Crofting: Goatplay


I don’t think that George and Wanda, the goat gang’s previous owners, let goats into the house. They are responsible, serious, professional goat ranchers, and goats in the house probably isn’t a frequent occurrence. I have never let goats in the house. My experience with bottle-fed lambs taught me very quickly that ruminants, in general, need to be outside of the house unless they are small enough to be confined to a big cardboard box. That isn’t long because even very young lambs and kids can jump out of the average Charmin case after about a week.

So why did Vanilla think she should come inside with me?

She is the friendliest and smartest of the three goats. Tara is the most goat-like and the most agile. She can clamber over the dividing wall between the goat stalls, and can squeeze through narrow gaps around the gates. I suspect that if she were allowed to run free, she would soon find a perch on top of the truck or the neighbours’ shed. Bucky, poor thing, is a mere lame-brained buck. He is now sporting a nice lump of a contusion from trying to crawl through a gate gap in Tara’s wake. This is his second nasty lump, although this one is not as inflamed as the deerfly bite/bee sting he had before. I expect this one to be reduced internally rather than breaking like the last one. That was an awful job to clean and bandage, although he was good and stoic about all his treatment.

I left them in a barn stall all morning as we were headed to the farmer’s market, which was a disappointment. I remember it as an active, packed market, but today there were just a couple of vendors with produce – a late spring had stalled most gardens – and a few women with baked goods. I don’t often buy other people’s baking, as mine is usually better and certainly cheaper. A number of ladies had tables covered with knit goods and sewing, there were some woodcrafts, and a couple of flea market type vendors. There is a pork dealer and a beef seller, but their selection was small and more than I could afford. Perhaps it will pick up later in the month, but I came away with only a quart of strawberries and a pound of tomatoes. I do believe a greenhouse operation that could offer salad greens, hothouse tomatoes, peppers and herbs early int he season would do well here, if the cost of keeping the greenhouse was low enough. And I’m dubious about baked goods. I expect artisan bread to be presented beautifully, not shoved into plastic bags and stacked like cordwood. My standards are high after working beside Nick and his family at the Moncton Farmer’s market, and after the artistic displays of home baking at the St. Jacob’s Market. Laying out a dozen pallid, plastic-wrapped pies on a folding table isn’t an appealing presentation either. There were no artisan cheesemakers, maple syrup or honey vendors, and no herbalists, just a couple selling greenhouse flats of petunias and other annuals. There’s no tea blender or gourmet coffee emporium. If anyone had been selling eggs, they must have finished early and left. There’s lots of room for growth there, and the managers should be soliciting for vendors, not  relying on the same old country band every week to amuse the shoppers and give people a reason to show up. I’ve been hearing that same band for about fifteen years now, and I can honestly say that a little variety would spice up the event. Maybe the Mennonites could send their choir, or the local folk-rock singers could take a gig. Farmer’s markets are the growing trend, but I know from experience that when they stop being markets where people can buy from farmers, they might as well call themselves craft shows or flea markets and give up.

When we returned, I put goats out on their pickets. Tara was clipped to the clothesline to give her more scope and less chance of tangling her own silly feet in her tether. Instead, she got the tether wrapped around Vanilla’s neck. Vanilla managed to get free of her own clip, and sat down patiently to wait for me. I check on the goats every few minutes, and Tara sensing that something was wrong, stood over Vanilla. I went out and untangled them. This is the one of the reasons why animals cannot be left unattended on picket. They get tethers wound around legs and necks, or they they tie themselves tightly to a post. They get stranded in hot sunlight, or can’t reach the water bucket. I will never tether an animal and leave.

Vanilla had been ecstatic about getting out in the fresh air and sunshine. She actually gambolled as she came across the lawn from the barn. I’ve never seen her act so frisky. Bucky came at a trot behind her. I had Tara on her lead, as she is a pest to catch once loose. The other two will stand and wait, most of the time.

I moved Tara to a picket farther down the lawn, and clipped Vanilla to the clothesline. This allowed her to investigate the doorstep. She was pleased to find a little grain in a bucket, so she ate that. Then she hung out on the stoop, craning her neck to look in the window. She knew I was on the other side of the door, and she may have deduced that this is the place where the grain is kept.

The wind came up after a couple of hours, and with it there was a suggestion of rain and a few wet drops. This is a little known fact of natural history we were not taught in school: Goats are made out of sugar. If goats stay out in the rain, they will melt into sticky puddles of sweet goat syrup. No one knows this until they have goats, who panic and stampede if four drops of rain should touch their precious, precious spun sugar goat bodies.

So I let them off their leads and ordered them to the barn. It seemed, though, it wasn’t raining on the barn side of the road, and this allowed for browsing the hedgerow, and checking to see if the bean plants in the garden were as delectable as they looked. I drove them out of the garden and they settled for raspberry foliage and rosebushes. A small amount of grain shaken in a pail, and they remembered the impending disaster of a downpour and got themselves into the barn, lining up in the stall before the feed trough.

And though the shower has blown over, there they will stay until I have the gumption to risk another go-round with goats.

Crofting – Seed Sorting

Crofts at Durness

It is too early in the year to do any gardening. We still have a foot or more of snow in most places, with just the grass around the house showing. (Which means it is time to clean up after the dogs, too. It is one of my least favourite homekeeping chores, but I hate a dirty yard, so it will be done next week, and steadily after that!)

I had to order new seeds this year. I also received some seeds from Seed Savers Exchange, a gift from my friend Margret. We have not been seed saving, as we haven’t had room for a garden in three years. Grocery store produce is most likely hybrid, so there is no use in saving seed. I ordered mostly heirloom and open pollinated seed, so we can save our seeds. I got a few hybrids for farmers’ market sales, because people prefer hybrid type corn, colourful carrots, and pretty radishes. I hope to have a good start on an herb garden, too, this year, and will add more seeds and plants as they become available and we make more room. I have an idea for a Celtic cross garden, with elder trees in the center, three of them. My friend Sandra knows where I can dig some elder saplings down by Woodstock, so when the weather turns good, I will venture to do that. Another friend, Bernadette, has raspberry canes for me. There are two rosebushes here, and I would like to get an apothecary rose as well. I may try three blueberry bushes.

I do not have onion or garlic sets, or potato eyes, but will get those when we start the seeds indoors. We will buy our peat moss, perlite and clean soil this year, mix our starter, and give it a bit of a bake to kill any fungi, mold and weeds. I plan to make our own starter pots, and I am saving every disposable container I can find – yogurt tubs, empty soup cans, coffee take-out cups. We will invest in a grow light too. Our kitchen is big, bright and warm, so the baby plants will go in there, then get moved to the shed as they start to harden off, then spend nice days out on the doorstoop. I am planning to grow some potatoes in  half barrels, so I am scrounging up suitably sized containers. (Really Milli, I am not a hoarder! All this stuff will get used within weeks and then disposed of/cleaned and stored/recycled.  Milli is my landlady, and a dear woman who doesn’t care for clutter!) We are saving cardboard boxes to cut apart for mulching the garden paths.

I bought a pretty garden journal. Always have a garden journal! I am saving seed packets, shipping and store receipts, and enclosed information in a scrapbook/notebook for future reference and to track how much the garden will cost us. This also gives us the opportunity to track what does well, what failed, what produced a lot, what isn’t  a heavy producer. I will get another notebook for recipes I use with our garden produce. I am already collecting recipes to print on cards to hand out at the market. Recipes encourage people to buy more, buy new things, and come back to try more.

Homesteading – Making Plans, Budgetting Time

A sensible householder makes a budget. We all know that; figure out how much money is coming in, and how much needs to go out, and hope that the latter isn’t more than the former. But do we make time budgets, as well? Do we plan our project and work time efficiently?

We would probably all agree that the computer and internet can be wicked time thieves, and we won’t even go into the subject of television. Those have to be the snack foods of our time budget. I find though, that like working in the kitchen, working on the computer – that is, real work – tends to make me “snack” a little more, because the temptation is right at hand. If I don’t watch myself, I go over budget on computer/’net snacks.

I have a stack of sewing projects to do: Two dresses, three or four aprons, two shirts for my husband, a quilt for my granddaughter, a spring dress for her, sunbonnets, aprons and Amish dolls to sell. I have wool to be carded and spun. I want to knit a “sontag” (shawl) for myself, and maybe before next winter, a sweater for Nicholas. If I can learn good sock and mitten knitting, then those will be added to the market products. Starting in February and going through May, I will set two or three hours aside everyday for this work. I will also budget some time for writing projects, but since the payoff is more uncertain, that will be relegated to the hours after other work is done.

I plan to set up Excel spreadsheets to manage our finances and track expenses and income. There’s not much use in homesteading if we aren’t at least breaking even on our efforts, feeding ourselves, and cutting down on what we buy. I’ve seen others make that mistake! They end up spending more on buying tools, supplies and equipment in order to “live with less.”

These are the tasks that need time and financial budgetting – plowing, fencing, ordering seed and materials; carpentry for the barn. I’m having trouble finding hard numbers on potential market sales. The farmers’ markets here don’t seem to bother to gather sales figures, so there isn’t much way to predict what one can expect to sell. I will check with the provincial webpages, but I’m not too hopeful on finding what the average market produce vendor makes in sales. People here see farmers’ markets more as a place of entertainment and socializing rather than their main source of nutrition or real goods. They attend the market to visit, buy prepared food, and browse. Attendance can be high while sales might be low. I found that the largest markets in Ontario seemed to have good sales figures; the smallest markets seemed to have the same problems as all markets, of having visitors who don’t buy much.

Predictions and projections for the world economy this coming year show that food is likely to get more expensive everywhere, and that grain will top the price climb. I’m trying to prepare for that possibility by looking for a good-priced, efficient grain mill to use in the kitchen, and if I can find that, will arrange to buy local grain to grind. We will have to pray for good growing weather locally! I am also looking for used canning equipment, as always.

I expect that certain products we use daily will become luxury items by the end of the year, such as coffee and sugar. While stockpiling is one possibility, I think cutting back on these products might be a better idea.

This won’t be a no-buy year, since we still need to get equipment and household furnishings, but it may be the last year we have to buy much. Judicious planning and budgetting will make the difference in being able to live on our income or having to seek work outside.

Day Out at St. Jacobs Farmer’s Market

Approaching the huge St. Jacob's farmer's market

I do enjoy farmer’s markets. I like the variety of great food at good prices, the casual atmosphere, the conversations with the vendors and other shoppers. When the market is outdoors, and the day is sunny and clear, it just gets better. It is an activity I can pace to Nicholas’s speed, and extend or cut short according to his energy level. And how many activities are there where you can take a break whenever you want for a cup of coffee and a warm cinnamon roll, or a soft drink and a just-grilled Oktoberfest sausage?

We drove to St. Jacobs last Saturday. I was better prepared this time. I had money in small denominations, carrier bags and my packbasket. We found parking by the auction barns, where a crowd of blue-shirted Mennonite men stood, arms folded, watching the animals. We were expecting to meet our friends from up north, also in St. Jacobs for a day trip, so we hurried over to the food court/crafts building and spotted them right away.

Paula, Ella and balloon Tigger

Paula writes her own blog, At Home with Us ( They are a farming family north of Ottawa, and you can find them at the Petawawa Farmer’s Market on Thursdays. They sell farm-raised pork.

The market was very crowded, and there were not as many Plain people there as back in the spring, except for the vendors. I would think they prefer to shop and visit on the Tuesdays and Thursdays the market is open, because Saturday is definitely tourist day. Busloads of people arrived, some of them visitors from other countries. I don’t think I’ve ever been more photographed in one day. We were visibly Plain, and quite the attraction as we walked among the aisles of produce.

A successful shopping day

This is the famous packbasket, which got many comments and questions. (Yes, it is old and Indian made. No, I won’t sell it.) I am wearing the new blue floral stripe dress I made.

A group of young Mennonite girls, between the ages of six and fourteen or thereabouts, had spent some time staring at us as we sat with Paula, her mother and Ella. Finally, three came over and began to speak to us in Deutsch. I haven’t said anything in German since I took a semester of high school German pretty close to forty years ago. Paula hears it more often where she lives, but doesn’t speak it. We got them to switch to rather accented English, and their question was about my beautiful bonnet! When they realized that I was not actually Mennonite, they didn’t quite know what to do. (Although it is a Mennonite bonnet, I purchased it online in the United States – no help to them.) I suppose they went back to Mama and asked her a lot of questions about strange Anglicans who dress Plain. It would help to travel amongst the Amish and Mennonite here if I could speak Deutsch, but aren’t I a little old for learning yet another language?

By the time we had finished shopping, the auction was over, so I wasn’t able to get any photos of the crowd and their buggies. I expect to go back in the fall, when the weather is cooler, the autumn crops are in, and there will be fewer tourists.

Here is the haul, though, back home in the kitchen: those are elderberries which I made into elderberry syrup in preparation for winter colds, melton mowbray pies, and garlic sausage, as well as heaps of assorted vegetables. I am canning in earnest now!