Friday, May 26, 2017

May 26, 2017

Oh my goodness!  My camera died so I couldn't take any pictures.  Then I had to wait for Mother's Day to see what I got, then the camera  I got took blurry pictures, so last night we went and bought a Kodak Pixpro FZ53 so I could continue on.  Anyway, so much has happened.  First of all, we decided that a well running woodshop is essential to our farm, so the hay had to come out of the barn.  In order for that to happen, it needed somewhere to go.  Since it was always our intention to put it in the calf barn, we had to hurry up and created a stall to put it in, so the cattle would not eat it, even though they had plenty of fresh pasture to eat, as we leave the barn open for them in case of heat or inclement weather.  So, we bought some cattle panels and some 2 x 4's and had a stall created in no time on a Saturday.  It turned out pretty well.

Next, we decided we needed to move the cattle feed out there (which we have pretty much quit giving the cattle since they have great pasture right now.)  So we moved it out with half of it being in a trash can.  We decided we need rodent control out there, and one of our neighbor's cats had kittens with the dad being a feral cat, so we felt they would be good mousers.  So we collected a pair of kittens (brother and sister to be spayed and neutered).  So far, they haven't moved out of our house (they are too little and cute).  Meet Arthur and Guinevere.  We are trying to figure out the right timing to move them out.  We got a pair because we didn't want them to be lonesome out there away from the house.  Someone recently told us we have already spoiled them from staying out at the barn, but my husband thinks they will stay there if they get used to being fed there, so we will see.
Work bench with shelves and shelf for hand power tools

Then there were organizing pieces to be made for the workshop.  I was trying to design the pieces based on materials we already had.  Since we had our daughter's wedding here and had made tables for the reception and a dance floor, we had plenty of materials.  After seeing how my husband likes to store things, and knowing for me that I wanted the workshop to be more organized as well as have each thing have a place to live so it's easy to put back, I designed spaces for the hand power tools, the screws and nails, the hanging things (like electrical wiring), and some deep shelves for some of the larger things.  Since I like to build and have more time at home, I think I am actually using the workshop more than he is.  I designed it, cut out most of the pieces, and my husband helped put it together and cut out the larger pieces with the Skilsaw.  (Why I am fine with using the nailgun and not the Skilsaw, I don't know, especially when I am fine using the radial arm saw.  Maybe it's that non-stationary blade?)
Peg board, racks for hanging items, nail and screw shelves

The nail and screw racks were made of 2 x 4's with plenty of small scraps, the hanging racks are mostly 2 x 4's with hooks, and the peg board was doubled to two pieces.  We did have to buy the hooks for the hanging things and one piece of peg board.  Luckily, we had all the pegboard pieces as years ago I bought a whole box of them for $2 at a yard sale.  The screws and nails are housed in clear plastic peanut butter jars we have been saving and plan to organize them by length.  It is still a work in progress.  During the middle of the project, we hired my son's girlfriend, Angela, to come and help us organize some things, which was great.  It had the added bonus of a neutral party to get my husband to part with some old nails, screws and other rusty stuff that he has been hauling from house to house (for our entire marriage of 36 years) because they used to belong to his grandfather.  We still have some of his grandfather's things as we kept the useful stuff, of course.

The workshop is still a work in progress, as I have not finished putting everything away, as you can see by all the stuff on the workbench.  We made some shelving in the corner using scrap boards for cleats and plywood for shelves.  We still will be making a lumber rack for the other wall as well.  The lighting has been decided on to be 12vdc using a battery and a solar trickel charger for the power, since it has worked so well in the calf barn and so we won't further tax our photovoltaic system.  Stay tuned.

In the meantime, our meat birds have been growing and doing fine.  After 2.5 weeks, we removed the brooder, and today we decided to open the door during the day.  We are probably playing with fire due to not having a chicken door so they can escape daytime predators.  I will work on that today.  We found that even moving the chicken tractor daily (John pulls with a rope and I push from behind which makes it easy to move on the skids), it is too soiled by the end of the day.  Since he is not here during the day, we are hoping letting them out in the pasture will do the trick and clear more cow pies so the cattle will more fully utilize the pasture.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

April 27, 2017

Chicks By Mail!!  This is the first time we have gotten chicks by mail and did not know quite what to expect.  So here is how it went.  This morning I got a phone call from the post office about 7:50 am when they told me that my chicks had arrived and I needed to come and pick them up.  I told them I should be able to make it in the next 30 minutes.  I was surprised when I got to the post office and the postal worker brought me a small box of about 12 x 20.  I had ordered 50 Freedom Ranger chicks.  When I brought them home, I went and got their temporary housing ready.  We are hoping their chicken tractor is only a day or so away from being finished.  I had hauled in an old horse trough whose bottom had rusted out a long time ago before it was given to us, and sat it on a piece of cardboard opened up  from a large box.  I turned the horse trough upside down so there would only be smooth edges towards the chicks.  I then added hay, set up the heat lamp and food and water dishes that my husband had helped me round up earlier, and was ready to add the chicks.

I opened the box top to see if they were all healthy, and they were all living, so I picked them up one at a time, dipped their beak in the water, and counted them as I went along.  There are 51 chicks.  They seem to be happy in their new home.  I then invited in our two border collies to introduce them to their new charges.  They were very interested in them.  Phoenix was shaking.  I am trying to train them that chickens are for taking care of, not for eating.  We try to keep our chickens separate from our dogs, but occasionally a chicken will fly over the fence into dog territory, then the dogs think they are something that can be chased and defeathered, which reminds me of a song from a video that our children watched over and over, Friends for Dinner.

The new chicken tractor is almost ready.  Soon I will post a new tab with directions for making it.  This is to keep our chickens safe at night in the pasture.  As soon as they are old enough, we will open the door to let them free range in the pasture, and send them back to their chicken tractor at night.  Here are some progress photos.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

April 16, 2017

Love these weeks where we both have off from our daily jobs and can work on the farm full time.  Our big project for the week was to make separate paddocks for rotational grazing.  We finished three of them including the gates.  The cattle are a bit antsy with the changes.  We configured the fence so we can share a stock tank between two paddocks.

I have been working on the front porch trying to get all the functions in, and make them look nice.  I finished the cushion covers to our little table on the front porch in a green leaf vine pattern.  Also, we used two cement planters that we had with a square of marble on top so we can have a place to store the handtools I needed for my herb garden.  I bought two buckets and painted them the same purple as I used earlier on the oil lanterns on the other side of the porch.  I then took my old hand tools and painted the handles in the same green paint as the metal wall hanging.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

April 11, 2017

Permaculture field trip with Harvey Harman
Oh my goodness, life is so busy!  One of the things we have been working on is a class that we are taking on Permaculture Fundamentals with Harvey Harman.  We have enjoyed it so much!  Lots of examples of how everything is connected and making your life more efficient such as moving all the things close to you that you do more often, and making sure that everything has many uses.  I would strongly recommend a Permaculture class to everyone!

As a result of the class, we moved our herb garden to combine it with our front flower bed so I can run out the front door (near the kitchen) and pick herbs to go along with our dinner.  What a pleasure that will be!

Our chicks are growing up!  After doing some reading about how long to keep them under a heat lamp, I started weaning them off of the heat lamp at about a week and a half old (easy to do since they were inside only.)  At about 2 weeks, we moved them outside where a mama chicken adopted them.  We added them to the broody hen at night and she didn't seem to have a problem with accepting them.  We put them in a separate space from the rest of the chickens in a mini coop with it's own yard.

We are putting in our paddocks for multi-species rotational grazing.  Today we got about half of the posts in for phase 1 (two paddocks).  The cows were so curious.  I was surprised to see them tasting the dirt that we raised out of the ground with our auger after we drilled holes.  I went and checked their minerals and added to them just in case.

Oil lanterns painted purple with green medallion
In addition to all this, we have been working on home maintenance, such as replacing our countertops and backsplash, painting, and sprucing up around the porch.
Green coleus with purple impatiens

Thursday, March 16, 2017

March 16, 2017

On a cold winter day, what does one think about?  Me, I'm thinking that there's got to be a way to better utilize all that heat sitting in the attached greenhouse.  Sure, some of it was coming through the open windows, but not fast enough.  The thermometer was reading over a hundred (of course, it is also sitting in the sun), even though it is 44 degrees outside.  In the house, it was 66 degrees even though I had been using the heater (but I do have a tendency to set it on 65. . .)  So as I went to sit in the greenhouse to warm up, I looked down and spied the box that was holding the ventilation fan that we had not yet installed.  Eureka!  I knew what to do.  I took the window screen out of the window, opened it enough to insert the ventilation fan in the top, cut a piece of 2 x 4 to brace the window that was holding it up, and cut a slice of 1 x to snug it up at the top.  Then I fished the cord into the bottom of the window and turned it on.  Oila!  Hot air pouring into the house!  Happy Dance! Yay!

Our border collies don't like dog food, so we have been buying cheap chicken leg quarters and large bags of rice to serve as the foundation of their dinner (along with leftovers).  This usually leaves us with lots of chicken bones that I was sure we could use for something.  Sure enough, I found that ground bone meal is excellent for the garden.  So I dried them out in the oven until they were brittle per instructions I found on the internet, and once they had cooled, put them in my ordinary blender in small batches which pulverized them with no trouble at all.  Next time, I am going to try drying them in the greenhouse so I can save on electricity.

We have a hen that is sitting on some eggs that I don't think were fertilized by our rooster.  As I felt sorry for her, I am planning to sneak some chicks under her.  Unfortunately, it got really cold out right after we got the chicks.  Lows around 19 and 20.  I am hoping that this will be gone in a week and we can continue on with that plan.  In the meantime, the chicks sure are cute!  This time we got some Silver Wyandottes and some Isa Browns.  We are working on a separate brooding house made from our old mini coop, and will show you that when it is finished.

Since we have a pasture with very little shade, we had built a shade structure on skids.  We found out that the steer could push the top and make it lean forward, so we spent some time adding some braces from leftover chain link fence poles.  One one side, we made it in a diagonal in one direction, and used the opposite diagonal on the other side.  We also hammered the ends a bit flatter on the braces so we could use the shorter screws we had on hand.

The sweet potato slips are finally starting to grow.  I also tried my hand at making some spray-on deodorant out of oregano infused alcohol.  It works well.  Additionally, I have been using it as a "first-aid solution" for our animals, as oregano is very good for that.  Seems to work well.  I picked some of our oregano and let it sit in the alcohol for a couple of weeks, then filtered it out and put it in the bottle.

Monday, February 27, 2017

February 27, 2017

What a great weekend!  We had plenty of sun and working outside was awesome.  Our big project for the weekend was bamboo trellises for the hops.  We decided to move the hops as they weren't doing much.  We felt that they were getting too much sun in relationship to the water they weren't getting (we prefer a self-service farm).  Several things came to our minds.  Move them to a spot where they can get some afternoon shade, and preferably that area might be a little more damp.  Of course, it may be more damp due to the afternoon shade.  Anyway we picked a side of our property that we get afternoon shade and went to work.  We were also keeping in mind that we needed to put them in soil that was high in compost so it would retain more water.  Warning!  If you are a perfectionist, working with natural materials is challenging.  They are not the same dimension at the bottom as the top, they are not the same diameter all over, and they are probably not exactly straight.  As my husband and I are both perfectionists, this was a VERY challenging project for us.  However, we do think it came out beautiful and was a great way to spend our weekend with breaks in between for sitting in the swing and drinking iced tea.  Other considerations for working with bamboo are that it is lightweight and hollow, which makes them more "rickety."  We found extra braces necessary, as well as we pounded some smaller pieces of bamboo in the ground (about a foot  long) and set the trellises over them.  It was also challenging that the ground we were putting them on was not perfectly flat.  We tried very hard to go with the flow, as well as to just get the job done, and not stress over the details too much, making up the design as we went along and faced each challenge.  We ended up buying some deck screws that did not have a taper at the top, 2 1/2" long that worked perfectly.  The tapered screws were causing the bamboo to split.  We also pre-drilled the holes to eliminate as much split as possible. We made the sides of the trellises 7 feet tall, and the top piece 8 feet across, as we want to be able to stand on the ground and pick the cones.  Six trellises were decided on due to having 6 varieties of hops and wanting to keep them separated.   Our idea for the area was to have trellises for the hops, make them a beautiful feature in our yard, and provide a shade structure for us and our chickens.  We feel like we accomplished all of that for around $30 for all six trellises (thanks to the Drews' family for providing the bamboo!)

The daffodils on the farm that are lining our driveway are beautiful this year. . .

Thursday, February 23, 2017

February 23, 2017

Spring seems to be in the air!  It is making want to finish old projects and be creative.  I am so glad that we finished the chicken coop watering system.  While we were working on the chicken coop, there was a hole in the side that used to be attached to a rabbit hutch.  I wanted to figure out how to make it go away and use the materials we had on hand.  Eureka!  A picture frame looks just like a window!  Since it is under a roof anyway, I decided to go check in the basement to see if I had an appropriate sized frame laying around, and I did.  Here is the before/after picture.  The after picture was taken before I put weather stripping on the inside of the glass to make it nice and tight against the outside of the chicken coop.

As I work in my home office daily, it became time to finally finish the wall that I had to look at every day.  I had installed wallpaper on the opposite wall and had the wallpaper already, so I got to work on that.  It looks so much better.

While I was working on the office, I had a nice box sitting on the desk that I use to gather our invoices until tax time.  With the new wallpaper, the busy pattern it had on it stood out like a sore thumb.  That was easy to fix.  I always keep white appliance epoxy on hand.

Life is Good!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

February 12, 2017

Busy times!  We got our beef back from the packing plant!  It filled our 15.7 cubic foot freezer.  Now to sell most of it. . .It's very tasty as we tried the ribeye steaks tonight.

We have been working on a lean-to greenhouse that is on the south side of our house.  We bought a greenhouse kit from Advance Greenhouses.  Their customer service is just awesome.  We bought the Best Buy Polycarbonate.  It arrived earlier than we thought, and the ventilation fan arrived separately.  The instructions that came with the greenhouse and dvd could have been a little better, so some of the things we put together, ended up getting re-done.  I think one of the most confusing parts was the roof glazing and the eve retainer which should have had the name Roof Glazing Bottom Plate.   When we figured it out, we ended up taking six down and having to redo them.  We do like it though and think it is a good quality greenhouse, looks nice, and it is already paying for itself by heating our house when the temperature is as low as 56 degrees.  We just open our bedroom window and turn on the ceiling fan.  It is so nice being so warm in the winter!

Since we have a busy week this week, we decided to celebrate Valentine's Day today.  We decided to to work on each other's choice of chores.  My choice was to finish the watering system for the chicken coop.  We had gotten a start on it before, but today we finished it!  The water drains from the chicken coop roof into a gutter, then to a screened barrel, then to a pipe in the chicken coop with poultry nipples in it, and finally to a clean out drain.  We are so happy to get it completed!  It will eliminate carrying water in 5 gallon buckets and having to clean out water that has been dirtied by the chickens.  Now to train them to drink from it. . .

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

January 25, 2017

Well, we have taken our first steer to the processor and are expecting a lot of beef in about two weeks.  We are going to try to sell half of it at $5 per pound dressed weight.  We must sell 1/4 or 1/2 of the steer until we get a handler's licence, so that's a lot of beef.  This steer was grown without antibiotics or hormones, in a pasture that received no chemical poisons,  pasture raised with a grain supplement.  The hay it received was also from our non-treated pasture.  The dressed weight is 595 pounds so 1/4 of that is 148.75 pounds.  A lot of beef to divide with friends and neighbors if you buy a quarter.  We were glad to successfully make it to the processor as we didn't make it the last appointment, and this time we had gotten the steer into the trailer the day before and it went out the side door.  We were not anticipating that.

We have broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, chinese cabbage, foxgloves, hollyhocks, and cosmos germinating in the greenhouse.

We have 25 meat birds coming at the end of April for a trial run, and have chosen Freedom Rangers for this first time, after many recommendations from the Growing Small Farms listserv.

Additionally, we are planning some pastured pigs for around that time to join the pasture in a multi-species rotation to add to the pasture health, as well as to the health of all the animals.  Lots of stuff going on, as we are planning for me to go full time farmer this year.

We have ordered a lean to greenhouse to expand our greenhouse space and put it in a convenient location.

Monday, January 9, 2017

January 9, 2017

Snow - It's beautiful, but it has it's good and bad points on the farm. . .

When you have a greenhouse that is covered in plastic film, you have to make sure the snow does not accumulate to the point that it tears up your greenhouse.  So we had to go out and knock the snow down.  It was nice to have time to put dirt into pots and plant our lettuce in the greenhouse for later transplanting.

Of course, there's also the animals to feed and water, just like any other day.  We are trying to train our big steer to get into the horse trailer, so we have started feeding them there.  The snow can be slippery and treacherous, and we have extra considerations for the animals, such as more food to help them generate heat and making sure we break the ice on the stock tanks as well as we are dumping hot water in to keep it thawed out a while.

My husband really appreciates the time off from work to be able to catch up on small things like repairs.  This time he replaced the pressure switch on the air compressor, fixed a small leak on the toilet and other small repairs.  I am so  glad he is so handy!  He also likes being able to slow down and drink some hot apple cider. We also liked planning the garden and our shopping trip in the Fedco seeds catalog for those seeds we needed to replenish.  I really like Fedco as they test for GMO seeds and they are reasonable.

I have a hard time slowing down, and tend to get bored.  I do a lot of cooking when it is cold, it seems.  Reading books on homesteading are also at the top of my list, as I am currently studying pasture raised pigs and multi-species rotational grazing.  I also enjoyed finally getting around to painting the calf we added to the nativity scene this year.  Every year we try to add any new animals to the nativity scene that we have brought to the farm.  This year we added the Black Angus steer and the Brown Swiss Calf (in representation of all our Brown Swiss calves.)  I could not find a Brown Swiss calf, so I ended up buying a calf and painting it  to look like our calves.