Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Long nights, deep fog, and rain in the chicken coop.

The longest night of winter has just recently passed, and we're looking forward to seeing just a bit less of this sort of scene as beautiful as it can be. We definitely prefer getting home when we can get by without the lights being on for a while, and that just isn't the case at the moment. It would be the case even without working far too much which is the norm right now unfortunately. We've had some very strange weather out here lately as well for this time of year. First there was the snow and more snow, and that was fairly normal. The Thursday post of the conquest of snow was fun because it is nice to feel like we have the snow under control for the first time. Note to mother nature, that isn't a challenge!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Quick Hit: Snow, plenty of it.

Yeah, that's about it for today. Between work and snow I'm out of energy for posting. Sorry I didn't even try on Tuesday. The rush is about to end, and I may be able to post Tuesday, there'll definitely be a post on next Thursday.

The good part about snowblowers, speed of clearing. The bad part is how covered in snow you get. Especially with loose snow like we've had it gets everywhere. I've gotten better at aiming the throw at least, so I get covered less!

Stay warm folks.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Quick hit: Big kits, shy kits, and snowy wood

It's another short post since I'm working too many hours. Some of Sunshine's kits are coming out to explore from time to time, but are very skittish due to lack of handling. Otherwise they're growing well.
Something drew the attention of Twilight and all of her kits when I was out there this morning. Not sure what it was, but they were all focused on it. They're getting big, I think it's about time to butcher them all out when I have a couple hours. Probably next week. Some nice big kits though. Halley and Comet's kits are also getting big, though as usual not quite As big as Twilight's kits. Interesting note though is that the kit we fostered over to Twilight you can see in the top left is the same size as Twilight's kits despite being from Halley and Comet.

 The price of unfinished tasks is upon us as snow has covered the wood piles. It means bringing wood in sooner to dry it in front of the fire rather than being able to just have it out there and get what we need. Ahhh well. Next year there will be a wood shelter. It's been nice coming home from work to a fire warmed house though, it is much nicer than coming home to my mandated 55 - 60. But, we're managing our wood pile well so we should have plenty for the rest of the winter at least. Well, as long as we don't get a mini ice age going here which isn't in the predictions. So, that's all for now. I'll try to have some substance for you next time, maybe talking about fatigue, cold, and pain management, and how it relates to homesteading.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Quick hit: Ice, bunnies, and an eggstacy of eggs

It's cold, icy, and I'm working way too much so this is going to be a very short post without too much to say. The young kits are doing well, and while their mom Sunshine doesn't like me bothering them too much she's gotten used to it. They aren't as friendly as kits as I'd like, but a large part of that can be attributed to the fact that I haven't had time to handle them, and it was too cold to do weight checks. In the future I'm going to really try to push for handling if there aren't weight checks, but that means figuring out a way to keep kits warm and healthy when being handled when it's REALLY cold.
Oddly enough it's been warmer lately than it was earlier in the winter and fall. The difference is and why the work on the new hutch has stalled is the snow, and more importantly ice all over the place. 3" of snow, no problem, a good solid 1" of ice Is however a problem. Combine that with a really insane work schedule lately and I just haven't been able to get anything done. Barring being bad at sleep I think I've spent about 10 hours at home awake this week, and 7 of that is morning wake up, and farm chores.
On the other hand, we do have some really pleasant things happening. In particular Dora, the smallest of our chickens has gone on an egg laying binge. We were just thrilled to have Some eggs before she knocked off for the winter, but she's just gone and laid 6 eggs in the first 7 days of egg laying. This time I cheated and took the photo of the eggs against a white background so you can see how blue they are without me actually enhancing the photo at all! You can also see why I'm not working on the hutch since that's the bottom wire.
Sorry for the short post today, this is going to be my 4th, 14 hour work day in a row. I'll try to have a solid quality post Thursday, but no promises.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

A quick check in, an interesting coloration, and weather considerations.

Sunshine's babies are moving around a bit, though mostly they as you can see below huddle in the hay and fur and stay warm which is sort of their job in life right now. That said, the kit Above is sort of a mystery. As you can see it's already developed the silverish ticking that we see on the crosses between Umbra and any Creme, but it's FAR early, and much more pronounced than the norm.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

All sorts of new!

So many new things I wasn't sure what to start with so I defaulted to baby rabbits, even if it is blurry. Sunshine's litter is all alive and well, and have opened their eyes! I missed my favorite day of them with eyes half open. It's been a busy few days since the last post before Thanksgiving thus all of the new!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Baby photos from Sunshine, finally!

Finally beginning the post with real baby pictures again!  I'm finally comfortable taking Sunshine's babies out to look at them despite the weather because they have fur. Still not taking them out for long because it is very cold, but at least we can share them now. All 5 that were alive the first day are still alive it looks like. At this point I'm just plunging my hands into the nest after warming them up as much as I can and trying to count by feel. Sadly it looks like Dawn wasn't pregnant it seems, so just the one last litter which should put us enough to eat for the winter.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Thoughts on the influence of my SciFi love on homesteading.

Well, today is a day of forgetting things, but fortunately only non vital things. For purposes of the blog the
most important thing I've forgotten is to take photos. Not by far the Only thing of course as I left the chickens water outside over night which is only non vital because we have running hot water, and that deals with frozen water right quick. I'm not sure if it's the time of year and the changed light that's made me a bit less attentive than I should be, or simply the stress level from non homesteading things. For yesterday I can actually blame creaming the back of my head on a pallet shelf at work so hard I saw double for part of the day Tuesday, this morning was just me screwing up. But, since I don't have new photos to talk about, I'm just going to talk about my thoughts and some consideration I've been giving lately. Oh, and include some of the better photos from the past of the blog. Sorry about the slightly rambling nature of the post below, but if you have the time to read I'd love to hear responses.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A gift of weather, a completed garden bed, and saying goodbye to the teens.

With the gift from nature of a gorgeous Saturday, the Lady of the House and I got a good bit of last minute garden work done. The delayed season has been a bit concerning for us from the perspective of climate change leading to more extreme weather, and worries about having sufficient freeze time for certain plants. But! On the up side, having not had enough time before, this was a bit of a reprieve.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Sorry for the absence, it's been a hairy couple weeks.

It's been a rough couple weeks, and I'm sorry for missing not one, but two posts in a row. Unavoidable travel occurred, and left me with barely the energy to do my job and the around the house work that needed doing. Fortunately, as the song says, we get by with a little help from our friends. Above is the fatigued crew that helped out with moving and re stacking 7 pallets of firewood for the winter, and helped out more which I'll cover later. A thanks to them is the first thing.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Cows, cold, nest building, and thoughts.

Meet a Highland Cow! They're very fluffy and in my opinion good looking cattle originating from Scotland that seem to be very well adapted to the rough terrain and cold winters of our area. This cow is actually from Gordon's Fold farm which is (in theory) walking distance from my house through the woods. The Lady of the House and I went for a wander along a near by road for an artist event that ended at the above cattle farm where we cooed at the cattle for a while.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Blessed Samhain to all, a day of reflections.

Blessed Samhain to all. For me this is a time of reflection, and while I don't have enough time to do a solid reflection for the blog on this year, I'm going to at least to a quick run down of our year and what's come of it. I think it will soon be time to do a proper re examining of our goals and ethical guidelines and see how we're doing.
 First of all reflecting on the rabbits. Overall I'd like to say I'm happy with how we're doing with the rabbits, and we are still learning a lot. For all of our successes, there were also a good number of failures which have led to us trying to extend the breeding season. The first breedings of the year were too early which led to the really awful 10 days of trying to keep kits alive that had gotten wet and failing. That was a discouraging and difficult time, but the rest of the breedings went relatively well. Even so with a couple small litters from Twilight, combined with the lost first litter, and then our later learning experience of the heat sterility (note to self, keep all males in the woods!) we ended up short for our needs. So in a lot of ways this was a year of modest success and a lot of mistakes. What I am confident I can say we did well was treat our rabbits well, take care of them, and try to learn to address their wants and needs better. Even with Sunshine and her sore hocks we gave her the place needed to recover, and we're keeping an eye on her to make sure they don't come back. One of the largest reflections oddly enough is the, just give rabbits cardboard boxes thing. The other big one is the huge value of fresh greens over the summer, and re examining the way we do feeding of greens and hay.

Despite the importance of the rabbits to our homestead, a lot of my reflection on the year is focused around the gardening and our tentative first steps into it. The biggest thing about gardening and this year with the homestead in general is acknowledging the huge amount of benefit we have had from the kindness of others. Our garden, modest though it may have been fed us a good many meals with the promise of more if we learn to use it better. That cost us very little due to the generosity of others through the Hilltown Seed Saving Network and it's seed swap and seedling exchange. As a note for folks in the area, this year's seed exchange is coming up November 23 in Cummington. You should come by! That group has been very generous with their advice, their seeds, and their seedlings. We didn't have as much to give as we'd like to have since this is our first time gardening, but that didn't  lead to hesitation on their part. So now we have peppers drying, tomato seeds separating from the goop, drying stevia, a bunch of frozen tomatoes, and a few squash having eaten liberally of Kale all summer, much of it on the generosity of others.
 Some of the largest of that I'd like to reflect on and touch upon was from Tevis and Rachel at Crabapple Farm who have tolerated our questions, helped us learn to grow, and even shared in some of our enthusiasm for the rabbits. The inspiration and friendship of people of like ideals has helped us sustain ourselves while things aren't easy and our garden looks like it isn't getting anywhere. The other obvious inspiration and teacher is Michelle Chandler and her Blessed Acre Rabbitry, in all ways our mentor in rabbits who has continued answering questions, inspiring, and helping us as she can, including the loan of a vehicle for a month(!) while we were in trouble.

There are many individuals and things that have been part of the year in terms of helping, inspiring, and teaching. Keeping us on our feet, and not giving up.

I think in the end of this reflection for me the biggest thing is, this is a partnership. Without the Lady of the House I wouldn't be doing this. Even if I had the inspiration, the drive, and the skills to do it I don't think I could do this alone. I don't know what that says to those looking to homestead in the future, if it's just me, but I think I'd recommend to people considering our path to not try to do it alone. Maybe find a community, an individual, a life partner, or even just a friend. This isn't a solitary activity, and that in the end is what I have taken away as I reflect on this year.

And last mentioned, but first in my mind, I'd like to reflect on the animals that have given their lives for us to eat.

Blessed Samhain

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Post con exhaustion, and 8 years as a partnership.

Chicken picture just because! They haven't been getting much attention since we put up the tarps which they're finally starting to get used to. We need to put something more solid up to keep the tarp from sagging because that not only bothers the chickens, it makes taking care of them much more difficult since it's too low and we have to duck to get in and out of the run. So far the cold doesn't seem to be bothering the chickens.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Frost vs. freeze, healthy rabbits, and standoffish females.

So, what's the difference between frost and frozen? With frozen kale I can come out at 8:15 and get a last minute blog photo of pretty patterns on the leaves. As you can probably guess, winter has come, though I suppose technically it's still fall for a while longer. My thin southern blood still considers 20s to be winterish.
With the wintery feeling we got some things done that really had to be done promptly at this point. Namely pull in the last of the things we care about from the garden.  Pardon the awful photo Left but that's the stevia plant we put in the ground this spring. We kind of ignored it and wandered off instead of doing the care it really should get. If we had it'd have given us a lot more leaves of delicious sweetness. As it is, it's got a fairly good bunch of leaves it looks like to me. We're bringing it inside and drying it. The Lady of the House is trying drying a couple stalks and oven drying the rest of it since oven drying makes for a sweeter result. Apparently one can also do stevia extract much like vanilla extract. We may try doing that with some of it because it sounds interesting. Sounds like the sort of thing to research before trying though just so we don't waste materials. We also brought in the last of the tomatoes. None of what we brought in was really good to eat, most of it was lumpy and going soft. A bit frozen in places. Fortunately we have things to do with such tomatoes. No, nothing awful, we're just saving seeds from them. With saving seeds from tomatoes you can look up any number of tutorials online how to do it, and it's fairly simple. We just cored out the seeds from the tomatoes and put them in a bit of water to get the goop off. Fermented tomato goop. So as you can see for now we have the goopy seed bits sitting on the window sill with labels so we remember what they are. We saved seeds from the paste tomatoes, the cherry tomatoes I don't know the name of, the sun gold cherry tomatoes, and the green zebra tomatoes. The sun golds will be hit or miss with growing them since they were a hybrid. We're going to try breeding them out so they produce the same thing consistently, but that'll take a while. The last thing we brought in was the limon peppers. Tevis recommended we just pull the plants up and dry them on the plants, so we're trying that. We have 3 bushy limon pepper plants covered in peppers hanging over the stove. I look forward to growing those again, and eating the rest of the peppers on the plants!
So I'd promised some baby photos and discussion of the rabbits on Tuesday so here we go! The babies we have on the ground both teen and real babies are doing quite well. The runt of the teen litter is doing well, though it is still very small compared to the rest. As you can tell the teens are very hard to get photos of, and I'm getting fewer and fewer of them that are worth even bothering showing. They move fast, and are very happy to see us when ever we're near by. A friend that dropped by yesterday commented that they run through water fast, which is very true. It's tough to keep them in fresh water all the time. I'm starting to wonder if a 5 gallon bucket feeding the watering points is the way to go with the teens! As for the smaller one, all of the survivors of the first few days out of the Twilight and Halley litters are doing very well. Not having done weight checks I can't give you precise numbers on how well, but they're getting big. Twilight's litter is more friendly than Halley's but that's starting to just be understood as the norm right now. They're not bad kits, they're just a bit more skittish. We've bred Dawn and Sunshine, but when we try to re breed Twilight we've been having something of an interesting quandary. She has been reacting like she did last year when we first tried to breed her. We're wondering if she has a hard cut off of temperature past which she won't accept breeding. Fortunately she hasn't been violent to Starry Night, just standoffish to him. He approaches, they sniff, she grunts, he backs off. She eats his food and waits to go home. He sits in the corner and stares at her, occasionally coming up to sniff at her again. The other option is he's scared of her because she's half again his size . . .
For now we're not sure, and we don't want a late November litter, as much as the idea of "Thanksgiving Kits" sounds nice, I think trying to deal with very young kits during the holiday season when work is in full swing at the warehouse would be beyond what we could reasonably do. Speaking of kits, Sunshine decided it's time to start nest building. Not sure why she's doing so this early, but . . . there it is. I gave her extra hay so she feels comfortable, and I'll probably empty the nest in a week and give her straw. Who knows what goes through the minds of rabbits when it's nesting time.
That's all for this week. Tomorrow we head off to a convention for the Lady of the House to sell, and next week we'll discuss some of the challenges with that and the homestead.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Learning from Crabapple Farm, wasps, squash, and new beds!

It's the time of year to harvest our meager squash harvest and enjoy it. The nice bowl of squash is the entire product of our 10 squash plants. I'm not quite sure how to feel about it, though I think I'm going to count it a success given that even professional farmers had squash problems this year. Yesterday when we went and saw Crabapple Farm in person we chatted a bit about squash, and despite the traditionally low yield on squash and the space they take the Lady of the House and I will probably be doing them again next year.
So we learned a LOT going to visit Crabapple Farm. We always learn a lot speaking with Rachel and Tevis, but going and seeing their facilities and their gorgeous hutch they made for the rabbits was excellent. I think cataloging what all we learned from going is more a list for me than interesting for everyone. However, we're going to note some of the things. 1: Straw=/= hay in that it's less prone to absorbing moisture due to the waxy coating on cereal stalks and may be good for rabbit nests due to that and the hollow stalks which are quite different from hay. 2: Given our concerns about rabbits jumping down from shelves and potentially hurting themselves of the babies they're carrying they put in a large flat stone near one of their shelves. Behaviorally it seems the rabbits actively prefer to land on that flat stone you can see Above Left which is of their nice hutch. 3: They've come up with a cool new feeder for greens and hay. Also in the same photo. 
The feeder idea is one we're going to be stealing to avoid the kind of piled mess you see Right and because they figured something interesting out. Namely that some of the best parts of greens and hay fall through and out onto the ground in a traditional wire feeder. Given that they created their new feeder which is a 2"x4" wire fencing hoop driven into a 2x4 or 2x6 piece of lumber. Then pile the greens in, and the rabbits can get at it easily, and it doesn't just automatically lose all of the small leaves and pieces of hay known as fines that are the rabbits favorite.  4: Most people just buy squash because it takes a lot of space per unit of production. Namely a 6'ish squash plant producing 3 winter squash is about right. 5: The idea I've kept having for a green house on the front of the house isn't terrible entirely, however there are better ways to do it. I'll probably do a whole post about that! Lots more, but effectively just remember to always look at other people's ideas and keep your mind open to other options. One of the things Tevis did that I really like on their hutch is a double walled outside on the sides to compensate for using boards that leave a bit of a gap. So, we gained a lot from going to see their set up.

Whew, I haven't even gotten to our rabbits yet! I'll get to them on Thursday I think. In other news on our property we figured out why we didn't have tomato horn worm problems this year! So, in the photo Left despite the way the phone camera focused my hand is basically just by that piece of wasp nest. In the big tree above the front yard, just over the tomato plants there are 3 basketball sized wasp nests that totally explain the lack of horn worms. I don't love being stung by wasps, but I no longer have the near pathological aversion to wasps that many city folk have. They do too many good things for our garden for me to really hate them!
Beyond all of that we were a little busy this weekend. To conserve heating costs we moved the Lady of the House's art studio into our unoccupied room since we haven't been able to find a boarder to fill it yet. That was part of Saturday. The other part of Saturday was getting started on making a lasagna bed/hugelkulture concept mashup raised bed. We only have so much time, so I'm not sure if we'll get all of them done that we have in mind this year. But if we don't get started none of them will get done. The basic idea is a 5ish layer raised bed put in before winter hits. Layer 1 as you see Right is a layer of paper. The traditional version of this uses news paper, but we've not been throwing away our feed bags so I went ahead and used those. This provides a layer to limit the amount of things that even have the potential to grow up through into the nutrients of the good part of the bed and be weeds in the garden in the spring. It also helps kill off the grass. Since it's paper in the long run it will decompose, and let the roots go deep into the soil below in the future.
That's long term though. The longest term layer is the second layer, and that's wood. We've sort of short cut how long term that is because instead of using fresh cut wood as is recommended in hugelkultur practice we're using what we already have lying around. Half rotten punky fire wood that's left over from our first year here when we had to buy pre split wood because of not having time to buck and split our own. Due to having not been able to stack all of it before the snows, there was a lot wasted. Instead of letting it be waste, we're having it be good useful plant nutrients that should help for years to come! Getting all of that down was a good bit of work, and by the fourth trip I wouldn't have been able to get the garden cart up the hill without the Lady of the House pushing from below. In the end we have a good 8"+ deep layer of punky wood, bark, and the dirt that's already formed in that pile. The next layer is leaves and yard clippings, mostly leaves. So anyone that has bags of raked leaves in the area let me know! I'll come take them. After that is bunny poop, compost, good solid dirt. In our case that's going to be a mix of poop and soiled hay. Over that is a thick layer of soiled hay as mulch. We're probably going to have to get our hands on more hay to do this properly even for just this bed. Even if I can just get this bed done it'll cut work, and give us more growing room next year. I'm going to be trying to double or triple this.

As a note, do the furthest bed first so you don't have to constantly go around when doing further beds in the future. Hind sight is 20/15, if it was 20/20 you'd have learned everything you could from it, and I'm not willing to make that judgment yet.
Finally for signing off today I want to put in a photo and thanks to a wonderful neighbor. Kathy Harrison, author of the Just In Case Book (and blog you can see right) had some extra walking onions she very kindly gave us. We planted them in front of the house and are very much looking forward to an invasion of them next spring! As with much of our homesteading a lot of our success and progress has come due to kindness, generosity, and the teaching of others.

Thursday we will re focus on our rabbits since we have a lot going on with them right now, and will hopefully have some good photos!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Now breeding, and the benefits of fallen leaves.

I tried to get a photo of masses of leaves falling, but apparently that doesn't work on a camera phone (unsurprisingly). But it does give the impression of what our woods looks like at the moment. Instead of seeing it as a lot of leaves on the ground that are unsightly (which I never have really minded anyhow), I'm actually happy to see leaf fall, it's extra material for the garden beds I should be building in the next few weeks.

We got started with the first of the breedings, and this is a good time to introduce our new buck. Right the blue buck is "Starry Night" from Michelle Chandler. He's the one we traded Umbra for. Today he bred with Sunshine this morning. We'd been planning to give up on her when she started developing Sore Hocks again, but they went away just as fast so we're giving her ONE more chance. We probably shouldn't, but we do like her conformation otherwise and her temperament for the most part.  We were also going to be breeding Dawn this morning, but she wouldn't lift for Dorado, so we'll try her again tomorrow. We're planning to breed Sunshine to Dorado this evening just because, we'd love to have Creme babies out of her. If he happens to have recovered from his heat sterility by now, great! If not we'll still get babies out of each doe. The only one we won't be doing the split breeding between is Twilight because we Just want blue babies out of her.

On the current babies end, all of the babies are out, about, and moving around. Perfect timing for our intentions to start the breeding round that we're beginning. Fortunately this also means that Twilight has stopped offering to assault my face and or hands every time I come near the babies. One thing I can say is that my lack of doing weight checks every day after the first week or so has affected the temperament of the babies. They're less hand friendly, though their curiosity for the most part gets the better of them quite quickly. I'm just going to have to spend more time working with these babies to make sure they aren't fearful now that they're moving around than I would have had I been handling them every day so far. It's not terrible, it's just something worth making sure of.
Speaking of friendly, the teens are almost aggressively so. They are all doing quite well, and it is a nice way to wake up in the morning with being swarmed by piles of bunnies. They do eat a really staggering amount of food though! As you can see in the background of the photo Left they completely and utterly demolished the box fort we gave them. I suspect they enjoyed it greatly before they finished it off, shredded it, and in large part ejected the remains from the hutch before I even came out this morning and finished cleaning up after their party.
The runt has been doing fairly well, but just hasn't gotten the size of the rest of its siblings and hutch mates. This gives it certain advantages. If you see the foot and butt sticking out over one of the silvered black kits that's the runt. It's so small it can just dive over the heads of the others, and they don't get out of the way, it just hangs out on top of everyone else and stuffs it's face. What we're likely to do with that one is just give it a stay of execution and let it grow out a bit more so we don't have one tiny rabbit among the large ones in the freezer. We're around 11 days from butchering out this round of teenagers. What I'm probably going to do is handle them in two batches. Noticeably larger kits in the first round, then everyone else.

Last, and unfortunately, Sergeant and Lottie still aren't home, and we're starting to look into buying replacement hens to make sure there's enough of them to keep warm in the coop this winter.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

At least one chicken less, lots more firewood split.

Well, we knew it was coming at some point, but we are at least one, and possibly two chickens down. The Lady of the House was home yesterday due to it being a federal holiday here in the USA (I was not because my work doesn't care). She went outside due to the chickens acting strangely and seems to have scared something off. One of the Welsummers was gone, and Sergeant is also missing, and the Lady of the House found a "chickensplosion" with feathers all over, but no blood that we could find or tracks we could follow.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Inconclusive research says ? ? ?

A crazy pair of days later and here we are at the day I said I'd talk about what our considerations and thoughts were on making money with rabbits brought up by conversation with the folks over at Crabapple Farm. Of course being too busy means having not thought and researched enough, but I'm going to do what I can with what I have, and would love to have people who may know more chime in.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The babies are out and moving around, so are the chickens . . .

For a few moments I wasn't sure what photos to start with, but in the end you can't go wrong with a handful of baby bunny. The one Above is one of Halley's kits that is JUST starting to open it's eyes. Right now Halley's kits are still just barely at the opening their eyes stage. Twilight's just a couple days older on the other hand are already moving around.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

One kit down, and decision making for early winter.

 We had a sad, though not entirely unexpected morning coming out to find one of Twilight's kits dead. We didn't do weight checks this morning because of the cold, but yesterday afternoon's weight check one of them had lost a Lot of weight all at once, and didn't have a nursing impulse when I tried to get it to nurse off a very obliging Twilight. On the up side, all of the other kits are doing particularly well!