Summer 2014: June Homestead Update

Summer 2014: June Homestead Update

red ranger mud
Just last night Karl declared, “this is going to be the fastest summer ever, isn’t it?”


By the way, the (cute) muddy chicken pictures are from a rainy day last week. They just loved the mud! Don’t worry, we don’t make our chickens live in squalor…

The Bees
We had a rough start to our beekeeping adventure.

A couple weeks after installing our two hives, we realized that hive #1 didn’t have a queen. We believe she was a non-mated or a poorly-mated queen and the colony got rid of her. It turned out that that was a problem for some others in our area who got bees from the same place we did.

We were able to re-queen the hive (that is, to introduce a new queen) and currently she is doing wonderfully. Not having a queen for a few weeks set that hive back. Their population is relatively small, but they are growing and we have high hopes for them.

Our second hive was an even sadder story. They looked awesome the week or two after we installed them, and then one day we went out to check on them and they were all dead in a pile on the bottom of the hive. I’m sure my jaw fell to the ground. Our diagnosis was that something happened with our bucket feeder, causing them to not be able to get the sugar water and they starved to death.

The good news: at our local beekeeping club, we signed up to get a beekeeping mentor (we should have done this way earlier). He has turned out to be absolutely wonderful! A couple weeks after our #2 hive died, he showed up with a new hive full of bees for us (one of his own), stating that he “has more hives than he can care for and wanted our first beekeeping experience to be more positive.”

What incredible generosity.

This hive is a second year hive and is just exploding! That is, they are brimming with bees and getting ready to make lots of honey when the nectar flow really hits here in a couple weeks. They are so strong that our main job right now is to prevent them from swarming.

Sting Count: Karl 5, Crystal 1  :)

The Chickens
We heard our first cock-a-doodle-do this week!

The “chicks” are now 11 weeks old. The meat birds are ready for butchering and the egg-layers still have some growing to do.

I am amazed at the differences between breeds- their individual personalities and traits of their breeds are starting to really come through, which is fun to watch. I can tell we are going to have some great laying hens with fun personalities, which is what I was really hoping for.
chicken in mud
The Red Ranger meat birds are large, and many of the roosters are starting to turn mean. I haven’t seen any really horrible behavior, but they definitely seem moody and in-charge. They are the first to the food bowl and they prefer to lounge around most of the day.

The Americaunas are currently the smallest of the three breeds we have. And they are by far the smartest and quickest. They don’t sit still- always bopping around the pen, looking for a tasty morsel. They will be great free-rangers!

There are a handful that we let out of the pen for small bouts of free-ranging, which they just love. But since getting a taste of freedom, now they sneak out almost every time I open the door. I can’t stop them- they are so quick, and they know to follow me in order to get out. Luckily, they are friendly and let me catch them and put them back in the pen, so I don’t totally mind it.

As soon as the meat birds are gone, we will start letting everyone out to free-range. Right now there are just too many chickens to keep track of, and our property is large. I’m afraid there would be mutiny.

The Buff Orpingtons are also very smart, but not as crafty as the Americaunas. They know they can get out, but they don’t unless I invite them. They are so polite and sweet.

Overall I think we will have just a great group of birds. I am excited to see who takes charge and how the pecking order changes after the meat birds are gone. As of now, all of the Buffs and Americaunas have been very non-aggressive. It’s almost like they are too busy looking for bugs and greenery and don’t have time for drama and being mean to each other.

Two other chicken updates…
I have had one of the Red Rangers in the bathroom infirmary for a month now. She had a bum leg and could only take a couple steps before falling/choosing to sit down.

What started as “let’s give her a week of isolation to let her rest and heal her leg” turned into four weeks in the house. She is sweet and talks to me every time I walk by. She is polite, loves worms, and really hasn’t been too much work or trouble at all- which is why she has been in there so long (also, she couldn’t go back to the coop not being able to walk well, as I fear she would get beat up).

A week ago Karl and I decided that she wasn’t getting better, wasn’t growing as fast as the other Red Rangers and didn’t have a good quality of life in the bathroom, so the right thing to do was probably to cull her.

Karl prepared the axe and stump and I brought her out and set her in the grass.

Axe in hand and looking at the chicken, we were waffling. Now, I really hate having to kill animals, but when I know it needs to be done, my brain will override my heart and I can do it. But this time it just didn’t feel quite right. Not yet. This chicken was otherwise healthy; just had a bum leg. Plus, she has a lot of dollars worth of feed and love and care invested in her already. Karl decided that if I was this unsure, we shouldn’t cull her. We didn’t do it.

I sat in the grass with her, and that is when I started to notice something… she was interested in walking. She would stand up, take a few steps and then sit down. And she kept repeating it. Way more activity than I had ever seen her do in the cardboard box. Duh. I wouldn’t want to walk around a cardboard box either.
chick in seedum 2
There was grass, dirt, bugs, life… she had motivation to move. So, for the past week I have been bringing her outside and setting her in the grass two or three times per day for an hour at a time. She is a tad wobbly, but will walk six feet before having to sit down. She is improving every day. I am a little disappointed in myself that I didn’t do this sooner. Live and learn, right?

The second chicken update is that I found a local person who has a backyard flock of Lavender Orpington chickens and has successfully hatched some eggs from them. They will be doing another small hatch this month, and if all goes well I will be acquiring a few new Lavender Orpington chicks!

This was one of the breeds I originally wanted but wasn’t willing to pay what people online were charging. They are gorgeous birds. I am so glad I found someone local, and small-scale that has them!

The Ducks
We still have two segregated flocks, which we need to do something about… we’re just not sure what yet. They live for free-ranging around the yard, but we have to let them out separately or all hell breaks loose. The ducks will tell you that taking turns sucks.

mama duck dirty
A bit of sad duck news: we just lost one of our laying hens. We were gone the entire day on Saturday and so the ducks had to stay in their pens all day (which they protested). When we got home I noticed that one of the females couldn’t move one of her legs. It was late and getting dark so we left her in the pen and planned to take a look at her first thing in the morning.

We brought her in the house and she wouldn’t eat or drink. After half of the day in the house, she wasn’t doing good and I wondered if she would be better off out in her pen. We worried about the males taking advantage of her, so we planned to shut her in the pen, and lock them out of it so she could rest.

Karl gently picked her up and we brought her outside. The second we got out to the pen, she started to shake and then died suddenly in Karl’s hands. It was quite strange and we both stood there dumbfounded.

We performed a necropsy on her but didn’t find anything obviously wrong. We aren’t exactly experts at that though… Not sure what to think about this one. She was the favorite of the male ducks, and I wonder if in being locked up all day caused them to be so rough with her that they damaged something.

We are keeping a close eye on all the other ducks and so far they seem normal and great.

Our (near) future plans are to downsize the flocks (we have too many males) and combine them into one group.

The Garden
We didn’t have the time or resources this year to break new ground and develop our huge garden. We also didn’t want to make any hasty decisions. We have 20 acres to mold and shape how we want, so we have been taking our time in seeing what plants and trees we have, learning the land, and planning the future of our property. Our huge garden will be first on the list for next spring!

On the side of our house there was a big flower bed and two small raised beds that were totally overgrown (hadn’t been tended in 2-3 years). We salvaged what pretty things we could see were in there and then tilled up the rest to make a vegetable garden. It is probably close to 26X10 feet of space. Big by most standards, I know… but not big enough for someone who wants to grow and preserve as much food as possible for both the humans and the animals on the homestead.
garden tilled
Being the smallest garden I’ve ever tended, it definitely seems much more manageable. Weeding? No problem at all. I like that working the garden isn’t a daunting task!

I tried to stick to the basics this year. Lots of tomatoes, and good winter squash to test out our root cellar storage capabilities this coming winter. I also have a big row of kale, and two big rows of lettuces, spinach, and chicory. We also have a few jalapeno plants, summer scallop squash, German Butter potatoes, and giant sunflowers.

I was also chosen to participate in a program called “Gardens Across America” this year. I was sent some really rare seeds to try, and if they are successful I will pass along the seeds for more people to plant. So, from that program I have sunflowers, lupine, winter squash and cucumber. I am really excited about these and am hoping they do well!

And lastly, the herb garden. I have been working perennial herbs into our landscaping as we change it and move things around. The property came with a lot of chive patches all over, which I love. I have planted several thyme plants and two different varieties of sage. I also started a spearmint and chocolate mint plant and am hoping they spread like mint is known to do!

I usually plant annual herbs like basil, parsley, and dill right in the garden, but I didn’t have room for them this year. I knew they would grow well in pots, so I gathered all the old pots I could find and they are now scattered around the sunny side of the yard.


Other Edibles
Our long-term goal is land that produces things for us with minimal work. We want to make a lot of the surrounding landscape and trees not only beautiful, but edible.

And with that in mind, so far we have planted:

Two golden raspberry plants for the start of our raspberry patch. We bought them from the neighbor girl for her 4H fundraiser. We will definitely be adding to this in the future.

Two honey crisp apple trees- they were fairly big and should have a few apples already this fall.

A handful of butternut seeds. My dad came across some butternut trees last year and we saved a bunch of the nuts to plant. I planted them in two different patches where I can keep an eye on them and see if they sprout. If and when they do, we will transplant them to our future nut grove. Fingers crossed! Black walnuts do really well here… in fact, they grow like a disease. So we have high hopes for the butternuts too!

We visited Karl’s grandparents this weekend on their farm. Karl’s grandpa is somewhat of an expert rhubarb grower and gifted us a few plants to start our patch with.

We also picked up some horseradish! It is something we’ve always wanted to plant, and we were delighted to meet one of Karl’s Grandpa’s neighbors, who just happen to have a huge patch that was taking over their lawn. We were happy to help them with taming it…
I think sharing plants with people is one of the greatest things. Not only a plant, but now a memory of the person who gave it to you. A plant with a story behind it. From one homestead to another.

Neighboring Farm
We finally met the neighbor who owns the 20 acre field next to ours. He also owns a greenhouse and is a seller at the farmer’s markets. Last week he had a crew of people planting several acres of different kinds of melons, squash, cucumbers, and raspberries.

He needed to borrow some water during planting, and in exchange offered us plenty of produce from his fields. I think I heard him say, “take whatever you want!” He was a younger guy, pretty laid back. I won’t use the word “hippie,” but I will tell you he had long hair…

It sounded like a good trade to us!

Wild Edibles
We had a good asparagus year this year- hitting up all our old spots and even finding some new ones really close to our new homestead.

We finally got all of our maple sap boiled (we had 40 gallons hanging out in our freezer for the past couple months). We had to get that done to make room for the chicken we’ll need to freeze soon. Our total maple syrup harvest was about 1.5 gallons. Not too shabby!

I am pleased to report that we have loads of black raspberry bushes around our property. I can’t wait! I’ve never had enough to preserve before, but I might this year. Perhaps a black raspberry fruit leather?!

We have also found a ton of wild grapes vines all over with little grape clusters starting to form. Often the wild ones don’t produce well, but these look like they will be awesome.

And we have discovered that our woods seems to be full of elderberry plants. I have never experimented with elderberries before, but have always wanted to.

Homestead Work
We have had the chickens outside in the coop for over a month now, but we still have a lot of work to do, and have been trying to work on it every weekend. I’m glad it is secure enough to hold the chickens, but I will be ecstatic when it is insulated and has a finished roof and siding. The coop is what has taken most of our time this spring and summer. We wanted to do a professional job so that it would last forever, plus it is a large coop and we’ve never built anything like this before, so we are sloooow.
coop june
We’ve been enjoying watching all the beautiful plants come up around our property. The landscaping was neglected for several years, so we have been doing what we can to refresh the beds and transplant things to where we would like them.

So far our first summer on the homestead is off to a roaring start! We’ve really been trying to find balance between getting it all done and still enjoying ourselves.

We are loving summer here on the homestead. Often when we’re out standing on the porch, or in the dining room looking out at our beautiful property and at all we have, we talk about how we really are “living the dream.” So thankful.

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