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.

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