Homestead Happenings – Cover Crops and Dairy Day!

This week has been a mix of late fall garden close-up and indoor preserving. Featuring prominently in that preserving? Home dairy day!

Fall Cover Crop for Springtime Weed suppression, Nitrogen Fixing, and No-Till Plantings

This week saw a little cover-cropping–I’m trialing cover cropping with a mix of white and red clover and planning to do some no-till gardening for selected plants through the clover in the spring. A recent Mother Earth News issue had a great spread on cover crops for the garden. In it, they talk a little about no-till gardening through the clover for some crops. I’m thinking this makes a lot of sense for tomatoes, because for many years now we’ve fought a lot of tomato blight here in New England gardens. Since blight initially starts with spore-infected soil splashing up from rain and watering and then spreads up the plant, controlling the splash is one of the best preventative methods to help control tomato blight.

clover fall cover crop
Tiny sprouts of white and red clover. These fast-germinating seeds were quick to pop with a little rain the day after spreading (under one week!)

Clover Cover Crop for Elderberries

I am also playing with using the same red and white clover mix under a small stand of elderberry bushes. Elderberries do not compete well with other weeds, especially large ones that can choke the plants out. Clover, however, is low-growing and is also a nitrogen-fixer. My theory is that the clover will remain low enough not to compete too much with these large, well-established bushes but will suppress other, more problematic weeds. The clover can be mowed, so even if some weeds come through they should be pretty easy to control with regular mowing. And along the way, the plants will get a nitrogen boost from the clover, something that older elderberry bushes tend to need.

Honey bees love a good stand of clover, too, so one other big benefit will be drawing more bees to the area of the blossoming elderflowers. Sounds like a win, win, win, but it is an experiment, and we’ll see!

Making the Most of That Dairy Cow

The other big project this week was taking a day to do dairy. We milk a lovely little jersey cow here for milk and dairy for the family. To be sure, her four to five grass-fed gallons a day are more than we need; and keeping a dairy cow is not really what you might call “cheap,” especially if you don’t have an abundance of hay land and pasture.

separating milk for butter
Separating cream-line milk for cream to make butter. Best to use milk between two and ten days old. The separation line is clear to see, and a simple siphon of a dedicated piece of tubing is a cheap and easy way to separate cow’s milk at home.

The best way to continue to justify keeping our backyard dairy cow is by maximizing the use of the milk. I’ll be the first to admit that life gets in the way and this is an area in which I could always do better, but between growing a humanely-raised rose veal, seven or more of us drinking fluid milk, and using the excess milk for cream, cheese, and butter, it starts to become a little more of a profit-leaning project. And so today’s pictures are heavily weighted in milk and dairy, with maybe a few others thrown in.

As always, I’m interested to see and hear about your #HomesteadHappenings, and eager to to hear what questions you have that I can answer in comments and/or future posts.

Homestead Happenings in Late October

Happenings on the Homestead

Just lately it’s occurred to me that while information-sharing is certainly at the heart of homestead blogging and publishing, we might perhaps be overlooking some of the smaller daily doings of the backyard farm and homestead.

A Look in the Homesteading Mirror

Home on the Homestead

This came to me while in the garden this late summer and early fall, looking around at the produce and projects in their various stages of completion. I think it came as more of an awareness in large part due to new membership in a number of online forums (mainly Facebook groups).

I think this was particularly true because this year with COVID and growing concerns over food security, with people with more time and inclination for reviving “Victory Gardens” and so many newcomers reaching out for help with first-time growing and gardening; many of us more seasoned homesteaders had a bit of a mirror shined upon ourselves and our daily lives.

Questions and answers that might have seemed obvious and unworthy of discussion are proving on these forums, more and more, to be very much a topic of interest to these “newbies” but also just in conversation amongst ourselves. This in turn led me to think that maybe there is a place for the more, dare I call it mundane, but more appropriately call it commonplace, chores, tasks, functions, and productions of the self-sufficient leaning homestead and small farm.

Let’s See Homesteading for What It Really Is

Maybe, just maybe, every single post doesn’t have to be so involved. Maybe not all posts have to teach or instruct. Maybe quick posts that give more of a glimpse into the everyday can do just as much to help people sort out their options and see what plans and projects might work for them on their farm. Maybe they’ll just be a bit of fun, but maybe they’ll help others actually see more of what life on a modern “homestead” looks like.

I’ll call these posts “Homestead Happenings.”

It’s pretty likely these will be, in large part, collections of pictures with not as many words (something I’m sure plenty of people might even appreciate!). Sort of Instagram for the website, archived and available.

Show and Tell #HomesteadHappenings

I invite you to scroll through, take from these posts what you will, and even send me links to your own version of Homestead Happenings, so we might all see what each other are doing and what great ideas (or even just good old-fashioned basic ones) are out there. Certainly, if you see a picture or subject that intrigues you, that you’d like to hear more about, leave me a comment or send me an email. Maybe some of your interests will grow into more in-depth posts on topics that prove to be of interest.
In this spirit, I leave you now with some of the most recent pictures from around the homestead and kitchen.

Late summer and fall are great times to be on a homestead in New England!


Make Elderberry Jelly from Dried Elderberries!

Elderberries may be hitting the mainstream now for their promising antiviral benefits, but the truth is that a lot of us homesteading and country types have had a relationship with elderberries for a very long time. Elderberries were always a part of our late-summer preserving in my mother’s and my grandmother’s kitchens.

Blessed with Abundance…Smells Like Childhood

elderberries on stem

If you grew up with elderberries, you’re sure to remember the rich smell of it processing. In my house it was always in the form of jelly. I recall it as a fruity yet rich, deep, earthy flavor, actually something of an acquired taste for me as a youngster, but which I grew to appreciate even more as an adult. We were blessed both on our property and my grandparents’ property next door with an abundant grove. Over the years, though, many of those bushes fell away, probably choked out by more dominant growth, and so, too, did my knowledge of elderberry as a prime food source.

I understand that a few bushes remain and I’ll have to go scouting for some cutting to root for planting elderberries here on the homestead (not that I don’t have native elderberries available near me, and in fact I have plenty of local cuttings, but there’s something about owning a piece of grandma’s elderberry bush that draws me).

Elderberry Knowledge Lost & Re-Found

At some point about five years ago I was reminded of elderberries once again. I think it came to me when we started making homemade wines with the fruits of our land and started looking at things other than grapes to make wine with. An older gentleman at the gym made mention to my husband, who made mention to me, and there was my head-smack moment. Elderberry is the PERFECT flavor for my husband! He’s not much of a sweets-eater, but elderberries are not sweet, and nor are most recipes that use elderberries. Earthy and balanced, he’d love elderberry anything, and I should have thought of it years before. In a wine, elderberry tends toward dark, heavier and dry, and not very sweet. exactly what he’d want. That gentleman sent him home with a bottle, and the rest, well, it’s homemade wine history.

Making Elderberry Jelly from Dried Elderberries

how to make elderberry jelly from dried elderberries

I did, however, manage to convince my husband to let me use a small portion of our first elderberry forages for a batch of jelly. And on this, too, he soon became hooked. Elderberry jelly recipes are pretty basic, and not too involved. The problem is often finding elderberries in season to make them…or being willing enough to spare from the wine for the jelly!

Recently, however, I chanced across a post from an herb and spice company, Frontier Co-Op, that I frequently order from online (usually through Amazon because it gets around their high wholesale minimums). I order from them primarily for ingredients for my homemade elderberry tea mixes. But Frontier had recently shared a post on How to Make Elderberry Jelly from Dried Elderberries. This is a brilliant, simple elderberry jam recipe made from dried elderberries, so you can make it at any time of the year.

One More way To Get Our Daily Dose of Elderberry

Especially in the winter months (but really all year long), we try to incorporate elderberry into our daily diet. We do it for the immune support, the antioxidants and antiviral benefits, the high vitamin and mineral and overall strong nutritional profile, but mostly, we use it for the taste of elderberry. It’s simply delicious! We enjoy elderberry in wine. We enjoy it mostly in tea–it’s not hard to make a tasty, relaxing cup of elderberry tea a part of your daily habit. But we enjoy elderberry in other ways, too; like that jelly and like syrup for yogurt and summertime spritzers.

In the end, I believe we can get far with small changes to our daily diet and a return to traditional, wholesome, nutritional foods like elderberries. The challenge for us in this modern crazy age is finding the ways to incorporate those good foods. Simple recipes like this elderberry jelly that are easy–and delicious!–to use every day make eating well and harnessing the power of healthful traditional foods that much easier. I hope you, like me, SHARE and ENJOY this handy elderberry jelly recipe!