Saturday, December 25, 2010

Some hay, some snow, and a new banjo

Some of you may wonder where I’ve been. The answer is, no where really. I just haven’t posted in quite a while. I do intend to rectify that, and this post will be the beginning.

Things on the homestead are going well. It’s winter now, so some things are slower. The fewer daylight hours and weather affect how much time I spend working on different projects outside. There are chores to be done every day. So, I get out rain or shine at least twice a day.

I moved the cows to the barn just before Thanksgiving. I put it off as long as I could. The limited amount of rain that we had during the summer months affected how the grass grew. I could probably have kept them out on grass for another two weeks, but we were planning on 001going to North Carolina to visit family for Thanksgiving. Since my dad was going to take care of my chores, I wanted to simplify the process as much as possible, and having the cows in the barn provided that simplification.

I bought a few more bales of hay in order to ensure I have enough to last through the winter months. Usually, we are able to bale enough to feed the animals until grass greens up in the spring, but I only had two cuttings of hay this summer. Also, I was pasturing the cows on part of the ground I usually hay. I hope to not feel a need to buy any next year.

This winter started early with colder temperatures and snow. We’ve had more snow already than we’ve had many winters. We’ve also had temperatures 10 to 20 degrees below normal. 017It snowed again last night. So, we woke up to a beautiful, white snowscape. For some, I’m sure, the snow was welcomed as a special blessing augmenting their Christmas celebrations. We don’t celebrate Christmas, so it didn’t add any specialness in that regard. It does add some visual beauty to the Sabbath, though!

I’ve not brought home any new composting material for several weeks. 007The large corporation that owns the local stock yard had some financial trouble and wrote nearly 100 million dollars worth of bad checks (not just here, but in the 11 states in which they have facilities). So, the local facility hasn’t been open for business since before Thanksgiving. I don’t know if it will reopen. Besides, the ground has been wet and muddy which would make hauling anything problematic.

I bought a banjo with the intention of learning to play. It’ll take a while, I’m sure, but I’ll learn. It would be great to just be a good banjo-player, but there’s a process for becoming one. I can’t skip the process. I’ve found some good resources online. I’m learning a lot from Patrick Costello who has written a few books (which are available through Amazon or for free download) and has a ton of instructional material available online, including a lot of YouTube videos. I bought a Gold Tone CC-OT and am learning frailing/clawhammer banjo. Whenever my skills are good enough, I’ll share some of my playing in a video or two. It may be a few months!

I already play the guitar some. I bought a guitar seven years ago and taught myself how to play. I’m not that good with it, but I’m learning more along with my banjo learning. I’d like to be able to play the guitar better, too. So, hopefully, I’ll become relatively proficient on both instruments.

Well, ya’ll stay warm. I’ll try to keep you updated more regularly on the goings on at our place.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Peanuts and peppers

Last spring I planted peanuts in two different locations. In the first patch, I made ridges to plant them in, and they grew very well. The boys mulched the after the plants got going well. The other patch, however, was decimated by crows. peanuts in the summer kitchenThey picked the seed out of the ground soon after it was planted. Granted, they did leave one or two peanuts that sprouted and grew only to be choked out by the weeds later on.

I dug on row of the peanuts that grew well last week, and the boys dug the other five rows earlier this week. The plants produced well. It was interesting to pull up the plants and find where they had rooted from the vines through the mulch and set on peanuts there as well as at the base of the plants.

We fed the vines to the cows who absolutely love them. The boys spread out the vines from their digging so that they could dry, and I feed some of these to the cows when milking. Both Josie and Tilly are eager to eat this treat at milking time.

After picking the peanuts off of the vines, we spread them out on a couple of window screens to dry outside for a few days. We moved them inside the summer kitchen when we got a little rain. It’s a pretty sight to have screens of peanuts spread out. The peanuts also taste really good. I don’t care for raw peanuts generally, but these are good raw. They’re also good sautéed in a little butter or roasted in the oven.

I also built a frame from which Anne can hang sweet peppers above the wood stove to dry them. I set out a lot of pepper plants in hopes of having a lot to dry. However, the plants didn’t bloom or set on many peppers until September. I’ve had that happen before – really nice plants that don’t produce until the end of the season.

Anne cuts the peppers into rings, runs a string through them, and hangs them up to dry. When they are completely dry, she stores them in jars. They are a nice addition to chili, meatloaf, and other dishes. The children also enjoy just eating them.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Sweet potato harvest 2010

Sweet potatoes

On Tuesday, the boys and I dug our sweet potatoes. We had frost down in the bottom two mornings this week which didn’t hurt anything. A few of the leaves on the sweet potato vines were touched, but I don’t believe the notion that frost will go down the vines into the potatoes as some claim. I an inclined to believe that sweet potatoes can’t stand cool temperatures, and that if they are allowed to chill below 45 degrees they won’t keep well.

Anyhow, it was time to get them out of the ground and into the house. We planted somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 slips last spring. Sweet potatoes are easy to grow, and we’ve had very good success with their production. The harvest in the bed of the truckWe plant the slips in ridges, mulch them a few weeks later when they’ve gotten going well, and then leave them alone other than pulling a few weeds. The only other chore for the season is digging them out of the ground.

I estimate that we harvested 10 bushels of sweet potatoes this year, approximately 600 pounds of these nutrient-rich little buggers. We sorted out the best ones based upon size and blemishes, In the cratesfilling 7.5 crates which I stacked inside. I made these crates a few years ago, and each one holds about 1.25 bushels. There was about 2 bushels that we sorted out to use first, the ones with scrapes, vole bites, blemishes, etc. So, there may be more than 10 bushels, but that’s okay.

We’ll eat from this harvest all winter and through the spring, assuming they cure and keep well. sweet potatoesGenerally, sweet potatoes keep very well for us. They are currently stacked in the children’s room, where they will stay for the duration. After they’ve cured for a couple of weeks, we’ll cover them so that they won’t have light shining on them which could encourage a few of them to sprout prematurely. Next spring, we’ll start slips from some of them for next year’s crop.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Solar electric system update and statistics

It’s been over six months since we threw the switch on our off-grid solar system. To refresh, we have 1,250 watts of solar panels, 12 6-volt batteries wired together for 24 volts, a Xantrex XW MPPT solar charge controller, and a 1,100 watt true sine wave inverter providing all of our power needs for our home.

We have had no real issues with our system. It has worked as it is supposed to. We are able to power lights, computer, fans, washing machine, refrigerator, vacuum cleaner, sewing machine, and even occasionally an iron. As you may recall, our refrigerator is a chest freezer with an external thermostat. It has provided the only real challenges. First, there is no freezer for ice cream! Second, it accumulates condensation in the bottom which must be sponged out periodically. And, third, it sometimes surges beyond the capability of our inverter when starting.

This third challenge is not a big deal. When the appliance can’t get started within a couple of seconds, it stops trying. It tries again in about 30 seconds. If it can’t start on that try, it stops and waits another 30 seconds before it tries again. It may take it a few tries, but it always gets started. This is not an all the time occurrence, and the problem would be eliminated if our inverter could handle a surge over 2200 watts. I didn’t realize how much the freezer can surge when starting when I put our system together. When running, it only consumes about 200 watts or less.

Our charge controller keeps stats on the power that is harvested. During the last six months, we’ve harvested 469 Kilowatt hours of electricity. That equals out to an average of 2.43 Kilowatt hours per day. Some of this power goes into charging the batteries and some is used during the day.

Our battery monitor keeps track how many amp hours are charged into the batteries or discharged from them. According to it, we have used a total of 244.8 Kilowatt hours from the batteries during the last 193 days that our system has been online. That is an average of 1.27 Kilowatt hours taken from the batteries every day.

The difference between the 2.43 Kilowatt hours per day average harvested and the 1.27 Kilowatt hours per day average used from the batteries is the extra we have used during the day when the sun is shining. We are able to run ceiling fans and floor fans to keep cool enough to survive the many 90+ degree days we’ve had this summer.

We are able to charge our batteries with our generator if the battery level drops low enough (it’s not good to cycle lead acid batteries too low). We have only hooked up the battery charger three times, and all of them have been during the summer months. The first time it wasn’t really needed, but I wanted to see how well it worked. The other two times followed several days of cloudy but hot weather. Our usage exceeded what we could harvest.

solar harvest graph

When looking at our usage by month, we have harvested a lot more power during the summer months than we did during later winter early spring. This is no doubt impacted by the amount of sun available during the summer, but another factor is our usage. When we do not use as much, the batteries are charged more quickly and the charge controller only harvests enough power to maintain the batteries.


So far, we have not felt deprived. We are able to live our lives normally with our limited consumption (one of the keys to making an off-grid solar power system work). It’s been a great blessing to be able to run fans and to have the convenience of the washing machine and refrigerator. So, I would say that so far, our system has done quite well.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Keeping raccoons out of the corn

The corn that survived the crows in our small field has grown quite well. It started to tassel a couple of weeks ago. cornI know that the raccoons would want to eat the corn (they always do), but I didn’t expect them so soon. Raccoon damageThey were in the field a few nights ago checking it out and tearing down plants. They don’t seem to realize that I’m not growing the corn for them to eat.

So, yesterday, the boys and I put up an electric fence to keep the raccoons out. My grandpa used to use an electric fence about 5 or 6 inches off the ground to keep raccoons out of his corn. electric fence around the corn fieldI’ve used this method successfully in the past.

We set posts around the field and ran two strands of electric wire. The lower wire is just above ground level and the second one is about 6 inches above the first one. I’ll have to keep the grass and weeds out of the fence so it doesn’t short out and lose it’s ability to work.

The idea is that the varmints will put their noses on the fence trying to get to the corn. The shock they receive will be enough to deter them. I’m sure they’ll look all the way around the field for an entry point, but as long as the fence is charged, they won’t gain access. They do have an uncanny knack for determining when/if the fence is not one or working properly.

Hopefully, we’ll keep the rascals out of the corn!  

Friday, June 25, 2010

Compost, garden, and blackberries

I hauled two loads of composting material from the sale barn yesterday. It looks like some nice stuff. I dumped it behind the ridge at the end of the pile two loadsI built back there a few months ago. pushed into a pileUsing the loader tractor, I was able to push it all up together. Now, we’ll let our little bacterial friends do their work, turning the material into black gold, ready to enrich the soil and grow awesome gardens next year!

The original pile I built behind the ridge has shrunk in size quite a bit during the few months it’s been there. We planted some watermelon at its base a few weeks ago which are coming along fine. butternut winter squashWe planted some butternut squash at the base of another small pile. It’s looking happy.

corn fieldI thought I’d share a photo of our poor stand of field corn. We were able to hoe a lot of the weeds and grass out of it last week. I still ought to run the tiller between the rows to get rid of a few more weeds and grass. I hope to be able to get at least enough corn out of it for next year’s seed. I hope the crows aren’t a problem again.

freshly picked blackberriesBefore lunch yesterday, I went out to pick some blackberries. It’s that time of year. With all of the hot weather and lack of rain, it looks like the berries are going to ripen within a short period of time. My dad has been out a few times to pick berries, and he came along and picked with me and gave us the berries! He’s kind like that. Anne canned nine quarts of blackberries after we brought them in.

 jars of blackberries

Friday, June 18, 2010

The work of summer

There’s an amazing amount of work to be done every day. We keep plugging away. I’ve been devoting a lot of time to our house project. We’re making some good progress. You can check it out on my other blog, if you haven’t already.

swimming in the pondThe children and I have enjoyed swimming in the pond several times. They actually ask me if they can go in the pond nearly every day. Usually, there is no real reason not to. The pond isn’t holding water as I would like it to. Water seeps out in several places around the dam. I don’t know if this is something that will correct itself over time as the dam settles more, or not. It’s not a fast leak, but the water level has gone down a fair bit.

We’ve been enjoying some produce from the garden. I didn’t get in a hurry to get the garden planted this spring, so we’re not enjoying things like tomatoes and squash yet. But, those things won’t be too long. We’ve had some nice salads, and the sugar snap peas were awesome! We had new potatoes with our first picking of snap peas a couple of weeks ago. The asparagus did quite well this year, especially considering the small size of our asparagus bed. I think I need to set out about a 1,000 plants!

We’ve been eating fresh black raspberries for the last two weeks. We’re also getting blueberries off of our older plants. Soon, it will be time to begin picking blackberries. Some of the early ones are ripening.

tomatoesYesterday, we got the tomatoes staked up. I like to keep them mulched and hold them up off of the ground. I used to let our Roma tomatoes sprawl out, but now I stake them up, too. They are so much nicer to pick and do better this way.

I drove small posts in the ground and strung baling twine I took off of bales last winter between the posts to hold up the Romas. I’m trying a new method for the Mortgage Lifters: using livestock panels in an A-frame. I learned about this method from another individual who regularly uses it. It is certainly a quicker, easier way to stake up tomatoes.

pole beansWe’re growing pole beans this year. Usually, I plant bush beans. I built a frame work using sycamore poles for the beans to climb on. I may add a few more poles. I have one more row to take care of. I’m thinking I’ll use the livestock panels that we had for the peas. I’m going to save the rest of the peas for next year’s seed. So, they are about done with the panels.

mulched peppers and sweet potatoesThe boys have been working on mulching the plants in the garden. They mulched the potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, peanuts, sweet potatoes, and squash so far. There are still some more sweet potatoes and tomatoes to mulch. Maybe this next week.

The children, dad, and I spent some time in our small corn field this week. The crows about ruined our corn crop by eating the corn out of the ground before it germinated. I replanted between what came up the first time that the crows didn’t get, but the stupid birds ate most of that, too. I don’t know how well it will produce, but there is some corn growing in the field. The weeds were threatening to take over, though. I tilled between the rows, and then we all worked in the rows with hoes. It was hot and sweaty work, but we got most of it done. I have 4 or 5 rows to do this coming week.

I was able to haul one load of manure and bedding from the sale barn last week. This is a slow time of year for them. Also, since they had to do a thorough cleaning a month or so ago after the flood, there’s been less need for cleaning out. When I can see myself clear to do so, I’m going to start hauling some of the old sawdust from the sawmill.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Rotational grazing milk cows: my method

If you observe how a cow eats, it makes sense to rotationally graze them. Ideally, you would give them a new paddock every day with just enough to graze on for that day. They will make the most use of the forage, eating it down more evenly. You can then control their impact on the pasture by not letting them on any area for more than one day every few weeks.

With my milk cows, the ideal is harder to replicate than it would be for a beef herd, because I milk them twice a day. It’s not easy to set up a milking station in a temporary paddock twice a day, at least not for me. I also don’t have water readily available in the pasture where I wish the cows to graze.

Last year, I moved the cows to different paddocks in which they stayed for a few days at a time. This happened in a somewhat disorganized fashion because I didn’t have their movements planned efficiently. I also provided them with access to the barn near which I kept their water trough. I would have to herd them to the barn at milking time every day. Sometimes this involved a walk of considerable distance because their pasture was a long ways from the barn.milking shed and pen

This year I fixed up a small roofed structure I built a couple of summers ago. I intended to make it a milking shed near the pasture I wanted to graze the cows. So, finally, this spring I made it a functional milking shed. It has a small pen to hold the cows during milking time and a stanchion to use while milking. It works quite well for me.

After reading about some others’ experiences and methods for rotationally grazing their cattle, all of them beef cattle, I have developed my own method/routine. It involves corridors for grazing that are the length of the pasture and 45 feet wide. These corridors are fenced with a single strand of electrified high tensile fencing. I subdivide the corridor into paddocks for the cows. Ideally, they would only have access to the new paddock each day, but that would necessitate moving their water every day. So, I creep them down the corridor, giving them a new section in the morning and another new section in the evening after milking time. It takes a week to ten days to creep them the length of one corridor.water for the cows

I keep the cows water near the milking shed. I haul water in a 325 gallon tote which I fill by siphoning water out of our pond and then move on a trailer. This isn’t a perfect situation since they do spend a fair bit of time near the water trough which concentrates their manure in that area. However, it does simplify things for me.

Here are a few photos illustrating my method:

This is the pasture in which I graze the cows. It’s about five acres in size (my guess).

Here are three corridors that have already been grazed. The cows finished on the greenest two and a half weeks ago. They were then on the section visible on the right. On Monday I moved them off of the corridor in the center of the photo. I will bush hog it tomorrow.
  grazed corridors 
This is the last line of high tensile fence I put up. I’ve been adding fence to make corridors as needed. I dig fence post holes at either end and insert cedar posts into them. I’ve found that making the holes about the size of the post, tapering the end of the post, and then pushing it in with the loader on the tractor makes for a tight post that can handle the tension of the fence wire.
 high tensile line
I use poly wire for creeping the cows down the corridor. I have used solid metal electric fence wire, but it’s more of a pain than the flexible poly wire. I tie it to the high tensile wire with a piece of poly baling twine.
 spool of poly wire tied to high tensile wire
The spools I use are ones that came with regular electric fence wire. I had three empty spools, so I use them. I put it on a fence post held near the end with an insulator. This allows me to roll it up and move it easily. With the 45 foot wide corridor, I have a fence post with insulator at either end and one in the middle. I have three poly wires up at one time so that when the cows are in a new section, there are two more ready to go. When I take one down, I move it 8 paces ahead of the last one (8 paces has been the right amount for the cows so far).

spool on fence post
I put the fence post at the end in place so that I can hook the poly wire to it. I formed a hook with electric fence wire to hook onto the insulator. With this method, I can set up the temporary wires while the charger is still on – it’s only electrified when the spool end is wrapped around the high tensile wire.
 wire hook
Since there is no electrical power at my milking shed or near the pasture, I use a solar fence charger. I’ve been very happy with it.

solar fence charger
After I finish milking in the morning and evening, I fill the cows’ water trough and then move the temporary fence line to open a new section. The cows quickly caught on to the routine and are ready to get to the new grass as soon as its available.

happy cows grazing 
I will be adding more high tensile wire to define more corridors in the coming weeks. There will be 5 to 8 weeks between grazing time in the same corridor. The corridors are also wide enough that I can make hay in ones that the cows will not be able to get to.

So far, this system has been working well. It’s easy to move the cows to new grass, keep them where I want them to be, and to get them to the milking shed. They’re usually waiting for me at milking time. I don’t let them into the milking shed pen except at milking time.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Gardening and house work

We’ve begun another week of work. It is a blessing to have the opportunity to labor on our own projects here on the homestead. It involves a lot of sweat, soreness, and tiredness at times, but there is a simple joy in such work. I think I often take for granted the The new housesituation we enjoy in which there is no one dictating my activities. Reporting for a “regular job” every day with a supervisor telling me what to do would not be nearly as enjoyable.

I’ve been working on our new house. You can read a little about my efforts on my Cedar Ridge Farm blog. It feels good to be making some visible progress on it.

While I’ve been devoting time to house-building (and more extreme composting soon), the children (all four of them) have been taking on more responsibility for the garden. They’ve been pulling a lot of weeds. The boys mulched some of the potatoes the last two days and will mulch more plants today. They also pick potato bugs off of the potato plants. I do pay them a little for removing the bugs as an incentive. We’ve found that if you pick them off and then keep up with them, the number of bugs is greatly lessened to where they aren’t much of a problem in a couple of weeks time.

One of the gardensMulched potatoes and some salad greens
The bean fieldHere is a photo of the field in which I planted the beans for dried beans. It also has squash, winter and summer, and several rows of popcorn that I just planted this week. I also planted a small plot of red indian corn near a compost pile in another place. The Wapsie Valley field corn that I replanted hasn’t come upRoses yet, and the crows are actively picking the kernels out of the ground.

We have lots of roses blooming. There are some light pink and dark pink ones. The children love picking them and presenting their mother and mammaw with bouquets. These roses apparently were started in years past by the residents in the old cabin and have spread over time.

Friday, May 28, 2010

A welcome rest at the end of the week

It’s been a good week. Lots of work. I’m glad that it’s the end of the week and we have a day of rest – a welcome respite every week. Normally, I don’t like to post without photos, but I decided to go ahead tonight, mainly because I didn’t take any pictures this week.

On Monday, my friend Jon came over (he’s coming over on Mondays and Wednesdays to work with me), and we dug footers for the porch and kitchen on the new house. We also planed some boards that will be used for the upstairs subfloor.

On Tuesday, the children and I worked in the garden. The potatoes were really needing weeded. The children worked on weeding Monday and Tuesday. Then, I tilled between the rows. The potatoes in this particular plot haven’t done as well as I would like. I think the wet weather after they were planted didn’t help. In the morning on Tuesday, I also bought 100 80-pound bags of concrete mix in order to be ready for pouring the footers on Wednesday.

Wednesday morning was the scheduled delivery for our coop order. Thankfully, Danny offered to get it for me. I had a few things to do to be ready for when Jon arrived. Once he got here, we began mixing and pouring concrete. Thankfully, I bought an electric powered concrete mixer from Lowes a few weeks ago when we started working on the cistern again. It worked great powered by my Yamaha generator (which is so quiet you couldn’t hear it over the noise of the mixer).

We started with the footer for the kitchen. I ran the mixer while Jon dumped the concrete and tamped it down. It took 54 bags to finish it, mixing two at a time. We used three bags of concrete for each of the porch footers (one for below each post). The mixer was just able to hold three bags worth, and we were able to position the mixer for each one so that we could dump straight into the hole. It all went very smoothly. We mixed 98 bags of concrete and got the job done. I was a little tired at the end of the day!

On Thursday, I cut some wood for the cookstove, and then the children and I worked in the garden. We planted some sweet corn, more green beans, zucchini squash, and cantaloupe and set out another 100 sweet potato slips (we now have 300 sweet potato plants growing). I also bush hogged where the cows have grazed during the last two weeks, mixed some manure with wet hay, adding to one of the compost piles, and tilled the field for growing beans and squash. The children and I ended the day with a swim in the pond, the same as we did on Monday and Tuesday.

Today, I replanted the corn field because it looks like only about 1/3 of the corn we planted two weeks ago came up. I don’t know why it didn’t germinate well. It may have been too wet. I do know that crows ate a good bit of it right out of the ground. I used the garden planter to replant today. It took a bit of work since I didn’t work the ground first (I didn’t want to disturb the corn plants already up). Hopefully, what I planted today will germinate and grow well with little interference by pesky crows.

I also planted our dried bean seeds. The rows in this field are 80 feet long (give or take 15 feet). I planted 4 rows of small kidney beans, 12 rows of pinto beans, 12 rows of red beans, and 12 rows of horticulture beans. I also planted several kinds of winter squash, some pumpkins, okra, and cantaloupe. Then, this afternoon, I went to town and bought some concrete blocks and mortar mix to be prepared for more work on the new house on Monday.

Oh, I also completed some class work (I’m teaching a six-week section during the summer session) in the mornings before everyone else got up. There are a few other things I did during the week, but the ones I’ve mentioned are the major ones. It was a good week with lots of things accomplished, and I’m glad that it’s Sabbath now!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The cistern, continued: ferrocement construction

In March I posted about working on our cistern. Since then, I’ve been able to work on it a few more days. My good friend Jon has come over to help in the construction. He’s actually helped with some other projects to and will continue to do so through the summer.

Before the cistern project, I had never attempted the construction of a ferrocement water tank. I first became aware of this type of construction through my dad who found information about it online. It seemed like a neat concept, so I did a little research on it myself. I found a book online that provides instructions. The strength of a ferrocement water tank is provided by a steel armature which is the plastered with a cement sand mixture.

At the time of my last post about the cistern, we had completed the floor framework and poured the concrete for the floor. I was concerned that the floor wasn’t going to set up as it was supposed to. It acted differently than concrete I’ve worked with before. But, it did set up quite nicely. So, construction has continued.

cistern 004After the floor we began building the walls. The process involved putting welded wire around the perimeter. Then, we added vertical rebar and horizontal rebar. Then, we began framing the roof of the tank.

  The book details the building of a round tank. Because of where I’m building our cistern and the amount of water storage I desired, I decided to build an elongated tank. It is 9 feet wide and 14.5 feet long. I’ve calculated the cistern’s capacity to be 5,300 gallons of water. I changed the plans to suit my application, opting for extra steel in the armature cistern 003to make sure the strength will be more than sufficient.

For the roof, we bent sections of 1/2 inch rebar that were wired into the frame all the way around. Each of these sections was bent as identically as possible. There will be an opening on top. Rather than make it round, I designed it to mirror the shape of the tank. It will be about 2 feet wide by 8 feet long.

Today we finished installing the rebar in the roof, including horizontal rebar. The next step will be to put another layer of welded wire on the inside of the walls and on the roof. Then, we’ll put on some poultry netting and expanded metal lathe before beginning the plastering process. It’s coming along nicely, but it will still take a few more days of work to complete it.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Summer kitchen

We’ve been keeping busy around here. There is still quite a few things to plant in the garden, but there’s still plenty of time. We’ve set out tomatoes, sweet peppers, sweet potatoes, and broccoli plants and planted some peanuts, squash, cucumbers, and beans. That’s not counting the potatoes, peas, onions, and salad greens we planted earlier. We’ll be planting more squash, summer and winter varieties, more beans, okra, corn, etc. as we’re able. It rained today, so we’ll have to wait for the garden to dry out a bit. I also planted nearly half an acre of corn last evening. Today’s rain should help it germinate quickly.

I have a friend who is coming over here to work on house-building-related things with me a couple of days a week now. That helps to keep me on task so that we can get things done. There are so many different projects to do that it can be difficult to focus specifically on just one. Some things get put off when something else demands attention. With Jon coming over to work, I’m forced to focus my energy and efforts on some specific projects that need completed.

016This week we worked on the summer kitchen. We’ve been using the wood cook stove on the porch quite regularly since I set it up a few weeks ago. Our plans were to enclose the porch, making it into a summer kitchen.

We built walls (only needed on two sides) on Monday. On Wednesday, we put on siding, screened window openings, put trim around the window openings on the outside, and reglazed some windows. I have seven windows that a friend gave me two or three years ago that have been stored in the barn that we’re using for the summer kitchen. We hung one window – the others will be002 installed in the coming week.

With the walls and screen, a lot of bugs will not have easy access. That’s a good thing. I have to do something about the leaks in the roof. The roof has leaked since I put it on when I built the porch a few years ago. I’m pretty sure that most of the leaks originate in the junction between the porch roof and the house roof. The shallow pitch of the roof also has an effect. I’ll attempt to rectify the leak situation soon. With the rain today, we didn’t have rain blow in the windows, just leaks from the 005roof in a few places, especially when the rain was pouring down hard.

We acquired the sink and cabinet from a friend who removed it from someone else’s house. It’s a single sink with double drain boards and a white metal cabinet. I haven’t hooked up water to it yet, but I’m going to. We’ll run the drain outside and use the water for irrigating Anne’s flower garden.

You can see my clothes hanging up to dry in the last photo. I got soaked doing chores this morning. I had to chase the neighbor’s cows (10 Holsteins and a calf) off of our property (I hope he fixes that fence sometime) while it was pouring down rain. Then, I set up some more paddocks for our cows since I was already wet.

We’re already pleased with our summer kitchen. It’s going to work out quite nice.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

General update: rain, compost, & cows

It’s a beautiful spring on the homestead. We’re keeping busy, of course. There are always more projects to do than it seems possible to get done.

There is still a lot of gardening to be done. We got in some early stuff a few weeks ago like potatoes, salad greens, onions, and peas. I’ve been waiting until May to put in the other things like tomatoes, peppers, squash, sweet potatoes, etc. We had some much needed rain(three inches) a week and a half ago. This last weekend we received another 11 inches of rain, 8 of them during the day on Sunday. That was more than we needed in such a short period of time. We didn’t have any flooding here, but the small river in the local town flooded several places.

One of the blessings of the flooding in town has been a lot of extra composting material to be hauled from the sale barn. They were underwater, The pilefive or six feet deep in places, on Sunday. So, they’ve had to clean out everything. They called me yesterday morning to ask me to help haul away wet hay and manure. I hauled yesterday afternoon, all day today, and will be hauling more tomorrow. The guy who regularly hauls off their manure and bedding brought out several loads today, too. So far, I’ve put together a nice little compost pile.

On April 28 Josey, our Guernsey, had a calf. She was due to freshen by the end of April, but she just didn’t look pregnant. Smokey the calfEven though she hadn’t been in heat, I began to wonder if she was actually going to have a calf. She had a little bull calf. We let it nurse for the first 2 or 3 days and then took it off to bottle feed it. It still gets milk from Josey, not milk replacer. I would have left him with Josey, but I don’t want weaning problems later on. She never weaned her last calf, and he was 20 months old when we butchered him. Ramiah named the new calf Smokey.

I also finally got the cows out of the barn and back on grass this week, Monday evening actually. I was regularly cutting them fresh grass to eat every day for a while while they were still in the barn. One of the things that made it so late for getting them out was preparing the milking shed. I don’t want them coming back to the barn to be milked. It’s too far from their pasture and creates other problems because I need to be able to drive where the fence would need to go. Stanchion in milk shed

I had already built a shed to use as a milking shed a couple of years ago, but I had never put it to that use except for a brief period of time last summer. I’ve fenced in a small area to hold them at milking time and constructed a milk stanchion. It’s worked pretty well so far this week.

One of the things I’m doing this summer is rotating the cows onto new grass each day. In fact, my goal is to rotate them twice a day. Since I have to milk them twice a day, I will bring them into the loafing area, milk them, and then put them in a new paddock. I’m going to make use of fenced corridors from which they’ll access paddocks I’ll fence off. While they were in the barn, I fed them hay twice a day, morning and evening. It seems to make sense to give them fresh grass to each on the same schedule, kind of like green hay still on the plant.

One of the challenges for me in terms of intensive rotational grazing has been water. This summer I’m going to haul water from the pond in a tank to fill a trough for the cows. Their water trough will be in the corridor so that I don’t have to move it and so that they will have access to it.Today's paddock

So far, Josey, Tilly, and Buster (our beef steer) have been on four different paddocks. You can see how they grazed today’s paddock (photo to the left). Happy cowsThey were happy to have fresh grass this evening. Moving them twice a day won’t create much more work than moving them once a day since I have to bring them in for milking anyway. I’m hoping that it’ll work out well.

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