Thursday, December 31, 2015

Ending the Year as It Began

That pile of wood finally got split.  Better late than never.

We tried to remember exactly what we were doing New Year's Eve last year.  We couldnt recall for sure, but one thing for certain, at least part of the day involved firewood.  Stacking, or splitting, or carrying armloads in for burning, handling wood is a constant on the homestead.  

Getting next year's wood is a ritual, an ever present reality in the ongoing activities of life on the farm.  It occupies our time and energy from summer through the following spring.  There are maybe only those few months of late spring and early summer when we are not daily handling wood.

This year's wood is a non negotiable  necessity. Since the wood has to cure for a season, next year's wood is the job of this year. Next year's wood is almost better than money in the bank... it is an assurance of warmth, of the ability to prepare food, a symbol of comfort and self sufficiency. If everything else fails, we can stay warm.   

So today, we worked on stacking next year's wood, and maybe even some for the year after.  We estimate our little woodshed here will hold about 7 cords.  
So I have no complaints of ending this year the same way it began.  There is a rightness, a pleasing satisfaction in seeing those stacks rise to the ceiling.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

First Snow

Well behind the average first snowfall date, today's snow brought a little of everything... sleet, freezing rain, snow, more sleet... so it is an icy nightmare.  Hard to plow and shovel . Its not a real pretty snow, the kind of fluffy snow that sticks to trees and branches.  This snow is more like a block of concrete.
But, we knew it  was coming, and this was a good chance to see how the new barn and changed foot traffic patterns will work in these winter conditions.
Old and new barn

Looking out past our little orchard to the distant hillsides

Stone wall coated in an icy crust. The small cottage in the background, now abandoned, used to be the caretakers cabin for this farm.

The chickens had to stay inside their pen.  They werent happy about this.

The geese didnt seem to mind too much, but did resort to various methods of keeping their feet warm...

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

When One of Us Is on the Disabled List.......

...some things just dont get done.  There simply isnt time for one person to do everything that usually takes two people, one of whom works full time at it. Just aint possible.  So, we prioritize.  
The important things MUST get done. No matter what. Animals get fed and watered. Their bedding is kept clean. Food and fuel for us human folk has to be taken care of, even if the food is a bowl of beans and nothing else. The rest of it, well, we just do what we can....and the remainder has to wait.

The back sides of sheds dont get painted. Scrap wood doesnt get sorted and put away.

Next year's firewood doesnt get split. Not ideal, but we have to deal with this winter first.

Leaves dont get raked. Oh well...

Herb gardens dont get mulched for winter.

And forget housekeeping!

It is frustrating, knowing so many tasks need doing, things that would sure be nice to have done.  But it is what it is, as Steve is fond of saying.  Hopefully by spring, I will be back to the point I can pull my own weight.....meanwhile, Steve keeps being superman, and doing way too much. Love that guy...

Friday, December 18, 2015

Eggs-Fact or Fiction?

Do you know these egg facts?

1.  You have to have to have a rooster for your hens to produce eggs.   Fact or fiction?
2.  That little white squiggly thing sometimes seen in the egg means that egg is fertile.  Fact or fiction?
3. Eggs should be refrigerated or they "go bad" Fact or fiction?
4. Brown eggs are better than white eggs. Fact or fiction?
5. Pastured hens produce eggs with less cholesterol than store bought eggs from big warehouses. Fact or fiction?

Washed eggs, drying on the counter. Once they are dry, I will pack them into cartons, label, and we will deliver to the little farm market down the road.  The hens mostly pay for their own feed this way. Organic feed is expensive, almost double the 'regular" stuff, but the whole reason we  raise our own hens is to have cleaner, more nutritious food for ourselves. So we feed the hens well, and they give us the best eggs in return.

Packed up and ready for market!

1. Fiction.  Hens will lay eggs whether there is a rooster or not. 
2. Fiction.  Its just part of the egg. Doesnt mean anything.
3. Fiction.... and Fact.... Eggs are laid with a natural coating called "bloom" which seals the egg and doesnt allow any bacteria to enter. Eggs left alone will keep on your countertop for a LONG time without going bad  However, our "wise" FDA requires eggs in this country to be washed.  Once they are washed, the bloom is removed, and bacteria can enter the egg. So, now they do need to be refrigerated.  They will keep about 5 weeks in your frig.
4. Fiction.  The color of the shell has nothing to do with the quality or freshness of the egg.  Different breeds of chicken lay different color eggs. 
5.Fact.  research has shown that eggs from hens that are raised in a natural environment outdoors will have about half the cholesterol, over 3 times the vitamin A amd vitamin E, three times the Omega 3, and 30%less saturated fat as eggs from warehoused hens.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Free Ranging

We moved the chickens out of the pasture and into the barn for the winter, and to make it easier for me post-knee surgery to care for them.  They dont have a big area, but they mostly only roost in there. We let them out in the morning to completely free range during the day.
Here, they are waiting impatiently for me to let them out.

Free ranging has its pros and cons.  
Pro:they get to enjoy a natural diet and sceatching and pecking everywhere for their food.  It also reduces our feed costs.

Con: there can be a few territorial disputes.  
Plus, they are certainly more vulnerable to predators, lkke coyote or hawk.  And the occasional  vehicle if they wander out on the road.

Pro: They enjoy themselves though, and they look healthy.

Con: One of the downsides for us human folk is that when free ranging, the hens wont always go to the coop to lay eggs, but
will find little hidey holes to lay.... like this gal hiding under some logs near the wood pile. So its somewhat of an easter egg hunt every day to find them..  I am sure we dont find all of them.

Oftentimes, several hens will use a particularly good spot.  Here one little lady is hoping to get a turn for this nice cozy nest. When I first discovered this spot, there were 15 eggs in there.

And finally, free ranging means putting up with those darn geese who think they own the place.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Last Project before Winter

The last project of the year was building a greenhouse.  Our neighbor built it for us out of reclaimed storm windows and a few sliding glass doors.   It went way over budget because this neighbor is a stickler for things being built to last, and the design of it was not quite what I had intended.  But it will work, and its definitely built very well!   I may end up needing a larger one at some point, but at least come spring, i have a place to start seedlings and get things going.
We still have a number of  windows left over. I think we will probably build a few cold frames in addition to the greenhouse, and use those windows as the lids.
There are still a few things to finish up on the inside.  We will insulate that back north wall, and paint it black to absorb extra solar warmth.   And i will have a high shelf for seedlings on the back wall, as well as planting beds in the ground.  And since there is plenty of height to work with, I can see having some hanging baskets in there too.

This would make a nice winter chicken coop.  Sunny, warmer because of the solar, and plenty spacious for them.  Maybe next winter we will do that.  This year, what with my knee surgery and all, we will stick with our current set up...

Meanwhile, the girls, (and two boys) are relishing being totally free range during the day.  They roam everywhere, but a favorite spot is in the garden, digging through the compost and winter mulch.