My original plan for this blog was to give a snapshot and a bit of a ‘how-to’ as well, of small farm life. So instead of topical posts that I never get around to writing, I am going to switch to rambling updates on everything going on. It seemed that every time we got into a big project this summer, I thought of how it would make a great post and how I should take pictures. The thing is, I am so busy doing the project that I never have the time to write about it! So here it is, a bit of everything.
I know a lot of people have asked about our honey. Unfortunately we are not going to be able to sell any this year. Mike decided to harvest just one frame from each hive. A lot of apiarist in our area lose their bees over the winter. Mike wants to ensure that they have a lot of food for their first winter and hopefully with full bellies and less stress they will produce twice as much next year. One good thing about not selling honey this year is that I will have at least a full year to figure out how to print a label straight.
Canning tomatoes, peaches, relish, jam and pickles took up a lot of August & September. Our new pressure canner sped things up a bit. It helped to not have to worry about the acidity of the tomato sauce and to be able to throw all kinds of vegetables and herbs into it. I also used it to can a small batch of beef stew and I have a lot of other plans for it as well. I have to admit that I didn’t use all of our vegetables this year. I felt a bit burnt out after awhile with all the work. I was stressed about food going to waste. So instead of trying to do everything and ending up losing patience with people, usually 4 miniature people, I prayed about it, asked my husband’s advice and decided to leave it. We gave away some, slowly ate a lot fresh and the rest went to pigs and chickens to convert into eggs and meat. In the end, I don’t feel like it has been wasted at all.
The pigs and chickens are living in harmony as they till and fertilize our larger garden. They have also been enjoying all the produce that we didn’t get around to eating or preserving in the busy summer months. It has given us the idea of planting a garden specifically for the poultry and pigs next year. The plan is to get the chickens to scratch it up in the spring, throw some squash, bean, lettuce and whatever other seeds into it, then leave it until the fall. I guess that is more of a permaculture approach to feeding them.
Mixed in with all the plant, livestock and child rearing was two weddings. One of which (Mike’s mother), we hosted. It was a beautiful day, but I was so busy that I didn’t take one picture. I am hoping I can get some from someone else to share here. I also had the opportunity to design and create all the flowers for a special couple that I grew up with. Jill & Dave’s families attended the same church as my family for many years. Their wedding colours were wine and grey, but we decided to stick with mostly white flowers. She also wanted just baby’s breath for the bridesmaid bouquets. It was nice to take a break from canning and spend a few days doing something creative. Here are a few cell-phone shots:
The little hooligans have been busy helping us and playing outside for most of the summer and fall. The twins have been a real help this year, now that they are almost six. Homeschooling has started as well and we try to spend a few hours 4 morning a week reading lots of great literature and practicing reading and writing. We have also joined a homeschool co-op this year at our church.
I have had a few requests for house pictures. The dilemma I face is that my house is never clean for more than a few minutes. As I type this, I am surrounded by clean laundry and toys as well as the weekly flyers. The kitchen island is loaded with cabbages that I have to ferment, there is a fly sticker 12 inches wide and 4 feet long hanging from my kitchen ceiling (with several hundred flies on it), and the laundry/mud room is stacked with bee frames. So my goal is to clean one room, snap a picture as quickly as possible and post it for each new post. So here is the bathroom and the toddler’s room.
And five minutes after taking the pictures, this is what the boys’ room looks like. It was too depressing to take a picture of the bathroom…
Wow, four children makes life really busy. I am sure that statement is not a new revelation for most people, but I have found the last couple of months to be crazy. Once again, I am doing a lazy post and just giving a quick update on the farm.
First off, all our goats are gone. We have had to prune a lot of unnecessary things from our life right now and the goats were an extra. Clarabelle was the last one to leave a couple of weeks ago.
We had some trouble with our egg production going way down again. From 55 hens we were only getting around 15 eggs! That is not okay with me when we are feeding them expensive Organic feed. We noticed that some eggs were broken and eaten so I decided to take an empty egg shell and stuff it with hot pepper flakes. I put it in the nest box where we often found the broken eggs. The next day it was completely gone, not a trace of anything. It seemed to work. We still have a few broken eggs, but not as many. It took two weeks before anyone laid an egg in that box though! After some help from a nice local farmer at Funny Duck Farms we figured that the protein level in our feed was too low for young hens. Apparently older hens do fine with the protein level we had in our feed, but the young ones need quite a bit more. Our feed supplier was very helpful and milled us up some new feed right away. It did the trick and we are now getting around 3 dozen a day and it is slowly increasing.
Our pigs recently decided that they didn’t want to stay in the pasture. They were getting out once to three times a day. Not great when we have worked so hard in our gardens. We have had to use the electric netting that we had purchased for the goats. It seems to be working, but it has only been two days…
Fencing continues and we have almost finished going around the yard and house.
I decided that I will show you pictures of the gardens because if I wait until they are weed free and perfect, there will never been any picture.
I will end with this picture of the front of the house. Helpful for those of you that have trouble finding our place.
Wow, the last month has been a blur here on the farm. Mostly because of a precious new arrival, a temporary arrow for our quiver, that has stolen our hearts and stolen my sleep! I can’t give any details, but we count it a blessing every day for however long he stays with us.
The garden is progressing, although it is still not doing as well as I had hoped. I know it takes several years to build soil back up after many years of neglect, but I had hoped all of our compost would make up for that. The garden fence is slowly coming along, unfortunately dogs and chickens can still get through…
Our pigs are also growing slowly. We don’t know a lot about pig breeds and we were told they were Berkshires by the woman we bought them from. If any one knows about pigs, please feel free to comment with your opinion!
Some predators got into our chicken tractors the other day and got one of our meat chickens. It is always frustrating when they get killed or die when we have got most of the feed into them. It is a risk that is part of farming though. Moving the tractors has been a lot easier since the addition of some wheels that can be lowered when it is time for Mike to move them. He moves them once a day to give them fresh pasture to eat and also to give them a clean pen. It works well and it is always surprises me how they all attack the fresh grass. We have a few extras from this batch that are still for sale. They will be ready July 8th.
The mobile hen coop has been very efficient. The flock is doing well and we will soon be over run with eggs as all our pullets are starting to lay. If anyone is looking for eggs, we have a few dozen extra a week right now and will have lots more quite soon.
Mike has removed the bee feeders from the hives and the honey bees are busy making honey. When the feeders were removed, Mike had to cut off some honey comb that they bees had attached to the bottom of it. We all enjoyed trying some of the green honey, but it wasn’t ready yet so Mike fed it back to the bees. Our lawn is humming with bees because of the clover being in bloom and we have had a couple of bare feet stung. I have found the best remedy for us is Benadryl internally and a mixture of 1 tsp olive oil, 10 drops each of lavender and peppermint essential oil that is applied to the affected area every 15 minutes.
I haven’t had time to write much these days, so I thought I would share some pictures of the newest arrivals on the farm these past few weeks.
The first to arrive were two Limousin heifers and a Simmental steer last Thursday. They will be butchered for meat in the fall, unless we decide to keep one of the heifers for breeding stock.
We also have new calves and cattle arriving daily from the farmer who rents some of our pasture.
Next arrival was 3 Berkshire pigs on Friday. They are a heritage breed that are supposed to do very well on pasture. That is, if you can keep them contained. It took them about 30 seconds to get out of their new pen when they arrived. A lot of chasing and yelling, trips to the hardware store and installing of electric fence resulted in a pen that kept them in. Unfortunately we finished with the pigs that day at 4:30 instead of before lunch like we planned. Oh well, at least we keep the neighbours entertained.
Our newest arrivals are three colonies of bees that Mike has set up in the pasture. He is trying a different management approach than most apiarists in order to reduce management time and increase hive health. The main difference is using frames without foundations (predrawn wax that looks like little honeycombs). There are many other differences as well, but Mike is the expert on that so perhaps I can convince him to write a beekeeping post. We shall see how well the bees do their first year. Hopefully with lots of honey to eat and beeswax for body care products.
We have also dewormed and deloused the cattle, goats and laying hens. For the lice we used a mixture of diatomaceous earth and sulphur. For one heifer that was really infested, we also used a spray made with apple cider vinegar and essential oils of tea tree and lavender. It has seemed to be effective, but time will tell. Deworming was attempted with a mixture of herbs and diatomaceous earth. The chickens and goats took it no problem, but the cattle and horse were not so interested. We decided to just give them the DE mixed into some alfalfa pellets. Next time we are going to try mixing the herbs with molasses and pellets to make them more appetizing. The downside of natural deworming methods is that you have to treat once a day for a whole week. The upside is that it is cheap. We paid under $50 for 50 lbs of diatomaceous earth and all the herbs. That should last us for a couple years! The smallest bottle of IVOMEC at the feed store cost $58 and wouldn’t have been enough for everyone!
We have also learned that chickens LOVE compost. It does seem to reduce their feed intake, but we haven’t had a chance to pay much attention.
On top of all of this, we are in the middle of putting in the vegetable gardens. I won’t be showing a picture yet. It is certainly not picture ready yet. If ever. I haven’t had time to mow the grass. So my friends are doing it for me.
Fencing is a never ending job on a pasture based farm. The fences on our farm have been hastily and poorly mended for years with barbed wire for the most part and many other things including what appears to be the remains of a shopping cart. It was one of our top priorities last year to get a strong and sturdy perimeter fence installed. Unfortunately it has been a bit more difficult than we had expected. Swamps, beaver ponds and mosquitoes have been some of the contributing factors to lengthening the ordeal. I have found it fascinating to think of the pioneers that first built these patent fences. Every tree fell by hand with an axe, then split into rails and sawn (by hand) to length for pickets. In many places we are taking down these fences because they have rotted out and fallen over, trees have grown through them and some are just not needed anymore. Mostly we are replacing them with electric fencing. The particular fence that is pictured below is actually bordering a patch of woods (about 10 acres are so), that we plan to use to raise woodland pork in the future. It is good to note at this point that beautiful, rustic fences like this one will absolutely not keep hogs in!
Since I love the character and history of these fences, I have convinced my ever obliging husband to rebuild them around the house. So at some point we will have an amazing fence around our yard and lining our driveway. Hopefully complete with moss! It is probably silly to think, but I also feel like we are respecting the work of the first farmers who built them by not throwing them in a pile and burning them. As well as building new fences, there is the job of repairing the existing ones. Several trees had blown over during the winter and damaged parts of our new high tensile electric fence that was installed last spring. Let’s just say Mike was not impressed…
I took a break from fence deconstruction and took a walk to the sugar bush to gather some wild leeks (or ramps as they are called south of the border.) Our bush has quite a large amount of them which we are quite excited about. They take 3-4 years to mature so it is important not to over harvest them. According to internet experts, you should harvest less than five percent of a patch in order to be sustainable. We have been enjoying them in soup, omelettes, salads and today I chopped some finely and added them to stuffed eggs! Can you tell we eat a lot of eggs?
As spring progresses, more and more animals join us here on the farm. One hundred meat chicks joined us earlier this week and have gotten quite comfortable in our brooder house.
Just a quick note to say that eleven chicks hatched out of 22 eggs. Not great, but not too bad either. Most of the ones that hatched are purebred Ameraucanas. They lay beautiful bluish-green eggs. Mike has made an Ohio brooder for them so that they can regulate their own temperature. We always like to try and do things as natural as possible and because the brooder is raised off the ground, the chicks can come and go as they please. There is also less risk of piling because there are no corners to pile in!
Mike just came in as I was writing this post to say that we have another calf born! It is too dark for a picture, but hopefully I get a chance to get one before I post this. Update: Here is the picture of our newest baby on the farm. We have decided to start with the farm tradition where you name your breeding stock with a letter of the alphabet depending on the year they were born. So 2015=A names. My kids have picked the name Anna (with a Scandinavian accent of course.)
Spring on the farm is a really busy time of year. This week we have chicks hatching, beehives to finish, gardens to make, dig and plant and make compost. When we purchased our property two years ago it had been grazed for many years without a rest or added nutrients. Last spring after we moved in, we hastily built some raised beds and also tilled a section of the field by our house to use for vegetable gardens. After picking tractor bucket loads plus wheelbarrows of stones and adding a few bags of purchased composted manure, we got the garden planted just in time (well probably a little late if I am completely honest). We learned several things last year. One that our soil does not drain as well as we had hoped because of the high percentage of clay so we need more organic matter. Also that our soil is very infertile so we need to add nutrients. We had an okay harvest of some things like potatoes, carrots and green beans, but most things did poorly. Enter compost, free nutrients and organic matter that we can access just by doing a bit of work.
There are a lot of instructions all over the internet on how to properly compost so I won’t get into all of it here. The basic idea is to breakdown organic materials by using the right proportion of greens to browns (in our case manure to hay and leaves). The mixture to aim for is a carbon to nitrogen ratio of 25:1 to 40:1. The pile is kept at about 40% moisture (like a wrung out sponge) and is turned or aerated regularly to ensure enough oxygen for the microorganisms to do their job. The decomposition process should result in temperatures high enough to kill the weed seeds present in the manure and hay. We are experimenting with several different methods and recipes. In one we just piled manure that was already mixed with hay into a windrow about 4 feet tall. We are turning that with the tractor. Another one is made from leaves (that city people very kindly raked and put in bags at the end of their driveway for us) combined with cattle manure. We are turning that one by hand with a pitchfork. We are also experimenting with ‘lasagna gardening’ which is basically static composting right in the garden bed. I layered sawdust, manure/hay mixture and leaves into one of my raised beds. I then soaked it down and topped it with a mixture of soil/peat moss and wood stove ashes. The idea is to create compost and add nutrients with as little labour as possible. Also, the heat from the composting process should, in theory, warm the soil in that bed. My main concern is that it won’t get hot enough to kill weed seeds, but since I am not turning the soil and the manure layer is quite deep I am hoping most of the weeds won’t germinate.
Last fall we planted a bed of garlic and mulched it with leaves (free again!) and the leaves are just starting to peep through.
What treat to make for Easter weekend when you have lots of fresh eggs and it is maple syrup season? The answer is these fabulous maple cinnamon meringues that were so easy to make and have no gluten or refined sugars. They are still super sweet though. The link for the recipe is here. The only change I made was to substitute the cream of tartar with vinegar. Mine didn’t turn out as pretty as the original recipe since I was in a bit of a rush, but nonetheless they taste fabulous.
Sickness has plagued our family for the past two weeks, but I think we have finally shaken it! Illness, two extra children (we are foster parents) and two birthday parties filled my time so much I did not even have time to think about the the farm and this blog. I have been blessed by one friend who has been a true servant and comes once a week with her beautiful children to help me with whatever I need. Last week the extra set was especially welcomed!
This week, however, has brought sun and above zero temperatures that are driving Mike outdoors to work on the next project: a mobile coop for our laying hens. The success of prominent American farmer, Joel Salatin, has brought the mobile coop to the forefront of the farm blog world. Many farmers have tried their hand at it using various modifications of his system. The main idea is to move your hens around the pasture a few days after the herd animals (cows, sheep etc.) have moved on. The hens get constant access to fresh grass and multitudes of insects, newly hatched worms and flies which they thrive on. Some farmers claim their chicken feed consumption has been reduced by as much as 75%! A bonus of this approach to poultry husbandry is that the birds eat a lot of the pests and parasites that can become a nuisance to the other livestock and the farmer, such as worms and flies. We have wanted to do this for awhile, so this week Mike proceeded to convert our hay wagon (our only one actually, so if any knows of a hay wagon for sale??) to one.
One of the great things about the internet and farm bloggers is that we love to share our ideas and help each other to be profitable. We have researched plans for some time and never have we came across a request asking that the plans not be used to make money. If you search for patterns for almost any craft item, however, you will most often be asked to not use the plans for any sort of saleable product. These fellow farmers have taught us a lot and we are very grateful for their help and advice. In the end Mike decided to make a coop similar to this one by The Promiseland Farm, but make a few changes to reduce the construction cost. One of the things that they did in the video was use metal mesh floors. After checking out some prices on that we decided to use a wooden slat floor (made out of 2x4s cut in half lengthways) covered with chicken wire. By the end of day one it looked like this. You can see our house with the natural pine siding in the background. It has started to go grey because it has not been painted yet. Maybe we will get around to painting it this year, but probably not! Red maybe…
Update on our electric mesh for our goats. We bought the Premier 1 brand through Canadian Co-operative Wool Growers in Carleton Place if anyone is interested in buying it. They had a good price and because we could pick it up there were no shipping charges. The jury is still out on this one. I think it will work great in the summer when we put the spikes directly into the ground. Since the ground is frozen we have had to put them in the hard snow for now and as the snow melts, the fence falls over. Argh. The fence itself works great however, it gives a really, really good jolt. I am sure the neighbours wondered what I was yelling about when my five year old son thought it would be helpful to plug the fence in at the same time as I was setting it back up. For the third time in one day. Oh, did I mention that I had a thirty plus pound child on my back? Enough said on that subject. Moving on…
We have been getting more and more small pullet eggs. Today our pullets laid 14! So far we have not had a problem keeping up with eating them all. It has been awhile since we have had our own eggs and nothing compares to the taste of a fresh egg. If we don’t have them for breakfast then we have them for lunch. The yolk colour is so much darker that the kids asked if I had added mustard to the scrambled eggs. Unfortunately our goat Clarabelle is wreaking havoc in the chicken coop. She gets in the small hen door and eats our layer mash. At $25 a bag for Certified Organic feed, it is a VERY expensive way to feed goats. We have ordered some electric netting to make a goat pen away from the chicken coop and the gardens and the tree seedlings and anything else the inquisitive creatures decide to eat. We will get it on Monday and when the pen is up and functioning I will let you all know if it was successful! If not, we may have some goat meat for sale soon –just joking–well sort of.
Most of our work this week has been done indoors. Mike did some work trimming the kitchen window and adding some finishing touches to the cabinets. Although we still have a pile of work ahead of us, we are starting to see the end in sight. For anyone who has built a house will tell you that trim is one of the last things to be finished. I don’t have a good camera but I here is a picture of the window anyway. : )