Tag Archives: farming

End of week 9-16-2017

This has been a crafty week ending with a good session on the tractor to beat the too tall grass back to a reasonable length.  The unused chicken run is going to require the weed wacker and this body is just not up to that this afternoon.  Our house sits on a slope that has the main floor at ground level on the front and on the second level on the back.  To mow with the tractor first requires that the gas powered lawn mower (not self propelled) be hauled out and a couple of swipes around the house along with a couple of areas that the tractor can’t reach, must be done.  The typical mowing is 4 or 5 acres, around the orchard trees, the garden and chicken runs, and the front, back, and side yards.  The area that is hayed and we usually brush hog in the fall is going to be hayed this fall, taking this task from me this year.

The crafting has involved designing two new patterns for fingerless mitts for the shop. The patterns have been shared with a few friends, I am hopeful that if they knit them, that they will alert me to any miscues that might surface.  Also this week,  3 batches of Shea based cold process soap, and a couple dozen tins of salves and balms were made for the shop and the upcoming shows.

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The lower ones are for me, though I will knit a pair or two for the Holiday Markets as well.

A few weeks ago, a friend asked if I could make a particular hat for her grand daughter who is turning 1 soon and has yet to grow hair.  The project was quick and sent to the friend, who in turn sent it to her daughter.  The photo credit is from her daughter, they were very pleased with the results.

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And then today was Worldwide Spin in Public Day, and my new Spanish Peacock drop spindle accompanied me today as we went to our usual Saturday morning breakfast and Farmers’ Market trips.

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A busy week.  Tomorrow the garden and a batch of pickles will be the focus.

Anticipation

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As we fall deeper into the full of winter, so far it has been mild.

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We wake to frost and ice on the windshields and the water dishes for the animals, fog and low cloud layers in the valley behind the house, but mild afternoons, even a bit above normal.

Most of our precipitation has been liquid not solid, though we know that we will see a few snows before spring.  This is the time of the year that the seed and hatchery catalogs begin to arrive in the mailbox to peak the anticipation of spring to come.  So far I have gotten Territorial seed, Southern Exposure, and Maine Potato Lady catalogs to look for the seed that I want to try that I haven’t previously tried.  Two hatchery catalogs have arrived, one going straight into the recycle bin as they do not have the breeds that I want to add.  Soon Tractor Supply will have live chicks and ducklings. Though they will also be breeds that I do not want to add to the flock they are adorable to watch.

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I am toying with adding to my heritage flock of Buff Orpingtons with some fun birds.

 

The Buff Orpingtons are a good dual purpose bird, laying generously, nice brown eggs.  They make good mother’s and we are hopeful to both increase the flock and have enough cull birds to put some meat in the freezer.

To add interest to the egg basket, there is an Americauna that lays blue eggs, and a young Americauna/Buff Orpington cross that lays small green eggs all very muddy right now as they track mud in after all the rain.

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I want more color in the basket, so I’m toying with adding 10 straight run chicks, half Aracaunas and half Cuckoo Marans to increase the green, blue, maybe pink, and chocolate brown colored eggs just for fun.  I really don’t want to have to put the mother table in a brooder in the garage and spend 5 weeks raising chicks, knowing that about half of them will be males and will end up in the freezer, but I want the egg color.  The Buffy’s will be allowed to hatch chicks and we will keep a few pullets from them to increase that flock that way too.  Currently there are only 7 layers, due to some predator loss late summer and two of them are going on 3 years old, so their laying is off and they will likely be replaced, making them stew birds at the end of this summer. I would like to get my flock back up to about a dozen hens and the rooster.  With three coops and assorted pens, I suppose I could keep a Cuckoo Maran roo and raise them as well, they are also a dual purpose bird and all could mingle except during the period where I was trying to breed pure chicks.  Ideally, there should be at least 10 or 12 hens to a rooster and other than raising for meat, i don’t keep that many at one time.

It is still too cold, especially at night to start buying chicks or seed, but I can sit here cozy in the house and dream.

 

 

From Farm to Table

Years ago, when I taught Biology on the high school level, I was often reminded that our society of city dwellers are so far removed from the production of our food, that most of my students had no idea that their food was grown by people, harvested and processed into the canned and frozen products on the grocery shelves.  The idea that their meat had been a living animal and that someone had to raise, feed, and have it slaughtered and butchered to be put on the styrofoam trays, wrapped in plastic in the meat case was so foreign to them that they would argue with me over it. Truly a sad state of affairs.

Though they visited farms in Florida, I think it has been a good experience for my grand children to see that the chickens that I raise produce our eggs.  That the chicken we put on the table was grown here on the farm, killed, cleaned and prepared here.  The plants in the garden produce the tomatoes, peppers, garlic, onions, squash, popcorn, peas and beans that they eat. They like helping out in the garden and pulling weeds to feed the chickens.  To see the chicks hatch and know that they are being raised to produce the chicken and eggs we eat.

It is wonderful that there are cities that have started community gardens and schools that have gardens to teach children about food production and nutrition, but it needs to go farther.  Watching chicks hatch in an incubator in a second grade classroom doesn’t really tell them from where their eggs and chicken come.

N and her mom went with me to an alpaca sheering and she sees me spinning yarn and knitting them hats, mittens, and sweaters from yarn, so she also has some realization that clothing doesn’t just come from a store.

Though I haven’t convinced them that homemade bread is better than factory produced balloon bread, they do love my corn bread, biscuits, scones, and made from scratch pancakes.

This has been a week of illness at our house.  N was sick on Sunday, ok on Monday, sick again on Tuesday, ok on Wednesday and sick again yesterday.  Today she seems ok again and started eating again last night.  Daughter is in her first week of her new job and she has the stuffies, maybe from pollen that is increasing each day. One evening, I felt the virus that N had, but fortunately it was very short lived, only the one afternoon and evening, never like N.

Last night, two of my spinning friends came to our house to learn to make soap.  In the frenzy of giving them the hands on experience, each making a batch with the other looking on and me on the sidelines coaching, I failed to take a single picture.  They each left with a full mold of soap they made, one 3 pound batch of Lavender Rose and one of Bergamot Lemongrass and some palm oil to help them get started on their own.  The only photo are the little muffin tins of overflow.

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Both of these ladies are fiber artists, animal raisers, spinners, knitters and I was gifted with fiber to spin and knit in thanks, a great gift.  What a great feeling to help others learn a skill and send them home with some of what they need to get started.

These two friends attend the spinning retreat that I attend, and one of them mentioned that she was selling her Strauch Petit Drum Carder to get a mechanized one. Once home, I talked with Jim about it and last night, she brought it to me as I decided to purchase it from her.  I am excited.  I will be able to blend fibers and fiber colors now. If I finally get brave enough to attempt to dye the fibers myself, I will increase my fun some more.

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With Easter coming up this weekend, I was asked by K to hard cook some eggs for the kiddos to dye before Sunday.

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Farm fresh eggs won’t peel if boiled, so I learned after starting to raise my own eggs, to steam them for 20 minutes.  They cook perfectly, no green ring around the yolk and peel like a charm.  This is the batch I did second, when the first batch had three cracked eggs in it and I knew not to let them dye them.  I’m not a fan of the commercial dyes, but they are easiest and most child friendly, so they will dye the dozen eggs with their Mom and Dad tonight or tomorrow.

I didn’t want to be left out of the natural dye method this year, so while their eggs were steaming, I did three with yellow onion skins, three in beets, and one each of my Americaunas’ eggs as one lays blue eggs and the other green.

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Later I am going to do a few with red cabbage, both brown eggs and Americaunas to see what shades of blue I get.  The beet dyed ones surprised me, instead of the pink I expected, it turned the brown eggs more yellow.  I know that these won’t be peel-able for deviled eggs as they had to be boiled with the natural dyes to get their color, but for breakfast or egg salad, they will be fine.  Since 4 of the 20 eggs cracked during cooking, I enjoyed a couple for my breakfast.  The kids were fascinated with the natural dyed eggs, but it just wouldn’t be as much fun for them as once you put them on the stove to boil with their dye, they just cook. They will have their fun later.

I love the rich brown of the onion skin dyed eggs.  Maybe I should start saving more of the skins and see what color it dyes yarn.

 

 

A Weekend of Play, Responsibility, and Loss

The loss was not too significant, given that we still have about 6 weeks until we can plant tender plants outdoors, but as we were leaving for two days, one night, I left the light on my starter flat of tomatoes, tomatillos, and peppers.  Most of the tomatoes and the tomatillos had sprouted, only a few of the peppers had shown any sign of sprouting. The light was very close to the clear lid on the sprouts and given the south facing window as well, it must have gotten too hot especially for the ones that had gotten tall enough to reach the lid.  I still have a few Jalapeno sprouts, one leggy tomatillo, but the rest are a burned loss.  This morning, I clipped the dead sprouts and replanted seeds.  This time, I am leaving the lid off and just spritzing the surface a few times each day.

Our away was a trip with the two grandchildren living with us to go to Northern Virginia to pick up our eldest grandson for his week of spring break.  We arrived mid afternoon and checked into the hotel just two short blocks from our son’s apartment.  The only things positive that I can say about the hotel were its convenience and its price.  We were on the front of the building, right across from the office with a busy street out front.  The beds had no foundation and were uncomfortably soft and unstable and the wall mounted heating unit, needed because the temperature dropped into the 20’s and the door had no weather stripping (we could see light around all 4 sides) sounded like a wind machine.  The thermostat in the unit did not work, so it was either too hot or too cold depending on whether I turned it on or off during the night.  The kids slept, fortunately, but Mountaingdad and I did not get 4 hours of sleep between us.  The kids were well behaved on the drive up and once we arrived at son’s apartment.  All of us went out to dinner together before separating for the night.  Son’s research showed us that a bus to the Metro left from in front of our hotel at 8:35 a.m. and he and eldest grandson were going to join us for a walking tour of the monuments on Sunday morning.  The car was packed and we were trying to make do with the free breakfast (bagels and grocery store donuts) when son texted that they found a bus a half hour earlier and could we be ready.

The Florida born grandkids thought the Fairfax connector bus and the Metro were great.  We got off on the Metro stop that put us nearest the Lincoln Memorial, a city walk of about a dozen blocks.  A lot of hand holding and herding were necessary to keep those two safe on Washington DC streets, especially since that grandson wanted to do everything that his almost two year older cousin was doing.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA bit of heavy reading on a man just studied in 2nd grade.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACousins posing in front of Lincoln.

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More monuments, the Korean War memorial, Martin Luther King memorial (also a recently studied topic), a history recitation by the eldest grandson on Jefferson as we looked across the water at that memorial, too far to walk with kids, and a little one who soon gave out, taking turns being carried by an adult, Uncle being the preferred carrier.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWith a bit of coaxing and challenges to race, we got her on the ground again as we hit the homestretch, around the Washington monument with a jog up it’s hill to actually get to touch it and on to the Smithsonian Metro station for the train back to Vienna for the trip home last evening.  Many miles walked and tired kids.

The second grader was excited to see Washington.  Eldest grandson excited to be able to spend spring break on the farm, son and daughter-in-law relieved to be able to work and study this week without trying to find daycare for him and entertain him at night, and us pleased to be able to have 3/5 of our grandchildren in our home at one time with the responsibility to keep them safe and cared for in their parents’ absence.

Daughter and son-in-law are in route with a truck full of their household goods, hopefully taking it slowly and safely to arrive here tomorrow night.

While we were away, our haying farmer neighbor took out several cedar and locust trees that have interfered with mowing and haying and removed about a dozen boulder size rocks that have knocked more than one tooth off of his sickle bar and caused more than one nick in our brush hog blade.  His haying and our mowing should be an easier job this year.

It is Hay Time

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It is that time of year.  We have been watching the fields mowed and baled around us for days.  Jeff has been waiting for hot dry days to do ours as we have really good hay this year and he didn’t want to spoil it.  There are currently two tractors with sickle bars mowing the upper fields.  Tomorrow they will be tettered and tomorrow evening probably baled.  The lower field will follow.

For the first bit they were here, both dogs were going nuts in the house, barking and looking out first one window, then the next.  They have gotten used to the noise now, but we wouldn’t dare let them outside right now.

The plus side of this is that we will be able to walk our entire property for a few weeks after they are done, and we will be able to see deer and turkey.  The negative side is that this will disrupt habitats and we will see more bunnies near the house and mice in the house for a few days.  It usually brings out a snake or two.

Life is good on our mountain farm.

Native or not

This is haying season and the grass surrounding our “yard,” the acre or so that we regularly mow around the house, garden, chickens and orchard, is quite tall and thick.  One neighbor mows, rakes and bales all of the fields around us including ours for a split of the hay.  In our case, he takes all but what I need for the chickens and the gardens and in exchange he grades our driveway, plows us out in the snow and provides occasional emergency help like the day I got a 30 foot piece of black plastic conduit wrapped so tightly around the bush hog blade that Jim and I couldn’t free it. That is another story from another day.

Watching the uncut hay blow in waves in the wind reminds me of the song “America The Beautiful,” with the line amber waves of grain.

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Jim is tall and his beast, the mastiff is in that grass, standing.

The yard is cut in three levels right now, the area closest to the house is mowed with a lawnmower, from there to the edge of the fields around the trees that we have planted was bush hogged a couple of weeks ago and the fields are awaiting their first seasonal mowing as it is cut into hay.  Each level has its own display of wildflowers and as I look them up, I realize that almost none of them are native plants.  Some more invasive than others such as the multiflora rose, autumn olive, Ailanthus altissima (Tree of Heaven), kudzu (fortunately we aren’t dealing with this one on our land) and stickweed.  The Autumn Olive was actually introduced and encouraged by the Department of Agriculture as a yard ornamental and though we have never planted one, we spend our time pulling and mowing them to keep them from taking over.  Tree of Heaven is one of those you see in Parade Magazine as a quick growing tree for your yard, “buy it now for shade in 3 years” spiels.  They also are invasive, though I have recently seen an article that it may be dying out on it’s own, we can only hope.

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This is Moth Mullein, not native Mullein and though pretty, it is also an import and is so prevalent in some states that it is considered a noxious weed.

Daisies like the yellow ones above and these from the edge of the driveway were introduced from Europe and are now found in most states.

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Red and white clover are also European imports and it is difficult to buy pasture grass seed that doesn’t contain one or the other, they are good nitrogen fixers along with Hairy Vetch which is used as fodder and is also European.

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As we look at our trees on the mountain, few are native species.  Nearly all of the native grasses have been replaced by grasses from other countries.  It isn’t just the flora that has been affected, also the fauna.  We live with invasions of Nutria, stink bugs, gypsy moths, ladybugs, Hemlock wooly adelgid that is killing the hemlocks.  Insects killing the ash trees, blights that killed off and nearly made the American Chestnut extinct.  At the time of the European settlers, the American Chestnut was a predominate species in these mountains.  Many of the old farm houses are built with Chestnut wood beams and if you have ever had the pleasure to stay at Big Meadows Lodge on the Skyline Drive, it is built of American Chestnut.  The woods we see now would look alien to the settlers and the Native Americans that lived and roamed these mountains.

Some of these species have been deliberately introduced for a specific purpose and it has back fired.  Others have crept in; in or on the hulls of ships or in their water ballast, carried by migratory birds, accidentally brought in imported produce and plants or released from research facilities.

The prairies of the west have suffered similar fate and few if any stands of native prairie grass still exist, grasses that were taller than the men that cut it.  The wetlands are host to non native grasses such as Phragmites australis  that is choking out the native marsh grasses and the oyster beds, changing the ecosystem; and snakehead, zebra mussels and catfish overwhelming the animal populations.

The environment has changed, but we don’t have to continue to contribute to the destruction of it.  Research landscaping and flowering plants before you use them.  Buy from nurseries that specialize in native species.  Pull and destroy non native invasive plants before they choke out the native ones.  Support efforts to restore some of the majestic native species such as Chestnuts and Hemlocks.  We each need to do our part.  We can’t return to the past, but we can each do our part to halt further degradation of the ecosystem.

 

Spring time? We wish!

A week ago it started to snow and snow it did for 30 hours, a record breaking snow, more than a foot and a half.  Last night it rained and this morning, the remaining snow was spotty.

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We loaded the dogs in the Xterra and drove an hour southwest of here to the Harley Davidson shop to get more body armor for Jim’s jacket.  He wants desperately to ride, but the roads are still too wet and muddy.  Ranger was allowed to go into the shop with us and as usual, his 200 pound bulk attracts attention and everyone wants to have their picture taken with him, to give him love which he reciprocates with kisses and smiles.  Shadow was leashed and made it as far as the foyer before her shyness kicked in and she began to tremble.  One clerk came out and gave her some loving too and she finally came in too, but hid behind me.  The dogs love the rides and the plain hamburgers that they get as a treat.

Today is 60ºf outside, very springlike.  While we were gone, it melted most of the remaining snow.

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We have one more day of this then it rains and cools down again with another snow storm due early to mid week next week.  We will take what we can get.

Yesterday afternoon, I went over to the coop and pen to spread scratch grain for the chickens and there was one head too many.  A small 5ish pound opossum was in with the chickens scratching for food.  He showed no fear of me, hissing and growling at me as I tried to encourage him out of the pen with a garden stake.  He just hunkered down in the farthest corner under the pen.  With a pitchfork, I dragged him out and penned him down, then grabbed his tail and hurled him as far from the pen as possible.  He landed in the snow, got up and shook off and waddled away.  This afternoon when we got home, I went over to see if he had returned and to collect eggs.  In taking the above photo, I managed to drop the basket with the 3 eggs and broke them all.  Three more hens were in the coop, so there may yet be a few more today.

Life is an adventure on our mountain farm.

Almost Heaven SW Virginia

My apologies to John Denver, but this is a beautiful area.  For reference, this county abuts West Virginia and we live only a short handful of miles from the border.  The county is rural, agricultural; raising mostly beef cattle and Christmas trees with a few horse farms in the mix.  I have often posted about our homestead farm, but today I am taking you on a photo tour of our “town.”

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The county boasts 3 standing covered bridges all crossing the same creek that runs about 2 more miles beyond this bridge owned by the town and then it disappears into the earth to resurface in the New River that traverses 45 miles through the county.  Two of the bridges are privately owned, this one and one private one are closed to driving across them.

The town once had a population of about 5000 people, complete with hotels, taverns, businesses and homes.  In 1902 there was a tremendous fire that destroyed all but three buildings of the town, which was  never reconstructed as it was before.  The actual town now has a hardware store, a small restaurant, a general store/gas station, a post office, about 3 dozen houses, a heating contractor and several churches.  On the fringes, there is the old school, now a community center, the rescue squad, volunteer fire house, a plumbing contractor and the Ruritan Park.  The entire county only has about 15000 residents.

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The farms are mostly old family homes, many built several generations ago and remodeled to add modern kitchens and indoor plumbing.  The variety of barns is a source of beauty to the area.

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This gravel road leads through a pass and at the top of the pass, the Appalachian trail crosses the road.

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This is the remains of a Civil War era house that though abandoned and having no windows remaining, was still standing when we moved here 7 years ago.  Time and weather have taken it’s toll and this last foot and a half of snow two days ago brought it almost to the ground.

The top of our mountain has one of only two natural lakes in the state.  This one is surrounded by a conservancy that owns the grand stone hotel featured in the movie “Dirty Dancing” that was filmed mostly at that location.  There are many hiking trails in this conservancy and the Appalachian trail crosses again only a couple of miles from the hotel.

The area is beautiful at all seasons, but especially now covered in snow.

 

. . . The Storm

Two days ago, I blogged about the preparation that we go through each time a storm is expected.  The preparations were completed, tub and jugs filled, dry beans cooked for chili or goulash, bread made, supplies for the dogs and chickens replenished, wood brought in to the garage.  Yesterday we waited, wondering if this storm too would fizzle though the news from southeast of us was showing freezing rain and sleet, we are far enough west in Virginia that we could have only gotten a couple of inches, not the double digit snow that was predicted.

Around 2 pm yesterday, as I was kneading the bread and looking out the kitchen window that faces south, I watched as the snow came over the ridge behind us, moving toward us and it has been snowing ever since.  We had gone out about noon and parked the SUV part of the way up the driveway in a parking pad away from the house.  After I thought the mail had come, I drove my CRV up to the barn and parked it on a gravel pad in front of the barn and walked the rest of the way up to the mailbox.  The contractor mailman drives a 2 wheel drive sedan, so he either had not come or decided our steep snow covered gravel road was not happening yesterday afternoon.

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That was only an hour or so into the storm.

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By the time I went out to secure the chicken coop for the night, we had about 5 inches.  By bedtime after watching the Olympics it was up to 7 inches.

This morning before letting the pups out to romp, I went out with a 12 inch ruler that sank into the snow.

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Same shot as Tuesday with the addition of the car and the snow.

After the snow pups had their chance, with the snow up to Shadow’s chest

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they came in snow coated and worn out and I ventured over to deal with the chickens.  I knew they would not come out of their coop when I opened the pop door, so today until the snow stops, they have food and water in the coop.  As their keeper/feeder/protector/egg collector, they seem to think this is all my fault.   The snow is mid calf on me, over my boots and I returned to the house with a cuff of packed snow inside.

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We awoke to it 10ºf warmer than last night, but it is still snowing and we are expecting several more inches.

Today we will play.  Tomorrow our 36th Anniversary was to be celebrated in town at a nice restaurant, but we may have to cancel our reservation and postpone it unless the plows get up our mountain.  So far we still have power, so the conveniences of life are still in place.

We wanted a good snow this year and we have gotten it.  Once this is gone, I’m ready for spring.

Farm Lessons

We purchased our farm/homestead in January 2005 and spent the next several months getting the perk test for septic, drilling a nearly 800 foot well, laying out the floor plan and getting the custom log kit put together for us, hiring a contractor and finally breaking ground in November 2005.  In June 2006, I left my husband and recently graduated high school youngest son in an apartment on the coast and I took a second apartment in the university town halfway between where we were building and my new job.  This started a 3 year commute every few weeks back and forth across the state for hubby and me, sometimes meeting somewhere in between to see each other.

During the construction, before our eldest son (RT) who had moved to the area with his family to oversee the construction, could take over for the interior work and the weather would permit the stonework, he repaired our old pole barn.  It is a simple structure of a central closed room with a sided lean-to off each side.  One side stored the old farm equipment that we bought with the house and is low enough that we have to be careful walking in it to not hit our heads.  The other side is tall enough to park the tractor inside and to store the plow and auger and has a hay rack, so was probably used at some point to shelter cattle kept on the land or for the miniature horses that were grazing here when we purchased.  The barn was in disrepair, the doors were rotting and falling off, the roof had been the target for many shots from a neighbor’s yard and the metal roof, already in poor shape was riddled with tiny holes.  Son rebuilt the doors after repairing and shoring up the frame, roof cemented and painted the metal roof in a color close to the red of the house metal roof, making it a functional place to store the utility trailer, our kayaks, and tractor equipment.  It may soon become hay storage for the horses and cattle that should be added within the next year.

Also during this time, RT and his wife constructed a tremendous garden,6 huge compost bins, and orchard area.  This area was much larger than I can manage and has been reduced to about a 60 X 60′ vegetable garden and berry beds, the chicken coop and run, and an orchard with apple, Asian pear, and peach trees and two less compost bins.  This is an area that I can manage.  The vegetable garden has been a work in progress as I started building 4′ square beds for parts of it and 4′ wide strips of beds for other parts of it.  Two years ago, I added a row of blueberry bushes, a row of thornless raspberry bushes, moved a grape vine that a neighbor had given us, but was just growing randomly and not well on the edge of the garden and added another of a different variety and gave them the northern most row of the garden with trellis support.  I have tried different varieties of vegetables to see what grows best in this soil and climate, have discovered that radishes and turnips get riddled with little white worms and aren’t worth my effort, I just buy them in season at the Farmers’ Market.  The remainder of the garden provides us with beans, peas, greens, tomatoes, peppers, cabbages, potatoes, onions, garlic, cucumbers and sometimes when Mother Nature allows, pumpkins and squash.  Some years there is enough to get us through the winter.  Other years there is enough to share with RT’s family as well, and a few years, it has only been part of our needs and we have had to supplement from the Farmers’ Market or even the grocer.

Almost a year ago, I wanted to add chickens to the homestead, mostly for eggs and the compost they generate, and RT asked that I also raise some meat birds, that he would do the deed and butcher them.  I didn’t know that they couldn’t be raised together, that the layers would brutalize the slow heavy meat birds and that the meat birds couldn’t get up in the coop.  I also learned to be careful when buying birds.  My first chicks were day old chicks from two different Tractor Supply stores and there were lots of young cockrells in the first chicks.  Then I bought two from an animal swap that were both supposed to be pullets, one is my big rooster Cogburn.  I bought half a dozen from a local gal that was on Backyard chicken forum, she swore she didn’t know their genders and all 6 were cockrells (I’m sure she laughed all the way to the bank with my $30).  I got two more pullets, Buff Orpingtons like Cogburn and decided that they would be the heritage breed that I raise.  RT came in late spring and we put all the cockrells except Cogburn, the meat birds that survived and a couple of pullets in freezer camp.  It was not a pleasant task, but I participated to the extent I could tolerate.  The rest of the flock continued to mature as I looked forward to the eggs they would produce later in the summer.  In August, I raised a second brood of day old meat chicks, this time in a chicken tractor that RT had build for me during the summer, keeping the laying flock and the meaties apart and in October, they were dispatched to freezer camp with a higher lever of my participation this time, though I still find it very unpleasant.

Around August, the layers, one by one began producing eggs and everything I read said that I needed to increase their calcium intake so I purchased oyster shell to offer to the hens that wanted it, then had an Ah Ha moment when I read to feed their egg shells back to them.  Some sources say to just remove the membrane from inside the shell, wash, dry and crush.  Others say the shells must be baked.  I have learned that there is no right way to do anything, that you do what works best for you.  My hens get their shells back with the membrane removed and heated in the microwave for 2 minutes, then crushed.   I learned not to totally clean out their coop weekly, but put a thick layer of straw inside and turn it daily, adding more when needed.  This starts a composting inside the coop which provides winter warmth and surprisingly it doesn’t smell, then thoroughly clean and scrub the coop out come spring and good weather.  I have been told to keep the chickens in a secure run with chicken wire buried to keep digging predators out, but that idea doesn’t work here as it is difficult to even hammer in a post without hitting a rock in this county and alternately to let them free range.  I prefer the free range method, but there are too many dogs, coyotes, hawks, etc in the area to totally do that, so they are in a pen, not too secure, inside the orchard that has electric fence around it, but they usually get a few hours of free range time each day when there isn’t snow on the ground.  And I have learned that I want a pure flock of heritage birds that can self sustain, no more brooders in the garage for baby chicks.

This has been a learning experience, lots of instruction, usually contradicting someone else’s instructions.  So far, we are producing most of the vegetables we need, we have lost only 2 very young chicks and no adult birds that we didn’t harvest (hope I didn’t just invite a pack of predators), have purchased and learned to use a tractor with brush hog, bucket, and auger (still haven’t gotten the hang of the plow), have planted an orchard, a berry and grape supply, landscaped with plenty of perennials for summer cut flowers and love the mountain farm life.

Next up we add horses and cattle and hope that goes as well.

Life is good on our mountain farm.