Who are ‘the folks at Homesteader’s Supply’?

Good Sunday Evening All….

I thought I’d share a bit with you about who we are and how Homesteader’s Supply came to be. My name is Nance Sparks and I’m the web / geek / homesteading side of Homesteader’s Supply. I have a B.S. degree in Computer Information Systems and work for a local private college by day. In addition to my forty hour a week job, I take care of the web presence of Homesteader’s Supply. It may sound like a small task, but I keep the web store up to date, design and write for our blogs, keep Google+ current, tweet, Facebook as well as design and send out all of the newsletters. I’m sure there is more geeky stuff that I do, but I enjoy it and love all of the questions and conversations I get to take part in with our readers and customers.

I also have a small farm on four acres in Chino Valley, Arizona. I have had a Jersey cow named Cookie for about six years now, she’s an angel and is currently in milk. I also have an old retired roping horse who isn’t ridden, but enjoys hanging out with his cows and is the sweetest gelding. A fourteen month old jersey calf shares the pasture as well and is getting ready for spring butchering. They are all protected by a breeding pair of Emu, Junior and Babycakes who share late fall eggs with me for amazing quiche. In the side yard is the chicken coop which is opened up every morning so the many varieties of chicken, turkey and ducks can roam the four acres freely, enjoying bugs, grass and seeds (I also keep a bucket of crumble out there for all of them).

Jerri Bedell is the nuts and bolts of Homesteader’s Supply. She lines up the vendors and manufacturers for all of the amazing products we carry. Her goal is to find products that are made with quality and will handle life on a homestead. Whenever possible, she strives to find products made in the U.S.A. She handles all of the sales, book keeping, corporation papers, pays the bills and yet still finds time to offer amazing customer service. She answers the phone personally, no automated menu of options and if she’s isn’t available when called, she’s known to get right back to her customers. Jerri also packs and ships out the products since Homesteader’s Supply is her main focus. Jerri has five acres in Chino Valley, Arizona and loves making fresh colby and cheddar cheese. She’s a pro at home made ice cream and butter as well. Jerri designed the Pickle Pro that we offer on our site and chose to make her model out of glass instead of the many plastic ferment containers on the market. Her reasoning, you can’t really sterilize plastic. It holds odors and bacteria, eventually altering the foods you ferment in them. The Pickle Pro is one neat item and most of Jerri’s vegetables end up fermented.

So, why on earth would two people who have yards to mow, bills to pay, cows to milk and all that want to get into business? The biggest push for us was the inability to find quality homesteading products. I ordered some milk pails and they were HORRIBLE!!! They were so thin that if the cow hit the side of the pail with her hoof it would dent the pail. They were made in China and eventually I threw it away and bought another one. The next pail was made in India and wasn’t much better. The lip on the pail was sharp and cut me more than once. The tabs that held the handle were welded poorly and snapped off in just a few months. My frustration grew as I sought out more and more homesteading products. Udder balms full of perfumes that stung the cow’s udders because the vendor wanted it to smell pretty like lotion. Muck boots that were made out stiff plastic and cracked after a few uses. The list can really go on and on and on.

Jerri was running into similar issues. Cheese rennet that was inconsistent in setting up a good curd or cultures that were inconsistent made for many very frustrating cheese making days. Items she’d purchase for her homestead were of poor quality and broke often or weren’t really designed for the practical uses on a working farm.

So, we got to talking and quickly realized that what was needed for not just our two farms, but all small family farms, was a place to purchase QUALITY homesteading products for a reasonable price. I got busy lining up a hosting company and began designing the store while Jerri dug into products. The first product she found was an amazing milking pail made from food grade stainless steel and completely created with American materials and labor. The pail is by my best guess at least ten times as thick as the cheap pails I’d struggled with! I’ve had my ‘made in Pennsylvania’ pail for over four years now and it still looks brand new! Next item she found was a perfume free udder balm… made in Iowa with all natural ingredients! We were on a roll. I kept plugging away at code getting everything linked up for the store and she continued to find quality products to order in and test. I guess what I’m saying is that much of what you see on the site, one of us has ordered and is using it in one or both of our homes. If it was crappy and didn’t work, it was returned and was not included in our store. We were on a mission and that mission carries on to this day. Quality products at an affordable price with great customer service!

All of that began in August of 2008 and here we are today. I share all of this with you so you’ll understand that we’re not some corporate office in the middle of a big city trying to tell you what you need on a farm, but instead… we’re farmers sharing with you what has worked great for us! We’re right there with you, working full time jobs and staring at half finished projects. We have livestock bellowing out in the back pasture to be milked and trying to keep the crows from stealing our eggs out of the coop. We’re just homesteaders eager for self sufficient living and rather than hoard the information we find… we share every bit of it, eager for all who embark on this adventure to be successful!

Happy Homesteading…. From the ‘folks at Homesteader’s Supply!’

Aging Homemade Cheese…

If you make home made colby or cheddar cheese, how do you store it for aging? Many people put it in a cheese box, simply an old fridge that they kick on once and a while to keep it 45 to 50 degrees. I used to wax the cheese we made and store it in the milk fridge for aging and it worked great except I don’t care for sharp cheese. Now, I wrap and freeze extra cheese to keep it mild. We had a customer ask if cheese still aged in the freezer. I haven’t noticed any aging or ripening action in frozen cheese, but thought I would ask all of you…

“Does cheese continue to age once frozen?”

Looking forward to your responses!!!

Back Yard Homesteading

City dwellers and country folks alike are realizing the benefits of back yard homesteading. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go out and buy a horse, cows, goats and fill acres with fences and animals. Back yard homesteading could be as simple as a few chickens and a nice garden for summer time vegetables. Homesteading is simply making the best use out of the land you have to use. If you have a small city plot, plant a garden in addition to flowers for an edible landscape design. If city ordinances allow, add a few chickens for a fresh supply of eggs. Despite a common misconception, you do not need a rooster to have fresh eggs. You only need a rooster if you want fertile eggs!

Chickens are an easy addition to the back yard homestead because they require very little maintenance. A clean source of water is a must and a constant supply of a healthy chicken crumble from your local feed store will have you enjoying fresh eggs in no time. A great benefit to chickens is the built in composting option. They LOVE table scraps, vegetable peels and cuttings and pretty much any food stuffs you’d normally throw away. In return they will give you fertilizer for your grass or garden. We coop our chickens at night and let them run free in the yard during the day. This does require fencing around any gardens, as I said, they do love fresh vegetables and you’ll find a patch full of half eaten cucumbers and the lettuce will be gone if you don’t lock them out. I clean out the chicken coop every month or so. I compost the straw bedding for the garden soil. We use five gallon buckets in a wooden rack that we built for nesting boxes. This keeps the skunks and racoons from stealing the eggs. The buckets are at a twenty degree tilt to keep the eggs from rolling out onto the ground.

Please comment with any questions and as always… Happy Homesteading!!!

Gardening With Straw Bales

Something to keep in mind when considering gardening with straw bales, make sure you purchase straw and not hay bales… hay will get too hot in the composting process and will kill your plants.

You can plant either seeds or plants in straw bales. I sowed seeds and transplanted from four inch pots last year, but before you begin, you must begin the composting process. I arranged the dry bales (much easier to move when dry!) in the configuration that worked for our back yard. You can either lay them down on the side (strings on the top and bottom) or strings on the sides with the cut straw facing top and bottom. If strings are on the sides, like in the photos, they tend to be a bit wobbly so secure them to each other or stake them into the ground with rebar. I neglected to do this and had a few bales fall over. Once the bales are arranged properly for your space, soak them thoroughly and sprinkle each bale with one cup of either ammonium sulfate or ammonium nitrate (though the latter is difficult to find since it’s been used for terrorism). Soak the bales again and let rest for one day. On day two, sprinkle one quarter cup of the fertilizer on each bale and soak thoroughly again. Repeat for eight more days. On day eleven, stop using the fertilizer and just soak the bales well for another ten days. On day twenty one from setup, you’re ready to test and see if the bales have cooked enough.

Now that the cooking process is complete, push your hand down into the bales and see if
Is it HOT inside the bale? Warm is ok, hot means it’s still cooking and you should wait a few days before planting. Just continue to water each day and test again.

Does it give enough (meaning is the straw still tight or has it composted enough) for you to get your hand inside the bale?

If the bale is no longer hot and if there is give for your hand… then you’re ready to plant!

What I do for seeds is work a couple of coffee cans of soil into the top of the bales and then poke the seeds into the soil based on planting depth. Once the seeds are in place you can lightly sprinkle soil on top of them and water carefully until they sprout. You can cover it with mulch if the spring temps are super high, but typically, as long as I keep it watered a few times a day to keep the seeds moist, they will sprout within a week. If you water too hard (high water pressure) your seeds will sprout from the ground around the bale, so be careful to soak the bales slowly as not to wash away your seeds.

Now for the transplants, I use a pointed shovel and stick it into the bale and then pry it back creating a gap in the bale, I pour in soil from the coffee can and water so the soil is moist or even muddy. I remove the shovel once there is enough soil to keep the gap open. I then make a hold for the plant and add a bit of soil on top to make sure the roots are well covered. Again, mulch is optional depending on the weather. Water the bales twice daily if there isn’t rain and add compost tea if they look faded at all. I have used miracle grow with great results but some look for an organic option and composting teas are wonderful and nutrient rich.

Happy Gardening!

Dealing with Mastitis

In addition to being a full time computer geek for a private college and being the technology side of Homesteader’s Supply, I have a small family farm which supplies me and my family with food for the year. Last year, I got my full dose (and more) of dealing with Mastitis in my two Jersey cows. I still don’t know what strain it was… I have a pretty good idea as to the cause and there are a few contributing factors… All I do know is that once it was there… I pretty much had to dry them up and treat them with both herbal and antibiotic remedies to get rid of it… and I’m thankful that this year has been mastits free!!!

“Mastitis is persistent and potentially fatal mammary gland infection, leading to high somatic cell counts and loss of milk production. Mastitis is recognized by a reddening and swelling of the infected quarter of the udder and the presence of whitish clots or pus in the milk. Treatment is possible with long-acting antibiotics but milk from such cows is not marketable until drug residues have left the cow’s system.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dairy_cattle

My girls, Cookie Cow and Mustang Sally both ended up with Mastitis last year. Cookie first and after a battle with a bad case of upper respiratory infection, Sally contracted it. Neither of my girls had the redness or too much pain. The flaking in the milk (whitish clots) is what caught my eye. Apparently this is the increased Somatic cell count – because testing with the California Mastitis Test kit revealed the presence of Mastitis. I used the CMT kit and the cards to check on the progress of healing the mastitis. It was NOT an easy task believe me. I lost most of Sally’s lactation to this nasty infection. The best remedy was a product called ‘Mastoblast’ – it’s herbal and doesn’t require giving your girl an injection. It cleared the mastitis up the best, but the mastitis came right back if you stopped using the product after the recommended 10 days. I also injected 30 cc of Penicillin G with Procaine once daily beneath the skin – not into the muscle. I did this to these poor girls for 5 days the first time – then after it reoccurred, I extended the injections to 7 days the second time… after BOTH series of shots the mastitis returned. I also bought the teat infusion products – Masticlear, Today, etc… I tried just treating the infected quarter for the recommended duration and then treated ALL four quarters for the recommended duration. Again the mastitis returned a few days after treatment. Feeling like a failure in beating this – I let the cows dry up and infused yet another teat product into the udder… this one was called Tomorrow and was a long acting antibiotic – not to be milked out. I treated both cows and allowed them to completely dry up.

This year we did experience some flaking after a particulary muddy monsoon season and what worked best was VITAMINS!!! Specifically, vitamin E (1,000 I.U. daily), vitamin C (6,000 mg daily) and a few capsuls of red raspberry leaves. If they had any flaking, this combo with some good ol’ molasses drizzled over their evening meal did the trick. All flaking was gone by the next day! By no means am I suggesting that antibotics don’t work and that testing isn’t needed. Last year could have been a very different strain than this years tiny flaking. I wouldn’t hesitate to use the Tomorrow dry cow treatment again because it did cure last year’s nasty infection. I also wouldn’t be without the CMT kit. I do encourage all dairy cow owners to be clean, clean clean when milking their cows. A few squirts of antibacterial soap on a clean wet cloth for washing, then a clean damp cloth for ‘rinsing’ and yet another for drying. It’s a bit more work than simply wiping off the teats, but this years lack of infections proves to me that clean is best.

Happy milking!!!!

Phase 1 of Straw Bale Gardening….

After much research, I am about to embark on gardening IN straw bales. One important step I’ve come to learn is that it’s best NOT to take shortcuts. Several people shared failure tales… simply soaking their bales with water for a few days before planting offered little nutrients to their plants and thus… little if nothing to harvest… they didn’t take the time to create a growing environment within the bale by adding the Ammonium Nitrate or compost teas to the bales for 10 days before planting.

To be perfectly honest, I won’t be adding Ammonium Nitrate either… I can’t find the stuff! So, instead of using the 30-0-0 power of Ammonium Nitrate… I’ll be using the 21-0-0 power of Ammonium Sulfate. I’m hoping it will produce the same result, which is to begin to ‘cook’ or ‘compost’ the bale. This allows the bale to ‘cook’ – or increase the temperature of the bale as it begins the process of decomposing. We definitely don’t want this process to begin once our plants are rooting in the bale. Temperatures during this process can hit 165 degrees and will damage, if not kill, your young little starters. I’ll be taking pictures this weekend as I lay out the garden of bales, sprinkle on the 1st cup of fertilizer and then soak with water. From what I’ve read, the first day we will sprinkle 1 cup of Ammonium Sulfate onto each bale… the next 9 days call for 1/4 cup each day before soaking. I also plan on taking beginning temperatures and keeping a log for the entire 10 days to see what kind of temperatures we obtain using the Sulfate as opposed to the Nitrate.

Stay tuned for more updates on the new garden!