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Monday, February 17, 2014

So, it's still winter.

      I would be a liar if I said that I didn't complain about living in Ohio from time to time.  I've been here my whole life but some things I just can't seem to get use to.  The horrid, hot, humid summers we have top my list.  The bees love that kind of weather and I really try not to complain, as long as we're getting a good honey flow.
     Now, one thing that you certainly will not hear me complain about is the reality that most years we get to experience the four seasons in Ohio.  I say most because there have been some years where spring and/or autumn somehow manage to get skipped.  Thank you, climate change.  Overall though, we get all four seasons.  I would go a bit nutty...well...more so than normal, if I didn't get to go through those transitions.  Perhaps this is the nature girl, earth mother, hippie chick side of me coming out.  Maybe it's simply because I enjoy the changes the seasons bring.  I can't really put my finger on it and honestly, it doesn't really matter.
     I especially look forward to autumn.  The leaves, the smells, the landscapes...pure delight.  We had a pretty nice autumn this year and then WHAM......winter arrived.  I am SO SICK of this freakin' cold weather!  We have had more snow this winter than I remember in years.  I should say, I actually like the cold, snow, and just winter in general, but this is rediculous!

The view from out our back window today.  Brrr......
     Alright, that's enough random Rachel chatter.  On to the main point of this posting!  What do farmers like us do during the winter?  We get asked this all the time.  Well, for starters we burn a lot of wood.  A LOT. In my opinion, nothing beats wood heat.  We are lucky enough to have a large earth stove that just cranks out the warmth.  My parents put it in the house over 30 years go when they were building the place.  It's older than me!  We use a lot of good oak and black locust wood for really hot burns.  They are some of the best.  You never want to use any type of evergreen in a wood burning stove due to the sap these trees produce.  It smells good, but it's not good for your stove or your flue.  Plus, many tend to have very soft wood that just won't burn very hot.
     Making sure there is a good, dry, steady supply of firewood is a year-long task.  You can't just go out into the woods in September, chop down a tree, and think you're going to have wood that burns well in December.  The woods needs at least six months to a year to dry and season properly so it burns the way it needs to in your stove.  Burning wet wood not only leads to dangerous creosote buildup, but it doesn't burn well at all.  It just smolders, hisses, and spits.  So please, make sure you are using dry wood when you burn.

Our woodshed.  Sorry for the glare...

Willow insisted on standing right in front of the wood I wanted to get a picture of.  This is a giant stack of wood cut this year curing out for next year's fires.
     Winter also brings the need for extra attention to the livestock.  They feel the cold, too.  We bed the sheep and goats down on extra straw during the cold months.  In our situation with fiber animals, it's also our job as the caretakers to make sure we don't clip off their fleeces too close to the cold season.  Our animals really need clipped twice a year to keep their coats tip-top for spinning.  This tends to happen in March and then again in October.  It can be a fine act of timing to get sheering done in the fall while leaving enough time for the animal to grow enough of a coat to stay warm on the coldest winter nights.  This year, it didn't happen.  Not in the autumn.  The gentleman that has clipped our animals for awhile now seems to have vanished.  The autumn came and went and their fleeces stayed on their bodies.  So now, they will wait until spring.  I'll just have some extra-long fiber to work with.  That's not always a bad thing!  And to be honest, it's been kind of a blessing for them since we've gotten down into the negative digits a few days this winter.
       Keep livestock in a draft-free barn.  It's amazing how warm an animal can stay with the right amount of straw and no drafts even on the coldest nights.  The flip-side of that is how fast a healthy animal can die if they're too exposed to the cold and wind, even inside a barn.  Also, look into heated water buckets or some type of heating element to keep their water from freezing.  Trust me, both the animals and the person giving the animals their water everyday will thank you!

One side of our barn.  The door is mostly closed to keep as much wind out.  Again...sorry fort he glare!
      This time of the year we tend to feed all of our animals extra.  The sheep and goats get plenty of good quality hay and supplemental feed.  We also keep a sheep/goat mineral block available free-choice.  They don't consume anymore than they need.  The animals are burning more calories to stay warm and I want to make their job easier.  Plus, I reap the reward in their fleeces come spring.  The fiber grows out so nice!  Even our dogs and cats enjoy a food bowl that has a bit extra than in the summer months.  Mix that with warm beds inside and lots of straw in the barns, our animals are well loved.
       The honeybees are hunkered down in their hives, clustered into a giant ball beating their wings to produce heat to keep the colony warm.  The key here is making sure there is enough food, i.e. honey, to make it until the first nectar flow of the spring.  Supplemental feeding is sometimes, okay... frequently, needed.  I like to make my own feed for my bees.  I will make up my own sugar syrup to feed and then mix in beneficial essential oils to help give a leg up.  Sugar patties can also be used.  Sometimes despite your best efforts, a hive just doesn't make it through the winter.  If they do die, you can buy replacement packages of bees or try to collect a swarm in the spring and early summer months.  I have a gut feeling I may loose a hive or two this year.  Looks like I'm going to be ordering some bees!
      So, what else???  Well, we eat off of the bounty that we grew and preserved during the year.  I love this part!  We are rewarded for all our hard work weeding, chopping, and then preserving, with wholesome, hearty, and nutritious food that we raised with our own hands.  I love that the kids get to experience how to grow and save food.  I want them to realize that supper doesn't just come from the store in town.  I watched my parents preserve from my earliest years and now my kids get to experience the same thing.  I sure hope they appreciate it!

Freshly canned sauce and crushed tomatoes from the garden.  So much better than that stuff in the cans at the store!
      We're already planning the crops for next year.  I like to get our seeds ordered in January.  Some plants needs a long time to germinate and get started.  Many of the flowers we like to grow have to be limped along.  Sometimes I wonder why we bother!  It's just that if you start and grow your own you have access to so many different varieties that you can't get at a garden center.  Once the blooms come in the summer, it's makes it worth the effort.  Or at least I say that now......Ask me again in a few months....

A couple of the many catalogues we order from every year.  Decisions, decisions...
Come spring this is one of the garden spaces that will get filled with veggie plants.
      Me personally, I spend this time of year doing a lot of crafty things.  It's a good time for me to spin, make soaps, knit, and get some reading done.  Now, I do this all year long, but winter just lends more time since I don't have to be outside as much.  I also really enjoy the fact that the family seems to spend more time physically together.  We're not all getting pulled in so many directions.  
      I think it's pretty obvious that people who farm don't just sit around during the cold months while the gardens lay quiet.  There is so much to care for and plan for the upcoming year and thereafter.  The plants and soil are resting and building up strength for the moment they realize, the days are a bit longer and the warmth has started to return.  It's all part of Mother Nature's master plan.  We live in such a crazy, chaotic, technological, mechanized, industrialized, sterilized, commercialized world.  I think too many of us loose sight of the fundamentally natural and normal parts of life, and the great world we live in.  A bee on a dandelion.  Spring lambs enjoying their first taste of flower.  Digging in the dirt.  Enjoying a good, wholesome, home-prepared meal.  Walking barefoot through the grass.  Enjoying the simple warmth of a fire.  The taste of that first sun-ripened tomato.  The ability to actually see the stars in the night sky.  Family.  For me, these are just a handful of things I can think of right now that make me so thankful for the life I am so fortunate to have.  God willing, we can continue to grow and enrich our lives even more with the simple things that nature provides, should we choose to pay attention, accept, and enjoy it.  

God Bless,
Thursday, January 30, 2014

We moved the farm!

This post is WAY overdue, but it's big news...Prairie Fields Farm has moved!  Let me tell you, this was no small task.  When I moved to the small farmhouse I spent the last eight years in, it was just me.  Just me and a few kitties.  This time it was me, a husband, three children, dogs, cats, sheep, honeybees, and EVERYTHING that goes with them.  Moving is stressful enough when you're just going from a standard single-family home to another.  Moving a FARM is in class all by itself.  I am so glad it's over.

We had needed to move for a long time.  We were in a very small, very old little farmhouse on the family property that my grandmother very graciously let us live in.  The family has always called it the Little House and it is just over 130 years old.  With it's age came deterioration.  Despite our constant fixing up, the poor house was just telling us it was ready to die.  Let it go.  Mix into the equation the complete lack of space, we had to get out of there!

We spent many hours looking for farms that were for sale both here in Ohio and out of state.  We found a few we liked.  One we loved.  Despite our best efforts, none of them became ours.  We didn't really know what we were going to do because we were out of time.  We had to move.  Well, just when things looked about as bad and dire as they could, my mother and brother had an idea......Why not move back to the main homestead and original farm?  What?!  The house I grew up in?  Really?!  We just never entertained the idea before because I always believed my brother wanted to take over the main house.  As much as he loves the place, he decided he would rather give us the opportunity.  I really do have a pretty rad brother!  Matthew and I had to chew on the idea a bit, but we couldn't look past all the potential and opportunity that the main farm had to offer.  The open grassland, the woodland, the gardens, the barns and room for livestock, the space for the children and the business.  We would have been stupid to have walked away in the hopes of finding something else.  We agreed, and in October we made the move. 

My childhood home.  I admit, I've missed this place.

The barns and some of the gardens.

A piece of our front yard.  Plenty of room to play!

Some of our animals enjoying their new, albeit snowy, pasture area.
It's so nice to be back in the home I grew up in.  I missed the woodwork and the rustic design.  My mom and dad built this house with their own hands back in the early 80's.  Do-it-yourself was all the rage then.  It kind of reminds me of the current movement going on.  It's really quite special to me knowing my children get to grow up in this house, too.  

Mom seems to enjoy having us here and we all help each other.  Since dad passed away, she can't run the farm on her own.  It would just be impossible.  My brother moved back and lived here during these two years that dad has been gone, only to move back up the the Columbus area a few weeks before we moved in.

We are truly blessed.  So many would give so much to be able to have a farm like this.  I count my blessings everyday and remind myself of how thankful and grateful I should be.  
God Bless!

Monday, January 6, 2014


We're a homeschool family.  Yep.  I can already hear the, "Oh, you're one of those families." I'm always curious as to what that means, exactly.  I promise, we're just a normal, midwestern, hard-working farm family.  Well...normal...

I was thinking about homeschooling before I even met Matthew or had children.  I was around homeschooling quite early on because the woman that watched me when I was a baby and toddler homeschooled her children.  I still see them and all her kids turned out normal and highly functioning!  Shocker! Some people out there would like to make you believe all homeschoolers are weird and socially awkward.  So not true.  I just got homeschooling into my head as normal from my earliest years.  

Now, Matthew and I both went away to school.  He was a private, Catholic-school boy and I was a rural, public school brat.  Very different experiences but very similar, too.  Super-early mornings, long days, cruddy teachers, poor food, poor lessons, personal adjendas...just to name a handful.  We both were also products of standardized testing.  There are a lot if rumblings out there today about standardized testing and how poor of a tool it is.  I just remember having to learn all this information to pass these tests, only to never touch on the material ever again.  It was never about knowledge retention, it was about passing a federal examination.  Unfortunatly, things appear to have only gotten worse since my schooling days.  All the testing, lack of funding, teacher stress, and this horrible idea the government has called Common Core..... It's no wonder kids are having a hard time thriving in these situations.  Now, please don't think I'm school-bashing.  Of course, there are some wonderful schools out there that turn out phenominal kids who go on to do phenominal things.  I just think, along with many others, that we have a broken educational system that is a long way from being fixed. 

No matter where kids learn, parents need to be involved in their education!  Even if this means after a full day of work.  I know, I know.....crazy radical woman.....  Most households require that all parents to go out and work, hence making it very hard if not impossible to homeschool even if they want to.  I mean, money is tight for so many these days and one income just doesn't cut it for most!  Heck, even parents who stay at home have a ton to do.  Taking care of a house and kids is hard work.  In our case, we have all that as well as the farm and the farm business.  Some people ask how on earth I even have the time to homeschool.  Well, I make the time.  I have to.  Just like most parents have to go away for the day to work.  BUT, you can still be so helpful to your kids  and their education by helping them with their homework and showing a genuine interest in what they're learning after you're home.  Show you care... even if all you want to do is collapse on the couch with a beer and your feet up.  I've been there, too!  They'll be more inclined to feel like you're on their side.  If a problem should come up, you can help your child deal with it early on together rather than all on their own.  Learning can be difficult and frustrating at times, even for homeschoolers, and as a kid knowing you have real, loving support can help make the road not seem quite so long and scary.  Who knows... you might learn something new yourself.  

Now, I was very lucky to have a home-based parent.  My dad stayed home with us.  He had a Ph.D, yet he stayed home with us on the farm.  I am lucky to be able to stay home with my kids.  I have a college education and could (some say should) be out in the workforce, too.  Trust me, it's a financial sacrifice but for our family, it's worth it in the long run.  My mom was very involved in what we learned and how we learned just as Matthew is involved in what our kids learn.  This was/is all done after work for them.  Honestly, I credit most of my true knowledge to my incredible intelligent parents and not so much my official schooling.

I love homeschooling.  Our oldest has figured out that while most kids her age are away and inside most of the day, she gets to do her work and then spend the rest of her time exploring and playing.  She learns about the world around her through observation and good old-fasioned playtime.  I mean come on, we have a farm in the country people!  It's one giant lesson out there!  Her little brothers are following close behind and it's amazing to see what they are now learning from each other.  I love, love, love that we get to spend the amount of time together that we do.  Family togetherness is awesome and even though some days push me to my limits, I wouldn't change a thing.  The days may be long, but the years are so very short.  

We are what I would call... hmm.... relaxed homeschoolers.  We're not religious-based homeschoolers, though I have a lot of respect for those who are.  We don't do charts, no strict schedules, no deadlines.  We do have high-quality curriculum, tentative lesson plans, and monthly goals, but even then we try to keep a high level of flexibility.  We know what needs to be learned in a year and we meet those requirements.  There are some days that we just plain old don't do school!  Things come up or something more educationally enjoyable makes itself known.  Again, this is a farm and a lot goes on here!  There is always some lesson to be learned from everything that goes on around here.  Example.....I just realized I didn't get bread made tonight like I had planned.  Shoot!  No biggie, I'll make it tomorrow morning, and Willow and Ronan can help.  There's flour to measure and yeast to rise... math and science right there.  Then there's the dough prep and the baking... hello Home Economics!  See, always something to be learned.  

What about SOCIALIZATION?!  This is the number one concern we get blasted with from people.  Well, my kids have friends and we do play-dates.  Willow is old enough now to be involved in 4-H, as well as dancing and soon will start swimming.  Not to mention their little church friends.  It's not like we keep our kids locked up away from others in the human race!  The kids aren't even shy.  These are the only answers I can give people when they ask us the S question.  For some there will never be a good enough answer other that sending them off to school.  No worries to me.  It's just water off a duck's back.

Homeschooling works for us and we love it, even on the ugliest of days.  It's a blessing for our family and a blessing that we're able to do it.  If you're thinking of homeschooling, I urge you to look into the homeschool laws in your state and educate yourself of what you'll be expected to do.  Find other homeschoolers in your area.  And finally, roll up your sleeves and get ready for a wild ride.  Your kids will amaze you and honestly, I think you'll amaze yourself.  Best of luck!


Sunday, December 8, 2013

Back on the map.

Well hi there folks.  Yeah I know......Where on earth have we been?!?!  Well, VERY long story short, I (Rachel) had to step away from the blog for a while.  Life got in the way and things around here got out of hand.  I am very happy to say though, that everything is finally back on track and we are moving forward in the right direction.  It feels good to be back to write about all the goings on here on our farm.  Now that being said, I am going to write up some actual, well written blog posts in the upcoming days. Matthew has even expressed an interest in doing some posts.......Say what?!  Love you honey.:)  Okay, keep an eye out.  There's so much to fill you all in on!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Spring activity!

Wow.  I gotta say, I am ready for spring to be here.  The random warmth we had this weekend got me itching for more.  The children and the animals are done with it being cold and gray, too.  I decided that this past Saturday was the day to really get into the beehives to see how they were fairing.  I was quite pleased to see that 100% of our hives have survived to this point.  The bees were very happy to have the sun and warmth.  At the peak of the day the bee yard was filled with bees flying around.  I did give each hive a pollen patty and some syrup just to make sure we're doing everything we can to help them survive.
Happy bees soaking up some sun. 
Raziel, Gandalf, and Agatha are looking forward to more sun also.....With more sun and warmth comes more fresh grass that they can fill up on.  As you can see, their wool coats have grown quite long.  Anytime now we will be getting them shorn. 
The chickens have really started to thrive.  We are getting eggs again!  Our hens are 100% free-range.  Because they have access to all the good things chickens should have the yolks are a very vivid orange.  It is so nice to have really fresh eggs again.  We are Ohio Department of Agriculture inspected and approved for eggs.  If inrerested, they are $3/doz on a first come first served basis.  If you contact me ahead of time I can set some aside for you.
Happy chickens picking over some spinach.
And finally, my wild girl just loves to play in the dirt.  I sure did too at her age.  Heck...I still do today.
Miss Willow
As spring gets here we'll be more and more busy.  With that comes more for blog posting!  So yeah...stay tuned!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Seeds, Seeds, and More Seeds!!

It's that time of year again.  Seed order time!  It's an exciting time of year for me.  I love getting to sit down and look through all the colorful pictures and start planning for the upcoming garden season.  I don't have quite as much time this year with another little one to look after, but we'll get there!!  We're planning a few new heirloom tomatoes, hot peppers, and greens this year.  I'm also hoping to add some new flower and herb varieties.  Let's hope 2013 is a better gardening year than 2012 turned out to be!
Canaan and Momma looking at tomatoes.
Sunday, December 23, 2012

Lovely Lemon Pound Cake

Hello folks!  So it seems that I am finally starting to find the time to sit down and actually get some new posts up for you all.  We've been getting Christmas cookies made, mixing up candies, getting ornaments up...Christmas around here is so much fun with the children!  I decided that to get back into the swing of things I would share my Lovely Lemon Pound Cake recipe that's always a huge hit.  With all the holiday parties and get-togethers going on this time of the year I've had a few people come to me looking for ideas of something relatively easy to make that tastes great.  This cake never disappoints.  And to top it all's made with honey!!

Lovely Lemon Pound Cake
Here's what you'll need.....

1 3/4 cups unbleached white flour, spooned in and leveled
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cups unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup honey (preferably from your local beekeeper)
5 eggs
3 tsp. fresh lemon juice
2 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

1/3 cup powdered sugar
2-3 Tbsp. milk or fresh lemon juice

Preheat your oven to 325°F and prepare a 9x5 loaf pan by lining it with parchment paper and then buttering the pan.  The paper helps you to lift the cake right out of the pan.  It'll look something like this... 
Lined and buttered cake pan ready to be filled.
Now you're going to want to combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a large mixing bowl.  Whisk these together to mix well and set the bowl aside.  Your dry ingredients are now ready.  Now in another large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer add the butter, sugar, and honey.  Using your mixer (or a really strong arm!) beat these together until very light and fluffy.  I normally use my stand mixer for this, although when I was getting the pictures for this posting I was using a hand-held electric mixer due to the fact that a certain husband of mine managed to break my very nice and very pricey KitchenAid stand mixer.....ehem.....

Mmm...butter, sugar, and honey.....
Now you're going to add the eggs, one at a time.  The reason for this is you want to be sure that the previous egg is well incorporated before the next goes in.  The mixture will loose the "wet" look that it takes on immediately after the egg is added and then you'll know it's time for the next one.  After the eggs it's time to add the lemon juice, lemon zest, and vanilla.  On another side note...there is something quite wonderful about the smell of lemon zest.  Can you tell I love lemon yet??  Matthew keeps teasing me about all the side note tangents I get on while typing up these posts!  I'm so sorry you poor reader....  

So pretty in it's own special way.....
Anyways!!!  Gently add the dry ingredients patiently waiting aside for their turn to your sweet, buttery, lemony concoction (aka wet ingredients) and mix until well blended.  Use care not to over mix the batter or your cake will turn out a bit tough due to excess gluten development.  Pour the batter into your prepared pan and bake for about one hour, or until a cake tester JUST comes out clean.  Let the cake sit in the pan for about 15 minutes.  Prepare the glaze.  If you want an even bigger hit of lemon use lemon juice for your liquid.  If you want a milder lemon cake experience, use the milk.  You can add more or less liquid depending on how runny you want it.  I like my glaze on the thicker side so it coats the top a bit more heavily.  Once you have your glaze ready pour it on top of the still warm cake.  Allow the cake to cool completely in the pan.  The glaze will firm up as the cake cools.  Once cool, carefully remove your beautiful culinary creation from it's pan with the help of the parchment paper and place it on a pretty plate to serve.  Store it in a container you can close to keep the cake from drying out if you won't be devouring it right away ;).  I will say, it tastes even better when you let it sit overnight.  The flavors come out even more.  

I really do hope you will give this cake a shot and that you enjoy it as much as my family and friends do.  I should also say that you could make this cake with orange juice and orange zest instead of lemon.  It makes a wonderful variation of the original lemon should you want to try something a bit different!!  Feedback is always welcome!  I'd love to hear some of the variations you come up with.

We here at the farm wish you all a very blessed and warm holiday season.  From our family to yours, Merry Christmas.