What’s New for 2019?

Another year on the farm has flown by.  As I am writing this, snow is falling outside, the kids are watching TV and TS is on his computer job-hunting.  Circumstances have changed with his current remote-work situation, so he is looking for an off-the-farm job.  Try as we may, we have not been able to create enough income from to fully support our family.  We are always growing and improving, but additional income is still necessary, even just part time.  It is difficult to plan exactly what we’ll be doing on the farm this year without knowing if TS will be working elsewhere full time, but these are the current plans:

MEAT & EGGS:  We have made the decision to go back to the original plan of raising our own meat for ourselves.  Raising meat chickens to sell is very time-consuming and hard work and the profits are not great.  We raised somewhere around 400 chickens last year which we sold from the farm and at the Yancey County Farmers Market.  We have sold out of everything (other than what we purposely kept for ourselves).  Raising pastured meat chickens is definitely a viable business option for small farmers, however it would take a lot more pasture and time than we have to make it worth the effort.  We definitely could have sold more chickens if we could have raised more, but we just aren’t able to raise enough chickens to meet the demand.  I hope that the new chicken vendor at the market has great success and is able to fill that need for our community.  We plan to raise a few batches this year for ourselves and to sell from the farm, but we are planning to fill our freezer first.  I do want to raise a few Pekin ducks for ourselves as well.  We sold every duck we had left before Thanksgiving right off the farm, so we may do a few extras of those as well.  We recently made the tough decision to sell all our laying-breed ducks.  I do not like duck eggs.  Sorry not sorry.  I think the texture is totally gross and I’ll choose chicken eggs over duck every time.  I wanted to like duck eggs since I love ducks and they lay more eggs during the winter than the chickens do, but I just don’t like them.  TS loves them and would prefer to eat duck eggs over chicken eggs, but he just doesn’t eat that many eggs.  We will still have lots of chicken eggs for ourselves and to sell.

SOAP:  I’m done making soap.  I enjoy making it, but I don’t have time to sell it at any markets or really promote my soap online.  There are LOTS of people around here that make soap and I never did feel passionate enough about my soap to try to compete.  One of the main reasons I started making soap was that I thought we were going to have dairy goats and I could make goat-milk soap.  But dairy goats are definitely NOT in our future.  Also, the supplies were taking up space all over the house.  Now that I’ve sold or given away what was left, I feel like a weight has been lifted.

GARDEN:  We ARE planting a garden this year!!!  I am hoping to buy starts from friends or local farms.  We don’t have the space to start seeds, at least not this year.  We will be growing beans, tomatoes, beets, lettuces, collards, peppers, and chard.  I don’t know what else, but I’m excited to garden again.  We didn’t do much last year cause we were so busy processing chickens.  Also we FINALLY will get to harvest asparagus!!!  I planted it the first Spring we were here, but it takes a few years of growing to be established enough to harvest.

HATCHERY:  We have major plans for the hatchery!  We are hoping to hatch more than double the amount of chicks we hatched and sold last year.  I plan to offer over a dozen breeds/varieties of chickens.  Even though we hatched a lot of chicks last year, I sold most of them as chicks and at the end of the Summer I didn’t have enough laying hens to meet the demand.  I also did not keep as many hens as I should have for us!  I plan to be much more efficient and organized this year.

RABBITRY:  We are selling all our meat breed rabbits.  I have spent almost 5 years breeding, raising, and processing meat rabbits.  In the beginning it was the only way we could raise our own meat since we were living in the city.  I will forever be grateful for the experience of raising meat rabbits – it in part led us to the farm life, it’s one of the main ways we promoted our farm the first year, and I sort of became the local go-to rabbit person.  However, I’ve grown to dislike the processing more and more.  It’s not that it’s difficult, it’s just unpleasant and I’m tired.  I would rather take 2 days to process chickens 2-3 times per year than have to process 8-10 rabbits every other month.  Most of my Crème d’Argents left the farm yesterday to go be the beginning of East Fork Farm’s meat rabbit program.  I am very happy that they will continue on with the breed.  It took me a lot of time and work to create a genetically diverse herd of such a rare breed and I am so glad to have been able to pass them on.  We are still going to continue raising and selling our French Angora rabbits as well as fiber and yarn.

And of course BENGALS!  We have a litter due soon and also will be taking three of our cats to a show in February.  I haven’t shown since 2011 and I am very excited to get back into it!

So I think that’s what we have got planned for the year.  The kids are now 6 and 8 and love to help on the farm when they aren’t in school.  They are both very interested in the various chicken breeding programs we have going on – matching different breeds to get different colored eggs and traits, that sort of thing.  They love to help with taking care of the animals and I’m excited they’ll be able to help with the garden this year too.  SJ is great at hand-pulling weeds and loves helping plant starts too.  HS has a special gift with animals – they seem to know how gentle he is and not fear them.  It’s amazing to see.  We are all still loving this farm life!  It is more complicated and difficult than we could have predicted but we are blessed to be living the life we love.


Some updates

It has been way too long since our last post.  I was hoping TS would write the next one, but as much as he enjoys writing when inspired, it’s just been too long and too busy of a Summer.  We kicked off our Summer with the ASAP Farm Tour.  When I first volunteered us for the tour, TS was completely against it.  Even when the ASAP rep came out to the farm for a look-see and approved us for consideration, it took some convincing on my part to get TS to agree to doing it.  That was in March I think.  Fast-forward to May after I’ve attended ASAP’s Agritourism Workshop and we are freaking out that anywhere from 50-200 people would be visiting our farm in June!  Here is the link to the full info on the Tour: ASAP Farm Tour Attendees buy tickets to go tour the participating farms from 12-5pm on Saturday and Sunday.  Participating farms are located in “clusters” of 3-5 per county.  Farms volunteer to participate.  Ticket sales help support ASAP, which stands for Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project and whose mission is “to help local farms thrive, link farmers to markets and supporters, and build healthy communities through connections to local food” (www.asapconnections.org/about us/).  Our farm was the first stop on the Yancey County cluster.  Anyhow, I have this habit of volunteering for stuff and then realizing later what I’ve done and freaking out.  I was terrified that our farm would look like crap, a visitor would trip and fall (and sue), rain would pour down the entire weekend, or people would just be so underwhelmed by what we have to see that no one would come.  Thankfully, I was totally wrong!  We had over 80 visitors on Saturday and over 50 on Sunday.  The weather was beautiful!  There was a few minutes of drizzle late on Sunday afternoon, but it wasn’t a big deal.  We had a great time sharing our farm with our visitors.  We had our ASAP volunteer stationed at the entrance where she could check tickets and direct parking if needed.  We had a tent and tables with our products and some rabbits and chicks/ducklings.  I spent most of the day there spinning and talking with people.  TS hung out at the entrance to the barnyard where visitors could feed the chickens and ducks.  I was actually really surprised by how enthusiastic TS was at the end of Saturday.  He loved the tour and wants to do more agritourism stuff in the future.  We were both exhausted by the end, but we had a great turn-out and got really positive feedback.  We would love to participate again.  I wish I had photos from during the tour, but I only managed to take a few just before we got started on Sunday.

Another thing that has kept me busy is hatching!  I have been hatching a variety of chicken and duck breeds starting in early Spring.  I was hatching and selling a new batch of birds every week up until mid-June in addition to raising our mail-order meat chickens.  Once I was finished hatching I continued to sell coop-ready birds (and processing extra males).  I’ve finally gotten down to what we want to keep for ourselves AND have hatched some chicks for my own projects.  Hatching has been really fun and I am hoping to expand next year.  We are working on our plans for obtaining some new equipment to make things easier and more efficient for next year.

And last, but definitely not least – we have started breeding Bengal cats again!!!  I had hesitated to share this on the blog since pedigreed cats are not really farm-related, but they are taking up so much of our time that I can’t NOT write about them.  If you have known us in real life for more than the last few years, you already know that we spent much of our free time from 2008-2012 breeding and showing Bengals.  When we moved from our Opelika house (where we had our cattery) to our Auburn house (which was huge but had no good place for the cats) at the same time as we had a newborn and a 2 year old (and zero free time), we reluctantly retired from breeding and sent all of our wonderful Bengals to loving pet homes.  Even though we had kicked around the idea of getting started with Bengals again since we first decided to make our move to the farm, I was very reluctant to get back in – mostly because of the huge expense in starting over.  Breeding Bengals takes a lot of investment of money and time, and it was especially difficult to wrap my head around it when I’d already gone through that before and quit just when our hard work and investment was starting to pay off.  Nevertheless, we took the plunge and purchased a Bengal male and female at the end of last Summer.  In January, an old breeder friend of mine told me he was retiring and wanted to send me a kitten he owed me from a past deal AND an additional female.   Not long after that, another breeder friend offered me a female when she retired.  So quickly we went from one pair, to two pair, to five total Bengals, before our first litter was even born.  We had our first litter born in May and they have already been sold and gone to their new homes.  We kept the single kitten from our next litter and obtained another female in a trade with a local breeder friend.  Most recently we had a litter of three silver kittens born in September who will be ready for new homes just before Christmas.  Breeding Bengals again has already been full of ups and downs and has taken time away from other farm projects, but we are really enjoying having them again!  For more information about our Bengals, visit our website here:  Sakura Bengals



Building Our Community

We have been here 2.5 years now which is sometimes hard to believe.  We have learned so much and accomplished so much here on the farm.  I tend to look around and see this place as a collection of unfinished projects, but we really have gotten a lot done!  One of the more difficult things I set out to do here was make some friends.  As an introvert who’d usually prefer to be farm stuff at home than anything else, making friends doesn’t necessarily come easy.  I knew we’d find lots of homestead-types in the Asheville area, plus my life-long friend LD (who I have known since we were 4) lives there and knows tons of awesome people.  In every direction on the outskirts of Asheville there are many folks like us trying to grow their farms, whether for self-sufficiency, disaster-prepping, or just trying to make a simple living.  Leicester, Hot Springs, and Marshall are hot spots for homesteaders and I am thankful for a local mama who added me to a Facebook group for Madison County homesteaders.  Yes, Facebook.  I am still shocked by how much I use it nowadays.  Facebook happened after I was out of college (or maybe as I was finishing) and it took me several more years to join.  I only sporadically used it while living in Alabama and often would shut down my account for months at a time.  Nowadays it is one of my main tools of contact with the outside world.

So anyhow, a new friend added me to a local Homesteaders Facebook group based in Madison County (which adjoins our county).  From there I made in-person connections with lots of people, mostly while buying/selling/trading chickens or rabbits.  Most of them lived in or near Marshall or Hot Springs, which was “close” in the internet sense, but still 45 minutes to an hour or more away – not close enough to call for help moving a chicken coop in a pinch, or to grab some eggs from for breakfast the next day.  After meeting a fantastic homesteading family only a few miles away and hearing from a couple that had just moved to our mountain here in Burnsville, I decided Burnsville needed its own homesteading group.  It was a no-brainer, really.  It only takes about 5-10 minutes to create a Facebook group.  I posted the link in the Madison County group with the note that I was trying to help those of us in and around Burnsville to find each other.

The group grew to about 100 members fairly quickly.  I wasn’t surprised, since Facebook groups tend to do that – the Madison group has well over 1,000 members.  But I wasn’t trying to create just a Facebook group.  I wanted to find friends and build a community.  We hosted a potluck at our farm and then the couple who had recently moved to our mountain hosted another.  Then another couple did the same and it wasn’t long after that that I could see the real friendships forming.  Not just for TS and myself, but among the other group members too.  I am so happy with how we all together are really building our community.  In the past few months, we’ve had a Ladies’ Night, a Seed-Swap, and one day several of the guys got together to help another member move a goat shed.  We are having a great time and I know help is not far away if we need it.

I do struggle a bit with how to manage the Facebook group itself.  We have a few more than 100 members now with more requests coming in frequently.  The core of the group is somewhere around 30-ish members who attend the in-person get-togethers, but we also have many of those remaining members that are very active in the Facebook group, even though I have never met them in person.  I don’t want the group to grow so large that it no longer feels like the small community that it does now, but at the same time I don’t want to exclude anyone who wants to be a part of it.  I feel a large sense of responsibility for the group since I am the creator and moderator, but I don’t consider myself to be the “president” or anything like that.  I am starting to see the Facebook group as mostly just the method of contact, since the friendships are in-person now, not just online.

The group has had many get-togethers over the past year+ and we have shared a lot of great food and conversation.  We have shared some holiday meals and homesteading advice.  We just congratulated a couple of our members who moved here together and recently got hitched in our town square and another couple who just had their first goatlings born at their farm.  A couple of us have joined forces in writing letters and attending meetings to try to keep our childrens’ school open one more year (a story for another day).  Our kids have friends in the group as well, including HS’s best friend from school whose family moved here only a few months ago.  I really can’t say enough about how happy I am with this community that we are building together and so grateful for each member who is making that happen.


What’s New for 2018?

We have finally wrapped things up for 2017!  Our last batch of meat chickens are ALL in the freezer.  The gardens have been done for some time.  We are pretty much down to our baseline number of animals, which is somewhere around 50 laying breed chickens and 40 rabbits.  12 of those rabbits are grow-outs that are soon to be processed, but that’s a year round thing.

So what’s new for 2018?

MEAT: First things first – yes we are still going to be raising meat rabbits and chickens!  We processed and sold (or ate) over 300 chickens in 2017!  Honestly, it felt like so many more than that.  We are so thankful to our friends who let us borrow their chicken plucker.  Hand plucking is very time consuming.  We can process twice the number of chickens in half the time when we have the plucker.  There’s no way we could have done what we did this year without our friends’ generosity!  Thank you Tim and Charity!!!!!

This Fall we raised our first batch of Pekin ducks for meat!  Let me tell you, that is a CHORE.  Ducklings are really messy.  Give them a tiny bowl of water to drink and they’ll turn it into a 4 foot square area muckety-muck of poop and soggy shavings.  16 ducklings make more than twice the mess that 50 chicks do.  After 4-6 weeks of me cleaning out the muckety-muck every other day, we move them into the tractors and they become less work for a little while.  They get a bigger water bowl and still turn it into a muddy mess, but the bowls can be refilled and the tractors moved.  Life with the ducks is almost pleasant for the next 2-3 weeks.  THEN it is processing time.  Really!  Pekin ducks are large enough to process at the age of 7 weeks.  Processing ducks is hard.  It’s hard in every way.  Killing ducks is somehow a little more emotionally difficult for us than the chickens (even though we hate doing that too).  The plucking is also difficult.  We haven’t had much luck with putting ducks in the plucker, so we hand pluck.  Then we wax them to get the soft downy feathers off.  The rest is easier, but all that plucking and waxing takes a lot of time and effort.  I still want to raise more meat ducks – maybe 10 at a time every few months.  (TS would prefer not to.)  Despite the extra work involved, duck meat is delicious and we get more bang for our buck than with chicken.  Duck meat sells at a higher price and duck fat is like liquid gold!  For every duck we eat ourselves, I can render the fat and sell it at a price that pays for the cost of raising the duck.  So we can eat duck ourselves for only the cost of our labor and time.  Of those 16 ducks, we have already sold more than half of them, even without having a market this time of year.  So duck meat is probably going to be on the menu (and for sale) this year, at least occasionally.

EGGS: Of course we have lots of chicken eggs during most of the year and now we have duck eggs too!  Our Silver Welsh Harlequin and Ancona ducks have been laying consistently for the past couple months.  Duck eggs are much like chicken eggs except larger and richer.  The flavor is a little stronger and the yolks are creamier.  It’s kind of hard to describe, but if you try one you’ll know what I’m talking about!  TS loves them for omelets.  I prefer chicken eggs for breakfast and duck eggs for baking.  I don’t know if we will have them for sale at the market this year, but if you want to try our duck eggs email me at serendipityfarmnc@yahoo.com and I’ll get you some!

CHICKS, KEETS, & DUCKLINGS: We will not be ordering many laying breed chicks from the hatchery this year.  I will order a few to replace our older laying hens, but that’s it.  There’s just not enough profit in reselling to be worth the effort involved when we have so much else going on.  We will however have our own hatchlings for sale!  Starting in March we should have Ancona and Silver Welsh Harlequin ducklings.  April – July we plan to hatch Olive Eggers (F1 chicks from our Legbar rooster X Black Copper Marans hens) and Easter Eggers (Legbar rooster to F1 OE hens).  Our Easter Eggers will probably lay light green eggs, but they could lay shades of olive, blue, or dark brown.  We will also have English Orpingtons (lavender, splash, blue, black), Buff Chanteclers, and guinea keets!

ANGORAS:  Our Angora sales have increased since my spinning demonstration at the Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair this past Fall.  I’m planning to do another spinning demonstration at Mother Earth News Fair this Spring (as well as repeat my meat rabbit presentation) and I’m continuing to offer a variety of Angora fiber, bunnies, and handspun yarn for sale.  My Angora fiber can be found here:  Dandelion Rabbits

SOAPS and STUFF:  I’m going to continue making soaps, salves, and a few other body products on a limited basis, but not adding anything new this year.  I just have too much else to do!

GARDEN:  Our 2017 garden did not do as well as we had hoped.  We had a fantastic start with TS’s dedication to starting a large number of seedlings indoors and in our greenhouse.  However, we just couldn’t find the time to keep up with the thinning and weeding as well as we should have.  The cucumbers got some sort of fungus and died just as they were starting to produce well.  We had so much rain that the lettuce and tomatoes slowly rotted from the ground up.  I still made a ton of jam and we ate a lot of tomatoes, but I didn’t put away nearly as much as I did in 2016.  Our plan for this year’s garden is to not stress about it!  We are still going to plant, but only as much as we think we can realistically manage.

I guess that’s it for now, but who knows what the year will bring?  I think we have learned a lot in the past 2 years here, but we still are still figuring things out – what CAN we do?  What do we WANT to do?  With each project we have to seriously consider if the WORK is worth the REWARD.  We only have so much time and energy each day.  One of the main reasons we chose this way of life was to have more choice about how we spend our time.  Even when the chores pile up and an artic blast comes around, this is still an adventure that we love to be living!




The Year of the Chicken

NOVEMBER 10th:  With a large sigh of relief, I have just moved our final batch of 47 meat chicks from the brooder to the tractors.  The brooder is now empty for the first time since March.  It has been a LONG chick season this year.  Besides raising several groups of both incubator-hatched and hatchery-bought laying breed chicks, we have raised somewhere around 300 meat chickens.  Which means we also butchered somewhere around 300 meat chickens, excluding the 47 that are now in the tractors.  Some of them have been eaten by us, but most have been sold at our local farmers’ market.

DECEMBER 30th:  Here I am 6 weeks later to attempt to finish my previously started blog post.  The 47 meat chickens that were still in the tractors have been reduced to 9!  We somehow processed 16 ducks, a plethora of rabbits, 38 chickens, and still have 9 chickens to go even though it is almost the end of the year.  Honestly we have been struggling to wrap things up.  Not only have we had a ton of processing to do, there has also been a lot of extra “off-farm” work for both TS and I since both of us work part-time in retail.  There’s been time spent volunteering at the kids’ school, birthday parties, family Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations…  There’s been some snow days too!  We have gotten really behind on farm stuff, but have enjoyed the family time we’ve had.  I hope to update on our farm activities soon!


Backyard Meat Rabbit Workshop

We held our very first official Backyard Meat Rabbit Workshop in August!  After teaching a handful of friends on an individual level and presenting to a crowd at the Mother Earth News Fair, it only made sense to start hosting actual workshops.  I absolutely LOVE helping other people get started in raising rabbits for meat (or fiber).  Meat rabbits can be a gateway into homesteading and self-sufficiency, which TS and I are passionate about.

Our workshops mainly take place in the barn where we talk about the basics of rabbit care and demonstrate handling, grooming, nail-trimming, and sexing.  We attempted some breeding, but neither pair was “into” it – maybe it was the mid-day heat or maybe they didn’t appreciate an audience!  We then had several rabbits that were dispatched and processed.  The dispatch takes place at the barn and then we move on to the tent/tables.  Workshop attendees can watch or participate depending on their comfort level.  After the processing, we had a rabbit meat tasting and one of the attendees at this workshop brought dessert!  Our first workshop was fun for all and I can’t wait for the next one.  Email me at serendipityfarmnc@yahoo.com for information on future workshops.


Spring Updates

April and May pretty much flew by. It seems every time I start a new post I feel like we’ve been so busy that I don’t even know where to begin. I keep yearning for more time to sit in the hammock by the creek and watch the kids play or read a book, but there is always so much to do – animals to feed, gardens to weed, meals to cook, dishes to wash, and I spend a good bit of time just walking back and forth to the barn. If we ever build a new barn it’s going to be a lot closer to the house!


Rocket Kitty doing what he does best


A single wild turkey hen wandered through our yard. I hope she found her flock!

April started off with Shearing Day at Wellspring Farm, which is just on the other side of the mountain from us. I took spinning lessons from Elke last Summer and I’ve been spending some time there helping out with the young llama training almost weekly since January. I took some of my Angora rabbits for display for Shearing Day. It was a lot of fun getting to meet interesting people and see how sheep get sheared. It looks like a tough job!



We took our first beach vacation as a family since our last trip to Ft. Walton over 2 years ago. My dad and stepmother have a lovely house on Fernandina Beach. The water was icy cold but we had a great time searching for shark teeth and checking out the town and local pool. It was a really fun time with family and a nice way to start off Spring!


As soon as we got home from the beach there were 200+ strawberry starts to plant and meat chickens to butcher. We then had the first Farmers Market meeting and a visit from TS’s sister, brother-in-law, and the most adorable 2-year-old boy I know!

I took a trip to Auburn with SJ for a close friend’s baby shower. It was my first trip back to Auburn since we left. A lot of new buildings had been built, but overall it looked much the same as when we left. It FELT different to me though. I LOVED getting to see old friends, but Burnsville does feel more like home now. I am glad we are here and also glad I hadn’t visited Auburn earlier. I was very homesick for Auburn during our first few months here and it wasn’t until we had been here a full year that I started feeling at home. It’s been long enough now that I can enjoy a trip to Auburn without feeling sad about missing it.



We had many baby bunnies born in April after a long winter with very few babies born. Chicks have been arriving every 6 weeks since March so there are always a lot to take care of and just as we are butchering one batch of meat chicks another batch arrives. I got some new Welsh Harlequin ducklings for Mothers Day! We will be raising them for eggs mainly, but the extra males will end up in the freezer or maybe for sale. I got a new incubator and we are now on our third hatch after already hatching one batch of chicks and a mixed batch of chicks, keets, and ducklings!







The first weekend of May I was excited to take part in the Mother Earth News Fair! The MENF takes place in six cities across the US throughout the year, Asheville being one of them. Here’s the short description from the website:

“At the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR, you’ll discover a dazzling array of workshops and lectures designed to get you further down the path to independence and self-reliance. Whether you want to learn how to grow and raise your own food, build your own root cellar, or create a green dream home, come out and learn everything you need to know — and then some!

• More than 150 workshops from the leading authorities on organic gardening, food preservation, homesteading and livestock, green building, and natural health.
• Great deals from more than 200 regional and national exhibitors that feature ustainable products and services.
• Off-Stage Demos – With topics ranging from hands-on seed saving to building mud houses to heritage breed livestock, there is a lot to see!
• Inspirational keynotes, great food, and kids programming.”

(credit http://www.motherearthnewsfair.com)

I exhibited both my heritage breed Creme d’Argent meat rabbits and an assortment of my French and French-mix Angoras. I also did a presentation on Raising Meat Rabbits in Your Backyard. I was extremely nervous and there were a LOT of people there, but everyone said I did well and I’m always excited to help other people get started with meat rabbits. Rabbits really are the perfect homestead meat animal – they are easy to raise and butcher, the meat is tasty and healthy, and they have a low environmental impact. Plus they make great fertilizer! The MENF was really fun! I got to talk to so many awesome people and was able to advertise my Meat Rabbit Workshops that I will begin hosting in August. Details here: Workshops

Last month we had a visit from our post-college-Auburn friends! It was SO wonderful to see them! I can’t believe it had been more than 5 years since the whole group of us had been together. We used to spend just about every weekend together and now we are all in different states – AL, TX, and NC. Being with these friends again was like coming home after a long journey. I miss them so much already!


The garden is doing well! TS has put so much work into it and it shows! We have strawberries fruiting now, tons of lettuce, and TOMATOES!!! TS started our tomato and pepper plants inside the house in January. He built a geodesic greenhouse where the starts lived for another month or so, and now many of them are in the garden already starting to produce fruit. We ate our first ripe orange icicle tomatoes yesterday and they were delicious! TS may never forgive me for taking the first bite after he had done all the work, oops! I’m so sorry, babe! There’s lots more going on with the veggies that I hope TS will write about soon. The Yancey County Farmer’s Market has been going for about a month now and the Erwin, TN market just started. HS is out of school for the Summer, I just canned my first batch of strawberry jam, and the blackberries are starting to ripen! Spring is already almost over!


Early Tomatoes


The main garden in the beginning of May


Front lettuce garden


Kale and “volunteer” Dill


The main strawberry garden, chicken tractor, and geodesic greenhouse


Strawberries waiting to be picked

Spinning Fun & Fluffy Friends

I can’t believe I haven’t already written this post since I have been spinning for months now!!!  Last Summer I took weekly spinning lessons from a very talented and experienced fiber artist who owns a fiber farm just over the mountain from our farm.  I learned how to turn fiber such as sheep’s wool into yarn using a spinning wheel.  Spinning wheels aren’t just those giant wheels on display in your grandmother’s living room.  They come in many shapes and sizes and if you haven’t ever seen a modern castle-style spinning wheel you’d be surprised I can fit a spinning wheel in my little house.  I actually didn’t know for sure when I started learning to spin that I would really get into it – it just seemed a logical thing to learn to do since I already had Angora rabbits that produce fiber and I already loved to crochet.  Once I started learning to spin I fell in love with the feel of the fiber, the rhythm of the wheel, and the way spinning can be so peaceful and exciting at the same time.  Plus it’s really fun to be able to make something out of nothing but fluff from my rabbits.  Every few months the Angora rabbits will start to shed out their coat which is when it is ready to be either plucked or sheared.  I prefer shearing.  The rabbits don’t seem to mind having their fur cut off.  In fact, if I don’t cut or pluck it when it’s ready to come off they will start pulling it off themselves.  For the first couple of months I was spinning I rented one of my spinning teacher’s wheels while I scoured Craigslist daily for local spinning wheels for sale.  I had just about talked myself into spending a small fortune on a brand new Lendrum spinning wheel when that exact wheel appeared on Craigslist for a steal of a price.  It was an older model and needed a few new parts, but they were relatively inexpensive and easy to order, so I still got a great deal!

I’ve been spinning whatever fiber I can get my hands on (and afford!) for months, mainly wool and llama fiber I buy from the fiber farm, as well as several types of wool from online retailers and the downtown Asheville fiber arts store.  By November I was ready to start spinning my Angora fiber.  It’s quite a bit more difficult to spin than wool because it is so fine and only a few inches long.  It’s so incredibly soft and fine that it will just float away on the slightest breeze!  Once I started spinning the Angora fiber I started going through it faster than my bunnies could grow it!  What to do???  If you know me at all, you know exactly what happened next –  I got more bunnies!!!  I now have half the cage space in my “Bunny Barn” dedicated to my fluffy friends.  I am really enjoying having the extra few bunnies in addition to enjoying the spinning.  I really like grooming them and knowing they can be pets as well as farm animals.  Most of my meat breed rabbits I don’t get too attached to.  Even if they are breeding adults, they will most likely be a meal within a few years (with the exception of our beloved Timmy!!!).

Another neat thing about my learning to spin is that I have gotten to spend a lot of time at the fiber farm learning how to work with llamas!!!  My spinning teacher (and now friend) happened to ask one day when I was there for a fiber-dyeing-lesson if I’d like to help train the young llamas – OF COURSE!!!!!  I have always loved llamas and alpacas, and always hoped that at some point we will have some of them on our farm.  After spending a few hours every week or two going for walks with young llamas for the past few months, I have to say I am totally sold on llamas!  Alpacas are beautiful, but llamas (at least the ones I am getting to know) are quite a bit more personable.  There is something so peaceful about them.  It feels like they know me just by looking at me with those big eyes.  I don’t know how they do it, but llamas have this way of embodying both simple-farm-animal and zen-master at the same time.  Llamas (as well as alpacas) are not a species that does much touching or mutual grooming, so they do not seek to be petted like a dog would.  They are a bit more like a semi-feral cat – curious, but wanting to get to know a person a bit before approaching.  Some of them will give you a llama-kiss that will steal your heart if you let them…which I did.  I think I’m even more hooked on llamas than on spinning.  One of my dreams for our farm is to one day have some tiny guest cabins up on our ridge and have some pack llamas be part of the guests’ agritourism experience.  Maybe pack llamas could carry guests’ luggage to the cabins?  Or maybe we could find a way to do llama hikes nearby?  Or maybe I just have some fiber llamas for myself…There are lots of possibilities for the future!  For now, I’m just going to keep learning and just keep spinning!


Sheared Angora Fiber


Combed and ready to spin


My wheel and some bins of fiber


Spun Angora yarn


Freshly washed yarn


A few of my finished yarns


Winter Chickens

We have now been here on the farm for a year and a half.  It has been a challenge at every turn for us as new farmers.  It seems even when I think we’re starting to get good at something, a new problem will present itself.  We are now on our 5th batch of meat chickens and this batch has been a struggle since the beginning.  As it turns out, there is a season for everything and Winter is NOT the season for raising chickens.  We will not be doing this again for a multitude of reasons and here’s why:

  1. RATS.  Rats were a problem for us last winter when we lost several litters of newborn bunnies to either the rats themselves or to neglect from spooked mother rabbits as a result of the rats.  Our barn cats seem to have solved that problem for us since we have not had any more problems at the barn.  Unfortunately as the weather turned cold and wild food became scarce, the local rat population discovered the chick brooder.  We raised over 100 chicks in the brooder during Spring and Summer without a problem, but our chicks delivered in early October were killed by rats when they were a week old.  ALL 52 of them…in ONE night.  The rats didn’t even eat a single one.  They must’ve grabbed them one by one as they tried to take them back to the den and failed to get them out.  It was a heartbreaking sight for me the next morning, that’s for sure.  The dead chicks went into the freezer immediately and were used to supplement the barn cats’ diet over the next couple months.  We couldn’t just give up on raising another batch since we had already committed over 30 chickens to our Winter CSA as well as been approved to sell chicken at the Fall farmer’s market.  So we ordered more chicks.  However, the rat massacre set us back 3 weeks and $147.00 ($142 for the chicks and $5 for the food they ate during the week we had them).  We also had to invest another $12 in a roll of wire to cover the top of the brooder so the rats couldn’t get back in.
  2. MUD.  We went through a drought this Fall and when it finally ended, the rain just kept coming.  It was during this rainy time that the chicks got big enough to leave the brooder and go into the chicken tractor.  During the Spring and Summer, being in the chicken tractor is a great life for a meat chicken.  They get to eat fresh grass, bugs, and breathe in the fresh mountain air.  In winter, there is not much fresh grass to be had, especially since much of what was there at the end of the Summer was dug up to put in our new Septic lines or died during the drought.  So when we put the chicks out the field was mostly mud.  We knew it wasn’t ideal, but they were starting to get too crowded in the brooder so we didn’t have much of a choice.  Half the tractor is covered, so the birds had shelter and TS stacked some bales of straw at the end to provide additional insulation from wind.  They did okay for the first week but by the following week there was nothing but mud in the tractor.  These Cornish-cross meat chickens are not very smart at all and would pile into their water bowl to drink and get themselves soaking wet and muddy.  We lost a few chicks one cold night and I attributed it to them being cold and wet.  I put down some straw as bedding to get the chicks off the mud, so they could hopefully dry off.
  3. TRAVEL.  We usually don’t travel, but we decided to make a trip to Atlanta to visit my family just a few days after Christmas.  We have a wonderful friend who came by to take care of things while we were gone.  The last morning she called to tell me a few more of the meat chicks were dead.  When we got home late that afternoon I immediately cleaned out the tractor.  The straw I had put down had already been covered in mud/poop in the 3 days we’d been gone, so we ended up losing another 7 chicks during that time.  I don’t at all blame our friend – she did a great job of taking care of things.  But had I been there I could have added more bedding or moved the tractor sooner.  We put 20 of the remaining chicks back in the brooder.  The brooder has a center partition so there are 10 chicks on each side and it seems like they have plenty of room.  We left the other 19 chicks in the tractor with fresh straw bedding and still lost another one that night.  The next morning we moved the tractor out of the field and into our front yard where we still have some green grass.  We have moved it every few days, given them a tray full of wood shavings so they can get completely off the ground if needed, and covered the whole tractor with a tarp. It has been a week since then and so far we have not lost another (knock-on-wood).
  4. COLD.  The cold is mostly just an inconvenience.  It seems that as long as we keep the chicks dry, the cold doesn’t bother them.  But it does bother us people that take care of them since we have to make sure they have water even in freezing temperatures.  Most mornings I have to break ice out of the water bowl before filling it with warm water from the house.  Some days we have to do that a few times during the day as well.  Multiply that by 3 because this batch of meat chicks is now divided into 3 groups housed separately.  It’s a lot of extra work.  I am also not looking forward to butchering these guys in the cold.
  5. COST.  This batch has cost us so much more money than it should have.  We had the losses from the rats, the losses from the cold/wet, and the expense of extra bedding and extra heat for the brooder.  If we butcher the remaining 39 in a week (I hope they will be ready then!) we will have spent $205.50 on food, $35 on bedding, $142 on the chicks themselves, $147 for our rat-killed chicks that must be accounted for, and $30 for heat.  That’s $559.50 for 39 chickens or $14.34 each:  $4 per lb for a 3.5 lb chicken.  In comparison, our previous batch only cost us about $7 each:  $2 per pound.  We should break even on the ones we sell and are paying twice what we usually would for the ones we eat ourselves, NOT accounting for all the work we put into them.

So there you go.  If you are thinking of raising chicks in the winter, just don’t.  Or at least plan for them to be housed in a rat-proof indoor facility.  Or just don’t.  We will definitely not be doing this again even if it means we raise bigger batches of chicks non-stop through the Spring and Summer!



Living in the Present

So as I look through the last posts, I see that it truly has been a while since the last post by me, TS. I have noticed that I tend to store up the creative thoughts in my head like a hoarder when I really need to put them to keyboard. Oh well, things have been super busy and by the end of the day I just want some peace and quiet in my head. On that note… I have the utmost respect for all the stay-at-home parents in this world!! This is not a job for the faint at heart by ANY means. Some days it feels like we are running a circus instead of a farm.

Update on the family. The kids are doing well and by that I mean we are all still alive. Haven likes kindergarten well enough but hates that he is forced to take naps every day (this is handed down as a direct order from the state board of education.) He stopped napping when he was two! Thank goodness this is not pushed past Christmas break and hopefully the rest of the school year will be more appealing to him. He has made many friends at school and has also formed a strong bond with a girl in his class who is now his best friend. Kids are so cute! Skylar is doing well but would be much happier I think with more interaction with kids. She just turned four so kindergarten is a ways off but maybe pre-school next Fall. Sometimes when I see her with our friends’ kids her age, I see my mother in her. She is very fond of toy animals, taking pictures with our old camera, and roaring. Every day we are blessed with a new pet as she explores her connection to the animals of the world. Quite often she is a kitty that wants to protect her pretend kittens, or a velociraptor, but every blue moon she will grace us with a unicorn or some magical creature form storyland. They both are just like any other kids. Lots of energy and very headstrong. When together though they often are like oil and water. Wait, more like nitric acid and glycerol. It sometimes reminds me of a classic duel of the 1600s the way they fight. A parry here, a thrust there… then I have to take away the kitchen knives. Just kidding. One day they will each understand that the other was not placed here as the sole torment of them. One day they will be a team. And I hope to not be on the wrong side of that team.

Lori and I are well too. Stressed and layered thin, but well. We have been just about nonstop action since before we arrived here on the farm. That’s almost 6 seasons in farm-speak. There is a reason that Winter arrives when it does too. The previous 3 seasons can kill you. Take this time nature says… Reboot and reassess your goals. We just said to hell with it last Winter and pushed on through! This Winter, I hope to listen to and abide by Mother Nature. I need, we all need some time.

Animals update. We have over 150 animals at this exact moment. Nothing new, but just an expanded version of the farm. We are raising meat chickens for a Winter CSA, and to be prepared going into Spring market. Our flock of layers has grown to try and increase egg sales through the cold days. Our guineas are thriving and we have successfully raised several groups of keats. Our rabbits have had some ups and downs this year, but they are safe with the barn cats so can’t complain there. We sell about 5-6 rabbits on market Saturdays and look to grown that in the Spring, as well as chicken and egg sales. Cloud the behemoth is doing well and seems to be healthy this year with her skin. Last year she had massive itchy hotspots and we thought it was either chicken allergy or dry heat. Looks like chicken was the culprit. Kitten is still with us but spends all of her time in our bedroom. Not a farm cat by any stretch of the imagination but always very loving at bedtime.

We have had a lot of deer in the fields this year. 2 less than before the Fall started though as I have had success with my Strother compound bow. They have been feeding very well on our strawberry plants, local tomatoes, and cabbage so they are very healthy targets that help feed our family. We also had a stray horse show up one night looking to graze our yard, but thankfully Lori was not able to catch it or lead it into our barn… even though she tried for 30 minutes. No bear sightings on the property. No weasel signs since we lost the ducks. I did trap a possum but released over the other side of the mountain. Rats are a constant problem, but we are working to contain the ongoing issue.

So to be honest, I have this story building for a book I want to write. It is probably the reason I have not wanted to blog. My mind hasn’t been able to concentrate well while trying to put my thoughts down. I drift away sometimes building the back story and reasoning of the future world we may find ourselves living within, and the status of recent worldly events has also been weighing heavy on my heart and mind as I try to understand the implications of our future as a species. The confluence of those two rivers of thought have really helped me focus on refining my actual opinions of life, time, and impact. I think I always avoided forming real opinions before. Whether from fear of judgment or maybe just lack of introspection. I watched in real time as things happened around me, but never processed the reality. I watched the towers fall but failed to fully understand what that event meant for our future. I watched as greed took over conscious thought before the housing market collapsed, but never fully embraced what the long-term consequences were to the everyday people of this country. I watched myself lose the “self” aspect every day. I watched the world at every step. I watched from afar.

I act now. I try to act every day now to understand or make a difference where I can. Every action has a reaction as Newton stated, and that applies to belief as well. Where there is no action, there is no belief. Where there is no belief, there is no hope. No hope, no love. Time here at the farm has made me a believer in love. Not that silly idea of love that teenagers think of as lasting unscathed and influenced by the stars. No not that. I refer to the love that breaks down barriers between people of all perspectives. Love that humbles and love that shows the fragility of life. It’s all around us if we choose to accept it, but we must also accept the need for action on its behalf. I act in the name of love and for that, I have hope and belief to boot.

I hope to anyone reading this that you find some way to take action in the upcoming year in the name of love. Act on behalf of someone who can’t. Act out of sincerity. Act now, while you can make a difference however small. A happy 2017 to everyone. May peace prevail.