Our First North Idaho Winter

Our First North Idaho Winter

Our first North Idaho winter has been a lot of things, some easier than others, but it’s been beautiful throughout. Here are just some of the photos I’ve taken over the last few months.

Too Many Eggs? Make Homestead Deviled Eggs

At our peak, we had 34 chickens here at our Idaho homestead — Cuckoo Marans, Rhode Island Reds, Black Sex Links, Red Sex Links, Easter Eggers, bantams of all sorts, a big awesome rooster named Alice, and one super cute silver spangled Hamburg hen. Needless to say, it meant we often ended up with extra eggs since it’s just the two of us here.

Most frequently, I use the extra eggs to make “egg thing” — I guess it’s a crustless quiche? Frittata? Egg casserole? So, yeah, this is why we just call it “egg thing” and throw in whatever veggies we have in the house. We also frequently make hard-boiled eggs for snacks.

Hardboiled eggs

But our favorite thing to do with all those eggs? Deviled eggs. They are one of Winslow’s favorite foods ever and they’re not very hard to make (as long as you don’t want to get fancy and use a pastry piper, which as people with busy lives and lots of chores, we don’t — we just make little hatch marks with the fork).

Deviled eggs are also easy to change up and personalize to your tastes or just to have a different taste from batch to batch. So if you find you’ve got too many eggs floating around, give deviled eggs a try.

Easy Homestead Deviled Eggs

Ingredients:

  • 12 eggs
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon yellow or Dijon mustard
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • Ground black pepper
  • Paprika, for garnish

Note: For the mayonnaise you can use store-bought mayonnaise or make your own paleo mayonnaise. When I buy mayo, I buy the Just Mayo brand. While it does contain canola, it does not contain soy, which we personally find more offensive.

Deviled Egg IngredientsDirections:

  1. Place eggs in a single layer in a saucepan and add enough water so the water is an inch or so above the eggs.
  2. Heat on high until water begins to boil.
  3. Cover and turn heat to low. Cook for 1 minute.
  4. Remove from heat and leave covered for 15-20 minutes, then rinse under cold water.
  5. Let cool completely.
  6. Crack shells and peel.
  7. Gently dry the eggs.
  8. Slice eggs in half lengthwise.
  9. Remove yolks and place in bowl. Set whites on a plate or in a serving dish.
  10. Mash yolks with fork.
  11. Add mayo, vinegar, mustard, salt, and pepper. Mix well.
  12. Spoon the yolk mixture back into the egg whites. If you want to get fancy, you can use a piping tool or poke cool fork patterns into the yolks once you’ve spooned in the filling. Our homestead is not that fancy. We’re hungry.
  13. Sprinkle with paprika and serve.

Hardboiled eggsIdeas for spicing it up:

  • Use chipotle or sriracha mayo instead of regular mayo. Just use more mayo and no mustard, if you try this.
  • Use horseradish instead of mustard.
  • Swap out half the mayo for some super ripe avocado.
  • Mince 1 stalk of celery and add it to the filling for some texture.

And no, Pixel, you cannot have any of the deviled eggs…

Hangry Pixel

Writing Journal

Read Becca’s Short Stories Here!

You may know I like to cook and share my recipes, that I have a chicken obsession, and that I post a lot of cat photos and landscapes on our Instagram. You may not know that I am actually a writer and an editor for a living.

My work ranges from ghostwriting email campaigns to writing audiobook scripts to editing health- and fitness-related articles for a variety of world-class websites. I also coach writers in online classes and in private one-on-one sessions. My specialty is helping people write meaningful and effective content for the Internet, but I teach other types of writing, too.

In my “spare” time, I’ve written two as-of-yet unpublished novels, and this past year, I dove headfirst into learning the art of short story writing. In fact, I got really into writing short stories, and on April 1, 2016 I sent out my first ever short story submission to a publication. I set a goal for myself—I would get one story accepted for publication by the end of 2016.

Well, by year’s end I not only had reached that goal, but I’d actually received acceptance letters for ten different stories and I was a finalist in a short story competition.

How to Read My Short Stories

So far six of the ten stories have been published, and five of those six are available to read for free online. Cool, right? Here are the stories, a little bit about them, and where you can go to read them:

The Downed —  concīs (Summer 2016)

In February of 2016, Winslow and I lived for a month in Sedro-Woolley, Washington. I did my best to walk as much as possible there and not to use our car. I frequently walked past a field of cows and the idea for this story came to me. I tried to write a longer version of it many times, and then finally hacked away as many words as I could and came to this tiny, but hopefully powerful story. It was the first story I would get published.

Before the Water Rushes In The Forge (Sep 2016)

The first place Winslow and I lived in Washington was Port Townsend, on the Olympic Peninsula. One of our favorite things about Oly Pen life was the shell-fishing. We spent many many days timing journeys to the beach so we could collect clams and oysters. Invariably, it was us and a whole lot of retired people. And there’s something about being out there with the tide that makes you think a lot about the meaning of life.

The Velociraptors The Citron Review (Dec 2016)

We’ve raised chickens in a few different places that we’ve lived now, but they always scare me a little. They really are just scary little dinosaurs. Read this reality-based story, and then try not to think about it too much.

The Art of Lies — Five:2:One Magazine (Jan 2017)

I studied martial arts for over a decade starting in 2000. Of all the arts I studied, one of my absolute favorites was Muay Thai. There’s something truly special for me about the striking arts—all the many layers of psychology, thought, and communication—and my goal was to share a bit of what it’s like to be inside a fighter in this story.

Somehow They Know — Entropy Magazine (Jan 2017)

When I was a little girl we lived on a rural road in Mason, Michigan, surrounded by cornfields. Parts of this story take place in that driveway where I think many of my stories began somewhere deep inside me. This girl is and isn’t me; and she probably is and isn’t you, as well. But I hope you, like her, find your feathers.

The other stories I had accepted will be coming out soon, so keep an eye out for them here:

And if all goes well, I will have many more acceptances happening over the course of 2017. Who know, maybe one of those novels might even find an agent!

A Beaver Killed in a Snare

Subsistence Trapping, or the Art of Making Up Your Own Mind

Who Makes Up Your Mind?

As we mature and increase our self-awareness, we can realize that much of what we believe was once what someone else believed, fed to us with the spoon of trust, whether intentionally, inadvertently, or even maliciously.

When I was young, my mother made sure I thought of trapping as barbaric, cruel, and unnecessary while we happily ate meat at almost every meal. For many years, I blindly went with that point of view, even espousing it to others. Once I started hunting, the role that trapping could play in resource acquisition became more obvious, and I began to question my longstanding beliefs.

As a child, I spent much of my time in the woods of upstate New York. I somehow came to have a copy of Tom Brown’s Field Guide to Wilderness Survival, and I wore that book out. I built dozens of survival shelters, tools, and traps, squirreling away knowledge in case I ever needed it. I considered trapping a last-ditch effort not to die of starvation, though. What I didn’t know at the time is that New York was, and still is, one of the great states for trapping, and that trapping was an important part of my heritage as well as a legitimate method for securing dinner! Opportunity missed due to closed mind. Again.

From the NYS Dept. of Conservation Website:

Trappers in New York have a long and proud heritage. After all, New York State was explored and settled largely due to the fur trade. New York State has an abundance of furbearing animals whose populations are thriving and secure. For nearly ten thousand New Yorkers, trapping remains a vitally important activity, affecting both their lifestyle and livelihood.

Without getting political, trapping was a powerful influence on the westward exploration of North America by Europeans. Without a resource to chase, not much got done back then, just like today. Like most everything, though, it was taken too far. The North American beaver was nearly extirpated from the entire continent at one time. That Wikipedia page, by the way, details some very interesting history of North American settlement.

A Beaver Killed in a Snare

A Snared Beaver Provides Me With Fur, Meat, and Lure to Use in Trapping

Time Is Not on Your Side

Time, especially in a survival situation, is precious. You need it for building a shelter, finding and purifying water, and gathering wood for your fire. Or, maybe to build a strong relationship with your spouse and children.

You also need it for finding food. Food becomes energy, and energy is critical. Without calories, especially in colder climes and times, you will be unable to make use of your time to complete the other tasks required to keep you alive. If he was still with us, you could ask Christopher McCandless, who grew too weak to find or even digest food and died in the Alaskan bush.

A hunter might sit all day waiting for game to come by, for just a chance to take a shot. Even if game does come by, he might miss, or, worse yet, wound an animal and have it run off. A fisherman might spend all day and not get a bite, or get plenty of bites but be unable to land a single fish.

These activities require time and energy that can’t be reclaimed. It’s a bet, and if the result is failure, you could lose everything. Hunting and fishing are single-point-of-failure (SPOF) scenarios. I am not a fan of that exclusive approach. Trapping, by virtue of setting many traps, allows for strong redundancy, the best way to improve the robustness of a system plagued with SPOF problems.

A Dozen Snares Coiled Together

A Dozen Heavy-Duty Snares Will Fit Easily in a Survival Pack

Hedging Your Bets

From a subsistence point of view, trapping can provide the highest ROI of any year-round food-gathering endeavor in temperate climates. If you happen to be stranded on a tropical island, you might do better picking fruit or coconuts, at least until you need protein.

Trapping is a way to amplify the effect of your time and energy. Like dozens of hunters as patient as the bedrock, traps will wait. Traps can harvest game for you any time of day or night. When well-placed and expertly set, the right kind of trap delivers a quick, humane death to your quarry, food to your plate, and much more. Traps can be commercially manufactured or made from naturally available materials.

The Fur Industry

I considered titling this section, “How to Take Advantage of People and Animals,” but thought that might make my opinion too obvious. I guess I did it anyway, because it needed to be done.

From time to time, I place an ad on Craigslist for nuisance wildlife control services. Basically, I trade access to property that I can trap for the service of removing the animals that are giving people trouble. Sometimes, landowners get my name from someone I’ve worked with or even place an ad themselves looking for someone to help remove a problem animal or animals. Beavers flood fields, orchards, homes, and driveways. Coyotes eat pets and livestock. You get the idea.

Almost without exception, everyone wants to trade “the value of the fur” for my time, energy, fuel, and expertise. This tells how poorly educated and/or unaware of reality the public is about trapping. The screenshot below from Trapping Today summer 2016 fur price update should set the record straight.

The Truth About Fur Prices

The Value of Fur Must Be Found Somewhere Besides in the Dollars

Keep in mind that we are not talking about “whole round” critters here, or even “green” or “raw” furs, but large, prime, “put up” pelts of high quality without significant flaws. The amount of time, money, equipment, and knowledge that goes into producing a fur for which you can “command” $8 is ridiculous. I won’t go into it all here, but suffice it to say nobody I know of is coming close to breaking even selling to the fur market.

Commercial Trapping Equipment

I’m probably going to get a bunch of shit for this comment, but it’s my website and you don’t have to like it. Trappers are fools. Despite receiving prices far below production cost for the furs they sell, they continue to serve the fur industry hand and foot. They seem to think that the solution is to TRAP MORE FUR rather than withhold inventory until a reasonable price is offered.

What was once a flourishing industry that supported trappers with reasonable prices for fur has become a predator. In turn, trap and equipment makers have become an industry that plays on the idea that trappers need more equipment, so the market can be more flooded and the price of fur can be further degraded, increasing profit margins for fur dealers.

The trapper is paying (and getting played by) both sides to ply his trade (or hobby, as the “costs money to participate” model is often called.)

A Few Dozen Conibears

Body-Gripping Traps Kill Almost Instantly, are Compact, and Reusable

Quit Your Bitching, Winslow

You might be thinking to yourself, “Winslow, you need to stop complaining and get out of this time and money suck if it’s as bad as you say.”

I couldn’t agree more, and I’m going to share how I’ve done that right now.

I trap things we can eat.

There are plenty of trappers who are solely interested in the products that can be sold. The poor fur market has forced trappers to become very resourceful in order to afford the activity. Skulls, scent glands, claws, even bones and urine can be sold if you know where to find the market. I, on the other hand, simply choose to trap what I can use myself.

So far, we’ve eaten beaver, muskrat, possum, and raccoon. We aren’t alone, either. While it isn’t common fare, I know others (mostly through trapping forums) who eat them, too. Also on the list to be tried: bobcat, cougar, porcupine, coyote, and fox. Note that you can’t trap cougars in Idaho, but if you spend enough time in the woods trapping and hunting other beasts, I am assured you will come across one.

The animals we’ve eaten also contributed fur that I will tan when we have enough to do one large, efficient batch. I’m not too concerned with maximizing “profit” but will most likely sell the valuable parts when I get enough of them. No reason to waste anything.

I Don’t Want to Eat Raccoons

I hear you, and I’m not advocating that you start trapping or anything else. I am, in fact doing just the opposite. I’m asking how you came to think how you think and do what you do, and if that’s all serving you well.

So, is it?

Rabbit or Chicken Navy Bean Soup

Rabbit or Chicken Navy Bean Soup

Rabbit meat might not be your thing—although if you like chicken, you should know that good rabbit is like the best chicken white meat you’ve ever had—but this soup works well for both rabbit and chicken meat.

If you’ve roasted a chicken lately and want to do something different with it or have leftover meat in the fridge, this soup is easy, quick, and guaranteed to be filling thanks to the lovely navy beans.

I like to soak our beans as I think it cuts down on some of the bean…effect. But it’s up to you whether or not you want to do that step. Some people like their beans firmer than we do—we tend to like all our veggies and beans pretty mushy.

Whatever you do, don’t wimp out on the red pepper flakes. They add a subtle kick and a lot of depth to this rabbit or chicken navy bean soup.

Rabbit or Chicken Navy Bean Soup

Serves: 6-8

Prep Time: 30 minutes (not including bean soak time)

Cook Time: 3-4 hours

Ingredients:

  • 16oz dried navy beans
  • Enough water to submerge beans
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 5oz can diced tomatoes (with juices)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 2-3 large carrots, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley
  • 3 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 can corn
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1-1.5 pounds cooked and shredded chicken or rabbit

Directions:

  1. Soak beans for 4 hours and then rinse thoroughly. Soak for another 4 hours and rinse again.
  2. Combine beans, 4 cups broth, tomatoes, onion, celery, carrots, Worcestershire sauce, parsley, garlic, bay leaves, salt, and pepper in a stock pot.
  3. Cover and bring to a boil.
  4. Lower heat and simmer for two hours.
  5. Add additional 3 cups water, corn, red pepper flakes, and meat. Simmer for an additional one to two hours.
Elk Steak London Broil

Elk Steak London Broil

The classic London Broil is one of our favorite ways to prepare meat. The combination of marinating and fast, hot cooking makes for a great way to make more affordable meat taste fantastic. This approach works well with elk steak, as well.

Unlike conventional meat, elk meat (and other types of game) can vary greatly from animal to animal since they do not grow and live in a controlled environment. And while there are things you can do in the processing stage to make your animal taste better (aging, proper butchering, etc.), you can’t really change whether you got a tender animal or a tough animal. So marinating makes sense when it comes to game meat. (Although some people think it doesn’t do anything, I feel like it does.)

This variation of a beef London Broil recipe tastes great with the rich, unique flavor of elk. Vary your marinating times and cooking times depending on the thickness of your elk steak.

Elk Steak London Broil

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup red wine
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce (use tamari if you’re gluten free)
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon course-ground or whole-grain mustard
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2lbs elk steaks

Directions:

  1. Place all ingredients except elk steaks into a dish that you can seal tight. I use a plastic container with a lid that locks into place. Shake the ingredients until very well mixed.
  2. Lay the steaks out in the dish and gently score both sides of each steak. Go about an 1/8-inch deep and score diagonally in both directions.
  3. Close the container, shake the ingredients around, and marinate anywhere from 6-48 hours in your refrigerator depending on the thickness of your steaks. I try to flip my container about every 6 hours.
  4. Before cooking, remove the steaks from the marinade and pat them dry. Let them sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. I typically let them sit longer, but if you belong to what Winslow calls “the cult of refrigeration,” that might make you nervous. Short story: cold steaks don’t cook well.
  5. You can broil or pan fry the steaks (I know, it’s not really a London broil if you pan fry it, but technically this is a beef dish anyway, so have an open mind). Either way, make sure everything is nice and hot. Throw a bunch of butter in your pan if you’re frying your steaks or spray your broiler pan with cooking oil if you’re broiling to ensure your steaks don’t stick. Cook the steaks on each side for 3-6 minutes, depending on the thickness
  6. Test your steaks for doneness by using the finger test—don’t cut them open!
  7. Let the steaks stand for a few minutes before you slice them up.

We love to eat our elk steak with mashed potatoes and green beans to keep things simple, easy, and classic! (Not to mention, really tasty!)

 

Mushroom Barley Venison Stew

One of my favorites things to do on a cold winter day is what I call “freezer shopping.” With all the snow we’ve had lately, it’s hard to make it into town to an actual grocery store. But it’s not a problem because we planned ahead and stocked ourselves up well. We can go months without needing to buy any meat. So a couple times a week, I make my way to our freezer and pick out the meat for our meals.

Freezer Shopping Venison Elk Pork

A recent freezer shopping outing yielded pork we processed from a pig we bought, venison we hunted, and elk “BS” we were gifted from a friend.

We were lucky enough to get a whitetail this year, so we have quite a bit of venison stocked up, and there’s nothing like a hearty stew to warm you up after being outside working for a few hours on a sub-freezing day.

The addition of mushrooms to this stew pairs so well with the richness of the venison, and the barley takes the satiety rating to yet another level. Note: if you prefer to be gluten-free, then I suggest swapping the barley for brown rice. It would also work to make this stew with any red meat, such as elk, beef, beaver, etc.

Mushroom Barley Venison Stew

Serves: 4-6

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 2 hours

Ingredients:

  • 2lbs venison, cubed
  • 1/4 cup flour (regular or gluten-free)
  • 2 Tbsp butter (or fat of your choice)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 1 cup mushrooms (canned, fresh, or rehydrated from dry will all work)
  • 16oz can diced tomato (and juices)
  • 2 cups broth (beef is best, but whatever is in your cupboard will work)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1 Tbsp dried parsley
  • 1 cup pearl barley
  • 1 cup water

Directions:

  1. Place venison in plastic bag or dish with flour. Shake or toss with hands to coat meat.
  2. Heat butter in a large sauce pan or Dutch oven.
  3. Make sure the pan is good and hot. Then meat to the pan and brown on all sides.
  4. Once meat is brown, add onion, celery, mushrooms, tomato, broth, bay leaf, salt, pepper, and parsley. Stir to combine.
  5. Heat until boiling. Stir everything up again, then cover and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 60 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  6. Add barley and water. Stir to combine.
  7. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 45 minutes.

Dish this out into a bowl, butter up some cornbread to go with it, and enjoy!

North Idaho Sunset

You Must Always Put Yourself First

Winslow and I have a bad habit of being too helpful, of wanting to help too much. This happens with animals and people.

We go out of our way for people who have no intention of ever being there for us. Each time we come to this realization, typically when we find ourselves scrambling and the person in question is nowhere to be found, we tell ourselves we’re going to put ourselves first from then on.

It’s hard. You want to be helpful, kind, and generous. You want to do the right thing for people. But you also don’t want to become a martyr because you’re always helping others out of their troubles and your own situation is a mess. Most of all, you want to live your life—your happy and fulfilled dream life. You can’t do this if other people and other people’s problems take first place to you and your needs.

You can’t actually help others if you don’t help yourself first. Start by putting on your own oxygen mask, right? But it’s hard with some people—they seem to know you’re someone who would give up your oxygen mask and their intentions are not nearly as good as yours. And it’s hard with animals—because who is ever speaking up for them and how are they to understand how all this works? Your heart breaks for them because they need a caretaker, and this is hard for people with caretaker’s hearts.

We’re very pleased with our little homestead so far and the motley crew we’ve amassed. Our free goats, our Labrador rescued from a city life of neglect, a smattering of forgotten chickens added to our pure-bred ones, a half-dozen hungry rabbits now plump and fed. So far, the animals we’ve brought in have settled in with each other—and us—just right.

But this week we learned it’s one thing to rescue a couple goats or even a chocolate Lab, but it’s another to let your heart guide you into taking on three hounds.

The Pull of the Hounds

Recently, we adopted three beautiful Plott hounds—Rosie, Hunter, and Lucy, aged three, one, and one respectively. And before I go further, let me say that I have no issue with working dogs being strictly working dogs. We fully intended to keep the hounds outdoors 100% of the time, to keep them separated from each other in fenced and covered runs, and to treat them as animals with a job—not pets. We wanted, and still want, a pack of hunting dogs.

But even given all that, there were still red flags when we went to the owner’s house to first see the hounds. The dogs’ toenails were all far too long, meaning they hadn’t been run in some time, which can lead to anxiety and worse in hounds. The owner hinted that his neighbors were all annoyed with him regarding the dogs and we should have asked a lot more about why—if they were baying all night due to stress or boredom. The dogs also didn’t obey his basic commands when he tried to demonstrate them to us (and yes, I know, hounds aren’t into house manners, but they should still listen to their “hunter” when he tells them to get in the hunting rig, of all things).

We did see all these things, but we saw them with our hearts, not our brains. It made us want to take the dogs in, not to think about how they might not fit into our homestead.

I don’t think their owner is a bad guy, and I know he is actively looking to find them the right home—but I do hope the hounds find a new hunter soon so they can get out in the woods and do their thing, so they can sleep soundly at night and not be anxious in the day, so they can be the hounds that hounds are meant to be.

And I am sorry we won’t get to do all that with them, but it became frighteningly apparent we were not going to be able to train them when I had an incident with one of them—and I absolutely won’t tolerate an animal that’s aggressive toward people on this property, no matter how talented or sweet they might be in any other moment. Thankfully, both Frankie (our Labrador) and I both came away unscathed, but it was a close call.

Note: Before anyone posts a comment along the lines of, “You just don’t know hounds,” I have been around dogs my whole life. I know the difference between a working dog and a dangerous dog, between a head-strong dog and a liability.

The Breath of the Trees

I think hounds are awesome and we still want a pack, but we’re going to remember to put ourselves first when we make our second attempt. We’ll be shopping and researching breeders this winter, with the plan to purchase puppies in the spring and spend next summer training them ourselves from scratch.

By creating a scenario that is ideal for us as humans, we’ll create a scenario that is ideal for our hounds as well. We want our home to be a special place for every life that lives here or visits here—and we have to start with us.

We’ve been calling our homestead “Ravensloft” lately. We are at 3200 feet, along a ridge, and the ravens circle right above our property every single day. When the wind blows strong enough, which is almost always, they simply hover with their wings open, not even having to flap. They float there in their essence with hardly an effort because they are simply being them, in each moment, in each cell, in each inhalation. This is what I strive to be up here on our mountainside with our beloved animals, the breath of the trees, and near light of the moon. A little bit of my heart left with the hounds, but much more of it remains.

Free on Craigslist: 2 Ridiculous (and Awesome) Goats

Some people spend way too much time on social media. We spend way too much time “window shopping” on Craigslist. But the farm and garden section on any North Idaho Craigslist is a gem, let me tell you. We have found all sorts of things, like rabbits, chickens, vehicles, barrel stoves, free wood, free pallets, a half-ton of timothy hay, a 300lb pig we bought and processed, you name it.

Oh, and free goats.

Yep, that’s right, we recently acquired our two goats for free off Craigslist.

The Day We Got Our Goats

Winslow found the listing first. He gets a daily digest of anything posted for free in our area. We were especially excited because the goats, one male and one female, were just one town up the highway from us, and that never happens. Normally we have to drive hours for everything and anything.

I immediately called the number and spoke to “Bob.” Bob was somewhere in Spokane on business, had a bad cell connection, and spoke with a thick accent. So really I have no idea what Bob said for 99% of that first conversation.

When I asked Bob what breed the goats were, he replied, “Well, they’re black and white, so they must be some sort of breed.”

Yeah. Okay.

But I wasn’t going to turn down free goats no matter what sort of black-and-white breed they might be. We’ve been wanting some to help us clear brush and eat weeds, plus, you know…goats. Just…goats.

We’ve also entertained the idea of having goats for dairy and/or meat production, but I’m not ready to commit to twice a day milking and a good dairy goat is not inexpensive. So getting our goat-farmer feet wet with these two seemed like a perfect idea.

We went the next morning to Bob’s to pick them up. Thankfully, he was far more understandable in person and, in fact, a super nice guy. He had inherited the goats from a tenant who moved out and left them, which is why he was selling a pair of goats, yet knew nothing about goats. We decided the male must be a wether since no one could recall him ever getting stinky or the female goat getting pregnant. And that’s about the grand sum of what we figured out.

Say Hi to Totes and Little Billy

We brought the goats home and promptly named them Totes and Little Billy. I think Little Billy must be a dwarf or pygmy goat of some sort, and I have no clue what Totes is. They are most incredibly sweet and affectionate, and Little Billy doesn’t have an aggressive bone in his body. Totes has incredible uphill power (she seriously kicks into 4-low hardcore whenever there’s even a small grade) so I want to teach her how to pack things up our hill or haul a wagon.

In the meantime, they eat some brush, eat some timothy hay, chew on my pockets, and generally stare at us and the dogs all day. They barely ever make any sounds at all. Although they burp…a lot. We like to go for walks and I hang out with them. Totes loves carrots. Little Billy hates them, and pretty much everything else except the minerals I give them.

Winslow says, “They’re like dogs except maybe a little smarter.” Which means they’re pretty fun. Even when Little Billy decides to hide in the generator house and then get stuck behind the generator ’cause he can’t figure out how his own horns work. And even when Billy head-butts the goat house into an entirely new location. And even when we let him wander around the yard and he stands on the front steps like he’s submitted Mt. Everest.

I’m still working on getting a pic of those moments, but here’s some others in the meantime:

Goats

Totes and Billy enjoying their first morning with us.

Goats

It’s very important that Billy has something to stand on at all times…even a stick will do.

Goats

Totes Magoats

The goat house.

The goat house.

The mud is slightly higher than over there, right?

This mud is slightly higher than the mud over there, right?

Billy posing at the threshold, right after we built the house.

Billy posing at the threshold, right after we built the house.

Totes needs treat RIGHT NOW.

Totes needs treat RIGHT NOW.

Totes LOVES the carrots.

Totes LOVES to eat carrots.

Billy LOVES to eat pockets.

Billy LOVES to eat pockets.

Let's please not eat the house, though.

Let’s please not eat the house, though.

I wish all kids liked to eat their daily minerals like Billy does.

I wish all kids liked to eat their daily minerals like Billy does.

Little Billy would like to wish you a great day! Also, he'd like to know what's in your pockets. Okay, thanks, bye.

Little Billy would like to wish you a great day! Also, he’d like to know what’s in your pockets. Okay, thanks, bye.

Our Frugal Garden Plan, as Well as Our Anti-Vampire Strategy

Our Frugal Garden Plan, as Well as Our Anti-Vampire Strategy

Since we’re heading into winter soon, it’s of course time to think about gardening. If you’ve gardened, you know what I’m talking about — the joy of sitting in front of the fire and sipping a cup of hot cocoa while you peruse the seed catalog.

Please tell me I’m not alone. You’ve done this, right?

We don’t have a fireplace, really. But I am already drinking hot cocoa and have been cruising around online trying to plot out our garden for the spring. It will be a straw bale garden, this much we know for sure — and that’s about it.

But while in the past we’ve fantasized about generating all our vegetables from our garden. This time we plan to be pickier and garden with frugality as our rule.

Our Frugal Garden Plan, as Well as Our Anti-Vampire Strategy

Why We’re Planting a Frugal Garden

Yes, it’s nice to think things like, “The green beans from my garden just somehow taste better than the ones from the store!” But is it really true? And how much more are you willing to pay for that taste? Don’t forget, you’re not just paying with money — you’re paying with the time it takes to plant, water, fertilize, weed, harvest, and process those beans, too.

Meanwhile, a can of organic green beans at the grocery store will run you just a couple bucks and take almost zero time commitment — and recently we purchased regular canned green beans for 59 cents per can.

Can your homegrown beans really compete with that? (Don’t forget, growing them in your yard doesn’t automatically make them “organic,” and there are time and money expenses to committing to an organic garden different than those of a “regular” garden. Not to mention, there’s no guarantee your garden will thrive or that the deer and wildlife won’t feast on it before you do. Oh yeah, and those mason jars, lids, and canning equipment cost money, too.)

For some people, the answer to the question — “Can your homegrown beans compete with store-bought beans?” — is yes. For us, the answer is no. Here’s why.

Our homestead and the HPMDU are our retirement plan. In order for our retirement plan to work, frugality is key. (We do not see frugality as a bad word or a limiting lifestyle in any way — if you do, you might want to follow J.D. Roth’s blog for a perspective shift on that.) That means when it comes to deciding which vegetables make it into our garden, they must be vegetables that are cheaper to grow than they are to buy.

Note for the prepper- and survivalist-minded people out there: Being able to garden some basic vegetables will help you acquire and practice the skills for gardening on a larger scale. So if your idea is to survive off your garden…but the world hasn’t actually ended yet…you might try planting a frugal garden as as simple and cost-effective entry point.

At present I am thinking we’ll grow the following:

  • Bell Peppers — I love having them on hand and they are stupid expensive to buy
  • Tomatoes — Easy to grow, prolific, the base for so many things
  • Lettuce — We’ll plant leaf lettuce, not head lettuce, so we can pinch off food as needed, way cheaper to grow than buy
  • Garlic — Can be grown in summer and winter, easy to grow, prolific, long storage
  • Melons — We love melons and rarely eat them due to the expense, but they’re easy to grow
  • Winter Squash — Easy to grow, prolific, can store for a long time

What do you think? If you were planting a frugal garden, what would make the most sense for you? Which foods do you eat most often, pay too much for, or find to be a no-brainer when it comes to producing? I really want to know!

We’ve got some time left before we order our seeds and map out our straw bales. So with your input, we’ll keep pondering what the best vegetables are — and we’re also drawing up plans for our greenhouse so we can get our starts…started. More on our final veggie decisions and the construction of the greenhouse later this winter.

Our Anti-Vampire Strategy

In the meantime, I’m stocking us up for the coming vampire apocalypse. (That’s a joke for all of you who’ve ever mocked me by accusing me of preparing for the “zombie apocalypse.” I know trying to be respectful of the planet and make your energy footprint smaller is kooky. It’s easier to joke about zombies.)

By that I mean, I’ve started our garden by planting garlic! We picked out two varieties in part because they are both cold-hardy, long-storing, tasty hardneck types — and in part because we’ve been so busy that by the time I ordered these there weren’t many options still available! But we’re excited about what we’ve planted: Music and Chesnok Red.

I got a pound of each, which when you break up the bulbs into individual cloves comes out to approximately one million Music cloves and a half million Chesnok cloves. The Chesnok cloves are HUGE. (I ordered through Urban Farmer, by the way, and the service was great.)

Our Frugal Garden Plan, as Well as Our Anti-Vampire Strategy

I, of course, did a bunch of reading online before planting the garlic. There was some discrepancy on when you should break apart the garlic bulbs, as well as how close and how deep to plant the cloves. Farmer’s Almanac said one thing and Mother Earth News another. I read a bunch more articles and ended up aiming for somewhere in between their recommendations — breaking the bulbs apart shortly before planting, putting them three inches deep, and spacing them six inches apart.

I dug little trenches, and I added peat moss and straw to the dirt. Our soil is very dense and has a lot of clay in it. It holds water, which garlic doesn’t like so much.

Planting garlic in frugal gardenPlanting garlic in frugal garden

Once the dirt was broken up and the cloves were planted, I added a layer of magic pellets! Oh yes, magic pellets. Also known as rabbit poop.

Rabbit Pellets

Our rabbits poop magic.

Yep, rabbit poop. It’s the favorite fertilizer of gardeners everywhere and, wouldn’t you know, we raise rabbits. You can learn more than you ever wanted to about animal poop at this link, but the short story is rabbit poop is considered “cold” and that means the chemical make-up of it doesn’t “burn” things you toss it on. This makes it safe to directly apply to plants and gardens, unlike a lot of other manures that need to be aged. It’s rich in nitrogen, which is great for getting new plants going.

Our rabbit magic is also mixed with alfalfa bits since it falls through the rabbit cages when they eat. Alfalfa has a lot of wonderful qualities when it comes to its mineral make-up and its ability to stimulate compost.

Our rabbits poop magic.

A layer of rabbit magic and alfalfa slobber.

Then I added a nice layer of straw to put the garlic to bed for the winter and keep it nice and warm.

Our Frugal Garden Plan, as Well as Our Anti-Vampire Strategy

A fluffy blanket of straw.

Hopefully this works. We’ll see. This is my first attempt to grow anything in our soil, so wish me luck!

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