We’re Not Kidding Around: We’re Getting Goats

If you were to poll the six members of the Hust Roost on what enterprise we are looking forward to the most, I feel pretty confident that you would find a clear winner: goats. It took us a while to consider goats, and a goat farm a couple miles down the road that went out of business at least turned me off to the idea of it. Obviously, we have since warmed up to them.

This picture of a very happy Rachel was
taken at Dave George’s house.
When researching and discussing what things we wanted to do on our farm, it became clear that we had room for and wanted to try at least one type of milking animal. Our choices came down to having a family cow, a couple goats, or some sheep (we never really looked into yaks). As we try to be a practical bunch, we studied up on all of them in an attempt to discover which creature would fit our farm the best and would reap the most rewards for the least risk.
The pros for goats began to pile up. They would provide good-tasting milk at a rate that was easily what we would need (a cow would produce way more than we would need!). Health-wise, the Journal of American Medicine says, “Goat milk is the most complete known food.”
It is much easier to digest than cow milk and has more nutrients.  Their milk is also ideal for making cheese, soap, and lotion because of its high butterfat content and binding ability. They are great for clearing brush (and the good Lord knows we have some of that to do). They are hardy and relatively inexpensive (especially compared to a cow). They have strong personalities, the kids are a hoot, and it is easy to see them becoming a draw for the farm.
One negative of having goats would be that they will need an excellent fence. A common saying is that “if you take a bucket of water, throw it on your fence, and some of it gets through, so will your goat.” But after some consideration, we have decided that we are willing to invest in a very solid fence. We also decided to stay away from electric fencing. Although cheaper and more mobile, we want to make our farm as human kid friendly as possible. In our minds, this means leaning up against the fence to check the goats out and reaching through it to pet the curious creatures. We also think that it will look a lot better and fits our farm scheme of being a welcoming place better than electric fencing.
The other big negative of having goats, or any milking creature, is that we will have to milk them every day. We have decided that we are willing to put that work in and that it will be offset by a few things. 1) There are six of us. That means I don’t have to milk every day. 2) We are only going to have a couple goats. That means milking really won’t take that long (a good goat milker can do an average goat in 2 minutes). 3) We will have as much milk as we can drink. And 4) Rachel wants to do all the milking because she is already in love with them (No, we don’t have them yet. Yes, I still expect that I will be doing my share of milking).
The shirt that Tom and Hannah got Dad (Joe),
who is very excited for the goats.
Our plan is to get a couple goats (heavily leaning towards nubians, as they are good for both milking and meat) this upcoming spring. We have an area that will suffice for them in the summer, and preparing winter housing for them throughout the summer will be on the ultra-urgent list. Depending on how old they are when we buy them, they may not be ready to kid and milk for a while, and it may be a while before we taste any of them. We intend to start out small, only producing what we can eat ourselves as we test the market for selling goat meat— over 60% of the red meat consumed in the world is goat, and apparently there is quite the market for it). It is legal to sell raw milk and cheese at the farm, but there are many stipulations, and we will have to look further into it to see if it is worth following such stipulations. In the meantime, we plan on keeping the milk for personal use (and letting some family and friends try it!), making cheese for personal use, making soap (which we will sell), and recycling old milk to the other animals on the farm (it is a great source of protein).
At the very least, goats will be an adventure, and we are looking forward to giving them a try.

Plotting Out Our Orchard

For me, the past two weeks has been spent putting several hours into researching fruit trees. I felt like a student again, as I constantly had a textbook (Holistic Orchard, by Michael Phillips) and a notebook, furiously scribbling down notes on anything that seemed like it might be important.

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Orchard dreams. Image courtesy of Rachel Kramer via Flickr.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This was brought on by the expansion of the Hust Roost and the new access to the plot where we decided to begin our little orchard. When we go down to Glen Aubrey this weekend, we will stake out the exact locations of the future trees, take soil samples for Cathy to test (it is notably convenient that my step-mother works at a lab), and potentially order the trees for the spring.

To begin with, we are looking to plant sixteen trees next spring. Five will be apples, four peaches, three cherries, two pears, and two apricots. They will be twenty feet apart from each other, and we will have designated areas for future expansion should we so desire. In the meantime, we will make the soil as ideal as possible before Spring based on the test results. This will likely involve putting lime down to alter the ph levels of the soil, the calcium levels of the soil, and the magnesium level of the soil, composting manure to be prepared to use near the trees, and putting wood chips around where the trees will be to build up the good fungi in their future root zones.

Tom and I have spent the last couple of days reading through more types of apples, peaches, pears, cherries, and apricots than I ever knew existed, trying to find the perfect fruits for us. Obviously, we put a high value on flavor. However, we also had to give strong consideration to what cold hardiness zones the fruit could thrive in, what the fruit’s history in our region has been, how susceptible it is to common diseases for our area, when it ripens (we preferred to have the fruit mature at different times so that we could harvest apples for two months instead of two weeks), what was necessary for the best pollination, and what size tree is best for us.  May I just say that my brain is in a bit of fruit shock right now.

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Apple extravaganza. Image courtesy of Skansa Matupplevelser.

Besides making my head spin, all of this research has gotten me really excited. We knew we wanted to have an orchard, but now I can picture it when I close my eyes (in fact, when I close my eyes, all I can see is fruit right now). We visited an orchard just yesterday, asked some questions, and bought some fruit. Now, as I look at that fruit in our fruit bowl, I can almost taste the fruit of the Loom (I have decided to call our little orchard, the Loom).

The next couple of days will be spent researching what nurseries we want to buy our trees from before we make our fateful purchase. According to everything I have read, it will be three or four years before our trees are bearing fruit, but our orchard journey has begun, and we are prepared to work hard so that we can one day enjoy the fruit of our labor.

Getting the Most Out of the Garden

One of the main enterprises of the Hust Roost will be fresh produce. Grandpa has been gardening in the backyard since the early 1960’s, and my father and I have both been picking and eating fresh veggies since we could walk. So, while we know how to successfully manage a vegetable garden, we are now faced with growing enough produce to eat and sell. Here are a few strategies for accomplishing just that:

1) Expansion

the South garden before expansion
the South garden after expansion

Between Grandpa’s garden, which Dad and Cathy have been taking over as Grandpa has downsized each year, and Dad’s garden, we already had over 2,000 square feet of space. That usually amounted to as much as Dad and Cathy could eat and give away to close relatives and friends. This summer, we have
tilled up about 2,000 more square feet. We have quite the impressive rocks from all of the stones we have picked out of the freshly tilled land.

the North garden after expansion
the North garden before expansion










2) Composting
In order to build up this new soil, we are developing a system for all of our manure and compost. Right now, that is mostly chicken manure, but our future plans will include using rabbit, goat, and pig manure, not to mention that we intend to do vermicomposting. Vermicomposting is basically using a little worm farm to quickly turn manure and compost into an optimal soil.

3) The Use of Beds

Casey next to some of the beds

This summer, in the North Garden (that is what we call my Dad’s garden. Grandpa’s is South), we have experimented with the use of beds. The idea is that you have specific areas in your garden for planting that you never have to step in and compress the soil. It is very good for the organisms that help vegetables grow. Next Spring, we will make more beds for the rest of the garden space and put mulch down for the paths in between the beds. It is very useful for organization and weeding, and it is very healthy for the plants. We do intend to have a few sections of garden without beds for potatoes, as they are easier to hill that way, and we also plan on growing a patch of pumpkins and squash out back where they can spread and not get in the way of everything else.

4) Extending the Growing Season

a “hoop house” before adding the plastic sheet

It is our hope to build a greenhouse in the next couple of years, but in the meantime, we have already built one hoophouse (basically a mini greenhouse that sits right over a bed) and will build more for the spring. This allows us to plant earlier and keep growing later. We also intend to set up an indoor growing space to begin growing plants (such as tomatoes and brocolli) from seed in the late winter and early spring.





5) Companion Planting and Crop Rotation
We have also been studying (and will continue to research) companion planting and crop rotation. There are many vegetables that you can plant practically right on top of each other, and instead of hampering one another, they actually benefit each other. For example, the Indian method of planting corn, squash, and beans together draws nitrogen into the soil for the corn, allows the beans to grow up the corn, and the squash shades out any potential weeds. With companion planting, we can get more out of each bed and have fewer weeds to pull! As for crop rotation, we can maximize the proper nutrients for each type of vegetable by planting it a year after a crop that leaves a lot of a nutrient that is critical for that specific vegetable. There are whole books written on the best rotation for an average vegetable garden!

6) Cover Crops
Finally, we intend to plant cover crops in the winter to provide a safe haven for the healthy organisms in the soil throughout the cold of winter as well as draw nutrients into the soil. In the summer, a few beds will lie farrow to build up the nutrients as well. However, these cover crops are not useless. They provide feed for livestock, and they can produce multiple cuttings.

Gardening is one aspect that we already know quite a bit about, but the more we research, the more new things we learn. We are excited to try new things to enhance our garden as we produce fresh vegetables, and we are looking forward to continually learning more as we go. There is nothing quite like getting your hands dirty.

The Bee Adventure

Rachel holding up one of the hive’s frames. The yellow part is the wax
foundation that the bees will build their comb off of.

If you had asked me anytime in my life before the last couple months if I could see myself as a beekeeper, the answer would have been “no.” However, life has a funny way of taking you on unexpected journeys, and here we are preparing to start up a couple of hives next spring for the Hust Roost.

In our planning for the Hust Roost, we had kicked around the idea of beekeeping and everyone thought it was a good idea (Dad said he hated bees and didn’t want to have to do any of the work, but he thought it was a great idea). I asked a professor from college that Rachel and I both had if we could meet with him to talk about bees. He dabbles in some hobby farming, and he was happy to meet with us, show us his bees, and talk about beekeeping.

Drone Casey on the beekeeping throne reading Storey’s Guide 
to Keeping Honey Bees.

We left the professor’s house feeling that beekeeping was a lot easier and more fun than we had previously thought. For example, honey bees are actually quite docile. They usually only sting when they feel threatened, which is

Queen Rachel on the throne reading Storey’s Guide to Keeping
Honey Bees.

why you can see pictures of beekeepers covered with their bees. Ever since that meeting, we have been checking Craigslist for good deals on beekeeping equipment. Soon enough we found ourselves at a sheep farm in Canandaigua talking to a man that had kept bees for over fifty years.

We learned a lot from that beekeeper, and he ended up selling us two hives at a very good price. We still are in need of some equipment before we start next spring, but our first purchase for our beekeeping enterprise has made the upcoming endeavor more real to us. This is one of the aspects of the Hust Roost that I knew the least about, and while I still know very little and plan on blundering through the first few years (that is how I learn!), I have learned enough to be genuinely excited about this topic.

So, once we move down to the Hust Roost next spring, we (Tom and Rachel have joined me in running this aspect of the business) will be getting bees (either by catching swarms or buying them—maybe both, depending on what our research tells us and our ability to discover swarms). We plan on getting stung a few times and always having a beekeeping first aid kit handy (just as a precaution), but we also plan on learning a lot about nature, enjoying the honey of our labor, and watching our fruits and vegetables thrive in the presence of our bees.

Casey admiring the new excluder, a piece designed to get all of the bees out of the honey box before
we go in to harvest the honey. It works by letting the bees out of the box but not back into it.

Dabbling

I think sometimes this blog can get a little confusing. We’ve had people ask us if we’d up-and-moved to Glen Aubrey! No, no, no. We’re still here… in Rochester, if you’re still confused. We’ll be here for just about another year, an estimate of 42 and a half weeks (Casey loves his countdowns!). We have been down in Glen Aubrey to help with the “farm” on 4 occasions this summer, with one more coming up (look for a “Summer Summary” blog post in a couple of weeks!:)

One other thing before I jump into the fun stuff. There is one thing that makes me feel uncomfortable about blogging, and that is when we come off sounding like experts, or that we’re sure of our plans. Of course we feel like we are being led to start the Hust Roost, and we feel that we should shoot for our dreams and work hard, but we know that if God is not FOR it, it won’t amount to anything. It’s easy to get confident because we have a great idea in our heads, but in reality it could be a lot harder than we picture. But… whether the idea thrives or fails (and I’m sure there will be some of both!) we hope to glorify God through it all.

Anyways… time for some dabbling! Back at the “ranch” (our little apartment) we’ve been using our spare time this summer to learn and try whatever we can.

Baking
Occasionally I bake a loaf or two of bread, hoping that I’ll eventually figure out the strategies and ingredients that work best for me (aka the easiest). I found a great book the other week that goes through the basics of WHY you use different strategies, basically the science behind the “art.” When I finish skimming the book I’ll try baking a loaf and see if my learning has improved my baking… I’m going for less dense and more fluffy! Pies, bagels and doughnuts are also on the list for this summer, just to experiment and see what we enjoy baking, potentially for the future store!

Gardening
Another thing we’ve been dabbling in since May has been our own garden! Of course for Casey this is old news, but I’ve never had a vegetable garden. Some things I’ve learned have been:
1. Gardening takes patience. It seems to take forever and ever for things to start growing…

it took a month to get this far

At least until it gets really warm….

you could practically see the pole-beans growing a foot a day!

Do you see that big basil plant on the step? I finally caved and bought one from Wegmans since our other basil plants are still only 3 inches tall 🙁 See them in the background? Patience is a great virtue (and I could use more of it) but I learned that we should definitely start some seeds indoors!
2. Rain is a wonderful thing which I will never complain about! That way we don’t have to water the garden. 🙂
3. Good fertilizer is key for speed of growth… but you don’t have to waste money on store-bought chemicals! Crushed egg shells add calcium that peppers and tomatoes need, green compost and manure adds nitrogen, etc…
3. Veggies right out of the garden really do taste better than the store! Fresh peas, zucchini, asparagus, radishes… all taste good enough to eat raw with no veggie dip!

Casey enjoying one of his favorites, a ruby radish!
Behind him you can see the broccoli.

In our little garden we grew a row each of: arugula, leaf lettuce, onions, beets, radishes, broccoli, hot pepper, green bean, and peas. We also have 4 tomato plants, a zucchini plant, an acorn squash plant and some herbs… oh, and one lone carrot (that was me who planted the row of carrots, and I messed up!!)

So far we’ve harvested arugula, lettuce, radishes, onions, peppers, and peas!

a beautiful arugula salad

We were very blessed that our landlord allowed us to have this opportunity!!!




Jamming
We recently discovered the JACKPOT for blackberries! Our apartment is across the street from a field and a cemetery. All around the borders there are the hugest blackberry bushes! We’ve been out picking every other day since we discovered them, and each time we seem to get about THIS many:

probably about 2 quarts here

We couldn’t possibly eat them all so Casey suggested jam (or at least we did not want to test that possibility)! Now I wasn’t so sure about jam because I thought you needed a bunch of equipment, but Casey assured me it was easy. We found that we could just sterilize the jars in the toaster oven set at 300 degrees. Also, Casey found online that I should cover the berries in sugar and let them sit for a while. Sounded good to me!

After a few hours sitting with sugar

Later when researching I found out there is a reason you do this! The high concentration of sugar draws the juice out of the berries (osmotic pressure) and also pulls the pectin out with it. Now pectin is something that is absolutely necessary for jamming..  it’s the substance that causes the berry mush to gel up when you heat it. Most people buy pectin at the store but it’s a natural component of all fruit in the cell walls (some fruits have more than others though). I wanted to try it without store-bought pectin.
I was surprised that I had all the rest of the ingredients… lemon juice and sugar! Lemon juice is necessary to draw more pectin out of the fruit. The sugar (besides being for flavor) is to preserve the jam. No bacteria can grow when there’s a high concentration of sugar! You can also add whatever flavors you want. I did a batch (with Claire) where we added clove…  it smelled like Christmas! I did another batch where I added red wine and clove. And then the final batch… I added cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and ginger! All have been sampled and approved, even given away. 🙂 Here are the instructions I followed if you are interested: http://highheelgourmet.com/2013/07/04/basic-jam-for-beginners/

Here are some of the results:

a decent mess
We actually made 2 and a half more jars!

A nice mess and LOTS of blackberry jam… 🙂

Hatching our Chicken Schemes

A strong argument could be made that chickens were our gateway hobby into the farming frame of mind. Sure, we always had a garden, but perhaps because we always had one, it was normal. Getting chickens, for us, was not normal. My older brother, Tyler, talked my Dad into letting him get them around five years ago. We learned as we went. I remember hastily constructing a coop with Tyler and Josh Thorpe because the chicks were getting too big for Grandpa’s garage, and Grandpa was about to lay an egg himself.

We quickly discovered two things. Chickens were pretty easy to raise, and they were fun. Once Tyler and I both moved out, we were slightly surprised that my Dad kept buying more chickens to renew the flock each year. Each time we came home he would tell us all about some crazy thing one of the birds did or show us how a certain one would roost on his arm and eat out of his hand. As the idea for the Hust Roost formed, there was never any doubt that chickens, both for meat and eggs, would be one of our major enterprises.

This Spring, we bought thirty more chicks to add to the fifteen layers we already have, and Rachel brought down a slightly deformed chicken she hatched in her Cell Biology class (we call him Gimpy, or “the Gimp”). Half we bought as hens, and the other half was straight run, meaning it wasn’t determined if they were hens or roosters. We ended up with around twenty-five hens, and come this fall, we should be getting over two dozen eggs a day!

We are planning on keeping three roosters this year so that next year we can hatch our own eggs (the rest of the roosters will join us for a barbecue in a couple weeks). From those hatchlings, we can keep some for laying eggs, sell others as chicks, and keep some to sell as meat or eat them ourselves a couple months down the road. We also plan on buying some meat chickens in the spring— the ones we have now, rhode island reds, are a hybrid bird (for meat and egg-laying), but are best known for their egg-laying abilities.

We have already expanded the chicken coop and run, but it is about to get bigger. We currently have two coops, the main one that I built with Tyler for the older birds, and a smaller one with the younger birds in it. This weekend, we plan on cleaning out the barn and expanding the smaller coop for the younger birds, who are getting a bit cramped. Long term, we plan to have a few different coops (for layers, roosters, chicks, and whatever else we would need them for) that are easily accessible and viewable for anybody who visits the Hust Roost.

Our Ultimate Goal

As work and planning continue to go into making the Hust Roost a functioning farm, all of us involved have felt the need to identify the ultimate goal of our venture. While we very much enjoy what we are doing thus far and planning on doing in the future, we know that if we did not keep our main goals in focus, we would be in danger of never achieving them.

After a few lengthy discussions, we boiled the ultimate goal of the Hust Roost down to the simple act of devoting ourselves to the Lord. It is our desire to give our plans to the Lord and see where He takes us. While it is difficult to hand over the reins to God, we believe that this is the best thing that we can possibly do, not only for the formation of our farm, but also for the formation of our souls.

We believe that God is calling us to lead humble, honest lives where we strive to be a blessing to all of those around us. With God’s hands directing our imperfect efforts, we hope and pray that the Hust Roost will be a community business that is more interested in helping and encouraging others, building relationships, and being an example of Jesus’ love than making a buck.

Don’t get me wrong, we would love for the Hust Roost to eventually be a profitable enterprise that we can make a living off of. Once we move down, we are planning on working part-time to make ends meet as long as necessary (which will be made easier by the growing self-sufficiency of the farm). Life has so many more aspects to it than money, and it is one of our goals not to prioritize money above other, more important things.

My father has always told me that there are three important aspects to a job. 1) Do you make enough money? 2) Do you feel like you are making a difference in the world? 3) Do you enjoy it? We view the Hust Roost as a place where we can make a big difference in our community and enjoy doing it with people that we love. We figure that if we can do something that we love, make a difference, have a great environment to raise a family, and make enough money to get by, our lives will be well-lived. We are not just looking for a job that we can love, we are looking for a lifestyle that will please our Heavenly Father.

May Days

The last couple of weekends in May have broken some new ground for the Hust Roost!
Here you can see Tom and Casey literally breaking some ground. Whew, they spent their whole Sunday afternoon on that section!! The goal was to expand the garden on both sides, nearly doubling the amount of growing space! (If anyone is wondering, this is in Casey’s Dad’s yard in Glen Aubrey, NY).
Casey and Gramps stirring up rocks
After the unwanted grass was ripped out (and used to fill the old fire pit), we had lots of rock-picking to do. The garden is right next to a creek bed, so the soil is filled with rocks… Including some big enough to be our grave stones! (Sorryyy, no pictures). Once you remove all those, though, the soil is great.
This picture shows the new organization for the expanded garden. Each bed is about 10 x 4 feet and can hold two or three rows of veggies. Each bed will get a number so we can record what crops went where each year, and then rotate them! Also, my favorite part, the beds make it so we can easily walk through to weed, pick and plant. Not to mention… each beds is designed to fit under a “hoop house.”
 (What’s that? See below!)


These pictures show the assembly of a “hoop house.” They are made from PVC-pipes bent over a wooden frame, with a clear plastic sheet stapled over top. These are basically mini greenhouses used to extend growing seasons, making it so we can start growing earlier in the spring and stop growing later in the fall.
More veggies!!!

<—All done!!! Well, besides the plastic sheet.
And besides the rest of them we want to make…
I think now that Casey and his Dad know what they’re doing, the rest will go faster. 🙂

Mulching the blueberries with chicken manure- they love it!

The new batch of Rhode Island Red chicks was moved from the garage to the barn. Some of these will grow up to join the other laying hens, but the roosters, well… they’ll join us for the chicken barbecue in July!

The hens enjoying their new outdoor pens, courtesy of Tom and Casey.

I caught Gramps planting some broccoli as he watched all the excitement next-door. He grows his sprouts on the windowsill, then transplants them into his fancy raised-bucket-garden. Apparently he’s the broccoli expert! I am sure learning a lot from the Husts.

~Rachel

Pulverizing Peanuts!!!

Look at those deliciously pulverized peanuts!!! If that description sounds violent, it’s because it was. Have you ever learned about the ancient wine-making process, where people stomped on grapes all day  till the roads looked like rivers of blood? Well… this process is entirely different… but those peanuts still went through a lot.

First, they were ripped out of the comfort of their little pods.

Then, their bare backs were roasted at 350 degrees for 3-5 minutes before being poured into… the blender. (Dun dun dunnn). Our sources told us that a food processor works best, but that a blender could work, too. Good thing my Grammy gave us this power horse! It got a little hot, but after a couple minutes the peanuts were powder… But not peanut butter.. Apparently, a little oil will help get the creaming started, so we added a couple teaspoons of canola. That did the trick! Soon, we added the other ingredients- 1-1/2 teaspoons of molasses and 1 teaspoon of salt.

And got this! It’s strangely lighter in color than normal peanut butter, which makes me wonder what exactly they do to it! (Don’t worry, we will still buy it from the store too- the price isn’t much different from the normal kind at all. BUT it is probably 5x cheaper than the “natural” variety, and tastes so much more like peanut than sugar and other flavors. 🙂
 After tasting his raspberry jam and peanut butter sandwich, Casey (I quote)
“was scared at how good it was.”

That was interesting… and easy!

Today’s project took only a few minutes of prep and a couple hours of waiting, and produced this vat of white, yummy goodness! It’s yogurt 🙂

Again, Casey looked up all the details (this is what happens when I’m doing homework all the time and he’s bored!)

Here’s how we did it:
-Heated milk (about a quart) in a saucepan till it reached 185 degrees F.
-Meanwhile, let a half cup of yogurt sit outside the fridge to get warm.
-As soon as the milk hit 185, we removed it from the stove to cool to 110 degrees.
-As soon as the milk hit 110, we mixed in the yogurt (as well as a little vanilla pudding mix- extra for flavor, and for sugar for those bacteria to eat!)
-Then we poured the concoction in this jar, screwed the lid on tight, and put the whole jar in a crockpot set to the Warm setting.
-Then we filled the rest of the crockpot with warm water to create a warm, cozy bath for the yogurt.
-We checked the crockpot water intermittently (which for Casey meant every 10 minutes!) to make sure it was staying 110-120 degrees.
-At 5 hours, we took it out, and it was thick, curdle-y Yogurt!!

To get rid of the curdles we mixed it up well, then let it sit in the fridge to thicken.

Later when we tried it, it was a little watery (this is why people add dry milk powder to it!), so we poured it through a cheesecloth, aka T-shirt. 😉

We mixed some strawberry jam/sauce into it for extra flavor and it was delicious!

I liked the consistency and flavor better than store-bought, but that could just be me. It was milder tasting (less tangy) than the store-bought, but if we let it incubate longer, it would probably have been tangier. We will definitely be experimenting with this (Casey says another batch is due this week!) since it’s so easy, and also cheap… and let’s be honest, we’re a little obsessed with frugality. 😉