Farming from Scratch, Year Five


Could it be? Is it true? Am I standing on the brink of my fifth year as a farmer? I should be better at this by now!

I start this year like no other–at a new farm. A farm that is really a farm. A farm that was a farm before I got here, and will be a farm when I’m gone. But I’m still building something from scratch–me, as a farmer. What a journey it has been from the slanted little house to here.

Let’s start with a look back at how I did with last year’s farm goals:

1) I wanted more chickens and more ducks.

I’m not sure I can give myself a check here. I did get some more chickens, but I ate them. Does that count??

2) I wanted a second chicken house for chickens not ready to go in and out of the house/yard, and a separate duck house. I wanted a barn! And I wanted to build the duck ‘n’ buck yard.

CHECK on the duck ‘n’ buck yard. No check on the second chicken house and duck house. And, well, what do you know. I DID get a barn!



I love this barn.

3) I wanted to improve the garden and finally get some asparagus and rhubarb growing. Since I moved, naturally that means that finally we DID get some asparagus and rhubarb growing. I guess I can put that back on the list for here…… So…..

CHECK but no check.

4) I wanted more farm babies! Pickle cookies for everyone!

CHECK! There were a lot of farm babies this past year.

5) I wanted to become a better cheesemaker and a better soapmaker.

CHECK! I still have a lot to learn, but I’m getting better at both and I definitely got a lot of experience in the past year.

6) I wanted to work hard and get out of debt. Be frugal. And maybe even write a book.

Well…… I was doing pretty good on the financial end until the major setback of moving interrupted my carefully laid plans. Can’t really give myself a solid check here since my current financial status is BROKE. I did start working on a book!

And now I have a brand new year–to start fresh, to dream again, to believe that all is possible. Thank goodness we have new years every year!

Fifth Year Farm Goals:

1) GET MY COWS PREGNANT! Have mercy!

With all the pasture opportunity I have here, I’m planning to get a few more cows. (Read: FEW.) I’ve been talking to my old neighbor Skip about getting a Black Angus bull and a beef cow from him in the spring. As far as milk cows go, I just need one to milk for my personal use, but I’d like to have beef calves to raise up and sell. And provide my own beef as well.

2) Start at least a small garden here. There’s no vegetable garden here at all right now. I’m not sure what I can do this year, but I want to at least get a garden established. I also want to plant some fruit trees here. There are some fruit trees here already, but not many, and some are in odd places, like these two apple trees far, far away in the upper pasture.

What is THAT about?! Did they plant them for the deer? They’re like 5000 miles away from the house, and I’m only exaggerating slightly.

3) Get back on my feet financially. A big part of that means working harder and working more. I’ve got lots of ideas and irons in the fire for this coming year.

(Repeat photo. Back in the trenches.)

I will be a busy bee!

4) And speaking of bees! I’m sorely tempted to start keeping bees with a top bar hive. With so much else on my plate with a new farm to set up, I’m not sure this is the year for another new project, though, so I’m making this a tentative goal. Can you have a tentative goal? That doesn’t sound very goal-ish. Let’s say I’m going to study on it. Other tentative goals include getting some more geese, some ducks, and some turkeys. I haven’t completely committed yet. So let’s say I’m studying on those possibilities, too. Or that I should be committed.

How am I going to score this one next year with a check or not? I get a check just for thinking about bees, geese, ducks, and turkeys? Well, c’mon, I need an easy one in here, don’t I?

5) Fencing repairs and additions. I need to add electric to the upper pasture for the cows, and I’ve got a couple of connected areas I want to fence off to make more rotational fields for the sheep.

Sheep eat a lot.

6) Learn to use power tools. Yes, that’s right! I need MORE POWER. I need to build things on my own. At least some of the smaller stuff, or I’m going to have to make the superboys move in with me.

They’re cute, but they eat a lot.

I’ve got to learn to do more by myself.

I think that might be enough. Can I have more dangerous things on the schedule in one year? Bulls, bees, and power tools! This is going to be an exciting year!

And I didn’t even mention the lawn mower! I’m currently living in this fantasy where the grass stays the same height around the house all the time. I think that’s because it’s winter, don’t you? It’s going to start growing in the spring, and I’m either going to have to tie the sheep to the porch posts so they can mow it, or I’m going to have to GET A LAWN MOWER. I haven’t mowed since I was 12. Bet you can’t wait for the post where I mow the lawn, can you? I told you things were very exciting here at Sassafras Farm.

Oh, wait. The bulls, bees, and power tools! Yes, things ARE exciting here at Sassafras Farm! It’s gonna be a great year! Or a scary one! Or something.

Hello, 2012!

Go back in time:
Farming from Scratch, Year One
Farming from Scratch, Year Two
Farming from Scratch, Year Three
Farming from Scratch, Year Four


  1. CATRAY44 says:

    This will be a year of blessings for you, Suzanne. (Do the bees- Top Bar hives do not take much time.)

  2. SarahGrace says:

    Sounds like great goals. Even if you don’t actually get bees this year, building the Top Bar Hives sound like great practice with the power tools! I was searching earlier today on local classes about bees. So far haven’t found any, but do have a name and number to contact.
    Will you be cutting hay yourself this year? Or do you plan on rotating pastures with the animals? That might cut down on mowing. 🙂

  3. mschrief says:

    I would love for your to do a cookbook, a book on cheesemaking & soapmaking. You could do a children’s book about living on the farm. Clover could write an autobiography. So much potential for money making.

    Do the bees/market the honey, make soap, and cheese, ala Beekman Boys.

  4. Murphala says:

    wishing you a prosperous, and as always, adventurous new year! May this year take you to wonderful places you couldn’t imagine! Best wishes to all the wonderful people at CITR as well! :sheep:

  5. Flowerpower says:

    Isn’t it funny how we think things are going to go one way, then life steps in the way and every thing changes? I didn’t have a farm to deal with but lawnmower rings a bell.I was in your condition after the life change….broke too. Sometimes you just gotta put on your big girl panties and deal with it. Life will not always be perfect there nor here but I wouldnt go back to the other way. Don’t overwhelm yourself with additions and changes.Give yourself some slack.You are a very smart and determined girl and you will do and are doing very well. Congratulations Suz! Let’s see what 2012 has to offer! :happyflower:

  6. rurification says:

    Bees!! Me, too! With a top bar hive. Have you found Michael Bush’s book: The Practical Beekeeper. ? It’s wonderful! He has a website: Good luck with this goal!

  7. brookdale says:

    I know you will have a great year, Suzanne! Just don’t over-extend yourself and try to do everything at once. All good things take time.

    You can do the power tools for sure. Or at least hand tools. Maybe take an adult ed.class at the high school, that’s what I did years ago when I became single after 15 yrs. of marriage. You will surprise yourself when you find out how easy it is. If you can run a mixer or a milking machine surely you can run a chop saw or drill! Ross will be happy to teach you I’ll bet. Then you can show Morgan, so she will be prepared for the real world as well.
    The very best to you in 2012!

  8. thistlewoodmanor says:

    Not sure how much you have to mow, but a RIDING mower is nice! When I first bought my farm I had 2 acres around the house to mow and 2 push mowers….the kids and I would take turns mowing for an hour at a time and it took us all week to mow everything, then we started over. I did have great leg muscles that year! Then my brother gave me a riding mower he had rebuilt for Christmas, I was in heaven!

    It counts that you got more chickens if your plan was to eat them; you can only eat so many eggs.

    Happy New Year Suzanne, I hope you have a wonderful year!

  9. Leaves of the fall says:

    Happy New Year! You know, you have goats so put them to work in your yard. Talk about economical! 🙂 Just don’t plant any flowers…. 🙂

  10. lattelady says:

    Rhubarb transplants very, very well. I have plants which have lived in Utah, California, Illinois, and here in Washington. I just dug them up after pulling most of the stalks and a lot of dirt up, put in a ‘gunny sack’ aka burlap bag, plopped them in an apple box and away we would go.
    Lawn mowing. Ay, my late dh would not let me mow. So, when he first became ill, guess what? I fired up the power mower… after reading the manual and praying for heavy rain… I did not realize it was multi speed. That thing flung me from one side of the yard to the other the first lap around until I figured out the problem. Then, I tackled the front yard. Dh was sitting on the porch watching me and some bimbo driving past yelled at him “get your lazy A** off of the porch and mow for her!”
    Had she really looked, she would have realized that I, being rather rotund, really needed the exercise.

  11. Tawanka says:

    Have you ever considered turning the studio into a guest house as a sort of working guest B&B? You have alot of fans who might pay to stay a few days on your farm and find out first hand what it’s like to live a rural life. Working cattle ranches have turned from Dude ranches to letting people pay them to do chores and city people love it. For a lot of people it’s the only way to experience farm life. Cheap labor and relatively stable income.

    • Suzanne McMinn says:

      Tawanka, having farm stays is on my list of things I want to do in the future, asap, but I can’t do it right now. I need to be able to feed people–it’s not feasible to have people way out here and NOT be able to feed them here–and I can’t do that until I have an approved commercial kitchen. The approved kitchen renovation has to be before anything like that. The laws here do not allow me to cook for people (if I’m charging them for anything) without an approved kitchen.

  12. BuckeyeGirl says:

    Past setting them up, bees won’t take much especially the first year while they get established. Though that setting up is an issue!

    I gotta tell you though, using power tools is NOT difficult. A bit scary perhaps, especially at first, but NOT difficult. Men have had us fooled for a long time, I mean a sewing machine is a power tool and lots of guys are scared of THEM! Once you learn what they can do and how to manage them, they get lots easier. That chop saw in your cellar is a really good thing. I find them lots easier to use than an actual circular saw which is heavy for me. They sell smaller saws and things for “ladies”, which irritates me, except that a large circular saw IS difficult because while I’m not ‘delicate’, neither am I as strong as brawny man.

    I gotta say that using power tools IS kinda fun… and it IS satisfying to do something that needs to get done. I say GO FOR IT!!!

  13. Barbee says:

    Hmmm… bees — honey — learning to substitute honey for granulated sugar in cooking?

  14. whaledancer says:

    You definitely get a check for “get more chickens” for your meaties. Raising chickens for meat and processing them yourself is even more farmer-ish than raising them for eggs, so maybe you get a check-plus for that one.

    I think you should put “settle into my new farm” on this year’s list. That’s a lot of work, and you should give yourself credit for accomplishing it.

    I applaud your garden goal. Kitchen gardening hasn’t been exactly “your thing,” has it? But I think you’ll find growing more of your own food as satisfying as canning it has been. Maybe start with some of the easy ones, like tomatoes, beans, cucumbers. You’ll have the advantage of having Georgia’s wisdom and experience to draw on when you have questions; you don’t want to squander that opportunity.

    Once you get over your initial intimidation about using power tools, you’re going to wonder why you ever felt hesitant. Piece o’ cake. Easier than whipping up a loaf of grandma’s bread. You want just enough fear to keep yourself careful. It’s like driving a car: it seems hard until you get a little practice; then it’s not difficult at all, you just need to pay attention. You can start with a few projects where it doesn’t matter much if it’s not perfect, like maybe a chicken coop.

  15. Madeline says:

    Happy New Year in your new Farm,Suzanne! From what i have seen in your previous 4 years of hard work — you are going to meet your goals,and more! Sending you much energy and hugs as you begin your new year…Thank you for sharing, even the hard parts, with us. It is a privilege to be allowed to peek in on you and your farm everyday!!

  16. Estella says:

    I believe you can accomplish anything you set your mind to, Suzanne.

  17. Britishtea says:

    I am in the process of buying a small hobby farm. Lo and behold, I stopped at a honey stall a gent had set up at a busy intersection. As I made my purchase we got into a conversation about bees. Well, he has hives all over our valley. In the spring he is often called to residences to remove swarms, which he then installs in his hives. We now have a barter agreement that he will place a new hive on my land (and he will care for the bees) in exchange for honey and wax. Woo hoo! And that will give me time to learn from him so I might begin my own bee keeping adventure. I’m sharing this story in case you’d like to try it. It’s an easy way to dip your toes into the water before diving in. See if there’s a bee keeping guild/society/club in your county and ask if anyone would like to barter use of your land for honey and maybe lessons.

  18. LK says:

    Here are some of my comments…

    Black Angus/Jersey is a great cross.
    I would second (or third, fourth…) the TBH!
    We love our muscovies…and they will keep the fly population down. They are no trouble at all.
    I read about baby doll sheep being fantastic lawnmowers and that they respect even light, temporary type of electric fencing…and these sheep are thought to smile. 🙂
    I love the idea of a B&B. That is my dream one day too. I thought of that immediately upon seeing the windows in the studio. I love the thought of cabins too. That is our plan eventually if we can find the right place again. I am hoping to teach old time skills there too. It is only a dream, but in the meantime, I am enjoying watching your journey.

    You will do fine. Take your time. You’ll do great!

  19. FarmGrammy says:

    Suzanne, you mentioned bees. Here is part of a very long story on a new bee that kills the mites that cause colony collapse. I think you can locate the rest of it, I could not get to the entire article onlinw and had already thrown out the newspaper. Good luck on your bee keeping.

    Superbee bred to fight fatal disorder

    At a farm on the outskirts of Frederick, Md., Kelly Rausch and Adam Finkelstein crack open a wooden beehive whose design dates to the 19th century. Inside, they point out a “superbee” they have created for the 21st century.

  20. Cheryl LeMay says:

    I think you should settle down a little bit and get to know your land better.Don’t bite off more than you can chew just yet. Plant a garden and start your orchard. Then do bees. They need something to pollinate so get your bee plants ready first.I like the suggestion of learning about power tools by practicing building hives. Build up your flocks and produce more of your own meat.I’ve asked before but whatever happened to your pig?

  21. cricketjett says:

    I hate to add to your list of to do things for the coming year, but your beautiful barn is going to need its roof painted soon. Sorry, but a farm always has a very long list of to do things. Don’t you agree? We knock off two things on our to do list and add four. It is never ending, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
    I want to add a chicken house this spring. Are you going to have any chickens for sell? I am going to start with just a few for our personal use.
    Being a farmer is a ever ending learning experience. You certainly have a great farm. Good Luck!!!

  22. Andrea.tat says:

    2012 is going to be a crazy but amazing year- I’m like *totally* a psychic, and that is my prediction. It is so vague you have to believe it!

  23. bonita says:

    Preparing for bees, aka studying the possibility and location, certainly qualifies as a goal. Establish where to plant the fruit trees first, then the veggie garden. Tackle the power tools at the same time. Also, the idea of finding a beekeeper who would be willing to place a hive on your farm is great. People in this region do that all the time.
    If the past is any test, you’ll do fine and get a boatload of things accomplished especially now that all your emotional energy can go to the farm.
    Still think this Old House might be a source for either kitchen.Can you get a grant from WV (or county) Historical Society for your Commercial kitchen, given your intentions for its use?

  24. doubletroublegen says:

    Whatever this year brings, it will be a welcome change and adventure for you and your new farm! I wish you many blessings and fun filled moments as you begin this new chapter in your life. You’re a wonderful woman who imspires many! :hug:

Add Your Thoughts