Fabulous Fencing Tips (Farm Fence, Not Fence Fence)

Calf Proof. What an oxymoron. They are liquid. More-so than a cat I believe. Our first farm calf was born around the end of June, and he really is a doll baby. We steered and tagged him at 4 weeks old, but otherwise we leave him in his momma’s capable care. He acts like he has two mommas, since he hangs out with our other (pregnant) cow more than his own it seems.

A few weeks ago, we moved them from the large pasture they shared with the horses into a smaller space for pasture rotation. Most of our exterior fences are at least 5 stranded wire, but between pastures, some remained three strands; which isn’t enough to make a calf break stride if he wants in. This is not a huge issue, since the fence that the adorable little darling was slipping through went to another fenced pasture.

Except last week, he also somehow slipped through 5 stranded barbed wire and was playing in the road. It is a back country road, but still. Some saint stopped and told my neighbors, who called me (so thankful for work from home days). Since the calf is more or less wild, he decided to bolt back through the five stranded wire into the big pasture. He got his back legs caught but nothing serious and minimal blood loss. There was a time when even a drop of blood was cause to call the vet. Those days are long gone. The rule around here is, if you can walk and skin isn’t missing, you’ll make it (that’s a rule that transcends all species, by the way, even humans).

He doesn’t even have the grace to look ashamed either.

About those fabulous tips

When building a fence, do it right the first time and build it such that it will contain whatever you can ever possibly envision owning. The first time that pasture was fenced, we had two horses, and three strands of wire was more than sufficient. Actually, for a time, we had no fencing up. The overgrowth was so thick on one outside line of one of the pastures, we never checked it. Figuring the horses couldnt get to it to escape. Turns out The fence was missing for good ways, but no one ever went missing. Once we had been here a year or so, we started setting all new fences with a minimum of 6 strands on perimeter fences and 5 on internal lines (and clearing brush to find missing fences).

On a side note, we also have these lovely walk thrus that allow us to enter and exit pastures without clanging and drawing attention to ourselves or having something follow us out.

This is an old picture and the walk through has since been stained, but you get how they work. Cochise is demonstrating how it is at least in theory horse proof.

This particular section of fence was due for replacement to 5 strands starting next week. However, someone had other plans. Fencing is really not as permanent as you think it is the first time you put it up, and it has become one of my favorite farm chores (kind of).

Before. Note the uneven heights. And the drought. Pray we get rain!

Break out the survey tools

If you’re starting with an existing fence row and just restringing it, I highly recommend running a string and seeing how straight the line is. It does tend to bother you after a while. If it’s a new fence, run a string. I’ve found at least 100 ft to be best. Run a string, then run a tape and mark off your spacings. (Are we weird, doesn’t everyone want such nice neat lines?)

How tall are you?

If all of your posts are wooden, measuring and cutting them to the same height is not going to be a problem after the fact. But the bins can tend to get messy when you buy t-posts at the feed store. We ended up setting anywhere from 5 to 6.5 ft tall t-posts the first time around and it will really ruin your day when stringing fence and you run out of room on the top strand.

So in addition to resetting the wire to a 5 strand spacing, I also pulled all the metal t-posts and reset them with 6 foot posts. My fence line is SO pretty now.

Unzipping

First things first, you need to unzip all of the metal ties that you (or someone else) twisted around the metal posts. I cannot speak highly enough of my mini vise grips for this job. I think in the beginning, we used needle nosed pliers and we even tried those expensive tools they sell at Tractor Supply with the fencing equipment. Don’t fall for it. Vise grips are the bees knees.

Next , since the existing wooden posts of the fence was in good shape, just not close enough, I dropped the spacing down on the existing three wires. Fencing staples are not difficult to remove, if you have the right tool. Somewhere in my pasture, there is an antique set of fence pliers that were my husbands grandfathers. I lost them last winter and am still kicking myself. They still make them, and they are worth the cost. But I loved my old pair. If they had a bright red handle like these, I wouldn’t have lost them. Make sure you move the wire and re-staple as you go, otherwise you will have twisted up wires and potentially lose a lot of tension.

Mark Your Posts

If you have any fashion of OCD, pay attention here. If you don’t, you’re going to develop it once you stare at an uneven fence for any length of time. Mark your posts. When we first set the fences, we eyeballed distances and said “looks good” a LOT. And then discussed how stupid that was for even longer. Now, all wooden posts get measured from the ground up for evenly spaced wires. This may seem obvious to everyone but us, but it certainly wasnt considered the first time around. Simply decide how tall the highest strand of wire will be, divide by the number of strands of wire you will have, and mark off with a pencil. If you are even more lazy, measure one, then mark a 2×4 with the right length and carry it with you (me, I am that lazy). This will result in evenly spaced wire, but know it will run up and down with the ground.

Also, count your metal post notches. You would think that, if the wire is tight and at the same height at the wooden posts that make up every fifth fence post, then the wire will lay where needed against the metal posts. You would think wrong.

Wire that is strung equidistant from one another is a beautiful sight to behold, which is why I don’t mind the extra work going into it. It is well worth looking at the end result.

Tight, but not like a drum

Aside from my long lost fence pliers, my next most prized farm tool are my fence stretchers. (also belonging to the aforesaid grandfather). These handy dandy things can string a fence so tight you can play music on them. Don’t make them that tight. This go round, I am happy to say I learned my lesson and didn’t, but two fencing sessions ago, I had the fence so tight that when twisting the wire to the metal posts, I snapped the wire in half because there was so much tension. Twice. Let me just tell you, it is heartbreaking to patch in a brand new section of fence.

After! Still some metal ties to bottom up for spacing but otherwise all set!

Your move calf

Already eyeing up how to get though…

As of 6:30 that evening, the fence was set and mostly tied, though some strands still need the metal post ties added (9 hours in the heat was enough for this hot house flower). We were wrapping up the last of the wire stretching when I saw the calf BACK in the big pasture that I had just finished stringing. You have got to be kidding me. So I went up to politely ask what he thought he was doing, and witnessed him walking right thru the walk thru we had made. Touche. So we now have a temporary fix in that until either he A) Weighs 800 lbs and is too fat to fit; or B) we put a spring-loaded gate at the entrance.

So far, he has stayed where he belongs that I can tell. And I’m making more trips to check than I care to admit. Knock on wood (like, every single tree in the forest kind of wood).

Bonus super scary spider (?) on our fence posts.

Summer must be winding down

Summer used to be my favorite season. Long days, swimming, vacations, swimming, no school, swimming. You get the idea. After adulthood came along and I had work year round (the unfairness of it all!) with no swimming breaks, summer lost some of its appeal but was still my favorite.

Anymore though, I think I am becoming a fall person. The summer vegetable garden was green as could be (thanks to the garden hose) but simply did not produce. Even our peppers, which are supposed to love the heat, have been dismal. We’ve received just enough rain so the grass didn’t die, but the pastures are pitiful.

The last few weeks, the humidity feels like it has dropped a smidgen and the temperatures are maybe 5 degrees less than before. Well, it appears to be just enough to make the plants happy.

Green beans since they were put in the ground in May or June have yielded less than a quart total, and just today I picked as many as we’ve collected all summer. Not to mention all the other lovely vegetables.

I think I could get on board with this fall thing. Especially if it brings some rain. Stay tuned for canning adventures!

Of Water Wells and Family Ties

When you buy a house, you hire a home inspector and expect them to know what they’re doing and tell you if you’re in for big trouble down the road. However, don’t be an idiot (like me). Research every single thing on that checklist for yourself. Today, I want to spin the saga of what can go wrong when you don’t cross check the important things. Today, we tell the tale of a lonely water supply well in the middle of a horse pasture that no one checked the details on.

Once, there was a well, a hand dug well, next to a house. The owners of the house had animals across the property that they loved dearly. When the hand dug well apparently ran dry from the approximately 1,000 ft of hose pipe that fed the barn with the dearly loved animals, the owners dug a new well. A mechanically drilled well. Near to the barn, and had piping run all the way back to their house. 1,000 ft away.

Here you see the lonely mechanically dug well. When we purchased the property, it was covered with an old dog house and we have since (kind of) upgraded to the fake rock cover. My dream one day is a nice 10×10 shed.

Then, one owner (the husband who had the well put in) was deported/ran away to South America due to his attempting a murder (another story that doesn’t play in here, except to say he was not available at closing to explain how all this worked) and after a long time, the house was sold. To us. The idiots. The home inspector saw a hand dug well in the front yard, noted that the house had water. 2+2=4. Good to go. Except at closing, the ex-owner’s ex-wife explained that both wells are plumbed into the house. There is a switch under the house to change which one you pull on. We were at the closing table. We didn’t go check. Why would she lie. Who lies about that? She may not have lied on purpose, but I have spent some quality time under that house and have yet to find any switch valve.

Life was fine for one whole day, maybe as many as three. Once we got our bed set up and sorted out the pantry, we started working outside clearing brush and the yard that could’ve been used as a hay field. After starting a stick fire one day when we had been in the house less than a week, I found there to be no water from any of the spigots at the house. The fire was small so it wasn’t the end of the world. However, we soon learned that the pump hadn’t been used in so long that it had developed a habit of cutting off and you had to manually go to the well house and toggle the connector switch to jump start the well.

Keep in mind, it is approximately 1,000 ft from the house to the well. Up hills and down valleys. And as the saying goes, round is my shape. So it is a fair step to achieve any greatness with this well. Knock on wood, the connector switch hasn’t needed jump starting in quite some months. A friend looked at it soon after we moved in and moved some wires about I think and life was good after that.

After we sorted out where the well was, we had to sort out how power is fed to the well. Our property is at the corner of two country roads, it’s not big. It is however, bisected by two power company jurisdictions.  So the barn (and well) is fed power by one company with its own bill, and the house is fed by another company with its own bill. We were able to transfer the power to our name before it was cut off for non-payment. However, being on two separate lines can be somewhat convenient. If we have a power outage on one end, there may not necessarily be on the other.  Now, the meter for our only source of water was stored in a dilapidated old hay barn with no roof. I am shocked that the power company did not long ago require it to be moved or turn the system off.  That meter box was going to cost over $1000 to run underground from the last pole to any structure we created, so we opted to just rehab the barn where it stood (another long, painful tale).

Follow the power line in. The meter was right there. And this was recently mowed in the front, I bet my buttons the meter man hadn’t been able to find the box for years.

At this point, we did not know how the water actually got from the barn to the house, but just assumed it was done correctly, below the freeze line in the ground, and came up under the house. Then, one day, when we were clearing fence lines, I found a garden hose. Not even a GOOD garden hose, the cheapest one you can get. Laying like a snake and running a straight line toward the direction of the house from the direction of the barn. Complete horror gripped us. Is THIS where our water comes from? My husband said he didn’t want to know. Not to touch it. But I couldn’t help myself, I had to find out. I followed the hose and followed it, until finally, it was broken in a section and no water was gushing out. We think, that is the hose that used to feed from the hand dug to the barn.

Later, we did find the water pipe that feeds the house from the barn. With a shovel. At night. In November. Thank God for my daddy, he knew exactly how to handle it and picked out everything we needed at Lowes just as they were about to close for the night. The line is buried 2 ft deep and runs under the wall of the barn. How, why, I do not know.

Not a bad patch job, if I say so myself. (I had no part in this except as the Lowe’s driver)
Riiiiiggghhhhtttt there’s where the water line is buried. Toby marks the spot!

Early the next year and in the same winter, it became bitterly cold. Single digits cold. For years it seemed like. I had a less than a year-old horse in the pasture and I was certain he would become a popsicle. I was already a popsicle. One evening, the water stopped working. The well pump had frozen, which was not a huge ordeal. Slap in a heat lamp and we’re good to go. For a few days. It got colder, and we were once again without water. This time, we had water in the well house, we had water at the barn, we had water in the spigot about 2/3 of the way to the house. We had no water at the house. Cue panic, because clearly, since we have no idea where that line is run into the house, it must be frozen underground somewhere.

We crawled under the house and I realized my mistake.  The old hand dug well (you remember him, a few paragraphs ago) had been plumbed into the front side of the house, and I had always seen those lines as the current piping system. However, the way to the barn is from the back of the house, and I finally realized that it didn’t make sense for those lines to be from the new well.

I need to take a time out and explain that when we purchased this house, there was a 24’ aboveground pool, huge deck, and pool house off the back side of the house. The deck was rotting, the bath house was scary, and I have a lab mix dog. We did NOT need a swimmy pool. The deck demo had been a drawn out procedure and I was in the middle of it that winter. We finally realized that when the new water line was installed, it had been day lighted under the pool house and hung in suspension from there under the deck for 45 feet prior to entering into the much warmer crawlspace. How that pipe had never burst, I will never know.  After yet another late night last minute trip to Lowes for heat tape, we wrapped all 45 feet of exposed piping and miracle of miracles, we had water again. 

Here you see the half demolished pool deck and bathhouse. I should have paid attention to all those pesky plumbing lines, but that seems like too much work.
And here you can see the black water line that was hidden under that deck. Know what to look for people!

Marketing idea: Lowe’s should have an all-night emergency counter where there is one employee who will go into the store and get what you need at any hour. It will cost you double, but you’ll get it. Or I should stop working after 6pm to avoid catastrophes.

The next summer, we finished removing the pool deck and bathhouse, and then broke up all the concrete from underneath the old deck. For some reason, the entire underside of the pool deck (as well as under our almost wrap-around porch) had been poured over with concrete. Some of it was egg shell thin; some, not so much. After the way was cleared, we dug an almost two ft deep trench and routed the water line under the house the rest of the way and underneath the footer of the house. Again, thank you to my dad, he dug from the inside, I dug from the outside of the footer, and we FINALLY met in the middle. Everyone else was stuck digging the rest of the trench (they don’t let me play with mattocks).

Other than one small instance where we murdered a well spigot in the middle of the front yard with a truck and trailer in a snow storm and had to run to Lowes (in the snow, right before closing) to get a pipe cap, thus ended our water saga. Until this week.

We have a spigot at the barn that feeds our water troughs that is now sucking air somewhere and it has reduced our water flow at the barn from a gallon every 14 seconds to a gallon every 36 seconds. Fun fact, that means it takes about 55-minutes to fill 100-gallons of water. I have 600-gallons worth of water troughs.  This time at least, we know what the issue is, we just need to replace the frost free spigot in the ground. Which means more digging. And more concrete. I know they concreted it all the way down. I just know it.

Ugh. Hopefully we get more rain to soften up the ground for our digging! Never mind the ratchet strap. That’s another story.

But guess what, do you know who has pipe wrenches and has replaced a spigot before? Daddy.  And guess who just so happens to be coming into town next week? You got it.

And if you look closely, you’ll see the hero of our story on the roof to be.

Enjoy the little things

Yes it’s from a movie, and one that isn’t in line with the rest of this post. But it’s an apt quote nonetheless.

Sunday last, we went to the visitation services for my cousin, Joe, who died in a motorcycle wreck just four days before. Monday, the family laid him to rest. My great Aunt has always been a pillar of faith to me and I dare say to much of my family. She said she wanted us all to pray for the driver of the car who was at fault, and I know she is doing the same.

Later in the week, I became pretty ill and later found a tick attached to me. While the tests came back negative for Lymes and equivocal for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, the antibiotics are doing wonders. I was a nervous wreck for a day or two as tick fever is nothing to joke about.

I was speaking with my Granny yesterday, checking in on the family and I told her, I think we all feel a little more mortal right now. You try not to take life for granted, but it’s in human nature. Until suddenly, God reminds us that there is an end here on earth for us all at some point.

So here’s to all the little things that God gives to make life here on earth sweet while it lasts.

The Building of a Brooder Box

Our chickens turned a year old in April, and in my estimation, were well old enough to start brooding out babies. While the breeds we bought were eclectic (Rainbows from Hoovers Hatchery; dominique and black sex link from TSC, and an americana), I had initially purchased them for meat birds with the hope that I would get some good broody hens in the mix. I want to go on record as saying I have learned my lesson on why picking breeds is so important.

Roger, back when he was my favorite.

I have not been impressed with my chickens thus far. Firstly, lets talk about rainbows, these are not colored egg layer rainbows, but a Hoover’s Hatchery mixed bag of their own making for unique color patterns. I will grant, they certainly deliver on the color patterns. Roger and Drumstick, my roosters have beautiful plumage. But they are MEAN to the hens, pure bullies. I ended up giving my americana away because they picked on her so much. They pick on all the hens, but her the worst. The Rainbow hens lay large eggs consistently, but have shown zero inclination to go broody and have a much darker side that we will get to in a sec.

The dominique and sex links are also reliable producers of eggs but as of April at a year old, had not gone broody. Since I am impatient and wanted a fall kill of chickens for the freezer, I decided to incubate about 10 of my own eggs and I bought 18 buff orphington eggs from a nearby farm. The incubation process was traumatic. If you struggle with waiting and not “messing” with stuff, don’t do it! Notice how I have issues with instant gratification but keep getting into long term return projects? I enjoy the suffering, what can I say. After the obligatory waiting on the hatching, in which I promise I kept the lid on the incubator closed tight and the humidity generally where it was supposed to be, I had only 3 out of 30 some odd eggs hatch. Very disappointing since I paid close to $1 an egg for the buff orphingtons (and only hatched one of those).

Now, you probably know this already, but three chickens is not much of a freezer full. So, as providence would have it, right around time of my failed hatching, one of my local TSC stores was expecting a huge batch of peeps to come in and just happened to clearance out all of their week or so old chicks, including a huge lot of buff orphingtons (SERIOUSLY, $1 for confirmed pullets as well as the mixed gender tub, who can say no!?!). Have you ever tried to sneak 15 peeps into your house with your spouse home? Its not easy, let me tell you. However, my husband is quite wonderful and once he accepts my crazy ideas, his normal response is “in for a penny, in for a pound” and we double whatever my original plan is.

The water trough is ideal when the babies are small, but they quickly outgrow it.

So now I had 18 babies to raise and once they were outgrowing the water trough we had them in (minus the water of course), we transferred them to the coop in Toby’s dog kennel lined with cardboard to let everyone acclimate. (Toby was nervous when I drug the kennel out after having it under the bed for months, he wasnt sure what was going on but was certain it couldn’t bode well for his freedom). After a few weeks in the makeshift brood kennel, the chicks were turned loose on the bigger birds and we now have a seamless flock. I will say, integration went really well. It could be that there were 18 babies to only 8 big birds that helped, but no one got seriously injured and life was good. It is really quite funny to see the peeps dart under the feet of the roosters and take whatever treat they were enjoying.

Once we had the birds I needed, of course we had a hen to go broody. So I gave her 8 eggs to sit on and marked them so I could still get the fresh eggs every day. Otherwise, like any good broody, she would’ve sat on 30 I think. I’ve previously written about my trial and tribulations with the snakes, but life only got worse when the chicks were ready to hatch.

One day, I had a pipped shell, and the next day I went to check and saw no pipped shell and no babies. Odd. On day three, I had another chick about 1/3 of the way hatched. Now is a good time to explain that during the entire broody process, I had one rainbow that will not leave the nest box. She doesn’t want to sit on eggs, she just paces or walks on top of the broody. She is not my favorite. So while I was in the coop watching the egg hatch for a second, the mom was pecking at the egg (helping I guess?); along came both my rainbow chickens to peck as well. And then one of them simply picked up the egg to take off with it! Evil, evil cannibals. Don’t worry, this story has a happy ending. After retrieving the egg from the chicken and the blood that was almost spurting out of it with a screaming chick inside, I kicked all the chickens but the broody from the coop and into the run and gave the broody her egg back. However, she also started to peck at it viciously. So executive decision was made, these hens don’t get babies. I really wanted to have a hen raise the babies so I didn’t have to do the work, but c’est la vie. I had already planned to add my yearling hens to the freezer this fall, but this seals the deal. So I put the hatching chick way underneath the broody and ran inside to set up a brood box with some heat. Which at that time what I had was a cardboard box from Chewy.com (great boxes, btw). And went back out to collect the now mostly hatched chick and one other that had pipped to hatch inside.

Miracle of birth and all that. I REALLY prefer my animals to do all the work and all I have to do is show up and have a baby waiting on me.

If you have never had to “help” or watch a chick hatch, it is excruciating. Throw in zero humidity control except for a bowl of water and a wet paper towel under a heat lamp, and you have a fun time. However, I knew they would get eaten outside, so i figured these odds were better for survival. I had my chick expert, Cactus Makes Perfect , on the text dial asking what I was doing with my life throughout the hatching process. Despite my idiocy, both eggs hatched and one additional pipped egg hatched the next day. At that point I was on twice a day egg watch for pipped shells, but the eggs keep disappearing and the broody has two left that still seem viable that she snuck in with the original 8. My three peeps are doing wonderfully though and were a week old on Friday.

Something about a heat lamp adds an eerie glow to peeps.

However, very soon, they will outgrow their chewy box (as well as the “run” we made from another box to give them more room); and my water troughs are full for the cows and horses. I was never a fan of using the dog kennel, and Benny’s massacre of my gimpy chick had given me serious pause that it was the right way to go about things. What I really wanted was a committed brooder box that would serve no other purpose so I could trust myself not to “re-purpose” when I dont have chicks. So yesterday, in the absence of any big projects, we built a brooder frame, and today, we finished it!

One of the awesome things about rehabbing a farm is that you end up with a LOT of scrap lumber. I even created a shelf to organize the lumber. So the frame had zero out of pocket expense right now, though I am sure we paid for some of the lumber in the past and some came as free from my husband’s work. All we had to purchase was hardware cloth, hinges, and a latch. Screws and the nail gun we had on hand. Total time involved I would say is less than 6 hours and the money spent was less than $45; $10 of which at least was in screws. I would think you can get by with less time and labor, but we improved and improvised as we went. Ok, lets be super clear: I held boards in place, passed out screws like they were snickers on halloween, and said “good job” a lot.

Materials:

  • 8ft long 2×4
  • Apx. 75 feet 1×4 (I lost count somewhere around 71 feet, but this should be close )
  • 25′ hardware cloth (24″ wide)
  • 2pk hinges
  • Hook and eye clasp
  • Screws
  • Staple and nail guns

The frame was very simple to build, placing one 2×4 in each corner and creating a 3′ by 4′ cube. With a brood box, I really wanted something that Benny would at least have to work to break into. So we added 1x4s to the outside of the 2×4 frame to create an even surface to staple the hardware cloth to.

Framed up and hardware cloth installed.
Top view of the brooder with hinges

Once the frame was built and the hardware cloth installed, we created a half door on the top of the brooder (thank you Lumnah Acres for inspiration!). By making half of the roof a solid piece attached to the cube, we really added stability as well as not having to piece together the hardware cloth over a huge top frame . Add in some hinges and a hook and eye closure, and I feel comfortable that something is at least going to have to work for a peep meal!

Our three chicks are still inside for the time being, but in about 2 weeks they will move into the brood box in the coop with the big birds and start getting used to the place. Unless of course they learn to escape the chewy box sooner…

Blackberry Wine Week 3(ish)

We are finally to the taste testing part! After watching something for close to 20 days, I get nervous wanting to make sure it’s not all been a waste. Especially if your fermenting bubbles slow down toward the end like mine have.

Week three is the final “adding” step to your wine mixture. After racking the wine with a siphon into a clean fermenter, we will add another pint of water and the final sugar mixture. Let’s all be thankful that sugar is so cheap, because between wine and jam, it goes quick around here!

We were dead tired and just had to get the wine racked before bed, so no pictures of that process, but the wonderful FerMonsters that I mentioned last week certainly did their job! The sediment stayed in the bottom of the container and the pour spouts made the process much less traumatic than simply using a siphon. If you don’t have a fermenter with a spigot, the siphon can be started by sucking the end of your tubing, but in addition to the germs added to the wine, the two seconds it takes to get the siphon into the ferment jug are REALLY stressful.

Once all the good juice is taken from the top of the fermenter, there will always be some juice waste around the sediment that is really tempting to try and recover. My advice, sacrifice some juice to make sure you don’t take more sediment into the new fermenter than you absolutely have to. Otherwise, you have to rack again and again and again. Or have cloudy wine (guilty).

Incidentally, we composted the main ferment batch and by the smell of the now fermenting compost bin, the fruit flies are having a grand time. The sediment however went down the drain.

So. Final recipe instructions:

After 10 Days

1. Siphon the wine to a container. Sterilize the fermenter, then return the wine.

2. Boil the remaining 1/3 sugar in the last pint of water, allow to cool before adding to the wine.

3. Plug the fermenter with a breathable valve and leave until the wine has stopped fermenting. The wine will stop bubbling when fermentation has stopped.

After Fermentation

1. Siphon the wine as before.

2. Sterilize wine bottles and add a funnel.

3. Pour the wine into the bottles, filling each bottle to the neck, and cork. For corking, we use a manual corker from amazon that has worked really well. However, I will say I am certainly not man enough to use it, so that step definitely falls to the husband!

Again, great thanks to https://www.wikihow.com/Make-Blackberry-Wine for getting me a lot of the way to the recipe I currently use. Taste testing this week went well, and we will likely rack again later in the week and bottle by the weekend. Remember, if you bottle before fermentation is complete, you may have some unplanned explosions!

Stay tuned for the bottling and taste testing process! Promises for pictures by then!

Blackberry Wine -Week 2

Be honest, does he look sorry?

What a week! I am so happy that this week’s wine tending was short and sweet. This week was adventurous enough getting through more of the blackberry harvest, jam making, starting to pick the silverberries, and having our first farm calf born (eeekkkkkk!), but today, Toby decided to scare me to death and start limping for no reason after 60 unsupervised seconds outside. I am happy to report that the vet said he was most likely just stung by something and he couldn’t find any evidence of a break or a snake bite. My vets are saints and not once called me paranoid. I think Toby just wanted a field trip to the vet! Regardless, I am so grateful that it was nothing worse. My favorite saying around here is that God looks out for idiots!

Ok, back to the wine, because clearly I need it! For week two of wine making , all that needs to be done is to strain out the berries through a sieve and cheesecloth into your fancy dancy new FerMonster from The Vintage Shop (trust me, I wish I had made the name up), add sugar, and get to watching it bubble! No, the FerMonster isnt required per se, but so far they seem like the bees knees!

Remember, EVERYTHING gets sanitized.

The berries have been getting digested by the yeast for 7 days at this point, so they are fairly mushy. Run the batch through cheesecloth lain over a sieve and press the juice out. Last year, we wrung the berries completely dry. However, this resulted in a LOT of sediment that we had to siphon off later and the wine still held particulates when bottled. So my advice is to gently press the fruit but sacrifice some juice for less sediment.

Following straining, you’ll transfer the juice into your primary fermenter. Gallon jugs worked great when we were experimenting and deciding if this process was even worth it, but for Christmas, I received three PET carboys (the above-referenced FerMonsters) and am finally getting to use them! Talk about delayed gratification. What is really nice about these units is that they have extra wide mouths and spigots at the bottom so you can release the wine and hopefully contain the sediment. Stay tuned to see how they work!

For this week at least, I think the waiting may be my favorite part.

Add another two pints of water and 1/3 of the sugar that has been boiled together and allowed to cool into the fermenting container as well. Cap the container so that it is allowed to breathe, and sit and watch the bubbles! Week two recipe is below:

We tripled the recipe in the initial containers and then split them evenly(ish) into two FerMonsters for the remainder of the ferment.

After 7 Days

1. Strain pulp through cheesecloth, wringing the material dry.

2. Pour the strained liquid into a fermenter

3. Boil a second 1/3 of the sugar (apx. 1.65 lbs) in 1 pint water. Allow it to cool before adding it to the fermenter.

4. Plug the top of fermenter to allow breathing.

5. Let the wine sit for ten days.

Happy Making!

Ok, now back to the baby cow!

The name is Loin; Sir Loin.

Delicious Wild Blackberry Wine – Week 1

I was never a huge fan of wine, the whole dry makes your mouth pucker experience wasn’t for me. Give me juice with alcohol content and I’m good. Last summer, we had a person decide to trespass on the old logging road that cuts across the back side of our property. Said person got his vehicle stuck in the limb dump about 30 yards into the logging road. Keep in mind, these limbs have been rotting since approximately 2014, and the soft layer of organic material underneath the limbs made getting stuck inevitable.

Thanks to my phone, I can tell you I found the berry patch around the middle of May.

After the tow truck and the sheriffs deputy removed the trespasser and his vehicle, we got to work putting in wooden posts and a chain with no trespassing signs. Apparently the fact that it’s not your property is not a valid reason not to go off-roading in this part of the country. During the setting of the posts, I noticed a LOT of wild blackberry bushes. It was so overgrown I could only access a small percentage of the thousands present and as the berries were still green on the vine, I had to wait a while for harvest, but boy was it worth the wait! We found several patches across the property, and its almost a pat routine now where we pick. Blackberries love disturbed, low quality soil, which means were sitting on a berry gold mine.

My baby brother helped us a lot that first summer picking berries, all for the low price of a blackberry cobbler. We picked enough over the summer to run two batches of blackberry wine, and a few dozen pints of jam; plus the cobbler payments. I enjoyed the wine all of last fall and most of the winter until I realized I needed to start rationing myself until the berries started coming back in.

We made two separate runs of blackberry that first summer.

I am happy to report that we now have three batches of wine fermenting and I’ve for two or three bottles left over from last summer still. I worked most of the afternoon yesterday to make a huge mess in the kitchen with great success. As of Sunday morning, there were over 6 gallons of wild blackberries in the freezer and in the spirit of avoiding the 90% humidity outside, we started three separate batches.

The first step to making any wine is to kill all the bacteria on the fruit. Because what is yeast but tame bacteria, and even that is unpredictable at times. You can either chemically or biologically sterilize the fruit, and since I’m cheap and in theory hate chemicals, we went the biological route this year. Wash and dry the fruit and spread it on a pan and pop in the freezer until solid, then transfer to a gallon bag for holding. Since a batch of wine takes 4-6 lbs of fruit and we get about 3/4 gallons per picking day, we have to save up quite a bit of fruit. For reference, an average gallon of our blackberries weighs a little less than 4 lbs. We finally had enough hoarded away in deep freeze, so yesterday we pulled out about 16 lbs and got to work.

Based on last year’s experience, what I’ve learned is that wine making is all about sterilization and patience. We had one batch re-ferment and get fizzy (super tasty but sporty in that it is akin to living with a ticking time bomb as the bottles can supposedly explode whenever they feel like it) and one batch soured somewhere along the way and tasted like vinegar; and not even good vinegar. All bottles had some particulates settle out as well. According to my research, these issues could’ve been solved by better sterilization and more waiting in the ferment stage. Stay tuned.

Crushing by hand is kind of like what Willy Wanka says about the best way to mix chocolate is by waterfall.

Ok, so once thawed, we placed the berries in three sterile buckets and crushed by hand. Except they were not quite thawed and I may lose a finger to frostbite. Eventually the berries DID thaw and were crushed. I looked into mechanically juicing the berries with a meat grinder or food mill, but unless you have a fruit juicer, you can get too much tannin from the seeds in your juice must and the wine will be super dry. Ick

Once the berries have sat for awhile and mixed with sterile water, its time to add sugar water and yeast. Spoiler alert, I am really bad at math and doubling, not to mention tripling, recipes is a struggle for me. Ask any of my wedding house guests about their pancakes the day after the reception… I tend to either add one ingredient in singular amounts or six times the amount. My wonderful husband was cross checking math for me all day and confirming that two cups is in fact one pint and that three times three is nine.

My favorite part is mixing the yeast up to start activating. It smells like baking bread with zero percent of the work and it bubbles. Who doesn’t like bubbles.

Bubbles.

Once the yeast has activated, in it goes to the berry mixture and everything gets stirred and capped. PLEASE do not cap anything in this process with a solid lid and no way to vent. Or if you do, send pictures of the aftermath. We store the mix in the pantry at least for the initial process, and it smells SO good in there. If you care about such matters, now is the time to take an initial hydrometer reading as well. Assuming I can read the hydrometer right (again, the math thing), then the sample I pulled has a potential alcohol content of 10ish percent.

Ignore the red staining. No messes made here. Nope, none at all.

Here is the day one recipe instructions. Honestly, the first year I went straight off of wikihow ( https://www.wikihow.com/Make-Blackberry-Wine ) and googled the best blackberry wine yeast. My local Alternative Beverage store employees have also been exceedingly helpful. After the first two batches turned out well, I typed up the recipe and added in my thoughts. Google is a wonderful thing. As you can see, it is an all day affair, mostly of waiting. I wash most of my pots and containers with a campden solution which I equate to the kitchen version of alconox and/or soap and water. There was a lot of washing and trying to keep things sterile, which, when you are a taste testing cook, is hard to accomplish.

Complete Ingredient List

  • 4 ½ – 6 lbs ripe fruit
  • 2 ½ lbs sugar
  • 7 pints of water
  • 1 package of yeast (Red wine yeast recommended)
  • Campden

Preparation

  • 1. Wash berries with 1 gallon of water and one Campden tablet. Rinse and allow to dry 12 hours prior to processing. Alternatively, freeze berries first. This will kill any unwanted bacteria.
  • 2. Crush berries by hand in a sterile plastic bucket. Pour in 2 pints of cooled distilled water and mix well. Leave mixture for two hours.
  • 3. Boil one third of the sugar with 3 pints water for one minute. Allow syrup to cool.
  • 4. Add yeast to 4 oz of warm (not boiling) water and stand for 10 minutes.
  • 5. Pour the cooled syrup into the berries. Add the yeast. Make sure the mixture has properly cooled, as a hot temperature will kill the yeast.
  • 6.Cover the bucket with a clean cloth and leave in a warm place for 7 days.

Now, we wait. Perhaps I should take this seven days of waiting to write a thank you letter to my trespasser who started it all.

Since Toby’s love affair with all things blackberry is well established in our house, it goes without saying that there was some significant bonding time in the kitchen.

And he is great at getting right where you need to be!