Friday, January 2, 2015

Happy New Year 2015!

I love our Christmas and New Year's break because it gives us time to celebrate, time to relax, and time to take inventory of life - the past, the present, and the future, or at least hopes and direction on what we want our future to be. I feel like this past year was a deep breath to prepare for our future home...we had our share of projects, but there is so much to do to make our home what we want it to be. Things that did happen in 2014:

We bought our pellet stove and had it installed! This old house is drafty and cold, but our stove keeps our parlor and living room the warmest, and gives us a toasty place to warm up in when winter is its coldest. This is now our primary heat source and, so far this year, our only heat source.

We've had some animals give birth and some animals pass. We lost Steve our sheep and Josie our alpaca, and Ollie the fall prior. We sold some of our non-producing goats to a land owner for clearing brush, a life I'm sure they will enjoy. So we currently have Jester (sheep), Blossom (alpaca), Mabel, Flora, and Apple (dairy goats); Itty and Frankie (angora goats), as well as our chickens and turkeys. Our plans are to add a sheep and hopefully have a better year with dairy so we can milk again and produce milk products. We also want to add layer chicks and, of course, meat birds.

We worked four new hives last year to replace our lost hives of 2013, which turned into 3 hives at the end of summer, and finally down to one hopefully healthy hive as of this writing (knock on wood) due to two freak die offs. We did get more honey in 2014, enough to sell a few jars! We'd be extremely happy to have a hive make it through the winter, and our plans are to add hives and hopefully catch a few swarms!

We started some remodel work on our house: ripped out carpet, removed some wallpaper, and sanded down some woodwork. There is so much to do - work that gets done when we have time and money to do so. We plan to refinish the living room and parlor woodwork, and then we can paint and refinish the floors before (or maybe during) starting on the rest of the house!

We placed some raised beds with terraces along the driveway in the front. Our gardens did alright but the weeds were a constant battle. Every year our gardening footprint grows and we get a little bit better :)

And now on to our/my hopes for 2015!
Finish the barn! Finish the siding, paint, and fix up the inside pen walls, feeders, and doors.
Redo the coop! Remodel or rebuilt our coop to house turkeys, layers, meat chickens, and baby chicks. We need easy access, higher fences, and windows...
House...clean up the basement, remove unused wiring, fix old wiring, remodel rooms, anything and everything we can do to make our house more of a home!

Professionally, I hope to keep working on being a better teacher, and build up theme and project-based learning for the classroom and eventually maybe our farm school!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

How Does Your Garden Grow...

We finally planted more, nearly most, of the garden today, just before the rain came through in a downpour! If you look at the photo below, the top left portion of our garden is occupied by tomato plants, the only survivors of our seedling planting event earlier this year. Today we planted seeds. Cucumber, summer squash, winter squash, northern beans, kidney beans, pole beans, peas, watermelon, pumpkin, broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage! The areas are marked by flags, and we plan to rope off the garden with twine before our helpful neighbor decides to till our garden again (thanks, but no thanks, sir). We still have room for a couple rows of something near the bottom portion of the garden, which will hopefully happen this week. Kind of a late start, but here's hoping the harvest  will be bountiful! Stay tuned...
 We have a couple of garden additions this year! First, we built a strawberry bed (below) that contains ever bearing strawberries and June bearing strawberries. We mail ordered the plants and they were in pretty bad shape when we received them. Most of them are doing so much better now!
Another addition to our garden is our artichokes. We have three buckets in our front yard, and the plants are doing amazing! These are a first for us, and we're both very happy with the progress of these plants :) 


Monday, June 24, 2013

Could It Be Summer Already?, I guess it's been awhile since my last blog...Of course, it has been a busy year at home and at work, and it seems like writing gets set on the back burner, well, usually. So let me take this chance to update everyone on this year so far!


First of all, our farm is growing and progressing - moving forward every day. Even though it may not be as big, as fast as we would like, it is still moving along quite nicely and keeping us busy every day. Our dairy goats, Mabel and Flora each had two goats each this spring. Mabel had two girls, Ethel and Blanche, and Flora had a girl, Fauna, and a boy, Herb. The angoras each had a baby: Frankie's baby girl, Sweet Pea, and Itty Bitty's baby boy, Coffee. So far, we are keeping all of our goats while we figure out whether the angora/oberhasli mix will produce good fiber and, well, while we figure out what we're willing to feed! We still have our sheep, Steve and Jester, and our alpacas, Josie and Blossom, all of whom need sheared desperately in the recent heat of summer. Our scheduled shearer is apparently pretty busy, so we're at a point now of figuring how how much longer we're willing to wait to have this done. Our animals are beginning to show their discomfort, and we definitely don't want it to become a health issue. The boys all need their manhood put in check - Herb and Coffee will need banded soon, and we have had the talk with our vet about having the sheep, dare I say, castrated (wince). Our barn is still under construction, but we did turn our dairy goat pen into a double wide, giving up our feed storage for the comfort of our growing family.


Speaking of a growing family, our new animals this year are chickens and turkeys and bees! I'm trying to keep everything "big picture" for this post, so I won't get into too many details, but I will say that we did raise and process our meat birds, and have enjoyed eating a few (the rest are in the freezer). It isn't a fun process, but it is not the hardship I was expecting, and we plan on ordering our next meat birds soon. The processing of our meat chickens definitely helps to provide respect the food that we eat. Our six layer chickens are still growing, as are our turkeys (four), in their coop-in-progress and yard. Our two bee hives were started in May using nucs, so each began with five full frames of bees along with five of our empty frames per brooder box. One hive is doing awesome, and one is struggling and helping us learn how to take care of hive issues - more on that later.

 Work - I was fortunate to work two long-term substitute teaching jobs in the same school for last half of the school year - first, first grade, and ending the year in second grade. This was a great opportunity for me and led to...wait for recent hiring as a second grade teacher for this same school beginning in the fall! Whoot! This is so exciting for all of us here! A great school with a wonderful staff, and only ten to fifteen minutes away from home! We (Shelby and I) have already been preparing for the classroom, and soon my grade teaching group will be getting together to start preparing academics for the new school year. In the meantime, I am working this summer at the company that I worked for way back before we moved to Florida...the company where I started working when I got out of the Navy and where I worked when I started college to become a teacher. A weird experience, and definitely a brain switch from my teacher self to my techie self. Just weird. And reassurance that teaching is the career and passion for me. But I do appreciate the summer work and the opportunity to revisit my technical expertise and see old's nice to have that door open.


With that, I think I will end this post. This year has been busy and, as usual, our to-do list often exceeds the time that we have to do it all :) But we keep at it and get things done, always moving towards our goal of sustainability and living our dreams. With every animal we get and every tree and bush that we plant, and every goal that we achieve, our lives get a little more colorful and each of us grows as a person. It's an amazing life we have...for us, anyways - I would never proclaim it is the life for everyone, because we know that it is not. But for us, this life is pretty sweet!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Got Goat Milk? :: From Mabel the Milking Goat Blog

Some people have asked about the process of milking and the reasons why we switched to goat milk. The why is easy. We want to know where our food comes from. It's easier (and cheaper) to raise a goat than a cow and you need far less space. Fresh milk, properly handled tasted just like whole cow milk and it's easier to digest. I was worried about the milk tasting too "goaty" - but it really isn't. Again, IF IT IS HANDLED PROPERLY! We did notice that if we didn't get the milk cooled quickly enough, or weren't using the milk as quickly as we did take on a "goaty-like" we take actions to counteract that. We put ice in the milk bucket, while we are milking. We clean the udders/teats both before and after milking. We strain the milk several times. We put the milk in the freezer, in an ice bucket for an hour to get it nice and cold before putting it in the fridge. I know that people have different processes - but this is what we do...not necessarily saying we are 100% correct...OH! and we have chosen to drink our milk raw, meaning that we do not pasteurize the milk prior to drinking.
Milking takes about 15 minutes, twice a day...and it's really relaxing, therapeutic...not going to lie though, some times the last thing you want to do, when you are nice and clean and in your PJs, is to go out and milk a goat that wants to pee and poo on the milking stand and kick at the bucket from time to time.
Aww - I wish this turned out better. Mabel is showing us what she thinks of milking.
Say cheese Mabel
Udder wash on the right - we wash her udder with a mix of water, apple cider vinegar, tea tree oil, lavender, and rosemary...she she's clean and smell delicious :-). We squirt the first couple squirts from each teat into the washcloth, to make sure we don't get anything we don't want in our milk. After milking, we dip her teats in teats in a mix of bleach and water (more water than bleach). The reason for the dip is because during milking that membrane stays open for a time being after and we want to make sure that no bacteria or flies get into the teat.
We take that mixture and put it on a washcloth and clean her udders and teats really well. This process helps remove debris, sanitize and clean remove the first couple squirts of milk. 
 Mabel in the stand...did you think I was joking about peeing on the stand? You can see the residue of where she decided to relieve herself, just as I was walking into her pen. Thanks Mabel :-) 
The proper way to squeeze off a teat. Think of a medical glove - we squeeze off the top of the teat, to trap the milk down in the bottom of the teat. Then, imagine playing the piano doing the teat - start squeezing the middle finger to thumb, then the ring finger, then the pinky finger. Once squeezed out, let go, re- the teat and pinch off and squeeze. Do not pull down, like they do in cartoons...this can hurt the goat and damage the udder.

Below is a video of me milking Miss Mabel - note the technique :-)

Here's another video, from another angle.

Dipping the teat...Mabel's (not) favorite part of the whole process.
Milking into the bucket - the ice packs help keep the milk cold as soon as it goes into the bucket.
We strain the milk through two layers of cheese cloth, resting in a stainer.
We strain the milk through another layer of cheese cloth, while we funnel it into the awesome Goat Milk bottles we have.
We ice the milk down in an ice bucket and put it in the freezer for an hour (don't forget to set the alarm...because you may or may not wake up in the morning to a busted glass bottle of frozen goat milk).
We love having Mabel - she gives us cheese, milk and eventually soap and perhaps lotion. Soon it will be time to breed Mabel and we'll have baby goats romping around the pasture next spring. Can't wait!!!

Step Right Up! :: From Mabel the Milking Goat Blog

My cousin and her family  were in town this weekend for our aunt's 75th birthday party (Happy Birthday, Aunt Rose Marie!), and we were lucky enough to have them, along with her brother/my cousin, visit us before they left the area. It is times like these that I think we get our perspective back for our life here...we have definitely had our ups and downs, but there's nothing like giving the tour to help remind ourselves of our accomplishes this year. In one year we've gone from apartment living to raising 2 alpacas, 2 dairy goats, 2 fiber goats, and 2 sheep. And a garden. And home ownership. There's so much to do that it will take years, but the look back on our achievements lets us see how far down the road we've traveled!

One of the fun activities we can offer guests is the opportunity to milk Mabel, and, of course, the reward of drinking our goat's milk (usually the milking before, fresh and cold). My cousin's whole family (her, her husband, and their two children) tried their hands at milking, and everyone tried and liked the milk :) The teacher me loves that we are able to offer this experience to people who do not normally harvest their milk. How awesome would it be to be able to teach about animals, milking, and cooking with that milk?? So, thank you, Mabel, for letting us share you today. We love sharing your gift, the gift that amazes us every day and makes us feel like successful farmers. You give us the milk that sustains our family, and you help spread the word about the joy of family farming. So cheers to you, my friend!

Mabel and the Rest of the Crew :: From Mabel the Milking Goat Blog

Here is a look at most of our animals :) Mabel (front left) with Flora, our baby Alpine, behind her and Ollie beside her. One of our Angoras, Frankie, is behind Ollie and Jester, one of our CVM sheep, is behind Flora. The alpacas in the rear are Josie (left) and Blossom (right). IttyBitty (the other Angora) and Steve, our other CVM, are in their pens resting. Itty broke her leg and must stay in with her cast, and Steve is just not feeling well.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Winter Wonderland at Marxwell's House

Snow AND Christmas decorations?! A first at our new house :)

Shelby and I staying warm and looking cute (well, Shelby is, anyways).

Ollie loving the snowy pasture!

I love how the snow traces our trees and bushes.