Sunday Homestead Update -Preparing for the Storm

We have what is predicted to be a big storm arriving today and lasting through Wednesday.  There is expected to be quite a bit of snow, and more importantly to the homestead – temperatures down to 0 (F)!  Brrrr!  This is very early in the season for us to get that cold, so we were caught of guard and have been scrambling to prepare the farm for it.

Water:

We had already put out some heated waterers and put the heater into the water trough.  But we finished up removing the un-heated waterers and getting them stored for winter, and added the last few heated waterers.  We filled all the waterers and blew out the hose.

Housing:

We cleaned out all the wet areas in the stalls and coops and added a lot of fresh bedding to give all the animals good, dry places out of the wind to bed down.

Garden:

We finished removing and storing all the trellises and cages.  As well as the last of the tents and frost fabric.

We harvested the last of the beets, radishes and celery that were still growing.  And removed the last of the dead plants that hadn’t been taken out and cleaned up.

Then we turned the top 2 inches of soil in the whole garden with a rake for pest control.  This good hard cold will help freeze and kill some of the eggs and larvae that pest bugs have left in the garden to torment us next season.  As we were raking we saw a lot of larvae and eggs.

House:

We put up some rubber door sealants around some of the doors where time and use had broken down the old stuff.  This ought to decrease the drafts around the doors.

We continued to work at chopping firewood.  We rented a splitter and worked on the piles of rounds we have.  Getting close to what we need to last all winter.

Heritage Arts:

So now that all our work is done and the snow is flying we can all have a nice relaxed Sunday by the fire.

Little Miss and Sunshine have been hired to knit some hats and a baby blanket, so they are happily working their way through those projects.

I am now weaving my second ever weaving project.  It is a set of 5 dishtowels.  I chose autumn colors – though the weather is making me feel more winter-y right now.

I started a knit-along with some friends this week too.  We are knitting the Match Play Poncho.  I am really looking forward to this.  I also cast-on some socks for Braveheart for Christmas, and a dress for Little Miss’s birthday.

Sunday Homestead Update

We have had beautiful, cool, breezy, sunny fall weather up here in the mountains this week.  It has been wonderful.

Sheep

Jacketing our sheep is high maintenance, but worth it for us.  The jackets keep the wool from getting full of VM (vegetable matter), sun bleaching, and staining.  It adds value to the wool when it comes time to sell it or process it into yarn.  As the owners of a custom fiber processing mill, we can tell you it REALLY makes a difference in the finished product.  However, jacketing is not ideal and safe in all living situations.  You need to take into consideration the safety of the sheep first and foremost.  Fencing, weather, and pasture conditions all effect whether jacketing is a good option.  For our dry-lot barnyard, close to the house with wooden/welded wire fencing, and in a cool climate, jacketing works well.  We can keep a close eye on the flock and help if there are any jacket issues.

This week it was time to go ahead and get jackets on the new dairy ewe lambs.  We have been giving them time to settle in.  With all the pecking order battles and running around, we didn’t want the jackets impeding them at all or getting tangled.  But everyone had settled now and they have jackets.  While we were doing that, we checked all the other sheep jackets.  It is important to check them visually daily, but actually catch the sheep and put your hands on them to check fit and such once a month or so.  Fergus’s jacket has a couple big popped seam areas, so it came off, got washed, and was re-sewn and patched up.  Fiona’s was too small, so she went into a larger one.  If you leave a jacket on that is too small you can injure the sheep’s legs where the jacket rubs on them.  You will also felt the wool on the sheep if the jacket is too tight, ruining it and thus completely undoing the purpose of the jacket.

One thing I don’t like about jackets is that I can’t see my beautiful sheep and all their different colors.  So I enjoyed the few days that Fergus didn’t have his jacket and I got to see his handsome, pewter fleece.  He has matured into a very large, beautiful breeding ram.  I am surprised at how much growing and filling out he did from the age of 2 to now at just over 2.5 years.

The barnyard is so peaceful and balanced right now.  When we brought in the new sheep there was obviously some shuffling of pecking order and such.  Plus, Anya has been too rambunctious with the new sheep and the chickens due to all the stress of having a lot of different people coming and going from the farm the last 5 weeks with my father’s death.  Now that everything has settled and it is just our family here at the farm again Anya has completely calmed down and is happily living in the front barnyard with all the ewes, the goat, and the chickens.  And the two rams are happily in the back barnyard.  All is well in the barnyard and everyone is where they should be and peaceful.

Garden

Fall garden chores continue as we harvest and clean out the gardens and put them to bed for winter.

We harvested all the onions and let them cure in the sun a few days before putting them in the root cellar.

We planted the garlic.  I love the look of freshly turned and prepared garden beds…

We added new compost, made the rows, planted, and then covered them with waste hay and some metal trellises to hold the straw down through our very windy winter.

The tomatoes in the root cellar are ripening quickly now.  So we have been canning tomatoes.

The light frost that the plants got before we harvested them have caused a lot of them to rot.  So I pulled those out and composted them.  It is also causing some to only partially ripen, leaving green areas even though the rest is fully ripe.  We really need to be careful to not let them ever frost, we were just so overwhelmed and busy this year with things off the homestead that we accidentally let them get a light frost this year.  The effects do leave them looking pretty cool though – like tie-dye or something.

Last spring a friend gifted me some seeds for a variety called Purple Russian.  So we tried a new variety this year for the first time in many years.  You can see them in the closer bowl in the picture below.  They are a purplish red and are shaped kind of like eggplants.

The plants did very well with the cold climate and short season, and we are really happy with the flavor of these tomatoes.  They are not quite as acidic as a regular tomato, giving them a milder flavor.  They are delicious.  I saved seeds from a few of the best ones.

Speaking of seed saving, we are way lacking on seed saving this year.  I am saving from tomatoes and a cucumber, but that is pretty much it.  We usually save from beans and peas too, but that just didn’t happen.  I have some lettuce still in the garden going to seed, but I don’t know if it will make it in time before it gets too many hard frosts.  I have put the frost tent over them to protect them.  Time will tell.

To save tomato seeds I set aside the best tomatoes of each variety and let them get very ripe.  Then I squeeze the seeds out of them into a cup, add a little water, and let them sit for several days to ferment.  Then I rinse them thoroughly and smear them on a paper towel to dry.  I always label the paper towels just to be safe – seeds all look the same!  Once they are dry I put them in an envelope labeled with variety and year and any important notes about that year’s growing situation (like this year I will put that the tomatoes I am saving from survived a frost).  All my seeds are stored in their envelopes, in sealed plastic containers, in the extra refrigerator down in the basement.

Speaking of the extra refrigerator down in the basement…last year we built it into the new root cellar room.  But now that we are in our first fall with the enclosed root cellar (before it was just in a corner of the open unfinished basement, now it is an enclosed room in the basement) the refrigerator is making too much heat and warming the room too much to be a good root cellar.  So we pulled it out.  It left a big space, and this week we started filling that space with more shelves for storage. It can probably fit three more shelves and we will get to that when we can.  And yes, that is a heater on the bottom of the wall – it is disconnected to keep the room cool.

Heritage Arts

I finished another pair of socks.  This is the Epitome of Me pattern from Megan Williams with the Fish Lips Kiss Heel by Sox Therapist and the yarn is Knit Picks Hawthorne Fingering Kettle Dye in the colorways Wisp and Delphinium.

I am slowly but surely starting to learn the loom and am really excited about that new adventure!

I have cast on two more pairs of socks, Christmas presents for Young Man and Mr. Smiles.  I now have a new knitting cuddle-buddy.

In the last two years both of our indoor cats died suddenly and unexpectedly (one this last summer and one summer of 2018).  We decided this week we were ready for another indoor cat, so we were planning to go adopt one from the humane society.  But then I was outside and our barn cat, Jerry, came over and while I was petting him I started thinking.  He is the grandpa of the farm – the oldest animal on the whole homestead at 13.5 years.  We have had him since he was an 8-week-old kitten.  He is a sweet old man and has been an excellent mouser and barn kitty all these years.  Ever since our LGD, Tundra died, he has struggled through the winters.  Tundra and him were best friends. We got Tundra as a pup just a year before Jerry joined the family so they grew up together and really loved each other.  They often cuddled together.  Last winter seemed particularly hard on the old man, so I thought, “maybe he would like to retire indoors.”  We tried this with him a few years ago and he did NOT want to be inside, so we put him back out.  But this time has been different.  We brought him in and he seems pretty darn happy to just cuddle in the warm and softness of everything indoors.  So he is our new indoor kitty.  Midnight and Minley can handle the barn on their own from now on.

Sunday Homestead Update

Chickens

Eve hatched out 6 of her 8 eggs this week. The chicks are adorable and Eve is being the wonderful mama that she always is.

We have had really bad chicken lice issues this year. Our usual two treatments ten days apart hasn’t been working. So we are currently doing 5 treatments each 7 days apart, hoping that will fix it. We have done 3 of the 5 treatments now. This last time we only saw eggs, no live lice. So we are making progress. At our first treatment 75% of the flock had very bad infestations. We are also adding DE and wood ash to their dust bathing areas.

Lumber

In our area of the Rockies the pine beetle has worked its way through over the last decade, killing millions of acres of trees. It is estimated one in fourteen trees was killed by pine beetles. It has changed the area drastically. For us, there has been some good to come from it though. Mtn Man is skilled at tree removal and with our family working together to load slash and trunks we can make quick work of the process. Many people have dead trees on their properties and want them taken down. And we need lumber for our farm projects and firewood. So we often remove trees for people and haul them to the lumber mill. A lot of our farm has been built with that lumber.

We took down two HUGE trees about a month ago and they are back from the mill now, ready for our projects. The two main projects on the list right now are to build a retaining wall and fill it in to make a safe, flat place for Mr Smiles to play because he is unable to walk on uneven or tilted ground. Second, we are building another raised bed, terraced veggie garden. We are going to double our veggie garden space, which will be awesome!

Fall Projects

Fall is the time of year we do all of our building projects around the homestead, as well as gather and prepare all of our firewood for winter, plus canning and preserving food for winter.  The list is so long.  We are doing our best to chip away at it, but with all the other things in our life right now it has been hard to eeek out time.

We were able to pick up a tractor this week that we are borrowing for some of the projects.  We started by doing a good turning of the compost piles in the barnyard, combining them together, and then fencing off the bottom area of the barnyard in preparation for finishing the last of the wood fencing there.

We started with the barnyard just being metal panel fencing.  Over the years we have done one section at a time of permanent fencing.  We now have the lumber for the last permanent section and hopefully can get that done this fall.

Now we will use the tractor to prepare the area for Mr. Smiles’ safe play area and the new garden.  Then we need to build those and bring in fill dirt for the play area and soil for the garden.  We plan to stir together some store-bought mixed with our own compost from the barnyard.  Then we will get to fencing the new garden and finish the barnyard fencing.  Hopefully we can accomplish all of that this fall.

Sheep

We are continuing to work with the new sheep and get them friendly.  Daisy, who was the shy-est, is now a totally teddy bear.  She comes over for scratches and pets and leans into us and tries to “groom” us back while we pet her.  She is SO sweet.

The other two ewes are coming along a lot slower, and I am not sure that Marigold will ever soften up and be a good milk sheep.  She is quite the wild one and I can’t picture her standing nicely in a stanchion being milked, but time will tell.

The ram is already friendly enough, you have to be careful with rams to not have them too friendly, nor too unfriendly for safety purposes.

Sunday Homestead Update

As autumn barrels towards us, and the first frost is threatening to arrive any night, we are rushing to harvest the garden and trying to predict the weather enough to do what we can to frost protect the veggies when the frost arrives. The weather apps are notoriously inaccurate about our area as far as frosts go. I cant even count how many times now, spring and fall, we have had two different apps say the low would be 41 and we wake up to find we got to 32 and we have garden damage. I complain so much about them that the kids hung up a “Weather Rock” for me on the porch.

If the rock is wet, its raining.

If the rock is white, its snowing.

If the rock is swinging, its windy.

While I do love my weather rock, and smile when I see it, it is not exactly helpful to determine when it will frost. So we are doing our best to keep an eye on the weather apps, in conjunction with our own senses as we go do evening chores, to try to guess when the frost will come and protect the plants as much as possible.

Garden

We continue to struggle to grow potatoes. We have tried year after year. We have tried several different methods. We still are not very successful. We just harvested this year’s and again it was a small harvest.

But a lot of the other veggies are doing great. We harvested and canned 7 quarts of purple beans, plus another 10, 2-cup bags went to the freezer.

The bell pepper plants are producing great this year. Much more than last year. As are the peas. We have been enjoying them fresh and have frozen a lot of peas too.

Sheep

It was a hard goodbye yesterday as 2/3 of our flock departed to their new home. The person who bought them is very excited to add their genetics to their breeding flock though, so we are happy for that.

And on his way home from taking them to their new home, Mtn Man picked up the first of our new dairy sheep!

We are still working on a name for her.  She is an almost 2-year-old ewe, who has already lambed once.  She is 70% East Friesan and 30% Lacaune.

This is a very exciting new project for us.  We will be adding some more dairy sheep to the flock in September.

Chickens

Eves is now setting on fertile eggs. The first bunch of eggs we put under her was from the adult hens. Not one was fertile, proving the cockerel is not yet breeding the hens. But then we put a bunch of pullet eggs for setting, and it is clear he is doing his job with the younger pullets.  Out of 12 eggs, 9 were fertile and we had one early death.  So she is setting on 8 now.  In a couple of weeks we will have some chicks.

The Outcasts

Our current chicken flock is not very welcoming of everyone. This is the first year we have had the flock kill one of their own, and attempt to kill a second. We don’t like it, we don’t know why they are like this, and we don’t know what to do about it. We do a lot of integrating and switching around of pens and breeding groups and our methods have always been successful, for all these years, until this year. This year the flock will accept some birds, but not others.

This has left us with some outcasts. We didn’t know what to do with the outcasts besides butcher them. At least it would be better for them than the flock pecking them to death. But then I thought of the bantam flock in the lower coop. Maybe they would accept the outcasts into their little flock. It was worth a try. And it was successful! Over time they have now gathered three standard-size hen outcasts into their flock.

The most recent was Carrot, the hen that got attacked by the Golden Eagle. She has had a pretty miraculous recovery in the grow pen in the barn. But now it was time to try to figure out how to get her back with other chickens. Since she is still very thin, and needs more recuperation, I did not think it was a good idea to risk putting her with the big flock considering their behavior this year. So we moved her in with the bantams and the other outcasts. She has settled in nicely and seems happy to be in a bigger space with other chicken friends.

Heritage Arts

Little Miss wanted to try her hand at making a braided wool rug all on her own.  She has made them with Mtn Man before, but never by herself.  She finished it this week and it looks beautiful.

I am almost done with my cabled cardigan.  I just need to do the front bands and collar, plus finishing weaving in ends and it will be done.  I am really looking forward to having this done because it has been on the needles for over 18 months now and kept getting set aside for other projects.

Sunday Homestead Update

Fall is closing in on us quickly here in the mountains.  The evening air the last few nights has had quite a chill on it.  The elk are looking handsome in their velvet antlers.  We have already heard a few of them bugling, which signals the beginning of their breeding season, and hunting season starts soon as well so we will be working to secure our red meat for the year and get it all processed and into the freezer.

Butterflies

A few weeks ago we found these Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillars on our garden dill.

We put them in a container and fed them more dill.  A few days later they went into their chrysalis.

Only 12 days later, they emerged as butterflies.

So amazing.

Chickens

The mama Golden Eagle has moved on.  She is done raising her two fledglings, it is time for them to make it on their own.  And they currently want to continue making it on their own at our property.  Sigh.  The chickens have been closed in for three weeks now and it is just too long.  The amount of chickens we keep is based on the fact that they spend all day free ranging in the barnyard.  Their enclosed exterior pen is big enough for them short-term, but I feel like it is overcrowded when they are living in there for weeks.  Plus, the cost of feed when they are not free-ranging is through the roof.  So, if we plan to keep them closed in we need to decrease our numbers.  But we don’t want to plan to keep them in – we like our free-ranging, compost turning, happy, healthy, helpful chickens.

So we are doing an experiment.  The Eagle killed the chicken while Anya was napping in the barn cool and shade of the afternoon.  But there is plenty of shade in the barnyard, albeit maybe not as cool as the barn with the breeze blowing through.  So we are letting the chickens free-range with Anya guarding them, and we have closed the barn so that she can’t go in there.  If it rains we open up the barn of course to let them in out of the weather.  We started this plan on Tuesday, so we have now made it 5 days with no loss.  We are hopeful this is an answer to our dilemma until the eagles finally move on.

Last week we gave Eve 6 eggs to set and we put 6 in the incubator to make up for any infertility troubles since our young un-proven cockerel is the one breeding right now.  Well, every single egg was infertile.  Sigh.  We have seen him breeding young pullets, but all the eggs I put for hatch were from the adult hens.  So apparently he has not started breeding the adult hens yet.  So we grabbed 6 young pullet eggs and put them under Eve and 6 more to put in the incubator.  Hopefully, there will be some good fertility with these.  If not, then Eve will not be setting eggs at this point and will have to go back to the lower coop.

Garden

We have been harvesting a lot from the garden and either eating it or putting it up for winter.

The first batch of sauerkraut from our cabbages is done and in jars in the refrigerator.  We have more cabbages ready to harvest is will probably start another load this week.  We have been harvesting, cleaning, chopping, portioning, and freezing celery, peas, and carrots.  The purple beans harvest has now started too and we will be canning those.  The garlic is out and curing.

And we have had two gooseberry pies this week.  Yumm!

Sheep

Three of the sheep have been sold and are leaving the farm this week.  Rose, the moorit ewe, and the ram lambs, Tornado and Avalanche.  They will be used as breeding stock on another farm.

Rose

Tornado

Avalanche

We will still have Fiona and Fergus.

Fiona

Fergus

We haven’t decided yet what to do with Stormy, the ewe lamb.  She was going to be sold but it fell through.  We will likely try to sell her, but might decide to keep her.

Stormy

Though we are sad to see them go, this will open up an opportunity that we have been dreaming about for a few years now…the chance to raise dairy sheep!  In September we will be bringing in some dairy sheep to add to the flock, breed, and raise here at Willow Creek Farm.  We are all very excited about this new project.  We have wanted to have dairy sheep since 2014 when we milked one of our wool sheep because her lamb had died.  We loved the sheep milk and have wanted to do this project ever since.  Now we have our chance!  I am looking forward to introducing them to you next month.