Old Home Farm

Stepping Into the Shoes

farm signI put on a pot of beans this morning, and as I let them run through my fingers as I "looked them over," I found myself thinking of my mother. How many times did she do this exact same thing in the mornings before starting her daily chores?

And I realized I was using the exact same old tin colander she had used and would be setting it in the exact same pan she had used to rinse her beans. And at dinner time, I will be frying potatoes in the same cast iron skillet she had used with bacon grease I've saved from breakfast — just as she used to do.

beans

I also did a load of laundry this morning, and while I did not use a ringer washer, I did hang them out on the line. And again, I thought of my mother, hanging out her clothes and singing hymns while doing so.

And I smiled as I heard my playlist of hymns blaring from the open dining room window. The music is somewhat different, but it is joyous songs of praise and I know my mother would approve. I could almost hear her shouting, "Turn your stereo up," as she used to do when I was a teenager and I played the Carpenters, Bee Gees, ABBA or Dottie Rambo in my bedroom.

hanging laundry

The chickens were clucking about under my feet as I worked, and I remembered how mother loved her hens. She would scatter grain under the trees in the backyard and talk to them and call some of them by name. Exactly what I do every morning.

mother and chicken
Mother and her chickens.

So I made a cup of tea, and sat down on the porch to consider my life. Every morning when I rise, the first thing I do is make my bed (as mother taught me to do), then I make breakfast for Greg, do chores, wash the breakfast dishes, sweep the floors (and porch), and look at what needs to be done for the day — whether its laundry, prepping for the evening meal, making a fresh loaf of bread, doing some house cleaning, studying for Sunday School lessons, or working in the garden.

All things my mother used to fill her days with. I even mend and patch Greg's work clothes on occasion, just as she used to sit and patch dad's overalls.

I have never realized before how much like my mother I have become. And how nice it is to know that. I am living much the same life she lived, but with better modern conveniences.

And yet, I still cherish and value the same morals and principals she did. And my home is filled with music, just as hers was. Mother had a beautiful voice when she was young and she sang all day long with or without the transistor radio. I can't carry a tune in a bucket, but I have a Bose Wave for my CDs and a mp3 player for outdoors.

mother
Willia Roberts.

Without intention or design, I have stepped into my mother's shoes and am carrying on the life she lived as a farm wife and homemaker. And it was a natural thing to do. Part of the legacy of farm life.

I wonder when I am gone if my own daughter will suddenly find herself stepping into my shoes and fondly remember all the things I did everyday as a matter of course. I hope so. Because she will have the old tin colander, the pan, the cast iron skillet, and my CDs to carry on with.

me and aubry
Me and my daughter, Aubry Dilbeck.


Photos property of Leah McAllister.

Meanwhile, Back on the Farm...

farm signThings have been busy on Old Home Farm. Two sets of twin lambs were born last week. Mothers and babies are doing fine. I learned my lesson from last fall, and gave the mothers plenty of time to bond with the new arrivals. So far I have one ewe and three rams. Evie has yet to lamb (she's always late at everything), so I'm hoping for a couple of more ewes from her.

lambs

We've also been working on the garden. I set out several plants I've been bringing along in the mini green house.

the garden

Greg is making me a rock "terrace" to set the herb pots on. Its not quite finished yet as we are still collecting rocks to fit together, but its far enough along to start using.

herb garden

One major project was fixing the chicken tractor. We had an old one that was given to us a few years back and it needed major repairs. Greg spent an afternoon working on it (with Hucky's supervision) so we could put the new butcher chicks out. Their cage was getting a little too cramped.

chicken tractor

While Greg worked on the chicken tractor, I brought the fairy garden out of hibernation. I have two cedar trees that have grown up together, and over the years I have collected enough pieces to make a whole fairy land surrounding them. But they have to be fenced in. Hucky has been known to swipe a piece now and then and bury it somewhere in the yard.

fairy garden

Life is always busy here on Old Home Farm. That's what makes it so special. Every day is a new adventure. And at the end of the day, you can look back and see something accomplished. And isn't that what life should be all about?


Photos property of Leah McAllister.

From the Fleece to the Loom

farm signThis morning as I was giving Everest, our ram, some water, I noticed huge chunks of his wool in the floor of his shed. It reminded me that this is shearing time for owners of wool sheep.

For about 15 years we had Suffolk sheep. I loved them dearly. They were friendly, funny, and beautiful. Suffolk sheep are one of the few breeds that truly "flock." They travel in a "V" pattern with the lead sheep at the point of the "V" and the ram at one of the ends.

Wool sheep are time consuming. We spent many long hours in maintaining the flock. Every three months or so you have to run them through a foot bath of chemicals to help prevent foot rot. My son works at a boat factory and he was given an old mold that we adapted for this purpose.

our suffolk flock

After the foot bath, Greg would have to trim the hooves, much as you do a horse's. We had a sling chair to put them into for this. Sheep can not lie on their backs or they will suffocate, so the chair kept them upright, but immobile.

sheep maintenance

And then, there was shearing. In order for a professional shearer to come to the farm we needed 30 or more animals, but we only had about 14. So Greg bought shears and learned to do it himself.

It was hard work. At first he sheared them lying on the ground, but soon developed a method for shearing them while they stood.

shearing the sheep

We didn't coat them, or take special precautions for the wool since we didn't have enough sheep to make selling it profitable. But then an old family friend asked if she could have it as she was wanting to learn how to process and spin wool.

Mary Patrick is an amazing woman. She weaves baskets from grape vines, does stained glass, has one of the most fabulous gardens around, and has completely remodeled a single wide trailer into a magnificent house.

Mary Patrick's many talents

Mary's house

Mary took our wool and began by washing it in her hot tub. Then she carded it, and spun it on her spinning wheel. Once it was spooled, she wound the threads into a usable hank. From that she would sit for hours at her loom working the natural fibers into lovely patterns for horse blankets and wool rugs.

processing the wool

Eventually, the physical stress of shearing sheep took its toll, and we sold my beloved Suffolk flock and bought hair sheep. They are much lower maintenance. We check their hooves a couple of times a year, and they shed their coats much like a dog.

our new flock

I love my new hair sheep, but I still miss my lovely flock of black and white Suffolks. I am glad Greg no longer has the hard job of shearing, but I will always miss the days of working with them. It was hard work, but very rewarding. I think it was probably some of the best days of my life.


Photos property of Leah McAllister.

Cooking With Cast Iron

farm signAs you know, I love cast iron! It is durable, easy to clean and care for, and brings back warm memories of my childhood. I cook just about everything in cast iron.

Last week, we had smothered pork chops and roasted asparagus — both cooked in cast iron in the oven. I fry, bake, broil, and even poach in cast iron. And of course soup, chili, stew, or beans just doesn't taste right if they aren't cooked in my cast iron dutch oven.

different pots

Last Christmas, I was looking though one of my favorite magazines and found something I didn't have. "Oh look!" I 'hinted' to my husband. "Here's a cast iron pie pan! I didn't know they made these." I wasn't sure he took the hint until Christmas morning when I hefted a large heavy box wrapped as only a man does, and my hopes soared. Sure enough, my wish had been granted and I had my pie pan.

A few days later we stopped by a feed store we normally don't go to, and there was a display of cast iron with something else I didn't possess. "Oh look," I cried to my loving husband. "A cast iron loaf pan!" He grinned and added it to the feed bill.

cast iron pans

There is a reason my husband is perfectly willing to meet the desires of my heart with cast iron. And it isn't just because he loves me. He likes to eat.

I immediately put that pie pan to good use making him his favorite quiche. I even sauteed the onions and mushrooms in it before lining it with the pie crust. I made him a chess pie, raisin pie, and even a Victoria sponge cake.

quiche

The loaf pan does double duty as well. In the morning I bake bread, and in the afternoon, we have meatloaf. I stand up stuffed green peppers in it, and bake pound cakes.

The only thing you have to remember when baking with cast iron is to shorten the cooking time by about five minutes or so, depending on your oven. Everything comes out easily and there is hardly any clean up necessary.

bread meatloaf

There are lots of books out there on cooking with cast iron, and I've read a few of them. But really you can cook anything you want to in any way you desire. I saute everything for Shepherd's Pie on top of the stove, cover it with the mashed potatoes and transfer the whole thing to the oven. I cook a roast in the over, take everything out, sit the dutch oven on the burner and make gravy in the same pot.

I actually do use some Corning Ware casserole dishes occasionally, as well as some of Mom's stainless steel pots and some stoneware from Pampered Chef, but my cast iron is usually the fist thing I reach for. If you have never used it, I recommend you start with a small skillet and see if you don't get hooked. Now, if I can only find a cast iron muffin pan...


Photos property of Leah McAllister.

A Walk in the Woods

farm signLast weekend we had a really beautiful day! And as it was around the first week of April, we headed to the woods to look for Morels.

As I've said before, our forty acres have been in the family nearly 100 years. At one time there was an old wagon road that crossed our property. It came along the bottom of the hollar and split into a fork — one road going up hill to the right, the other up hill to the left. We have tried to keep this old road fairly clear over the years and we come down the left fork when we go into the woods.

wagon road

The dogs went with us of course, but Beauregard had to stay on the leash because if a rabbit popped up, or a deer scampered by he would be gone in an instant and might not come home for hours.

woods

We have a great many sycamore trees on the property, which is where you find Morel mushrooms growing. Greg anchored Beau's leash to the feed trough we put down there for the deer, and scouted around the trees hoping for large patches of the highly prized fungus.

mushrooms

Unfortunately, we found everything but the sweet Morels. I wandered around taking pictures of the more interesting items. Large flat rocks in the dry creek bed. Bones probably belonging to deer the coyotes have killed.

mushrooms

Wild flowers, a wild rose bush, May Apples, and wild blackberries abound in our woods.

woods

I found some old friends as well. I grew up playing in these woods, and my favorite things were the wild grape vines to climb and swing on, exposed tree roots to hide treasures in, and deformed trees to climb.

odd shapes

We haven't been fortunate enough to find mushrooms in several years now. Back in 2009 Northwest Arkansas had a devastating ice storm. It damaged many wooded areas around here, including ours. We were without power for fourteen days. That spring the mushroom patches were very sparse, and have gotten smaller over the years until now we are lucky to find a handful in a season. I have also heard rumors of 'mushroom thieves' in the area climbing over fences at the backside of properties and harvesting whatever they can find either for their own use, or to sell. So one way or another, our mushrooms have vanished.

ice storm

So we climbed back up the left fork of the old wagon road, passed the oak tree at the top where my father and grandfather used to stack shocks of corn, and through the gate into the front pasture. Then we set our sights on the house and let Beau free to run.

woods

But it wasn't a complete loss. We still enjoy our trips into the woods just to enjoy the peace and beauty God has blessed us with. And that is what makes Old Home Farm special.

Photos property of Leah McAllister.

Busy Little Bees

farm signMy daughter works at one of the local schools. The Kindergarten teacher there is a marvelous woman! As it is spring, she has planned some great activities for the children. They are hatching eggs in an incubator and butterflies from cocoons. She wanted to have a lesson about bees, so she called the local Bee Association to ask for someone to come out and give a talk to the class about harvesting honey.

Unfortunately, she was informed that they would not do that for any class under third grade. The opinion seems to be that children below third grade will not listen or absorb any information. The teacher was telling my daughter about this and she said, "Let me call my Momma."

We are fairly new at bee keeping, even though my Grandfather kept several hives here years ago. We have one hive and are setting up another one in preparation for the usual spring splitting of the hive. Every year new queens are born. Sometimes the new queen will kill the old queen and take over the hive. But more often, the old queen leaves the hive and takes a large number of young bees with her. Often young queens will accompany her. Once the scout bees have found a suitable new place for a hive, a young queen will mate, kill the old queen, and help to create a new hive. Bee Keepers have various ways of managing the creation of a new hive, and this is what we hope to do in the near future. So we have an empty hive that I could take a section from.

hives

I arrived at the school with our 'bee bag' full of suits and tools, and showed them how I got dressed up in order to rob a hive. Then I explained the structure of a colony box.

bee suit

I showed them the most important tool, as far as I'm concerned. The smoker! The children thought putting bees to sleep with smoke was really cool!

smoker

Then, I lifted out a section of comb and let them look at it and touch it. As it has not yet been used, no one got sticky.

comb

Then I showed them the best thing of all. I had brought a small jar of our honey and everyone got to have some on graham crackers.

honey jar

The teacher provided me with a book all about a Scout Bee helping the hive to find new flowers for honey. The children were so well behaved. They listened, asked intelligent questions, and knew the answers to the questions I asked them in return. You could tell that the teacher had prepared them for my visit.

reading

I haven't had such a fun day in a very long time!

class

I Love a Rainy Day

farm signI love a rainy day! Especially after the drought we've been experiencing here in Northwest Arkansas. Rain to the farmer is a mixed blessing. Rain means our gardens are watered, our ponds are getting filled, our pastures are nourished, and we can finally burn that brush pile.

It also means that we cannot get out to fix that fence, plow that patch of ground, plant that crop, or just go for that walk in the woods. Instead, we do those chores and any other necessity in mud boots and a rain cape and hope the truck, tractor, or 4-wheeler doesn't get stuck in the mud.

But after the chores are done, its so nice to take a hot shower, make a cup of coffee or pot of tea and just listen to the sound of rain. I have a tin roof, so it is even nicer for me. You can't hear it so much inside, but I open my back door and listen to the sound on my porch roof.

rainy day

I step outside and smell the fresh clean scent of rain and watch the rivulets run across my back yard. I see my garden getting plenty of water and know that those peas will soon be coming up and the cabbages, carrots, turnips and onions will be large and sweet come harvest time. The chickens are all snug in the hen houses, but guinea fowl are not so bright, and they wonder aimlessly around the yard water-logged and chirping disconsolately.

rainy day

My furry companions, on the other hand, are lulled to sleep by the gentle sound. After a good dry off with their personal towel, Huckey and Beau curl up in their favorite places for a good snooze. DC refused to accompany us out into the rain. Dogs are loyal and will go wherever their owner goes — out into snow, cold, or rain. Cats? They take care of number one! While we three were out doing chores, the purry home companion settled down in his favorite basket in the back of the storage closet to sleep the day away. Even my new Barred Rock chicks found the rain a soothing lullaby.

So now that I am showered, dry, and relaxed, its time for that cup of tea with my own fresh honey and a good old fashioned English Country House Murder. I do love a rainy day!

rainy day