Old Timey Learning: Making Soap

When we were first planning our big move, I had soap-making in my mental list of things I wanted to learn.  I’m not sure why exactly.  Soap and it’s cousins shampoo, body gel, and lotion had not been high on my list of priorities since the Bath & Body Works craze of 1995.  I didn’t know much about soap-making, other than what I learned from watching “Fight Club” about a hundred times throughout my 14 years spent with TS.  It’s one of his favorite movies and after I’d seen it a couple times I mostly quit paying attention to it when he’d turn it on.  It was only in the last couple years that I came to appreciate the anti-consumerism sentiment as well as some of the other themes behind the fighting.  Anyhow, sometime during the end of our first long winter here I started learning to make soap.  I’m still learning.

Soap is made when a chemical reaction occurs between a fat and sodium hydroxide (lye).  That chemical process is called saponification and if you have the proper proportion of lye and fat all the lye is used up in the saponification and none remains in the finished soap.  This is important because lye is caustic!  It will burn your skin, as will soap that isn’t fully saponified.  In the old timey days, whoever made soap (which was at least someone in every family) would take lye made from wood ashes and combine it with rendered lard leftover from cooking.  While I do render my own lard/tallow, I have yet to try to make soap with it.  I have been using a variety of vegetable oils and nut butters, mainly coconut oil, palm oil, castor oil, and shea butter.  I purchase my sodium hydroxide online because I have zero interest in trying to make it from wood ashes.  I need a more mathematically predictable process.  Yes, soap-making involves math.  Each type of fat, oil, nut butter, and the like have a different “saponification value” which is the amount of lye needed to convert it to soap.  So what you do when you create a soap recipe is decide the percentages of each ingredient you are going to use, multiply them by the sap value of each, and add it up to arrive at the amount of lye you need.  Even though I do somehow remember enough middle-school-math to do this, it is way quicker and easier to use an online lye calculator.  It’s also safer because a small error in math could mean lye-heavy caustic soap or superfatted soap that will go rancid.  A small percentage of extra fat can be good for your soap, so you can also adjust the superfat level using your lye calculator or middle-school-math.

Once you have your recipe ready and safety gear on, you mix your powdered sodium hydroxide with water.  Most recipes say to use distilled, but I’ve had great results with our tap water which comes from our mountain-spring-fed well.  The mixture will heat up due to a chemical reaction between the sodium hydroxide and water, which is at that point called lye.  While it’s cooling you weigh out your other ingredients, melt them down, and then let that cool a bit.  When both the lye and the oils are around 95 degrees, you mix them together using a constant whipping or a stand-mixer or stick blender until the mixture starts to thicken and then pour it into a mold.  It takes around 24 hours for it to get hard enough to turn out of the mold and cut and then the soap needs another 4+ weeks to dry to be fully cured and ready for use.  It sounds easy and it sort of is, except that any tiny thing can go wrong and ruin the soap.  Measurements can be off, the temperature can be wrong, the mixing may not end up complete, etc.  It takes time and practice.  My first batch came out of the mold a crumbly mushy lye-heavy mess.  I’m not sure what I did wrong, but it was bad.  My second batch turned out okay.  The third batch was squishy.  It took a lot of trial and error and recipe-tweaking to produce consistently good soap.   I’ve made 1-4 batches of soap per week in the months since and I still have an occasional soap fail.  My most recent fail was gray and off-smelling and looked like concrete.  But most of the time I get nice results and I really enjoy the process.

What do I do with all this soap?  Two things: we use it, gift it, and sell it.  We always have a bar by the bathroom sink and a few in the shower.  The kids love to pick out their own bar of soap from the drying rack.  I have gifted many soaps to family and friends who have visited in the past few months.  I also sell it at farmers’ markets.  I first sold it at the market here in Burnsville (along with my homemade bread) until the board determined that soap and bread (among other things we were selling) were already “covered by other vendors” and therefore no longer allowed.  I tried a market in the neighboring town of Spruce Pine, but the small clientele were mostly only interested in produce and the hours didn’t work well for my schedule.  Then I found out about a new farmers’ market starting up in Erwin, TN.  We are only a few miles from the NC/TN border and Erwin is not far past that.  So I joined the Erwin market and sales were good enough that I went every week up until the last couple weeks of October when it started getting cold and dark earlier and the market slowed down dramatically.  I’m excited to be going back when it starts up next Spring.  My experience with Erwin has been great!  The group of people who started and run the market are super nice and welcoming, as are the people of Erwin in general.  I sold a bunch of soap, lotion, lip balms, and salves and got some regular customers.

Now that the farmers’ market is done for the year I have a couple events lined up in Burnsville.  I’ll be vending at the Christmas Ornament Craft Festival on November 19th and the Christmas Extravaganza on the 26th, both at Burnsville Town Center.  I’m really looking forward to selling soaps here in town!  Hopefully sometime soon I will also have an online store set up so I can sell my soaps to non-locals.  I’ll share my online store as soon as I get it up and running.  If you want to buy some now, email me at serendipityfarmnc@yahoo.com.  At some point I’ll have to write another post about making LIQUID soap.  It’s a much more complicated process and my first attempt boiled out of the pot so fast it covered the floor with a hot caustic soup before I could get it under control.  Thank goodness for rubber gloves – safety first!


Fry Pan Bargain

We have now raised and butchered 3 batches of meat chickens and have another batch in the brooder.  I did an in-depth cost analysis for the first batch which I posted here: MEAT CHICKENS  Unfortunately I did not keep quite as detailed records for the next 2 batches, but I’m going to use what I do have to compare them as best as I can.

Our 2nd batch was much like the first.  We ordered Rainbow Ranger chicks from Meyer Hatchery, which are basically the same thing as the Red Ranger chicks from Murray McMurray hatchery.  Since we saw a marked difference in carcass weight between the male and female Red Rangers, I bought just males this time.  I ordered 25 at $2.56 each plus $14.99 shipping.  I chose not to vaccinate them this time.  It seemed like a waste to vaccinate chicks that were going to live in a fairly controlled environment and be in the freezer in just a few months.  We did get 2 extra chicks with our order, so the total purchase was $78.99 for 27 chicks or $2.92 each.  That’s a $.68 less per chick than our first batch.

With our first batch we used a 250-watt heat lamp which used a lot of energy.  My estimated cost for energy for the heat lamp was $42 for 6 weeks, or $1.17 per chick for that batch.  I was excited to discover an alternative to the heat lamp – the Premier One Heat plate shown here:  https://www.premier1supplies.com/p/heating-plates-and-covers?cat_id=226  It was pricey, but uses about 1/3 of the power and is much safer!  Heat lamps have been known to catch fire and burn down homes and barns, so it was well worth the price for the peace of mind and energy savings.  We also did not have to have the heat on for the chicks full time since the weather was warmer.  The heat plate was on constantly for only the first 2 weeks.  After that we ran it only at night for another 3 weeks.  So it only cost about $7.00 to keep the chicks warm, which is a $35 savings for this batch.  We had our laying breed chicks and meat breed chicks all in the brooder together (total of 52!) and still used just one bag of shavings for bedding at $5.  Price per meat chick for heat and bedding was only $.23!

Starting cost:

Batch 1: $4.91/chick, Batch 2: $3.15/chick, savings of $1.76 per chick!

These chicks had the same crazy appetites as the first batch, and ate the same amount of food except that half of them had an extra week to grow just because we were crazy busy this Summer and didn’t get all the butchering done right on schedule.  I’m estimating the number of bags of food we went through based on the numbers from the first batch.  We did however use a combination of the natural feed from Tractor Supply at $17 per bag and non-GMO, non-Soy feed from our local co-op $18 per bag.  Two chickens died at about 8 weeks old, so our feed price per chick that made it to butcher is for total of 26 chicks.

$90.00 for 5 bags non-gmo feed (18.00)

$154.00 for 8 bags all natural feed (17.99 + tax)

Total feed cost: $244/26 = $9.38 per chick

$3.15 starting cost plus $9.38 to feed = $12.53 per chicken

Divide that by an average weight of 4.33lbs and our price per pound of meat comes out to $2.89 per pound!  That’s much better than the $3.45-4.05 per pound price for our first batch!!!  We saved money on the chicks, the heat, the feed, and came out with more meat because we raised all males and didn’t butcher any early.  It was a really successful batch.

For the 3rd batch, I wanted to try something different.  I believe I wrote at some point about how the Ranger chicks are so different that the laying-breed chicks.  All they do is eat desperately and they don’t seem to act like regular chickens.  I felt bad for them.  Part of the reason we are raising our own meat is to ensure that the animals have a decent life before they become our food.  So I decided we would try some heavy-breed chickens that were traditionally raised as dual-purpose (meat and eggs) chickens before commercial meat chicken operations came into existence.  We ordered what’s called the “Fry Pan Bargain” from Meyer Hatchery.  It’s an assortment of heavy-breed roosters at a bargain price.  They do not get as large as the Ranger chickens and they take longer to reach butchering size, but they consume a lot less food.  Here are our costs for that batch:

The chicks themselves truly were a bargain at only $.60 each!!!  Again I did not have them vaccinated.  We ordered 26 chicks and received 28, and our price per chick including shipping was only $1.12!!!  The heat cost and bedding cost were the same at $.23 each.  We didn’t lose any chicks after losing one the first week.  We used exclusively the Tractor Supply natural feed cause we missed the ordering deadline for the co-op.  We butchered these chickens at about 18-19 weeks old.  They did eat a lot less, they did act like real chickens, and they need longer to grow.  Our assortment consisted of Rhode Island Reds, Barred Rocks, Australorpe, and a single Blue Ameraucana.

Total starting costs $1.35

12 total bags of Tractor Supply natural feed $231 comes out to $8.55 per chick

Total cost per chicken $9.90!

They did butcher out at lower weights than the Rangers, even with the extra few weeks of growth.  Our average weight per dressed-out chicken was only 2.5 pounds.  That brings our price per pound to $3.96 which is at the higher end of what we paid the first time.  However, these guys seemed like a lot more work because we had to feed them and water them and move their tractor daily for an extra 6 weeks.  They also had a lower percentage of breast meat which is what our family would prefer to eat the most of.  Plus butchering was just as much work, but for less meat.  Labor “costs” were higher for this batch.  And since they act like real chickens and grew up more they had started crowing and scrapping with each other a little in the last few weeks.  Overall the Fry Pan Bargain was not a bargain for us.  Perhaps if we raised them free-range and they were able to forage enough to cut down further on feed costs it would be worth it, but that’s not an option for us with our current set-up.  However, one advantage to this batch was that we actually ended up with a few laying hens!  We got 4 females by accident!  One Australorpe, 2 Barred Rocks, and the single Blue Ameraucana are all hens.  The Ranger females weren’t worth keeping because they ate so much food so they were really just a meat breed.  But getting a few female dual-purpose chicks is like getting a bonus!  We moved them to the barn to join the laying flock as soon as we started suspecting they were hens and they are now very close to laying age.  If I were to sell them now I could probably get $15-20 each for them.  Because we got those extra hens, I was able to sell more of our laying breed pullets than I initially had planned.  If I take that into account as part of the value of the Fry Pan Bargain, it would bring the price per pound down enough to make this batch totally worth it.  However, since I wouldn’t want to count on getting a “bonus” again, we will probably not order the Fry Pan Bargain again.  It was just too much more work and didn’t save us any money.  I can be okay with the not-quite-fully-chicken-acting Rangers.

We are now a couple of weeks into our 4th batch of meat chickens, this time the CornishX Franken-chickens!  I am very curious to see how our numbers turn out with these fast-growing-eating-machines.




Farm Products – Fall/Winter 2016

Rabbit – We have rabbit meat for sale! We are at the Yancey County Farmers Market most Saturdays or you can purchase from us right here at the farm. Email Lori for details serendipityfarmnc@yahoo.com $5 per pound whole and $6 per pound quartered. Rabbits range in size from close to 2 pounds to over 3 pounds. Never cooked rabbit before? We have recipes and tips to help!

Chicken – Our newest batch of chickens is mostly reserved for our CSA members, but we should have a few extra. Email to reserve one or join our CSA!

Eggs – available fresh daily from the farm, $4 per dozen

Fiber – beautiful and soft angora rabbit fiber available by the ounce $8.00

Handmade Soaps – available at the Erwin, TN Farmers Market every Tuesday evening, Hall’s Hill Farm Store in Newland, NC or purchase here at the farm $4.50 each or 2 for $8.00. Lotions, lip balms, and sugar scrubs also available!

Top 10 Things I’ve Learned Our First Year

It is hard to believe we have been here an entire year.  I remember when we made the decision to “head for the hills” back at the very end of 2014 it seemed like each step took forever.  Getting home repairs done, selling/donating half of our possessions, selling the house, finding the farm, packing, moving, hanging out at my mom’s house in Atlanta while waiting and waiting and waiting to close on the new house…all of these things were part of the process that now seem like distant memories.  It’s been a crazy first year here on our little farm in Appalachia.  These are the top 10 things I have learned:

10.  Kids are adaptable.

Our two kids are now almost-6 and almost-4.  They have adapted to farm life amazingly well.  HS still misses his friends in Auburn and talks about a few of them occasionally.  He still talks about going back to Auburn to marry a certain girl from his preschool class.  Both kids occasionally ask about their friend who lived next door to us at the time.  But they both accepted the changes to their lives enthusiastically.  Our daily routine, the places we went, the home we lived in, people we saw…  those few constants in their lives all changed at once.  I know that was hard for me even though I knew and understood the reasons behind it all.  I am so proud of how well these kids not only accepted the changes but also kept their enthusiasm about it all.

9.  Living as a family of 4 in 816 square feet isn’t that bad.

Really.  It seemed nuts at first to go from a 2600 sqft house to a 816 sqft house.  But really when we started paring things down, we found that there was a lot that wasn’t too hard to let go of.  We are actually still decluttering and letting go of possessions that have no physical or metaphorical place here.  Visually this house is a lot more FULL than we’d like, even when all the toys are picked up and all the dishes are washed.  (Have I mentioned we do not have a dishwasher?)  TS and I have a shared love of interior decorating that is very modern and minimalist which is NOT currently a reality for this house.  But this house is plenty big enough for us and what we need and we do not have any plans to add onto the house at this time.

8.  Predators like chicken too.

Chicken is yummy.  I don’t think I know anyone who eats meat that does not like chicken.  Predators know how yummy chicken is and I do have reason to be concerned about this.  We have lost chickens/guineas to weasels and owls.  Our neighbor lost a large number of chickens to a fox.  Something unknown left evidence of a chicken kill in our field recently.  When I go down to the barn each morning, I spend a few seconds worrying there will have been a massacre during the night and have a happy moment of relief when the barn yard is carcass-free.  This is also related to #7.

7.  Sometimes Livestock = Deadstock

When you have animals, you have death.  This is an unfortunate reality.  While we do butcher almost all our own meat, we have also lost quite a few chickens and rabbits to other causes.  In addition to the previously mentioned predators, we have also had rats kill baby bunnies.  We lost several chickens to intestinal parasites and one to mites.  We lost more than a few rabbits to enteritis, intestinal parasites, and toxic plants.  This is another one of those things that the kids have had to adapt to.  SJ has no problem with the butchering and actually gets excited about eating our own.  HS doesn’t like it, but will still eat it.  They both get upset when an animal dies unexpectedly but know that is the way of things.

6.  Politics SUCK.  No, I’m not talking about the train-wreck that is our current presidential election.  I’m talking about small town politics.  In many small towns (such as ours) it really makes a difference who you know and how long you’ve been around.  That’s not to say the people aren’t nice and welcoming – most of them ARE.  But even so there have been several times the local politics have come into play for us.  Participating in the local farmers’ market has been one of those times.  We learned quickly that if we wanted to be a part of the system, we had to play by some rules that didn’t necessarily make sense to us.  We have also learned that in a place where everyone knows everyone, it is hard to be new and in conflict with someone who is already established in town.  At the moment I can’t be very detailed on this right now, but I’ll try to get the point across in the following hypothetical story.  Let’s just say we decide to build new barn because the old one is falling apart.  The person who built our barn is offended that we think the barn isn’t good enough and upset that we blame them.  We try to get a contractor to build the new barn and get a permit from the city to build it, but no one wants to build the barn or give us the permit because they are a friend-of-a-friend or cousins with the original barn builder.  Instead of saying that they don’t want to be involved in our project, they just don’t return calls or make things difficult to schedule for months and months.  This is something similar to what we are actually dealing with, it’s just not about a barn.

5.  Complacency Happens.

I don’t like to think about it or admit it, but I have gotten used to seeing the beautiful mountains around me and a sky full of stars at night.  When we first got here I was in awe of all the beauty of this part of the country.  Now there are times I have to actually remind myself to go outside after dark and just look at the stars.  I sometimes forget how miserable I was stuck indoors when I was working full time.  I used to spend a few brief moments outside on those gorgeous Spring days in Alabama when the sun was shining but it wasn’t too hot (they do exist!).  Now I get to be outside almost all the time, doing what I love, with the people I love.  I don’t want to forget to be thankful for that.

4.   Proximity Matters in Relationships.

Moving to a new place far away from friends and family is difficult.  As much as we love and miss everyone, it is difficult to maintain relationships when we are so far away.  We have missed weddings and other big events during the past year.  I want our friends and family to know we love and care about you all even if we can’t be physically there.  We want to maintain these relationships in whatever capacity is possible, even if sometimes that just means sharing a text message conversation or facebook photos.  In addition to being far away from everyone we used to hang out with frequently, we have animals and gardens here that need daily maintenance.  We would love to travel and see our distant friends and family more but it is not possible at the moment.  We are working on a farm-sitting trade that will hopefully help with that.  If anyone wants to come visit us, we are happy to have you!  We are also making friends here who we would like to spend more time with.

3.  There is just NOT ENOUGH TIME in a day.

TS and I both work part-time from home.  One would think that not working full-time would give us plenty of free time to spend on our farm projects, but the reality is there is ALWAYS something to do when you have a farm and there is ALWAYS something to do when you have kids.  We have both.  We are BUSY.  Yesterday while TS was cutting up beans to can and I was peeling what felt like a bottomless bowl of carrots from the garden, he asked me “How did people back in the day DO this?” and I truthfully do not know.  It takes quite a bit of time to do all the canning and freezing to preserve the bounty from the garden, even on a small scale.  I have been feeling stretched very thin this Summer.  I know I am feeling overwhelmed when my “near-constant-stream-of-ideas-for-new-projects” has not made an appearance in my brain for months.  I actually do not know that that has ever happened before.  Soon tomato season will be over and HS will be in Kindergarten, and things will maybe slow down here a little.  I hope.

2.  I will always miss Auburn.

I almost can’t talk about Auburn without getting a little misty-eyed.  I spent half of my life there.  I met my husband there and we lived there for our first 10 years of marriage.  We bought homes, made friends, had children there.  The sound of the stadium on a game day, the toilet paper still blowing in a Fall breeze through the Oaks the morning after a win, a “chipmunk hunt” in the Arboretum with HS and SJ, lunches at Niffers, hanging out with “Margaret” and “Rita” after work with my Surgical Clinic girls, cookouts and climbing parties at our Opelika house with the old group…  I miss them all so much.  I could easily list 50 more things but I’d rather quit now and move onto my #1 thing I have learned in our first year here.

1..  There is Nothing Else I’d Rather Be Doing!

Seriously.  I get to spend almost all my time with my husband and kids, outside, in the country, with animals, and eating good food.  Sure, it is a lot of work.  There are things we have had to sacrifice and things we “do without” on a regular basis.  But we are doing what we want to be doing.  We have more enthusiasm for life.  I feel strongly that our time is being well spent, that we are doing something that truly matters for TS and I, that will have a positive impact on our kids, and that we can feel good about on a spiritual level.  People may think we are crazy.  And that’s okay.  Farming/homesteading makes us happy and gives us a true sense of purpose.  Whatever that thing is for my friends, I support you.  Let’s all seize the day!


Harvest Time

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The garden is producing like crazy and we are harvesting daily.  Cucumbers and peppers are ready to be picked every 2-3 days or so.  We harvested most of the tomatillos but there are still a few still waiting to be picked.  The bush beans are done, but the pole beans are still producing.  We gave up on the broccoli – we pulled the sunburnt and pest-eaten plants and planted seeds for a fall crop in the middle field.  There are still collards, kale, and strawberry spinach to be picked and carrots to be dug.   Almost all of the potatoes have been dug.  We did our best to pick as many of the wild blackberries as we could which meant braving the thorns, heat, ticks, and poison ivy on the brushy hillside about every other day for 2 weeks.    TOMATO season has begun and I am picking pounds of tomatoes every other day.  Our corn seems to be growing well and there are small ears on every plant.  All but one small patch of lettuce has bolted and dill has gone to seed.  We still have more beautiful rainbow chard than we can eat.  We have dug up a few onions, but the rest are still growing along with the leeks.  The strawberries got a little deer-eaten but are now protected by row covers.  The asparagus bed is full of tall fern-like asparagus plants.  It’s in need of weeding, but an active yellow jacket nest is currently keeping me out of the area.  The garlic cloves I impulsively stuck in the ground last Fall and forgot about actually grew into useable garlic bulbs!  The cabbage plants are finally forming heads but I have no idea if they will be edible – there were so many cabbage moth eggs on them that they could be full of caterpillars.  Overall, our first growing season has been a success, even without the use of any synthetic fertilizers or insecticides.

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All this harvesting means I am spending lots of time preserving food.  I am pickling, jam-making, canning, blanching, and freezing at least SOMETHING just about every day.  Many of the potatoes have been made into a delicious soup for the freezer.  The tomatillos became many pints of salsa verde.  I have lost count of how many pints of pickles we have.  We haven’t harvested our corn yet, but Trav bought some beautiful corn at the and used it to create a delicious corn chowder.  I made as much blackberry jam as I could while the wild blackberries were producing, but we are gifting it and eating it so fast that it will be gone soon.  I have overcome my fear of the pressure canner!  There are a lot of things that are not safe to be water-bath canned, but can be pressure-canned, like beans, potatoes, corn, and meat.  The pressure canner is the only way to safely can those items.  We are eating many of the tomatoes fresh, but a lot are going into tomato sauce.  We have plenty of basil, oregano, and Italian parsley as well!

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We have other projects going on as well – increasing rabbit production, yarn-spinning, soap-making, and other things that I will have to write about later.  I have tomatoes waiting to be processed!


June Update

It’s officially Summer on the farm and we have been busy.  We started the month off with a visit from some of our Auburn friends.  It was a great weekend of catching up on what’s been going on with them and us in the year since we last saw them.  How I wish we could convince them to move here!  We took our first trip to Mt. Mitchell with them.  Mt. Mitchell is the tallest peak East of the Mississippi.  The drive up there is just beautiful, with many overlooks along the way.  By the time we reached the top, it was rainy and cold despite the weather being sunny and beautiful below.


The next couple of weeks were full of gardening and butchering.  My mother came to visit for a few days, I continued working at The Littlest Birds in Asheville 1-2 days a week, and we butchered our first 25 meat chickens of the year.  We worked hard to get our display and products ready for our first week attending the Yancey County Farmer’s Market.  We sold our farm-grown radishes, collards, lettuce, eggs, and homemade breads and soaps.  I did the baking and soap-making and TS did the set up and selling.  The garden has been hit or miss.  The radishes, lettuces, and beets have grown amazingly well!  We definitely have more radishes and lettuces than we need.  The beets are so good I ate them all by myself in about 2 days.  I don’t know if it’s because they are home grown or if it’s the variety we chose, but they are so sweet!


The collards, broccoli, and cabbage are getting eaten by green caterpillars (cabbage worms?) and something that looks like a cross between a ladybug and a stink bug.  The kids and I have been picking the bugs off once or twice a day and giving them to the chicks.  The chicks love them and the kids are having fun with it, but it’s an on-going battle that I hope to avoid next time by using row covers.  The green caterpillars are eating the purple kale as well, but they are so much easier to see and pick off when they stand out against the purple leaves.  We will definitely grow this variety again!  We have picked just a few tasty cucumbers and peas.  The deer have eaten many of the leaves and bean sprouts off our pole bean trellis, but the bush beans in the main garden are growing well and look like they’ll be ready to pick soon.  The corn is getting tall and we have lots of green tomatoes and small peppers growing.  The tomatillo plants are covered with paper-lantern looking husks that have baby tomatillos growing inside.  The blueberries are starting to ripen and the wild black raspberries are being picked and eaten by the kids before I can get them for jam.  We have dug our first few potatoes.  It’s like digging for buried treasure!

We were excited to be approved to sell our rabbit meat at the farmer’s market, but our grow-outs (young rabbits soon to be butchered) got enteritis.  We lost 6 total out of our 15 that were to be butchered this month.  The 4 we butchered for market last week were on the small size but still sold quickly.  We’ll butcher the rest in two weeks and I’m pretty confident they will be a good size and easy to sell.  We are in the process of expanding the rabbitry.  I have some new Silver Fox breeding rabbits and a new pair of Crème D’Argents that I picked up from a new friend in central NC.  Unfortunately, it looks like rabbit is going to be the only thing we are able to sell at the farmer’s market this year.  After our third week at the market, the powers that be decided our soaps, breads, and veggies were items that are already “covered” by established members of the market so we are no longer allowed to bring them.  They have suggested pickles and berries as two items the market needs, but at the moment our berries are just getting started and I’m required to complete some sort of pickle school before being allowed to sell pickles.  We are hoping to have berries to sell next year.  I’ll consider pickle school when/if our cucumbers take off.  In the meantime we are going to take as much rabbit as we can when we can and look for other outlets for selling our eggs and produce.  We have a few leads on other markets and a new CSA forming.

Our Guineas Ana and Christophe hatched two keets and for a day or two they were the most adorable family of four.  However, both of the keets were lost quickly.  One we found under an overturned food bowl – he was quite overheated and dehydrated.  We tried to save him, but it was too late.  I purchased a few additional keets in hopes to expand our flock.  They are hanging out in the brooder with a bunch of laying hen chicks for another few weeks.  Ana almost immediately started a new clutch of eggs but hasn’t started setting yet.  I’m not holding my breath.

We made a few new friends in June and opportunities are expanding.  I can’t believe it has been almost a year since we arrived!!!

May Update

I know, I know, it is almost July!  We have been so incredibly busy lately that I haven’t had any time to blog.  Spring on the farm is a busy time – the garden is growing!  We have brush to clear, over 150 animals to tend to, and of course the kids need our attention, too!  I’ve been doing a little part time work at a friend’s baby store in Asheville so I can help out while her family goes on a much-needed vacation.  It’s not all work though – we have had several fun visits with family and friends and spent a lot of time playing outdoors with the kids.  These are some photos from May.  I’m sticking to May today because I want to make sure I don’t lose the fun memories of this month.  I’ll get to June later!


This was my table at a natural baby expo I attended in Asheville.  After lots of time spent making everything for the expo, I am mostly on a break from my toy-making!


Our washing machine broke!  TS was able to fix it, but we used this little hand-crank washer while we were waiting on parts to come in.  It was great for doing really small loads very quickly, but not something I’d want to have to use all the time!

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A chimney swift visited for a few days, but moved on after we pestered her too much!

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The meat chicks grew fast!


A few of the 2nd batch of meat chicks


HS with his favorite chicken.  Her name is Sadie and she is a silver-laced Polish.


This is where the meat rabbits spend their last few weeks growing.


The tadpoles in the pond finally started growing some legs!


Potato plants


Baby Lettuces and chard


The carrot and radish bed


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Our first radish harvest!  I didn’t realize how fast radishes grew.  They went from seed to popping out of the ground in a month!


TS watering the main garden.  This was during its infancy.  Everything is much bigger now!


Baby blueberries


Baby peaches


Pole beans just starting to reach for support


 Our Welsh Harlequin ducks at about a week old

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Here they are again at about 2-3 weeks old.  Ducklings grow larger much faster than chicks, but take longer to feather out.

Most of the month of May on the farm consisted of PLANTING and weeding.  Our last frost date was the first week of May, so that’s when we started sowing seeds directly into the garden as well as transplanting the seedlings that we’d started indoors.  TS has also spent a lot of time mowing and clearing brush.  It is ridiculous how fast all the wild vegetation came back.  The rocky hill that the kids could play on during the winter was completely taken over by poison ivy and bramble by the first week of May.  About that same time we lost our line of sight to the top of our ridge as the brush grew and the trees leafed out.  We have a burgeoning forest of Poplar saplings on the hill that TS is cutting down as he finds time.   After a slow winter the rabbits finally started breeding like rabbits and we had several orders of chicks arrive so our animal population really exploded!  I feel like June has been even busier.  Overall we are working really hard, spending a lot of time outdoors, and trying to make time to stop and play/relax when we can.  It’s wonderful though and I definitely don’t miss winter!  More updates soon (I hope!).

***If you’re not already following us on Instagram, please do!  TS is Serendipityfarmnc and I am Farmgirl_Lori***

Controlling the Flow

This post is dedicated to an ongoing project of mine that started back in October 2015 with the first shovel of dirt that would become our 1,600+ GAL pond.

See we have a love/hate relationship here with water… We chose this area because it has a strong supply of that which is seemingly going into shorter and shorter supply in the world. Here there is no shortage of H2O! So we needed mechanisms with which to control this resource. My idea was solid but it has changed, adapted, and grown exponentially over the past 6 months. It started with our pond.

A modest 500 GAL pond created with little digging on a spring that travelled through our front yard turned into a future duck pond of 1,600 GAL or so. It took a lot of digging, several tons of rock from around the farm, and 5 months (through Winter even) to get to here. I really like building ponds if you couldn’t tell…


Once Spring arrived the idea of creating a large-scale irrigation and watering system connected to this was heavily on my mind. See we can’t use the creek water for our animals because it is polluted from straight-pipes from homes on up with you know what. We want healthy animals because eventually they will be eaten by us! Plus, Lori was having to carry many jugs of clean water everyday to the barn 200 yards away for the animals. This was not what she wanted to spend her time doing!! So I created a plan…


Above is a quick diagram of what has been installed. It looks convoluted because, well, it is. We have three tapped springs that I have dammed and fitted with 3/4″ overflow pipe. Spring one is the main and never goes dry, while springs two and three loose some flow in the Spring/Summer. The main spring runs to a 55 GAL barrel that has a spigot (located at the bottom of the barrel) that heads to our main garden for watering. It also has an overflow tube that travels to a 275 GAL tank. See below:


This is our main containment tank for irrigation. It feeds our lower garden with a constant supply of clean, fresh water and overflows into our pond. Springs two and three also lead directly to the pond to maintain constant pass-through. You can see I have not be able to successfully attach a pipe to the output on the tank and have had to improvise with a 1 gallon, gravity-fed funnel. Please don’t laugh now. The tank was gifted to us by a neighbor and was flipped 100 yards horizontally, and 40 yards vertically into position on the hill above our house. All in a good days work.

The overflow here travels another 350 feet to the lower garden’s 55 GAL barrel which again has a spigot to a watering hose for the strawberries and potatoes. Then another overflow that leads to barrel #3 for instant access at the barn. The last overflow is channeled around our barn and exits into our creek.


This entire system is completely gravity-fed along the more than 1,600 feet of tubing and hose. There is likely 100 feet of drop from top spring to exit at the barn. Much of the tubing winds through our woods and is surrounded by poplar saplings, mountain rose bushes, blackberries, and all sorts of wonderful heavy growth like this:


So back to the pond now… with all three springs feeding our pond, we have established a wonderful ecosystem that self-filters and aerates. Our tadpoles are thriving and our ducks will have a great place to play and grow. There is an added bonus to the pond as well. There are two overflows that serve two completely different purposes. The main drain actually feeds into a 14′ long, 6″ wide feeding station (salvaged from neighbors) for our laying chickens which can be expanded as more coops are built. This will serve as a frost-free watering station this Winter when normal watering stations freeze over and need constant attention. Nothing like dealing with frozen water bottles twice a day in 10 degree weather; for 3 months!

The secondary drain on the pond will lead into what will be our new, water-thirsty garden located in front of the pond. With any luck, this will give us more time to spend tending to other projects and less time watering. Weeding though is a whole different animal though. Below you can see our waterfall that aerates the pond and gives off a pleasant sound.


I love that we were able to use this great, CLEAN source of water for so many uses and I look forward to refining my work in the future. Nothing quite beats when nature and farm work so well together!



Our First Hatch

We recently had our first hatch here on the farm!  For Christmas my mother had given me a gift card to my favorite online-order hatchery Meyer Hatchery (Thanks, mom!) which I used to purchase an incubator for hatching eggs.  Hatching eggs in an incubator is a pretty simple process really.  The digital incubator I got has an automatic egg turner and digital thermometer and hygrometer for monitoring the temperature and humidity.  All I have to do is put the eggs in, set the temperature, add water to the tray, and wait.  The waiting is the hard part!  We started with 9 Muscovy duck eggs gifted from our neighbors, 18 mail-order Silkie chicken eggs, and another 12 eggs from our own hens to fill up the turner – 39 eggs total.

The development process of the chick is really cool.  A hen lays an egg several times a week or even (almost) every day with the most productive laying breeds.  If there is a rooster around, they fertilize the eggs by mating with the hens before the eggs are laid.  Once laid, the eggs are in a sort of dormant state.  I don’t know the scientific terms.  You can put them in your fridge or cook them and they’ll be just an egg.  If the hen is “broody” she will lay a clutch of eggs over a period of several days and then sit on them.  “Broody” is what it’s called when a hen is committed to setting and hatching a clutch of eggs rather than just laying them and forgetting they exist.  Commercial egg-laying hens like Leghorns have their natural mothering instinct bred out of them and therefore do not go broody.  For example, my Leghorns lay eggs just about every day but don’t have a care in the world about those eggs after the fact.  In contrast, one of my Lavender Orpingtons is sitting on a clutch now.  When the hens are brooding (also called setting) a clutch of eggs they stay with them 24/7 other than the few minutes once a day or less that they leave to eat and drink.  They will puff up and squawk at any threat that comes near.

So back to the incubator…  Eggs from chickens that don’t hatch their own can be hatched by a broody hen of a different breed or an incubator.  It’s also convenient for hatching larger numbers of eggs than a hen will hatch on her own.  You keep the eggs at room temperature (or cool, but not cold) til you’re ready to put them in the incubator.  Freshly laid eggs are best, but properly stored fertile eggs will remain viable for up to 10 days or sometimes longer.  Then you put them in the incubator which warms them up and the development starts.  If all goes well, chicks hatch in 21 days.

How did our hatch go?  None of the duck eggs hatched.  Muscovy eggs are notoriously difficult to hatch in an incubator.  They take 35-38 days to hatch, so we started them before the chicken eggs.  I don’t know if the temperature or humidity wasn’t quite right for them or they got too cold before putting them in the incubator, or if they were too dirty and bacteria got in the eggs and messed things up.  Some developed partially, some didn’t, but none made it close to hatch.  Only one of the 18 Silkie eggs hatched.  The ones I opened had no development or very little.  I think they either got too scrambled or too hot/cold during shipping.  The breeder I bought them from is sending me another set, so we will try that one more time.

Out of the 12 eggs that got from our own hens, 10 hatched!  That’s a pretty good hatch rate for the eggs that I know were freshly collected and properly handled, so the incubator works.  Chicks hatch slower than I would have thought.  We heard a few tiny cheeps from the chicks within the eggs late Thursday night and a lot more cheeping Friday morning.  When chicks start their hatch they make the first “pip” or tiny hole in the shell and then take a rest for several hours.  Then they work on that hole some more, first making it a little larger, and next using that hole to start a longer crack, and working their way towards the opposite side.  They push on both ends and when the crack is large enough the egg splits open.  That part takes around 30-45 minutes if I remember correctly.  They are wet and slimy for awhile afterwards, but eventually dry and look like chicks.  We had our first egg pip at around 10:00 at night and the chick didn’t fully hatch til 6:30 the next evening.  We were able to see that first chick complete his hatch and it was really exciting!  The second chick was completely hatched not long after the first and the next morning another 3 or 4 were out.  By the following evening the last chick had hatched and I was able to open the incubator and move the chicks to the brooder Monday morning.  We lost one chick to a deformity shortly after he hatched, but ended up with a total of 10 chicks.  There were a few Ameraucana/Leghorn and Ameraucana/Orpington mix, plus the single Silkie chick and 4 Naked Neck chicks!  Yes, Bill F. Murray the rooster is a father!  We sold the Leghorn and Orpington chicks and kept the Silkie chick and Naked Necks.  The incubator got cleaned and is now holds 14 Guinea eggs!  It takes up a good chunk of my work space, but it’s worth it to see the chick hatch.  Hatching eggs is very much like being a kid on Christmas morning!  There’s a lot of waiting, excitement, and surprise!




Goodbye Fluffy

With some sadness and some relief we said goodbye to our beautiful Ameraucana rooster Fluffy yesterday.  He had become increasingly more aggressive in the past couple of months.  I knew we were going to have to take him out but I kept putting it off in part because I wanted some chicks from him and Corabelle and in part because I just didn’t want to kill him.  We’d had him since shortly after we moved to the farm and I’d gotten attached to him.  Up until the last couple of months he and I had a good relationship even though he was ready to attack anyone else who was brave enough to enter the chicken run.

Yesterday SJ and I were headed back from the barn when we saw Fluffy and a few of the hens had escaped the chicken run and were sauntering down the “path” towards us.  They were pecking through the weeds and looked happy to be on a stroll, so I wasn’t immediately alarmed.  I told SJ to stick close behind me and we walked towards the hill to give Fluffy a wide berth.  But instead of continuing on their path, Fluffy came towards us.  I got SJ behind me and got ready to face him.  Roosters attack with their spurs – inch-long claws on the back of their lower legs that are sharp and hard.  They jump in the air and kick those daggers forward and it HURTS if they hit you.  They can break skin through jeans and put holes in rubber boots.  I was wearing shorts.  Each time he jumped at me I kicked him back, but he just kept coming.  TS heard SJ screaming (from the back room of our house halfway across the property!).  He came running outside in his boxers with a broomstick in his hand and swatted the rooster away from us so I could get SJ back to the house.  TS managed to get the devil bird back into the chicken run, but I was DONE.  I brought TS his gun (and his pants!) and that was the end of Fluffy.  I hate that we had to kill him, but dangerously aggressive roosters just don’t belong on our farm.  He’ll make a good meal and hopefully the Fluffy/Corabelle eggs that our Lavender hen is brooding will hatch.  We did have some chicks hatch in our incubator last weekend, though the duck eggs did not hatch.  More on that later!