fall farm update

New Coop

Nathan and Alexander built a chicken coop with downloaded free online plans. This “chick-shaw” can house 30 chickens, never needs cleaning, and is mobile. The boys move it around every few days so that the manure gets spread out throughout the pasture. William lets the chickens out at sunrise and closes them up after dusk, but, really, they return to the coop when the sun goes down on their own. They free range all over the pasture during the day, and a couple of them like to lay their eggs in the sheep’s hay feeder. I don’t think sheep like eggs, we just have to remember to go get them. We currently have 20 hens and 1 rooster. He’s the nicest rooster ever.


Raspberries

We never thought, but raspberries our more prolific in the fall than even the summer harvest. Our variety produces in June and again in September, but this year, we still have some frozen under the snow.


Pigs

Nibbles turned a year old, and we (along with a few customers) are grateful for full freezers. The children are looking forward to bacon and eggs, and mom has meals planned though the winter. We have a fourth pig still growing which will be a year old in the spring.


Pumpkins

We had a very low harvest for all of our garden vegetables this year except for pie pumpkins. They were lustrous and abundant. It’s so delightful to use them around the house until we’re ready for baking them.


Bees

In the fall, Nathan and William add a reducer to the hive entrance. This prevents other insects like wasps from getting in and stealing the honey. We’re still enjoying raw, unfiltered honey, and we have it for sale too! We see a few bees still visit the few wildflowers that are most cold-resistant.


Sheep

We had three lambs born this fall. A singleton and a set of twins. One of the twins had a hard time within the first 48 hours, so we brought her in the house and bottle fed her. Really, force-fed her. She didn’t want to eat for 2 weeks. This is when Nathan noticed that her knee joint was swollen. He did some research and found that lambs that are rejected by their moms are especially susceptible to an infection. Alexander gave her a shot of penicillin for 10 days, and although she’s quite small, she is back in the pasture with the flock and just started eating sweet supplemental grain this week.


Llama

Larry has been the best shepherd for our sheep! We have never had any incident with losing even a lamb to predators. Each time there’s someone going on a walk with their dog or a neighbor riding a horse down our road, he races to the fence and watches. Larry lives with the sheep in the pasture and is always with them.

Fall is quieter than summer. We’re happy to have enough hay till the spring and all the animals buttoned up for the cold weather.

Until next time!

Β with love, Damaris


Life Lately

Pumpkins, acorn squashes, buttercup squashes, and butternut are adorning the inside and the outside of our house. Slowly they make their way into the oven, meanwhile, we still have a fall harvest farm stand. We have small decorative pumpkins for sale too!


Doesn’t fall inspire you to get in the kitchen? Butternut cream soup, snickerdoodle bread, maple pumpkin pie (here’s the recipe), beef stew, homemade chai lattes, fresh apple cake…Ahhhh. Our tummies are warm and full. Baking season is in full swing in our farmhouse kitchen, and no one’s complaining. I’ve been putting some muffins and sweet loaves in the freezer for when the baby comes. A little prep will come in handy : )


The crisp air is uplifting, and since the evenings are shorter, we’ve done a couple day outings with Nathan. Even the flower colors are stunning! We hope to get out a few more times before the northern frigid temps settle in.


The older five children are in fall sports. It’s really low-key, but it’s so fun to get out there and kick the ball on cool Saturday mornings! They play a game of soccer followed by flag-football.


Just throwing in a delicious baby eating doughnuts, because he’s irresistible : ) Nothing speaks fall cozy like waking up on the weekend to enormous doughnuts Nathan’s picked up fresh from the bakery!

with love. Damaris


Family Currents: August Abundance

August has been lambing season! We had marked the week on the calendar as to when the two ewes were due, but the exact day would be a surprise. On the last evening of our trip to Washington DC, we got a little text from a friend who was coming to count the barnyard animals once a day. We were in the outdoor hotel pool, and everybody was out of the water so fast to see pictures of the new addition. By the next week, the second ewe had her lamb, and now one cannot tell the lambs apart. We were surprised at how fast they are and how soft they are. Pure white little beauties!

Our mature pig Holly is due to have her litter in early September! Did you know a female pig’s gestation is 3 months + 3 weeks + 3 days?


Nathan found a swarm of bees in the work shop this week and rehomed them into a hive box. We’ll give it a couple more days to call it a success! Hopefully they like their new home. Then we’ll move the box to join the other hive. This will make a third hive. All of the mid-summer honey has been bottled! Feel free to email us, contact us through this post, Facebook, or Instagram if you’d like to enjoy some raw, unfiltered honey.


We love to go blueberry picking! This U-pick farm has a high bush variety which makes it very easy to reach and fill your bucket without bending low to search for the little fruit. It was a later in August than peak season, so we were left with smaller berries and fewer clusters. We ate our fill while picking and still gathered 8 pounds of blueberries! We enjoyed them all weekend and froze 6 quart bags with the rest.


Samuel’s birthday was mid-August, and it was so much fun to celebrate this sweet baby boy! We cannot handle all his sillies! You can read about his special day here. Since chocolate is his favorite food in the entire world, Eva baked this delicious cake. He was so tickled to open presents with trains, tools, and tractors!


A couple of weeks ago, our family went on a road trip to Washington DC where we attended the Bible Family Conference, visited nearby Arlington Cemetery and Mount Vernon, and of course enjoyed the national monuments, the Smithsonian, and the Museum of the Bible. Wrote about all the trip adventures here. We can’t wait to go back and learn some more! It was a great place for families – and large families too : )


The first Saturday in August always gets marked on the calendar early in the year. Our family doesn’t want to miss the Highland Games! It is such a summer highlight for us! The St. Andrew’s Society of Detroit puts on a full day of Celtic dance competitions, scone and shortbread shops, kilts, swords and traditional jewelry booths, Border Collie dog races, Shetland Sheepdogs and long-haired cattle for petting, caber toss, tug-o’war, hammer throwing, and other traditional Scottish games. We came home with a dozen lavender-lemon shortbreads that were Mmmmmm.


Farm fresh produce are available every day at the farm stand. We pick heirloom tomatoes by the bushel. The dark purple eggplants, sweet corn, okra, bell peppers and jalapenos are glossy and gorgeous. The spaghetti, buttercup, and butternut squashes are perfect, huge, and at the stand. All restocked daily. We also have real maple syrup and raw, unfiltered honey for sale at the farm stand. Come stop by the farm!

with love. Damaris


Family Currents: What we've been up to

Happy August, dear friends! The sun is hot and the tall straight grasses have been cut down. Haying time came in July, and now the hay bales are stacked and stored in the big red barn.


We’re certainly enjoying going through the summer bucket list! We recently went to the Henry Ford Museum and to the lake. Packing a lunch and calling it an adventure day is by far our favorite summertime activity.


Isabel had a birthday in July. She’s now 8 years old, and she’s so happy about it! Isabel has always been the most easy-going, low-maintenance, even-keeled child. She only requested cupcakes, and we made these filled with vanilla pudding. Filled with jam or any pudding is always absolutely delicious.


The two younger ewes are a mixed breed and shed most of their winter coat, but not all of it. After some time of high temperature, we realized we’d need to shear them. Nathan bought a pair of shears online and had his first successful sheep shearing experience. One of these ewes follows him like a dog when he’s in the pasture. Really, all the sheep (even the ram) are gentle and skittish.

By the way, the two older ewes are due to lamb in just a couple of weeks, and I’m giddy with excitement!


We’ve been at the pool everyday (all morning) for swim lessons. I couldn’t get all the children to swim in the same timeslot, so we bring books, a basketball, snacks, and I plop myself by the poolside until lunchtime. A couple of times we’ve taken a walk though the neighborhood, but it’s easier to just play and read while we wait.


Nathan and the boys did a mid-summer honey harvest this past week. We have about 7-8 gallons of raw, unfiltered honey. Couldn’t be more fresh! It tastes so different than the late summer/early fall honey! The color is very golden and the flavor is light and mild. Our honey bees can be spotted at anytime of the day feasting in the herb garden (hyssop, thyme, oregano flowers), the white clover in the pasture, and the vining plants in the garden (cucumber and squash flowers).


We opened the farm stand again this year! Farm fresh produce are available everyday. Eggplants, cabbages, red cabbage, cucumbers, zucchini, yellow squash, bell peppers, and jalapenos are looking good! The tomatoes are not quite there yet. We also have real maple syrup and raw, unfiltered honey. Come stop by the farm!

with love. Damaris


Family Currents: Niagra Falls, Birthdays, Doll Making

My cousin’s visit from Spain was undoubtedly the highlight of the month of June. Before he came, we had given some thought to what fun things he may have never tried or seen before, so we ate hard shell tacos, s’mores, had a bbq night, and roasted hot dogs over the fire. We took a short trip to Niagra Falls which will be memorable for everyone.

____________________________________

Both Nathan and William had birthdays in June. We usually celebrate at home and let the birthday boy or girl pick a favorite meal and dessert.

William picked this cake from a Pinterest picture, and it was delicious! Here’s the recipe if you want to make it for your crew.

_______________________________________

Nathan’s mom came over a couple of days and taught the girls some basics of the sewing machine and a few stitches. Their diligent labors produced these beautiful dolls! Thank you, Grandma for teaching, helping, and guiding the girls!

________________________________________

In the last few weeks, I also found a little bit of time to work on a couple projects. These outdoor ticking pillows and the linen throw brought be so much joy to make!

___________________________________

Watching all the plants come into their full glory with big bright blooms and tiny vegetables brings us whoops of joy. We’re enjoying delicious kale salads, but nothing else yet ready for harvest.

_______________________________________

There are 20 new young pine tress on the farm! Ten are Norway spruce and ten are white pine. They’ll be replacing dead ones and being added to the perimeter of the pasture.

with love. Damaris


Farmhouse Cheese, A How To

Hanging sheets on the line makes me feel the most domesticated, but making cheese is a close second : )

If you never made cheese because you’re intimidated, I’m here to calm your fears. I would never try to make this if it wasn’t quick and easy (I’m sure you’ve picked up on the theme of all the recipes I share). I promise you’ll be rewarded with the most delicate and smooth tasting fresh cheese, plus you’ll have the satisfaction of producing it in your own kitchen. I always feel a little sad when we cut into it, because it’s so beautiful!

The children love the whole process because it’s magic. Really. To make it even more fun, my friend came and we made it together. She’s much more confident than I am, so I listen closely to pick up on any hints I may be missing. Truly, she’s taught me the science. This farmhouse cheese is pretty fool proof. It requires no special cultures, nor molds, nor aging. You only need cheesecloth and rennet which I just order.

First begin my warming 1 gallon of whole milk and stirring constantly. You’ll want to feel it with your finger and maybe test it with a thermometer to 100 F. Turn the heat off. It’s good to know what it feels like and not need a thermometer. The milk should definitely not be boiling.

Crush a rennet tablet and dissolve in a touch of warm water or the warmed milk from the pot. Stir it into the gallon of milk. Curds will begin to form pretty quickly, but allow it all to sit (uncovered) for 1 hour. No need to stir it (don’t want to break it up yet).

Cut across the curds making a lattice pattern. Allow it to sit for 15 to 30 minutes after cutting.

Then begin to scoop the separated milk into a strainer (maybe just sitting in the sink for draining), lined with cheesecloth, a thin dishtowel (like muslin), or an old undershirt (coffee filter or nice paper towel works too, but this recipe makes a bigger batch). Scoop as many curds (clumps) as you can leaving the whey (liquid) behind.

Allow it to strain until it’s not dripping so much. Add a couple pinches of salt to taste and stir it right in the cheesecloth with a spoon careful as to not break up the curds too much. Then give it a few squeezes through the cheesecloth to encourage faster draining. Gather the cheesecloth and press the curds into a hockey puck shape (round and flat). Cover it with it’s cheesecloth and put some weight on it – a saucer and a large can of tomatoes. Allow it to become firmer for 2 – 4 hours as it drains some more.

When you refrigerate it, it will become even a little firmer. The cheese will stay fresh in the fridge for a week, but we eat it the next day. Delicious with drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of course salt!

with love. Damaris


Family Currents: Swimming, Ants, and a Baby Pig

All of life is learning. We just need to be alert.

Our homeschool group wrapped up classes a few weeks ago, and we’ve started to transition into fun, outdoor activities that we don’t have time for during the structured schoolyear. Don’t you just love the chance to switch up some routines in the summertime?

The children started swim lessons, which they say is the most fun activity because it feels like vacation. It’s helping them to gain confidence and the older ones to get better technique.

All the kids started flag football and softball on Saturday mornings. We have so much to learn! Nathan coaches softball, and the children seem to prefer it over flag football. It’s so good for them to get comfortable with the rules of the game and be a little sore the next day.

We also got an ant farm. Have you ever had one? They’re available here. It’s very interesting to watch them make tunnels and communicate in some way. Providence is so scared of the ‘man-eating ants’. Never, ever open the lid. Don’t ask how we know : )

We’re so excited to introduce you to Rose, the new baby pig. We got her the same way we got Holly at Christmastime. She was also free, so why not? The piglet is about 20 lbs. with a very curly tail. She’s purely pink, and since she came to us in May, Eva thought Rose was fitting. Isn’t she cute!

There are other big happenings at FirstFruits Farms, and we’ll be sharing more in a full farm update soon!

with love. Damaris


The Loft Reveal!!!

Happy Monday morning, friends! Through the pictures on the blog, Instagram, and Facebook, you’ve been able to see small frames of our beautiful farmhouse. We’re excited to welcome you into our home and plan to slowly introduce you to our little piece of world by sharing more “now and before” posts. I’ve been looking through some of the before pictures, and I could hardly believe it! Honestly, I had forgotten what some of the rooms used to look like. Nathan is responsible for most of the transformation. He has great taste, and I know you agree : )

We bought the farmhouse in 2014, and like most homes, there’s always one more thing to fix. The latest remodel that is pretty much completed is The Loft.

Our house did not have a loft, but in the renovation of the girls’ bedroom, the ceiling collapsed! You don’t even want to know the plaster/dust/black debris that covered Nathan and two church friends that were helping that evening. The three of them slaved away to clean up the mess with shovels and wheelbarrows. One of the guys helping out was an architectural student at University of Michigan, and had a great idea – “Hey, instead of replacing the ceiling, why don’t you just leave the attic open?” And now we have a loft : )

We opened up the ceiling to follow the roof rafters, that allowed us to expose some beautiful hewn beams. Then we extended the wall above the girls doorway back into the attic about 8 feet, that gives the girls an attic loft that’s about 8′ deep by 16′ wide.

Carpet cozied up the space immediately, and we found a perfect dresser in the IKEA clearance room. Our oldest daughter, Eva, had been looking forward to this little space, and she has made it all her own.

with love, Damaris


Family Currents: The Birds and The Bees

A couple of weeks ago, the kids and I went to the orchestra. We have been attending this program for children for years, and it never disappoints! The performance is splendid and the auditorium exquisite. The program welcomes all school groups. While we were there, Samuel hung out at Nathan’s office and pretended shy while everyone hoped for some cuteness.

We are so excited to introduce the new addition to our farm! Harry the ram is a calm male that is wooing our four ewes. Larry the llama doesn’t mind him hanging around, and they’ve welcomed him to the pasture better than we had expected. We hope to grow the flock with some lambs coming late summer!

Alexander and Nathan’s Dad attended an all-day beekeeping class last week and had fun learning some crazy facts. They came back excited to start another season of honey bees.

And that’s a wrap for syrup! Nathan and the boys boiled gallons and gallons of the last sap collected all weekend. We are so very grateful for their labor! This time, the boys got to roast marshmallows, and the girls were oh-so-jealous. We have been enjoying selling this precious amber sweetness. If you would like some 2018 local maple syrup, please contact us by replying to this post or email (under the category contact), Facebook, or Instagram. The supply is limited : )

with love. Damaris


Tap, Tap, Tap – Maple Syrup Time!

Over the last several years the boys and I have learned to enjoy the debut of spring by working in the brisk sunshine over a hot fire and the warm, sweet steam of boiling maple sap! All of the restless knots of winter work themselves out in the most marvelous of ways – physical labor in God’s creation…and a sweet reward at the end. : )

Maple syrup making is one of a few unique ventures in which only those of us who are foolish enough to live in the sub-arctic northern hemisphere can participate. Of course, if you live in Vermont, up-state New York, Maine, or (cue angelic choir music) Canada you can claim all superiority and expertise in the art of making maple syrup. In Michigan, though, there is still plenty of maple sap to go around and plenty of cold nights and vacillating spring days to bring the sap to our buckets. It isn’t uncommon for neighbors to drive down our muddied road and see kids slurping sap tubes from ancient maple trees like little fairies at a forest soda fountain : )

While I’m not going to go into the detail of a how-to for making maple syrup – YouTube has that covered with about 400,000 video tutorials (which is where I learned) – I thought it’d be fun to share some lessons-learned for those of you who may be curious to try your hand at robbing nature of it’s second-best golden nectar (first-best is found here).

Hmm…I think that the first lesson is:

1. It’s OK to Start Small – that’s good news! If you’ve got a couple of Maple trees that you’ve been harboring a grudge against while you splurt Aunt Jemima on your waffles some mornings, then put an end to it! Grab the following, and you’ll be well on your way:

  1. a bucket, washed-out milk jug, etc

  2. drill & drill bit

  3. Spile (OK, gonna have to buy some of these)

  4. hammer

  5. plastic tubing (best price around!)

  6. (whole kit found on Amazon, yay!)

2. Be Prepared

Last year I was caught off-guard by an early warm-up in the weather. This got the sap flowing early, and I missed about 2 weeks of sap collection. Don’t wait to gather your supplies. Do it NOW for next season, then when the temps get to 40s in the daytime and still below freezing at night – Tap Those Trees!

3. Surface Area Matters!

Our first year, we used a large stock pot to boil the sap in over a wood fire. It was a large container, but the problem was the diameter. The goal is to get as much water to evaporate out of the sap as quickly as possible. For that, you need as much surface area as possible. After spending days watching a boiling pot…boil. I was finally able to upgrade to a large stainless steel water bath (think Old Country Buffet cast-off). This pan is about 5 inches deep and has about 11 square feet of surface area! This simple change in equipment has allowed us to cut our boiling time down by 75% – effectively quadrupling our syrup production in equal time.

4. Feed Your Fire

As I noted above, making maple syrup is all about time. That’s where the cost comes from, not the equipment or supplies, but how much of life someone has had to give to the product! Unless you’re retired, a trust fund baby, or a recent lotto winner, you probably don’t have unlimited time to boil down sap into the liquid gold you’re going for. In addition to a large surface area to enable evaporation, another key to speed up the process is a consistent, hot, efficient fire. I’ve used a smoke stack (6″ galvanized duct pipe) to keep oxygen drawing through the fire and as much hard wood as I can get a hold of.

5. Oh My Nitre!

Nitre and Sugar Sand are symbiotic evil twin gremlins of the sugar shack (there’s a picture for ya). Both of these substances present as a result of boiling the natural minerals found in the wonderful Maple sap. Nitre will show up in flakes on the evaporator pan (think calcium deposits). Sugar sand will appear as the syrup cools after bottling. You may have seen sugar sand as a haze suspended in, or at the bottom of, bottles of finished syrup. So how do you combat these gremlins? Well, the professionals force their syrup through layers and layers of pressurized filters. That’s a bit out of my league, and I’m still fighting this battle. As of this season, I’m filtering our sap right out of the evaporator, then filtering again before bottling. I’m also trying to be careful not to bring the syrup to boil any more than I have to while finishing it. Boiling will always create more sugar sand.

6. The Art of Finishing Well

There’s life application in making maple syrup?? Yep! but isn’t that true in pretty much everything worth endeavoring? While the bulk of the work of maple syrup production is on the front-end – tapping, collecting, hauling, and of course boiling the sap from 4-6% sugar content to around 60% sugar content; the real art of syrup making comes in the last few moments. The sap needs to be watchfully brought to 219 degrees & 66-68 brix (density). After struggling the first two years to get our syrup to be the best consistency, I finally bought a hydrometer. Using the hydrometer to measure the density (brix) of the syrup, as well as making sure I am using a calibrated thermometer have been key to achieving that lovely, palette-coating consistency of high-quality maple syrup.

Check out this awesome illustration of the evaporation process which will turn your sap into high-value maple syrup!

“Variation in Sugar Content of Maple Sap” by Fred Taylor

AGRICULTURAL EXPERIMENT STATION

University of Vermont and State Agricultural College

Burlington, Vermont

MARCH 1956

β€”

BULLETIN 587

Happy Tapping!

some thoughts, Nathan