It’s harvest season. I’m overwhelmed with tomatoes. Bumper crops are coming in at a time when I don’t really have time to address them. What’s a homesteader to do? That’s today’s topic.
Welcome new listeners. Welcome back veteran homestead-loving regulars. Thanks for tuning in today. I appreciate you all so much. You make this podcast happen. I’m so excited to share with you what’s going on at the farm this week.
Our Virginia Homestead Life Updates
Well, we have to make a decision. It’s a tough decision. But sometimes that’s what happens on a homestead. This is the first year that we have milked Cloud. She is only ¾ Normande and that last quarter is angus. Because of those genetics, she does not produce near the amount of milk that the others do. Additionally, she kicks. I mean she really kicks. And she is very quick. Scott has received many injuries over the past few months.
She didn’t start out that way. When we started milking her, she was fine with it. No problems. Then her hoof started growing very long. She was limping a bit. We talked to the vet. It’s not so simple to trim a cow’s hoof. Long story short, she began kicking when Scott would get anywhere near her back leg on that side. Fine. It’s just as easy to work from the other side. That worked for a few weeks. But recently, she started kicking again. Now we are out of sides from which to work. The end result of the long hoof was that it actually broke off before we found anyone to take care of it. But I don’t want to try milking her on that side. She is just too skittish now.
We tried everything to make her more comfortable. Nothing worked. In fact, it only got worse and worse and worse. It has gotten so bad that we simply cannot milk her anymore. Scott cannot even get the inflations on her. At this point she has become useless as a producing part of our homestead. She will have to go. It won’t be right away, but the decision has been made. She has been with us since 2012.
Her future looks like this. She will have a calf in the spring. We have no intention of trying to milk her. We hope she has a heifer calf. That will at least add something. Anyway, her calf will stay with her, just as Luna did, until weaning.
Usually we bottle feed all of our calves. But what happened with her last year was she didn’t give birth until after we had dried up all of the other cows. Basically, she gave birth in our off season. We don’t milk in the winter. We knew she would not produce a lot of milk anyway. We just left her and Luna to do their thing with each other. Then when we started back up with milking in the spring, Luna was five months old and we weaned her. Cloud was put into the milking rotations. As I said, everything was fine in the beginning. She had no problem. But now . . . well every animal must add something to the homestead. We only have so much grass for the cows. They all must produce calves. But more importantly, they must produce milk. That means they need to comfortable being milked.
Well enough of that. What about the sheep?
We have our flock ram and several young boys running around together with the young bulls we are growing out. It was easy enough to move the bulls to another paddock, but the sheep just kept running in circles. The way we have pasture number five set up is with an area at the end like a funnel. The funnel leads to the corral area or to the travel lane which leads to the other fields. Every time Scott got them down the hill and headed in the right direction, they would stop just a few feet from going into the funnel. It’s quite wide. Maybe twelve feet or so. It’s not like they were cramped. And it’s quite open through there. But they were having none of it. They quickly circled around behind Scott and he had to start over. Go over the hill, round them up again, drive them up and over the hill and down the other side to the funnel. He did that about four times before giving up.
The next day, I tried to help. We moved two of the donkeys, Sweet Pea and Johnny, over there. The sheep will easily follow the donkeys. They are very aware that these are their protectors. And sure enough, we moved the donkeys over the hill, connected with the sheep and turned the whole crew around. The sheep immediately followed the donkeys. They followed them all the way over the hill and down the other side. Sweet Pea and Johnny immediately went into the funnel and into the travel lane. The sheep stopped dead, then began looking for an escape. I don’t know why they don’t want to go down that travel lane but I decided immediately that repeating this three or four more times was not what I wanted to do with my morning. We gave up and Scott began thinking up Plan C.
Plan C is currently in operation. There is a gate between paddock five and six. It hasn’t been used in several years. Scott opened it up and we hope they will move over to the next field on their own. We will check in a day or so. If they have not moved, we will again try to herd them. Perhaps it will work this time. That gate is nowhere near the travel lane funnel. But you can’t really tell what will happen. Sheep are notorious for running right by an open gate without seeing it.
Okay, now it’s time for quail talk. Are you ready? Tomorrow the eggs that are in the incubator go into lock down. Just a short refresher on what that means. I open the incubator, take all 80 of the eggs out of the automatic egg turner and lay them on the bottom of the incubator. The cover goes back on, not to be lifted until three days after the first chick hatches. Saturday is the day we expect to hear the first peeps. This never gets old. Every birth is an event on our homestead. With the cows, sheep and goats it happens once per year. But with the quail it happens quite a few times per year. Every couple of months we are starting a new batch of eggs.
I have to say one more thing about the quail. The current batch living in the penthouse are quite rambunctious. More so than the last two batches. It is consistent that the first few days that they are up there, every time I open the door, some of them try to jump out. They don’t know they are jumping out. They just jump and out the door they go. Sometimes they just walk off the edge. It’s comical. Once they jump out or fall out, I have to go catch them up and put them back in the cage.
With the first few batches, they stopped jumping out after four or five days. They learned about their new environment and where the “safe” places were located. I would open the cage and they would run there, straight to the back of the cage or into the box on the side. The current group has a few slow learners. Just yesterday, in the pouring rain, I opened the cage door and out jumped one of the hens. Well, it was one of those cases where she hopped forward like she was going to go around me, only there was no floor under her and she fell to the ground.
Even though it was raining, I went out without any rain gear. Scott had the rain poncho as he was bringing in the cows from the field. The rain would pour down and then lighten up for a while, then pour down again. I was out working with the quail during a time when it had lightened up. Only it started up again before I finished my tasks. I was going to just deal with it and quickly get back inside. But then the hen got out. Scott was right next door now under cover in the milking shed. I went over and confiscated the rain poncho and headed back out to catch up that hen.
Now she is missing in action. And being a quail, her coloring makes her blend in with the environment. I’m slogging around in the rain trying to scare her into moving. It took a bit of time but I finally located her, scooped her up and deposited her back into the safety of her cage. I hope she wasn’t too upset. The hens are reaching an age to start laying eggs. I expect to see the first one in the next few days. But stress like that can cause a hen to stop laying eggs for a few days. So likely for a first-time layer, it would delay laying eggs also. We shall see.
Okay, it’s harvest season. What do I mean by that? Haven’t I been harvesting veggies for quite a while? Well yes, I have. But prior to the “harvest season”, it was a batch of beans here, a batch of peas there. Lot’s of peppers on the next day and so on. It was all spread out.
The current situation is that the sunflowers needed to be harvested before the birds found them and before the seeds started falling out all over the ground. The green beans and crowder peas put on a bumper crop, the fall potatoes needed to planted and the tomatoes – the hundreds and hundreds of lovely tomatoes, steadily ripened on the vines.
I just canned 13 quarts of tomato juice. That was two 5-gallon buckets full of tomatoes. I talked about that last week. They literally got canned yesterday. I had them cored, cooked and run through the food mill within a day. Wait I take that back. I got them to the cooked stage on day one, put them in the fridge overnight and ran them through the food mill the next day. I stored the resulting juice in gallon jugs in the kitchen refrigerator. Five of them. I started with nearly five gallons of juice. I cooked it down yesterday to about three and a half gallons before getting it into the water bath canner. Those jars were in the fridge for a couple of days. The whole project took quite a while. Five or six days, I think. There were so many other things going on while that juice sat in the fridge to two days, maybe three. I lost track.
The sunflowers got harvested. Some of them anyway. Maybe a couple dozen. They are so gorgeous. I’m so pleased with this project done simply for the pleasure of it. It truly was and is fun. Today, Scott got the flower heads tied together in batches of three and hung them up to complete the drying process. There are a lot more out there waiting to be cut. That’s on the to-do list.
What else is on the to-do list? Picking green beans and crowder peas, again. I just canned eight quarts of green beans today from a bunch we picked a few days ago. We ate the crowder peas picked at the same time. These are bumper crops and not quite as big as earlier in the season. And I sold all of the earlier crops at the farmer’s market. I may get a few cans of crowder peas. We shall see. I fully expect to get another eight or ten jars of green beans canned. The Mexican bean beetles have finally arrived, but the beans are already set. I just need to go pick them before they get too big. And the crowder peas will dry on the vine if I wait too long. That’s for tomorrow.
The big task for tomorrow is picking the tomatoes. This is the overwhelming part. The heart of harvest season.
I finally got the juice canned from the first batch. Today I got the second batch – again, two 5-gallon buckets – of tomatoes ready for the food mill. They have been cored, cut into pieces and cooked for about 20 minutes. It required two 5-gallon stainless steel pots to get them to this stage. Those pots will go into the refrigerator tonight just as the previous batch did. I was surprised that I didn’t lose more of these tomatoes. Last week I talked about picking them just as they began to ripen. I put them on shelves to finish ripening. Two days or three days ago I needed to get started on the batch that I finally go to today. I knew some of them were rotting. I just didn’t have the time to get to them. Picking up meat from the processor. Two trips. Getting it ready for customers to pick up. Vending at the Farmer’s market. The sunflowers and so on. The days slip by so fast.
While all of this is going on, the tomatoes still out in the garden kept getting ripe. I haven’t had the time to pick them. They are ripening on the vine. This morning, I was out giving the calves their bottles and while they are joyfully sucking down their liquid nectar, I’m gazing over at the garden. And what do I see? Hundreds and hundreds of dark orange and red tomatoes. I’m going to estimate five 5-gallon buckets at least. I think I’m probably underestimating at this point. There could be twice that amount. We shall see tomorrow. They will be picked tomorrow. Well, at least some of them will be picked tomorrow. I’ll let you know what happens with that once I’ve gotten out there and made a dent in them.
So, tomorrow is another big day in harvest season. I’ll be picking green beans, crowder peas, and tomatoes. Some day those red beans and white beans will get picked. They are dried on the bush at this point. The only danger there is them getting wet enough and long enough that they begin to sprout in the pods. Maybe I can get them day after tomorrow. We shall see. Those beautiful sunflowers need to be cut again too.
That’s it for today’s podcast. I’ve got to get back on those tomatoes. They need to get to the refrigerator. Only I’ve got to change the settings on the big fridge. It’s really a freezer with a special temperature control. And right now, it has been converted into an actual freezer for the beef that passed through here from Saturday to today. There is still some meat in there that will get moved to another freezer and I will get my produce refrigerator back. The tomatoes in their stainless-steel pots will go in there overnight. Oh yeah, when will that project get completed? I don’t know really. But I do know it will get done.
Harvest season, when everything comes in at once, is a very busy time. But I just want to mention how rewarding it is for me. And it only lasts for a short time before we head into the relatively slower season of winter. A well-deserved break from the madness. The joy of growing, harvesting and preserving our own food is a huge reason why we do what we do here on the homestead. Yeah, it’s a lot of hard work. And it is so worth it.
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Thank you so much for stopping by the homestead and until next time, may God fill your life with grace and peace.
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