Friday, December 30, 2011

And So This is Christmas, and What Have You Done?

Another year over, a new one just begun.
Ah, John Lennon.  Wise man.  It may not be Christmas, per say, but I was just looking over some other homesteaders' posts about the year that's just now ending.  Wow, people were busy.  It has inspired me to look back at our year as well. 
Before that new year does begin, let's jump in our time machine and see what this year brought...

January and February

--It snowed and snowed and snowed.  There was not much I could do, so I dug a pond.  It took a long time, between snows and frozen ground.  I worked when the ground was wet or thawed-ish.  The pond was finally finished, after I bought some hip-waders to work on it, as it had gotten too deep to stand in.  I am happy to say that the pond is still going strong, and the ducks and geese love it.  It seems it dries out a bit when it gets dry in the summer, but there's nothing I can do about that.  Luckily, that doesn't seem to last long here.  The pond was a good addition!
--The ducks arrived!  Cute little bundles of fluff!
--We lost a chicken.
--I started seeds way too early.


--The arrival of Robert A.  He lives outside now, with two other friends, Bunnicula (who we thought was originally a girl and named Petunia) and Petunia (who actually is a girl).  They have their own houses and, I'm happy to say, are fairly happy.  As happy as bunnies can be, I guess.  I think Robert A. may have some mental issues, but there's no way to tell.  Possibly some therapy is in his future?

--The ducks were teaching me that I should never try to rear ducks in the winter.  Leg problems, back problems, you name it, abounded--all in the name of not enough sunshine and running space.  Lesson learned.

--The end of the month also brought geese!  And Charles the duck, who still thinks he's a goose
--I built a goose house for the geese.
--Ginger sat on some eggs.

--I made a long, long list of things that needed doing.  Then I did them.  And it took a long, long time.
--The brooder got full.
--The chicks arrived, and it got even more full.
--Ginger sat on her eggs some more.

--I sewed a  couple of aprons, because it rained a bit and I had nothing else to do.
--Ginger continued to sit on her eggs, until I finally determined that there was nothing doing.  So I took the eggs away (and yes, I felt bad).
--The bees arrived and were installed.

--The sod on the garden had been broken and the garden was planted.  That's a job I wasn't sorry to see the tail end of, I can tell you that. 
--I registered the farm as a business, something I had wanted to do for a while.
--I brought home Dave and Ellie, much to my husband's chagrin, but he's a softie and fell in love pretty easily.  :)
--Our ducks were massacred by a mink or weasel or something like that.  Susie turned out to be the only survivor.  She still is with us, one eye lighter, but a fireball nonetheless.
--I took a chicken processing workshop and learned that yes, I can do it.  This was a big deal for me.
--I took up the fiddle.
--The Guinea keets arrived, and most of them promptly died (by running off and being eaten).  We now have one, and that's plenty.
--The second batch of ducks arrived.  This group did much better.
--We built a chicken coop-a big one.  And I built another rabbit hutch, for Petunia

--Fat Black got broody, so I put some eggs under her and let her set.  She hatched out 5 and killed one.  She turned out to be a bad mommy.  Luckily, 4 survived
--I finished the rabbit hutch for Petunia and painted the chicken coop.  I also built nest boxes in the coop. 
--Susie started to lay.

--An accident in the yard turned into a chicken with a broken leg.  She was patched up pretty well, for me not knowing what I'm doing, and I'm happy to say that to this day the only way I can see that she ever had a broken leg is to see that she occasionally steps on her own feet.  However, all the treatment and living room love she got turned her quite personable and she talks to me every time I go outside.
--There was a potato crop failure.
--I built a house for the kittens, which they never used and was later re-purposed to house Ginger instead. 
--The garden started to produce at last.
--Oliver and Caroline went off to a new home.

--Hurricane Irene had come and gone, and rearranged our stream for us.
--Baking Day was instituted.  I'm happy to say this is still going strong.
--We got a small honey harvest.

--Canning, though I'd been doing that all along.  October was a big month for it.
--I found out I'm allergic to bee stings.
--The chickens were put to work on the garden, which was ready for bed.

--I made vinegar.  And then some more vinegar.  And I keep it in the bathroom.
--The oldest chickens molted.  Feathers were everywhere.

--All the damn bees died.  Or were abducted by aliens.  Or abandoned ship.  Either way, they're gone.  This STILL sucks.
--I conquered sourdough bread.  Woo hoo!

--The pantry is being constructed!

--Beethoven sang!  One roo and 3 hens from Fat Black's brood, which is just perfect.  They are all Ameraucanas.
--Wood stove.   Truly the best thing ever.  It's become a part of our lives so easily and we already rely on it.  It is a joy.
--Seed tallies were made.  Orders were placed.  I'm getting ready for next year!

Ok, we were busy too!  Now to look into what I'd like to accomplish next year.  That's going to take some thinking.

Enjoy the last Friday of 2011!
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Thursday, December 29, 2011

In Which She Babbles

-Christmas was really nice.  The kids had a blast, and the grownups did too.  It was a relaxing, fun day spent with family.  I love giving gifts.  It is by far the best thing about the holiday, though the day spent with people I love can't be beat, either.  :)
They can't just make normal faces

-Spent the two days after Christmas sick as a dog.  The cough that has been handed around in all the classes I've been teaching finally found me, and I spent Monday on the couch in front of the roaring woodstove, freezing and sleeping the day away.  Tuesday was only slightly better.  I hate being sick.

-Yesterday I was alive again!  I woke up feeling much better, so I de-Christmased.  I like decorating for the holidays, but when they're over, it's time to clean up.  I like to peel the layers of holiday "stuff" off the top of things and see the plain surfaces underneath-they feel new.  I've decided to do very minimal decorating for the next two months, just so I can enjoy the normal decor, when I put it back up.  It feels like a break that way.

-Did a little bit of window decorating today.  I took down the Christmas window clings, and put up the yearly snowflakes.  Last year, the kids and I cut out snowflakes out of folded paper.  I took them down really carefully, but they still ripped a little.  Instead of just hanging them back up this year and taking my chances that they'd be in one piece, I "laminated" them in some leftover clear contact paper.  To do this, I just placed the snowflakes in a folded piece of contact paper, and made sure the front and back of the flake was covered.  

Then I cut them out. 
Now, when I tape them up, I can also take them down without ripping.  We can save them from year to year!

-I'm still getting the hang of the woodstove.  I've got a routine already-every morning, I wake up, feed and water the animals, and then start the stove.  I clean it out and set a new fire.  It's the new fire thing that I'm still working on.  I haven't yet found my "method" for starting a fire, so it's been a lot of hit and miss.  I'm hoping to find a "formula" that I can just follow in the morning, because I'm not really awake in the mornings.  They are not my friend.

-Dave and Ellie are now outside cats full-time.  We tried to make them indoor/outdoor cats, but they brought fleas in with them, despite the many flea treatments we tried.  Even the back of the neck drops that are supposed to work didn't work.  I had had it with the fleas and chemicals and everyone being exposed to all of that, and we just put them out.  We put a cat door in the garage for them to go in and out.  They use it just fine, though I know they'd still prefer to be inside if they could. 

-We had crazy high winds last night, which have brought in temperatures down in the teens.  I guess it's about time for it.  We've gotten off really easy so far.  It's been a weird winter.

-We had our first off the street egg customer on Monday.  There's been a sign in the front yard for months, but nothing comes of it, and I usually sell our eggs to people at my or my husband's job.  But Monday, someone was out for a walk with their dog, saw the sign, and bought a dozen.  I truly hope that is just the beginning.  With 35 chickens, this Spring should be eggapalooza, and there's only so much quiche I can make.

-Speaking of eggs, I got 4 duck eggs yesterday.  That's a record.   I found one early in the morning, and then later, when I brought them dinner, there was a nest of 3 more.  And a chicken egg.  I've got one Ameraucana who loves to lay in the duck house, but only so long as there are duck eggs in there already.  I guess she likes their company.

-And speaking of chickens, I have to get 4 or 5 chicken saddles made this week.  Seems the boys like the Ameraucanas the best, and a few of them more than others, and the girls' feathers are starting to show it.  Before it gets really bad, I will make them coats.  Should be a fashion statement!

-And finally, I finished my seed tally sheet.  It turns out I need corn, lettuce, and tomatoes.  I was surprised about that one, because I usually have too many.  Not this year.  I will be placing orders at Victory Seeds, Baker Creek, Comstock Ferre, and Pinetree Gardens to fill in the gaps.  Then I'll have to look into constructing some sort of seed "nursery" thing, because the quantity of seed trays that will have to be started this year won't fit where I'd normally put them (in the window).  Joy.  More building.

Have a great day!

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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Christmas Eve is here!  I hope you all enjoy your holidays! 

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Friday, December 23, 2011

Say What You Will

....about geese.  I'll agree with most of it.

They're loud.

They poo everywhere.
YES, and it annoys me to no end.

They are aggressive.
Yes, they can be, but usually only to those smaller than they, or if you turn your back on them after a confrontation.

They're stupid.
Nosir.  They're very smart.  They are just very, very stubborn.

They're untrainable.
Not true.  Mine come when they're called.

So yes, I love geese and I hate geese.  It's complicated.  However, there are times when they can't be beat, and last night was one of them. 

I went outside to put everyone in their houses, as I do every night, and found the geese mixed in with the ducks in the pond, looking at something.  Normally, the geese stay on one side and the ducks on the other.  Since none of them can see particularly well in the dark, I guess they just feel that it is safer to hang with "their own sort", so that's usually how I find them.  And usually they are in the water because it's safer for them.  Predators would have to be able to swim to get to them, so they kind of hang out and wait for bed.

But last night, they were all mixed together, and the geese were on the forward charge, in an aggressive stance. 

It's a bad picture, so you can't see that the ducks are all crowded to one side, behind the geese.  I think that you can see that the three geese of the most aggressive breeds (the Chinese and the Africans) are in the front, looking at something intently.

What did that something turn out to be? A big old raccoon.  Surprised the hell out of me.  I guess he'd gone out looking for a meal.  He wasn't going to get one, though.  The geese were on the scent.  There was no way that the raccoon would make off with a duck last night, if that's what he was looking for!

So, do geese have a guard animal streak in them?  Kind of.  It's more of a very large sense of self-preservation.  They are ALWAYS on the lookout.  During the day, they scan for predators, and during the night, they are on guard to the max.  Having geese- with their poop and yelling and stubbornness- mix with your flock can be an excellent way to guard them.

I was proud of them last night, though they were unintentionally doing a good job.  Sometimes they're worth all the aggravation they can give.  Yeay for geese!

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Thursday, December 22, 2011

End of the Year Preparations

No, you didn't miss Christmas.  Nope, it's not New Year's Eve yet.  It's Winter Solstice!  Today is the shortest day of the year.  Ahhh, solstice.  It only gets better from here. 

On this day, I will plan my garden for next year.  I have discovered this tool:  I think Mother Earth News has the same one.  If you haven't used it, you can use it for free, and I really recommend it.  You can put plants where you want them, plan bed sizes, move things around easily, and it comes with a lot of good information about the plants themselves and some companions for them.  You can also access a handy chart that tells you the best times to plant them inside and out for your area--something I always have trouble with.  It also tells you the spacing on each plant, so you don't crowd them or do what I did last year--plant too few.  I love this tool, honestly.  I like the graph paper/pencil method as well, but this is so much easier.   And the fact that it tells you how many of each to plant is invaluable.  I always have trouble with that.

Speaking of how many plants to plant, it's also a good day to go over seed inventories.  I started last night making a spreadsheet of seeds that I already have and their quantities.  I know what I have enough of, and what I have too few of.  It helps me to know what I should order, when I start to look through seed catalogs (my favorite!).

So yep, a little organization today.  Then moving wood to the woodpile, so long as it doesn't rain.  A busy day.  I'd better get started!

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Monday, December 19, 2011

Best. Gift. EVER!

Back in November, around my birthday, we were given a wonderful gift, something we didn't have on our own.  It was the money to buy this:

Isn't she beautiful

We've never had a wood stove before.  The other houses we've owned have had fireplaces, which are really nice, but suck the heat out of a house like no-one's business.  When we moved here, this house had neither a fireplace or a wood stove.  We turned the oil burner down, put up thermal curtains everywhere, and stuck it out last winter.   This year we were prepared to do the same, but with the much smaller budget we're on, oil was getting out of our price range.  We called for it only when we absolutely had to, and put in the least we could (kind of like with my car--I haven't filled the tank in 6 months), closed the thermal curtains, turned the thermostat down even more, and put on another layer of clothing. 

Then we got this gift.  We researched and shopped, and last Friday, it was put in.  The house is so comfortable now, and the kids just love it.  In fact, when they came home from school that day, they glimpsed the chimney, and this is what they did:

Oh wait, that's not exactly what they did.  What they did was come into the house, scream, drop everything on the floor (which is pretty much like every day, minus the screaming), and proceed to lay on the floor in front of the stove like lizards. 

So yes, this has been HUGE for us.   The difference it has made in our lives already is immeasurable. We are so grateful, it's beyond words.  Even the kids feel it's special.  My son even called it the "best Christmas present ever".

Now that's praise.
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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Choir in Our Yard

Or you could sometimes call it a cacophony.  Between the "lovely" honking/beeping/screeching noises of these guys and girls:
Excepting, of course, Charles

And the full body QUACK from these ladies (not so much the gentlemen):

There are, of course, the roosters.  Ah....the crowing of the roosters.  Maybe you remember this post, when I caught them on "tape".   and you could hear all of them-some with lovely voices, some without.

Copernicus, with an alto crow:

Peter, with a mezzo-soprano crow:

Albert with his high soprano:

and Henry, with his Tarzan impression:
Oh wait, that was Albert again.  They look the same.  Sorry.

So lovely.  But now, we have another member to the choir.  Beethoven.

Isn't he a handsome man?  I can't wait to see how he's going to turn out.  You might remember Beethoven better from here.  He was called Sparrow at the time, as we didn't know the sex of him yet.  Happily, he is the only roo out of the four chicks that Fat Black hatched out for us in July.  We've known he was a roo for many weeks now.  He got his sickle feathers really fast and he just reddened up weeks before the girls.  It was an easy call on his part--he gave us lots of clues.

So though we've known for forever he was a roo, he hadn't sung.  But today he did for the first time.  I've been waiting.  He's a funny boy; he sits on my shoulder when I call all the chickens/ducks/geese for dinner.  He pecks the food in the bucket until I pour it into the trough.  Luckily he's an Ameraucana, so he won't get too big.  It would be something to carry a 10 pound rooster on my shoulder.  At 7 pounds, he should be a handful, but hopefully he'll still fit.  He's a buddy of mine, and I like having him (except when he has poopy feet).

Five roosters it is.  For right now, Beethoven has only crowed once, and it was the crow of an immature rooster.  But he'll keep practicing, and he'll get better, and then we'll see where he fits into the choir that is in our yard.
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Saturday, December 10, 2011

Citrus Season

Well, it's here.  Citrus season.  The time when oranges and grapefruits beckon from store bins.  We like citrus here.  My daughter can eat them by the caseload, and I love to juice them.  No matter what you like about citrus, you're always left with the peel.  I've used them for potpourri, I'm using a few to flavor some wine, and this time I decided to candy the peels. 

This is so easy to do.  There are a couple of different methods, but this is mine:

First, scrub the peels really well and then either squeeze the juice out of the fruit to drink later, or eat them.  Either way, make sure those peels are CLEAN!

Then, slice up the beautiful (and very clean) peels into strips and put them in a pot.  You'll notice that there is pith here. It doesn't matter, because the flavors all blend so beautifully when cooked.  Add enough water to let them float a little.

Bring to a boil, and then set it to simmer for a while.  You're waiting for the peels to become translucent, like so:

Take them off the heat and drain them.  Add them to a simple syrup mixture of 3/4 cup water to 1 cup sugar.  Simmer it all together until most of the sugar syrup has been absorbed into the peel.  It'll be pretty sticky and the left over sugar syrup (there shouldn't be much) will be pretty thick.  At this point, pull them out of the pan and lay them on a baking rack-not touching-until they dry.  This might take a while.  Mine took overnight.

 When they are dry, roll them in sugar and store them in a nice clean, tight jar. 

Then, eat them!  Or dip half into chocolate and eat them.  Or put them in a baked good (some of mine are destined to become cookies this year).  If they are really nice and dry, they should last quite a long time--several weeks.  If you find they are pretty sticky still, store them with a little extra sugar in the jar to help preserve them.

No matter how you enjoy them, it's wonderful to turn something that would otherwise be waste into an enjoyable treat.  I hope you try some soon!

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Thursday, December 8, 2011

Order to Chaos (Part 2)

Look!  The food is in jail!

Okay, obviously not.  I built the walls the other day.  Did I ever mention I hate building?  I think I may have.  Yet, I am always building something.  You do what you need to when you homestead, like it or not.

My husband did help me stand up the large wall on the left, and I did the small ones in the front on my own.  I got lots of exercise, since the chop saw is out in the garage and the pantry is in the basement.  Up the stairs, down the stairs.  It probably would have been easier if the floor was--I dunno-LEVEL, so every stud could have been the same length, but that was not to be.  Probably wouldn't have been as much "fun", right?  Oh, and "measure twice, cut once" is a great thing to remember--unless you like stair work.

There will be shelves on the left long wall and the short left wall.  I wiped Home Depot out of shelf brackets and made a nice dent in their shelf supply.   

To finish, the shelves need to go up, my husband has promised me a light, and then it needs to be sheet rocked on the outside, so things don't fall off the shelves and so it's a proper room.  Sheetrock will probably have to wait, though, since we just spent $600 on a septic tank pumping. 

A bit at a time, right?  I am really looking forward to this getting done.  I have tons of things to put in it.  Yeay for organization!
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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Practicing Thankful

You know what they say about the best laid plans, right?  Well, I was sitting on the couch two nights ago, looking through the seed catalogs and planning and plotting and possibly drooling a little, when my husband, who was showering, comes flying out of the bathroom and shouts, "Honey, we have a problem!"

Is there an exclamation anyone would want to hear less?  Maybe the terrified/hurt scream of "Mommy!" from a child, but this is right up there.  Anyway, turns out the septic tank was backing up.

Oh joy. 

We've lived here a little over a year, and it has been on the "to-do" list.  The previous owner hardly lived here (his words) and it was done before him, so we thought we had time.  Well, time was up.  Long story short, we called and called anyone and everyone in the phone book, until we found someone who could come out ASAP (Oh, did I not mention it was 8:30 at night?  So silly of me!) and pump the dang thing. 

$600 later, the tank was pumped, the shower could drain and the toilets could be flushed again.  Ouch.

What's the moral of this story?  Pump your tank?  Never believe a previous owner?  Whatever.  The point is that hey, we don't really have $600 just hanging out doing nothing and ouch did that hurt.  But even though it did, I am trying to look on the bright side.  I am choosing to practice being thankful.  For example, I am thankful that:
  1. The tank only filled up and did not push sewage all over the floors in the house.  The worst thing was a backed-up shower and burbling toilets.
  2. The septic tank was where we thought it was and I hadn't planted a tree on top of it.  Good news all around.
  3. The nice septic tank men could come out at 9:00 at night.
  4. We were almost done Christmas shopping, so though some of it will be cut short, everyone has a gift and it'll still be good.
  5. Though I considered scrapping the pantry project and returning all the lumber to get money back, I am thankful that I had gone a little too far in the project before this to do so, and that my husband said I really should just finish it because it was really needed.  Level-headed men are the best, you know.
  6. That we had $600 to pay the septic guys.
So yes, this cut into a plan or two quite a bit, and yes, we're going to have to fight to catch up.  No, I'm not thrilled.  But being thankful other parts of the problem instead of dwelling on the problem itself makes it an easier pill to swallow, and I think that's a good mindset to be in.

Now if we could only win the lottery...


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Friday, December 2, 2011

Bringing Order to Chaos (Part 1)

Though my kitchen table (and counters) tell a different story, I am a stickler for order.  If I have enough room to organize something, it gets and stays organized.  I am the type who labels closet shelves so everyone knows where their sheets go.  Yeah, that type.

In our little house, this is hard; there just isn't enough room for a lot of things, and closet space is not in abundance.  Luckily, we have a large, open basement that the previous owner sort of started to fix up.  Unfortunately, it has become a dumping ground for everything that doesn't fit in the main living area. 

Well, no more.  It's driven me crazy for quite a while, and I'm getting a handle on it.  I am starting with the biggest need of all--a pantry room.  Back in June, when I started to can, I realized that I really needed to have somewhere to put all the foodstuffs.  The pantry in the kitchen is small, and I can only keep what I need right away in it.  But I needed somewhere to keep the extra food, things like extra flour or sugar or the canned goods I made and needed to store away.  A set of shelves we had from Home Depot worked fine, but it wasn't going to be enough.  As the year went on, we put by more food and aquired more things--empty bottles to store herbs, canning jars, gallon jugs to catch sap for syruping, wax for candles, that sort of thing.  Ingredients for homesteading, you could call it.  And all those ingredients wound up in a mess on the basement floor, like this:

In that disaster, there's a dehydrator, food, house parts, some crutches left by the previous owner, light bulbs, and I think the tube things are part of a pool filter thingy.  Though the food was put up safely, the rest of the area is such a mish-mash.  I have just had enough.  Enter the plan.

Stunner, right?  It's pretty basic.  Two by four framing, no drywall on the inside, only the outside, and shelves, shelves, shelves.  Plenty of storage for food, appliances that are needed at certain times of the year (like the dehydrator), the canning equiptment, soap making supplies, glass bottles and canning jars, and on and on and on.  No crutches and no pool filter thingy.  A space that is a proper pantry.

I am very excited about it.  So much so, that I went out and started on it today.  Behold, the wall of 5 shelves!

Isn't that a thing of beauty?  Took me a darn long time.  And there is plenty more work to come.  Walls to build, shelves to hang, organizing to do.  It will be quite a little project, but I am looking forward to it.  Watch out basement mess, your days are numbered! 
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Thursday, December 1, 2011

'Tis the Season

(If dead mice upset you, please don't read further)

We have cats.  Five, to be exact.  Three of them are very fat and don't do much but sit on laps and the furniture and sleep all day.  That's what they're for, so they're doing their job really well.  But two of them were chosen because they were never really going to be lap-sitters like the other three.  You can tell with cats whether or not they'll go that way, and these two were not.  Though they LOVE to be inside, and can be pet and skritched, they really feel the need to go out and do what cats do, which is to kill mice.  Since that's what we got them for, I won't argue.  They do their jobs admirably. 

In the past few weeks, however, they've turned from catching and eating the mice to just killing the mice, and then leaving them as a present at the door.  See?

Maybe it's the time of the year?  Are they Christmas presents, perhaps?  Today I got two mice, one from each, since both cats were outside the door, wanting to come in when I got up.  Really, it's quite thoughtful of them.  They're already gift wrapped in their fur, and they're definitely put where I can't miss them (I've stepped on a few).  If I had some sort of weird inclination to do it, I could probably be on my way to a mouse-skin hat by now, with all the mice I've gotten already.  So really, it's quite touching. 

They do a good job.  I am thankful, since every mouse they catch is another that doesn't come into the house or eat the livestock feed, and that can only be a good thing.  So, credit where credit is due.  I present to you mousers-extraordinaire:


 and Dave

Now for the other characters in this cast.

Finn, whose favorite pastime is walking past me as I sit here and type and stepping on the keyboard,

Percy, who is pretty and loves belly skritches,

And Sam, doing what comes most naturally to him; eating.

And all together (to eat--shock!)

So today, in honor of the lovely "gifts" I got this morning, I say hooray for cats!  Where would a homesteader be without them?
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