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The Accidental Farmer


When to Call the Handyman

April FreemanOne thing about farmers and homesteaders: They have a hard time paying someone to do things that they feel they can do themselves. If something breaks, they want to be the one to diagnose the issue, order the parts and repair it.  But, sometimes this can be a problem.

It reminds me of an old Andy Griffith episode. Aunt Bea, frugal as she is, buys a secondhand freezer. She also buys a side of beef to take advantage of the lower price per pound. Things get dicey when her freezer breaks in the middle of a heat wave. Andy tells her to “call the handyman!” to come repair the freezer, but stubbornly, Aunt Bea can’t stand the thought of paying someone for this repair. One thing after another happens, and Andy keeps repeating himself, “Call the handyman, Aunt Bea. Just call the handyman!” Finally, Andy takes over this project and eventually just buys her a brand new freezer.

It’s hard when you want to remain independent. And, we all know that by repairing something yourself, you not only save money and get the satisfaction of taking care of your own problems, but you learn things too. And yet, when things begin to break on the farm, it’s wise to honestly evaluate whether you need to tackle this repair or just Call the Handyman.

Time

It’s getting to the place on our farm that time is actually a more valuable commodity than money.  It’s not that we’re rolling in the dough, but we do have a little saved back for unexpected expenses. But, wow, is it hard to dip into that stash! Sometimes, though, it’s worth it. We’re in a very busy season of life with four kids, two of them teens, the farm work, my husband’s full time job and my own part time work. Sometimes, it is better to just go ahead and pay someone else to fix our broken stuff and get on with our lives. A skilled repairman can often fix something in an hour that would take us all morning to tackle.

Specialized Tools and Equipment

Having the proper tool for a job can make all the difference in the world. But, there’s no reason to buy a $200 specialty tool for a job that you won’t be doing very often. Skilled laborers do have these tools and probably use them every day. Those tools can mean the difference between a frustrating battle with the broken object and a simple repair. Sometimes, for your own mental health and your relationships with your spouse and children, you just need to call the person with the right tools to get the job done.

Electronic Components

One frustration for many homesteaders is that too many “simple” household objects have become electronically integrated. Have you recently tried to buy a washing machine or a dryer? It’s quite hard to find something that doesn’t have an electronic panel. And once the electronic panel goes out, your washer is out of business. (As a side note, I’ve heard great things about Speed Queen washers. I’m considering that when my 20-year-old washer finally is beyond repair.) Many household appliances are much the same. These appliances with a small computer as a major part of its operation can’t be repaired by the homesteader. You pretty much HAVE to call the handyman.

Mental Health

Each day, the average homesteader is faced with an enormous to-do list that can sap the joy right out of life. If you’ve had a season where every time one thing is repaired two more things need work, you may want to just bite the bullet and call the handyman for your own mental health. It’s so discouraging to wake up with more things to fix than you have time to repair. Get ahead of the game and leave some time to enjoy life.

You’re not a failure as a homesteader if you end up calling the handyman. Thoughtfully evaluate the things that go wrong on your farm and decide what is the best use of your time and money. While it is possible for people to learn to do their own repairs, don’t feel that you’ve broken the Homesteader’s Code of Conduct if you opt out of doing your own repairs.

Plumber

Photo by Fotolia/Petrik

Food Fights

April FreemanI have friends who are in the “eat clean” camp. In this place there are different levels of eating clean.

Of course, there are the “eat clean” in name only. These people eat clean sometimes. They spend extra money on organic and GMO-free foods at the grocery store for the family to eat at home. They’ll even talk a big game about eating better food and “all those hormones and chemicals in commercial food.” But, the true story is they only eat at home one meal a day. The kids eat organic Pop Tarts for breakfast and mom and dad pick up fast food for lunch. A few times a week, they grab a hot dog at the ball field and of course, Friday night is a good time for the family to go out to eat.

The opposite end of the spectrum are the Eat Clean Nazis. These people would rather die than give their babies commercial formula or baby food, and they grow as much of their food as possible. If they can’t find a “clean” source of a particular food item, they go without rather than contaminate their bodies with something that’s not natural, organic, and GMO-free. Theirs are the kids who are carrying tiny baggies of carrots on field trips because a Cheeto had better never cross their all-natural lips.

Of course, the people who exist on Big Macs and French fries are looked down upon by both groups. And these folks aren’t really sure what to make of folks like me.

I garden, raise chickens, and try to raise as much of our food as possible. I strive to minimally use pesticides and herbicides on our farm. I cook from scratch, and we don’t go out to eat very often. I seldom buy processed foods like snack cakes, Doritos, and other unnecessary munchies. My son bemoaned to a friend of ours who works for a bakery, “My mom never buys those snack cakes. All she ever gets is ingredients.”

That said, I don’t bake all my own bread. We eat tortilla chips and, when the cow is dry, buy commercially-raised dairy products. Yes, I buy canned tomatoes, and *gasp*—Friday night I made a crock pot of my Once-A-Year Rotel Dip and Chips. With Velveeta.

So I don’t really fit into any group. I try hard to feed my family the highest quality of food that I can, but I don’t get crazy about it. I don’t have the time or the money with a house of six people. I do hope to raise my kids to appreciate the food that they eat, and, really, they do. My older two teens have a fairly well-developed palate. They feel gross after eating fast food and eagerly look forward to eating Mom’s food after spending a few days at camp or some other place with cafeteria-style fare.

To the Eat Clean Nazis,” I give a thumbs up. Good job. But don’t live your life in fear of eating something that’s not perfect. Once a year, indulge in the Rotel dip at a Superbowl party. Or at my house at a cookout. Have a birthday cake with artificial coloring on it.

To the “'eat clean' in name only,” I’ll give you points for knowing how to eat well. Just do it a little more often. It doesn’t take much more effort to pack an (organic) yogurt cup and some fruit for lunch. Don’t deceive yourself into thinking that overly processed foods are okay because they’re organic. Whether a pop tart is organic or not, it’s still a pop tart, and it’s still not good for you and your kids on a regular basis. Make some whole wheat toast with jam instead.

We all can probably use some work cleaning up our diets. The biggest change can be simply learning to cook well. Cooking is a skill that takes time, and that’s why it’s one that’s so hard to improve upon.

Here are a few things to keep in mind about cooking:

• You will get better at it. Just be patient and keep trying.

• Simple is good. Learn a few basic seasonings, and flavor stuff with that. Eventually you’ll be able to branch out and know what herbs go well with what foods.

• Have someone else help with the cleanup. Cooking is less daunting if it’s not followed by 45 minutes of cleaning.

• The more you cook, the quicker you’ll be at churning out home-cooked meals.

• Talk to experienced cooks and get a menu plan from them.

• Use your crock pot on busy days. It’s awesome to walk into an empty cold house at the end of the day and smell your supper fully cooked in the crock pot.

Eat wellFood Buffet by Danny Ayers via Flikr

Eating well is so important. Relax and enjoy your food and its preparation. But don’t look down upon those who don’t know as well as you do. Or those who have other priorities in life. It’s all good!

Happy Eating!

Mandarin Orange Spinach Salad Recipe

April FreemanYesterday I was craving something cool, sweet, and tangy. I began tossing things into my shopping cart at the grocery store, and this is what I came up with.

This salad is sweet, tangy, and has a satisfying crunch, too.

Here’s what you'll need to create a delicious summer salad.

Mandarin Pecan Spinach Salad

Ingredients

• 1 bag of prewashed baby spinach
• A bottle of Ken’s Strawberry Vinaigrette salad dressing
• 1 15-ounce can of mandarin oranges, drained
• 2 tablespoons chopped pecans
• 2 teaspoons sesame seeds

Instructions

1. Place the spinach greens into a large salad bowl.

2. Drizzle the leaves with a few tablespoons of salad dressing. Take it easy. You can always add more later, but you don’t want the dressing to overwhelm the flavors of the salad as a whole.

3. Toss the salad to lightly coat all the leaves.

4. Scatter the mandarin oranges across the top of the salad.

5. Top with pecans, and finally, sprinkle sesame seeds over everything.

6. Serve immediately.

Mandarin Chicken Salad

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Overcoming Evil With Good

April FreemanMurder.

Terror.

Violence.

Rage.

Politics.

Anger.

Just turn on the evening news and it doesn’t take you long to figure out that we’re in a world of hurt here. It seems that every time you turn around something awful is happening. Maybe it’s the heat of the summer.

Almost a month ago, my heart leaped into my throat when I heard about the bombings in Turkey. Was this the day that my baby brother was flying into Istanbul? My relief was incredible when I got a response to my text. “Yes, I’m still in the States.”

And again, the relief was sweet when he made it back with three days to spare before the coup occurred.

This isn’t the only place in the world where things are tough. Europe and South America have more than their share of troubles, and Africa’s problems have been going on for decades.

While my family felt sweet relief when we knew my brother was safe, many families learned firsthand on those days that sometimes bad things do happen to good people. Hurt, tears, and sadness became someone’s constant companion, and they’re left wondering why. This time my own family was spared, but in past years we’ve walked through the valley of the shadow of death and felt evil’s clammy hands touch people we care about.

None of us are spared from hurt here on this planet. If you live long enough, you’re going to love and you’re going to lose someone you love. Politicians like to act like they can spare us from this part of the human experience, but, in reality, there are no easy answers. Life is HARD.

It’s too easy to get overwhelmed when you see a constant stream of horror flowing through your home on the six o’clock news, popping up on your Facebook feed, and auto-playing on your Internet home page. What’s the point? Sometimes it feels that the bad guys ARE winning.

But is that the whole story? Are we all just doomed to eke out a living on this planet and experience a miserable existence?

The sadness and difficulty of this world sometimes feels too big. My heart hurts for those people who are touched by evil. And there’s just not much that I can do about it. Despite what many political parties say, they really can’t do much about many of the awful things that keep happening. The solution to the world’s ills will not come from a law passed or a particular foreign policy.

So what’s the point?

I think that when the evil starts getting me down, the real solution is not to stand on a street corner with a sign. It’s not to “like” someone’s Facebook post or pass on the next popular hashtag on my Twitter account. The solution is not just to mourn the state of the world with friends.

I think the things that really will make a difference are the small things. When life gets hard, we all need to stop watching the news, turn off the computer, and get up to do something.

We may not be able to impact much of the evil that’s happening across the globe but we can do something.

We can take a bag of tomatoes to the neighbors.

We can toss a football with the grandkids.

We can offer to weed the flowerbeds of the old gentleman who lives up the street.

We can go to church and pray for the hurting.

We can stop offering pat solutions to those in difficult circumstances and just listen, and then we can give them a hug.

We can take some of those extra veggies that will go to waste because we’re so sick of processing stuff down to the homeless shelter.

We can start looking for the good in everyone regardless of their political affiliation.

We can stop blaming this group or that group for the “demise of our country.”

Basically we can choose to see the good in others. We can open our hearts and our arms to those within our reach and bless them in the way that is most accessible to us.

Not everyone can be politically active, give tons of money to a cause, or open their home to an oppressed person.

But we can do something.

And somehow, I think that if we all really focused on changing our areas of influence and doing what we can for those people around us, the world would be a better place. Of course we should vote. Of course, we should try to involve ourselves in greater causes.  But we shouldn’t get down because we can’t do something “big.”

I mean, I’m just a mom. But I have to work where I am and bloom where I’m planted.

This world does have some ugly things in it. But when we obsess over the ugly, we tend to miss the beautiful.

Grocery basket for a neighbor
Photo by Fotolia/highwaystarz

Open your eyes. Choose to see.

See the lovely moments in life.

See the hurting people around you and help them.

Look deeper for the reason behind why people act as they do and reach out in compassion.

Starting From Scratch

April FreemanSo you want to homestead? That’s great!

But if you’ve never done anything like this before you probably have more questions than answers. We’ve been at this for years, and we’ve learned it all the hard way, by trial and error. When we bought our property there was nothing here at all. It was just an over-farmed tobacco field. No trees, no fences, no barns. Now 15 years later, we have a nice home, an orchard, gardens, and a few barns. We also have cattle, horses, chickens, and sheep.

Here are a few things we’ve learned about starting a homestead from scratch:

1. If you’re buying empty property, think carefully about the layout for where the house should stand, where the driveways are located, and where all the gardens and orchards will be planted. If you ever even think you’ll buy livestock, plan for plenty of space between your house, outbuildings, and other things to get a truck and trailer wherever you need it.

2. Before you add animals, you may want to plant your orchards. It takes a few years for the trees to bear, so do this in the first few years.

3. If you’re building from scratch, have the piping put in for a few yard hydrants. These will keep you from having to trail hoses all over the place to keep your orchard alive.

4. Do one species of animal at a time. Each kind of livestock has its own unique needs. Don’t try to jump into 3 or 4 different kinds of animals from the beginning. Of course, the big plan is to have lots of different kinds of critters, but you don’t have to do it all at the same time. Go slowly and learn as you go.

5. Before you buy a large animal like a horse or a cow, research how much that thing will eat. It’s WAY more than you ever imagined, especially in the cold winter months. Be sure that you can afford all of the upkeep for that animal, too. Horses especially need regular infusions of cash, such as vetting, dental care, and foot care. Also, figure out how you’re going to feed the animal, even in the cold. Square bales require lots of handling, and large rolls need a tractor with a loader.

6. Check with your county agricultural agent about classes and opportunities for farmers in your area. Taking a class and being certified in certain areas of production may pay off by giving you access to grants that can improve your farm.

7. Cultivate friendships with other farmers in the area. Those who have been at it longer than you have will have knowledge and advice that you need.

8. Don’t invest in registered, purebred anything until you’ve raised a few cross-breeds. You want to learn on something that’s a bit less expensive and hybrid animals are a little more resilient.

9. Animals can enrich poor ground. Mob grazing is one way to rapidly improve the soil fertility of your place. We began feeding out our slaughter steers in our garden area, and now the poor, stripped-out soil has been replaced by black, rich, crumbly earth.

10. Don’t plan on making any money from your farm for many years. It’ll take you quite a bit of time to recover money invested in equipment, animals, and fencing. Be patient and slowly build your farm.

Barn and rainbow

Angel Food Cake Recipe

April FreemanMy chickens are laying eggs like crazy. When the eggs start rolling around in the fridge, I make an angel food cake for my family. Light, slightly sweet, and not too hard to make, angel food cakes are a great summer dessert, especially accompanied by whipped cream and fresh fruit.

Ingredients:

1-1/2 cups granulated sugar, divided
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup flour
12 egg whites, or 1-1/2 cups egg whites in a carton
1-1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla

Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

2. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, and 3/4 cup of the sugar.

3. In a large bowl with an electric mixer set on high speed, beat the egg whites, cream of tartar, and the salt until they form soft peaks. Drizzle in 3/4 cup of sugar, whipping until stiff peaks form.

4. Fold the flour mixture into the egg white mixture a little at a time with a rubber spatula. Spoon the cake batter into an angel food cake pan. Do not grease this pan.

5. Bake the cake for 30 to 35 minutes until it’s lightly browned.

6. Hang the cake upside down by setting it on an inverted funnel for 30 minutes. Run a knife around the outside and inside of the cake and gently shake it out onto a platter. Serve with fresh fruit and whipped cream.

Angel Food Cake

Photo: Angel Food Cake With Strawberries Flickr/Christine Urias

Bottle Lambs

April FreemanYesterday, a ewe we’ve been watching for quite some time lambed. We’ve been anticipating her lambing because she has something wrong with her udder and her babies will be required to be fed on a bottle.

The kids are excited. Of course, I understand. Lambs are totally cute and cuddly. Feeding them is like having a quick growing infant around. The kids like this stuff.

I’m less excited. This is a lot of work.

You see, baby lambs, especially bottle lambs, are quite fragile. For the first two or three weeks, they require close monitoring. In the first week, they must be fed every four hours, even at night. I stopped having my own children because of stuff like this! And now I’m doing it for a couple of lambs!

First thing yesterday afternoon after they were born, we had to make a trip to Tractor Supply Company. There I bought a small bag of colostrum powder. This stuff is all a baby lamb needs for its first 24 hours of life. Colostrum powder is not as good as the stuff that comes straight from a ewe’s udder, but it’s better than nothing. It does have extra minerals and antibodies to help get the lamb off to a good start.

I also bought a large bag of lamb milk replacer. In the past, I raised bottle lambs on fresh, raw milk from my dairy cow and they did thrive on it. However, Millie won’t calve until early September and so she is in her dry period now. I have to pony up the extra money for milk replacer for these lambs.

The milk replacer and the lamb colostrum cost about $60. If all goes well and we have a couple of lambs to sell in six or eight months, we can probably make $200, depending on the prices for sheep at that point.

It’s going to be a time-consuming, labor-intensive process. I hope it all turns out well. Our last bottle lambs died, but that was in January. They froze to death. Now it’s July. Don’t think freezing to death is likely. Thankfully, since it is warm, I won’t have to have bottle lambs running through my house.

Back in January, we had to keep them indoors to try to keep them warm enough. I learned to diaper them in order to protect my carpet and furniture. I’m so glad that’s not going to be an issue in the summer.

Unless it’s in the middle of the night, the lambs will continue to stay with their mother. She really wants to look after them and she’ll provide an amazing service for us: “pooping” the lambs. The mother sheep licks the lamb’s bottom and stimulates them to poop. If there’s not a ewe available to do this, someone has to rub their bottoms after they eat to keep them from getting constipated. This is gross. I’d rather allow a sheep to do what Mother Nature equipped her to do.

Bottle Lambs







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