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The Vermont Homesteader

Local Food: Peanut Butter Style

A photo of Melissa Brooks SenesacI have fond memories of my childhood. It was a great time, I had the best parents ever (still do, in fact). I remember hanging out at home when I was really little eating a peanut butter and fluff sandwich with some chicken noodle soup while watching The Price is Right. Rubbing my little toes into the shag carpet (ok, not sure if it was really shag, but you know, it was that beautiful, shag-like, orange carpet) I’d munch away on some serious comfort food.

I don’t watch The Price is Right anymore; it just isn’t the same without Bob Barker (no offense Drew). But anytime I hear the theme music or any reference to it I have an instant craving for a PB & fluff sandwich with chicken noodle soup. To me, peanut butter is the key to some seriously hearty, easy meals and snacks: peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, peanut butter and honey on toast, peanut sauce and noodles, peanut butter cookies, buckeyes (peanut butter balls covered in chocolate), peanut butter on a spoon. Yum.

Peanut butter is right up there with eggs as being a super-food. Full of great stuff like protein, fiber, vitamin E, iron, calcium, and potassium (though not as great a source as bananas, still pretty darned good), it’s my favorite thing to bring on a day hike or bike ride up here in the mountains of Northern Vermont.

If you buy what I call “traditional” peanut butter, you could be outweighing these healthy aspects with negative things like additional trans-fatty acids and carcinogenic mold. So, buy all-natural, organic peanut butter. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

I have to say that I am one lucky gal that we’ve got a local company that makes up their very own peanut butter (as well as almond butter). The Vermont Peanut Butter Company is situated right in the heart of Stowe, Vermont. You can get everything from plain creamy or chunky peanut butter to my favorite: Champlain Cherry, which is a combination almond butter with chocolate and dried cherries mixed in. Just thinking about it makes me drool all over my keyboard. The Vermont Peanut Butter Company very well could be the biggest Vermont thing to hit the globe since Ben and Jerry’s ice cream.

Although, currently, they’re not nearly as large-scale as B & J’s, that is one of the things that is most important. The Vermont Peanut Butter Company isn’t owned by any big corporations (like Ben and Jerry’s Unilever), run from a distance by people in business suits in a highrise. (Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream who, I hear, is going fully Fair Trade!) It is owned and operated by a handful of local folks (one of which happens to be a very dear friend of mine) who you could easily happen upon during an outing here in the Green Mountains.

Now, you can’t find their peanut butter just anywhere. No, they don’t supply the big chain stores like Price Chopper and Hannafords (trust me, I’ve looked), but you can get your very own jar of delicious goodness (or Karma, or Harvest) shipped straight to your house. “How?” might you ask. Well, my dear friends, they’ve got a nice little website where you can check out their story and maybe pick up a jar or two of anything that strikes your fancy. I’ll make a suggestion: get at least two jars. Kyle and I went through a jar of Champlain Cherry in a week.

**I should note that I have not been paid or otherwise compensated for this endorsement – I’m just a girl loving her locally-produced products.**

After the Storm: Livestock Bring Peace

A photo of Melissa Brooks SenesacAs I’m sure you’ve noticed, I’ve been ready for spring for over a month now. We started some seeds, which are doing remakably well compared to previous attempts at seed-starting (don’t get too excited, mostly just herbs, some hot peppers, and some tomatos to grow in the house). The little snow we had was melting fast, and I would say that half of our land was grass or spotty snow. Just last week I saw the first of the spring flowers popping up through the ground. I was getting excited for the girls who must be really looking forward to some nice fresh grass after all these months of hay and grain.

But, alas, we suffered a major set-back in this department yesterday when I awoke to a foot of wet snow on the ground and plenty more falling. We donned our winter gear and headed out to see if we could get the snowblower going. After ten minutes of frustration in the realization that the auger wouldn’t be able to handle the heavy, wet snow, we gave in, and I called in to work.

Though I wasn’t exactly psyched to get such a significant snowfall, I have to admit it was truly beautiful. After giving up on the snowblower and its deafening noise as it choked through the snow back to its parking spot, we headed to the barn to feed everyone an early breakfast. The sun hadn’t yet come up, and we enjoyed some quiet time before the world awoke.

The girls happily munched away at their breakfast of grain and some nice second-cut hay that we found at Guys Farm and Yard over in Morrisville a few days ago. The chickens scratched away at the ground, finding grain and bits of stuff we unearthed after cleaning out half of the old straw this past weekend. The pigs, in their own shed, grunted and squeeked through their mix of grain and food scraps.

There is something just so pleasant about the sound of contently eating farm animals. I think it is partially due to the frantic moments before everyone is fed, while everyone is demanding their breakfast, that we come to really appreciate the quiet afterwards. We rush to feed the pigs before their squealing could bother the neighbors, and we quickly feed the goats before we’re covered in hoof prints, then finally cast out grain for the chickens before they start trying to steal from the pigs and the goats. Once its all said and done, and everyone has fresh, clean water, we can sit back and enjoy the peace.

Our life doesn’t seem to lend itself to too many moments of peace. There is always laundry to do, dishes to wash, dogs to exercise, animals to feed, pigs to move from the barn to their shed, water buckets to fill, eggs to collect, reading/studying to do, goats to check on, home renovations to tackle, not to mention our full-time jobs. So, during these quiet moments before the sun comes up and the sense of urgency to get to work (in one sense or another) arises, we find a second to stand still, hold hands, and breathe deep.

Raising Pigs: New Additions to the Farm

A photo of Melissa Brooks SenesacBig goings-on around the farm lately. A couple weekends ago we started working on our pig shelter so we could get started on our pork production. We wanted to get them before Spring while the prices were still low on feeder pigs. But we didn’t really want to keep them in the barn with the chickens and goats for various reasons, so we thought they’d better have their own little place to call home.

We decided to build a floor for the shelter to try to help keep the pigs cleaner and dryer – in hopes that it would keep them warmer for the rest of this winter. We spent some money at the lumber mill on some pressure-treated 2-by-4s for the decking frame. (I know, probably overkill, but we figure if it holds up until after the pigs are gone we might convert it to a buck house when we have some boy goats on the farm.) But other than that the structure would be a basic pine and plywood job with some salvaged metal roofing to top it off.

It went up pretty quick, although we did run into a few problems here and there because we didn’t draw up any plans, so it was kind of piece it together as we go. But our speed-square always came to our rescue. Over the course of a couple weeks we were able to get the walls all built and covered, but we’ve yet to start putting on the roofing. Because the truck has died we haven’t been able to get the rest of the materials we need – mainly a couple more sheets of plywood that don’t exactly fit in the Scion. So we’ve been put on hold.

But today I think we might try to put the roofing on without the plywood to go beneath it – it’s probably overkill anyway. We’re going to try to move the structure to be within one of our fenced in pastures. It’s going to be a pain since we’ll have to take the walls off (thank goodness for screws), but I’m feeling more motivated now. “Why?” you ask. Well, my dear friend, because we’ve got some little bacon bits that need a home. Thats right, folks, we’ve got some piggies in the barn.

Yesterday, we decided to go for it. After finding out that half of the people selling $40 pigs were sold out, we figured we’d best get our butts in gear before we found ourselves paying more than double that. We made a trip to Fairfield where an old-time farmer had something like 50 feeder pigs for sale. Now, remember I told you that the truck has been broken down? Well, I almost hate to admit it, but we strung a tarp up within the car and layed down some straw – yep, they were going to ride home in the back of the Scion.

Let me introduce you to the gang.

Feeder pigs, Brick Top and Boris

First off is Brick Top (seen here on the left of the picture), he’s the biggest of the group and seems to be really taking charge. He’s got some nice coloring with a band of white between his red coat, and a couple little black spots on his rear end. Next to him, the little black-spotted guy in the center, is Boris the Butcher.

Feeder pig, Freddy Four Fingers

Next up we’ve got Freddy Four Fingers, all red and the loudest screamer of the bunch. He’s also the smallest and sort of the low man on the totem pole so far.

Feeder pigs all in a pile

Last but not least, check out the gray and black spotted guy on the top of the heap here in the barn. This, my friends, is Gorgeous George. Yep, this is how we found all these tough guys this morning, all cuddled together in a nice big nest they built.

Needless to say, the goats weren’t thrilled last night when these boys arrived. So we felt compelled to block off half the barn to keep them separated, but everyone seemed alright this morning. We hope by the end of the day we’ll be able to move the boys out of the girls’ house so we can all live in peace again.

So, what do you think? I feel a little crazy myself. I honestly never thought I’d own pigs … they’re not my favorite farm animal – but I do love bacon. Speaking of which, I think I need to get myself some breakfast.

Groundhog Be Darned: Forcing Spring

A photo of Melissa Brooks SenesacOk, I just can’t stand it anymore. I mean, I love winter, the snow is gorgeous, it helps keep the house warmer, and it’s fun. But seriously, I can’t stand the cold anymore. Kyle’s truck has died, and we’ve spent too much time freezing in the sub-zero wind gusts trying to figure out why (more than likely something related to the cold). We’ve lost too many eggs to the frigid temperatures, and I’m sick of having to supplement feed with so much grain. Our kids need grass. I am ready for Spring!

I know yesterday was Groundhog Day ... and Phil has officially proclaimed six more weeks of winter ... but I’ve got a news flash: I DON’T CARE!! Mwah ha haaa (maniacal laugh inserted here)! Spring never comes early up here so even if he had forecasted an early spring, it wouldn’t apply to us folks up here in Northern VT anyways. Best case scenario: we won’t really see spring until May, we need get through mud-season first. Regardless, I’m determined to hurry this season along. It was a welcome guest, but it’s time to show it the door.

This past weekend, Kyle and I made a run to Gardener’s Supply Company, an awesome, employee-owned, local gardening supply store. We thought we’d grab some house plants (they’re having a sale: buy two, get one free), and while we were there we picked up a handful of seed packets to start inside the house. I was planning on just doing one big order on the High Mowing Seeds website, but I just couldn’t wait any longer. I’ll order the rest of our seeds online, probably later this month, but I wanted something in-hand to start right off. We came home with paste tomatoes, Ring-of-Fire hot peppers, basil, parsley, rosemary, and lavender. We also grabbed some Provider bush beans, Chamomile and Echinacea that we’ll start later next month.

I’m planning the garden a lot more than I did last year. I’m reading more about companion planting and non-tilling, non-weeding options. The garden was the biggest disappointment of last year. I make no claims that I am a good gardener – I’m actually pretty terrible at it. I’m more interested in animal husbandry, and I think it shows: my livestock is thriving. But it also shows in the garden: it’s always overrun by weeds, and I don’t harvest what little there is to harvest in time so some things end up going to seed (which I don’t realize until things start sprouting after we’ve turned everything under for the year).

We’ve also spent quite a bit of time working on our pig shelter. Its relatively large, too big really for the size the pigs will be when we buy them. So unless we really pack it with mulch hay these little piggies will probably spend the first month or two in the barn where it will be a little warmer. We’re planning on picking up the new additions to the farm this Saturday. I’m pretty excited about it. I know they’re going to be meat for our table, but until then they can till our garden and enjoy the dappled sunshine in the little grove behind our house. They will be happy, which makes me happy.

This is going to be a big, busy year. It will be the first time keeping bees and raising turkeys and pigs. It will be the first time our goats will kid, so it will be the first time bottle-feeding babies and milking goats. I’ve worked at a dairy before, so I’ve done the twice-a-day milking, but never in conjunction with raising so many other animals, gardening, and beekeeping. And of course, on top of that we’re still renovating our house and working full time jobs.

Do I feel overwelmed? Nope. Well, not yet, give it some time. Spring is rejuvenating after waking up from a long winter slumber. I’m ready to wake up. How about you?

Goat Breeding: An Impromptu Drive to the Breeder

Well, I had all these grand plans for today. Kyle was working in town in exchange for some new cross-country ski boots, so I was flying solo for the day. My plans included doing some laundry, painting my bee hive, working on the guest bedroom (sanding the mud on the drywall around our built-in shelves), working on a new knitting project, placing my bee order, and spending some time with the girls in the barn.

It started out as a lazy morning. Kyle and I had slept in to almost 7:30 after a night out in Stowe celebrating the marriage of our friends, Anna and Matt. Kyle had to leave around 8:15, and I sat down to my computer to work on a few blogs and read up about gardening. Before I knew it an hour had passed, and I hadn’t even been out to the barn yet! The girls always have plenty of hay and water so they are fine, but I like getting out there right off to get them a bit of grain on these chilly winter days.

I threw my coveralls on over my flannel pajama pants and slipped on my muck boots and jacket. Ollie followed me out to the barn, as usual, and as soon as I went through the door the chickens were right on me. They are a little more demanding of my time – ever since we started feeding them our kitchen scraps they’ve been absolutely ridiculous. Even when I drop a glove on the ground they fall on it like vultures on yesterdays meal.

Anywho. So I’m going about my business, checking the water level in their bucket, tossing grain around for the chickens, and grabbing eggs before they can freeze. As I’m about to leave to get some breakfast of my own I do a quick check of the goats. Chutney was bred a month ago and the jury is still out as to wether or not it was successful, so I’ve been keeping an eye on her to see if she goes back into heat. May on the other had, hadn’t been in heat ONCE since we got her back in August, and we were, frankly, a little concerned that she had some “problems.” But when I checked her over she actually had a little discharge which made me think that she could be in heat.

Now, not having any boy goats on site (neither buck nor wether), it has made it very difficult to really tell when the girls go in heat. They don’t have anyone to flirt with or moon over, so I have to go by the little things. May had a tiny bit of discharge and was holding her tail up in the air, wagging it ever so slightly on occasion. Bear in mind that it takes me an hour to get them to the breeder, so I didn’t want to be wrong and bring her all that way for nothing. But on the other hand, if she was in heat I’d have to wait another three weeks or so before she went into heat again. Suddenly that possibly-a-waste-of-time drive to the breeder sounded pretty good. So I called up Sharon at Willow Moon Farm in Plainfield, and she told me to bring her down right away.

I still had the tarp in my car from when we took the girls up to my Mom’s house a few weeks ago, so I just tossed in some hay and lured May and Chutney into the back. They’re getting really good at car rides, instead of pacing around the whole time they’ll actually lay down and munch on the hay, which is really nice.

Mays Date Day

It was a beautiful day for a drive, and the whole way to Plainfield I was giving May a little pep-talk. I really hoped that I was right and she was in heat. We arrived at the farm and Sharon brought out Sugar Moon Up Brioso – May’s date. She stood quite still as he checked her out (very promising as she had her tail glued to her butt last time we brought her down and wouldn’t turn her back on the poor guy). Next thing I knew the deed was done, and Sharon and I chatted as we waited for him to “recharge” for one more go before she put him back in the buck pen.

While I was there I got to see the new babies that have come around over the past couple weeks. I just couldn’t believe how little they were: literally smaller than our cats – Elvis totally could have taken one down if he really wanted to. Lucky for Kyle they were all spoken for so I couldn’t buy one. But, hopefully in another four months Chutney will kid and in five months May should be due as well. At that point we’ll be able to start milking the girls and making our own cheese and maybe even butter. The prospects are very exciting.

Mays Date Day 2

The whole way home, May was so tired. She kept falling asleep in the funniest positions. I wanted to stop the car to get a picture of her at one point but anytime I came to a full stop both the girls would stand up to see where we were. As soon as we got home, May stood outside the car looking for her boyfriend and crying over and over again. Chutney followed me straight to the barn, but I had to go back and persuade May to follow me. I’ll be keeping an eye on her for the next couple of weeks – just to be sure she doesn’t go back into heat. But lets keep our fingers crossed that we’ll have some babies on the farm this summer!