A reason to be thankful 

At the beginning of the month I stepped onto a busted piece of concrete in a business parking lot, and twisted me ankle. It bent far enough I was standing on the tiny bone that sticks out to the side of your ankle and  made a loud pop. I thought I broke it for sure, but after a few minutes I was able to get to my feet, and surprisingly it didn’t hurt too bad. So I walked around the corner and went back to work. After about 10 minutes it felt like someone was pouring hot liquid into my shoe, and I thought “maybe I ought to take a look at it”. First of all, bad idea. I kinda knew that, but I looked anyway. It looked like I had an apple under my skin. It was weird, but I didn’t think much of it until it started hurting a few minutes later. It happened to be my right foot, so I knew I couldn’t drive. So, I called my baby brother, who lives a few minutes away in the next town. Then we were off to the hospital.

It was about a half hour later, and my foot was swelling. They took  x-rays, and luckily I didn’t actually break anything. They sent me home with some ibuprofen and an air cast splint. My mom had damaged her ankle a few years ago and happened to have a waking boot that she left me borrow until the next week when I could meet with a podiatrist. 

Turns out that the boot was the best thing I could’ve done, it kept my ankle from moving at all so it could heal properly. The podiatrist said a lot of things that didn’t make sense, but the gist of it was I didn’t tear any ligaments completely, but they were frayed from the stress of the twisting I did. He said to wear the boot for another week, then a brave of some kind for 3 more weeks until he could see me again. 

Is been really sore, and there are a lot of bruises. I honestly didn’t even know my foot bent like that, but my whole foot is cooked in them, plus a couple that go up the back of my leg and the side of my calf. It’s still really sore, but much better. I see the podiatrist again next week. 

The reason I began with this story was to help explain the next part. I have been really good to make sure that our costs have banking soda available because they are somewhat prone to bloating with alfalfa hay. Apparently they tipped the container over, because when the kids went out to do chores Thanksgiving morning they came in and said Molly was laying down and not moving. In a panic I grabbed my trusty box of baking soda, tossed on my slippers (I still can’t fit my foot into a regular shoe because of the brace), and hobbled of through the fresh snow as fast as I could. 

When I got to the goat pens my deepest fear was confirmed. My sweet goat had bloated, and wasn’t breathing. I threw the gate open, and rushed in. When I touched her she was cold, I knew she was gone. My heart sank. Milking is extremely intimate, and you can’t help but bond with the animals you spend time with anyway. I went in the house, sent the baking soda on the table and went into the bathroom. I think I cried for a solid 10 minutes. 

I knew we had to take care of her body, Smeagle was very nervous with her there and not moving. But it’s mid November and the ground is frozen, I have a bad ankle still so I can’t dig a hole anyway, and my husband and son were out for their traditional Thanksgiving rabbit hunt. I couldn’t even move the body out of the pen by myself.

Thank goodness we live in a tiny town, in the middle of nowhere. We know our neighbors well, and are blessed that most of them are also homesteaders. So I called my neighbor. I felt terrible, to ask them to help me on a holiday, and to do such a grisly task. I was a mess anyway, and unable to help. But the respect they showed handling the situation showed me I called the right people. They were so delicate, caring and showed so much kindness for Molly and myself. They even called the next day to see how the family was handling the whole thing. 

This year I’m so grateful for the kindness of others, the blessing of the homestead, and Molly’s life. She will always have a space in my heart, and we will remember her fondly. 

Fall-ing in love

The end of the growing season is upon us here at Straight Arrow Homestead, and I am really surprised at our harvest! It makes me fall in love with the idea of being self sufficient all over again! 

We didn’t get much from the garden, unfortunately. In Utah we are in a drought, and in my part of the state we have run out of water for irritating every year for about 4 years. I was just glad to have the few ears of corn and what we got in the greenhouse. We definitely count ourselves lucky! Honestly, the greenhouse saved a lot of water. So we put the plants that need the most in there. The tomatoes and peppers grew really well, and we got a decent yield. 

Fall also gives us a great opportunity to reflect and plan. Since this is our first year, we learned a lot from mistakes and miscalculations. But it seems like we have a system figured out now, and we have big plans for next year! 

On the agenda right now is the following :

  • Build a new greenhouse. The one we have doesn’t hold up well enough for our rocky mountain winter weather. We are planning a wooden frame so we can give the roof enough pitch, to help the snow melt so we don’t have issues with it collapsing again. 
  • Build a root cellar. We gotta figure out where to put it so we have winter storage for all the apples and potatoes. 
  • Build a smokehouse. This is critical, since we plan to raise our meat and hunt. We need a place to cure them, and that seems like a simple, but ongoing solution. 
  • Build raised beds and hügel-mounds. We built a mini one this year and I’ve been really happy with the results. We mostly need these for water conservation. 
  • Start working on a pole barn. This is going to take a LOT of time, the parts are expensive. And while my husband and I both work, we don’t make a lot of extra money. But if we start now, and build a little art a time it shouldn’t be too bad. 
  • Expand and fix the chicken run. 
  • Repair the rabbit hutch. 
  • Mulch the perennials and trees 

I’m sure there is more I’m forgetting, but that’s the list for now. 

Here are some images of the projects from earlier this month – 

Spreading sand to even out the ground and building a place to park our 4 wheelers and trailers. 

Miss Molly and Smeagle eating the apples the deer have knocked off the trees. 

That wraps it up for now. We are heading out after deer, hoping for the meat to help feed us through the next year. 

Liquid Gold

I really, truly believe honey could be currency. It’s such an amazing thing, and fascinating. It takes time, just the right resources, and my wonderful little friends – the bees. 

We harvested 2 frames from our large super this weekend, it was quite the process, simple but time consuming. The bees weren’t very happy, but I quickly replaced the frames and put the cover back on. 

Mostly it was just a lot of scraping, removing the comb from the foundation, mashing, and draining. I let the honey drip out overnight to be sure we got as much as possible. Then I mashed the comb, melted, stained, re-melted, and rendered it all down. I now have a block of usable bees wax, and I plan to use it to make an udder balm for Molly. 

The finished product is a sticky, golden, lovely, delicious honey. And because we choose to smoke the bees only when they are agitated, it tastes amazing. It tastes like alfalfa, if you have ever smelled wet alfalfa just mix that with the taste of honey. It’s amazing, and  there are little bits of pollen in it, so it will help with allergies. 

We also harvested 20 gallons of apricots (4-5 gallon buckets) and made a boatload of jam. It’s amazing, and I like it a little more on the tart side so we use a little bit of citric acid to maintain that and help with the color. If you have made apricot jam before, or canned anything really, you know that over time the color trends to fade. Nobody wants to eat brown mush, it’s not very appetizing. Citric acid helps with that, and even though my mother in law swears by it, I don’t like adding food coloring. So these are all natural, no pesticides, and picked from a tree planted by pioneer settlers. It really doesn’t get better than that. Hopefully it will be enough to get us through to another year. 
The apples are coming along, and much larger than I expected. I don’t remember if I mentioned it earlier, but the trees we have fruit every other year. Last year we harvested apples, so going by the growth of the last 35+ years that my in law’s have lived in the house, we shouldn’t have any apples. But we do, aged they are big and healthy. Still pretty starchy, I found out when I ate one today, but they have fantastic flavor. The frost should hit in a little over a month, and it will convert the starch into sugars (as I understand it). Just in time to dry them for the hunts. They are small, portable, and perfect for the packs. If you have ever eaten dehydrated apples and drank water, you know they are pretty filling. 

On top of the 2 pigs we are butchering, we also have 2 deer and 2 cow elk tags this fall. If we can fill them all we will have enough meat to feed our family for about 2 years. Cross your fingers for us, we could use it. 

Even with the lack of water, we still have had a decent amount of produce. Our beans are doing well, and the corn actually has ears! We’ll see if they are big enough to eat, but I’m excited to see them growing. Oh, and the walnut tree I thought was dead has new growth! 

Lots of exciting things going on around the farm, I will continue to keep everyone posted! 

July is all about the heatwaves

Man, this month… We have had so many heat waves! My father in law used to swear by the Old Farmers Almanac, he bought one at the beginning of every year, and when I looked at it this spring it said it was going to be hot and wet. So far that’s been pretty accurate. 

This week we had a monsoon front move through the state, of course we only got a couple drops out of it, just enough to make us wish we had more. But the wind was insane, and blew hard enough to completely rip the plastic off my hoop house. If we were to repair the hoop house of would be the third time we have put new plastic up. We are thinking of rebuilding it instead. It’s been a tremendous learning experience, and we know now what we definitely need to plan for in the rebuild. We ate also thinking that in the long run we will be using corrugated polycarbonate sheeting for the roof, since we learned very quickly that we must have a pitch in the roof to avoid problems with the heavy snowfall we get here in the Rockies. I thought we accounted for it pretty well in our initial plan, but it turns out that without more support in the roof structure the plastic will just stretch and sag, causing build up of snow, and eventually ice unless you go out and physically remove it each time it snows. And seriously, who has time for that nonsense? On a homestead with many other things, including animals and pens, I think that the investment will quickly pay for itself in being able to be more efficient and not having to replace it as often. 

On another note, everything is growing really well, and I wanted to share the impressive tomato plants we have grown. I got just a bit of topsoil and mixed in some sand because we have a lot of clay in our soil, then fertilized then with Epsom salts, comfrey leaves, and rabbit droppings. That’s it. This is the product of that combination, and trellises for the tomatoes that run from the bar of the plant to the top of the hoop house. My daughter is 5 feet tall for scale. 

The wind coming through and ripping the plastic had actually been a good thing, because the peppers growing by the tomatoes have loads more sunlight and better access to water. I’m thinking of pulling water to ripen the tomatoes the first week of August, just to give the little guys more time to grow big. I will gather more photos add that gets closer. The plants a only slightly talked than in this photo, but I chopped the tops off so the growth will now go into the fruit and not the plant. 

Other than that is business as usual here at Straight Arrow Homestead, we ate just trucking along and planning for the next year. Hope this post finds you well!  

Playing catch-up

I don’t want to start apologizing for a lack of posting already, so I won’t.

 

Many, many things have happened – which is why I haven’t been able to post. The first being that I received a job offer that I wanted, and was able to leave the job that stressed me out and caused me an insane amount of anxiety. I have been there for about 3 weeks now, and I have never had another job that I loved as much as this.

Last week we had a scare with our little Broken Red New Zealand doe, she was really lethargic, and not responding to stimuli. She was just lying on her belly, breathing really fast. We were concerned but unsure of what it was. We didn’t know if she was just very tired or warm, but it was the end of the day and cooling off so we decided to let her stay and not bother her too much until morning. When I went out the next morning to do chores I really expected to find that she had expired overnight. I even took a shovel out with me just in case. But – to my surprise – she was actually doing better. We were in the middle of a heat-wave so to err on the side of caution I brought her inside. We gave her a bath, cleaned her up and put her in the dog kennel so she could have some peace and quiet and focus on feeling better. Within a couple of days she was back to her regular self. I did extra checking on our male, and he showed no signs of having any kind of struggle. Now that the heat wave has passed they are feeling much better. We also froze some fruit for them to munch on during the heat of the day.

Molly, our dairy goat, got her head stuck in the fence – again. Seriously people, what I am about to tell you is the BIGGEST reason to de-horn or dis bud your goats when they are babies. I know the process, and I don’t like it any more than anyone else, but it’s really an important part of their semi-urban survival. When we purchased our goats back in the spring, the owner told us that they had placed castrating bands on her horns to try to remove them. The one had fallen off, and the other had severe warping from multiple bands being used. We knew that the odds of the bands wearing and snapping before the horn fell off was more likely than it actually working. To resume the story, Molly got her head stuck by getting the horn stuck in the square above her head. When she tried to pull it back out it wouldn’t budge, and she was very distressed. Having been through this a number of times in the months after getting the goats, I knew that the drill was to calm her, hold the top and bottom of her head, and angle and ease her head back through the hole. However, this time was different. I placed my hand on the top of her head, with my thumb around the front of her horn, and as I angled her head back she lurched. Her horn caught the fence on last time, and the horn literally popped off in my hand! I honestly thought I had killed her. There was a loud scream from her, the horrifying sight of her bloody horn in my hand, and so, so much blood. She wouldn’t come near me, and this was a problem because I had to milk her still. I can’t blame her though, I would have been scared to death if I were her! It was nearly a circus act to get her into the stand so I could look at the wound. It was still bleeding pretty badly (I didn’t take any photos because I was absolutely devastated). We used some Blu Kote (my staple for just about everything, including spraying the chickens to get them to stop pecking each others feathers off) and put some gauze on it. Molly didn’t like it at all, and in order to get it to stay I had to try to wrap it with a bandage. If you know anything about goats, you know that they have weird shaped heads and are very skiddish about having anything near them. It was interesting to say the least. I have bonded with that goats, as I mentioned in the last post, and this was only a couple of days later. The next day she acted like she had a headache, and after learning that the goat’s sinus cavity grows into the horn it made a lot of sense. There was still a lot of blood, but she seemed to be feeling alright. I left the bandage, and only milked her about half way. I wanted her body to be able to focus on healing, but I wanted to relieve the pressure in her udder as well. Waiting over the next couple days was rough, but she was gradually getting better. We were soon able to remove the bandage, and the gauze fell off on its own. Here we are a few weeks after, and she is back to her quirky goat behavior. And now she isn’t getting her head stuck in the fence all the time.

We also harvested our peas, yielding us about 10 cups of peas and the numerous ones we ate raw while podding them and as we anticipated the harvest. Not too bad for only 2 packages of seeds. I believe we will attempt to grow a second crop before winter hits, hopefully by then we will have a place in the garden for them. We were able to plant everything we planned to, with the exception of cucumbers and broccoli because my seedlings died. We currently have the following in the garden: 1 row of bush beans (as well as the beans we planted around the frame for the bean house), 1 row of carrots, 1 row of radishes, 1 row of “yard-long” beans, 3 rows of fodder beets, 4 rows of corn, and 2 rows of onions. I’m unsure of how much we will yield, but I will post updates.

I have tomatoes and peppers that are growing now in the greenhouse/hoop house. We should be harvesting tomatoes in the next month. We ended up with 30-ish viable tomato plants, so we should have a good harvest.

I don’t know how much I have mentioned in the past, or how much I will in the future, but we adhere to the christian faith. We have had a somewhat wet year so far, and with the bees we have a crazy number of apples and cherries on the trees. We also have drawn deer and elk tags. I feel like it’s a huge blessing, and we need to take advantage of it. I also feel that we are going to need an extra fridge and freezer to hold everything. So I’m heading off to go look for them on the local classifieds.

Wish us luck!

Stress is Bad for Your Soul

Stress is my biggest downfall. On the farm, at my job, and in my personal life. I am a worrier, and I always have been.

I can honestly tell you that having a farm has been hard on all of us, there is so much work that goes into it. And planning. And work. But it has been incredibly empowering, and therapeutic. There is nothing I love more than sitting in the lean-to at the milk stanchion, talking to Molly (I absolutely have bonded with that goat to the point that I have conversations with her, I know, it’s kinda weird) as I watch the sun come up over the Rocky Mountains. I can’t help but feel so incredibly blessed.

I can also say that I have bonded with my animals… which might sound weird. We have had chickens since we moved back home, which was nearly 5 years ago. I love them, genuinely. And I believe that Happy Hens lay better eggs so I baby them a little bit. Scott thinks it’s kinda weird, but having given birth twice myself I think that they should be comfortable. I have found myself out in the run, cleaning the pen or watering them, and I end up standing around talking to them when I have finished. I love to spend time with them. I’m telling ya, Chickens are a gateway animal. If you get them, eventually you will end up with everything else. Even if it takes a while.
We built the Chicken coop and the attached run back in the spring of 2012, while we were raising our chicks in the brooder. (We buy all of our chickens from Cackle Hatchery, always have. I will never get them anywhere else because we have had such an amazing experience with them and their customer service is outstanding. I’m not paid to advertise for them, I just love them that much.) Here are some photos of the coop building process.

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You can see that we left a gap at the top for ventilation, we covered it with chicken wire so that nothing will get in. The food and water is under the floor so it’s covered during the weather, and still accessible. We decided on the raised coop so that the chickens would have some shade during the worst part of the hot summer days.
The chicken run extends out about 10 feet to the right of the photos, to the fence. It’s big enough with the underside of the coop, but we are planning on extending it even further this spring. We want to add some birds to our flock. And if we do that they will need more space.

Another thing I have found to be therapeutic is pulling weeds. I have heard and read that the cure for stress is Salt Water: Sweat, Tears or the Ocean. I think dirt on your hands should also be in there. There is something magic about caring for a garden, and getting your hands into the soil.

I guess for myself, stress relief all has to do with caring for some sort of life. Improving the life of other people through service is a great way to do this in a big way, but sometimes when you are stressed there isn’t enough of you to put into a big project to serve another human. Spending time taking care of my garden and my animals is a way to do that on a smaller scale. It doesn’t require such an investment of my self, and helps me find my center again. Maybe it sounds silly or crazy, but I hope that sharing my view on this will help someone else.

Take care of your selves, don’t let the stress get the best of you – which is hard sometimes.

How it all Began

I’m sure that if nobody has wondered why we started homesteading yet, someone will in the future. Plus it will serve as a reminder to myself why we started this journey.

First and Foremost, the name “Straight Arrow” might seem strange or at least pique some interest. The property where we have established our homestead is the home where my husband’s parents settled before he was born, and the home and land that his father worked himself. We have a lot of history there, so it seems appropriate. They bought their home back in 1978, when my Father in Law was working for the City Police Department. He had given up a better paying job with another City Department in favor of living where they could be more self sufficient. They bought the house and land, moved, and a little over a year later my husband was born. The city we live in is really more of a small town, the population usually hovers right around 2,000. We live on what used to be the edge of town, and as such have animal rights for our property as long as we continue to keep animals there. My Father in Law made the backyard, which was essentially 1/2 acre, into the family garden. Raising 7 kids took a lot of food, and he believed in growing as much of himself as he could. He then worked for the County Sheriff, retired and went back as a court bailiff. He was a hard worker, and held two jobs at many times. But always had a garden. I learned most of what I know about homesteading from him. He was a very strong man in his faith, unwavering even in the toughest of times, and the only person on the departments he worked for that didn’t drink coffee or alcohol. Ever. He never smoked, never did anything of questionable morality. Thus earning himself the nick name of “Straight Arrow”. He passed away in 2011, finally losing a long battle with cancer, and it seemed like the best way for us to honor his legacy in our journey.

 

Now, on to the desire to be self sufficient. We moved back to my husband’s childhood home after his father passed away because his mother was living there with our nephew that is disabled (he was diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome, and has a lack of development in his frontal lobe. This causes all kinds of issues related to anger management, and he has outbursts that are particularly violent which was not a safe situation for a 70 year old woman to live in). After we moved back my Mother in Law had to have several surgeries, including reconstruction of the bones in both feet, having the tendon in her hip reattached, and a spinal fusion among others. It really was a good thing we were able to be there to help her, and I am always trying to think of ways I could do more for her. She is an amazing character, and has filled the void that my mother never tried to.
When we first moved back we didn’t think anything of the house and the land, we just worked and took care of it. We have young kids, who were even younger then and unable to do a lot of the work. We did grow a garden, but it was rather small, and only used to supplement the fresh veggies that are lacking in the winter. It seems silly to me now, and I would love to grab myself at that point and just shake me asking why I wasn’t doing more to care for my family. We have just under an acre of land, and it was just sitting, wasting.

A little over a year ago I had a health scare. I had my gallbladder out, which was freaky, but manageable. About 6 weeks later I started having issues with extreme dizziness, blurred vision, disorientation, and so on. I thought it might be medication related, as I have been on many medications throughout my life trying to manage Bipolar Disorder. I went to my doctor, and he checked everything out and said that it seemed a little strange, then suggested I see an eye doctor to be sure it wasn’t vision related.
When I met with the ophthalmologist he said that he wanted to do an ultrasound of my eye. What?! How in the world do they do that?! I didn’t want anything near my eyeball! Turns out that it’s just a simple dye drop in your eye, dilation, and looking into what looks like a really large set of binoculars. As you look into the device, it scans your eyeball and the dye reacts with the imaging machine to show what the vessels and tendons in the back of your eyeball look like. It was pretty awesome (if you’re into that).
After reviewing the images, the Doctor said that I likely had some kind of tumor.

Wait……What?
Um, okay. So I LIKELY had a tumor. Not sure how to process that information. So I cried. A lot. I was really scared, just the thought of it freaked me out.
The Doctor Scheduled me for an MRI, which I had never done before. Because we are in a small town, we don’t have an MRI Machine in our local hospital, but we do have a mobile MRI that comes every other Saturday. So I scheduled for a week later, and waited. I can tell you – that was the LONGEST 7 days of my life. My husband is the type that generally doesn’t get too worked up about things until he knows for sure what it is and how to handle it, which is great cause I was an absolute mess.
After the MRI I had to wait 3 or 4 days for my regular doctor to review the images. I was impatiently waiting for the results. And praying incredibly hard.

All that crazy, scary, stressful stuff… and it was a Pseudotumor Cerebri (More info here if you are interested). Seriously. I didn’t even know that was a thing, but my doctor explained it as my brain “makes too much fluid, and basically my body can’t reabsorb it fast enough” building up pressure in my head and causing a myriad of weird symptoms like headaches, dizziness, disorientation, blurred vision, and so on. It explained my symptoms completely. The options they gave me at that point were: 1) deal with the occasional symptom until I can’t anymore; 2) get glasses to lessen the stress on my eyes during the times I have symptoms; or 3) have a Lumbar Puncture to drain the excess fluid and have it tested for all kinds of things. Seriously, why would I have someone jab a needle into my spine? Okay, I did have an epidural. Twice. But that was childbirth, this is just to drain fluid. It seemed really scary and weird. So I opted for glasses. I didn’t realize how much it would help. I have had minimal symptoms since, and usually the glasses take care of the issue.

So, after that scary period I started really reevaluating my life. What was I doing, and what could I be doing to make it better, that sort of thing. Homesteading and self sufficiency seemed like the way to go. And here we are. I started with research, because I’m a giant nerd and I love researching things. I also wanted to be sure that I was doing the best thing for my family to the best of my abilities.

Now we have a hoop house, with veggies growing. Dairy animals, pigs, chickens, and more. It was a scary way to get here, and I wish I had started sooner, but I’m on it now and working on getting better. Nothing like thinking you may be sick enough to die to make you think about improving your life.