Sunday, January 31, 2010

Our Farm in the Snow

Yesterday we had the biggest snow storm since we moved here 2 1/2 years ago - about 8". It made it difficult to feed the animals, but I carried my camera along and took some good pictures... and had a great workout! Here is a pictorial walk around our farm in the snow:

Cool snowcicle on our back porch roof

A photomerged panoramic view from our back porch. We start our feeding routine at the house. The dogs and rabbits are in the yard. From there we feed the chickens and goats just outside the far end of the yard.

Grover (pictured) & 2 bucklings are near the house. We'll move them back with the other boys this week if we can pull the trailer through the snow.

The dam is about half way between the house & pasture

We've made it to the "big" pasture and loaded up the hay cart.
Ryan is pulling it through the snow. I helped by pushing.
It was quite a workout for both of us!

Hungry goats chasing after the fresh hay

Our Cashmere bucks enjoying their hay

Elvis is trying to sneak an extra share

On our way from the pasture to the barn, we go back past the house...

... and the store

The barn is our last stop. We need to feed the sheep
and llamas. Unfortunately, they were being camera shy.

This one is for my friend, Christy, who loves the
scraggly old holly tree in front of our house.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Making Lye Soap

I never thought I would make lye soap, but that is exactly what we did the other day. It all started with raising pigs and the butcher telling me that you can make soap with lard (melted pig fat). So I took many pounds of frozen pig fat home and made lard. You can read about that in this post.

The only ingredients in lye soap are water, lye and lard. Other ingredients can be added for fragrance and lather but they are not necessary. We bought lye at our local farm store.

It was an easy process. Just combine lye with water and when it cools to about room temperature pour the melted lard into it and stir until it is well combined. Pour into a mold (we used a plastic sweater box) and let it cool completely. The next day cut it into bars. A few days later dump the soap out of the mold and let it cure (air dry) for 6 months. That’s it. (If you want to try this at home, Google “How to make lye soap” for more specific instructions.)

We didn’t wait 6 months. I started using our soap about a week after we made it. Lye soap is not like store bought soap. In many ways it is better. It has a very high concentration of glycerin so it is great for your skin.

Commercial soap makers strip a lot of the glycerin out of their soap to use in other products. They also add agents to make the soap lather but, contrary to popular belief, it is not the lather that cleans you.

I always thought that lye soap was harsh but that is not true unless you use too much lye. In the old days before lye was commercially available, people made lye water by straining water through wood ashes. It was not an exact science so sometimes the lye was too strong and the soap was harsh.

Another great benefit of making your own soap is that it is cheap. The only direct cost we incurred was for the lye, which cost about $6.50 and made 30 bars. That’s about 22 cents per bar. I don’t know how much it would cost if we had to buy the lard.

I almost forgot to tell you what scent we made! I’m calling it Country Breakfast because I scorched the lard so it smelled like bacon grease. I added orange zest, cinnamon, and vanilla to try to diminish the bacon smell but it didn’t work. We won’t use it in the shower but it won’t go to waste. We can still use it to wash our hands and for general purpose cleaning.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Rendering Lard

Pigs were our first farm animals. We received 2 free piglets from a pig farmer who didn't want to fuss with bottle feeding them. After raising them to a good weight, we had them butchered. We sold one and kept the other for ourselves.

When the butcher asked if we wanted the fat, I asked him what we would do with it. I think he was kind of amused that this city girl didn't know, but he respectfully told me that we could make lard. The only thing I knew about lard was that people used to use it instead of shortening, so I asked him what I would do with all that lard and he said, "make soap".

Shortly after we received our pork, I made a batch of lard and it turned out perfectly. I froze some of it and kept some in the fridge to use for cooking.

When we decided to make soap recently, I dug out the rest of the fat from the freezer and made another batch of lard but I think I scorched it because, rather than being white and odorless, it was off-white and smelled like bacon grease.

Rendering lard is actually very easy. You just put a little water in the bottom of a pot, add chunks of fat and cook it slowly. As you cook it, the water evaporates and the fat melts.

In that fat are little pieces of meat that become deep fried. They are called cracklings and are quite tasty and terribly fattening (like all good food!). As the fat melts, the cracklings rise to the top. The lard is done when they settle back down to the bottom. The cracklings are what got scorched in my last batch of lard.

When the crackling sink, strain the lard through cheese cloth or a coffee filter to separate it from the cracklings. In liquid form lard is yellowish but it cools to white. It can be stored in the refridgerator or freezer. For more specific instructions on rendering lard, click here.

While researching how to render lard, I stumbled upon some surprising information on how healthy lard is. That's right, HEALTHY... at least compared to most of the fats you find at the grocery store.

Stayed tuned for my post about making lye soap. If you've never made it, you'll be surprised how easy it is and how great the soap is. The only ingredients are lard, water and lye. Other ingredients can be added to promote lather or add fragrance, but they are not necessary.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Fixing the Car

This story is a continuation of my prior post titled Redneck Week at MHF. The car is fixed! I forgot to take photos of it before they started working on it, but I've included photos of the hood after Andrew & Ryan cut it open with a sawzall and bolt cutters and a photo of the finished car.

The whole project cost about $300. The new hood and headlight cost $190, the very cool looking hood pins were $10, and we paid our neighbor, Andrew, $50 for his help (which was quite a bargain but he wouldn't take more).

We wouldn't have even attempted this if my brother-in-law, Tim, hadn't encouraged us to try it. Anyone can tell that it was wrecked but we are satisfied with the results, and relieved that we could fix it so cheaply. I think they did a fantastic job given that our Andrew had no experience working on cars and we don't have mechanic's tools.

I love that we keep learning new things to make us more self-sufficient! All the projects around here can become overwhelming but it is very satisfying when we are able to conquer a project unlike any we've ever done before.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

February Lessons & Bible Study

I've just posted the new lesson schedule here. In addition to beginning knitting and crochet classes, I am excited to be offering a hat class on circular needles and free session called "Stitch & Spin".

If these class times don't work for you, let me know and I'll add a class that suits your schedule. Want to learn something I'm not currently teaching? Let me know and I'll schedule a class or private lesson with you.

Click here to see the upcoming classes.

On a different but related note...

On February 8th, I am starting a 10 week knitting bible study in my home for women ages 16 and older. Each week we will study scripture that has a knitting related theme to help "knit" God's Word in our hearts. We’ll discuss the lesson and how it applies to our lives while knitting. Knitting lessons will be available for beginner knitters. Experienced knitters are encouraged to bring whatever project they are currently working on.

This bible study is limited to 8 people, so if you are interested, let me know ASAP. The only cost is for the yarn and supplies you will need for your knitting projects.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Redneck Week at MHF

First, I have to say that I love being a redneck, even if I can only claim part-time status.

This story started about 3 weeks ago. Andrew wrecked our car on his way home from college. He is fine but the car is pretty smashed up. Since it is 12 years old, we decided to try to fix it ourselves. We've never worked on our cars before other than the standard oil changes, etc.

Yesterday we finally got tired of waiting for the weather to warm up and we started. We couldn't get the hood up so after removing the bumper and grill, Andrew used a sawzall to cut a hole in the hood so we could open it and assess the damage under the hood.

That project is on hold until tomorrow when we get a new hood and headlight to install.

Today, I took a goat that died 2 weeks ago (she was frozen because of the cold weather) to a man to be skinned. Gruesome, I know, but she was in full cashmere and will make a fantastic pelt.

I wonder what other new experiences we'll have this week...