Bring on 2015!

It’s very hard to post updates when my only internet is the limited internet I get on my phone. I’m going to try to be better about it. Even if no one is reading this, it’s still nice too look back and have a record of what we’ve done.

This year has been a year of surgeries. One of my 15 year old sons tore his ACL and had to have it replaced with part of his hamstring tendon and my husband had carpal tunnel surgery in both wrists.

God is great and they are both back to full mobility. It’s the first year we’ve ever hit our family medical deductible. Yikes!

We butchered all of our rabbits this year. We also butchered a batch of meat chickens, most of our roosters, and some of our old hens. We currently have 39 chickens. Six of them are roosters. We are going to eventually end up with two roosters, but we all have different favorites, so we have been watching then to see which ones take better care of the hens.

My 15 year olds had a fun year. They took the Texas hunter’s safety course and they built a floating duck house for our house pond. I’m hoping to fill it with ducks this Spring. We bought them both Ruger 10/22s, and they have done quite a bit of hunting with their dad.

We put one feral hog in the freezer this year and we are raising two Hampshire pigs for meat for 2015. They were so small when we got them.
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They are about 15 times that size now. I had to stop going in their pen, since they keep trying to bite my ankles. We named them Sausage and Bacon. They are interesting animals. I’m not sure if pigs will be a permanent part of our homestead, but I do think we will end up having them again at some point. I’m guessing that they will end up costing us about $500 by the time we butcher them. It should end up costing us less than $1 per pound of meat.

We planted a row of grape vines. They all seem to be doing well. We also planted a row of berry bushes, but none of them made it. I’m going to try again this year, but I’ll put them closer to the house so I can keep an eye on them.

The bees are doing great. We didn’t take much honey from them this year, but we still ended up with a quart for us and a quart for the animals. It’s delicious. I’ve been making “Honey Dew Drops” with it. I warm it on the stove on low heat like candy, then I make little cough drops out of them. My 5 year old had the flu two weeks ago, and he would only eat Honey Dew Drops and turkey broth (not at the same time). He’s doing much better now, but he still asks for a Honey Dew Drop every now and then.

We are currently looking for a few bottle heifers to raise. I think cattle will be in the cards for 2015. I also think we will end up getting a couple of dairy goats once the pigs are in the freezer.

There are always a ton of things to do; but no matter how busy we are, nothing about this life feels like work to me. I hope that feeling continues throughout 2015 and ever year thereafter.

Summertime

It’s summertime!! Things have been heating up around our homestead lately. (Har har) It’s a beautiful (rainy) day today, so I figured I’d put down my gardening gloves and my Zane Grey book so I could post a homestead update.

Rabbits – Poly (our Californian doe) had 8 kits that all ended up dying. I think they had a genetic issue. We decided to cull all of our rabbits. The boy had white raised lesions on his liver. We’re pretty sure he had some form of cancer. We are NOT eating him. All of the girls ended up in our freezer. The hides are currently salt drying on top of the dog house so I can egg tan them. We will get more breeding stock in the future, but I have to take a break from rabbits.

Chickens – We still have all 23 hens and 1 rooster. One of our hens went broody. She was doing a great job of sitting on a clutch of eggs, but two days before they were set to hatch, she decided to switch nests. So, we currently have no baby chicks. That will change next week. I ordered 25 day old chicks from Murray McMurray Hatchery. I specifically ordered a Brown Egg Layer mix, so I’m excited to see what varieties we end up with.

Garden – The garden has exploded this past month. Everything looks lush and green. There are a ton of weeds. I have to spend about 45 minutes a day weeding, just to keep it in check. This week, with the rain, will mean that I need to spend a solid 4-5 hours in there this weekend to make it weed free again. So far, we’ve been able to harvest onions, radishes, snow peas, carrots, potatoes, and quite a few handfuls of herbs. (My Stevia plant is doing exceptionally well.) I have to put down more seeds in the areas we’ve harvested. I’m planning to do that this weekend. I have an entire 150sq feet section of beets that need to be harvested and canned this week. It’s a good project to do while it’s raining outside. I think I will work on that tomorrow and Wednesday.

Fishing – We learned that the House Pond has crawdads in it! My nephew was here with his family, and we ended up catching about 70-80 crawdads in less than 45 minutes. Needless to say, I got out my largest pot and we had a Crawfish Boil. It was delicious.

Projects – I asked the kids to come up with a project to do this summer around the property. It could be an educational project, an entertaining project, or a money making project. They decided that they are going to build a gazebo by Lost Hook Pond. They originally wanted to make a pergola, but then they decided they needed to make a solid roof so they could add a solar fan. I think it’s the perfect project for them to work on together and it will be very beneficial to us when we are out at the pond fishing.

Land – We had our hay baled. A neighbor baled it for us, took the hay, and paid us per bale. Our first cutting of the year yielded 67 large round bales. Next year, I hope to have a tractor and the needed implements so we can bale our own hay, but this arrangement worked out very well this year.

In a couple of weeks, it will have been a year since we bought this property. I still can’t believe that I get to live here. I love this place.

**I have a few pictures to add to this post, but for some reason it isn’t working correctly. I’ll try to log on later and see if I can get them to post.**

Evening Walk

In the past five weeks, one of my sons had ACL reconstruction therapy and my husband had carpal tunnel surgery in both wrists. I wish I could spend more time exploring Spring on our property, but I’ve been barely managing to hang on with everything that is involved in taking care of my family, the livestock, our orchard, and our garden.

Last week, our pastures looked really pathetic. The early grasses are maturing, but there wasn’t much to bale. Luckily, we had 6.5″ of rain last Thursday! The grass just exploded in height and color. I’m hopeful that the rain will give us twice as much hay as we were expecting from our property.

There was one small problem with all of the rain. It flooded my garden. As soon as it started pouring, I jumped into my rain boots and ran to the garden to try to make some trenches so that water could escape the garden and not pool on top of all of my hard work. I think it worked. I did lose the plot of carrots and summer salad greens that I just planted, but my losses weren’t nearly as bad as they could have been.

For Mother’s Day, my kids are cooking and cleaning for me for the entire day. They are so amazing. I took the time I would have spent in the kitchen taking a nice little evening walk to check up on our bees. We aren’t going to open the hive and check on them until the end of the month, but it was encouraging to see them flying around the outskirts of the hive.

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I hope everyone is having a wonderful Mother’s Day!

May Flowers

We’ve been doing quite a bit of work on the homestead over the past few weeks.

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Our bees were delivered! We set them up in our hive with some sugar water and left them alone for a couple of days. When we went to check on them, we saw that the queen was dead. We put a few feelers out there and found someone that had a spare queen that only lived 2.5 hours away from us. It was a bit of a drive, but we knew if we didn’t requeen the hive ASAP all of our bees would die. It’s been 2 weeks since we picked up the new queen, and everything seems like it’s going great. We’re going to check on them again in late May.

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The garden is coming along. It’s very hard to tell in this picture, but there are some things starting to pop up. Our potato plants all look great. We’ve also got two sections of salad greens that should be making their way onto our dinner plates within the next couple of weeks. I’m going to put our tomato plants in the ground tomorrow. I’m also going to put our second batch of succession carrots in the ground. We spent about $250 on seeds, so I’ll be very happy if we can get at least 250lbs of produce.

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The chickens are laying an average of 19 eggs a day. We currently have 14 dozen eggs in the fridge. We still have 23 hens and 1 rooster. We’re going to get chicks at some point this year. I don’t want to raise them inside, so I’m trying to trick a hen into going broody. I haven’t been successful yet.

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When we end up with too many eggs, we just start letting the word out that we have extra for sale, and we almost always sell them all within a day. People love fresh, free range, happy chicken eggs. I always have to put a dozen back for me so I can make homemade egg noodles. Here’s a test batch of spaghetti drying.

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This test batch of spaghetti was delicious. We used a recipe that I found in my grandma’s recipe box.

I saw one of the craziest things for sale at Atwoods a couple of weeks ago.

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It’s two half pint mason jars taped together. The mason jars had holes in the lid. They were labeled “Redneck Salt and Pepper Shakers.” It was highly amusing to me, since they were right next to a box full of mason jars that were $1 each.

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Since we’ve been spending so much time outside, we’ve been able to enjoy the gorgeous surprise irises that decided to pop up by our gate.

I’ll try to be better about posting more often. Our internet here is mediocre at best, so I have to try to download pictures one at a time throughout the week. The internet company is going to be replacing our tower soon, so hopefully I will be able to post more regularly after that.

Happy Homesteading!

Tornado

On Thursday, April 3rd, I went outside to check the mail and I saw this in the sky…

…The South West View

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…The North View

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As soon as I came back inside, my phone beeped and alerted me that we had switched from a tornado watch to a tornado warning. There had been a tornado spotted on the ground 30 miles away and the storm was heading in our direction.

We live in a double wide and I have a healthy respect for storms, so we followed our emergency tornado plan. I yelled for the kids to put shoes on and get in the van. One of the kids opened the gate at the end of our driveway. I grabbed our backpack with emergency supplies that I keep in the laundry room and we headed to our neighbors brick house to ride out the storm.

It was pretty intense for awhile. The power went off. Hail was pounding the roof. Lightning lit up the sky like a strobe light at a night club.

After the storm had passed, we thanked our neighbors profusely, came back home and went to bed. The power came back on around 3am.

In the daylight, I was able to see the damage. I lost about $200 worth of seeds that I had planted in my garden the week before, a few tree limbs had broken, and our lawn furniture blew across the property. We had no other damage. For a few days, I thought that I had overreacted by running to my neighbors.

On Saturday morning, I drove to town to buy the seeds I needed in order to replant my garden. I was about a mile away from my house when I saw first hand that I had not overreacted in the storm.

Electric poles had fallen…

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Homes were demolished…

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And there was debris everywhere…

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The county paper came out with a tiny little article a few days later stating that we had a EF1 tornado, going about 200 mph, on the ground for over 11 miles.

I’m so grateful and thankful that we had a storm plan in place and that the kids all knew what it was. I had no arguments from them, they just did exactly what they were supposed to do. If the neighbors had been out of town, we had a back up plan in place as well.

We had to call the fire department a month ago, there was a fire in the woods off of our county road. My husband just happened to notice it on his way home from work. It could have easily spread to our property. That day, I sat down with the kids and explained our emergency plan. I also spent a few minutes tossing things that could be helpful to us in a emergency bag. It took me less than 20 minutes.

It was 20 minutes well spent.

Springing

It’s been a month since I posted an update, and I’m honestly not sure where to start.

Family life – My son (15 years old) with the torn ACL has surgery on Friday to reconstruct it. I’m going to be very glad to be on the other side of surgery so we can start working on recovery. He also starts Driver’s Ed next week (with his twin brother). I’m not ready to have twin teen drivers in the house. I’m scared to see what my insurance will jump to once they get their licenses.

Pet life – Samson, our Great Pyrenees, was neutered last week. We also adopted an indoor kitty, Bella. Bella had been in the shelter for 6 weeks before she picked us. The first night here, she killed two mice. She is already worth her weight in gold. She going to get spayed next week.

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Garden Life – We fenced our garden. I planted seeds in half of it so far, but a few days after I planted seeds, we ended up with 1.5″ of rain and I’m afraid that my seeds might have rotted. I’m going to replant everything this weekend if I don’t see more things popping up. We are cheating a little. We haven’t been able to property work the soil, so after we plant seeds, we are covering the seeds with compost. We are also spraying a compost tea once a week. I hope that it helps our yields this first year.

The orchard is doing well, all of the trees we planted last fall have new growth on them. We also planted 10 grape vines and 12 berry bushes. I have plenty of room to plant more, but that should get us started.

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Livestock Life – We lost a chicken. I went out in the morning to do our animal chores and it was just.. dead. That brings our chicken count down to 23 hens and 1 rooster. When Samson was getting neutered, we had a feral dog try to attack a hen. The rooster step in front of the hen, and the dog got the rooster. The Rooster lived, but he is now missing all of his tail feathers. The cat thinks they make great kitty toys.

We still haven’t had any baby rabbits this year. I’m giving our buck two more months, but we might have to replace him. I really want the rabbits to work out. Not only do they grow fast and eat very little, but they also provide excellent meat and soft pelts.

We ordered our package bees and they should be here in two weeks. Dh wants to take over the beekeeping. He picked a spot for the hives on the other side of the property. (The bees are going to be more than 1/4 of a mile from the house.) It’s nice and shady there, and they will have great access to water.

My composting worms all died. It got too cold for them this winter. I’m on the fence about ordering more.

Kitchen Life – We are getting 14-18 eggs a day. I wish I could say that was plenty and we have a kitchen full of eggs, but fresh eggs are an item that always seems to have demand exceed supply. I’m going to have to start hoarding them so I can make and freeze egg noodles to have when production drops back down.

I bought 125lbs of tomatoes and turned them into 92 pints of Salsa. Last time I made this much salsa, it lasted us about 4 months. I hope it lasts until we can start canning our own tomatoes.

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Homesteading Life – The kids went through their closets and brought out all of the clothes that are too small. I took out all of the holy jeans and I’m using them to make a scrap rag quilt. It’s my first quilting project, so I’m antsy to get it finished. I love it so far. It’s nice and warm. I’m backing it with a worn out flannel sheet.

My Hubby ended up hiring a guy with a backhoe to dig out the space we are using for a storm shelter/root cellar. After the backhoe made it down about 10 feet, it ended up hitting something that made the hole fill with water. We’ve since figured out that it was a large trash pile that had filled with rainwater run off. Craziness. Apparently, at some point, someone dug a giant hole and buried a small house here. There are layers of wood and metal about 8 feet under the earth. Out of 71 acres, what are the odds that that we pick that exact spot to dig a hole? I wish I knew more about the history of this property.

We’ve been doing some projects with all of the fill dirt that we have. Some of it is going to bulk up our shooting/archery range. We are using some of it for grading around the house. I’d also like to use some of it to create a cobb oven and cobb seating area.

Too many projects and not enough time.

Almost Spring

I’m sitting here, warm and toasty in my house. The sound of thunder and the howling wind are in the background. The teakettle is on the stove, warming water to use with my homemade hot cocoa mix. Life is good.

We’ve been busy around our homestead. I’ve been neglectful of this blog. I finally realized why there are so many blogs that tell the story of a family’s journey towards homesteading, that stop soon after the family finally started making real progress. It used to frustrated me to no end. Now I find myself on the other side of that spectrum. We’ve just been really, really busy.

Here’s a quick recap of the month of February.

We brought home Samson. Samson is an incredible addition to our homestead. He is 7 months old and already weighs 70lbs. He is a Great Pyrenees and he is just beautiful. He is loyal, obedient, and fiercly protective of us. He lives outside and he protects the area around the house, barn, and coop from Coyotes, Stray Dogs, Hawks, Wolves, Snakes, Rabbits, Strangers, Skunks, and anything else he percieves as a threat.

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We tilled the garden for Spring! My neighbor came over and tilled it for us. (I love our neighbors. They are so sweet and helpful.) He asked if we wanted it the same size or a little bigger. Of course, I said “a little bigger.” I was very happy with the size until I measured it. That sucker is 90×50. It’s 4500 square feet. That’s about 1/10th of an acre. I have a feeling I’m going to be spending many hours weeding.

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We started working on the beginning to our storm shelter/root cellar. It’s going to take awhile, but it will be wonderful once it’s finished. There will be three rooms. One for storage, one for a root cellar, and one with some cots and equipment for a storm shelter. We’ve done all that we can with the front loader, so now we need to pay someone with a backhoe that can dig out the rest of the hole. It’s going to be about 12′ deep.

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Many people in our area are dealing with the (hopefully) last winter storm of the year. It’s snowing outside. Two years ago, I was able to plant my garden in January! This year, I think I’ll have to wait until at least March 14th. What a strange winter. Yesterday it was 80F outside. I walked over past the 10 new grapevines and the 12 new berry bushes to our 14 fruit trees. This little bloom was greeting me on an apple tree….

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I know it’s not going to make it – but it’s nice to have confirmation that spring really is just around the corner.

We ordered our bees in late January. The equipment showed up already and I’m very happy with it. The bees should be shipping in a little over a month. I hope we end up with a little honey this year.

As for the chickens – before we got Samson, we lost one hen to a chicken hawk. It was fairly traumatic. It took me a week before I would let them out of the coop to free range again. I’m getting about 16-18 eggs a day. We’ve been selling and trading the extra to our neighbors. Extra eggs for grass fed beef? Yes, please.

My younger twin (15 years old) tore his ACL playing catch with the football a week and a half ago. He has to have prehab and then a surgery, then months of rehab. It’s going to take 6-12 months before he is fully recovered. He is having a hard time dealing with it, since he is usually so active. He loves running the property line with the dog and he’s just not going to be able to do it for a long time. I’m trying to be encouraging to him, but it’s hard. He wants to be outside working. I think I’m going to have him start helping me in the kitchen. It would give him something to do and help him feel useful around the homestead. I’m not sure what else I can do to keep his spirits up during his long recovery – any ideas?