Pregnant ewes from a few years ago.

One of the reasons we raise American Blackbelly (ABB) sheep is because they are so easy during lambing season. They tend to give birth during the day, and rarely need assistance. We’ve lost one ewe to a very large baby she was too small to birth, and helped pull one lamb last year, that didn’t need much help other than a tug (we only intervened because the baby had been partially out for about 30 minutes). And that’s in all the births we’ve had starting in 2013. Probably several hundred lambs in going on 9 years.

We do, occasionally, end up with a bottle baby. It’s often to lambs born early in the season, when its still cold. I always think mama looks around and thinks, “There’s no grass. I can’t feed two of these.” I don’t think we’ve ever had a ewe outright reject a lamb when they only had a single baby in 9 years. And we do always wonder if mama doesn’t know something we don’t, in terms of the long term health of the lamb, when she rejects one of them.

One of this year’s bottle babies.

When this first happened, I scrambled to learn how to feed these little guys. Stories abounded of people keeping lambs in the house in dog crates and feeding ever 3 hours in the middle of the night. The lamb is completely imprinted on humans and the human is exhausted with the feeding schedule. But these were standard Suffolk or Dorper lambs. The ones people often say are just “trying” to die for the first few weeks. Blackbellys are stronger than that. They have been bred to survive, not “saved by human intervention” for hundreds of generations.

So I came up with my own system specific to bottle feed to this breed. And I’ve just realized I’ve never really written about it. It’s time to remedy that.

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Image by silviarita from Pixabay

So, not surprisingly, coming out of 9 months of covid lockdown in 2020, where I decided I needed comfort, and that meant baking ALL OF THE THINGS, including sourdough bread in the spring and cakes and cookies for the holidays, my weight has ballooned to almost 140 lbs. Menopause and a drastically slowed metabolism didn’t help. More important than the increased weight, I felt like garbage. (My ideal weight is somewhere between 115 and 125 lbs). I’ll write more on this particular weight loss journey in a future post (I’m down to the 133-134 range in about 4 weeks. I’ve got a ways to go, but what I’m doing IS working).

As part of this weight loss journey, I belong to a Whole30 group on Facebook, mostly for recipe inspiration. (You can read about my Whole30 experience here.) And I’m regularly astounded at how many people don’t know how to make a simple salad dressing. Endless pictures of bottled salad dressing labels with questions of “Is this compliant?”, along with complaints that the Whole30 compliant brands (Primal Kitchen and Tessemae’s) just aren’t all that tasty, leave me shaking my head. Vinegar, oil, herbs and spices, perhaps a bit of mustard. Its actually quite simple to make a salad dressing.

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As we welcome the new year, and plan for the new gardening season, its time to get back to my series on garden plant families. If you look back through the posts, you’ll find we’ve already covered the mints, the brassicas, the nightshades and the alliums (the series is also listed under “gardening” on the DIY Homesteading tab above).

The Apiaceae (which translates to celery family), or in old school terminology, the Umbelliferae (named for the shape of the seed head in this family, which resembles an umbrella), includes carrots, celery, celeriac, parsnips, and many of our commonly used herbs, including parsley, cilantro/coriander, dill, cumin, anise, fennel, caraway, chervil and lovage. Which is a good indication that the plants in this family are often aromatic. This family also includes the famous deadly poisonous hemlock and water hemlock, so this is one you want to be 100% sure of your identification on if you are out foraging.

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In July 2019, I wrote a blog post titled “Myths of the Gardening World“. In my head, I titled it “Gardening Myths I wish would die”, lol. And almost as soon as it was done, I thought of a few more that I had missed. These are myths I used to believe myself, until I did more research. So here, for your December dreaming of spring enjoyment, are a few additional gardening myths that need to be debunked.

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You’ve probably heard the statistics or seen the memes. Something on the order of 40% of all food grown in the United States is wasted either before it reaches grocery shelves, or (mostly) after it is purchased. And stories early in the pandemic of farmers dumping milk or slaughtering animals that could not be processed, because the “get big and get out” global food system was an epic failure during a pandemic was enough to turn your stomach. Tight margins and a lack of the right infrastructure and storage when the school and restaurant sales suddenly dried up meant that a huge amount of food was wasted. The cracks in our national food system were exposed. Meanwhile, even before Covid-19, 1 in 7 people in this country are food insecure.

National Resources Defense Council Infographic
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Fall garlic planting

We recently got the garlic in the ground. All 600 feet of it – close to 900 cloves. Shout out to my husband for his help! Putting the garlic in the ground always feels like putting the garden to bed at the end of the season. We had our first hard frost on October 21st, and have since gotten down to 19 degrees here (we tend to run about 5 degrees colder than in town). I’m STILL processing peppers, and have a few cauliflower still out there under cover, but for the most part, the 2020 gardening year is “put a fork in it” done. (More wrap up in a separate blog post).

So now is a good time to get back to myd series on garden plant families. If you look back through the posts, you’ll find we’ve already covered the mints, the brassicas and the nightshades (the series is also listed under “gardening” on the DIY homesteading tab above). What better time to discuss the allium family – garlic, onions, scallions, shallots, leeks, chives – than as we wrap up the fall harvest.

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This year’s harvest.

Carrots are one of the first things beginning gardeners want to plant. Nothing says garden success like a handful of carrots pulled fresh from the ground, dirt still clinging to their orange roots! And if you look at gardening books, you learn that carrots are a cool season crop, meaning they can take a frost. And so gardeners are encouraged to plant carrots up to 4 weeks before your last frost. Around here, that would mean early April.

But carrots are also one of the vegetables most beginning gardeners have a hard time with. I don’t know how many times I’ve talked gardening with friends, and they have said, “I planted carrots. But they never came up.” I wrote a whole blog post way back in 2012 on how I used to plant carrots. It was all about doing a scatter method for seeding, and keeping the seeds damp using burlap. This is a great method for raised bed gardening.

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My husband and I met doing bird field work in the Coconino and Apache Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. This job involved being up and ready to go at 4:30 am every morning for an entire summer (we worked 12 days on/2 days off) while camping. If there’s one thing we KNOW how to do, its camp.

Bull Lake near Troy Montana. A truly lovely place.
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Yup, August is for Tomatoes! Most of this was sold through Hayshaker Farm.

When we’re in the height of tomato season, there’s always a bit of “tyranny of produce” happening in our house, as flats of long awaited tomatoes start to stack up on counters, chairs, chest freezer lids… you get the idea.

I’ve learned over the years to rotate which preserved foods to focus on year to year, as we often don’t finish up all of last year’s bounty by the following year. So one year I might make BBQ sauce and a lot of salsa. Another I might focus on tomato soup and simple canned tomatoes. Every year I make a few batches of roasted tomato sauce for the freezer.

And lately, every year I make a very concentrated batch of tomato paste, which I call Conserva – though technically, Conserva in Italian just means preserved. And according to Hank Shaw, who’s recipe I am documenting here, I’m really taking Conserva to the next level, which is ‘Strattu (short for estratto, which translates as extract).

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Esterina yellow cherry tomato

Well, tomato season is FINALLY here (we’re late this year due to our cool spring), so I thought the next in the series on garden plant families should be Solanaceae – better known as the Nightshade family.

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Jennifer Kleffner

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