Quinn Veon

Quinn and her family have been homesteading in Ohio for over 17 years, many of which she spent sharing their experiences and encouraging other homesteaders at Reformation Acres until 2018. Besides raising their main crop of 8 children, Quill Haven Farm revolves around the Queen of the Homestead, the family milk cow. In addition to cheesemaking and other home dairy, the cow also provides skim milk to fatten a few hogs every year, raise up a beef calf, supplement the feed for their flock of laying hens & broilers, and beautiful compost for their 14,000 square feet of organic gardens. You can find her writing these days on her Substack- https://www.quillhavenfarm.com

How to Make Rennet for Cheesemaking

Swiss Cheese: How to Make Rennet for Cheesemaking

Though some folks try to search for ways around using it, rennet is a crucial ingredient for coagulating milk into curds when cheesemaking. Clean, sustainable sources of rennet can be difficult to find for the home dairy but you can learn how to make rennet on the homestead. 

Anyone who has added cheesemaking to their homestead skill set will likely have heard the story of the very first cheese. Naturally, there are variations to the age-old tale, but if you imagine a nomadic wanderer with a refreshing milky beverage jostling around over the miles at his side in a vessel made from a dehydrated stomach, and when tipping it to their lips, finds that it had curdled into a chunky slurry, you’ve got the picture. In reality, I find it more likely that a young animal was harvested at some point and the curds were discovered in the stomach. And found to be quite edible.

Why Should You Learn How to Make Rennet? 

With the exception of direct acid or lactic acid coagulated cheese, most cheese recipes require rennet to make curds. Vegetable and microbial (fungus) rennet are weak and make for poorly set curds, while FPC (Fermentation Produced Chymosin) Enzyme rennet is a genetically modified organism (GMO). If you want to avoid GMO ingredients, and make cheese with a strong, reliable curd set, you will need to use animal rennet.

Animal rennet is made using one of the stomachs of baby ruminant animals that are less than a week old. Ruminants were created to digest their mother’s milk and, using an enzyme in their abomasum, turn the liquid milk into curds they are then able to digest. Once the baby (usually a lamb, kid, or calf) begins eating grass the enzymes weaken as the digestive system prepares for a grass-based diet. Unless labeled otherwise, most cheese is made with animal rennet.  

You won’t be homesteading livestock long before the realization that farming can be both gloriously rewarding and fulfilling as well as devastatingly tragic at times. If one of our goals in our animal husbandry is to fully honor and respect the lives of the beasts under our care, then one way we can do that is to be prepared to harvest them if they experience an untimely death. Butchers cannot process already dead animals and, of course, you can’t plan for accidents or attacks so are you prepared to harvest the animals yourself? Even if you don’t intend to regularly butcher, it’s a skill worthy of acquiring for an emergency. In this way, though they have little flesh, a newborn lamb, kid, or calf can be redeemed for cheesemaking through this skill should an accident or injury takes its life. 

And, despite how uncomfortable our society is with the thought, it is likely that male animals are one day destined for slaughter. Most males are not of breeding stock quality and will become a nourishing source of protein. The modern person’s ethical standard of an animal being used for food is purely subjective to the scale of its fluffy cuteness. Whether for meat or rennet, the animal is being put to good use for food. 

Cheddar Cheese: How to Make Rennet for Cheesemaking

How to Make Rennet for Cheesemaking (Stomach Paste Method)

DIY rennet using this method is fast and simple- you may even be able to make cheese with it in less than a week!

There are as many ways to make rennet as there are cultures throughout history that have eaten cheese. Some salt and dehydrate the stomach. Some brine the stomach before dehydrating. Some use the brine as rennet. Others inflate the stomach to dry, some stretch it. Or pack the dried stomach in salt, simply storing it in the freezer. One source said that Mediterranean cheesemakers will fill the rinsed stomach with milk and parch it in the sun, then use the white powder as rennet. What all of these methods have in common is a long drying time of up to a year.

When I decided to learn how to make rennet last summer I divided the abomasum into three pieces and experimented to discover which method I preferred. The first thing I learned is there is very little actual information available on how to make rennet. Most sources give the gist of the process and follow it up with a statement on how easily one can simply buy the rennet. In the end, I not only preferred the process of making “paste” rennet but it was the quickest and most reliable method. 

1.) Locate the abomasum from a ruminant animal less than one week old. Any older and you risk a weaker product that won’t set curds. It’s easier to locate the abomasum if you remove all of the stomachs together and identify each one. (See photos here.) It will be the largest of the stomachs. Each stomach is very distinguishable by the internal tissue. Not only will the abomasum have a mixture of cheese curds and milk inside, but the walls will look like large folds of silk. 

2.) Once you’ve removed the abomasum, thoroughly rinse it. Pat it dry with paper towels and weigh it in grams. 

3.) Measure out 15% of the abomasum’s weight in salt. (I used sea salt.) 

4.) Measure out 50% of the abomasum’s weight in room temperature water and stir in the salt to make a brine. Most of the salt should dissolve but it’s ok if some doesn’t. 

For example: 

  • 174 grams abomasum (100%)
  • 26 grams salt (15%)
  • 87 grams water (50%)

5.) Cover the abomasum with the brine and allow it to sit for 3-7 days. (Other methods using a fresh stomach in a brine indicated they could be left for much longer, months longer. But the Brine, Dehydrate, Soak in Whey method didn’t set curds for me while this quick method did. The point is, this is a variable timetable so if you don’t get to it exactly at the right time, don’t pitch it assuming it won’t work.)

6.) Dry the abomasum. If it is still in one pouch-like piece, you may cut it open to lay it in a single layer for quicker drying. You can lay it flat, perhaps on a cooling rack, in a very warm, dry place for a couple of weeks until it is fully dried. Be sure to cover it to keep flies off if it is summer. Alternatively, you may use a dehydrator to make quick work of it. I was worried the jerky temperature would be too warm so I didn’t go that hot. It took about 24 hours for it to be dry enough to break into pieces. On my second attempt, it took a little longer and I had to put some of the still pliable sections back in for a couple more hours. 

7.) Using a food processor, spice grinder, or blender, powder the dehydrated pieces. 

8.) Weigh the powder in grams. 

9.) The powder will be next mixed in whey at a 1:8 ratio. Weigh out 8 times as much whey as you have rennet powder. Stir it into whey to form a well-combined slurry. This can be fresh whey from your last cheesemaking, a whey brine used for salting cheese, or you can prepare ahead by leaving a quart jar of raw milk on the counter for several days until it clabbers (this is lactic acid coagulation!) Then you can drain the whey from the curds and use it. 

For example: 

  • 35 grams powdered abomasum
  • 280 grams whey

10.) Squeeze the slurry through a piece of cheesecloth, squeezing every last drop through. What’s left in the cheesecloth will be a dry wad of fibrous material. The liquid portion will be stored in a glass jar in the refrigerator to be used for making hard cheese. 

My total yield was 200 grams of rennet. 

Butter Cheese: How to Make Rennet for Cheesemaking

How to Test Rennet Strength

Whether you make your own rennet or not, it’s important to learn how to test the strength of your rennet. It’s far less heartbreaking to lose a gallon of milk when you aren’t sure if your rennet is good than five or more gallons! Testing rennet can be done by watching for the flocculation point. 

1.) Acidify one gallon of room temperature milk with 1/16th mesophilic culture. (I used MA 11) Thoroughly stir in the culture for 2 minutes and allow it to rest for 30 minutes. 

2.) Slowly stir in ¼ teaspoon of rennet for 30 seconds. 

3.) Test for flocculation: Place a plastic cap, top down, on the surface of the milk just after adding the rennet. If you flick it, it will glide across the surface. Set a timer for 8 minutes. Flick the cap again. When the milk has reached the flocculation point, the cap won’t budge when flicked. You may need to add additional minutes (try two-minute increments) and retest if the cap still moves across the surface. Check out the cheddar cheese recipe video for a visual demonstration of the flocculation test.  

Flocculation should happen between 10-15 minutes. If it takes less than 10 minutes you can adjust your recipe to use less rennet. If it takes longer you will need to use more rennet to achieve flocculation in that time range. (If you simply use the amount of rennet the recipe calls for and the rennet flocculates outside that range, your curds will either trap in too much or too little whey and your cheese may not have the correct acidity.) 

Of course, learning how to make rennet with so few instructions available led to a lot of trial and error which I’ve journaled on my Substack along with information (including detailed photos) on learning how to locate the correct stomach during butchering, as well as a comparison of the methods and results of my trials for those curious to learn more about the process. 


About the Author

Quinn and her family have been homesteading in Ohio for over 17 years, many of which she spent sharing their experiences and encouraging other homesteaders at Reformation Acres until 2018. Besides raising their main crop of 8 children, Quill Haven Farm revolves around the Queen of the Homestead, the family milk cow. In addition to cheesemaking and other home dairy, the cow also provides skim milk to fatten a few hogs every year, raise up a beef calf, supplement the feed for their flock of laying hens & broilers, and beautiful compost for their 14,000 square feet of organic gardens. You can find her writing these days on her Substack- https://www.quillhavenfarm.com


Recipes for the Home Dairy

Learn how to make these other delicious homemade cheese & dairy recipes with raw milk from your homestead dairy!

How to Make Rennet for Cheesemaking :: Homesteaders of America
How to Make Rennet for Cheesemaking :: Homesteaders of America

How to Grow Tomatoes from Seed

How to Grow Tomatoes from Seed

Learn how to grow tomatoes from seed and get our top tips for large, strong, healthy plants that will bear abundantly all summer long! 

Tomatoes are one of a homesteader’s favorite plants to grow in the garden! It’s no wonder when one plant is so prolific, heavily bearing one of the quintessential flavors of summer. Tomatoes seem to capture the very sun and express it in the flavor of their sweetly acidic flesh. If you’ve never had a ripe, garden-grown tomato you may not even really know what tomatoes tastes like. But if you have then you know they are worth every ounce of effort that goes into growing them. Growing tomatoes the whole process is a satisfying experience, delighting the senses.The pleasure of the experience aside, there are many reasons why you should consider growing your own tomatoes from seed. 

Reasons to Grow Tomatoes from Seed

Selection

There is such a wide range of varieties to choose from that the possibilities each year are almost mind-numbing. The rainbow of colors, red, orange, yellow, black, purple, even green; the range of sizes and purposes, grape, cherry, paste, slicer, beefsteak, heirloom, even storage; there are so many tomatoes to experience! Why settle for the same tired selection grown in the nurseries if you don’t have to?

My Favorite Tomato Varieties 

Every year I trial and grow a few new varieties of tomatoes from seed in my garden, but these are the ones I’ll always reserve a space for!

  • BrandywineThis variety is one of the most popular heirlooms for a reason! The perfect slicing tomato with a delicious, versatile flavor. Go with the true red one. I’ve found yellow & black Brandywine variations to be more susceptible to splitting in heavy rain.
  • PineappleAn heirloom yellow slicer with a red blush on the bottom of the fruit, these bad boys are huge and tasty!
  • Chocolate SprinklesThis is THE only cherry tomato I will never be without! Red & green stripes blending to almost a shade of brown these tomatoes have held up better in the last 2 rainy summers than any other variety. When every other tomato cracked or became so waterlogged as to have insipid flavor, Chocolate Sprinkles was still holding strong and maintaining their rich flavor which perfectly balances sweetness and acidity. Sungold cherry tomatoes are a close second but their flavor tastes purely sweet compared to Chocolate Sprinkles.
  • Principe BorgheseMy favorite heirloom cherry tomato with good flavor and resist splitting more than other varieties.
  • Golden TreasureAn interesting hybrid variety! These yellow tomatoes bear abundantly toward the end of the season. With yellow skinned exterior, red flesh beneath, they store well for weeks after frost. Imagine garden-fresh tomatoes with your Thanksgiving dinner!

Organics

One of the benefits of growing your own tomatoes is that you will know just how they were raised from seed to table. If organic vegetables are important to you, this is a worthy step. Moreover, when nursery plants become dependent on chemical supplements for health, it’s a double shock to their system when its for transplant and they lose the support they had grown accustomed to. Your tomatoes will be hardier and healthier if grown from seed at home. 

Save Money

Don’t get me wrong, a pack of tomato seeds isn’t as cheap as it used to be, however $5 for 25 potential tomato plants is a thriftier choice than buying those same 25 plants from a nursery. If you don’t need 25 plants, and most folks don’t (or if they did wouldn’t dream of growing all of one variety) tomato seeds will still be viable for a couple of years. (I comfortably plan on getting 2-3 seasons from a pack of seeds. After that I buy an extra pack for a little insurance in case the germination rate is too low in the old seeds.) 

Extended Season

Many of us spend all winter eagerly anticipating the warm day when we can break the soil and tuck our seeds (or seedlings) beneath. Growing tomatoes from seed will allow you to kick start the gardening season and get your hands in the soil months earlier.

Self-Sufficiency

It’s important to know how to grow your own tomatoes from seed in the event that, for whatever reason,  you’re not able to find tomato plants available one day. Likewise, it’s also important to grow an heirloom variety or two and know how to save their seed. I love some of the hybrid tomato varieties available these days! They are often more flavorful, disease tolerant, resist the influences of weather, and more productive. However, I’ll never be without a few tried and true heirloom varieties that I can count on saving seed and propagating each year without additional inputs from seed catalogs or nurseries. 

Tomatoes Grown from Seed

How to Grow Tomatoes from Seed

Tomatoes are very simple to start from seed. Their quick & easy germination is rewarding and you don’t need to wonder if your seed was bad or you did something wrong. You’ll know within a few days. That said, tomatoes, grown well, require quite a bit of attention compared to other indoor seedlings. You may get to the end of this article and think that’s way too much work! It is a bit tedious. But this extra TLC will mean the difference between tall, leggy, tangled, drooping, pale plants and vibrant, strong, sturdy, healthy ones. They’re worth the work and will reward you one day with pounds and pounds of brilliant crimson flesh. 


Want to get a quick peek at my tomato growing system? Head on over to @quill_haven on Instagram and check out the Tomatoes from Seed highlight for a quick explanation of how I start tomato seeds indoors.


Supplies for Growing Tomatoes from Seed

There are several supplies you’ll need to grow your own tomatoes. The biggest requirement being: Space. These guys will take up quite a bit of room by the time they’re ready to hit the garden so bear that in mind. 

Other supplies you’ll need: 

  • Potting soil, I prefer a light potting soil without a lot of wood chunks
  • Blood meal, or feather meal, bone meal
  • Vermiculite, Prevents damping off disease
  • Grow lights, I use one warm bulb & one cool bulb
  • Soil blocker, or 1x” cell packs
  • Seedling trays, with and without holes
  • Solo Cups, for transplanting
  • Fish emulsion fertilizer
  • Oscillating fan, optional

We’ll cover more about these supplies in each section below. 

When to Plant Tomato Seeds

For big, beautiful, resilient plants you will want to start your tomatoes about 8-10 weeks before your last frost date. This timeframe does allow for some wiggle room, especially if you have unpredictable spring weather. If your extended forecast looks promising and your soil is warm you’ll be able to plant these guys early. They’ll be ready. It also allows for mistakes. If your seeds didn’t germinate, you lost the seedlings to damping off disease, or your cat decided to take a nap in the tray, you’ll have time for a do-over. 

Pre-Sprout Tomato Seeds

Pre-sprouting seeds is a process commonly called “chitting.” The purpose of chitting tomato seed is to be sure that you aren’t planting unviable seeds. This is more important if you will be planting last year’s seeds which may have lost some viability. 

To chit tomatoes from seed, write the variety name on a plastic bag. Soak 2 paper towels and wring them out so they aren’t dripping but are still saturated. Singly arrange your seeds on 1 paper towel and cover them with the second. Slip the paper towels in the gallon bag, seal it, and set it in a warm place (light isn’t necessary for the germination of tomatoes.) If your paper towels dry out at any point, spray them with water to add moisture.

After about 3 days you’ll notice each seed has put out a root (radicle). Those seeds are good, you can plant them! 

You can wait another day or so before planting without harm but if the radicle gets too long it may pierce through the paper towel and run the risk of getting torn off when you remove it which means that seed is no longer plantable. So I plant the seeds twice to make sure that doesn’t happen. I’ll do the first planting the second day after noticing radicles emerge and the second one a couple days later. Any seeds that may germinate after that point will not make as hardy & productive a plant. It’s time to let them go. 

Tomato Seedlings

How to Plant Tomatoes from Seed

Set up your growing station and lights where you can easily attend to them and it isn’t too chilly. Tomatoes are heat-loving plants and they won’t do as well in a 50F basement without supplemental heat. That said, too warm and you risk growing tomatoes that are leggy with weak stems. We’re looking for growth on the slow side, building strong, resilient cell walls. The 60F range has worked really well for me.

Tomatoes are nutrient hogs. They are heavy feeders and require quite a bit of supplementation throughout the growing season to reach their full potential. To give them the best start possible I mix in a handful or two of blood meal in with my potting soil so there is extra nitrogen right already there when they need it. 

Fill your cells or create soil blocks. You will want to start with fairly wet potting soil before making pots. If you begin with wet soil (or let it dry out later) it is challenging to get it moist again. 

I use a 1” soil block to start tomatoes from seed, saving on pot costs over time, and pot them up later once they’re well on their way. This saves me a ton of space in the basement for as long as possible so I can start more seeds without wasting it on tomatoes that might not even germinate. Cell packs can be used but I like not having the waste or storing them if they didn’t fall apart by the end of the season. 

The soil blocks or filled cell packs get set into a cell tray with holes that is resting in a cell tray without holes. This system allows for under watering your plants which provides a more constant water supply to the tomatoes, allowing them to take up what they need. 

If you didn’t chit your seeds, plant just 1 tomato seed per cell so there will be no need to thin them later. Since we will be potting them up in a few weeks we can sacrifice the potential space to an ungerminated cell. With tomato seeds typically coming 25 to a pack, doubling up would mean each pack only contains 12 or so future tomatoes for your garden. Every seedling you thin could have been next year’s tomatoes. 

Sprinkle a light layer of vermiculite over the soil. Seedlings are susceptible to soil-borne disease, especially damping off disease, which is characterized by the stem weakening and shriveling just above the soil then falling over like a felled tree and dying. Vermiculite provides a bit of a barrier and has nearly fully reduced damping off disease in my seedlings since I began using it.  

Keep your soil moist (consider covering it with plastic) and warm for the next 3-4 days. Light isn’t necessary at this point. Tomato seedlings will germinate without it. Just be sure to keep your eye on them so you can transfer them to your light station after they germinate. 

Caring for Tomato Seedlings

At first tomato seedlings need very little care. Their needs are simple: Light & water. 

Light

Tomatoes seedlings do well with 14 hours of light. Use a timer to make sure you don’t forget to turn them on or off. Keep the light just a few inches above the tray, raising it as the plants grow and come close to touching the bulbs. If your light is too far above the plants they will “reach” for it and their stems will be thin and weak. 

Water

As mentioned earlier, I prefer to under-water beneath the holed tray, into the tray without holes. I try to leave 1/2” of water in there for the plants to use as necessary & to keep the soil moist. (It will wick it up.) Once the tomatoes grow larger they will consume water at a faster rate and I’ll fill the tray about halfway with water so I don’t have to water every day.

Potting Up Tomato Seedlings

Once your tomato plants have outgrown their home, their stems are 6” or taller, and they are packed into the flat, it’s time to pot them up! 

I use red solo cups to pot up tomatoes because they are inexpensive, sturdy enough, and have taller sidewalls. We’re about to bury those tomatoes to all but the top few leaves.

Stab a few holes in the bottom of each cup so we can continue under-watering. (I stab holes in all the cups in the pack so there’s no risk of kids stealing them and playing with them over the next year.)

Mix up another big batch of potting soil and blood meal. Put about an inch of soil in the bottom of each cup. Carefully transfer the seedling to the cup and bury it all the way to the top two leaves. If the plant is below the rim of the cup, that’s ok, it will grow up soon enough. As it does, simply add more moist potting soil to bury it. If the plant is taller than the cup, that’s ok too, just bury what is there. 

Your tomato will grow more roots all along the length of the buried stem making for a stronger root system and more ability to take up nutrients and water to feed the plant! 

Now you will only need a solid no-holed tray to place your cups. Set them up under the light and then place the cups in the trays there. (Don’t set the cups in the trays and then try to transfer them. It’s quite the balancing act and you risk tumbling cups and snapped stems or leaves.)  

Avoid having the leaves touch each other in the tray, if at all possible. Tomatoes like to keep up with the Joneses. They are sensitive and touching leaves will trigger a burst of growth in an attempt to outcompete their neighbor. 

Once again, these little things are all about avoiding leggy stems and tall plants that won’t have the strength to hold up their own heads later. 

Continue raising the light as the tomatoes grow and keep water in the tray. Watering is much easier now because you don’t have to water between trays, just pour it right into the no-hole flat tray and fill it up. The plants will take what they need! At this point, I probably only fill the trays with water once a week. So long as the soil doesn’t completely dry out it’s ok if they don’t have a constant supply of water, something they will probably be experiencing in the garden and will make them hardier & prepared for the inconsistent environment of the outdoors. 

If you’d like to be sure your stems are as strong as they can be you can put an oscillating fan on them for an hour or so a day to strengthen the cell walls. 

How to Grow Tomatoes from Seed

Fertilizing Tomato Seedlings

As mentioned, tomatoes are nutrient hogs. They gobble up nitrogen to make all of that green vegetation. The young tomato plants will probably need fertilizer at some point in their growth before transplanting. You can do this prophylactically or when you notice the leaves beginning to turn yellow, indicating nitrogen deficiency. If you choose to do it prophylactically, before there is a nitrogen problem, choose a time about halfway between potting up the seedlings and transplanting. 

My favorite choice for this is fish emulsion fertilizer. Choose a warm day if possible so you can open the windows and don’t invite guests over because, as you might imagine, fish emulsion stinks. But once it dries, the odor goes away. I add it to the underwater tray and mist the leaves at the ratio indicated on the product. 

I will also give my tomato plants a boost of beneficial bacteria by misting them with raw milk. Soil critters are the nutrient supply chain of the vegetable garden and I want to get them up and running before the plant even hits the garden. 

Hardening Off Plants of Tomatoes from Seed

About 7-10 days before transplanting, begin hardening off the tomato plants. This process acclimates the plants to the sun, wind, and fluctuating temperatures. If you’ve been using an oscillating fan you’ve got a jump start on the process because your plants will be used to a breeze. Still, don’t choose a windy day with clear blue skies to start. A calm, overcast day works best at first to prevent sunscald on the leaves. Set your tomatoes out for a few hours in the morning and then bring them back inside. Each day, leave them outside a few hours longer until the last couple of days they can stay outside overnight without bringing them back in. 

Transplanting Tomato Plants

If your tomatoes have adjusted to being outside and are still doing well, the chance of frost has passed (or the forecast looks promising & you have a way to provide frost protection if the weatherman lied), it’s time to transplant!

Remember how we buried the tomatoes up to their top leaves during potting up so the root system would be strong? We’re going to do that again! 

You may not be able to dig down as far as you need to and that’s ok- you can dig at a trench at an angle and lay the tomato lengthwise in it. Just be sure not to bend the stem as it comes out of the ground at too sharp an angle. It will straighten up the next day as it starts to reach for the sun. 

Once again, you can sprinkle a little bone or blood meal into the soil with the plant so you don’t need to spray fertilizer so soon which gives you a chance to move on to tending to other garden tasks during the spring planting rush. 

Now is also a great time to lay down mulch around your plants. Tomatoes are often susceptible to soil-borne disease and the mulch will prevent soil from splashing on the leaves during a hard rain (as well as add organic matter to the soil, suppress weeds, and help retain moisture in a dry spell.) I do not recommend using wood chip mulch for tomatoes since their nitrogen needs are so high. Wood chips too easily get mixed in with the soil and when they try to break down will tie up the nitrogen, robbing it from your tomatoes. Grass clippings, organic straw, or old hay work best. 

Green Tomatoes on plant

Trellising Tomato Plants

There are many ways to trellis tomatoes and which you choose will depend on your garden space and what works best for you. I grow tomatoes in a 50’ long bed that is 3’ wide so the Florida weave trellis is my favorite way to keep them contained. 

Whichever method you choose, I highly, highly recommend putting the system in place NOW. It is so much easier to set your trellis up while the plants are small instead of waiting until they are overgrown and out of control. 

Fertilizing Tomato Plants

Unfortunately, the nutritional needs of tomatoes don’t stop once they hit the garden, though if you have an active soil microbe population and strong root system your plants will be able to more easily mine nutrients from the earth. 

I continue fertilizing my tomatoes every 2-3 weeks with fish emulsion until they begin fruiting at which point their nutrient requirements shift from nitrogen-based vegetative growth to calcium-based fruit production. Now I use raw milk as fertilizer. It can also be sprayed in the garden soil and on the plants to nourish them and the soil life. 

Pruning Tomato Plants 

Many folks recommend aggressive pruning of tomato plants to put the focus of the plant’s energy into fruit production instead of shoot production. In theory, this makes sense but it depends on what your objectives are in the garden. I’m not concerned with the largest, market-quality fruit. I have a family to feed and want to do so in the least space, with the least effort possible. (This may seem laughable after reading through all of the efforts that went into growing tomatoes, but while you may be able to direct seed, set & forget lettuce the yield, preservation capacity, and calories that come from the easy harvest don’t even compare.)

However, I am concerned with making sure there is plenty of airflow and sunlight among my tomatoes in order to prevent leaf and fruit diseases that stem from rainy weather where the leaves don’t dry out quickly. 

So my recommendation is to prune modestly. After the plant is a couple of feet high, begin removing the lower branches closest to the soil to prevent soil-borne diseases. You can also prune off any unruly branches that make moving in your garden difficult. Just don’t prune off the top leader.

Lastly, you can remove the suckers from the tomato plant, if you choose. It’s more important for indeterminate plants that will continue vining and growing throughout the season. 

I snap them off while the plant is young and they’re easy to find but once it really takes off I don’t worry about it as much, knowing that those later off-shoots will be bearing fruit for me in October when the rest of the main plant is done. 

You can easily identify the sucker because it will grow out of the wide-V crook between the main stem and a branch. The branch will look older and stronger, while the sucker is often just a couple of leaves in the crook (when young) or a tender-looking stem (when older.)

Hornworm with Parasitic Wasp Eggs

Tomato Pests

The pests that can affect tomatoes are wide and varied depending on where you live. I could research that information and pretend like I know what I’m talking about when I’ve never even seen a whitefly in my life. But I despise sharing knowledge I’ve no experience with. 

In my garden, in central Ohio, tomato hornworms are the primary pest I deal with, and occasionally stink bugs will suck at the fruit, leaving unsightly marks which open up the way for disease. 

I take a passive approach to hornworms and, unless they are out of control, leave them on the plant. Most likely, I’ll find them in a few days with little white eggs sticking up from their back. At this point, the worm is paralyzed and can do no further damage to the tomato. The eggs, those of a parasitic wasp, will hatch and help fight any further attacks from the hornworm. In each of my gardens, I’ve had one initial fight with the worms where I had to thin out the population to mitigate damage, and every year since then the wasps have kept it well underhand. 

The simple solution to stink bugs on your fruit is to grow a trap crop of produce they like better than tomatoes, such as cucumbers or squash. (Unfortunately, I can offer no advice on dealing with them other than hand-picking or the duct tape solution.) Same with flea beetles. Though I’ve never had a problem with flea beetles on my tomatoes, I have had problems with flea beetles. A trap crop of eggplant, arugula, or potatoes will keep them away from your tomatoes. 

For more information about dealing with various tomato pests see HERE.

Likewise, since I started growing my own seedlingsI haven’t dealt with tomato diseases in the garden to speak with much experience. I believe this is because I put so much care into providing the hungry plants with the nutrients they need to grow well. 

My biggest challenge, which is not necessarily disease-related, stems from an overly wet summer, something entirely out of my control. In a very wet summer, the fruit swells, splits, and may rot before fully ripening. If there is an expected period of heavy rain I will harvest unripe fruit just before the storms begin and bring them inside to finish ripening later on a sunny windowsill. 

Tomato Diseases

You will find a great deal of information about tomato diseases HERE. As you skim it over, notice that many of the tasks outlined above, such as mulching, trimming the bottom branches, and thinning the plants for airflow and sunlight to prevent the leaves from holding too much shade and moisture would have prevented most of these diseases. Proper nutrient supply would have taken care of the rest. 

Harvesting Tomatoes

The next step in growing your own tomatoes is, hands down, the best- the harvest! Just when you thought the work was done, I’m here to dispel your disillusions. The entire purpose of the tomato plant, from its view and yours, has come down to this moment. How you take advantage of it will make all the difference in the yield you harvest.

Tomato plants must be continually harvested if they are to keep bearing until frost snuffs out their life.

If you get busy and allow too many tomatoes to rot on the vine and drop their seed, the plant believes it has fulfilled this mission on earth and will not produce new tomatoes. Your growing season is over.

I always drove around my rural community and wondered how I was able to get tomatoes straight up to frost and when my neighbors were pulling their plants from the ground a month or earlier. Then one summer, while building a house, I put my kids in charge of the harvest. Their, “Yeah, Mom, we got all the tomatoes” cut my harvest short by weeks and I soon realized why.

So even if you don’t have time to process the tomatoes, be sure to go out and pick them for the chickens or pigs so when you’re ready to jump back into making all the sauce, salsa, chutneys, paste, and more you have fresh tomatoes clinging to the vine!


About the Author

Quinn and her family have been homesteading in Ohio for over 17 years, many of which she spent sharing their experiences and encouraging other homesteaders at Reformation Acres until 2018. Besides raising their main crop of 8 children, Quill Haven Farm revolves around the Queen of the Homestead, the family milk cow. In addition to cheesemaking and other home dairy, the cow also provides skim milk to fatten a few hogs every year, raise up a beef calf, supplement the feed for their flock of laying hens & broilers, and beautiful compost for their 14,000 square feet of organic gardens. You can find her writing these days on her Substack- https://www.quillhavenfarm.com


Homestead Gardening

Get ready for a great growing season with these articles to help you grow more in your homestead garden!

How to Grow Tomatoes from Seed :: Get tips for growing strong, healthy tomato plants in your organic garden!
How to Grow Tomatoes from Seed :: Get tips for growing strong, healthy tomato plants in your organic garden!

How to Make Cheddar Cheese

How to Make Cheddar Cheese at Home

Watch how to make delicious homemade cheddar cheese! This step-by-step cloth-bound cheddar cheese recipe has the traditional flavor you know and love. Unlike many other cheddar cheese recipes, the paste for this cheese is still smooth and moist; it’s perfect for slicing, sandwiches, grating for your favorite recipes, or even just snacking with apples and crackers!

Watch How to Make Cheddar Cheese

Supplies for Making Homemade Cheddar Cheese

If you’re new to cheesemaking, cheddar cheese may require you to add some supplies to your tool kit that you may not have yet, including a cheese fridge. For more information about other cheesemaking equipment not discussed here, see the recipe for Butter Cheese.

Because cheddar cheese is aged for a month or more, I highly recommend making it with at least 4 gallons of milk. Though most cheese recipes you’ll find online or in books are made with 2 gallons of milk, the yield on your final product will be significantly less because so much of the rind will dry out during aging and need to be removed. With 4 gallons of milk or more, your cheese will have enough mass that the paste will be creamier.

I also suggest finding a sturdy stainless steel pot with a lid from a restaurant supply company because it will be quality enough to retain heat. (Which means less work maintaining temperatures for you!) I also prefer welded handles over rivets because it is easier to clean and one less place for bacterial to lurk and ruin an otherwise good cheese.

Cheddar cheese will also require you to have a digital scale and micro digital scale to weigh your curds & salt. Salting your cheese by percentage of the curd mass will ensure uniform results from cheese to cheese. 2.6% salt is the sweet spot for my palette. You may adjust it up or down to your taste.

Your cheese fridge can a mini-fridge with a digital controller to override the preset temperature. I was able to find a dinged up, yet new, beverage cooler online that has 2 adjustable zones that I can set to the perfect temperature for aging cheese. Regardless of which cheese fridge you end up with, you will need a humidity controller with a way to add moisture to the environment. I use this humidifier fog machine outside my cheese fridge. We cut a hole into the side for the tube to pipe mist into the fridge.

You will need cotton cloth or cheese wax to seal this cheese while aging. I do not recommend vac sealing cheeses where you want flavors to develop during the aging process. Vac sealing slows or stops flavor development & affects the final taste & texture of the cheese. I’ve never had consistent results with natural waxes and do not choose to use artificial waxes with food dyes. Besides, it seems like a beautiful pairing to cloth bound a cheddar and seal it with melted butter. The flavor symbiosis between the two makes a perfect blend for sealing a cheese.

All of the other supplies should already be in your arsenal if you’ve been working through the Homesteaders of America cheesemaking series.

Ingredients for Homemade Cheddar Cheese

Ingredients for Cheddar Cheese

This cheddar cheese recipe is made with mesophilic culture. This means that the cheese will never rise above 102F so cool temperature cultures are appropriate. I’ve tried this recipe with several mesophilic cultures and MA4001 or 4002 are my favorites. You can also try making cheddar cheese with MA11 or RA22 (24/26).

If you’d like you can also give your cheddar cheese that quintessential orange color with the addition of a small bit of annatto seed extract. I find that my children are so used to the orange cheddar color from the store that they are more likely to eat orange cheddar. An eighth of a teaspoon is enough to change the color of a 4-gallon batch of cheese. It won’t seem like it did the trick, but I promise it will. Whatever you do, don’t add more annatto to change the color in the pot. You will end up with a wheel of cheese that would rival a bag of Cheetos.

There’s no need to to be concerned about adding a colorant to your cheese. Annatto is completely natural. It’s made from a seed and can even be made at home by simmering the seeds in water. I choose not to because I always miss the sweet spot and boil all the liquid away and have to start again.

A bucket of raw milk for cheesemaking

How to Make Cheddar Cheese at Home

Making cheddar cheese will take up a good portion of your day, to be sure. I start a batch around 9 AM after milking & breakfast then end up getting the cheese in the press around 4 PM. Just in time to start dinner. The good news is this time is not all spent over the pot stirring the cheese. The active stirring time takes just about an hour.

Acidifying/Culturing Cheddar Cheese

You begin making cheddar cheese by warming a vat of milk to 88F. After that you thoroughly mix in the culture and annatto. Cover the pot and allow the cultures to acidify the milk for the next hour.

Once you come back, it’s time to add the rennet. Contrary to popular belief, you do NOT need to dilute the rennet in water. In fact, doing so could introduce bacteria into your cheese.

Flocculation

At this point, you could set a timer for 50 minutes and walk away but a better way to make consistent cheese is to learn about flocculation. All rennet is not created equal. And even if you use the same rennet every time, its strength may vary as it ages. How long you allow the coagulated curds to sit will, in part, determine how much moisture is locked into your cheese. Less moisture makes a drier cheese, more moisture a creamier cheese. If you don’t know when the flocculation point is, you’re simply guessing how long curds should sit.

To test flocculation, set a lightweight plastic cap upside down on the surface of the milk after you finish stirring in the rennet. (I sanitize and use the lid of a vitamin bottle.) For cheddar cheese, begin testing for flocculation after 13 minutes. To do this gently flick the cap to see if it will slide across the surface of the cheese. (For the first time, flick it occasionally during those 13 minutes so you can get to know the differences as the curds coagulate.) When you flick the cap and it meets resistance and even seems to bounce back a little, you are at the flocculation point.

Now for a little math. For cheddar cheese, I use a multiplier of 3 because I don’t want a dry cheddar. This means if the flocculation point was at 15 minutes my total time before cutting the curds is 45 minutes. Subtract the 15 minutes that have already passed from that time and set a timer for the remaining balance of time, 30 minutes.

15 minute flocculation point:

15×3=45

45-15=30

After that 30 minutes, in this case, has passed, test your curds. Slip a knife into the curd mass then dip your finger into the slit. Lift the mass up perpendicular to the slit. If the curd breaks clean around your finger, the curds are ready to be cut. You can also test by pressing down on the curd mass against the wall of the pot. You will see it slip away from the sides.

Cutting the Curds

Once the curds are ready, use a long knife to cut the curds to ¼” cubes. Cut one way, then the other perpendicularly. Imagine each curd in the pot as a tall ¼” leaf of seaweed and the bottom of the pot as the sea floor. Now cut those lengths of vertical curd by running your knife at an angle, continually slicing ¼” from the top of each strand of curd as you run the knife across. Repeat this angled curd down the length of each side, cutting on all 4 sides of the pot.

Allow the curds to rest for 5 minutes to heal then very, very slowly stir the curds searching for any larger uncut pieces and cut them.

Releasing Whey (Cooking & Stirring the Curds)

When the curds are satisfactorily cut, it’s time to stir and warm the curds to release the whey. Now is the time to remove whey from the curds, not in the cheese press. By the time the curds are in the press the whey is locked in and you’re only removing whey from between the curds as you press them into a solid mass.

Begin by slowly stirring the curds while you warm them to 95F. This should take 30 minutes. As time passes, stir with increasing speed. After 30 minutes, and once you’ve reached temp, increase the stirring speed more and raise the temperature to 102F in 15 minutes. Finally, maintain that temperature while stirring as quickly as you can for 15 minutes.

Test the curds for doneness by squeezing a handful. They should hold together but then fall apart when rubbed between your thumb and fingers.

Allow the curds to settle (pitch) for 5-10 minutes so you can easily remove the whey. After the curds are on the bottom of the pot, ladle out the whey.

Meanwhile, prepare a waterbath with hot water to maintain the temperature of the curds during the cheddaring process. My kitchen sink is nice and deep so I can even place a 6-gallon pot in it. You may need to use a cooler filled with hot water or another large vessel.

Cheddaring the Cheddar Cheese

Now on to the actual cheddaring!

Cut the solid curd mass into 4 pieces. Stack them on top of each other. Cover the pot with a lid and place it in your waterbath. I use 2- half gallon mason jars filled with hot water on top of the lid to keep the pot from floating.

Leave the curds in the waterbath for 15 minutes. Then you will peel the pieces apart and flip them, re-stacking. Be sure to maintain the temperature at 102F during the cheddaring. Repeat this 3 more times for a total of 1 hour. (At some point you may need to cut the curds to flip and stack them.) By the end, the curds will have the texture of cooked chicken breast. Do not drain your sink water.

Weigh the curds on a digital scale. Calculate 2.6 % of that amount in sea salt on the micro digital scale for the best accuracy. Transfer the curds to a cutting board and quickly cut them into 1″ cubes, returning them to the pot.

Sprinkle the cubed curds with half of the salt, mixing well. Return the pot to the waterbath system for 5 minutes. Add the remaining portion of salt, stirring well. Return the pot to the waterbath for a final time.

Pressing the Cheese

Prepare your cheese press if you haven’t already. Line your hoop with cheesecloth and quickly transfer the warm curds to the hoop. Warm curds will knit together better.

Press at 20 pounds of pressure for 15 minutes. Flip and redress the cheese. Press at 60 pounds of pressure overnight. In the morning, flip and redress the wheel a final time, leaving the cheese in the press until it has been in there for a total of 24 hours.

Cloth Bandaging Cheese

Cloth Bandaging Cheddar Cheese

Place the cheese on a mat and allow it to air dry for 2-3 days until the surface is dry to the touch. (A little clammy is ok.)

To bandage the cheese, melt ½ cup butter. Trace the two circular ends of the cheese and the length of the sides with a pencil on a piece of cotton muslin fabric. Cut out the pieces about ¼” outside of your tracing.

Brush the top of the cheese with butter. Place one circle of cloth on top and saturate the cloth, brushing it with butter, sealing it tightly to the cheese (including the little overlap on the sides.) Repeat with the bottom of the cheese, then adhere the long strip of fabric to the side of the cheese with the butter.

Aging Cheddar Cheese

Transfer the cheese to your cheese fridge and age for 4-6 weeks for a mild cheddar, 3 months or longer for sharp cheddar. Age the cheese at 55F and at 80% humidity. I flip the cheese every day for the first week or two as the moisture inside settles.

If too much moisture accumulates in your cheese fridge or if you age the cheese for longer than 6 weeks, it is more likely to grow mold. That’s ok. It will come off with the cloth and any mold on the rind can be scraped off before eating.

If you will not be eating all of your cheese right away, vac seal it until you are ready to eat it. This will stop the flavor development where you want it to be.

Printable Cheddar Cheese Recipe

How to Make Cheddar Cheese at Home

Cheddar Cheese Recipe

Learn how to make your own cheddar cheese at home!
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 5 hours
Pressing Time 1 day
Course Appetizer
Cuisine American, British
Servings 4 pounds

Equipment

  • 4 gallon stockpot with Lid
  • Digital Instant Read Thermometer
  • Cheese Ladle
  • Curd Knife
  • Measuring Spoons
  • Digital Scale
  • Micro Digital Scale
  • Cutting Board & Knife
  • Cheesecloth
  • Cheesepress
  • Cheese Mat
  • Cheese Refrigerator
  • Cotton or Muslin Fabric
  • Pastry Brush

Ingredients
  

  • 4 gallons milk, preferably raw
  • ¼ teaspoon mesophilic culture, MA 4000 series
  • 1/8 teaspoon annatto, optional
  • 1 teaspoon animal rennet
  • 2.6% sea salt
  • ½ cup Butter, melted, for cloth bound

Instructions
 

  • Warm milk to 88F. Remove the pot from the heat.
  • Add in the mesophilic culture and annatto. Stir 2 minutes.
  • Cover and maintain the temperature for 1 hour.
  • Stir in the rennet 30 seconds. You do not need to dilute the rennet in water for small batch cheese. Stir slowly, but throughly. Stop the motion of the milk with your ladle.
  • Coagulate the milk for about 40-50 minutes. If you are using a flocculation cap place it on the milk and begin checking for flocculation after 12 minutes. Mark the time elapsed. Multiply that number by 3 then subtract the flocculation time from the product. (Example: Flocculation time of 15 minutes; 15×3=45; 45-15=30 more minutes of coagulation.)
  • Check for a clean break.
  • Cut the curds to ¼”. Cut in a grid then on the diagonal the depth of the pot in all 4 directions.
  • Allow the curds to rest and heal for 5 minutes to lock in moisture. Skip this step if you want a dry cheddar.
  • Return the pot to the heat and warm to 95F over the course of 30 minutes. Stir continuously, beginning with slow stirring and increase speed as the curds toughen up.
  • Heat the curds to 102F in 15 minutes, stirring fairly rapidly.
  • Maintain the temperature and stir for a final 15 minutes. Stir as quickly as you can.
  • Test the curds by squeezing them in the palm of your hand. They should hold together in a clump yet break apart when rubbing them with your thumb.
  • Pitch the curds for 5 minutes and allow them to sink to the bottom.
  • Meanwhile, prepare a waterbath to keep your curd warm during the cheddaring process. I use my kitchen sink filled with hot water & 2- half gallon mason jars filled with water to weigh the pot down.
  • Remove the whey from the pot.
  • NOTE: Try to maintain a 102F temperature for the cheddaring process.
  • Cut the curd mass in the bottom of the pot into 4 blocks and stack them on top of each other.
  • Place the covered pot in the water bath & weigh it down.
  • Stack and flip every 15 minutes for 1 hour until the curds have the consistency of cooked chicken breast. Drain any whey in the bottom when flipping the curds. (This is a total of 4- 15 minutes with 3 flip/stacks.)
  • Weigh & make a note of the curd mass.
  • Quickly cut the curds into 1” cubes so you don't lose too much temperature.
  • Using a micro digital scale, weigh out 2.6% of the curd mass in salt.
  • Add the salt to the cubed curds in 2 phases with 5 minutes between additions. Place the pot back in the waterbath between saltings.
  • Prepare your cheese press between saltings.
  • Quickly transfer salted curds to a cheesecloth lined hoop.
  • Press at 20 pounds pressure for 15 minutes.
  • Remove the cheese from the hoop, flip, and redress in the cheesecloth.
  • Return the cheese to the press and apply 60 pounds of pressure overnight.
  • In the morning, remove the cheese, flip, and redress a final time. Return it to the press and apply 80 pounds of pressure until the cheese has been in the press for a total of 24 hours.
  • Transfer the cheese to a cheese mat and air dry for 2-3 days, flipping twice daily.
  • Was the cheese for the aging or apply a cloth bandage rind using clean cotton fabric and melted butter.
  • Age the cheese in a cheese fridge at 55F and 80% humidity for 4-6 weeks for mild cheddar and 3 months or more for sharp cheddar.
Keyword butter cheese, cheddar, cheddar cheese, cheese recipe, cheesemaking

About the Author

Quinn and her family have been homesteading in Ohio for over 17 years, many of which she spent sharing their experiences and encouraging other homesteaders at Reformation Acres until 2018. Besides raising their main crop of 8 children, Quill Haven Farm revolves around the Queen of the Homestead, the family milk cow. In addition to cheesemaking and other home dairy, the cow also provides skim milk to fatten a few hogs every year, raise up a beef calf, supplement the feed for their flock of laying hens & broilers, and beautiful compost for their 14,000 square feet of organic gardens. You can find her writing these days on her Substack- https://www.quillhavenfarm.com


Recipes for the Home Dairy

Learn how to make these other delicious homemade cheese & dairy recipes with raw milk from your homestead dairy!


Home Cheesemaking: Learn How to Make Cheddar Cheese
Home Cheesemaking: Learn How to Make Cheddar Cheese

How to Make Butter Cheese (Butterkase)

Butter Cheese  Recipe

Ready to dive into making a hard cheese with rennet? This Butter Cheese recipe (sometimes called Butterkase) is a great place to start! Butter cheese is a washed-curd, pressed cheese that uses rennet to coagulate the curds. It is a semi-firm cheese with a smooth supple paste with a sweet, mild flavor.

Why Should You Make Butter Cheese (Butterkase)?

Butter Cheese makes a great snacking cheese and toasts up a killer grilled cheese sandwich. It’s the perfect cheese to make for children to enjoy. Try serving it someone whose palette is accustomed to commercial cheese and doesn’t appreciate the complex, sharp, and diverse flavors of many artisan cheeses. They’ll think you’re amazingly talented!

This Butter Cheese recipe is GREAT for folks continuing on to the next level in their cheese making journey!

As we’ve discussed before, there are three different ways you can coagulate milk to make cheese.

  1. Direct Acid Coagulation, which you can learn while making Ricotta Cheese
  2. Lactic Acid Coagulation, such as when making Cream Cheese
  3. Rennet Coagulation, this is how most cheese, such as cheddar, is made

Butter Cheese is the perfect first hard cheese to make at home. There is no complicated cheddaring or aging process to also learn alongside renneting. (We’ll cover those steps next time!) It’s a fairly quick hard cheese to make as well and can easily be in the press before lunchtime. The shorter aging time means you’ll be able to enjoy this cheese more quickly!


Cheese Making Records

Never make cheese without keeping records! A Cheese Making Log, like in the Homestead Management Printables, is an important tool for the home cheesemaker.

  • Have plan for your workflow.
  • Track of when you made cheese.
  • Track of the next step in the aging process.
  • Record variations in recipes. Sometimes a mistake makes the best cheese!
  • Record impressions of flavor & taste.

Cheese Curds

What is Rennet Coagulation?

Rennet is an enzyme found in the stomach of young ruminant animals such as calves and goat kids. Their systems use this enzyme to help digest milk. It coagulates the milk into curds. Microbial and vegetarian sources of rennet are not as reliable as animal sources. Even worse, the other alternative, FPC Enzyme rennet, is a genetically modified organism (GMO.) I use WalcoRen animal rennet as a non-GMO source of animal rennet.

You would use rennet coagulation for any cheese where you did not want the bacteria to convert all of the lactose into lactic acid (Lactic Acid Coagulation). That method creates a distinct, tangy flavor which is delicious in many cheeses, but not always desired. I imagine not too many folks would like the flavor of cream cheese smeared on their hamburger, right?

Likewise, you cannot use a direct acid to coagulate hard cheeses because the high temperatures needed for the acid to coagulate the cheese would kill off the cultures we are using to steer the flavor.

What is a Washed-Curd Cheese?

Some mild cheeses such as Gouda and Havarti are made by “washing” the curds. This is simply done by removing a portion of they whey (in the case of Butter Cheese we remove half of it) and replacing it with hot water. This reduces the acidity of the whey used to cook the curds and is what makes these cheeses sweeter.

One concern to be aware of when making washed-curd cheese is that it’s more prone to coliform contamination. Do not eat any cheese you suspect has been contaminated.

Signs of contamination are cheese blowing out of the hoop, audible fizzy popping sounds when you give the cheese a little squeeze, and an abundance of holes when you cut it. A few holes such as you see in the photo above are perfectly fine. Sometimes a cheese will have holes because the cultures are gas-producing. Sometimes it will be what are known as “mechanical” holes. That’s what mine are from. I’m using a new hoop and suspect I need a larger follower to make better contact during pressing. An example of a cheese with coliform contamination can be found here.

Because Gouda is a mesophilic (low temperature) washed-curd cheese it is more prone to coliform than Butter Cheese which is made at a higher temperature with thermophilic cultures. I’ve only been suspicious of one Butter Cheese being contaminated and threw it away just to be safe.

What are Cheese Cultures?

There are two types of cultures used to make cheese: Mesophilic Culture & Thermophilic Culture. Which one you use will depend on the highest temperature used in your cheese recipe.

Mesophilic Cultures are used for lower temperature cheese (under 90 F.) Any temperature higher and the cultures will start to die. Thermophilic Cultures are used for higher temperature cheeses and start to die over 128F.

Like probiotics, there are different strains of good bacteria in these cultures. They influence flavor, texture, gas production in a cheese. While you can experiment with different mesophilic cultures in recipes that call for mesophilic culture or different thermophilic cultures in recipes that call for thermophilic culture, you must note that your final results will vary.

Butter Cheese is heat to 108F so you must use a Thermophilic Culture to make it. Thermo C is my favorite culture for making Butter Cheese.

While you can make mother cultures at home and freeze them to culture your cheese, I prefer using freeze-dried, commercially prepared cultures. While I’m all about self-sufficiency & DIY, this is one instance where if I’m going to be standing in the kitchen for half a day I am not going to risk having a batch of cheese go all rouge on me then turn out with an unexpected flavor. Especially in the summer when I would MUCH rather be outside! So I play it safe and use commercial cultures with confidence, knowing I’m going to have a darn tasty cheese in the end.

Home Cheesemaking Setup

How to Make Butter Cheese (Butterkase)

Let’s simplify the process of how to make Butter Cheese for you down to the most basic steps & cover what is happening to the milk during the process!

Step One: Sanitize Your Equipment

The most important step of making any cheese is to sanitize the equipment! Skipping this step and you could be wasting the rest of your time spent making cheese. You can boil your equipment but I prefer to use One Step Sanitizer. It doesn’t take as long or leave mineral deposits on your equipment. Allow enough time to air dry before beginning to make cheese. Towels can harbor bacteria.

Step Two: Warm the Milk

The first step to making this Butter Cheese recipe is simply warm the milk to 102F. Do this slowly over medium-low heat. (I shut my burner off for the last few degrees to make sure I don’t go over the target temp.)

Warming the milk begins to acidify it and prepares it for the culture.

Step Three: Acidify the Milk

Add the thermophilic culture to the milk and vigorously stir it for a couple of minutes. Using a culture is very important because it influences what the cheese will look and taste like.

Step Four: Coagulate the Milk

Add the rennet and stir it slowly but thoroughly for about 30 seconds. Stop the motion of the milk and allow it to sit while the curds coagulate, undisturbed, for half an hour.

Step Five: Cut the Curds

Check for a clean break and then cut the curds into ½” cubes with a long curd knife. Create a half-inch grid across the top. Then come them from an angle to cut the long columns of curds you created into cubes. Let them rest for a few minutes to lock in some whey (moisture).

Step Six: Release the Whey

Because this is a semi-firm cheese we want to release some whey from the curds but not as much for harder cheeses like swiss or cheddar. You release whey from the curds by warming (cooking) and stirring them. Contrary to popular belief, whey is not actually released during the pressing stage, it must be done in the pot.

Step Seven: Wash the Curds

While the curds are in the pot with the whey, they will continue to acidify. Because we want a sweeter cheese we remove half of the whey and replace it with an equal amount of hot water. This is called “washing” the curds. When making Butter Cheese the process of releasing the whey is completed in the watered down whey mixture.

Step Eight: Press the Cheese

Pressing Butter Cheese is done in 3 steps. The first pressing actually happens “under the whey” to help form the shape while keeping the cultures warm and reduce the amount of “mechanical holes” in the cheese. (Those are holes left between to curds during pressing or are created by gas producing cultures.) The next pressing is done for 30 minutes before flipping the cheese and increasing pressure for the final pressing overnight. These steps remove the whey from between the curds so it won’t have a bitter flavor.

Step Nine: Brine the Cheese

Submerge the cheese in a saturated brine for 16 hours, flipping it halfway. If your brine is properly made, your cheese should float. Sprinkle a little salt on top and place a weight on top to hold it under the brine. If you make a whey brine, instead of water, it will last longer and you won’t risk leaching calcium into the water if your sodium saturation level is off.

Step Ten: Form a Rind on the Cheese

Allow the cheese to form a rind by air-drying it on a cheese mat at room temperature for about 3-4 days. Flip it twice a day so the moisture in the cheese is evenly distributed and it dries evenly. You’ll notice when you flip the cheese the bottom side of the cheese is more moist than the top. If you don’t keep it flipping, your cheese won’t have a uniform texture and flavor. You can move on to the next step when the surface is dry to the touch.

Step Eleven: Age the Cheese

Aging Butter Cheese is simple! Just vacuum seal it and place it in a cheese fridge at 50-55F for 4 weeks or your refrigerator for 6 weeks. I have started putting Butter Cheese in the cheese fridge for an extra couple days of air drying before vacuum sealing though. In my experience, vacuum sealing in plastic occasionally risks off flavors in too moist of a cheese and these extra days to dry out the rind help the moisture content be more stable.

Be sure when you sample it to remove it from the bag for at least an hour before trying your cheese. Otherwise, it tends to taste a little like bitter plastic near the rind. If you didn’t want to use a vacuum sealer, you could try using cheese wax to age the cheese but you may need to dry the rind out a few extra days.

Pressing Hard Cheese

Butter Cheese Recipe (Butterkase)

Butter Cheese Recipe

Quinn Veon
Learn how to make cheese at home! This Butter Cheese recipe will make a semi-firm cheese with a smooth mild paste that children love! It's great for snacking and makes a killer toasted cheese sandwich.
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 5 hours
Aging 30 days
Total Time 30 days 5 hours
Course Appetizer, Snack
Cuisine American, German
Servings 3 pounds

Equipment

  • 4 Gallon Stainless Steel Pot
  • Instant Read Thermometer
  • Long Knife
  • Slotted Skimmer Spoon
  • 2 Gallon Pot
  • Small Pyrex Measuring Cup, or Mug
  • Measuring Spoons
  • Cheesecloth, or Plyban
  • Cheese Press
  • Bamboo Cheese Mat

Ingredients
  

  • 4 gallons milk, do not use ultra high temp pasteurized
  • ½ teaspoon Thermo C thermophilic culture
  • 1 teaspoon animal rennet
  • ½ gallon saturated brine, 18%

Instructions
 

  • Warm milk to 102F. 
  • Add culture. Stir 2 minutes. Cover and maintain temperatures 40 minutes. 
  • Stir in rennet 30 seconds. Coagulate 30 minutes. Check for clean break.
  • Cut curds ½”. Heal curds 5 minutes. 
  • Heat 2 gallons water to 125F.
  • Stir the curds for 20 minutes, maintaining temperature. Settle the curds for 5 minutes. 
  • Remove half of the whey. Stir the curds to break up any clumps.
  • Using your mug or measuring glass, add warm water to the original level till temp is 108F, stirring with each addition to keep the curds from clumping.
  • Stir the curds more quickly than before for 10 minutes. Allow them to settle to the bottom for 10 minutes. 
  • Transfer the curds to your prepared mold lined with cheesecloth. Place the follower on top of the curds in the mold. Instead of putting the mold into your press, put it back into the whey.
  • Press under the cheese under the whey at about 5 lbs for 15 minutes. (I fill a half gallon mason jar with water and set it on top, rebalancing it as necessary.)
  • Remove the mold from the whey. Remove the cheese from the mold. Flip it, redress, and put it back into the mold.
  • Press the cheese in your press at 15 lbs for 30 minutes.
  • Flip and redress the cheese and press at 25 lbs overnight.
  • Create an 18% saturated brine (½ gallon water or whey to 1 ¼ lbs of salt). Cool to room temperature.
  • Brine the cheese for 16 hrs; flipping halfway.
  • Air dry 3-4 days, turning twice daily.
  • Vac seal the cheese and age one month 

Notes

  • Remove from vac seal packaging for at least an hour before sampling. 
  • You can reseal the cheese and store it longer. Notice the flavors as they develop over time and keep records of when you like your Butter Cheese the best. 
Keyword butter cheese, butterkaeser, butterkase, cheese, cheese recipe, homemade cheese

About the Author

Quinn and her family have been homesteading in Ohio for over 17 years, many of which she spent sharing their experiences and encouraging other homesteaders at Reformation Acres until 2018. Besides raising their main crop of 8 children, Quill Haven Farm revolves around the Queen of the Homestead, the family milk cow. In addition to cheesemaking and other home dairy, the cow also provides skim milk to fatten a few hogs every year, raise up a beef calf, supplement the feed for their flock of laying hens & broilers, and beautiful compost for their 14,000 square feet of organic gardens. You can find her writing these days on her Substack- https://www.quillhavenfarm.com


The Home Dairy

Make the most of your homestead’s raw milk with these delicious recipes!


Butter Cheese Recipe

Homestead Cold Room: 9 Reasons to Go Beyond a Root Cellar

Homestead Cold Room

Supercharge your root cellar and turn it into a homestead cold room instead! With a cold room you’ll have greater versatility for whatever homestead or farm business ventures you expand into in the future. Here are at least 8 reasons for you to build a cold room for your homestead (But, ultimately, your imagination is the limit!)

Homestead Cold Room: 9 Reasons to Go Beyond a Root Cellar

There are many uses for a homestead cold room! When you can set the temperature of the room with a CoolBot you’ll find there are at least 9 reasons (beyond a root cellar) to build a homestead cold room on your farm!

Use Your Homestead Cold Room as a Root Cellar

Obviously, you’ll still be able to use the cold room as a root cellar. Your options expand not decrease when you decide to turn your root cellar into a cold room. With a few exceptions, most of the crops you’ll store in your root cellar will be even happier and store longer when the temperature is lower. 

Our friend Laurie over at Common Sense Home has a great guide of considerations for building your root cellar.

Cold Room Benefits for Hunting & Home Butchering

Having a homestead cold room is invaluable for the home butcher! Having cold storage options will open many doors for you! In fact, your cold room will quickly pay for itself with the fees you save at the butcher. 

  • Hanging Pork, Venison, and More
  • Aging Beef
  • Air Chilling Chickens
  • Store Lard & Tallow

If you already butcher your own livestock, you know how limited you can be when deciding the best time to butcher… and your one option is the dead of winter. Even then, butchering beef at home is tricky because during the aging process, usually two weeks, there is the risk of the meat freezing if it is hung in an outbuilding. 

When you have a cold room, you no longer have to worry about freezing meat. And your butchering schedule will be significantly more flexible because you’ll be able to consider doing the work even in the spring or fall.

This could mean the difference between salvaging livestock suddenly injured beyond rehabilitation and needs to be put down or losing the investment and wasting the life. If that situation happens when the weather is warm or your butcher’s schedule is full, you simply lose the meat.

Your cold room can also be fired up when it’s time to butcher your meat chickens. Instead of filling a bathtub or barrel with ice to cool broiler chickens, you can rack them up in the cold room to air chill. 

Allowing your chickens to air chill for a day or two before packaging them has many benefits including more tender meat and crispier skin for roasted or grilled chicken!

Finally, many folks worry over the proper way to store tallow and lard. Freezing is always an option, but storing it on a shelf in the cold room frees up prime freezer space. (Especially if you got a mind-blowing 65 quarts of lard from just 2 pigs in one year like we did!) This means you won’t have to wait for it to defrost before using it straight off the shelf. 

Use a Homestead Cold Room for Making Charcuterie

If you are interested in making your own hams, salami, bacon, or sausage at home, your homestead cold room will come in handy for your charcuterie adventures. Control the temperature and humidity in the space and you won’t need to worry about fluctuations that may cause inconsistencies or spoilage in the final product.

Instead of keeping 25 pounds of bacon in the refrigerator to cure for a week or more, you can use the cold room for the curing process. You can also install hooks from the ceiling for hanging meat and aging prosciutto. 

Store Hard Cheese for the Home Dairy

Eventually, many family cow owners discover the joys of home cheesemaking and it won’t be long until the mini-cheese fridge is bursting at the seams. The homestead cold room is the perfect place to store hard cheeses after they’re done aging.

Use a CoolBot for Your Home Brewery

Whether you enjoy home brewing beer, wine, cider, or mead you can use the CoolBot in your homestead cold room to control the temperatures for fermentation & aging so you can get consistent results.

Store Beverages in a Wine Cellar

Instead of having a separate beverage fridge in your home, use the same space that is meeting other homestead needs to store your homemade wines and other beverages with a homestead cold room

Store Maple Sap Until Ready to Boil Down

When most homesteaders still have a day jobs, many of us aren’t able to boil down sap collected daily to make maple syrup in the late winter. When the temperatures are warming up enough to allow the sap to flow, it’s often not cold enough to safely store that sap for a few days until you have time to make maple syrup. Keep your sap in the homestead cold room and the problem is solved!

Use a Cold Room as a Storm Shelter/Safe Room

With some extra planning and reinforcements, your homestead cold room could do double duty and function as a storm shelter for severe weather or as a safe room.

Take Your Homestead and Farm Business to the Next Level

Owning a homestead cold room may also expand your options for turning your farm into a business. Having a cold room would be useful as a floral cooler for the flower farmer, storing freshly harvested produce for the market gardener, a surplus of eggs, a walk-in cooler for the local venison butcher (or even installed for a mobile butcher), and much more!  

Homestead Cold Room

Designing a Homestead Cold Room 

This year we designated a corner of our basement to build a homestead cold room. The biggest need on our homestead was for a space to put overflow from the pantry. Since we don’t need 50+ quarts of tomato sauce for example in the kitchen pantry, keeping a few jars upstairs at a time saves a ton of space. When I run out, I simply need to go “shopping” down in the root cellar. 

Our next need is for a space to store root crops from the garden. Carrots, parsnips, beets, cabbage, winter squash, potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, and more are all tucked away in crates in the root cellar this year. Using a CoolBot controller, the temperature and humidity can be easily moderated and our harvest will last long through the winter. To be honest, I’m not the biggest fan of canning. I can what I need to but if there is a way for me to store garden produce without standing in the heat of the kitchen when I could be outside, I don’t want to. Having a homestead cold room that functions as a root cellar not only saves me the expense of canning jars over time but also saves me from hot, steamy days in the kitchen cooking and canning produce. 

Because of these two primary needs, our homestead cold room had to be outfitted with an extensive shelving system. We bought storage shelving and while the frame is sturdy, the shelf itself is starting to bow under the weight of the canning jars (despite having a brace underneath midway). The shelf height is adjustable which works great for leaving room for 5-gallon buckets for our overflow bulk food and wooden crates of squash. 

I opted for plastic, stackable, commercial dishwasher racks for storing items such as potatoes because it will be easier to keep them in rotation and check for rotting produce rather than digging through. They are also easier to clean than wooden crates if something does end up rotting and making a mess.

Our homestead cold room will be used part of the year for storing finished hard cheeses so we build a small custom shelving system to stack the wheels of cheddar, swiss, butter cheese, and more that will come from the abundance of our beloved dairy cow

Finally, our homestead cold room will be put to very good use 2-3 times a year when we butcher our family’s meat. The broiler chickens were air-chilled in August, the beef hung to age for a couple of weeks in late October, the pork halves were hung overnight before being butchered, and the hams and bacon were cured in the cold room before being smoked. 

Three months after completing the project and it has quickly become one of the most useful rooms in our home! 

Materials for Building a Cold Room

We chose the corner of the basement to eliminate the cost of building walls for those sides of the cold room. How you choose to design your homestead cold room will entirely depend on your needs, size requirements, and existing space.

Some considerations you will need to make will include:

  • Insulation– We found a deal on insulated panels but you can use standard fiberglass insulation or spray foam insulation as well.
  • Ventilation– While the air conditioner will handle ventilation during use, you also need to consider creating adequate ventilation if there will be periods when it will not be in use.
  • CoolBot Cooler Walk-In Cooler Controller The CoolBot is the heart of your homestead cold room. In a nutshell, it works to alter the function of an air conditioner so you can set the temperature of the room to meet your needs. Installing and using a CoolBot is as simple as can be!
  • Air Conditioner– You will need an air conditioner for the CoolBot to use to cool the temperature of the room. While it may be tempting to use an old model, an energy-efficient one may save you more money in the long run.

In the following video we will walk you through the key features of building our homestead cold room so you can get ideas of how you’d like to construct yours, unboxing the CoolBot controller, and how to install and operate the CoolBot.


About the Author

Quinn and her family have been homesteading in Ohio for over 17 years, many of which she spent sharing their experiences and encouraging other homesteaders at Reformation Acres until 2018. Besides raising their main crop of 8 children, Quill Haven Farm revolves around the Queen of the Homestead, the family milk cow. In addition to cheesemaking and other home dairy, the cow also provides skim milk to fatten a few hogs every year, raise up a beef calf, supplement the feed for their flock of laying hens & broilers, and beautiful compost for their 14,000 square feet of organic gardens. You can find her writing these days on her Substack- https://www.quillhavenfarm.com


 
8 Reasons to Build a Homestead Cold Room Instead of a Root Cellar

How to Grow Onions from Seed

How to Grow Onions from Seed

Growing onions from seed can be difficult, but it doesn’t have to be! Onion seeds take a long time to grow and must be started indoors during mid to late winter. It would be nice if you could just sprinkle them over your flat and be done with it, but they will turn into a tangled mess before long. So let’s learn the tips & tricks to grow onions from seed all the way to harvesting big, beautiful bulbs, plus how to cure and store them for use over the winter. 

Grow Onion Seeds or Sets?

Of all the seeds I start each year, onions are my favorite to grow! Starting a new garden in the dead of winter has a way of making the dreary days seem to go by more quickly. That’s reason enough for me! But there are other advantages as well. 

When growing onions from seed, you have a greater choice of variety to meet your flavor, storage, and day-length needs. 

I’ve tried growing onions from sets several times. I’ve sourced them from reputable online sellers as well as from local Amish garden centers. In both cases, the onions I’ve grown from seed are always healthier and more productive. The little onion sets are often dry and look half-dead when you plant them. While they’re “coming back to life” they may need to be replanted if they pop out of the soil. It seems as though they don’t root as deeply as onions grown from seed. They may go straight to flowering without producing a bulb. Or they may simply never produce a bulb at all. 

 

All About Onion Day Length

Which varieties of onions you should grow completely depends on where you live and how much sun you get in the summer. Why? Because onion growth is triggered by the number of hours of sun they receive in a day. Some onions need more sun to thrive and require longer days. 

In a nutshell, Short Day Onions do best growing in the south. Long Day Onions are a better choice for those living in the north. 

A few varieties on Long Day Length Onions you may like to grow are: 

  • Ailsa Craig
  • Red Wing
  • Yellow Sweet Spanish
  • Copra
  • New York Early

Some examples of Short Day Length Onion Varieties are: 

  • Texas Early White
  • Red Creole
  • Yellow Granex
  • Red Grano
  • Burgundy

A few varieties of onions are less picky and may work in either area. These are called Intermediate Day Length Onions. 

  • Walla Walla
  • Red Candy
  • Zoey
  • Cabernet
  • Valencia
Onion Seeds: How to Grow Onions from Seed

How to Grow Onions from Seed

I’m going to try to be as detailed as possible while describing how I successfully grow onions from seed. Please don’t let my over-describing discourage you! It’s not really that difficult as it may seem and is very rewarding. Give it a shot this spring and I imagine you’ll learn that it’s worth the effort! 

Pre-Sprout the Seeds

Pre-sprouting (or “chitting”) seeds is where you get them to germinate BEFORE you plant them. Pre-sprouting onion seeds has two primary purposes. First, you know for certain the seed you are planting in the flat will germinate. (Because it already has.) Since the light & possibly heat you will be using to start seeds isn’t free, you want to make sure there is no wasted space under the glow of the grow lights.

If you have a 75% germination rate, that is 25% wasted space that you could be using to grow more food. While pre-sprouting is an extra step, it is 100% worth the work! After all, we’re Homesteaders of America! This isn’t play gardening, we take the work of feeding our families and communities seriously!

The second reason to pre-sprout onion seeds is that the seeds are fairly small. And very black. It is a nightmare planting them one by one in your flats when you can’t even see what you’re doing. Transplanting the sprouted seeds is careful tedious work, I won’t deny it. But at least you won’t end up with eye strain and still not be certain they’re evenly spread out. 

How to Pre-Sprout Onion Seeds

Chitting onions is simple. All you have to do is scatter them over a wet paper towel (or I suppose a rag would work) and lay another paper towel (or rag) carefully over the top. Keep them flat and slip it into a gallon-sized plastic bag so they stay moist. 

Whether you set them in the sun or keep them in a dark place to germinate doesn’t matter. Just make sure it’s warm and check on them every day or so. You will see a tiny white tail come out of the side of the seed and then it’s time to transplant them!

Newly germinated onion seedlings: How to Grow Onions from Seed

Prepare Your Potting Soil

Normally I prefer to start my seeds in soil blocks. There are many benefits to soil blocks, but I find that they are difficult to plant onions where multiple seeds share one cell. So for onions, I use a standard plastic 4-cell pack. The cell packs are set into a tray with no holes in the bottom. 

(While plastic isn’t the most eco-friendly seed-starting option, many DIY hacks are too small to hold enough soil that will be needed to feed the plants over the next few months. Compostable “Jiffy” pots dry out far too quickly, stressing tender seedlings, and, frankly, compost poorly during the first growing season. I’m content with treating my cell packs & trays with care and reusing them year after year.)

You can use your favorite potting soil mix to grow onions. I just eyeball it and probably use a cup or so mixed into enough soil to fill one tray. 

Wet the potting soil so that it is saturated, but isn’t so wet as to be soupy. Pack your cells with the mix, gently pressing them to remove excess air, but not so much that they’ll be a brick or you’ll have trouble transplanting the pre-sprouted seeds. 

Transplanting the Pre-Sprouted Seeds

Once the seeds have their little tail (but before they are long and easily breakable), it’s time to transplant.

I use a pair of tweezers and find something to work as a dibble. A pencil is probably too thick but a framing nail or something similar would work well. 

This part requires a gentle hand and is painstaking if you’re not a slow gardener. Get yourself set up with the latest Homesteaders of America podcast and settle in. You’ll be done before you know it. 

Simply poke 4 holes in each of the cells with your makeshift dibble then use the tweezers to tenderly plant the seedling into the hole. If your seedling sends out both the root and a shoot, the seed case will stay attached to the shoot. Plant the seedling with its white root pointing down and the shoot with the seed casing up.

(I messed this up the first time I started onions from seed and had to replant all of them right side up!) 

Once your seedlings are all transplanting cover them with a dusting of dry potting soil mix or vermiculite. I prefer using vermiculite because it helps prevent damping off disease. 

Onion seedlings under grow lights: How to Grow Onions from Seed

How to Grow Onions Indoors

Like all plants, your onion seedlings will need 4 things to grow: light, warmth, and water… and a little TLC.

Light

You will need to grow onions under a grow light. During the short winter days, a windowsill will not provide enough daylight for them to thrive. 

You can use a timer to automatically turn your lights on and off each day. In years past I have set my timer to 14 hours of light but will be experimenting with increasing the light to 16 or 18 hours this year. 

(It’s a long story, but my onion seedlings were gloriously thick and sturdy last year after a timer was accidentally turned off and they had constant light for a week straight. I suspect the extra light may be the cause for the strong onions. I’ll update this post with what I find, but if you experiment along with be sure to let us know how it goes! If you’re not the experimental type, stick the 14 hours to be safe.) 

Warmth

If your growing space is chilly, consider growing them on a heated mat. We have a large seed starting space in our unheated basement where heating cables are spread out in a wooden frame, covered with sand, and the flats placed on top of the sand to grow. 

Water

Your onion seedlings won’t appreciate soggy feet, but don’t let the soil dry out either. It is so difficult to get potting soil to rehydrate once it has dried out. And they’ll struggle from that point on. 

My favorite way to water all seedlings is to underwater into the bottom tray. That way the seedlings can decide for themselves how much water they need. Every few days I’ll check on them and refill the tray almost halfway as needed. 

Caring for Your Onion Seedlings

Onions do need a little maintenance besides watering them a few times a week. Their leaves will grow long and tangle together, making transplanting not only a nightmare but a near impossibility. Cutting them back to 2-3” height as needed will make stronger, healthier leaves. 

Fertilizing Onion Seedlings

You may consider fertilizing your onion seedlings with some fish emulsion for extra nitrogen about halfway between sprouting and transplanting. Since onions will be in the medium for months they will go through the available nutrients in their little cell and need a boost to make it through to transplanting time in the spring. A good source of nitrogen is also important for onions because it is what a plant uses to produce leaves. And the more leaves on an onion plant, the bigger your bulbs are going to be!

Onions ready to be transplanted

Transplanting Onion Seedlings

Onion seedlings are hardy and can be transplanted as soon as you can work the soil in the spring. Last year, I planted mine about 4 weeks before my last frost. 

One of the reasons why I choose to plant 4 seedlings per cell (besides preventing a tangled mess and over-taxing the soil nutrients) is because I use a transplant method I read about in The New Organic Grower. In the book, trusted market gardener Eliot Coleman tells how you can grow 3-4 onions in the same hole without compromising plant growth and yield. This is a fantastic option for those of us who want to grow a lot of onions on a small scale! 

I plant each cell of 4 onion seedlings in a 10” grid in the bed about 8-10 weeks after I started the seeds. 

Onions in a garden

How to Grow Onions

Onions are fairly shallow-rooted so they make a great choice if you garden in raised beds or soil that has been amended on the top few inches but sits on clay. Again, they don’t like soggy feet and can be prone to rot, so be sure the soil does drain adequately. 

Keep the soil from drying out (straw or hay mulch works wonderfully for water retention) and use a foliar fertilizer, such as fish emulsion, every 2-3 weeks until they start to form bulbs. 

Onions do not do well with competition from weeds so you will need to keep the weed pressure down. Another great reason to consider using an organic mulch. 

When to Harvest Onions 

The day you transplant seedlings in the garden is the day you start counting your days to harvest. So for example, I grew Bridger onions from seed last year. They are a 90-day onion and were started from seed on February 19th and transplanted on April 25th. 

Onions are ready to harvest when the tips of their leaves begin to turn brown and fall over. The neck, right above the bulb, will be starting to shrivel up, but not fully dry. The Bridger onions were ready and I harvested them on July 27th. 

Curing Onions

How to Cure Onions

Choose a time when there is a warm, sunny forecast before you when harvesting your onions. They cure best when they can spend a few days in the sun before heading to a dry shelter to finish curing. Last year, I tried the system where the leaves are fed through a wide, wire mesh table and the bulbs sit on top, not touching. It worked wonderfully, saved space, and kept the onions from rolling and touching each other. 

How to Store Onions

Once the leaves are fully dry, even at the neck, it is time to store your onions. Trim the dry leaves off at the base and store them in mesh bags or flat on trays that promote air circulation. I purchased a few commercial stackable dishwasher racks and like that a whole lot better than digging around in a bag for a nasty rotten onion that needs to be removed! (Rotten onions are inevitable and are one of the worst smells! Which, let’s face it, is saying something cause I live on a farm. Things can stink around here from time to time.)

Place your trays or sacks in a cool, dry place until ready to use. (The experts say about 35 degrees F and about 65% humidity.) 

How long your onions will last in storage depends on how well they were cured and stored, but also the variety. Some onions just last in storage longer than others. 

Onion Varieties that Store Well 

  • Red Wing (8-10 months)
  • Patterson (10-12 months)
  • Copra (8-10 months)
  • Cortland (9-12 months)

Plan to regularly check your onions in storage for signs of rot so you can remove them early.


About the Author

Quinn and her family have been homesteading in Ohio for over 17 years, many of which she spent sharing their experiences and encouraging other homesteaders at Reformation Acres until 2018. Besides raising their main crop of 8 children, Quill Haven Farm revolves around the Queen of the Homestead, the family milk cow. In addition to cheesemaking and other home dairy, the cow also provides skim milk to fatten a few hogs every year, raise up a beef calf, supplement the feed for their flock of laying hens & broilers, and beautiful compost for their 14,000 square feet of organic gardens. You can find her writing these days on her Substack- https://www.quillhavenfarm.com


Homestead Gardening

Get ready for a great growing season with these articles to help you grow more in your homestead garden!

How to Grow Onions from Seed: Seed Starting, Caring for Seedlings, Transplanting, Growing, Harvesting, Curing, & Storage

Homemade Cream Cheese

How to Make Homemade Cream Cheese

On your journey toward becoming a cheesemaker, homemade cream cheese is definitely a recipe to try. The good news is cream cheese is easy, takes very little active time, has a high yield, and is amazingly delicious! 

Whether you love cream cheese for homemade cheesecake, spread on bagels, crackers, or toast, for cream cheese frosting, whatever your favorite way to enjoy cream cheese, it is so much better and satisfying when you make it yourself!

But before we dive into the recipe, I’m going to break out my inner Curd Nerd… Did you know there are three different ways you can coagulate milk to make cheese?

  1. Direct Acid Coagulation
  2. Lactic Acid Coagulation
  3. Rennet Coagulation

We’ve already covered Direct Acid Coagulation in making homemade ricotta. It’s probably the easiest & quickest way to turn milk into cheese. More or less, all other direct acid cheese recipes are a variation on that theme. Once you’ve mastered ricotta, you’ll have the confidence to tackle other direct acid cheeses. 

Likewise, for today’s method, Lactic Acid Coagulation, all other cheeses that use this method are made similarly to cream cheese in their basic procedure. Cheeses made this way do take longer and have an extra step or three, but they’re still quite simple.

What is Lactic Acid Coagulation?

In the most basic terms, lactic acid coagulation is basically allowing time and bacteria from your culture to work their magic by converting lactose into lactic acid which curdles the milk. It’s very similar to making homemade yogurt. 

Other lactic acid cheeses include Chèvre, Cottage Cheese, Fromage Blanc, and Quark.

Homemade Cream Cheese

If you’ve made Greek yogurt, you can make homemade cream cheese. How’s that for a confidence boost?

Just like in yogurt making, you heat the milk, add an appropriate culture, set it aside and allow it to coagulate. Once that’s done, simply strain out the whey until it’s thick.

Ingredients to Make Cream Cheese

  • 1 gallon whole milk 
  • 1 pint heavy cream
  • 1/8th teaspoon Aroma B culture (or Flora Danica) 
  • 4-8 drops liquid rennet, optional
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt

Can You Make Cheese Without Cultures?

 A primary difference between yogurt and cream cheese is that yogurt uses a thermophilic culture because of the higher temperature during incubation. Cream cheese uses an aromatic mesophilic culture. Mesophilic cultures are used for cheeses that work best if they are warmed at a lower temperature, no more than 102F.

You may be wondering if you can make cream cheese without a culture?

Technically, all cheeses can be made without a culture, however cultures are extremely important for influencing the flavor of your cheese. When you use a culture you are telling your milk which bacteria you want working so you get the final product you expect. Without a culture, any microorganism can get take over and you can’t be sure your cheese will be edible, let alone taste the same from one batch to the next. You might go through all of that time and expense and end up with something that looks like cream cheese, but definitely doesn’t taste like it. 

Do You Need Rennet to Make Cream Cheese?

The good news is you do not need rennet to make homemade cream cheese!

But you should bear in mind that, like yogurt, the longer you let cream cheese sit during incubation, the tangier it gets. For this reason, I’ll also be giving you optional instructions for adding a few drops of rennet to speed the coagulation process along. This it totally optional! You can make homemade cream cheese without rennet if you’d like. 

Adding a couple drops of rennet does cut the culturing time in half and is more appropriate if you’ll be using the cream cheese a dessert recipe because it ends up with a more mild, aromatic flavor. Just bear that in mind and make sure to check for coagulation sooner than without rennet.

How to Make Cream Cheese

Begin by warming your milk and cream in a clean and sanitized pot to 86F. Once you have reached the correct temperature, sprinkle the culture over the surface of the milk and allow a minute for it to rehydrate. Thoroughly stir the culture in for two minutes.

If you choose to use a few drops of rennet add it now and gently stir with an up and down motion for 30 seconds. Cover the pot and set it aside where it can sit, completely undisturbed, for the next 12-24 hours if using rennet, 24-48 hours if no rennet was used.

The curds are ready when you see droplets of whey begin to form on the surface and the curd mass starts to pull away from the side of the pot. Check for a clean break by slipping a knife just into the top of the curd mass and lifting it up.

Now to drain the whey from your curds. Using a slotted spoon, carefully transfer large slices of the curd to a cheesecloth-lined colander that is sitting in a large bowl to collect the whey as it drains out. Allow the whey to drain out for 1-2 hours before tying up the corners of the cheesecloth and hanging it in a warm area for 12-24 hours.

You will want to scrape the sides of the cheesecloth every 4 hours or so because the cheese will start to get thick on the outside and not allow the center to drain.

How long you allow the cheese to drain entirely depends on what consistency you prefer. Just remember that the longer you allow the cheese to drain, the more sugars the culture will “eat” and the tangier your final cheese will become.

At the last scraping of the sides, mix in 1 teaspoon of salt for flavor and to release any extra whey. If the cheese has drier chunks in it simply mix them back in. You can hand beat it, use a stand mixer, or immersion blender. Store cream cheese in the refrigerator for up to a week. 

How to Make Homemade Cream Cheese

Homemade Cream Cheese Recipe

On your journey toward becoming a cheesemaker, homemade cream cheese is definitely one to try. The good news is this homemade cream cheese recipe is easy, takes very little active time, has a high yield, and is amazingly delicious! 
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Coagulation & Draining Time 4 days
Total Time 4 days 30 minutes
Course Condiment
Cuisine American
Servings 40 ounces

Equipment

  • 2 gallon pot with lid
  • Thermometer
  • Butter Muslin
  • Colander

Ingredients
  

  • 1 gallon whole milk
  • 1 pint heavy cream
  • 1/8 teaspoon Aroma B culture, or Flora Danica
  • 4-8 drops liquid animal rennet, optional
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Instructions
 

  • Warm your milk and cream to 86F.
  • Sprinkle the culture over the surface of the milk and allow a minute for it to rehydrate.
  • Thoroughly stir the culture in for two minutes.
  • Add the rennet, if you’ll be using it, and gently stir with an up and down motion for 30 seconds.
  • Cover the pot and set it aside where it can sit completely undisturbed for the next 12-24 hours if using rennet, 24-48 hours if no rennet was used.
  • The curds are ready when you see droplets of whey begin to form on the surface and the curd mass starts to pull away from the side of the pot. Check for a clean break by slipping a knife just into the top of the curd mass and lifting it up.
  • Using a slotted spoon, carefully transfer large slices of the curd to a cheesecloth-lined colander that is sitting in a large bowl.
  • Allow the whey to drain out for 1-2 hours.
  • Tie up the corners of the cheesecloth and hang it in a warm area for 12-24 hours.
  • Scrape the sides of the cheesecloth every 4 hours until you get the desired texture.
  • At the last scraping of the sides, mix in 1 teaspoon of salt for flavor and to release any extra whey.

Notes

If the cheese has drier chunks in it simply mix them back in. You can hand beat it, use a stand mixer, or immersion blender.
Store cream cheese in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Keyword cheese, cream cheese, homemade cheese

In our next cheesemaking article, you will learn how to make an easy rennet coagulated cheese. It is a mild & delicious semi-firm cheese called Butterkaese or Butter Cheese. It’s perfect for snacking and makes a killer grilled cheese sandwich. 

And in our final cheesemaking post in this series, we will tackle the cheddaring process & how to age cheese!

But my cow won’t be freshening until early March so you’ll have to wait until then before we can pick back up. 

The Home Dairy

Make the most of your homestead’s raw milk with these delicious recipes!

Cornish Cross or Freedom Ranger? Which Meat Chicken Breed Should You Raise?

Cornish Cross vs. Freedom Ranger Chicks: Which Meat Chicken Breeds Should You Raise?

Are you wondering which meat chicken breed you should raise, Cornish Cross or Freedom Ranger?

There is an increasing selection of meat chicken breeds available to the consumer these days, not to mention the option of raising larger, traditional, dual-purpose, laying hens. The two most popular choices right now are the white Cornish Cross and the Freedom Ranger Broiler. 

The two breeds have some differences which may make one more suited to your homestead than the other. Let’s explore those contrasts so you can make the decision that works best for you!

Meat Chicken Breeds: Cornish Cross Chicken

Cornish Cross or Freedom Ranger? Which Meat Chicken Breed Should You Choose?

Cornish Cross Breed Characteristics

  • Average Time to Raise: 8 weeks
  • Average Weight at Harvest: 4 pounds

Cornish Cross are found with a few variations to their name but are generally a heavy-bodied white chicken. Cornish chickens are bred with large breast meat in mind for consumers looking for low-fat protein.

They are typically inactive and if you’ve only raised laying hens in the past you may be surprised at how they really don’t behave very much like a chicken. They basically spend their lives eating, drinking, sleeping, and defecating. 

It’s a personality well-suited to bulking up quickly. 

“These broiler chickens are known for their remarkable, rapid growth and feed efficiency. Whether you are looking to raise these top-selling meat birds for your own pleasure, or to raise and sell, you won’t find better. 

Females will have a fine, smooth finish when dressed and reach beautiful roasting size. Buying straight run chicks gives you some of each sex so that you can take advantage of the strong points both ways. Males will dress from three to four pounds in six to eight weeks, and females will take about one and a half weeks longer to reach the same size.”

McMurray Hatchery
Cornish Cross Chicken

Benefits of Raising the Cornish Cross Meat Chicken Breed

Quicker to Raise

Many find that you can raise Cornish Cross to butcher weight more quickly than other breeds. They seem to get to the 4-6 pound finishing range within 2 months of age. Afterward, their growth rate seems to slow down… if you want to risk raising them longer for a larger carcass. 

Easier to Butcher

The internal organs in this breed are easier to remove and because they spend so much time laying down, feathers often don’t grow on their breast. This means there are fewer feathers to remove at butchering time.

Later Maturity

Unlike Ranger Broilers, Cornish Cross will not reach maturity before butchering so the roosters won’t crow or act aggressively towards the females. 

Less Expensive to Raise

There is a higher demand for Cornish Cross chicks which lowers the cost of day-old chicks. Because they are also an inactive breed that reaches a finishing size more quickly, Cornish Cross have a higher feed conversion and are less expensive to raise. 

Cons of Cornish Cross

Pasture Raised

If you are interested in maximizing the health benefits of pasture-raised meat chickens, Cornish Cross may not be the breed you’re looking for. They rarely forage for bugs and greens, preferring to hang out around the feed trough and waterer. 

Health Issues

For a variety of reasons, the Cornish Cross are prone to have more health issues compared to other breeds. They are notorious for heart failure and broken legs, especially as they near maturity. They have also been known to experience rectal prolapse. Unfortunately, these types of health issues are experienced later in the bird’s short lives… which means the bulk of your investment in raising them has already been made.

Meat Chicken Breeds: Young Freedom Ranger Broiler

Freedom Ranger Broiler Breed Characteristics

  • Average Time to Raise: 11 weeks
  • Average Weight at Harvest: 6 pounds

Freedom Rangers are also hybrid chickens that fall under a variety of monickers. Generally, you’ll find the term “Ranger” in the name though. They are much more active, healthy birds and behave more like what you’d expect from a chicken. They will run around, chase bugs, pick at grass, and roost instead of parking themselves at the feed trough all day. Their leg bones are stronger to support their body weight and, as a result, you’ll find they have an increased yield of dark meat.

“Freedom Ranger chicks grow at a moderate rate, reaching their peak weight of 5-6 lbs in 9 to 11 weeks. These active, robust chicks are suitable for free range, foraging and pasture environments and produce tender, succulent meat with more yellow omega 3 fat and less saturated fat than fast growing breeds.

Our Freedom Ranger chickens feature either red or tri-colored feathers and have yellow shanks, skin and beaks. They are an active breed and thrive when allowed to free range, scratch and dust bathe in natural sunlight.”

Freedom Ranger Hatchery

Benefits of Raising Freedom Ranger Broilers

Pasture Raising

This is one of the greatest benefits of raising Ranger Broilers. When raised on pasture they will forage well, diversifying their diet and increasing the flavor and most likely nutrition of the meat through the addition of greens, bugs, and whatever else chickens love to find and eat while scratching around.

While Rangers do have a more varied diet, it is not a significant enough consumption to offset production feed costs to help you save money once you factor in the longer time to reach harvest weight.

Fewer Health Issues

Freedom Ranger Broilers typically do not experience the health problems that the Cornish breed is prone to suffer from. This is well worth noting since those health issues often occur after the majority of the investment has been made in the bird. 

Higher Dark Meat Ratio

Because their legs are bred to be sturdier to support their heavy weight, they are larger and have a higher ratio of dark meat. Your preference for dark meat will determine if this is a pro or a con. I place it in the pro column because the moist flavorful dark meat is my favorite!

Richer Flavor

The flavor of Freedom Ranger meat is somewhat richer than Cornish Cross, especially the dark meat. You may find the meat to be juicier and the texture slightly more firm. (Which is not a hard feat to accomplish since Cornish Cross breast meat is almost sawdusty in texture. )

Live Longer

Because they don’t experience health issues, Freedom Rangers can live much longer than Cornish Cross. We have kept one alive and healthy for 3 years. 

Can Lay Eggs

A Ranger hen can be kept for laying, but they are not highly productive. They lay a large pointy egg about 3 times a week for about 2 years. 

It’s a shame that they are a hybrid cross because you can’t hatch out those eggs for continuous self-sufficient meat production. Chicks hatched from Ranger broilers won’t turn out with the same characteristics as their parents and may not make a great meat bird.

Freedom Ranger Broilers
No, it doesn’t take till winter to raise them… we started a batch late and then had a freak early snowstorm in October.

Cons of Freedom Ranger Meat Chicken Breed

Longer to Raise 

The growth rate of the Ranger meat chicken breeds is slower than their Cornish counterpart. It seems the Cornish achieve the 4-6 pound target range more quickly before slowing off their growth rate. But Rangers seem to take the same length of time to reach a larger carcass weight (we prefer the 7-pound range). Both breeds get to that weight in about 14 weeks or so in our experience. 

More Difficult to Butcher

The difference is really negligible and if you haven’t butchered Cornish you may never notice, but the internal organs in a Ranger are a little more trouble to remove. They are also more fully feathered than Cornish and therefore require more work at plucking time. If you have a plucker, this isn’t an issue at all. 

If you take your chickens to a butcher to be processed, they may charge a higher fee per bird (usually less than a dollar each) in order to accommodate the additional work removing feathers.

More Expensive to Raise

Because of the longer time it takes to raise them, Rangers can be more expensive. This is a difficult variable to determine because it depends on many factors besides feed conversion, such as health issues.

Can Be Aggressive 

Because they reach maturity more quickly, Rangers may become aggressive. This is usually only an issue if you raise a straight-run flock. With all males, they will do the squeaky teenage chicken crow, but won’t run around and chase each other the way they do when the ladies are around. We have never once had them turn that aggression toward people, including our children.

Grilled Freedom Ranger Chicken: Cornish Cross vs. Freedom Ranger
Sliced Chicken Breast from Freedom Ranger Broiler

We’ve been raising meat chickens for our family for over a decade now. We’ve experienced raising both meat chicken breeds many times and have done extensive comparisons of their health, hardiness, longevity, costs, and flavor. Ultimately the choice as to which breed to raise comes down to your needs, homestead set-up, size requirements, and flavor preference. Part of the homesteading adventure is having fun and experimenting to discover which breed works best for you! So now that you know what to expect, try raising both breeds and learn which you prefer to raise on your homestead. 


About the Author

Quinn and her family have been homesteading in Ohio for over 17 years, many of which she spent sharing their experiences and encouraging other homesteaders at Reformation Acres until 2018. Besides raising their main crop of 8 children, Quill Haven Farm revolves around the Queen of the Homestead, the family milk cow. In addition to cheesemaking and other home dairy, the cow also provides skim milk to fatten a few hogs every year, raise up a beef calf, supplement the feed for their flock of laying hens & broilers, and beautiful compost for their 14,000 square feet of organic gardens. You can find her writing these days on her Substack- https://www.quillhavenfarm.com


More About Raising Chickens

Whether you’ll be free-ranging them or not, keep reading for more information about raising the healthiest and happiest backyard chickens on your homestead!

Cornish Cross v. Freedom Rangers: Which Meat Chicken Breeds Should You Raise?

Dairy Supplies for the Family Cow

Dairy Supplies & Equipment for Family Cow

So you’re thinking about bringing home a family milk cow? It’s time to hit the books and dive into Family Milk Cow 101! There is a lot you need to know before you fill that first pail with milk including what dairy supplies you need to get started so you have the milking equipment on hand from day one!

 

Obviously, much of the milking equipment used today are luxuries compared to pioneer times. Technically, all you need is a pair of hands and a bucket. (Some would argue a stool, but I squat so it’s not a necessity.)

But we’ve learned a lot since those days and can ensure we have cleaner milk, a healthier cow, and less stress at milking time with a few extra dairy supplies.

Stainless Steel Buckets for Milking a Family Cow

8 Family Cow Dairy Supplies You Need to Get Started

Teat Cleaner

Clean, safe milk requires clean teats before you start milking. There are several options available to you, some more economical than others. On our homestead, we switch it up depending on what time of the year it is. During the summer when cows are out on grass, they don’t get as dirty. Iodine-based teat dip is quick and does the trick. Some days in the winter it seems like you’ll need a garden hose to get her clean! (Can you blame her? Cow pies are warm.) On those days we carry out a bucket of warm, soapy water and scrub her down. Try a gentle, natural cleaner such as castile soap, but a squirt of dish soap will work as well.

Wash Rags or Disposable Towels

What you use to wash the teats with before milking is a matter of preference… and how much laundry you like to do. The most economical choice may seem to be reusable wash rags but while making the comparison don’t forget to factor in the detergent, water usage, energy usage, wear and tear on your washing machine and dryer, and the time it will take for cleaning reusable wash rags.

Can you tell which we use?

My personal preference is to dispose of the paper towels that are filthy after washing a cow. We tried reusable wash rags at first. Obviously, you’re not going to run the washing machine just for one or two rags you used in a day so you let them accumulate for a week or so before running them through. All the while bacteria are growing on them. Our washing machine wasn’t able to get the smell out and it’s not a stretch to imagine then that it’s not removing all of the manure or bacteria either.

Disposable paper towels are the best solution for us when it comes to time, savings, and cleanliness. We use about one roll every week in the winter, and every two weeks in the summer.

Family Cow Dairy Supplies

Milk Bucket

This seems like a no-brainer on a dairy supplies checklist, right? You need something to put the milk in while you’re taking it out of the cow. I can’t recommend stainless steel buckets highly enough!

If you think they’re unaffordable, shop around. There are some that are ridiculously priced, but others are much more reasonable. Why stainless steel though? It all comes back to sanitization. Hands down a stainless steel bucket is easier to clean, easier to sanitize, and doesn’t hold odors that will affect the flavor of your milk.

What size bucket you need will depend on how much milk your gal is likely to give. We have three 2-gallon buckets for our home dairy. One is our winter Wash Bucket, one is the Under Cow Bucket that the milk gets squirted into, and the other is our Transfer Bucket. The Under Cow Bucket gets poured into the Transfer Bucket a few times while milking. Just in case. There is nothing worse than getting to the finish line only to have the cow shift and spill the whole bucket of milk. Ok. I’m sure there are worse things that can happen but at that moment it’s tragic. It makes me want to cry. (Sorry. I couldn’t resist.)

Iodine Teat Dip for Family Cow

Iodine Teat Dip & Cup

Regardless of what dairy supplies you use to wash your cow’s teats & udder with prior to milking, when you’re done, you need a teat dipper cup and iodine-based teat dip as a post wash. This is to kill mastitis-causing pathogens from getting into the teat after milking. We do not do this step while we are calf-sharing, because there’s really no point. As soon as you turn mama back out the calf is gonna start sucking on her and its saliva has the same effect. 

Filter

Filtering milk before bottling and refrigeration is a very necessary part of the sanitation process. It doesn’t matter how well you clean your cow prior to milking, little bits of stuff will get into your milk. Hairs, skin cells, bugs that flew in the bucket. You don’t want those in your milk.

Sure you can definitely use a cloth rag as a filter. We started with strips of old t-shirts, a rubber band, and canning funnel.

But we don’t do that anymore.

Cloth funnels are inconsistent and can take a painstakingly long time to strain the milk. Time is of the essence when it comes to fresh, flavorful milk and once it’s out of the cow you want to get it chilled as fast as you can. I also hated the smell of spoiled milk rags in the laundry. And if that rag comes into contact with any of your other clothes before starting the wash, you can kiss those clothes goodbye, they’ll stink forever.

Disposable paper towels are an option, but they can rip causing you to have to restrain the milk.

After we started using filtering discs specifically designed for straining milk, we never went back. Once you see the weave and how much more it collects it’s hard to consider the other options again. I find they’re also easier to see any chunks in the milk for detecting mastitis. 

Funnel

How long do you want to spend straining your milk? That’s the question you need to ask yourself while choosing which funnel to add to your collection of dairy supplies.

Once again, a quick chill time is key to having the best milk that will last the longest in the refrigerator. (And don’t forget, there are other chores that need to be done on the homestead.) So while you can use canning funnels and coffee filters (and we have) we made the investment into a large-capacity strainer funnel and get our milk in the fridge fast.

Family Cow Dairy Supplies

Jars

You’re going to need jars to store your milk. The best choice of jar is up to you. We use half-gallon mason jars because the size is easier for children to handle than a full-gallon jar. Make sure your jars are glass. Plastic containers are more difficult to clean and sanitize. They will hold flavors that will permeate your milk.

That’s been my experience with plastic lids as well. Milk will get between the threads and dry out. It’s difficult to see when it’s clean and you risk using a dirty lid on the next jar of milk.

Grain/Treat Bucket

If you’re reading this article, it’s pretty safe to say you’re new to this. And as with any new skill, it’s going to take a little while before you’re pretty efficient at this whole milk cow thing. If you are blessed with a really, and I mean really, good cow she will patiently stand while you milk her without a treat. But for most of us, our cows would rather be back in the pasture grazing away instead of standing there while you mess around underneath her.

Without a treat to incentivize good behavior, you risk switching tails, shifting legs, and even spilled milk IF you’re lucky and she doesn’t stick the whole foot in there and spoil your bucket too.

Not only that but if your cow knows she’s going to get a treat when she comes in to be milked, you won’t have to spend needless time chasing her around the pasture to bring her in for milking on the days she doesn’t want to.

You can feed your cow a small ratio of grain (which will help her maintain her body condition during her lactation, especially if she is a dairy breed instead of dual purpose) or alfalfa pellets if you prefer grass-fed only. If your new cow is used to a grain ration at milking though, she’ll probably turn up her nose at alfalfa.

That said, I’m a firm advocate of training your cow to know the “shake, shake,” of a scoop of grain in a bucket. I don’t care how staunchly you stand in Camp Grass-Fed only, do yourself a HUGE favor and train them know what that sound means. It will save you so many headaches while moving cows later! Once they know what that means (and it won’t take long) you don’t need to give them grain regularly. Trust me, they’ll remember what it means.

Family Cow Dairy Supplies

6 More Dairy Supplies Recommended To Make Your Life Easier

Udder Balm

Having an udder balm to rub on your cow’s teats after milking is a great way to keep her skin healthy and supple. This is especially beneficial for older cows whose skin dries and cracks more readily or for cows who cut their teats on briars for example. You can purchase an udder balm or make your own. My favorite udder balm for cracked or cut teats is simply lanolin. It’s simply the most effective at healing, hands down.

Mastitis Test Kit

A mastitis test kit is an easy-to-use solution to help you detect mastitis before your cow gets sick from the infection. Early treatment is simple, quick, and has less of a milk withhold so your gal is healthy and milk is back in your fridge faster. With an early case of mastitis, you can use a simple homemade product with essential oils compared to a full-blown case that might require an injection into the teat to clear it up. 

Halter or Collar & Lead Rope

Next to grain training, breaking your cow to a halter or lead rope is going to be one of the dairy supplies to own. It will make life with your new dairy cow easy breezy. Seriously. If she doesn’t want to come in for milking, you could spend an hour out there chasing her around till she decides she’s done running from you. A little “shake, shake” or a horse treat in your hand and she’ll come running for you. Snap on the lead while she takes the treat and you’re on your merry way.

Dairy Supplies for the Family Cow

Grooming Brush

Brushing your cow down before milking is not only a great way to bond with her but also removes any debris that may fall into your milk bucket later. We have a curry brush for when they’re shedding out in the spring and a regular stiff natural bristle brush for the rest of the year.

Anti-Kick Device

Hopefully, you’ll never need this tool. But it sure is handy to have if you do. There are several anti-kick devices available. You can find different types of hobbles but we prefer a simple bar that hooks under the flap of skin between the back leg and udder then up over the spine. It works to apply just enough pressure so she can’t lift her leg (or if she still can, it’s much slower so you can get out of the way.

I recommend purchasing one of these if you have a new-to-you cow (she’ll test you), a fresh cow (they’re bursting and sore so they kick more the first week or so), or if a cow has mastitis (for the same reason as a fresh cow… mastitis hurts!)

Stanchion

Going out to the pasture, bucket in hand to stoop beneath your cow while she peacefully stands grazing as you milk is totally romantic! Totally Ma Ingalls, I hear you, and I love the image it conjures up.

But as dreamy and pastoral as it sounds, there have been many times when I’ve been thankful for having a stanchion and a cow that’s willing to go in it.

A stanchion serves as a milking center to store all of your supplies needed nearby. Grain bucket, feed, probiotics, iodine, etc…. it’s all right there nearby when you bring the cow into milk.

But more than that if she will be AI’ed, preg checked, treated for mastitis, examined by a vet, a stanchion is INVALUABLE I tell you!

We recently started using a rubber anti-slip mat on our stanchion and are very happy with it. Much easier to clean than a wood platform and when it’s wet she doesn’t risk slipping.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the dairy supplies you’ll need to properly care for your family cow, however, this milking equipment will get you started on the right track to home dairy success in your daily milking routine. You can always build your arsenal of supplies as time goes on.


About the Author

Quinn and her family have been homesteading in Ohio for over 17 years, many of which she spent sharing their experiences and encouraging other homesteaders at Reformation Acres until 2018. Besides raising their main crop of 8 children, Quill Haven Farm revolves around the Queen of the Homestead, the family milk cow. In addition to cheesemaking and other home dairy, the cow also provides skim milk to fatten a few hogs every year, raise up a beef calf, supplement the feed for their flock of laying hens & broilers, and beautiful compost for their 14,000 square feet of organic gardens. You can find her writing these days on her Substack- https://www.quillhavenfarm.com


Keeping a Family Milk Cow

Raising a dairy cow for your family’s milk supply is a lot of hard work and effort, but she will amply reward your effects with many dairy blessings of milk, cheese, yogurt, cream, and more! Keep reading to learn how to give your gal all the care she deserves!

So you’re thinking about bringing home a family milk cow? Check out this list of dairy supplies so you have the milking equipment you need to get started! #homestead #homesteading #familymilkcow #rawmilk #homedairy #dairy #milkcow #cow

Make Soap at Home: A Simple Recipe for Beginners

Beginners Lard Soap Recipe

Learning how to make soap is a valuable homesteading skill that everyone striving for greater self-sufficiency can acquire. It doesn’t matter where you live or how many acres you are on, we can all make soap at home! Start with a simple recipe like this lard soap. It’s perfect for beginners!

How to Make Soap at Home

While soap making can seem intimidating, once you learn the basic steps it’s really quite simple. To break it down to its most basic parts, every recipe is the process of:

1.) melting the solid oils, 

2.) mixing them with the liquid oils, 

3.) mixing your water and lye together, 

4.) combining the water mixture with the oil mixture until it reaches trace

5.) adding in any essential oils or exfoliants

6.) hardening the soap batter in a mold

7.) curing the soap for a month or more

See how simple it really is?!

But for many, it’s the fear of working with lye that is holding them back. I don’t want to make light of the dangers of lye, but if you take the proper precautions there is nothing to be afraid of. I’ve accidentally gotten lye on my skin and, honestly, it hurts much worse to be stung by a bee. Simply wash the lye off with plenty of cool water. You’ll be fine. And since you’ll be wearing a long sleeve shirt, gloves, and safety glasses anyway, you don’t have to worry about it, right? 

Soap Making Supplies

By gathering a few supplies, most of which you may already have on hand, you can start making soap! Here is a list of the equipment I use. Best practices dictate that these supplies should only be used for soap making but in my kitchen common sense prevails.  Because glass can be so thoroughly cleaned, especially with a dishwasher, I’m not concerned. I find that the essential oils tend to permeate the plastic and they are the only supplies I use exclusively for soap.  Do what you feel most comfortable with. 

lard soap at trace

Soap Making Ingredients

The basic ingredients in any soap recipe are fat, water, and lye. While you can use a variety and combination of fats and the water portion may be substituted for milk, juice, herbal teas from your herb garden, or other liquids (even kombucha) you must use sodium hydroxide (lye) for making a true cold-processed soap recipe. 

Fats

The key to making a great bar of soap is the ratio of ingredients. I know the self-sufficient homesteader in you is dying to know if you can make soap solely with fats produced on the homestead. The short answer is yes, you can make soap with only lard or tallow, or any other animal fat for that matter,  but the composition of each oil in your recipe lends different properties to your soap. So while you can, that doesn’t mean you’ll be making the best soap you possible can be.

Animal fats will give your bar a hardness that will help it last longer with proper care. (You know, by not leaving it sit in a puddle of water.) Coconut oil will boost your soap’s cleaning properties so it can do it’s intended job well clean! And oils such as sunflower oil or sweet almond oil will add moisturizing properties to your bar so your skin isn’t always dry and cracked. This is really important, especially if you heat your home with wood in the winter. The air gets so dry! Olive oil is another moisturizing oil you can use but it does make a softer bar, especially in combination with lard. It will need a longer curing time and may not last as long. 

The recipe I’m sharing today contains 3 simple oils you may already have in the pantry: lard, coconut oil, and sunflower oil. 

Please Note: You cannot simply substitute other oils in a recipe. You MUST run any substitutions through a soap calculator so you know the appropriate ratio of water and lye to use in your soap recipe. I use this soap calculator and keep an eye on the properties to make sure any changes I make will still create a balanced soap recipe. Also watch the INS number. I’m not going to explain it here, just know that you want the number to be as close to 160 as possible so the batter is easy to work with. 

Liquids

One of the perks of having a family cow or goat is that you always have a little extra milk on hand. Milk is a great choice for the water portion of your recipe because it adds extra moisturizing properties. Contrary to popular belief, you CAN make soap with cow’s milk. And it is just as beneficial as goat’s milk. A common marketing gimmick says that goat’s milk is superior since it is closer to the pH of human skin than cow’s milk. But the difference is negligible and depends on the health of the animal. (So a healthy cow may make milk with a pH closer to human skin than an unhealthy goat.) But all of that is irrelevant because the greatest influencing factor in the pH of a cold-processed soap is from the lye, not milk. Your bars will end up with a pH of about 7.5 regardless of what liquid you use. So use whatever milk you have!

I prefer to freeze my liquid portion before making soap, especially when using milk. When you freeze the milk first, it keeps the overall temperature during soaping much cooler and the sugars in the milk will not scorch and turn your soap brown. You will get a lovely creamy white bar of soap using frozen milk. It wasn’t long before I realized there were other benefits to making soap with ice cubes. First, you don’t get the terrible fumes that happen when adding lye to liquid. You also don’t need to wait as long for the lye/water mix to cool down before adding the oils. By the time the hard oils are melted the lye/water mixture is at the perfect temperature for mixing it all together. So now I freeze all of my liquids first when making soap. 

Natural Scents

I don’t think that lard or tallow-based soaps have an odor when you wash with them. But the first thing everyone does when they grab a new bar of soap is to give it a smell it so why not make your bars smell inviting? Essential oils are a natural way to add scent, though some will fade sooner than others. Lavender essential oil is an inexpensive, pleasant option, but my favorite combination is 50/50 lavender essential oil and lemongrass essential oil. It is such a lovely bright combination! If you want to experiment with essential oil combinations, check out this EO calculator to create your own blends.

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5 from 4 votes

Simple Lard Soap for Beginners

Learning how to make soap is a valuable homesteading skill that everyone striving for greater self-sufficiency can acquire. It doesn’t matter where you live or how many acres you are on, we can all make soap at home! Start with a simple recipe like this lard soap. It's perfect for beginners!
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Curing Time 30 days
Total Time 30 days 1 hour 30 minutes
Servings 10 bars
Cost $3 per bar

Equipment

  • 3 Large glass or plastic bowls
  • 1 small glass bowl
  • small saucepan (for double boiler)
  • kitchen scale
  • silicone spatula
  • immersion blender
  • soap mold
  • safety gear, gloves and glasses
  • instant read thermometer, optional

Ingredients

  • 16 ounces lard
  • 9.5 ounces coconut oil
  • 6.5 ounces sunflower oil
  • 12.16 ounces frozen ice cubes, water, milk, herbal tea, juice
  • 4.63 ounces lye
  • 1 ounce essential oils, optional (my favorite scent is 50/50 lavender and lemongrass)

Instructions

  • Gather all of your equipment and ingredients.
  • Weigh the lard and coconut oil into a large glass bowl. Set it over a small saucepan filled with water to create a double boiler.
    Double boiler for making lard soap
  • Boil the water until the solid fats in the bowl are melted. Remove from heat.
  • Meanwhile, weigh the sunflower oil into a separate bowl.
    weighing sunflower oil for lard soap
  • In a third large bowl, weigh the ice cubes.
    ice cubes and lye mixture for lard soap
  • In a small glass bowl or pyrex dish, weigh the lye while wearing safety glasses and gloves.
  • In a ventilated space, slowly sprinkle the lye into the container with the ice cubes while stirring until you have added all of the lye. Continue stirring until the lye is fully dissolved. Set aside in a safe place where it won’t get spilled.
    ice cubes melted after mixing in lye
  • Measure out the essential oils, if using, and set aside.
  • Once the solid fats have melted, combine them with the sunflower oil and stir well.
    oils for soap making
  • Take the temperature of the mixed oils and the temperature of the lye mixture. You will want them to be about the same temperature, in the 90-110F range. (Or that when they are combined, the average temperature will be in that range.)
    lye mixture base temperature for lard soap
  • Slowly pour the oils into the lye mixture and stir well with the silicone spatula.
  • While you are stirring, take the temperature of the oils and make sure they are within the correct range.
    oils mixed with lye starting temperature
  • If so, use the immersion blender to combine the soap batter until it reaches trace.
  • (Trace is achieved when it is a runny pudding-like consistency and you can drizzle the batter from the blender across the surface and you can see the drizzle sit on top of the batter. Trace can be confirmed with the thermometer. It will be at least 2-3 degrees higher than it was when you first mixed the oils and lye water together.)
    soap temperature after saponification begins
  • After you have reached trace, use the immersion blender to fully combine the essential oils if using.
    lard soap at trace
  • Pour the batter into your soap mold.
    soap batter in mold
  • Cover the mold with plastic wrap and set in a cool place for 48 hours or until the soap is hard enough to remove from the molds. (When making milk soaps, I refrigerate the soap in the molds during the saponification process to ensure it doesn’t overheat and turn the soap brown.)
  • Cut the soap into bars.
  • Set on a shelf to cure for 4-8 weeks. The longer you allow the soap to cure, the harder the final bar will be and the longer it will last.

About the Author

Quinn and her family have been homesteading in Ohio for over 17 years, many of which she spent sharing their experiences and encouraging other homesteaders at Reformation Acres until 2018. Besides raising their main crop of 8 children, Quill Haven Farm revolves around the Queen of the Homestead, the family milk cow. In addition to cheesemaking and other home dairy, the cow also provides skim milk to fatten a few hogs every year, raise up a beef calf, supplement the feed for their flock of laying hens & broilers, and beautiful compost for their 14,000 square feet of organic gardens. You can find her writing these days on her Substack- https://www.quillhavenfarm.com


Learning how to make soap in a valuable homesteading skill! Start with a simple recipe like this lard soap. It's perfect for beginners! #homestead #homesteading #soap #soaprecipe #soapmaking #coldprocesssoap #beginnerssoap #selfsufficiency