Red Onion Woodworks

My online shop, Red Onion Woodworks, is once again open for business. My sincerest apologies for the fact that there are still product photos with holly in them. I will reshoot those boards eventually, but honestly, it just hasn’t been a priority. This winter break has really been pleasant, but now that I’m feeling refreshed, I’ve jumped back into production mode. The fruits of my labors should end up in the shop soon(ish).

With the new year, I’ve been struck by this urge to purge a bunch of physical things from my life. The other day in an attempt to dismantle an abandoned blanket fort, I dumped my prized Rieger begonia and all its potting soil on the floor. The begonia survived (minus a few stems), but when I started to clean up the mess, I didn’t stop after vacuuming, dusting, and washing windows. Before long, I had multiple bags and boxes of stuff to haul off to the thrift store. I even thinned out my collection of novels, which surprised me most because I used to consider books “untouchable” even with limited space. I’ve never been a hoarder, but this tiny cabin has pushed me farther and farther into the use-it-or-lose-it, when-in-doubt-throw-it-out camp.

Red Onion Woodworks

How does my decluttering frenzy affect my business? Well, it means I’m looking to offload a stack of serving boards that’s been hanging around for a long while. These boards are all pretty, one-of-a-kind, and finished to my standard specs, but they have cracks. I’ve sold boards with cracks before, always taking great pains to make any flaws clear to potential buyers, but these ones are part of a side stash of servers that I don’t feel comfortable selling even at a slight discount. They’d be good for serving or display, but they’re not fit for serious chopping, and with significant use and abuse, their cracks might grow and cause problems.

Red Onion Woodworks

With this in mind, I’m offering up 12 serving boards at bargain basement prices. Basically I just want them out of my life and my space, and I thought it might be nice to give folks a chance to get one on the cheap instead of tossing them into the wood stove.

Here’s the deal:

Each board is $25 including shipping except the three smaller boards in the bottom photo that are only $20.

All sales are final. You know they have cracks, so treat them kinda gently.

US only.

I’ll mail them out USPS Parcel Post on Tuesday, January 21, and they’ll arrive at your doorstep about a week later. 

This is a grab bag, so you don’t get to pick out the exact board you want. (That’s what my online store is for.) Please let me know if you’d like one of the smaller ones, and the first person to express interest in the longer, thicker one (second to last photo) can have it. sold

To order one, email me at redonionwoodworks@gmail.com with your PayPal-affiliated email address, and I’ll send you an invoice. You have to pay by the end of the weekend, or your claim goes up for grabs again.

If/when they’re all sold, I’ll give you an update here.

Sold out! Y’all are awesome!

Red Onion WoodworksRed Onion WoodworksRed Onion Woodworks

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feeding honeybees in winter // Wayward Spark

In late summer when many humans are beginning to reap the bounty of their gardens and to make plans for the harvest season, honeybee colonies already have their honey stores tucked away, and they’re starting to shut down in preparation for the winter. In September, workers will still have access to pollen, but the nectar flow will wane to a trickle. It will be time for a productive queen to lay the eggs for the colony’s overwintering population. After new brood emerges in October, the busy season’s workers will die off, and the young bees will start to cluster up during cooler weather.

Because Henry knew he was going to take all his full-size hives to California for almond pollination, he, like other commercial beekeepers, stimulated his bees from late summer into fall to increase the number of overwintering bees in each hive. He offered each colony three to four gallons of sugar syrup and five pounds of pollen substitute in three feedings to simulate a nectar flow and allow the bees to rear more brood when natural resources were scarce.

Commercial bee colonies are sized graded in units of “frames of bees”. One frame 75% covered in bees on both sides is considered a  ”frame of bees”. Henry’s locally adapted bees would naturally overwinter at three to five frames, but with the extra stimulation of syrup and pollen substitute, they are boosted to around eight frames, making them rentable for almond pollination.

After feeding, Henry assessed each of his hives several times throughout September and October. He observed that some hives weren’t eating the syrup and pollen substitute, an indication of a heavy mite load and/or disease, so he factored them out of his count of rentable units, assuming they wouldn’t make it through the winter. Some of those colonies actually have survived the winter so far, but overall, his numbers are pretty much where he expected them to be, right around 100 rentable units plus about 50 nucs (single boxes). (Some singles might be rentable depending on the particular details of Henry’s contract with the almond grower.) Losses are inevitable in beekeeping, and there are always disappointments as well as pleasant surprises. As it stands now, about 10%  of Henry’s colonies have outperformed expectations, and another 10% died out unexpectedly (not including the ones he thought would die).

Between late September and the winter solstice in Oregon, a healthy honeybee queen will generally take a break from laying eggs, and the rest of the colony will just hunker down and try to conserve energy. As soon as the days start to get lighter (often imperceptible to us, but recognized by bees), the queen will begin to lay again. When he opened them up in the last two weeks, Henry observed that many of his hives already had two to three partial frames of capped brood. Worker bees are separated into different jobs (nurse, guard, forager, etc.) based on their age, and immediately after emerging from the cells, young bees take on their role as nurses, tending to the unhatched brood. It’s important that those first bees to hatch this year are healthy because they will be the ones to rear the beginnings of the spring population build up.

Henry’s bees will head to California later this week or early next week, and they’ll be on contract for pollination as early as February 10. Henry knows that his hives will have to meet the specs of his contract, so he fed “soft candy” cakes and pollen substitute again in the last week to encourage the next couple batches of brood to be larger and earlier than natural. He needs to have plenty of bees to take on nursing and other jobs when the overwintering bees begin to die off.

If a hive were left alone and not moved south, the population build up would be delayed for a couple weeks until alder pollen became available.

soft candy and pollen substitute for feeding bees in winter // Wayward Spark

The following is Henry’s winter feeding procedure. He is doing things differently than he did last year and will probably reform his methods next year. He is a relatively new beekeeper with some very non-traditional practices, some of which may be innovative, some of which might lead to failure.

Henry had bees hives in seven different locations in the Coast Range, so it took him several afternoons to feed them all.

soft candy for feeding bees in winter // Wayward Spark

Instead of the syrup that he fed in the fall, Henry mixed up a few batches of “soft candy”, a malleable concoction of 1 gallon cooking oil, 25 pounds of fine granulated baker’s special sugar, 2 mL each of lemongrass oil and thyme oil, and minerals. He formed the substance into one pound cakes. This is the first time he’s tried it, so the jury is still out about it’s effectiveness.

pollen substitute

He ordered a large quantity of 45-pound blocks of pollen substitute from Mann Lake, and cut it into 1.5 pound blobs (with a piece of smooth fence wire).

feeding honeybees in winter // Wayward Spark

In addition to feeding the bees, Henry also wanted to spend at least a short time observing each of his hives and making sure his rentable hive count was more or less accurate. Normally, a beekeeper would avoid breaking the cluster of bees by separating the top and bottom box when it’s is less than 50° out, but Henry chose fairly nice days (upper 40s) for feeding, and things seem to have gone okay.

Some beekeepers use spacers between the top box and the lid for feeding, but Henry is not fond of spacers for many reasons.

feeding honeybees in winter // Wayward Spark

He started by prying the boxes apart with his hive tool.

feeding honeybees in winter // Wayward Spark

Smoke moved the bees away from the area where he was going to place the feed.

feeding honeybees in winter // Wayward Sparkfeeding honeybees in winter // Wayward Spark

feeding honeybees in winter // Wayward Spark

He placed a cake of sugar and a pollen patty toward the front of the cluster.

feeding honeybees in winter // Wayward Spark

feeding honeybees in winter // Wayward Spark

As quickly as possible, he replaced the top box and squished the sugar and pollen into the frames by pressing down on the lid. In warm weather, the bees are able to get out of the way before getting mashed, but there will always be some losses.

Henry estimates that he was stung about 30 times during the hour of feeding the 16 hives in these photos.

winter cluster of honeybees // Wayward Spark

The size of a winter cluster does not necessarily forecast a colony’s ability to survive the winter, but Henry needs mostly larger clusters to make the grade for his pollination contract. The hive above would probably be considered four to six frames.

winter cluster of honeybees // Wayward Sparkstrong hive in winter // Wayward Spark

This hive (above) is strong, probably 12 frames. Frame numbers are somewhat subjective because the same number of bees can look more or less numerous depending on the shape of the cluster and its position in the hive.

Henry appreciates getting an idea of how his colonies look now, but there’s still another month of rearing brood and dying off before his hives need to meet the grade.

Last year, Henry took 20 hives down to almonds with his beekeeper friend Ethan Bennett of Honey Tree Apiaries. This year, he will have at least five times as many hives and will be sharing trucking with another Oregon beekeeper and filling a contract with an established California beekeeper who’s a really stand-up good guy. Henry will head to California soon for about a week of working his bees before leaving them to pollinate the almond bloom, the world’s largest honeybee pollination event.

We still have jars of Henry’s Old Blue Raw Honey with added honeycomb available online here if you’re interested.

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{this moment}

January 10, 2014 · 7 comments

dog in the woods // Wayward Spark

{this moment} A Friday ritual. A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, moment. ~ Amanda Soule

**inspired by Soule Mama’s (and Erin of Floret‘s) Friday reflections

{ 7 comments }

oat bread // Wayward Spark

A lot of folks look at a new year as a fresh start, a time to be your better self. I’ll admit that I sometimes think those kinds of thoughts. I mean, why not? A new year is as good an excuse as any to be more motivated and make changes for the better. The problem, at least for me and maybe some of you, is that January and February are usually the darkest months of the year both meteorologically and mentally. Not only is it cold and grey most days, but it’s also a time of introspection. Sometimes those thoughts manifest themselves as constructive criticism leading to an improved home life or business strategy, but other times, there is self doubt and just regular ol’ criticism of the kind that doesn’t make anyone feel better or reinvigorated. I’m not generally a depressive person, but this time of year has, in the past, been a little rocky, and I’m always relieved to start seeing signs of spring (around Valentine’s Day here in Western Oregon). Let’s just say that winter is not my favorite season.

Maybe some of you have food-related New Year’s resolutions. Well, I’ve been thinking about food a lot lately, too. That month between Thanksgiving and Christmas was a fairly indulgent one for me. Not ridiculous, not excessive, not too full of alcohol or fast food (except for four beers in California and one quick stop at In-N-Out on the way home), but there were a few too many cookies, some dairy overindulgence, and a general attitude of ‘Heck, why not? when digging into carb-loaded breakfasts or a rich dinners. Now as the darkness really sets in, I’m joining the masses in an attempt to do better. Mostly I’m shooting for less sugar (The evil things you hear about sugar these days! Geez.), fewer carbs, more water, and more greenery. Also more potatoes, which might not really make sense, but my parents have a couple hundred pounds of potatoes in storage, and even though they’re free and delicious, I rarely eat them.

After we got back from California, I had a good week of mostly at-home time without many commitments. For the first time in a while, I got excited about meal planning and preparing various different meal components ahead of time. Nothing complicated. Mostly just beans, rice, homemade bread (find the recipe for the oat bread pictured above here), baked squash, etc.. I’ve been reminded lately (from a few meals at Laughing Planet Cafe) about the beauty of a rice/beans/veggies/sauce combo.  That’s the kind of meal I could eat again and again without ever getting tired of it. Things are changing this week because kids are back in school/preschool, but I’m hoping to avoid being caught minutes before dinnertime without a plan or many options.

The last food-related issue on my docket is this caffeine thing. I’ve had problems with coffee for a while. It sometimes gives me migraines, not usually terrible, debilitating migraines, but certainly not pleasant. I’ve sworn off coffee several times now, but the smell, the warmth, and the company of coffee people has a strong pull on me. Unfortunately, the last two times I’ve fallen off the wagon, I felt crummy for days afterwards. Giving up coffee is a bummer, but it’s not a huge big deal. (I’m going to order some of Portland Apothecary‘s rooibos chai to see if it can convey that richness that most other herbal teas lack in comparison with coffee.)

Unfortunately, I’m starting to begrudgingly recognize that I might also be having trouble with chocolate as well, and I have a true love affair with chocolate. Living without it sounds terrible, but I’m going to make an attempt, a little test run to see if it makes any difference. I’ve just gotta muster up the willpower to resist, but boy, is it gonna to be hard. Ugh.

soaking beans // Wayward Spark

Beans are such a powerhouse food, and we’ve been eating a lot lately. I just have to make sure to set some soaking in the morning when I’m planning to serve them for dinner.

greens // Wayward Spark

Henry planted a ton of greens in the late fall, and though they were hard hit by the super low temperatures, they’re starting to bounce back, and we’ve been enjoying many a serious salad.
filberts // Wayward Spark

My kids and I love nuts, so Henry traded some honey for about 100 pounds of filberts (hazelnuts) in shell. We’ve been slowly cracking them at a rate of about a quart a day. I’m looking forward to making my own filbert butter, and I want to try subbing homemade filbert meal into Kimberley‘s gf “spiced winter cake with cranberries“. (Only sort of related: David Lebovitz just did a great FAQ review on almond meal here.)

eggs // Wayward Spark

We seem to be doing better at finding the eggs from our very free ranging chickens. I think all the young hens hatched last summer are laying, so we are quite well endowed.

rooster // Wayward Spark

Speaking of chickens, the roosters that hatched last summer have grown quite plump, and Henry’s been “harvesting” about two a week. Henry has this way with chicken soup that’s out of this world.

pomelo-mandarin cross // Wayward Spark

On the way back from California, we stopped at Heath Ranch Organics (again) and picked up a bag of pomelo-mandarin cross citrus fruits (now know in our house as “pandarins”) that makes the best juice.

hachiya persimmons // Wayward Spark

These hachiya persimmons had been sitting around since Thanksgiving getting softer and softer.

freezing persimmon mash // Wayward Spark

They were finally on the edge of turning into a pile of goo on the porch, so in an effort to save them, I peeled them, mashed them up a bit, and ladled the vibrant pulp into jars. All the straight-sided jars went into the freezer for future baking. I saved out the two shouldered jars for smoothies. I want to try persimmon mash in this granola recipe sometime soon.

I have some other non-food-related, mostly predictable goals/hopes for this year, too. I’d like to exercise more (mostly lap swimming and jogging) because I’m feeling like at 30 (almost 31), I really need to be setting myself up for a lifetime of good habits. I need to get my online shop in order. Some of you may have noticed that Red Onion Woodworks is “on vacation”, which has been lovely, but I plan to spend some time organizing inventory and supplies, reshooting some older boards, and cranking out a few new ones. I want apply to at least one serious craft fair this year and see how that goes. Also, I’m going to write more, here and/or elsewhere. This has been a bit of a challenge lately because a) our generator is on its last legs and is producing such wonky voltage that I can’t charge my computer at home and b) my mom bought us Netflix for Christmas and well…Netflix has some good stuff.

After saying all this, I feel like I should mention this bit of radio (skip to 4:22-5:00) that I heard the other day in which an expert claims that announcing your New Year’s resolutions publicly makes you much less likely to meet your goals, so there’s that…

Another thing that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is waste: wasted time, wasted money, and wasted resources. Here are a few of the things I’ve decided to do to cut back on waste in my life:

Quit Facebook Okay, I haven’t actually deleted my account, but I deleted the app off my phone and I unbookmarked the site on my laptop. I can still go there if I need to contact someone, but I’m hoping to put those minutes (hours) of endless scrolling through stuff that I mostly don’t care about to better use. For now, the Wayward Spark Facebook page is sitting dormant as well, so if that was the way you liked to be alerted about new posts, you’re out of luck. With the help of Henry’s cousin, I did, however, rework the “subscribe via email” system for this blog recently, so now you can get every post in its entirety delivered to your inbox. (Some of you may have already noticed this change.) If you’re a regular reader but not yet subscribed, now would be a good time to do so by signing up in the sidebar.

No New Clothes, Shoes, or Kitchen Equipment for a Year I have plenty of clothes. I have plenty of kitchen stuff. I don’t “need” any more, and if I have a rule against it, I won’t be so tempted to buy things that I only “want”. Exceptions to this rule: undergarments, exercise clothes/shoes, anything thrifted because used stuff costs a good deal less money and uses fewer resources.

Wake Up Earlier. Get Started Right Away. This is my plan. I hope to stick to it.

What about you? Do you have any waste-busting suggestions? I’d love to hear them.

On a sad note, a guy that I was once pretty good friends with passed away just before Christmas. I hadn’t seen him in years, but I have the most vivid memories of his crude, self-deprecating humor and endless charm. He was SUCH a good guy, and he leaves behind a wife (my once-upon-a-time friend Katie) and two kids, the youngest just two months old. Despite time and distance, I was devastated by news of his death. A fund has been set up to help support Katie and her kids, and I would urge anyone who feels moved by his story to donate even a few dollars. Money is not going to bring him back, but I do hope it can help his family move forward.

One last unrelated thing: We tapped our maple trees on Monday, January 6. We probably should have done it earlier because last week’s weather was perfect for moving sap, and this week is a lot warmer, but oh well. I’ll give you a real update soon, but I know there were a few West Coast folks that hoped to collect sap this year, so here’s your heads up. Now is the time.

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{this moment}

January 3, 2014 · 4 comments

outdoor sink // Wayward Spark{this moment} A Friday ritual. A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, moment. ~ Amanda Soule

**inspired by Soule Mama’s (and Erin of Floret‘s) Friday reflections

{ 4 comments }

Bolinas, CA // Wayward Spark

Happy New Year, everyone! We’ve been having a few relaxing catch up days at home after a week exploring Point Reyes in California with Henry’s extended family (same folks as in this post plus an extra aunt and uncle and a day visit from Henry’s cousin, cousin in law, and their two kids).

Point Reyes is a small peninsula northwest of San Francisco in Marin County. Aside from a few small communities (Bolinas, Inverness, Olema, and Point Reyes Station), the land is mostly under the protection of the National Park Service. There are so many geological, ecological, social, agricultural, demographic, and economic factors at play in this area, making it a fascinating place to see and try to understand. We had a number of very heated discussions about these issues, and though nothing was settled among our group of non-stakeholders, it gave us a lot to think about. (What is wilderness? Can anyone protect “wilderness”? Can the national government protect “wilderness”? How does agriculture fit into the ecosystem of Point Reyes? Can Point Reyes farms be profitable? With limited resources, can they be truly “sustainable”? What does “sustainability” mean anyway? How is the California drought affecting ecosystems as well as farms? Where does tourism fit in?)

Aside from the debates, we filled our days with hiking, cooking, eating, laughing, tide pool prowling, sand castle building, window shopping (in Point Reyes Station–too cute!), more cooking, more eating, beer drinking, and board game playing. It was the perfect kind of vacation.

Bolinas, CA // Wayward Spark

Agate Beach near Bolinas

Bolinas, CA // Wayward Spark Bolinas, CA // Wayward Spark

I posted a few photos of our trip on Instagram, but for the full, un-curated version, see @el_ee, @sueph52, @rlharmon, and @allen0285.

sea snails // Wayward Spark fish and chips feast // Wayward Spark

We ate a lot, and we ate well. Breakfasts were pancakes, waffles, lemon curd, yogurt, granola, good bread with good jam, and fresh fruit. We had two lunches at Cowgirl Creamery in Point Reyes Station, and both were stellar. There were also a couple of epic picnics, one at the Bear Valley Visitor’s Center and another at Drake’s beach on Christmas day.

The day before we arrived, the rest of the gang stopped in at Marin Sun Farms for lunch. While they were eating, several different customers came in asking for a “mystery box” of meat. Intrigued, Henry’s relations decided to go out on a limb and purchase one also. When I think of a meat mystery box, I imagine a bunch of hearts, tripe, and liver or some of the lesser desired bits of animal. At Marin Sun, however, any cuts that sit in the case unsold after a few days get thrown in the freezer and sold at deep discounts in “mystery boxes”. We ended up getting 13 pounds of pork chops, tenderloin, belly, and a roast for $20. Sold fresh, it would have cost about $200. We heard that “mystery boxes” may not be available all the time, but if you happen it be a meat lover in the area, you should definitely pop in there and inquire.

I’m not that big on pork in general, but I have to say that Henry’s posole was delicious (#barehandbbqing), and the rest of the pork was served alongside healthy big doses of fresh or roasted vegetables. There were always too many cooks in the kitchen, but somehow the meals were prepared, the kitchen got cleaned up, and every one was satisfied.
Stinson Beach // Wayward Spark

Coming from the dreary Willamette Valley of Oregon, the sunshine and warm weather felt glorious. The ocean water was still too cold for my taste, but Charlotte was happier than I’ve seen her in a while prancing (along with Henry) barefoot through the surf at Stinson Beach.beach time // Wayward Spark beach time // Wayward Spark heeler by the fireplace // Wayward Spark

We stayed in a large but comfortable rental house in the “town” of Inverness. Kit was happy to come along.

elk at Point Reyes // Wayward Spark

There’s a herd of about 450 Tule elk living in various areas on Point Reyes. We saw groups of them several times, but there were a ton hanging around when we went hiking at Tomales Point. Tule elk almost went extinct a while back (read the Wikipedia article here), but they were reintroduced to Point Reyes in the late ’70s and have been thriving ever since (though with what must be severely limited genetic diversity).

Tomales Point // Wayward Spark adventuring // Wayward Spark

elk at Point Reyes // Wayward Spark survey marker at Tomales Point // Wayward Spark

Here’s a cool survey marker we came upon at Tomales Point.

sandcastle building // Wayward SparkAs a group, we made a couple of large sandcastles (above at Drake’s Beach), and each time, random people would periodically walk up and gawk at us like they’d never seen a sandcastle before. I don’t know if it was the actual sandcastle, the intensity of the building (pretty serious), or the fact that it was mostly adults working on the project, but their reaction was kinda weird. Don’t people build sandcastles on beaches in California? Isn’t that a regular occurrence?

The drive to Point Reyes and the one home to Oregon were rather long (~10 hours) and not that pleasant, but it was totally worth it. There was even some half-joking, half-serious talk about picking up and moving down to a farm in West Marin. I don’t think it’ll happen anytime soon, but that sunshine was sure enticing.

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{this moment}

December 28, 2013 · 1 comment

beach // Wayward Spark

{this moment} A Friday ritual. A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, moment. ~ Amanda Soule

**inspired by Soule Mama’s (and Erin of Floret‘s) Friday reflections

{ 1 comment }

the end of an era

December 17, 2013 · 21 comments

nubian goat // Wayward Spark

I’ve come to a realization that in order to maintain a level of sanity and scheduling stability, I have to regularly let go of hobbies and commitments that take up significant amounts of time. About a year ago, I quit doing photography, writing, and social media for Gathering Together Farm (a job I really enjoyed), and in August, I passed on my role as rental coordinator at my local Grange. I though that giving up these activities would provide an abundance of free time to fill as I pleased, but unfortunately, that was not the case. With the start of the school year came drop offs and pick ups, conferences, parent club meetings, and evening programs. The cuts had to go deeper. And now…after seven years, I’m giving up the goats.

I did not come to this decision lightly. I never even considered ending my dairy run until a couple months ago. Those routines were firmly embedded in my life, in my identity. Milking is also probably the most homestead-y thing we’ve got going out here (that I’m responsible for at least), and for the most part, I really like it. But once I had the idea, once I realized how much time (and money) I could save by not milking, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

I think when I first moved out here to be with Henry, I had a lot more romantic Little House in the Big Woods visions. Since then, I’ve come to my senses just a bit (except in regards to maple syrup. I have definitely not come to my senses over maple syrup.) When I started milking my first goat, Bella, I found it to be the kind of endeavor that I could really throw myself into physically and mentally. It was a challenge, and everything was new and exciting. I needed to have something other than mothering to focus on at least for a while. Milking isn’t shiny and new for me anymore, and I have a laundry list of skills and crafts I’d like to try out if I ever had any extra time. Milking has become just another chore.

Here are a few of my thoughts about the pros and cons of this decision making process:

We don’t have cow milk allergies. We’re not raw milk enthusiasts. We’re not even milk connoisseurs. We do have access to high-quality, relatively inexpensive milk available at several local grocery stores.

I do not love kidding time. The kids are adorable, of course, but the preparations and the birth itself (and the potential complications after) are stressful. Seven years in, I still don’t feel very qualified to handle some of the situations I could end up in. Learning new goat midwifery skills is interesting, but it’s certainly not fun, especially when the outcomes are bad. And bad outcomes hit me pretty hard.

Dairy animals (most livestock in general) are for folks who pretty much NEVER want or need to be away from home overnight. As a person who only RARELY wants or needs to be away from home, it’s still not a good fit. Maybe it would work if we had a neighbor that was really into goats (which we don’t), but I feel like asking someone (even Henry) to milk for me is just too much. Even if someone were willing to do it, they’d never do it just the way I wanted. Henry’s brother homestead-sits for us on occasion, and though I really appreciate it, I’m always so relieved to be home afterwards and able to put things back in order. Is this partially a problem with me being anal about my milking program? Most likely, but that’s not going to change any time soon.

I love our little goat barn, but I don’t love our “pasture” setup. First off, it’s not super convenient to get into the fenced area, and because of that minor barrier, I don’t spend as much time communing with my goats as I should. My goats also don’t have a large area to forage or run around because of the layout of our property and the fact that Henry has cool natives and ornamentals planted everywhere. This means that my goats eat dry hay almost exclusively, which is more expensive than forage and doesn’t offer the kind of seasonality in the milk that I’d like to experience.

For about six months outof the year, I spend a fair bit of time every day working on goat and dairy-centric activities. I do chores and milk every day, and I make cheese or yogurt often and wash ton of milky dishes. That said, if I were really into it, I would spend even MORE time training and grooming goats and brewing up more advanced cheeses and dairy products. I feel like after seven years, I’m only half invested time-wise. I should either go all in (several hours per day of taking my goats on walks, cutting fresh forage for them, developing different types of hard cheese, etc.), or I should get out. Because I don’t have other things in my life that I’m willing to give up for the sake of my goats and my dairying aspirations, I think the better thing to do is get out completely.

Producing our own milk is definitely more expensive than buying good milk. We spend over $500 per year on hay (and that’s big bales of clover that we have the infrastructure to handle and store instead of small batches of more expensive alfalfa) and more on grain, veterinary supplies, and barn upgrades.

The milk from one goat milked only once a day is too much for our family. We do drink and cook with milk, and we do eat a lot of cheese at home, but I also give a LOT of cheese away. My friends and family love this about me. I kinda love it, too, but when I really pencil it out, it’s hard to justify the amount of time and energy I put into it if I’m giving a good portion of the product away.

This would be a good place to say that there is no part of me that wants to (or has ever wanted to) turn my milking and cheesemaking into any kind of a businesses. That would be logistically impossible and highly unpleasant. Period. Dairying is a just a very time consuming, complicated hobby for me.

***

I will probably never be able to eat fresh chévre again if I’m not making it myself. For reals. I’ve had too many people tell me that my cheese is the best they’ve ever had, and other creameries’ goat cheese is just so dang expensive that it doesn’t seem worth it. That said, I’ve probably already consumed a lifetime’s worth of goat cheese already, so maybe I don’t need any more.

I like the way telling people I have a dairy goat gives me instant street cred (of a sort). I’m no expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I like having a depth of knowledge on a subject (cheese specifically) that people are interested in but know almost nothing about. I like being an educator on the biology, chemistry, and animal husbandry of dairying.

I like milking. I like the rhythms and routines. I like that keeping goats gets me out of the house even just for a little bit every morning. I like cuddling with healthy new kids. I like the taste of my own chévre and yogurt. I’m proud of what I’ve learned and what I’ve accomplished. But there are other things that I like, too, and I have to remember that time spent on goats is time taken away from other interests and endeavors.

At this point, my biggest worries about the decision to get rid of my goats is about who and how and when. In my experience, I’ve found selling goats to be fairly difficult unless you send them off to the auction or a livestock buyer. The private market for goats is relatively small. Most folks who already have goats, have more than enough of their own goats, and if they’re going to buy new ones, they usually want particular breeding lines or registered pure breds. Bella is actually registered, and the rest of the herd are the product of her bloodlines crossed with a registered buck, but we never went to the trouble of filing papers for them. Most folks who currently don’t have goats are not looking to get goats. I’m hoping to find an individual or family that’s been thinking about getting a solid but not particularly fancy dairy goat. There are not a whole lot of individuals or families in this position, even fewer who are localish.

I am so very thankful that Henry’s already found a new home for Bella, my original doe who served me well and gave our family plenty of milk for four years. I feel like I made a commitment to her to let her live out a long retirement here on the homestead, and now I’m sort of breaking that commitment. The thing is if I’m not going to have a milking goat, I’d rather not have any goats at all, not even an old, retired pet goat. Knowing that Bella will be moving on to a good home where she’ll be cared for and loved (and not eaten), is a huge relief and lets me rest much more easily with my decision.

I still have to sell my dairy doe, Minnie, who’s bred and due to kid in late March or early April as well as her two kids from last spring, Teela and Bow. I’ll probably put up an ad on Craigslist, even though I haven’t had much luck selling goats that way before. I’ve heard about folks getting positive results from classified ads in Capital Press, a weekly western ag newspaper, so I might try there as well. Or maybe YOU need a nice dairy goat? (hint hint, nudge nudge)

I hope this isn’t the end of my dairying experience. Maybe someday when life circumstances are different I’ll get goats again, or maybe I’ll find a place to help out with a friend or neighbor’s dairy animals without having to make such a big commitment. Even if I don’t venture back into dairying, I have no regrets about this seven-year run. It’s been pretty good.

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Old Blue Raw Honey sampling and sale // Wayward Spark

You should listen to this clip from The Splendid Table in which Marina Marchese makes a case for buying honey directly from beekeepers. It’s a little highbrow and maybe not quite 100% technically accurate, but it covers pretty much everything Henry and I have been saying (and doing) for a while.

This is an event for sampling our honey, tasting our oranges, admiring our cutting boards, and chatting about homestead activities. Come see us, eh?

If you need a reminder or want us to know that you’ll be there, you can RSVP via Facebook here.

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{this moment}

December 13, 2013 · 2 comments

homestead // Wayward Spark

{this moment} A Friday ritual. A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, moment. ~ Amanda Soule

**inspired by Soule Mama’s (and Erin of Floret‘s) Friday reflections

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