We’re sitting down and evaluating our year so we can appropriately plan for next year. What went right, what went wrong, and how are we adjusting and moving forward in 2023? Come hang out with us for this episode of the Pantry Chat to find out.
Why Looking Back is Imperative
Some of the most important time spent when homesteading is planning. Taking the time to reflect on what’s been done, what worked and what didn’t work, and especially how to move forward is critical for making wise decisions.
If you don’t take time to reflect, plan, and implement, you’ll likely just be grabbing at straws without a real goal to achieve.
We do a year-in-review every year as a family to discuss what things went well, what things didn’t go as planned, whether or not those things need to be redone, revamped, or removed, and prioritize what we’re planning for the next year.
You don’t need to live on a homestead to implement this planning time. It’s beneficial wherever you live.
2022 Year in Review
Overall this has been a very productive and good year. We’re grateful for the new baby coming in just a few short months. Expanding our family is always a joy and a blessing.
As for the homestead, we’ve just wrapped up our fourth season here on Riverbend. This means, in our opinion, that we’re still living on a very new homestead.
Though we’ve been in a big push for the first few years to get infrastructure and systems in place, this isn’t the pace we plan to keep up long-term.
It’s also important to understand that we have a generational perspective on our homestead that you may not have. As we build our systems, we’re thinking about how they’ll last and work for the next generation to take over.
This may not look the same for your own homestead or property, so do keep that in mind as we move forward. We have a great blog post on how to prioritize homestead projects here.
This year we implemented more permanent fencing out in our pastures to help with rotational grazing and keeping our animals in the pastures we’ve been trying to rehabilitate.
We’re very glad we waited four years to put in permanent fencing, as what we thought we wanted a few years ago isn’t what we ended up doing. That’s why it’s so important to pay attention to your land, see how water flows, where the sun hits, etc. Your land will really tell you how best to utilize it, but this takes time to observe for multiple seasons.
After spending some time with Joel Salatin and Justin Rhodes this year, we implemented a watering system specifically to get water out into the pastures. It was a huge leap in the progression and improvement of our pastures and a big time saver on our daily chores.
We love the perspective that saving 15 minutes a day can free up enough time to learn a whole new skillset.
It wasn’t until these systems were put in place that we actually realized how much energy we were expending each day just on moving water alone.
Read more on our watering systems here.
This was a good eye-opener for us to consider other areas or tasks that we do on a regular basis. Wherever you can shave off 5-10 minutes daily, it will add up throughout the weeks, months and years.
Root Cellar Project
We started the groundwork for our in-ground root cellar this year, which is very exciting! It will be a multi-year project, but because of some of the other projects we were doing on the homestead, it was something that needed to be bumped up and started this year.
You can see more of our in-ground root cellar project here.
One huge project that we did this year was to move the laundry room upstairs onto the main floor of the house. This is a big game changer because the basement was quite a ways away to keep our laundry moving on a daily basis. We can also now hear the buzz of the machine and it works much better for growing family.
Learn more about our laundry systems and routine here.
The gardens this year just didn’t do as well as in normal years. Because we had such a cold and wet spring and early summer, the gardens really struggled. The only saving grace was our Indian summer, where we had an extended season of warmth well into September and early October.
With the huge temperature fluctuation this summer, we struggled with our makeshift hoop house/greenhouse. There were days when we forgot to open them up during the day or close them up at night, and the tomatoes and peppers really suffered.
Every year is another opportunity to learn and implement better systems. It’s one step at a time, and we know that tomatoes are a luxury crop here in North Idaho, so we do tend to focus on other crops that we know grow well in our climate.
One thing we were disappointed with this year were the succession beds. We love having fresh greens almost year-round (learn how to grow greens year-round here), but because Carolyn was so sick with morning sickness, this just wasn’t a priority.
The beauty of even this project was that it was still better than last year. That’s an important lesson to keep in mind. Your projects may not end up being as perfect as you envisioned, but any step toward progress is a step in the right direction.
However, that being said, we actually preserved more food out of the gardens this year than any other year. This is largely due to the fact that each year we’re expanding our growing spaces and implementing more crops.
It also helps that as the kids get older, we have more helpers in the kitchen to make it all happen.
Other Preservation Methods
One thing we did excel at this year was filling our cheese cave and rendering down enough lard for the year. We really pulled back this year with making homemade butter. Making butter was a weekly chore that took up quite a lot of time.
What we’ve found is that no one in our house can tell the difference between lard or butter when spread on a piece of toast or baked into pastries.
Since we can do a huge lard rendering day and be done with it for the year, this was also a large time-saver throughout the week. Learn how to render lard here.
Last year we were still new to our Harvest Right freeze dryer. We have two large freeze dryers now and they’re practically running 24/7 throughout the spring, summer and fall. Freeze drying has climbed to the very top of our list of preferred preservation methods for so many items.
Onions, garlic, peppers, mushrooms, celery, carrots, corn, eggs, milk, fruit, and even meat! Be sure to read our post (and watch the video) on our one-year review of our freeze dryer.
This year we transitioned to raising Kune Kune pigs. They are new to us, and we’re finding that they’re very easy to over-feed and over-fatten, which makes it difficult for them to breed. So we’re still on a bit of a learning curve with them.
We’ve also realized that we will want to have a couple of different varieties of pigs. We love the Kune Kunes for their lard, but they don’t have much bacon or as much of the other pork products that we love. So raising two or maybe even three breeds to harvest all our family needs will be ideal.
Order Those Seeds!
Also, an encouragement to you all, if you haven’t ordered your seeds yet for next year’s garden, we highly recommend getting those ordered! Waiting too long, especially when ordering from smaller seed companies, may mean a limited amount or even varieties that are sold out.
As we close out another year, one that seemed to fly by so fast, as they usually do, take the time to reflect on all you did, all you accomplished, and what lies ahead for the new year.
This time of reflection can be beneficial for so many reasons, so we encourage you not to overlook it.
For now, have a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year, and we’ll see you all again in 2023.
Other Posts You May Enjoy
- Yearly Planning on the Homestead
- My Secret to Running a Productive Household
- How to Prioritize Homestead Projects
- My Preserving Year-at-a-Glance
- Building Up a Well-Stocked Pantry
- Prepping Your Pantry for Preserving Season
- Best Homesteading Books (for the Novice or Pro)
- Organizing Your Property’s Permaculture Zones
- Wintertime on the Homestead
- 3 Things You Must Do To Increase Self-Sufficiency
- When Homesteading Feels Urgent
- Things to Consider BEFORE Going Off-Grid
Josh: Hey, guys, this is Josh...
Carolyn: And Carolyn.
Josh: ... with Homesteading Family. Welcome to this week's episode of Pantry Chat- Food For Thought.
Carolyn: This week is our final episode of the year.
Josh: I believe that is the end of 2022.
Carolyn: I don't know. I feel like we just started it.
Josh: We were talking about something and you were... Oh, fencing, and you were like, "That was this year?"
Carolyn: This week, we'll be looking back at our year and seeing what we did, what we've accomplished, what went well, what didn't go so well. We always tend to do that this time of year so that we can make informed decisions about our plans for next year.
Josh: Some of the most important work is planning, is giving your brain some space and thinking about the things that you've done, you want to do, what's worked historically, what hasn't. That's very, very important. As we're going into this Christmas season, while we're celebrating, taking time with friends and family, and celebrating the season, it's also a time of reflection for us to just think about these things. We're going to share a little bit of that with you today.
Josh: But before we do, got to have a little chit chat, of course. What's going on with you?
Carolyn: I have just entered the third trimester of pregnancy.
Josh: [inaudible 00:01:21] It's bigger than a cauliflower now.
Carolyn: We're at a large eggplant size now, according to my...
Josh: Eggplant is bigger than cauliflower?
Carolyn: Who comes up with these things? I have no idea.
Josh: This is an app she has that just describes her as a vegetable.
Carolyn: Apparently, I have been missing out on all of my pregnancies on this app because everybody else knows the whole vegetable baby thing. This is brand new to me. We're getting a real kick out of what size the baby is right now based on a vegetable. We are at large eggplant size moving towards butternut squash size right now, which would explain why I am uncomfortable, I have to say. I'm slowing down a little bit with that. I can feel that I'm older than the last pregnancy. It's been quite a few years since the last one. I think in some ways, I'm just less interested in being uncomfortable. I have a little lower tolerance maybe for the discomfort level. I'm slowing down a little bit.
I'm really excited. I'm starting to knit a new baby blanket, which is going to be really cute. It has sheep all over it. I don't make any promises when it comes to knitting because sometimes knit projects take me a very, very long time. I tend to only do them when we're sitting around watching a movie together as a family or something like that, which doesn't actually happen all that often when it comes to the amount of time spent knitting. Anyways, I'm excited about that. But I'm definitely optimizing my opportunity for still projects. We'll say it like that.
Josh: I think you're prepping us all for a little quieter entry into 2023.
Carolyn: I tried.
Josh: That's good. You got to pace yourself and get some good rest. Get ready for baby.
Carolyn: Absolutely. That's what I've been up to, not much. What about you?
Josh: You didn't mention our baby moon, you called it.
Carolyn: Yes, we snuck away.
Josh: We snuck away for a little bit because we usually take a mama and papa getaway in June around our anniversary. But that's not going to happen this year with the new baby, so we took it here in December.
Josh: That was nice.
Carolyn: That was really nice. You look nice and tan.
Josh: Got a little sun. That was good.
Carolyn: We went somewhere with sun.
Josh: A little Vitamin D, Vitamin D is good. We're both Southern California kids, but I didn't know when I moved to Idaho how much I was used to the sun. I have no problem with the cold, snow, all that. Take it all, it's good. But the first year we were here, we had five days of sunshine. I realized that sad syndrome, which I always thought was psychological nonsense, is a real deal. It's good when you can, it's good for me to get a little sun.
Carolyn: It's good for all of us when you can get a little sun.
Josh: Blessed to be able to do that. That was nice to get a little time with you before it was before a new baby dominates life.
Carolyn: That seems to happen.
Josh: It does. It's a good thing.
Carolyn: What about, what else have you been up to?
Josh: Besides that, getting into the winter groove. We are having a lot of weather early. This feels like it's going to be a deep snow winter. We've already had a lot. We've already had to plow five or six times, which is not normal. Usually, we don't have any snow on the ground. We've had a little bit. It's melted. Then it's coming in right about now, which the next wave is about to come in. It looks like a foot to a foot and a half. Plowing snow, just getting the property set up for winter. If you don't stay on it, you get buried quick, and then it gets to be even more challenging. Really doing that and reflecting on the year.
Carolyn: We've seen multiple days already with temperatures in the negatives, which is not normal.
Josh: That's really odd to have that cold weather and quite a bit of snow. Usually, the colder weather is without the snow, and it's clear. We're looking at a foot and a half of snow, and the highs are in the mid twenties. For us, that doesn't usually quite go together. Usually, heavy snow is in the high twenties. Just the whole year feels different. I'm trying to get prepped for that and thinking a little bit more about having a lot of extra snow, maybe having it longer in the spring, which you got to plan for because we have a lot of areas to get to the barn and keep some of our pathways clear.
Carolyn: Keep it open.
Josh: We've got two houses that have to have access. Really, the last couple weeks, it's been a lot of thought of that, besides just preparing for 2023, for school, traditional skills, and some of the ongoing stuff there.
Carolyn: We'll get into some of those things here in a few minutes. But first, we have a couple of questions of the week. I've got one for you here from Don Helms on the video meet in your compost. "I'm surprised that all the chicken remains except feathers didn't go to the pigs. I don't have pigs, so mine goes into the compost pile also. But wouldn't it be primo pig feed?"
Josh: That's a good thought. I like that. But we're butchering 200 chickens. We don't have enough pigs to eat that fast enough before it would become a rotting, stinking mess. Our pigs, these kunekunes, they are light eaters. They survive on grass and kitchen scraps. The kitchen scraps right now is what they're on. I don't know when we were butchering, I think they were still out on the grass. They just didn't need it. For us, it's just better to put it in the compost pile.
Carolyn: The problem that we've been having with the kunekunes is inadvertently over-fattening them. They over-fatten extremely easily. We're having to keep them on a pretty lean diet. Feed is not our problem when it comes to the pigs.
Josh: When you're doing that much work, 200 chickens, we want easy steps. Chicken butchering facilities here, compost pile's just not very far. It just all goes right to there. We're trying to be efficient and economical in our movement.
Carolyn: Could you feed all the chicken scraps to pigs?
Josh: Yeah, especially if you were doing less or you wanted to feed a few. But those things rot and get stinky fast if you don't get them composting in. The first day, could you give them a few? Sure. I'm sure it is good feed. There's so many different ways to do things, and that's a good way if you have the right system. But our systems are just aligned a little different way. We're going to do two today. We'll both cover one here for this end of the year pantry chat. Cindy and Frank [inaudible 00:08:20] on my pantry is overflowing asks, "With freeze-dried pumpkin, did you cook it before freeze-drying or raw?"
Carolyn: We cooked it first. We cooked it and then scraped it off. I don't want to say we pureed it because we didn't do anything that fancy. But we did mash it up in the scraping out of the pumpkin process, then spread it out in the freeze dryer trays, freeze-dried it. Then when it came out, we powdered it just by our hands. The amazing thing about that is you get all those big fibers that you don't really even notice when it's in the puree unless you're going to run it through the mill, which I never do. That's just an extra step. But those were all just sitting at the top and easy to just pull off in a handful. Then when we went to rehydrate, it was the silkiest, smoothest, it was the way to go.
Josh: It was very good. That was the best. It's always been good the other way. I never really thought much about it. It's just what it is. But when we had that, because I wasn't there for the process, I was like, "Whoa, this is different. This is just smooth." This didn't have that little bit of stringy texture that [inaudible 00:09:35] often has.
Carolyn: It was good. It was silky. I think that is the new favorite way around here, to go ahead and keep the pumpkin and the winter squash. Obviously, we keep that whole as long as we can. But we start to process it as they start to get soft. I am not sure the kids wouldn't say we need to freeze dry it before we even eat it, instead of just cooking them and eating them fresh because they liked it so much after it'd gone through the freeze drying process. Obviously, that's an unnecessary step. I'm sure that that fiber is really good for you. Are we talking breakfast or dinner, or are we talking pumpkin pie on a holiday table? We got to draw our line somewhere.
Josh: Makes sense.
Carolyn: That was a good way to go. If you have a freeze dryer, absolutely try freeze drying your squash. It is phenomenal.
Josh: Real good. We are reviewing 2022. I think the place to start is, and I don't even have it right in front of me, but we always have a plan going into the year. We have our maintenance items, we have our smaller projects, and we have our larger projects. We've learned to try to pace ourselves a little bit. If we just put everything on the list, then we never accomplish what we want to, and that can feel defeating. I think I'll just have to tackle them as we go through. But we had some major projects we wanted to do, then we had our ongoing stuff, gardens, animal care, how much meat are we going to harvest, preservation and stuff. Overall, it's been a good year. Had a few challenges, but a lot has happened.
Carolyn: It has been a good year. I do want to put this a little bit in context, we're still on a piece of property that we would consider new for us.
Josh: Just wrapped up our fourth full season.
Carolyn: The fourth full season season here. We're still in the phase of this homestead where we're building infrastructure, we're getting our systems in place. There's always going to be some maintenance of those. There's always going to be some rehashing systems, refining them, or making them better. But we're at a phase where we're still actively shaping the systems and the infrastructure. We have a lot of projects every year that are going onto the list that are big infrastructure projects. We don't plan on doing it this heavily every year for the rest of our lives.
Josh: We actually have a timeframe on that as well, on how long we're going to [inaudible 00:12:10]
Carolyn: We do. We're in this time on this homestead, I guess I'm saying, where we're really pushing a little bit, and we're doing a lot of big infrastructure projects. As you're hearing this, I think it's important to put it into context. If you're thinking about what you're doing on your homestead, you may be in a more mature homestead position, where you already have your infrastructure set up and you're just maintaining. That's great. I always want to give this caveat of don't compare. Let's not compare. We're sharing what we're doing for examples so that you guys can see how we're thinking about things, how we're processing them. But it can be really easy to get stuck in that compare yourself to somebody else, and then not feel so great about what you've accomplished in the year. That is not at all what we want to have come out.
Josh: You got to apply things to your own context. I think another part of that context that's important when we're talking about some of the things we're doing is we're not only developing a homestead for ourselves now for, say the rest of our lives. We have a generational perspective where we're setting up a homestead and setting up systems that makes it easier for the next generation to take on. We've done the being out in two foot of snow, hacking through the ice with a hatchet, dealing with frozen lines outside, the things that many of us have dealt with in homesteading. That's just one little example. But we're building systems so that it's easier to operate for the long term.
Everything we think about while we're trying to do things now, we're thinking about the next generation. We're also thinking about the next generation being able to actually do economic ventures on the homestead. That means a working farm, not just a homestead. We're setting it up for the next generation for that. A lot of things we do might be overkill for what we need right now. But it's a long-term picture, and we want to make something that's inviting for the next generation to take on and that they can focus on new things, on economizing, and not some of the deeper, bigger infrastructure.
Carolyn: I think every time we make an improvement around the property, they get to experience that too, the kids are. They're like, "Remember last winter when we were hauling those frozen hoses here and there and doing this? Now look at it." It gives a lot of hope that this isn't just going to be drudgery forever.
Josh: Where do you want to go? What do you want to tackle here?
Carolyn: Let's talk about some of these larger infrastructure things because we've done a lot of... Everywhere we go, we're trying to improve. Every year, we're trying to improve the livestock, the meat raising, or the gardening. But let's start with some of these larger infrastructure projects that we put into place.
Josh: One of the earliest in the year was fencing. Within a permaculture design paradigm, it's often said to give it three years using only temporary fencing on a property because you are going to use the land, you're going to get familiar with it through the seasons, and you don't want to spend money on permanence too quickly in certain areas. Certain things you need to, like land. Oh gosh, it just totally went out of my head.
Josh: Earthworks, thank you. Some things you've got to step forward on, but some things you try to wait. We waited three years with fencing, and we did temporary fencing. This fourth year felt good about the area, about the five acres around the house. We went to permanent fencing this year and put some of those areas in permanent fence that I was sure these fences are where I want them. We extended some of our temporary fencing on part of the 40 acres because it wasn't fenced at all. We extended some of that. That was one of the first things we did, and I've been very happy with that. It allowed us, along with the improvement of pasture, to step forward in our rotational grazing and mixed species rotational grazing on the land. We were able to get that a lot closer to where I'd like it for the first time this year.
Carolyn: Let me ask you a question about that. Are you happy that you waited until the four year mark instead of doing it back in year one?
Josh: I am. Most of the things that I thought I'd want to do in this space have been the same, but not entirely. It took a few years. I'm pretty good as far as what they call mainframe design, looking at a piece of property, assessing it. I feel like I'm pretty good at doing that. I can consult with that and help somebody figure it out. But you always learn things when you're on the land. It is wisdom to wait. I made some adjustments from when I first thought the first year we were here to where we got to now. I did make a few adjustments, took a couple things out, and moved a couple things. I'm very happy with it. I think it's going to work great for the long term for the grazing, for some of the other types.
We're looking at putting some orcharding where we can do grazing under it and a little, not just orchard... But, man, I'm having a hard time with my words.
Josh: A little bit of a vineyard. But all of that's going to be integrated systems where we can move animals and stack functions. The first step was just really knowing, how do we want to divide up this land, and where does those permanent versus temporary fences need to be? I think from where I sit right now, it came out pretty good. We'll see as time moves on.
Carolyn: Five more years down the line, we'll see if you're still happy with the design that was put into place there. But I think that's a really important point. You get in and you just... On a new piece of property, gosh, you want these things done yesterday. You want that fencing done, you want everything done so you can just be up and operational. But taking the time to observe, watch, and really think about the land usage, how you move on the land, how water moves on the land, the sun moves on the land, and all these different things really ends up paying off in the long run if you can take that time and just do it that way.
Josh: It really does. I'd say that was a success. We met our goals. That is something that's working for us well now and going to help us move forward with some more refined areas for getting animals out to pasture, rotational grazing, and all of those systems.
Carolyn: That fencing though, I've got to say we have really seen the pasture come up this year because of that. Because of the fencing there, then temporary cross fencing in there, and then that rotational grazing, the improvement on the pasture this year has been drastic.
Josh: It was dramatic.
Carolyn: It is very, very noticeable. That's really neat.
Josh: I got to say one of the other things that we did that was not planned so much that we added to that system that helped out, what you're talking about, is an improvement on water systems. This was after spending some time with [inaudible 00:19:02] and Justin Rhodes and just getting water out to the field so that we could actually water the pastures in the dry season. Besides that, actually getting water to water the animal, since we're on this rotation, animals need water, it's getting moved around, and the ability to get hoses out there way out in the pasture instead of dragging buckets of water, that was huge. It was a huge labor saver. Then we were able to also get a mobile rotational sprinkler out there for the dry season, which helped maximize the effect of the rotation to where we got at least two rotations this year and multiple species. That really helps with the fertilization and the spread of manure. I think when we get in the spring next year, we're going to really see it take off and make another leap.
Carolyn: That's exciting, I'm excited about that. Everywhere where you can save that little bit of daily labor, like you're talking about on not dragging the buckets of water out, a lot of people that I hear from are coming to me and saying, "I'm so stuck in the doing that I don't even have opportunity. I don't have the time to learn new skills that I want to learn anymore," because they're spinning out on the doing. It's things like this that really tip that balance. It's making things more efficient in the everyday because you start saving 15 minutes a day, that's the opportunity to learn one whole new skill. That's a lot of time added up over the week. It's a big deal.
Josh: It is. It's important sometimes to know where to put your dollars. The water system's a real good one. I held off for that for a lot of time because I felt like it's water, I can move that. That's not an extremely expensive system, but it's money. I'm trying to be frugal, and I'm putting in other areas. I realized I'm making choices every year where to make improvements or what to spend money on. Most of us homesteading are doing something. We're making improvements somewhere, especially if you've established a piece of property. That was one where I waited way too many years. It should have at least even had a temporary line out there that could have been movable or adjusted to the fences later. Because of the amount of labor, as soon as we got the thing operational, I realized, "Whoa, we've been working way too hard. We could have put that effort somewhere else, and it would've been worth the dollar."
It's important to think these things through and think about the energy that you're expending. It's different for everybody, what your situation and what your needs are. But it caused me to realize I need to slow down and think a little bit more, not just always money saving right now, but what's my labor, what's our time, and where's the best allocation of resources?
Carolyn: Another big infrastructure project that we've undertaken this year that is going to really change my world a little bit on the preserving side is we started the root cellar, and we're getting the root cellar in. That's exciting. That's definitely a two year project.
Josh: At least. I'm not making any promises that it's going to be ready next fall.
Carolyn: I'm preparing myself to live through another winter without it. But this is a major undertaking. We are making a very large root cellar that has a lot of fun features to it that will really allow us to preserve and house a lot of food off-grid completely, which I'm really excited about.
Josh: That was a non-planned for this year to start. But we were starting a retaining wall because we have a hill encroaching behind the house that's been here for several years. It's just fallen down. We're getting not good use of land in several areas, so we planned this retaining wall. We realized though in starting to build it, we weren't going to have good access to start the cellar because just of the parameters and the size that was left after the retaining wall. We decided to go ahead and put it in. There is a video out there on the beginning of that because we used these large stones, the cheapest stones we could get. They're very big and hard to move around, but they were not very expensive.
Very thankful we did that. That's a decision that we didn't have that in the plan, but I'm very thankful that we did it and got it started because it's also going to take longer than I was thinking. We're trying to do this. It's big, so we want to do it low cost. The roof is going to be from timbers on the property, which we're going to have to harvest and mill. It's going to take a bit to get to, but it is going to be a very good resource when we can get that up and going.
Carolyn: It really is. We have a couple of plans for it, one of which is it's running right near the stream that runs through the property, which is really neat because we can just divert a little bit of the water off into the root cellar, have it go through a concrete trough and then right back out again. That will give us a chilled area for storage. Think dairy, think anything that needs to be cool, maybe not refrigerator cold all the way.
Josh: Basically a spring box in the cellar.
Carolyn: Pretty much a spring box, which is really neat because many of you guys have heard our answer to the, "Are you off grid?" We said, "No, we're building the skills to be able to just go completely off grid should we need to, the skills and the infrastructure." This is a major piece of that that just allows us to have a complete alternate to the refrigeration systems in the house, which is really exciting. I'm excited about that.
Josh: Me too. That is going to be neat. We can finally get stuff out of the basement here, which is just never quite cool enough. We get by okay. It's like we've told you guys a lot of times, "Work with what you have." But we're always working towards something better. That'll be good to get to that.
Carolyn: Absolutely. That all stemmed out of the retaining wall, which has also been a wonderful project because that's actually gained us a lot of growing space.
Josh: It is, and it's going to allow us next year to develop a whole new perennial area. It already has a few existing fruit trees that were here when we got here. We're going to be able to add some, and I don't know if we'll get to it next year, but move the berries out of the main crop garden so we can extend the size of the main crop garden and get our perennials into some sort of a... I don't know if it'll be a food forest, but an organized perennial system of trees, fruits, bushes, and stuff. That makes that area more useful.
Josh: Good. What else? What's a biggie for you? We're not going to be able to cover all of them. Let's cover a couple highlights. Is there another thing that's happened here that we've done this year that has helped you out a lot?
Carolyn: Something that has just happened that I'm very excited about is we've moved the laundry room from the basement up to the main level of the house, which is a wonderful thing to have it right there and not down a set of narrow, creaky steps that are hard to carry things up and down.
Josh: 100 paces is probably one way further than what a laundry room is now. In a household like ours, that's a huge labor saving.
Carolyn: It's a huge labor saving, but it also helps the laundry to run more efficiently because we can actually hear the laundry buzzer now. We can just keep the laundry cycling when we need to, which is wonderful. It's also up in a space that has a wonderful window, and there's natural light coming. It's not in the basement, which is really nice.
Josh: You had us do a very, very white paint that reflects the light well, and it feels very bright and cheery.
Carolyn: It is very bright and cheer. It's not all decorated yet. I'm excited, looking forward to that. We've still got cabinets, tables, and things to put in there, folding counter, I guess, to put in there. But for the moment, it is functional and it's lovely. Everybody's enjoying doing laundry up there. That's been a nice plus for us.
Josh: Nice win. You're saving on labor, and it's a more enjoyable space to make a job that's just not that exciting a little more enjoyable. Those things help a lot.
Carolyn: They really do. Let's see. Some of the things around the property though that I want to talk about, some of the just regular projects that we undergo, the garden. How'd the garden do this year?
Josh: The garden was not as good this year. This was a weaker year for the garden. Two things. One, it was a cold, long, wet spring, which was great for the pasture and for the overall environment.
Carolyn: Good for grass.
Josh: It was really, really good. But it was cool. It was hard getting things started, they just didn't start well. The garden did okay. It didn't do bad.
Carolyn: In the final accounting, when it comes down to what ends up on the pantry shelves, we actually did really well.
Josh: The root crops did fine in that environment, which we've learned over the years to learn to grow what does well. You want to combine what you like, but what does well in your environment and your soil at the time. Root crops don't mind that environment, so they did pretty good.
Carolyn: We had problems with everything though that was in the hoop house. We had some management issues in the hoop house really. That was between me with the morning sickness, and I was just out of the picture for about eight weeks.
Josh: While I was traveling a lot too.
Carolyn: We had some wonderfully helpful teenagers around here who just did an amazing job at pretty much everything except for the hoop house, I got to say.
Josh: The hoop house is challenging here because it can get so hot in the day that you can cook everything. We have a DIY. We don't have a fancy hoop house that's got automated ventilators, fans, and everything.
Carolyn: That would help.
Josh: It takes human management. Some of the nuances that are challenging, it can be 39 degrees one morning and then hot enough during the day to burn the tomatoes and peppers, which actually happened once. Forgot to open the ends in the doors for the airflow, and it literally cooked probably many dozens of tomatoes. It literally burnt them. That was hard to manage this year. It's challenging without those automated systems because that takes a lot of mental bandwidth to think about that. That was a challenge.
Carolyn: Absolutely. Green beans though did great. Leafy greens did really well. Another thing that did really well this year that was exciting were the grapes. They were just as upset as everything else in the garden about the cool, long spring. But on the other side, we had this long, warm fall, which was way longer, a month longer than normal, fairly unexpected. Then you went ahead and covered the grapes, as they were finishing ripening, with plastic to go ahead and help them keep the heat in. We ended up with one of the best grape harvests we've ever had. They were so sweet, they were so delicious. This is one of my successes for the year, I tried a Victorian method of preserving the grapes. That sounds so fancy. I literally hung them up in a cool room. They lasted fresh for about six weeks longer than you could have gotten them just on the counter. That was really cool.
Josh: That was without having the stems in water.
Carolyn: No stems in water.
Josh: The next extension of that method is to actually have the stems in the water, and they're supposed to be able to go long ways through winter.
Carolyn: They're supposed to be able to at least go until Christmas if you get the stems in water. But I didn't have that apparatus, so I literally just hung them up where they had full airflow all the way around them, and it was a cool pantry room. They just chugged right along. We could pull off a bunch, eat them fresh, and they were great that way. That was fun to be able to extend that window. Even six weeks, once you're in winter around here, and there's nothing fresh coming in anymore, it feels amazing.
Josh: Very nice.
Carolyn: For all the challenges in the garden, we actually, I think, preserved more food this year out of the garden than we have ever preserved.
Josh: That's funny because just being out there and dealing with the issues, it didn't feel that way.
Josh: I was like, "Wow, we have a lot of gaps this year and space we're not utilizing. We should be able to double or triple our broccoli."
Josh: And cauliflower.
Carolyn: There's always room for improvement. But in the final accounting, I have to say we didn't do nearly as badly as it felt like it was going in the moment.
Josh: That's good, glad you're happy with that.
Carolyn: The other place that we did really well this year on production is the cheese cave. It's very nicely full with a lot of specifically cheddar cheeses, some Parmesan cheeses, we've got a good amount of feta cheese tucked into brined, which is so good.
Josh: Homemade feta is absolutely amazing.
Carolyn: It really is. Anyways, we're really happy about the cheese side. The side we didn't do so well on, and this was intentional, we made a decision here, was the butter side. We just are moving more and more towards using lard because lard takes way less work. To make a year's worth of lard, you can do it all in one day, a long day. But you can get it all done and put up. With much experimenting, what I have found is unless you are putting it on the table for somebody to spread onto their bread, nobody can tell that it's lard and not butter. If you're baking with it, like cookies, cakes, things like that, nobody can tell. If you fry your breakfast toast in lard in the kitchen instead of buttering it, nobody can tell that it's lard and not butter.
When I realized that, I just said, "This is ridiculous. We're putting way too much work every week into the amount of butter that we were making." We're still making some, but not nearly the amount that we were trying to make. We were really prioritizing butter, taking all of the cream off the milk and turning it into butter. Where that has come out is then in the cheese because then it goes into the cheese, the cheese produces more per gallon of milk.
Josh: It's also better. The cheese is better with that cream in it.
Carolyn: It really is. There's trade-offs on everything.
Josh: What about the freeze dryers? I know we started with the freeze dryers last year. But I think last year was learning, putting them into use, trying things. I feel like this year, they've been in full service. "They," it went so well, we got a second one for our context and our scope. I think you've kept both of them running most of the summer and fall.
Carolyn: It has been amazing. It has been a wonderful way to preserve food. Definitely, the fruit's a no-brainer in the freeze dryer, but a lot of the vegetables, the onions, the garlic, things like that have just been wonderful. You can see right there past Josh, those green things, that celery that came out of the garden, that's just amazing. There are a lot of great things. We're really liking bell peppers, or any sort of peppers that have been freeze dried are super usable. Mushrooms, we've been doing a lot of those because we were growing mushrooms this year.
Josh: That was a new one this year. That was an experiment that went very, very well.
Carolyn: It went very well in the garden, and it went very well in the freeze dryer. Now I can literally pick them up, and if I wanted to make a quick cream mushroom soup, I can just powder them really fast, then rehydrate them with just a little bit of water, and it's great, really good to go.
Josh: I got to tell you, I think mushrooms used after they've been freeze-dried or dehydrated, the flavor just, because it's concentrated, and you use it in a concentrated way, is so good. It's incredible.
Carolyn: Very tasty.
Josh: It's one that I think we preserved a lot more than we ate fresh. But it's a nice flavor to have in those soups and stews. We had it in this casserole the other night with chicken, pasta, and gravy. That was just unbelievably good.
Carolyn: There's one area that I was a little disappointed in this year around the homestead. It was something that I had really hoped to improve this last year
Josh: Uh oh. I'm wondering, am I in trouble? Did I fall down?
Carolyn: You didn't do it. That was the succession beds for the greens and extending the harvest. But I ended up so sick with morning sickness that I just couldn't manage it. We really didn't get the produce in time to extend the fall harvest. We did put some in, and we did get a nice late crop of lettuce, so that was good. We put some into some cold frames and some hoops. But I was really hoping to extend that because most years, we have a lot of this gray area season where we're getting freezes, we're definitely getting frosts, but it's not killing freezes necessarily. We could be growing.
Josh: But it's not growing much.
Carolyn: It's not growing much. We can spend three months of the year here in that state, and if we could just have something fresh and green, that would be so lovely. I was really hoping to make that better this year or to work on that system, and it didn't happen.
Josh: I got to say though, I think it was better. This spot is on the terraces that we created a couple years ago, this hillside that was non-usable that faced South and West, which is optimal sun exposure for us in this environment. We wanted to make those usable, so we terraced them. I got to say, it didn't go as far as you wanted it to. But I think the garden, in my observation, I was surprised how much, especially in the fall, there was fresh stuff coming in still from that, even though it looked overgrown and ran over. I think it did better than the year before.
Carolyn: It might have.
Josh: Even though it didn't meet expectation, and it got overgrown, it looked wild. I do think it did better though, even though it didn't get to where you wanted it to.
Carolyn: I'm preparing myself that spring this year, I won't get the jump on it that I wanted to with baby showing up right at the beginning of that. But I'm hoping by fall, we'll be able to really put a little bit more energy into it and have a nice long fall eating season. That was the one area for me. I know the other area that we had was probably the pigs.
Josh: The pigs have their [inaudible 00:38:25]. We went to kunekune pigs. We have only raised feeder animals for butchering for pigs for the last 15, 18 years, whatever it's been. We decided to start breeding pigs. We've been researching, and because of the large issue that Carolyn was talking about, we decided to go with a lard pig, a heritage lard pig, which really is your kunekunes, your mangalitsas, your American Guinea are the three main ones. I know there's Idaho Pasture, which is across. We went with the kunekunes because they are the ultimate homestead pig as far as they can fatten on nothing. They're so easy to overfeed.
Problem is that we're learning they're so easy to overfeed, they don't breed well when they get too fat. That's where the letdown has been this year. We've spent a lot of the year cutting back to feed, trying to figure them out, getting them into better shape because I got them too fat during the winter because they came from California. I was worried about them experiencing one of our winters, and I didn't want to under-feed them. We're still figuring that one out. We didn't get the piglets we would've liked this year.
Carolyn: We have non-bred pigs still.
Josh: But at this point, I am honestly thinking we've got a problem with the female and that we're going to need to look at that because they've been cut back, and they're in pretty good shape right now. We're figuring that one out. I also am realizing that we're still going to want a couple rooting feeder pigs, one for the bacon because the kunekunes are great fat pigs. The bacon actually came out better than I thought it would as far as having a little bit of meat in it. But it's still not that bacon that we're used to today, which is just a little meat-heavy.
Traditional bacon is very fatty. Old world bacon is actually mostly fat. That's what these kunes are. But most of us aren't used to that. We're like a good slab of meaty bacon. I'm thinking with the deep litter method, no matter what the kunes do, and once we get them breeding and going, I think we're still going to bring in a couple feeders, use them in the barn to turn the deep litter, then get a little bit of different product out of it, and still get all our lard from the other pigs.
Carolyn: Good. You guys, this is the kind of conversation we really encourage you to have on your homestead, whether you've got as many different animals going on, as many different projects going on as we do, or you have more or you have fewer, maybe you have a smaller homestead and you're really focusing on building skills in your kitchen, in your pantry, and some right of those areas. It's really good to sit down and just take a look at what's gone well, what hasn't gone well, what you're looking at improving, what you really want to improve so that you are in a position to plan for next year.
Josh: You can do that casually right now. These are just good conversations like this and enjoying this slower time so that when we hit January, we start going, "Let's start taking notes. Let's start making our plans. What are our goals this year?" Of course, that's the time to start generally ordering seeds, though hopefully you're ordering seeds well ahead of time this season.
Carolyn: Right now.
Josh: But you really start getting into that phase in the beginning of the year after the holidays of, "Winter's going to be overlong. Game on. Let's start figuring this out." You've had these kinds of conversations of reflection to then take that information and translate it into planned action.
Carolyn: You're not going to see us until the beginning of next year. We have some changes coming in how often we're going to be publishing content. You're going to be seeing us instead of twice a week, once a week in the new year. Every Saturday, we'll either have a pantry chat for you or a regular video for you. We won't see you until the first Saturday of the new year now.
Josh: We hope you guys have a very merry Christmas. Have a wonderful time with your friends and family. We're thankful for you in this year. There's been a lot of growth with Homesteading Family, membership, and more of you coming along on this journey with us. We just want you to know we're thankful for you, and hope you have a wonderful rest of your year.
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