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Sunday, November 6, 2016

Zeb's got a girlfriend

Sally arrived on the farm today.  She is a three year old Gloucester Old Spot/Yorkshire cross.  She is Zeb's new girlfriend.  Zeb paced the fence all day today even though Sally is not in heat.  Little man thinks that Sally is pretty special.

Today also marked the first day that Little One (named by Little man) was let loose into her larger pasture.  Before Sally got here, Little One showed us where our weak spot in the fence was.  After 20 minutes, we finally corralled Little One.  She was pretty happy when her new playmate arrived shortly thereafter.

As the sun sets on this cool evening, Sally has taken up residence in Little One's hut and Little One in Sally's, and Little man snoozes on the couch after a very busy day.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Potatoes, strawberries and sunflowers

Tonight when I returned from my off farm job, I watered the remaining plants in the greenhouse and planted potatoes.  Aged compost is mixed with some good soil and about a pound of seed potatoes to the bottom tire.  As the plants emerge, dirt will be added until the top tire is filled.  This year, there are enough left over tires (my cousin and I both replaced our rigs this year and the old tires don't fit the new-to-us cars) that I might try a third level.  Last year the yield was a little better than 25 lbs from one set of two stacked tires.  I don't know that I can double it, but even another 25% would be awesome.  There remains another couple pounds of potatoes meant for Zeb that sprouted before he got them; back to the barn tomorrow night for another set of radials.

The greenhouse is looking pretty barren as transplants move from the shelves to the soil.  Some of the last plants to leave are the flowers.  Many are already in; but even though these leggy, sad looking transplants are the last into the ground, they will grow into eight to ten foot tall sunflowers.  I will pick the best looking one and cover it with some pantyhose leftover from a corporate life I fondly remember, but no longer participate in.  There is a beetle which bores into the seed leaving good size holes and killing the seed.  Last year they left me with less than 20 good seeds and only four of them germinated.  It would be nice to have some seeds for snacking and salads but right now I grow them because I like them and to attract the wild birds.

Next to the sunflowers is the freshly weeded strawberry patch, one that is far too small for all the strawberries that Little man consumes in two weeks, let alone a season.  My objective this year is to get a yield, no matter how small.  If I am successful in keeping the moles, chipmunks, squirrels, birds and bugs away from the berries, without the use of pesticides, then I will expand the patch.  The strawberries will be harvested long before the sunflowers ripen, so those birds shouldn't be an issue.  My first patch of berries was planted where there was entirely too much weed pressure.  I spent at least an hour a week weeding that patch (weeding doesn't make you money, although it is a good stress reliever) and it was still a losing battle.  When there were finally berries on the vine, we would get two and the rest would go to the critters.  Eventually there will be enough berries grown on this farm to fill all the pies for farmers market and fill Little man's quota.  Maybe I should start clearing another couple of acres...

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Moving chickens

It still never ceases to amaze me how fast time flies around here.  It seems like only last month when I was starting seeds and bringing the first batch of baby chickens from the incubator out to the brooder box.

The third batch of birds has gone through the incubator and the brooder and are now out on the lawn in their chicken tractors.  A few pullets were sold so there are only 47 new birds in various stages which will replace our aging flock.  At least three are roosters and will find their way into the freezer when they are old enough.  I will keep at least one of the older, un-related roosters and one from the birds purchased from the feed store.  That should bring some fresh blood into the flock and allow for a healthier batch next Spring.

The current flock stands at 36, four of which are roosters.  We are getting about a dozen eggs per day, leaving me with at least 20 free loaders.  Now that the brooder box is empty, the process of paring down the active layers from the older girls will begin anew.  They will get three days of isolation.  If they lay an egg on any of those three days, then they get to stay.  If not, then they will go into the freezer for chicken and biscuits or chicken soup.  While this sounds a little harsh, the feed to keep a bird who is not laying, can get pretty expensive.

For now, they wander about, picking bugs out of the tall grass; occasionally getting into the garden or the raised beds where they are promptly chased away by Little man.  They appear to be jealous of the little ones in the chicken tractors.  Apparently the feed inside the tractor must be very different from that which is inside their coop - even though it came from the same feed bag.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

One bucket at a time!

I think Zeb is back there laughing at me!
Many of my posts this year have had to do with how much time and how many issues I have been having here on the farm.  While I don't want to scare someone away who is attempting to homestead, grow their own food, start a market garden, or simply start working towards self-sufficiency, I want to share my experiences so that you are prepared for the work and rewards ahead.  My expectations have changed a lot since I started this journey.  DH's haven't and that leads to a lot of arguments.  

I recently listened to a podcast from John Suscovitch where he let his listeners in on a day where he had crumbled.  Complete and total burnout ending with a meltdown at the kitchen table in the arms of his wife.  I can't tell you how much that resonated with me.  There are days that I just want to crawl under my bed and let the waterworks flow.  What keeps me keeping on is a dream and a sense of humor.  I am fiercely independent and VERY stubborn (don't tell my mother I actually admitted this!).  Each project that I take on on this farm comes with a valuable learning experience, often because I didn't ask for help in the first place.  

One very important thing I have learned - 
Do not start any repair or project 
which involves a necessary part of the household infrastructure 
when the hardware store is closed!

This week's lesson is - always build the door wider than you think you will need it.  In my newly reconstructed greenhouse, I built a people-door.  It works great for keeping out the drafts and keeping in the heat.  Little man and I can walk right through it without any problems.  It has shifted a little over the winter so it will need to be re-hung a little higher, but it works great... until you go to fill your raised beds with fresh soil and compost.  

The wheelbarrow doesn't fit through the door.  I also didn't leave myself any other access to get anything larger than a people through the door.  Now it is a shovel and a five gallon pail to move the yards and yards of dirt from outside, to inside the greenhouse.  The weather has been cooperating and I have managed to fill one raised bed and started mixing and filling my seed pots.  One more raised bed to go and MANY, MANY more cells for transplants.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

First batch - 2016

We started collecting eggs from the girls on the 28th of February.  28 eggs were collected and put into the incubator.  Water was kept at a good level, the eggs were turned twice a day and the temperature stayed constant at 99.5 degrees.

At approximately 10 days, we candled the eggs and found that only 16 of them were probably viable, with two being questionable, but we erred on the side of positive thinking.

On the 21st day we heard cheeping from inside the shells and late that afternoon, the first chick was hatched.  Ten chicks began to emerge from their shells.  One wasn't strong enough and never made it all the way out.  Nine babies stayed in the incubator for two days, then Little man eagerly assisted as they were moved outside to the brooder box.  The following evening I found one that wasn't looking too good, so I brought it inside and put it back in the incubator in hopes that it needed a little warmth.  She made it through the night and ate and drank before I left for my off farm job, but alas, was not well enough to hang with us.

Eight very strong, healthy birds are growing quickly.  A second batch has been started - perhaps it was just too cold at the end of February.  Perhaps the boys have had some spring fever and we will have a better fertilization rate.  For now, water is kept in the incubator, eggs are turned twice per day and the temperature holds steady at 99.5 degrees.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Warm N' Toasty

The incubator was fired up on Friday and got to the constant, correct temperature of 99.5 degrees by Saturday afternoon.  I thought maybe we were jumping the gun, but the forecast for next week includes a couple days in the 50's.  After three days I have 28 eggs in there.  I will try for forty, but can't go much more than four days between first and last egg added.  I was hoping for a couple more but there is an egg eating chicken in the coop and I can't tell which one it is.  

Twice daily egg turning and careful monitoring of water levels along with keeping the cover closed - Little man will just have to watch through the windows - and March 19th will begin chick watch!

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Greenhouse - shelves and one raised bed

Thursday night I headed out to the greenhouse.  The days are getting longer and I was determined to get the first board for the raised bed put in before darkness closed in.  There is no power out there.  I grabbed the drill - the Phillips head bit was missing and in its place was a sap tapping bit.  I looked around and couldn't find it.  Back inside to where I knew I last left the extra bits I bought last fall for such projects - they weren't where they were supposed to be either.  Back outside to where Peter found himself inside the pigs fence with a 500 plus pound boar.  A forty pound dog doesn't stand a chance!  Rescue the dog, DH comes out and finds the bit, not where it was supposed to be.  Grab the drill, head for the greenhouse through blowing snow and ice pellets, get inside - no wood.  Back outside - all the wood was frozen to the ground.  Back to the garage, slam the battery back into the charger, yell at the dog for eating chicken poop.  The greenhouse project didn't get started on Thursday night.  Was it last week I said something about TWICE AS MUCH TIME!!

Saturday I had a lot planned, both on and off the farm, including working on the greenhouse.  By the time I was back at the farm and ready to start that project, the weather turned south in a hurry.  I managed to move most of the wood I would need into the greenhouse so the snow and ice would have a chance to melt.  The weather had moderated earlier this week so it only took a hammer to free it from the frozen ground beneath.  This is what it the inside of the greenhouse looked like on Saturday.  You can see the snow covered wood in the lower left corner.

Sunday morning, I had hoped to sleep late.  I was up early, stayed up late and up in the middle of the night almost everyday this week.  The stars had not aligned and I did not get to sleep late.  Not sure exactly what time it was, Little man hollering at the dog two inches from my ear did not make great sleeping conditions.  I was up, got breakfast, sorted laundry, drank coffee, checked the internet and made plans for the day.  I hadn't checked the clock when I headed outside, collected the drill, with a fully charged battery, the correct drill bit and the box of screws and headed to the greenhouse. 

Most of the day I managed to work out there between sledding with Little man and a pretty good lunch of sandwiches and soup cooked by DH.  After lunch I headed back out in hopes of getting a lot more accomplished.  Unfortunately after a yummy lunch and a winters worth of inactivity - my motivation was fading fast.  I managed to get the raised bed finished, DH brought out the shavings and manure from cleaning the chicken coop today, and I started digging out the walkways.  Warmer weather or several more sunny days will be necessary to complete the dirt moving.  At 4:00 p.m. I called it a day, cleaning up the tools, dusting off the newly installed bi-fold door counter and telling the outdoor kitty that she couldn't spend all night out here but I would let her stay for now.

Most of the pots and planters are stowed under the counters, although I am told there are more in the garage.  The ground remains frozen, but sun in the forecast for this week should provide a little more thawing to clean out the walkways.  A raised bed is planned for the middle of the greenhouse, but dead batteries stopped those plans in their tracks.  The batteries are almost eight years old and hardly hold a charge any longer - one more thing to add to the list.  The State of Vermont is kind enough to give us town meeting day as a holiday.  After I go vote, I will be back at the farm attempting to make some more progress outside.

It has come a long way from where we started last spring.  

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Rain and lots of it!

It rained.  The good old fashioned spring time rains that come every year, but usually not until mid April.  It started raining yesterday and continued off an on throughout the evening and most of the day today.  As I traveled home from my off farm job, the steam poured forth from most of the sugar houses in plain view of my twenty-three mile journey.  I thought for a moment that perhaps I ought try and throw together some kind of sugar house so that I could boil this year and have some of that delicious gold, boiled and bottled with my own hands, for our personal use on the farm this year.  A few more miles past ice jams and flooded fields and I thought better of it - the focus is Christmas trees, vegetables and chickens this year.  Stay focused!  I am better off trading some pullets, a few trees or several pounds of tomatoes for that delicious sweet Vermont tradition instead of taking taking my focus away from what needs to be done to make this farm a success.

Pulling into the driveway this evening, any thoughts of straying from the plan were quickly washed away.  I was met with a half flooded pig pen as I crested the hill.  The porcine pond took over more than half of the pasture.  Zeb was comfy and dry in his house with plenty of hay and his side of the pasture above the water level.  Unfortunately, his fence goes around the entire pasture, which includes the south side where sows or gilts might reside while pregnant.  The southeast corner of the fence was underwater, not sufficient to keep Zeb home.

By the time I got into the house, hugged little man and discussed the excitement of his day, the rain had turned to snow.  I changed clothes, got Little man and I bundled for the weather, grabbed a few more dog treats to keep Peter on the West 40, and headed into the now blowing snow with DH in tow.

Zeb's fence is a three strand system - the repair was short, moving the power from the bottom/middle to the middle/top and turning the charger back on.  This weekend, weather and lack of rain permitting, the bottom strand will be moved out of the water and the bottom/middle will be charged again.  For now, plenty of hay, a little extra delectable treat and plenty of water should combine with a strong charge on the middle wire to keep Zeb home.  

This weekend will start with a meeting to discuss this seasons farmers market, then returning to farm to visit with family and weather permitting and water receding - heading outside to make some fence repairs.  The tool for the plumbing repairs along with a new mixing valve part was located in the shop among the twenty plus years of spare supplies.   I knew it was there, but I was rushing and frustrated the other night so I couldn't have found it if it flew off the shelf and hit me in the head.  So, fence repairs to avoid the water and mixing valve/tub repairs to get the right temperature water are on the agenda for the weekend.

The incubator was powered up tonight.  First temperature checks were over 110 degrees.  If we can get it adjusted, eggs will move from the coop to the incubator too.  Spring is coming!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016


Today's weather teased me all day.  I woke up this morning to a warm south wind, no precipitation and the promise of spring.  By the time I had gotten out of the shower there was a dusting of snow on the driveway.  An hour later as I took Peter out for a walk before leaving for my off farm job, there was an inch of heavy, wet sugaring snow coating the yard and driveway.

My drive is usually twenty-five or so minutes; today stretched to almost forty as we made our way through slushy, slick roads.  As I walked from the car to the office, the snow was switching to ice pellets, soon forecast to change over to all rain.

Returning to the farm this evening the temperatures had risen to a balmy thirty-five degrees and my thoughts turned to seeds, a greenhouse and eggs in the incubator.  I will wait, however impatiently, for another week or so before jumping into spring chores in earnest.

This evening, though, was reserved for the optimist in me hoping that spring is just around the corner.  I finished cleaning these tithonia seeds, saved late last summer, in hopes that they will soon be germinating in warm spring soil.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Twice as much time and at least that much money

If I can impart one thing to people who are dreaming of farming or homesteading it is this - it will take twice as much time as you are planning and at least that much more money.  Unless you are starting your homesteading or farming journey independently wealthy or having been gifted all the possible tools and equipment you can possibly think of, then know it will take more than you planned - almost every time!

We adopted a dog a couple of weeks ago and he has been a wonderful addition to this farm.  His bio said he was great with kids, cats and other dogs, heart worm negative and potty trained.  I would drive the hour south to collect him on Friday night, spend all weekend getting him used to our home and continue about getting the farm ready for spring.  He would be a welcome distraction for Little man - it was a good plan!

His introduction to the cats was less than ideal - thankfully they were controlled introductions.  We were present and could immediately intervene when he pinned one cat to the floor and shortly thereafter had another one in his mouth.  While he came potty trained, he was not good with cats, had very little if any training and is a two year old puppy.  Time planned to get the floor and raised beds into the greenhouse has been spent with obedience training, boundary education, electric fence introduction and all the things that usually come with adopting an eight week old puppy.  In less than 48 hours he broke his halter and the food we bought him ran right through him.  Another halter purchased and two different kinds of food later, we have reduced the number of times needed to go out and poop to less than four.

After a week, we decided Peter could stay.  He and Little man were playing so I decided I would give each a bath and then get my seeds ordered and make a dent in my taxes.  Into the bathroom I went to start the water in the tub and get it to temperature.  No cold water - only hot.  Faucet disassembled, instructions for repair researched on the internet and a brief search of the shop for the tool I need and the replacement cartridges that I have seen around 100 times before but can't manage to find at 7:30 p.m. and I head back in to give Little man his shower.  This particular evening was forecast to have lows in the single digits and there are no shut-offs plumbed for the bathroom.  I will not be shutting off the water and the heat to the house to attempt a repair for which I have not located all of the proper parts.  Around 8:45 p.m. the child, the dog, the mom and most of the bathroom have been sufficiently bathed and it is time for bedtime stories and settling in for the night.

3:30 a.m., I wake up on the couch, mad at myself for not getting my seeds ordered or progress made on my taxes.  I get up, shut off the lights and head to bed.

The seeds were ordered this past weekend.  The taxes still aren't done.  I have found that if I let the to-do list rule my life then life isn't that interesting.  It is more of a guideline.  Progress is being made - albeit slow and slightly disorganized - it is still progress.

I hadn't planned on cleaning the bathroom - that was a bonus!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

It's always good to stop and regroup.

Last year I paused.  It had been nine years since I jumped in.  I was burnt out, I was overtired, it seemed like nothing was going right and that I had failed at everything I had tried.  My marriage was in a downward spiral.  It felt like I was drowning in my to-do list.  I couldn't get ahead no matter how hard I tried, how much I scrimped, what I did cut the budget or scrounge out some extra time.  I had been in a pretty rough spot since the summer of 2014.

For 2015 I decided I wasn't going to take on anything new.  I took some time to regroup, review all of the activities I had tried, those that were successful, those that failed, what I wanted to do going forward, what I absolutely didn't want to try again and what I could accomplish completely on my own.

I faced difficult questions from my friends and family - 

  • Why are you so dead set on having a farm?
  • A farm is hard work and you aren't getting any younger?
  • You know that having animals means you can't leave for the weekend?
  • You haven't been successful so far, why are you even still considering this?

Through all the negativity, there is still a lot of positive.  I tried.  A lot of people can't even say that.  My husband called them learning experiences, expensive ones at that.  But I have learned A LOT over the course of nine years.  I learned how to do a few things REALLY well.  I also learned a lot about how to not to do other things.

2016 will be the year I re-invest myself into this farm.  Little man is old enough that he can help a little more and not need to be entertained every minute of every day.  I am determined to be here when he gets off the school bus.  I have a couple years to make that dream come to fruition.

I revisited a post from January of last year - 

Growing Magazine had one sentence that justified my lists this month: 

Setting goals before each season is the only way to know at the end of the year whether you succeeded.

The three things I will be focused on are vegetables, chickens and Christmas trees.  So the lists have begun - like this one of the current inventory of vegetable seed.  Orders will be placed this weekend for the ones I need to get going again.  Yesterday, another package arrived for the poultry venture.

Baby steps. 

Sunday, January 31, 2016