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Category: Homestead

Homestead

Homestead. A home, outbuildings, gardens, barn, hen house, gardens, orchard and other means of providing a person’s needs.

In 2016 our homestead consists of:

  • Five chickens, all bantams. We have two Buff Silkie roosters and two hens, and one White Silkie hen.
  • 19 Ducks. We raise Fawn & White runners and Khaki Campbells. They’re housed together so there are crosses.
  • One-half acre of garden
  • 40+ apple trees. All but three are wild. Three are excellent producers. Some are too young to produce and others are overgrown and being pruned back into production.
  • Three plum trees. We have American, Kaga and Toka.
  • Two pear trees. I don’t remember the variety.
  • Hazelnuts. Two domestic and one wild.
  • One American chestnut. We had two but the voles girdled one and killed it. I’ll replace it this year.
Raised Beds in the High Tunnel

Raised Beds in the High Tunnel

Raised Beds

I’ve missed fresh greens from the  high tunnel a lot this winter. Watching the melting snow this week, I realized we’ll probably get to re-cover the tunnel earlier than expected. All we need (ha ha…we need everything) is the poly and to make a few repairs, and for the snow to melt around the frame and more to not fall, and the wind to not blow while we get a tremendous potential kite on the frame and secured. Then we’ll have to build raised beds. That’s all…

In the meantime, I’m planning the growing seasons in the tunnel. If we get the tunnel covered by the end of March, highly unlikely, I won’t be too far behind in planting the tomatoes. The soil will need to drain and be amended, the raised beds built and filled, and the seedlings in the ground by the third week in April to be on schedule. Dream big, I’m told often these days. I’m hoping.

Raised Beds in the High Tunnel

I have the raised beds figured out. I want the tunnel to be productive and attractive. I’ll be growing some plants, roses I’m trying to root if all goes well, for their beauty. I want the Silkies to spend the winter in there so they’ll have a small portable house to spend the night in. I want a place to sit and work on a sunny winter day when it’s warm and bright inside. So many plans. If I get a tenth of it done this year I’ll be happy.

The top of the drawing is the south side. The sun rises on the left / east, right behind the tunnel, in June. The beds are 4′ x 8′ x 10″ and 4′ x 16′ x 10″.  There’s a little work space between the six on the south side. The space between end walls and the beds is 6′. I’ll have a compost bin on the northeast corner. The door is on the right / west end. raised beds, high tunnel

The Short and Tall of It

The sun shines on a corner of the north wall for a couple of weeks a year. Shadows aren’t cast from that side so it’s the best place to grow the tall plants. I have the tomatoes and cucumbers growing up twine on that side most of the time. The shadows they cast don’t hit other plants. The short plants are on the south side so they get full sun all day.

There will be some crop rotation as the plan comes together. A full bed of carrots, another of with rows of beets, turnip, rutabaga, parsnips, probably a potato or two. Everything I’m going to grow but pumpkins and maybe a few winter squash will be grown in the raised beds in the high tunnel. I still plan to buy a lot from a local grower. <insert feelings of withdrawals here>

I’ll keep notes here as we build the beds, get them filled and the soil amended, plant, weed, harvest, and replant this year. Let’s hope for getting on schedule by re-covering so we get back to growing great food in raised beds in the high tunnel.

 

After My First Cup of Coffee

After My First Cup of Coffee

I was on a roll this morning. After my first cup of coffee I shoveled the packed snow from in front of the hen house door. Steve usually plows a wide path past the hen house and firewood tunnel, and then on to the edge of the woods. Not this time. There’s too much snow. Officially we got 24″ during the blizzard but after being out in it this morning, I disagree. I’ve shoveled and roof raked, walked on and through, and measured in several places. It’s closer to 30″.  The ducks came out through the people door to get to their water in the path but got distracted and headed for their pen. They won’t be in their pen until most likely April. It’s too much snow to shovel to get to their little door into the pen.


blizzard 2017, after my first cup of coffee
after my first cup of coffee, mailbox in snow

Roof Raking. It’s a Thing.

after my first cup of coffee, hen house door, blizzard 2017With the birds tended to for the day I raked the porch roof. Metal roofing helps snow slide off but it’s not as helpful as I expected. The roof doesn’t have enough pitch, something we can’t change. Had I known I’d still be roof raking I’d have voted for a much more attractive traditional roofing. Anyway. I also shoveled the snow off most of the back porch. The ermine has a tunnel through the snow that’s about 18″ off the ground, and I was careful to leave it as intact as possible. Most of the cleaning up from the blizzard is done…just in time for the storm that starts tomorrow afternoon. We’re supposed to get another six to twelve inches. Yeah. <—sarcasm I’m going to need more coffee.

I’m not complaining too much. We had bare ground under big softwoods two weeks ago and little snow after that. There were frigid days here and there but no long cold snap. It was an easy winter up until the blizzard. I’m protecting my work time carefully these days as I write, and I’m enjoying the new routine I’ve set up. Being snowed in is nice.

After my now third cup of coffee, it’s time to hit the book.

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It’s a Blizzard Out There – Blizzard 2017

It’s a Blizzard Out There – Blizzard 2017

It’s a Blizzard Out There

It’s a blizzard out there. I’m sure the weather service will call it officially. Conditions must be winds of 35 mph for three hours and visibility reduced to a quarter-mile or less due to falling or blowing snow. We’ve got that. I turned into a human plow to get through the drift on the back porch on my way to the hen house this morning. It’s worse since then. Steve is off work due to weather for the first time in 26 years.

We’re well prepared with firewood, water, and gizmos plugged in to be 100% charged if the power goes out. There’s always more than enough food to last until the plow can get out. Speaking of the plow, I haven’t seen it since last night so it’s likely grounded until the storm starts to slow.

Blizzard 2017 Photos

The hen house is about 125′ from the house.

it's a blizzard out there, blizzard 2017, hen house
it's a blizzard, porch, blizzard 2017
blizzard 2017, blizzard out there
snow in window, blizzard 2017, it's a blizzard
white out, blizzard 2017, Maine, it's a blizzard
it's a blizzard, out the window, blizzard 2017, blizzard conditions

Keep Poultry Water Thawed Longer

Keep Poultry Water Thawed Longer

Keep Poultry Water Thawed Longer

Disclaimer: I learned how to keep poultry water thawed longer from Staci at A Chick and Her Garden. Check out her blog. I found her when she shared this method in a Fb group and then couldn’t find her again weeks later. Thanks to Staci for emailing me this morning. I have to tell you how gracious she is – she’s humbled that so many people appreciate her method. I’ve added her blog to my Feedly so I don’t miss new posts. Although I’m not writing many entries here these days I am reading quite a few new-to-me blogs.

I was skeptical. It gets really cold here! The closer the temperature is to 32°F the longer the water stays open, of course, but this makes a big difference as low as 0°F. My ducks and chickens get their water in a Fortex pan in the pen and a small Fortex bowl in the hen house. I doubt this would work well in the solid plastic water with a white top and red bottom that I use in the warmer months.

Fill a 20 ounce drink bottle with 1/4 cup of salt and hot water. Place the bottle in the water pan. It won’t keep the water from freezing but it will keep it accessible longer. It took two days for the birds to figure out that if they pecked at the open water around the bottle they could get to more. The water in the bottle never freezes but the water in the pan does eventually freeze solid on the coldest days.

Switching Bottles

I have two sets of bottles. One set is always in the pans. When it’s very cold I bring the second set in and warm them in the pot of water kept on the wood stove for moisture. The water pans are very cold so I take hot water. By the time it’s poured into the cold pans and the birds are let out it’s cooled down to warm. Instead of making three or four trips a day to the hen house and pen I’m making only two, morning and evening. Animals need to be well hydrated to stay warm most efficiently.

A few people have asked if I’m making the birds less hardy by giving them warm water. I don’t believe so. They’re surviving -25°F nights so they’re certainly hardy. I do believe I’m making those long nights easier by keeping them well hydrated and healthy.

poultry water, chicken water, winter

As simple as this!
Fortex pan, keep poultry water thawed

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Winter’s Middle – We’ve reached the half-way point

Winter’s Middle – We’ve reached the half-way point

Winter’s Middle

We’ve reached winter’s middle, the half-way point of the season. It finally feels like a real winter this morning. When I went out to let the ducks and chickens out, bring them water and yogurt I don’t like, and a drink of water water that will melt the ice in their indoor pan, it was 0°. Some days zero doesn’t feel bad but today it’s sharp and stinging. I thought I’d go for an early morning snowshoe through the woods to look for animal tracks but came back inside instead. I’ll see how well it warms later on this afternoon.

winters middle, february 2, groundhog's day, imbolcAs I type I’m watching a blue jay resting in the hydrangea bush, recovering from a crash into the window. It’s awfully cold to not be at their best. He breathed hard and hunkered down, and I waited for him to fall off the branch into the fresh snow. The blue jay pictures were taken through a layer of plastic over an old farmhouse window and two pains of glass. I thought they were a lot more clear than they are.
winter's middle, blue jay, February 2

Inventory Day

February 2, inventory day on the homestead. A well-stocked homestead still has at least half of its needs on this day. Firewood? Check. We have more than half of the winter’s supply and all of next year’s cut, split and partially stacked. Vegetables?  Check, but close. The absence of fresh greens and roots from the high tunnel is missed. How I’d love a fresh cut salad with spinach, tender beet greens and winter-hardy lettuces, thin slices of just-pulled carrot and turnip, and onions from the pantry… The snow and rain is washing the soil this winter. We’ll recover it when I decide the soil has had enough spring rain.

Meat? This date doesn’t apply to meat for us. The bear went into the freezer in September, the chickens and partridge in October, turkeys in November, and half a pig in December. I hope we have more than a year’s worth of meat now. I hope in the spring we add four wild turkeys (we won’t, but one or two might happen) to the larder. We won’t hunt for meat again until September when bear season opens again. We intentionally put up more than a year’s worth of meat because I’m not raising any this year.

More Daylight

Daylight is 65 minutes longer now than on Winter Solstice. It’s noticeable and welcome. The ducks started laying again late last week, first one and now two. It shouldn’t be long before there are for or five duck eggs each day, and then for a short time seven. The chickens are doing well too with none of them broody and trying to hatch straw at the moment. It’s the first time since November that there’s been a full carton and more in the fridge.

After a while the blue jay noticed me watching through the window, turned as though to say goodbye, and flew away. I think once its aches and pains are gone it’ll be just fine.

My plans for the day were changed at almost last minute so I’m going to plow through writing work. I’m attending a workshop on Saturday and have a lot of reading and critique left. This weekend’s On The Fire recipe (homemade Italian sausage) has to be written. And there’s a big piece due on Monday that I’ve only scribbled notes on so far. I wish I were at the half-way point of something in the writing work right now. Maybe by lunch!

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Ermine, Nature’s Mouse Trap

Ermine, Nature’s Mouse Trap

Ermine – Short-tailed Weasel

We have an ermine, called a short-tailed weasel or stoat when from spring through fall when its coat isn’t white. I mentioned it before. It still comes around now and then even though it’s wiped out the mouse problem for us. There’s been some concern by folks who get a glimpse of him about the safety of our ducks and chickens. So far it’s fine. If it’s going into the hen house it isn’t causing a problem. There’s plenty of food so the little guy is well fed. We like to live with the wildlife as much as possible. As long as they mind their manners they’re welcome to stay.

There isn’t a lot I can do to prevent the ermine from getting to the poultry. They can squeeze through a tiny hole to get in and the birds are outside during the day. I’ve read that ermine are nocturnal but we see him almost daily in morning and afternoon, same as every other ermine we’ve had. Relocating is inhumane this time of year. Taking an animal out of its habitat and moving it to a strange place in the dead of winter is likely to cause it a harsh death. I’m not sure we have a live trap small enough to keep it contained anyway.

stoat, short-tailed weasel, weasel, ermine
ermine, mouse,
I suspect the occasional scattering of small bird feathers we find under the bird feeder and around the back porch are signs of his successful hunts. We hope he’ll feast on the three red squirrels. I heard it skittering around the attic yesterday and hope that means he’ll will discourage the red squirrels from moving in when it’s time to build a nest.

Look carefully, there aren’t a lot of details. The ermine is sitting on an old moose antler that Steve found it in the woods last fall while he was hunting. It’s so old moss is growing, and the calcium is breaking down. It’s flaking away a little at a time. For now it’s interesting took look at, and the ermine likes to sit on it. When he’s unaware of my presence he’ll stand up straight and tall on the antler to get a better view of what’s around. This morning he knew I was there so he came and went faster than ermines already move naturally.

moose antler, ermine, stoat, short-tailed weaselErmine’s are small, adorable and somewhat personable predators. I lose track of time watching him and will miss seeing him when winter ends and he returns to the woods.

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Walking a Snowy Trail at Sunset

Walking a Snowy Trail at Sunset

Walking a Snowy Trail at Sunset

We went to put the poultry up for the night but the ducks were napping in the last of the sunshine. Peaceful. Bills tucked under their wings, opening an eye to take a quick look, and then back to napping. I didn’t want to disturb them so we, me and the dogs, kept going. We went walking on a snow trail as the sunset. Steve packed the snow down with a snowmobile. I can walk to the food plot and wood yard now without snowshoes.

Zoemobile raced up and down the trail, mauling Ava on each pass. Ava ambled along behind me, tolerating Zoey as she always does (“Can’t you just kick her fluffy ass once, Ave? Make her stop.”), looking up and down the trail for squirrels she could chase. Zoey stayed on top of the icy crust under a few inches of snow as she tracked snowshoe hares. Zig zagging back and forth, she always looked back to me when I called her name. That’s a big improvement over last winter when she either didn’t hear me because she was in the bunny zone or ignoring me. We hadn’t had her long last winter. She wasn’t the best at minding me. Still isn’t but she did well yesterday.

Tracks!

I noticed tracks in the snow, covered by the light fluff that fell Friday night. The only thing the tracks told me was that whatever the predator is, it’s full grown. The distance between steps showed me an animal that is a bobcat or coyote. Bobcat didn’t feel right. We aren’t having that hard a winter and there are plenty of snowshoe hares to keep the cats fed. Or at least I think there are enough hares. Maybe there aren’t many when you go into the woods away from the house and food plot. If winter’s going to get hard on the bobcats we shouldn’t see evidence of it until February, still three weeks away. We haven’t had a coyote around since Eryn trapped our nuisance in November. There haven’t been any signs of a coyote around. Oh we know they’re around. We do live in the woods, after all. But not close. Not backyard food plot close. Mating season for coyotes starts the end of January. They’ll be moving around more soon. Or maybe now.

The empty memory cards for the game cameras were in the house. It was cold and a bit windy and I still needed to tend to the chickens and ducks. By the time I got them settled for the night and went to the house and back to the food plot it would be dark. The idea of looking at the pics and walking back to replace the cards after dark in this cold did nothing for me. Leaving the cameras empty wasn’t a great idea. If the animal walked by again there wouldn’t be cards to catch the pictures. And it was cold. Really cold. As curious as I was, I left the cards and planned to go back this morning to get them.

In the Woods

You can see the tracks in the first picture (taken this morning). The rest of the photos were taken last evening while we were walking.
tracks in the snowy food plotAva, walking in front of me for a change. She was looking at snowshoe hare tracks going into the trees. We’re walking out of the food plot to get to the wood  yard.

walking, Ava, English Shepherd, small farm, homestead, Zoemobile, racing around the wood yard.

walking, snowyOn our way back to the food plot.
walking, snowmobile trail
The almost full moon over the food plot. If you look closely you can see the trail stomped down by Steve on his snowshoes yesterday (Sunday) afternoon. He went out to the beaver bog to see what’s going on out there. They don’t seem to be active here right now but whatever walked through the edge of the food plot also walked out into the woods around the beaver lodge.walking, snowy trail, winter, food plotSunset through the trees. This is where I first noticed the tracks.  I think I have the answer to what made the tracks here.
winter sunset, through the trees, snow, food plot

 

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Soup – venison, vegetables, seasoning, an ermine…

Soup – venison, vegetables, seasoning, an ermine…

Story of Soup

This is the story of soup and how it came together while the power was out. Soup is a comfort food for stormy days. I pulled a package of venison from the freezer. It was an old buck, hit by an old already falling apart pickup driven by an elderly man. The buck died instantly but the truck is still limping along, barely. I let the meat thaw until it was crystaly and easy to cut.

soup, venison soup

I retrieved the new three quart stainless steel pot and its glass lid from the pantry. Olive oil poured in and heated, I added a pre-mixed seasoning meant for beef, two cloves of minced garlic, the cubed venison, and stirred. The bits of meat hit the oil and seasons, splattering a little, sputtering as the last of the ice crystals I thought had melted hit the oil.

Chattering, banging and crashing on the back porch pulled my attention from the counter to the window. A red squirrel voiced its displeasure with something. I waited a few seconds, started to turn from the window to go back to cooking, and caught a glimpse of the offender – an ermine. An ermine. That explains the dearth of mice coming into the house. The snap traps have been empty for three weeks. Let’s hope he or she creates a lack of red squirrels as well.

Sauteing garlic, seasoning and browning venison pulled me back to the stack of carrots waiting to be peeled. The peeler works both ways, forward and back, and most of the peelings fly across the counter to land in a pile. A few crash land on the floor. Chop chop chop and carrot rounds are ready for the pot. Sizzle sizzle.

Celery, purchased at a grocery store because I don’t seem to be able to grow it, is next. There’s a lot of dirt between the stalks. Mum said we’re “going to eat a peck of dirt before we die.” I wipe the dirt away with a cotton kitchen towel and decide the residue is going to count toward my peck. Chop chop chop, sizzle sizzle sizzle. What’s next?

Bay leaves. I chose two nice bay leaves and added them to the pot. I haven’t added liquid yet and the seasoning has a little sugar so the mixture is starting to caramelize on the bottom of the pot. Two good glugs of Marsala wine instantly fill the air with an aroma so rich it makes my mouth water. I stir until the bottom of the pot is clear.

When the faucet finally runs with hot water I fill a quart mason jar with water and then pour the water into the pot. Not quite another. Another quart fills the pot almost to the top. I want the soup to simmer for a few hours before I do anything else with it. The old buck’s meat will tenderize as it cooks slowly. I leave the cover off so the liquid will evaporate, condensing the flavors and eliminating the need for stock (I’m out) or bouillon (don’t feel like using this time).

While the soup simmer I tackle a project new to me – knitting without a pattern. I saw cute ornaments on IG this morning. If I can figure out a pattern, I tell myself, I can buy more yarn. I’m not really a knitter but I want to think I am. I like to buy yarn. Soft yarn in warm, natural colors, bundles of creativity waiting to happen. I start to knit the ornament and by the time it’s time to check the soup the ornament is taking shape.

Barley. Dammit, I know I bought barley. Two pounds of pearled barley, in bulk. Where did I put it? My cupboards are neat and tidy now but, no barley. The pantry shelves, neat and tidy after my search but still, no barley. Noodles it is. Not as hardy and healthy and filling but I like noodles once in a while.

Tidying up, the garlic and carrot peels, carrot tops and tips and celery trimmings get tossed into a mixing cup. Ava and Zoey will have the meat scraps and the vermicomposting worms get the vegetable scraps.

It’s dark early, 4:3o pm and the hen house lights are the only light in the yard. The soup has simmered, reducing the liquid by a third. I add a little sea salt, a pinch of black pepper, two shakes of Italian seasoning and a quarter-teaspoon of onion powder. Blow blow blow the heat away. Taste taste taste. Yes, that’s it. It’s right now. I replace the lid, turn off the heat, and let it set until Steve comes home.

Power’s Out. Freezing rain, ice, quiet.

Power’s Out. Freezing rain, ice, quiet.

Power’s Out

I hoped the lights would stay on. If the trees didn’t drop icy branches on the power lines I’d be all set. There’s plenty to do today. We cleaned up pork trimmings last night so they’re ready to grind and season today. I gathered the grinder and its pieces, the meat and bowls, washed my hands annnnd…power’s out.

Alright then, there’s bread to bake. I scraped all of the sourdough starter minus a few tablespoons and sprinkled on a little slow-rising yeast. Left in the cool corner of the kitchen, the bread wouldn’t be ready to bake until the power came back even if it wasn’t on again until dark. I made a pot of coffee in the old fashioned perk coffee maker, gathered magazines to go through, a set of small knitting needles and skein of fine yarn, two Fedco catalogs and some paper. Cuddled up on the love seat in front of the wood stove, I started knitting an ornament for this next year’s tree. Before I got comfy on the love seat in front of the wood stove I went back to finish making bread. No bread today. The lights aren’t the only thing lacking today. Power’s out in the yeast, too. A brand new package of yeast, dead. I buy it in bulk and don’t have another one-pound package. It’s on my grocery list now. Sadly, the sourdough was already mixed with two cups of water. Ruined. I’ll start more.

The lights came on just as I started to worry about the bait fish gulping air in their tiny tank.  Back to knitting and then listening to My Antonia on Audible. Even I can take only so much silence. At least outside I could have listened to the birds and the ice crackling in the trees before it crashed to the ground. The start of melting ice meant WiFi would likely come back soon. And then…power’s out again, but this time it came back quickly. I went out to take pictures of our icy world but the cameras’ batteries are dead. Of course they are because today, the power’s out. Here are photos of  yesterday’s beautiful rime ice on white pines, and the start of the storm moving in.

rime ice, pine tree, power's out
rime ice, power's out, white pine, winter
rime ice, close up, winter, foggy morning, power's out
Storm's moving in, power's out