All posts by jillofalltrades

I am a registered nurse, with an MBA and a director of outpatient quality within our local healthcare system. I am a mother of two wonderful children, and a wife to a man I've been with since I was 18 years old. I have trained in and competed in martial arts since the age of 8 years old. I have won the Chicago Golden Gloves and competed successfully in many boxing, kickboxing, Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and mma events. I am also from a rural family and have a small hobby farm with dairy goats, chickens, honey bees, and a garden. I pressure can and preserve as much food as we can produce. I hunt, fish, shoot, and generally spend every chance I can outside. Although I have done well for myself in my career, nothing means more to me than my children and the rural style of self sufficient living. It's a legacy that was left to me and one that I feel obligated to pass on to my children. I hope you enjoy reading about my family and our journey as we move through life and try to soak up every moment we can.

Gardening, The Easy Weed Free Way

Roma tomatoes ready for canning

I wouldn’t call myself a master gardener, but I have had a successful garden the last 6 or 7 years on My Lil Farm. As I have talked about in a previous blog, I had grown up with Mom and Dad putting out a garden every year and some of my best summer memories were centered around the garden. Snapping beans in the evening out in the front yard after supper, listening to the crickets calling and watching the lightning bugs as dusk was coming. Running down to the garden before supper to grab some fresh green onions and lettuce to go with our meal. We ate green onions a little differently than most people I know, it was always the last thing I ate, and I would put a little (or a lot) of salt on the plate, wet the onion in my mouth just enough the salt would stick and dip it in and eat it straight. We also would always have a bowl of what we called table pickles out. Basically it was vinegar, water, onions, fresh cucumbers and salt. I’d wait all day for the cucumbers to take on the flavor just so I could eat them by the plate full.

It wasn’t until I had reached my mid-thirties that I had decided to put out a garden of my own. The first year, I essentially put out a garden to make salads which was lettuce, onions, peppers and a 6 tomato plants. It didn’t take long before I was doubling the size of my garden every year adding more and more. I would start planning my garden in January, drawing it out dimensionally on paper and planning every plant and what purpose it had. Some plants I wanted to have fresh produce through the summer, some were to pressure can as individual ingredients and some were to be ingredients in full meals that we would make up, like beef stew or vegetable soup, and pressure can to open in the winter.

One of my very first gardens
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Gardens look so nice with clear dirt, but so hard to maintain

The bigger my garden got, the more maintenance it became. I will be the first to admit, there have been more than a couple of summers where I couldn’t get out to the garden to get the weeds pulled and in a matter of 3 weeks, it was out of control to the point I was worried that I would lose my garden to the weeds. There had to be a better way. I spent a fair amount of time researching mulch gardens. I got a small tiller one year thinking I would till every weekend to keep the weeds down, which was ok, but I did manage to take out a few of my plants while trying to get close. Another year I trialed raising plants in straw bales and putting straw down in my rows. These all looked pretty and nice on the blogs that promoted them, but I just couldn’t get them to work for me with the time I had to invest and still produce plants that thrived and did well. That’s when I decided that I was just going to use weed barrier, no mulch or newspapers or anything else to put on top, just weed barrier.

The weeds were so hard to tame

I have to admit that first year, it wasn’t the prettiest thing I had ever put out, but boy did it work! Every time I use the weed barrier method, I never spend more than an hour pulling weeds for the ENTIRE SUMMER, and that is just the few blades of grass that might come up near a plant or where I didn’t get the ground covered. So from here, I am going to share some of my trials with the weed barrier, what has worked, what hasn’t and what was just extra work.

My first year with the weed barrier

The kind of weed barrier I got wasn’t the plastic kind, it was the kind that was cloth like. I got the rolls that were 3 feet wide. It was on sale at my local farm store and I was able to cover my whole garden for about $16. I put it down, I had some long 12 inch wide boards from some of our own lumber we milled and laid that over the seams. That gave me a nice place to walk while I was in my garden while keeping the wind from carrying it away. I cut out little plus signs in the middle of the barrier and that is where I put in each plant. That worked really well and I was able to use the same weed barrier for 3 years. In the fall when my garden was done, I would roll it up and we were able to work the dirt and get it ready for the next year. After 3 years and I wasn’t able to use it again, that is when I started experimenting with some of the other methods I mentioned above. Even though the weed barrier worked so well, I still longed for the beautiful magazine worthy gardens. Let me tell you, my gardens always started out like that, but my mid-July, I would always have something keep me from getting out to the garden and it would once again, get away from me.

This year’s garden right after I put in my plants

This year, I am back to the weed barrier. I did a couple of things differently. One is good the other, not so much. First the good. I got weed barrier that was a little wider, 6 feet and over lapped the seams a little more. I used the yard staples to secure the barrier to the ground, instead of using wood planks, and put my plants in the seams. I realized I didn’t need planks or stones to walk on, the weed barrier is good enough and my feet never get muddy. The seams helped me keep my rows straight and I didn’t have to be out there cutting holes where I wanted my plants. This will give me a lot more flexibility from year to year so I can rotate where I put my plants. The bad, I grabbed the wrong weed barrier. I used the kind that was a little more like plastic. It still works the same but rips easily. I won’t be able to use it more than one season. Knowing that I am going to use this method next year, I will be on the look out later this summer for sales and grab up what I need at the lowest cost for next year.

My garden as of July 3, no weeds and healthy.

Some other things to consider when using the weed barrier method are to make sure you buy the weed barrier that is permeable. You want water and fertilizer to be able to flow into the ground around your plants. If you garden is not square, you will also figure that out when putting down the barrier. I ended up planting some grass in the left over triangular space that was tilled after I got it all put down. Really that is it. I may one day go back to the original way I put out my garden, but right now, while time is such a huge commodity in my life, the weed barrier method is the way to go. There really is no maintenance after getting my garden put in and my plants look fantastic. After all, a weed free garden is the most beautiful garden.

One of my 50 tomato plants this year

Goat Milk Pasteurization

I know there are a lot of people out there that like drinking raw goat milk. I am not one of those people. Maybe it’s the nurse in me, but I just can’t. As soon as I got dairy goats, I started figuring out what I needed to do to pasteurize my own milk. I always thought it would be a big complicated process, but it really is not.

Great milk starts with clean milk, and that starts at the time of milking. I got really good at milking my goats by hand quickly, but I always ended up with a little more hair floating around than I liked. That’s when I went to a milking pump. The first pump I had was a hand pump. It is an ingenious invention really. There’s a hand pump with a pressure gauge that attached to plastic tubing that is inserted into a canning jar flat and sealed with glue. Another plastic tube inserted in the same flat then went to a 60cc syringe that’s seated around the goat’s teat to form a seal. Attach the flat to a half gallon ball jar with the ring and that makes the system. I later went to an electric pump which made things much easier, especially for my husband when he had to help out.

First milking
The First Milking With the Hand Milker

I always make sure the stantion is clean and get my goats cozy with a nice serving of sweet feed while I work. I clean her underside with hand sanitizing wipes and let it dry while I get situated. I usually only have 2 maybe 3 goats in milk at any one time. I always have lids to cover my jars while I am working and always set them aside in a clean space. Since I only open the system to put on a lid between goats, there is really very little opportunity for dirt or hair to get into the milk. Once I am done milking, I bring the milk into the house and immediately strain it into another sanitized jar using cheese cloth, just to make sure there is nothing in the milk. I have a 3 gallon stainless steel pot that I fill about 1/3 full of lukewarm water that I set on my stove. I put the half gallon canning jar in that water and turn on the heat. I suspend a thermometer in the milk and then watch the temperature closely.

There’s a few ways to pasteurize milk, but only two of these ways are easy to do in a home kitchen. One method is to heat the milk to 145 degrees F for 30 min. Some people prefer this method if they are making cheeses because the lower heat doesn’t break down as many of the enzymes in the milk. The second method is to heat the milk to 161.6 degrees F for 15 seconds. The second method the method I use whether I am making cheese or not, because really, it’s all about time for me.

As soon as I hit the 162 degree F temp, I watch the clock, EVERY TIME. If you know me, you know that I don’t guess when it comes to processes. As soon as I hit my 15 sec mark I pull the milk out and set it on a towel. Now it’s time for cooling it. The faster I can get the milk cooled, the less the taste of the milk changes. If you have ever drunk warmed milk, you know the taste I am talking about. To cool the milk really fast, I have a couple of electric ice cream makers. I have them set up on my counter and ready to go. I will pull the frozen gel inserts out of the freezer and set them up while my milk is warming. I pour the hot milk into the inserts and start the machine. I suspend the thermometer once again in the milk. When the milk is at 34 degrees F. I pour the milk back into my cooled half gallon jars, put on the lids and date the milk. That’s it. The whole process takes less than 30 minutes, from walking out to the goats to milk them (10 min), to heating the milk (10 min) and cooling the milk (10 min).

Too Much Milk
Too much milk! This was 3 gallons in 3 days

Now that you know the process, I am going to talk about a few other things to consider. The plastic tubes on my milking machine are rinsed in bleach water then clear water after every use. I then hang them up where there are no dependent loops so all the water drains. If the tubes don’t look like they are drying quickly, for whatever reason, I rinse the inside with rubbing alcohol to decrease the drying time. I usually do this part of the clean-up while my milk is heating. I also make sure all the containers I use for milk are washed on sanitize in my dishwasher after every use, including the thermometer. And here is a big lesson, if you can’t pasteurize your milk right away, for example if you want to pasteurize your morning milk at the same time as your evening milk, make sure the water on your stove starts out cold. I am certain that this has to be where the phrase “Don’t cry over spilled milk” was started. If you put your cold jar of milk in water that is already heating, the jar WILL BREAK. I may or may not have done that a time… or two.


Goat Milk Soap – A Premium Homestead Product

First soap
My first soap: (L) Coconut Beach w/sea salt; (R) Coconut Cream

One of the great benefits to having dairy goats on My Lil Farm is making my own goat milk soap. I often see these bars of soap sold at vendor events, boutique shops and spas at a premium. The benefits of using goat milk on the skin has gone back for centuries. It’s even said that the milk baths that Cleopatra took were goat milk baths. Some of the benefits from using unpasteurized goat milk on the skin are listed below.

  • Alpha Hydroxy Acids such as lactic acid help to remove dead skin cells from the surface which leave your skin smoother and younger feeling. Most soaps sold commercially are water based and contain many harsh chemicals.
  • Cream and fat are essential to a high-quality soap. Many people believe soaps high in oils and fat will leave their skin oily feeling, however it’s the fats that act as a surfactant to remove dirt and the excess oils from the skin, and this occurs without drying out the skin.
  • Vitamin A is particularly high in goat milk. Vitamin A is used in many antiaging creams which is necessary to repair damaged skin and maintain healthy skin. This is great also for people suffering from acne or psoriasis.
  • Minerals such as selenium can also be found in goat milk. There are studies that show that selenium has an important role in preventing skin cancer. Many areas of the country have soil that is not rich in selenium, but if your goats have this supplement added to their diets, this can also be a great benefit of goat milk soap.

    Soap supplies
    Some of my soap making supplies

Personally, for me, in addition to all the benefits listed above, I just really like making my own soap. I can make the fragrances I want and I know exactly what is in the soap. I feel clean and my skin feels amazing after using it. I can generally make a batch of 9 bars and it will last me several months. I have found some great sources online to buy my fragrances, colors and some of my supplies. I have also made some great bars of soap that my husband and son love to use with knockoff men’s cologne scents. Really, the reason I started making soap was because my goats were producing so much milk that I had to find something, anything, to do with it because it was just painful to pour all that milk down the drain. Since goat milk soap requires frozen unpasteurized goat milk, I can freeze the milk in ice cube trays and then store it in a gallon freezer bag in my deep freeze until I am ready to use it.

Nigerian dwarfs
My Ladies, Mattie, Mocha and Latte
Too Much Milk
Too much milk! This was 4 gallons in 3 days

I will never forget the first time I made soap. You would have thought I was preparing for a very dangerous science experiment. My son could sense it too, he was watching from the living room and told me he’d man the vinegar and call 911 if I needed him to. I do have a tendency to be over cautious, but I didn’t know what I was getting into at the time, and after all, lye can cause a significant chemical burn to the skin (ever see Fight Club?). With that being said, I am still very cautious. The bowels and spoons I use, I don’t use for anything else other than soap making. I will clean my counters and kitchen sink before I start and do my lye mixing down in the sink, just in case it spills. I always make sure I have a gallon of vinegar open next to the sink in case I get lye on the skin and need to pour it over that area to neutralize the lye. I also make sure EVERYONE knows that I am making soap and they cannot come into the kitchen until I am done and everything is cleaned up. The lye mixture looks a bit like white frosting and I have heard stories where unsuspecting family members have happened upon the mixture mid process and licked the spoon, only to acquire a chemical burn to the esophagus. Likewise, when the mixture is curing in the refrigerator, it can look and smell like a dessert. I use a spare refrigerator and label the soap clearly.

With all that being said, soap making really is easy. From start to clean-up it generally takes me 35-45 minutes. It’s like making a cake, but there’s no cooking and you wear personal protective equipment. If you don’t have access to goat milk, you can substitute with whole milk from the store. Of course it won’t have all the benefits, but it still makes a nice soap.

Soap dessert
Espresso Bars with coffee beans prior to being cut

Here is my recipe that makes approximately 9 bars of soap. I use a scale and weigh in grams to keep my proportions precise.


  • 247 grams of Olive Oil
  • 165 grams Palm Oil
  • 48 grams Coconut Oil
  • 42 grams Castor Oil
  • 124 grams Shea Butter
  • 42 grams Fragrance Oil


  • 250 grams Frozen Goat Milk
  • 117 grams Lye


  • Glass or stainless-steel bowels
  • Stainless-steel spoon
  • Hand held blender
  • Soap Molds or Freezer Paper and a Disposable Aluminum Pan
  • Rubber Gloves
  • Goggles-vented (the kind you used in school for science experiments)
  • Thermometer
  • Spatula
  • Vinegar (on standby to neutralize the lye if you get it on your skin)
  • Long Sleeved Shirt


Measure and mix all the oils (except the fragrance oil). The palm and coconut oils will have to be microwaved to bring into the fluid form.

Heat the oil mixture to 127 degrees F.

Mix the shea butter into the heated oils and let melt in.

Put the frozen goat milk in a separate tempered glass dish and set that dish in ice water bath in the sink. The lye creates an exothermic reaction and will cause the milk to get really hot which will discolor it to a less attractive brown. Slowly add the lye about ¼ teaspoon at a time and stir continuously until it is dissolved. The cubes will melt as the chemical reaction occurs. Use the thermometer to keep the temp below 80 degrees F. If it starts to rise too quickly, just continue to stir the frozen cubes without adding more lye until the temp comes down. Then resume adding small amounts of lye. This part of the process is what takes the longest.

About the time this lye mixing process is done, the oils should have cooled to about 80-90 degrees F. You don’t want more than a 10 degree difference between the lye mixture and the oils when they come together. Now add in the fragrance into the other oils and stir. If you add the fragrance when the oils are too hot, the heat can affect the fragrance.

Bring the lye milk mixture over to the oils and quickly pour into the oils.

Use a hand mixer and pulse to stimulate the sapinofication process (another chemical reaction). This is when you will be glad you are wearing your goggles, gloves and long-sleeved shirt. If you don’t pulse long enough, the mixture will be very fluid, if too long, it is very very thick. You want it about the thickness of frosting right after it is made. If you wish to add coloring it is during the pulsing process that you would want to add that. You could also pour off half if you want to get creative for a two-toned soap bar.

Pour your mixture into molds or the disposable aluminum pan lined with freezer paper (shiny side up). Try to make sure you get all the air bubbles out and smooth the surface. It won’t really settle after this, so the shape you have is what it will be. While pouring the mixture into the molds, sometimes I will add coffee beans, oatmeal or the large grained sea salt to act as an exfoliant. These usually compliment whatever fragrances I have chosen. If you are going for the two-toned look, pour in the first color, then slowly top with the second color. You can use a wooden skewer to trace through and make swirls.

Place the molds in the refrigerator for 24 hours. You can then remove them from the molds and place on a wire rack to continue the curing process. Wear gloves when removing. If you placed your mixture in a pan, it’s at this point you can cut them into bars. The soap is still soft enough that if pieces break off you can replace it and smooth it out with your hands, a little like soft clay.

Set your bars aside for a minimum of 9 weeks. The chemical process is still happening and the lye can burn if you use the soap too soon. I like to wait at least 3 months before I use mine. If the soaps are still soft, they will melt really fast in the shower and they get used up more quickly.

That is it. You can wrap up your bars or tie bows around them and sell them if you choose, or you can keep them all to yourself. I will warn you, once people find out that you are making goat milk soap, they will be asking you for bars to buy all the time.

Soap Curing: Cinnamon, Espresso Bars and a Drakkar scented soap for men

Chickens – The Gateway Livestock

free ranging under watch
My Chickens Grazing Under a Watchful Eye

Chickens are the gateway drug to homesteading. Really, that statement sums it up. You start out thinking that having fresh eggs would be great and chickens really aren’t all that hard to keep, so you get a few. It’s really easy, then the next thing you know you take on just a little more and a little more until you are like me and My Lil Farm.


So here I am, ready to show you just how easy it is and how just about anyone with a little patch of land can have them. The first decision you need to make is what kind of chickens you want to have. You could just go down to your local farm store in the spring, most have a few varieties to choose from in stock, and pick up your desired number. Most of those will do just fine for your region. They are good multipurpose birds that are good layers and are large enough to eat if you choose. Personally, I wanted to do my research and find a bird that I felt met all the needs I had. I wanted chickens that were hardy layers, large enough to make fryers, did well through our cold winters and had a docile temperament around my kids. I settled on Black Australorps, but there are several that would have also fit that bill.

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Black Australorp Hen

Next, you need to decide where your feathered friends are going to live. There are a million places out there that would love to sell you chicken coops that are thousands of dollars. Yes, they are really nice looking, but until you determine that chicken farming is something that is going to stick, I wouldn’t make that kind of investment. Additionally, many of those cute coups are not made very well, I just really am not a fan. For My Lil Farm, we had a shed that I had been keeping my gardening tools in, we also had a dog kennel that we were not using that had two panels with doors. I took one of those panels and put it inside the shed, filling the gaps with wire mesh and mounted the other three panels outside to make a pen off the back of the shed. We then cut a small rectangular door to join the two sections and the basic area was set. Knowing what I know from growing up around chickens, and also getting some words of wisdom from my dad, I took the wire mesh and went all the way around the base the of the kennel. Raccoons are really good at reaching in and grabbing a chicken by the leg and then dismembering them through the fence. The wire mesh is strong enough they can’t bend it and small enough they can’t reach through it. I also needed to close in the top of the exterior run so the raccoons couldn’t climb over. I was able to secure that with a spare piece of plywood, a tarp and some ratchet straps. This also provided a place for me to hang their food and water containers and protect the food from precipitation.

Now I needed some accessories. We needed a heating lamp for the baby chicks, a chicken feeder and chicken waterer. I was able to get those from my farm store and set those up on the interior run. My dad also recommended that for perches we use sassafras saplings. The sassafras acted as a natural insecticide. The saplings also need to have enough girth that the grown chicken’s foot would not wrap all the way around. This allow the chicken to tuck their feet under their bodies in the winter and helps to prevent frostbite and lost toes. When placing the perches, take into consideration that your chickens will spend a lot of time there, and that also means that is where a lot of feces will accumulate. Think about what you are going to do to deal with that and how you are going to clean it up. Other accessories that we would need, but not for a few months, are the nests where the chickens lay. There are many options to pick from. Some make wooden boxes, some use the metal prefab nests, I started with milk cartons but then used 5 gallon buckets and I cut the lids in half. I had 12 hens and allowed for 5 buckets, which I set against the wall of the interior of the coop. You don’t need a nest for every hen.

2013-08-10 19.27.04
Interior Coop

Now it is time to actually get the chickens. After checking on minimum order sizes and shipping from some reputable hatcheries, I was a little frustrated. I didn’t want 24 birds and certainly didn’t want to pay the large shipping costs. So, I went to my local farm store and asked if they could order in what I wanted. Since they were ordering large quantities weekly, I was able to get the number that I wanted, without the shipping cost, get a rooster, and the store held them until I was ready to pick them up, assuming the risk of any that did not make it. Honestly, considering the amount of money I spend there, I still think they are getting the better end of the deal. I picked up my chicks and a bag of chick starter feed. The first couple of days, it seems like they consume very little, then about day 3, they are hungry and their feeder is empty just about every time I go out. They grow so fast, in a matter of a couple of weeks they start to lose all their down and feathers begin to grow. Every week, I am raising their water and feeder in higher to accommodate their increasing height. Before you know it, you no longer have the fluffy little down chicks, but small feathered chickens.

It will be about 4 months before you should start looking for the first egg. I will never forget the first egg my first chickens laid. It was so small. As your chickens age, the eggs will get larger. I was very happy with my black Australorps. I could consistently count on getting one egg a day from every hen. It doesn’t take long to have way more eggs than you know what to do with. Luckily, fresh eggs are really easy to sell, and most of the time, you can’t keep up with the demand.

So that’s it. Fill up the auto feed and water about once a week, collect your eggs every day and make sure they remain safe from predators. Of course there are other things that come up like, the weird shaped shells, decrease in productivity and, if you have a rooster, the possibility of hatching your own, but those are all topics for another article.

Really, anyone can have a few hens and easily keep them for fresh eggs every day. But I will warn you, learning to manage livestock, no matter how small, and having the freshest most organic grocery store in your back yard is highly addictive and can really be the gateway to other lil farm adventures.

2013-05-01 18.42.43
My son helping out before we got them settled


A New Beekeeper – The First Week

Noticing a burr comb
Inspecting my hives

This week started a new journey for us here on my lil farm. After months of preparation, research and anticipation, I finally got my first two packages of honeybees. I had been talking about getting honeybees for about 3 years, but really hadn’t pursued it with any seriousness. Then last Christmas, my husband bought me a beginner’s beekeeping kit. It came with the two deep supers and a smaller honey super, the bee suit and gloves, a smoker, a bee brush, a hive tool and book. So that was it, I was really doing this.

I had attended a meeting at our local beekeeping club a couple of years before, so I had asked a few questions and knew a couple of key things. One major point was that in order to get my bees in the spring, I had to order my bees in January, so that was my first task. There were a couple of decisions that needed to be made. Do I go with package bees or do I order a nuc? For those who don’t know the lingo, a package of bees is just that, 3 lbs (roughly 10,000) honey bees and a queen. A nuc is about that many bees and a queen along with about 3 frames that already have comb on them. A nuc generally occurs when a hive has outgrown its current living arrangements and the hive splits after growing a new queen. It’s the old queen that leaves. Depending on who you ask, there are advantages and disadvantages to both. For me, getting the packages of bees really came down to not knowing who to go to and finding a name of a company that seemed to be mentioned in a few tutorials that I watched. So I ordered my first two packages of bees with queens that were marked for easy identification and clipped wings, so they couldn’t fly off. After I made the call and ordered my bees, I was shaking. I don’t know if it was from excitement or nerves, but none the less, I really was doing this.

I spent the next 3 months reading blogs like this, books and watching Youtube videos. I also went to Bee School, a one day educational event for new beekeepers at the local beekeeping club. They walked through most of the basics you would need to know to get through that first year of beekeeping. It was also a great place to meet local experts with lots of knowledge so I could ask questions as they arose. I took some time and painted my bee boxes a light yellow and painted my 3 raised flower beds light blue. I was going to nestle my 2 bee boxes in between the three beds and mulch all around it. I had seen so many beehives just set haphazardly in fields, but I wanted my bee garden look really nice.

Then I got the call. My bees were coming! I went to my post office and forewarned the postmaster, leaving my contact information so I could come and pick them up the day they arrived. The day they got there, the post office called and said in a slightly stressed tone, “Your bees are here and they would VERY MUCH like to go home.” I went to pick them up and it was a particularly busy time at the post office. They went to the back and handed me two buzzing, vibrating boxes of bees at the front counter. I was ecstatic!bees shipped

I came home and finished prepping the area I was keeping them in. I had mixed up my sugar water 2 parts sugar to 1 part water. I was all set to spray them down before installing them into the hive, but the mixture was too thick and it clogged up my spray bottle. So that part didn’t happen. My husband and son were right there with me. I was suited up and ready to load them.

Getting started
Getting ready to install the bees
Jake and me
My son with me

Although I had watched a lot of videos on what to do, it’s never quite the same. I first pried off the top cover of the package, flipped it over and laid it back on top. I took a small flat head screwdriver and pried out the queen’s cage and quickly covered that slot back up so the rest of my bees wouldn’t fly out after her. I inspected her cage and saw that she had a few attendants and she was alive and active. I pulled out one frame in my hive and hung her cage in that space. I wasn’t going to release her just yet. She needed some more bonding time with her bees. I took a pair of plyers and pulled out the feeding can, quickly covering that hole back up. I pulled out 3 frames in the hive and I was ready to install the rest of them. I banged the cage on the ground to get the bees all to the bottom, took off the lid, turned the cage over and shook them into the hive, just dumping them all in. I continued to do that, until I had as many as I could get out of the cage into the hive as I could. I replaced the frames, paying attention to not pinch the bees or squish them, just leaving the one frame out to accommodate the queen’s cage. I put the inner cover back on, then the outer cover and used a ratchet strap to secure the whole thing from other critters. I filled the feeding jar full of the sugar water and installed it and that was it. First hive done! I repeated the same thing for hive number two. All in all, the process for both hives only took about 20 minutes. Really anticlimactic, actually.

opening the boxes
Prying off the top
inspecting the queen
Inspecting the queen
pulling out the feed can
Pulling out the feed can
dumping in the bees
Shaking the bees into the hive

The next day, I went out and inspected my queens. They were still alive and I removed the plugs in their cages so they could get out. I hung their cages back in place, so they could come out at will. I closed everything back up, refilled their sugar water, and that was it for day two.

I had decided to leave them be for about 3 days before going back in to remove the queen’s cages. In hindsight, I probably should have done that the very next day. When I went in 3 days later, one of my hives had started making a burr comb. I didn’t know what that was when I first saw it, and actually had to look up what was happening to know what to do. Because there was too much space left between the frames for the queen’s cage, they started freelancing with their comb building to fill in that space. That comb is unstable and makes the hive harder to manage. I had to go back in a 4th time and remove that. A wasted day of productivity, at least, for the bees and wasted resources. I put the last frame back in today, and I’m hoping they stick to the pattern on the plastic frames this time.

close up of burr comb
Burr comb
burr comb removed
Burr comb after it was removed

I haven’t seen any brood yet. Lots of comb and lots of pollen stores. I have two hives, and they both look just the same. So I am guessing at this point that they are doing what they should be.  That’s a huge benefit to having at least two hives for a beginner, having a comparison is truly valuable. I will check on them in a few days to see how they are doing and then leave them alone for at least a month. Something I picked up from bee school was that every time I open the hive, I lose a day of productivity because they will spend a day fixing any changes I made while I was in their home. Really, not so different from my home when I have guests over.

So that’s it. My first week of beekeeping! I am so excited to have started this venture and to have my son along for the ride. We have had a lot of great conversations and educational opportunities as we both learn and I am so thankful that my husband made the decision to give me that little push to get this started.

Dairy Goats – Lessons From My First Year

Mocha and her quads
Mocha and her quads

Growing up we never had goats and I can’t exactly say what it was that made me decide to take on goats as an adult, much less dairy goats. I mean, I had never milked anything before. I think there was a lot that went into the decision to produce our own dairy. At the top of that list was knowing exactly what was given to my dairy animals, so I knew my animals were healthy and fed the way I wanted. I had a lot of discussions with friends and some very thought provoking conversations. It was right after one of those conversations I just knew I needed to do this. That idea that had been brewing in the back of my mind became a decision.

Ok, I want dairy goats. Now what? I started reading everything I could online. What are the best breeds. What are the best temperaments? What goats produced the most? What goats produced the best tasting milk? It was while doing all of that reading, that I also came across all the benefits of goat milk. I had read how most people who say they are lactose intolerant are actually just intolerant to the l-casein that is in cow milk and not in goat milk. I also learned how goat milk is the most widely consumed milk in the world and that really, only in America, is it seen as something unusual. I also learned that goat milk is the most similar to human milk structurally and that it is so much easier on the digestive system. The more I read, the more I became certain that we had made the right decision.

After doing a lot of research, I had narrowed it down to 2 breeds, the Nubian with the long super floppy cute ears and the Nigerian Dwarf. The Nubian seemed to have all kinds of accolades for their sweet temperament and the quantity of milk they can produce, and of course those super cute ears were a great side benefit. The Nigerian Dwarf had a lot praise regarding how sweet their milk was and how good it tasted, but the volume of milk was much lower. I joined some Facebook goat for sale groups and soon learned that WOW this could quickly turn into an expensive hobby. Of course, while doing all this research, I was still talking all about the goats I wanted at work and that is when I found someone who had some Nigerian Dwarfs for sale at a reasonable price. So that was it, Nigerian Dwarfs were going to be the goats we got.

Bringing goats home
Bringing them to their new home

We made arrangements to go and look at them and ended up buying 3 females name Annie, Mocha and Latte. We left them for 3 weeks after we bought them to get them bred. I think in all the time I spent talking with people, that was the one fact that most people don’t know. In order to have milk, the female must first have a kid. She will then provide milk for about the next 9 months and then you have to freshen them by breeding them again to have another kid. No babies, no milk.

So it was the first week of October that we brought home our first 3 goats. With some help from my parents, we had made an enclosure with some fencing and T-posts and had a shed for them to get in out of the weather. They were pretty easy to contain. I will talk about goat enclosures and the difficulties in containing the larger breed of goats another time. So, there we had it, we were officially goat herders.

That fall was the easy part, all we had to do was feed and water them and watch them get fatter and fatter as their kids grew. These 3 goats were so sweet in their temperament. I would let them out and they would follow us around like little dogs, pushing their noses into our hands begging for some scratches. I absolutely fell in love with them.

goats getting fatter
Getting fatter with kids

Then came the next bit of research, kidding. How to recognize when the goats were about to have their kids and what to do after they were born. I learned that you could feel an area just in from of their tail along their spine and as they approached delivery, you could actually encircle the spine in that area with your fingers due to all the relaxation in the muscles that took place. I also started looking under their tails every day as the time approached, watching for discharge and any sign of an impending birth. I thought everything was going as planned and, of course, that’s when it didn’t.

That year in February, when they were all three due, we had one of the worst snow accumulations that I can remember in a very long time. It was an incredibly stressful winter. That’s when I went out to feed them, about 3 weeks before they were due and I found Annie wasn’t able to stand up. I called the vet and we started B vitamin shots, subcutaneous fluids and supplemental nourishment. She wasn’t getting better. I was calling the vet daily and she said that if we didn’t see improvement, I may have to bring her in for a c-section, but we wanted to hang on as long as possible. I was preparing for the worst. She wasn’t able to stand, she had stopped trying, and she was starting not to eat. Then one day after getting home from work, I went out and saw that she had delivered. Three little kids were on the floor behind her and she still hadn’t moved. I was heartbroken. I went in after towels and trash bags and began looking the kids over. They weren’t moving. It was when I got to the last kid, the one closest to Annie, that I heard a small whimper. She was still alive. I began rubbing her and getting her warm. I had already shut the other 2 goats outside as I began to work on the kid. She perked right up and I was so happy to have saved one. I brought her inside, and gave her to our son to hold and keep warm. I was sending my husband to the local farm store to get bottles and formula for the kid. It was still miserably cold outside with a foot of snow on the ground. I was going back out to check on Annie and when I opened the door, I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was Latte, standing by the shed door with a kid half out of her. She was delivering today too!!! At that moment, all the composure I had developed as an ER nurse went right out the window. My husband was about to get in the truck to go to town when he heard me yelling for him to come back. I grabbed another towel and caught the kid right before she landed on the frozen ground. WHEW! What a day.

First year kidding
Our Son With Annie, Latte and Mocha and the First Two Kids

Ultimately, Annie did not make it more than 2 more days. I was able to get Latte to stand and take on feeding Annie’s kid as well as her own. However, at that point, I was a little traumatized and didn’t trust leaving the kids out in the exceptionally cold weather that year. Although I had shut the goats inside and had a space heater, keeping it above freezing, I just could bear to lose another kid. So we started bringing them in at night to bottle feed… every 2 hours. My son had a lot of school cancelled at the time, so he was up with me helping. It was a great experience for him. Three weeks later, Mocha delivered quadruplets. She was a great and experienced mother and they did well after that.

After a month of the kids getting mother’s milk, it was time to start to transition them to formula and I was starting to milk Mocha and Latte for us to consume. I was the only one able to milk them because they were so small, my husband couldn’t get a grip with his big hands to hand milk them. I soon invested in a suction milker and we were in business. Twice a day those two girls got milked. My husband had built me a milking stand and they loved it because they knew they would get their sweet feed while I milked. That’s when I learned to pasteurize and process our own dairy. I will also save that for a future post.

First milking
The First Milking With the Hand Milker

In hindsight, I think Annie had toxemia. I often wonder if I had provided more supplements or nutrition, if there would have been a better outcome. I think it was just a combination of that and the exceptionally harsh winter. I did learn some very valuable lessons though. First, I won’t every have winter kids again. Breeding will always be for May or June kids. Second, I have learned to stagger their breedings, I need a couple of weeks between each birth. Two simultaneous births were just a lot. Three, goats are heartbreakers. You can do everything right, and sometimes they just don’t make it. They are more fragile than most people think. Finally, I absolutely love raising and keeping goats. They are so sweet and what they give is so much more than what they take. As hard as that first year was, I fell in love with these sweet girls. Yep, just call me the crazy goat lady.

The nursery

Pressure Canning – Don’t be Scared

First year of canningI have been pressure canning for about 4 years now. My mom and Granny always had foods they canned practically every year, but I had never taken it on myself. The first year I put out a garden, I basically just put out a garden to make salads and salsa. It wasn’t until the next year that I took my garden a little more seriously. I started planning it in January. Planning what plants I would put into what rows and more importantly, what I wanted to can and for what purposes.

I know that a lot of people out there can their produce individually. They can tomato sauce, tomato juice, potatoes, carrots, etc. As a busy and full-time working mother, I don’t have time to make meals from scratch through the week. So my plan was to make meals ahead and pressure can those. With that in mind, I was meal planning almost a year in advance. Whatever meals I felt I wanted to prepare ahead of time would determine what kinds of produce I would need and what I would need to put in my garden. That year, I chose beef stew, chili, spaghetti sauce with meat, and my favorite staple, salsa.

I planted Roma tomatoes, jalapeño peppers, carrots, green beans, lettuce, onions, and potatoes. I did my research, planting the appropriate distances apart, time of the year for my zone, fertilized and watered. I did try something that I hadn’t seen anyone else do though. I put down weed barrier over the whole garden and then planted my plants. That year I had a great garden and I spent maybe one hour that whole summer pulling weeds, and that was just around the base of the plants and any sprouts that came up on the top of the weed barrier. It was one of the best experiments I have ever done, even though it was not very pretty.

I spent the summer leading up to when I started harvesting my produce buying everything I would need to pressure can. I started buying quart jars, wide mouth are my preference, and the flats and rings. I got a great book with instructions and lots or recipes. I got the canning kit from my local farm store with the jar grabbers, the magnetic tool for grabbing the flats and the ring lever. Then came the big purchase, the pressure canner. I again, went to my local farm store and with much debate between the large or small pressure canner, I decided to just get the big one. I knew that  no matter what, I was going to be doing this for a very long time. This was not a fad for me. I will never forget coming home with my shiny new pressure canner. I was so excited yet I did not have a clue, really, as to how to use it. I know so many people who are scared of a pressure canner. They are so afraid they are going to blow up their kitchen. I never really had that fear, but maybe I should have because I had NO IDEA how to even go about canning my foods.

I was prepared to have canning take my whole day. I remember my mom canning when I was a kid, and it seemed like it was always a huge undertaking. I remember the kitchen being turned upside down for a couple of days. In hindsight, it was probably more because of the quantity of food she preserved and not the complexity of the process.

I had called my mom to see if she would come over the first day I canned, to ask for her help. I had mentally prepared myself for hours and hours of work. I had sterilized all my jars, snapped all of my beans and had them cleaned and I had everything laid out.

When she got there, we turned on the oven and I put all of my jars in there to keep them hot. I put about 3 inches of water in my canner and started heating that up on the stove. I then put some water in my pan on the stove and got it boiling. I put my beans in my first jar and left about an inch of space at the top. I ladled in my boiling water, added about a half of a teaspoon of salt, wiped the rim and put on my flat and tightened the ring. I set the jar into the hot water in my canner and repeated this whole process until I had my canner full. Then I locked the lid on the canner and brought it to a full boil and let the steam vent for about 10 minutes. I then put on my jiggler to close the vent and watched the pressure gauge, until it reached 10 lbs of pressure. About that time, mom and I pulled up a chair and started the timer. We talked and fiddled with the heat (I have a gas stove) to maintain that 10 lbs of pressure for the next 20 minutes. That was it. Once the time was up, we turned off the heat and let it come back down to zero on its own.

After that had cooled, I removed the lid and used one of my new canning tools to lift the jars out of the canner onto a towel on the counter. I covered them with another towel to protect them from cool breezes as they began to cool. That’s when I heard it. That oh so satisfying POP. The lids were starting to seal. After all the anticipation and preparation, I found out that pressure canning really is pretty easy. It’s the same process no matter what the food, whether it’s simple green beans or a beef stew. The only variance is how long to keep them at the 10 lbs of pressure.

Since that first time, I have come to really love canning. My husband says I can make an event out of anything. On the days I pressure can, I tend to set aside the day. I spend the first part of the day making the food I want to can. I spend the second part of the day actually canning. I will put on some of my favorite music, pour a glass of wine and just fully enjoy the process with no deadlines, no time schedule and no rush. I find it to be incredibly relaxing and very fulfilling. I love knowing that foods that I have grown from our own land and that I know everything about how it was grown becomes meals for us for the rest of the winter. I love seeing my pantry stocked with the Ball Jars full of food. It is so rewarding to me to be able to grow our own food and have it fill our bellies all year long.

Don’t let pressure canning intimidate you. It’s really not as hard as you may think. If you know someone who does it, ask if you can come watch one day and offer to bring the wine. After watching, you will find that you can do it too and really, as long as you keep an eye on your fire, you wont’ blow anything up.