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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Finding the balance between useful future resource and pile of junk

When I moved back to Vermont a little over eight years ago, I brought with me ten years stuff accumulated from the life of an up–and-coming young executive.  The newest technology, a pretty decent wardrobe, stuff, stuff and more stuff.  I downsized substantially before I moved back to Vermont because I knew I was moving into a small mobile home without much storage, but there was still stuff.  Six months later my husband moved in with me and with him came two, full, SUV loads full of stuff.  A little less than five months later we moved into the fully furnished family farmhouse with a generation or two of my grandparents belongings.  Then I got married, more stuff.  Then we had a child, LOTS more stuff.

My organization focused goals for this year include going through, cleaning out and discarding or recycling some of this stuff.  Through this process decisions need to be made whether something should be retained because ‘it might come in handy someday’ or it has sentimental value or, or, or…

As a homesteader I am trying to keep things like nails, screws, bolts, tools, etc. which will be valuable when something breaks or new animal housing is required.  I am finding there are piles growing, both inside and out, of things that are still useful, but that won’t be used for a year, two or more.  Pallets can always be taken apart and recycled.  Hardware cloth and fencing are other valuable commodities.  Pieces of flat steel and other construction materials will be utilized, someday.  Little man’s father likes a good deal and loves the ‘free’ piles on the sides of the roads on Sunday afternoons – all that stuff that didn’t sell from the weekend tag sale.  How many pop-rivet tools does one family need? (I found five in the workshop last night, still in their packages.)

As Little man grows decisions need to be made on whether to keep some of his clothes for the remote possibility that we might have another child someday or consign it/give it away because that same possibility is so remote.  How many kids books does one little boy need?  For things like outdated technology and scraps of a possible future craft project, those decisions are easy. 

Old jeans have been stockpiled for a craft project I hope to complete someday.  Skeins of yarn occupy a corner of one of the upstairs bedrooms; it needs to be organized so that we can get the bed back, but yarn will always be useful for clothing and crafts.  Old sheets will be repurposed this week as cushion covers so the cushions in the kitchen chairs will last a bit longer.  Three entertainment centers have been collected over recent months – those will be sold or added to the burn pile.

As the winter clean-up continues I have managed to find a full-size table saw in the workshop which I seem to remember having been there when we moved in and the chop saw which I knew was there but haven’t been able to find in over six months.  My trash collector has been the recipient of an extra bag or two for the past month of items which cannot be salvaged.  My burn pile has grown exponentially as I scan needed documents into electronic format and can discard the paper (Wood/paper ash is great for traction on an icy driveway as well as good pest control in the garden); I only await a day with less wind so that I can actually burn.  Only one item has been listed for sale, I hope to get pictures of more and get them listed soon.  One large box of Little man’s clothes have been handed down to the next generation.

It is hard to find that balance especially when you consider a VERY tight budget and that replacing something – should I possibly need it again ever – costs money.  In the meantime we will sell what we can to catch up on our outstanding bills and work to develop a network of folks who would like to barter with us for needed items, tools, babysitting, farm labor, etc.

As January comes to a close I have reviewed my farm planning list and found almost everything crossed off for the month.  Those that didn’t are mostly outdoor chores; they will be added to February’s list which will be printed this weekend.  With temperatures predicted to be at or slightly above freezing it should be very productive!


Friday, January 24, 2014

An off couple of days

I make it a point not to write about my relationship and the dramas of everyday life here on this blog.  If you want to watch a soap opera, there are plenty on daytime broadcast television let alone a plethora of reality TV shows and YouTube videos.  This week I let my real life drama get in the way of the great progress I had been making on the farm.
  • I blew my budget this week; not by a lot, but when you are operating on not much any overage hits pretty hard.  $45 over on groceries and $57 over on printer ink/labels for the farmers market.
  • I came down with a cold that has been going around and used that as an excuse to relax and not complete my daily tasks.  Aren't you supposed to rest when you aren't feeling well?
  • I used the cold weather (temperatures ranging between -25 overnight to a high of -5 during the day) as an excuse not to complete outdoor tasks.
  • I let my foul mood get in the way of making the much needed progress this farm needs in order to be successful.  It did nothing to make me feel better and only put me further behind in the things I want to get accomplished before Spring - lesson learned - turn that fire into productivity not an ulcer.
Not everything went down hill or slipped into a dark abyss with no hope of salvation. 
  • One of the two remaining 'bred' rabbits kindled and from what I can tell she had between eight and ten kits.  The other one did not kindle, the boys must have been out of practice or firing blanks - not sure which.  With very chilly temperatures I do not disturb the kits, I check to ensure that all of them are alive and moving, but I have not done a complete head count lest I disturb the cocoon that their mother has created to keep them protected from the cold.  The Farmer's Almanac is predicting another cold stretch at the end of February so we will wait to breed the next couple of does until early February for March kindling.
  • Pig's house got some much needed repair to stop the leaky roof and I installed some additional wind protection before double digit below zero temperatures hit this week.  She is packed into her house with mulch hay and has been very reluctant to leave her cozy, warm spot to come out and eat or drink, but she does.  I am not sure if it is better for her to have stayed outside with a small hut to protect her from the weather or if she would have been happier inside the shed for the winter.  Many farmers raise their pigs outside all year long with three sided shelters available to protect them from the wind.  She decided that she wasn't going to leave her pasture without my enlisting some serious man power and a big trailer, so outside she remains.  I have not been diligent in checking her for estrus, hopefully I haven't missed another breeding opportunity.  Today the temps are at least above zero so she should be more agreeable to coming out at least for a short spell to allow a quick check of her back side.
  • The greenhouse got its roof - the door needs some repair, but at least no more snow will accumulate and a couple of batches of chicken poop can be added to compost prior to planting in there.
  • Two batches of jelly were made - one Elderberry, one Wild Grape.  The grape has set well and the elderberry is just about set.  I have enough jars leftover to make one more batch so Strawberry Rhubarb is on the agenda for the coming weekend as long as the propane gets delivered today.
  • I made a quick draft stopper out of some fiberfill and scrap fabric to keep out some of the wind that blows through the cracks which inevitably develop in a house that is over 200 years old.  The cat door was temporarily closed, a thick blanket was hung over one drafty window and plastic secured over another in an effort to conserve some heat and make the dwindling propane supply last a bit longer.
  • Little man was feeling slightly under the weather on Sunday, therefore was extra cuddly.  We snuggled on the couch, read a couple of stories and as he drifted off to sleep his Mom got a chance to watch some playoff football! 
This weekends projects will include many of the same from last weekend along with business taxes and personal taxes and some extra house cleaning which didn't get done this week.  We all have our off days and I am chalking this past week up to a 'bad day.'  All you can do is get yourself up, dust yourself off and decide to get back in the saddle, or, walk.  I am determined to ride head long into whatever this farm throws at me next.


Friday, January 17, 2014

Making progress

Winter is truly the time to hole in and do a lot of planning and organizing on the farm.  I am taking that to heart this year.  Revisions were made to my daily chores list and a new one has been posted to the refrigerator.  It still requires some tweaking but the house has stayed much more tidy this week as I endeavor to complete the basic tasks every night.  Many of the household chores were being neglected without something or someone to hold me accountable.  The month-to-month farm plan, while in its infancy, is also working well.  Spare minutes find me pulling it out and tackling a task to completion (like ordering my garden seeds for this year) or allocating time each weekend to ensure progress.  With an extra day on the farm this weekend I am hoping to knock out a couple of extra tasks weather permitting. 

In the past week:
  • I have found the work bench in the back shop which was long ago buried under miscellaneous tools, associated scraps dropped there between one or ten quick fixes of various items, and any number of items left on the desk or kitchen table in the kitchen which were just dropped on the work bench as a place to get them out of the way before dinner.
  • Two chickens were dispatched to the freezer to decrease our flock to a more manageable size.  New bedding was placed in the chicken coop. 
  • Nest boxes were disinfected and placed in cages with two of the three rabbits which I bred this month.  Unfortunately one of the does discarded her entire litter a little more than a week early.  I am not sure exactly why as she appears very healthy but am thinking that she might have gotten scared or upset at something outside the garage.
  • All of the pictures of Little man from birth to 24 months have been edited, cataloged and prints ordered.  There remain a few photographs taken by family members which I want to collect to complete a few photo collages, but otherwise, having gone through and edited over one thousand pictures is a pretty huge accomplishment for this girl!
  • Garden seeds inventoried, old seed discarded, storage box cleaned out, list of seeds to order for our much smaller garden this year completed, online order placed for same, shipping notification received.  This past week of warm temperatures has tempted me to get outside and work in the yard or start seeds in flats in the basement, but it is still too early.  I resisted as temperatures are predicted to plunge back to the single digits and below zero over night next week.
  • Semen located and ordering details ironed out and veterinarian lined up for the end of the month when, if my calculations are correct, pig will be ready to be bred.
  • Progress has been made on the electronic filing which has backed up since our computer had hard-drive issues this summer.  Each night I have allocated fifteen minutes to catching up with all of this accumulated paper; at this rate I might be caught up by the end of May.
This weekend's goals include:
  • Putting the plastic back on the hoop house as this past week's warm temperatures (for January) have loosened up the top layer of lawn providing access to the base of the greenhouse again
  • Locating, cleaning, sharpening and oiling all of the tree pruning equipment and then finding a single location to store all of it so I can find it when I am ready to prune fruit and Christmas trees.
  • Clean up and burning of the pine tree branches which are strewn around the back yard from the late December ice storm.
  • Repair of the shed roof where Little man's father broke it while trying to get the tractor unstuck from the above mentioned ice.
  • Repair of the roof on pig's house where a small leak has developed
  • Thorough cleaning of the chicken coop and the rabbit cages.
  • Complete the new chicken feeder which didn't get done last week as I got side tracked by an indoor house cleaning project.
  • Making at least one batch of jam or jelly from juice which was frozen after harvesting berries this summer and fall.
  • An hour or so to read a new book from the library
  • Perhaps some time split between house cleaning and catching a glimpse or two of the NFL playoff games (a girl can hope).
If I can manage to stay on track and not get dissuaded by the big picture and continue focusing on this task based approach, I am confident that we will make progress this year.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Missed breeding opportunity and egg watch

As I came back to the farm last evening I noticed an unusually large amount of food remaining in pig's pen.  She is pretty good about cleaning her plate/bowl/bucket unless it is full of potato peelings - a girl can only eat so many potatoes.  There were oranges and a hunk of meatloaf - those are not items she would normally choose to leave behind.  A bit concerned, I turned the car with the headlights towards pig's pen and checked to make sure her path wasn't too icy or if she appeared injured in any way.  Immediately she popped up out of her warm hay bed headed straight for the fence grunting and squealing as she came across the icy pasture.  Exiting the car, I gingerly walked down the short but slippery slope to her fence.  I scratched behind her ears and rubbed her back thinking that she was a little stiff, I hoped she was staying warm enough.

Although the temperature was hovering around 12 degrees her water was mostly unfrozen so I headed back to the car.  I noted that her house was looking a little worse for the wear, like maybe she had been chewing or rubbing on it a lot.  I haven't been out to see pig much in the past week.  I had gall bladder surgery on January 2nd and am not allowed to lift anything heavier than 15 lbs for at least ten days.  Admittedly I have been lifting my son probably more than I should as well as toting out garbage and moving some bins full of holiday decorations weighing more than 15 lbs that await the end of the restriction period to be stored until next year.  Carrying five gallon buckets of water (weighting far more than 15lbs) across the door yard to pig has also been out of the question so Little man's father has done that chore since the New Year began.

Inside to evening chores and dinner, pig had settled into the back of my mind until Little man's father mentioned that she had gotten her appetite back eating more today than she had in the past three days.  It was then that I realized that we had missed this month's opportunity.

Pig came to us as a rescue from a farm that could no longer care for her.  She is a four and half year old Gloucester Old Spot. She has farrowed before and we are hoping to get one or two breedings from her to keep the farm in pork and perhaps generate a little extra income.  Our hopes had been to line up a heritage breed boyfriend for her before the end of last year.  Without the possibility of a local suitor, we have been monitoring her heat cycles planning to order semen and have her artificially inseminated.  I am hoping that my research and education in addition to participating with the vet to breed her this winter will allow me to do it myself for any sows going forward.  We do not currently have the facilities or fences to keep a boar on the farm and I have promised myself no permanent new additions until we catch up on all of the projects that are already in progress.

After dinner I went back out with a flashlight and talked to pig, and confirmed that she was in fact in heat.  Her back end was red and swollen and when I pressed down on her back, the stiffness I noted earlier was confirmed as her standing and bracing herself in preparation for the weight of a boar.  Other tell tale signs of a sow in heat include loss of appetite, chewing like the damage I saw on her house, demanding attention, and being very vocal.  Pigs go into heat every 21 days.  I have marked my calendar for 19 days to start watching for signs again and I will order semen on the 20th or 21st day depending on how she is acting.

If she comes into heat on schedule and the vet can come and semen is available then we should be breeding her by the end of the January for piglets around Memorial Day.  It will be fun to have piglets on the farm again!

Egg watch - two days of 11 and 13 eggs respectively, then back down to 7 per day.  With the warm weather predicted for this weekend I am hoping to add some chicken to the freezer and perhaps decrease the competition for the nest boxes.  The new feeder will also be completed this weekend allowing for them to free feed throughout the day and allow for less competition at feeding time.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Stepping into the new year, if only on paper

My planner of choice
The beginning of a new year is exciting, especially on paper, that brand new desk planner/engagement calendar is opened and the crisp clean pages lay open before you waiting for all the exciting new things this year will bring.  In late December or early January I put my old planner - now stretched, dog-eared, filled with snippets of paper or articles I wanted to save, notes made on cocktail napkins, shreds of paper, business cards, etc - beside my new planner.  Carefully I move from month to month copying down important dates and reminders and collecting all of the saved information to re-review and decide whether that egg-plant recipe or that craft idea were really something I still want to hold on to.  Often it is a journey in what I did wrong, or Did I really invest all that time on that? But this year it has been pretty re-assuring even with everything that didn't go right in 2013. I found a scrap of paper with a carefully planned out financial inventory of the costs of raising a pig from piglet to slaughter using store bought feed. On the same scrap included the costs of raising broilers for the same time frame. Somewhere in the midst of the chaos I was thinking things through.
Beside both this year is my new monthly list of farm chores and my farm to-do list from 2012.  Breeding dates for does, incubator dates for pullets and sales dates for farm items or livestock that I noted last year are added to my list in the months they occurred last year.  I make note that the borrowed chicken plucker from last year will not be available to us this year - Make chicken plucker - when to schedule and collect materials - is added to the bottom of January.   This is a project I want to accomplish before I purchase my broilers this year, but don't have a month to put it in yet and have no idea what materials I have lying around or have to procure.  Apple trees were added to the January list to look into - am I going to try and rehab the old, existing orchard which is 20 years over grown and will be at least a three year project to reclaim but has some amazing heritage apples or would I be better off clearing out some of those trees and grafting the old trees to new root stock?  I can't make an educated decision on that project until I get out to the orchard and see what shape it is in.  I thought better and moved that decision to February hoping that weather permitting I will be able to get out there and have a better understanding of their condition.  Right now I am having trouble getting my vehicle out of my driveway with all the ice; walking out through the ice crusted landscape, albeit beautiful, might not be the smartest decision as far as my safety is concerned.

There remain several items and scraps of paper or URLs jotted down that I still want to look up and see why I thought they were important and items like the financial plan for raising a pig/broiler which I want to transfer to electronic format for ease of calculation.  Those and the big 2012 to-do-list are folded into this week in my planner.  After having gall bladder surgery last week I am limited on the amount of lifting and tugging I can do around the farm so I am relegating myself to administrative tasks such as these.

One of the most re-assuring things that has happened through this whole process is that even though I didn't even look at my big to-do list at all last year, we managed to get a few projects completed.  While I will always be adding to it, there is some reassurance in knowing that we are still moving forward.  I haven't decided which is more dangerous, risking injury to my body or planning big projects which will inevitably result in more injury to my body.