Homemade Stuff

The weather today was pretty dreary, with the greenhouse planted there were other things to do. For the majority of the posts there has been a focus on either livestock or crops or something that led to one of the two but homesteading, regardless on whether you are in an urban, suburban, or rural situation many of the ideas behind homesteading fall into self reliance or independence from others. It would be very difficult to be completely independent but it feels good when you can do for yourself without having others do for you.

Besides cleaning, I worked on one of my wife’s Christmas presents.

using-table-saw

Here I’m using a table saw to cut parts of a pallet into a picture frame for a canvas painting we bought in Africa. For two years the picture has floated around with no frame that fit very well.

Everybody is different with different skills, I fall into the Jack of all trades master of none category. I build all my own buildings, generally by myself, do most of my mechanic work and pick up a few fix it jobs here and there, before working with my wife doing book keeping I was a teacher for 7 years, landscaper/nursery for 10, Marine Corps for 4, set telephone poles for 2 years and remodeled houses off and on since high school. All of that adds up to nothing specific but lots of odds and ends.

It is easy to look back at your life and wish you had done other things, the path I am on now is not the one I would have ever planned but the bumpy road has given me many skills that come in handy around the homestead and really for life in general. Our society has become very dependent on other people doing things for us, dependence is the norm.

I don’t fix our vehicles because I’m too cheap to send them somewhere else even though that’s part of it, the biggest reason is time, it’s faster for me to do it on my time than to take a car somewhere and wait or get a ride home just to have to get picked up again and taken back to pick it up. Do I make mistakes? Of course, normally the second fix is much faster and way cheaper than paying someone else to do it, it is gratifying and most of the time it is done better than the person I would have paid to do it would have done it.

Three things I have in my past make much of what I do possible; when I set telephone poles and anchors, they had to go where they were supposed to go and sometimes it was very hard but guess what? it had to be done and there was no one else to call. Secondly I did some volunteer emergency extrication work for a few years, when someone was trapped in a car it was my responsibility to get them out, no one else was coming, we were the emergency responders.  And third was the Marine Corps, again we could be put in a place where it was our responsibility to do what needed to be done and know no one else was coming, it was up to us to figure out what to do regardless of what that meant.

Those previous experiences involving having to figure something out help me get through difficult things here, move a 1500 lb rock with out equipment? Figure it out, levers and ropes. Set a 20 ft 6×6 by myself for a pole barn? Figure it out, it’s not just one pole, might be six and they all have to be exactly in the right place for the building to be square. It takes determination and sometimes walking away until tomorrow but being self reliant feels good, fixing a dryer isn’t the coolest thing to do but $12.00 for a heating coil compared to a couple hundred for a new one or having someone come to fix it goes along way towards stuff I really want to spend money on!

Self reliance is a skill than many people don’t have, fortunately it can be developed and we can all become more self reliant through determination and the desire to succeed when faced with imminent  failure!

Planting the Greenhouse!

Yes it is December the 16th and it was below freezing this morning, it did warm all day and will continue to climb throughout the night, however at 5:00 P.M. it was 32 degrees F, all the same I decided to plant vegetables! If you think I’m crazy so do I but I had to try, after all seeds don’t cost very much.

There was some work to do first, knowing one of my weaknesses is documenting what is done and where things are planted the greenhouse was sectioned off. On the ends “A, B, C, and D” were painted on the 2×4’s at the ends.

dsc_0005-3I used a stencil only because I already had one, the designations of  A, B, C, and D continue on the other side, looking at the end behind me if read from left to right would be D, C, B, and A.

dsc_0006-3This house has 7 ribs 2 of which are the ends, there are 6 four foot spaces between ribs inside, each one was numbered 1-6. When I write down what I plant it can be recorded as A1, it will then be easy to know that in column A row 1 is what ever I plant, the space A1 is basically 8 square feet the “A” part is about 2 feet wide and the “1” part is 4 feet long. If a plant is planted taking up more space it could easily be recorded as AB1/2/3, then I would know it covers both columns A and B and rows 1,2,and 3 for a total of 48 square feet.

Even though the soil and horse manure was already in the greenhouse it was only partially spread. Due to rain while unloading the soil from the trailer some of the soil get wet and was hard to do much with so it was partially spread in the greenhouse to dry.

dsc_0007-3Using the grub hoe, the soil and the horse manure were worked together with a better distribution of proportions.

dsc_0010-2After the soil and the horse manure were mixed more appropriately it was time to level out the bed.

Even though space is at a premium there needs to be some kind of walk way, walking in mud didn’t seem like the best idea so wood chips were used for a path.

limeSometimes you can get the workers clearing power lines to deliver wood chips to your house, I had hoped for many loads, up to 12 and got one, beggars can’t be choosers I guess. often there are surprises when going through the pile of chips, normally it’s just garbage like drink bottles from the crew but today I found two fiberglass fence posts!

After the path was in lime was spread, someday the soil will get tested but in general here it is acidic, with the addition of horse manure it is a safe bet.

On the path you may see a milk crate, one of my favorite garden tools, doesn’t matter if it gets wet, fairly comfortable seat, and good for putting produce in while collecting. The notebook on the milk crate is for documenting where and what seeds are planted.

goose-neck-hoeHaving a little hoe is nice for planting, I believe this is a goose neck hoe.

sowing-seedAfter each type of seed was put in the furrow, the kind, variety, and location was documented. From what can be seen here AB1/2/3 was sown with what ever I was planing at the time, the furrows weren’t covered up until the crop was documented, not every crop covered both “A” and “B” so after each plant was put in the furrow it was documented then covered up and new furrows were made for the next plant.

ready-to-waterTime to water in the seeds, the funny part of this is that I couldn’t water for a few hours, the sprinkler had been in the garden since summer and was frozen, it came in to defrost while dishes were taken care of.

Below is a partial spread sheet for what was done today, the date, crop, and crop variety are self explanatory. Location is as explained earlier with the exception of “G1” and that is just for the future, “greenhouse 1” as apposed to outside or in a different house, bed size doesn’t matter here because I can tell the size by the location, NS= nursery, DS=direct seed, PT=potted, TR= transplant, DOE with date is for date of emergence. This spread sheet set up comes from Curtis Stone’s book The Urban Farmer.

Date M/D Crop Location Crop variety Bed size NS, DS, PT, TR DOE M/D DTH M/D Bed Rows Plug # Seed Vol. Notes
16-Dec Cabbage G1 A6 Sweet hybrid DS
16-Dec Lettuce G1 B6 AB5/4 Montilia DS
16-Dec Spinich G1 AB1/2/3 Bloomsdale Long Standing DS
16-Dec Salad mix G1 D1 Mesclun DS
16-Dec Mizuna G1 C1 CD1/2/3 Asian Greens DS
16-Dec Spinich G1 DC4/5/6 Covair DS

 

planting-table

Information used from:

Stone, Curtis. The Urban Farmer. New Society Publishers, 2016

Pest Control

Unfortunately shorter days and colder nights create more problems than a lack of time to accomplish things around the homestead and keeping the animals watered. I can’t be at home all of the time like many of you. Sometimes the chickens don’t get locked up when it gets dark and for a few hours after sunset they are very vulnerable. Winter is not just hard on your livestock, it is also hard on the native species, some of which are predators.

First off I don’t like to kill anything, but sometimes animals need to be killed. I do hunt and as crazy as it may sound I don’t like the killing part, a deer is a beautiful animal but when it comes down to it I have to eat meat, if I don’t eat meat once a day I don’t feel very well the next day and have a very low energy level. I could be like most folks and just have someone else do the dirty work of killing a cow that has some depressing life eating corn on a concrete slab praying that some day it would die but that seems irresponsible. I’m not suggesting that everyone should hunt and I know my philosophy is not held by everyone, because I eat meat I have to have the responsibility to take the life, if I can’t take the life I need to become a vegetarian.  I slaughter my chickens when they are no longer productive and I am the one that will have to put down a cow that my family and another share and I won’t like doing it, but if I eat meat I must take the responsibility.

All of this previous explanation to say, sometimes you have to take care of food by taking responsibility for that food, sometimes that means taking care of pests that will harm your livestock. I explained earlier about the need for having a good tight chicken coup or your chickens will be eaten for you. Before you have chickens or immediately thereafter you should have a way to take care of pests because they will come.

spotted-skunkThis spotted skunk is the only known mammal to enter into my new coup. It’s hard to know what to do, as said before I don’t like killing and I consider myself an environmentalist but I can’t let all of my chickens get eaten either! There is a point of being proactive when it comes to controlling pests and then there is seeing how far the wildlife can push the limits. For an example, I have coyote’s all over the place, you can hear them at night quite often but I have never had problems with them, it seems that there is enough land for all of us. Since I have never had problems with coyote’s I have no plans on killing any of them but I do have to consider that they are here. When we get sheep I have to have a way to lock the sheep up, especially the lambs, and I need a good fence. My dogs go nuts down by the chicken coup enough to cause me to believe that the coup is being visited by something but I’m not loosing chickens so I don’t do anything. The day before I caught the spotted skunk a chicken got killed and I saw the skunk climb a vertical plywood wall in the coup to get away from me. That night I spread dog proof raccoon traps behind the coup, the next morning I had a skunk.

You need to  be careful about your trapping laws where you are but my guess would be that the dog proof raccoon traps are legal anywhere.

coateddptrapThis image comes from pcsoutdoors.com, I have bought many traps from them before and never been disappointed. Dog proof traps are pretty good, they work well for raccoons and skunks. I don’t even worry about my dogs with them. I bait the traps with dog food and have had the dogs get into the traps but they can’t set them off or if they did the holding mechanism is inside the tube and they wouldn’t be in it anyway. There are moving parts so dumb luck can always be a factor but I like them a lot and haven’t had any problems.  My biggest domestic concern for dog proof traps are cats, the traps are released by reaching into the tube and pulling out, a cat could set it off. I would recommend having half a dozen or so of these traps around for the times when your chickens are being hunted.

Another good alternative to dog proof traps are live traps.live-trap-pcs-outdoorsThis image is also from pcsoutdoors.com, I don’t have this specific trap but have had one like it for a long time and they are good to have. Live traps sound good if you don’t want to hurt an animal but what are you going to do with it afterward? You would have to drive for a long ways to let something go and have it not come back and I wouldn’t want to drive a long ways with a skunk in my backseat either! A good .22 rifle is a good addition to any homestead as well, I normally shot the raccoon or skunk in the trap which risks damage to the cage. With the dog proof traps something has to be done as well but it is much easier not to cause damage to your gear if the animal isn’t inside it when you dispatch it.

Getting rid of animals isn’t fun but we will find ourselves in the situation where we need to protect our livestock and we should be prepared to handle the situations as they arise. Good planning for the initial protection of your livestock is the biggest priority but eventually someone will find their way in and once they do they will never stop until you stop the threat by eliminating it.

 

Planning

I would much rather be out working in the dirt, building something, or messing with animals however that can’t always happen. I wish I could work on the homestead full time but that can’t happen now, between rain and other work I haven’t had much time to do much other than just maintain the animals. One of the things that we all, and especially myself, need to work on is planning and a good time to accomplish that is when it is too dark or wet outside to do other things.

I should have done it already but didn’t get to it, tonight I ordered seeds for the greenhouse. Today it was just some varieties of lettuce, kale, and spinach. Now that I think about it I should have ordered more than one kind of spinach but I didn’t. I already have some kale so that will be two varieties. I ordered two varieties of lettuce along with a variety pack. The variety pack is problematic since I will have to identify what comes up and I may not know what does not come up.

I wish I could plan better for a sure thing but it seems there is very rarely a sure thing when it comes to farming. Last year I had some plants come up and others didn’t come up at all, onions being one that failed. I wish I remembered exactly where I heard it but I don’t, it is an ideology that makes sense though, plant everything and ignore it! Unfortunately we normally get an idea in our minds and try really hard to plant something and sometimes it just doesn’t grow, failure to thrive! The idea behind throwing many different seeds out and ignoring or neglecting the plants is then you can see what will really grow in your location without having to spend a lot of time on the plant. As an example, I planted two types of raspberries a few years ago, three of each variety. One variety died the first year, the other is like a weed, almost out of control, but that’s how we want food isn’t it? With the raspberries I have I can sell the plants, and get plenty of produce from them.

Some plants aren’t worth the effort unless you really want them for you and you are doing it small, I have to walk a line for now with making my wife happy (grow what she likes regardless of cost or difficulty) and try to grow somewhat commercially. For now the commercial side is just trying to learn what grows and how to deal with the plant and problems, I do have a goal for next year of making $15,000 but if I learn from my experiences and am able to get set up for that income or more next year I will call it a success.

Planning is a must, and even if there is no intent on growing this winter spring is not to far away, at least for the procrastinator!

Rainy Day Books

Some days it is much harder to do work outside than others, today with the rain not much is getting accomplished outside so it’s book recommendation day.

The first book is Plant Propagation Editor-In-Chief Alan Toogood. This book has some excellent instructions on how to propagate various plants. It can be much faster to propagate than to grow from seeds and much of the time the plants we want to grow outside of the normal vegetable garden we can propagate, that is perennials including trees. Many perennials get pruned anyway, those cuttings could be used to make new plants for either resale or just to increase your own stock.

The second book is The River Cottage Meat Book  by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. One of the problems I have with the intent of growing as a homestead is meat preservation and use. We in the United States are so afraid of being sued that many chemicals are used to preserve meat and there are chemicals that affect the way we prepare meat. The idea of these chemicals bother me for both health and expense reasons.  Back in the pioneer days they didn’t have all of those chemicals, additionally people lived for thousands of years before without many of the chemicals we are told to use! So why do we need them now?

This book goes back to the years where there were small town butchers and it has good ideas and instructions for someone wanting to do their own butchering, another highly recommended book for those that what to butcher their own animals.

Winter Water

Water is always a pain in the winter, for the chickens there are several ways to handle it; electrically heated water supplies work well if you have electricity, for some reason I don’t right now which means cycling smaller water supplies out for them so they have a continual supply.

For larger animals  there are floats to keep the water thawed, unfortunately I don’t have electricity near the horses so I keep a sledgehammer just outside the gate. Thankfully for me we don’t normally have extended times with temperatures below freezing so this is a manageable technique. If it gets really cold, below 10 degrees F, for more than a day I will bring a 5 gallon bucket of water out to them every couple of hours, a horse drinks about 5 gallons a day, if they want water they will drink a couple of gallons at one time, since I only have two horses each of them gets a good drink out of a 5 gallon bucket, in a few hours I’ll get the bucket and fill it up again, if most of the water in the bucket is frozen I know they are getting more than they need.