Strawberry Jam


I bought some delicious strawberries this week from some other local farmers.  Despite my daughter’s protests (she would have eaten them ALLLLL), I made strawberry jam for the first time in years.

On our farm, we usually make jams and jellies only from the fruit we produce.  But, we love having a source for local strawberries, since we don’t currently grow them ourselves.


Making our canned products – jams, jellies, salsas, etc. – with local products is important to us.  Locally grown, locally made is our philosophy.  On a rare occasion, we might have to substitute something like onions in our salsa, but only when our local sources have run out (which isn’t often!).  And then, we look for the From the Land of Kansas tags on the onions in the grocery store, so we can at least buy from Kansas.

I used to be intimidated by making jam and jelly, but just like with anything, after a little practice, it’s no big deal.  For me, the there are really only two key factors to making jam.  The first is understanding the basics of home canning safety (check out for great information).  The second is understanding the role pectin plays in gelling your jam or jelly.  I didn’t take the time to understand this when I first started out.  If I had, it would have saved me a lot of frustration.

This is a really great article that explains how pectin works (plus, it’s really funny):

If you’re thinking about making some jam or jelly, don’t be scared! … just dive right in and give it a try.  Here are a few things I’ve learned (disclaimer, these are intended to be helpful hints, not a full-tutorial on home-canning).

Step 1: Prep your jars, lids, and rims (


Step 2: Place clean and de-stemmed fruit in pot.


Step 3: Mash ’em up with a potato masher.  If you’re not always in a hurry like me, you can take the time to methodically chop your fruit.  But who has that kinda time?


Step 4:  Add the pectin and turn up the heat!  It’s important with jam or jelly to continually monitor it.  But honestly, the entire stove-top process takes less than 10 minutes, so it’s not big deal.  Turn on Netflix.  Just keep stirring.

Step 5: (This is the part where if you want to pretend jam is health food …. look away)  Once the fruit and pectin has just begun to boil, add the sugar.  LOTS of sugar.  (But don’t feel bad!  The sugar is part of what keeps jams and jellies from spoiling!)


Step 6: Stir the sugar until it is completely dissolved.  KEEP STIRRING.  This is the part where it is easy to get impatient, but don’t.  This part is critical.  Your mixture should reach a boil that cannot be stirred down.  I repeat, CANNOT BE STIRRED DOWN.  No flimsy boils – a full rolling boil.

Once it has reached this point, keep boiling (and stirring!) for a solid minute.  Cannot stress this enough.  Jam has to have enough time at that really high boil for the extra water to evaporate.  If the water hasn’t evaporated, the pectin can’t bind, and you will have runny jam.


Step 7: Fill your hot, sterilized jars and follow your recipe’s processing instructions.


Step 8: Slather on toast (or better yet, a biscuit!) and enjoy!


Helpful hints:

Use a good pot for jam-making.  A really good pot.  One with a thick base is best for keeping the heat evenly distributed and to keep it from heating too quickly.

Sometimes it’s helpful to wear long sleeves, especially for step 6, as boiling jam tends to pop.

Depending on what fruit you are working with, it can sometimes take up to a day to gel.  My tomato jam always takes longer to gel than others.  Don’t get discouraged if yours hasn’t gelled right away.  Just give it a little more time.

Make sure you use recipes from trusted sources.  It’s possible to make your own recipes once you understand the basics of jam-making and how pectin and sugar interacts with different fruits.


See?  Easy, right?  Homemade jam is simply the best!  Locally grown, locally made jam is even better.  🙂




Season Extenders


26 degrees overnight in April?   Check.

Tomato plants all tucked in tight?  Check, check.

We frequently get questions about our high tunnels (also know as hoop houses, or season extenders) and why we have them, what they are used for, etc.  Well, this right here sums it up – we can plant delicate vegetable crops (meaning they can’t take a freeze or even a frost) as early as March, even February with our high tunnels.  Without a season extender, that would be next to impossible in Kansas.

Of course, we do go to extra lengths to ensure our plants survive when then temperature drops below freezing.  If it’s going to be 28-32, we put on row covers (pictured above) to give just a little extra insulation.

We also stick a jug of water in between each plant at the beginning of each season.  On warm days, the water absorbs the heat, and then they slowly let off heat as the temperature drops.

Lastly, we fire up the heat when the temp is in the low to mid-twenties.


Propane heaters in the high tunnel last night.  Wood stove and blowers heating up our other high tunnel (pictured below).  This year Gage made improvements to the wood stove in this season extender, and it is much more efficient – we are excited to see what we can keep growing in there into next winter!  We also put new plastic on this house.  We didn’t open the box with the new plastic in it until the day we were to put it on.  We then discovered we had ordered white plastic, which only has 55% opacity.  Whoops.

However, the white (instead of the usual clear) plastic keeps it from getting overly hot in the high tunnel on sunny days.  But, we were worried there would be too little sunlight to grow tomato plants.

Not the case!  Once the plants were established, they have been growing like crazy.  Once we are past the risk of frost and freeze, we will roll this plastic all the way up so they will then get full sunlight and rain.  So far, ordering the white plastic looks to be a lucky mistake.


Below is one of the tomato plants  – a month ago.  You can use your imagination to guess what they look like today.  🙂


We were blessed to get our high tunnel funded through the NRCS EQUIP program.  Programs like this are a huge asset to small farmers when they are starting out.  We have worked hard to start and grow our farm without having to take on debt.  Programs like NRCS EQUIP help make that possible.


Raising Cashmere Goats

We have been growing and developing our herd of cashmere-producing goats for a number of years now.  When we bought our first four goats, we had no idea how much we would end up enjoying them.  We now have close to forty with more babies on the way.

And there is nothing cuter than a baby goat.  I mean, just LOOK ….


Goats, we have learned, can be very smart, are highly sociable creatures, and are prone to get into mischief.  We have been investing in lots of good goat fencing on our farm, as they are gifted escape artists.

So what is a cashmere goat?  Rather than being a particular breed of goat, cashmere can be produced by any goat.  That’s right – dairy goats, meat goats, all goats can produce cashmere.

Our little heard of goats are Black Spanish goats.  We have been selectively breeding and increasing our herd to favor good cashmere producers.  We have some beautiful cashmere producers in our herd right now.

Goats actually have two types of fiber – guard hairs, which are coarse outer-hairs, and the downy undercoat, which is the cashmere.

You can see in these pictures from last spring, the black goats are sleek, shiny and mostly black.  (You can also see their tendency towards orneriness).


This next picture is of our goats just recently.


These are the same black goats from the summertime, but you can see the fuzzy grey cashmere sticking out from under their guard hair.

Goats begin to lose their cashmere during mid-late winter.  Shearing would mean taking off all the guard hair along with the cashmere, which means our poor little goats would freeze for the rest of the season.  Which leaves combing.

Yes, that’s right.  You have to COMB the cashmere from each goat.  Which might be why we have yet to do it in all the years we have had goats.

But a few weeks ago, I noticed that one of the goats’ cashmere was beginning to come lose.  I had some time on my hands (usually unheard of!), so I thought I would give it a try.

After more than an hour of combing … and combing … and combing … this is what I had.


One bag of cashmere fiber that weighed in at 0.6 ounces.  I have not done the math to figure out how much cashmere it takes to make a sweater, but I guarantee it is a lot more than a measly 1/2 ounce.  This is probably why cashmere is so expensive.  (Admittedly, I was probably pretty inefficient at harvesting the fiber and would get better with practice.  But still ….).

The one goat I have had my eyes on all winter is this one.  Shelly, the Cashmere Queen.  After my first try at harvesting cashmere, I coaxed her up onto the stanchion to work on her lovely fiber.  Only to find she was not ready for harvest.  *sigh*.  Maybe this weekend!


Regardless of the fact that we still have yet to truly harvest cashmere (and in reality, may never harvest cashmere), we still love the goats, and have the benefit of their brush-clearing skills.  (I will post “before and after” pictures of our wooded areas soon.)