Thursday, December 31, 2015

Sounds of melt.

After a remarkably nasty couple of days with every branch of every tree covered in ice and sagging low, this morning we woke up to the sounds of rain. In our location the sounds of rain when the sun is shining isn't unheard of, but in this case it was a different sound. A sound that is unique to the woods really, it is the rain of melt pouring off the branches and leaves of the trees. Outside it was loud, and continuous, and exactly what we were hoping for. A nice day of 36 degrees Fahrenheit was enough to get things really going in the warm sun. 
While this goes on in the trees, our hope is that it does everything we need to get the driveway safe enough to use that we can effectively sand it. Right now it's bad enough going up and down that it takes a long time to get anywhere, and requires care with every step well beyond that of tromping through a normal frozen landscape. Last night things were so frozen up and so slippery that the chickens had some trouble getting home. One of them even required a rescue to get back to her house. Fortunately they're friendly and tame enough it wasn't a big deal to pick her up.
It was this white hen that was stuck, and she just let me walk up and pick her up, squirming curious toddler strapped to me and all. I just picked her up under my arm, and walked her to the coop. Why do the chickens take the trip up when it's tough to do in any kind of inclement weather. For one, the area under the rabbit hutches is full of delicious piles of manure that have to have lots of things to devour for chickens. Second, any spilled rabbit food is delightful for them. Third, they can see much of the property from there. Fourth, and probably not finally but definitely most important, there is ready access to water nearly year round. It's not that I don't give them water, but free flowing or seeping water seems to be their favorite. When it's moving their favorite area is the drainage stream in the back near the rabbit hutches. Right now it's lovely, but even when it's frozen over it isn't usually too much work to get to some water. Even when it is, there's a seep back there.
Today after much rearranging and child proofing, we finally lit our first fire of the season. Honestly with the weather it hasn't been a huge thing to not have going as long as you're ok with 60 degree house temperatures which is warmer than keep life going temperatures. The Critter really enjoyed watching the fire being lit, and our challenge for the wood stove this year is going to be more tending it while the kid is around than tending it to keep it lit. He's moving fast, so we're just going to have to team tend, tend when he's sleeping meaning more timing than I think we have with the fire and kid combined, or tend fast. I'm guessing it's going to come to tend fast.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The worst kind of winter weather.

Christmas has come and gone, as has our strange late fall that felt more like spring. The turkeys of course, are still roosting in the trees over the rabbit hutches. Once the ice storm came they were less thrilled about it though, and have been reluctant to come down. I can't really blame them. If I didn't have reason to be outside I wouldn't be. Of course, with livestock we have reason to be outside.

We'll get to the snow shortly.

First, we are doing well, Christmas was lovely and many people were very generous to us and the Critter. We felt very fortunate, and feel extremely fortunate to have the friends both proximate, and connected through networked media. Thank you to everyone that reads this as we come in to the end of the year, and thanks especially to the Patreon patrons that have helped us significantly this year. That said, let's get on to what's occupying us right now. The weather.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Confusion in the dark.

This morning was interesting. I'm feeling more than a bit under the weather physically. It doesn't help that it's the Solstice so it was the longest night of the year, and it's raining, and cold. Anyhow, it comes down to I wasn't entirely with it this morning when I went out to do farm chores. As I'm taking care of the rabbits in the hutches in the woods I'm hearing turkey contact calls, and I'm confused. No matter how much I look around I can't see the turkey. After a moment of not putting two and two together, I look up. It's a little easier to see than in the photo, but dead center of the frame there's a turkey. Well, I guess the turkeys have changed their roosting spot.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Deciding when to plant garlic.

As we approach the darkest day of the year, it's very dark in the mornings. Especially when it's a nice constant drizzle. I'm keeping my eye on the horizon for what the weather is going to be as we go forward. I'd like to wait 'till not long before things get really cold to plant the garlic so it doesn't fully sprout before the hard freeze. Assuming we get one at all. If we'd planted when we should have, the garlic would be fully up now and we'd be risking having it die over winter.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

A lovely March morning.

It's a lovely March morning today, the fact that it's December has changed this from being convenient that weather has held off while we weren't prepared to getting concerning. While I personally am not a huge fan of snow, it has a lot of benefits. Especially in regards to agriculture. Obviously it's not like there isn't plenty of winter to come, but I figured I'd mention why it is good to have a long snow season despite my personal feelings on snow.

First things first, the blanket effect of snow isn't just something that's said. When snow covers the ground due to the amount of air trapped in the snow it acts as a significant insulator. That helps maintain soil temperature. Not saying it isn't cold under snow, but it can help keep things like overwintering plants survive the winter. The temperature regulation also makes a big difference for trees. Evergreens in particular if their roots warm up enough attempt to draw up water. That isn't a problem right now because the ground isn't frozen yet. Once it's frozen if they try to draw up water they will potentially dehydrate. More relevant right now given the fact that it's warm, with the snow on the ground it helps prevent nutrients from being evaporated out of the soil. Snow is called "Poor Man's Mulch" by a lot of local farmers.

Second, snow pack helps replenish ground water and as long as there isn't a flash melt is much more beneficial for the ground. I don't know all of the mechanisms on the science side of things but I do know that without a good snow pack over the winter, drought is very much more likely. It can very much benefit early season crops to have a good snow pack.

Third, without snow anything like garlic that's planted to overwinter doesn't have protection from being eaten by birds, or casual consumption by other animals. This is particularly relevant for us because we like garlic, and actually provide the birds that would eat the garlic if it was planted right now. Until we get a projected snow I am going to be holding off on getting the garlic in the ground. Of course, that will require the ground to still be thawed for me to be able to plant. We'll see if that's an option.

So far I've only covered snow. Now we come to the cold. The most obvious benefit of cold, especially snap freezes is that it kills bugs dead. Without a good hard cold winter it's likely to be a very buggy year next year. That of course has benefits for our chickens, but for crops that's not a good thing. What it will mean if we don't get a hard winter for the rest of this winter we're going to have to think about using something for pest control. Probably some combination of neem oil and co planting insect discouraging crops.

Just figured I'd voice some thoughts about my concerns about the lack of winter so far.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A big change for turkeys.

Baba Yaga the black chicken who lived in the woods with the turkeys has finally decided it's time to go in with the chickens at night. That night the air was full of the calls of the turkeys trying to get her to re-appear. The turkeys stood on the roof of the chicken coop or the bar of the top of the run as long as they could before going to sleep. I didn't get video of most of their calls, but at the end of the video you can hear them quietly making their contact calls. You can watch the video below the cut.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The kitchen is almost done.

I'm really happy with how the kitchen work is ending up, despite not being happy with the time it's taking. We were going to get a pre built counter top and have it brought in, and install it. Then we realized that counter tops cost a lot. To get a pre built counter top we didn't like would have cost over $900 for us to install. To get one we liked with having to install it would have been over $1,500. So I built a counter top myself. As you can see, this was a bit of a process.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

It Takes a Village, it really does.

Normally I wouldn't post a charity or anything of that sort, but today is "Giving Tuesday" and "It Takes a Village" is doing a fund drive. I'll give you the link here, and explain why below the link. The short version is, It Takes a Village is the reason we have managed as well as we have through the challenges of the first year of our son's life. Without them we would have been moving out of our house, or at least giving up temporarily on homesteading.

You can find their Giving Tuesday page Here:

There are a lot of ways that the Hilltown It Takes a Village (ITAV) has helped us. First and foremost, Jeanne. Jeanne is a friend of ours from the Hilltown Seed Saving Network, but HITAV connected us with her as a volunteer. Every week since the Critter was born, she has come by the house, brought a hot meal for The Lady of the House, and an extra freezer meal for her, helped clean the house, and watched the kid for a few minutes. It's staggering what an hour a week can do for sanity, and being able to keep up with life. Especially with a very active small person, as the Critter has been.

Second they maintain the "Village Closet" Thanks to this resource we were able to use cloth diapers,
and have not just barely enough, but plenty of clothes as the Critter has grown. From there we've also had available to us cribs, high chairs, and many other things. Without that we'd be struggling to keep the Critter in diapers, and wouldn't have consistently well fitting clothes for him. We just don't have the money to keep up without the simple help of that availability.

The third is a sense of community around us, and providing a vast selection of information about resources around us. That ranges from event listings, to people knowledgeable about services, and people we can contact and ask for support when we need it. We've had people call and check up on us and just make sure we're ok. That kind of consistent and caring contact has helped us stay calm when we feel overwhelmed, and we have many times.

The last reason I would really encourage people to donate to this community group that provides such amazing services is directly related to our philosophy. This is a group that fits so strongly with our ethics of reuse, and community that this is the exact kind of organization that should exist and be supported. This is a group that relies on community to build a greater community. It has done just that. Right now we aren't in a position to donate money to them, only used items that the Critter has outgrown, and spreading their message. Right now, if people can give to them right now it is being matched which makes any monetary gift you send them doubly effective.

So, please, if you can spare a few dollars donate to It Takes a Village. They have been so much to us that it will be an organization we will give what ever we can to for years.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Quick Hit: Fed Up Documentary

Last night the Lady of the House and I got to see the documentary "Fed Up" and really enjoyed it. The movie is really good from the food science perspective, focused on the day to day "normal" food chain. It has a lot of information the Lady of the House and I already knew, but is well worth knowing. Even if you know everything it is very well presented, and is a documentary I think everyone in the USA and other developed countries at the very least should watch.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Foggy days between freezes.

Another misty rainy day after a day of hard freeze, and before the expected light snow on Sunday. It'll be interesting to see if this is the kind of winter that just doesn't let up once it starts. That's what I'm starting to expect after the weather we've been having up to this point. I won't lie, I wouldn't mind a milder winter this year, but I don't expect one. This weekend the Lady of the House is going to be out and busy with selling at a convention, and I'm going to be home. I hope to spend part of the weekend relaxing, but at least some of it is going to working on the kitchen where I'm going to be building the counter top. I hope to be able to show that off within the month.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Getting things done.

Got a lot done this weekend, still plenty to do of course but that's always true. The Critter helped me, and a friend with moving wood. He wasn't quite as helpful as he thought he was, but he really enjoyed it. As you can see it was getting a bit chilly so he was bundled up, and I think he notices cold weather less than I do. The end result is we got almost all of the wood moved to where it needs to be leaving us with about 4 cords of wood stacked and ready to go for the winter. Our friend also did us a huge amount of help by clearing off the mess from working on the kitchen off the porch. The last major thing of the weekend was the last of the butchering of our kits from the season.

Friday, November 13, 2015

A season of reds and grays.

Sorry about not posting yesterday, we had some computer trouble which meant I couldn't edit photos to post. We're in the red and gray period of the year, and the orange netting over the chicken run really blends in a lot more than I expected it to. It won't soon enough, but right now it blends in just fine. As you can see the chickens really enjoy being out in it. One of our friends has offered an electric fence charger, and as soon as we can we're going to take her up on that.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Chickens out in the run

The orange caution netting is up over the top of the run, and the chickens are out of their coop. Not only are they very happy about it, the Critter is thrilled. Poultry watching seems to be one of his favorite pastimes. Being parents of a very active, very loud child, having something like poultry watching that's a guaranteed hit (temporarily) is a huge boon.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Guess we could have done another round of rabbit breeding.

Checking in from the homestead, and specifically checking in on the rabbits. With them in the woods I haven't been able to get many good photos, this is actually the best of the photos that I was able to get. I haven't gotten every last bit of the butchering done, but we're getting there. With the strange weather going on we absolutely could have done more breeding this year. Honestly we might try a winter litter again now that we know better how to help the does keep the kits warm. At least for Twilight since her hutch has the best sheltered kindling area.
The thing that's nice about the weather staying unusually warm is that the Critter is really enjoying continuing to spend long periods outside. One of the chores that is officially his (though functionally the Lady of the House's) is feeding the turkeys. He absolutely loves it, and even at just barely 12 months he gets really upset if someone feeds the turkeys without him. He's one of the least efficient animal feeders I've ever seen, but he really enjoys it. Tiny handful by tiny handful he throws the food to the turkeys, and squeals as he watches them eat. I imagine when the chickens are out and about roaming he'll be just as interested in them as he is in the turkeys. Not sure though since the turkeys have so much personality and are so big.
Again, partially due to the strange weather the turkeys haven't been able to be moved into their coop. They're really happy with their life right now, and have no interest in being in a warmer more sheltered space. So far it's working out for them. I do wonder if they'd be more sanguine about moving into the coop if I get my hands on a hen or two. Either way, when the temperature does the real hard winter drop, we'll get them in there by hook or by crook. Incidentally, the origin of that comes from gleaning firewood from forests that belonged to nobility where you weren't able to cut trees down for firewood. By hook or by crook is the term for what wood you could gather. It meant that not only could you get the firewood from the ground, you could also use hooks to pull the broken branches out of the trees. What I call widowmakers can certainly make good firewood since it's often bigger. Just thought it was a fun piece of trivia.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Welcome home Boris

Today we have a new rooster!  He will not be Mr. Bond Mk. III, he already has a name. In this case he is Boris, which oddly enough fits into James Bond just fine. So welcome Boris to the Hillside Homestead. As I mentioned a few days ago he is a Russian Orloff. While you can't see him perfectly since he's still a bit nervous and hiding behind the girls. That said you can see some of the things that make him ideal for our climate. For one thing, he's a big rooster which is good for many reasons. For a second he's well feathered, and has a small comb. Both the feathers, and the comb contribute to him surviving the winter healthy and happy.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Quick Hit: Fall and a 3 post week.

In the theme of taking a moment to enjoy the beauty around us, this isn't right around us. Our area has transitioned from looking lush to bare, but we were out in the valley this weekend and enjoying the beauty. None of the photos of things around the homestead came out, so I'm going to just do 3 posts this week, and just take this one to share some of the beauty we saw this weekend.
For example, where we got married still in the beautiful foliage of fall. A random side note, I love driving by this every day on the way to work since it reminds me of our wedding. It's also impressive to me seeing green grass, and trees with leaves on them still. One of the interesting things for me is that in the past 4 years by this time there had been an ice storm, or wind storm, or snow storm that stripped the leaves off the trees. This year is the first one since we moved to the homestead that we've been able to really appreciate the fall weather and color.
The only really relevant thing about the photos is shown best in the pictures Right and Below. The abandoned farm houses, and the skeletons of the tobacco barns. The area we are in is very much agricultural, but things aren't easy for farmers. I'm not sure if the tobacco farms are getting changed over to some other crop which would be good, or something else, but it is definitely interesting seeing the shifting landscape of the farms. In some of the area the closing farms are being developed, in others they are being preserved as farm land. Either way, against the backdrop of fall it's a really interesting thing to see.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Quick Hit: Clock change, and hard rain.

I'm enjoying the last pre work morning light I'm going to be seeing for some time since the bane of my existence (only slight hyperbole) comes this weekend, the end of daylight savings time. I have to say I genuinely don't really understand the point of DST to begin with, but there it is.

We're having a lovely foggy morning after a hard night of rain. As you can see the trees are for the most part clear of leaves by now. The funny part is that while it's relatively warm right now, because of the weather sweeping through, everything else shows that fall is over, and the world is going to sleep. At least where we are. Down in the valley 20 minutes away it's still peak foliage. I'm hoping to be able to get a good comparison photo to show to everyone before that goes away, since it's such an amazing illustration of the difference between here and there.

The concern with rain is always the driveway, but thanks to the work on the driveway, it still looks great! It's a great relief after almost one inch of rain in less than 24 hours. As you can see from these photos it's actually looking great! Obviously this isn't going to be eternal, it's going to require attention and maintenance but if we can keep it almost this good for the next few years by doing spot work over time I'm going to be very happy.

This weekend is Halloween, and it's a big time of year for me personally, so I'm looking forward to getting back to focus on the homestead and preparing for next year. Hopefully I'll have a rooster for our next post, but if not, we'll let you know as soon as we have the newest Mr Bond.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Planning for future poultry.

The challenge with living so far from where I work right now is, as the shorter days set in, I'm having problems getting photos for the blog! It's especially true when I've been working some extra hours between my primary job, and doing some overnight shifts for a second job. It's been a bit inconvenient honestly, but one of the challenges with something like small farming/homesteading like we are is, you have to make enough to pay for the "normal" life expenses like food, and home costs. Right now, the money side of things is a bit of a focus since I have some opportunities.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Surviving plants, and chicken thoughts.

We have a big surprise coming out of some days in the teens. We though the Kale was done, and were going to cut and blanch the leaves. Before we had a chance to, turns out the Kale is just fine. Some of the weaker leaves aren't doing as well, but overall now that we're back up into the 50s and 60s during the day the kale has fully bounced back.
Some of it is a little worse for the wear of the Critter exploring the texture and general feel of the leaves. These things happen, frankly given how much kale is produced how easily, the Critter tearing some of it up isn't exactly a big deal to me. Either way, we're going to have Kale for a bit longer which is a nice thing. It isn't the only thing that survived the frost, though the other survivor isn't exactly unexpected either.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

First taste of winter weather.

Soon the fires will be lit, and we will be warmer inside. But first, we have to make sure it's going to be safe for the small person and that he won't get at the stove. We really want to avoid that kind of burn. To get that safe we're going to have to install the gate around the stove, which I should be able to do Thursday, and re-clean the chimney.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

One surviving tomato, and poultry thoughts.

I think we've found some tomato seeds to save. This plant is incredibly stubborn and very hearty. It isn't doing very well at this point, but really I didn't expect it to be alive at all at this point given the number of frosts it's taken. Anyhow, there's a few last tomatoes holding on despite the cold weather and frosts, and it's kinda fun to come out and see. That bright red tomato under the right side of the plant, that one is probably going to be what I pick for seed saving. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Peak foliage, and kitchen labor.

As we've been focused inside if it weren't for having to drive back and forth to get materials and tools we'd forgotten or didn't know we'd need I'd almost have missed the most dramatic part of fall arriving. Almost, it's hard to miss it for real when you're living in the middle of it, even when you are face down working on floors. As for the work on the kitchen, lots happened, but not as much as we wanted.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Turkey foolishness, and more home work with help.

An amusing occurrence occurred that puts something of a lie to the turkeys being smart. Let's be fair, they're smart at what they do, but figuring out what a fence is still isn't one of them. For some reason the black turkey who is the (mostly) dominant turkey wandered into the chicken pen and got stuck. No I don't mean physically, I mean for almost 10 minutes making contact and alarm calls pacing back and forth along the North fence line trying to figure out how to get out, when he could flap his wings once and be over.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

All about the driveway.

After a very busy and physical weekend, our driveway looks very different from how it looked last we checked in on it, and far better than it looked in 2014 before the Lady of the House and I repaired it by hand. This time fortunately due to different circumstances we had the proper equipment to handle regrading the driveway, and just as importantly someone who knew what they were doing.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Hard rain, falling leaves, and driveway repair.

Day by day we see more color in the leaves, and more of the plants die off. The water pepper, a constant around the property and favorite food of the rabbits is on the way out, or already gone. One of the consequences of this is that we are going to have to start actually feeding the turkeys instead of just supplementing their diet of foraging with scratch, mostly to keep them coming back. As the fall comes I suspect we'll have an easier time finding the turkeys since they'll be wanting food actively.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Turkeys, and thoughts about trait selection.

The Lady of the House was kind enough to get some really lovely photos for our Patreon Patrons so we could get them their special content for the month. Normally I'd be doing that earlier in the month, but it's been busy here. That said, as a side effect of that we have some extra beautiful photos to share. Unsurprisingly they are of turkeys and the remaining chicken, because they are looking great lately. Also I want to talk about trait selection and why breeding has a place in this circumstance.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Acclimation, and Fall.

At the beginning of summer we had to remind ourselves Summer wasn't over. Now it is, officially and for practical purposes both. The Autumn Equinox was on the 23rd, and the weather has cooled drastically, leading to very chilly mornings. It is even getting chilly inside at night because it isn't really heating up during the day. The nice part about this season isn't so much around the house itself, but on the way to and from the house. The really beautiful moments on the drive break up the unpleasantness of an hour long commute. I've learned over the years an important thing as winter comes.

Thursday, September 24, 2015


I forgot my phone with the data for the post today in the car when the Lady of the House took it for the day so the post today isn't going to happen. I'll either get it up this evening, or do it tomorrow.

Sorry for the mix up!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The good, the pretty, and a bad review.

After a busy weekend where we weren't home as much as we might normally like, we have some good, some interesting, and some bad. First things first, another harvest from the bean plants has turned up a lot more beans to can. We let the beans get bigger this time, and are going to be canning them shortly. It's amazing how many beans we're going to have canned for the winter with just a few plants. If we do a full spread next year of beans we're going to have probably more beans than we need, which would be a nice change from not being able to put enough up for the winter. Next year we'll be out weeding more which will make a huge difference. The bush beans actually do a good job of out competing our weeds though, which is kind of nice. The balance between the pole beans and the bush beans really is the bush beans produce more, but are more of a pain to harvest. Sounds like a job for the Critter when he's old enough to take directions since he's closer to the ground. That's over a year off though, just planning ahead!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Asparagus, garlic placement, and dreaming.

The Lady of the House and the Critter both have a cold, and we're holding up but we're all a bit fatigued the past couple days. Thanks to that we don't have as much going on as we'd like during this week. Fortunately the Critter is fine with it, it's the rest of us that are suffering. Above is a photo of how well the asparagus is doing. It's tough to get a good photo of the asparagus because of just how much it blends in with everything else around it, even when we have brought things down to mostly just be ground cover under it. The entire bed of asparagus is doing great though, and I'm looking forward to seeing how well it is doing next year. Thanks again to Kathy Harrison from Barefoot Farm for the gift of the asparagus. I know that the entire house is going to be thrilled to have easily accessible asparagus next year.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

A touch of frost, greens, and more.

On this cold morning, we have lots still on plants, and some that I strongly suspect won't make it through the first killing frost, but won't be ripe by then. Always a bit of a challenge with our location. As for the beans, at this point it just comes down to picking them off the plants. Even with the weather, the beans don't seem to be done flowering as you can see Right. Even the scarlet runner beans set more flowers just recently despite being heavy with beans. 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Quick Hit: Turkey taming with Critter.

Today's going to be a quick post because we've been very busy for the past couple days. The Lady of the House has been taking the Critter out to work on taming the turkeys, and that's a bit of an adventure. We want to get them more tame because we want them to come when called.
If we can get them comfortable with being close to the Critter, they'll definitely be comfortable with us. From the photos you may think that's already happening, but you'll notice my hands are on the Critter in every shot. That's because of the action you see in the shot Below. The Critter has a tough time not trying to go and pet the chicken and the turkeys. They're not a huge fan of that particular action. In fact, it's why the black turkey who clearly has a better survival sense than the others.
The Critter does however enjoy going out and throwing scratch to feed the turkeys, and watch them doing their thing. I think that as the Lady of the House and the Critter do that every day we'll be able to get a lot more friendly with the Turkeys which is going to be good. The one thing that I'm not thrilled about at the moment is the Turkeys enjoyment of perching on the car. So far it isn't harming the car, but I'd rather they not be up there. They like being up high though, so, I suspect it will continue to be as it is.