Friday, March 21, 2014

Kefir Blueberry Muffins

You can bake with kefir just like you would bake with buttermilk.  Even though we're trying to cut back on our consumption of grains here, it's hard when the kids are always requesting braided semolina bread or kefir pancakes.  It takes the edge off the guilt when I can bake without refined sugar and using cultured foods like kefir!  If you're into soaking your grains you can soak the flour in the kefir overnight before adding the rest of the ingredients and baking.  I always soak my grains and flours if I have the time. :)

Here's our most recent kefired creation, Kefir and Raw Honey Blueberry Muffins:

1.5 cups organic flour
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1/3 cup raw honey
1/3 cup grapeseed oil (or melted butter)
1/3 cup kefir
1 egg
1 cup wild blueberries (fresh or frozen)

Combine dry ingredients in a bowl and mix well.  Combine wet ingredients in a separate bowl and mix well.  Add wet to dry in the bowl of a stand mixer with paddle attachment and mix until just combined.  Fold in blueberries.  Scoop by the heaping spoonful into your greased or lined muffin tin. Note:  I use FSC certified unbleached and chlorine free baking cups (yes, these exist!) to line my muffin pan, it makes for easy clean up!  Bake in a preheated 400 degree F oven for 25 minutes (less if blueberries are not frozen).


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Spring Equinox & Planting with the Moon Cycle, Part 1: Cultivating the Soil

I would like to write a series of posts this season about planting according to the moon cycle and moon signs. This is a centuries old practice followed by farmers and those living close to the land and it extends to much more than just planting.  In reference to the moon's potent sway over bodies of water, Pliny the Elder, a first century Roman naturalist, said that the moon "replenishes the earth when she approaches it, she fills all bodies, while, when she recedes, she empties them" (The Old Farmers Almanac).  This gives us a guide for when to plant certain types of vegetables and fruit.  Just as the moon's gravitational pull determines the tides it also has an impact on moisture in the soil.  Tests have actually proven that seeds absorb the most moisture on a full moon ( Generally, plants that bear their fruit below the ground (root vegetables) should be planted when the moon is waning and those that bear fruit above ground when the moon is waxing.  There are much more detailed guides than this and some break the monthly cycle down into quarters to be even more exact.  I am going to start this series of posts with the cultivation of the soil that is necessary before beginning to plant for the season.  Today is the vernal equinox (or Spring Equinox).  The day and night are of equal length and this day marks the beginning of longer days and shorter nights.  It's a perfect time to begin preparing our garden for the onset of spring.  We have already seen Mother Earth starting to wake from winter slumber and come alive on our homestead. Chickens are laying eggs, goats are kidding, the ground is greening, fruit trees have started to bloom, and I even saw the first bluebird yesterday!  Today we are celebrating these signs of fertility and re-birth and hoping to be blessed with a fruitful garden this season!  This weekend we will be very close to the 4th quarter of the moon cycle, the moon is waning (heading from full to new) and the moon will be in Sagittarius.  The waning or receding moon is considered a dry time, especially the 4th quarter.  The "semi-barren" sign of sagittarius also makes this time particularly suited to preparing the bare earth for planting.  This is the time to kill any weeds, do any pruning, prepare your soil, and perform any other general management.  If you live somewhere warm and have already done this, the 3rd quarter of the moon cycle, which we are still in this week, is when it is best to plant crops that bear their fruit below the ground; carrots, radishes, and so forth.  It is also best to plant fruit trees during the 3rd quarter even though they bear their fruit above ground.  We will be planting some carrot seedlings in pots to celebrate the spring equinox today, which happens to fall into the 3rd quarter of the moon phase.  Every year I use this activity to have the children draw a parallel between preparing the physical soil and planting the actual seed and preparing their spiritual soil and planting a "seed" for some kind of personal growth inside themselves that they can nurture for the rest of the year.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Feeding Urban Goats: Mixing and Growing Your Own Grains and Herbs for Optimal Nutrition

This post is more for my own records than anything else!  I am constantly tweaking what we are doing around here with feeds because I want to give all our animals the best of the best!  I like to hand-mix grains and herbs so I can have full control of the diet, ensure quality, and learn about what they need for a balanced diet.  So, ideally, our goats would have access to acres and acres of pasture and browse and would get to forage among varied species of plants, bushes, trees, herbs, etc.  Unfortunately, due to our space constraints (we are on half an acre and only a quarter acre is available for our farming endeavors), we cannot provide our goats with their ideal meal.  I have had to research the best way to keep them in top physical condition and producing the highest quality milk for us in an unconventional environment. That means in addition to hay they need to be supplemented with grains, herbs, and fresh greens/veg.  This is my current plan for the goats, with notations about which vitamins and minerals they will be getting from each ingredient:


We are switching to Chaffhaye or "pasture in a bag."  Chaffhaye is made from alfalfa that is harvested in its prime, sprayed with a kiss of molasses, vacuum sealed and fermented for optimal nutrients and digestion.  More information can be found here:

We will continue to provide pesticide-free coastal grass hay to supplement this and as an activity for the goats.  The chaffhaye is fed by weight, whereas the bale of coastal is free choice and is more for their enjoyment since goats like to reach up and pull out the long-stemmed hay and munch on it.  They feel like they are browsing and the long stems are good for their digestion.


Whole Oats 
Rolled Barley
Field Peas
Black Oil Sunflower Seeds

Top Dressing for goat food: 

This is sprinkled on top of their chaffhaye and grains to provide them with extra vitamins, minerals, and variety in their diet as well as for different health benefits and increased milk production.

Carrot Powder - vit. A, calcium, C, iron, sodium

Sesame Seeds - B1, B2, B6, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, zinc, calcium, iron, sodium

Sunflower Seeds - B1, B5, B6, E, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, calcium, C, iron

Parsley - A, B2, B9, C, E, K, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium, selenium, zinc

Basil - A, B6, B9, C, E, K, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium, zinc

Nutritional Yeast - B2, B3, B9, iron, sodium

Wheat Bran - B2, B3, B5, B6, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus

Flax Seeds - B9, magnesium, omega-3's, calcium, Iron, vitamin C, sodium

B12 - need cobalt to synthesize - green leafy veg OR mineral supp.

Organic Citrus Rinds - C

Rose Hips - C, *birth prep

Fennel - calcium, magnesium, sodium, zinc, iron, *birth prep *milk production

Red Raspberry Leaf - calcium, iron, magnesium, B vitamins, *birth prep

Thorvin kelp - iodine

Fenugreek - iron, selenium, phosphorus, calcium, *milk production

Nettles - A, C, iron, potassium, manganese, calcium, sodium, *milk production

Additional Supplements:

Molasses - B vitamins, etc.  (they get this from the chaffhaye now)

Vitamin E capsules for does about to kid or just after kidding - to help speed healing

Raw ACV (with mother) - probiotics, digestion, coat, overall health

Himalayan Sea Salt - free choice, trace minerals

Baking Soda - free choice, digestion

Things we are growing in the garden this year for our goats

(and bunnies, separate post on bunny diet later!):

Carrots/Carrot Tops
Sweet Potatoes
Dandelion Greens/Roots
Sage (not for preggos)
Red Raspberry Leaf
Grape Leaves

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Rejuvenate: Planting Seedlings and Thoughts on Unschooling

A quick pic on the iphone that I took yesterday while planting seeds with my little loves.  This past month we have had two snow storms blow through, which is very rare for our area.  Having my husband home from work and playing in the snow with the kids was a blast, but now I am ready for spring!  Suddenly this week the sun came out, it warmed right up to 75 degrees, the chickens started laying, and the peach trees bloomed! The goats' udders are filling with milk and babies will be here soon.  I can feel spring coming and my soul feels reinvigorated!  We started planting seedlings yesterday in peat pots so we can nurture them until we are sure the danger of spring frost has passed.  My two-year-old loved filling the peat pots, he's at that wonder-filled age where he loves helping with household chores and tasks.  It warms my heart when I see how proud he is that he helped with something important on our homestead.  My 7-year-old decided while we were planting that he wants to take photos of the seeds sprouting every day and put together a flip-book that looks like a time lapse photo. What a great idea!  

One of the things I love most about homeschooling and "unschooling" is that my children often come up with their own, independent projects and I can use those as a springboard to teach them something or just watch them learn, grow, and create on their own and be there if they have questions or need me to help them find materials.  It is tremendously humbling to watch other human beings learn and explore, especially young children.  I feel that most of the time, especially in a traditional school setting, children's explorations and learning experiences are channeled and directed, even down to the minute details, by the overseeing adults.  To the point of stifling curiosity, creativity, and imagination altogether.  Homeschooling has taught me to be open to everything and not to push my wants, opinions, and priorities on my children.  I am an observer, watching the learning unfold.  I have certainly learned as much from them and from this experience as they have from me.  It's funny, I look at my two younger ones who are 5 months and 2 years and I think about the massive amount of learning that occurs in those early years.  It happens with encouragement and support from parents, certainly, but no set curriculum.  Then suddenly children reach school age and it's this mad dash to find the "right way" of teaching them and there are hundreds of methods for approaching every activity and subject and thousands of professionals with opinions on one method or the other.  What I have learned from my children is there is no "right method" for anything.  Some things will be right for one child and all wrong for the other.  They are unique beings with different ways of learning, seeing, and thinking.  They have different interests and goals.  While it may not be convenient for parents or educators or even possible in certain settings, flexibility and independence is the only way to support true learning.  Being fluid and noticing the learning styles and the needs of each child.  Knowing when to step back and just let it happen.  Think about how we learn as adults, once we're out of the school system, if we want to know about something or we have an interest we look it up, we read about it, we pursue it.  Maybe we even enroll in a class, I'm not saying there isn't value to that.  Because when you WANT to know about something and you are passionate about it that is different than being forced to learn about it.  I don't take credit for my children's learning or even like the label "teacher."  They are the ones doing the work.  Just a few weeks ago I watched my son put together a compass by himself.  I'll admit, I wanted to be part of what he was doing and I asked if I could help but he said "no, I've got this mom."  He chose this activity himself, read about compasses, followed the directions for making one, busily working and stopping to ask me for "a glass of water" and a "piece of tape" and then going right back to his project.  When he was done he proudly showed me the working compass he had created and gave a mini-lecture to his siblings and me about how compasses work, the four directions, magnetic north, etc.  All of this he did on his own, with vigor and passion, because he wasn't being forced and his process wasn't being intruded upon. So, even though I do have to step in and direct some of our activities in small ways, this is the type of learning that I want to take up the bulk of our time.  Self-directed life learning.  It was such a foreign concept to me in the beginning because I needed to shift my perspective.  The more I have started to view everything we do every day as learning or "school" the easier it has become for me.  I've been asked how many hours a day we "do school" for.  That has become an impossible question to answer.  While we are awake we are learning, everything we do during the day is an opportunity for learning.  Lessons are not lectures but discussions with mom and dad about the world and topics that the kids want to know about, usually a question from one of the children is a catalyst for these discussions and the kids ask us very insightful questions.  The Olympics are happening right now and we have started learning in both conventional and unconventional ways about the countries of the world.  What we've been watching on TV, seeing different athletes, flags, etc. mingles with discussions about world cultures and governments, print outs of maps, and games where the children race to label the countries.  It's a beautiful mess but we are learning!

One of the things I am most excited about this year is that both our school-age children are starting their own businesses.  Through this endeavor they will use math, they will write things, they will read things, they will learn basic business skills and practice decision-making, critical thinking, and creative thinking.  They will interact face to face with people (both children and adults) and see the real life results of their work.  They have both decided they want to save for their own computers, so they have a lot of work ahead of them!  They have already created their business plans, worked on their branding and marketing strategies, put the framework of their businesses into place, decided on pricing, set goals for themselves, and thought about their company ethos and ways that they can give back to the community and the world when their businesses are successful. Within the framework of their businesses they are learning many other things about the natural world as well as many practical life skills.  I do plan on sharing more about this in depth in another blog post as I am very excited about what the kids are learning on this adventure!

Well, I really just meant to post a picture of us planting seeds and express my excitement about spring, but started thinking about homeschooling.  So there you have it, a little insight into our way of learning and "schooling" around here.  And like I said, there's no one way for everyone (every child or every family) so this is not meant to judge the way other families are homeschooling or the choice made by other families to send their children to public or private school.  Just my musings about our family and our lifestyle. ;)

*Note: I generally dislike labels, but sometimes they are useful and while searching for like-minded parents and professionals at the beginning of our homeschool journey I came across the term "unschooling."  It is the label that most closely reflects our educational philosophy and what we are doing with our children.  If you've never heard the term and are curious about it, here are some resources:

Life Learning Magazine

Wikipedia: Unschooling

John Holt: What is Unschooling?

The Beginner's Guide to Unschooling:


Teach Your Own

The Unschooling Handbook

Unschooling Rules

Radical Unschooling

A pretty comprehensive list of unschooling books on Amazon:


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Our Miniature Dairy Goats + Why We LOVE Raw Milk

If you follow my Instagram feed (see right sidebar) than you've probably seen lots of pictures of goats appear there since May of last year.  Unbelievably, though it has been eight months since our new four-legged-furry-friends came into our lives, I still have not written a single blog post about them!  So, here goes....

Last May, for my birthday, we got 5 miniature dairy goats.  After years of talking and dreaming about getting goats, it finally became a reality.  Now, let me point out here that we live in a typical suburban subdivision on a half-acre lot.  In the past, we felt this precluded us from getting any livestock (except chickens, we have always had plenty of those!).  We are outside the city limits, so technically we can own livestock, we just didn't think we had the space for it.  After discovering and researching Nigerian Dwarf goats, we went to visit Nigerian Meadows Dairy Farm in Wallace, North Carolina.  We met many goats there, played with adorable kids (baby goats), learned how to milk a goat, and learned more about their space and housing requirements, feeding, breeding, etc.  We even got to witness one of their goats (soon to become one of our goats!) in labor (she kidded 3 hours after we left!).  We were sold. Two weeks later I made the trip back up with the kids (hubby was at work this time) and we came home with five miniature goats in the back of our car.  Our starter herd.  Our herd consisted of two doelings (3 months and 6 months old), two does (first fresheners already in milk), and a buck.  Our adult girls weighed about 50 pounds at this point (still growing).  Adult Nigerian Dwarfs don't get to be more than 75 pounds full-grown and ours are still quite a bit smaller than that.  Nigerian dwarf goats are considered rare by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.  They are extremely gentle and loving pets and produce a startling amount of milk for their small size.  A doe in milk can produce up to 2 quarts (or one half gallon) of milk per day and can stay in milk for 9 or 10 months, being dried off a couple months before kidding again (goats have a 145-150 day or approx. 5 months gestation period).  Different breeds of goats produce milk with slightly different flavors and different butterfat content.  Nigerian Dwarfs produce the sweetest milk with the highest butterfat content (6-10%).  Let's just say it is delicious.  Nigerian Dwarfs can also breed year round, whereas standard breeds can only be bred in the fall.  Definitely an advantage for a small farm wanting to be in milk year round and stagger breedings.

There are a couple rumors floating around about owning dairy goats that I'd like to dispel here.  I've heard on forums and blogs people saying not to get "first fresheners."  A first freshener is a goat that is in milk for the first time.  All our goats were first fresheners and it was no problem at all!  I'm not really sure what the reason is for people saying not to purchase first fresheners...could be they think for a novice having a goat that hasn't been trained to the milk stand will be a hassle.  Goats are highly food motivated.  Put grains in the bin attached to their stanchion and believe me they will hop right up there and chow down and hardly notice you milking them!  One of our girls starts to tap dance around the stand a bit when she runs out of grains, so we have to either milk her fast or my husband gives her what he calls "magnet boots" and holds her back legs in place so I can finish milking without her dancing around, haha!  Another thing might be that first fresheners do not usually produce as much milk their first year.  We still got plenty out of our girls, that's for sure, but we are excited to see their production increase in their 2nd year.  So there you go, you just have to be patient.  I think the important thing is finding a healthy, happy goat from a reputable farm and even if they haven't freshened yet, look at their lineage as far as milk production goes and you can get a good idea of what their production might be like.  You can also get an idea of what their udder attachment will be like, although perfect udder attachment doesn't necessarily mean more milk and if you aren't going to show your goats conformation might not be your highest priority.  That said, poorly attached udders can cause other health concerns and discomfort, so if your goat is to produce milk and not just be a pet, do ask questions about this.  If your goat is just a pet (not to be bred and not to be in milk) they won't even 'make an udder' so no worries!  

Another myth, I heard repeatedly that you should pen your bucks far away from your does because they will go crazy trying to get to the females and because their proximity to the does can make the milk taste "goaty."  JUST NOT TRUE.  Goats are herd animals.  If they aren't near other goats or animals they will be desperately lonely and cry all day.  That IS true.  We only have one buck and he is penned right next to the girls, he shares a fence on one side.  Does he harass the girls?  Absolutely not.  Is he a crazy, wild beast?  He is the sweetest boy ever.  Does he stink up to high heaven?  Nope.  He has a "buck scent," whereas the girls don't have any scent at all, but it is not strong or offensive.  We actually never smell him except when the girls are in heat and even then you would need to actually be in the pen with him or touch him to notice it.  Does the milk taste "goaty"?  Not even a teeny, tiny bit.  Tastes just like cow milk, but better because it is FRESH!

We are anxiously awaiting our first goat babies, due next month!  Lots of pictures will be posted on our homestead's Facebook page and website!  If you're interested in owning Nigerian Dwarf goats, we will have a few babies to sell as well!

Now that you know all about our goats, here are some fun facts about RAW MILK from
Raw Vs Pasteurized Milk Graphic

Read more about RAW MILK:

Defending the rights and broadening the freedoms of family farms and protecting
consumer access to raw milk and nutrient dense foods