Snow and Good News

It is snowing.  Normally, the first snow is good news, for me anyway.  I love snow.  But when you are fighting against the clock to get infrastructure at least somewhat stable before winter hits, snow is a bit of bad news.  However, it is barely snowing, barely any accumulation, and not much more expected.  AND it is a month later than normal for the first snow.  So it is good.  And thanks to the good news below, I am actually enjoying watching the snow fall.

Now, on to the good news!

Yesterday we got a hold of the propane company and they said they would drive in on the questionable and narrow, but safe, road access we now have (they filled in some holes last week with gravel and dirt making it safer, but still very narrow and usually blocked by machines working on the utilities) to bring us in propane.  We talked to the guys in the machines and they said they would let the propane truck through, no problem.  The propane company said the soonest they could get it to us would be Thursday.  With the weather forecast we were a bit worried, but knew that if we had to we could go ahead and turn the heat on for a little while to keep the pipes from freezing and not run out of propane before Thursday.  The only worry was if they came on Thursday but couldn’t actually get in for some reason.

This morning I got a call from the water department.  They said that there would be a guy at our house this morning to hook us into the temporary water line!  I was so excited.  He arrived, and began working on flushing the system and testing the water and stuff (they had to mass-chlorinate the main lines because of the potential for bacteria that backed up into the pipes during the flood, and they don’t want the mass chlorination in the water that is actually in our home).

Then, while he was working, I got a call.  It was the propane truck driver saying he was at the barrier down the road and wanted to know how he was supposed to get in.  I explained to him how to get in and within about 10 minutes he was carefully working his way up our driveway (the driveway still needs a lot of work on it).  I was again, SO excited!

It was shocking to have it all happening so quickly and out of the blue!  I was expecting the propane Thursday and had no idea when water would be back because they had said it would be last Friday but then ran into some hold-ups.  Such great surprises!

So, less than 30 minutes later, our propane tank was full and we had running water from the main line!!!

We are very happy with this wonderful progress in the flood recovery!  The kids are so excited to get to take baths today, instead of the fast showers they have been doing for the last month.  And now we don’t have to worry about the pipes freezing.

Sewer should be next, and then better road access.  Movin’ on up!

Sunday Homestead Update

Wow, for the first time since I started the Sunday Homestead updates I don’t really have much extra going on that we didn’t talk about in other posts throughout the week.  Weird.

We have spent the last 18 months since we moved to the farm going full blast on one project after another building the farm into what we want it to be; adding new buildings, new pens, new animals, breeding animals, learning new skills.  And now, as we patiently wait for flood recovery progress to be made, and our resources are being diverted into getting the generator to finish making our home self-sustaining off-grid, all the projects we had planned before have taken a back seat.  The large animals aren’t on the farm, so that takes away a bunch of the activity as well.  Also, this time of year I am usually beginning to plan a huge Thanksgiving feast, as we almost always host Thanksgiving for our local relatives and some friends.  But we don’t know if we can/will host this year.

So it is very quiet around here.  Not much going on.  And yet, we are kind of enjoying this calmness after 18 months of constant projects and farm building.  There is a season for everything, and this is clearly our season to rest, heal, and reset ourselves.

So all I have to talk about in this update are some chicken happenings, and some knitting.

Chickens

The hens are kind of starting to get their systems revved up again.  They laid 5 eggs on two different days this week.  The other days they laid 1-3 eggs.  I am glad some of them are going, and hope the others follow soon.  We normally get 9-11 eggs from them every day.  We are happy that the ones who have started back up are all hens that have been chosen for our breeding program, only one of them is a production birds.  So we feel like maybe this indicates that the traits we are selecting for are working to get us breeding stock that are well-built birds, and, based on this situation, will bounce back into laying from stress quicker than other birds.  A trait we didn’t even know we wanted ;-).

Unfortunately, the rating of the 8 week old chicks that we did yesterday, tends to prove otherwise on our breeding selections.  We definitely have a couple cockerels and several hens that are standing apart from the rest as what we are wanting in our flock, but unfortunately, none of the best birds are from our breedings, they are all from the high-altitude hatching eggs we bought.  😦

We definitely expected the high-altitude chicks to be better since that breeder has been selectively breeding for over 10 years, and we are glad to add that good stock into our breeding program.  But we are not happy that the pairings we chose made such sub-standard chicks.  Granted, we have found that the ratings at 8 weeks don’t always hold true, and there are a lot of birds that do get better as they mature, so we can’t totally base everything on some 8-week ratings.  We will, of course, continue to rate them every 4 weeks.  And we won’t have any for-sure answers until January/February as to who turned out well and who did not.  But the 8 week ratings on these chicks compared to the 8 week ratings of the chicks from last January and the Brahma chicks are showing that these birds from our breedings are not looking very good at all.

We are leaning towards the fact that it might be Pepper, our rooster, that is the problem.  So we are contemplating doing another round of breeding this winter, using the new Dark Brahma rooster, Boaz, and using the same hens we chose as breeders last round with Pepper and see what happens.  It would definitely answer the question of whether it is the rooster or whether our selection process is just not working at all and the birds from hatcheries are hard to work with.  And if we end up with all sub-standard chicks again we will have plenty of meat to go in the freezer and we will know that our first attempts at our own breeding program didn’t work and that we really need to figure out a new plan.  This “test breeding” will really help us know better what we are doing and get set up for next spring/summer breeding season so that we can hopefully have a good, productive breeding season.

Boaz is just now 18 weeks old, so we will wait another 4-6 weeks or more and let him fully mature (and get all the hens laying well – hopefully), and then we will probably put him and our favorite breeding hens in the lower coop and run a batch of eggs in the incubator.  I really hope all the breeding hens start laying well by then, so that we can do this little “experiment.”

Knitting

I have finished the first Christmas present!  A pair of socks for my oldest daughter.

1

2

The pattern is called Chevron Lace from the book Getting Started Knitting Socks by Ann Budd (that is the book I used to teach myself how to knit socks 5 years ago, I love that book!).  I am very happy with the pattern and how it turned out.  The pictures aren’t the greatest, but the chevrons continue down each side of the foot in one little strip and it looks really neat (if you click on the pictures you can get a better view of them).

The yarn is Sock Ease, by Lion Brand and the color is called cotton candy.  This is my first time working with the Sock Ease yarn.  I love the color, it is just right for my boisterous, bubbly, energetic daughter.  But I wasn’t super happy with the texture of the yarn.  Normally, I buy yarn after touching it.  But for the first time ever, I bought this yarn off the internet, without having touched it first.  It is rougher than I had hoped.  Maybe it will soften a bit after the first wearing and washing, we will see.  But I don’t think I will use this brand again.

One present down, four to go!  I have started in on the poncho for my youngest daughter.  It is a big piece and I tend to get bored easily working on big pieces.  It is worked in four sections which are then sewn together.  So I started with that and finished one section, then I made these socks, now I am back at doing the second section of the poncho, then I will do another pair of socks, and so forth.  That is how I keep myself interested enough to finish a big project ;-).

One Month

Can you believe it has been one month?  One month since the stream started breeching its banks and our world began turning upside-down.  One month.  Crazy.  We have lived a lifetime in that short time, and yet it has flown by.  It is hard to describe how the measurement of time changes in a situation like this.

So where do we stand now – one month out from the disaster and full evacuation of our family and farm?

We are home, along with our chickens and rabbits.  Our sheep and cows are still “refugees” being housed far from the disaster area.  It is still unknown when they can come back.

We have a basement with all the flooring torn up.  We have electricity.  We are close to having a feeble temporary set-up of town water that we can hook back into, but have been warned it might not be reliable through the winter.  We are still without sewer.  We still don’t have safe road access, and thus don’t have access to propane gas for our heat.

We have set ourselves up to have running hot and cold water, with a 175 gallon tank that we can refill from water brought in on the back of my husband’s truck.  We have heat for the main part of the house via wood stoves, but the rest of the house has pipes at risk for freezing if we can’t get propane in here soon.  We have a camping toilet set up in the bathroom.

That is the basic bare bones of what we do and do not have.  Is it surprising, the situation at a month out?  Somewhat.  I guess I always saw disasters on TV and figured they were pretty well off by a month out.  I mean, obviously I knew houses that had been destroyed weren’t cleaned up and rebuilt a month later.  But I never really knew how bad it could still be a month out for the people who didn’t totally lose their houses.  Now we know ALL TOO WELL how very time-consuming the process of rebuilding infrastructure is.  And we know first hand how long people in disaster areas go without what most people consider the basic necessities for housing and utilities.

BUT…

We also know how it feels to have your family and friends gather around you, encourage you, help you, support you, and show you love.  We know how it feels to let others step in and pick you up when you don’t feel like you have the strength to go on.  We know how it feels to have practical strangers send you money to help you in your time of need.  People who have never seen your face, and barely even know your name, reaching out to help you.  It is humbling, and awesome.

We may not have a lot right now when it is listed basic bare bones and it is about basic comforts of living in America.  But we have so much else.  We have each other, and have grown even closer because of this.  We have family, friends, and even strangers that care about us enough to give of themselves and the things they have been blessed with to help us.  We have our home and can live in it, even if it doesn’t have normal utilities and access.  We have our lives.  We have every single animal that we started with, even if they aren’t on our property, we still own them and get them back when we can have them back.

We also have hope, hope that our little farm will be back to normal and we will be writing about “normal” adventures someday on this blog again.  That is, if you consider shooting rats in wood piles, cats with their feet stuck under cow hooves, hovering over incubators for hours, garden soil woes, cows surprisingly giving birth a month earlier than expected, butchering road kill elk for food, a dog saving a baby bunny by laying on it, butchering the butchering process, and anxiously watching nests for a hen to lay an egg normal life……….which we do :-).

The journey continues.  I wonder where it will take us a month from now.  As I always say…time will tell.

Sunday Homestead Update – Super Productivity

We had a super productive week and it feels SO great!

Having most of the livestock gone, and thus a huge change in our daily responsibilities, has freed me up to work on a bunch of miscellaneous projects that kept being pushed to the back burner because of imminent other farm needs.  I no longer have the cleaning, feeding, watering, milk processing, and dairy product making chores to do, which took up a lot of time each day.  I barely have any gardening left.  So all of a sudden I have extra time in my day.

In addition, it seemed that before, at least 4-5 days a week, we had someone coming by for something – to buy eggs, to borrow a tool, to drop off a kid to play, just to drop in for tea and to chat, etc.  Well now no one can get here.  While I enjoy our active social life, I must admit that it has been kind of cool to have a time in our lives where we are isolated and it is just us.  Not that we aren’t going out at all, we are, just not as much, and no one is coming here.  I look forward to having normal visitors again, but I am enjoying the peace and quiet for now, and using the time to get things done that have been put off too long.

Sewing and Knitting

I finished my son’s quilt!  I have been working to make these 4 quilts for almost 4 years I think.  The first 2 were done in the first 18 months.  The third was completed about a year ago.  And this last one has been hanging on for a while.  My son has been so patient (for a 5-year-old), but mentions it at least once a week.  So I finally finished it on Wednesday evening after the kids were in bed.  I snuck in while he was sleeping and put it over him.  In the middle of the night he woke up to use the bathroom and called to us “I need to go potty!  And why is this quilt on my bed!?” (he thought it was his brother’s, because they look similar).  When we told him it was his quilt and it was done he was so giddy.  It was cute.  Then first thing in the morning he came running into our bedroom, “THANK YOU MOMMY!” he yelled, throwing himself onto the sleeping lump in the bed that was me.  “Thank you for finishing my quilt!  I love it!”  It was so cute, and made every stitch worth it.  🙂

102_8157

I tackled the mending pile.  It was kind of funny because my oldest daughter said, “Oh wow, you decided to start mending again, I thought you had just decided if anything got torn it could just go in the chore clothes from now on.”  Ummmm, no my dear, I just haven’t had time.  So I got the whole pile done.  It included 3 patchings of holes in jeans, 4 letting-out of things to make them bigger, and 1 taking-in of big brother’s flannel pants to fit little brother.  It felt so good to get that pile out of my life.

I finished the last of the cute fruit/veggie baby hats I was making for all the babies due this fall.

Gardening

I finished harvesting all the herbs and have them all drying.  I also finished harvesting the garden (a hard frost came this week along with some snow, so we needed to do it before that).  We got 3 cabbages, Brussels’ sprouts, some lettuce, and the last of the pumpkins and squash.  I looked it up and apparently if a squash or pumpkin is fully grown but not ripe and the frost comes or the plant dies you can put it in the sun in a warm location and leave it and it should ripen over time.  If it isn’t fully grown it won’t work.  So I picked 2 pumpkins (both I think are fully grown and just not ripe, even though they are small), 2 butternut squash (1 fully grown, 1 questionable), and 6 acorn squash (3 fully grown, 3 questionable) and put them all in the best sun in the house.  We will see what happens.  If the questionable ones start rotting I will just remove them, but it’s worth a try.  But I think I should at least get a few that will ripen.

11

I am waiting for the strawberry leaves to start turning brown so I can mulch them and put them to bed for the winter.  Interestingly, we will be trying pine needle mulch this year, simply because we can’t get straw because of the disaster.  Our property is covered with pine needles.  So we will use what we have and see how it goes.  We have never tried pine needles before.  Then the garden work will be completed for this year.  So far, the strawberry plants are still green.

Soap Making

I also got the soap trimmed and wrapped.  Back in August, my husband made a nice batch of soap (yes, he is the soap-maker in the family).  They have been curing.   Being the type-A personality that I am, I like to smooth and trim the edges before we wrap them in brown paper (which I cut to size from brown paper bags this year because that is what I had handy).  So I did that.  Then I use all the shavings from shaping them nicely and pressed them into a soap ball.  Some of these will go into the homestead Christmas baskets, but most are for our own personal use.  I think he is planning to make another batch here soon, too.  I will try to blog the process.

14

12

16

13

17

Christmas Knitting

Speaking of Christmas, my family has put in their requests for Christmas presents this year, and all of them are knit.  I guess I will be knitting for the next 3 months.  At least knitting is portable!  So I got the supplies for the projects and have started in on that.  I will be making a poncho, a sweater-vest, and 2 pairs of socks for the kids, and I can’t say what my husband is getting because he reads the blog.  Don’t worry honey, it’s not a sweater ;-).I think it is fun that my kids still request things like hand-knit socks for Christmas.

Rabbits

My husband accomplished the enormous job of getting the rabbits home this week.  I can’t even describe how big of a job this was, but he did it, and we are all so very thankful to him.

While they were gone, Arania had a litter of 7, Maple and Ebony were both bred again (third time’s the charm, right?), and Fuzz’s kits have reached weaning age.

31

32

So this weekend husband and son prepped the smaller growing out pen for the rabbits to start being weaned into it.  We have always used rabbit cages for growing out, but now that we have 6 adults all our rabbit cages are full.  If you remember, my husband built a multi-purpose/growing-out pen last winter that we first used to house the rooster because he was damaging one hen’s back, then we used it for chicks.  Then, before the flood, he built our second multi-purpose/growing-out pen, and put the current chicks in it.  So the rabbits will be going in the smaller pen and the chicks are still in the bigger one for this round.

33

 

Flood Recovery

It has been 3 weeks now since the flood and evacuation.

As far as our own personal recovery, we have the water system up and running.  It involves a 175 gal tank (husband switched out the 150 to put on his truck and the 175 in what we are now referring to as the water room), and a pressure pump and hooks into our normal water lines for the house.  So we have (limited) running hot or cold water at all our faucets.  He put the 150 gal tank on his truck and is driving it in and out along the edge of a pretty scary (to me) section of road that is out so that we don’t have to haul it in with jugs.

9

Speaking of roads, no, there still isn’t road access (besides where people are driving through the woods and along the sides of roads that are gone and just making their own roads – like my husband).  We still haven’t even seen any machines working on building the road access yet.  From what we hear it is an issue of being able to get the culverts and supplies needed to fix the road.  But our area and our road access is supposedly next on the list to be done, so we are hopeful it will be soon.

Heat is our current big stumbling block.  Our house is mainly heated with propane.  We do have two wood stoves, but there are quite a lot of water pipes that cannot be kept from freezing by the two stoves due to their location.  So we need to get the heaters up and running before we get any major freezes or we have to drain the whole system and winterize it.  We do have some propane in our tank, but not much.  We usually get it filled at the beginning of October, so it was close to empty when the flood hit.  And now, with no road access, we can’t get a propane truck in here to fill it.  And my husband has contemplated, but says he can’t think of a way to bring any in with his truck (in small tanks or anything) and have it work for our system.  We are so hopeful that they will get the road fixed in time so we don’t have to drain the system.  It’s been cold in the sections of the house that are isolated from the stoves this week – even getting down to about 45 in some of them.  But so far, not cold enough for freezing, thank goodness.

Now, on to the recovery happening as far as getting our utilities back on the grid.  It is not looking promising for the winter.  From what we have heard, they are going to try to run a temp water line and sewer line above ground and try to protect/insulate them for the winter and then do the real fixes in the spring.  This is understandable, but quite risky because, with them above ground, they are very susceptible to freezing and line breaks.  We have also heard that the water will have to be super-chlorinated at first because of the main break and bacteria potentially backing up into the pipes during the disaster and such.  We are going to wait until that is all out of the system before we hook back up to it.  And, as far as time-frame on these utilities, it is still unknown.  They are saying possibly sewer will be done in two weeks.

We are glad that we are setting up to live totally off-grid, and we will leave it set-up even after we go back on-grid, so that if there are line breaks or problems this winter we can easily switch back to off-grid living, and not be severely effected by it.  I have a feeling it is going to be a bumpy ride for our area this winter as far as the grid utilities go, and it will be such a blessing that we are set-up to go without it.  We are also feeling like we need to get a generator because even though we currently have electric, a big snow could knock that out (as it has many times in the past) and with the infrastructure damage and so many areas inaccessible, who knows how long it could take them to get it back up (normally it is back up within a day).  So that is our next goal – to get a generator.

 

New normal is starting to really settle in, and we continue to press on here at the little homestead in the Rockies.

Do You Know How Much Water it Takes To…?

photo

Now that the water system is set up, and we have running water at the faucets (hot or cold), we needed to find out what exactly we could do around the house with this running water. What I mean is, we have LIMITED running water, the tank only holds 150 gallons and we are still toting it in about 25 gal at a time in 5 gal containers. So my husband asked me to find out what some basic tasks around the house use water-wise. Including the machines we have to help us (dishwasher and washing machine). No problem (I thought).

I started with bathing the girls. It took about 6 gallons to give them both a very quick shower, including washing their hair, but without conditioning it. That’s not bad at all! It took 6 gallons for me to take the same quick shower. Very reasonable. Now on to the machines.

I went to the water tank to check how much water we had, then went to the washer, turned it to the very smallest load setting, threw in a small load of laundry, started it and went about my work not thinking much about it. Later, when the load was done and I went back to the tank to check how much water it used, I almost fell over dead with shock. To do the VERY smallest load in my standard top-load washer it took 25 gallons of water!!!

Numbers began flying through my mind….a full load probably takes 50 gallons…I do about 8 loads a week usually…that is 400 gallons a week I use JUST for laundry…that is 20,800 gallons a year!!! And then it hit me like a ton of bricks. How spoiled I am. I have lived my entire life with unlimited running water and it had never really occurred to me how much I was using every day. I have been to third world countries and seen people toting jerry cans of water 3 miles from the well to their hut for their daily use. When I saw that I felt overwhelmed in many ways, and I was thankful for the fact that I had running clean water, and wished I could give it to everyone, but still it had never occurred to me HOW MUCH I used each day. I had heard of front load washers, high-efficiency washers, energy saver appliances, but I never thought about how much water they saved. I figured it couldn’t be THAT much water. Not enough to make it worth it to get rid of my old appliance and go buy an expensive new one. But now, I HAD to find out.

I got online immediately and started searching, to find out how much water everything takes, and how much the energy saver and high-efficiency appliances saved.

How Much Water it Takes To:

Run a full load in an average top-load washing machine…40-50 gallons

Run a full load in a front load high-efficiency machine…25 gallons

Run an average dishwasher…10-15 gallons

Run an energy saver dishwasher…4.5 gallons

Flush an older toilet…5 gallons

Flush a new toilet…1.6 gallons

So now what?

Well, doing our own laundry is quite a big deal until we are hooked back up to utilities (but my aunt said she would keep doing it if we needed), but even when we have utilities I am going to have a hard time doing a load without feeling the fact that we are wasting so much water. I mean, it took 6 gallons to get a human clean, and yet it takes 25 gallons to get 3 shirts clean? That is absurd. We both think we need to be seriously considering getting a front-loading high-efficiency washer. When we used my father’s FL washer last year on our vacation, I was able to fit twice as much in one load and get it clean than I could here with ours. So not only does it use half the water, it takes in twice the clothing. So that really multiplies the savings. I could do 4 loads a week instead of 8. We really need to consider this and find a way to make it happen.

As far as dishes go, it isn’t that big of a deal. I can just do them by hand and use the dishwasher as a large drying rack. I would say I can do the same amount of dishes as one load in the dishwasher, by hand, using only about 3-5 gallons of water.

And lastly, the toilet. This is an interesting dilemma with 6 people in the house. I have been trying to guess how many flushes we do in a day. I am guessing 4-5 each, so 24-30/day. That is 120-150 gal/day. That means even when we get our sewer back but not our water (which is how it is going to happen – sewer will be fixed first and then water), it would take our entire water storage tank of water just to flush each day. That wont work at all. I wonder how much we can cut it down by doing the “if its yellow don’t flush until 3 times” rule. Probably down to 12-15 flushes a day. That would be 60-75 gal. Who would have thought that half of our water tank would go to toilet flushing each day?

Did you already know this? Am I the only person who was completely in the dark about water usage? It is amazing how many things this flooding disaster has changed in our lives, and in this case, brought to light.