Raw Milk Cheese in Virginia

Today I’m going to review how to get raw milk cheese in Virginia via our herd share program. And, because I have lots of new listeners, I’m going to review our creamery project.

I do want to take a minute and say welcome to all the new listeners and welcome back to my veteran homestead loving regulars. Thank you so much for stopping by the FarmCast every week. I appreciate you all so much.

As always, there’s a lot going on and there is not nearly enough time in the day to get everything done. And as always, I love it. It’s so good to be alive.

Homestead Life Updates

We are finally getting a break from the heat. Rain has finally returned – at least for the time being. There is still quite a bit of summer left to go.

Herd Share Program

It has been a while since I talked about our Herd Share program. We offer you the opportunity to have your own part of our dairy herd. You too can experience what we are blessed with by virtue of operating our homestead. I know all of you cannot possibly do what we are doing, but you’d like to have the benefit of fresh dairy products from pasture raised cows.

The way you obtain raw milk cheese in Virginia is to purchase part of the herd and then simply pay a monthly boarding and maintenance fee and we will take care of everything else for you. On a weekly basis, you come to the farm and pick up your fresh milk products. We have butter and cheese year-round. During the active milking season we also have fresh, raw A2A2 milk and Yogurt.

We guarantee fresh milk from the first Saturday in May through the last Saturday in October. Sometimes we have milk earlier and sometimes it lasts longer into November. As I said earlier cheese and butter are available year-round. We have many members who are only in it for the cheese and butter.

If you are not familiar with A2A2 milk, I have a podcast on that topic titled, “What is A2A2 Milk?”. Link in the show notes. Or just go to our website (give web address), click or tap the podcast menu item and browse for it. It’s a way down the page as it was well over a year ago that I did that podcast.

The Area We Serve

For those of you out there listening to the sound of my voice, if you are in the southern/southwestern Virginia area or northern North Carolina area, we are here for you. It is about an hour trip from Winston-Salem, North Carolina and perhaps an hour and a half from Greensboro. In Virginia, Martinsville, Hillsville, and Galax are all less than an hour away. Wytheville is slightly over an hour. It takes us an hour and 10 minutes to get to the downtown Farmer’s Market. Roanoke is 2 hours from us. Floyd, Christiansburg and Blacksburg are somewhere in between.

Herd Share Pickups

We are open for on-farm sales and herd share pickups: Saturdays 3 – 5pm and Tuesdays 10am – 12pm. Come on out and get yourself some homestead sunshine. Take a look at how our animals are raised. We’ll answer all of your questions and make sure you get the best grass fed and finished beef, lamb and goat on the market today. Tuesdays 10am – 12 pm and Saturdays 3 – 5 pm. 

Creamery

For new listeners I want to go over what we are doing with our creamery. My husband, Scott, is single-handedly building our USDA inspected dairy facility. It is a monstrous task. He has been doing the physical work on it for three and a half years. Long before that he was drawing up the plans. He was born with a hammer in his hand so he is very skilled at doing these drawings. We had long discussions about what we needed to include. The dairy inspector has been involved every step of the way. Many hours went into the design before the first bit of ground was dug up for the foundation.

Once it is complete, we will be able to offer our raw milk cheeses to the general public. Right now, it is only available via our herd share program that I just talked about. The milk, butter and yogurt will only ever be available via herd share. Unless and until the laws change in Virginia.

There are many different sections to the creamery building project. There is a barn, a milking parlor, a milk storage room, a full bath, the cheese make room, two cheese caves, a commercial kitchen and a storefront where I will do business with all of you.

Barn

The farthest away from my back door is the barn and animal loafing area. This is where we will collect the cows for milking. It is covered and will keep the donkeys out of the rain and snow. There is also a small area on the other of a wall from the stanchion platform. That will be used for various other aspects of animal husbandry.

Milking Stanchions and Milking Parlor

From the loafing area, the cows walk up four short steps to get to the stanchions. This area is set up with metal bars that keep the cows together and at the perfect angle for milking. The cows walk into the stanchions and eat a little snack while we are milking them. We are standing below them where the floor of the milking parlor and the rest of the building is about 2 and a half feet lower than the elevated barn floor.

Let’s do a virtual tour of the rest of the building. You are currently standing on the floor of the milking parlor. It is open and breezy. The design is one we saw at another dairy near us. They got the idea from a trip to New Zealand. Most milking parlors are closed in, dark, and humid. Ours has a roof but no sides. The air freely circulates.

Imagine you were facing the cows in their stanchions. Now turn around and face the other way. The rest of the creamery is now in front of you.

Milk Room

Directly in front of you is the doorway to the milk room. This is where the milk is stored. There is a direct pipeline from the milking parlor to the milk room. Its main feature is a large stainless-steel bulk milk tank. Our tank will hold up to 80 gallons of milk. The milk must be cooled quickly and this is the piece of equipment that makes that happen. In accordance with USDA inspection rules, it must be emptied, cleaned, and sanitized at least every three days.

Directly to your left would be the wall of the large cheese cave. There is no access from this side, called the dirty side. To the far left is a utility room. It holds the washer and dryer and the pipeline milking system. That thing is really loud. I’m glad it will be behind closed doors in the utility room.  

Full Bath

You are still standing in the middle of the parlor floor. Directly to your right is a doorway to the clean side. Walking through the doorway, immediately on your right is a bathroom complete with shower. We will be able to come in dirty and sweaty from milking and take a quick shower and get into clean clothes before entering the “clean side”.

When you walk into this section the bathroom is on the right and in front of you is storage area for clean clothes, aprons, gloves, boots and so on that are used within the cheese make room. It is the ultimate in clean spaces. There are even pans of bleach water at various locations to keep the soles of boots clean and sanitized.

Cheese Make Room

Past the storage areas is the entrance to the cheese make room and a hard-right turn will lead to an entrance/exit door to the creamery on the right. We are going to enter the cheese make room. In here we find all of the tools and equipment used to make the cheese. A vat is the centerpiece. But there are lots of cheese forms or molds for shaping the curd. There are sinks and tables – all stainless steel. Shelves contain various sets of weight, measuring tools, and cleaning supplies. In the corner is the magnificent cheddar cheese press we special ordered from the Netherlands.

The floors have a tile with a special and very expensive grout that will hold up to the acid pH of the cheese whey. It empties out of the vat directly onto the floor and flows down to a floor drain in the corner.

The Cheese Caves

After entering the room, turn left and walk all the way across the room to the exit door. It leads to a common area between the cheese caves and the kitchen. Directly in front of you is the door to the small cheese cave. To the left is the door into the large cheese cave. To the right is an open doorway to the commercial kitchen area.

The raw milk cheese caves are heavily insulated rooms that will maintain specific temperatures and humidity. We are currently using the small cave to age the cheeses we are making for our herd share members. It is complete except for electricity. Scott has something rigged up that works quite well for the humidifier, a small lamp, the window air conditioner and Cool Bot. The Cool Bot is an electronic device that fools the air conditioner into thinking it is warmer than it actually is so the air conditioner will continue to run. Most won’t cool a room below 60 degrees. But with a Cool Bot we can get our temperature down to the low 50’s which is ideal for aging cheese. The small humidifier keeps the humidity well over 70% and sometimes as high as 83%. I’d like to get it to go higher. Still working on that detail.

The large cheese cave will be similarly equipped and has enough space to house an entire year’s worth of cheese. Some of our cheeses need at least 8 or 9 months to reach a decent maturity and will only get better with time.

Commercial Kitchen

Standing in that entry alcove, large cave on the left, small cave in front of you, turn right into the commercial kitchen. You can see yet another entrance/exit door. It’s not there yet, but you will eventually see a large stove to the left of the door and a triple sink to your left against that wall. Stainless steel tables will be in the middle of the room. Freezers and refrigerators will be lined along the wall opposite of the door. A window above the chest freezers will give visitors a view into the cheese make room.

Far to the right you will see the door to the storefront. And that is the last room in the building. Of course, it also has an entrance/exit door. This door is where you guys would enter the building to pick up product. Another window here that looks into the cheese make area.

When it is finally complete, we will have an open house for you all to come and see how it all turned out. Classes in cheesemaking and food preservation will also be a time where you all can see the final creation. And if you are a herd share owner, weekly and/or monthly visits bring you even more access to all of it.

That went a little longer than I originally intended but I get so excited when I’m talking about our creamery. I want everyone to know how wonderful this project is and what a wonderful job Scott is doing to bring our dreams to life.

How about some homestead updates on the animals, gardens and orchard.

Animals

All of the animals are doing well, even in the heat. The cows produce slightly less milk on really hot days, but for the most part they are doing a splendid job of producing milk and otherwise munching lazily on grass all day.

The calves are getting bigger every day. Luna’s eye is healed and it looks like she will have permanent scarring on her eyeball. We now have the flies under control and do not foresee any future issues with pink eye.

We are down to just two bulls being raised for meat. I called the meat processor today to get them scheduled. It will be October 2021 before they can be processed. There are still hiccups in the food supply chain due to the virus. It looks like it is going to take quite a while to get that flow back to normal. The overflow from the closure or reduction of service from large processing plants keeps overwhelming smaller, custom processing operations used by small farmers.   

The goats and sheep are also doing very, very well. I am pleased that we have had no issues with lambs this year. It is the first time in our history on this homestead that we have come this far without losing a single lamb. A 70% to 80% survival rate is much more common for us.

I noticed the coats on the donkeys are really glossy today. Probably a month ago they finally shed all of their winter coat. Quite often they roll in the dirt and dull their coats, but we had rain last night and they were particularly glossy this morning.

Garden

The heat has kept me busy watering the garden. I don’t know if I mentioned this in prior podcasts, but I hope to have drip irrigation in place next year. We keep improving our gardens each year and I think it is time for the automatic watering system to get going again. We had it working for a couple of years, but we have not reconstructed it since the entire garden was redesigned four years ago.

The peppers, tomatoes and sunflowers are the centerpieces of the garden at the moment. Many of the sunflowers have bloomed. They are gorgeous. The tomato plants are loaded with green tomatoes. I saw an orange one this morning I will have to go our there later and see if there are others. The peppers are producing well. Some of the peppers are smaller than I think they should be and I believe that is due to not enough fertilizing. I need to step up my game in that arena.

Well now that I think on it, the basil, oregano and thyme are also worth note. I took an oregano leaf to Scott the other day and let him smell it and identify it. Don’t you just love the smell of fresh basil and oregano? I’ll be drying some of that for use this winter.

Orchard

A lot of the blackberries are getting eaten by the birds. There is a ground hog hole in there also. He is probably taking advantage as well. Scott went out there with the chain saw and cut a path between the rows. I might have mentioned that last time. He started last week and just yesterday finished all of the rows. I can freely pick berries now. But there is still so much that needs to happen with cleaning up those rows of blackberries. Now that I have a clear path, I foresee the final clean up happening much later. In the fall or perhaps even in the winter.

The strawberries are completely overrun with weeds. I have a task on my calendar that says, “weed the strawberries”. It also says it is four weeks overdue. Do you have any idea how many weeds have taken over in four weeks? It’s a lot. There are far more weeds than strawberry plants. Looking on the bright side, the larger weeds are much easier to pull up all at once. And with just a little work, it makes a very big dent. Feeling you have accomplished something is very easy when you see the earth where previously it was covered in large green things with lots of stickers.

Final Thoughts

That’s it for today’s podcast. I hope you enjoyed the tour of the creamery. It’s good to review how far we have come every once in a while. If you looking for raw milk cheese in Virginia or nearby, I hope you’ll consider joining our herd share program. We make really fine cheese and our milk is rich, nutritious and, best of all, delicious. The butter I make is the best I have ever tasted and I have had other grass-fed raw milk butters. Mine is superb. You won’t find this kind of quality and flavor anywhere else.

If you enjoyed this podcast, don’t forget to subscribe via iTunes or your favorite podcast listening app. Also, please share this podcast with any of your friends or family who might be interested in this type of content.

Thank you so much for listening and until next time, may God fill your life with grace and peace.

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The Blackberry Jam Journey

Blackberry jam. That’s today’s topic. Seedless blackberry jam of course. I can’t abide those tiny seeds between my teeth. I’m also starting to preserve veggies from the garden. So much to talk about today.

But first, a shout out to you all. Thank you and welcome new listeners. I hope you’ll stick around, subscribe and share my podcasts. Welcome back veteran homestead-loving regulars.  I truly appreciate you taking time out of your day to listen to me.

There are tons of things going on at the farm this week. Let’s get to it.

Our Virginia Homestead Life Updates

Scott is still having to do so many other things. The creamery work is creeping along. After tomorrow that will change. Part of the reason he has less time on the creamery is the twice daily caring for the steer and bull that are going to processing.

Cows and Calves

Training the steer and bull to be comfortable with the trailer has been quite the job for Scott. I talked about the small corral he built to enclose them in close proximity with the trailer. They had to go into the trailer to get their hay. Twice a day Scott has been feeding them hay and filling their water. The space is quite small so they ate their ration and were ready for more when he showed up. He has been doing this for two weeks now. It was quite time consuming but it worked. They got very comfortable with the setup and would willingly go into the trailer to eat their hay within a short period of time. Cattle are such creatures of habit. They don’t like things that are different or new, but once they get used to things being a certain way, they just go on about their business.

As far as the girls go, I think we have finally completed the AI breeding. At least I hope so.

Fly control is working. Even the ag tech asked what we were doing and commented on how well it is working. It does have to be done twice a day, but that is easy for us because we are milking twice a day. Scott does it while the milking machine is running. Well, except for Cloud. She is so touchy about anything from her underbelly down. He can spray her back and sides easily enough, but as soon as he tries to spray lower, she starts kicking if the milking machine is hooked up to her.

Recently he tried it again while the milker was running. He had been spraying her either before or after the machine and she was okay with that. Something about being hooked up to the machine combined with the spray was upsetting to her. But he thought surely by now, she must have gotten used to the spraying and would tolerate it while the milking machine was running. Nope. She kicked and kicked and kicked. Of course, she kicked the inflations off. Scott was able to get the equipment out from under her feet before she destroyed it but it was a close call. So back to square one with her. Use the fly spray either before or after, but not during, the time that the machine is running.

Goats

Let’s talk about the intelligence of goats. Do they have any? They do actually. They are quite adept at escaping captivity – except for one specific circumstance. They can get their heads caught in the fence over and over again. Some have a hard time figuring out that it is unwise to put your head through there because your horns are going to get in the way of pulling your head back out. This morning, not one, not two, but three had to be rescued from their self-imposed imprisonment.

Sheep and Donkeys

Not much to say about the sheep. The lambs are healthy and growing. Moms are also doing well. The donkeys are doing their job well and keeping the predators away. We couldn’t ask for more.

Quail

There are 53 quail chicks in the brooder. They are a week and a half old and nearly fully feathered. They are doing great. This week I figured out how to save money and time cleaning up their mess with the food. When eating, they fling the food around. They literally put their head in the opening and start shaking it back and forth and spreading the grain all over the place. What I discovered quite by accident was that once the feeders got down to a certain level, the shape of the container prevented them from slinging it outside of the feeder.

The feeders are half gallon jars screwed onto a base. Ideally, you fill up the jar, screw on the lid, turn it over so the jar is upside down and the feed empties into the feeder tray. As they eat the food, more drops from the jar into the feeder tray. What I found out was that once the jar is empty, the feeder tray starts to get emptied. And as I said, the level is low enough that they can no longer strew the food all over the place. They still sling their heads back and forth but the food stays inside the feeder tray. It means I have to keep a closer check on their food, but the amount that is being wasted is nearing zero.

Before the change, I would fill up that half gallon jar and in a couple of days it would be nearly empty so I would refill it. That’s a lot of feed. The problem was that most of it was on the floor of the brooder being trampled and pooped on. It was quite a mess. Now, with my new system, they still make a mess because they are birds and they poop a lot and there are a lot of them. However, there is no longer a whole bunch of wasted feed mixed in with the poop. The jars are still there but they are empty. Instead of filling them up, I only put a little feed in the tray. It works. Yay. They were literally wasting at least four times what they were eating. Now the brooder doesn’t require as much changing of bedding and we don’t have to buy as much feed. It’s a great solution.

The previous batch of chicks can be considered grown at this point. They are a little over seven weeks old and I am getting 15 to 18 eggs daily from the penthouse. There are 50 birds up there and it is likely that 25 or so are hens. We could easily see those 15 to 18 eggs daily reach 25.

Garden

The garden is still going great guns. I have to water a lot. Sometimes we get afternoon thunderstorms but most days I have to get out there and give them some water.

A few of the tomatoes are starting to turn yellow. There are so many out there. It won’t be long now and they will start ripening by the gallons.

The sunflowers are blooming. Just in the last week or so, some of them have shot up to about 12 feet. It is interesting. For most of the time they were all relative close in height. But now there are lots of varying heights. But almost all are blooming. I’ll keep you posted on how that goes. I hope to have lots and lots of seeds from these flowers.

The peppers are coming on strong as well. They need to be fertilized to make bigger peppers but I’m okay with them being a little smaller. There are just so many. I’m trying to figure out where to set up the dehydrator. The one I have is pretty big. Last year I had it on my countertop in the kitchen. This year my countertops are full of milk cans and butter churn stuff. I may end up just putting it on the dining room table.

Some of the peppers I’m going to use in making pickled peppers. You know those great peppers that they have at Subway? I think those are pepperoncini. They are similar to the banana peppers that I have. I actually like banana peppers better than pepperoncini. Both peppers are mild and sweet, but the banana peppers are tangy where the pepperoncini are slightly bitter. So I’ll be slicing and canning some of those. I also plan on canning some of the jalapenos. I may even try my hand at a mixed hot pepper batch. The serrano peppers are coming along more slowly but there are a ton of them out there. I’m going to have so much fun with peppers.

Blackberry Patch

Now for the main topic of today. Blackberry jam. In order to have blackberry jam, I need to have some blackberries. Therein lies the problem. You know I’m always saying how much there is to do and so little time to do it. The blackberries canes have been neglected over the past couple of years. I already had too much blackberry jam and syrup that I didn’t worry about it. The birds and other animals were getting them all. I was okay with that. Unfortunately, the canes and vines need to be trimmed and cut back regularly because blackberries are very prolific.

The berries grow on the new growth and the old canes need to be removed regularly. Then there is the fact that the vines grow very fast and spread all over the place. We have the original plants all in nice rows and a trellis erected to keep them trained to the row. Well, that doesn’t work out so well if you don’t go out there and actually train them to the trellis.

There are vines out there that shot up from the ground and arched into the air well over my head. They are thumb thick. And you know they are not going to arch over the trellis just because it is there. They will do that sometimes, but they are just as likely to arch across to the next row. And not just on one side. No, no, no. This cane arches this way and that cane arches that way. Not only do the vines go across from one row to the next, but they also touched down in the middle of the rows. Rooting blackberry canes is really easy. Just stick them in the dirt. So everywhere they arched over and touched the ground, a new cane was born. It has become quite a jungle out there.

I was going to go out there with a pair of hedge trimmers and a couple of different pruning tools and work my way through the mess. However, Scott offered to use the chainsaw instead. I immediately took him up on that offer. We had already decided not to worry too much about making it pretty. We just needed to cut through the jungle so I could get to the berries. There are so many berries out there. But it was impossible to get to them. There were no actual rows left. So that was the first task. Re-establish the rows.

Scott took the chainsaw out there and cut a path between the rows. Well, he did most of the rows. There are still a few rows to go. But it was enough for me to get in there with a couple of buckets. I think I got enough for a batch of jelly. And now that the path is clear, I will be able to get more. There are still lots of red ones out there that will be ripening over the next couple of weeks. I think by mid-August they will have played out.

We will still need to get in there and clean it up. As I said, the old canes need to be removed. The ones that grew into the middle of the paths need to be cut all the way to the ground. Hopefully, we will keep those trimmed back from now on. Another issue that arose was the encroachment of wild blackberries. Wild blackberries have wicked thorns. Well some domestic ones do too. But we planted thornless blackberries. Now there are a bunch of wild blackberries mixed in with our thornless varieties. They are easy to spot. They will rip your clothes off. As I said, wicked thorns. Some of them are pretty big too.

In general, blackberries grow really well in our area. We use the goats to keep them under control in the pastures, but we can’t use the goats in the orchard. Goats won’t care whether they have thorns or not. They will simply eat them all.

So long story short, I was able to harvest some blackberries. Folks at the farmer’s market have been asking for jam and I’m going to make some tomorrow. It’s quite the task. As I mentioned earlier, I can’t stand seeds in my blackberry jam. Fortunately, I’ve come up with a system for getting those seeds out that is not onerous. I used to watch my mom using a food mill. Back in the day, it was all done by hand. Today, we have tools that make that task much easier.

I have a food mill attachment for my Kitchen Aid mixer. It is quite simple to use. Hook it up. Turn it on. Put the blackberries in the hopper and the fruit and pulp are separated from the seeds. I use it for tomatoes also. There is quite a bit of cleanup afterwards, but for me it is still worth the effort. The end product is out of this world. I love blackberry jam.

I have a stainless-steel pot made specifically for making jams and jellies. The bottom is weighted. It has pint increments embossed on the side. There is even a pour spout in one edge. I usually dip, but it is nice to have the pour spout there when I want it. The biggest advantage of this particular pot is the shape. It is perhaps eight or nine inches in diameter at the bottom and maybe 12 or so inches at the top. What that does is provide a greater surface area for evaporation. And this is important to me as I like to make my jams without added pectin. Instead of jelling after a couple of minutes at a boil when using pectin from a box, it takes 30 minutes or so to reach the proper temperature for jelling without it. Again, the extra time is worth it to me.

The ingredients are simple. Blackberries and sugar. I use the recipe in the Ball canning book. It takes nine cups of berries and six cups of sugar. Thirty minutes of cook time and it’s ready to go in the jar. Jams and jellies are sealed by using the water bath canning method. Basically, covering the jars with boiling water for 10 to 15 minutes. Perhaps 20 for our elevation. Whatever the recipe indicates is what I do.

Canning used to be a task that I put off as long as I could. It seemed quite complicated. Now, having done it many times over many years, it seems quite simple. It’s amazing how that happens. In the beginning, reading the recipe over and over to make sure I have everything just right. Now, more often than not, I only pull out the book to refresh my memory on how long it needs to boil.

What do you think? Would you like to learn how to can jams and jellies? Once the creamery is completed, the commercial kitchen will come next. How about a few classes in cooking and preserving food?  

Final Thoughts

That’s it for today’s podcast. Life is full here and the craziness of the world seems far away. We are blessed with this life that we have built over the last 17 years. It feeds us physically, emotionally and spiritually. There is always purposeful activity and a sense of connection with our Lord in every moment. I know you all have that too. But for me, this environment makes it so much easier. God’s creation is always there at our fingertips.

I hope you enjoyed the trip around the homestead and through the blackberry brambles. And if you did, please hop over to Apple Podcasts, SUBSCRIBE and give me a 5-star rating and review. Also, please share it with any friends or family who might be interested in this type of content.

Thank you so much for stopping by the homestead and until next time, may God fill your life with grace and peace.

To learn about herd shares:

To share your thoughts:

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Best Animals for a Homestead

In today’s podcast “Best Animals for a Homestead” is the topic. We have tried many animals and plan to try a few more. The best animals for a homestead will depend on your goals and land situation. I’ll talk about our thought processes and how we came to choose our animals and specific breeds.

Let me take a minute to say welcome to all the new listeners and welcome back to the veteran homestead-loving regulars who stop by the FarmCast for every episode. If it were not for you, this show would not exist. I appreciate you all and hope you and your families are doing well. I’m so excited to share with you what’s going on at the farm this week.

Our Virginia Homestead Life Updates

Because this podcast is generally about the best animals for a homestead, I’ll keep the garden and fruit portion relatively short.

Garden

The garden is amazing. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. We love this ground cover. The plants are thriving like they never have before. Even with the harsh heat we have been experiencing, everything is thriving.

Tomatoes

The tomatoes are coming on strong. There seemed to be only a few tomatoes for a while, but now when I go out there, I see every plant has many, many tomatoes. It won’t be long now. The only type of tomato I am growing this year is a paste tomato. I will get my slicing tomatoes from other vendors at the farmer’s market. My tomato crop is specifically designed to produce lots of tomatoes to be used in making tomato sauce and barbecue sauce.

Peppers

Peppers are up next. You can’t have tomato plants without pepper plants. They are all doing so well. The sweet banana peppers starting bearing first, then the jalapeno and cayenne started ripening. I’ve harvested only one green bell pepper but many more are in the near future. The plants are strong and bearing lots of fruit. They just need to get a bit bigger. It’s going to be a fabulous year for peppers. That green bell pepper was out of this world. I like to cut up a banana pepper and sprinkle it over my eggs while they are cooking. The peppers get cooked just enough to add their fabulous flavor to the eggs.

Potatoes

All of the potatoes have been harvested. We had about 75 square feet of red potatoes and 25 square feet of Yukon Gold potatoes. Most of them were quite small but also quite healthy. They are the size of new potatoes, about two to three inches in diameter, and I am treating them as such. Rather than curing and firming the skins, I’m letting them be with their thin skins so perfect for boiling and roasting.

In the past we have lost many potatoes before getting them out of the ground due to rotting with fungus. Again, this time all healthy. I’m ready to plant again.

Crowder Peas

I started picking the crowder peas a few days ago. And then again last night I picked them again. I will wait another day or two and give them another go. I have great luck with crowder peas every year. It appears this year will be a bumper crop year.

Basil and Other Culinary Herbs

This is my first year for really growing basil. I am really pleased with how easy it was to grow this herb. I’m packaging up 2 cup bags to take to the farmer’s market. Come see me on Saturdays in Wytheville, VA 8 am to noon. I’m including a fresh Basil Pesto recipe with every purchase. If you’re not in my area and want the recipe, I’ll put a link in the show notes. Or just hop over to our website at Peaceful Heart Farm dot com and select “recipes” from the menu. It will be at the top of the list.

The Oregano and Thyme are also doing well. The parsley and cilantro don’t look so good. I’ll have to investigate how to do better with those two. I think the Rosemary will also do well, but it grows much slower. Because we have lamb, we use a lot of rosemary. And I love it when it’s fresh. Dried works okay. But fresh is the best. I have a little bit of mint growing here and there also. I want to try a mint sauce recipe with our lamb. I haven’t had the opportunity to do that so far and am looking forward to it. I may make some mint jelly as well. Sometimes mint sauce recipes use mint jelly or offer it as a substitute ingredient.

Fruit

The blackberry bushes are producing lots of fruit. However, it is such a jungle down there I’m not really able to harvest it. We have been doing other tasks and have let them get overgrown. Blackberry canes are very prolific. Perhaps you’ve had some wild ones invade your space. They can be a real pain. Most of ours are thornless, but there are many wild volunteers that make picking the berries a greater challenge. Certainly not as much of a challenge as picking from a patch that is entirely wild with an abundance of thorns, but a hindrance just the same.

I really enjoy picking berries when there are no thorns. Well, I guess we need to just take a day to go in there with hedge trimmers and cut out the overgrowth and clear out the wild ones. I’m pretty sure they already have a pretty good foot hold and are solidly mixed in with the thornless ones, but with diligent effort we can keep them under control. It’s just one of those homestead jobs that is not really fun. Some things on the homestead are wonderful and other things are really unpleasant. Getting my ankles ripped up by blackberry thorns is unpleasant. I guess I could wear thick socks. But it’s ssssoooo hot out there. Is it hot where you are? Moving on to the animals.

Animals

I’ll give a health and wellness update and then some information on how we came to have these particular animals. After I cover what we have, I’ll go into some that we want to have but don’t have yet.

Sheep

Sheep were the first animals that we added to the homestead in 2010. We started with a dozen pregnant ewes. We added a breeding ram, grew the flock to over 70, then scaled back to our present flock of six to eight ewes and one ram. This year we had eight ewes and have now added 9 lambs. All doing well and keeping together for the most. The health of our flock has steadily improved over the years.

We chose katahdin sheep. It is a meat breed as opposed to a fiber breed. They are referred to as hair sheep. That means that they shed their wool every spring. We do not need to keep up with having them sheared every year. There are other hair sheep, but after research we decided on katahdin due to their excellent mothering instincts and their ability to thrive on pasture. They have internal parasite issues comparable to other breeds. I don’t think there is any way to get around that issue. Breeding for parasite resistance and managing our pastures has improved our flock health tremendously.

If we knew in the beginning what we know now, we would have asked a few more pertinent questions before purchasing. We would have looked at the eyelids of a few of the ewes before we bought them. The flock we purchased came with a heavy worm load. They literally needed to be wormed every 3 or 4 months just to keep them and their lambs alive. Indeed, we lost a few ewes and lots or lambs before we got it under control. Naïve as we were, we did not even know it would be a problem. Oftentimes we as humans go into a situation thinking everyone thinks and acts as we do; that is a great illusion. They would of course be caring for their animals in a manner similar to our plan. Not true.

Anyway, over the years we have learned how to tell when they are stressed with parasites and act quickly to bring it under control. Because of this kind of husbandry, we no longer have what I would call real issues with parasites. We may go an entire year or more without using chemical wormer at all. In other years, it may only one or two animals that get treatment. In the past four or five years we have not had to use much at all. This spring, not one single animal needed treatment. Oh, they still have the parasites and have to be monitored. But they are able to handle it effectively. A healthy flock can be maintained without chemicals. Pasture maintenance and management is the key. Well, good genetics are also important. But even the best genetics will fail if the pastures are not managed well.

Donkeys

Donkeys were the next animal to be added to the homestead. We chose miniature donkeys. Working with small animals was what we were comfortable with and these beauties fit the bill. Daisy was pregnant with Sweet Pea when we purchased her. Both are still on the homestead and both are doing very well. Sweet Pea ended up being bigger than her mom. I’m not sure she would even qualify as a miniature. They must be 36” or less at the shoulder.

A few years later we added Johnny. He produced several foals for us including Cocoa whom we still have. He produced so prolifically that we decided that enough was enough. We wanted to keep him so we enlisted the vet to change him from a Jack to a John. It is fitting is it not? A John is a gelded Jack. Johnny is a John. He will no longer produce Jennys. There is another term for Jenny before they have their first foal, but I can’t remember it right now.

Johnny and Cocoa are also doing well. The problem we have with the donkeys right now is we simply don’t need four. Eventually, we will be selling Johnny and Sweet Pea. Daisy has always been a favorite and Cocoa is my next favorite. They are just friendly and loving. Sweet Pea is an attention hog. She is so friendly she will keep pushing and nudging you from behind for more attention. Johnny is quite shy but if he lets you get close, he really enjoys a good scratch as much as the girls.

We chose donkeys as guard animals for the sheep and lambs. And ours are very good at it. They have kept the coyotes away. We only had one bad incident with coyotes. Spring lambing was in full swing. It rained heavily one night and the pond flooded out into the field. The donkeys were on one side and the sheep and lambs on the other side. We came out to find three lambs destroyed by the coyotes. But again, that was the only incident. We’ve lost a lamb here and there to other predators. But the coyotes stay away. That was and is always the main concern I have with sheep and lambs. Coyotes can be devastating to a flock of sheep.

Cows and Calves

I’ll start out with saying that all of the cows and calves are doing very well. I have started using a natural fly spray and it is working. I’m am very pleased. Flies are a real problem when you have cattle. It’s the poop, you see. Flies love to use it as a breeding ground. And cows make a lot of poop. But with a few squirts of my special fly spray twice a day, we are keeping them at bay. We did have that issue with Luna and pink eye that I talked about last time, but I am keeping a close watch on her and making sure she gets her fly spray twice a day. The spray does not diminish the fly population. Later, we will have chickens to help keep the fly population down. More on that later. 

As I have mentioned before, we have Normande cows. For you guys that are new, there is a whole podcast on why we chose Normandes. I’ll put a link in the show notes. I’ll just summarize it here.

It started off with me wanting to have a family cow for milk, butter and cheese. Quickly that grew to wanting a small herd to make handmade farmstead cheese. We chose the Normande breed to one main reason along with a few more major/minor reasons. The main reason is they are a dual breed cow. We needed to have a calf every year to have milk. The calf would be grown out for meat. That was the original plan. The dual breed was perfect for that. The calf would produce excellent meat and the cow would produce excellent milk. Usually a cow is either excellent at producing beef or prolific in making milk. The Normande does both. There are other breeds that are considered dual breeds but we settled on the Normande because of the other major/minor characteristics that were important to us.

I did want to make cheese and the Normande, as well as being a dual breed, was genetically bred in France to produce the finest cheese. They were also bred to sustain themselves on grass. We did not know how great a boon that was until we purchased that Jersey and saw how much supplemental grain she required just to maintain her weight. The Normandes have no such requirement and still produce similar amounts of milk.

Other great things are that they have extremely beautiful coats. They are docile, very docile. Here again, the Jersey cow gave us the true contrast there. Sure, the Jersey has those beautiful and gentle eyes. But let me tell you, they can be quite aggressive. Mostly with the other cows, but she has certainly challenged us from time to time as well. We will eventually sell her and stay with our Normandes. She is a lovely cow and we have learned a lot. But the Normande is the cow for us.

We purchased Claire and Buttercup in 2011. Claire was bred to an angus bull and gave birth to a lovely calf. Willis has been gone for many years but I still remember the joy of that first calf being born. Buttercup is a full sister to Claire and one year younger. The next year we added Cloud, Violet and Lilly. We also purchased a bull, Teddy, with that lot. Teddy was sold a few years back. Cloud was a bred heifer and gave birth to Dora who we lost last year. Dora had complications following a breech calf. Well, the complications likely happened before the birth began. She was two weeks early, hence the breech position and subsequent infection that took her down.

We purchased Butter, a Jersey cow, last year for her A2A2 milk. She was our seed for starting our herd share program. At that time, our cows had not been tested for the A2A2 genetic trait and we wanted to offer A2A2 milk to our herd share customers.

Our current herd consists of the matriarch, Claire, and her sister, Buttercup along with Cloud, Violet and Butter. That’s five cows for the moment. We also have two heifers. Cloud gave birth to Luna in November last year and Buttercup gave us Virginia just five weeks ago.

It will still be a while before the two heifers add milk to our supply. Luna will be bred summer 2021 and will give birth to her first calf in spring 2022. Virginia will follow the year after. Or we could breed her in September or later in 2021 for a calf in the summer or fall of 2022. We shall see. It takes a while to build a herd.

Goats

There is way too much information on various goats for my information here to be of much use. I wanted Cashmere for my knitting projects. There is no registered cashmere breed, though there is an American Cashmere Goat Association. With cashmere it’s all about the fiber. Lots of goat breeds produce cashmere. A cashmere goat herd is simply one where selective breeding has produced the finest fiber. That was my only criteria for a goat breed – other than we needed pasture maintenance. They are great at keeping those wild blackberries down. I can’t turn them loose in the blackberries we are growing on purpose. They will not distinguish between wild thorny, thorny blackberries and our lovely thornless ones. They will simple eat everything in sight. They eat the briars and wild roses as well.

Goats eat lots of plants that the cows and sheep won’t touch. They keep small trees and bushes under control as well. Left alone the pastures would be filled with all kinds of bushes and young trees, especially pine trees. They can really take over the edges of a pasture quickly. Future plans include thinning out the cashmere goats to nothing and then bringing in some meat goats. Right now, Kiko is the breed at the top of my list, with Spanish waiting in the wings. They are both meat goats with low parasite loads and little hoof maintenance. That’s another reason for my change of heart with the goats. Our current herd requires regular hoof trimming. If I can shop well, the next one will not.

That’s all I’m going to say about the goats. You may be thinking of milking goats or meat goats, but I really don’t have a lot of information in those areas to add to your knowledge. 

Quail

The quail chicks are hatched. We have 52 in the brooders and 4 more still in the incubator. Two of those in the incubator will live, one other is a maybe will live and the fourth is not going to make it. There is a problem with its legs and it cannot stand. Let me back up a little bit. There is a lot to this story.

Most of them hatched on Saturday. They stay in the incubator for up to three days. They need to dry off and get some strength in their legs and they need to be kept consistently warm. The incubator provides that environment. They were scheduled to go into the brooders on Tuesday. That date changed to Monday based on a couple of different incidents.

So much has happened that it is a little bit of a blur. I can’t recall whether it was Saturday evening or Sunday evening when we were blessed with rain and I thought, “great, I don’t have to water the garden”. Watering the garden had become nearly a daily activity. It was a tremendous thunderstorm. So tremendous that the power went out. The incubator was off and those 50 plus babies were now in danger. A call to the power company revealed that the power was guaranteed to be back on by 3:00 am. Good to know, but without the incubator or some other source of heat, those newly hatched quail would not survive.

Scott came to the rescue and hooked up the generator and selectively turned on breakers so the incubator was functional. It was quite the balancing act. The cows still needed to be milked so he also turned on the breaker that would provide power to the portable milker. After that, the circuit breaker for the portable milker was turned off and the one for the water pump was turned on so we could clean up the milking equipment and get showers. That one was turned off and the circuits for the freezers were turned on. Thankfully, the power was back on long before 3:00 am.

The problem with the power going on and off and the incubator is stabilizing the heat and humidity. While they are just eggs, this has not really been a problem. But the last two hatchings required me to vent the humidity and temperature just a little to keep from suffocating the babies. For whatever reason, when there are so many baby birds in there, the humidity goes off the scale and the machine has trouble maintaining the proper temperature. It tends to get too hot.

To get to the point, the next night I barely got any sleep at all. Somewhere between trying to stabilize the humidity and temperature, I let it run out of water in the middle of the night. Now the humidity was way too low. I added the water back to the tray and closed the lid completely to wait for the humidity to come back up. That, of course, caused the temperature to get too high and the incessant beeping began again. I vented that and went back to bed. And another hour later, the humidity was now too high again. So I get up again and vent the humidity and then leave the lid just a tiny bit open.

Between the power outage and the constant struggle to maintain the proper temperature and humidity, I was very ready to put in the little guys into the brooder a day early. That meant that some of the eggs may not be finished hatching and it might cause them to die. I took the risk, and as quickly as I could I got the babies out and put the lid back on the incubator.

More issues last night with the humidity and temperature. Scott wanted to turn it off but I wanted to wait. One more bird had hatched out after I took out the original 52 and there could be others. Today I waited as long as I could and then opened the top to check out the eggs. I found a very healthy bird, the bird that could not use its legs and two more that were not out of their egg shell yet. I helped them most of the way out and waited. One of those looks pretty good but the other, I don’t know. He may not make it. There were two others that died in their shell. Likely all that fiddling around with the temperature and humidity hurt them.

It’s all good. I was not sure we would have very many eggs hatch at all. I am very pleased with 53 very healthy birds and perhaps one or two more.

So why do we have quail? Why not chickens? That’s the next topic.

Other Animals We Want

Chickens

Chickens are a natural as a “best animals for a homestead” in general and especially if you plan to make cheese. They can drink the whey and it is a great protein supplement. Another great advantage I mentioned earlier. We can use them to eat the fly larvae. Again, a great protein supplement. Less purchased feed.

Of course, the best thing about chickens is they provide both meat and/or eggs, depending on the breed you choose. We will be choosing a dual-purpose bird herd as we chose a dual-purpose breed of cow. We eat lots of eggs and of course we love eating chicken.

Chickens are a great first animal to have on a homestead. They are small, easy to learn about and fairly quickly provide food for your family. They do need a good shelter. Therein lies the reason that we don’t have them yet. Scott is putting all of his time into building the creamery. No time for building additional animal shelters. Well, except for the quail. He built their hutches in about a day.

To build the chicken facilities would take maybe up to a couple of weeks. It also means learning and studying a new animal. No matter how many animals you have experience with, a new one requires additional education and experience. Sometimes just figuring out how to accomplish a needed task is a trial and error experience over days, weeks, or months. Don’t get me wrong. I love learning about new animals and how to care for them properly to get the best result for them and for us. But it does take time and effort that we are currently investing in other areas.

Perhaps next year we will add chickens. 

Pigs

And perhaps next year we will add pigs. Pigs are truly one of the best animals for a homestead. Rumor has it they are easy to grow. Starting out with growing out small pigs purchased from someone nearby is the best way to start. Their growing season also intersects with our cheesemaking. Pigs also like that high protein whey. They are a natural addition to a cheesemaking operation such as ours. I can’t wait to give them a try.

There is a breed call Idaho Pastured pigs in which I am very interested. We shall see if I can find any in our area when the time comes. We will be raising pigs for meat. And rumor also has it that pigs raised on whey make some very tasty bacon.

Rabbits

I just want to add one more that is a maybe. Rabbits. I think rabbits would just be fun. But I also thought I would have fun with the fiber goats. We shall see. You can only do so much. There is only so much time in a day. The best animals for a homestead list sometimes needs to be narrowed down to what is actually manageable.  

Final Thoughts

That’s it for today’s podcast. There are lots of animals to choose from and many breeds within each species. You will have to do a lot of research on what will work for your goals. We prefer dual purpose animals. We prefer heritage breed animals. These both fit with our goals to raise animals sustainably and with as many natural husbandry techniques as possible. Each of our animals has a purpose on the homestead. They all contribute to the health of our homestead environment. Fertilizer, pest control, weed control, parasite control and so on. All done with animals and some natural products such as apple cider vinegar and essential oils.

What do you think are the best animals for a homestead? What are your goals? What are your values? The last two questions define and support the first question. The system you put in place will be unique to you. I hope I’ve given you some ideas about how it might be done.

If you enjoyed this podcast, please hop over to Apple Podcasts, SUBSCRIBE and give me a 5-star rating and review. Also, please share it with any friends or family who might be interested in this type of content.

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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What to Grow in the Garden

What to grow in the garden? That is a question we all ask ourselves each and every year. There have been years of great variety. And then there is this year where there are few different vegetables. Today I’m going to talk through our process of growing a garden. I hope you will glean at least a little wisdom from our successes and failures and changes of plans.

As always, I want to take just a minute to say welcome to all the new listeners. I hope you enjoy this podcast and will subscribe. And welcome back veteran homestead-loving regulars. Thanks for stopping by the homestead for every episode. I truly appreciate you all so much. In these times of division, it’s wonderful to come together with peaceful-minded listeners.

Our Virginia Homestead Life Updates

I have quite a few homestead updates as well as some reflection on gardening. Let’s get started. First off I want to invite you to hop over to our website and take a look at our “About Us” page. There is a brief story of how we got to where we are today. I think you might enjoy it. I’ll put a link in the show notes.

Cows and Calves

The good, the bad and the ugly is going to be covered today. Let’s start with the ugly. That would be Luna’s left eye. She has pink eye.

We treated Luna this morning for pink eye. It’s a simple cure that just needs to be done promptly. Her eye is really ugly though. However, there is no reason to believe that she won’t be fine in a few days.

The Ugly

Pink eye is common in young cattle. It’s highly contagious and is transmitted by flies. And boy do we have flies. I have a natural fly formula that gets sprayed on all of the girls twice a day. It only lasts 12 hours or so and most people would not go to the trouble of treating their cows twice a day. The standard treatment is some kind of chemical. We have the advantage of milking twice a day, so applying the natural treatment goes right along with milking. Another advantage is how few cows we have. If we had hundreds, natural treatment would not be practical.

I have seen some pretty creative natural remedies. We visited another dairy farm and creamery near us a couple of years ago. They had a machine that literally sucked the flies off the cows as they walked by heading back out into the field after being milked. Another solution is a kind of walk through fly trap. As the cows walk through the device, the flies are brushed off of them. After being knocked off of the animal the are trapped in a screen chamber similar to a minnow or lobster trap. The flies go in but cannot find their way out. These devices have to be placed where you force the cows to walk through, usually on their way to their food or water source. I hope to give this method a try in the near future.

The flies are really bad from June through at least the end of August.

The Bad

Now for the bad. The artificial insemination is quite the learning experience. You have to catch the cows when they are in heat and get the insemination accomplished quickly. So far all of the cows are confirmed to have NOT taken on their first attempt. Three of the five cows that we are currently milking have had a second go round. Buttercup is not far enough past giving birth to Virginia to have come into heat again. That will be soon. And when Butter was inseminated again, the ag tech checked Violet and found we had just missed her heat cycle by no more than a day or two. Sigh . . .

The bottom line is that Violet and Buttercup are definitely not pregnant and still need to be fertilized. The Claire and Cloud will be due for a pregnancy check soon. It’s like a merry-go-round trying to get this done. Perhaps when we are more experienced it will go much quicker.

The Good

Finishing up with the good news. Everyone is healthy and enduring the summer heat quite well. Excepting Luna, of course. The two younger calves are growing like weeds. They have such beautiful Normande colored coats. The coloring of this breed is so unique. They are simply lovely grazing in the fields.

The best news is the setup that Scott has come up with for getting the previous breeding bull, Sam, and Thunder, the steer into the trailer for their trip to the processor. I expect that there would be very little problem getting Thunder onto the trailer. It is Sam that is the problem. He has been rather wild from the beginning. He was not born here. We purchased him from a breeder a few hours north of us. They don’t handle their cattle nearly as much as we do.

From the beginning we were not able to get close to Sam. In those early days he was jumping fences right and left. He even spent a couple of weeks across the road in a neighbor’s field until we figured out how to get him back home. He just jumped fences so easily.

We have had him a couple of years now and gradually he has gotten over being so skittish – to a point. There is still no way that we can walk up to him or touch him. And if we pressure him in any way, he will still jump. Scott ended up building a small corral area on the end of the livestock trailer. All of the boys are in there right now. Soon we will take out Rocketman and Perrin. They won’t be making that journey to the processor just yet. We’ll save that for next year.

Sam and Thunder will be all by themselves in that makeshift corral. All of their food and water is in there with them. In fact, the food will eventually only be accessible if they actually climb into the trailer. After about a week of that, we are pretty confident that we can get them both to easily climb in the trailer. Cows are very habitual creatures. They are wary of unfamiliar settings but once they are used to things being a certain way, it doesn’t bother them. The plan is to get them used to that trailer so that it is no big deal when we start to close them in tighter and tighter and there is no place to go but into the trailer.

That’s the plan.

Fruit

The blueberries are done and the blackberries are coming on strong. We have a ton of them. I checked them this morning and they are mostly still red. I may walk down and get a closer look this evening. It seems like some of them should be ripe by now.

Once the blackberries come in, it will be round after round of making seedless blackberry jam. Over the years I have perfected my techniques in making this delicious jam. I hate the seeds. Likely you do too. It’s a good bit more work, but most definitely worth the effort in my opinion. I may make some blackberry syrup and blackberry jelly also. Those are made with juice.

I have two pieces of equipment that are essential in making these tasks easy and successful. One is a steam juicer and the other is the food mill attachment on the Kitchen-Aid mixer. I use the steam juicer for extracting the juice for syrup and jelly. And I use the food mill attachment to get the seeds out of the berries, leaving the pulp crushed and ready to make jam. Yum, yum.

The strawberry bed is a disaster. We have plans for next year. However, this year I’ve just about given up. There are so many weeds that it is essentially a weed bed with a few strawberry plants. An animal was eating all of the berries as they became ripe. I had one good harvest in late spring and since then it has been all downhill. Between the weeds and the unauthorized eating of our lovely fruit, I’m so done with the strawberries this year.

Next year we plan on digging up any remaining plants and planting them through the ground cover we are using in the garden.The garden is amazing. It will be a big job to dig them all up, clear the weeds, put down the ground cover and replant. In the end, it will be worth the effort. Don’t you just love homegrown strawberries? They are nothing like those cardboard ones you get at the grocery.

Quail

Just a brief note on the quail because I want to get to the topic of gardening. Tomorrow the current batch of eggs in the incubator goes into lock down. I will remove the automatic egg turner and close the lid until three days after the first chick is born. The first chick is expected on Saturday and Tuesday everyone who hatched goes into the brooder. Next podcast I will have an update on how many hatched. Remember, we started with 84 eggs this time.

The previous batch are nearly full grown. The boys are crowing and crowing and crowing. I’m starting to look for eggs. Any day now we could start to have eggs from the newbie hens in the penthouse.

The breeder hens are laying quite regularly. We currently have 13 hens and usually get 12 eggs every day. I’ll be adding in a couple more hens from the penthouse to the breeder cages in about a week and a half. It’s such a joy to watch these birds go from eggs to fully grown birds in just 8 short weeks. They are amazing.  

Creamery

I don’t have much to say here. Scott is mowing fields, moving cows, building temporary corrals, fixing fences, assisting with artificial insemination, making trips to town for various animal and fencing supplies and so on. There is always more to do than time to do it. Add to that trying to build this giant project . . . well you get the picture. Not much going on with the creamery over the last week. I say it’s too hot to be up on the roof anyway. Summer is truly here. It seemed to sneak up on us.

What to Grow in the Garden?

Our gardens have evolved from four raised beds, 4 foot by 8 foot, built out of wood to 20 beds, 3 foot by 8 foot, with two 70-foot by 2-foot border beds made of concrete blocks. Our first attempts were dismal. This year, we are rocking and rolling with what we are growing. We’ve come a long way.

The First Attempt

Those first 4 beds got overgrown with weeds and bugs ate most of the plants. I planted beans, tomatoes, onions, collards, brussel sprouts, cabbage, lettuce – oh all kinds of stuff. The only success I remember was the brussels sprouts and collards. And not the vegetables. No, it was the next spring when they went to seed. I got some really good seeds.

I don’t remember if we used that garden more than that first year. I don’t think so. I’m pretty sure we expanded what we were doing the very next year.

The Second Attempt

The second garden setup was quite interesting. Our land is sloped. Scott built more raised beds. To handle the slope, they were built in tiers. Some were 4-foot by 8-foot beds and some were 2-foot by 8-foot beds. The narrower beds were for things like tomatoes and vines such as cucumbers and squash. They were built to have a trellis down the center. Oh and we also grew green peas in those. They also had a trellis. Everything else went into the 4 x 8 beds.

The paths went between the beds and there were 3 beds, set up in tiers as I said. So each row of 3 beds ended up being 24-feet long. Three beds were butted together with a step down (or up depending on the direction you are walking) for each 8-foot bed. This worked pretty well and we used it for several years.

I tried to grow lots of different things in these beds. In addition to all I mentioned above, I also grew spinach, radishes, beets, turnips, potatoes, and sweet potatoes. Oh, and the squash. I tried lots of different squash. And I almost forgot the peppers and eggplant. And not just one variety. I would have three or four kinds of peppers, three or four kinds of tomatoes, three or four kinds of eggplant, and so on. And the lettuce, there are so many different kinds of lettuce.

The problem with a brand-new bed is that the soil is not that great. It takes a few years to get the soil to a place where the veggies grow really well. Another problem was we were still traveling back and forth to South Carolina. The weeds continued to take over by the end of the summer. Bugs would devastate the plants while we were away.

Those beds were made of untreated 1 x 12 boards. They deteriorated after only a few years. On to the next garden.  

The Final Attempt

Once we stopped working in South Carolina and dedicated everything to the homestead and creamery, it was time to get serious about the garden. In early 2017 Scott literally built a huge garden out of concrete clocks. I am into my fourth year and it is going really well.

This was a huge garden project. He actually leveled the land, cutting down earth and using it to build up the lower areas, so we would have a level garden area. No more tiers. Also, I decided on a 3-foot width for the beds after trying 2-foot and 4-foot previously. The 2-foot width seemed a waste of space because there were more paths between narrower beds. And the 4-foot width was just a little too far for me to reach across to the middle of the bed for planting and weeding.

Scott made the sides significantly higher as well. Each bed is three-blocks high. I think that is two feet. Each block is eight inches high; I think. It seems higher than two feet. Anyway, there is not nearly as much bending. The half bending can still tax my back some, but in a different way than having to bend all the way to the ground. Plus, I can sit on the side of the bed to rest my back. It is truly a work of art. We are into the fourth season and I am still loving it.

This more permanent structure and the fact that we could tend it daily if needed has made all the difference in the world. Over the past three years, I have steadily increased what I am able to grow. I have also significantly modified what I plant.

What I Used to Plant

In the beginning, starting with the very first garden, deciding what to grow in the garden was challenging. Well, the first garden was pretty small and I didn’t have the space to grow too much. But after that, I planted many, many varieties of vegetables. I’m talking six kinds of head lettuce and six different leaf lettuces. Green beans, yellow wax beans and purple beans that turned green when cooked. I would have three kinds of spinach and three varieties of beets. I planted red, white and even blue potatoes. Two varieties of sweet potato. Turnips, rutabaga and two kinds of kohlrabi. Red cabbage, green cabbage and six varieties of Chinese cabbage. What about tomatoes. Well at least 4 or 5, perhaps 6 different types of tomatoes. The same for peppers. There were cucumbers, zucchini, yellow squash and pattypan summer squash. At least 3 or 4 types of winter squash. Muskmelons, watermelons and cantaloupe. I tried corn a couple of times and there were always at least two or three kinds if not more.

Every year the seed catalogues had multiple pages with turned down corners as I tried to narrow down my choices. Deciding what to plant in the garden was an absolutely delightful activity. I just wanted to grow everything. I grew fennel one year. And escarole. Growing escarole led to growing another type of dried bean. I found this wonderful recipe for white kidney beans, called cannellini beans, and escarole. It is so good. I think I forgot to mention the types of dried beans I grew. Two kinds of lima beans, black beans and red beans. This list went on and on. And always in the back of my mind was a culinary herb garden. Oh, I grew peanuts the second year of the block garden. Last year the peanuts didn’t even sprout but I did try to grow them. I would have tried again this year but waited too late to order seeds.

Modification in What I Plant

The first two years in the masterpiece garden, I planted as many different things as I could. If I had more space, I could have filled it. The soil was new and much of it didn’t really do well. I began to see clearly what required lots of work and little veggie and what was easier to maintain.

Lettuce is particularly difficult to manage. I tried succession planting. That’s done by planting new seeds or seedlings every couple of weeks. Theoretically, we would have lettuce over a longer period of time rather than being inundated with this highly perishable green. You need lots of refrigerator space when you grow lots of lettuce. Invariably, much of it will go bad before it can be consumed. Additionally, one of the advantages of growing your own lettuce is that just-picked, fresh flavor. If you pick it and then work through it over a few weeks, it begins to be as tasteless as the stuff you buy at the grocery store. Kind of defeats that purpose of fresh flavor and active nutrition.

With lots of different vegetables and lots of different varieties, it started to make summer canning an arduous task. All of the different varieties ended up being dumped into one batch of beans or squash and so on. The extra effort of trying to maintain all of those separate varieties began to wear on me. I still wanted the veggies, but did I need to try and manage so many different kinds?  

Last year I scaled back on varieties. I only planted green beans. No wax beans and no other fancy colored beans. Just green beans. There were a couple of different varieties but only because I had left over seeds from the previous year. Red potatoes and Yukon Gold were the only potatoes. One type of sweet potato. I didn’t grow cucumber because I already had so many pickles and relishes. Sure, it would have been nice to have some fresh, but I couldn’t keep even one plant alive. They just didn’t do well. It happens sometimes.

The first year of the masterpiece garden, I planted a couple of varieties of sweet corn. But last year, no corn at all. I didn’t enjoy growing it and it has been a failure every time I have grown it. I still planted a variety of peppers, some sweet and some hot. They ended up being chopped and dehydrated all together. I have a mix of dried peppers that I put in soups, stews and crockpot meals. You never know how hot the dish is going to be.

Two years ago, Scott shored up the wall on the side where the soil was built up. He piled rich compost up against the wall to hold it in place. In order to hold that soil in place slanted against the wall, I needed to grow something in it. I planted four winter squash varieties, two pumpkin varieties, some old muskmelon seeds I had on hand and some old watermelon seeds. The winter squash was amazing. It overtook the muskmelon and the watermelon seeds didn’t sprout. In the end, the whole wall was winter squash and pumpkin. I was especially inundated with butternut squash. I also harvested some beautiful acorn and delicata squash. There was a significant amount of spaghetti squash. Much of that squash was dehydrated. The butternut squash was cooked, pureed, and then dehydrated. I measured the exact amount for pie – it tastes just like today’s Libby’s pumpkin – and after dehydration, I powdered it up. Now all I have to do it add hot water and it comes back to pureed squash in 15 minutes or so. Voila, ready to make a pie. Lots of work, but worth it.

I didn’t grow any squash last year, but the compost pile produced lots of volunteers. The cross pollination created some interesting squash. I sold some of them for fall decoration.

What I Plant Now

Last year I scaled back on varieties. This year I scaled back on the different types of vegetables as well as limiting varieties. Beans, tomatoes, potatoes, celery, crowder peas, and onions. I also have quite a few herbs. Basil, parsley, cilantro, oregano, thyme and rosemary. The last three are perennials and I will have to move them to pots. So far, so good. The parsley and cilantro don’t look to good, but the rest are thriving.

Last year I had a very successful year with tomatoes. But I grew far too many slicing tomatoes. Mainly I make my own tomato sauce and barbeque sauce. It took way too long to cook the water out of those slicing tomatoes to make sauce. This year, I have only sauce tomatoes. They are doing quite well.

I am growing one type of green bean, one type of lima bean, small red beans, black beans, and cannellini beans. I started with only red onions but did end up adding a couple dozen yellow onions that I started from seed. There are three beds of red potatoes and one of Yukon gold. Those came from the potatoes I had in storage from last year.

I am growing six varieties of peppers. The difference is I am expanding on my dehydration plans. I have lots of each kind. There will be many, many peppers. This year I will dehydrate each one separately. I have cayenne, sweet cherry, serrano and jalapeno hot peppers. The sweet peppers are California Wonder bell peppers and sweet banana peppers. I probably won’t grow peppers at all next year.

Also, I decided to stop growing lettuce. We just don’t eat enough of it to justify the work of tending it. It only grows for a very short time in the spring. After year after year of failure with cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower, I gave up on those. I would like to be successful with the cabbage, but these others just take up too much space and not enough yield. We also don’t eat much of these veggies. Although I would like to be able to successfully grow cabbage. I’ll have to think about that a little more before next year.

The last thing I am growing this year is sunflowers. They are giants right now, maybe 8 or 10 feet tall. There are no blooms yet but I keep looking for them. Some of these guys have to have reached their full height and are ready to put out that one beautiful and huge flower.

In upcoming years, I will be bringing back more varieties I have grown in the past as I will be growing more and more veggies for the animals. As we add pigs and chickens to the homestead, I plan on feeding them as much as I can from our gardens and as little supplemental feed as possible. The lower garden that has never been developed will be filled with pumpkins, squash, beets, turnips and the like. And the orchard will also provide much nutrition and calories for the pigs. The cheese whey will provide lots of protein.

Scott and I don’t need much from the garden, but the animals need lots. I’ll bet you didn’t see that coming. We may be the only people on the planet growing a few veggies for ourselves with the bulk of the garden being for the animals. What do you think?

Final Thoughts

Have I given you some ideas about what to grow in the garden? No two families will garden the same way. What will you grow for your family? Likely you will start out as we did, trying to grow everything. One thing I have noticed with homesteaders is that we are pretty practical. After the first blush wears off, we get down to the business of growing only the things that we eat on a regular basis. Oh, I might add a small amount of lettuce one year or reintroduce cabbage. I most certainly want to grow green peas again. I didn’t mention them. It was too late to start them by the time I got geared up for the garden. Well, there is always next year.  

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Planning Your Homestead – Land

There is a lot to consider when planning your homestead. I thought I would go over a few of the ideas that we batted around when looking for land during our journey. There is so much to talk about on this topic. I’m only going to give a very rough overview of some ideas. Perhaps enough to get you started and on the road to tackling the learning curve. I’m also going to leave out some details on purpose. You don’t want to get too burdened in the beginning. Take your time. Think it through. You will come up with concerns I haven’t addressed here as you play out the scenario you envision. It will be unique to you.

I want to take a minute and say welcome to all the new listeners and welcome back to the veteran homestead-loving regulars who stop by the FarmCast for every episode. I appreciate you all so much. I’m so excited to share with you what’s going on at the farm this week.

Our Virginia Homestead Life Updates

Let me give you an update on all the happenings around the homestead.

Garden

I finally got everything planted in the garden. The last two beds have cilantro, parsley, oregano and basil. I have another herb bed that has rosemary and thyme. Many of these will be transplanted in the fall to a more permanent location, or at the very least, into a pot. They are perennials in our USDA planting zone and will survive the winter. Rosemary, thyme and oregano fall into this category. I also have some mint that I planted along the edges. Because the garden is made of concrete blocks, there are holes along the edge behind the sunflowers. That’s where the mint is planted. Mint can be invasive and I’m hoping that planting them in those smaller, contained spaces will keep them under control. We shall see.

I use the mint in lots of my lamb dishes.

Cows and Calves

Claire came into heat so the first artificial insemination did not take. We had Yancy out on Friday and he gave it another go, this time with different semen. I don’t know if I mentioned before, but the sexed semen we purchased was not really very active. It was not expected it to work very well at all.

We purchased another round, this time unsexed semen from a different bull. When we looked at it under the microscope it looked great, very active. I expect it to take this time. Cloud also had a second go around, but with the same semen as before. Butter may need another go as well. If so, she will get the newer semen. And since Buttercup finally gave birth, she will be able to be bred in a few weeks as well. We look forward to a great calving season next spring. All is well in the cow and calf arena.

Goats, Sheep and Donkeys

The goats are staying up in the woods most of the time. Occasionally, they come down and get some loose minerals to supplement their diet.

The sheep stay with the donkeys most of the time. Except when the donkeys come up to the milking shed, which is quite often. The sheep stay down in the creek bottom or up on the travel lane.

A few days ago, we had a lamb adventure. One of the new lambs got on the other side of the fence and couldn’t find her way back. The opening that was clearly visible from the inside of the pasture was nearly impossible to see from the outside.

After chasing her back and forth and up and down the fence line, we decided to try another tactic. She was far to old and spry to be simply caught with out some help. Earlier in the lambing season, I had to catch one and return her to her mom and the way I accomplished that was driving her into a corner and then grabbing her. We decided to try that once again. Scott created a small corner by tying a loose piece of fence to the existing fence at a right angle. I stood at the end of the spare fence and held it up, ready to close in once she got stuck in the corner. That’s all it took. She ran into the corner and Scott caught her up even before I closed the gap. He gently lifted her up and back over the fence. Mom and lamb were joyfully reunited a few minutes later.  

Quail

I put a new batch of quail eggs into the incubator today. There are 84 eggs in there this time. We shall see how it goes. Some time during the week of collecting eggs it occurred to me that these hens and roosters are very young. Sure, the hens are laying eggs. But are they fertile? Sure, the roosters are giving it their best shot. But are they fertile?  We will find out in about 17 days.

Creamery

I’m loving the small cheese cave. Scott turns the older cheeses once a week. I go in there every day and turn the new cheeses. And I must admit, I go in there just to look at the cave and the cheese. The humidity is staying steady around 80% and that works well so far.

The roof is progressing well. I can hear Scott hammering as I speak. Once he completes the plywood decking, the felt goes on and then the metal roofing will go on the part he is currently working on as well as the previous part where the cheese will be made and stored.

I love going into that building every day. What a huge project it is and so beautifully done.

Ok, I’m ready to talk about planning your homestead.

Planning Your Homestead – the Land

While the term “homestead” is broadly defined and can mean anything from a quarter acre in the suburbs to remote living off-grid miles from any other human. One thing most will agree on is that there is a deep desire for self-sufficient living.

There’s something deeply empowering in knowing you can care for yourself and your family no matter what happens. In this day and age it is unlikely that you will ever be completely on your own. We still want our phones and internet. Creating your own paper products is a bit too complex. And the building and repair materials you will need will likely be purchased from Lowes or Home Depot or similar enterprise. No, we will never be completely on our own. But we can certainly make ourselves food secure. That’s what I’m going to focus on today.

How Much Land Do You Need?

You can become quite efficient at growing vegetables in a small backyard or even in containers on your apartment balcony and supplement what you buy from the store. But if you want to take complete control over your food choices, you will need some land.

How much land it takes to homestead will vary according to what you envision as your ideal situation as well as the size of your family. It is possible to completely sustain a small family on a few acres. Of course, larger acreages provide greater flexibility and ease in creating sustainability. We started with 20 acres. That would have easily supported the two of us as a simple homestead. However, we had always dreamed of creating a small business to generate income. That is truly not necessary. When you grow and raise most of your food, your need for lots of dollars becomes minimal – as long as you remain debt free. It is true you will need some income. Just not as much as the rest of the world around you.

That brings up the next topic.

How Remote Do You Want to Be?

When planning your homestead, considering how isolated you and your family really want to be is a topic of consideration? Today, many people are developing self-sufficient (relatively speaking) homesteads in cities and towns as well as in more the rural locations. If you are remote, what kind of access to power, phone, water, internet, and emergency services will be available?

Here are some other considerations regarding location.

Community

Being located near other small farms and homesteads will bring friends with shared interests, opportunities for bartering, resources, knowledge and support.

Planning a Family?

You can provide for their education by home-schooling, but as they grow your children might want friends.

Distance from Nearest Neighbor

Independence is great, but our neighbors are wonderful. I don’t know what we would have done without them. And by neighbors, I mean they are within a 10 to 15 mile radius.  

Distance from Hospital, Medical Care

No explanation necessary here. What are you comfortable with regarding length of time to reach decent medical care? We are 30 minutes from a small hospital and an hour from some of the best medical care in the country. There are some homesteaders that are so remote that it is difficult for them to reach their property much less an emergency vehicle. We all make choices.

Access to Phone Lines, Broadband

You might be planning on creating a little income from YouTube or some other social media where you need really good internet service. In this day and age, it’s a great way to make that little bit of extra income you need. My favorite YouTubers do not have access to enough internet speed to live stream. They have to record everything and upload. That’s so 2010s. But they make it work. You can too.  

Landline phone service is available to nearly everyone. But cell phone coverage is another story. I have a cell phone but only use it at the farmer’s market. We do not get a cell signal at home. What about internet service? When we first arrived on the scene here in 2005, we had 28800 dial-up modem service. It wasn’t such a big deal as we weren’t here all that much back then. Over the years, internet service has improved. We now have access the very high-speed internet. It’s great. The internet is your best resource for gathering information, learning new skills, and certainly for education as well as making an income.  

Mineral and Water Rights

Be aware of mineral and/or water rights. This is especially important in the western and southwestern areas of the US. Is there any of contamination from toxic runoffs?

Natural Disasters

What about the possibility of other natural disasters such as fires, tornadoes, or hurricanes? All of this depends on the area of the country you choose. What about flooding?

Specific Land Characteristics

Do you want four seasons? Are you a mountain or an ocean person? These are pretty important questions. Obviously, we are of the mountain person variety.

Are there restrictions or covenants on the land? We have an easement on our land. That means our neighbor has permanent access across our land. We were restricted in where we could put up a fence. He had to have clear access to his property via our property. We worked it into our plan and it works for us as well as our neighbor.

What are the zoning regulations? This is not usually a problem in very rural areas, but keep it in mind if you are looking for a couple of acres in the burbs. A rooster or even lots of clucking hens can make neighbors into enemies.

Garden Space

Is there a level – or at the very least – gently sloping space for gardening? The garden will need a minimum of 5 hours of direct sunlight per day. How much space will you need for what you plan on growing? This part may take some greater reading, study and research.

Crops like squash, potatoes, and corn can require more space than you think when planning for storage and year-round access.

Soil Quality

Poor soil and inadequate water supply is a recipe for disaster. You can improve a small plot of poor soil with proper management. It just takes time. Your gardens will become more prolific over time.

Availability of Water

Access to a year-round supply of clean water is essential to homesteading. Is water served from a municipal service, creek, lake, well, or will you create catchment system?

If there is a creek or stream, does it run year-round? Well-water in the mountains can be an issue. It might be a long way down to a water table. Check with the neighbors to see what they had to do to make it work.

Can the Land Support Livestock?

If livestock are in your plans, the land needs enough ground for grazing. This is another education piece. Researching how much grass a cow eats, or goat or sheep. This varies according to where you are in the country. Western localities such as Texas and Oklahoma require nearly 10 times as much grazing area as in the southeastern United States. The land is also cheaper out west so it’s easier to get larger quantities of land. It all works out, right?

Do you have access to winter feed? I’m talking hay here. Either you grow it or buy it from someone else? If you grow it, will you harvest it or hire that out? Personally, I recommend hiring it out unless you plan on getting into the haying business. Let someone else have the headaches of keeping up that equipment. Give them half the hay and you are good to go.

Will You Have an Orchard?

The space does not need to be large. Even a ½ acre can provide plenty of ground for fruit trees to fulfill your needs.

Will You Heat with Wood?

You will want easy access to a steady supply of firewood. Will you be using the trees on your land for buildings? Take a general inventory of standing timber on a property. You will want some trees. In our area in the mountains of southwestern Virginia, the problem was finding the flat land without trees for the garden and pastures. Your mileage will vary.

Living Quarters

Is there a house on the property? If no house is there a well, septic tank and power? If not, how easy is it to get them in place?

Final Thoughts

Again, this was as very brief idea of some of the topics we discussed when looking for land. It’s a good idea to make a list of what is absolutely non-negotiable and where you are willing to compromise when it comes to the ideal piece of land. And give yourself some time to find the perfect place. Presumably you will be there for a very long time. You will invest lots of time and energy into creating the perfect homestead. Make sure you have the essential building blocks and go from there.

If you enjoyed this podcast, please hop over to Apple Podcasts, SUBSCRIBE and give me a 5-star rating and review. Also, please share it with any friends or family who might be interested in this type of content.

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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Starting a Homestead

People are often surprised to hear our story of starting a homestead. It was a rather lengthy journey compared to what you might imagine. It was a lengthy journey compared to what WE imagined. And it still continues to this day. In fact, the building is going to continue for years. I begin to wonder if it ever ends and we just maintain what we have already built. I don’t know. That day hasn’t arrived yet.

I want to take a minute and say welcome to all the new listeners and welcome back to the veteran homestead-loving regulars who stop by the FarmCast for every episode. I appreciate you all so much. I’m so excited to share with you what’s going on at the farm this week. And I want to share our journey through starting a homestead. Let’s get started.

Our Virginia Homestead Life Updates

Orchard

I just picked blueberries this morning. It looks like this is going to be the last decent sized haul for this season. The crows have discovered the blueberry bushes so we are sharing with them now. Yet another batch of blueberry jam will be made tomorrow. This will be the last one, I think.

On the way back I took a stroll around the fruit trees just to see what we have. We are going to have a few peaches this year. There are a few apples but I didn’t see any pears, plums or apricots. And the cheery trees? Well they are a disaster. Scott will be starting all over with them this fall. He’s learned a few things and I think this time he will be successful with the cherry trees. But that also means another couple of years or more before we have cherries. Patience is a virtue.

Garden

I’m nearly done with the garden. I have two more beds to complete. My plan is to have that completed tomorrow. I’ve decided to add another bed of green beans. I have the space so I’m going for it. The current green bean plants are blooming. We will have fresh green beans in no time.

The entire garden is just zooming along. The potatoes are blooming. That indicates we are coming close to the end of their life cycle. Digging potatoes is in our very near future.

The sunflowers are huge. Some are four or five feet tall now. There are a couple lagging behind. They are only a foot tall. Will they catch up? Not likely. They just may end up shorter than the rest. I’m so excited watching these plants grow. They are amazing.

The peppers are taking off. The plants I mean. When I first planted them, they just seemed to stay the same size. Now they are filling out and growing taller. Some of the hot peppers will get more than two feet tall. But most will be 14 to 18 inches tall and bushier.

The tomatoes seem to be struggling a bit. Any day now I expect them to take off just like the peppers. Some have a few blooms but I would really like to see them grow taller and fill out more. I think I’m just comparing them to the beans which are huge.

Quail

The quail babies have made it out to the penthouse. I can’t believe how quickly those little guys get all of their feathers. They are just a little over two weeks old and fully feathered. When I went out to check on them this morning, they were peeking at me over the edge of the frame. So cute.

We replaced the entire group of laying hens. Well, except for the white one. I kept her just because I like to have variety. There are two white ones in the new batch in the penthouse. The only problem is I have no idea how to determine if they are male or female. The brown ones are easy. The hens have spots on the breast. The roosters do not. The way I determined the current white one was a hen was simply by putting her in the cage and counting the number of eggs each day. If there are four hens in the there and I get four eggs, that solves it. I did in fact get four eggs. Well there is another way. I can observe who is jumping on who as well. That’s also a dead giveaway.

The Calves Escaped

Yesterday Scott spent most of the day fixing the fence down by the big pond. Wendell has gotten out twice by rounding that corner. But a couple of days ago, Luna joined in the fray.

Upon returning from a trip to town, Scott noticed she was out and returned her to her proper place. Later in the day I got two phone calls from neighbors within minutes of each other. The calves were out again.

This time it was Wendell and Virginia. They got all the way up to the road and even across the road in Virginia’s case. We don’t have a lot of traffic but still it’s dangerous.

So, they ended up locked into the lower garden – which isn’t really a garden. It’s just grass at the moment. They were locked in there until Scott finished fixing the fence yesterday. Now all is back to normal. The deer seemed to be a bit confused at the new fencing arrangement. She did jump over it – eventually.

Starting a Homestead

I thought today I would share our story of starting a homestead with all of you. It is likely that many of you dream of having your own homestead at some point. Maybe some of you are already on the path and can relate to what I’m about to divulge. As I mentioned above, the journey seems to never end. We started out thinking we are going to build this static thing and live happily ever after. But the reality is that the building and rearranging, adjustments and redirection seem to be part of the lifestyle.

Our dream began over 20 years ago.

The Beginning . . .

Scott and I met in 1999 in western North Carolina. Two people following similar paths meet and become life-long friends. We apprenticed together at a spiritual training center learning how to teach a meditation technique. This is where we reconnected to our hearts and desire to be close to the land.

During our training we dreamed of a sustainable farm homestead and communal living. We wanted to raise good food as close to nature’s intended way as possible. Experiencing loving relationships with others and soaking up nourishing nature helped us remember our kinship with creation. Two souls had found each other.

Three years passed before we made the first step toward our dream of starting a homestead.

Buying Land Was the First Step

In the summer of 2003, we bought our first piece of land in southwest Virginia. It was 20 acres of raw land with no buildings. We rented a mobile home nearby. A little over half of the property was grazable land. The other half was wooded.

At this point in our lives we had a great deal of debt: credit cards, school loans, taxes, and now a mortgage. We set out to pay everything off in full. We would have our homestead — but we were determined to have it debt-free.

We both took on lucrative jobs in Information Technology just as the electronic medical records industry kicked off. Our jobs required extensive travel. We became frequent flyers and traveled all over the US and to a few European countries as well. Every other week we flew home to Virginia to visit our beautiful piece of land. Hours and hours went into dreaming about what we were going to do with it. It made the travel easier knowing we were building a dream.

In 2005, we bought our own mobile home and moved it onto our land. And in the fall, we held our wedding ceremony on the homestead. It was so beautiful. Even though it was November the weather had permitted the leaves to change very slowly. And with very little wind this particular fall, there were many leaves still on the trees. We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect time.

Learning to Produce Food

Our first experience with livestock was raising chickens in the summer of 2006.

The original contract with our employer was done. I moved on to a different contract and continued traveling. Scott was done with traveling. He remained on the homestead and built a couple of chicken tractors ala Joel Salatin. He raised, and we processed, around 100 chickens. We ate a lot of them ourselves and gave a lot away to relatives and neighbors. This part of the journey was just a taste to get our feet wet.

Twists and Turns and . . . Texas?

Somewhere along that time period we paid all of our debts in full. Now we needed money for infrastructure.

February 2007 Scott went back to work . . .  in Texas.

I was now traveling to various places around the country every week instead of every other week. I lived in hotels and airports. What a far cry from the peaceful life we envisioned. We persevered.

In 2008 we bought an additional 40 acres adjoining our property. We were in debt again. This time for more money than ever before. It’s a good thing that I got to walk around that property occasionally or I might have forgotten exactly why we did that. The “why” had to do with dreaming bigger. Now we were learning about raising sheep. Still very much a dream at this point . . . we’re still living in Texas.

The constant travel and living out of a suitcase got really old, really fast for me. It was fine when I was traveling with my best friend and awesome life partner. Doing it alone was torture. Within a year I was insisting that Scott get a job closer to home. If I was going to fly home every weekend, I wanted it to be Virginia — not Texas.

South Carolina is Closer Than Texas

From the fall of 2008 until December 31, 2016 Scott traveled 6 hours every Sunday evening to Beaufort, South Carolina. A guy by himself doesn’t need much and a travel trailer we purchased for the task was sufficient housing. Every Friday evening he returned to the homestead in Virginia, six hours again. He did it alone for the first year and a half. Six months later, I got a job offer . . . just outside of Savannah, Georgia.

We moved the travel trailer to a park halfway between Savannah and Beaufort. It was an hour drive for me and 45 minutes for him.

Then in 2010 I got a job offer at the same hospital where Scott had been working for over two years. I jumped on that like a duck on a June bug. All of this unconventional living circumstance was worth the huge amount of stress that came with it. After all, we were now back together as a couple. That was great. We were at the homestead every single weekend. That was great. And it was only going to be for a couple of years . . .

Five years later I was stressed beyond my capacity to remain sane. I really needed a nest. For the final two years of working in Beaufort, we rented an apartment. Moving from 100 square feet to over 1,000 square feet of living space was just enough happiness to get me through it. In the end, even that wasn’t enough. In the fall of 2016, we decided to make the leap to full-time homesteaders. Getting the creamery built became the focus of our lives. And indeed, still is today.

From Chicken Tractors to Raw Milk Artisan Cheese

Let me back up a little bit and fill in some details of how we grew the farm during this period of time. How did we go from pasture raised chickens to artisan cheese? What the heck happened there? Well, we tried a few different things over the years.

The weekend life allowed us to dabble a bit in a lot of areas. Early on we were clear that raising chickens was not where our hearts were happy. Having them for eggs and meat for personal use, yes. But not as our central farm enterprise. In 2009 we put in fruit trees. That’s a long-term project that will continue to stretch over many years.

Sheep

In 2010 we bought a flock of sheep and a donkey as a guardian animal for them. We proceeded along the lines of raising sheep and selling lamb as our centerpiece. We learned a lot over several years. At one point we had over 70 sheep. But an issue arose and in 2011 something big changed on the homestead. Love crept in, awakened and rapidly altered the homestead dream.

Cows

In 2011 we bought cows. I wanted to make my own butter and cheese and I loved drinking raw milk. Still can’t stand the taste of cooked milk. With working toward homestead sustainability as part of our mission, we also wanted beef (and pork and chicken and rabbit). After researching every cow breed under the sun, we settled on the Normande. It’s a dual breed cow. A prolific milk producer as well as producing well-marbled muscle perfectly suited for beef. For more details on these cows, give a listen to the Peaceful Heart FarmCast episode I dedicated to them.

Suffice it to say, I fell in love with these cows. The issue I mentioned earlier was that lamb was not going to produce the income we desired – not without adding a lot more pasture. Another alternative arose in our dream talks. We could build a creamery and make artisan and/or farmstead cheese. It just happened to coincide with my desire to have more of these beautiful cows in my life.

To pay for it, how much longer are we going to have to work for someone else? Yes, that’s the decision that drove the planned two years of living in a travel trailer to a full seven years of craziness.

Peaceful Heart Farm Creamery is Born

Finally, I’ve gotten to the part of the story where the creamery comes in. It has been a wild and varied journey getting here. But this is the one. Since December 2016, we have been investing all of our time and energy into becoming a local cheese resource for our community. We use traditional cheese making techniques to create our cheeses. We are going to produce the best cheddar cheese that Virginia has ever seen! With a slight tweak on the salt, I’m expecting my alpine-style cheese to be a winner as well.

The creamery still has a way to go before passing state inspection. But we are so close now compared to where we started. And so many adventures along the way. With lots more still to come.

What Else?

At some point we added cashmere goats to our livestock. I’m a big knitter and dreamed of using only 100% cashmere in my projects. However, you can only do so much! For now, they keep our pastures clear of brambles and provide us some really great nutrition. In the future, meat goats will continue the pasture maintenance task.  

The only food we don’t produce in abundance at the moment is eggs (and coffee). That situation was modified when we added the quail.

Future plans include having chickens and pigs. They are natural additions when you have a creamery. We produce a lot of whey that is very high in protein. Both the chickens and the pigs will benefit from that nutritious treat.

You see what I mean? About the building part going on and on forever. Who knows what we will build after the pigs and chickens?

Final Thoughts

We spend hours and hours working, sweating and loving every minute of our life and we wouldn’t have it any other way. Starting a homestead was the best thing we ever did with our life. If you’ve been waiting on the perfect time to start a homestead, I hope I’ve inspired you to begin your own journey ASAP. It doesn’t have to be a giant leap into the unknown. It can be a giant adventure every step of the way.

If you enjoyed this podcast, please hop over to Apple Podcasts, SUBSCRIBE and give me a 5-star rating and review. Also, please share it with any friends or family who might be interested in this type of content.

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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FARM STORE Hours:

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Peaceful Heart Farm

224 Cox Ridge Road, Claudville, VA 24076

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