pen, put in fresh bedding, trimmed the boys' hooves, and cleaned off the buck. He is in rut right now so he is constantly peeing on his face and front legs. Supposedly this makes him more attractive to the does. But the urine irritates the skin on his legs really bad, so I try to spray him off every so often. It doesn't seem to improve the smell.

I also cleaned our milking/ hay and feed house and scrubbed the milking stand, and cleaned out the pig's house and put in fresh straw. Now I just need to finish cleaning the chicken house and get wood chips on the mucky paths.

I have been applying lime plaster on our exterior strawbale walls. Lime over layers of earthen plaster is a good idea for strawbales homes in our climate, as is provides excellent protection while still allowing the bales to "breathe". It is made from limestone which is heated and slaked into a powder form, then made into a putty, and when exposed to air it turns back into limestone, creating a hard plaster. I mix fine sand with lime putty, adding small amounts of chopped straw and wool to act as a binder. I moisten the earthen plaster and trowel on the lime paster. Lime is very caustic, due to it's high PH, so I need to wear gloves to prevent burns, and I should wear googles. This time of year is good for working with lime; it needs cooler, moister weather to keep the drying time slow to help the plaster set up hard. But when it gets too cold (below 45) I will need to move on to the interior walls. We have really large overhangs to protect our bales, but we do get some intense storms with driving rains, so it feels good to know that our bales will be well-protected.

Brian has been working hard on firewood. He has been cutting up downed trees on our property and we should have plenty to get us through the cold season. Of course he will probably keep stacking anyway, just to be prepared. Our house is well insulated with the bale walls, with lots of thermal mass in the floor, earthen plaster and interior cob wall, and we have a passive solar design, so thus far we haven't needed any additional heating. Also I think we tolerate cooler house temperatures than most people. It will be nice when we fire up the woodstove in earnest.

Brian has been clearing an area of rotten wood and stumps to get ready to plant berries, so he built an enormous bonfire. It was the biggest we have had on our property. By now, he is a fire building expert, and he made such a clean, hot fire it made virtually no smoke. The kids love fires, so they spent the day cautiously playing near it's warmth and gathering wood for it. While getting wood they found a salamander, which they found a safer home for.
On the housewifely end of things; I have been working hard on the kids' Halloween costumes, and trying to get some knitting in during the evenings. Brian has been plastering the ceiling, laying tile, and generally making a big mess of our living space. It is worth it though to see our house get closer to completion.

We made some new soap and are getting ready for the November and December markets. We hope to have many items that could work for holiday gifts; like our soap, salves, beeswax candles and more.

Monday, October 19, 2009


We went apple picking at a friend's orchard a few days ago. The kids ran around eating apples like they were the sweetest things ever, while Brian and I filled boxes. It looked like it would be rainy but it turned out to be the perfect fall afternoon.

Now the boxes are sitting on my counter with the salvaged tomatoes needing to be dealt with. We have already used a bunch by getting out our cider press and making sweet cider for the kids (heated up and spiced is their favorite) and started brewing hard cider for us. I still have lots for apple sauce, apple butter, apple jelly and to store for eating this winter. Right now my favorite treat is apple slices with peanut butter.

The first year we started picking at this orchard we filled the whole back of our truck with apples. Despite giving lots to friends, and canning applesauce, butter and apple rings in syrup, we still ended up having to compost many that spoiled before we could get to them. It made great compost though! So this year we tried to pick enough to have a good amount for fresh eating and storage, but not so much as to be overwhelming.
Today I went to a local park with a canopy of huge oak trees, and collected acorns for our pigs. They also are enjoying the wormy walnuts from some friends. They have been doing an amazing job tilling up our fields and eating weeds.

This weekend we did a lot of planting; Brian planted 6 fruit trees we picked up over the summer (2 apples, peach, plum, plucot, and cherry) and planted 8 blueberries. I planted a gooseberry and currant I started from cuttings, and an echinacea plant I started from seed. I still have lots of gooseberries, currants and a fig to plant. Fall is my favorite time for planting. The trees and shrubs seem to like the cooler temps and moisture.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Last week there was a coating of ice on the animals water dishes, and the hoses I use to water them were frozen. It thawed quickly, but it called my attention to how my routines will be changing as the temperatures drop. I will have to haul buckets of water, and bundle up for chores. The animals will be staying in their shelters more and we will have to deal with the mud when the ground isn't frozen.

Brian has been working hard with our preparations; chopping wood, caulking and painting, and clearing out the gardens. He planted lots of garlic last week, and our compost pile is overflowing with garden debris. I dug the last of our storage potatoes (yukon golds) and put them in cold storage. Brian picked every last tomato, so I have been making sauce for every meal and we have green ones in boxes to ripen slowly.

Today we are going to do our last big apple picking of the season, so we are excited for lots of apple pie, apple crumble, applesauce and just plain apples!

Monday, October 5, 2009

First Frost

This morning we woke up to our first frost. It was a light one that killed the pumpkin leaves, but left the tomato plants intact. We should get some harder frosts this week, so the next few days will be spent harvesting like crazy, and figuring out what to cover. Most of our winter crops are hardy, but our tender lettuces will need some protection. It is sad to lose all the summer plants, but it feels good to feel like we will get a break from weeding and other constant garden chores.
Brian is getting serious about stacking firewood and I have gotten out extra blankets and warmer clothes for the kids. We are getting serious about preparing for winter.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Home as a Workshop

When we designed our home, we put an emphasis on work spaces. Downstairs, our kitchen has big counters that take up almost half of the living area. The other half has our dining table, a piano, and our woodstove. The idea was that we spend a lot of time in the kitchen area; cooking, canning, brewing, etc, and we spent a lot less time hanging out in a living room-type area. Outside we built large overhanging porches to protect our strawbale walls, that also provide covered outdoor work spaces. Right now I have several lengths of clothesline under one porch, and Brian has stacked dry wall sheets and bags of organic fertilizer.

We also have numerous projects constantly going on; I have my knitting projects, sauerkraut fermenting in crocks, beer brewing, fruit to be canned, herbs to be dried, Brian's tools, musical instruments and sheet music, bread rising, kid's toys and homeschool materials, tile to be laid, etc. Add to this all the equipment we use to do all this stuff: grain grinders, cream separator, cider press, canners, etc and things can get pretty busy in the house.

When we prepare for market day, every inch of space downstairs seems to be covered with veggies to be washed, bagged and refrigerated, fruit to be boxed, honey to be put in jars and labeled, boxes of soap and all the crates and baskets to hold it all. I definitely start dreaming about a barn with food washing sink and walk-in fridge, but this way I can watch the kids and make dinner while we get ready.

Today is the first of our monthly Saturday markets inside Wellspring. We will be there the first Saturday of November and December. We should get our first frost this month, which will end the tomatoes, cucumbers, summer squash and other non-hardy vegetables, but we should have a good amount of hardy greens like kale, mache and cabbage, some root crops, and lettuce and chard grown under cover.

We try to eat as seasonally as possible; so in the spring we eat lots of salads, in the summer we eat our fill of cucumber and tomato salad, and eat tons of steamed green beans and zucchini. By the fall we are ready to eat pounds of kale. I love it sauteed in olive oil with garlic and tamari sauce, or chopped up in soups.

The kids had colds this week so I made lots of soup. One of them was made with all our own crops; roma tomatoes, lots of onions and garlic, beets, carrots, kale, soup beans and herbs. The only thing in it not made by us was some sea salt!