Since we drained the duck pond for the winter, we have been looking for solutions for how to give the ducks enough clean water that they can dunk their heads and can drink, but can’t climb into it and make it a huge mess trying to use it as a pond. Also, we needed something they couldn’t spill over. And something that was either heated, or small enough we could easily refill it 1-2 times a day as needed before it froze solid. A tall order. We didn’t find anything that looked promising during our search on the net. But as we were working in the ewe barn we came up with a plan that is working great.
We use these hanging feeders for our sheep jugs (small birthing stalls) to hold water, hooked to the fence, when the sheep are living in the jug with their lambs. We realized that if we could hook this low enough in the duck pen it would be the perfect solution to the duck water issue. It is deep enough they can dunk their heads, but not so tall that they can’t reach in. And it is too narrow for them to try to get into it to swim. And with it hooked to the wall, they can’t tip it over.
Daniel simply used a few pieces of scrap wood to make a holder we can slip the hooks over.
It has been working great! We have been able to refill it time a day without major freezing issues. And the ducks are getting the water they need.
We are very happy to have found a workable, clean option for winter duck water.
Ice storms are not something we are familiar with. They don’t really happen up in the high Rockies where we used to live. But they are pretty common down here in the plains. We experienced our first one today. It was very slick, but very beautiful. Chores were tricky with everything coated with a sheet of ice. And we all looked like Bambi trying to walk on the pond whenever our feet touched the cement walkways. But it all worked out OK and we got some amazing photos. My favorites are the feathers coated in ice. So pretty.
I often get asked how we are so productive with our homestead. Or I get comments about how amazing it is that we accomplish all the things we do. And how we do it while raising and homeschooling 5 kids, one of whom has special medical needs and spends a lot of time at the pediatric hospital.
A big part of the answer to our productivity is planning. We do a lot of planning and filling out calendars and lists. We not only decide that we want to do something, we then purposefully plan out how and when we are going to do it. That makes it MUCH more likely to actually happen, no matter what life throws at us.
I just posted a new article over at Mother Earth News sharing some details of how we plan our homestead year and ideas to help you plan yours as well. Check it out by clicking here.
Homesteading involves a lot of problem solving. This week we are faced with a duck-related problem solving dilemma. The area that we made into the duck coop and pen used to just be a shed with an area behind it full of gravel and weeds. We fenced in the area to make it a pen, planning to expand it in the future when we had time. The weeds were eaten, leaving a gravel area with sand underneath. We figured this would drain fine (ducks are very messy with their pond water) and it would not be an issue. We were wrong. Not only is it not draining, but the build-up of duck waste is creating a kind of seal that is letting it drain less and less. Due to the gravel, we can’t shovel out the duck waste. With the cold weather we can’t hose it away. AND, it is now freezing, melting, refreezing and becoming quite a huge wreck of water, ice, and duck poo. We are not using the “pond” anymore, just giving them a dish of water. But it is still such a mess out there. It is not a good, healthy living situation for them.
Granted, they can get inside a plenty-large coop that is bedded with nice dry shavings and cleaned regularly. But still, we don’t like our animals living in their own waste, frozen or not, indoor clean option or not. So we need an answer.
We have not come up with one yet. We will probably try some things this week and see if we can make any progress. Any of you dealt with this type of issue before? Ideas are welcome in the comment section.
An Old Friend
We have lived in a lot of different homes in our 22 years of marriage. And every single one of them had wood heat via either a fireplace, an insert, or a free-standing wood stove. There is something wonderful about heating with wood. And with the fact that Daniel has always had requests to cut down pine-beetle diseased trees for friends and family, we have never lacked for firewood. And wood heat is available no matter if the power goes out, or the furnace breaks down, etc.
When we moved to the new farm in the High Plains the house just had forced air. We knew we wanted to add a wood stove at some point, but it took some time to figure out where to put it and such. Our furnace has not been doing a good job of heating the house as this cold weather hit. It is the wrong type of furnace for our house, and is undersized, so on the really cold nights it is running constantly and the house is still cold. It also broke down twice already, leaving us without heat for one night the first time and three nights the second time. Time to figure out that wood stove situation!
I was gifted a beautiful, antique, 1907 Majestic wood cook stove many years ago, and we had installed it in our previous home and used it to heat the house. I absolutely love it and when we decided to sell there was no way I would sell it with the house. You can’t find one of these just anywhere – it is pretty much irreplaceable. So, we brought it with us. We installed it this weekend and we are all SO excited to have it back in the house again. It is like having an old friend from our past come back and join us at the new farm. Lots of smiles over this one.
There is still some trim work and such to do in this area. And I need to unpack all my wood stove accessories and get them set up. But it is heating the house now and we are super happy about it.
It has become a normal part of life and how we eat, so much so that this last year when we moved and couldn’t have a garden right away it was quite an adjustment. We have been anxiously dreaming about gardening here at the new farm, and we have been doing a lot of research to try to decide HOW we are going to successfully garden here.
As I talked about in this post, we don’t really believe in using just one specific garden method. We have found that combinations of methods that address the specific challenges and strengths of our specific microclimate are the best way to go. The new farm is in a very different microclimate than what we gardened in up in the high-altitude Rockies. So we are doing our best to learn and make plans that will hopefully be successful. We have talked to a lot of locals and heard their stories of failure, and some stories of success as well. And we have been reading a lot of books – some that we have read before, which we are reading from a new perspective, and some new ones too.
The challenges we are facing are:
Sand – not sandy soil…sand. Just sand. No nutrition. Won’t hold water.
Salty Water – our well water has high sodium levels. We have done a lot of research and talked to experts and locals and have come up with a lot of differing opinions on how big of a deal this is – or isn’t. Some people say don’t ever think about watering plants with it, you will kill them because it will clog up their roots and they won’t be able to drink. Others say it is totally fine, no big deal, water as much as you want. And then there is every opinion in between, along with a lot of ideas of how to manage it.
Dry Drought Conditions – it is very dry and has been for a very long time. There are not a lot of natural water sources anywhere nearby.
Wind – Very strong wind that will knock over a tomato cage, tomato and all, or rip a garden cover fabric off and send it to Kansas.
High Temperatures – We spent most of July and August this year above triple digit temperatures. Almost every plant withered and died in the intense heat and sun. But it isn’t like some other hot places, where we can plant during other seasons because we do have an actual winter here with a lot of freezing temps from Oct to May.
Pest Bugs – We noticed this last year after we moved here that the area is unnaturally high in pest bugs and low in beneficial insects and bug-eating birds. There are some reptiles and amphibians, which I am sure help a little, but the few plants we brought with us from our last farm were very quickly decimated by pest bugs.
So, here is the plan we have come up with to try to make a productive garden at the new farm.
First, we picked our area and have started building a snake-proof garden fence. We have a lot of rattlesnakes here and a lush, moist garden would be a place they would be very happy to hide in during the heat of the summer. I do not want to risk any of us getting harmed while gardening. The area we chose is north of a building. I know…totally wrong…don’t garden on the north side of a building…it is too cold. But we specifically chose the location because of the heat we went through in the summer. We are hopeful that being on the north side of the building will help the plants handle the heat better since they will get some afternoon shade from the building and the fence. Plus, I like the location for other reasons as well. It has a water spigot right there (not that we have fully decided how to handle water, but it is right there once we decide), plus our rain barrels, and is easily accessible and in a central location. So it will be easier to care for.
This is just the first veggie garden, we plan to do a second one in the future to add even more space – feeding 8 people from a garden, plus seed saving, means you need quite a bit of garden space…but, one thing at a time.
Next, due to the soil issues, we know that we are going to have to bring in soil and build the garden up, not down into the ground. We have quite a bit of compost from our farm, but not enough to put in an entirely new garden and fill it deep enough. And we can’t afford to bring in soil this year. So, to bridge the gap so we can garden this year and still be working towards building raised beds, we are going to start with a straw bale garden.
We have never done a straw bale garden before. But, by using this method we will be creating a base layer for the foundation of the garden beds, and it will give us another year to create more compost and save up to buy some soil. It also is supposed to be good for dry areas, and we are in a drought. So hopefully the straw bales will keep the moisture better and the plants will stay cooler and happier.
Due to the gravel and weeds in the area we wanted the garden, we decided to lay down a double layer of cardboard (we saved all our packing boxes from the move last year) to cover the entire garden area. This will keep any weed problems down, and will decompose over time.
Then we set up our straw bales. We will plant in them, using the methods described in the book “Straw Bale Gardens Complete” by Joel Karsten. Over the year they will decompose and next year we will break them up and spread them out. The cardboard and partially decomposed straw will give a nice base layer for the garden soil and compost to come in and be built up on.
Like I have said, we don’t stick with just one method. The book suggested laying them out in single lines of bales, short sides touching. But we have long been intensive, square-foot planting type of gardeners, and we just couldn’t waste all that space on walkways instead of plantable area. So we put our bales long sides together. Hopefully this is not a mistake. We are also planning a lot of our planting in a square-foot type way, while also taking into consideration what the book says a bale can handle as far as amounts of each plant type per bale. And we also do a lot of vertical gardening, so working those concepts in with the straw bales is another thing we are working on.
We are also attempting to extend the seasons, like we always have, by using methods from the book “The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener” by Niki Jabbour. It could be tricky to do this, since we have to prep the bales to get them to start decomposing and we are not sure how early in the season the bales will prep well. But we are going to give it a try. We will be using hoop tents over the bales to extend the season, along with Wall-O-Water covers. Both are methods we have used a lot in our previous gardens. Not sure how it will go here with the wind and such. We are also building our first cold frame in the next month or so, and that will be filled with regular compost and soil. We will add more cold frames in the future, but getting at least one going for this year is a must.
We will see where this takes us. We are taking some risks, but there are always risks, and we would rather jump in and learn from mistakes than never try anything new. So here we go. We will be finishing up the snake-proof fence and building the trellises over the next couple months and then “let the garden season begin!” and we will see how this goes.