Sunday Homestead Update – Firewood & Dirt

This week’s focus was firewood.  We are terribly behind on putting up enough firewood to heat the house for the winter.  We have been blessed with an opportunity to gather already bucked-up rounds from someone’s property where they took out a bunch of trees several years ago to put in a road.  So we have been collecting those and bringing them to our property to split.  So far we have been hand-splitting with an axe because we didn’t yet have enough rounds to warrant renting the splitter for the weekend.  But we have now collected enough and next week we will split, split, and split some more…oh and stack too.  We need about 5 cords of wood to heat our house for winter.

Meanwhile, while we were focusing on firewood, a surprise came our way.  Last weekend we finished the retaining wall for Mr. Smiles’ play area.

We were surprised to see how huge of an amount of fill dirt we are going to need to fill in what is a pretty shallow hill grade.  But we weren’t planning to deal with filling it until spring, so we figured we needed to start saving up and would deal with it later.  Then very suddenly on Tuesday, Mtn Man came upon an opportunity for some free fill.  He called and told me to get ready because it was coming that afternoon.  We were able to fill about 1/3 of the area with the free dirt!  What a blessing!  He also arranged for us to hopefully get some more free fill over the next few months to finish it off.  That will be so wonderful!

I wanted to put a pic here with the dirt fill in the play area, but wordpress keeps giving me errors when I try to upload them.

And then we got a couple more surprises that changed our plans – we filled two of our buck tags for the year.  All of our red meat to feed our family comes from hunting deer and elk, so that was a nice step towards having the meat we need for the next year.  We stopped our firewood efforts to deal with butchering those and getting them in the freezer.

Garden

We have been working on using the lumber from the huge trees we took down for someone to build the raised beds for the second veggie garden.  We were able to finish about 2/3 of the boxes with the lumber we have.  Next spring we will fill it with soil and compost and get the wildlife fence up around it and start using it.  At some point, when we get some more lumber, we will finish building the rest of the boxes.

Again, was going to put before and after pics here, but for some reason wordpress won’t upload those specific pics.  I’ll share them in a future post.

This new garden will more than double the amount of vegetables and herbs we are growing to feed our family.  What a blessing!

Sheep

We had a breakout this week.  Someone forgot to caribener the gate latch and one of the animals got it open.  The LGD, sheep, and goat all got out.  Thankfully, the goat and sheep were happy to start grazing right outside the barnyard, and with 5 of us we were able to get them back into the barnyard.  The LGD, however, was another story.  She took advantage of her new found freedom and followed her nose on an adventure.  Thankfully, we found her pretty quickly over in the forest behind our neighbor’s house.  It was a pretty stressful adventure, that I hope we can avoid repeating.

Heritage Arts

I finished another pair of socks this week.  These are again, the Fish Lips Kiss Heel pattern.  They are done with some yarn Mtn Man made me with CVM wool and dyed Bamboo.  They are bulky and cozy winter socks for Young Man, and I am happy with them.

I also finished my first ever weaving project, and I am starting to warp the next one.  More on that in a coming post.

Pine Seeds are Falling

Something interesting that happens every two years up here in the Ponderosa Pine forests is the pine trees release their seeds.  The trees are covered with beautiful cones right now.

Some are still closed tight, but they are currently all opening and releasing their seeds.  In this pic you can see the closed ones on the left, and the opens on the right.

And here is a close up that shows both closed and open.

The seeds have little sails on them to carry them through the air.

And they are EVERYWHERE.  All over the ground, all over the cars, all over the buildings.

What I love most about this aspect of nature is listening to hear the cones open up.  If you just rush through your day and don’t stop and listen you wont even notice them.  In fact I lived here for YEARS and never heard them.  And I have talked to many people who have lived here for YEARS and never heard them.  It is that subtle.  But if you take time to stop, be quiet, and listen, you can hear the cones opening.  It is a very quiet crackling popping kind of sound.  So I have been making sure to take the time to stop and listen to the trees this week.

Sunday Homestead Update

Fall is moving right along here at Willow Creek Farm – it is a very busy season, but my very favorite season.  We have had a couple killing frosts, so the gardens are emptying quickly and the canning jars and root cellar racks are filling up.  I love my root cellar racks.  This is our second year with them and they are awesome.

We have harvested all the purple (green) beans and canned them.  We have harvested all the tomatoes and they are ripening in the racks.  We harvested all the squash as well and they are in the root cellar racks.  We harvested and ate all the peppers.  The peas and carrots are all harvested and frozen.  We harvested all the grapes and made them into jelly juice which we froze.  We will make that jelly and can it when we have time in the next coming weeks.  This week we harvested all the drying beans and they are finishing their drying in the racks.  And we also harvested all the celery and chopped and froze it.

All that remains in the gardens are onions, lettuce going to seed, cabbage that has been harvested and is sending up the second sprouts, beets, and radishes.

We purchased apples this week and have been canning applesauce.  We still really love the “Squisher” that we bought last year (fruit press), it makes the process go much faster.

The root cellar feels and smells amazing with all the full jars and the produce.

Livestock

It is always an adventure when you are homesteading, and this week was no different.  During morning barn chores the rams got in with the ewes.  Sunshine was chasing them around, trying to keep them from breeding, while yelling for Little Miss (who was milking Pansy) to run and get help.  Mtn Man came out and helped her separate them off.  But during the process Fergus mounted Autumn three different times.  They were running at the time, because Sunshine was chasing them, which just goes to show how strong hormones are.  So we are not sure if Fergus was successful in his endeavor or not, as the ewe was running full blast and he was also running, but only on his back two legs – LOL.  It was quite a funny incident.  Unfortunately, if he was successful, we will be having some February lambs – which in our cold climate is not a good thing.  We have marked the calendar and will keep an eye on the situation.  We might do a blood test in a month so that we really know what to expect.

We originally thought that the rams breaking out of their pen was a freak accident, like the gate didn’t get fully latched or something.  But we quickly learned that was not the case.  Fergus had figured out how to open the gate.  First he would head butt it several times in a row to jiggle the latch open.  The gate has spring loaded hinges, so it naturally stays closed.  It opens towards the rams.  He figured out that if he hit it again and bounced it open a little, he could get his head through and then the rest of him….And people say sheep are dumb.  I guess they haven’t met our testosterone-driven ram.  LOL.

So we adjusted the latch so he can’t do that anymore and the rams and ewes are securely separated until November when our breeding season starts.

Homestead Building Projects

Fall is our big time for outdoor homestead building projects, and this fall has some big ones.  We are scrambling to get them done before winter hits since we lost most of September to Mr. Smiles’ surgery and recovery and my father’s funeral.

The two main projects we are focusing on right now are building a safe play area for Mr. Smiles, and building a second raised-bed vegetable garden.

Mr. Smiles’ Play Area

Mr. Smiles has special needs and cannot walk on anything but flat, smooth surfaces.  We live on a mountainside in a forest…our ground is anything but flat and smooth.  So we picked an area in the back yard and we are going to build a retaining wall, bring in dirt and fill it in to make it level.  Then we are going to put down synthetic turf over the dirt.  We will put in a play set and he will have a safe place he can move and play without us having to hold his hands and steady him.

This week we moved the large play house that was in that area.  It was quite a job since the house was 12ft x 6ft.  This week we will begin building the retaining wall.

The Second Veggie Garden

We have a nice big garden, and it is super productive, but we are feeding 7 people from it and could always use more.  In August we took down some beetle kill trees for someone and had them made into lumber.  We are now using that lumber to build another terraced, raised-bed vegetable garden.  The new garden will be a little bigger than the current one, so we should more than double our production.  We are very excited about this new project.  We started building the raised beds this week and are about 1/3 done with that part of the project.  I will follow up with photos and more info on the process in future posts.

Heritage Arts

I finished a pair of socks this week.  I used a self-striping yarn from knit picks called Felici in the colorway Beyond the Wall and the Fish Lips Kiss Heel pattern.

This month I am embarking on a new learning journey – I am going to learn to weave!  We had a large floor loom for the last couple of years and Young Man and Little Miss were the ones who learned how to use it and used it.  I was too busy with Mr. Smiles’ medical stuff to feel like I could learn something new.  This summer we sold that loom and bought a smaller one that fits nicely in the living room.  Little Miss has been using it and every time I go into the living room it has been calling to me.  I have always wanted to learn to weave, and now I am going to.  Little Miss agreed to finish her project by October 1st and I could use the loom for the month of October, and longer if needed.  So I am reading the book Learning to Weave by Deborah Chandler.  And this week I will start weaving on the loom.  I am really excited!

Sunday Homestead Update

Chickens

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

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

Lumber

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

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

Fall Projects

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

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

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

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

Sheep

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

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

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

Sunday Homestead Update

Busy, busy here on the homestead.

Sheep

We decided to name the new dairy sheep Autumn.  Here is a cute pic from when I was sitting in the barnyard for farm therapy the other day.  Fiona and Autumn were blocking the chickens’ door to get into their coop.  The chickens were crowding around them trying to figure out how to get in and the rooster decided to stand on Fiona’s back to see if he could somehow get in the door that way.

We had more sheep excitement this week as we added more dairy sheep to our flock. I will introduce them in a post later this week.  Settling them in has been rough so far.  There are some issues with Autumn and Pansy bullying them.  Fiona is doing great with them.  Anya is being too rambunctious with them, since they are only 5-month-old lambs and thus smaller and not good at standing up for themselves with her, which is also a problem.  So we are having to keep everyone somewhat separated and under watchful eyes.  Hoping everything settles soon.

Garden

We have been very busy harvesting the garden and putting up the harvest.

We had a very very light frost on Aug 28 that did a tiny bit of damage to the bean plants, but since then there hasn’t been a frost yet and it doesn’t look like one is coming for another week at least. This is looking to be a late fall, which will be wonderful since we had such a cold spring, the plants need the extra growth time.

The first tomatoes have started ripening.  It looks like it will be a pretty good harvest despite the late frost and cool weather set-backs we had. I pruned the tomato plants a bunch to help keep their energy focused on the fruit already on them as opposed to flowers and tiny fruit that don’t have a chance of making it this year.

The pepper harvest has been much better than last year, and we are bringing in Red Kuri and Golden Nugget squash now as well.

The green beans are coming in well and we are canning them and lining the root cellar shelves with jars of them for winter.

The carrot and pea harvest are done for the year. They produced well but a massive aphid infestation cut them short.

While we were picking up the new Dairy Sheep from the western slope of Colorado, we grabbed two bushels of peaches.  They are huge and beautiful and we are enjoying eating them and canning them for winter.

Heritage Arts

I was able to get some knitting done while we were in the hospital with Mr Smiles.  I finished the cabled cardigan that has been on the needles for 18 months and kept getting ignored because of other projects, it feels SO good to have it done.

The pattern is Let Go by Joji Locatelli.  The yarn was Knit Picks Gloss DK in the colorway Blackberry.  I absolutely love how this turned out.  It fits me perfectly and it is so soft and warm.  I cannot wait for the weather to cool a bit so I can wear it regularly.

I have also been making progress on two different pairs of socks I am working on.

We got a new toy…I mean tool…for the homestead. We used to have a large 42-inch floor loom for weaving. But it was just too big and rarely got used because we didn’t have a good place to set it up. So this summer we sold it and bought a smaller loom. It is the Wolf Pup LT from Schat Spindle Co.

We love it! It fits nicely in the corner of the living room and is big enough to make any of the types of things we want to weave. Little Miss is currently weaving a practice/learning project on it.

 

Sunday Homestead Update

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

If the rock is wet, its raining.

If the rock is white, its snowing.

If the rock is swinging, its windy.

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

Garden

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

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

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

Sheep

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

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

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

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

Chickens

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

The Outcasts

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

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

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

Heritage Arts

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

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