Sunday Homestead Update

It has been cold here lately, highs in the 30sF and lows in the teens and single digits.  Winter is setting in and taking hold.  These two know the best spot to be on the cold winter days…

We have continued to be productive around the homestead despite the cold.

Firestarters

We heat our home with two wood-burning stoves, one in the living room and one in the dining room that also heats the kitchen and school room.  Most days from the late fall through to the early spring we light fires in each one twice a day because we let them go out midday when the sun is warming us through the windows.  On the coldest days in winter the fires are kept going all throughout the day.  So that adds up to a lot of starting fires.  We love to have firestarters to help make it go quickly and easily.

We make two types of firestarters, one type is made with a pine cone placed in wax in a cupcake liner.  You can read how we make those in this post from 5 years ago.

We also make them using egg cartons.  People often give us their used egg cartons because they know we have chickens – and thus we end up with a lot of extras.  To make them with egg cartons we simply pour the melted wax into each cavity and let cool.

Once hard we cut the carton apart and use each individual cavity.  It is easy to light the parts of the carton that stick up on the edges and that gets it going nicely.

So this week Braveheart and I made a bunch of them and got ourselves stocked up for the next few months.  It is so nice the have them available again!  It makes it much easier.

Chickens

Yesterday was the last flock cut-back day for this year.  We cut back our flock to lower numbers in the winter for a few reasons.

First, they spend more time in the coop over the winter and thus it is more crowded.  I am a stickler when it comes to over-crowded animal housing.  It is not healthy for the animals and it causes more frequent cleaning and thus is more expensive.

Secondly, they aren’t as able to forage through the winter months so they eat more of the store-bought feed.  Lower numbers saves us money because we aren’t feeding so many through the winter.

Lastly, it is good for our breeding program to cull regularly to keep our breeding stock cut down to only the best of what we are selecting for.  It can be easy to just slowly begin collecting chickens and keeping “just this one” over and over until our breeding stock is peppered with birds that are not as good quality for what we are breeding for.  Aggressive and frequent culling leads to good breeding stock, and thus great next generations.

So we gathered our nail clippers, scissors for clipping wings, lice dust, leg bands, and my flock tracking paperwork and headed to the coops.  We handled every single bird on the farm.  We trimmed their nails, made sure they still had one well-clipped wing, gave them a new leg band if they had lost theirs, and checked for lice – treating if necessary.  They we evaluated them for the breeding program.  There are certain characteristics we are selecting for in our chickens and we graded each bird based on those selective criteria.  Then we sorted them out into keep, butcher, and sell.

Our final over-wintering numbers include 19 hens, 5 pullets, and 1 rooster in the big upper coop, and 5 silkies in the small lower coop.  We also decided to keep one young cockerel in with the silkies temporarily because I think I want to do a mix breeding with the silkies and him this winter in the incubator just for the fun of it.

It feels good to have yet another thing taken care of as we close in on winter.

Hypothermic Chicken

We had a chicken incident this week.  When the chickens were closed into the coop for the night, somehow one of the hens was missed and stayed outside overnight in 15F temperatures.  When the kids found her in the morning she was huddled in the corner by the coop door and not moving.  They picked her and up and she didn’t fight or move, but was alive.

It was Young Man and Little Miss doing chores that morning and they immediately did exactly the right thing, without even coming to get help from Mtn Man or I.  They took her into the barn and put her in the broody coop (a 3ftx3ft, 2ft-tall enclosed nesting area with a fully installed heat lamp in it that we use for setting hens), turned on the heat lamp in there, and gave her food, water, and some hot mash.  She drank a bit, ate a little hot mash, and then cuddled up under the heat light and put her head under her wing.  They finished the rest of the chores and then came in to tell us what had happened.  I was so proud that they figured out what to do and did it immediately without help.

We have never had a hypothermic chicken before.  They have never been told what to do with a hypothermic chicken.  But our kids have been working beside us on the homestead since they could walk (and before that they were strapped to our backs) and they have seen many medical incidents with our animals and watched and helped us deal with them – learning right alongside us.  And because of that, they are able to figure out a situation like this on their own and help an animal that needs medical attention.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to live life with your kids right next to you, watching and helping.  It builds strong bonds, family unity, and teaches them so much.  It gives them self-esteem that is rooted in actually doing something to be proud of.  It gives them confidence to handle things on their own and make decisions.  They find pleasure in their successes and learn from their failures – just like we do.  I think too many kids these days are left to screens while the parents do the projects and jobs that interest them.  And the results of this type of raising are seen in the news and research studies every day, and it’s not good at all.

We are so blessed that we were led to raise our kids this way early on, and now we are able to reap the beautiful benefits of it as they grow and mature and are so eager to help and be involved and continue to work alongside us, but also be able to do it on their own when necessary.  Our kids may never have their own homestead or go into an industry that involves the specific skills they are learning, but the broader character traits they are building, the confidence, and the basic concepts and skills involved in keeping a homestead will serve them no matter what they do or where they go.  If I could give one piece of advice to a new parent it would be to keep your kids by your side and involved in what you are doing-whether it is homesteading or something else completely doesn’t matter, what matters is doing it together.

As for the hen, she is still isolated and is improving, thanks to the quick action of the kids.  We are hopeful to get her back with the flock once she recovers, and we are all being more careful to be sure all the birds get put away each night.

Indoor Winter Garden

We are trying something new this winter – we are planting lettuce and spinach under the grow-lights in the basement in hopes of having fresh salad through the winter.  We have been very disappointed with the greens at the store the last year or so, and we have the grow-light shelving unit that we use to start our seedlings each spring, so we thought – why not?  I planted the first round of seeds this week.  I plan to succession plant one tray each week for 4 weeks in a row and see how it goes.

Knitting

I have focused all my knitting attention on three Christmas presents.  I can’t show two of them because the receivers read the blog.  But I can show you the progress on what I am making for Little Miss.  Three years ago I made her this dress and she wore it at least once a week (usually more) for the last three years until it was so ridiculously small I had to tell her it was time for it to go.

But since she loved it so very much I agreed to make her another one for Christmas this year.  I love this pattern and the dress turns out beautifully.  But it is knit with fingering weight yarn and when you knit an item this large with such small yarn it is A LOT of stitches and takes a lot of work.  So I am doing my best to finish it in time, but I know she will happily accept it on the needles if I can’t get it done.  So here is my progress so far…

I am in the super-boring thousands of stockinette stitches part, so I have committed to knitting 7 rows on it a day, which takes almost an hour because each row has over 200 stitches, in hopes that by doing that I will get it done in time.  It helps me when I give myself set daily amounts like that.  I know she will love it, so it makes it easier to put in all the work.  🙂

 

Sunday Homestead Update

Hard to believe it is November…and the time change already too!  It has continued to be snowy here, although we have had a lot of nice fall days in between the snows as well.

Driveway

When you live on a rocky mountainside, maintaining a dirt driveway can be quite a chore.  Thankfully, we have access to a tractor and Mtn Man knows how to use it to fix up the road.  So he has been working on that project.  He got a couple of loads of road base and added them and got it all smoothed out and the water running off properly to the ditches.  He also fixed up the ditches.  So that is done for another year until next fall.

Hunting

Mtn Man and Young Man have done some more hunting the last couple of weeks and put more meat in the freezer.  They each filled their buck mule deer tags, so we spent a couple of afternoons butchering those.  Mtn Man’s buck was a smaller one, we got about 30 lbs of meat and 5 lbs of dog food off it.  Young Man got a pretty good size one and we got 50 lbs of meat and 10 lbs of dog food from it.    It feels great to have all that meat in the freezer to feed the family this winter.

Our dog, Hazel, has a very important job during butchering…keeping the floors clean so no one steps in little chunks of meat that accidentally fall.  She takes this job very seriously and stares intensely at the floor so she can immediately clean up anything that falls.

It is exhausting work…

Earlier this fall Young Man filled his cow elk tag (125 lbs of meat), and we were gifted meat from another cow elk someone we know hunted (125 lbs of meat).  So we now have meat from 2 cow elk and 2 buck mule deer in the freezer.  We don’t buy red meat, so whatever we hunt is what we get for the year.  If we get less (like last year) we have to ration more strictly and don’t eat as much meat.  When we get more we eat more meat.  Mtn Man still has a cow elk tag, and if he is able to fill that we will for sure have enough to make it until next fall eating plenty of red meat, and probably even be able to bless some other families with some meat as well.  He has until January to fill that tag.

Gardening/Canning

We planted the garlic and put straw on the over-wintering plants.  I am trying to overwinter celery for the first time this year in an attempt to get celery seeds to save next year.  I have been able to do it successfully with carrots, so I am hopeful this will work too.

The tomatoes continue to slowly ripen in the basement root cellar racks.  As they ripen we use them and can them.

Besides the tomatoes the gardening and canning season is officially over for us.  We are having hard frosts often and a lot of snow already.  I am contemplating planting some lettuce and spinach under grow lights in the basement to grow us some fresh greens this winter.  I need to get that planned out and started.

Heritage Arts

I continue to work on Christmas present knitting.  I also got another 15 squares done for my scrap square afghan.  This makes a total of 135 out of 192.  I am getting there!

I also have some sewing projects in the works.  First I had to finish the items we were sewing for Operation Christmas Child boxes this year.  I am now done with that and can get to some of the other projects that have been waiting.

Sunday Homestead Update

First Snow!

Feels more like winter than fall this week.  We have had snow off and on all week – our first of the season.  It has been fun to have it, though I am hoping for some more of the warmer fall weather and I am hopeful that winter isn’t here early this year.  We still have some things to get done before winter sets in.

Our Anatolian Shepherd, Anya, loves the snow.

 

Canning

Our canning season is winding down.  We have finished everything except the tomatoes.  They are continuing to ripen in the basement.  As they ripen we will can them into marinara sauce.

We got the apples done into apples in honey syrup, applesauce, and apple butter.  We haven’t done apple butter in many years, so that was fun to bring back.

We also did the peaches in honey syrup, and then decided to try something new – peach butter!  We weren’t sure how the new sauce maker would handle it, but we decided to just pit and quarter the peaches, leaving the skin on, then boil them a little until soft, and then put them through the sauce maker.  It worked beautifully!  We ended up with a nice peach puree and the warm skins were given to the chickens, which made them happy in the cold snow.

So far, we have canned over 300 jars this canning season.  By far our largest amount in one season ever!

Garden

The garden is done for the year, and we are cleaning it up and putting it to bed.  This year we are planting fall garlic, which is one of the reasons I am hoping it will warm up a bit.  The garlic places ship mid-October, which is a bit late for our climate.  But I am hopeful it will still work out well and from now on we can plant our own in late September each year instead of waiting for the shipment.  It is supposed to arrive this week, so we will get it in asap once it arrives.  We added some compost to the area to prepare for planting it.

We are also putting straw over some of the newer perennials to help them through the winter.  And we are planting medicinal herb seeds and covering them with straw.  We learned this spring that many of the medicinal herbs grow better when the seeds are put in the ground in the fall.  Hopefully this will help our new medicinal herb garden really get going next year.

Chickens

Most of the older hens are finishing their molt, with just a few still at it, but their egg laying is still pretty non-existent.  The young silkie pullets are laying like crazy though, so we are overflowing with tiny eggs.

We even decided to try out pickling some.  We have never done this before and don’t know if we will like them, so we only did 3 jars.  We will open them up and try them in a month or so, once the full flavor can set into them.

Knitting

I am working mostly on Christmas present knitting right now, so I can’t show much because I want to keep them a surprise.  But since Mr. Smiles’ doesn’t read the blog yet, at 3 years old, I can show his present.  It is a blankie that I made using the Plymouth Yarn Hot Cakes in Denim Mix.   It turned out nicely, with a good amount of cozy squish to it.

 

Wood Stove Remodel Project

We got the antique wood cook stove hooked up to heat the dining room.  The remodel still isn’t finished, but it is complete enough that we can use the stove for heat now, which is good because we have definitely needed it this week.  We are learning the ins and outs of this particular stove and how to make it do what we want heat-wise.  There is always a learning curve with a new wood stove.  But overall it seems like it will heat wonderfully with the added bonus that it looks beautiful in and I could cook on it if I wanted.  Plus, it doesn’t back puff, which is why we did this remodel in the first place – because the last stove had to have 2 elbows in the pipe and thus back puffed terribly.

Garden Planning

I love to plan the garden in January, cozied up by the fire while the snow flies outside.  It is the perfect time of year to dream about warm soil, sprouting plants, and a big harvest.  But I have found that some of my planning goes better if I do it right after the garden season ends, while everything is still fresh in my mind about what worked, what didn’t, and what I wanted to change and keep the same.

We use the square foot intensive method of gardening in raised beds because it is what works best in our climate and terrain.  I have drawn our garden on graph paper,

and each year I fill out the map with how much of what we will plant where.

For the garden areas that aren’t square-foot based, I still have a map drawn out that is basically to scale and I fill in what will be planted in those areas as well.  I also have our container kitchen herb garden drawn out for planning.

I look back at what has worked in previous years, what our output was based on how much we planted, and what varieties did best, and then I decide how much we want to plant of which varieties and fill it in on the map.  I roughly try to rotate our garden crops around the garden based on their crop family.  Not everything falls exactly within the crop rotation plan, but it is a good guideline.

It feels good to get some plans started for next year so that in January, when the snow is flying, wind blowing, and I am cozy by the fire dreaming of my garden, I have a basic starting point based on what happened the previous year.

Garden Review 2018

We had an AMAZING garden experience this year!  More bountiful by far than previous years, which we had felt were very bountiful themselves.  Gardening is one of my favorite parts of homesteading.  It is very satisfying to grow your own food.  You put in all the hard work and hope in the spring, tend it through the summer, and then more hard work of harvesting and putting it up and seeing your dreams come to fruition.  Then all winter you get to enjoy the fruits of your labors!  It is a beautiful cycle.

Harvest Stats for 2018

We kept good garden records this year, but as always, there were a few things I didn’t get around to weighing properly.  Sunshine was completely in charge of the kitchen herb garden this year, and so for the first time ever we have measurements on the kitchen herb harvest, which is fun.  She measured the fresh weight, and then hung them to dry, ground them up, and measured the dry weight to see what the differences were.  Some was used fresh, but not much, so some of the dried weights are not exactly the amount that started out as the fresh weight.

Some items were weighed, others I just give a general amount based on our usage (plenty, very good, good, pretty good, poor).

Seeds:

This year I didn’t do very well at seed saving and our seed order next year will be much bigger because of that.  But I did save from tomatoes, drying beans, and a friend’s cucumber.  I also saved from a volunteer sunflower that a mouse must have planted for us from the bird feeders.

Produce:

  • Basil – 237.9g fresh  27.5g dried
  • Drying Beans – 1.8 lbs dried beans
  • Garden Beans – 26.75 lbs
  • Cabbage – 55 lbs
  • Cabbage Sprouts – 3 lbs
  • Carrot – 26 lbs
  • Celery – didn’t weigh, but more than previous years, so I am guessing 10 lbs
  • Cilantro – .4g seeds
  • Comfrey – 60g fresh
  • Dill – over 45 fresh flower heads (for our pickles) and 40g dried leftover, 43g dried greens
  • Grapes – forgot to weigh, but a lot more than before, so I am guessing around 5 lbs
  • Lettuce – watering issues, not as good as previous years, but fresh salad at least 1-2 times a week all summer
  • Marjoram – 81.6g fresh, 13.8g dried
  • Onions – 42.75 lbs
  • Oregano – 63g fresh, 12.9g dried
  • Pea (sweet) – forgot to weigh, but a LOT more than last year, so I am guessing 12+ lbs
  • Pea (snap) – plenty for fresh eating!
  • Peppers – didn’t weigh, but got a good amount considering we have never gotten any to grow before
  • Rhubarb – Plenty
  • Rosemary – 13.3g fresh, 2.7g dried
  • Sage – 437.5g fresh, 62.3g dried
  • Savory – 10.3g fresh, 1.5g dried
  • Spinach – watering issues, not very much at all 😦
  • Thyme – 113.1g fresh, 17.1g dried
  • Winter Squash – didn’t weigh, but only got two pathetically small ones
  • Strawberries – Forgot to weigh, but about the same as last year, over 5 lbs. 🙂
  • Tomatoes – 306 lbs !!!!!
  • Zuccini – didn’t weigh, but only a few small ones
  • Berry Bushes – Crandall Clove Current: nothing at all, Red Currant – pretty good, Gooseberries – very good

 

For a grand total of over 490 lbs of produce!!!  A new record high for Willow Creek Farm, and quite substantial for the 500 square feet of planting space that it was growing in.  🙂  What a blessing!

Our previous record high was 314 lbs…so that is a huge jump!  To read previous year’s reviews, click the following links:

Garden Review 2017

Didn’t do one in 2016, just included basics in year-end homestead review

Garden Review 2015

Garden Review 2014 part 1 and part 2

Garden Review 2013

Next Year’s Garden Plans

  • Plant fall garlic after adding more compost to bring the depth of the new onion/garlic bed up. (Technically plans for this year still, but it is for next year’s garden).
  • Continue with our plan to build up the garden boxes so they are deeper and add more compost.  We will do another section next spring.
  • Finish the retaining wall between the new onion/garlic bed and the vegetable garden.
  • Continue to help the 2 apple trees get established.
  • Add more compost to the new Apple Garden to bring the level up and plant medicinal perennial seeds this fall to establish the medicinal herb garden.
  • Everything else the same, adding a layer of compost and rotating crops around the garden.