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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.
November First on the Homestead

November First on the Homestead

November First on the Homestead

The kitchen is cool, almost cold in the morning now. November first dawned in the 20°s, feeling more like December. Sourdough bread spent the night in its first rise in the coldest corner of the kitchen. Poke poke poke. I dumped the flattening dough from the bowl into a bread pan and pushed it aside to rise for the day.

After coffee, chores, and then a breakfast of homemade bread toasted on cast iron, an Autumn spiced bear sausage patty and a duck egg, I spent a little time preparing the rest of supper. Butternut squash soup with Linguica sausage and the sourdough white wheat bread. Peeled, cut up, chicken stock, pan fried the sausage to release some fat and improve flavor, tossed together in the crock pot to simmer. And then off to lunch with a dear friend I’ve missed.

november first, homestead, butternut squash soup, linguicahomemade bread, november first, deer huntingDeer season (rifle) opened Saturday, a few days earlier than what used to be November first. Steve and I spent the morning and evening on a ridge looking for a buck we chased on closing day last year. He wasn’t registered so unless Mother Nature got him, or the hunter who fired a shot that echoed between two ridges and down into a valley found him, he’s out there. You couldn’t prove it by us. We found tracks big enough to be a buck but that’s all we saw.

ridge, deer hunting, november first, autumn colorsNovember first, birch trees, autumn, foliage, November, deer hunting

Butchering Day

Sunday was on of those days I dread and look forward to. I dread the killing and butchering of the meat chickens but I look forward to excellent meat from happy, well-raised chickens, and to having the job done. Chicken wise it was the worst year ever. More mortality than ten years normally put together. Started with 32 chickens, butchered 21, couldn’t use the meat from one because it had some sort of yuck of which I’ll spare you the details. The turkeys’ day comes this Sunday.

Loss

Steve put down an injured runner duck. She was seven or eight or nine years old and still in excellent health but mortally wounded. She was already shivering in the cold. Can’t have her freeze to death this winter. She survived a bobcat attack many years ago. She didn’t lay many eggs anymore and she absolutely didn’t want to be touch but she was still a valuable part of our homestead. She made us smile. Her two sisters spent November first looking for and quacking to her.

new moon, november firstCoyote Problems

I’m distracted early in the morning and again late in the afternoon each day but Sunday by coyotes. They’ve been in the backyard, around the hen house and meat chicken pen, and even on the porch. Finding their wet paw prints on the porch is annoying and uncomfortable. They shouldn’t be this comfortable being close to the house with us and two dogs here. I’ve been sitting in a popup ground blind, calling like a screaming jack rabbit (which makes me want to shoot the speaker after 30 seconds) and a howling coyote. So far no good. They show up a half hour before and after legal shooting time. We can’t night hunt them again until mid-December when the last deer hunting season closes.

I’m hoping the November first new moon brings change in deer movement and opportunities to rid the neighborhood of the coyotes. It’s time they went back into the woods and away from the few homes on our road.

November first already. Where did this year go?

What Does it Feel Like to Kill a Chicken?

What Does it Feel Like to Kill a Chicken?

What Does it Feel Like to Kill a Chicken?

“What does it feel like to kill a chicken,” she asked. It’s been a deathly day, starting with two mice in a bucket in the garden shed. They couldn’t get out and made for a good opportunity to teach Zoey more about rodent killing. She’s a great huntress but not a good killer. A red squirrel made it into the house and onto the kill list today. Not sure I’ll get it today but the peanut butter bait is set (outside!) and the pellet gun is loaded and waiting.

What does it feel like to kill a chicken. I had to think about it. I don’t do it often, avoiding it when possible. Yes, I can, but if Steve is here when one is mortally injured, or it’s time to kill meat chickens, he does it. Today, he’s not here and the chicken couldn’t be allowed to suffer.

Chopping Block

The old chopping block is gone. I found two tall screws and a hammer and set up the block. When the screws were an inch and a half apart and the cover was off the hatchet, I went for the chicken. What does it feel like to kill a chicken…

what does it feel like to kill a chicken, chopping block

He wheezed, its comb no longer the bright blood red it should have been because of oxygen deprivation. Each breath was a struggle. Breath in, sides heaving, wheeze out. Was that a drop of liquid in its beak? The bird had pneumonia. Still fit to eat, today had to be the day for its sake and ours.

I tucked him under my left arm and thanked him for feeding us. This bird didn’t “give its life to feed us.” It didn’t give us its life. I took its life. I killed it. So bird, thank you for feeding us. I am indeed sorry it didn’t live two more weeks like the others will. Well, all but one other. It’s wheezing a little and probably won’t get better.

what does it feel like to kill a chicken, pneumonia, cornish cross

Tucked under my arm and thanked, I kept the Cornish Cross rooster calm. Its feet gently but firmly grasped by my left hand so it couldn’t scratch me if it decided to try to escape, it felt secure. I bent to pick up the hatchet while hanging the rooster upside down by its legs. Flap flap flap…three times, and then it calmly hung upside down, trusting me because I’ve been feeding and watering and tending it since it was three days old. This chicken had no thoughts of “I’m going to die.”

The Chop

I laid the breast, neck and head of the bird across the log, wedging its head between the screws to keep it secure. What does it feel like to kill a chicken, I thought as I raised the hatchet, pulled gently back on the bird’s legs to stretch its neck out straight, lined up the hatchet to land a half-inch behind the screws, closed my eyes and dropped my arm in a fast, hard swoop. With the thump of the hatchet hitting the log a split second later I opened my eyes to see what I’ve done, to be sure I’ve killed the bird instantly.

No suffering. I held the bird until the flapping stopped, maybe six or seven flaps, and watched blood pour from its neck. No suffering. When it was still and the blood stopped pouring, I laid the bird out on the log.

what does it feel like to kill a chicken, chopping block, blood

what does it feel like to kill a chicken, chicken chopping block

Killing a chicken feels like something I can’t over think. If I think about the steps of what I’m about to do I will talk myself out of it. It feels necessary but still heavy on my heart. It feels like a burden on my mind. There’s a sense of control when the bird is firmly in my left hand. A swift downward swing, as though I am swatting hard at a fly, followed by an immediate thump when the blade severs the head and then hits the log. Motion in my left arm as I’m holding the flapping bird, but it’s not heavy. The five pound bird feels light because I’ve lifted and thrown three cords of firewood – twice – and have strong arm muscles.

Burdensome

Mindful. It feels mindful, intentional and deliberate. It’s a burden. And then it’s over and it feels like relief. The bird isn’t suffering in life and didn’t suffer in death.

We don’t normally eat chicken for a couple of weeks after slaughtering day but this is different. I already have a chicken out of the freezer and fully thawed for tonight’s supper, and I will eat it. These chickens that we raise have great lives on pasture, grass and garden. They eat bugs and weed seeds, grass and clover, and take dust baths. These birds see the sun, the full moon, and the rain. They feel the wind blowing. If we didn’t raise these birds to eat they wouldn’t have a life at all. It feels like I’ve given them a good life and a swift, painless death, and it feels good to feel my family humanely.

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Routine Change – Freezing Cold Nights

Routine Change – Freezing Cold Nights

 Routine Change

Routine change seems to happen quickly even though fall creeps in slowly, particularly this year. Last week we had daytime temperatures in the high 70’s and nighttime temps in the low 50’s. This morning the hose was frozen because the temp dipped into the high 20’s. At 10 am the water trickled through enough to get the thawing process started. Routine change: drain the hose during evening chores and make sure it’s stretched out where the morning sun will find it earliest.

Moving the Chicken Tractor

Every morning I let the Cornish Cross meat chickens out of the tractor to run for the day. I bring them a little corn to help them warm up quickly. Every evening I move the tractor onto clean grass or soil, move their five gallon waterer into the tractor, and wait for them to go in for the night. Routine change: As of today I’m moving the tractor in the morning and leaving the tarp over it so the sun can warm the ground during the day, giving them a warmer spot to sleep at night.

Building a Fire

checked firewood, routine change, dry firewoodMost mornings I’m up early, start the coffee, get the kindling and firewood, build a fire and get my shower while the coffee finishes. I dress by the fire that’s still catching, barely enough warmth to start the groan and pop of the heating metal. Routine change: Bring in the kindling and firewood after evening chores. Build the fire first thing in the morning, then start the coffee. Coffee takes a few minutes to make because we grind beans each time we make a pot. The spent grounds are stored to be scattered in the herb garden. Building the fire first won’t make a huge difference but it’s a few extra minutes for the heat to build.

I’m looking forward to days inside later this week, watching the rain fall while sitting by the fire, working without interruption, writing writing writing for something other than a paycheck. I’ll roast a chicken with potatoes, carrots and onions on an open fire by the pond on Wednesday and then use the leftover chicken for chicken salad with cranberries and walnuts, fajitas and a soup.

Coyote Problem

routine change, coyote, meat chickens, cornish cross, A coyote has been hanging out here for more than a week. One came through in April and July. A youngster very much attached to our back porch, backyard and orchard, visits nightly for the past week. It arrives a little earlier each night, just after Steve turned off the noisy saw and came in last night.

We can’t night hunt again until mid-December but if I catch it in the act of bothering the meat chickens, well, it’s days are over. The cold nights seem to have spurred its desire to hunt here. The deer haven’t been around since the coyote showed up. I will feel bad for ending its life. It’s not an animal I’ll eat and I won’t tan its hide. I really don’t know what I’ll do with it; it’s been quite a while since we’ve had to kill one. I hope it takes on a routine change before it’s too late.

And speaking of killing. <sigh> One of the meat chickens, a hen, is mostly likely developing pneumonia. We’re in wait-to-see mode. We have two choices. Treat her with antibiotics or slaughter soon. We’re two or three weeks away from processing all of the meat chickens. We don’t want antibiotics in our food when we have a strong alternative. She’s fryer size now, certainly large enough to provide three meals for the two of us. I’ll see how she is in the morning. I’m ready for the poultry routine to change, for them to move on to the freezer. It’s chilly during the day, cold at night, and sometimes so windy I have to tack down the tarp covering the entire tractor at night. It’s not good meat-raising weather now as it takes more food to keep themselves warm as well as grow.

Are you going through a routine change as autumn progresses?

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Winter Preparations – Working Toward a Comfortable Winter

Winter Preparations – Working Toward a Comfortable Winter

Winter Preparations

Winter preparations have started. It feels like we must be far behind because here it is early October and we haven’t touched a stick of firewood. Steve dropped a few big trees in the new food plot over the summer, and he dragged them to the field between the high tunnels, but there they sit. He cut and I split and stacked this winter’s firewood last year. I thought I’d do next year’s this year but the majority of it is going to wait until spring. Using the empty high tunnel to dry and store firewood has been one of the best things we’ve done here. It’s warm, the air flows well and the wood dries fast.

What’s on the winter prep list?

  • Move firewood
  • Split firewood for winter 17/18
  • Harvest a deer or two
  • Process the meat chickens and one duck in early November
  • Process the turkeys the weekend before Thanksgiving (or sooner if the jerks won’t say in their pen)
  • Cover the basement windows with insulation
  • Frame the new raised beds in the high tunnel
  • Move the topsoil I decided to hold off on (horrid weed problem) into the new raised beds
  • Muck the hen house
  • Cover the hen house windows with poly

There’s a bear in the freezer now, lots of preserves put up, veggies, mushrooms and fruits frozen, and herbs and hot peppers dehydrated.

Firewood

Out of everything on the list I like firewood the best. This is this winter’s wood. It was cut, split and stacked to dry in the high tunnel last year. It’s lightweight now and won’t take a lot of effort to move five cords into the wood shed, onto the back porch, and fill the rack in the living room. There’s something about the mindless repetition of firewood that appeals to me. Pick it up, put it on the splitter, pull the lever to split the wood, wait, grab the top piece with one hand and flip the bottom piece with the other hand, pull the lever, wait, let the split wood drop, drop the top piece onto the cold metal frame, pull the lever, throw those two pieces into the stack. Mindless but mindful at the same time. One wrong move can send me to the ER (once) or the doctor (once). Being careful and mindful while letting my mind wander is a good thing. I get a lot of damned good writing done in my head while I’m splitting firewood that unfortunately usually doesn’t make it to paper or laptop before it’s mostly forgotten.

winter preparations, firewood, high tunnel

Poultry

As much as I won’t enjoy slaughtering and butchering the chickens and turkeys, I’m ready for it. They’ve lived good lives on grass and soil, taking dust baths under the sun on 70° October days, eating grasshoppers and weed seeds. The turkeys have learned how to trample down the side of their electronet fence and are wandering all over the place. I sent a pic of seven wandering turkeys and a text to Steve that said “they better taste good” this afternoon. I used the tractor’s bucket and a chain to move the hog panels, and I’ll put them back up near the hen house. That will keep them contained…unless they realize they can fly over, and then I’ll clip their wings. I don’t remember turkeys ever being such a pain as these seven, not even when we had 25 or more at a time.

winter preparations, English Shepherd, broad breasted white turkeysThe meat chickens are manure machines that fertilize the lawn and part of the garden, their tractor having to be moved daily even if they’re in it only overnight. They’re going to continue to live good lives until early November for the chickens and the Sunday before Thanksgiving for the turkeys.

Propane was delivered this week. We have a small hot air, propane fired furnace in the basement for back up when we’re not at home to fill the wood stove, or like this fall when it’s really too warm for a fire but too cool to not have some sort of heat. We’re used to $600 a year for propane to heat our hot water and occasionally run that furnace. The bill today was $115 for two months. That can’t happen again in October. That’s craziness.

Winter Preparations?

I’m more physically prepared for winter than I am mentally. I want it to stay just like the last three days – warm and dry, sunny and breezy, cold enough in the morning for a fire that burns hot and fast for an hour to take out the chill – for the next 364 days…or until I decide I want it to be colder. The new moon and clear sky of autumn are incredible. The gazillion stars at night are stunning. The constellations are easy to see on these gorgeous nights. Winter preparations are time and work well spent while I spend these gorgeous autumn days outdoors.

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Homesteading Today – September 29, 2016

Homesteading Today – September 29, 2016

Homesteading Today – September 29

There are a million things to do in this house – scrub the toilet, lug ripped out wallboard from the bedroom to trash bins outside, vacuum and wash floors, back screws out of 2 x 4’s – and little of it will get done. I’ll deal with the screws and wallboard, the rest will wait. It’s too nice outside to be indoors. I thought I’d bring you with me through homesteading today.

The Poultry Shuffle

The perfect music for The Poultry Shuffle was already playing when I went out this morning. A young white throated sparrow that hasn’t migrated yet tested his not-quite-perfect ability to sing. They’re one of the first birds that make my head snap in their direction in the spring and it’s nice to hear them before they leave in the fall.

The meat birds, 25 Cornish Rock Cross, need more room than their 4′ x 8′ tractor allows them. I took the smaller mesh electro-fence from the turkeys, ducks and Silkie chickens and shuffled it over to the meat birds’ area. I won’t have to move them once or twice a day now. The 160 foot long roll of fencing gives them plenty of room to eat grass, weed seeds and insects for a few days. They haven’t yet discovered the freshly tilled soil in the garden but when they do the soil will fly as they learn how easy it is to dust bathe there rather than on grass.

Silkies and Runner ducks slip through the large mess of the second fence so I have to keep an eye on them. Ava and Zoey spend most of the day outside to help deter predators. There are three raccoons hanging around but not until it starts to get dark.

(Update since I started writing: A Cooper’s hawk killed one of the meat birds while Ava was herding a wayward duck back to the pen. Bastard.)
Cornish cross, meat chicken, hawk attack

Autumn Decorating

Not one bit of autumn decorating has been done this fall. I cut the cornstalks, bundled them, and tied them to posts on the porch. Frost is weeks late this year, we haven’t had one yet. The hydrangea are a gorgeous mauve. I hope it doesn’t fade as they dry. Homesteading today is a mix of death and beauty, typical for this lifestyle.

hydrangea, homesteading today

warty gourds, homesteading today

I cut the Warty gourds, Wee Be Little pumpkins and Butternut winter squash, and cleaned up the vines. The last of the tomatoes minus a Juliet plant that’s still doing well added up to a half bushel, and those vines were cleaned up. They’re dying on the garden, waiting to be rototilled into the soil. The bushel of gourds were grown in a 30″ circle in the high tunnel. Easy peasy and worth doing again next year. The winter squash didn’t fare as well but I’ll give it another try in a tunnel next year with a few changes.

The still unidentified hot peppers and Bell peppers haven’t been pulled yet. Maybe Friday, or maybe I’ll put a low tunnel over them for a while. I want more peppers but I’m over gardening for the year. I’m ready to settle in to write, missing writing terribly, and want to be done with just about everything.

Where the Wild Things Are

The beavers are still around out back. The water is low but they’re checking the muddy dam and patting it down on a regular basis. I’m learning to love the land we own. It’s a long process that I’ll talk about later.
beaver lodge, homesteading today
beaver tracks, homesteading todayDon’t forget the young bull moose that’s pics I shared yesterday.

It feels like we’ll have frost overnight so I cut the lemon balm, sage, two varieties of basil, and oregano, and put them in the dehydrator. There’s mint still to cut but it’s frost hardy, fortunate since the dehydrator is full. Sage, thyme, basil and oregano are still growing in the high tunnel, at least until we take the poly off and cold gets to them.

To Do Lists

My list for the day was unrealistically long even if I hadn’t been dealing with the hawk. I’ll work on it again tomorrow. Such is the life. Homesteading today carries into tomorrow, into the next day, and continues on because the to list changes but never ends. I wouldn’t trade it for the lifestyle we left behind in 1989.

Busy Kitchen Times – Putting Food Up

Busy Kitchen Times – Putting Food Up

Busy Kitchen Times – Putting Food Up

This is the start of the busiest time of year on the homestead and the busy kitchen looks like someone had a food fight off and on throughout the day. The garden is in all its glory and producing more food than I can keep up with. Steve goes out the door in the morning with bags of cucumbers, zucchini and tomatoes to share. Friends go home with garlic, carrots and leeks. I’ve picked five gallons of blackberries so far this year, and bought seven quarts of blueberries at a roadside stand this week. All but a few blueberries are jammed, bourbon sauced or frozen. I’ll share a couple of fruit sauce recipes next weekend that are great with meat and even dessert.
busy kitchen, stewed tomatoesSome of the peppers to be used in Hot Pepper Jelly.

I stewed tomatoes and used onions, peppers, garlic and herbs grown here. Add a little lemon juice, celery and some sea salt, and there it is. I’ll do one more batch of these tomatoes before the season is over. This time I used Juliet, Pruden’s Purple, Opalka, Bobcat, Super Bush from Renee’s Garden, and two volunteer varieties. One volunteer is small and round, a little too juice for this purpose but what the heck. The second volunteer is a plum/paste tomato that always has green shoulders but tastes good. One of my favorite times in a busy kitchen is the few minutes between the first and last lids popping on cooling canning jars.

Drying Herbs

The dehydrators run nearly 24/7 this time of year. I’ve been keeping the trays filled with oregano, basil, sage, lavender and mint. There will be rosemary and catnip soon. I enjoy stripping the dried leaves from the stems, dropping them into Mason jars as I go, tamping them down to make room for more, and filling the kitchen with the aroma of herbs. I think this winter I’ll start making my own herb and spice blends.
dried herbs, busy kitchen
Tammy and I set out to pick blackberries on Thursday but got sidetracked. We picked a few mushrooms on the way to the blackberry patch, and then a few more, and then “I see one” turned into “…three…twelve…bring the bucket…”

We weren’t prepared for mushroom picking but we made the best of it and split two and a half bushels of wild Procini and other boletes, Chanterelles, Coral and Lobster mushrooms. I’ve been picking mushrooms all my life and never seen so many mushrooms in one small area.

Not a blackberry was picked. We’ll go back next week for blackberries with knives and baskets in the truck this time, just in case.
wild mushrooms, Porcini, bolete, coral mushroom, goatsbeard mushroom, busy kitchenThe dehydrators are full of mushrooms now, and more were sauteed and frozen. I’ll make Cream of Wild Mushroom Soup on the next rainy or chilly day, and maybe a loaf of sourdough bread.

Corn in the High Tunnel

I’m experimenting with corn in the high tunnel this year. So far so good. The tassels are more than ten feet high and the ears are filling out. I hand pollinated each ear but I’m not sure how well I did. Wind blows into the tunnel and I gave the stalks a shake each day to add to the pollination. The ears don’t look full. I hope it at least tastes good even if the ears aren’t full. The corn won’t spend much time in my busy kitchen. I’ll put a few inches of water in a kettle and set it on to boil before I go out to pick the corn. Once shucked, the corn will go into the boiling water, the heat turned off, and the timer set for three minutes. Soft warm butter, a little sea salt and it’s ready. I’ll grill some, too.
corn, high tunnel, busy kitchen

On the bear front, it’s been an up and down week. The big bear didn’t come one night but the other bait was busy with four bears one night. Last night only one bear went to 2 and the big bear to 1 but only for a few minutes. I’ve been encouraged and hopeful but I don’t get too excited and I never, ever assume this is going to be easy. I’ll be in the stand on Monday morning, ready for opening day.

Chicklets!

Chicklets!

Chicklets!

They weren’t expected until the weekend. Chicklets! Beauty hid a nest in the back corner of the hen house, an old cabin turned pig barn turned hen house, longer ago than I realized. When I returned from the writing retreat Steve informed me of the eggs in the nest. Alrighty then. We’ve paring down, remember? There are only two of us in this household now. We need egg control.Gave away nine ducks, allowed Sweetie to hatch only three eggs for replacement layers.  I’m reasonably sure by the way, that they are two hens and a roo. Paring down – and there are six or seven more eggs in the nest. I’m pretty sure I counted six when I got home. I think it’s Sweetie. She’s probably laying again.

chicklets, chicks hatching
second chicklett
bantam silkie chicks, two If you’re local and you’d like a few chicks in about a month you’re welcome to some of these chicklets. They’re bantam Silkies, Buff x White and full Buff. I can’t tell the difference. Sweetie’s chicks are White x Buff and look all buff so far.

Misty Tuesday Morning

Misty Tuesday Morning

Misty Tuesday Morning

On a misty Tuesday morning, dressed in pajama pants, tank top and flannel shirt, I headed out to do morning chores. The turkeys spent their first night in the coop with the chickens and ducks last night so they were my first stop. Peep peep peep peep peep times a million. They’re fine but they’re a little unhappy about the change. They’ve scared the bejesus out of the ducks so there was lots of wing flapping, quacking, running in circles and flying into walls when I further stirred them up by opening the door. Sweetie isn’t happy with their presence, a perceived danger to her chicklets. I nudged her out of the way and freed a poult she had imprisoned against a wall. And then I did it again because Sweetie can be relentless.

misty tuesday morning, herb bouquet
Mint, dill and chive blossoms in a bouquet
chanterelle, mushroom
Chanterelle. Picked and waiting to go into the dehydrator.
broad breasted white turkey, misty tuesday morning, electronet fence, poults,
On the right side of the fence…for now

I cut mint to go with chive and dill, some of my favorite herbs to run my hand over as I walk by. It’s really too bad we don’t have the ability to share aromas on the internet. Well…at least for some things.

The rest of the week is going to be busy but at a quieter pace than the past three days. Steve has done an incredible amount of work on the new food plot in spite of high temperatures and humidity. It’s a dream come true for me – a place to put my popup blind and watch nature happen and write and take photos undetected. I’ve picked raspberries and wanted to pick more but the rain is going to keep me in. I’ll freeze the two quarts I have and make jelly later on. We’ve been out to pick mushrooms, worked in the garden and high tunnel, and I’ve taken a trip to Bangor already this week. Quieter is good but I have a lot to do. Later on the sun will come out, the temperature will rise, and so will the humidity. I’ll try again for those raspberries tomorrow morning when it’s cooler. Let’s hope a misty Tuesday morning doesn’t carry over to Wednesday.

Today’s To Do

  • dehydrate mushrooms
  • freeze raspberries
  • take chicken out of the freezer to thaw for supper, pull beets, pick tomatoes
  • Pick herbs and wildflowers for bouquets
  • weed pole beans
  • clean the house
  • write blog entry
  • write notes for a chapter

Story Time

One quick story before I get back to work. I am old enough to remember our phone having a party line until I was probably around 10, maybe a little longer. My cell phone has seen better days. I unzipped my life jacket, having forgotten about the phone being tucked safely away, and dropped it into the lake. I might have done that twice, seems I remember a second time. And I drowned it while fly fishing in April. It took two days to dry it out that time. I’ve dropped it on the ground more times than I could count. It’s been turning itself off in protest for a few months. I bought a new phone yesterday. It’s nothing like the old rotary phone that weighed a few pounds and was leashed to the table by a long line running to the jack in the wall. This phone doesn’t ever have to be plugged in. We’ve gone from the days of party lines and heavy stationary phones to wireless charging phones. It’s sitting here on the desk on top of a small round charger. I feel old enough to have had a pet dinosaur.

What’s on your to do list today?

Homesteading Progress

Homesteading Progress

Homesteading Progress

Change. Even when I want to make changes and accomplish enough to see it as progress, it’s hard. There’s a lot of change going on over here. Homesteading progress used to be adding a new milk goat to the herd, starting a rafter of turkeys that would replace themselves by raising their poults, increasing the garden, or working with a new restaurant when I was a market farmer. These days, downsizing is progress.

Early yesterday morning Steve and I caught and loaded nine of the ducks; seven hens and two drakes. That leaves ten here, and one of those has been named Bacon. He’ll be my first try at duck bacon as soon as I’m ready. I wanted to pare down the flock as we don’t need a dozen duck eggs plus a chicken egg or two a day, every day. When they aren’t on grass during winter they’re expensive to feed. Ducks are messy.

I put real thought into what I want the flock to be when I finished. I didn’t want to break up mated pairs or separate bonded friends. Yes, I’m that kind of softie. “I’ll keep her…” but I didn’t because as sweet as she is, she doesn’t fit into the long term plan. She’s living in her new home and being sweet for an adorable little girl who loves ducks. Homesteading progress, happening right here.

Making Way for Perennials

high tunnel, hay field, Maine, homesteading

perennial garden, homesteading progress, Steve spent this (Saturday) morning with a chainsaw and the bush hog, releasing more wild apple trees and bush hogging the field. Progress – the trees will produce more apples because they have room to grow. The field will become a gorgeous perennial garden that I’ll build over time. Have advice on perennial gardens? Please share. Other than mowing the field and putting tarps down to start killing grass, and making a tentative plan for a dry stream, I’m lost. I have a few herb and flower seeds to start, overwinter in the high tunnel, and plant out in the spring, but I don’t have a design or even a theme in mind yet. There will be paths and a bench. <–thinking out loud (PS Help!)

The logs are trees Steve cut down to let sunlight into the tiny food plot. They’ll be firewood.

No Garden in 2017

There will be no vegetable garden outdoors next year. No garden. That’s still sinking into my heart. The weeds are so far ahead of me I hate to even walk by the garden. It’s hairy galinsoga, the same damned weed I’ve battled for at least 10 years. As vegetables are picked I’m tilling the spend plants under and turning up weed seeds so they’ll germinate. When the last of it is done I’ll till it one more time and start planting a cover crop to control weeds and improve soil. When I turn the garden over in 2018 it will be smaller. I can grow most everything we want in the high tunnel. Next year I’ll buy a few things like beans and winter squash from a local grower.

In 2018 I’ll turn turn over strips in a garden covered in Dutch white clover. The weed pressure will be minimal. It will be worth being without the space next year. When I’m done with those strips they’ll be seeded with more clover and I’ll turn over strips in different places. Feed the soil, control the weeds, and save a lot of time in the garden!

 

Why Be Self Sufficient? It’s A Lot of Work!

Why Be Self Sufficient? It’s A Lot of Work!

Why be Self Sufficient?

“Why do you spend all that time being self-sufficient? That’s what grocery stores are for.” She was sincere. She really didn’t understand. I have a standard answer based on our reality. We had to figure out whether we could live on one good salary for a while, possibly for life, if we moved to the poorest county in all of the New England states combined. I made good money and had excellent benefits in county government, and we knew I wouldn’t find that here. Why be self sufficient? In the early years of homesteading we had to be self sufficient because we couldn’t afford not to.

The expenses of working were high. We paid for daycare (biggest expense), work clothes (second wardrobe never worn outside of work), gas, lunches out, and packaged food (it was expensive even back then) for breakfast and supper added up fast. I was working for a take home of $50 a week after all expenses were paid.

Great Food

Why take care of as many of our needs as possible? I trust myself to provide excellent quality, healthy food. I don’t trust the common food supply found in grocery stores to be fresh, as full as nutrition, or as ethically grown as what I provide for myself. I know where, how and when my food was grown. We can’t and don’t want to do everything but we do a lot for ourselves. why

Heating the House

I’m not dependent upon an oil company to keep me and my home warm. We heat with locally sourced firewood. Some of it comes from our land but we don’t have the time or equipment to cut seven cords of hardwood from our woodlot. Last year’s firewood was maple, beach, birch and ash cut to clear out a maple sugar bush. It was delivered in logs. Steve cut the logs into stove length pieces. I split and stacked the firewood. I could get a job to earn the money to buy gas to get to work, heating oil to keep the house warm and pay the expenses of having a job, or I can save money by doing a lot of the work myself. I need less money when I do it myself.

Firewood, self sufficient
When I split and stack the wood I’m getting exercise. I’m saving money by not paying a gym membership and gas to get there. I’m doing something useful. I hate running no where on a dreadmill. I do it when it’s not safe to be on the snowy, slippery road we live on, but I don’t like it. It’s less expensive to buy our firewood in tree length logs than cut and split. We cut some of our firewood on our land but lack the equipment we’d need to haul it out of the rough, wet land. Living in a watershed has disadvantages.

We talked about missing working with people (once in a while but not normally, I’m an introvert), socializing and other things she felt I must be missing out on. Being self sufficient doesn’t mean I’m missing out on anything. That’s a crazy notion. If I want seafood I have seafood. This is Maine. It’s easy to get fresh seafood at reasonable prices. I didn’t raise beef so we’re bartering it. If I want to socialize I go out with friends. I volunteer enough to fill my desire to work with people.

How about electricity? Why are we still on the grid? ehhh…we could use solar or wind power. We might some day but if we do we’ll still rely on someone else for equipment. It’s alright to pick and choose who and what you rely on. What works for me might not do anything at all to help you be self-sufficient. Everyone’s situation is at least a little bit different in some way.

Foraging

 Chanterelle mushrooms are a luxury for some. At $26 a pound, we wouldn’t be buying them. For $5 worth of gas we pick at least ten pounds a year, and we pick other mushrooms while we’re out. I climb banks, walk through the woods to get to them, bend and stretch, and get some exercise.

Fishing for Food

We fish for fun and for food. We have to follow state laws that determine how many fish we can keep in a day as well as how many we can have in our possession. That limits some of the species we like but others have such high possession limits that we can have all we’ll eat. We eat brook trout, small mouth and largemouth bass, white and yellow perch, and occasionally cusk if we manage to catch them while ice fishing.

smallmouth bass, smallie, bass fishing, self sufficient We do as much as we can to be self sufficient while Steve works a full time job. We buy our health insurance through his employer. His salary pays the bills (including my sometimes expensive medical bills that aren’t covered, insurance doesn’t pay for everything) and keeps a roof over our heads. We’ll be paying someone else to make some upgrades and repairs to the house because we don’t have the skills needed. There aren’t enough hours in a day to learn and do all we need and want. why be self-sufficient

“I can go to work to earn the money to pay someone to do things for me, or I can do it myself.” ~Me. I can grow and raise our food or pay someone else to do it and depend on grocery stores. ehhh…not so comfy with that idea, especially these days.

What do you do towards self sufficiency and why?