A Tiny Room

I have a tiny room.  It is tucked in behind my laundry room.  It has a window that looks out on the back yard, so I can watch my kids play and see my chickens scratching around in their pen.

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It is my OWN space.  My heritage arts/crafting room.  I love this tiny space.  It holds all my favorite (earthly) things.  Like my sewing machine, serger, baskets full of yarn, an awesome set of drawers my husband made to hold all my tools and notions, spools of ribbon, piles of fabric, boxes of patterns, rubber stamps and card-making supplies, and more.  It is a perfect little space.

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The only problem is…it is yellow.  A completely tolerable color – and thus the reason it has stayed yellow this long…but not a color I am very fond of.

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So a few weeks ago, as we waited for warm weather to hit so we could be outside enjoying the farm, garden, and nature, we decided to take time to organize and paint my tiny room.  I picked a pale plum and a dark plum color because I love purple, and interestingly, one of the colors I chose happened to be called “inspiration,” which is exactly the feel I want in the room.

My awesome husband decided to build me a big, beautiful work table with some shelves under it.  It is a wonderful space for all the things I want to do in the room.

I still need to gather a few more baskets and bins to go on the shelves to organize all my stuff, but other than that it is finished!  And so much greater than before.

So, are you ready for the big reveal?  Drumroll please…

31 34 35 37 38 39Some of the pictures make the purple look pinker than it actually is, but you get the idea.

I have been loving my new tiny room where everything has a place and is organized and where the color feels great!

Sunday Homestead Update

It has been a nice week around here, despite the ridiculous amounts of very fast wind we are getting.

Violet, the milk cow, official departed the farm, although she has been sold a couple of weeks and the new owners were milking and caring for her here. Though I miss her, it is a nice change and the barn smells a lot better. It is surprising how the cow smell can soak into anything and everything. No matter how well we clean up, we can still just run up to the barn for less than 5 minutes to collect eggs and our clothes and hair smells like cow. So that is one benefit of her being gone. The sheep smell doesn’t do the same thing to us.

We have been opening Banana’s exterior door everyday and she has been taking the chicks out to interact with all the other chickens through the wire pen wall. I think in a week or so we will probably open up the wire pen and see if she can integrate back into the flock with the chicks. I am hoping to get some pictures of them all soon too. The brooding coop is not the greatest for picture-taking.

Banty, the aggressive cockerel, did end up going to the stew pot. We also had to cull our oldest hen (only 18 months old) that same day. She had been having some health issues and they were getting worse and worse. We did not use her meat though, because her insides were all wierd…she was definitely sick with something.

Boaz’s foot is still healing. I think it is taking so long because it is so darn cold this winter and so it is not getting enough circulation and such in the cold.

We checked fertility in the incubators. The hens up with the two young roos (Blue and Banty) and Pepper in the upper coop had 94% fertility. The hens with Boaz (with his bum foot) has 69% fertility. The weird thing about Boaz’s fertility results were that they were not across the board with all the hens. Some hens gave 100% and some 0%. So yet again, he seems to be choosing not to breed all the hens. Which is frustrating. Goldie, the hen who has been in 2 different incubations, being bred with different roos at each one of those, and never had ANY fertile eggs, all of a sudden on this incubation has 100% fertility. I was convinced she had something wrong with her reproductive tract or something, but I guess not. I don’t know why she never gave a fertile egg before. But I am glad she gave us three this time because she is a beautifully built Buff Orp and we would love to have her genetics in the breeding program. She is also one that has toyed with going broody. I am hoping she will settle down and take it seriously this spring.

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So after taking out the infertiles and one egg lost to early death we now have 22 eggs in each bator for a total of 44 eggs currently. Now we wait. And wait. We are on day 9 of 21. On day 18 I will candle again, removing dead ones, and increase the humidity and start the lock down for hatch. Until then we just monitor the humidity, temp, and turners.

I had the chance to take a class in needle tatting this week. I have done shuttle tatting before and always wanted to try needle tatting to see which I liked better. I was able to get most of this heart done.

3The jury is still out on which method I like better. They both have pros and cons and I enjoy both. I am glad that I was able to learn this one so that I know both.

I worked on plying my Merino/Angora yarn that I have been spinning. I will finish it this week!

photo 4Lastly, we had a visitor arrive this week from a warmer climate and she brought some delicious, fresh, cucumbers with her for me. So I made and canned pickles! Last year I tried the bread and butter pickles recipe in the Ball Blue Book. They were OK, but the kids didn’t like them much. So this year I tried the sweet spear recipe. We will know in about 5 weeks if we like them or not!

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2013 Review of Willow Creek Farm

It has been quite a year! There have been successes, failures, a natural disaster and subsequent evacuation, injuries, births, deaths, plenty of learning and tons of adventure. We really enjoyed writing this post and looking back at a full and somewhat crazy year at the homestead. So let’s dive in and share it with you all…

First, some statistics…

Chickens:

  • We had anywhere from 8-52 chickens on the farm at any given time this year
  • We had as few as 2 adult laying hens all the way up to 19 adult laying hens at once
  • All told, 1,541 eggs were laid at our farm this year
  • 56 dozen of those eggs were sold
  • 72 dozen of those eggs were used by us
  • 20 chickens were sold as layers for other people’s flocks
  • 14 chickens were butchered for meat for us
  • We successfully hatched 25 chicks, we had quite a bit of unsuccessful incubation of eggs
  • 1 chick was lost within the first 48 hours of hatching
  • 1 bird (a pullet) was lost to frozen legs and 1 pullet was lost to cross-beak

Considering the fact that we only had 2-5 layers the first half of the year, in addition to the fact that the birds were evacuated for the flood and thus stopped laying for several weeks, and that we have no record of what they laid while evacuated, we are very happy with these numbers. The cost to us to buy the amount of eggs we ate ourselves, and the meat, would more than cover the gap between income and expenses, so we are fully expecting the chicken project to go into profit-mode next year. And we feel that the losses in the chicken project were very small compared to what they could have been, so we are thankful for that.

Rabbits:

  • We had between 3-6 adult rabbits on our farm at any given time this year
  • 44 kits were born
  • 1 adult doe was culled because of production issues and bad temperament
  • 1 adult doe died with kindling complications
  • 3 does were added to the breeding program
  • 1 buck was added to the breeding program
  • 70 lbs of meat were sold for pet consumption

This year has been quite a struggle with the rabbits. We had A LOT of pregnancies not take. We had A LOT of kit deaths and/or small litters. While there was profit, we are not very satisfied with these statistics. We know they can produce better than this – they have in the past. We are hopeful that next year will prove to be a more productive year for the rabbits.

Cows:

We did not keep milk production statistics on the cows over long periods of time this year. However, we had plenty of milk for our family’s needs, including to make cheeses, butter, sour cream, and yogurt. So we are happy with that. They produced well.

We butchered our first steer (a full bred jersey) and ended up with 110 lbs of meat for us, 34 lbs of soup bones, and 22 lbs of dog food.

Sheep:

The sheep produced 3 fleece for us this year for a total of 12 lbs of wool.

Garden:

We did not track or weigh produce this year because of the flood in the middle of the harvest season and the evacuation.  However, considering our major problems with the soil we bought, we are very happy with what we were able to get from the gardens, and are hopeful for an even more productive garden next year with the amended soil.

With the help of all the animals we have produced large amounts of very rich compost this year that we will be using on our garden (and sharing with our friends) next year. We consider that a wonderful product of the farm as well.

Heritage Arts:

  • I knit 4 baby hats, 1 pair of fingerless mitts, 2 pairs of kids socks, 1 boys sweater vest, 1 pair of adult socks, and a girls poncho.
  • I sewed 2 single sized bed quilts, 4 baby blankets, 2 knitting needle cases, 3 crochet hook cases, 1 DPN case, 4 pairs of pantaloons, 2 girls dresses, and 3 ladies skirts.  Not to mention mending innumerable items.
  • I crocheted 12 dish scrubbies, 4 cherry pie hot pads, and numerous granny squares for an afghan.
  • I learned to tat and tatted 3 bookmarks.
  • I learned to spin and spun about 350 yards of double-ply yarn.
  • We did our first batch of hand-dipped taper candles and ended up with 40 candles.

In the Kitchen:

I don’t have exact stats from the farm kitchen, but A LOT of dairy products and home canned food came out of there this year. Not to mention bread, daily meals, and treats too.

And now for some highlights from the homestead in 2013:

In January we purchased 27 chicks.  They all survived, and one turned out to be a rooster.

February brought very cold weather.  We made firestarters for the woodstoves, and built a new rabbitry.  We banded our calf, Charlie, and began building the upper coop.  We trained the chickens to use the “chicken nipple” water spouts and moved the chicks up to the partially finished upper coop.  I finished a scrap quilt for my youngest daughter, and my grandmother passed on.

March brought us warmer days, and we used them to enjoy time outside.  Our son started his rabbit business, selling meat for pet consumption.  I learned to tat and tatted some bookmarks.  We battled scaly leg mites in the adult chickens and decided we were going to start a chicken breeding program.  I made knitting needle and crochet hook storage cases for my daughters.  I also learned to make my own condiments, including mayo, ketchup, and BBQ sauce.

In April our dairy cow, Charlotte, bloated, and thankfully survived it.  I started some garden seeds indoors.  And we had a spring blizzard.

May started with a bang, as we had a blizzard that dropped 18 inches of snow in 24 hours, and we lost electricity.  We celebrated our one-year anniversary of living at the farm.  We built a strawberry patch, onion patch, and the raised bed vegetable garden.  We tried out a compost heap pumpkin patch.  We started our first incubation with a few of our own eggs as well as some purchased hatching eggs.  We decided to sell our Jersey cow, Charlotte, and instead get a miniature cow to save on feed costs.  We canned quite a bit, and tried out re-useable canning lids.  And we built the hay lofts.

In June we butchered our first chicken for meat after our young cockerel attacked our 8-year-old daughter.  Our first hatch was a sad failure, as only one chick survived it.  We bought some chicks to brood with the sole survivor, and planned to try again.  We loaded up our lofts with hay for the year, and decided we were going to add sheep to the farm.  We realized, after planting our entire garden, that the garden dirt we bought was very poor soil and very much like clay.  We butchered our steer (that was a first for us).

In July our two sheep joined the farm, Stella and Fiona.  And our Jersey cow, Charlotte, was sold and left the farm.  Our garden made good progress, despite the soil disaster.  And, sadly, our second incubation was a failure.  We began researching high-altitude hatching, and found someone who was experienced with hatching at our altitude.  We started our third incubation with our new knowledge, but with high anxiety after already having failed twice.  We built trap nest boxes, and started free-ranging our chickens in the barnyard.  We washed our first fleece shorn from Stella.

August brought Violet, a JLow cow (miniature Jersey x Lowline) to our farm.  We dealt with her having mastitis in one quarter her first few weeks with us.  Later in the month we struggled to, but succeeded in, grafting a calf, named Ferdinand, onto Violet.  We finally had a successful hatch with 23 chicks surviving.  Our garden continued to make progress and we started harvesting and did more canning.

September started well, with our local 4H group touring the farm, and with the construction of our herb garden.  But beginning on the 11th our world was turned upside-down as flood waters tore through our community, taking lives and homes with them.  We evacuated 71 animals from our farm, in addition to our family of 6.  Our animals were spread to several different “foster” homes to live until we could bring them back home and we lived with my in-laws.  Toward the end of the month we moved ourselves, and the smaller animals, back into the home off-grid, while utility crews and disaster crews worked long hours trying to fix the destruction.  With the loving financial help from family, friends, and strangers we were able to build a water system so that we could have running hot water in large quantities (as opposed to the 5-gallon buckets we were using).

In October we felt ourselves strengthen as our farm, and our community began to overcome the disaster.  Rebuilding went forward at unexpected speeds and by the end of the month we had running town water, flushing toilets, and safer (though still scary) road access to our homestead restored.  The mild weather kept our spirits up and kept us outside focusing on moving forward with projects around the farm.  We also had our first hard frost.  We kept ourselves busy making soap, harvesting the garden and putting it to bed, canning chicken and beef stock, and I started knitting Christmas presents and finished making my son’s quilt.  While evacuated from the farm the sheep and cow were bred.

In November we were able to officially label our homestead as “mostly back to normal” when our sheep and cows finally arrived back home.  The community around us was far from “back to normal,” but it felt nice to have our homestead mostly back where it used to be.  We successfully weaned Ferdinand with the Quiet Wean device.  We built part of the barnyard fence, as well as a wall around the water system in the mud room.  After years and years of wanting to, I finally learned how to spin yarn.  We added some “refugees” from the flood to our farm for the winter, a cat and her kittens.  We ended up bottle feeding two kittens after she rejected them.  We kept one as our own pet, named him Nicholas, and our friends took the other one.

December brought a big winter storm with it.  After the snow was done we went into a deep freeze with temps not going above 9 degrees for several days and going into the negative teens each night.  We fought to keep animals safe, warm, and alive.  We struggled with frostbite on the chickens and lost one bird to the cold when her legs froze repeatedly.  I continued with knitting Christmas presents and we made a bunch of yummy treats.  The sheep were shorn.  We did blood tests on the cow and sheep to check for pregnancy, the cow came back pregnant, the sheep not.  We butchered many cockerels and did our first ever hand-dipped beeswax taper candles.

It is just amazing to look back on a year so full of activity.  We had some of the hardest days of our lives, and yet the blessings overshadow them completely.  Goodbye 2013!  Hello 2014!

Snow, Knitting, Tatting, and Planning

Yes indeed, we are still getting snow here.  It might make me frustrated since I am anxious to get the garden built and ready for planting, but with the draught I just can’t complain at all.  We NEED the moisture.  I would much rather get behind on the garden than risk being evacuated for a wildfire.  Can you imagine trying to evacuate a farm?  Especially with no livestock trailer?  I don’t even want to think about it.

In addition to the needed moisture, it is so beautiful.  I live in such an amazingly beautiful place.  We get close to 300 days of sunshine here.  So even if it is freezing and snowing we usually still have blue sky (not when it is actually in the process of snowing of course).  Blue sky and fresh white snow everywhere is breathtaking.  I took some photos yesterday of the scenery around our house.

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In addition to chores and homeschooling, the snow and cold temps (1F yesterday morning) have given me a great opportunity to sit by the fire and work on my knitting and tatting projects.  I was even able to finish three different projects that have been dragging on for a while.

First, cross bookmarks tatted for the girls.  My skills definitely still need some work, but this is only my second and third tatted projects ever.  I end up really not liking the purple pattern, but I really like the pink pattern and will probably make more of that pattern.  I got these patterns from the book “The Complete Book of Tatting” by Rebecca Jones.

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And I finished the mitts I’ve been working on for quite a while.  This pattern is called “Susie Rogers’ Reading Mitts” by Susie Rogers (though I didn’t follow the pattern exactly) and I used Malabrigo Finito yarn, which is oh-so-soft.  I love them, they are so soft and comfy.  103_0023 103_0026

I also have been surrounded by my stacks of library books on gardening, my calculator, a notebook, my garden binder, and a calendar.  I am researching and trying to plan our garden for this year.  We are going to try a few new techniques, including mulching – which we have never done before.  From what I read we have to be careful with mulching in our climate because we can end up freezing our plants by blocking the heat from the ground from them.  So it will be a mulching balancing act.  We are also going to try a few different types of vegetables than we ever have.  I have mostly stuck with what I know I can successfully grow and then I grow a lot of it and preserve it.  This year I’d like to try out a few new things and see if we can add anything to the successful growing list.

The best books I’ve been looking at have been ones focused on cold climate gardening.  They have so many great tips and tricks.  The regular gardening books rarely have information that actually pertains to our climate.  I love this quote from High Altitude Western Gardening by Marilynn Quinn:

“Optimists.  That’s what vegetable gardeners who live in unforgiving climates must be.”

So true.

Learning to Tat

Tatting, sometimes called Shuttle Lace, is something I have wanted to learn for several years now.

A few weeks ago I was going through some of the things given to me by my grandmother from her sewing room.  In it I found a box full of shuttles and all different sizes and colors of thread for tatting.  There was also some half-finished projects that my grandmother was working on.  What a treasure!

So I decided it was time to learn, especially now that I had all I needed.  I got a couple of books from the library, and I watched some videos online.  In no time at all I was tatting!  The stitches are quite simple once you get the hang of it.  The harder part is making sure all the picots are the right size to make a really even and nice piece of work.

Here is my first finished tatting project, a cross bookmark:

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I’m planning to make some more bookmarks so I can continue to learn the skills.  Then I would like to try to do some pretty tatted edging on some handkerchiefs I found in my grandmother’s tatting box.