Sunday Homestead Update

Another beautiful week on the farm!

Sorry for the picture quality this week – something about the sun while we were working on outdoor projects made for some pretty badly lit photos.

Fall Projects

We have plenty of fall projects to get done before winter and we tackled some of them this weekend.  First we dealt with some small odds and ends that seem to always be building up on a homestead…fix this little thing or that little thing.

Then, since we are borrowing a tractor right now, we wanted to get around to finishing the big onion/garlic patch project by getting all the compost moved over into the patch.  The dirt and compost we put in there last year after building the new retaining wall had settled quite a bit.  In some places it was over a foot too shallow.

As often happens, this was one big project that actually morphed into three big projects as we went.

As we were getting started we realized that to get the tractor into the barnyard we would have to figure out a way to get around the shed.  It is hard to see in the pics, but there is quite an incline next to the shed, it drops about 2-3 feet over 5 feet, and we didn’t want the tractor to roll.

So to make a safe place for the tractor to drive we needed to build a little road with a little retaining wall (extra project #1).  So we needed dirt.

Living on a mountainside there are always ditches that need to be dug to try to keep the water flowing down the hill and away from roads and buildings.  So in order to get some dirt, we decided to dig a ditch (extra project #2) that needed digging to stop the water from the driveway from creating a big alluvium in our field.  So we dug the ditch.

And we used the dirt removed from the ditch to build the little road to safely get the tractor around the shed.

So that we could finally get back to the original project of moving the compost from the barnyard to the onion/garlic patch.  🙂

One scoop out of the pile, and into the patch…only about 20 more to go!

We were SO grateful for the tractor.  This job would have been a beast without it.  While the compost pile and onion patch are only about 50 yards from each other, because of fences, steps, rocky hillside, gates, and buildings, the path we have to take to go from the barnyard to the onion patch is probably about 175 yards including quite a steep uphill portion.  I can’t even imagine doing it with just wheelbarrows.

We got the entire pile moved into the onion patch, which felt great.  We still need to smooth it out and dig the holes for the apple trees going in next spring (while we still have the tractor to dig them with).  And some of the extra compost we have in there will need to be bucketed over into the veggie garden boxes.

There is still plenty to get done, and hopefully we will accomplish more in the coming weekends!

Chickens

Alice and her 5 chicks moved into the lower coop this week.  They love it!  The chicks are handling the ramp just fine, it just took a little coaxing from Alice and a little practice and now they are pros.  It is much nicer for them to live in this coop as opposed to the grow pen in the barn because it has an outdoor section and an indoor section so they can get plenty of fresh air and sunshine.  Plus, it is fun for us because it is just out the back door, so we get to see them a lot more….and no one can look at a mama hen with her chicks and not smile.  🙂

Knitting

I have been sick this week, which means a lot of knitting was accomplished while I tried to rest and recuperate.

I finished the Fish Lips Kiss Heel Socks and I wrote about them here.

I also finished this adorable little Christmas sweater for Mr. Smiles.  The pattern is Snow is Falling Junior by Melissa Kemmerer.  I purposefully moved the snowflakes up higher in the pattern so they would show better when the baby is sitting.  He can’t walk yet, and I didn’t want the pretty snowflakes lost in the rumples of the sweater at his waist while sitting.  So I moved them up.

Remember this hooded scarf I was making and then tore out…?

Well that is the yarn I used on the baby’s sweater.  It is yarn made in our mill, from our livestock (50% angora from our bunny Oliver, and 50% CVM from our ewe, Violet).  We lovingly call it “Violiver.”  It is super soft and very warm, AND…this little sweater is now officially the first project I have finished that is made from fiber from our farm AND was processed in our mill.  I have previously made items from our fiber, but it was hand-processed.  So this little sweater is a bit of a milestone for us, and very special.  I am sure Mr. Smiles will look oh-so-cute in it.

Squash

We cooked up the last of the squash from the pumpkin patch and froze it for delicious breads, cookies, and pies this winter.  We really like the Red Kuri squash.  The pulp and seeds are easy to get out and the ratio of good flesh to pulp is very good, with far more “meat.”  And the flavor is like a mixture of a pumpkin and a butternut squash.  The Golden Nugget squash grew good as well, but the ratio of flesh was not even close to as good, and the pulp and seeds were hard to get out.

 

 

Operation Christmas Child

We are packing boxes for Operation Christmas Child again this year with our church.

This will be the second year the kids are making these bandanna backpacks.

And they are also sewing facecloths into little cases to hold the hygiene items we are putting in (soap, toothbrushes, combs, etc).

It is kind of hard to see, but the cases have three pockets inside of them.

“Old Man of the Farm”

I will leave you with a picture of Jerry, our barn cat.

Since our LGD, Tundra, died in July, Jerry is now the “Old Man of the Farm.”  Meaning that he is the oldest of the farm animals, at almost 11-years-old.  He and Tundra were actually best friends and grew up together.  At times we wondered if Jerry thought he was a dog, and if Tundra thought he was a cat.  During the long cold nights of winter the two of them would snuggle up in the hay to sleep cuddled together.  It was so cute.  I am not sure who Jerry will be cuddling with this winter.  Maybe the other barn cats.  I am guessing Anya, the new LGD puppy, is too rambunctious for him.

Garden Review 2017

We had a bountiful garden experience this year!  It is so satisfying to grow our own food and gardening continues to be one of my favorite parts of the homestead.  If you are not interested in the amounts we harvested, scroll down to read some reviews of new gardening products we tried out this year.

Harvest Stats for 2017

I tried to keep good records this year on the garden harvest, and here are the results…

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

Seeds:

This year we didn’t need to save many seeds because of previous years’ saving.  I don’t have amounts, but we successfully saved seeds from tomatoes and drying beans.

Produce:

  • Basil – plenty
  • Drying Beans – 2 lbs
  • Garden Beans – 31.5 lbs
  • Beets – 6 lbs
  • Cabbage – 33.5 lbs
  • Cabbage Sprouts – 2.5 lbs
  • Carrot – 26.75 lbs
  • Celery – 8.5 lbs
  • Cilantro – poor
  • Dill – ooops, totally forgot to plant!
  • Grapes – 2.5 lbs
  • Lettuce – plenty for salads several times a week all summer and shared with friends.
  • Onions – 32 lbs
  • Oregano – plenty
  • Parsley – plenty
  • Pea (sweet) – 8.75 lbs
  • Pea (snap) – plenty for fresh eating.
  • Pumpkin – 3.5 lbs
  • Rhubarb – Plenty
  • Sage – Plenty
  • Spinach – Plenty for fresh eating and to freeze for smoothies
  • Winter Squash – 7 lbs
  • Strawberries – Forgot to weigh 😦 But more than ever, so over 5 lbs. 🙂
  • Tomatoes – 100.5 lbs
  • Turnip – 33 lbs
  • Zuccini – 10.5 lbs
  • Berry Bushes – Not good this year, late frost with heavy wet snow squashed them down and they didn’t produce well.

For a grand total of over 314 lbs of produce!!!

New Things We Tried This Year in the Garden

Most of our experiments had to do with extending our season using physical protection for the plants.

#1 Pop-Up Tomato Accelerator

We have always used Wall-o-Waters to protect our tomato plants and extend the season for them.  This year I got 3 of these Tomato Accelerators to see if they worked better, or if they were used in conjunction with the WOWs would improve our growth.  For two of the plants I put the accelerator over the WOW and then when the plant outgrew the WOW I left just the accelerator on until the plant outgrew the accelerator.  For one of the plants I used just the accelerator with no WOW.

We were not surprised that the accelerator alone was not enough to protect the tomato in our cold climate.  The tomato with just an accelerator frosted and died down to a stem, although it came back from the root and did end up producing some.  The WOWs are much better for protecting tomatoes in a very cold climate.

The tomato plants that were in a WOW with an accelerator over it, and then when they were bigger just the accelerator, and then nothing, didn’t do any better than the tomatoes that were just in WOWs and then nothing.

So, we give these Pop-Up Tomato Accelerators a thumbs down for use in our high-altitude, short season, cold climate.  We will stick with the Wall-o-Waters, that have always worked very well for us.

#2 Super Hoops with All-Purpose Garden Fabric

We decided to create tunnels to not only extend the season, but also to protect the plants from pests.  We built them in our 2-foot wide garden boxes around the edge of the garden.  The plants we put in these tunnels this year were cabbages, beets, turnips, spinach, and lettuce.  We have previously had a lot of trouble with root maggots, leaf miners, and cabbage worms in those plants.  We used the Super Hoops to build the frame of the tunnel and covered them with the All-purpose Garden Fabric, which was left on all season.  All these plants were in the ground under these tunnels during our last few frosts of the season, as well as through a heavy wet snow.

 

We were really happy with our results from these tunnels!  The super hoops had good structure that held their position for the most part.  During the heavy wet snow we had several fall over (to be expected), and we had a couple that were problematic all season.  Those few problematic ones were either because they had a lot of tension on them because of the fabric and their position, or they weren’t able to get very deep in the dirt.  But overall I felt the hoops were totally worth it and I plan to get some high-rise ones next year for our 4-foot wide boxes.

The fabric worked great as well.  It kept the young seedlings happy and warm through the end of winter, including a heavy snow, then it protected them from the harsh hail storms of June, we had no problems with the pests of summer, and it has kept the turnips, beets, and spinach all warm enough to last into late fall.  The downfalls of the fabric are that it does tear, so in the wind here over time it has torn and I will have to buy more.  It is also definitely extra work to keep the tunnel fabric in place and held down.  At times I was very frustrated with it.  But overall, the benefits far outweighed the extra maintenance.  We definitely yielded a better harvest from the plants that were under the tunnel.

We give these super hoops and all-purpose fabric a thumbs up for use in our climate.  We plan to continue using them year after year.

#3 Drying Beans

We decided to try drying beans (like for soup and chili) this year and see how they would grow.  We tried them previously, but a vole cut them all off at the ground level before they could really do anything.  We tried Kentucky Blue and Rattlesnake varieties this year and I planted them at the base of our new garden arch.

Despite being torn up by June hail storms, they produced and grew pretty well.  We plan to plant a lot more next year and see how it goes.  This experiment was a success!

#4 Fence Around the Pumpkin Patch

Our pumpkin and squash patch is exposed to the wild animals because they don’t generally eat the leaves, and we try to guard it and harvest the pumpkins and squash before the animals have interest in them.  So as far as the plants go, a fence isn’t a necessity.  However, the wild animals, especially the elk, like to play with, knock over, and chew on our Wall-O-Waters.  So we have to plant the pumpkin and squash seedlings a month later because we can’t use the WOWs on the pumpkin patch.  With our very short growing season of 10-12 weeks frost-to-frost, that 4 weeks really makes a difference for long season veggies.  So this year we decided to fence the pumpkin patch so we could use the WOWs.

It did make a difference and we had a pretty good harvest.  So we will leave that fence in place to continue to protect it in the future.

#5  Remodeled Onion/Garlic Patch

Last fall and spring we worked to rebuild the retaining wall that held the onion/garlic patch.  By doing that we were able to add about 12-18 inches of good compost and soil into that patch, making it much deeper and covering the shallow bad soil it previously had.

It definitely worked, our onion harvest tripled this year!

#6  Mystery Box

We had an interesting occurrence happen this year, which led to some research, which led to a plan for something new we will try next year.  We had one section of garden boxes perform EXTREMELY well.  Like 10 times better than the box next to it containing the exact same seedlings.  Once we realized how much better it was doing, I looked back at my records and found that everything that has been planted in that box the last couple of years way outperformed the ones not in that box.  I am not sure how we missed it before, but it is very clear now.  So what is different about that section of boxes?

That section was built in 2014, a year after the rest of the garden.  It has the same drip system as all the garden.  Because of its position on the hill those boxes are much deeper, at about 18-20 inches deep, as opposed to the rest of the boxes that are 8-12 inches deep.  They also were filled with compost from our animals, after we had had a couple of years of good compost build-up from the cow, rabbits, sheep and chickens.  The other boxes were filled with a store-bought compost and topsoil mix, and they had a 1-2 inch layer of the same compost from our barnyard put on top.

So it seems that the difference is either the compost, or the depth, or both.  The garden location can’t really be it because there are boxes right next to them that are the shallower ones filled with different soil that didn’t perform even half as well.

Our plan for next year, to try to figure out this mysterious miracle-growing box is to increase the depth of another section of the garden, and fill it with our barnyard compost.  Granted, our compost is much different now, it doesn’t contain cow manure.  But it is the best we can do to try to figure out how to make our entire garden grow as well as that section.

Next Year’s Garden Plans

  • Plant more drying beans
  • Build another section of garden boxes deeper and fill with barnyard compost to try to replicate the miracle-growing box section
  • Buy high-rise super hoops to build a tunnel on the 4-foot boxes
  • Add more compost to the onion/garlic patch to bring the depth back up
  • Plant 2 apple trees behind onion/garlic patch
  • Everything else the same, rotating crops around the garden

So we end another garden season, and look forward to next spring when we get to do it all over again!

Sunday Homestead Update

More Snow!  We got more snow this week, this time it was about 5 inches and it stuck around for a couple of days.  It was pretty and we enjoyed being cozy by the woodstove through it.  But this continuous rain and snow pattern we have had the last 3-4 weeks has made the barnyard into a gooey mess and leaves the animals with few places to stand that aren’t mucky.  Hopefully things will dry up a bit in the coming weeks.

The day after the storm a flock of wild turkeys marched through our property.  They used to not live in this area at all, but in the last few years we have been seeing them occasionally, which is fun.

Knitting

I finished another project this week.  It is a balaclava for Little Miss.  I made three of these last year, one each for Little Miss, Braveheart, and Mr. Smiles.  They absolutely love them and wore them all winter.  But Little Miss’ head has grown and hers doesn’t fit her for this winter.  So I made her another one for Christmas.  I love the color of the yarn, it is Lion Brand Wool-Ease Thick and Quick in the colorway Wild Strawberry.  The pattern is the Bailey Balaclava.  It is a super fast knit, and it is fun to knit something that I know will get so much use.

I am really enjoying the “Fish Lips Kiss Heel” pattern and method.  I plan to do a review on both the heel and the method in a future post.  For now, I have made it to the leg of the sock.

The Problem With Roosters

Because we have 5 kids and the kids love being involved in the farm, it is very important that the animals we keep are not aggressive.  Whenever we raise up breeding roosters we let them mature and then pick our favorite two (taking into consideration conformation as well as behavior).  Then we let those two mature even more and cull the most aggressive one.  That usually leaves us with a nicely tempered breeding rooster.  But every-so-often it doesn’t work, and here is why…sometimes when there are two roosters with the flock and one seems nice and sweet and the other is the boss and aggressive, when you remove the aggressive one and the sweet one is left all alone to take the dominant position in the flock, he all of a sudden decides he needs to be aggressive because there is no one else filling the job.

Unfortunately, that has just happened to us.  We have had two roosters for a couple months now and one was significantly more aggressive than the other.  So we butchered the more aggressive one this week.  The next morning all seemed fine, but the morning after that, when we opened the coop to let the chickens out, the previously submissive roo blew right out of the coop and attacked me.  Most times when a roo gets cheeky with me if I go after him aggressively with my big black muck boot he backs off.  Not so with this guy…he got more upset and attacked me more when I tried to get him away from me.  He is acting even WORSE that the one that we butchered earlier this week.  😦  And he is the only rooster we have left.  Sigh.  Sometimes homesteading just doesn’t work the way you hope no matter how hard you try to plan and prepare for it to go well.

Soooooo, I don’t know what we will do now.  At least for the time being no kids will be allowed in the chicken pen.

The hens on the other hand….are doing beautifully.

Alice and her 5 chicks are doing well.  We are hoping to move them to the lower coop soon, so they can have some fresh air and sunshine.  We are just waiting until we feel like the little ones can handle the steep ramp that the lower coop has.  Maybe this week…

One of our other Partridge Chanteclers is wanting to set now too.  We don’t normally let them set in fall, but we decided to go ahead and go for it, especially since we might not have a roo soon.  So we put 10 eggs under Ava today, and in 21 days will hopefully have another set of chicks running around.

Garden

We are finishing up the garden year.  We have beets and turnips still in the ground under the frost fabric tunnels, but everything else is done for the year.  I am hoping to get around to tallying up the harvest amounts this week.

The Gooseberry bush is turning a beautiful purple/red/brown color.

And the strawberry leaves are turning red and starting to lay down for the winter.

Sunday Homestead Update

We got our first snow this week!  Just a couple of inches that melted off fast, but it was fun nonetheless.  Fall is in full swing.

Garden

We harvested the last of the carrots and got them frozen for winter soups.  The peas have officially finished their ability to produce with the frosts we have been having, so we are tearing those vines out of the garden and feeding them to the livestock before they fully die.  And I have been saving seeds from my tomatoes as the nicest ones ripen in the basement.  I ferment them with their goo in a cup, then rinse and drain them.  Then I put them on a labeled paper towel to dry, before they go into envelopes and into storage for next year.

The pumpkin/squash patch is thoroughly done for the season.  So we brought it all in and are letting some finish ripening indoors.  The Red Kuri squash produced very well, and we also got a few acorn squash and a few small sugar pumpkins.  In our climate, without a greenhouse, it is a blessing if we get ANY pumpkins and squash at all.

We have been cooking up the ripe ones and either eating them, or freezing them for future use in pies and breads.  We specifically have frozen and set aside the best ones for our Thanksgiving pies.  And we roasted the seeds for a yummy snack.

All that is left in the garden now are some turnips and beets in frost tents.  We will see how long they can make it.

Too Many Craft Projects!

I think I have gotten a little ahead of myself in the knitting projects.  This week I had 7 WIPs (work-in-progress), which is unheard of for me.  2, maybe 3 is my usual way to be.  But I have so many cool Christmas presents I am making, plus the items I am working on for myself, and I just kept casting-on new projects, and all of a sudden it got up to 7.  Add to that the sewing projects I have waiting and it is a bit crazy.  So I have been working on the items that are closest to done, or fastest to finish, so I can get some off the needles.

I finished the extension of the Farmhouse Shawl I made last year.  One more skein added about 4 more inches to its length and I am happy with that.

Here it was before:

And here it is now:

I added one more line of rib and then just went until I ran out of yarn.  It is a super cozy wrap for the cold days of winter!

I had made it a few inches down the second scarf side of my hooded scarf and tried it on and while I LOVE the feel of the yarn, the hood looked very silly on my head.

So I took out the hood part and am trying to decide what to do now.  Just finish it as a cabled scarf?  Figure out a different way to do the hood?  I like the idea of a hooded scarf, but I am just not sure.  So that will be going on hold for an unknown amount of time while I decide what to do.

Meanwhile I keep knitting away at all my other WIPs and I need to get to the sewing machine too.

Onion/Garlic Patch

Last fall and spring we re-built the retaining wall on the onion/garlic patch to make the area bigger and make the soil richer and deeper.  We had been unable to grow anything in that area because of the terrible soil that was there, and there was no way to amend it much because of how shallow the area was.

Before:

After:

It really helped and this year our onions grew very well!

Now we are continuing with phase 2 of the plan of fixing up that area.  It had 3 Ponderosa pine trees at the back of it that were between it and the main vegetable garden.  The trees were causing a lot of trouble in the gardens because they drop millions of pine needles each year, as well as small very spiky pine cones and larger cones too.  Each spring we were having to clean the needles out of the garden and the onion patch and throw them away because they are very acidic and not good for the soil.  But it was nearly impossible to get them all, and the needles and small cones left would stab us when we were working in the gardens, which was unpleasant.  So we decided to remove the trees, and in the spring we will be planting apple trees in their place.  This will give us some food-producing trees, and we can rake the leaves up and add them to the compost pile.  Any leaves that are left will be good for the soil.

We got the trees down:

And then tried to pull the stumps out with the tractor….which was impossible.  Didn’t even budge them an inch.  They are firmly gripped into the rocky mountainside.  So we cut them down as low as possible.

In the past several months since we built the retaining wall and added the soil to the onion patch everything has settled and the dirt has ended up about 18 inches lower than it was.  So this weekend we are using the tractor we are borrowing to get the compost from the barnyard and dump it into the patch, filling it back up.  This will also cover what is left of the stumps so we can set the old bathtub and the metal water trough over where they used to be.

Once that is done it will be ready for spring planting next year – of onions and garlic, AND of our two new fruit trees!

Sunday Homestead Update

It has been a wet week around here.  A lot of rain and drizzle and fog.  When it hasn’t been raining it has been beautiful crisp fall weather.  It has been nice to use the wood stove again and sit by the fire knitting with hot tea.  We are supposed to be getting our first dusting of snow this coming week, which will be fun.

We have continued to work on outside fall projects when the weather cooperates.  When it has been raining we have been inside canning and organizing.  I decided we needed a full-house go-through.  We have gone through all the closets, cupboards, drawers, toy boxes, etc.  We have gotten rid of things we don’t need or don’t use, and have thrown away all trash and broken items, and organized the things we kept.  It feels SO good to know exactly what he have and why we have it and where it is.  We completed clothing drawers and closets for each family member (7 total), all the kids toy boxes, all the kids bookcases, two linen closets, the storage room, under all the beds, and the winter outerwear closet.  I would still like to do my craft room (the girls already did their craft area), the laundry room shelves, the bathroom cabinets and drawers, and the kitchen cabinets and drawers.  But I am not sure we will have time with all the other fall projects we are working on.  And that is OK, because the stuff we already dealt with was the most important and needed going through more than what is left.  And the amount we got rid of and threw away was HUGE.  It feels great!

Garden

We are continuing with fall garden chores.  Harvesting what has survived the cold weather thus far, putting it up for the winter by canning, freezing, drying, and root cellaring.  It makes me smile to see the braided onions hanging in the basement and the rows of jars of home-canned garden veggies.

We decided to split the chives this year.  Their location in the garden was not optimal, and they had gotten quite big.

So we dug up the whole plant and root ball, used the shovel to cut the root ball in half, and replanted the two halves in different places.  One is still in the garden, but in a different box, and the second is in an old bathtub that is part of the decorations in the onion patch.  I am looking forward to seeing the pretty purple chive flowers in the spring.

Heritage Arts

When I first learned to knit socks I used the basic flap-type heel taught in Ann Bud’s sock knitting book that I used to learn how to do socks.  Then I found the OMG heel and the Spacious OMG heel, both by Meghan Williams.  I really liked that method and have been using it ever since.  But I continue to be interested in different options for knitting heels.  This week I saw the “Fish Lips Kiss Heel” on the blog All She Wants to Do is Knit.  It looked interesting and after looking into it further I found that it isn’t just a heel pattern, but also a method for making sure your hand-knit socks fit just right.  So I decided to give it a go and see how I like it.  Today I did step one, which is to get cardboard foot patterns for each member of our family.  Obviously, I will start with one pair, and thus just need one cardboard pattern, however I figured while I had all 7 of us together and was tracing feet, I might-as-well just do everyone’s foot in case I like this method and want to make more soon.  I even did Mr. Smiles’ little foot, although I am not sure if it really matters with baby socks, but I guess I might find out.

 

Back on the needles….

Last year I made this wonderful Farmhouse Shawl from our homespun yarn from our ewe Fiona.

While I absolutely love the cozy feel of the shawl, I have found that it is too small for my liking.  So I took off the tassels and put it back on the needles.  I have one more 170yd skein of that homespun yarn, so I am going to lengthen it until I run out of yarn and then put the tassels back on.  Hopefully I will be happier with the size after adding that skeins’ worth of yarn.

I bought several balls of yarn, as well as some fabric, all for Christmas present making and Christmas crafting.  I have some presents done already, but still have several more to complete.  I am also going to make the last set of cloth placemats and napkins for my seasonal placemat project.  I found some winter and Christmas fabric for them and will get started as soon as I can.  I want them done by the weekend after Thanksgiving, which is when we decorate for Christmas.