Sorghum Days aka SqueezeStalk 2016

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Where did this idea come from? Well, I was trying to think of ways to produce my own sugar on the homestead and I figured the easiest way to do that was grow sugarcane. I researched it and back in the 1800s they use to  grow it here in Missouri but it doesn’t seem like they do it anymore. Sugarcane does better in climates that are tropical so the next thing I came up with was growing sorghum.

The crazy part of all of this was that I just decided to do it and figured things would fall into place. We went to Baker’s Creek Pioneer Village in Mansfield where they sell heirloom seeds and we purchased a few seed packages containing the Black Amber variety. I planted them in May of 2014. They grew like crazy and I had researched mills and substitutions of mills and I knew I couldn’t afford a new or used mill so I read some blog that said you could use an old wringer washer. I did find a neighbor that had one but looking at it, there was no way it was going to work at least in my mind.

The days started to accelerate towards September when the the stalks would be ready and we still didn’t have a mill and I started to panic because we still didn’t know how we were going to get the juice from the stalks until one day my husband and I were talking and he said, “What about Bert?” Anyone around this area knows Bert. He has everything. He’s just an old retired guy that tinkers around on different projects constantly. So we decided to go to Bert’s.

We pull up into his driveway and got out and started walking towards his front door and there is this rusty looking piece of machinery a few feet from the door. Jeremy says, “Babe, I actually think this is what we’re looking for.” We knocked on the door and we asked Bert what it was and he said it was a sorghum mill. He just pulled it out a few days before so he could sell it as a yard ornament to someone. We asked how much and he said $100 so we bought it. I think that mill was meant for us!

It was seized up and needed a bit of work but Jeremy got it going pretty easily. It’s a smaller sized horse drawn mill but it did the job.

So how do you know when it’s ready? That’s all based on the seed heads. Also, it’s a preference to whoever does it has well. Some actually will dehead early to increase the sugar levels in the stalks. What we do is test the seeds. Grab a seed from the head of the stalk and try to break though with your thumb nail. If it goes through easily and its white like milk. It’s the milky stage and that would actually be the time to dehead if you were going to which we don’t. We like the soft dough to hard stage which is when you can’t break the seed. To us, I kind of feel like that comes by pretty fast so you have to check weekly to make sure.

I also pay attention to the date I planted. Most varieties of sorghum will range from 100-120 days to maturity. When the stalks are ready, you need to cut them down. I usually just use loppers. They need to cure which usually boosts your sugar content as well. I’ve tried a week and less and the happy amount for us is about 3 days. You have a choice to strip the leaves before they are cut down or after. I let the stalks cure out for 2 days in hopes that the juice goes to the stalk and out of the leaves. I don’t know if that is accurate or not, it’s just what I tend to do.

After you stripped the leaves and deheaded they are ready to go. The processing day is a long one so start really early, it’s an all day event which is why we have “Sorghum Days” and we invite friends out to be a part of it.

Our 1st year of sorghum (Black Amber variety)

We didn’t have my mother in law’s plow horse so Jeremy rode for 6 hours… Needless to say he was saddle sore!

The juice–Also from our first year, we did it a little different this year

Our cousins cooking down the juice into syrup (and a few curious and meddling ducks)

From this year, Jeremy built and welded together a stand

Squeezing of the stalks

 

 

 

Stormy and Jane (A better view of Jeremy’s handy work)

Sorghum from this year (variety called Sugar Drip, we loved it–produced more than we were use to)

Stripped down, ready to be ran through the mill

Oh yeah, I should also mention. We make sorghum syrup. Many people think that sorghum is molasses but molasses is actually a byproduct of sugarcane. Anyway, back to it now that the sorghum is ready to be processed, that’s exactly what you do. You put the stalks in the biggest end first and just keep going until you’re done. The raw juice needs to be filtered. We use cheesecloth and it works pretty well then we use a propane burner and start cooking it down. While this is being done green stuff will rise to the top. That is impurities and needs to be skimmed out and it is called “Scum.” Eventually it will start to turn brown and get thick but it takes quite a while.

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This is a picture of my grandma Fern from 1944 processing sorghum.

 

Hope you enjoy this post! Any questions feel free to ask!

 

 

Sore Throat Remedy

As you probably know, I’m not really a fan of doctors. As much a possible, I try and do what I can for myself with herbal remedies or whatever and save the doctor as a last resort. They serve their purpose for some things but a cold or sore throat… I feel like I have a handle on that. So, I’m just going to put a little bit of information on each ingredient so you’ll know how they are all helpful.

There are several different versions of this but I think the biggest thing is cayenne and apple cider vinegar. I use ACV for many remedies, it can be a problem solver and is very good for you. Here is the link to what I’m going to go over.

  • Apple cider vinegar balances the pH levels of your throat’s tissues, making them more alkaline or more acidic according to your body’s needs. It also kills the bacteria that cause sore throats.
  • It is also a natural expectorant, which means it loosens and thins the phlegm in your throat, making it easier to breath and swallow.
  • It’s bacterial properties enable it to fight the infection that causes sore throats.
  • It contains prebiotic inulin, which supports your immune system and boosts white blood cell and T-cell counts.

Cayenne contains a powerful ingredient called capsaicin. This compound is an effective anti-inflammatory and antibacterial agent. When you take cayenne to treat your sore throat, you’ll experience relief as far as reduced swelling but also healing as it eliminates infection.

Honey

  • Honey acts as a anti-inflammatory agent and reduces swelling and inflammation.
  • It soothes irritated skin, glands, and mucus membranes inside the throat.
  • It contains an enzyme called glucoseoxidase, which fights bacteria and kills infections.
  • Honey has natural anti-bacterial and antiseptic properties that kill those bacteria and gives complete relief from sore throat.
  • Honey acts as a hypertonic osmotic, helping to draw excess fluid out of inflamed tissues and relieve pain.

Lemon Juice

  • Lemon contains (citrus acid) which helps to break up the mucus that causes sore throat and also helps to soothe your throat from the pain and inflammation.
  • Lemon is rich in vitamin C and anti-oxidants which helps to boost your immune system.
  • Lemon is a natural antiseptic which helps to kill the bacteria or viruses in the throat.
  • Lemons are rich in several essential vitamins and nutrients.
  • Lemon juice increases salivation and helps to moisten or lubricate an irritated throat.

Turmeric

Turmeric is an anti-biotic. It kills the bacteria or virus which causes sore throat

I think that pretty much covers the information side. Here is the recipe:

Sore Throat Remedy

  • 2 tbs raw honey
  • 3 tbs apple cider vinegar (Braggs is the best in my opinion)
  • 1 fresh lemon squeezed for juice
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne
  • 1/4 turmeric powder

Instructions:

Mix everything together and gargle a little for about 30 seconds then spit out. The cayenne will burn at first but you can get past it, it is way better than the alternative. Do this every couple hours and usually by the end of the day or the next day, the sore throat is gone. I’ve also seen other blogs for this kind of recipe that they claim kills strep throat but I can’t be sure because I haven’t had it and used this remedy.

Hope this works for you, it worked for me but know this– I’m not a doctor– know your limits. If you need to go to the doctor just go!

Butter Makin’

 

I think I need to explain myself a little bit. Back in 2010 I met my husband-to-be, briefly, and didn’t have a second thought. He wasn’t my type and I remembered him from school but we are 6 years apart so I didn’t remember much. Long story short, we became friends on Facebook and one day I was shamelessly bragging about my guitar skills while singing Free Fallin’ and all that and then some. Jeremy called me out on it to prove it and my egotistical self couldn’t say no so we had dinner and I played some music and we were really good friends for a bit then it moved to we were a couple. He lived on a big farm and was taking care of it for his family and after I moved in, we got married (Yes, I know we did things a little backwards but we’re all good now).

My point is, I thought I was country. I lived in the country most of my life but I definitely didn’t live country. Especially when Jeremy needed help with using a tractor to lift or move something while he guided on the ground, I had to work the hydraulics… I always fought change so afterward I took off and said, “I don’t want to be a country girl anymore.” I know, childish but change freaked me out. Now I’m more seasoned and I look for opportunities to try new things so I’ve made a lot of progress but I do remember a time before when I was new to all of this. Which brings me to making butter.

You don’t know what you’re missing if you haven’t had farm fresh butter. Jeremy’s aunt Sandy had a milk cow. She was only a Dexter which means she wasn’t really bred for milking but she was a dual purpose breed. So I went over to her house to learn how to make mozzarella cheese and she mentioned making butter so I asked if we could do that also and she said yes. I will say, we cheat. We don’t get a churn out and start pumping away, she pulled out her blender and put the fresh cream in and just turned it on. It took a while like say… 10 to 15 minutes but in my experience some creams are different. Millie’s (the Dexter cow) cream is pretty thin. It needs to be ice cold. My Jersey cows (Daisy and Maisy) are a whole different story. Their cream is thick as heck and does better at room temperature. Back to Sandy, after it was done I tried some and… IT WAS AMAZING!!! She let me take it home and it didn’t last 3 days.  Either way, I’ll tell you how the process works and what you’ll need. After you make your own, you’ll feel really accomplished and fulfilled because you made a house staple on your own. (At least that’s how I felt!)

What You’ll Need:

  • Blender or Food processor
  • strainer/colander with bowl
  • Bowl with icy water
  • Salt
  • Fresh Cream (or heavy whipping cream from the store)

What You’ve Gotta Do:

  1. Put cream into food processor to the fill line and turn on. It will take a few minutes unless it’s not very thick cream then it will take a bit longer. You’ll notice a difference in sound because it will thicken up into whipped cream and then right past that stage is butter. Let it go long enough that it’s a bright yellow.
  2. Colander needs to be over a bowl, strain butter. The milk left over is “Buttermilk” but unless you leave it on the counter for 12 hours, it doesn’t have a culture in it so it won’t have a buttermilk taste.
  3. Depending on your situation or what works best you need to clean your butter of milk so it won’t sour. The easiest way for me is to turn the cold water on in the sink and push my thumbs into the butter to squeeze out the milk and “Clean” it. Another way is get a bowl with cold water and knead the butter. You’ll have to change the water several times. When it’s milky, change it. When it stops getting milky then it’s clean.
  4. I usually do a 1-2 gallons of a cream at a time but after step 3 i put the ball of butter in cold water to sit while I do the rest. (I do have an actual Gem Dandy butter churn but I figure most people don’t so food processor it is)
  5. Once you’ve got the cream made into butter, I usually take and squeeze out the water if there is any from it either with my hands or a spoon. Then add your salt. I prefer Pink Himalayan Sea Salt just add a little and taste to see if that’s what you like. Since I have a lot usually I weigh it out into 1/4 lbs. which is a stick sized amount and freeze it for later use.

Food processor churning the cream

 

Starting to thicken

 

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This is the separation and color you are looking for

 

Strain it

 

This is the butter balls in water. They’ve already been cleaned under running water under facet while kneading the milk until clean.

 

 

The finished product! Now add your salt and stir it in then put into containers. Keep in fridge for week or so OR freeze them for a later time (I freeze them, they keep VERY well)

 

Wood Cutting Season is Here

 

Right now, even though we are in the middle of November here in Missouri, the weather still seems fall like. I am by no means complaining because that is less wood that we have to burn and more we have in stock. It is odd looking out to see that there are still leaves on the trees and roses are still blooming. Just recently it has began to frost so there is a sign that it will get cold soon. I’ve heard that it’s supposed to be a bad winter but you never know since Missouri is kind of in the middle when it comes to hard winters. Last winter was definitely an easy one and wasn’t too bad.

Anyway, I just thought I’d do a simple post on heating. This isn’t going to be a big detailed post, just a couple short examples.

These are averages of popular heating methods

Cost of natural gas = $1.10 for 100,000 BTU
Cost of electricity = $2.93 for 100,000 BTU
Cost of heating oil = $2.50 for 100,000 BTU (This info I think is for Oregon just as an example)

Electricity is in cents per kilowatt hour, and gas units are in dollars per therm
In Missouri the average cost of electric heat 8.87
The natural gas 1.18

Propane Heat

I grew up with propane heat so I always thought I liked it and when I was in my teens I lived in an old house that wasn’t well insulated that had a regular stove in the middle. My bed room was in the attic right over the stove. Heat rises so it wasn’t half bad. Then I lived on my own for a bit and I purchased 3 of those water radiators and they did a decent job but my electric bill was pretty high and it always took forever to heat up the house. Otherwise it has always been propane heat that I have been around. As an adult, I never had to pay for the price of propane so I tried to look up an average of what a household would use.

Honestly, it will be different for everyone. It depends on the square footage of your house, the temperature that you leave the thermastat on, how cold it is in the area you live, how many people live in said household, etc! Let’s say you live in the midwest and you have a 1200 sq ft house and the propane is for heat only and not a stove or water heater. Just looking at averages, it seems like you’ll need 750 gallons and depending on what time of the year you buy it ranges from $2-3 a gallon. (In most cases) Let’s pick $2 a gallon, that equals to: $1500 (If you have a different outlook on this, leave a comment)

Wood Heat

Here is what we do. Wood heat is pretty cheap if you are cutting it yourself. Initially a saw can be pricey but compared to electric bills and propane bills I don’t think it’s too much especially for an investment that you can use every year. You’ll have to buy gas, the oil mix to put in the gas, chains, and chain oil. Other than that, it’s pretty much just your time. I will say this: It’s hard work and unless you want to hurt yourself, you need to take it easy and pace yourself. Big thing that I often fail at is when you need to lift, lift with your legs and not your back. Last Saturday, I just tried to not lift logs that were heavier than I can handle. Usually, I want to get it done as fast as possible so I push myself too hard but I did pretty decent this time and left the heavier to Jeremy who can handle it better than my wimpy self.

We have a wood furnace. We upgraded a few years ago from an outside furnace that didn’t do a very good job. We’ve also upgraded the place a bit. We’ve run new ducting and moved vents around to where they made more sense being at. We’ve also put thermapane windows in the whole house which has been awesome! I think last year which was an easy winter we went through… 3-4 cords of wood? We’ve got that cut right now so we are doing good for the year so far. I will say, I’m so ready for those fires though! You can buy wood around here for $125-160 a cord. Different areas I think average is $150-200 a cord. We used around 4 cords last year so let’s go in the middle at $150×4=$600. So we saved money for sure but I still consider that lower than other options I’ve listed.

Pellet Stove

I know people like the idea of wood heat but don’t want to do the wood cutting and pellet stove seem like a cheaper alternative but the price of a stove runs from $1700-3000. That being said, any start up cost is usually high. Our wood furnace ran us around $2000 but I can handle the investment because cutting wood isn’t going to cost.

With a pellet stove, you have to buy pellets for said stove. Pellets are measured in dollars per ton. Average costs usually run $250 per ton. If you buy early in the year before cost and demand hits, you can get them cheaper. There are 3 different grades of pellets: Premium, Standard, and Industrial. They are measured by the amount of ash they produce. The standard grade is mostly composed of bark so it burns really fast and you won’t get much out of them even though they are less expensive you’ll end up buying more. Premium wood pellets have less bark which means less ash and more burn. It is usually comprised of pine, spruce, or oak wood. Industrial is only to be sold for industrial use and has a production of 3% of ash or more. The average home uses about 7 tons of pellets (During a mild winter like this one so far it would be less). So let’s use the 7 just for an idea. That’s going to run you $1750.

What this all leads up to is… Cutting your own woods, save money. Hope this helps anyone who isn’t sure of what heating system they want. I don’t have a lot of information on this just some basics but, this gives you an idea anyway.

What I Accomplished Today

 

This is what I did today…. I tried hot process soap making for the first time and… Gotta say I like it, need to buy more soap molds and more lye and apparently pH test strips. I think hot process is the way to go, it cures a lot faster and, really, feels easier.

I also made my first batch of shaving cream and Jeremy tried it and I attempted but in my opinion it clogs up the razor. So, I need to find a different recipe that works better then I’ll try and do a post about it.

My pear apple wine was ready to bottle so I did that as well. If you check out the Blue Missouri Skies Homestead FB page, you can see a short video of the bottles being corked. I know it’s simple, but of all the process of wine making, that has to be my favorite part!

Anyway, it was a nice day and I thought I’d share it with everyone. By the way, if you are interested in more day to day stuff the Facebook page is more where it’s at since I don’t have to write in detail about what it is a just post a picture… Just easier.

Meet the Gang: Lennon

 

This is Lennon. Lennon came to us by a cat I had named Baby. I have no idea where she ended up but she had kittens under our house and I kept hearing kittens crying and figured out that Baby was gone for good. He looks exactly like her. We had them in the house for a while and Lennon was always craving attention. My husband would milk the cow in the mornings and when he came in Lennon would be waiting at the sink in the mudroom. He would literally crawl onto Jeremy’s boot and stay there the whole time he was straining and cleaning the milker. He was a lovebug and that’s how he got his name… John Lennon–All you need is love. This picture is him waiting for any droplets of milk that might happen to fall. I haven’t seen him jump on this little table so I took the picture.

He’s not too much of a fan for me. All of his love goes to my husband. If Jeremy is on the couch, Lennon is in his lap glaring at me look smug and happy. Yes, folks, that’s my life. I swear he really does glare across the couch at me. I did take a picture of it one day because Jeremy didn’t believe me and I even made a meme out of it but Jeremy won’t let me post it because he happened to be in his boxers so hopefully, I can catch his smugness which Jeremy is dressed better.

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Here’s another one of him smiling, no smugness just happy as a lark

The Cold Finally Came

 


Well, it isn’t so cold that snow came. Flurries that didn’t stick was all. We did have freezing fog which was a fun experience in the dark one morning going out the door. You think I would have been careful but I was in my sneakers headed out to work with the husband and soon as I slid, I kept going and slid all the way down the porch. Fun times!

Other things going on on the homestead are me testing different recipes for different products to go into the Etsy store. I did a lip balm since my lip balm tubes came in the mail. SO EXCITING. I only made a small batch. This time I tried out chocolate mint flavor. Was a pretty simple process and other than not having the right tools and making a mess, it went well. I only made up 5 tubes which I gave to my mother and father in law because they are constantly using the crap you buy from the store. I gave one to my friend Bethany and one to an old classmate from high school. I also kept one for myself. I gotta say, I’m not a lip balm kinda person but I really like it. The reason I don’t like “chapstick” from the store is because it has always felt like it was smothering my lips? Does that make sense? I just had to get it off of me. I hated it yet in the winter times I sometimes got dry lips or chapped. The last few years I’ve just used coconut oil or this product from a local health food store called Miracle 2 which I wasn’t a huge fan of because it was kinda pricey. This homemade stuff doesn’t have that feeling and it stays on your lips for hours and hours.

The other thing that I’ve been wanting to make is lotion bars. There again, wasn’t complicated at all. I need to get more essential oils so that I can start adding lavender in but this mixture was Beeswax, shea butter, coconut oil, avocado oil, lemongrass essential oil, peppermint essential oil, and rosemary essential oil. Loved the smell and what I have been using it for is around my eyebrows I get really dry flaky skin during the winter and just applying hardly any at all has been helping me so far. My skin isn’t breaking out either. Usually if I add a lotion type thing to my face… Breakout outs in no time. Anyway, been meaning to do a blog post, sorry it’s been a bit!

The next things on my list is goat milk lotion and trying a few different scents for my soaps. I’m going to try and do a Honey and Oats one for sensitive skin, some kind of manly version of soap lol, Lavender, and at some point I think I might try my hand at a comfrey and plantain bar. If anyone reading this has any ideas of their own, feel free to comment!

Anyway, I guess that’s it for my updates so far.

DIY Coffee Syrups

 

Okay, time for confessions here; and how many times have you scrolled through blogs where they’ve talked about loving Starbucks coffee but the price was starting to add up? I haven’t wrote about it until now but, when I worked the 40 hour work week (which I left for a part time job and the homestead) I wanted one everyday but only succumbed to one every Friday as a treat but that starts to add up.

Doing the math, let’s say you get 1 Starbucks Grande which runs $5. There are 52 weeks in a year so… that’s $260… That’s a lot of money for coffee. Not to mention I had to really cram my morning to actually get to the place and not be late for work. Also, there was no guarantee that I wouldn’t be late for work since there’s no telling how many people you’ll be waiting in line behind. I loved my Starbucks and it was hard to give it up but when Jeremy mentioned that maybe an investment would be better, that’s when my mind always clicks different. If we make an investment on something, it’s going to last longer and do more good.

So I started researching espresso makers, which is the best, customer reviews–the whole nine yards. Now the best is expensive so I had to meet in the middle. Not the 30-40 dollar ones because I had those and they didn’t do very well. Obviously not the ones similar to Starbucks…. WAY EXPENSIVE!! (Wish I had one though) The best option for me was a Cuisinart that ran around $150. Also though, you need a grinder as well. I had a little $15 one but I was starting to use that for spices so we got a grinder as well on our trip to Bed, Bath, and Beyond (which I LOVE by the way, always just fun to go and stock up on a few things, haha i said few). The coffee grinder was also a Cuisinart (automatic burr mill) and ran us $50. 

That totals us up to $200. That’s less than what a year’s worth of coffee was. I’m not totaling in the coffee prices of course but… I think you’re better off making your own and the smell of espresso in your house is just a bonus!

 

 
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For a year or so I would go on ebay and buy expired Creme Brulee Starbucks syrup but even though it’s expired it’s PRICEY! Now that I work part time, I don’t feel like I should spend that kind of money. So I glanced through a few websites that made their own coffee syrups and it’s not expensive at all and also, you just use basic pantry staples. Sugar, water, and vanilla. For the most part I didn’t really follow much of a recipe, I just winged it. All I needed to know was the ingredients. I did two different ones: caramel and vanilla bean. My favorite is the vanilla bean. So here’s how I did it:

Vanilla Bean Coffee Syrup

ingredients:

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 vanilla beans

instructions:

  1. Put sugar and water in sauce pan over medium heat
  2. Slice the vanilla beans in half and throw in as well
  3. Bring to a boil and let that go for 3-5 minutes until it thickens slightly
  4. Turn off burner and add vanilla extract
  5. Let cool and add to your container. If it’s a mason jar which is designed for heat you can go ahead and put it in the jar. That’s it!!

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Caramel Coffee Syrup

ingredients:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 cups water, separated
  • 1 TBS Salt, optional

instructions:

  1. Put sugar and 1 cup water in sauce pan and set heat to medium
  2. Stir to help sugar dissolve until it starts to boil then don’t stir anymore
  3. Let reduce down until it turns an amber color (This takes around 10 minutes), take away from heat
  4. Take the other cup of water and add to it (but be careful because the steam rising from this can burn you, I learned the hard way) it will clump up like candy so put back over heat and stir. At this point you can add salt to make it salted caramel if you so desire. Stir until completely dissolved. YOUR DONE! Put into heat safe container or wait for it to cool down.