Sunday Homestead Update

Slow Spring and Sleepless Nights

Spring has been slow coming to us.  It has been colder overall than usual, though we have had some warmer days here and there.  The perennial plants haven’t started poking green out yet, and last year they were poking out the second week of March.  So it has been slow.  But we are preparing so that when it finally arrives we will be ready.

Despite the slow-to-come spring, the bears are awake and hungry.  They have been causing us sleepless nights because they keep trying to get into the dumpster and that causes Anya to bark (good dog!) which wakes us up and Mtn Man goes out and chases them off.  Thankfully they are just trying at the dumpster, not at the barn, or cars, or house, like they are doing in other places in our area.  We are so grateful to have Anya in the barn to keep them away from it and to alert us when they are on the property causing mischief.  And thankfully the replacement bear-proof dumpster we got a few weeks ago after a bear broke the last bear-proof dumpster is holding up against all their attempts.

Garden Prep Work

Most of the ground in the main veggie garden is thawed, so we spent Saturday working on preparing it for the upcoming garden season.  We did not do a good job of cleaning it up last fall.  Sometimes we do a really great job, other times…notsomuch.  This was a notsomuch year.  So there were a lot of leftover stalks and stems from last year, some weeds and moss that had grown during the fall, plus hard-packed, settled, and cracking soil, and the bean trellis needed to come down.

So we got all of that cleaned out.  Then we built up the newest deeper section.  Each year we are building one section of the raised beds up 7 inches higher because we found deeper boxes grow much better.  Here it is before and after the build up.

Once we built it up we filled it with compost from the barnyard.  We then added compost to the rest of the garden as well and got everything raked and loosened up and then smoothed out and ready for planting.

The metal stuff you are seeing in the boxes is our way of keeping the barn cats from using the fresh new garden soil as a litter box.  Once we plant and it is getting watered and such they leave it alone.  But when it is just sitting there and no one is out there working in the garden they tend to sneak in there.

All that is left now is to do some maintenance on the water drip system and get it ready for the season, but we can’t do that until May because there are still going to be a lot of below-freezing nights.

We also got the chicken wire around the base of the fence to the Apple Garden.  A bunny chewed a hole in the plastic mesh fence earlier this winter because we hadn’t gotten around to adding the wire yet.  It is in place now and will protect the medicinal herbs from the rabbits.

Dairy Goat

Pansy has settled in a lot more this week.  She is eating really well now and her milk production is going back up because of it.  She can often be seen laying with the flock of sheep chewing her cud, or running around with the dog (she is very dog-like in her personality and has bonded with Anya).  She still roams around looking for her goat friends some each day.  I am hopeful over time she will completely settle and wont do that anymore.

Sheep

As you saw in previous posts this week we have been shearing the sheep and skirting the fleece.  The skirted fleece are headed for the wash and I am really excited to see what kind of yarn Mtn Man makes with them.

We still need to shear Rose, and that will happen this week.

The sheep that got shorn look very different now, they went from big puff balls to seemingly scrawny looking things comparatively.

Knitting and Crochet

I finished the afghan I have been working on for almost a year now with sock yarn scraps!  I am very happy with how it turned out and have been enjoying cuddling under it on the chilly days this last week.

It was a fun use of scraps.  I still have a lot of scraps left and I am considering starting a different scrap afghan to use them up.

I spent the last two weeks crocheting to finish that and it left me very much burnt out on crochet and desperate to get knitting again.  I have two projects that have been sitting on the needles for over a year now, being worked on here and there put set aside when other projects came up.  I decided I really want to finish those two.  So that is what I am working on.  One is the swallowtail lace shawl:

The yarn is Greenwood Fiberworks Cashmere Delight and it is oh-so-soft and lovely to work with and have moving through my hands.

The second is the Let Go cardigan.  This is my second time using this pattern and I am doing it with a very different yarn than last time.  I am using KnitPicks Gloss DK yarn and it is also very soft and fun to work with.

I am really enjoying being back into knitting again.

Sunday Homestead Update

We have had another full week on the farm.  Spring is trying to squeeze its way in with some days in the 50sF.  But we are also still getting snow and cold as well.  Nothing green is starting to peek out of the ground outside yet, whereas last year at this time we had quite a bit of green starting up.

Garden

We started our first seedlings inside…gardening season has officially begun!

More Chicks

Last week a setting hen abandoned her eggs that were 2/3 of the way to hatch.  We took the eggs and put them in the incubator, not sure if they would survive or not since they had been chilled.  Well, they survived and hatched this week.  There were ten eggs under the hen, two of which were found to be infertile when we brought them indoors.  The other 8 were looking good.  The hatch started on Thursday morning (day 20 – one day early) and by Friday morning we had 5 chicks hatched and 2 of the 3 remaining eggs pipped.  Those two chicks hatched, the third egg did not.  But 7 out of 8 is a great high-altitude hatch percentage.

Our bird numbers are higher than they have ever been.  Thankfully we have a lot of space for them all, so they are not overcrowded, but they would be if they all were full size adults.  But the numbers will be significantly decreased by then.  No more hatching until those numbers get more reasonable after some butchering and sales.  Of course I say that, and then one of my reliable broodies will probably decide to set this week.

Goat

Pansy has had some trouble settling in.  It seems she does not want to live with sheep.  But we really do not have the space, nor the desire for more than one goat.  Thankfully, she never stopped eating completely, like what happened to us a couple years ago when we tried to introduce one goat to the sheep flock.  By day 5 she finally started to relax a little and eat better.  She is still somewhat antsy and not completely relaxed, but we are seeing a lot of progress and expect her to settle fully over time.  Interestingly, she seems to be bonding to Anya, the LGD, more than any other animal in the barnyard.

We are still milking her twice a day while we wait for her to settle in.  We are going to move her to once a day milkings, but don’t want to risk a huge decrease in production because of the stress she is still feeling.  Once she seems more settled we will shift her over.

Pansy is Little Miss’ homestead project.  She loves goats, loves milking, and loves making dairy products.  She was the one pushing to get another dairy goat.  Mtn Man and I, of course, oversee the care of all the animals and would never leave a child 100% in charge of an animal.  But Pansy is her project and she does all the work related to her, with our guidance.  She has been doing all the milking, with Mtn Man’s help while she built up her muscles.  She was really excited when, at only day 5 of having the goat, she was able to milk her out all by herself without any help.

She has also been managing all the milk and was carefully saving up the cream all week so that she could make us all goat’s milk ice cream on Friday to go with out homemade pizza for movie night.  It was delicious!

We are all really enjoying having a dairy animal again and the fresh milk that gives the family.  And Little Miss is beyond ecstatic to be the “milk maid and dairy queen” again.

Heritage Arts

I know how to both knit and crochet.  But for me crochet is more a destination hobby – in that I do it for the finished product.  I only crochet when I want a specific item that is best crocheted.  Whereas knitting is more of a journey hobby – in that I do it because I enjoy the process of knitting as well as the finished product.  I always have at least one knitting project going.  I knit almost every day if I can.

A year ago I started an afghan using scraps of sock yarn I had leftover from all the socks I have made over the years.  I knit the squares (192 of them) over the last year and then this last few weeks have been working on the hooking-together of more than half of the afghan.  I found the best way to hook it together was to sew 4 of the squares together.  Then crochet a border around the edge of the 4 squares.

Then I hook those squares to each other with a single crochet from just one side, alternating back and forth left and right.

Once I have a whole row of them (which for my afghan was 6) I hook that row onto the afghan with the same method.

So I have been doing a lot of crochet the past two weeks and haven’t really knit at all.  I am getting burnt out on it and can’t wait to get back to some knitting projects.  BUT I am really excited about finishing this afghan and so I press on.

I have finished all the hooking together now.  All I have left to do is put a nice border all the way around the outside edge of the afghan and a year-long project will be complete!

Remodeling

We have a lot of house remodeling we are hoping to accomplish this year.  We have finished the basement, which is wonderful.  It had been torn apart during the flooding of 2013 and hadn’t been finished since.  It is now a super functional space that we are all enjoying.

This week we have been focusing on the dining room finish-work.  Last fall we replaced our wood stove that was inserted into a fireplace in a rock wall with a beautiful antique wood cookstove with no fireplace and no rock wall.  The old wood stove had two elbows in the stovepipe which caused it to not draft well and to back-puff often.  We really wanted a stove with a straight pipe that didn’t back-puff, and we wanted to get rid of the rock wall, and we wanted to find a way to incorporate the beautiful antique wood cookstove that has been sitting in our garage for years.  So we did!  The cookstove does an excellent job of heating that area of the house and looks so pretty too.  Plus, if we want to we can cook on it and bake in the oven.

But as is usual for us, once the major work was complete and it was use-able we got busy with other things and didn’t finish up the trim work and details that make things really look great.  So this week we finished all of that and we are really happy to have it complete and not only functional but also looking nice as well.

Here is the dining room before:

And here it is now:

I haven’t fully settled on mantle and wall decorations yet, but that will come with time.  I need to live with it for awhile to decide that.

Feels so good to be checking things off the list, and enjoying a nicer house each time we do!

Nana Made Use of Everything

My Nana grew up during the Great Depression.  So she was a very frugal lady and used everything she could and didn’t waste anything.

Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.

She and I were very close and she taught me many of the homesteading skills and heritage arts that I love.  I believe my homesteading spirit definitely comes from her, as does the frugal side of me!

Last week I talked about how she and my Great-Grandmother used scraps of fabric from clothing they had sewn or fabric from worn-out clothing to put together these beautiful paper pieces for a quilt.  It was a practical way to use up extra fabric to make something beautiful and useful.

My daughters and I are continuing the quilt by using their paper pieces, and making our own from our scrap fabric.

This week I am going to share another way that we learned from Nana to make use of scraps…yarn scraps.

Back in the day, they use to make all their own socks.  Store-bought was too expensive and not always readily available.  So my Great-Grandmother and my Nana (grandmother) would knit socks for their families.  That meant that there was quite a lot of sock yarn scraps leftover.  Did they throw them out – no way!  They used them to make a granny square afghan.  Really, they probably made many afghans with the scraps over time, but I only know of one – the one my Nana kept on the back of her couch.

After Nana passed away I took a photo of the afghan that she had that she and my great-grandmother had made so that I could figure out the pattern and make my own.  As you can see, they made granny squares using different colors of sock yarn, then went around each with black, and then hooked them together.  It is a beautiful afghan and has a very vintage feel, which I love.  I wish I had a photo of the whole thing to show you, but I only took the close up at the time so I could figure out how to make it myself.

It was easy to figure out, it only uses double crochet stitches, plus single crochet for the black border.  I love how they changed out the colors, which made the patterns really stand out in special ways.

So, being a sock knitter, and having plenty of scraps of my own, I decided to follow in their footsteps and not waste the yarn by throwing it away.  So I put all my leftover sock yarn scraps in a bag, and every few months the bag comes out and my daughters and I make a few more squares and then put it away, to bring out again a few months later.  It is another long-term project, like the English Paper Piecing quilt.  The girls and I look forward to the day the afghan is hanging on the back of our couch – just like Nana’s.

2016 Year-End Homestead Review

Despite the struggles, life is always full of blessings, and as we finish off another blessed year on the farm we are happy to look back and see what happened on the homestead.

To read previous Year-End Reviews, click the following links:

2015

2014

2013

Statistics

Chickens:

  • We had anywhere from 7-21 chickens this year
  • We don’t have complete records of how many total eggs were laid, we are estimating from what records we did keep that the total was around 1,500
  • We kept approximately 78 dozen eggs
  • We sold approximately 47 dozen eggs
  • 7 eggs were set by our broody hen
  • 3 eggs hatched successfully
  • No chickens were sold
  • 14 chickens were butchered for meat for us
  • 1 hen died from being egg-bound and 1 hen was attacked by a hawk but survived

Rabbits:

  • 32 kits born live
  • 6 stillborn kits
  • 8 kits froze at a few days old
  • 17 rabbits butchered and sold for pet food
  • 7 rabbits butchered and canned for our own meat
  • 3 adult rabbits butchered for our dog food
  • 2 adult rabbits died
  • Angora rabbit sheared 5 times

Sheep:

  • Started the year with 2 pregnant ewes and 2 yearling ewe lambs
  • Twin ewe lambs born successfully
  • Second ewe miscarried and was replaced with a ewe lamb
  • Sold twin ewe lambs
  • Butchered one yearling – 20 lbs of meat
  • 6 fleece shorn this year – approx 18 lbs of wool after cleaning
  • Purchased 2 new bred ewes
  • Ended year with 4 pregnant ewes and 1 yearling ewe lamb

Goats:

  • Purchased 2 pregnant Nubian goats in the fall

Garden:

  • Between our vegetable garden and our berries we harvested 220 lbs of produce this year
  • We spent $80 on the garden this year, thus averaging $0.36/lb

Heritage Arts:

  • I knit 3 balaclavas, 1 ribby neckwarmer, 2 hats, 1 shawl, 1 infinity scarf, 1 hooded sweater (baby size), 4 pairs of socks, and 1 pair of reading mitts
  • The kids sewed 100 bandana backpacks for Operation Christmas Child
  • I altered 2 pairs of pajamas for Mr. Smiles to wear during his hospitalization and surgery
  • I sewed 24 placemats and 48 cloth napkins
  • Sunshine and Little Miss continue to be amazingly productive with heritage arts projects.  I was unable to keep track of them this year, but they sewed, knitted, crocheted, crosstitched, and embroidered MANY MANY items.

Kitchen:

We canned over 118 qts of food this year –

  • 20 Qts Green Beans
  • 9 Pts Pear Sauce
  • 5 Qts Pears in Honey Syrup
  • 9 Qts Applesauce
  • 18 Qts Apples in Honey Syrup
  • 4 Qts Plum Syrup
  • 8 Qts Plum Jelly
  • 22 Qts Nectarines in Honey Syrup
  • 28 Qts of broth (some chicken, some lamb, and some beef)

We froze 28 lbs of carrots.

We made several pints of syrup from our gooseberry and currant bushes.

Highlights

January through June our life revolved around surgeries, hospitalizations, and specialist visits, for our baby, hours from our home.  Life continued on the farm, and the routine and rhythms of the farm was a healing balm to us during a trying time.

June brought a terrible hail storm to shred our young, newly growing garden plants.  I also finished our first set of seasonal placemats and cloth napkins.  We had some visits from bears, and one chicken was attacked by a hawk, but survived.  We sold our twin ewe lambs, and replaced one of our breeding ewes with a new breeding ewe lamb.

July included unseasonably warm weather, and the start of the harvest from our garden and berry bushes.  We painted the exterior of all the buildings on the property, and we had another bear incident.

In August we enjoyed participating at County Fair and bringing home many ribbons and prizes.  The garden harvest continued, and canning season started.  We continued to have bear struggles, including a break-in to our camper.

September brought another surgery and hospitalization for Mr. Smiles.  The Pediatric PJs I sewed him worked wonderfully to allow all the tubes and wires to be accessible.  Despite the time away from the farm, we were still able to have a very productive month with harvesting, seed saving, canning, freezing, and working on starting to build the ram shed, and building the root cellar, a new gate, and the smokehouse.  The adventure was never-ending when our farm dog partially amputated his toe, and we continued to have bear problems – our worst year ever for bear issues by far.

In October we added two milk goats to the farm and did a bunch of winter prep and building projects.  We put the garden to bed, and filled the freezers by both butchering livestock and hunting.  We finished the smokehouse and root cellar.

November included a lot of building projects, including new hay racks indoors and out for the sheep and goats.  We took down a few trees and we finished the new retaining wall on the onion/garlic patch.  The sheep went to the breeder and we smoked our first meat in the smokehouse.  And Little Miss took quite a ride when the goats broke out of the yard!

December was filled with working on homemade Christmas presents and making Christmas treats while we celebrated advent and awaited the chance to celebrate the birth of Jesus.  We purchased two new breeding ewes which are pregnant to provide us with our future flock sire ram and we prepared for the upcoming births of anywhere from 11-14 lambs and kids this coming winter and spring.  I got my livestock record book in order and ready to keep better records in 2017 and we planned for more chicks this spring as well.  We finished phase 1 of the barn remodel, and were shocked to still be enjoying fresh tomatoes from our harvest in September!

 

What an amazing year we have had here at Willow Creek Farm!

 

 

Homemade Christmas

I hope that all my readers who celebrate Christmas had a lovely one yesterday!  We really enjoyed our time together eating delicious food and giving homemade gifts to each other.

Speaking of Christmas gifts…

I can now finally share all the knitting I have been doing!

First are these socks for Young Man.  He LOVES home knit socks, which makes it all the more fun to make them for him.  These are made from Patons Kroy Socks in the colorway grey brown marl.  I used the OMG Spacious Heel pattern (Young Man’s favorite sock pattern) and did them toe-up two-at-a-time on two circulars.  The lighting in the photo gave everything a blueish tint, so it’s not a completely accurate color.

img_3207

For Sunshine I made this hat.  It is a slouchy hat, so it looks strange flat on the ground but on her head it looks great.  The pattern was Oxalis by Calliliau Berangere on Ravelry.  The yarn was Yarn Bee Soft Secret Solids in Hot Turquoise.

img_2828

Little Miss got two knit gifts this year since she will be milking the goats this winter and I wanted her to have something super-warm for her head.  So her milk-maid apparel is this balaclava.  It is the pattern Bailey Balaclava by Jenny Nicole on Ravelry.  I used Lion Brand Wool-Ease Thick & Quick Solids yarn in peacock and fig.  It is super warm and cozy and will be perfect for milking out in the barn in -20F temps.

img_3205

Then I also made her, with the same yarn, this adorable owl hat using the pattern Owl Be There by Lauren Riker.  This is for her to wear when we go out and about – not in the barn.  🙂

img_2836

Braveheart also got two knit gifts because he will be learning to milk this year too!  So he got the same balaclava with the same yarn but a different colorway.

img_3201

And he also got a Ribby Neckwarmer made with Cascade Yarns 220 Superwash brown, that matches a hat I made him last year.

photo-2-420150910_074625_resized

I shared last week the balaclava I made for Mr. Smiles.

img_3199

So as you can see I did a lot of smaller projects for gifts this year.  I think last year’s dress for Little Miss knit out of sock weight yarn kind of overwhelmed me to the point of fear of doing something too big.  But it was worth it – she still loves to wear it to this day!

In addition to what I made, I want to share some of the wonderful things the rest of my family made as well.

Sunshine and Little Miss worked together to make this adorable full set of Winnie the Pooh crocheted stuffed animals for Mr. Smiles.  Tigger is not quite done yet.

img_3308

Mtn Man and Young Man made this wonderful wooden cross stitch stand for Sunshine.

img_3312

Little Miss crocheted this Amish Puzzle Ball Elephant for Sunshine.

img_3311

Sunshine embroidered and made this Embroidery Envelope for Little Miss to keep her sewing tools in.

img_3333 img_3334

Mtn Man made me a Chinese Checkers board.

fullsizerender

Sunshine made me this knitting needle organizer for my circular needles.

img_3309 img_3310

And though it isn’t homemade, it is homestead related so I’ll share it.  Young Man and Little Miss went in together and purchased Mtn Man and myself this awesome 3-gal fermenting crock.  We are very excited to put it to use!

img_3314

Sunshine also sewed these PJ pants for Mtn Man, Young Man, and Braveheart.  She even used the serger for the first time to make nice inside seams!

 

 

Making homemade gifts for everyone makes our Christmases so special.  We all enjoy the build-up to the season as we spend late fall secretly constructing thoughtful presents for those closest to us.  And the children are just as excited, if not MORE excited, about giving that special present they spent so much time making as they are about getting gifts.  What a blessing!