Homestead Roots Newsletter - 3/7/2024

Treating our chickens for lice, busted for illegal soup, homestead business ideas

Homestead Roots Newsletter - 3/7/2024

I did some traveling this past week. I flew to Colorado with my brothers and parents to celebrate the life of my uncle who passed away suddenly. It was a wonderful celebration of a great man. As a homesteader, who doesn't get out much, these trips are always pretty eye opening to me. All the people you see in airports and big cities and all their stories. It's a bit overwhelming. The trip was a blessing but so was the homecoming. I was only gone for 36 hours but so thankful to be home. We've worked hard to turn our home into a sanctuary. A place we don't need to get away from. I am very thankful for that. Enjoy this weeks newsletter! I hope you find it useful and engaging. As always if you have questions or want me to address a certain topic simply reply to this email.

Sap Season is Over, Chicken Drama

This years final syrup production. It was a weird, but good year.

We finished up our sap season by cooking off the last of it this past weekend on another beautiful day. All went smoothly! With the cooking happening on a weekend I enjoyed spending time out there and trying to find the most efficient way to cook the sap. With a process like sap, small adjustments can make a big difference. One of the days we cooked the kids tried to add long pieces of firewood thinking it would cook the back pans faster. However, those long logs wouldn't burn at the back of the stove. Likely because there wasn't enough oxygen back there. They basically turn to charcoal and then just take up space and cut off airflow for the actual fire. We also were adding too much wood when we restocked the fire. It meant we were cutting off a bunch of the heat and interrupting the boil while the next layer of wood caught on fire. I added to our notes to keep the fire focused under the front pans, if the fire is going good the back pans will boil. And to add wood more frequently leaving gaps between the fire below and the wood we are adding to the top of the fire. The key is just keeping that fire hot to keep the sap boiling as hard and as long as you can. We finished with 5 gallons of beautiful syrup. It is delicious stuff, just a little smoky with no aftertaste. We got all the sap stuff put away and are ready to move on to our next projects.

I did a little detective work with the flock and we discovered they had lice. Ick. Thankfully the lice can't transfer to us.🙂 I went in and picked up a hen and pushed aside her feathers and there were little bugs on her skin. We had this happen once maybe 5 years ago when we had a small backyard flock. We have this now on our radar again so hopefully it doesn't take so long to discover next time. Our local farm supply store had a couple of products to treat the lice. So we used them both. I would catch the birds, Ingrid would dust them with powder and spray them down and then Elias was manning the door to allow me to toss them out of the coop once they were treated. It wasn't a fun job but the job is done and hopeful the lice move along. Prior to treatment we were getting a few more eggs, up to 6 in one day. We should be getting closer to 50-60 so we have a ways to go. Sometime this spring we will be culling out a few of our older hens to reduce the size of our flock. We will slaughter and then cook them down for both stock and shredded chicken which we freeze for easy meals and soup. We often skip freezing the birds and just process them right away.

Some Ideas for Earning Income on the Homestead

In the last few issues we talked about the importance of creating some sort of homestead business. You can look back HERE and HERE. Today I want to throw out just a couple of examples for you. These examples of course are just from my head and my experience. I hope you are able to use them as a launching pad to discover your own path forward. There are so many paths you can take. No matter what you choose make sure you do the math to make sure it is economically viable. I see many people putting in time and effort and only earning a small amount. Value your time, labor and skills when you are pricing your services or items.

The first option I will speak to is the path my family chose. When we were first starting our homestead we grew a garden and had more vegetables than we could eat or store. So we put out a sign and started a farmstand. Over the years this little project has morphed and is now very much a business but early on it was just us selling the excess. That money helped offset the costs of starting our garden and buying seeds. Likewise when we decided to start raising pigs we started with 2 pigs. We kept one for ourselves and sold the other in 2 halves. Selling the second pig paid for all of the expenses and we made a little extra to support infrastructure improvements for the next year. Eggs are of course another option here. Make sure you price your eggs fairly! Hatching eggs, baby chicks, honey, maple syrup, etc. are also good ways to earn money doing homestead activities.

One concept that I have mentioned to more than a couple homesteaders is the option to produce and sell bulk canning items. The most notable here is tomatoes, but you could also do pickling cukes, potatoes, and winter squash. In our business I am stunned at how many people are actively looking for these types of items. Tap into your network of homesteaders who may not have the space or time to grow bulk food and sell them bushels of tomatoes for canning, salsa and sauce. Or cucumbers for pickles. The nice thing about this option is it gives you a way to get your feet wet and test the market. Let's use tomatoes as an example. My favorite bulk canning (paste style) tomato is Plum Regal. It is a determinate, grows great and produces a ton of fruit. So you plant more of those than you need and take care of them like you do your own. When the tomatoes start to ripen you put up a post on FB marketplace or Craigslist and offer bushel boxes of tomatoes. If you are nervous about selling them all, start posting it early and start a waiting list. Then when tomatoes ripen you contact your waiting list and move them along. People come to you to buy. It is simply taking something you are growing and commercializing it. Start small and work your way up.

Another idea would be to put your equipment to work. If you buy a skid steer or tractor and mini excavator for your homestead you can then offer your services using those tools for other people. You would likely want to do a little work to set up a business and get some insurance before doing this work but it is a good way to put your tools and yourself to work.

These are just a couple ideas of ways to earn a little money for your homestead. There are a million ways to do it. If you ever want to toss around ideas feel free to reply to this email and I would love to help!

SOPs for Success

Seedling update! Germination is going well!

If the acronym SOP just made you shudder you might come from the corporate world.🙂 SOP stands for Standard Operating Procedures, it is a system of organization and processes that allows things to be done in a consistent manner. I recently brought this up to Ingrid for our market garden. We are now working to create specific SOPs for our most high profile crops. In a perfect world, any person could walk into the garden with that SOP and plant a perfect bed of lettuce or carrots. So we are now working to create a detailed sheet of instructions for each of these crops. As we grow and hire in help or put our kids to work this just allows us to do the work consistently. We also forget year to year how to do things so the SOPs should help keep us on the right track in doing things the same way every time.

The reason we are doing the work is to try and eliminate some crop failure. Last year was a great year but we still had issues with crops not germinating well or not being cultivated on time or even not being harvested right. Making a record of how to successfully achieve this work and then following those directions closely will hopefully eliminate some of the failure and lead to more success in the garden. We will let you know how it goes!

The Great Tunnel Collapse of 2019

Bergen with a monster sunflower!

Beautiful tomatoes.

As I spoke about last week the most dramatic event of 2019 happened when our high tunnel collapsed due to snow load in February 2019. After rebuilding the tunnel we had a pretty successful growing season. Back in 2019 we were still leaning heavily on tomatoes so getting them in late due to rebuilding our high tunnel was a bummer. I think we were about 2 weeks late getting them into the ground. I believe 2019 was the first year we had our 3 door glass front fridge. We got this unit from a commercial flower farmer, it was insanely heavy, and it is still going strong today! It really helped our business look more professional. In 2019 we started partnering with some friends to sell more veggies, they ran a CSA and had excess veggies and started selling with us. We did a simple consignment arrangement and split the earnings. For us the benefit was just having a full farmstand, as we were still pretty small scale.

2019 was also the year we started partnering with my brother and his wife, selling their flowers at the stand. Their business is Farm to Fist, we still enjoy selling their flowers to this day. The remainder of the season was really strong for us. We still depended on tomatoes to carry us but we began to figure out salad greens and some of the other crops that are our big staples today. I was reminded as I looked at pictures that 2019 was the year we were reported for selling illegal soup. HAHA! We were doing meal kits with soup, salad, bread and cookies and someone reported us to the county health department because our soup wasn't made in a commercial kitchen. Since then we have only cooked soups that are legal with high acid ingredients like tomatoes. Today our homemade tomato basil soup is a great seller! People still ask about the Poblano Corn Chowder, and Chicken Wild Rice soup we were making back in the day.

2019 was a great stepping stone for us and our garden business. Our earnings were still pretty meager but we were easily paying for all our expenses and really learning what it means to grow on a commercial level. Our customer base grew in 2019, but it was nothing like what would happen during the pandemic year in 2020. We will talk about that in our next issue.

Thank you as always for reading and for following along on this journey. As always I would love to hear from you. If you have questions or suggestions just reply to this email and I will be in touch.