Early November Homestead Happenings–Goodnight Garden and a Good Cup of (Elderberry) Tea

with Special Thanks to the next Veal

By November in New England, many of the outside tasks of homesteading are coming to an end. We’ve had some frosts and even some snows, though it seems Mother Nature cannot make up her mind, and here I sit inside trying to keep myself seated and not out playing in the mid-60 degree weather.

There is always something going on on a homestead or backyard farm. As the winter starts to settle in, those tasks and chores are sometimes less obvious. As a writer and homestead information publisher, this is the time of year that I “get down to business” a little more steadily. I try to refocus my time on writing, publishing, and information sharing, which is one of our means of support that carries us through the more active warm weather months. Still, some final gardening and harvesting tasks remained before the coldest temps set in.

Final Garden Harvest 2020

Walking in New England in November

I’m not going to lie. By the time September and October roll around, I’m looking forward to a frost. I don’t publicize that secret wish and it’s not something I say out loud in local circles with friends already whimpering over the snow and cold that lies ahead, but by that time I’m a little tired of weeding, harvesting and tending the garden.

There I said it. And the best way to get out of gardening? A good, hard, killing frost. It seems those frosts come later and later in my area these days, though.

Does this make me a bad backyard farmer? A hypocrite homesteader? An imposter gardener?

I think what it makes me is someone who appreciates the cycle of life and loves a good set of seasons, ready to move into the next season…which will eventually grow old, too, just in time for me to get the itch to garden and tend and grow again next spring.

So what HAS been happening on the homestead this week? Final garden harvesting, digging some herbs to grow inside this winter, working on an Elderberry Tea book, submitting my first article as a contributing blogger to Mother Earth News (waiting for a link to share!), and saying “Thanks” and goodbye to the veal–humanely raised, not in confinement, respected, well-treated, and appreciated. Today, though, it was time to see him off. Raising veal is one way to maximize the use of our homestead dairy cows and their milk and to affordably, healthfully, feed the family. (More on raising veal in another post.) Questions and respectful comments welcome, but abusive, rude comments will not be approved.

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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