Homestead Update – We are Back

It has been over a month now, a very long, VERY long month.  But here we are, still pressing on and finding the blessings in the everyday ups and downs that are life.  Mr. Smiles is not out of the woods yet medically, but we have a reprieve from doctors and hospitals for awhile.

It is fall and I LOVE fall in the Rockies.  The weather is crisp but still warm enough for jeans and a t-shirt.  The smell is beautiful, and the views are, as always, impressive.  Even the sounds of fall are great – especially the elk bugling.

Garden

The harvest has been bountiful.  We have been harvesting, canning, and freezing consistently for the last month.  Our first frost came through, later than usual, but still it meant we had to harvest all the beans and tomatoes.  The basement has tables full of green tomatoes that will ripen for us over the next few months and we canned all the green (purple) beans.  Our experimental drying beans produced well and we are looking forward to growing more in future years.

Because we have such a short growing season (approx 10 weeks frost to frost), we have to harvest our tomatoes green right before the first frost, and let them ripen in the cool basement.  They will ripen over the next few months and still taste just as good as fresh from the garden!  The first year they all ripened within about a month of picking, but we have been purposefully breeding a long-keeping variety of tomatoes and saving the seeds from the longest keeping ones to lengthen how long they last each year.  Last year in December we were eating “fresh” tomatoes that had been harvested from the garden in September and had taken that long to ripen.  The flavor was still amazing and we are hoping to continue to extend the length of time they keep so we can eat fresh tomatoes farther and farther into the winter.  It will be interesting to see how long they last this year.

We also have enjoyed eating fried green tomatoes a few times this month as well.

The new onion patch we built in the spring really paid off.  We harvested more than 30 lbs of big beautiful onions.  We braided some of them and hung them in the basement.  Others are stored in a crate in the basement and we have been using them a lot for cooking.  We are making more changes to the new onion patch this fall and next spring to make it even better.  More on that project later.

The carrots, turnips, beets, lettuce, peas, and spinach are still going strong in the garden.

The grape harvest this year was much bigger than ever before at 2 lbs.  Still not enough for a batch of jelly, but we are hopeful now that the vine is established we will be able to get more and more.

We harvested a lot of herbs before the frost as well, and they are hung all over the house drying.  Once dry we will crush them up and store them in jars, using them through the winter to season our food.

Bears

Fall does mean bear trouble in our area as the bears start to prepare for hibernation.  Every year we have barn break-in attempts made by bears, last year was the worst with 8 attempts between Sept-Nov.  They were stopped only by the barking of our LGD, Tundra, that woke us so we could chase the bear off.  Now that Tundra is dead, our new LGD, Anya, is holding down the fort.  We have been very surprised to have no attempts at all made on the barn this year by the bears.  We are not sure what it is that is different and making them not even try…is it Anya’s larger size and larger bark?  We are not sure but we are happy about it.

Unfortunately, the bears have been breaking into cars on our property.  In our area we have multiple generations of garbage-fed bears that don’t know how to eat naturally and only know how to eat from humans.  Last year they finally implemented a law forcing people to lock up their trash, which is good, but a bit too-little-too-late.  Now the bears are so desperate for food they are breaking into homes and cars because they can’t get trash from dumpsters anymore.  If a vehicle is left unlocked they will open it up and check it out, even if there isn’t any food in it.  They can actually operate the door handles.  And even when a car is locked they will often try to open it and leave nasty scratches all over the door.  Also, a friend left their car window cracked an inch while parked on our property over night and the bear grabbed it and busted it out.

Lastly, and definitely the least of the bear troubles, was a bear that decided to try out some of our squash.  Apparently it didn’t fit his tastes as he left it on the ground after tasting it.

Chickens

All the pullets are now laying and we are enjoying bountiful fresh eggs.

One of the two roosters we kept for breeding roos is getting pretty aggressive, so we will likely be butchering him soon and just keep the one.

One of the new laying pullets, a Partridge Chantecler named Alice, decided she wanted to set right away as soon as she started laying.  So we went ahead and gave her 7 eggs since the roos were mature and we had fertile eggs.  All seven were fertile and 6 of them hatched!  One died in the first day or so, which is not uncommon, so we have 5 adorable chicks with their mama hen in the barn now.

Sheep

We have separated the ram off from the ewes until November when we want them to breed.  He hasn’t shown signs of being mature enough yet, but we are hoping that he will be ready in the next month or so and we don’t want winter lambs being born.

I caught this pic of one of the chickens “grooming” the sheep by picking seeds out of the wool.  They do that often and I love it.

More updates coming later this week…

Sunday Homestead Update

This will be our last update for awhile.  Mr. Smiles is having another surgery and hospital stay, so farm life will be heading to the back burner for awhile while we spend our time caring for our family through this hard time.

We have been scrambling to get things in order around here so that everything will be as low-maintenance as possible during this.  Our friends and family are stepping in to help us with everything, which is such a blessing.

Barn Flood Aftermath

It has continued to rain quite a bit, but thankfully no more flood damage.  We have dug several new ditches around the property to try to force the water away from buildings and down the mountainside.

We also decided to re-do the barn floor with cement pavers.  We bought the first load and have started setting them.  We have been putting a few in here and there as we find time in all the busy-ness right now.

Goats

Our friends took the goats and are boarding them for us until this hospital stuff is all over.  They will milk them for us, which will take a huge load off of the chores around the farm.

Sheep

We had two sheep we were planning to butcher later this fall, but we decided to go ahead and get one butchered now so that there were less animals to care for, and we didn’t have to try to squeeze it in later if things get rougher.  We got 26 lbs of meat, 12 lbs of dog food, and stock bones.  We started making the stock yesterday and will can it soon.

Making stock is really easy and it is so delicious and nutritious.  We put the bones on a broiling pan and brown them in the oven for about half and hour.

Then we add some veggies: carrots, onions, and celery – these were fresh from the garden!

We put it back in the oven until the veggies are brown.  Then we put all the bones and veggies, plus the drippings, and some herbs (some of those were fresh from the garden too!)

into a big pot with some water and simmer it for several hours.  Strain it and cool it, then skim the fat and pressure-can the stock.  It will be nice to have some more lamb stock in the pantry for this winter.  And it is exciting that the only things in it not from our homestead are the peppercorns and the bay leaf.

Chickens

The chickens are in two separate pens, but there isn’t anything we can do about it at this point.  We have the upper coop and pen, which has all the hens and pullets, plus the two roosters in it.  Those chickens also have access to free range in the barnyard.

Eve and her three chicks are still in the grow-out pen in the barn.  It will be a few more weeks before she is done raising them and we can figure out the plan for what to do then.  For now, to make it easier to care for everyone, we are training them (or having Eve, their mama hen train them) on a drip waterer.  It is much cleaner and doesn’t have to be filled as often.  The other pen of chickens is already on a drip waterer, the chicks just hadn’t learned to use one yet.

That will make chicken care as low-maintenance as possible.

Garden

We have been harvesting and putting-up all that is ready to harvest in the garden.

Celery, beet greens, beets, cabbage sprouts, lettuce, spinach, and carrots.  We ate a lot fresh, and then froze the extra carrots and celery for soups and stews this winter.

We also got green beans and canned them.

Our first frost is likely to happen during all this craziness, but there isn’t much we can do except take it as it comes.  Hopefully we, or our friends who are helping us around the farm, will be around to quickly harvest all the green tomatoes and the last of the beans right before the frost hits so we don’t lose that part of the harvest.

Knitting

I have been, surprisingly, getting a lot of knitting done during this busy time.  When I am anxious it makes me feel better to put my hands to some knitting.  So whenever I sit down to rest for a few minutes, or am waiting in the waiting room at yet-another doctor’s appointment, or am on the long drive to the specialists’ offices, I have been knitting.  I have a pair of socks, a shawl, and a hooded scarf all on the needles right now.

 

Please keep our family in your prayers.  This is Mr. Smiles’ 6th surgery in his very short 2 years of life.  Every time we have to do a surgery and hospital stay it is very difficult on him, as well as our whole family.  Our experience thus far does make it a little easier to prepare ourselves, and the homestead, to try to make it as easy as possible to get through.  But it is still quite a trial for all of us.

I hope to be back to posting later this fall with all things autumn-in-the-Rockies…my favorite time of year!

Barn Flood

What started out as a rainstorm the other day turned into a gully-washer.  The rain was coming down so fast and hard that the gutters couldn’t even hold it and there were waterfalls coming off every roof.  Add to that the fact that we live on a mountainside, and thus all the water up the mountain was coming at us.  We ended up with flooding in the barn and in the mud room in our house.

None of the animals were harmed – we got up to the barn in time to find the mama hen and baby chicks standing in 2 inches of rising water, and we quickly moved them to “higher ground.”  Thankfully, all our hay is up in lofts, so it didn’t get damaged either.  But we had about 6 inches of standing water in the barn at the high point of it all.  And about 3 inches of water in our mud room.

During the chaos I was too busy trying to deal with everything to take pics, but as everything started receding I got some photos.

That dog crate is up on 2x4s, and the wood floor under the 2x4s has 2×4 framing under it sitting on the dirt ground…so you have some perspective.

 

You can see the water line on the walls.

The mud room floor is tile, and we were able to vacuum the water out quickly with a shop vac, so there wasn’t damage there, just some water marks to parts of the walls.

The stalls are just dirt floor, and then there are sections of the barn floor that are cement paving stones, and sections that are wood flooring.  5 years of hay has been falling through the cracks in the wood floor, so we had to rip up all that floor in order to clean out all the wet hay and prevent mold.

It took hours to get everything dealt with and start the drying process.

We are now deciding what to do with the barn floor…leave it dirt, put down the wood again (which would be very difficult), or get paving stones and do the whole floor in paving stones.

Odds and Ends

This last weekend we decided it was time to take care of some odds and ends and finish some incomplete projects.

First, we clipped all the chickens’ wings.  We clipped them when we first started letting them out in the barnyard a couple of months ago, but since they are young, growing birds they grew back enough that lately they have been getting quite a bit of height when they try to fly over the barnyard fence.  We want them to stay in the barnyard, so we re-clipped their wings.

Then we fixed a couple of things that had broken from time, use, and animal destruction.  The small chicken door from their pen into the barnyard kept falling out of it’s slide, so it got fixed.

While we were working with the chickens we found our first pullet egg.  One of the Easter Egger pullets laid us a nice little blue egg!

The gate between the front and back barnyards had some bent and broken wires from Anya putting her feet up on it, so we added a diagonal wood bar to it to support it better.

And we put weaning devices in the lambs’ noses.  We have been waiting to see if the ewes would encourage it on their own, but they are letting them go longer than we wanted.  We want the ewes to be in good condition come breeding season, so it was time to wean the lambs.  The devices make weaning so easy – they block the lamb from being able to nurse, but they can still eat and drink.  And the lambs get to still live with their mothers, so it isn’t as stressful as separating them from each other.  We have found them to be very useful over the years with lambs and calves.  They didn’t work as well with the goats because their teats are longer and the goat kids could nurse from the side of their mouths.

They will stay in for a week or so, until the ewes’ udders dry up.  Then we can take them out.

Then we turned part of the compost pile.  Since the chickens were not out on in this last winter it hasn’t composted as well.  We need to do several turns before fall so that hopefully we can use it in the garden next spring.

After turning it we started a new pile by cleaning out the sheep stall.

Then we focused on making some more progress on a project we have been working on a long time…a little here and there.  The interior walls of the barn.  When we built the barn we hooked siding on the outside of the framing.  Then we put up foil bubble insulation that we had leftover from a different project.  Then, in the stalls we were able to put up board and batten interior walls over the foil.  But we didn’t have enough wood to do the rest of the inside of the barn.  Over time, when we have the wood, we have put up a section of wall here or there.  Last winter the wind blew down a big tree at a friend’s property and they said we could have all the wood if we hauled it off and cleaned up the area.  So we took the tree to the lumber mill and had them make it into boards for us.  We used some of it to build the fence earlier this summer.  And all that was left was one-by boards.  So we decided to use it to make more progress on the walls in the barn.

On the left you are seeing one of the walls that just has insulation over the siding.  On the right is a wall with board on it.  Still needs it’s batten, but looks much better!

And here is that same area after we finished the board and batten on it.  It is so nice!

Each section we add helps close up the cracks and keeps drafts out of the barn, thus making it better for the animals through the long cold winters we have.

I love how the barn and property just keep getting nicer and nicer the longer we live here and the more we work on it.  The first year or so it looked like shanty-town, but over time with a lot of hard work, patience to wait for the right materials to come along, and a lot of dreaming about what we want it to be – we have been able to slowly turn it into exactly what we want and make it nicer and nicer.  What a blessing!

After the Storm

Thursday and Friday we had over 3 feet of very wet, heavy, spring snow dumped on us.  It has been melting pretty fast and we are down to about a foot or less in shady places, and the sunny spots are either completely melted or very close to it.

The barnyard is a terribly wet, mucky mess.  I feel bad for the livestock because after being unable to leave the barn for three days because of the deep snow, they are now unable to leave because they don’t want to slop through the deep mud.  Hopefully the next couple of sunny days will finish the melting and dry it out enough to get them back outdoors.

The berry bushes are not happy at all.  They look downright terrible.  But upon close inspection I don’t see any broken branches, just super soggy branches bent down to the ground by the weight of the snow and the fact that they are so wet they bend easily.  I am hopeful that as the snow melts and they dry they will stand back up.

The Rhubarb and Lilac bush are also smooshed.

So far the garden looks to have survived.  The tomatoes were protected by the WOWs over them.  And the cabbages were protected by the frost fabric tents over them.  The carrots, lettuce, turnips, beets, peas, and spinach were all tiny seedlings just sprouted.  Once the snow melts we will see if they survived it.

Just another day homesteading in the Rockies!  🙂