Comprehensive Homesteader Winter Gear Guide

Baby it’s cold outside… baby you’ll freeze out there… Wait, no I won’t. In fact, we just finished shoveling our long driveway (by hand, although this should be the last year of that!), split a cord of wood, and did the farm chores. The wind was blowing, the temps are well below 0 deg F, the snow is falling, and I came in sweating.

Before I continue, a few quick points:

  • I was not paid to recommend any of this gear.
  • I was not given any of this gear to review, but purchased each item.
  • Being a lifetime resident of Minnesota (with the exception of a short stay for schooling in North Dakota), I have put many different pieces of winter gear to the test.  Each of these are items I personally use and trust.
  • Farm chores and homesteading chores are hard on clothing.
  • From winter fat-tire biking, ice fishing, to farm chores, I think this selection of winter gear will keep you toasty and will survive a beating that homesteading and farm living will throw at it.
  • While I do receive a small percentage off of any purchase made through Amazon using the links I provide, I do encourage you to shop local if you can and if the price difference is not out of line.  I personally have found the bibs listed below cheaper locally than on Amazon.

I hope this list helps you out as the frigid arctic weather settles in for the winter.  As is always recommended, layer up for maximum warmth.  You can always remove a layer if you start getting too warm!


Face/Head

Image Source: Amazon

Outdoor Research Ninjaclava Balaclava – I discovered this balaclava when looking for gear for my commute to the office, on bike, in the winter, in Minnesota.  This is my balaclava of choice for any outdoor cold weather work or recreation.  The beauty of the balaclava, you can wear it as a face mask,  hat, or neck warmer.


Hands

I have two go-to items here.  Which set I grab before leaving the house depends on the temperature and the task at hand. Quickly, two things I look for in a good winter work glove: proper insulation and leather exterior.  The leather serves two purposes, blocking wind and handling the harshness of the task at hand.

Image Source: Amazon

RefrigiWear Fleece Lined Insulated Leather Mitt Glove – These mittens are great for shoveling snow or splitting wood.  They also have a decent cuff to keep snow out. Unlike most socks and gloves, I found the sizing on these runs a little large.

 

Image Source: Amazon

Well Lamont Leather Winter Work Gloves – The classic winter work glove.  These provide good dexterity while still providing warmth.


Feet

Image Source: Amazon

DeFeet Woolie Boolie Lo Sock  – These are THE sock, summer or winter.  I love these wool socks!  I stumbled upon these when looking for the perfect cycling sock in all weather.  Summer heat, winter cold, and the wind and rain in between, these are the perfect sock.  They are a little on the expensive side, but they tend to outlast any cotton or polyester sock, hands-down.

 

Rocky Blizzard Boot- I have had these boots for almost 15 years now.  Great traction for pulling wood from the woods in the jet sled, cutting firewood, or fat biking through the snow.  They don’t sell the same model I have anymore, so you are on your own here to look for a suitable replacement.


Legs

Forget about your dad’s long (thermal) underwear!  With the popularity of winter running and cycling, we now have a decent selection of cold weather tights to choose from to use as our base layer. These are my favorite:

Image Source: Amazon

Baleaf Men’s Outdoor Thermal Cycling Running Tights – These are always used as my base layer when winter cycling.  They also work excellent as a base layer under jeans or slacks.  I have been really impressed at the quality of their build for their price point.

For the outer layer, I go with:

Image Source: Amazon

Carhartt Quilt Lined Zip To Thigh Bib Overalls – I picked up a pair of these and liked them so much, I bought a set for everyone in the family!  They are a farm/homesteader classic.

 


Abdomen

I have a really fancy $300+ North Face coat.  To be honest, my $50 Dickies keeps me just as warm, if not warmer.  I also don’t need to worry about ripping it while doing chores!

Image Source: Amazon

Dickies Men’s Sanded Duck Sherpa Lined Hooded Jacket

While the above recommendations won’t win you any fashion awards, you will stay toasty warm while tending to the animals or stacking firewood.  And trust me, the animals will be happy to see you no matter what you are wearing!


One more recommendation…..

Night Lighting

While you are at it, do yourself a favor and pick up a headlamp for those outdoor activities in the dark winter mornings/evenings.  My bike headlight doubles as a headlamp when attached to an inexpensive head strap.  For evening wood splitting, I also carry along my new favorite lantern:

Image Source: Amazon

Streamlight 44931 Siege 540 Lumen Ultra-Compact Work Lantern – This lantern is great.  It has an ingenious handle that allows it to hang from almost anything, including my jeans or Carhartt bibs pocket. My only complaint is this lantern takes “D” batteries, which I resolved by purchasing Eneloop D spacers for my Eneloop AA rechargeable batteries.

Do you have any suggestions?  Did I miss something?

-Jeremy

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Re-Using Old Feed Bags

We are still on the hunt for an affordable gravity box (wagon) to allow us to purchase our feed in bulk and save lots of $$$ (so if you know of anyone willing to part with their un-used gravity box in central Minnesota for cheap, let us know!!).  But, for the interim, we purchase 50LB bags of feed from our local mill.  Between our chickens, ducks, yak, cow, goats, and rabbits, the feed bags pile up fairly quickly if left in the barn.  Here are a few ways we put those feed bags to use.

#1: Christmas Present Wrapping Paper

Yes, we are frugal when it comes to wrapping presents!  Why spend lots of unneeded money on wrapping paper and gift bags when you have these feed bags laying around.  The wrapping just gets thrown out and tossed aside anyways.  Besides, we live on a farm, so presents wrapped in feed bags are sort of fitting.

#2: Sheet Mulching

I like to use our paper feed bags (and cardboard boxes) for sheet mulching in my attempt to keep the weeds at bay, the soil damp, and soil biology active.

#3:  Re-usable grocery bags

I stole this idea from my brother and sis-in-law: turn those old feed bags into re-usable grocery bags.  Need instructions, here ya go: http://www.instructables.com/id/Feed-Bag-Tote-Bag/

#4: Starting the Wood Stove

Our house’s primary heat source is wood.  Besides the free Saturday ads/paper, the feed bags are a perfect source of kindling to get that fire going.

What do you do with your old feed bags? What awesome ideas have I missed!?

-Jeremy

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Indian Summer, Attic Remodel Progress, and Homemade Shiplap

Surprise!  We have found ourselves in the middle of a good old-fashioned Indian summer.  After a couple of weeks of snow and cold weather, warmer temperatures have settled in for a bit.  Our snow has all melted away, except for a few patches desperately clinging to the shade of our old barn.  One couldn’t ask for a better time to cut firewood!  Cool, but not too cold.  No snow or foliage to get in the way.  But, most importantly, no mosquitoes!

If you have been following us for any length of time, you are probably well aware that, as part of our whole house remodel, we have been converting our unusable attic into a proper living space.

About four months ago, it looked like this:

After reinforcing the roof, installing a new subfloor, refinishing the floor, insulating, and adding dormers, it now looks like this (sorry for the bad picture, sometimes the phone camera is just so convenient):

Our goal is to complete this bedroom for two of our boys before Christmas.

I have put my new router table and old table saw to good use converting $18 USD sheets of BCX plywood into shiplap.  Each sheet of plywood equates to 64 linear feet of 6″ shiplap.  That comes in at around $0.31 USD per linear foot.  When shopping around, I found shiplap available for $0.62 USD per linear foot.  DIY lends to some big savings here!  So, as the project progresses, I expect to save upwards of $500 alone in shiplap.  That savings easily pays for the $160 USD router table I needed to purchase to get this project done.

As a bonus, I get a new tool out of the deal that I will use to fabricate our new kitchen cabinets next summer!

After cutting the plywood into strips (8 strips per 4’x8′ sheet of plywood), I run them through the router to create the groove on each side of the board for overlap.

To ensure even spacing during installation, I used a set of popsicle sticks.

Since we installed a metal roof on our house, spray foamed the interior, and desire to have an extremely energy efficient home, we also opted to install fiberglass insulation in addition to the sprayfoam.  We followed up with, to all those who have visited our homestead, our infamous foil barrier.  These simple additions should make the house much more comfortable year round and should also dampen the roof noise during a thunderstorm.

About halfway through producing the board for this bedroom, my 14 year old shop vacuum that I had attached to the router table decided to give up the ghost 🙁  Literal clouds of smoke billowed out of the vacuum!

Tack another $100 for a new shop vacuum and $50 for a dust cyclone and I still come out ahead!  Hopefully, the dust cyclone will improve the life of this next vacuum!

Until next time, greetings from our humble little homestead!

-Jeremy

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Venison in the Freezer (review of associated costs) and a Barn Window Installation

Right now, our house remodel is consuming much of our time.  With that said, many of our farm/automation projects are on hold.  Many, but not all.  As any fellow homesteader knows, there are always small side projects to tackle, projects that cannot be ignored.

With the deer hunt over, one of those tasks was processing some venison.

Many people bring in there deer to a local processor or locker plant.  Our local processor charges a flat fee of $70 to skin and quarter the deer.  That does not include cuts and packaging.   Worse yet, you never know if the meat you get back was yours or someone else’s (what were their animal handling practices).  Did they give me all of my meat back? With that in mind, and also knowing that we will in general have at least one steer a year to process,  I finally broke down and bought a meat grinder.

It arrived on Tuesday!  Our small group also meets every Tuesday evening, but I couldn’t wait until Wednesday to process it, now could I?  Not with that new grinder sitting there!

I had quartered the deer Monday evening after work.  Come Tuesday evening, after we got the kids tucked in bed, Shelly and I took to the garage.  We were able to piece out, grind up, and package the deer by 1AM.  I have a loving and patient wife!

We ended up with close to 50lb of meat.

So, I had to run some quick math:

Grinder = $360USD  ($75 of which I paid for with crypo through egifter.com)

Deer License = $31USD

Freezer Bags=$3USD

$360+$31+$3=$394USD

With 50 pounds of meat, that comes out to $7.88/lb for fresh, grass fed, organic meat.  Then, consider that the grinder will be used for all future deer and cattle we process here and the numbers start to look really nice!  Eventually, all things equal, the cost/pound should start approaching $0.70/LB

And, to boot, I can bring the hide in to a local scrapyard and they will exchange the hide for a set of new work gloves or a small amount of cash.  As a further bonus, the chickens and cats also enjoyed picking off the leftovers that we missed the following day.


Aside from processing venison, I also got an old window from our house moved to the south side of the barn.  My hope is that it will help capture some solar heat in the barn on the upcoming cold winter days.

I measured up and marked out the wall.  Then I used the reciprocating saw and cut myself a BIG hole!

Once cut out, I installed the outside frame and header.  The goats were good sports through the commotion.  Our bucky-buck however, made some tasks a challenge, as he had to smell, taste, and rub his head against everything new and out of place.  Including my ladder.  Easy fix?  Toss a hay bale outside.

Finally, I framed up the wall below the window.  Much better!  In a year or two we hope to gut this room out and get it spray-foamed.  At least this is a good start in the right direction!

Not only do we get to capture some natural heat now, but also some natural light!  There is nothing like a well lit barn!

Next outdoor project… Firewood collection.

-Jeremy

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Old Man Winter has made his first appearance.. Now to deal with meat processing and frozen water lines!

I don’t know why, but it seems that winter caught me by surprise again this year.  It is not like I didn’t know it was coming.  Living in the northern half of Minnesota, winter always comes!  It is just that there are still so many tasks to complete around the house and farm before the hard winter freeze sets in.  I just kept hoping for more time.  This week we hit temperatures close to 0 deg F (3 deg F this morning).  We also received a little snow.   Cold is one thing to deal with, then there is the unneeded and unwelcome time change.  It is completely dark out by 5:15PM and getting earlier by the day.  Cold and darkness makes many of the outdoor projects a bit more difficult or impossible to complete.

So the mad rush begins.  The first signs of winter’s approach were felt in the barn.  As the temperatures started to drop, the water lines in the barn began to freeze.  I had to dedicate a little time to winterize the water lines in the barn.  Our rabbit and cow water lines were the first to start freezing.  I closed the valves that supplied fresh water to those two systems and drained the water from them as best I could.  I plugged in the water line heat tape on our main barn water line.  We will now be manually filling animal waters until Spring arrives in March (optimistic, I know… probably more realistically in May) from a single barn spigot, assuming it remains thawed.  Chore time just got a bit longer.   With water troughs starting to freeze over, I also had to get all the water heaters plugged in 🙁

Last year we constantly fought freezing water in our rabbit hutches.  This year, we bought heated bottles.  To ease the power bill and to make them a bit more efficient, after installing on the hutches, I took a can of sprayfoam to them and completely covered the outsides with insulation.  Not pretty, but pretty functional.

This last weekend, I took some tools with me to the barn and enlarged the hole in the south wall that gave us access to the cow pasture.  I then installed the one remaining old door from our house in that opening in another attempt to help seal up the drafty barn for winter.  This door is used to access the cow/yak pasture to feed and water them.  This door, along with the one I installed a few weeks ago on the north side were both welcome additions to the barn.

With fall canning and garden harvest complete, I prepared the garden for spring (Note to self: the garlic still needs to get planted!!).   Besides the “no-till sheet-multched” areas of the garden, the rest is tilled and ready for spring planting.  The canning shelves are full.  The produce freezer is full!  Now, butcher time begins.  This last weekend I processed 8 meat rabbits.  Shelly made up a delicious Teriyaki rabbit/ rice meal with one of them.  The rest went to the meat freezer.  In a couple of weeks, I will have about 11 more ready for processing, then we will be wrapped up with rabbits until early Spring, with the exception of maintaining our breeders.

Don’t like the idea of eating rabbit?  How about fresh farm raised beef?  We sent our first cow off for processing and have now been enjoying some delicious beef!  After losing his mate, our steer was a bit lonely.  He spent much of his time after Daisy was butchered mooing and staring out where the butcher gutted and quartered the heifer.  It was kind of sad…  So, it was time to give him a companion again.  Cows do not like to be alone, especially our big baby steer.  I was able to cut an opening in the fence (some day I will own some proper gates) and coax our yak out of the goat pasture (which the goats are happy to have back) and into the cow pasture.  After a little head butting between the cow and yak, the yak claimed dominance.  They now seem to be best friends.  They graze together and play together quite frequently.  Yes, cows play together.  It is quite comical and fun to watch!

Besides beef and rabbit, we will also be putting away some venison, which is currently aging in the garage as I type this up.  We will be processing the deer ourselves.  In fact, I ordered a meat grinder (partially payed for with Bitcoin!) which will help us grind up a lot of the scraps as burger and will also come in handy when our next cow is ready to be processed next fall.

Besides harvesting firewood and completing the daily chores, most of the outdoor projects will be shelved until the Spring thaw.  This will help me dedicate more time to interior house remodeling projects!  The sooner the house is complete, the sooner we can get our home-study done for adoption!  Winter is definitely not all bad.  It should give us more time as a family to have a family game night.  Or, as took place this last week, plenty of evenings in the living room with me learning basic guitar chords, Stephen or Shelly playing the piano, and the rest of the family sitting around reading or playing.

-Jeremy

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Digging out a Basement of an Existing House (Spoiler: NOT FUN!)

Imagine yourself in cramped and dimly lit quarters.  You are hunched over, unable to stand up without hitting your head on the ceiling above.  Sweat is dripping down your face and sore back as you swing a pick ax in your wet hands.  You wipe your face with your hands to divert another drop (stream?) of salty sweat before it makes burning contact with your eyes.   Dust is everywhere.  Dust in your nostrils.  Dust sticking to your sweaty body.  Occasionally and more frequently than you care for, your pick ax suddenly stops as it makes impact with a solid rock. Eventually, once there is enough loose clay, dirt, and sand in front of you, you trade in the pick for a spade shovel.  Each scoop of the soil gets tossed into the ever growing pile a few feet away that marks the next phase of work.

Before you can begin swinging the pick ax again, you need to clear out that pile.  Putting the ax down and grabbing the spade shovel you start filling a line up of assorted 5-gallon buckets.  Those buckets at one time contained tractor hydraulic oil or bulk restaurant pickles.  Most of them have long since lost their plastic handles which would generally make handling them a little easier on the hands.  Instead, only the metal wire handle is left.  It takes you no time at all to fill up those buckets, barely putting a dent into the pile of loose soil you have amassed. Now, its time to drop the shovel, grab a full bucket in each hand.  “Bend at the knees, lift with ease,” except the bending doesn’t stop until you get to the steps, for fear your head will again make contact with that cursed ceiling.  You make your way over to the flight of stairs.  Stairs?  If you want to call them that, poorly maintained steps, some missing due to dry-rot and replaced with cinderblocks.    Calf muscles and knees strain as you cautiously take each creaking step upwards, always thinking about how terrible it would feel if the step below you gave out, and hoping that remains only a thought, never to become reality.

Once up, you head outside to the somewhat refreshing and cool winter air.  Refreshing for a while anyways, until that sweat starts to cool and leaves you with a chill.  You now gather some more strength to unload the two buckets into a wheelbarrow.  After another two trips down and up, the wheelbarrow is full.  Six bucket to one wheelbarrow.  You are now tasked with the chore of maneuvering the wheelbarrow across the ice and snow, about 100 yards away where you can unload the warm soil onto the frozen, snow covered ground.  Whoa, keep that ‘barrow upright or there’ll be more work, or a wheelbarrow in the abdomen or wheelbarrow leg in the shin bone.

You think you are done?  Not quite.  Only about another 100 or so rounds left to go, maybe, but I lost count 20 buckets ago.  Back to the pick ax.

This is what my first winter at our house looked like…

This is where we started from..

This was what my life consisted of nearly every weekend and many evenings through that winter.  Crazy? Probably!  Would I do it all over again?  Absolutely NOT!  Am I happy it is done?  Most certainly!  This is the cost of failing to look over a house from bottom to top before purchasing it, and being too stubborn to drop an idea, no matter how crazy it may be.  Dare I say, this was my stupid tax?  Well then, I should be paid in full.

From a bunch of men from our Church stopping by to surprise us one Saturday….

to putting a bounty on each bucket of 25 (eventually growing to 50) cents in hopes to entice the older children to help carry up a few loads, we eventually we got the basement dug out, foundation reinforced and concrete poured, and most of the walls down there framed up.  We turned a dingy dirt floor crawl space with a 4-5 feet clearance, depending on where you stood, into a proper usable basement with a concrete floor and seven foot clearance.  With that in mind, you can see why me and my wife are collectively breathing a huge sigh of relief going into this winter.

I will have my time with the shovel again in the future when we transform that pile of basement soil we have outside from a pile of weeds into an all-year fully self-sufficient greenhouse based on the earthship design.   But, for now, I am enjoying every project that does not involve a 5-gallon bucket, pick ax, and shovel!

So, with where we came from fresh in your mind, I’d like to transport you to where we are now.  Still a long ways off from complete, but also a long ways off from where we started!  As promised last week, here are some before and present pictures of the house and barn.  Before/afters, my favorite!!!

House, before.  Red…  Tasteful!?   Was it meant to match the barn???  Notice the white coming through the red?  Yeah, that is not your imagination..

House, present.  Only trim, fascia, and a porch left to go.

Barn, before.  Anyone have a bulldozer? Giant bonfire maybe?

Barn, present.  A work in progress, but now moving forward into usefulness from decay.

-Jeremy

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When Life Throws You A Lemon, Make Lemonade and Plant an Apple Tree

Sometimes just typing or writing something out is the best therapy.  This is one of those posts that I both dread and long to type up, all at the same time. Emotion, excitement, disappointment all thrown into one inevitable cup, that when swallowed, goes down both bitter and sweet. Bitter crushed dreams and hard choices, mixed with a little bit of unexpected events, all somehow leading to sweet displays of love, kindness, and glimpses of all the promise and potential that the future holds.

Last weekend, after being pregnant for over two months, we lost our baby. A miscarriage.

If you were expecting funny/cute pictures of our goats or yak, sorry, this part of our story is a bit more personal. We have made good progress on the house recently, but that will have to wait until the next post too.

To lay out a bit of background information, Shelly and I currently have four children.  At this point, some may judge us and think we are crazy, but we truly couldn’t care less. We love each one dearly. Each one is irreplaceable.

We both come from families of five children. Each of us has adopted siblings. We love large families.

(my fam)

(her fam)

With adoption a common thread in our families and very commonplace among many in our local Church, we have, even way back into our days of dating, had it on our hearts to adopt. As a matter of fact, as Christians, we are commanded to care for orphans and widows. How, in good conscience, can we sit back and surround ourselves with all the pleasures this world has to offer, while there are children in difficult situations or without any family or home to call their own.  Adoption comes with many sacrifices, unique struggles, and other issues, but they can be overcome.

About fourteen weeks ago, we had planned to call the county office and begin the process of fostering with the intention of adopting. Only, to our surprise, at about the same time, we found out we were expecting our fifth. Surprise! Okay, well that settled that, we would put off adoption and take the new road that had been set before us. Next spring, we would have five children. Breathe… This was not what we had planned!! Not yet. We were supposed to adopt our next child! I won’t lie, there were a few tears shed and many mixed emotions, but, over the span of the next several days, reality set it, and eventually, so did the excitement!

As the pregnancy continued, Shelly met with a midwife, as we had been seriously considering a homebirth. A day after the visit with the midwife, Shelly began to feel a bit off (this had absolutely nothing to do with the midwife). Bleeding and cramping followed. She immediately assumed something was not right and went to the local clinic for a checkup. They ordered bloodwork and an ultrasound. After the ultrasound was completed, the hospital broke the dreaded news to Shelly, our little unborn baby had passed away. Confusion swelled around our household for the next few days. Our excitement was squelched and our newly formed plans and dreams, again altered by an unplanned event that was out of our control. Again, why was this happening? This was not part of our plans!

Pain and bleeding continued for my wife over the course of the next few days, during which she passed the unborn baby (thankfully, naturally and without medical intervention). After having a couple of days for everything to sink in, my mother stopped in and surprised us with an apple tree to plant in memory of the baby. The next day, we put the baby in a small box and our children drew pictures on that box, each a glimpse into their own little thoughts and dreams of this dear little one.

As the father, speaking from personal experience and second hand testimony, that although difficult, a miscarriage is typically not as much of a challenge on the man as it is for the woman. But, seeing my children coloring on that box was different. It was emotional. It was heartbreaking. We placed the box at the bottom of the hole I dug and we each covered the box with some dirt. We then planted that young apple tree there, directly over our baby. It will be a living memorial outside our kitchen window. A refuge for birds, shelter from the summer sun, spring food for our honeybees, and a source of fruit for our family and the many deer that call our property home.

Now, that a little time has numbed the pain and healing is having its way, we have time to reflect on the past few months. Although none of what has happened was part of our plans, it does seem our Creator has his own perfect plans, plans more intricate and beautiful than our own. Many of the reasons are not for us to know.  However, some reasons were made perfectly clear as the days went on.  For sure, without these events, we would have missed seeing His perfect love in action through the many dear friends and family that brought us meals and shared tears with my wife in the midst of this trial.  True community.

Whether you are a Christian as I am, or not, we most probably can agree that humans are social creatures. We can live alright alone, but when we live together in small tribes or communities, we can thrive. We are stronger together, especially when we allow the strengths of others to compliment our own inadequacies. Here, our own little community is varied and diverse, and apart from Christ, we would probably have very little in common. But that common bond is stronger than all others and transcends personal preference. I am extremely grateful for those who have chosen to share their lives with us. I pray our relationships evolve over the future to handle the obstacles that we are bound to face, and that this little community will stand the test of time and the inevitable and unavoidable struggles.  Together, we can make a positive difference and be a true reflection of His love.

Through this process, our position on adoption has not changed. Okay, maybe that is not quite true. Personally, I think the desire to continue with the adoption process has only grown stronger. In fact, we made the call to the county this week and will be receiving our first batch of paperwork in the mail. Our road may be winding, but this journey is not over.  In fact, I sense it is just getting started.

-Jeremy

 

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Two Years of Homesteading…

What a difference a year brings!  Last year, we lost most of our tomato crop to an early Fall frost.  This year, we have piles of them, despite the blighted fate of most tomatoes grown in this area. Last year, our attic was nearly unusable and wholly incapable of being winterized, let alone accessed.  As of last week, the attic is now spray-foamed and accessible!  The list could truly go on…

(Attic, before)

(Attic, in progress)

(Attic, in progress)

This month marks our two year anniversary on this homestead.  For us, the transition from our last house to this current house was extremely tough and an absolute test of our patience.  We are extremely grateful for every year-over-year improvement we get to witness and enact, no matter how small and seemingly insignificant.  Many might look around at the current condition of our homestead and think we still have a ways to go.  We do, but we look at it and truly think about how far we have come.  With only two rooms left to demo in our house, the time of putting everything back together is drawing very, very near!

Out in the farmyard, with almost two years of raising a variety of farm animals, we have reached the point where managing these animals no longer feels foreign and scary.  The chores have just become part of our routine.

When we first started raising chickens, we would do a head count once or twice a day.  Now, I probably couldn’t tell you how many chickens we have if you asked.

Last year, I wondered if I would ever finish re-roofing our barn.  This summer, I wondered if I would ever finish re-roofing and adding dormers to our house.  They might have taken longer than planned to complete and they may have cost more than anticipated, but they got done.

Our grapevines produced a few handfuls of grapes this year.  We get the first taste of our own homegrown beef next month, as we send our first cow, Daisy, off to slaughter.  We learned that raising pigs is not for us. We learned that a goat in rut is stinky, yet hilarious to watch.

We have learned that our children thrive on a small farm and in a rural setting.

(Oldest boy, assembling a laying box for our birds out of scrap lumber)

Sometimes, a small house isn’t really that small after all.  We have learned that there is nothing more rewarding and humbling than opening up our farm and house to strangers and friends, no matter what condition our farmstead is currently in.  This is what God has called us to do.  As a reward, many of those strangers have since become dear friends and much appreciated neighbors.

(our little egg collector dragging along his favorite kitten while fetching eggs)

Over the last two years, the concept of doing life together with others has been trickling into the core of what we want to do here.  We are not meant to be independent and to go it alone, that is clear.  What a lonely, unproductive, and pitiful life that would be (we’ve been there).  In a nation and world so divided, we can choose to be different at a local level.  We can ignore that which we cannot change and work at what we can change.  My challenge to you as a reader, to myself, and to my family, is, over the next two years, how can we utilize that which has been entrusted to us to meet new people, form new bonds of friendship, to bless a stranger, and to bring true Hope to the hopeless.

It is said, the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the next best time is now.  Similarly, the best time to make a positive change in our local community is now.  Quit waiting on someone else to make a difference.  Quit voting for someone else to act and represent.

Don’t think we assume to have it all figured out.  We’ll be the first to admit we don’t, far from it!  We have stumbled too many times along this journey of ours and will do so many more times.  In fact, we have news of another curve ball coming our way, of which I am sure will inevitably lead to more stumbling and failure.

The only difference, this time, we aren’t going it alone.  God has supplied many people around us to help carry us when we are weak and to encourage us when we are feeling low.

Nothing worthwhile ever comes easy or fast.  No relationship worth keeping, is not hard fought for.  Our last two years have been a testament to that!  Our Foundation is strong and He will see us through!  Here’s to the next two years of homesteading!  Here is to the next two years of not sitting idly by, not playing into the politics, not mindlessly consuming media, but getting our hands and feet dirty and living life!

-Jeremy and Shelly

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The Harvest is On, and so is the Roof!

With the days getting shorter and lows are already in the 40’s.   I’m left thinking, where did summer go?  I know I am not alone.  This summer has been busy, both at home and at work.

Here’s a quick recap of the goings on here at our little farm.

A few weeks ago, our kitchen counters looked like this:

Now substitute the zucchinis above with canning jars, tomatoes, and apples.  That gives you a pretty good idea of what it looks like now!  Harvest season is here!

Last weekend we processed some of our ducks and one of our troublesome roosters.  We now have less drakes than hens and the hens no doubt would tell us thank you if they could talk.  We are currently at 9 hens and 2 drakes, versus 9 hens and 11 drakes…

This weekend involved a little less gore and a lot more cores.  Apples!

We have one mature tree that produced very well this year (and lots of little ones that will start producing in a couple of years).  With our family of six, we were able to completely pick it clean.   All of the scraps and bad apples were sent straightaway to the goats and chickens.   We turned the harvested apples into apple sauce using our food mill and the rest went through the peeler to be frozen for pies, crisps, and apfelpfannkuchen.  The weather this August has been amazing, so we did most of our apple processing outside on our stainless table.  Besides the occasional bee, this was a nice way to keep the stickiness outside of the house.

You can’t make apfelpfannkuchen without eggs.  Our last batch of chicks for the summer have begun to hatch this weekend.  It was a small late summer test batch.

Do you smell something?  We do.  That would be Bilbo our buck.  Last year he was a bit too young to share with us the joys of owning a male goat in the late summer.  This year he isn’t holding back.  Stinky?  Check.  Acting strange?  Check.  “Happy to see us”?  ..ahem..  Check.  The rut has begun.

Speaking of Bilbo.  Last week, our little buck was not feeling too well.  He must have ate something that didn’t sit well with his gut and he came down with bloat.  Bloat can be deadly in goats, so we immediately began treating him after we noticed his large stomach and loss of energy.  First came the oil syringe, some red cell, and then we followed up with a shot of Vitamin B.  After treating with oil and red cell for two days, he came though and is back to his normal self, sans the aforementioned effects of a buck entering rut.

We can’t forget about the house roofing project we have underway.  I cleared some branches that were hanging over our house so I could work on the roof with a little bit of headroom.  Stephen treated the goats to the freshly cut foliage.

With harvest season upon us, we did still manage to wrap up the house roof.  Fascia and soffit still in progress…

-Jeremy

 

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Project Dormers / Frame Up Attic

I have had my sights set on taking the week of July 4th off for a while now.  With nearly a full week, I went into the week optimistic that I could get the attic “rafters” (previously 16′ 2×4’s) properly reinforced, cut in and frame up our dormers, and install the metal roof on our house (along with several other farm items).  Now that we are a few days into the week, that may have been a bit much to bite, but with a hole in the roof, there is no turning back now!

Last week, Shelly and I spent our 15th wedding anniversary at Menards.  Romantic, I know 🙂  We did enjoy a nice lunch together and ended the evening with ice cream, so it wasn’t all bad.  And, yes, I know, cowboy boots and shorts don’t go together, but the goats don’t mind at all.

Saturday I made the first cut into our roof.  Like I said, there is no turning back now.  Even though I would not be getting to the dormer for a few days, I needed a way to get the longer lumber up there.  Our stairway to the attic was too tight to maneuver a 16 foot board up.

Once I had the hole cut, I started at the chore of reinforcing the roof.  When building the house they assembled the roof using 2×4’s.  Obviously, after a few Minnesota winters (80-90 years) it had not stood the test of time well.  The roof had noticeable sagging on all sides and I was beginning to get nervous each time it snowed last winter.  The last thing I needed was our roof to cave in on us.  Every snowfall not only brought on the chore of shoveling the driveway, but also the roof.  Shoring this roof up was a must if we wanted to make this home a safe place to raise our family.

To shore up the roof, I am running 2×8’s along side the existing 2×4’s.   I also ran 2×6’s along the floor that would give these new “rafters” something extra to rest on and transfer the load down to the foundation of the house.

Since the roof was sagging, I had to use floor jacks to square up the roof and remove the sag.  This wouldn’t have been so bad, but considering I was in a poorly ventilated attic, it was sunny outside, and it was 80+ degrees outside.  Later this week, the forecast is calling for a chance at 90.  Inside it felt like 150 degrees F.

As I shored up the roof, I added additional bracing throughout.

With all of the work involved in the attic, we still took some time to do a few other family activities.  Stephen received a bee keepers suit for his birthday the other week and it had been a few weeks since I had looked at the hives.  Testing the new suit turned out the be the perfect excuse (no pun intended). We added our first honey super to each hive.

We also had a night away from the farm, our first in over a year.  Due to the generous donation of time by our neighbors (to keep an eye on the animals) and our wonderful host and hostess (my parents), we were able to spend a night in their cabin on the lake.

The children (and adults) had lots of fun enjoying fireworks.  Grandpa made sure to have plenty of them on hand.

The kids were glued to the water both days, like flies on a cow.  They could leave it for a little while, but always went right back to it.

Happy 4th of July!!

-Jeremy and Shelly

 

 

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