Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Homestead Tour: On Just A Couple of Acres

It's been way too long since I hosted a Homestead Tour! And I just love getting an inside glimpse into the lives of like-minded women and their homes, don't you? Quinn of Reformation Acres is one of those kindred spirits I'd love to sit down with and spend an entire day, just visiting with her, gleaning information, finding out what makes her excited about homesteading...  

So of course, I asked if we could tour her homestead via cyberspace! And she graciously accepted. Grab that cup of tea; you're in for a treat!

• Quinn, how long have you been homesteading and what motivated you to start living closer to the land?

We began homesteading about five years ago in the spring of 2006 when we planted our first seeds in the garden patch that once flourished under the care of the previous owners.  We enjoyed a little fresh produce that summer and the next and I was beginning to realize that with some hard work and determination I could feed my family very low cost, organic produce with freshness and nutritional quality that I wouldn't be able to find at the grocery store where products were shipped from around the country and already starting to break down and lose their nutrients. (Local, organic, farm markets still have yet to make their way to our area.) Two years later, motivated by a desire to foster a diligent work ethic in our children by giving them meaningful and productive responsibilities, our garden began to grow and we became the owners of 10 laying chickens. Since then, we have loved every minute of purposefully working alongside one another and also the challenge of seeing just how much of our own food can we produce for our growing (we just found out we're expecting our 7th baby in March) family on 2 1/2 acres of land.

• Tell us how your homesteading journey began. Did you grow up homesteading or has this been something you’ve had to teach yourselves?                                                         

While my husband lived in a home rented on a farm as a child and did a few odd farm jobs over his formative years, I had no idea when we married the impact that it had on him and how much he enjoyed doing this kind of work. As a fastidious girl, I never would have imagined that I would live so closely to my food and especially to the manure they produce! My vast experience with homesteading began and ended with a vegetable garden one year and all I remember from it was finding bugs in the heads of lettuce and then leaving them to rot. My father raised some cattle as a boy, but unfortunately, this sort of knowledge isn't passed down genetically. For this reason, we've dubbed ourselves "The Google Farmers." Virtually everything we've learned, we've done so through an internet search.

• What kind of animals to you have on your homestead?

Currently we have:
1 Dexter cow who just freshened a couple weeks ago and her bull calf,
2 hogs,
3 ducks,
3 roosters from a straight run purchase (2 are destined to join their Ranger neighbors),
20 laying hens or pullets,
35 remaining Freedom Ranger broilers,
1 barn kitten,
and we have a little broody banty hen sitting on 4 turkey eggs. In past years, we've had at least 2 turkeys roaming around here as well.

• I know that you have a couple of Dexter cows which are good for small farms in terms of size as well as both meat and milk production. Have you been pleased with the breed and would you recommend it to other homesteaders?

I think the Dexter is a perfect fit for the small-scale homesteads who prefers cow's milk to goats or who would love to raise their own beef! Considered multi-purpose cattle, Dexters can be trained to work as oxen in addition to providing milk & beef. Dexter's are much smaller than average cattle. The two types, long-legged and short-legged, are to be between 36" and 42" in height at the shoulder. Dexter's have an excellent feed conversion and eat much less per pound of body weight than their larger counterparts meaning that it would easily thrive on half an acre per head. As an Irish heritage breed, Dexter's are very adaptable to cold climates and do not require anything more than a crude shelter over the winter. Calving problems are virtually unheard of, they deliver unassisted. As a dairy cow, Dexter's are known to give about 1 1/2 to 2 gallons of milk per day, but so far Maybelle's peak has been closer to 4! While I've read that it's a naturally homogenized milk, we do get a cream line. Average butterfat content is reportedly 4%. (Holsteins are in the 3's, Jersey's closer to 5%.) That's not to say that Dexter ownership is without it's problems. They can carry gene mutations including PHA (Pulmonary Hypoplasia Anasarca) and Chondrodysplasia both of which result in stillbirths, but testing is available to determine that your purchase is not a carrier.

• Tell us about your garden and what you’re growing? Do you have specific goals for what you want to produce?

In our first garden we're growing peas, beans, sweet corn, zucchini, summer squash, acorn squash, cabbage, broccoli, a variety of leafy greens and lettuce, carrots, parsnips, onions, potatoes, a variety of tomatoes, and peppers. I'm working to slowly incorporate heirloom vegetables so that I can harvest our own seed. I'm hoping to harvest parsnip, carrot, dent corn, tomato, and bean seeds. This year we've expanded into a second garden area that includes grains like oats, wheat, dent corn, sweet potatoes, and pumpkins. The grains are highly experimental still, but we're hoping to learn more about them and improve our yields each year.

I am diligently keeping records this year of what we harvest and what I put up for the winter with the aim being to feed our family from one year to the next. As I feel my way through what our needs are, I'd like to expand even further so that we might be able to bless others with the surplus.

• I’ve been very impressed with the wide range of activities you manage on your acreage, including sewing, cooking with your children, homeschooling (based on Charlotte Mason’s philosophy), and a whole lot more. So, what does a typical day look like at your place?

Our day begins at 5am for the boys who milk the cow then. By 6, we're all up and by 7, the children are ready for the day, have eaten, we've read a chapter from the Bible. reviewed our memorization verses, and done their copywork.

After my husband leaves for work, the boys head off to do the rest of the animal chores while we ladies attend to dishes & laundry. By 9, I lay the baby down for a nap while the children have some free time to play, provided their work is done & zones are clean. After my shower, we start a little school time with reading a School Days Devotion, followed by working with my pre- & beginning readers. Right now, I'm tag-teaming this with my oldest boy. He takes one group one day & I take the other. Next day, we swap. Once that's finished, I'll read aloud a selection of literature to the children. From 11-11:30 is time for daily chores.

Just prior to eating we'll either read a daily Proverbs or choose a verse from it, read it, and see what Matthew Henry had to say about it. We eat lunch and do the dishes after that. My goal is to be done with lunch by 12:30. Prior to quiet time, I read aloud for about 15 minutes something specifically for the little ones and then while they are laying down, they nod off to the sound of my droning voice while I read aloud to the oldest. Right now, we're reading a biography about Gladys Aylward. Quiet time in our house usually lasts a couple hours. During quiet time, the older children work on math & writing. The faster they get their work done, the more free time they have. Although I do try to find a non-regular chore for my 13 year old to do. Last week, he had to mow the grass a couple days and till the herb garden again twice. He actually gets a bit of extra free time after the littler ones are in bed and reads for about an hour. I try to spend the first half tending to my blog, responding to comments and proofreading & publishing a post if I have one. The second half is spent tending to the garden.

After naptime, we grab our nature journals and head out to sketch for about half an hour. If the weather doesn't permit that though, we head to the kitchen and do some baking.  Usually, if my husband isn't home already, he arrives about then. Shortly after, I'll prepare dinner. Once we've eaten and done the dishes
1812 style, we go for our "flock walk." Sometimes this is our date, sometimes we let the children come. This is our time to diligently know the state of our flocks and herds since most of the care is delegated during the day. On a good evening, this is all done before 6:30. Until 8 is free time spent doing any work that needs to be done. Whether it's in the garden, building something, sewing, or canning we try to get it done in this span of time. If it isn't finished by 8, oh well. There's always tomorrow. I've learned that there is always something more to do and you're never going to get it all done.

My husband bathes and gets the children ready for bedtime at 8:30. Meanwhile, I prep bread, take the clothes off the line, prepare the copywork, sharpen pencils, and set out Bibles for the morning. I plan breakfast & dinner and write it on a little chalkboard magnet on the fridge. After the children are in bed, we'll read, chat, or do some Google Farming. The goal is a 10pm bedtime for us, but as a reforming nightowl, this is a tricky one for me and something I regret not adhering to in the mornings!

• When do you fit in time for blogging and reading other blogs? And about how long do you allow yourself on the computer daily?

We have decided it's best for our family (and probably for my blog) if I carve out a chunk of time once a week to intensively blog. This night is Tuesday immediately following dinner until bedtime. During that time, I'll edit and upload photos or videos from the past week, make a posting schedule, and start as many rough drafts as possible. On a daily basis, I usually spend about an hour (sometimes less, depending on how interesting my readers thought my last post or two was!) attending to my blog during quiet time. I try to respond to as many comments as possible. I do my other blog reading whenever I can squeeze it in. When I'm nursing a baby, it's usually then. But  otherwise, I usually read during lunch and comment in spare moments.

• Would you be willing to share your greatest struggle and your most celebrated victory in how you manage your household? 

I think that my greatest struggle has been for me to learn to be comfortable and joyful living a lifestyle that we dearly love, but looks so radically different from what is considered normal. Instead a life centered around career or school activities, we've chosen one where we are free to allow our lives to revolve around the Lord and each other and our home. Once I embraced the differences, it has opened up for me the freedom to manage our homestead in a way that is practical, simple, Christ-centered, and joyful. I ordered my days and organized my management ideas into a binder system that allows me to effortlessly run the homestead with a habit-building fluidity no matter the season of life or season of the year we're faced with.

• Do you have plans to expand your homestead in the future? Perhaps adding any animals or gardening ventures? Any skills you hope to learn in the next couple of years?

Right now we're planning on someday expanding to include rabbits raised for meat production, beekeeping & a large lovely wildflower garden to support them. I'm not satisfied with how our grain production is turning out and would really like to make improvements in that area. I'm working on putting in an herb garden, but first we're trying to keep the chickens permanently contained to pasture to prevent them from trampling the area. It will be an on-going project anyway. There is always room for growth in the orchard as I learn how many plants will supply our needs. I'd like to add more berries & a couple cold-hardy kiwis. Also, Lord willing, we'd love for Maybelle to give us a little heifer one year to keep us in milk year round (with maybe a bit leftover to bless someone else with!)

This is a rough idea of what we have going on here and how we envision future expansion:

Right now, I'm working on learning a couple skills that I imagine will be an ongoing education and that would be cheesemaking and seed saving. Seed saving is entirely new to me and I know there is so much for me to learn! I've taught myself to make mozzarella & ricotta last year before the cow dried up. I would love to learn to make a variety of cheese to supply our families needs.

• What has been one of the most helpful resources for you in terms of homesteading?

We were greatly inspired and challenged by The Backyard Homestead by Gail Damerow. It really helped us cast a vision for our land. But to be completely honest Amy, I'd have to say that your beautiful site and the way that you've been able to effectively organize and bring the internet homesteading community together has been a tremendous blessing. I look forward to Barnhopping every Monday even though it will sometimes take me all week to visit all of the homesteads I open up! You have some of the cleverest readers and I love gleaning from their wisdom. Thank you!!

• Thank you, Quinn. I'm inspired by all the HR readers as well! It's amazing how much we can learn from one another! So, what advice would you share with a young wife and mother just starting out on a homesteading and homeschooling adventure? 

Build your homestead slowly. Prioritize based upon what you think you can handle for this season in your life and master one area before adding on. No matter how big and beautiful a garden you put in during June, if it's too much for you to handle it will be overgrown with weeds and overrun with bugs by August, unfruitful and unproductive. Worst of all, you'll be discouraged for next year. "One thing at a time, and that well done..."

For prospective or new homeschooling moms, may I humbly suggest that you take complete advantage of your situation and the blessing of being able to spend every day, all day, of those few short precious years until your children are grown and search for a truly enjoyable method of educating your children. Consider abandoning the public school model and find your family's perfect fit. This isn't easy with all of the pressure from the outside world, but one of the beauties of home educating your children is the freedom to do so as our consciences dictate. Secondly, may I encourage you to persevere! I promise, there will be days, many days, were you will feel as though it might be best for your children to send them away to school. To someone "qualified." There is no one more qualified than you, despite your education level. You know your child better than anyone else and that information alone is a more powerful tool than any degree. If you don't know the material, learn alongside them and teach them how to learn. That is the most valuable educational tool. The days where you feel that way will pass quickly and hopefully be fewer and farther between.

Well said, Quinn. Homeschooling definitely allows for more time to pass along homesteading skills as well. We've neglected that aspect of education for too many generations and it shows. 

A bit off topic, but just as interesting to me has been your amazing photography skills! The photos you've posted on your blog are captivating and beautiful to behold. We'd love to hear a little insight into your camera, your favorite lens, and any tips that help make for such great artwork!

Thank you Amy! My photography has just come with practice. I've always been an artistic person. As a child, I expressed my creativity through drawing, but with so many children, it's really difficult to find the time to sit down and draw. Photography has been a wonderful creative outlet for me. I currently have a Nikon D200 (a predecessor of the D90 I believe). It's a challenge because it's all manual, so depending on the situation, I'll resort to my back up camera, a D40, and let it do the thinking for me. I own 3 lenses, the 18-55 Nikon kit lens, a Sigma 70-300 telephoto, and my favorite, a 50 mm prime lens. My home is quite shaded by trees and I can let a ton of light in with the 50mm. If I was to give one tip for improving photography, I would say it in a word- squat. When you get down at the subject's level your photos are bound to turn out more interesting than if you were standing above them.

What a great tip!! Thanks for sharing your secrets. And thank you for taking the time to show us around your homestead and a glimpse into your lives at Reformation Acres. You've inspired me over and over again and I look forward to hearing more in the future. 

I hope you'll visit Quinn at her blog and get to know her even better. Thanks again, Quinn. May God continue to bless your family, home, and homestead!


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