Homestead News, Volume 10

Life on the farm, or homestead, is trucking right along. The one man ‘crew’ we hired to help with some of our projects is back from an extended vacation, so he and Frank are back at it.

They started Monday morning by doing some of the finish work on the greenhouse. Now the vents are all in, the outside and top corners are closed in and the flashing has been added where the roof meets the side of the house. The doors will be installed later.

Yes, that’s a radio antenna in the background on the other end of the house.

 

This is used to block rain from blowing in under the edges.

 

8:30 am in the greenhouse

This morning before it got hot, I went out and swept out the greenhouse in preparation for placing the water barrels. On one of the trips to the barn to bring down supplies for their work, Frank loaded up some of the barrels that have been stored there. As he took them out of their cardboard containers he found the invoice. We ordered these barrels from Emergency Essentials in 2009. They had a great sale with free shipping, so we ordered ten 55 gallon barrels. We couldn’t believe we would get free shipping for these in our rural location, but we did. That is how long we have had this plan for a greenhouse. We already mentioned that we had the slab poured in 2008 when we first moved here and had the porches added to the house. This project is definitely a long term dream come true.

 

The reason for ten 55 gallon barrels of water is multifaceted. Initially, it was a place to store water in case of emergencies. It will still be good for that, but the reason these barrels are being placed in the greenhouse is for temperature regulation. It probably won’t make much difference in the summer. The shear impact of hot air temperatures, will create a very hot environment in there. We plan to use the greenhouse in the summer to dehydrate, or dry many plant materials. Right now it easily gets 105+ degrees by noon each day. But in the winter, as the sun heats the greenhouse, and thus the water in the barrels, it will help raise the temperature not only during the day, but all night long. Our hope is that the heat absorbed by the barrels during the day and radiated overnight will help keep any plants that are growing in there from freezing. Will it work? We will find out over the coming months. We will place a 3/4″ sheet of plywood over two barrels, one barrel at each end of the plywood, then will have a working area. This should give us about five areas to pot, store, dry and grow plants or food.

 

The placement of the barrels has to take into account the vents, and shelving against the wall of the house.

This window will be removed and a door installed in it’s place before long. We don’t know if there will be room for another set of barrels in the middle of the floor, it depends on how the stairs work coming out of the house. We’ll figure that out when we get that far along.

These two concrete block were left over from when we had the house leveled. They’ll make nice steps coming into the greenhouse.

The grass and weeds are already trying to grow up inside the sheathing on the greenhouse. After I finished sweeping, I trimmed the grass and pulled everything out of the way. We will spray some of the foam stuff around the bottom of the siding to prevent plants and bugs from finding their way in so easily. Speaking of tools (in the last article), this is one tool that I haven’t taken very good care of. It lives outside under a roof, but the blades were starting to rust. After I finished trimming, I got out the wire brush, gave them a good cleaning, then sprayed them with WD-40. Maintenance of tools is essential if we expect them to last.

 

The projects the men worked on yesterday included replacing the rotting trim around this window and door. The materials that were used to construct the building were of very poor quality and didn’t last very long. Frank chose to replace them with some of the cedar we had left from trimming the windows in the house. While they are at it, they are going to replace the trim on the other window and the other building as well, instead of waiting for the same thing to happen to them. They also chose to put an angled board above the window for rain runoff. Not only is it functional, it looks very nice.

Remember that big patch of zinnias we had in the garden earlier in the year? They’re coming back up everywhere! That’s okay. I hope they bloom enough to make more seeds. They look great, attract pollinators and are supposed to deter some bugs. Besides all that, we really like them.

This old shed was here when we moved here. It has seen better days and needed some roof repairs. We had covered the old aluminum vent system that went down the middle of the ceiling with a tarp a while back because the roof decking was starting to rot.

Well, yesterday off came the tarp and rotted boards, replacement boards were installed and a roll of shingle material was applied the length of the roof ridge. That should hold it for a while. We also put vents in both ends of the building.

New light on top, old light on bottom

Today Frank installed a new light fixture up at the ceiling level. This is a great improvement. The old light was down at head level on the bottom of the rafter. These rafters are not even six feet tall. The man that built this shed was short and he only built it tall enough for him to walk under. I can walk under it, but Frank has to duck between each truss or bang his head. Anyway, the lighting up at ceiling level instead of truss level is a vast improvement. Maybe we won’t need to use the flashlight all the time to see.

 

We also had vents installed in the garage today, as well as some electrical repair. These vents had been stored in the barn for a while and had been blown around by a few storms. This one had the screen backing torn, so I did a little repair job before it was installed. Bellen, you’re right about having sewing supplies on hand and knowing how to use them, even if it is in unconventional way.

 

This morning after I finished sweeping the greenhouse, I swept out the old shed as well. Small price to pay for such great improvements.

The goats were waiting impatiently for their breakfast and milking when I arrived this morning. They are always ready to eat.

The pigs continue to do well. Liberty, our gilt, will let me pet her all over while she is eating, even under her stomach, which is very good. I will be monitoring her closely over the next few months trying to figure out if she is pregnant. We haven’t seen any signs of breeding or a heat cycle, but since we aren’t familiar with raising and breeding pigs, I don’t know if we would recognize it anyway. We will see. There is one barrow I don’t particularly care for. He is always jumping up at the bucket or at my hand with his mouth open for a taste or bite or something. I just don’t trust him. He will be the first one on the dinner table when the time comes.
 

10:45 am in the greenhouse

 

This is where the water barrels have been stored for the last six years. These two still need to be taken down to the greenhouse, then the mess cleaned up.


We have been using some of our lumber store while working on our many projects. It won’t be long before we will need to restock this supply. This is one way we are investing our money in tangible assets, and is something we think is very valuable. Let’s face it, when the SHTF, we are not going to be ‘making’ 2×4’s or plywood, fence staples or barbed wire.


Here are some more supplies we will be using in some upcoming projects. You can tell by the layer of dust that they have been here for a while, kind of like the water barrels, just not as long. 

 

This is an area that will soon be involved in a project, along with these water barrels. We are really looking forward to this one as well.

The porch is full of tools that are used daily in our projects. The weather isn’t as hot as it was a month ago, but the humidity sure makes it feel that way. The men start early in the morning and stop in the early afternoon. It makes for a shorter day, and keeps them out of the hottest part of the day.

I want to thank everyone for their well wishes on my sinus dilation. I went back for a checkup on Monday and found out that I was already growing scar tissue back over an area the doctor had worked over pretty good initially. He was surprised at the rate I was healing. I told him it was because I don’t eat chemicals. I don’t think he believed me or paid much attention to that statement. I do think that is the case, though. But because of the scar tissue trying to close off the left maxillary sinus, he had to cut it out. Suffice it to say that it was gruesomely painful and extremely difficult for Frank to see me hurt that bad. It took a while to quit shaking, and I was exhausted. 
 

Noon in the greenhouse


Yesterday I made some mozzarella and waxed two wheels of cheddar which filled up the small cheese frig. Now I need to try making cottage cheese again. There has to be a recipe somewhere that will work with our goat milk. 

Thanks for the flower seed, Grace.


Today I was glad I felt up to sweeping and helping Frank install the light in the shed. Tomorrow I plan to butcher a few roosters, maybe only two for fresh eating, but it will be a start. I already feel better each day and can only pray there will be no more cutting when I go for my next checkup.


As you are aware, the stock markets of the world have been, and continue to be, on a major roller coaster ride. The politicians continue their playground antics pointing fingers at each other and exposing themselves for the weak, ineffective people they are. The world leaders continue their saber rattling and posturing. And most people continue to stare mindlessly into screens small and large for the diversion of the day that is meant to distract them from the fact that the temperature of the pot is fast approaching the boiling point. Folks, you need to work hard and fast to get as many things in order as you possibly can. Many, many indicators are getting closer and closer to that red line, and when they cross it there will be no turning back. 

Until next time – Fern

Homestead News, Volume 9

Time continues to fly by and autumn will be with us before we know it. We are finally out of the 100+ temperatures. It was 59* here last night! I don’t think it will last, though, we are supposed to be back up into the low 90’s by early next week, and that is fine. It is much more manageable than the 100+ stuff with high humidity. With the cool weather this morning, we were able to use our new double hung windows to fill the house with cool, fresh air. They work great.

We want to send our thoughts and prayers to those that are being affected by the wildfires around the country. We have friends in the northwest that have had to evacuate their home, and we haven’t heard from them since yesterday. It must be very difficult to leave your home not knowing what you may return to. There are many different types of challenges we are all given, but many times on the other side of it, we are stronger for having been tested and refined.

We continue to pen up the youngest kids and accumulate milk for cheese making. The last batch of cheddar is ready to wax, but I ran out of steam before I got to it today. Two more wheels of cheddar are now in the cheese press and will be ready to remove and start the drying process tomorrow evening. Since I won’t be able to wax these two wheels until Saturday, I put them in a plastic storage bag in the refrigerator. I will be having a sinus dilation procedure tomorrow morning, so I don’t expect to get much of anything done for the rest of the day.

 

We continue to eat our cheddar at room temperature, but have found that it gets too oily if we leave out the whole wheel. This time we cut it in half covered the open end with plastic wrap and put it back in the cheese frig until we are ready for it.

 




We also filled up the fermentation crock with four heads of cabbage today. The last batch of sauerkraut stayed in the crock for a month and it was the best tasting we have had so far. We still have three quarts of it in the refrigerator that we are eating, and wanted the next batch to have plenty of time to ferment. It’s interesting how quickly things like making sauerkraut becomes routine.

Today was also bread day. The sourdough was still doing it’s thing and predigesting all those carbohydrates for us on top of the frig while I was writing this. We didn’t get the dough mixed up until about 11:00 this morning, so I didn’t bake the rolls until 8:30 this evening. I wanted to give it plenty of time to ferment and digest beforehand. They sure are good.

 


I’ve tried to make cottage cheese twice by leaving the milk on the counter. The first time it didn’t really curdle, so I thought I hadn’t left it long enough.

The second time I left it for about four days and it was definitely soured, but still didn’t really make curds like it was supposed to. That’s too bad, I was really hoping it would work. Now it will be back to the cheese book and making another stab at modifying the recipe so I can get good cottage cheese.

We still have roosters and wethers to butcher, and we hope next week after my sinuses clear up we can get a lot of butchering done. That and get some fall crops planted. My headaches and general feelings of sickness have put everything like that on hold for way too long. So I hope to have more to report in the butchering department very soon.

The pigs are doing much better in the behavior department. There are some folks at church that have raised pigs for years and Frank was quizzing them on ‘normal’ pig behavior last week. We are still learning, and they are still growing. It will be very interesting to see how they do in the long run. I’m also very interested to see how Lance and Liberty behave once we have butchered the barrows. I think the interaction will be different then. We pay a little more attention to them since they are our breeding pair and the barrows will end up on our dinner plates. I have a question for you. Does a pig’s tail continue to grow longer and get more curly as they grow up?

The whey produced from making cheese goes to good use as pig food. They get upset with me if I take them a bucket of scraps without some kind of liquid in it. I can’t help but laugh at them when they fuss at me. It’s a funny little squeal.

By the time we got most of the day’s activities completed, the kitchen was really a mess. 

As the week has progressed we have watched more major fluctuations in the financial markets around the world. It is just another indicator of the instability of the underlying foundations of economies everywhere. We continue to discuss what tangible items we can invest in that we will be able to use in the future, come what may. An example of one of our acquisitions is a stainless steel water bath canner. We have two like the one pictured above that the whey is in. One of them, after three or four years of use, has chipped and has a place trying to rust on the inside of the bottom. Knowing they won’t be durable for long term use, especially if we get to the point that we can’t buy or trade for another one, we chose to invest in stainless steel. As you can tell, it’s still in the box. We’ll keep using the enameled version as long as we can.

We continue to pick peppers, tomatoes, cowpeas and carrots from the garden. I really hope to write another garden article before long with the things we have been able to plant for fall. 

Thank you for all of the great comments. It’s neat to be able to share. Frank and I have learned a great deal from other folks experiences. Please keep sharing. 

Prepare for the fall of the year and the fall of the world. They will both be arriving soon.

Until next time – Fern

Homestead News, Volume 8

Sometimes it seems as if there is not much going on here to report, but once I really stop and think about it, I can usually come up with something. This time the news is full of a number of small things. Take the goats for instance.

Last night I started penning up our two youngest kids again. They are both four months old, but are still nursing. We had separated them into the old weaning a pasture for about a month, but then the pigs came and took over that pasture. Then for a while, the kids just nursed through the fence after we put them in with the buck and wethers. As the young doe approached four months we didn’t want to leave her in the buck pasture, so we brought her back out with the does and hoped in vain that her mom wouldn’t let her nurse. She did. Now the young buck comes through the gate to be with his mom and nurse. We haven’t been able to block off the gate yet, and even

Lady Bug has a nice udder for a first freshener

if we did, he would still nurse through the fence. Both of these moms are first fresheners and we still want to develop their udders as much as possible this first season, so last night I started penning up these two kids again. This morning I got over three quarts of milk instead of one. 

That’s good since we are eating our cheddar cheese a little faster than we have in the past. It’s a great part of our low carb diet. So with this increase in milk, we will make more cheddar to replace the six wheels we have already consumed. The wheel I opened yesterday was waxed the end of April and is quite good. Did you know that room temperature cheese is better than refrigerated? Quite by accident we discovered we like warm cheese better, and it doesn’t taste the same as cold cheese. When we open a new wheel of cheddar, I leave it out on the counter in a bowl. The rind will dry out more and harden, then eventually the oils in the cheese will begin to coat the outside of the wheel. In times gone by, cheese was stored at room temperature, maybe covered by a towel or cloth. In a strange way it seems this is yet another small step we’ve discovered that will be one less thing to change when the power goes out and stays out.

The temperatures here continue to be at or over 100* with dangerously high heat indexes. Any outside work is accomplished early in the day, with very few exceptions. I have been having some serious sinus issues for about a month or more which have greatly impacted the work I do in the garden. The heat and humidity, not to mention bending over, many days make the headaches I’ve been having intolerable. Has anyone out there had a sinus balloon dilation procedure? I am scheduled to have this performed in a week or so. At this point, with the headaches I have been having, I am ready for some relief. The headaches have definitely impacted accomplishing things around the homestead as well as writing here on the blog.

In the last few days we have canned the last of the winter squashes. The bugs have killed all of our squash plants and it’s too late to grow any more winter varieties, so we won’t have any fresh to store for winter, but we’ve ended up with 41 quarts, which we are happy with. I have replanted yellow summer squash which should be able to produce before frost if I can keep them alive and win the war with the bugs.

We also made 11 quarts of salsa yesterday. It’s our favorite way to eat canned tomatoes, and I hope we can make another batch. Even with all of this heat, the tomatoes are still producing very well. Frank just walked by the thermometer and told me it’s 104* outside. We closed down some of the blinds to help the AC try to keep up. Now Frank just told me it’s been 106*!

It’s nice to have a few fresh things from the garden in the crisper. I started chopping and freezing fresh peppers today. We really enjoyed using them through the winter last year and I hope to freeze a number of quarts. I’m also doing an experiment with fermenting a few jalapeno peppers. I took the last batch of sauerkraut out of the crock today and put it in the frig. We started this batch on June 20th. It smells and looks great. When we first started eating kraut, Frank wasn’t very fond of it, but like many people predicted, we now really enjoy our daily portion. He even asks for larger servings of it now. 

We got this plastic strainer spoon to use with the crock to prevent scraping the ceramic finish. It works very well.

After I emptied the crock, I strained off a bit of the juice to use with a few jalapeno peppers. I read somewhere, sorry I don’t remember where, it could have been a comment here, that fermented peppers were crunchy and very good, so I’m going to try it. I added a few peppers to the kraut juice then covered them with salt water. I discovered this small jar fit just right into the pint jar, so I’m using it to keep the peppers submerged. For now, it will reside on the cabinet on a plate. I will be very interested in how this turns out since we prefer crunchy to soft peppers.

I used a half gallon of milk. This bowl wasn’t big enough.

I’ve also decided to take the plunge and try the cottage cheese ‘recipe’ from The Organic Prepper several people suggested. Even my aunt wrote and told me what she remembered about how my grandmother made cottage cheese. Thank you for that email, Aunt A.N. The only ingredient is milk, and all you do is leave it in a covered bowl on the cabinet for two or three days. When the cream rises and sours, it is skimmed off and eaten. That’s it. It’s almost too easy, so we will see how it turns out. I will let you know.

 

Our chickens are doing well. The young hens are blending in with the main flock just fine. The young roosters will be ready to put in the freezer soon which is good since we are ready for some fresh fried chicken. The youngest batch of birds are growing well and will soon need to take over the young rooster pen for more space.

They all like the tomato skins from the salsa.

Young roosters

Youngest flock

I made a new batch of lotion this morning since the last one was starting to turn brown in places. Tewshooz left a comment for us early on about using a preservative to prevent this problem. When I made the last batch I forgot to add the vitamin E, so it didn’t last as long as it could have. This time I wrote vitamin E on the recipe I got from Leigh at 5 Acres & A Dream, so I won’t

forget it next time. Since this lotion is made from olive oil, herbal tea and beeswax, I fed this old portion to the pigs. It’s nice it didn’t totally go to waste. The other thing Tewshooz taught me with a comment was to keep working the lotion until it emulsifies, that way the oil and water won’t separate. To do that now, I place the pan of warm oil, wax and tea into a sink of cold water while I stir it briskly with a small whip. It works great. Thanks for the tips, Tewshooz, they have really paid off.

 

Peppermint and lemon balm for the herbal tea ingredients


 

Takes about 20 minutes

Cooling in cold water

For lunch today we had a no taco, taco salad. It has most of the normal ingredients a taco salad would, just no corn chips or shell. A serving of kraut goes well with this meal. We used some of our canned jalapenos from last year, the salsa we made yesterday, a fresh sweet pepper from the garden, some lettuce, spinach, onion, olives, and room temperature, grated, cheddar. It was great! 

Tonight some of the members of Frank’s radio class are taking tests for their ham licenses. We are excited for them and hope everyone does well. We’ll let you know how it turns out and give you an update on how the class went in general. Now that it is over, we’ll see if our hopes of a local communications network materializes. 

By the way. Has anyone been having trouble with their internet service? Our internet service with Verizon over the past few months has gone from good, to a few glitches, to terrible. We get disconnected or ‘frozen’ numerous times a day now. Then we had someone tell us that Verizon and AT&T are having issues nationwide. Then we found out some other folks in this are are having connectivity issues with Verizon. Then we found out a medical clinic in Fort Smith, Arkansas has been having issues for a month. It would be interesting to hear if anyone else knows anything about this or is experiencing any difficulties.

We have taken to carrying a small bat with us into the pig pen for training purposes. The pigs have responded well and no longer crowd around right behind me when I am walking to the feed pan. We will continue to be very consistent in shaping their behavior. So far, so good.

Life on the homestead is good, very good. We continue to keep tabs on the world with a growing certainty that things will not remain as they are for much longer. The stock markets continue to exhibit the roller coaster pattern that many leading economists have been predicting. The media continues to distract the populace with the same mindless drivel they

have served up for years now. Every so often they intersperse their drivel with small tidbits of real news, news of increased violence, intolerance and suppression of the freedoms we once took for granted. Maybe that’s part of the problem. We have taken too much for granted for too long. Now the pursuit of pleasure and recreation is the end goal and the means justifies the end for a large portion of our world’s population. When this pursuit is no longer an option, what knowledge or skills will exist that can be utilized for survival? I’m afraid it will be like looking into the bottom of an empty barrel. There will be nothing there.

You’ve heard this many times before and here it is again. Learn all you can. Experience what you can now when failure is still and option and you can go to the store and obtain whatever it is you will need. Every single thing you can learn now will increase your possibility of making it yet another day when everything around you has changed. If some of the things we read and hear are anywhere near accurate, the beginnings of major upheaval or change may not be far away, not far at all. Do everything you can. Prepare yourself mentally to see and experience the unthinkable.

Until next time – Fern

Homestead News, Volume 2

I don’t know where the time goes, but lately it has gone flying by. So much so, that I really have to think about everything we’ve been doing. I’m sure I’ll forget some things that I wanted to tell you, but here goes. News from the homestead.

Before

It’s easier to remember what happened today first. We started off by taking Pearl to the vet for a haircut. For the past few years, I have been giving her a haircut with scissors, and we were looking into some clippers when we discovered that the vet’s wife gives a ‘country cut’, or that’s what she likes to call it. So this morning Pearl was transformed. And all that hair only weighed two pounds! She will be much cooler with our hot, humid summer weather coming.

After

 

The next exciting thing that happened today is that Penny, her two boys, and Buttons moved to Faith’s house. Faith has long wanted to have goats, so today was a dream come true for her. She asked me when they were leaving if I was crying. She knows I have cried before when some of my adult does have left, but not this time. I was excited and happy for Faith. Besides that, we went over and visited them already this afternoon. Faith and her husband have a great place set up in their barn for the goats, as well as lots and lots of pasture/wooded area for them to graze once they get acclimated. That made this a very neat day.

 

Penny and boys
Buttons

At their new home

The garden is really starting to grow well, and to my eyes gets more beautiful every day. I ran our Mantis tiller around the squash hills and here and there to knock down the weeds before this latest round of rainy weather hit. I also managed to replant the okra and some of the cow peas, cucumbers, carrots, spinach and beets that didn’t make it. The green beans that I replanted last week are doing great. It’s a new variety that we haven’t tried before. I’ll let you know if we like them.

 

The new section of the garden didn’t grow anything. I’m not sure if the seeds were old or got washed out by the heavy rain we had a few weeks ago. So far the only thing I have replanted there was more pinto beans along the trellis. The rest will have to wait for drier days again.

We have started eating turnip greens and salad fixings from the garden regularly. Tomorrow I am going to try my hand at freezing turnip greens like you do spinach. I have the directions in Stocking Up, and thought I would give it a try. We don’t expect the actual turnips to make since hot weather is coming, but are very happy to be able to enjoy the greens for now.

 

We moved the water tanks away from the barn so Frank could brush hog there. Our plan is to put down some heavy plastic, build a base with treated lumber, fill it with sand, allow that to settle in, put guttering on the barn, place the three 1550 gallon tanks on the pads, and run the guttering into the tanks. This will give us water for the animals, as well as the ‘animal feed’ garden we are going to plant in this pasture if it ever dries up enough to really work on the ground.

We’ve continued to make wheels of cheddar about two days a week and are up to 12 wheels aging in the frig, with 4 more drying on the cabinet. We will make two more wheels tomorrow and wax at least two of those that are drying. 

We have been saving eggs for the incubator which Frank will fire up tomorrow. This will give us some meat, but the concentration on this first batch will be replacement hens for our current flock. We have a Buff rooster which we like, and he will add some good qualities like size and demeanor, to our next flock of hens. We will probably hatch two more batches through the summer to resupply our freezer and some jars with meat.

This coming week we have another big event taking place. One week from today, if all goes according to plan, we will be bringing home three piglets, two boars and one gilt. We are beginning a whole new adventure raising American Guinea Hogs. One of the boars will be raised for meat, the other for breeding. We will share our adventures, which we hope will be mostly successful, as we go along. This is something we have never done before. We have fed out a few feeder pigs along the way, but never raised any to breed, so keep your fingers crossed for us. We have chosen this particular breed for very specific reasons, which we will discuss in more detail in another article dedicated specifically to the pigs.

We continue to make and consume sauerkraut almost everyday. The batch we started on April 22nd was removed from the crock yesterday. We used one whole head of cabbage and it made about a quart and a half of kraut. Instead of removing about a third of it and leaving the rest in the crock, this time I removed all of it and started another batch. The new batch consists of about one and two thirds head of cabbage and about two cups of shredded carrots. Since I have started shredding the cabbage there isn’t any issue with having enough natural juices to cover the vegetables in the crock. I continue to add a good amount of juice from the previous batch to boost the fermentation process. We have really begun to enjoy the kraut and are very glad we have been learning this process.

 

Each time we walk out the door, if the wind is not blowing too much, we are greeted with the wonderful aroma of honeysuckle. It is blooming in profusion.

There are also lots of wild privet blooming here and yon around the house and along the fence rows. It is more subtle than the honeysuckle, but smells wonderful all by itself.

The wild blackberries are growing by the bazillion. I really look forward to picking and picking and picking. Last year I did an article about free food for the picking. I wonder if anyone else around is eyeing all of this free food the way I am.

We are picking just enough strawberries to have some each morning with our breakfast. There is just no comparison to frozen and fresh. They are a welcome addition to our daily fare.

Now, it’s time to go feed and milk the goats, gather the eggs, put the chickens to bed, feed the dog and cats, and see if any of the goats laughed at Pearl’s haircut. She does look rather different. Then it’s time to fix supper, finish up this post and wait for the next round of storms to come through. Life is busy and blessed. 

Until next time – Fern

Fern’s Cheese Making Tips

Now that Frank and I have been making cheese for about four years, we have worked out some kinks, developed a working routine, and figured out how to solve some problems that were

Our first wheel of cheddar

affecting either the ease of the process or the flavor of the cheese. Except for reading my cheese making books, or articles online, I have never met anyone that makes cheese. Much of what we have done, and continue to do, is trial and error. And, as with any new venture, once the basics are somewhat mastered, the time of real learning can begin. It’s like gardening. Once you have grown a particular plant for a few seasons, then you really begin to figure out how to increase production through proper soil conditions, moisture requirements, insect pest control and companion planting. I once heard an analogy of comparing learning to an onion. As you peel off a layer, it reveals more of the onion. I think cheese making, gardening, and many other ventures are the same. The more you learn and master, the more is revealed that you can learn.

Making cheese. It takes some time, equipment and good, quality ingredients. All of the cheese we have made comes from our own goats’ milk. There have been a few batches of mozzarella along the way that I tried making with milk that I had skimmed the cream from, but it just doesn’t taste as good as whole milk, so we don’t skim the cream before making cheese. I have already written articles about making several different cheeses, as well as how I wax our cheddar, and will list them here for your convenience. 

 

There are also several more articles and recipes for using some of these cheeses, like making cheesecake from Chevre, listed under the page, The Things You Can Do With Milk, found at the top right hand corner of the blog under Things To Read.

I included a picture of our first wheel of cheddar for a couple of reasons. One, I was very excited to actually begin making cheddar, and two, because it tasted awful. It was rather disheartening to finally have a dream come true, only to have to wait a couple of months to find out it was very bitter with a strong after taste. After two years, yes two years, we began to wonder if all homemade cheddar was supposed to have this strong, bitter aftertaste. Well, it’s not. Most of our cheddar up to that point ended up with a reddish kind of mold inside the wax. It wasn’t mold in the normal sense, like that stuff that shows up on your bread or old leftovers in the frig, but it was something that was obviously growing in there. So, I read all of my cheese making books and did many online searches. That was a couple of years ago, so I can’t give you the sources of my information, because I don’t remember where I found them. But this is what I discovered.

 

One. Before you wax any cheese for aging, brush the entire surface well with apple cider vinegar, then let it dry for a bit. Do this after you have let it sit and form the rind for a few days, according to the directions for the type of cheese you are making. The vinegar will help kill any surface bacteria on your cheese before you encase it in wax. Two. Keep your wax as hot as you can get it during the entire waxing process. I wax with a brush, not the dipping method, which is much faster that applying layers of wax with a brush. There is a post

listed above about waxing. At first I was melting the wax, then turning off the heat. According to my research, the wax needs to be as hot as possible during the entire process. This also helps to kill any bacteria on the surface of the cheese. The result? No more strong, bitter aftertaste, and a wonderful cheddar flavor. Needless to say, I was very happy after two years of making cheese to finally discover the reason for my much less than desirable cheeses.

And the best way to clean up those wax drips from the stove and cabinet? Paper towels.

Some other tips I found along the way for making cheddar have caused me to adjust a few things. I only ripen the milk and buttermilk for 45 minutes instead of an hour. This will lessen the acidity somewhat. Reasons for too much acidity can vary, with one of them being the animal you milk. I also use just a hair less rennet than the recipe calls for. As we’ve have gained more experience, and identify certain flaws in the process, research has been very helpful in increasing the success and flavor of the finished product.

 

Another thing I discovered recently is how to keep the wheels of cheese from being very difficult to remove from the mold after the last 24 hour press. It appears that it is natural for some bacteria to grow between the cheese, cheese cloth and cheese press. This can make it extremely difficult to get the wheel out after is has sat for 24 hours. To alleviate this, wipe down the inside of the mold, the surface of the press and the follower with apple cider vinegar. I did this the other day and it worked great. The only place the cheese stuck was to the base of the press. I put the vinegar on the follower and mold with a cotton cloth, but forgot to do the base. But because I overlooked the base, it showed me just how effective this technique was.


Making buttermilk from a commercial culture is very easy, as I outlined in the article above. About the only thing we do different now, is keep a continual supply by using about 1/8 cup of our existing culture to inoculate the next batch. This limits our need for commercial buttermilk culture to the first batch of the year when we begin renewing our cheese supply. With the double batch of cheddar we started this morning, it was time to culture another quart of buttermilk.


Mozzarella cheese is fairly easy to make and doesn’t take the time or attention cheddar does. We can make a quadruple batch of mozzarella in about four hours, while an equal amount of cheddar takes about eight hours and more babysitting, meaning you have to tend to the next step more often, so you can’t get really involved in any other projects or chores while making it. The hardest thing to learn about making mozzarella is the stretching process, and it’s almost impossible to describe in words. The first batches I made tasted okay, but the consistency was like rubber. Really. Kind of like chewing on one of those rubber balls kids used to play with. But we ate it anyway. Frank is a wonderful man that way. He will usually try to eat anything I make, even if it’s like rubber or has a strong, bitter after taste.

There are a couple of things I am doing different this year when making mozzarella. First, I read that you can save the brine and reuse it many times. That was great news. It always bothered me to use 1/2 cup of salt per batch of cheese, only to pour it out. That seemed like such a waste of salt. We tried adding the salt to the curd, like some recipes recommend, but like it much better when the cheese is soaked in a brine. Second, I am using water to stretch the cheese instead of whey. I liked the idea of using whey since it is a natural byproduct of making cheese, but it seemed to be the cause of the cheese souring long before I thought it should. Since I have changed to water, we haven’t had that problem.

Chevre. Even though chevre is versatile and can be used in many different recipes, including cheesecake, I have never really liked it much. We have tried seasoning it a number of different ways, from dill, to garlic, to ranch. Frank likes it in a celery stalk, and I will eat it, but I can just as easily do without it. We haven’t made any this year because we still have some in the freezer. Chevre is by far the least labor intensive cheese to make. Just remember to roll it back and forth in the cheese cloth before you leave it to hang. It gets a lot of the whey out, and leaves a nice soft cheese.

I’m still experimenting with the pressed herb cheeses. So far the only type I have made is with small green onions and fresh garlic. The flavor is good, but the texture is not. The only thing I can figure out so far is that I press it too hard. It is a little dry, and it squeaks in your teeth, which I don’t care for. I haven’t tried any more herb cheese yet since we are working on our goal of getting 30 wheels of cheddar waxed and aging before the garden produce starts coming in. We have a number of herbs growing in the herb bed that would make a nice herb cheese, so I will be experimenting more later in the summer.

 

We have worked out a very good routine for making cheese as well. The equipment we use is well suited for making a large double boiler. It also processes many vegetables for the canner in the summer. Using a double boiler makes it easy to control the temperature of the milk and curd without scorching or overheating the milk on the bottom of the pan. Long thermometers work very well for our 12 quart stock pots. Any type of cheese press will work. We prefer this version because it doesn’t take up much room. Our kitchen is small and many times when we are making cheese, cabinet space comes at a premium. 

I have tried to ‘hurry’ the process along before by trying to put hot instead of cold water into the double boiler. This just doesn’t work. Regardless of what type of cheese we’re making, the curd ends up separated and kind of stringy instead of a nice, solid mass. I have also tried using milk fresh from the barn before it has been chilled in the refrigerator, but I get the same loose, inconsistent curd. So the lesson I have learned from this is, allow adequate time, use chilled milk with cold water, and follow the directions for whatever recipe you are using.

Temperature of the milk/curd

Temperature of the water in the bottom pot

When you are heating the milk or curd to a specific temperature, let’s say 88*, don’t heat it all the way to the desired temperature if you are using a double boiler. Does that make sense? Probably not. I got the temperatures too hot, if only by a few degrees, more than once, and ended up taking the cheese pot out of the pot of water, to either maintain the correct temperature or to cool it off. I’ve learned to turn the fire off when the temperature reaches four to six degrees cooler than the desired temperature. So in the example of 88*, I turn the fire off at 82*, wait about ten more minutes, when the desired temperature is reached. The pot of water is usually warmer than the milk or curd, which is how the correct temperature can be maintained over the 30 to 45 minute time period most curd is allowed to ripen or set up. I occasionally don’t keep a close enough eye on things and still have to take the pots out so they don’t get too hot, but I was glad to figure out a better process so I could leave the curd in the double boiler for a more consistent temperature.

Making cheese is one of those things that I provides me with tremendous personal satisfaction, not to mention something good to eat. I hope these tips have been useful, and if you have any questions I can answer, please let me know. I am by no means a skilled cheese maker, I think I still fall in the category of a novice, but I will be happy to share whatever I have learned.

Until next time – Fern

Homestead News, Volume 1

We decided to start a new feature and call it Homestead News. Every so often we have given you an update of things that are happening around here, and we’re running out of names for those articles. So, now they will just be called Homestead News and be numbered by volume. It may not be very original, but it simplified things for us. We have also added a new page to the list of Things To Read, at the top of the right hand column, titled Homestead News where you will find links to these articles. Now that we have explained our new feature, on with the news.

Pearl wants some attention while I wait for a goat to finish eating on the milk stand.

We are now milking five does twice a day. That sounds like a lot of milk, but really it’s not…..yet. Copper and One Stripe have been providing us with the bulk of the milk so far since their babies are being weaned. Our three young does have only been giving us a little, morning and evening, until this morning. Last night was the first night I penned up the young babies away from their moms since the youngest, Easter, is now two weeks old. The young does are developing their udder capacity, which will continue to increase over the next few months. This morning from a full milking with all five does we got a gallon and a half of milk. Tomorrow will be less because this morning I wormed Copper and One Stripe. I will still milk them, and keep their milk for the animals for five days before we keep it for human consumption again. In the meantime, we will be getting the milk from the young does.

 

With all of this milking we have been making cheese two to three days a week. Now that we have plenty of milk we use four gallons every time. That makes a double batch of cheddar and a quadruple batch of mozzarella. So far we have six wheels of cheddar waxed and aging and two more in the cheese presses on the kitchen counter that we made today. There are several batches of mozzarella in the freezer. Our plan is to make 30 wheels of cheddar for the season. Mozzarella? Well, we always eat some fresh when we make it, then freeze the rest. I separate each batch into three pieces of cheese that are probably around half a pound. The supply in the freezer is building, and that’s okay. We are eating more cheese on our low carb diet and there is nothing like homemade, just like with any food.

In our efforts to successfully grow cabbage for humans instead of insects, we are trying something new this year. Our first batch of green lacewing and praying mantid eggs arrived in the mail today. I’ve already had some friends tell me that it sounds weird to order bugs or to get bugs in the mail. That’s okay, though, because they already knew I was weird. And they’re still my friends! The bug thing will be an ongoing process and I will do an article about it as we get farther along.

I’m kitting a few dishcloths for a wedding shower gift for a young couple at church. I think it’s always nice to get something homemade.

We spent half a day trying to program a radio scanner that we can’t figure out. That was very frustrating. It is now in a box on a shelf. But we do have another one we are going to take a look at. 

Frank has been talking to a young man at church about survival radio. They are now working on setting up a class that Frank will teach for some of the folks in the area. This class will provide information about getting a ham radio license at the Technician level. But even more than that, Frank will provide information about using CB, GMRS, FRS, MURS, scanners and shortwave radio more effectively. They will be talking about how to use a small solar panel to power the battery in a car, or any battery, and allow continued use of radio communications when the power is out. Frank feels very strongly about trying to set up a network of local people that will be able to communicate via radio if there is a natural disaster, emergency or collapse situation, whether it lasts a few days or indefinitely. We really look forward to this class and the relationships it will build with people in our surrounding area.

Cowpeas
Cushaw winter squash


The garden is growing, so the masterpiece has begun. We have had so much rain that it is still hard to get into the garden and get a handle on the weeds, or plant a few more seeds. So far, the old pinto bean seeds I planted have not made an appearance. I don’t know if they are too old, or it has been too wet. There are many people around here that haven’t started their gardens yet because it is so wet. We are grateful that we have so many things planted and growing.

 

I am very excited to see the wild blackberries blooming. We now eat berries every morning with our breakfast, and I look forward to serving fresh berries we have harvested instead of having to buy them at the store. I will be picking every berry I can get my hands on this year in an effort to freeze enough, so we won’t have to buy any. I don’t know if I can do that or not. I would also like to can more peaches and pears, but I’m trying to figure out if I can do it without sugar. I know in some recipes, sugar is a sweetener, but it also provides part of the preservative properties. I’ll have to do more research on that.

We have been picking a variety of things from the garden and herb bed to include in a salad about three to four days a week. I’ll be doing an article on that before long as well. I have to tell you, the herb bed is doing wonderfully this year. I hope to actually start harvesting and using what’s out there. Instead of only growing the plants, it’s time to learn to preserve and put them to use. The new comfrey bed is doing well. I pick comfrey everyday now for the chickens and the goats. 

And Frank the funny photographer took some beautiful pictures after one of the latest rains. We had a nice double rainbow for a short time.
 


There is always a lot happening on a homestead in the spring. It’s the time of increased activity after a long winter’s rest. Now, if it would just quit raining for a day or two we might get to mow the grass before it gets knee high.

April 13th

April 18th

April 19th

Keep an eye on Yemen. It looks like things are heating up in the Middle East. We just pray it doesn’t boil over.

Until next time – Fern

Waxing the Cheese – No, Not Really


 

Making cheddar cheese is quite a lengthy process. This cheese was made the day before this picture was taken. For the step-by-step process see the post on  Fern’s Cheddar Cheese.

After the cheese had been in the press for the final 24 hours, we took it out to dry.

The mold is still pretty full since we put two batches of cheese, made from four gallons of milk, into one mold this time.

 Frank had to roll the mold over and over and push on it to loosen up the cheese. We were afraid it might be stuck and the force we would need to use to get it out would break it up, but it didn’t. Yea!

Next, carefully remove the cheese cloth. It is not unusual for a little bit of the cheese to stick to the cloth from the edges of the wheel. 

Just take your time and slowly peel it off.

 And, wa-la! You have a beautiful block of fresh cheddar cheese that has no flavor. The first time we made it I had to try some. It didn’t taste like anything. I was disappointed. But the cheddar flavor comes with aging. So, be patient.The cheese has to be dry to the touch and form a kind of rind before it will be ready to wax. So this cheese will sit here on the counter for several days before I wax it.

Day 1 drying

The edges are starting to dry and the top and sides are getting kind of spotty looking – drier vs. more moist areas.


Day 2 still drying 

The darker areas are ‘spreading’. The cheese won’t be dry until the entire surface is the darker color.
We turn the cheese over several times a day for even drying.

Day 3 and still drying

The cheese has a much darker color, but still has a way to go before it is ready to wax. It will be another day or two.






Well, on day 4 we began to wonder about the cheese. It smelled funny. So…..we cut it open. The inside smells just fine, but it is full of holes. We don’t think we could press it hard enough with two batches in one cheese press. It will have to dry for a few more days. I have my doubts about this cheese. 

 

Guess what? On day 5 we gave up on the idea of waxing this cheese and started eating it. It actually tastes pretty good. Not like cheddar, but a nice mild flavor. With all of the holes, we figured it would mold as it aged and that would make it a long waste of time.

I don’t think any two batches of my cheese have come out exactly the same. It is always interesting if not very successful. But I guess that depends upon your idea of success. If I am learning something, then I consider myself to be doing quite well. It’s better than sitting on the couch, staring at the television and eating cheese doodles!

Look for another post on waxing cheese. The next time we make cheddar, we will be using two cheese presses like we have in the past. So we will include pressing and waxing on that post.

Until next time – Fern