Sunday Homestead Update (a day late)

Not much going on around the homestead this week.  Tried to lay low and get caught up on basic life.  Animals are all doing well, weather has rotated between nice sunny 40sF to -10F and snow…typical winter in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.

Garden

Mountain Man and I went around and pruned the berry bushes in preparation for next year.  We need to do some more studying up on this process, but we understand the basic concept and do our best each year and it seems to work well.

While we were out and about around the gardens we found a small problem.

We use a 8-foot tall deer proof fencing around our gardens to keep the deer out.  It is made of plastic mesh, which is nice because it doesn’t block the view the way other fences do.  We use chicken wire on the bottom 2 feet of the fence, and bury it out a foot under the ground along the outside of the fence to keep out rabbits and digging critters.

Last year we built the new Apple Garden, which includes our two apple trees and the new medicinal herb garden.  We didn’t get around to reinforcing the bottom of the deer fence, and thankfully it didn’t matter through last summer.  But it seems a bunny has discovered the lack of defense and chewed a hole through the fence into the Apple Garden.  We will need to get the bottom reinforced before spring when there will actually be something in there for the bunnies to damage.

Knitting

I finished the very bright Fibonacci stripe pattern socks!  I am happy with how they turned out.  This sock yarn from knitpicks was a different texture than any sock yarn I have used before, so it will be interesting to see how they wear.

Due to all the big projects I knit for Christmas and thus the desire for smaller, fast-to-finish, portable projects – plus the fact that I got a ton of new sock yarn for Christmas – my sock knitting spree has continued.  The ones made from the Fergus/Bamboo yarn are coming along as are a new pair I cast on.

These use Serenity Sock yarn in the colorway Borealis and I am doing a combo of the construction of the Fish Lips Kiss pattern mixed with the textured pattern from Hermoine’s Everyday Socks pattern.

 

2018 Year-End Homestead Review

Looking back over the previous year on the homestead is an excellent practice because it helps us see what worked, what didn’t, and helps us plan for the future.  It is also always very encouraging to me because even when I feel like we didn’t have a very productive year, seeing it all written out shows me all that we accomplished.  Our homestead has had to take a backseat to other parts of our life over the last few years due to our baby’s serious medical issues.  This year more than ever.  But despite that, we still are able to do some homesteading and it brings us stability and joy.

To read previous Year-End Reviews Click the following links:

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

Statistics

Chickens:

  • Started year with 20 hens, 9 young pullets and cockerels, and 1 rooster
  • Purchased 10 layer chicks and 41 meat chicks
  • 18 meat chicks died first couple of weeks, 1 layer chick died – 9 layers and 23 meat chicks survived
  • Because of large loss of meat chicks decided to buy 11 layer chicks to add to the brooder
  • 5 broody hen sets with a total of 15 chicks surviving
  • 1 cross beak chick had to be culled, 1 silkie hen licked to death by LGD pup, 1 hen killed by bobcat, 1 young pullet died for unknown reasons, and 1 hen died of egg bound
  • Butchered 23 meat chickens, 10 layer cockerels, 1 aggressive rooster, and 8 hens
  • Sold 9 hens
  • Ended year with 28 hens, 1 chick, and 1 rooster
  • Approximately 3,500 eggs laid

Farm Dogs:

  • Anya, our 2.5-year-old Anatolian Shepherd, is continuing to mature and be trained to be our lead LGD.  As a pup she accidentally licked a couple of chickens to death and therefore was living adjacent to the barnyard and continuing to be trained.  In December we were very excited to move her into the main barnyard and have her be mature enough to guard without any accidental killings.
  • We have had no bear break-in attempts on the barn since she took over.  The bears used to try to break into the barn multiple times each autumn, despite our previous wonderful guard dog living in the barn (he did keep them out and alerted us so we could chase them off, but they continued to try).  I am guessing it is the size difference, our previous guard dog was 55 lbs, Anya is over 100.  I think the bears can tell the difference when they hear her bark and such and they don’t think it is worth it to grapple with a dog that big.  Not sure what else would cause the change.

Sheep:

  • Did not have sheep most of this year.  Sold the flock December of 2017 due to son’s medical issues and hospitalizations.
  • Unexpectedly bought back three of our sheep a couple weeks before the end of the year!  2 ewes and 1 ram.  They are currently living together in hopes of squeezing in last-minute breedings for this year so we can have some lambs born this summer.

Goats:

  • No goats this year due to son’s medical issues.  Contemplating plans for a dairy goat in 2019, but have not decided yet.

Garden:

  • Over 490 lbs of produce harvested
  • Spent $134 on the garden this year, average of $0.27 per lb.

Heritage Arts:

  • I completed the following knit projects: 2 cabled hats, 1 cabled cardigan, 1 pair of flip-top mittens, 7 pairs of socks, 2 baby blankets, 1 baby vest, 1 shawl, 1 afghan and 169 squares for my scrap sock afghan.
  • I completed one cross stitch, and sewed 4 skirts for myself, 1 dress for myself, 4 skirts for the girls, 1 dress for Sunshine, 4 bibs for Mr. Smiles, hospital PJs for Mr. Smiles, several pairs of flannel PJ pants for everyone, and 3 flannel nightgowns for Little Miss. Plus innumerable amounts of mending and patching of clothes.
  • The girls did countless projects, each of them finishing more projects than I did.

Kitchen:

  • Canned over 350 jars of food this year.

Year Summary

January was much warmer than usual and we enjoyed the chance to get outside when we could, though the end was bitterly cold.  We spent a lot of time dealing with our son’s medical issues, with hospitals, surgery, and many doctor’s appointments.  We were able to get our garden planning and school curriculum planning done, along with building a new pantry area in the basement.

In February the girls and I spent the cold days working on my grandmother’s English paper piecing quilt, as well as a crocheted scrap afghan.  I also worked on finishing some of my crafty WIPs (works-in-progress) to get them out of storage and completed.

March brought a lot of garden prep work, building new garden areas, and remodeling older garden areas.  Our hatchery chicks arrived on the farm, including our first ever try with meat chicks.  We were very disappointed when a huge amount of the meat chicks died for unknown reasons.  It wasn’t our brooding techniques because none of the layer chicks being brooded with them died.  We also had our first hatch of the year under a mama hen.  We remodeled our bathroom, as well as a couple chicken housing areas in the barn.  And we enjoyed learning the art of dehydrating fruit.

In April we started plans for our medicinal herb garden, little green shoots started poking up their heads on our perennial plants in the garden, and our seedlings inside began taking over the house.  During the cold weather the girls and I spent a lot of time in the kitchen, canning jam and homemade ketchup, as well as starting to work through the Little House Living recipe book.  And we spent some time sewing PJ pants for the family as well as some skirts and dresses.  At the very end of the month the swallows arrived a little early, signaling that it was time to put our first seeds in the ground outside.

In May we didn’t get the big snows that we usually get towards the end of the month, which meant that our garden got a big head start over previous years.  We worked a lot in the garden and we butchered the first round of meat chickens and found the meat to be superior to the meat from our dual-purpose birds.

June was another month extra heavy on the medical stuff with our son.  We spent time in the ER, had unexpected hospitalizations and surgery, as well as many doctor’s appointments.  Somehow we were able to keep the garden going strong, started some harvesting, and butchered the last of the chickens.  And we squeezed in some sewing of bibs too.

In July we were busy gardening, harvesting, and started our canning season.  We had another 2 hens set and hatch chicks.  And the girls and I continued our sewing spree, making more skirts, PJ pants, hospital Pjs for Mr. Smiles, and a knitting bag.  We decided to try eating one of the silkie roos we butchered and were surprised to find their meat is black (more of a purple, really, but creepy nonetheless).  We wont do that again!  Our LGD had to spend some time indoors because of the flies eating her ears, but we finally found a repellent that worked long-term, after years of trying many many different things with no success or very short-lived success.  We also finished chopping and stacking all the firewood that we needed for the winter.

August was mostly focused on more of our son’s medical stuff.  But despite that we were able to continue with the harvest and canning, make herbal medicine, and we added our first root cellar veggie storage rack to the basement.  We competed in many ways at the County Fair and brought home a lot of ribbons and prizes.  We were surprised by a very early first frost.

September was so full of homestead work that I barely had time to blog.  We kept ourselves busy with gardening, harvesting, canning. freezing, hunting, and butchering – all things related to putting food up for the winter.  We added another root cellar veggie rack to the basement and really enjoyed using both the racks to put up the produce.  We also started remodeling one of our wood stove areas and had another hen set and hatch out chicks.

October was full of a lot of canning and we bought a new kitchen gadget to make it easier.  We filled the shelves in the basement pantry and used every empty jar we owned.  We wrapped up the gardening season and were really excited when we tallied everything and found that we had our most successful garden season ever.  I did some preliminary garden planning for next year while everything was till fresh in my mind.  And we also got our first snow of the season.

In November we stayed indoors while we had unseasonably cold weather outside.  We were able to put some more meat in the freezer through successful hunting and we made a lot of firestarters and a batch of hand-dipped beeswax candles.  We did our final chicken culling and re-organizing in preparation for winter, and we decided to try growing lettuce and spinach indoors under grow-lights for the winter months.

December brought a lot of Christmas candy making, as well as Christmas present making since we home-make almost all of our Christmas presents.  We said “no” to a lot of regular events and activities to keep a nice, calm, Christmas season and were so glad that we did.  I learned how to darn socks, and was able to fix several holes we had in some of our handmade socks.  We had two very exciting events happen for the homestead.  First, our LGD, Anya, was finally mature and trained enough to guard the livestock full time on her own.  And secondly, 3 of our sheep returned to the farm after being away for a year.  We ended the year with more medical issues, emergency rooms, hospitalization, and surgery, which will be pouring over into the new year as well.

Looking back we can see that it has been another very productive year full of blessings.

Put Your Chickens to Work Making Compost

When we first started dreaming about the set up of our homestead, we knew we wanted a shared barnyard situation in which the livestock all lived together in the same barnyard area during the day, and then went into their separate stalls and pens indoors at night.  We felt this was an easier and less expensive set-up to build when you are restricted by space and terrain (we have 3 acres on a mountainside).  So the plan was to build a barn, with an attached chicken coop, and then attach the barnyard fence in a way that all the animals can get outside into the same yard.

You can somewhat see our set up in this picture from 2013…we have the barn with two stall doors, and the coop is the smaller attachment on the left in the photo, and it all opens into one big barnyard.

There are several benefits to this set-up, but with this post I am focusing on the benefits to the chickens, and the garden.

We all know the benefits of free-ranging chickens – healthier eggs, lower feed costs, and more space for the birds which helps their health and quality of life.  But there are also drawbacks, mainly – predators and having chickens wander where you don’t want them, such as in the garden, or on the front porch leaving droppings.

And we all know the amazing benefits of having good compost in the garden beds.  Our garden can definitely attest to it, as we averaged a pound of produce per square foot of gardening space in our garden this year – and that is grown on a short season (10-12 growing weeks), cold climate (down to 40F throughout the summer nights), high-altitude (7,500 ft) garden – all things which limit a garden’s productivity, BUT it is filled with our own barnyard-made compost.

The shared barnyard method, which also incorporates a compost pile into the barnyard that the chickens have access to, is the key to both removing the downfalls of free-ranging chickens, and to creating amazing garden compost in a shorter period of time.

By keeping the chickens in the enclosed barnyard area they are much safer from predators.  Good fencing not only keeps the chickens in, but keeps the predators out.  It limits their risk to only predators that can jump the fence, or aerial predators.  But with all the human smells and activity, those are even limited to only the ones that are bold enough and hungry enough.  And in our barnyard, the Livestock Guardian Dog keeps even those out, so our chickens are safe from predation.

Keeping them in the shared barnyard also keeps them away from places we don’t want them to be, like the garden or front porch, while still giving them the opportunity to free-range.  The shared livestock barnyard is full of great things for the chickens to forage and eat.  They can scratch through the droppings from the other livestock, as well as the leftover hay and feed scraps, to find all sorts of bugs and seeds and forage – all of which would just be wasted if they were not in the shared barnyard.

In addition, we dump our compost pile right in the middle of the barnyard.  It consists of all the kitchen and garden scraps, as well as everything we clean out of the barn stalls and coops when we clean them.  So it has a big mix of food and garden scraps, hay, straw, pine shavings, and plenty of poop from all different breeds of livestock.  We put it in one big pile in the middle of the barnyard (not near the fence lest it be used as a way to climb out).  The chickens then are able to scratch through it all, finding all sorts of things to eat, and turning and aerating the compost for us at the same time.  Because the chickens are doing all the hard work for us, our compost maintenance consists of adding stuff to the pile as we have it, and then every few weeks going out and raking the pile back up into a pile since it has been spread out by the chickens.

Here is how it looks when we have it all raked up:

And here it is after about 3 weeks of work by the chickens…quite spread out:

We then rake it back into a pile, which is stirring and turning it even more, and we continue adding to it.  Usually we start with one pile higher in the barnyard, closer to the barn so it is easy to clean the stalls out into it.  That is the less-composted pile.  Then, as it begins to turn more and more into soil we move it down to a second pile lower, and start adding the fresh stuff to a new upper pile.

Then, come spring it is time to “harvest” the black gold.  We take a wheelbarrow (or a tractor, when we have access to one) into the barnyard and scoop up the compost that is finished and take it to our garden.  And the cycle continues.

Other gardeners in our area have told us that because of the cold climate it takes them approximately 2 years to get their compost to the point it can go into the garden.  They are using compost bins that they manage and turn on their own, and their compost is mainly kitchen and garden scraps.  Here at our homestead we have easily had plenty of compost each spring to fill our garden after only a year of time for it to breakdown.  Some years we have had so much that we were able to share it and give it away to other gardeners as well.  And because we do the shared barnyard method it includes all the poop, bedding and feed scraps left from the animals, thus being a more balanced compost.  And it composts faster because we let the chickens work on it, which speeds up the breakdown, and leaves us with rich black gold to use, all the while feeding the chickens and cutting our chicken feed costs.

Over the last 6 1/2 years we have found the shared barnyard method, with a compost heap in the middle of it, to be a super-efficient way to manage our little backyard homestead.  It benefits each of the different types of livestock, especially the chickens, and makes for a super-productive garden as well.

 

Sunday Homestead Update

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving!  We really had a great one.  Delicious food, nice fellowship, and thankful spirits.  We have found that a thankful spirit and attitude is the key to peace and joy in life, so we don’t just focus on thankfulness on one holiday a year – we make a constant practice of it every day.  We have a chalkboard up in our living room that is our “Counting Every Blessing” board.  Whenever someone thinks of something to be thankful for they go and write it on the board.  Once it is jam packed full we erase and start over.  It has really helped us keep good perspectives on life, especially through the hard times.

Christmas Candies

As is our tradition, we made Christmas candies the weekend after Thanksgiving while we decorated the house for Christmas.  Caramels, Old-Fashioned Hard Candy, Fudge (butterscotch and eggnog), and peppermint bark.  We will continue to make more throughout December and give it to friends and family and take it to Christmas gatherings that we attend.

Caramels

Old Fashion Hard Candy

Peppermint Bark

Eggnog Fudge

Butterscotch Fudge

Basement Garden

The lettuce and spinach in the basement garden under grow lights have sprouted.  We planted another tray so we can have succession plantings.  We are hoping for fresh salad through the winter from this basement garden since we have been very disappointed in the quality of greens we are finding for sale at the stores.

Advent

Advent starts today.  It is a way that we acknowledge and celebrate the promise that God gave to send a savior, and the time of waiting before His arrival.  Mtn Man made us a pretty log advent wreath many years ago that we love.  Each night we light a certain amount of candles and do a Bible reading and short study on different aspects of the promises about the messiah.  My favorite is Christmas Eve when we light all the candles – it is so pretty and meaningful!  Here is a pic when it is all lit:

Knitting and Sewing

I am still busy knitting Christmas gifts, hoping to complete them all in time.  But I made a goal for myself back in the spring to complete 15 squares on my scrappy afghan each month.  So I took a short break from the Christmas knitting this week to complete the 15 squares for November.  I am not hooking them on, just getting them knit up.  I now have 150 of the 192 squares I need.  If I keep up with my goal I should complete the squares in February, and then hopefully get it all hooked together and complete by March.

I figured out how to darn socks this week.  I have been putting it off because I had no one to teach me, but it got to the point that it had to be done.  Hand knit socks get holes just like other socks and it is much easier to darn them than knit a new one.  I do find that by reinforcing the socks I knit we have minimal holes, but they still occasionally happen – especially when one steps on the transitions strip between carpet and wood flooring and the screw tops snag the sock.

So I decided to go for it.  I knew the basic principal – weave a patch so there aren’t any lumps and bumps to be uncomfortable on the foot.  I got out my darning egg – I inherited this one from my great-grandmother in her sewing basket.

I put the sock on there and then cleaned up the edges of the hole a bit.  This was before I cleaned up the edges.

First I wove in vertically.

Then I wove across those horizontally.

 

I am not sure if that is the right way, or how long it will last…but it felt good on his foot and looks fine, so I am hopeful.

Every year I make the kids flannel pajamas and they give them to them on Christmas Eve.  I purchased all the needed flannel this week and am starting to cut them out and sew them now.  I am also sewing myself a special winter skirt that I will share more about later.

Fun and productive start to winter on the farm!

Sunday Homestead Update

Hard to believe it is November…and the time change already too!  It has continued to be snowy here, although we have had a lot of nice fall days in between the snows as well.

Driveway

When you live on a rocky mountainside, maintaining a dirt driveway can be quite a chore.  Thankfully, we have access to a tractor and Mtn Man knows how to use it to fix up the road.  So he has been working on that project.  He got a couple of loads of road base and added them and got it all smoothed out and the water running off properly to the ditches.  He also fixed up the ditches.  So that is done for another year until next fall.

Hunting

Mtn Man and Young Man have done some more hunting the last couple of weeks and put more meat in the freezer.  They each filled their buck mule deer tags, so we spent a couple of afternoons butchering those.  Mtn Man’s buck was a smaller one, we got about 30 lbs of meat and 5 lbs of dog food off it.  Young Man got a pretty good size one and we got 50 lbs of meat and 10 lbs of dog food from it.    It feels great to have all that meat in the freezer to feed the family this winter.

Our dog, Hazel, has a very important job during butchering…keeping the floors clean so no one steps in little chunks of meat that accidentally fall.  She takes this job very seriously and stares intensely at the floor so she can immediately clean up anything that falls.

It is exhausting work…

Earlier this fall Young Man filled his cow elk tag (125 lbs of meat), and we were gifted meat from another cow elk someone we know hunted (125 lbs of meat).  So we now have meat from 2 cow elk and 2 buck mule deer in the freezer.  We don’t buy red meat, so whatever we hunt is what we get for the year.  If we get less (like last year) we have to ration more strictly and don’t eat as much meat.  When we get more we eat more meat.  Mtn Man still has a cow elk tag, and if he is able to fill that we will for sure have enough to make it until next fall eating plenty of red meat, and probably even be able to bless some other families with some meat as well.  He has until January to fill that tag.

Gardening/Canning

We planted the garlic and put straw on the over-wintering plants.  I am trying to overwinter celery for the first time this year in an attempt to get celery seeds to save next year.  I have been able to do it successfully with carrots, so I am hopeful this will work too.

The tomatoes continue to slowly ripen in the basement root cellar racks.  As they ripen we use them and can them.

Besides the tomatoes the gardening and canning season is officially over for us.  We are having hard frosts often and a lot of snow already.  I am contemplating planting some lettuce and spinach under grow lights in the basement to grow us some fresh greens this winter.  I need to get that planned out and started.

Heritage Arts

I continue to work on Christmas present knitting.  I also got another 15 squares done for my scrap square afghan.  This makes a total of 135 out of 192.  I am getting there!

I also have some sewing projects in the works.  First I had to finish the items we were sewing for Operation Christmas Child boxes this year.  I am now done with that and can get to some of the other projects that have been waiting.