Thursday, April 30, 2015

Why Are We Doing This?

These unexpected daffodils came up behind the old shed.

The potato field got another round of tilling up today.  Still pretty muddy, but looking better. It's warm enough to plant the potatoes, but the field is just not ready yet.  It's been a late spring.

My bug removal crew hard at work. Please leave some of those earthworms, girls!

Sometimes I think we must be just a little nuts to start a project like this when we are in our 60s.  And then there are times this seems like the sanest thing in the world and we would be nuts NOT to do it.

I suppose  I should define "it".
We call this a homestead.  Another term might be subsistence farming.  The point is to try to build a bit of independence- maybe some freedom , some self sufficiency.

But why?
There are a number of reasons, not the least among them that the world has gone completely crazy, and there are just no guarantees.... there really never have been guarantees, but we have blindly trusted in a thin veneer of safety.  Its hard to watch the news and keep that illusion anymore. Growing most of our own food seems like a smart thing to do. (Plus, it tastes so much better!)
Also, I have just always wanted to farm.  There is something simple, right, and good about planting a seed, and reaping a harvest.
We want to build something. We want to leave this place better than we found it.
We cant change the world. We can only change our little piece of it.

I started this blog in response to a challenge to write and run every day for the month of January.  January ended and I kept going.  I have made no attempt to publicize it. Not many people read it.  But it seems like a good thing to chronicle this journey of making a little farm home to grow our own food, be kind and gentle to the land and the animals, be grateful for our many blessings, work hard, and learn lots about life (yes, even at our old age).  Maybe one day our kids will read it and be encouraged to follow their own passion.  Find a dream, and pursue it.  (Before they are 60!) Maybe even take over this little piece of land.  That would make me happy. When I plant an apple tree, I think of my grandchildren eating its fruit.  And if not my own, then someone's grandchildren will enjoy the result of our labors.  That seems like a good thing. Worth doing.

So, it's what gets me up in the morning... that, and the sound of goslings peeping like mad to go outside.

Today, there was a little more progress.  I cleared a patch for the blueberry bushes.  It was rather wild and overgrown, and took me about half the day to dig up small weed trees and bushes and vines and weeds. You can see to the right in this photo below some of the weedy bushes I was having to dig up.  Digging and pulling, and hoeing and raking... I sometimes forget I am 60 until I do this kind of work day after day. I got 7 blueberries planted. There is space for 2 more.  Some are decent sized bushes, and some were barely more than a stick.  We may not harvest any blueberries this year.  But next year.......

Newly planted blueberries. Yes, they are hard to see in the photo. There are 7 of them in there. The buckets are spots reserved for two more. I mulched it all with leaves after planting.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Goslings Go Outside

Somehow that sounds like the title of a children's book... anyway, I take the little geeses outside a couple of times a day.  They absolutely love it. I would have them out with me while I work, but they get so frantic that they are all alone in the big wide world that they rush to follow my every footstep, meaning I almost step on them, and they end up wearing themselves out instead of eating, which is the whole purpose.

So, we go out in the morning, and I drink my coffee, and we go out again in the afternoon, when I can sit for 30 min. or so and let them just graze in the grass.  I have to say I am quite fond of these little guys. They are very personable, and entertaining.  

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Pooh Day!

So, today was the day the Manure delivery came.  Maybe you dont get excited about manure, but I sure do.

Is that a beautiful sight or what?

So, is manure better than fertilizer?   Think about it.
The fertilizer that you buy atthe garden center contains the three major soil nutrients-nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, in exactly the right percentages.  Convenient to use and measure, commercial fertilizers make it easy to know exactly what you are adding to the soil.  And they WILL work.   Something like miracle-gro will definitely improve the growth of your flowers or veggies. For a time, anyway...

BUT, and this is a huge BUT...commercial fertilizers are dead chemicals.   They are akin to downing an extra strong cup of espresso... sure, it will give you a jolt of energy for awhile, but it doesn't really provide any real  FOOD, and, eventually, there is a crash.
Soil is a living thing... it contains fungi, bacteria, tiny insects, earthworms, and many more forms of life.. all of these things are not separate.. together they form a web of life that interacts, forming a synergistic effect where the whole is greater than it's parts.We don't even know all the reactions that take place between these elements that help enrich and grow the life in the soil, and thus the food we plant in it..Chemical fertilizers dont feed the life that is in the soil. And not only that, but the heavy metals and salts that go into fertilizers will actually damage the soil eventually, requiring more and more to accomplish less and less.  And growing soil is what we must do if we want to grow food.
The soil is the thing. The soil produces the nutrients, and environment for life to grow.


There, did I get my point across?

Manure, on the other hand, is full of life.  Just as our own gut is full of beneficial bacteria that help digest our food, regulate our immune system, and keep us healthy,- manure is full of these beneficial bacteria from the digestive systems of the animals that excreted it.  Not only that, but manure adds other organic matter that conditions the soil, allowing it to hold on to water more efficiently, keeps it fluffy and aerated, and attracts other beneficial organisms like earthworms.  The fungal micorrhizae that occur in healthy soil work with the roots of the plants to help that plant process the nutrients.  If you have ever picked up a handful of compost or  cleaned out your flower beds in the spring after a deep layer of leaves has begun to rot, you may have seen a fine network of white hair-like roots.... those are the micorrhizae.  They are critical for healthy soil.

Manure is not the only natural or organic material that will improve soil life.  Cover crops, compost, any kind of mulch like leaves or straw or grass clippings - all these things can play a part in improving the life - and the nutrient content- in your soil.All of them feed the life that is in the soil. I hope to use all of these things.  

Ok, I will get off my soapbox about using natural soil amendments, instead of chemical ones...

After the manure delivery came, I went to get MORE of the stuff from my friend's barn. She raises alpacas.  Of course, you want to see them. I think they are a hoot.
"Don't hate me because I'm beautiful"

Did somebody say "treat"?
I opened the door for the chicks to go outside today, while I was working right there in the garden. A few of them dared to brave the wild outdoors, but then became convinced they were all alone in the whole world, and darted back to the safety of the chick greenhouse.  This is about as far as any of them went. 

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Planting Apple Trees

Five Trees planted
You know the best time to plant apple trees, right?
Ten years ago!

Well, it would be nice to have mature, producing apple orchard, but we begin where we can.  We have three OLD trees. I don't know how they will produce, but they needed trimming in the worst way. These new plantings won't give us apples for another few years.  I think I will be impatient.

My new apple trees arrived by UPS yesterday. These are bare root trees, so needed to go in the ground as soon as possible. Thankfully, today was actually a pretty nice day.  I did lots of hemming and hawing about exactly where to plant these trees, and finally decided to put them along with the already existing pear and old apple trees at the bottom of the hill.  Though access is a little inconvenient, the trees would not only receive full sun, with maybe a bit of afternoon dappled light, but also, because they are located about midway on a slight slope, water will drain through the soil and should give them an advantage.  I had five trees to plant. Three small ones, and two slightly larger.  These are all heritage apple varieties. You probably wouldn't even recognize the names, but there are mid and late season apples, some specifically useful for cider, and some for canning, and some that store very well.

sorry about the washed out photo, but look at the depth of the topsoil
This particular hole was about 6 or 7 inches of loam.  One other tree hole I dug, the top soil was close to 12 inches! This confirms that this is a good planting location.
My assistants arrived, eager to help mop up any earthworms.   Who says chickens aren't smart? They seemed to just KNOW I was digging and came down to "help".

Like everything else on the homestead, I wish we were several years ahead of where we are, but, it felt good to get these trees in the ground.  It feels like a real beginning.  Next up will be blueberries and raspberries and elderberries and strawberries.  And grapes... Remember our goal is to produce as much of our own food as possible. These fruit bearing shrubs, tress, and vines will be a big boon once they are are up and producing.

This week was full of lots of hard work. AFter digging the tree planting holes today, I think my arms have had it. Good thing I have a wonderful helper.  While I was doing this planting, Steve was working on the house, doing the bat exclusion. This meant sealing up any holes where bats could get in, and putting in one way doors.. so they can fly out, but not get back in.  I failed to get any photos, but it was impressive seeing him up on the big ladder.  We hope this works.   A pest company wanted $1000 to do what Steve did today with very little materials cost, and only a few hours labor.  Hopefully, this will cure our attic bat problem.  We like the bats nearby (they eat soooo many mosquitoes!) but not in our attic making a huge mess.  Bat Guano, anyone?

Thursday, April 23, 2015

A Few Things

The goslings take a short visit outside to eat some grass. It was actually snowing off and on today, and pretty chilly, so we didn't stay long.

I spent most of the day moving firewood, and organizing the garage. In preparation for the new garage/barn, we have to move everything out of the old shed, because it is getting torn down.  There was maybe 2 and a half cords of firewood in there, plus alot of other stuff.. it all has to go somewhere. I got all the firewood moved and re-stacked (that's the thing about heating with wood - by the time you actually burn it, you have messed around with it, stacking, splitting, hauling, etc. and it has already warmed you several times).  Most everything is getting crammed in the garage temporarily, and I did some organizing and rearranging to make that work a bit better.  But, that's not very good photo opportunity, so here's a few other things going on.
The tomatoes are growing like mad. I might need to repot again! The neat thing about these plastic cups is that I can actually see the root growth, so I  will be able to tell when the roots start circling the cups, needing more room.
Oh those silly goslings.  They want to eat the pansies.  I took them out for bit of grazing. Geese pretty much survive on grass when they get older. It was too cold to stay very long. Little Bonnie started getting chilled so I brought them inside.
Remember the cheese I waxed? Well it has been a bit over 3 months, and I thought I would check on it.
It was absolutely perfect!   No hint of mold or anything, so the waxing really does keep it fresh. It tasted as if I just bought it, maybe very slightly stronger. It was a very mild cheese to start with.  I will call this experiment a success and might take advantage of any sales of good, organic cheese and preserve it this way.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Bonding With the Goslings

Our little  goslings, which, right now, we are calling Bonnie and Clyde for lack of any better ideas, need to learn that we are their flock leader.  They need to bond with us.  I had more than one person warn me about geese being mean, and causing problems.  Well, the answer to that is to have the geese bond with us.

That requires spending alot of time with them now, when they are small. Bonding is a natural behavior for them.. they actually WANT to bond with someone. If left alone, they simply bond to each other and everyone else is seen as an outsider or intruder, and the result is geese that want to defend their turf - mean geese... Not that I am an expert, but I figure the way to do this is to have the babies just follow me around the house as much as possible, handle them ... just spend time with them.  Already, they follow me from room to room on their little funny feet.
They take a nap on my lap if I sit with them.. I believe, even though I have lots of work to do around here, that this is time well spend now.  It's another reason I was fretting about leaving them alone all day yesterday.

Here they are following me.  I wonder if they think my plaid pajama pants are some wildly patterned mama goose?

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Its Hard To Leave

at the starting line.

Today, we had a 50K trail race down in Massachussetts.  It is necessary for me to get some trail miles if I am going to run the 100 mile race just one month from now.  This winter, with close to 11 feet of snow and record cold, made it very hard to train on anything but roads, and some days it was hard to get out there at all.  Road running is a completely different animal than trail running.  Today's outing proved that the lack of trails this winter has left me woefully unprepared for the 100 miler.
It has been a beautiful day though, and so nice to be out running with Steve and some friends.

However, a part of me was still here on the homestead all day.  I was worried about the situation for the chickens and chicks.  It was still dark when we needed to leave this morning, and I did not think it safe to let the hens roam free.  That meant they needed to stay in the run, which is where the chicks are living. I have not mixed the flocks yet, and grown chickens can bully young chicks, and even hurt them under some circumstances.
I hoped it would be ok, but it was on my mind all day.
There was also the new goslings, the dogs out in their pen all day, the canaries, the seedling plants in both the cold frames outside and inside under the lights.  Heck, even my sprouting trays require attention.  So all these things were tugging at my thoughts all day long.
So much so that I decided to bail out of the last five miles and come on home.

The end story is that nobody died, nobody was seriously injured, but it wasnt ideal...there were a few things amiss.
When you take on the responsibility for an animal, you really are  committing to doing the very best you can for them.  I didnt like feeling  as if the critters got second best care today.  And the garden starts are at that stage of really needing monitoring constantly.. they are critical for our garden .

It is tough when two worlds collide.

PS. I meant to say yesterday that we DID find the missing hen.  I dont have a clue where she was hiding, but she survived the night alone And is back with the flock. 😊

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Early Spring Garden Prep

As you can see, the tractor path created some impressive mud tracks. There is still lots of water in the ground from snow melt.
This is where that tractor was going.. bringing some extra soil for the garden area.  This main garden area
will be about 25 x 40 when it's all done.

While I was working in the garden, Steve was stacking firewood. We have to move about 2 cords from the shed, which will be torn down, into the garage.  

the goslings are doing well.. Here they are nibbling at their food and water.  They are extremely personable, more so than chicks.  

Friday, April 17, 2015

New Arrivals and Losses

These fuzzy little lumps are little goslings, taking a nap like all new babies.  

The goslings arrived today! I wasn't expecting them till May, so it was a bit of a surprise to get a call from the farm store that they were here.  They are adorable. One male, one female.  The male is considerably larger than the little girl.    These are Toulouse geese, and will look like this when they are grown.
photo from

Toulouse are a mild mannered, less aggressive breed and  excellent at getting bugs and ticks from your garden without eating the plants like chickens will do.  This breed is usually used for meat, and they will lay about 40 eggs a year.  
Our geese will just be pets. And watch-geese.. Geese get territorial and noisy when intruders are spotted. 
And we are taking suggestions for names... so far, we have Bonnie and Clyde or Fiona and Shrek.  Any ideas out there?

On the loss side, we are missing one little hen.  She wasn't acting quite right, as if she was egg bound. This is probably the same hen that has laid all the weird eggs, and had some troubles before.  Oddly, she was sitting near the coop just awhile ago. I let them all wander up to the coop as dusk approaches, then I open the door and they put themselves to bed. So, if a predator got her, it came right up next to the coop... The other hens did not sound an alarm, or act as if anything was amiss. the dogs also did not sound an alarm. Had it been a predator, I think the hens would all have been hiding.  It's possible she is hiding somewhere... though we looked quite awhile, even after dark with flashlights. If she is huddled somewhere at ground level, then she will be quite vulnerable to predators over night. There is nothing I can do now... we will either see her in the morning, or we won't.  It is a fact of life on the farm.  Sad, but it is the way things are sometimes.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

First Plowing!!

 Good Neighbor Carl plowing up the potato patch

Trusted assistant  Cody helping out

Ahhhh.... the smell of newly tilled earth! Nothing like it!

Today was a big event here on the homestead - he first breaking of ground for the garden ! I am pretty psyched.  And I wish you could see, feel, and smell this beautiful beautiful earth.... I am in heaven.  It looks like good rich soil, and deep.   It's still pretty muddy, so we will let this dry and then churn it up again before I get to raking out the grass clumps.  This area will be potatoes and flour corn and pole beans.
The corn  will support the pole beans, and the potatoes will be planted under and around the corn, which will give them some shade from the summer heat. At least, that is the plan right now.   I will have to fence this off from the chickens of course.

Just getting this first bit of land churned up makes me very happy.   the garden season is officially on!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Potting Up

These bigger size cups will give a little more root space for these growing tomatoes.
I have several varieties of heirloom, open pollinated tomatoes.  For canning and sauce making, Roma is my favorite.  For fresh eating, I have one cherry (isn't that all you ever need?) and an old one called Brandywine. Plus, a type I discovered last year when friends shared some from their garden... sooooo good. It's called Black Krim.  And then, something new, called Red Star. I can't remember why I chose that one. Maybe it is an early variety.  They are all looking good, and hopefully will be thriving and even bigger when it is time to plant them outside.  It's good to keep them moving up to larger pots. I think it helps their root system to develop and keeps the potting soil fresh and new... At least, that's my story and I'm sticking to it!
I also potted up the broccoli and cauliflower, and they are now living out in the cold frame with all the onions and the cabbage.
I couldn't resist picking up a couple trays of these pansies at the feed store.  It is my one spot of color after a long, cold winter. 
The chicks hanging out in the big coop.  They are like gangly teenage chickens now.  And eating me out of house and home!
Excitement!  The daffodils I planted late last fall are up, and getting ready to bloom! yippee!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Last Syrup and Spring Cleaning

It was really weird boiling sap in such warm weather. This was the first really spring-like day we have had. Look at all the bare ground! Melting happens fast.. 

The suddenly warmer temperatures will bring to an end the maple sugar season.  I guess I am about ready to be done... and I am running out of scrap wood to burn anyway.
so this will be the last boiling of sap for this year. There is alot of it though... maybe another 85-90 gallons to get through. I started the boil early this morning (its 11:30 pm as I write this) and I figure I still have several hours to go before I can call it quits for tonight.  But tomòrrow is forecast to have rain, so I just need to get this done now.
[note:  I ended up working out there till about 4:30am, and more or less just quit.. there is still sap. But I am done, I think... Not sure what the total syrup quantity will be, I am right  now working on finishing this last batch over the stove where I can control temperatures better]

The girls were definitely enjoying the warm sunshine. Here they are enjoying a sunbath.

While I tended the evaporator, I decided this was a  great day for spring cleaning in the chicken coop.  I forked out all the semi-clean straw on top of the deep bedding and set it aside for mulch in the garden.  The middle layer of bedding that was soiled, but not really composted, i shoveled out and put on the compost pile.  The rest of it got spread out in the garden area. Then I scraped and swept,  and got everything looking nice and clean.  Since the hens dont spend much time in the coop now that the weather is getting warmer and the snow is (finally) melting, I only laid down some clean pine shavings on the floor.
After sweeping up all the cobwebs up in the rafters, and putting down the new bedding, the coop smells clean and fresh.

Nice and  Clean! What? You don't have a spiffy Art Deco floor in YOUR chicken coop?
(Maybe a little too clean, as the hens and the chicks were afraid to go inside at dusk and I had to chase them all down and put them in there one by one. )

if weather allows tomorrow, I need to do the same thing with the duck pen.  And  I will be finishing the syrup and bottling it.  I think we will end up with about 4 and a half gallons.....Whew!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Knowing When to Plant

The tomatoes are more than ready to move up to a larger size pot.

Some of those 250 onions I started from seed....

The basket of seed potatoes. Kennebeck variety.

Knowing when to plant your garden is, of course, of great importance. Plant too early, and a late frost could kill the tender seedlings you have worked so hard to get ready. Plant too late and you have lost valuable growing time, plus cool weather varieties might bolt to seed quickly in warmer temperatures.

You can talk to neighbors and the folks at the garden center... They will likely be able to tell you the conventional wisdom for the planting dates in your area.  

Online resources will tell you what your gardening zone is, and will give you the average dates for the last killing frost of the spring, and the first killing frost in the fall.  Here are a couple of resources, though most of you already probably know this.

Here is one I like even better.
Spring and Fall Frost Dates

This calculator will not only give you the last and first freeze dates for your area, but will also calculate the dates for 36 degrees and 28 degrees.  And, even better, the probability, of those temperatures occuring on a given date.  Why is this helpful? 
Lets use the calculator for my area as an example. (If you click on the image, you should get a larger view.)

The town on the chart closest to us is Milford.  The last day where we might expect to see 32 degrees, our last frost date, is May 31.  Ask anybody around here and they will agree.   If you want to play it really safe, wait till then to plant.  According to this chart, there is only a 10% chance we will see any frost past that date.  
But look further.  There is a 50% chance that the last time we will see 32 degrees is two week earlier, on May 14.  Maybe I want to take the chance, especially if it is just a few seeds I might lose.   

Here is another way to use this information.  I want to plant my seed potatoes.  I know it will take about 2 weeks for the potato sprouts to poke through the soil.  So, planting two week early, on May 14, makes good sense, since by the time the sprouts actually show up, my probability of getting a killing frost is pretty low.  (And there is always a quick mulch to protect tender sprouts, or some row cover.
Also, many early spring plants, such as spinach, can withstand slightly below freezing temperatures.  A row cover, or quick hoop, usually give 3-4 degrees of protection.  So it might be worth risking planting a little early, knowing that my chances of getting that 28 degrees after, say, April 30, are only 50%, and i can protect the young plants easily enough.
This chart gives me much more information to work with.   

Couple these calculations with good old observation of the overall weather conditions and forecasts near planting time, and you can get a good idea when it is really time to get that garden started.

Friday, April 10, 2015

River Song

This really doesn't have anything to do with homesteading, except that we are soooo eagerly awaiting spring, and these signs of the ice break up in the river, and snow melt filling all the waterways gives us hope that it really is just around the corner.  Right before I turned on the camera as I walked along the river today, a Canada goose flew overhead, honking.  The spring birds are here.... The season is changing.
Spring WILL come.  

Ice has broken up and water is running fast

There is some indication here of how deep the ice was all winter.  It began breaking up a couple weeks ago.
We call this "ice out".  Hard to imagine that just 2 weeks ago, this river was completely covered by several feet of ice, only showing itself in a few places, it's voice silenced under the winter blanket.  Now it sings again, and we rejoice in the sound.

The Homestead Kitchen: Making Butter

My "new" old Dazey one gallon butter churn. This dates from about the 1920's, and I bought it on ebay. It doesn't appear to have gotten much use. The wood paddles were pristine, and all the workings were in excellent shape.  It is the original jar also, labeled "Dazey".  I love this thing.
 I thought you all might enjoy taking a trip back in time and seeing how an old fashioned hand butter churn works.  This was my first time using this churn.  I made butter before, using my electric blender.  This hand crank butter churn was easier, and I think, faster to use.  The total time (not counting washing up) was maybe 20-25 minutes, but only about 12-15 minutes of churning.

We are really blessed to have several local dairies which sell raw milk and raw cream.  So I bought two pints of cream for this small batch of butter.

 After maybe 7 or 8 minutes of easy churning, you can see that the cream is already beginning to separate.
 A few more minutes, and now it looks like butter and buttermilk.

 I poured off the buttermilk (if we had pigs, they would love this.)  I tried to make some "chicken cheese" by adding a bit of lemon and vinegar to this to curdle it, but it was still too thin.  Probably because I had also added a bit of the first wash water.  Anyway,  next time, I will know to curdle this before I add any more water. It is a healthful food for any animal. My dogs would have lapped it up for sure.
 After pouring off the buttermilk, I added some cold water to start washing the butter.  You want to get out every trace of the liquid, or the butter will go rancid in storage.  Wash, churn a couple times, pour that out, then do it again.  Use cold water for the rinse.
 After a couple rounds of rinsing, the butter was too hard for the churn to move it, so I transferred it to a bowl, and used this wooden spoon to work it, pressing out any more liquid. This is the last rinse with cold water, and you can see the water is clear.That's what you want to see... clear water, not milky.

Once the rinsing was done, I added salt to the butter, and put it in this half pint jar  to store in the freezer. By the way, butter doesn't expand when it freezes like a liquid might, so you can fill the container all the way to the top. The rest was put into another jar that I kept out for use right now.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Mapping The Homestead

As Spring approaches (yes, I know it's going to come, even though we got MORE SNOW last night and everything is coated in ice), I am thinking more and more about how to plan what goes where, what stuff gets planted, and where, and how there are already areas of the property that are used daily, and some that are barely visited at all....  

Here's an aerial view, and I have done a preliminary job of mapping out how the property is used right now.  Some of this might change slightly, but, due to the slope of the land and access points, I think these "zones" are going to stay pretty much like this going forward.

Here's how I mapped.
Green- Zone 1.    These are areas that are visited every day, multiple times a day.  This is the core                                             homestead area.
Yellow- Zone 2 - This is the area that might need to be tended once or more per week. Right now, there are
                           the already existing fruit trees there, plus a sloped hillside that will be good for berry 
                           planting.  But, the point is, it's not an area I need to visit daily (at least, not once things are
Red - Zone 3 -   This is primarily the back pastures.   I only need to go out there rarely.  Perhaps to cut if                               we decide to hay this field.... a few times a year.
Blue - Zone 4 -  This right now is an area that, while being close to the house, is a tangle of undergrowth on                             a steep slope from the front yard.  It is low priority for even developing, though it is                                       possible it could be planted, and then it might be more like a zone 1 or 2, depending on 
                         what gets planted there.
Purple - Zone 5 - This is our small patch of wild woodland.. it's not very big,  but it is completely                                             undeveloped, and it is on a steep slope downhill.  We will leave this as a buffer zone along                             the road, plus as an area for cutting some firewood.  There is also a small stream that runs                             through there.  
Orange lines.... these just show the typical traffic patterns coming and going from the house.  Knowing that these pathways are already established by habit, I wouldn't want to place a structure in the way of these paths, and any fencing should be planned to have gates where we would normally want to walk through. All just planning aids....

Mostly, you can see these zones are in a  kind of concentric circle around the house, which makes sense. The closer to the house, the easier the access. Its like in your kitchen...  you want the stuff you use every day (silverware, cups, plates, etc) in the most handy spot, and the stuff that you only need once in awhile can go in that bottom cabinet.
 Mapping these "zones" helps me to plan where I might want to plant certain things.  Fruit trees that don't need daily visits don't need to be in zone 1, but the main vegetable garden certainly does.  I would not want to walk down the hill to the woods area to have the vegetable garden.  Also, things like the garage and barn, and tractor shed will need to be easily accessed from the house, so of course they are in zone 1.  Animals that need daily care need to be in Zone 1.  If we had beef cattle out in the pasture, they are okay being in zone 3, because they don't necessarily have to tended daily during the grazing months.  During winter, they would be brought up to a barn nearer  the house, in which case, the zone 1 area might get extended to include that (as yet unbuilt) cow shed.  There is room for it.  
What you can't see from this picture is that our entire farm is on the shoulder of a hillside.  There is a flat area where the house, garage, and garden area are... everything else slopes up or down.  the horse paddock area is above the house... the pastures  and woods are all downhill... sometimes steeply.The area of  trees behind the chicken coop and garden  is probably 15 feet down, with an old stone retaining wall on part of it.   Without creating some walkways, or steps, down to those lower areas, it is not necessarily easy access.  Especially in winter with snow cover.  
I had considered incorporating ducks into the homestead, and they would be super happy down there in the bottom where zone 2 and zone 5 sort of meet, because the stream that runs down there would be a source of fresh, flowing water for them year round. However, not only is access hard because of the slope down from the house, but I can't even SEE that spot from, say, the kitchen.  Ducks need daily care, and certainly I need to be able to look out and see how they are doing. So, while that is a great spot for ducks because of the water, it is NOT a good spot for conveniently being able to take care of them. 

Well, anyway, this is the sort of thing that occupies my mind when I am not boiling sap or caring for chicks or cooking meals..... With spring's arrival, we will begin to get the garden soil prepared for planting, and making final plans for the barn build.  That's going to be a huge undertaking, so it's good to get a handle on how best to place things NOW, before we are in the midst of the big projects.

As a side note.. despite the fact that it did't get above freezing today, and we have an inch or so of ice covering everything, the rest of this week is supposed to warm up and even the nights will be above the freezing mark.  This may signal the end of sugar season.  As of right now, I have a little over 3 gallons of finished syrup. What a blessing.  And, maybe it's good that the season is about done, as I am getting close to being out of scrap wood to burn for evaporating all that sap!  Things have a way of working out.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Mixed Bag

Who Could Resist This Face?  

Today was a sort of mish-mash of various tasks, overlapped as much as possible.

For starters, there is still sap to boil.  (This might be the last good week of sugar season, though, so I am not minding it).

The improved, repaired chick greenhouse.  Strapping nailed along the top and sides should keep the plastic secured now.

There was another necessary task, also outside.  A severe windstorm, with 40 mph gusts, pretty much wrecked the chick's greenhouse quarters.  There was nothing to do but take it down and wait for the winds to subside so repairs could be made.  Some extra wood strapping secured the plastic (which was not ruined, thank goodness) and so now the greenhouse is up and functioning again, and the chicks have more space.  They have had to live in the chicken coop since Saturday.

So it was a matter of  working on the greenhouse and monitoring the sap at the same time.  I also was able to plant a few more onion seeds for the cold frames, haul in some sacks of feed, and split the rest of the scrap wood for burning.

The girls found this southeast facing slope that is now bare of snow.

Cabbages are up!

More Onions!  A mix of red, yellow spanish, and sweet. These are out in the cold frame.

They say we might get snow again overnight.  Thats ok, I know it wont last... the spring sun is strong.

One of the things I always do is cook large batches of beans, of various kinds, and freeze them in dinner size portions.  So on busy days like this when I might not be able to cook an elaborate dinner, we can cook some rice , thaw the beans, warm up some tortillas and have a nice simple, but hearty meal that doesnt require much work .  As a special treat, tonight we will add some roasted green chiles that we found in the store last weekend. Yum!