So many new adventures and challenges have come this Spring! New babies, new projects and new ideas - and let's be honest, lots the same old overwhelm! It's not easy trying new things and learning new lessons. But as I try to remind my children and myself - trying new things is how we grow. Sometimes what might look like a mistake at first may really end up being our best adventure in disguise.
Seasons go by so quickly here on our homestead. It's hard to keep up with work, family, chores, animals and do I need to mention, weeds? We've been so very busy in such very good ways - building, creating, welcoming, tending and growing together. Here are a few scenes from our last few seasons and some of the new friends we've welcomed and new projects we've been working on...
Wishing you a season of growth, renewal and celebration this summer!
There are so many things I just adore about our Shetland sheep. This spring I've come to appreciate a unique aspect of this so-called "primitive" breed. Shetland sheep are a heritage breed, mostly left alone without many of the commercial improvements of modern farming practices (like faster growth or standardized fleeces). So they retain many of the ancestral traits for which were originally prized (like a wide range of colors and patterns, hardiness and small size).
One of these amazing traits is that their fleece naturally loosens each spring, making it (fairly) easy for a shepherd to pluck - or "roo" - their wool, no shearing required. That means no risk of nicking my sheep, no second cuts to mar my spinning and no shearer to hire for the job, I can do it myself.
My lovely little Maple didn't seem to mind rooing a bit, she stood still and happy and then pranced around the pasture, happy to be rid of that thick wool coat. Hazel was a bit more reluctant to part with her beautiful wool, but she and I eventually came to terms and now she sports a lovely summer look.
It's an amazing makeover, isn't it? I also love how Shetlands continue to change color over time. These Moorit colored girls are so dark brown near their skin, but the wool lightens to a lovely blonde over time. So pretty!
And now to find the time to spin...
“Live in each season as it passes;
breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit,
and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.”
― Henry David Thoreau, Walden
Years ago, one of my main life goals was to move someplace warmer, much warmer. Needless to say, that goal was never realized. And I'm honestly glad it wasn't. When I finally began spending more time outside instead of hiding away inside, I discovered the magic of the seasons - the changes, the amazing variety, the endless surprises our temperate climate brings. I also discovered long johns and L.L. Bean boot socks, which pretty much changed my life.
So now I try to embrace living in season. Here's to open windows and sweaty clothes on a summer's day! And last week's freezing, snowy days were welcome - once I'd put my boot socks on. I still complain about the weather. But at least now I know that there is something truly amazing and magical happening right outside my door every single day. I just have to open my eyes and notice it.
But defying the seasons is sometimes fun too - the rare t- shirt day in February, the chilly August rain that brings the long pants out of the closet. And so last week, while the snow was piled up high outside and the mercury was stuck down low in our thermometer, we channeled our inner summer and made jam.
It was classic berry season back when we headed to our favorite blueberry farm - sticky and hot and humid. With a baby strapped on my front and little bucket-wielding boys by my side, we picked and picked and picked these beautiful blueberries from bushes arching over our heads. I was hoping these berries would make it into the jam pot that day, or at least the next. But life got busy, as it tends to do, and the berries got put into the deep freeze instead of the boiling canner.
Fast forward half a year... my pantry shelves are too empty, the freezer is too full and the boys are begging for something sweet in their Pansy (the goat) yogurt. So we make jam. Even though it's out of season.
Honey Berry Jam
I love that this pectin lets me make a healthier jam with much less sweetener. Especially great with delicious, local honey from our wonderful friends at Seventeen Farms.
I love the Winter Solstice. I love making a bonfire in the forest, eating sausages my children happily cooked/burned in the fire and watching for the first sparkling star to appear. Thinking of the magical rebirth of Spring takes on a lot more meaning while freezing my fingers off outside in the winter darkness.
With Yule comes a shift, subtle but real. These long nights and short days, these freezing mornings and chilly gray afternoons will certainly be with us for months to come. But. But the wheel has turned, and now each day will be bringing us more light, more sun, more hope for that beautiful May day I'm dreaming of as I break ice in water buckets on cold, frosty mornings.
I've been getting so many requests for eggs and bunnies and I've had to give many disappointing answers all related to light. Our modern world is so disconnected from nature, it's easy to forget that things like eggs and baby animals are all intimately connected with light - or a lack thereof. The fertility of both chickens and rabbits is connected to the length of daylight they experience. We don't light our chicken coop as some people do. Adding electricity out there would be difficult. And I like to think our hens deserve a bit of a break, to focus on their own biological needs, rather than providing for my breakfast table 365 days a year.
I was hoping for some more December bunnies to be born, but these short days have shortchanged their fertility as well - a common problem for rabbit breeders and my family's early-to-bed, early-to-rise habits haven't shed any extra light on the situation. This being only our second winter in this house, we're still fooling around with the placement of our indoor rabbits. I've shifted them around a bit (into the sunspace in our living room, now they have a glorious two story view of the forest) to maximize the natural daylight they receive and I supplemented them with a lamp. So hopefully we'll have more bunnies born soon and I'll be able to give more happy answers to those of you who are eagerly waiting for a birth announcement. In the mean time we've been enjoying these creatures so much! There's something about children and bunnies playing together that is just too sweet for words.
Wishing you many light-filled days to come!
It feels like Autumn slipped in on me, an unannounced but not unwelcome visitor here at Idyllwilde. We've harvested the last of this year's goodness from the garden (late beans, pumpkins, carrots and tomatoes) and the orchard (oh those sweet pears!) We planned for a fall garden, but the voles had other ideas. I hate those little things but they're so darn cute! Sumac, sassafras and walnut are already giving us a beautiful fall color show - maples and oaks are soon to follow. We've lost quite a few chickens to predators (I'm thinking fox and hawk) so we don't have as many layers heading into this winter as we'd like - we'll have to revisit our chicken plans and predator-control measures soon.
Things are a bit nuts around here too :) Walnuts are falling all over the pasture. The squirrels seem to have gotten most of the hickories (and acorns). We just found these chestnuts in the forest - I had no idea we had chestnuts, so this was a fun discovery. I think they are Chinese chestnuts or a hybrid and am wondering how they ended up here and if all the trees in the forest I previously thought were chestnut oaks are really chestnuts...
Speaking of trees, our 30 something year old orchard was sadly neglected by the previous owner here. We're trying to gently revive the old trees and expand the orchard - we put 14 new trees in this fall (pear, cherry, peach and plum) and need about three more to finish off our last row.
Autumn also means time for a special visitor at Idyllwilde. Please meet Apollo, our girl goats' handsome gentleman caller. He truly is a sweetheart and quite a beauty - he just won Jr. Champion at a show last weekend. While I'm very glad to have him here and am more than a little in love with his stunning blue eyes, I certainly won't miss his lovely aroma when he goes back to his home farm!
Hope you are enjoying Autumn's visit as much as I am!
Good morning, Sunshine! It's 6 am: are you ready to start the day? Grab your shoes and a bucket and come with me while I do the morning chores.
I love getting outdoors first thing in the morning, keeping time with the seasons by watching the world wake up. Sometimes I have a child or two in tow, but most of the time it's just me and the animals and the sunrise.
If the loud mmmaaa from the barnyard is any indication, Pansy the goat is ready and waiting for me. I do believe toddlers and goats are some of the hardest things in the world to photograph. They both refuse to hold still an arm's length away so I can take a stunning portrait, but love to rush toward me, hoping to grab (toddlers) or eat (goats) the camera. So I get a lot of blurry toddler/goat noses (I'll spare you the evidence.)
Ah, a milking stand! That will keep my camera from becoming breakfast!
We've only got one goat milking right now, but she gives us about one quart each day ( down from about 1 1/2 quarts earlier in her lactation). I'm happy with that amount for now - especially since she's a Nigerian Dwarf and I'm sure I lost a bit of her supply in my early, fumbling milking attempts last Spring. We have plenty of fluid milk to drink and a bit to play with - I haven't gotten beyond yogurt, chevre and mozzarella. Yet.
Morning rush hour...
The garden looks so pretty in the morning light. Let's just ignore those weeds, shall we?
Oh yes, that's much better. That sunflower is over 7 feet high!
It sounds like Hazelnut sees us and is hollering for her morning grain. We'd better hurry out to the pasture. As a long-time knitter and short-time hand spinner, I can't tell you how excited I am to work with wool from my own sheep next Spring! These Shetland girls are so very soft and these pictures don't do justice to the beautiful colors of their wool...I wonder if there will be enough for a sweater? Or a shawl perhaps? And the children want hats...I do believe we'll need more sheep!
Baby pears in the orchard...it won't be long now.
Last quarter moon...
'This phase is like a monthly turn from autumn into winter. Let your many thought-leaves go; admire the bare limbs of your essential nature. If you’re feeling restless, it may be that you’ve got a creative streak ahead of you. Enjoy this pause. The time for action comes again at the next new moon. Gather your will; sharpen your intentions. Breathe like an aware Buddha; smile like a wise goddess."
That's it for now. If we're lucky, when we go in the children will be up, dressed and eating their breakfast with the laundry started and the next project lined up. More likely, the children will be squabbling, the baby fussy and everyone hungry - which is okay too. After all, morning chores have given us a peaceful beginning to a busy day. And if things get too crazy...I'll just hang on tight until the quiet of evening chores rolls around.
Thanks for coming along with me!
With beans, potatoes, zucchini, onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, and lettuce in our harvest basket this week, you could say the garden is growing like a weed (and yes, the weeds are growing just fine too).
We only got about half our garden plot dug this year, creating permaculture-style raised beds along the contour of the slope to help prevent runoff and keep the moisture in the soil.
The other half we sowed with buckwheat and cowpeas (and a few pumpkins too) as a cover crop to enrich the soil over the summer. Our plan is to turn the cover over as we dig and shape the rest of the beds next Autumn. We’ll see how it goes.
For now we’re enjoying suppers from the garden, and basking in the beauty of a lush and lovely July.
After a long winter, we all had a pretty bad case of spring fever around here. People and animals alike were ready for warmer weather and the new life of spring - especially a certain little black hen of ours.
Broodiness - that inborn urge to sit... and sit... and sit on a nest full of eggs has been bred out of most modern commercial laying hens. But our chickens are old-fashioned heritage breeds, so they still know how to be chickens. Our little black hen decided it was time to be a mother, so she began to sit...and sit...and sit on her nest - rightly earning our children's apt if unoriginal name for her "Broody".
At first we tried to dissuade Broody, plying her with scratch grain or putting her out in the choicest pasture spot. It's not that we didn't want her to hatch some little chicks - the problem was the protective yet docile Orpington rooster we've been wanting has not yet materialized, so we have no fertile eggs for her to hatch.
When we saw that Broody was serious, not leaving her nest for anything, we thought this might be a great way to get that Orpington rooster after all. And so we ordered some very special fertile eggs and slipped them under our little black hen. And she began to sit...and sit...and sit... and that little hen sat for 21 days straight until one morning I came out to see three of these:
There's nothing cuter than a fluffy new chick! Except of course, a fluffy new bunny. New little lambs and goats are awfully cute too - let's face it, we're just about overrun with cuteness around here!
But we still had a problem over in the nest - one little chick had pipped (broken through the shell) but was unable to hatch out by itself. This happens sometimes, and these chicks have another apt if unoriginal name - "help-outs". I have to say, helping a frail, wet little chick out of it's shell, holding its fragile life in your hand and helping it to be "born" is really an amazing experience.
I warmed the chick a bit under our brooder heater, then slipped it under Broody in her nest that evening. I wasn't sure if that fragile little thing would make it - if it hadn't gotten too chilled, if I hadn't injured it in taking it out, if Broody would accept it after so much time apart. But the next morning I came out to see four little chicks, fluffy and cute as can be. They're doing well, growing bigger each day - thanks to that Mama Hen, Broody. And hopefully soon we'll have that Orpington rooster we've been wanting - or two, or three, or four. A Lemon Cuckoo Orpington, quite possibly one of the prettiest chickens around, with sunny yellow and white striped feathers and a bright red comb. I'll let you know how Broody's babies turn out.
The joys, adventures and challenges of life on a small, family homestead raising blue eyed Holland lop rabbits, Shetland sheep, miniature goats and more!