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.