Winter Weeding? (and More from the Homestead)

People don’t notice whether it’s winter or summer when they’re happy.

Anton Chekhov

This week I found myself doing a task I normally wouldn’t expect for the second week of January, 2023. Weeding the garden.

That’s right. I spent an hour or so this week on my hands and knees pulling weeds from our garden beds.

Dandelions in January?!

Lest we forget, two weeks ago temperatures were below zero and everything was frozen (both indoors and out). But then, right after a very uncharacteristically cold last week of December, Ohio weather flipped and we experienced a week of unseasonal highs. Last week it was 63 and partly sunny on this day (a near record high). We’re still a little warmer than normal for January in Northeast Ohio, but we’re much closer to our average temperatures for this time of year.

For a January morning in Ohio, weeds should not be an issue. But there they were; thriving in what should be dormant beds waiting for spring to arrive.

I don’t mind weeding. In fact, it was nice to be able to get my hands into the soil and do some work in the garden. Pulling those weeds might have been a moot point, but we have the satisfaction of a weed free garden. For the moment, at least. We even have some garlic scapes poking up through the mulch thanks to our unseasonably warm spell.

Garlic Scapes Emerging in Mulched Beds

Elsewhere on the homestead, the goats and chickens seem to be enjoying the warmer January weather as well. The frigid temperatures at the end of December seems to be a distant memory. Everyone weathered the storm well. While a couple of the chickens did suffer a touch of frostbite during the last cold spell, they seem set to make full recoveries. Thankfully, all the animals are healthy and out-and-about around the pastures.

We did note that our egg production is down a little, we’re averaging about 3 per day, but that’s to be expected given the shorter days of winter. It keeps us with a decent supply in the fridge. With the price of eggs at our neighborhood grocer somewhere over five dollars at present, having our own supply of farm fresh eggs has been wonderful.

The warmer weather has also given us the opportunity to work ahead on some projects for the coming spring and summer. We’re launching into meat birds come spring of 2023. Our first 25 Cornish Cross are coming from Murray McMurray Hatchery in the second week of April. We already have a brooder set up thanks to raising our laying flock in 2022, but we won’t be housing the broilers in the coop with the laying hens.

To house the coming birds we’re building our first Chicken Tractor, modeled from Joel Salatin’s broiler shelter plans. We’ve seen these shelters in action for ourselves on Joel’s Polyface Farm in the Shenandoah Valley, but we can’t hardly wait to get them operating on our little homestead this year! While you can find building instrucitons for this simple shelter just about anywhere online, we’re building ours straight from the plans in Joel’s book, Polyface Designs.

Building from the book could not be made any easier. Joel and co-author, Chris Slattery, have provided everything you need to make these shelters in simple step-by-step sections complete with detailed materials and cut lists. Our son, Jackson, pointed out that the instructions are just like those for his Lego sets. In fact, he’s excited about getting in on the build now that we’ve completed the cut list!

Working Outdoors in January

Even with the break in the weather, it is still winter in Ohio. That means short days and long nights. Fortunately we’ve been busy indoors as well.

This week Christine has been experimenting in the kitchen and making time to stock the larder for when winter returns to Northeast Ohio. A surprise favorite was this dish she put together using our home grown butternut squash and a few other simple ingredients.

An Unexpectedly Delicious Dinner

The mixture of squash, cranberries, apple, kale, goat cheese, sausage and herbs was not something I would have readily thought to marry together in a dish, there was no doubt that this was absolutely delicious!

This week we also made beef stock for the larder. By purchasing beef from our neighbor, we always get a solid supply of soup bones to make our own stock. The whole of the house may smell like roasted beef for a day or two during the process, but having our own beef stock throughout the year is well worth it.

The process rendered us a whole 10 quarts of beef stock this year. Plus the beef salvaged from roasting the bones made some exceptional shredded beef which we used to create barbacoa tostadas. Waste not, want not!

Ten Quarts of Beef Stock Ready for Use

Beef products were apparently the theme of the week. Christine branched out into another area we’ve been wanting to explore with the homestead: homemade health and beauty products.

We’ve talked quite a bit about wanting to create our own soaps, scrubs, and lotions made from what we grow here on the property. But making a balm using tallow and essential oils was something that had peaked Christine’s interests a while back.

She dove into the project over the weekend and the end results were amazing! It is really a fascinating process to watch, taking blocks of suet (beef fat) and rendering it down into a clean, healthy liquid animal fat suitable for a number of uses.

While tallow is suitable for kinds of uses in cooking, Chrisine focused on creating a whipped product that smells incredible and is great for personal skin care. By mixing our grass-fed tallow with essential oils, she created nourishing balms scented with orange, lemongrass and lavender. These will no doubt be a hit with friends and family. This may even be something we offer for sale in our future.

That’s what we’ve been up to this week. All in all, it has been a very good start to the New Year here on the homestead. We’re looking for 2023 to be a year of growth for Headwaters Homestead as we build on our established foundations and branch out into new areas as well.

What endeavors are you up to in the New Year? With homesteaders being such an amazingly sharing and uplifting community, we’d love to hear from you and see what you’re up to as well.

Honestly, we can’t wait to watch you grow!

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