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Welcome

Welcome to Willow Rock Farm!  I’m Kathy and I have a small herd of Mini Nubian goats that I breed and milk.  We use the milk for drinking, baking and of course, soap making!  We are located on the outskirts of Truckee, CA at just under 7,000 feet.  Raising goats here is an adventure.  There is a crazy amount of snow removal in the winter to keep their pens open and there are predators galore, but the goats (and their milk!) are worth it.

I started in 2016 with Willow and our herd quickly grew to 3 does (girls), 1 wether (fixed male) and 1 buck (unaltered male).  Two of the girls have been bred to our buck, Tex, and are due in April and May, 2019.  Woohoo!!  Baby goats and fresh milk…what more could a girl ask for?!

I will be posting to this blog so that you can get to know the goats that produce the milk that I use to make your soaps.  Welcome to Willow Rock Farm!  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

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Portable Goat Pen

The past few summers we’ve been wanting to make some type of pen for the goats so that they could graze the abundant vegetation on our property. Unfortunately, summers are short and we always have a large list of projects to complete before winter arrives again. Until now, creating some type of movable pen has only been a vague idea for the future.

We have manzanita, tobacco brush, sage brush, antelope brush, serviceberry bushes, fir and pine trees and the goats favorite, squaw carpet. We were hoping that letting the goats graze all of this brush would serve two purposes. First, we were hoping it would cut down on feed costs. We feed our goats an alfalfa/grass hay mix and the hay costs can really add up. The second (and actually more important) benefit, was that as the goats ate down the brush, they would be reducing the fire load of our property.

We have spent countless hours removing trees and vegetation from around the house and limbing up trees further out. The area is just so overgrown, though, that even after a days hard labor, you can barely tell we’ve done anything. So, time to put the goats to work!

After much research, we settled on using livestock panels for our portable goat fencing. Each panel is 16 feet long 4 feet high and has 3″ x6″ holes along the bottom, graduating to 5″x6″ holes at the top of the panel. We used these same panels to separate the birthing area inside the goat barn and they have worked really well for us. The panels are economical and lightweight; meeting the two main criteria we were looking for.

We set the panels up this past week and were really impressed with the ease in which we made a portable pen for the goats. We used the panels to encircle an area of heavy manzanita and tied the panels together with wire. One section of the portable fence is held together with 2 carabiners to make a simple gate to allow the goats in and out as needed. We had 3 T-posts left over from a previous project, and used them to give extra support for the fencing.

So far we have been really impressed with how well this has worked! Six livestock panels is the perfect amount of space for 4 goats and they seem to eat the area down in about a weeks time (being in the portable pen for 2-3 hours a day). We only leave the goats in the pen while we are home since although the panels keep the goats in, they will NOT keep predators out.

I found an old beach umbrella and tied it to one of the T-posts with some wire to create a shade area for the goats during the mid day heat. I also clipped a water bucket to one of the fence panels so the goats have water while they are in their portable pen. Food, water and shade equals happy goats!

We’ve found it takes about 1/2 hour to take the portable fence down and reassemble it in a new location. It’s definitely been worth the time for us, both in reduced feed costs and in reduced fire loading.

It’s going to be interested to see how much vegetation is eaten down before winter hits again, and also to see if the plants grow back in the spring or if they die out. We shall see!!

Changes

I’ve noticed that its been a while since I last posted. These past few weeks have been busy with cutting fire wood, staining decks and working on a few building projects around the property. Spring is always a busy time, and with May completely rained out this year, a lot of projects have been packed into June. Along with all of the projects that we are working on completing, there have also been a few changes here on the farm. The biggest change is that…we sold Willow!

Willow was my very first goat and has been the matriarch of our herd. She was an easy kidder, an attentive mom and a good milker (once we got a system down), but she was LOUD! Very Loud! Look up “screaming goat” on You Tube and you’ll get a hint of what we have been listening to.

Willow was a sweet goat who loved her people, so as soon as anyone stepped out the back door, she would start screaming to get our attention. All she wanted was someone to hang out in the pen with her. I think she actually liked people better than she did her fellow goats! It got to the point that we would try to sneak outside hoping she wouldn’t see us so that we could get some work done in peace. This obviously isn’t very practical and it was a little frustrating that our actions were being dictated by a goat.

We sold Willow to a family that already had several goats, but was looking for one already in milk. They have a large pasture for the goats to roam in and I think Willow will fit in perfectly. It was a little sad to let her go, but I’d forgotten how peaceful it can be to work outside without her constant screaming. We ended up selling her two bucklings also, as we wouldn’t be able to use them to breed our does (their mom and sisters) and didn’t need anymore wethers. As a result, we are back down to a manageable and quiet number of goats. We still have Willow’s daughter, Aspen, and hope to breed her to a “quiet” buck this fall. She will hopefully continue Willow’s legacy here at Willow Rock Farm.

NAP TIME

Even though we are down to milking one goat, I’ve still had plenty of milk for soap making. I’ve made more of the Simply Goat Milk, the Lavender and the Dandelion Lemon. I’ve also created a Cucumber Melon goat milk soap that I am so excited to try. It has ground cucumber peel to give each bar a faint green hue and a light cucumber melon scent. This soap should have a smooth and creamy lather and a light and summery scent.

Cucumber Melon Soap

After each batch of soap is made and cut into bars, the soap is placed on drying racks and left to dry for 6 weeks. This ensures that all of the moisture in the bars has evaporated leaving a hard bar of soap that will last longer. The Cucumber Melon goat milk soap has just about hit the 6 week mark, and will be up for sale on my website in a few days! I’ve also made a few “guest bathroom” size bars of Honey Oatmeal soap. They are in the shape of round flowers and are smaller at only 2″ across. Those will also be up on the sight soon.

New “guest size” soaps

Finally, we are looking at adding some additional grazing space for the goats, but are still working on the details of how to create portable fence panels that won’t break the bank. I’ll keep you posted on our progress!

In the meantime, enjoy the long days of summer and have a great 4th!

Adding New Chicks to the Flock

We’ve had chickens for a few years now, and we’ve really come to love having them on our farm. There is something almost magical about walking outside with an empty basket and coming back a few minutes later with a variety of colorful, tasty eggs that have all been laid that day. They taste so fresh and I love how they look sitting on the counter. Fresh garden produce and colorful chicken eggs are my idea of home decor!

We’ve been noticing that the number of eggs we’ve been collecting lately has been dwindling. Chickens have their greatest egg production in their first year and the number of eggs they lay slowly dwindles after that. A few of our chickens are 3 years old and we realized that it was time to add some new blood to the flock. In the past, we’ve bought everything from day old chicks to 3 month old pullets (young chickens that haven’t started laying eggs yet). The chicks are so cute and the kids love raising them, but it takes SO long to get eggs from them, as chickens don’t start laying until about 6 months old.

This time we found some 6 week old chicks for sale and decided it would be a good compromise. The kids could still enjoy having “babies” and we would get eggs a little sooner. The problem is that it isn’t always easy integrating adult chickens with new pullets. The existing chickens don’t always welcome newcomers to their flock and young pullets need a different feed than the adults do.

Checking out the new-comers

So…another construction project. I have such a patient (and talented) husband! Our chicken coop is an 8′ x 10′ shed that opens into a covered run. The front part of the coop is a storage area with an interior door leading to the coop. The storage area was the exact size to fit a small crate that would be a perfect area for the new chicks. The only problem was that there would be no way for them to get outside. Luckily, that side of the coop adjoins Tex’s goat pen. We ended up cutting a small hole in the wall of the chicken coop that opened in the goat pen, giving the new chicks an enclosed area outside to peck around in, and a safe spot inside to get out of the rain and to be locked in at night.

The location for the pullets was great in that it allowed our existing flock to watch the new chicks through the chain link fence separating the two pens. It’s always a good idea to keep any new chickens separate from your flock at first. The older birds can do some serious damage to the smaller ones. If they have watched each other through the fence for a week or so, both groups become used to being in the same area and their eventual integration will be so much smoother.

The other reason to separate them is that pullets don’t need the same feed that older birds do. The chickens that are laying eggs need extra calcium for egg production that will actually harm the kidneys of the younger pullets. I don’t think we will keep them separate for that long, but it will at least give the pullets a chance to get used to their new home and the older birds a chance to get used to the newcomers. Once we do house them all together, we will give everyone the chick starter feed and add oyster shell in a separate feeder for the older birds. The oyster shell will provide the calcium that is needed for egg production and the pullets won’t bother eating it since their bodies don’t require it yet.

The kids are enjoying having new chicks to snuggle and I am excited for an increase in eggs this fall. We aren’t positive what types of chicken breeds each of our six new pullets are, so it’s going to be fun to see what color eggs we end of collecting! It’s the little things in life!

What I Wish I Had Known Before Milking a Goat

It’s May 22, and we just got another 3″ of snow last night! My laundry room is still full of seedlings that are waiting to be put outside and even the plants in the greenhouse have been covered to keep them warm at night more than they’ve been uncovered. To keep myself from worrying about whether I’ll get any type of garden harvest this year, I thought I’d give a quick primer on what you should know before milking your first goat.

When I started milking Willow last year, we were both rookies. I had never milked any animal before and she was a first freshener, meaning it was the first time she had given birth. After giving Willow and her daughter Aspen a few weeks to bond, I began to separate them at night. The plan was to milk Willow in the morning, let them spend the day together and then separate them again at night so I could milk again in the morning. I had watched a couple videos on how to milk a goat so I was good to go, right? Not even close!

My first (of many) mistakes was not having all of the necessary supplies ready before I started on this milking journey. I had ordered a milking pail but it hadn’t arrived yet, so on the first morning of my new milking adventure I decided to use a…..2″ tall tupperware sandwich container. Why? I have no idea! It was already on the kitchen counter? It was the only thing clean? I tripped over it walking to the door? Who knows, but yep, that’s what I decided to use.

What I used and what I SHOULD have used!

Still feeling quite confident, I proceeded to put Willow on the stand, close her head in the stanchion, and give her some grain to keep her occupied. This was all going amazingly well, and then it proceeded to fall dramatically apart!

As soon as I reached under Willow to wipe off her udder and teats, the rodeo began. First she started kicking at my hands, then hopping up and down, wiggling side to side and finally she tried to lay down so that I couldn’t reach under her. During all of these acrobatic feats, her head was still locked in the stanchion and she was happily munching on her grain. It’s a talented goat that can maim you with her hooves while still eating peacefully!

I decided to skip the wipe down and just head straight to the milking. I was beginning to think this might not be so easy after all, and boy was I right! I held my little tupperware in my left hand, grabbed a teat with my right hand and started to squeeze. Shockingly (or not) that started the rodeo all over again. One hoof kicked my hand off of her teat and the other hoof kicked the tupperware out of my other hand, all the while she was still munching on her grain and looking completely innocent.

Since my whole family, including the dog, was intently watching to see if mom could really milk a goat, I had to keep trying. I eventually got a small stream of milk to come out of one teat! Unfortunately I missed the tupperware and hit the wall, then the milk stand, and finally myself. The kids (human) were laughing hysterically, my husband was looking concerned that this whole goat milk idea was going to be a colossal failure and the dog was salivating all over himself staring at the goat milk sprayed all over the milk stand and wall. I decided to call it a day. Willow walked primly off the stand and back into the goat barn where she proceeded to calmly let Aspen nurse from her. Sigh.

It took took over a week of goat hooves flying and milk spraying everywhere EXCEPT in my trusty tupperware, but we finally got into a pretty good routine. My milk pail finally arrived, Willow mellowed out (a little) and I learned the beauty of hobbles.

Fast forward to today, and Willow is actually a pleasure to milk. While it originally took me 20 minutes to get about a cup of milk, it now only takes me 5 minutes to get a quart. It’s finally become that peaceful morning chore that I had imagined.

So, in hindsight, here’s what I wished I had known in the first place.

  • Let your goat get used to you touching her everywhere before you try to milk her. Run your hands over her back, legs, stomach, udder and teats on a regular basis so that she is used to the feel of you
  • When she is about 6 weeks from kidding, begin to feed her grain on the milk stand. Goats usually LOVE their grain and this makes the milk stand a “happy place”
  • Have all supplies on hand before you begin to milk your goat
    • Milk Pail – tall enough that your goat can’t step in it (or at least makes it more difficult
    • Rags/paper towels to wipe down udder before milking
    • Strip cup to check for mastitis before each milking
    • Udder balm if you plan of using it after milking
    • Milk filters and funnel to process your hard earned milk
    • Mason jars and lids to store your milk
    • And last but probably most importantly, PATIENCE…a lot of it!!!
  • If your goat is a kicker, hobbles are a life saver. They keep her feet firmly attached to the stand and out of the milk pail. The hobbles allow her to stand normally and comfortably while giving you a better chance of keeping your milk in the pail and off of yourself
Why hobbles are useful even if you use the correct pail

It’s been a fun journey learning to milk a goat. Really! It hasn’t been easy but it has definitely been worth it. Hopefully you can learn from my mistakes and get milk into the pail, and house, much sooner than I did!

What’s all the fuss about?

Life and Death on the Farm

Lets start with the death. I forgot to tie up my trees last spring and the deep snow this winter killed ALL of my fruit trees! Broke every branch off of every tree! Liberty apple – DEAD. Fuji apple – DEAD. Honeycrisp apple (our favorite) – DEAD. Contender Peach – DEAD. I feel like such an idiot! Fruit trees are so expensive and take so long to bear fruit that having to start over feels like such a failure. And it is…except that I’ve learned my lesson and will never forget to tie up my trees again!!

I bought a new peach tree this last week and hope to find another Honyecrisp apple tree and maybe a Granny Smith apple tree soon. The one bright spot is that I had been wishing I had planted one of the apple trees further away from a fence, and now I get that chance. How’s that for looking on the bright side?!

Speaking of the bright side, we also had a new life born on the farm this week. Juniper gave birth to a healthy, little doeling just after midnight on May 11th. We named her Sequoia and since she is a girl, we will be keeping her!

RESTING QUIETLY IN THE STRAW

I had checked on Juniper around 10:30 that night before going to bed, but she was resting quietly and didn’t seem to be in active labor. Around midnight, Dozer our Lab, started shoving at me with his nose and I assumed he needed to go outside. As soon as I opened the door, though, I heard the faintest little “maaa-ing” sound coming from the goat barn. When I peeked inside, Juniper was standing in her birthing stall with a still wet doeling lying at her feet. Poor Juniper looked completely confused and I could tell she hadn’t started to lick her baby clean. I quickly wiped Sequioa down with a towel and held her up for Juniper to see and smell. It took a little while, but Juniper soon figured out that she was the mama to this little goat and she began licking and talking softly to her. After I had seen Sequoia nursing a few times, I finally went back to bed and let the new mama and baby get some sleep.

Sequoia took a little longer than Willow’s bucklings to really get the hang of nursing and to become steady on her feet. I gave her a dose of Selenium and Vitamin E gel just in case she might be Selenium deficient and a few days later she is jumping around the pen, climbing on rocks and dozing in the sun. All good signs!

EXPLORING THE GREAT OUTDOORS!

I’m planning to keep Juniper and Sequoia separate from the rest of the herd for one more day, just to make sure she is nursing well and gaining weight. We are really enjoying all of the babies this spring and it’s been hard to get any work done outside lately. We all seem to end up in the goat pen!

Spring

Spring is in the air here at Willow Rock Farm…finally. We’ve had temperatures in the 70’s the last few days and the snow is melting fast. The daffodils are poking their heads through the ground and our new, little bucklings are bouncing around the pen. I love this time of year!!

Lodge and Julien are doing great and Willow is an attentive mama. We kept the three of them separated from the rest of the herd for 3 days to give Willow a chance to rest and to make sure that everyone was nursing well. Since they were only separated by cattle panel, the other goats could still see them which allowed everyone to get used to each other while still keeping the kids safe. When we finally put everyone back together, I was sure the bucklings would be nervous around the other goats. Turns out, it was the exact opposite! The kids bounced around the pen completely oblivious to the others. Juniper, Buddy and Aspen took one look at the those crazy kids and sprinted to the opposite side of the pen and huddled together in a terrified ball! It’s taken a few days, but every one has adjusted and the boys have been included into the herd with no problems.

Save us from those crazy kids!

I’ve spent the last few afternoons in the garden but there is still 1-2 feet of snow on the ground in the center. Unfortunately, when I snow blow the goat and chicken pens in the winter, all of the snow ends up in the garden so it usually takes a week or two longer to melt off. This was a serious design flaw in our placement of the garden and pens, but for the time being, is just something to deal with.

I have planted lettuce, radishes, peas and a variety of dandelion in the greenhouse and all have sprouted in this warmer weather. The dandelion is one of the seed packets I received from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and supposedly has tasty leaves used in salads. I’m also eager to collect the flower heads to use in my Lemon Dandelion goat milk soap. So exciting to collect them from my own garden! I will need to be careful not to let the flowers go to seed though, as I don’t want them to reseed in the greenhouse. I have a wildflower “field” where I have spread a random assortment of seeds I have collected and will add some of the dandelions to this area as soon as the snow melts off. It helps to attract beneficial bees and bugs that pollinate my garden plants. Plus it’s beautiful in June and July to see all of the different color flowers blowing in the summer breeze.

I’ve just started hardening off some tomato and bell pepper starts and hope to plant them in the greenhouse next week. Since I have so many this year, 1/2 will go in the greenhouse and 1/2 will be planted in the garden. It will be interesting to see which do better. My Thai Blue Butterfly flowers have germinated and I’ll be keeping those inside under grow lights until I can plant them directly in the garden. I am so excited to see if I can use them in my goat milk soap as a blue dye! Although, I suppose before I get too excited, I need to see if I can raise the flowers to maturity. Between birds, bunnies, chipmunks and frosty nights, it’s hard to keep things alive here!

Hope everyone is enjoying their spring! I’ll begin milking Willow soon and then I can start creating new batches of goat milk soap. I have so many ideas….

BABIES!!!!

We have babies!! Willow kidded on April 16th and gave us two healthy, little bucklings. The kids (human) named them Lodge and Julien.

I had thought that Willow would kid closer to the 12th, so the couple days past that were spent with me running to the barn every hour or so to see if she was in labor. Having missed Willow giving birth last year, I wasn’t really sure what I was looking for. Thank you Lord for You Tube!! I found out that goats have some pretty standard signs of labor

  1. Talking to their belly (they nibble at their side while grunting)
  2. Restless. Laying down, getting up, walking around and then starting all over again
  3. Pawing at the ground while trying to find a comfortable position
  4. Staring vacantly at a wall or putting their head in a corner
  5. As the contractions start, the tail will raise up and then slowing curve downward
Willow “talking” to her belly

I put her in the kidding stall that we had prepared so she could have some space away from the other goats. She kept talking to her belly, lying down and then getting back up, putting her face in the corner and her tail would arch with each contraction. It was so amazing to see her doing everything that I had been watching/reading about.

We had been seeing these signs since Monday afternoon so I decided to check her every few hours throughout the night. (I REALLY wanted to be there for the birth!) Every time I would look in on her, though, she would look at me like I was crazy to be disrupting her sleep. Finally, mid morning on Tuesday, I could tell that she would be giving birth soon.

Willow lying down and staring at the wall

Willow staring at wall and tail arching with contraction

Finally, just before noon, Willow gave birth first to Lodge and 10 minutes later to Julien. She immediately began to lick them dry, nuzzle them and quietly talk to them. She’s such a good mama!!

Willow cleaning and nuzzling her bucklings

Within the hour, both bucklings were on their feet and had figured out how to nurse. Willow had done a good job of cleaning them up, but the night time temps were supposed to be in the 20’s. I was worried about them getting cold that first night, so we hooked a hair dryer to an extension cord and made sure they were completely dry. After dipping their umbilical cords in iodine, it was time to let babies and mama rest in peace.

Both little boys did great that first night. They snuggled up in a corner of the barn and Willow laid down next to them. I was afraid they would be cold, but with their shared body heat and a thick layer of straw, everyone was toasty warm in the morning.

Lodge and Julien resting after a busy morning

It’s been 3 days now, and Willow and her bucklings are back in the main pen with the other goats. Everyone is getting along well and the babies are a constant source of entertainment for all of us. There is nothing as cute as watching baby goats play!

Playing “King of the Mountain”

Our Goat Barn and New Kidding Stall

I’m always so curious to see how other people house their goats. I didn’t grow up with livestock so I’ve been learning as I go. Obviously what works for someone in the deserts of Arizona will be different than I what use in an alpine forest, but I can always get ideas from seeing what others have done. We have predators that will go after our goats, so I needed a way to close them in at night and a way to give them some room to move around out of the snow.

Our goat “barn” is actually an old 10′ x 12′ shed that we have modified over time as we’ve learned what works best for us. When I say old, I’m not joking! It was a shed we bought VERY used. I’ve applied what seems like gallons of roofing sealant to get the leaks to stop and eventually it’s going to need all new siding. Probably sooner rather than later. But, it keeps the goats warm, dry and safe so it is good for the time being. As you open the door, the front 4’x10′ section has my milk stand to the left and a small storage area with shelf to the right. We used to keep the grain in here as well, but moved it recently to the hay shed. The bears are waking from their winter hibernation and are hungry. The smell of the molasses in the grain can cause the bears to break into the barn looking for food.

Milk stand to the left and storage area to the right

The remaining 8’x10′ section in the barn is the goats stall area. I removed the wood flooring in this section after it became saturated with urine and smelled horrendous! I had tried painting a sealant on the floor hoping that would help, but no such luck. During the winter months, I add straw to the floor weekly, which keeps the goats off of the cold ground. So far this has worked great to keep the goats warm and dry and also provides me with abundant composting material in the spring. Last winter I added a section of cattle panel to make a small divider in the barn in case I needed to separate the goats for any reason.

Main stall area with deep litter bedding
Partitioned area with deep litter bedding

On the back side of the barn we added a small lean-to area for the hay racks and water buckets. This gives the goats a place to go outside of the barn even when it’s raining or snowing. So far this set up has worked really well for us.

Lean-to area on backside of barn

This past week, though, we have been making a few modifications. I have two does that are due to kid this spring and so I need a separate kidding stall. This separate stall with give the doe a calm place to give birth and a spot for her to bond with the babies for a few days before they go back in with the rest of the herd.

Since I already had the divider in the barn, all that was needed was to add a small door in the side wall of the barn. This would lead to a small outdoor area for the doe and her new kids. Luckily we had a few scrap 2x4s lying around and found some hinges and a latch in a box of “spare parts”. My husband quickly cut out the door while I ran interference with the ever curious goats.

Once the door was in, all that was left to do was to clean out all of the old straw bedding after a long winter. It’s amazing how much straw gets packed into such a small space, and boy does it smell!! After all of the bedding had been cleaned out, I added about a 4 inch layer of sand to the dirt floor. My hope is that this will let any moisture soak through to the dirt underneath and keep the barn smelling fresh. We shall see:)

Willow checking out her new door
Interior view of new kidding stall. I’ll add a layer of clean straw as we get closer to kidding.

Willow is due to kid around April 12th, so it feels great to know that the kidding stall is built, clean and ready to be used. I can’t wait to see little goats bouncing around in here!!

Seed Starting and Soap Dyes

The garden is still completely covered with snow, but February and March are when I usually start all of my tomato and pepper plants from seeds. In mid February, I started 8 tomato plants, 4 bell peppers and 2 jalapenos. I love having little seedlings growing in the laundry room in the middle of winter. It somehow reminds me to enjoy winter while it is here because seeing the tiny seedlings shows me that spring and summer will eventually arrive.

Last week I was feeling pretty good about my plans for this summer’s garden. I had some seedlings started and my garden all mapped out, when I received a manila envelope in the mail…with 20 seed packets I hadn’t ordered!!

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

I usually order my seeds from a company called Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. Their catalog is spectacular and they have such a huge variety of heirloom and open pollinated seeds. At the end of last summer, they posted that they were looking for people to trial some of their new seed varieties. Of course I filled out an application but I never really thought I had a chance. I have a relatively small garden, a short growing season and clay and rock masquerading as soil. But, I got selected! They mailed me 20 seed packets, some plant markers and instructions on how to report back on the purity, germination rates and productivity of each variety.

I have to admit that I am ridiculously excited to be trying some of these new varieties, but it’s also going to be a little extra work trying to figure out how to fit all of these extra plants into my garden and greenhouse. For each variety of seed we are given, we need to plant 10 plants. So this year I will have 30 tomato plants, 20 sweet peppers, 30 hot peppers, 30 melons, and an assortment of lettuce, carrots, cucumbers, herbs and flowers. This is on top of what I normally grow. I’m also beginning to realize just how many seedlings I’m going to need to start this spring. My laundry room is already overflowing with vegetables in various stages of growth, I have trays on my kitchen counter and now they are starting to encroach onto my kitchen table…and I am not even half way through the seed packs. If it all grows and produces well, though, I am going to have so much produce to share with friends!

Along with starting all of my new vegetable seeds, I have been researching flowers and herbs that I can use as natural dyes in my goat milk soap. Last summer the kids and I collected a large bag of dandelion flowers while hiking through a local meadow. I rinsed and dried the petals and then left them to soak in a large jar of olive oil. When I used the olive oil to make a batch of soap, not only did I get all of the natural properties from the dandelions, but it also turned the soap a beautiful, creamy yellow. There is just something so satisfying about using flowers and herbs from nature in soap that will be cleaning my family’s skin.

Since then, I’ve been wondering what else I could grow in my garden that I could use in my soaps. So far, I have lavender seedlings started that will go in the ground in May or June. I love the scent of lavender. In fact, I think it’s one of my favorite soap scents. I’m also ordering a flower called the Thai “Double” Blue Butterfly Pea. It’s native to Southeast Asia and is used as a natural food dye. It turns rice a vibrant, sky blue color that would be beautiful in soap. I’m not sure how well it will hold up to the heat created during soap making (it might turn gray instead of blue) but I can’t wait to try.

Thai “Double” Blue Butterfly
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

So far it’s shaping up to be a busy summer with a larger than usual garden, goats to milk and care for and lots of soap to make. I feel blessed, though, to have all of these opportunities and can’t wait to see what the summer holds.

Wood Stove Biscuits

It’s snowing…again. Luckily, we’ve spent the past few days getting ahead on our snow removal. We’ve pushed back all of the snow storage piles in the driveway, widened all of the paths and shoveled way too many roofs to count. Since we are only supposed to get a couple of inches today, I’ve decided to just relax and enjoy a cozy day in the house.

One thing the kids and I love doing on a snowy day it to have “tea time” in the afternoon. And by tea, they usually mean hot cocoa! I’ll read to them from whatever book we are in the middle of, while we snuggle by the fire with our cocoa and some type of tasty treat.

I have been wanting to try to make biscuits on our wood stove for a couple of years, but have never been able to find instructions on how to go about it. For some reason, the idea has just intimidated me. This year I decided to just go for it. I figured that even if the biscuits turned out horrible, it was only a few dollars worth of ingredients wasted. Guess what? They turned out great!! They are slightly more moist than the same biscuits baked in the oven, but they are oh, so good. The biscuits are great plain, but they are amazing with butter and homemade jam.

Other than the taste, what I love most about these biscuits is that I can make them even when the power goes out (which it seems to do a couple times each winter). We primarily heat our house with wood, so the wood stove is always going anyway. And the smell of the biscuits as they cook…amazing!

Since I had such a hard time trying to figure out how to cook biscuits on the wood stove, I thought I would include instructions here. There are only a few special tools you will need. First, is a cast iron dutch oven with a lid. I have a plain black one, but you can also use the enameled dutch ovens. Next, and this is important, you will need some way for the pot to be raised slightly above the surface of the wood stove. I have a small metal trivet but you can also use 3 canning rings. Really, anything that lets air flow under the pot and holds it about 1 inch above the surface of the wood stove will work great.

Trivet or canning lids to keep cast iron pot above the surface of the wood stove
Ignore the store-bought milk. One more month until milking starts again!!
Dough just coming together after adding milk
Pat dough into rough ball
Place biscuits in greased dutch oven
Bake for approximately 1 hour (checking after 30 minutes)

WOOD STOVE BISCUITS

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 c all purpose flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 1/3 c butter
  • 3/4 c milk/buttermilk

DIRECTIONS

  1. Place cast iron pot on wood stove to preheat. The wood stove should be somewhere between 400 – 500 degrees.
  2. Mix the dry ingredients together and then cut in the butter until there are pea sized crumbles.
  3. Add the milk/buttermilk and stir. The dough will be dry but will begin to stick together. Use your hands to bring the dough into a ball shape but don’t handle it so much that the butter begins to melt.
  4. Bring cast iron pot back to the kitchen and place on hot pad on counter (might be hot). Run a stick of butter around the bottom and sides of the dutch oven to keep the biscuits from sticking and to give extra flavor.
  5. If you want perfect shaped biscuits, roll out the dough, cut with cookie cutter and place in cast iron pot. I am lazy so I just pull a handful off of the ball of dough and shape it into a rough biscuit shape. Place biscuits wherever they will fit in the pan. It doesn’t need to be perfect!
  6. Place lid on pot and place pot on wood stove.
  7. Cook for approximately 1 hour. This will vary depending how far your cast iron pot is above the wood stove and how hot the stove is. Check after 30 minutes.

**When you check the biscuits, there will be condensation on the inside of the lid. Be careful that the water does not fall back into the dutch oven. Just tilt the lid to the side and let the condensation fall onto the surface of the wood stove.

Fresh baked biscuits from the wood stove

Hope you enjoy these as much as we do!!!