$1 well spent

IMG_5177I love looking for fun outside play ideas at the dollar store! Who knew a roll of tin foil could be so much fun? And it was such a thrill for the kids to get to use the entire roll! Little boats made out of bottle caps and corks. They used balloons to push their boats along faster. This was such a fun way to enjoy the beautiful spring weather!IMG_5183

How to butcher a hog: Part 3

Trotters, Hocks, Hams and Shoulders. I was greatly remiss snapping pictures of this process. But I pretty much just followed Brandon’s instructions. Cut off the feet. Trotters. I didn’t save them. Cut off the hocks. I saved them for ham and beans. The shoulder is cut into Boston Butts and Picnic roasts. IMG_4970The leg is done similarly. Cut off the feet. Trotters. Cut off the hock. The large ham portion of the leg can be cut into a boneless ham and a bone in ham. These can be cured in a salt water brine or dry cured in salt. This meat will be tough and chewy, so make sure to cook it long and low. I’m sorry for my lack of pictures. I’ve got some more carcasses to piece out, so perhaps I’ll update with more pictures later. Any questions? I’d love to hear them. For local peeps, I’m  happy to walk you through the process in person if interested.IMG_4975

Feet of death

IMG_5017These look like a torture apparatus. Scary, huh!? We have been plauged with Japanese Beetles in our orchard in the past years. So this year I decided to put down some Milky Spore bacteria to help combat those little buggars that want to chew on my trees. I sprinkled this white powder on the ground in the orchard. The grubs, that will eventrually grow into Japanese beetles, will feed on the powder, which will then infect them with a disease, called Milky Spore. When the grub dies a few days later, millions of new milky spores will be released into the soil. This is a product that does not ever need to be re-applied. It may take a couple years to see its effectiveness, but it will stay in the soil permanently. IMG_5052I also read about a method of killing grubs by walking all over the ground with these spiky shoes. This was too fun not to try! Apparently, it is supposed to kill 50-70% of the grubs that are overwintering in the ground. Jeremie is skeptical, though. The shoes wouldn’t stay on his feet. Benjamin’s feet were too small. They worked great for me, though. I only did about half the orchard, but I thought it was surprisingly easy. And fun.

A bench for me

IMG_5002I love old things. Jeremie does not. I love peeling, chippy paint. Jeremie does not. I love wobbly, crooked things that squeak. Jeremie does not.IMG_5006 So it was such an act of love for him to take the time to build this adorable little bench for me out of an old wood door. Working with old things never goes smoothly and he did have to glue some of the pieces that were falling apart back together. This adds time, and adds to the frustration, but overall, is not really a big deal. Right, Jeremie? Right? The project itself was fairly simple. IMG_5004Cut the door apart, separating the panels. Make a base from 2X4s and scrap lumber to support the seat. Then screw the smaller panels to the sides as “arms” for the bench. I absolutely love it!

Someone's modeling!

Someone’s modeling!

I will put it in the garden to be my quiet happy place. Jeremie says I must teach the kids not to roughhouse on the bench, so the rule is: if I see you sitting on my bench in the garden I’ll put you to work weeding. Easy peasy. Not a child will be caught sitting on it, I’m sure.IMG_5045

Gardening in March

IMG_4981Wow! We have been enjoying such an early spring! The temps have hit 80 some days already. I’ve had to keep my greenhouse doors open so my little cabbages don’t wilt in the heat. I’ve put in raspberry bushes all along the south fence in the garden and mulched them with pine straw from our friend’s woods. I also put in a row of raspberries in the orchard. Jeremie tilled the portion of the hillside that is not yet mulched and I planted a cover crop to hopefully help keep down the weeds and enrich the soil. I planted oilseed radish, poor man’s clover and buckwheat. I know the bees will love all those! IMG_4984My garlic is growing nicely. I’ve enjoyed seeing the green all winter long. I have 2 rows of onion sets under the far arbor and 3 rows of onion plants by the strawberry plants I put in during the late fall/winter time. Some snow peas are just peeking up through the chips.IMG_4985 I never get a great harvest of peas because it gets too hot, but I try every year. They are so yummy to munch on fresh from the garden. Today (March 7 ) I planted out my young cabbages and brussel sprouts. Susie and Roo helped me and it only took about 10 minutes. Gloria helped too, by walking all over my little beet sprouts. I guess Roo did more climbing around than helping, truth be told.IMG_5103 I ended up burning up all my tomatoes and pepper seeds. I was really on my game and got them started in Feb. But the temps got so high in the greenhouse, over 100!, and they were on a heating mat, I think they just got fried. I know I could just direct sow them, but I like to have something to fuss with in the greenhouse. So I re-planted today and hope to see little sprouts in about 5 days. My little herbs are also very cozy in the greenhouse for now.  I’ve got some carrots sprouting outside and some chard, lettuce and spinach just peeking through. I’ll bet they just love the rain we’ve had the past two days. IMG_5101I’m glad, with the wood chip mulch, it’s not a  muddy mess out there. This is something I love most about gardening the BTE way. I can be out in the garden with my kids, working and playing together. I don’t have to worry about mud. I don’t have to worry about compacted soil. Planting is quick and easy, so they enjoy doing it with me. I’m so glad I get to share my favorite hobby with those I love the most!

How to butcher a hog: part 2

IMG_4930Now this is the fun part! I cannot recommend watching the Farmstead Meatsmith enough if you are serious about wanting to learn how to transform these animals you raise into a delicious meal for your family.  Instead of hacking away at the carcass, learn to gracefully slice and pull. Use your fingers, instead of a chop saw. Never, ever cut meat with a saw. Only use a saw to cut the bone. I broke down this hog with a meat saw, a cleaver (which, honestly, I didn’t use that much) and a 6 inch flexible knife. Jeremie had halved the carcass before chilling, so I tackled this project one half at a time. This was late at night, after the kids were in bed, and it took 3 hours. I hope to get much much faster at this. It was the chops that took me so long. My saw is too big and unwieldy for such a job. I’d like to get a much smaller one for next time. So, first I took out the leaf lard. IMG_4866This is the white stuff right on the belly of the pig. it tears away using just fingers. Then I took out the tenderloin. This runs up along the back end of the spine. Start working your fingers around it from the head side towards the back end. It will come out using just fingers, as well. IMG_4891Now it’s time to cut apart the leg portion. This is what you could cure into ham slices, or preserve as a country ham, or spiral baked ham. The backbone comes down from the tail and makes a sharp angle, going down the back, towards the head. Make your cut right after the angled vertebrae. Then it’s time to separate the shoulder piece. This will be your Boston Butt and the Picnic roast. On the belly side of the carcass, you will feel the sternum. Make your cut right next to that bone and cut straight up to the backbone.IMG_4899 You will need to use a saw to get through the backbone. Next, I separated the chops from the bacon. Looking at the middle piece of the carcass, decide how big you want your chops to be. I wanted as much bacon as possible, so I cut the chops just after the loin. IMG_4915See that circle shape that is a lighter color? That is the loin. You will have to cut this meat side down, so you’re cutting through the skin. You will feel the rib bones. Cut in between each rib and then go back with the saw and cut through the bone.IMG_4922 Thinly and carefully slice the ribs away from the pork belly. This pork belly will be cured with sugar and salt for bacon. It’s gorgeous. The ribs that you cut away from the belly are the “spare ribs”.Now, see the top quarter of the hog? That is going to be chops, loin roast, and back fat for rendering lard and cracklin’s. IMG_4942The back fat peels away from the loin with quite of bit of effort with your fingers. If the skin is still on, cube that back fat and cook it up in a big cast iron kettle outside for delicious cracklin’s. Not to my liking, but everyone else here loves ’em.IMG_4953  Regarding the chops, the only thing to remember is to keep each cut parallel to the last one. The chops will cook unevenly if one side is much thicker than the other. All the chops don’t need to be the same size, but they all need to be uniform. Make sense? Let the size of the animal determine the size of the chops.

Cut them with a knife. Only using a saw or cleaver to get through the spine.

Cut them with a knife. Only using a saw or cleaver to get through the spine.

After the chops are cut, you’ll be left with the rest of the loin. Trim off any excess fat and then it will be a beautiful boneless loin roast.  I’ll discuss piecing out the shoulder and hams in another post.  IMG_4961

How to butcher a hog: Part 1

IMG_3173Our hogs are a heritage breed, called guinea hogs. They are best butchered at 135-180#. It takes longer for this breed to grow than a conventional breed that can achieve slaughter weight in a few months. Ironic. It takes longer to grow this smaller pig. But, boy do they taste good! It’s a lard type pig that has been featured in the Slow Food ark of taste. And because of it’s smaller size it is easier to butcher at home than a 300# pig. This actual pig we did this time is a Guinea Hog/ Berkshire cross. Jeremie started by heating up water in a cast iron bathtub. You want the water to be hovering around 155 degrees. Once the fire was going under that, he put down the unlucky hog with a 22lr. He then quickly stuck the pig, to let him bleed out. We did not collect the blood, because I am not inspired to make blood sausage. However, now would be the time to collect the blood, if you are so inclined. IMG_4835Then Jeremie dragged him over to the now warm bath tub and he and Tommy lifted him up into the water. This is where it is nice to have a smaller size pig. Because we didn’t need a tractor or winch to get him up and into the tub. Would’ve been nice, but not necessary. After a few minute’s soak in the hot tub, we pulled him out a bit and scraped off the hair. The first one we did was difficult to pull out because he was hot and slippery. For the second pig, we put a couple cinder blocks in the water so we could just flip him over from side to side to scrape him. Jeremie had 3 scrapers, but it was hard for the kids to help because you had to be tall enough to reach into the tub, without getting burned by the fire underneath. Tommy, Mia and Susie were a big help. I probably was not. IMG_4854 After scraping off the hair, we drove him into the barn on Jeremie’s lawn mower deck, and hooked him up to the gambrels. Again, being thankful he wasn’t 300 pounds. Jeremie and Tommy did the eviscerating and halving of the carcass. I don’t know the details of that, but perhaps Jeremie will do his own post about it? Then into the cooler they went. This is actually a chest freezer that Jeremie converted into a fridge. We could fit two hogs in there, 4 halves, with a shelving piece between the halves for better air circulation. We’ll cover the actuall meat processing in another post. IMG_4861

Tenn-iversary

IMG_50677 years! We’ve learned so much these last 7 years that we’ve lived in Tennessee. We’ve laughed so much, and cried just as much. We’ve grown in so many ways. Children have been born here. Asian hillbillies, I call them. When I remember what life was like during this life transition, I can see how God is faithful and GOOD all. the. time. I remember calling my parents from my first trip to Tn to tell them that we bought land. I remember crying, because life would be so different, living in another state from them. No more walks to see the grandparents. No more quick ice cream visits. No more built in babysitters. No more homeschooling help. But this land, this was something Jeremie and I both wanted so much for our family. It has been such an adventure!  Raising animals and planting gardens and an orchard. Whew! What a learning curve. We could live here 100 years and still be learning and trying new things. Processing our own meat, rabbits, chickens, deer and pork.. Canning our garden bounty. When we lived in Illinois, we didn’t even have a pet. Our garden was a 4X8 box. Jeremie used to travel into the city for work everyday. The kids have grown and changed as well as Jeremie and I. Confidently herding animals. Showing sheep. Riding horses. Planting trees. This life has been so enriching for the kids, just like we prayed it would. When we first moved here, our oldest was only 11. She was a big helper, but I wouldn’t qualify her as a “big”, as she is now. These days I can breeze in and out of the grocery store, while she holds down the fort at home. Or better yet, drop her off to do the shopping, while I have coffee and visit with a friend. She knows all the brands and quantities I usually buy. I have 4 or 5 children that can babysit for me, if needed. Date nights have never been so fun! How did my life change so much in 7 years? Time flies too fast. IMG_5073