Weekend Homesteader

Creating a sustainable lifestyle, one weekend at a time.

Buy Hay When The Sun Shines

You’ve heard the saying, “make hay when the sun shines”. The same applies when you buy hay for your livestock. Be it goats, sheep, horses, cattle, or otherwise, Buy hay in the spring, buy hay in the summer, buy hay in the fall. But don’t wait until winter to buy hay.

Hay prices will be at their lowest during summer. Especially in the early summer when field crop farmers are out cutting the first spring growth, first cut hay. These farmers may not have had any income from these dormant fields for some time, especially in northern climates where snow cover and freezing weather prevents any growth or harvest for up to five months out of the year. Farmers are looking to make some money now and are ready to sell. Additionally, spring weather favors a bountiful crop of hay. There will be plenty of first cut bales to sell. Buy hay in the summer.

Hay prices will go up later in the growing season. Late summer and fall cuttings, or second and third cut hay, usually yields a lighter harvest for crop farmers. But bales of second cut and third cut hay is more nutritious than first cut hay. The stems and stalks have a finer texture, more green leaves, a sweeter smell and flavor, and most livestock recognize the difference and prefer second and third cut hay over first cut hay. So the likelihood of a lighter harvest, yet better product, drives prices up a dollar or two per square, and several dollars per round. Buy high quality, second cut hay in the late summer and early fall.

If your farm animals tend to be selective grazers you may want to add the higher priced second and third cut hay into your feed budget. It can be cost prohibitive to feed second cut hay all year round, so for cost management purposes buy and feed more first cut hay to your livestock. Treat them now and then to the second cut hay on those really long cold streaks.

Don’t Wait Until Winter to Buy Hay

Hay purchased in the winter is not any more nutritious or desirable to your livestock. It’s stored hay from the previous season. Finding a farmer with hay available in January, February, and March is difficult. Their their goal is to sell out in the fall. Then they do not have to go through the extra effort to move, wrap, and store hay over winter. The farmer that has done the extra work isn’t going to let it go for cheap. Add another dollar or two for each square. Demand is high and supply is low. Hay prices will be highest in the winter.

Case in point, in the summer and fall I can buy certified organic hay from my neighborhood farmer for $5 per square. One winter I went back for resupply in early January. I discovered that he was now getting $7 and $8 per square. That’s no small price to pay when you’re out of hay for your livestock and spring is months away.

Save Money On Hay

Farmers wisdom for thousands of years has said to ‘make hay when the sun shines’. Learn from the years of experience and buy hay when the sun shines. Your livestock will love you for it. And you can hold onto those saved hundreds for other farm products you certainly forgot to plan for this winter.

Rabbit Husbandry – Lessons in Cuniculture

Rabbit husbandry, cuniculture, breeding rabbits for meat, pick a label, comes up in conversation at deer camp. A relation of mine runs a French-themed restaurant nearby and was lamenting the loss of his current meat-rabbit supplier, the farmer having decided to discontinue that line of livestock for one reason or another. My relative asks if  I’m willing to raise rabbits exclusively for his restaurant, and me, having no idea what I am committing to, agrees to give rabbit farming a try.

Fast forward a year and a half. I have two bucks (adult male rabbits), seven does (adult female rabbits), and a handful of little ones. Those of you that know what you’re doing with your rabbits know this isn’t a good result. Add to this that I have never brought a single rabbit to butcher for sale to the restaurant. I’m looking out the back window at a waste of time, money, and effort. I’ve got a decision to make soon.

But how did I get to this point? Let me share some lessons in cuniculture that I have learned since I introduced rabbits to my homestead.

Commercial Rabbit Production is not Personal Use

Starting with just two does and one buck was a mistake. But my google-foo was not strong when I started and that’s what I did based off the limited research I did on the subject. However, if I want to be able to produce enough kits to raise to take to the butcher and sell to the restaurant I need to produce 50 rabbits a month, 600 a year, to meet demand and be cost-effective in transportation costs. I should have started with 10 does. Helpful sites like this provide the necessary math skills I lack.

Rabbits Breed Like Rabbits But Aren’t All Good Parents

The two does each produced a litter of kits. And the experienced doe built a nest, kindled eight kits, and raised them well. However, the first time doe didn’t build a nest and delivered her kits all over the cage. I discovered them dead the next day. She did build a nest the next time and kindled eight kits. But she never nursed them, even with attempted forced nursing, and I expect her milk didn’t drop enough to feed all the kits. The third litter she nursed until their eyes opened and they were adorable, and then she abandon them before they weaned off.

Fast forward a few breeding cycles, and several more does, and this cycle has repeated itself again and again with new mothers. I didn’t expect all the loss. It’s saddening on top of being unproductive.

Rabbit Containment That Is Either Humane Or Effective

I didn’t want to cage the rabbits, so I started with an indoor colony of mixed sexes. The colony appeared to get along and some kits were produced, but I lost many due to accidents within the setup. I had over 10 square feet of space per rabbit, yet their hyperactivity resulted in the death of many kits. In addition to that loss, I eventually discovered that the rabbits were fighting, and it was only apparent when I did a pelt check and found they had dozens of scabs and little open wounds from bites from other colony mates.

I attempted to fence in a couple of rabbits with electric fence netting. It worked for a couple of weeks before they jumped through the netting and I caught them munching grass near the other rabbits. Now they’re in individual cages and a rabbit tractor that I move onto fresh grass every day. This method has improved their skin conditions and it allows me to ensure each rabbit is eating and drinking enough. While this wasn’t how I wanted to contain my herd, it’s what I’ve decided I need to do for the time being.

Rabbit Nutrition Factors

I am feeding free-choice organic hay to my rabbits. They also get an organic alfalfa pellet supplement. During most months, they also get free choice forage while being moved around in the rabbit tractor and cages. While my research shows that many commercial producers are providing a similar nutrition plan, I wonder if this may be a contributing factor to my poor success. So I added a formulated blended pellet product to their diet. I’m hoping this improves the production and survival rates.

rabbit kits

While I’ve learned a lot about raising rabbits, I haven’t been able to be successful with this choice of livestock. My pigs, goats, chickens, and ducks have already turned a profit. Micro-greens and select produce sales have been beneficial to our sustainability. Making maple syrup has been as well.

In an earlier post, I commented that “when adjustments are necessary they are made quickly and decisively in order to ensure profitability or savings. When one of these becomes a drain on resources it will be reevaluated and potentially cut from the business model”.  Raising rabbits for meat has not met yet met goal, and so  I told my wife that if I didn’t have something to show for all these rabbit husbandry efforts by the end of the summer I was going to cut this practice out of my focus for a while.

Did you hear that rabbits? Hop to it!

Do you have any good advice to share about your experiences raising rabbits for commercial production? Please share in the comments below.

Taking Pigs to the Butcher. A New Farmers Viewpoint.

Yesterday the three little pigs went to market.

I’m not an overly emotional man (my wife may say otherwise), but I will admit that the process of raising those piglets with the knowledge of their demise did not affect me until the moment I loaded them onto the trailer. At that point I succumbed to what I imagine any one of our rational ancestors would – who spent a substantial amount of time caring for an animal, ensuring its safety and health, protecting it from the elements, and feeding it the highest quality rations available.

The pigs went willingly into the trailer, following the feed trough I pulled ahead of them, which daily assured them of sustenance, and took their places beside one another for their last supper.

I’ll remember these three, my first, forever, I imagine.

While I refused to name two, one came with a name, “Fast Eddie”. He infuriated me, with his pushy demeanor, that ‘me first’ attitude, and stubborn unwillingness to relinquish just the smallest amount of space beside him at the trough for the runt of the litter. But he was admirable, as a pig goes, for his size, and color, and commanding action in the pen. And that runt, always off doing something else when it was feeding time. Never paying attention to the fact that the other two were half done with their breakfast before he even bothered to get down to the trough. The third, well, he’s probably the one I liked most. Unnamed, average in size, with no distinguishing marks, but curious about everything, daily testing the electric fence, always the first to jump up to greet me in the morning, and willing to share a bit of space with the little guy, even stepping back and waiting for me to fill a second trough as they all got too big to share just one.

They say pigs are smart, maybe even as smart, or smarter, than dogs. And they’re funny too. Even cute. These three were no exception. Good pigs, the lot of them.

As I look out into the yard and see their empty forest pasture pen, it’s uncomfortable to acknowledge to myself where I know I sent them, and I wonder if other farmers ever feel, or felt at one time, the same way, or if maybe I am an overly emotional man…

Early Season Maple Syruping

Please see the bottom of this page for updates, sale prices, and delivery options.

Eggs, rabbits, maple syrup, and more…

February 2017 was a month for the record books. Unseasonably warm days melted away the winter snowfall and a mid-month rainfall caused flooding in many areas. Not your typical February in Minnesota. The last time it was this warm for this long was in 1981, and I was two.

Fortunately for us here at the homestead the warm weather only caused mild excitement. It prematurely caused the maple trees to start dripping sap. It’s the earliest sap run during my short tenure in the sugarbush. Now I find the maple syrup season is already upon us. I am still working on winter projects, but now must divert my attention to springtime tasks.

I tapped half the maple trees on Wednesday the 15th and evaporated the first batch on Monday the 20th. This year I’m using a Brix refractometer for the first time to ensure I don’t over-boil and waste any syrup. Previously I’d been measuring the temperature only and calling it good when the syrup reached 219 ºF. However, with this tool samples were taken at late stages of the evaporation process to ensure a minimum sugar content of 66 Brix. I’m counting on a lot less wasted, over-heated syrup, which has the tendency to crystallize and require the addition of water and reboiling. The sap sacks and sack holders I use can be obtained by following the hyperlinks, although they’re cheaper at a local farm supply store.

For the second year I’m using the evaporator pan I inherited from my father-in-law. Pictured above, it’s been in their family for three generations. My family makes it the fourth generation. My wife’s great grandpa used this pan back before 1953, when that picture was taken, and I’m using it today. The sentiment, “they don’t make things like they used to” rings true with this evaporator. It’s solid, reliable, easy to clean, and a real work of art. It’s a 60 gallon galvanized steel pan that has seen thousands of gallons of sap reduced to delicious syrup over the years. 2016 reserve stock and 2017 quarts of early-season, light amber (Grade A) syrup is for sale now.

The Black Australorp chicks are almost 16 weeks old now. The juvenile hens, which are also known as pullets, have been off the heat lamps for a several weeks. Last weekend I moved them from the heated brooder to the woodshed-turned-coop with a door to the pasture in which they will, snow having melted, explore the landscape for weeds and insects. I expect to see eggs from the hens as early as mid-April and will make them available for sale immediately.

The chick brooder will receive a makeover and will be repurposed as rabbit colony housing for soon to be acquired Champagne d’Argent’s or another similar meat breed. The Cuniculture plan is to start with one buck and two does and grow the herd into a reliable source of protein to offer for sale to restaurants and markets.

Items available from the homestead will vary seasonally and by demand. Look below for current items for sale and contact me here for delivery options in Central Minnesota and the Twin Cities Metro area.

On sale now:

Maple Syrup. Wood-fired, small batch pure maple syrup – $20/qt

Chaga. Wildcrafted beneficial birch tree fungi. Chunks or ground – $3.50/oz

Available beginning mid-April:

Cage Free, no-soy, organic fed chickens eggs – $6.00/doz (discount for prepay)

Rabbit. Pasture raised, organic pellet supplemented fryers – price per lb TBD

Available in late spring – late fall:

Foraged wild mushrooms – priced by variety per weight as items become available

Organic, non-GMO produce – price TBD

I’m My Own Boss

There’s a measure of risk in being your own boss. Will my business plan work out? Is there any demand for my product and service? Do I have the skills and outreach in order to meet sales goals? Is sufficient infrastructure in place?

All business owners have to ask themselves these questions and more. I am no exception.

Why I Quit My Day Job

In mid-January 2017 I left a career of 17 years to pursue my dream as a small acreage homestead farmer and small business owner. Now I am my own boss. I left behind the security of my salaried job, health insurance, 401K match, and other benefits for an ideal. While the decision was easy, the reality took time and effort. After identifying my goal to be a homestead farmer and acquiring the necessary property, I spent the next three years developing the business plan. Then the opportunity to put that plan into action became a reality.

We decided to leave our second home in the city and live permanently in our country home. And while both my wife and I enjoy(ed) our secular employment, my wife decided she would prefer to stay with her organization and I would build my business. We also decided not to find another nanny for our daughter after our nanny gave notice that she was having another baby and would be unable to continue on with us. So, instead I am privileged to play the part of the stay-at-home dad, educator, and kid coordinator. These two major changes and the knowledge I gained by researching, planning, and building skills as a homesteader prepared me to jump right in.

Have you wondered, “How can I quit my day job, start my own homestead business, and be my own boss?

Well, is a simplification of your lifestyle possible? Is the pursuit of the American consumerist dream getting in the way?

A Sustainable Homestead Business Plan

A sustainable homestead business requires a business plan, budget, expense tracking, and an audit and reform process. In late 2016 I was invited to guest post on a friends blog as part of a series she wrote on Alternative Living Arrangements. Within that article I share some of the ideas I had to make our homestead pay for itself and reduce our family’s expenses. Continuing those efforts, and as part of my business plan today, I’m forging on in several areas of interest. I’m counting on a small profit from the soy-free, organic egg production. The demand for eggs from the neighbors is sufficient. As backup a local grocer offers a fair price for any unsold dozens. A nearby French restaurant has committed to purchasing  any colony rabbits I raise. I’ve already received my organic, non-GMO seeds for the large vegetable garden this spring. And maple syrup sales are good.

Together, my daughter and I are telling buyers at the market and people we meet at her ballet and our area community events about our available products. If I convert an unused portion of the barn I will have a storefront for local craftspeople to showcase their goods. There is room for additional livestock in the existing outbuildings and available pasture space. Interest in pasture-raised organic pork is high. We decided not to list the mother-in-law unit again after our renters left at the end of 2016. Instead we are exploring adding a guest house as a rental property. A local non-profit is interested in a CSA partnership (community supported agriculture) and a maple syrup event. And there are many more potentially profitable ideas I have that need to be put to paper.

Will any of the homestead ideas above work for you and your family?

A budget is in place for each product and service. I track expenses. Furthermore, when adjustments are necessary they are made quickly and decisively in order to ensure profitability or savings. When one of these becomes a drain on resources it will be reevaluated and potentially cut from the business model. Worth noting is that having a variety of products and services going year round ensures opportunities to determine demand in new markets and generates interest in existing markets.

While the risk of being my own boss and running my own business is great, the reward is already worth it. I get to spend every day with my daughter. We enjoy quality and quantity time together as a family. And my dream of running a sustainable homestead is even closer to reality now.

What goals have you made in order to reach your dream of being your own boss and running your own business?

Be a Hunter/Gatherer – Part Three

Mushrooms – Part Three

Turkey Tail & Chaga

In the first of this series, “Be a Hunter/Gatherer”, I shared my experience foraging for, harvesting, and preparing mushrooms, namely, the Giant Puffball and Chicken of the Woods. In the second article, “Be a Hunter/Gatherer – Part Two“, I tips for finding and preparing  Lobster Mushrooms and Morels.

Before consuming wild mushrooms you must be able to positively identify them. Get a field guide and get comfortable identifying fungi and their development stages before you handle any. Misidentification can lead to serious sickness and even death. If you’re looking for a mushroom identification book, pick up “Edible Wild Mushrooms of North America: A Field-to-Kitchen Guide”.


On to the mushrooms!

Turkey Tail and Chaga mushrooms are very different from the other mushrooms featured in this series, as they are not the type of mushroom you consume for their delicious, earthy flavors. In fact, neither of these two are tasty treats, but are instead used for their medicinal properties. Not as painkillers or hallucinogens, but as natural immunostimulants, with anti-tumor properties, and as anti-inflammatory and antiviral/antifungal remedies.

Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor) is very common in most forests around the world. It grows on dead and downed trees, stumps, and branches in fall-colored, fan-shaped, clusters resembling a wild tom turkeys tail. Coloration varies during development, by location, and with seasons. I overlooked these mushrooms all my life until I developed an interest in hunting and gathering. They have gills underneath, with a leather-like or rubbery texture when collected. It’s not an impressive mushroom upon inspection, but as a potential treatment for cancer and a beneficial anti-oxidant that can be added into your diet with ease, it’s amazing.

Turkey Tail Mushroom

Turkey Tail Mushroom

Preparation takes a little time but isn’t hard. After gathering several good species, clean off the dirt and dry it in a paper sack or food dehydrator. Once brittle they can be ground in a sturdy coffee grinder and seeped like any other loose tea. Put as much in as you can fit into a filter and enjoy. For the most benefit, warm at a low heat for several hours in a pot and then filter into your tea-cup. Turkey Tail isn’t a particularly flavorful tea, but that’s not exactly what we’re going for here with this one…



Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) too, is a mushroom that’s sought after for its medicinal properties. It has a high level of antioxidants, B vitamins, and minerals like copper, calcium, potassium, manganese, zinc, and iron. Is it your replacement daily supplement? Well, if you have enough of it, it’s worth far more at the market than your cute little multivitamins.

Growing from birch trees in northern climates, and only for harvest during the bitter cold of winter, chaga is difficult to come by. When you see it, you might not even recognize it. It looks like a large black woody growth growing out the trunk of the tree. It can easily been overlooked. Fortunately, it doesn’t have any other look-alikes, so if you harvest what isn’t actually chaga, you’re probably just ingesting a dead tree branch. Key indicators are the interior color once sawed off the tree. And yes, you need a saw to harvest this fungus.

Keep it in cool, dry, dark storage and break off chunks to be ground in a powerful grinder. Prepare similarly to the Turkey Tail as described above. For maximum benefit, Chaga needs to go through an extraction process in order to make most of the beneficial properties available to our digestive systems. There are a ton of resources online that explain in great detail the benefits of Chaga. I’ve begun to include this in selection of regularly consumed teas and tinctures. And if I ever have any extra, I’ll sell you some – at a premium…

I hope you enjoyed the Hunter/Gatherer series on Mushrooms and my personal take on some of the greats that I’ve had the joy of harvesting and preparing. If you want to see more content about homesteading and hunting and foraging, follow my blog to receive notification of updates in your email!

Be a Hunter/Gatherer – Part Two

Mushrooms – Part Two

Lobster Mushroom &  Morels

In the first of this series, “Be a Hunter/Gatherer”, I shared my experience foraging for, harvesting, and preparing mushrooms, namely, the Giant Puffball and Chicken of the Woods. Something worth mentioning about these two mushrooms is that, since they are readily available and usually large, it’s uncommon to be able to eat the whole thing at one setting. To preserve any leftovers, I recommend you dehydrate the giant puffball mushroom and either freeze or can chicken of the woods.

Remember, before eating wild mushrooms you’ve collected you must be able to positively identify them. No need to throw experience to the wind because you think you can now eat a mushroom that killed our ancestors a couple thousand years ago. Be smart and do your research. Get a field guide and get comfortable identifying fungi and their development stages before you harvest and eat any. Misidentification can lead to serious sickness and even death. If you’re looking for a mushroom identification book, pick up “Edible Wild Mushrooms of North America: A Field-to-Kitchen Guide

On to the mushrooms…

While cleaning up around a tree that had blown down during a storm this summer, I saw what looked like a red/orange daylily peeking out of the deadfall. Something that brightly colored among the typical browns and greens of the landscape really stood out to me. I quickly took a closer look and was excited when I discovered it to be a Lobster Mushroom. This is the prettiest mushroom I’ve ever seen. Hypomyces Lactifluorum, as they’re known, is actually a parasitic fungus that attacks other mushrooms, giving them that red/orange color and the subtle scent and flavor of, you guessed it, lobster! I was so happy to find this little gem in the yard. Start looking for these mushrooms in mid-summer.

Lobster Mushroom

Lobster Mushroom

Preparation is easy. Gently clean off any dirt and and heat them with butter and oil. Then add them to a dish that complements seafood. Occasionally you’ll find these dried and for sale in specialty stores, too. I’ve enjoyed this paired with creamy or buttery pasta dishes and white wine, or even mixed with more flavorful dishes and red wine. If you can’t eat all of the lobster mushrooms in one meal, drying them is a fine option, as the flavor and aroma of the lobster is intensified when dried.


This is a light tomato sauce, enriched with cream, to be added to your favorite pasta, along with the sauteed lobster mushrooms.



Large, fresh lobster mushroom
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. of butter
2 small cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 cups canned crushed tomatoes
3 fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup heavy cream
3 tbsp. Parmigiano-Reggiano, freshly grated
Salt and freshly ground black pepper


  1. With a dry brush, wipe away dirt from lobster mushroom and slice or chunk.
  2. Heat the oil and butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and lobster mushroom and saute until just beginning to color, about 1 minute.
  3. Throw in the tomatoes and basil and increase heat to simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce is thick and has reduced by half, 15-25 minutes.
  4. Add cream and parmigiano and stir to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with your favorite cooked pasta and enjoy.

Arguably one of the tastiest wild mushrooms around is the Morel (Morchella Americana or Ulmaria). Readily available in stores at a premium price, you will understand why they are so expensive after trying to forage for wild morels on your own. Don’t even bother looking unless the conditions are just right. Look in ‘springtime’ when the temperatures are around 60 during the day and in the 40’s at night. Generally they’ll show up wherever they’ve shown up before, but if you haven’t found them yet, look around ash and elm trees and keep a keen eye. They blend in very well with the landscape. I’ve probably walked over morels for more years than I’ve known to stoop down and pick them up.

If you’re unsuccessful in gathering morels, you likely have a family member or friend that can cue you into the joys of morel mushroom hunting. Positive identification will reward you with a tasty treat.

Morel Mushroom

Morel Mushroom

Like other wild mushrooms, the morels firm texture and strong flavor stands up as it’s own accompaniment to a meal of steak and earthy vegetables. There are many recipes for morels, but I encourage you to clean them gently in water, slice in two, heat with a little butter to saute. If you’re fortunate to find enough of these and don’t eat them all at once, drying them and freezing them is an excellent way to preserve them until the next meal. Enjoy the tastiest wild mushroom I know!

Next in “Be a Hunter/Gatherer – Mushrooms: Part 3”..

I’ll share my experience with mushrooms known for their antioxidant properties, health benefits, and usefulness.

What have you found while foraging for wild edibles? Do you have a favorite way to prepare morels and other mushrooms?

Be a Hunter/Gatherer – Part One

Mushrooms – Part One

Giant Puffball & Chicken of the Woods

One goal of starting the homestead lifestyle was to satisfy my desire to be able to provide directly for my family from the produce I could sow, grow, and harvest, thereby reducing reliance on a supermarket for some things, reducing the cost of purchasing those items, and improving the overall quality of produce that we consume. One of the things I still have not accomplished, however, is planting a garden…

So while I have yet to prove myself as an agriculturist, I have been successful in providing for my family as a modern hunter-gatherer. While some nomadic hunter-gatherer tribes still exist in remote parts of the world, I don’t have to go live with them to appreciate the principals of their diet. Heard of the Paleo diet? Well the Paleo diet is based on what is believed to have been eaten by early humans prior to processed foods entering the scene 1000’s of years ago, and consists primarily of meat, fish, veggies, and fruit. You know… whatever you can hunt and gather. I don’t follow the Paleo diet right now so can’t get into the details of it. But in this feature series, “Be a Hunter/Gatherer”, I will share the successes I’ve had on the homestead participating in the method of hunting and gathering for sustenance on the homestead.

To start off this series, I begin with the most unique gathering success I’ve had on the homestead. That is of foraging for wild mushrooms. I’ve always loved mushrooms. Portabellas, button, shiitake, oyster, crimini, to name a few well-known varieties. Put them on pizzas, in pastas and lasagnas, top steaks, or slice into spicy fusion dishes, mmmm – mushrooms. But it wasn’t until the fall of our first year on the homestead that I discovered the rewards of foraging for wild mushrooms on the property.

Prior to foraging for and consuming mushrooms in your own backyard, you will need to be able to positively identify any mushrooms you find. A disclaimer not to be viewed lightly is that misidentification can lead to sickness and even death. Find a trustworthy identification guide and study it well. For those just picking up an interest in the subject I recommend the advice of David W. Fischer in his book, “Edible Wild Mushrooms of North America: A Field-to-Kitchen Guide”. He has not steered me wrong yet and even has an online guide if you happen to have an internet connection while foraging. Forage informed!

The first mushroom I found while foraging through the woods at home looked like a kids volleyball lying on the forest floor. It was large and white, round with a smooth surface and had no gills.

I’d found a Giant Puffball! That puffball, pictured below, was found just a few feet off the path growing next to a large oak tree. It stood out, as you can imagine, against the dark browns and greens of the forest floor around it. In fact, I’d walked right by it a few times thinking it was a volleyball that someone was playing with and had left in the yard. Officially, Calvatia Gigantea, these mushrooms are fairly widespread and common, growing from spring to fall in the rich soil of fields, woods, and gardens in the Upper Midwest. They are easily identifiable and have no poisonous look-alikes, so are relatively safe for the novice mycophile. They need to be harvested when they’re young and firm. Once they begin to yellow, though, they’re not worth the effort and are more fun to blow-up with tannerite.

Giant Puffball Mushroom

Giant Puffball

To prepare a giant puffball you begin by peeling off the outer layer, Then slice or dice it into a manageable size. Saute them in good olive oil or fat until they’re golden brown and lightly season with salt and pepper. This way you can taste their mild, nutty flavor. Or, prepare them breaded for a crispy exterior with a marshmallow texture on the inside. The first time I had these I wasn’t a fan of the texture, so the recipe below suggests blending them until smooth if you find that your palate agrees with mine. If you have enough, cook and freeze it in airtight bags for sauteing again at a later date!





6 tbsp. unsalted butter
3 medium, chopped, peeled shallots
2 lb. puffball mushroom
½ cup heavy cream
Freshly ground black pepper
1 lb. pappardelle (homemade if possible)


  1. Peel the outside layer of the puffball mushroom and slice. Melt butter in a large skillet until it begins to turn pale brown. Saute shallots and mushroom slices, turning as necessary, until golden brown. Add heavy cream and bring to a simmer. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (For a smooth texture, mix these ingredients together in a blender)
  2. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta until al dente. Drain; add pasta, to the skillet and toss to combine. Transfer to a plate and serve
  3. Serve with a fresh field-greens salad. This mild flavored mushroom is easily overpowered by other ingredients, but we have also enjoyed this by sauteing garlic with this dish or adding chopped, cooked asparagus.

Later I stumbled upon the second prettiest edible mushroom I’ve ever seen, a Laetiporus Sulphureus, or Chicken of the Woods. Since then I’ve found several more. They can generally be found during the summer and fall and the chicken of the woods I’ve found have been growing at the base of decaying oak stumps. These mushrooms, like the puffball mushroom, also get quite large, but their color is bright orange and yellow, even salmon and red, and their shape resembles fans stacked on a shelf. I’ve harvested them up to almost two feet in diameter!

The feature image of this post is of the first Chicken of the Woods I found, growing quite near that first giant puffball. In fact, I’ve since found another variety of mushroom in this same area that I will feature in the next post on foraging for mushrooms. The lesson being, once you find an area producing one variety of mushroom, it may be worth your time to check it out from time to time as the seasons change. Below pictured is just a small section of a much larger specimen that I found in 2016 growing on an oak stump.  Really, these photographs don’t do the vibrant colors of these mushrooms justice. When you find one, you’ll know what I mean.

Chicken of the Woods

Chicken of the Woods

The Chicken of the Woods has a lemony, meaty taste, and it’s name comes from the chicken-like flavor and texture it exhibits. It makes an excellent meat substitute because of that. This really is a pretty mushroom, and one of my favorites for cooking with because of it’s versatility. It can be blanched, sauteed, fried, or baked, but use care not to deep-fry them, as they’ll absorbed too much oil and be greasy. Since they are large you likely won’t use the whole thing in one dish, so they can be stored in the freezer after being sauteed and sealed in an airtight bag.




1 tbsp. olive oil
5 tbsp. butter
1 small yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced
4 oz. wild chicken of the woods mushroom, cleaned and thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 farm fresh eggs
2 tbsp. Half-and-half
2 sprigs fresh, chopped basil


  1. Heat the oil and 2 tbsp. of the butter in a skillet until butter turns pale brown. Add onion slices and cook until soft. Add mushrooms and cook until soft. Season with salt and pepper then set aside. Wipe the skillet clean with a paper towel and set aside.
  2. Crack one egg in a small bowl, then transfer to a larger bowl. Repeat for all six eggs then beat with a fork. Add half-and-half, season with salt and pepper, and mix well.
  3. Return the skillet to medium-high heat. Melt the remaining butter. Pour egg mixture into the skillet, stirring the surface constantly to make small curds. When eggs are halfway set, spoon the mushroom filling down the center of the eggs. Then carefully fold the sides of the omelette over the filling and cook until done. Slide the omelette onto a warm serving plate and garnish with basil.

In “Be a Hunter/Gatherer – Mushrooms Part Two” I’ll show you the prettiest edible mushroom I’ve found on the homestead, the Lobster Mushroom, and the tastiest one I’ve harvested, the Wild Morel. Finally, unless I discover more edible mushrooms before finishing this series on mushrooms, I’ll discuss the benefits of Chaga and explain how to find and acquire it – as it’s a bit of a challenge to harvest and prepare when compared to the other mushroom varieties.

Smoking Meats – The Brisket

brisket - smoking meatHomestead Smoked Beef Brisket

One of our favorite activities on the homestead is smoking meat on our Big Green Egg. We can’t say enough how much we love the hot, smoky, moist, and delicious briskets, ribs, chicken, and more that this bad-boy produces with patience and experience. We’ve been smoking meat on our Big Green Egg since the summer of 2011. As we recently celebrated our anniversary and wanted to enjoy a special meal prepared at home with love, we decided to smoke a brisket for the enjoyment of no one else but ourselves.

Brisket is a boneless cut of meat from the chest of beef cattle, and since the chest is extremely muscular and contains a significant amount of connective tissue, it must be prepared correctly in order to break down and tenderize the muscle and tissue. It’s worth it though, as brisket produces a very tender, moist, and delicious tasting meal, especially with the right selection, preparation, and serving methods. Considering their large size a full brisket will feed many hungry mouths.


If you plan to purchase a brisket you may need to call ahead and place an order with your butcher. Grocers often do not carry this large and heavy cut on their shelves. Tell your butcher you want the whole packer which consists of the flat and the point together. The flat and the point are the two sections that make up the complete brisket and will generally weigh anywhere from 9-16 pounds. One section is more lean and flatter while the other is fattier and round.


Our favorite recipe, hands down, is a creation of the chefs of Cook’s Illustrated. After smoking several briskets following others recipes and preparation methods, including renowned BBQ personality, Steven Raichlen, kitchen scientist, Alton Brown (their recipes are similar), and the advice of countless online smoking, grilling, and Big Green Egg enthusiast websites, we struck gold with the precious nuggets of information found within the pages of “The New Best Recipe” by Cook’s Illustrated.

Not only do they provide recipes along with methods of preparation, which you’d expect from any cookbook, but they also provide very informative and conversational dialogue regarding the selection of cuts, the processes they tried that didn’t turn out great, as well as their final recommendation, and alternative instructions for people who need a quicker turn-around or are working with other sources of heat, like a gas grill versus a charcoal grill, electric smokers, or even, yes, an oven.

All of their recipes are developed like that. The book was approached from the angle that whatever recipe you’re using now may not be the best one, and they’re going to test them all and prove which one is best. In the end, your recipe, or grandma’s recipe for that matter, may actually be best, but you can bet the chefs in the kitchen at Cook’s Illustrated working on this book tried all of them, documented the process, tasted the final product, and then shared their findings as being the absolute best. With regard to their recipe for beef brisket, I’m on board. You can join their website for free for a period of time and download the article on Barbecued Beef Brisket on the Charcoal Grill, or you can review our summary below.

Dry rub

A dry rub is a critical step in achieving smoked brisket perfection. While many chefs say to let the meat stand on its own with just salt and pepper, all but the most extreme purists of beef brisket will much prefer a brisket that’s been seasoned well with the right amount of spices. We like to use the high-quality seasonings sold at Penzeys spice shop. They’re much more potent than the supermarket variety. If you cook a lot, it’s worth the investment for spices guaranteed to be fresh and flavorful. The recipe in “The New Best Recipe” recommends liberal application of a cup of the following combined dry rub seasonings per each 10 pound brisket to be smoked.

  • 4 tablespoons paprika
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon ground oregano
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon ground white pepper
  • 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper

For a dry rub to be effective you need to let the seasonings and the meat meld for a while. Wrap in plastic wrap overnight in the refrigerator for maximum flavor. An hour before smoking, while bringing our Big Green Egg up to temperature and soaking the wood chips, we take the rubbed brisket out of the fridge to allow it to come to room temperature.


We stabilize the temperature in the Big Green Egg around 225 degrees. On a mild summer day we can hold that temperature for several hours without adding more hardwood charcoal. Soaked mesquite wood chips add an excellent flavor to brisket – so that’s what we use, and plenty of it. A 10 pound brisket is ready for the next step after 2 hours.

BGE thermometer - Smoking Meat


At this point the meat isn’t ‘fall-apart tender’ yet so you will be able to move it with two pairs of tongs onto heavy-duty aluminum foil where you’ll be sealing it for moisture retention and improved temperature stability to power through ‘the stall’, a period of time when brisket refuses to increase in temperature as the collagen is breaking down and other processes work their magic.

Once sealed in foil, put it back on the Big Green Egg for several more hours. Add preheated coals if necessary, but beware you don’t exceed the desired temperature. 300 degrees for 3 or 4 hours is desirable. Too low and you’ll be waiting all day for brisket. Too high and you get more than just burnt ends. You’re leaving it on like this until the brisket hits an internal temperature of 190 degrees. Then pull it off. The instructions in The New Best Recipe are to finish in an oven preheated to 300 degrees. Good advice for a smoker that isn’t temperature controlled. I’ve personally had success with that finish method many times.


The hardest part of the process by far. It’s tempting to start eating now, but we promise you the rewards will be well worth the wait if you can set the foil-wrapped brisket into a cooler insulated with towels for about an hour. Resting is a step many people who like to grill and smoke meat sometimes skip, and those people aren’t going to enjoy their brisket as much as those who wait.

Slice and Serve

It’s going to be hot and it’s going to be juicy. You’ll need a large prep area to work. We recommend performing the following in a large, rimmed, glass pan. Open the foil slowly and save any juices. Separate the point from the flat (it’s held together by a layer of fat) and align the grains. Finally, carve it on the bias across the grain into long, thin slices. If you’ve reserved any brisket juices, pour those back over the brisket and serve!

We love our smoky, hot brisket with sides like grilled corn on the cob, a bread roll, chips, and other outdoor picnic fare. If you’re not serving for a crowd you will have leftovers. The leftovers are excellent in dishes like chilaquiles for breakfast the next morning, enchiladas, chili, and beef brisket sandwiches. We’ll be eating smoked beef brisket leftovers at the homestead for quite a few days…

If you’ve been avoiding smoking a big beef brisket for any reason, contact me. I’m happy to answer any questions you may have and offer helpful tips. Sometimes you just need someone to talk you through the process.

What’s your favorite smoky food? Do you have any recommendations or suggestions we should try next time on the Big Green Egg?

Heating the Homestead

Heat for the Homestead

A reliable, sustainable heat source is a concern of all homesteaders. Wood is a top choice for many off-grid homesteading families. Other sources of heating include gases, solar, geothermal, and masonry heat. Still, many homesteaders continue to rely on the electric power-grid.

To be clear, “homesteading” does not mean that you are completely independent from other sources of power, heat, and water. Nor does it mean that you abstain from using a telephone, cell, phone, the internet, or watching television. Yes, there are homesteaders that will define their success by that measure. Yet many other successful homesteaders take advantage of the comforts that this modern age avails. So is the case with our homestead.

While we continue to work towards become more independently sustainable, including reducing our reliance on outside sources of power and heat, our home is currently connected to “the grid”. While I may run disaster preparedness tests to confirm my assumptions that we can survive without an external power source for hours, days, or weeks, I have not set cutting the cord completely as a goal. Neither is it  a definition of my success as a homesteader. Being in control of that reliance does, however.

How do we heat our home today?

In one of three ways – and that’s what’s important for the prepper/homesteader in us – having multiple sources of heat to keep ourselves warm when the weather cools. In Minnesota, that’s many months during the year.

At the homestead we have radiant baseboard heat (hydronic heating) controlled with an electric boiler, reliant on connectivity to the power company.

In line with that, however, we have a low-voltage (millivolt) propane fueled boiler. It is not reliant on the power grid. Our 500 gallon propane tank sits outside the home, discretely tucked behind some short trees and brush. I can operate whichever boiler I want, and do so depending on the cost of electric therms as compared to the cost of a gallon of propane. Usually it’s more cost effective to run the electric boiler. Our power company offers a discount to dual-source heated homes, and so we take advantage of that credit.

What that means to us is that each day in the winter whenever the power company determines it to be a peak usage for the rest of its customers it will cut the power to our electric boiler. Which they do daily, usually in the evening for several hours, and longer during really cold snaps. At that time our low-voltage propane boiler kicks in without any interaction from us and keeps our home a toasty 68 degrees.

While modern 24 volt low-voltage thermostats and heaters can do the same thing, when they are stripped of power, as would be the case during a power outage, a common 24 volt system will not kick in and you may find yourselves getting a little bit chilly. Don’t worry though, someone has thought of a solution to that and so most heaters will come with a battery backup for such instances.

What heats your home?

If you’re wondering about what you have in your home, either a millivolt or 24 volt system, look at your gas, propane, or otherwise fueled heater pilot light. If it is always lit, it is likely that it is a millivolt system. These are not popular today due to the inherent risk of fire if your furnace room is not kept clean, but they are still commonly found in stand alone gas fireplaces. If you look and the flame is not a standing pilot light (not always burning), you may have a modern 24v system.

splitting wood for heat

Our other source of heat is from the renewable resource firewood. Upstairs in the home are two fireplaces, inefficient and soon to be upgraded. In the basement, a newly installed, high efficiency, wood burning fireplace insert installed where a third fireplace once was. All three fireplace chimneys channel through the center of the home. We can keep toasty, even on cold January days, with just the basement unit burning. The chimney construction gives thought to maximum heat exchange to the core of the living area.

We choose to heat with firewood because we also control the property from which the trees are harvested. As we have a vested, long term interest in the land, we participate in a best management practices, also known as BMP strategies, for timber harvesting. We select for harvest first the already dead, diseased, or dangerously leaning trees. There are still plenty of those categories of trees on our parcel. Therefore, we haven’t had move into the next phase of BMP timber harvest strategies. BMP includes thinning for better growth, considering watershed effects, or the age of trees and usefulness of particular varieties.

Heating the homestead – an ongoing topic

Future posts will discuss this topic further as it relates to best varieties for burning, and chopping, cutting, splitting, and stacking firewood. Then there’s fireplace, chimney, and flu maintenance, as well as useful tools of the trade to consider.

If you’ve already begun your homesteading adventures, or are thinking of branching out to become more self-sufficient, consider your heat source(s), and your ability to maintain those sources should one method or another be compromised. You don’t want to be left out in the cold next winter!

How do you heat your homestead? Do you have plans to convert to a more sustainable alternative source in the near future?

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