Happenings on the Homestead
Sylvan Wind Homestead Blog
I’ve heard it said that somewhere between your second and fifth years in agriculture, you’ll have a make or break “moment”. That point where you either continue to push through or you throw in the towel. This year has been “that moment” for me. I was so driven to market and grow Sylvan Wind as an “actual” business in 2019. What began as a drive toward self-sufficiency became a need to turn more profit. To become bigger. To broaden my horizons (and pocketbook). But, it became work. It was miserable. It was no longer my happy place. It was failing.
This post has been circulating in my mind since I, in complete irritation and utter disgust, ripped my vegetable garden out mid-July – far too early for our normal season. This season was a ridiculous flop thanks, in part, to unrelenting rains early season, followed by a lack of personal motivation as it progressed. In reality, only my cucumbers did well. My tomatoes and peppers all became stunted on the plants. Perennials added for pollination and cutting gardens this spring died off. Herbs bolted early and often. We harvested very few strawberries and there are more weeds growing than anything else.
But wait! There’s more! (Typed in my very best infomercial voice).
It wasn’t all in the gardens. We only made it to a single farmers market this year. Only a few batches of jam have been made. Not a single loaf of bread has been baked. The last batches of pickles were unsuccessful, for one reason or another. We battled hoof and weight issues in the horses. The chicken coop remained a muddy disaster for most of the season. I’ve only bottled a few batches of kombucha. We’re behind schedule on pasture rotation and vaccinations for the goats. And, Lord, the flies this year!!! It’s just been one thing after another, leaving me exhausted and teetering on the brink of despair for the majority of the summer. Everything suffered.
Then it dawned on me…in my desire to do, I was doing too much. I wasn’t focused on anything one thing, but rather all over the place, bouncing from one task to another, multitasking my days away with nothing receiving my attention one hundred percent. It was time to cut back.
Of course, cutting back meant making decisions. Hard ones. Ones that I do not like to have to face. First and foremost – What do we focus on? What one thing do we do and do well?
The answer to this came relatively easily. Our Nigerian Dwarf goats. They’ve become my passion even more so than I thought (I adore the little boogers). We have now invested a significant amount of money and time into our registered herd. I’ve spent several years learning as much as I can about the breed with hours spent researching new things weekly. In regards to livestock of any form, our hilly, wooded land is better suited to rotational browsing/grazing for goats than anything else. They are relatively inexpensive to keep. Offspring are adorable and in demand. Milk can be used for additional products (and frozen for future use). No brainer, right?
Right, but with that choice came the need to rehome our non-registered goats and the two horses. We were very blessed to find amazing homes with people I’ve been able to stay in touch with for all, but it still hurt. Each pick up came with tears and heartache. I felt that I had failed the horses in their time with us and the goats had been with us since the beginning, some being bottle babies. All loved very much by me. Sacrifice in the name of progress, I suppose. We are now down to a manageable herd of nine registered NDs with great lines behind them - six does, one buck and two wethers (the originals, Beavis and Butthead, who are not going anywhere).
Then came the thinning of the chicken flock. This was nothing in comparison to the goats and horses. Not to sound heartless, but my plan, from the beginning, has been to rotate my laying hens. New pullets are added each spring and two year-old layers sold in the fall. We still have a few more to rehome, but we’re now down from around 40 birds to less than twenty. To free up more time and funds for the goats, I will likely thin down farther in the spring to a flock of 15 or less (although I am talking to a friend now about adding a couple spring hatch Lavender Orpingtons).
The next step is the gardens. Though planning is not complete yet (winter project), the gardens will be for us, alone, next year. No dried or fresh herbs for sale. All fruits and vegetables harvested will be for our own canning and consumption (or that of our animals). I am even considering taking the year off from the vegetables and herbs to concentrate on getting my perennial beds back in order. We shall see, but there will be a definite reduction in the amount of gardening activity next year. There has to be, sadly.
My point in all this rambling is not to tell you all how bad it was for me, but rather this. Sometimes we find ourselves really good at a bunch of individual things. We take these strengths and try to accomplish them all. However, our knowledge, time and energy become spread too thin and these strengths compound to become a key weakness. Things begin to unravel because they can’t be held together. We find ourselves struggling at things we once easily thrived in doing. We fail.
If you find yourself in this position, don’t just throw in the towel. Take a moment to look around - to review and reevaluate. What do you want (read this as: really want) to focus the most on? What things have you allowed to become too big – too important? What do you want to dedicate your time and attention to? Or maybe it’s as simple as this: What do you love to do? Find that one thing and do it well. And allow your past failures to be the road map that moves you forward in your goals.
“The more you do, the more you fail. The more you fail, the more you learn. The more you learn, the better you get… Fail early, fail often, but always fail forward.”
- John Maxwell, Failing Forward (read full excerpt here).
Though I cannot guarantee this to become a reality, I hope to write a series of Lessons from the Land as we grow and learn from Sylvan Wind.
The gorgeous Miss Lily blessed us with our first pair of kids on Tuesday evening. A healthy set of twins - one buckling and one doeling. The doeling was first to arrive, followed shortly by "big" brother (he is definitely the bigger of the two, at least)!
Little girl is a lovely dark chocolate with a white poll and an ADORABLE white mustache. She picked up daddy's moonspots and blue eyes! Baby boy is a stunning light to medium buckskin with lots of white overlay. Hoping both pulled the polled gene from dad!
Of course, we are all absolutely in love, but Ryder seems to be the most smitten. I can't keep him away from them! Needless to say, when it is time for them to move to their new homes, they will be VERY people friendly ;-)
Both of these babies are available for purchase and will be ready to leave to new pastures mid-July.
This year I’d like to provide a more educational look into our gardens here at Sylvan Wind we plant. Why we plant it. How we grow and harvest it. You know, all the good stuff! To begin the series, let’s take an “overview” look at some of the plants we’ll be nurturing this season.
So what exactly is a “beneficial” garden? Aren’t they all beneficial? Well, yes. Of course they are. Whether they provide beauty or bountiful harvests, they’re all “beneficial”. I mean beyond that. What flowers, plants and herbs can we add to our gardens to reap health benefits? Mother nature has graciously provided us with a bountiful list of options to help ward off illness and heal our bodies.
Known for it’s calming effects and stress-reducing abilities, lemon balm can easily be found at your local nursery or garden center. It does tend to be rather invasive and can take over it’s place of planting, ensure it plenty of room. Lemon balm is a perennial that thrives in well-drained, but moist soil. It grows well from seed, though a single plant is often enough for a family and responds well to being cut back several times during a growing season. Beyond it’s calming effects, lemon balm is a gentle way to promote sleep. It’s also known as an anti-viral that combats winter cold and flu symptoms. It’s a go-to for treating cold sores and is also a reliable treatment for upset stomach and colic.
Rich in antioxidants, thyme is a wonderful, aromatic addition to any kitchen venture. It contains a number of health-boosting flavonoids including apigenin and thymonin, and is known to be beneficial in increasing the percentage of healthy fats in cell membranes. Containing vitamins C and A, iron, magnesium, copper and fiber, thyme is packed with nutrients! Known for its oil’s antibacterial, expectorant and calming properties, it also has a long list of topical uses. Gout, water retention, menstrual problems and respiratory issues can all be relieved with the use of thyme…and this is just to name a few! It also stimulates the mind, helps with skin conditions and is rumored to help prevent hair loss.
Basil is an aromatic herb species in the mint family containing over 30 different varieties. Well-known for its culinary purposes, it may come as a surprise to many that it also offers an array of health benefits, as well. Packed with antioxidants, magnesium and vitamins, basil is known to be an anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and powerful adaptogen. It’s also beneficial in increasing appetite and reducing the effects of nausea and flatulence.
Sage a very common herb to those engrossed in the culinary which was once used as a meat preservative before the advent of refrigeration. It’s scientific name, Salvia officinalis, derives from the Latin word, salvere, meaning “to be saved”. A very easy plant to grow, it is not only aesthetically pleasing, but also beneficial to your health. Widely considered to be one of the most valuable herbs, it is anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant and antifungal. One of its most important properties is the ability to effectively fact bacteria, making it an excellent salve for use in the healing of cuts and wounds. It also aids in digestion, relieves cramps, fights colds and helps to dry up phlegm.
Chamomile is a calming, soothing herb, often used in teas to relieve stomach upset and promote restful sleep. It is a carefree annual that may be sown directly into the garden once danger of frost has passed and will enjoy a sunny spot with light, well-drained soil. It is a powerful anti-inflammatory that has anti-spasmodic, antibacterial, anti-allergenic, sedative and muscle relaxant properties. Included in its long list of benefits are relief from menstrual cramps, topical applications for skin irritations and treatment of stress.
Mint is a flowering perennial that prefers a moist spot in your garden, but is often best planted in containers, as it can be rather invasive. Often used in cooking and cocktails, mint boasts medicinal properties, as well. As a cooling herb that helps battle inflammation and pain, mint can be used in salves for sore muscles and headaches. Other uses include relief for stomach problems and nasal congestion.
Echinacea (or Purple Coneflower) can be found in most garden centers as it is a very popular perennial landscaping plant. If sowing directly, it is best to do so in late fall in a sunny spot with loamy soil. Once established, the plant is very heat and drought tolerant. It is best known as what to take when you feel the onset of a cold as it is one of the best herbs to support the immune system. All parts of the plant have medicinal qualities and can be used in tinctures.
Due, in part, to its antibacterial, antiviral and anti-fungal properties, eating garlic each day may, in fact, keep the doctor at bay. Many of its benefits are derived from its sulfur-containing compounds, such as allicin, which are also what give it its aroma. Beyond warding off vampires (you know I couldn’t resist that, right), garlic helps to reduce inflammation, boost immune function and improve cardiovascular health and circulation.
Other herbs and plants to be found in our gardens…