Blog & Updates

More sheep needed

This has been a challenging year, animal-wise. The weather was cool and wet, then hot and dry, then wet again, which puts stress on the grass and the animals. Unfortunately, we’ve lost several due to that stress, including 2 of the Corriedale sheep (one being the ram). As much as I love the Corries, they just aren’t turning out to be the right breed for our farm, for various reasons. One of the other breeds I had looked at were Shetland sheep, a smaller and hardier breed from the Shetland Islands, Scotland.

Did some searching to find breeders in my area, and was surprised to find at least 4 within a reasonable driving distance. Made an appointment at the closest one, and now have a new fiber friend and 3 Shetland sheep!

One of the reasons I was wanting to have Corriedales is that they come in colors – the most common one around here is the cream, but there are also shades of brown and black. I discovered that the Shetlands come in those colors as well – white, and 10 registered shades of brown and black. Plus the lambs can be any of those colors and not necessarily the colors of the parents. The rams are typically horned, but they are curved horns – the pointy end is not toward the human! The ewes are usually polled (no horns).

I’m keeping the 2 Corriedales (Vicky and Sydney), and have found that Shetland/Corriedale crosses are not a bad thing, wool-wise. Hopefully next spring we will have some examples to show!




When does it slow down?

I was asked a very interesting question yesterday – which is the slowest season on the farm? It took me a few seconds to think about it, and the answer is, there really isn’t a “slow” season, at least on our farm. Because we raise animals, every season is focused on their care and well-being.

Right now (fall), we are making sure things are ready for winter – hay in the barn, waterers ready to go, moving manure out of buildings, as well as putting up the garden items and machinery. Beef sides will be ready for processing in December, so there is the paperwork side of things to maintain.

Winter – keep the animals fed and watered, watch for new calves, work on outdoor projects as weather allows, mostly focus on indoor projects (indoor veg growing, household maintenance, etc), check the beehives every week or so and add food patties as needed. I’m hoping to experiment with dyeing my hand-spun yarn, and will spend more time in the pottery studio.

Spring – watch the ground to see when the grass starts growing and we can stop feeding hay, plan and plant the garden,  shear the sheep, plant the new hay field, make the list of things that need fixed/maintained this year, order meat chickens.

Summer – watch the weather and watch the grass grow, mow and bale hay, get the hay into the barn for winter, work on all those projects (they never end – finish one, find two more that need done), tend the garden, harvest honey as needed, process the meat chickens, mow  the few areas that need it (mostly clearing paths – the sheep and goats do the majority of the mowing around here!)

This is by no means a complete list – some things happen every season, like moving the sheep and goats around the farm for them to eat the grass and brush, or putting up/repairing fences (now that is a never-ending job…), checking the beehives, tending the animals, etc. Add in the daily household tasks (cooking, dishes, laundry, sweeping, etc.), and the hours fill up quickly.

Is it easy? No. Do we always *want* to go out in the heat/cold/rain/snow and do the job? No. I’m pretty sure just about everything on a farm is heavy or difficult, but it’s always interesting, and it always is engaging (physically, mentally, or both!).

I don’t know who originally said it, but the quote “Build a life you don’t need a vacation from” fits. I don’t think I could enjoy a “vacation” away from the farm – I’d be thinking about how everything is going. Did the old cow die, do the sheep have enough grass, on and on.

There you have it – there is no “slow” season on our farm, and every season focuses around caring for the grass, so we can care for the animals.123

Taming a tangled wilderness

We’re unusually free with sharing our successes and failures here at Innisfree on the Stillwater, a fact that is intentional and purposeful rather than naive and dramatic. You see, our desire, along with giving people access to quality, sustainably grown … Continue reading

We’re unusually free with sharing our successes and failures here at Innisfree on the Stillwater, a fact that is intentional and purposeful rather than naive and dramatic. You see, our desire, along with giving people access to quality, sustainably grown food is also to help educate the vast majority of people who don’t understand what it takes to grow their food exactly what it takes to grow their food.

In addition to some thinking we’re arrogant for having such a goal, one of the classic responses we get, especially to failures, is that we don’t know what we’re doing. The irony, to a point, is that these critics are right, but for entirely the wrong reasons.

As it turns out, we don’t know what we’re doing because the knowledge of what we’re trying to do, in many cases, has been almost entirely lost, sometimes intentionally. Over the past several decades, there has been a radical revolution in agriculture almost unheard of since the invention of agriculture itself, and often not always for the better. This revolution has happened so quickly that the knowledge got lost before it got written down.

The result has been tragic, from loss of crop diversity so severe that entire annual crops are now entirely clones to animals so closely bred for specific genetics that they die from eating food they’re supposed to be able to eat, along with a population now so far removed from the realities of what it actually takes to feed them that this all seems normal to them.

We don’t know what we’re doing because we’re on the frontier trying to create a bulwark against the threats these kinds of changes represent. We understand we’re not going to overturn or replace those realities, but we also know some level of that knowledge must be salvaged or rediscovered or the potential for disaster is real and imminent.

So yes, we admit our ignorance, not as a condemnation of ourselves, but as a bellwether of the risks we all face. We do this because we desperately want to learn before it’s too late and for others to understand the risks we all face.

Perhaps that makes us arrogant, but the fact is that explorers and discoverers have always had to be to succeed at what they’re trying to do. We accept that aspersion and the challenge it represents because the task must be done.


Flow hive – honey harvest

I wasn’t sure that this day would actually arrive – new technology, lots of things that could go wrong between putting on the Flow honey super and it being filled. But it happened today – I harvested a whole bunch of honey without carrying frames, upsetting the bees, or getting stung.

Like with everything to do with bees, I suited up, got the smoker going, and took things slowly. No sense in making silly mistakes (which I’ve done before and will do again) and losing honey.

First order of business was to check the side viewing window to see if the cells there were capped – they were not, so I was pretty certain that my maximum harvest would be from the 5 central frames and not the 2 ends.

Side viewing window – bees hard at work making honey

I pulled each frame out to inspect it – if the honey cells are not capped with wax, they are not ready to harvest. If too many uncapped cells are drained, the honey is too “wet” and can ferment over time.

The 5 inner frames were all capped and heavy – it still surprised me how much honey weighs!

View from the back of the hive – look at all that honey in there! The far left and right frames were not harvested today – too many uncapped cells.

I had read through the instructions and watched several videos from the Flow hive people about how to harvest. Easy enough to do and everything worked as advertised. After reading about how some Flow beekeepers had cut lengths of flexible tubing to run all the honey into a covered bucket, I decided to go that route. It was much easier to cut a few holes in a bucket lid and let the honey drain directly into the honey bucket than to carry glass jars to the apiary and have to worry about 1) having enough jars for the task, and 2) dealing with curious bees trying to rob the honey from the open jars.

Now to insert the long metal “key”, crack the cells, and hope this thing worked.


It worked!

Honey draining from the Flow frames through the tubing.

After the frames were empty, I replaced the caps and reset the Flow frame. I had barely gotten the next frames ready to drain, and the bees were already cleaning the dribbles of honey from the first frames in preparation to rewax the cells and make more honey.20160726_175443

A picture of the whole setup, with a cow photobomb – 2 deep brood supers (painted white) with the varnished Flow honey super on top. No honey will be taken from the brood supers so they have food to eat over the winter (I will supplement with winter “candy” patties to make sure they have the best chance of surviving to the spring).


And there you have it. It took much longer than I was expecting for my bees to start filling the Flow honey frames, but once they did, they filled them quickly. There is still a lot of summer left, and the fall flowers will be blooming as well. Maybe I’ll get another harvest out of the Flow.

What we do when it’s 102 (degrees, that is)

Our part of the world has been dealing with some serious heat recently, which, as animal farmers, is worrisome. All of our animals have free access to shade all day, every day. Most of the time, they actually take advantage of that shade – the cows and horses will be in the barn until mid-afternoon, the chickens stay in their coop or hunker down under a piece of equipment, the sheep and goats go in their hoop hut or under a tree.

With the heat index in the 90s or over 100 degrees F (Friday was 110F according to my weather app, and it’s projected to be around 107F today), it’s even more important for us to keep an eye on all of our critters, so I will make the rounds every few hours to make sure no one is in distress and that all the water buckets are filled up.


The cows and horses are the easiest, since they have access to fresh running water. For everyone else, it’s a matter of moving a hose around to fill up buckets or waterers. We do this in stages – water to the sheep and goats, take a break; water to the egg chickens and pigs, take a break, etc, etc. We can’t take care of them unless we’re also making sure to be hydrated and alert.

As far as farm work goes, it gets done before 9 or 10am, or after 7pm. Being prone to overheat anyway, I’m not interested in being taken to the emergency room due to heat exhaustion. The rest of the time, I do like the animals – stay in a cool place and keep hydrated.

Thankfully, this type of weather doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, it takes an extra level of watchfulness of the animals and of us.


As you can see, much has changed since my last Flow hive update – for the better!


Some people with Flow hives have reported that the bees are not capping all the cells on their frames all at once. I will need to open things up and pull out the Flow frames to make sure that all the honey cells are capped before I harvest – if too many cells are still being filled, the honey will have too high of a water content and ferment. I do want to try my hand at making mead, but on my own time, with properly “dry” honey!

Unfortunately, it’s going to be a spell of hot and humid days around here, so that will have to be an early morning hive check. I have no desire to overheat in that bee suit. But once the frames have been checked, if any are 90% or more capped, I can harvest just that frame and leave the rest of the frames alone. I find that fantastic.

The outer frames appear to be works in progress, as seen from the observation window.


I have a traditional 10-frame medium honey super on the other hives, and am keeping an eye on that as well. The frames just have foundation on them, so those bees need to draw out the comb before they can start making honey.

Minding my beeswax

With regular hive maintenance and honey harvesting, there is beeswax as one of the “by-products”. Bees build comb where they shouldn’t (called “burr comb” or “brace comb”) that needs to be scraped off for me to be able to get the frames out. Honey can only be extracted when the wax caps over the honey are removed.

What to do with all this? Melt it down, strain out the impurities, and make something! In this case – votive candles. They will need to set up over a day or so (I will wait a few days to be certain that the centers are solid), then can be removed from the mold and trimmed.

2016-07-04 18.42.11

Buttermilk honey scones

Today’s experiment (which began yesterday) was to use up the buttermilk from this week’s butter-making. I’m pleased with the results!

Clockwise from top left: strawberry, cinnamon & ginger, orange, plain

The strawberries were fresh from the market last Saturday, and the oranges had been dried last year and re-hydrated for this recipe.

I used the recipe from The Messy Organic Mum, with a few changes (always!) – I used my fresh-ground hard white wheat for the flour, and I soaked the mixture overnight in the fridge, then brought it to room temperature before adding the extras and baking.

For next time? More cinnamon and ginger because the flavor was too subtle. I used roughly 1.5 teaspoons of each – I could barely taste the cinnamon, and couldn’t taste the ginger at all. Maybe add some more orange pieces, too.

This one is a keeper, and the sweet or savory possibilities are endless.




A state of mind

For me, the biggest downside of farming is that my health doesn’t always agree with it, mostly in the form of sometimes debilitating allergies. People often ask me why I keep doing it knowing that I will periodically subject myself … Continue reading

For me, the biggest downside of farming is that my health doesn’t always agree with it, mostly in the form of sometimes debilitating allergies. People often ask me why I keep doing it knowing that I will periodically subject myself to such suffering, and my most often answer is that it’s just a temporary state.

For example, for the past few days, I’ve been doing hay. It turns out that whoever coined the term “hay fever” wasn’t kidding, and as is the case nearly every year, right now I feel like I’m coming down with the flu. I know a lot of people would consider such a reaction to the task to be a deal breaker, but what I discovered a long time ago is knowing this will last, at most, a couple of days, gives me the willpower both to inflict it on myself and to endure it while it lasts.

What I’ve discovered as a result is that hay fever is kind of a metaphor for farming and that farming is a kind of metaphor for life. Sure, sometimes the process sucks, but the fact is the work needs done, somebody has to do it, and the results are usually worth even a little suffering to get there.

So it is and so it goes, pardon me while I wipe my nose.


Ovine news

For those of you keeping score at home, the four sheepies are adapting to their new living arrangements with the 2 goats and the Great Pyrenees livestock guardian dogs. The goats think they are in charge of things at the moment, but I’m waiting for the day that Bruce realizes he’s bigger than the goats and doesn’t have to take anything from them. They are eating grass like it’s going out of style, which keeps me busy moving their pen every few days.

I now have a new-to-me electric clippers. I got a tutorial when I bought them, and a little practice on a ram that needed sheared. It is not easy to nick them (although possible) because of the blade guard, and I will not be shearing at warp speed anyway. Biggest things to remember are to keep the blade at a slight downward angle to get a close shear, and to pay attention to where you are on the sheep – watching for curves and dips in the body of the sheep.

2016-06-12 18.38.43
Vicky is ready for her close-up.
2016-06-12 18.39.26
Bruce and Tilly (in the front)
2016-06-12 18.39.59
Hard at work mowing the yard
2016-06-12 18.37.50
Tilly coming to investigate (and get some pets)
2016-06-12 18.40.35
Molly (goat) supervising the newcomers