Another Bitter Day

There is enough snow to make the chickens content to sit around and roost and sleep away the day. They keep in close contact with each other and the hen house, roosting on the outdoor perches catching afternoon sunshine. They do go out on short forays but with daytime high temperature of 7 degrees the third real cold night expected to continue.   20161208_100644

If you have healthy birds that have a place to be dry and out of the weather, I like to use at least a foot of straw on the floor and in the nest boxes. I don’t feed layer mash at all so their bodies are not taxed by laying eggs because they are dormant so they are able to deal with cold temperatures easily.

The rooster Elvis is also happy to snooze and eat and snooze again during the short 20161208_101036 December day. He’s a big bodied mature rooster.

The young birds, this years hatchling yeild is 3 hens and a cockerel who I will harvest around Christmas. I wish I knew how to make a capon out of him and keep him until he is more full sized and bigger bodied.

I know it used to be more common in the past do that kind of stuff at home, I have seen some instruction videos but, I don’t know if I could do it without having some first hand knowledge first.

But it would give you a much bigger heritage bird specifically for eating. The deal with that is the expense of feeding a soft fat bird who temperamentally is docile and more hen like in nature. Eliminates fighting and injuries with breeding rooster.

A capon by definition is “a castrated domestic cock fattened for eating”. That’s what makes heritage birds make more sense. Don’t get me wrong, I love fresh fried young rooster but imagine a fresh tender heritage chicken that is twice the size and twice as tender. So instead of 6 months to harvest heritage breed vs the capon harvest at 12 months, even 18 months.. (store bought chickens 6 weeks old)  20161208_100951

Because as delicious as I find fresh young homegrown chickens that are seasonal Heritage Chicken breeds they can be pretty tough. There’s ways to slow down and stop that rigidity when you process the birds. I’ll cover that as it happens. But free range chickens get daily exercise so their legs can be pretty chewy. The flavor will make store bought birds not worth buying and keeping meat as the luxury meal it is.

I have been teaching myself daily forms of daily bread projects. I’m learning a lot and it’s awesome. The chickens love eating all the inedible failures and leftovers.

 

Winter Feed Mix

20161204_091845I have both wet grain, dry grain mix, forage Foods. I make them a nice warm cooked grain dish for very cold mornings. I have to rinse the grains I soak almost to the point of rooting.

After germination when the nutritional load is optimal. The seed is no longer dormant but a living seed. I rinse the grains every day to keep fresh. It’s easier to make up two and three day supplies every couple days.

It helps to keep them from fermenting, which is OK
because the chickens love that too. 20161206_092321

I keep a staple of dry scratch feed available too. I fortify it with hard red wheat and cracked corn.

It is not a lot of work for just a family flock. I try and supplement with pumpkins and oat and barley spouts which I will cover later.

20161206_092440                                                             I use these old hub caps as wet feeders. I drain the majority of the water before I pour the feed into the feeder so any left over liquid will quickly drain and doesn’t get frozen. Fresh and clean food is imperative to healthy birds.

I had too much trouble with egg bound hens when I fed layer mash and I highly recommend not using it if you keep your chickens as a stable flock. I find older hens roost and raise the babies for months longer. Giving them value to the flock after they slow down or quit laying completely.

 

My chickens do not like walking in snow.                                       20161206_092502
Eventually they do come out but on super cold days they like to stay inside and eat from they dry food, only coming out under their little awning and get a drink of water.

Which of course I carry in at night to keep it from freezing solid.

 

20161206_092721                                                      Once they get walking around on the snow, it melts off and they have roosts to perch on and stuff to do. The first couple days of winter weather for my birds is a slow start. I try to find things for them to do but the rest from laying eggs during the cold months and feeding foods that let them store body fat pays off in eggs in the spring.

It’s also important for the mental well being of the birds to be able to rest and sleep on a natural, seasonal cyclical rhythm.

Good Snow Day

It’s days like this it’s nice to have food set by. The chickens are content to eat and sleep inside their hen house during the snowy day  Inside I made myself a pair of fur leggings to help keep my lower legs warm. I walk out to feed and water the chickens several times a day. So once they get cold they tend to stay cold, for weeks at a time. It gets cold up here in the rocky mountain winter.

Today when I woke up there was a pretty good bit of snow. but there was only the  lone hen footprints in the snow all morning. They were quite content when I put the grain in the feeder indoors and gave them the kitchen scraps. The sun was out a little while ago so they may be out to eat some scratch or peck pumpkin halves.

I have been trying to make more bread products so that I don’t have to buy any. It’s working out pretty well. I bake crackers and biscuits for day to day eating. I have been making cheese crackers about 4 or 5 times a week because they are just so good. I want to get the basic survival skills set as a daily habit so that when I get more remote, I will already have that skill set perfected.

I discovered hard tack and how important a food source that was in the olden days that we don’t make use of today. It’s filling, it will last forever if you keep it dry. I have made many variations including with crushed dehydrated meat. The dog loves them too as you can imagine. I really like all the bread products so far, except maybe the trail biscuits.

I am going to try Artisan bread in both the round ball and the loaf pans and experiment with different recipes until I find the recipe I like best for making sandwiches. I have learned how to make lunchmeat and cheeses at home and will cover that soon.

You can be ready for a homesteading lifestyle wherever you live by learning the basic cooking skills and incorporating them into your daily life..

 

How Does Your Garden Grow

My tomatoes are doing pretty well this year. 2015 tomato 1I’ve been eating the Sungold tomatoes daily (my favorites).

These green pear shaped tomato I’m really not sure what to do with. All these tomatoes were given to me by a friend and I lost the names of the varieties somehow.

I am going to pick this tomato and see if it is ripe and if it is not, I’ll fry it.

There are a lot of them to experiment with, so I can try and figure out if it is supposed to stay green.

 

2015 tomato 2These are Indigo Rose Tomatoes. I love the color. I thought it was ripe and ate one and wow was it unripe. It was awful. They turn so dark purple that they look black and I thought that meant it was ripe. Wrong!

It was super green inside even though the skin was deep purple. Now I am waiting to see if the bottoms of the tomatoes to turn color too. The bottoms of the tomatoes are still green.

The deer have been munching the tops off the tomatoes and ate all the greens off the beets.

 

2015 tomato 3This is one of the Sungold tomatoes. It is very productive and has bright orange fruit. Every morning I go outside and eat the ripe ones. They are so good they never make it into the house.

That’s OK though because I think eating live food is best for you. Plus they’re just really delicious that fresh.

After the deer munched the tops off the plants the tomatoes really took off so I guess that was a good thing after all.

 

 

2015 amaranthThis year I also tried Golden Amaranth grain. It is almost 5ft tall and has large flowers that will (hopefully) turn into giant seed heads. They’re really pretty too. The deer also like them.

I think it’s pretty successful so far. Here the plant is in full flower. We have not had any rain this season. It’s been very hot and very dry.

I try to water at least once a day but my energy levels are still very low. I am starting to feel better but it is still very slow going.

 

2015 corn patchMy corn is not doing well. The zucchini and squash are not producing either. I got exactly one small zucchini and that was all. Usually you see bunches of flowers and suddenly almost overnight, you have a lot of zucchini growing.

I don’t know if it is the extreme heat or the drought conditions, I water them at the same time as the rest of the vegetables but they’re just not growing.

It was so warm this year I thought the corn would do better. Even the beans that are growing up the corn stalks are not producing. They flowered and did not produce beans.

2015 sweet ptatoesNow these sweet potatoes seem to be doing vey well. I have never grown them before and I didn’t think it was possible for them to grow at all in the northern part of Montana, but, here they are. I don’t know if they are producing roots yet, but they are sure growing.

Some of the vines are over 4ft tall. I don’t know if I am supposed to, but I lay them on the ground and cover them with compost.

Don’t be afraid to try new things. You never know until you try and it could work out great. You just never know until you try.

Hanging Strawberry Bed

During the sunny sojourn of this week I got a few things done. I am glad I put the delivery of my yearly plantings off a couple week because it has been getting pretty cold at night.

I put the splitter on the hose in with one side going to this pipe and one going to the soaker hose.

 

 

 

 

 

I call it a poor man drip irrigation system and a hanging strawberry bed out of one of the two two 6″ leftover unused 8ft PVC pipes.

I ran a hose into one side and set the splitter to run harder into the right side, the soaker hose that I have never been able to use before. I threaded the soaker from the pipe through the stand of raspberries the pipe doesn’t water and around to the garden I put in to plant my sweet potatoes, I only have 3 slips so far, I should have started at Thanksgiving instead of Christmas. It’s not a very big bed and it is right next to the parsnip bed, also about 3ft by 3ft, then I put it so the little holes would squirt each of the three grape vines. I wasn’t thinking when I put it by the post instead of between them, rookie mistake.

It’s plenty hot in there. I am keeping a journal of temperatures. I had to set alarms on my cell phone at 9,12,3,6,and 9 again. I found it helpful having the first winter journal in predicting the artificial environment of the cold frame. The strawberry bed, along with the other soft fruits I am trying to nurture in there needs a good steady supply of water. While it is hot in there and moist with humidity but the ground is dry without rainfall.

  I cut this leftover 8ft unused 6″ PVC pipes with holes cut out in two lines that were originally intended for use as sewer pipes. So I counted the holes to make sure it would be an even amount before I started sawing. A good tip to remember: A good tip to remember is “Measure Twice Cut Once” because mistakes are costly.

I colored in the places so I would not make a mistake while I was cutting out the holes. It doesn’t look like it but it’s easy for me to mess up cutting every other one out.

 

It’s hard to tell from the pictures but the original holes were not even with each other so these large cut out holes are actually diamond shapes.There are 12 holes. I saw the ends here were sloping toward the center so I cut the holes on the other end to slope toward the center too to give it a pretty effect but the way the holes were drilled prevented that.

I’m really happy with how it ended up.  You can see here on my work bench inside the cold frame. This is the finished 12 hole strawberry bed. Then I knocked the dust off. I put the end of the soaker hose inside the empty pipe and looped it at the end. I turned the water on to make sure every part of the soaker hose produced a good supply of water. It’s the first time I have ever had water pressure and even though it seems like I exchanged problems, I feel blessed to have my own water source and it’s already making such a difference. I didn’t have any kind of outside water source for over 3 years and before that the outside water I had was only about 3 gallons a minute.

This hanging strawberry bed does not and won’t ever look fancy, like every thing else at my place, it may not look like all that but it is fully functional. The construction grade plastic walls on the cold frame should last another two years which along with a winter cover that I put on in the fall, it will give me time to get the walls framed in and windows and vents. It won’t be finished for awhile. The roof still has particle board at the top of the clear panels and it will until I can save up the money to buy 16 more panels to finish off the roof for full sun exposure.

UPDATE May 13, 2015

I messed up cutting the spaces in the very center, it weakened it. When I filled the pipe with dirt and soaker hose it sagged in the middle. I reinforced it with more wire coat hangers wrapped around the support beams.

It works but if I had the option to do it again I would leave the middle two spaces in.

 

Cold Frame Starting To Grow

It took a couple years now to get the raspberries and other plants used to living in this plastic cold frame. COLD FRAME Raspberries 2

COLDFRAME raspberries

 

 

 

 

I will be framing the walls of the cold frame using antique barn windows this month.

It will still have the bisclean cover for a while to come.

I am going to try and fight the cold nights with this temperature controlled cold frame inside a cold frame I am setting up to protect my tomato, broccoli and other vegetables I am trying to grow. I would love to just have a bumper crop this year! COLD FRAME Germination Station

You don’t have to have perfect stuff to make this work. Most of us don’t have the money to buy this stuff and there is no harm or foul making your own. I think it is a civic duty to know how to grow food no matter how much money you make but especially if you don’t make much.

COLDFRAME sweet potatoesSweet Potatoes. I’m making slips. I only have 3 started so far but we’ll see how many roots I end up getting.

I still have time. Now that they are out in the cold frame during the day the potatoes are really going strong.

 

 

There was a big learning curve with temperature controlling an area. I haven’t figured out how to keep it warm at night. It doesn’t frost in there but some stuff like the sweet potatoes can’t be out there in the mid 30’s.

COLD FRAME Parsnips April11This is the parsnip bed now. I missed some of the roots in my winter harvest s they’ll go to seed this summer and I’ll replant them next winter.

Here is what the parsnips look like only 10 days later.

COLD FRAME parsnips April 20They take a long time to grow but they’re delicious and great to know they are there under the soil waiting for me to dig them up.

In February.

How cool is that? Pretty darn cool. Eventually to have fresh vegetables in season in winter, summer spring and fall is the goal.

 

 

Putting In Gravel

It’s been a tough week. Here is what the driveway where the burn scar looks like now. Gravel can really make your property look nice and always adds property value.

I bought 3 – 12 yard dump loads altogether. It goes from the parking area here to the front and  the back. The driveway is straight through.

I wanted 4 trips to get 40 yards, I ended up with 36 yards. Contractors have trouble believing you know how much you want sometimes, They either take advantage of you and take your money or they try and help and save you money and this lady contractor saved me money and this is really nice gravel.

It’s not as thick in the back as it is in the front. She was real nice though and I know I can order another load after I finish shoveling this project.

I put some both sides of the step, joining the walkway and deck to the drive way because that’s where the firewood is stacked; it won’t be on bare dirt anymore. Once upon a time I planted grass seed and tried making a hosta bed. The bed is still there, in the picture on the right, covered with pallets at the moment for the firewood.

 

Both sides of the steps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I want to get another bucket load for the area by the shop and under the splitter. Half a bucket piled there and the rest near the street and finishing off the back driveway good. 

I want to get all that wood under the white tarp there finished and split but I want that last bucket load in a pile right there in front of the shop so there is no delay in getting to the gravel in that area after I slowly get that wod done. I couldn’t split any until I got gravel under the pallets so one step at a time wins the race.

People think because your sick or disabled you can’t do anything and you can’t make your life better. Well you can! We all can. One thing at a time. Even if you move so slow people don’t know you’re doing anything. I had people say you been busy this week. I say This is the result of 15 years of planning and working toward goals.

Here is a view where it needed refining but for my design and for next winter. I am dragging a thatcher behind my lawn tractor combing the gravel and then I’ll pack it with my pickup.

 

 

 

Burn Pile

burnpile done Done! Exhausted and sore.

The 3 car parking spot going here could someday evolve from this humble beginning to a pad of three quarter inch crush at 3 inches deep to become the future house foundation base. That will be the kitchen and front entry. I want to keep the driveway there where it is.

It’s important to have a dream and realistically work toward it. You have to think so far ahead sometimes that it looks like you’re doing something different. Sometimes it totally looks like you are doing a random thing but it adds up. I do better in the mornings and then rest up.

I went out to the east garden beds and brushed off what little debris was on the soil and turned it a little with my hoe. Of course it only took a little while for the chickens to get nosey and come see if there is any food going on around there. They are nosy but you can put them to work for you by where you spread their feed.

 

 

 

 

Always busy.

 

 

This is what the burn pile of yard debris looked like before I burned it. I always try to be real careful. Now I have a well I actually have outside water I felt so secure. I like to start early in the morning when the air is still and quiet. It can get breezy during the day here. But I always go by the better safe than sorry motto. It’s going to look so much better with the gravel.

Trying to teach yourself to think things out so far in advance is both an art and a skill. I have limited physical abilities and I have to take 2 or three day recovery time. Doing that burn pile took several hours and my leg braces while they allow me to do a lot of things I’d never be able to do, doesn’t do anything for the pain and fatigue. This cancer sucks but I am going to keep trying to slug it out my own way. I’m trying really hard to get back in the land of the living.  I want my kids and everybody else to say, hey if, that crippled old lady can do this, I can do this too.

We should all have food that we regularly from our yard. We should all plant perennial fruit trees and vegetables every year as well. Everybody should learn this skill of at least partially feeding yourself.

Plant it, tend it, harvest it and preserve it. It is a basic human behavior and it is my own cultural background I a trying to reconnect with. Subsistence farming is something my family has done for generations before it was stolen from us by conquest.

Now as I feel the generational pull of my family history, it’s hard to know what to do. What can one person do to change the world? Grow food in your yard and teach others to do it too. Get together with neighbors who’d like to plant trees in a cooperative and share the harvests out equally. Make your yard and your neighborhood into a food oasis.