September 30, 2011

September Harvest

September has been my summer garden wrap-up month. Most plants are done producing, so except for seed, I've been gradually pulling things out to get the garden ready for winter.

Popcorn was harvested right before a predicted rain. Most of the stalks were still green, so it was earlier than I havested my popcorn last year. Then again, it was planted later too. With some on the ground because of the storm we had last month, I didn't want to risk mildew. Plus the ants were beginning to take notice, not to mention deer, who apparently have preferred my beds of buckwheat green manure.

Calico popcorn

The variety is Calico. Isn't it pretty? I planted a quarter pound, so we'll see how long that lasts me. I'm a popcorn nut.

Sweet Potatoes. I planted two beds, one of purchased Vardaman slips, one of Porto Rico slips I grew myself.

Vardaman sweet potatoes

We thought the Porto Ricos were okay in flavor and texture, which is why I decided to try another variety. The Vardemans are absolutely excellent. These are going to be my "main SP" from now on. Both are bush varieties, which I like for the terraced beds.

Okra always does well here and continues to produce more than we need.

Okra, both fresh and dried pods (for seed)

The variety is Clemson Spineless. We like it well enough that I've never tried another. It will produce until the frost.

Of potatoes, I got very few.....

Red Pontiac potatoes

This was it. One small basket and quite a few of these don't look that great. Last year I planted 8 pounds and harvested over 120. This year I planted 8 pounds and harvested 13. There were plants all summer, but no potatoes in the end. I might have assumed my poor harvest was because I used potatoes from last year's crop as seed, but my fingerling salad potatoes were newly purchased certified seed potatoes, and also produced very poorly. Interestingly, we got more from the bed that was not planted with beans, a supposed companion to potatoes.

Onions. These were hard to harvest because wire grass had invaded much of where they were planted. The onions are small, but then the sets were small.

Handful of my onion harvest

Green beans. These are Kentucky Wonder pole beans, which I planted as a companion for the field corn. Even harvested, the dead stalks serve as bean poles.

Kentucky Wonder pole beans, for eating fresh & for seed

In fact, the cooler temps seem to have given them a boost. Since I still have quite a few jars canned from last year, we've just been eating green beans fresh. Soon though, it will be time to pull even these out to prepare for a sowing of winter wheat.

I got in my broom corn...

Wheelbarrow load of broom corn stalks

Now all I have to do is learn how to make brooms. :)

I'm still getting an occasional sweet pepper, but not enough to brag about. I have one tomato plant left, a volunteer growing in the front yard. It still gives us a small tomato from time to time. In the past, I've gotten tomatoes right up until first frost, but this year almost all of them up and quit on me at the end of August. :(

There hasn't been much canning, freezing, or dehydrating. The popcorn, sweet potatoes, white potatoes, and onions will be allowed to cure for winter storage. Hopefully next month's garden harvest will continue with the fall garden. The beets have been coming up sporadically, but some are ready to thin. My ultimate garden goal is to be able to harvest something every month! Let's see how well I do this winter.

September 28, 2011

The Life Of Riley: Wiley Wednesday Edition

Setting: Katy has the basket

Problem: Riley wants the basket.

Solution: Rouse her under the guise of giving her a bath

Moderately acceptable outcome: Kitties share the basket 

Preferred Outcome: Riley gets the basket all to himself
(and he usually does)

September 25, 2011

Kitchen Remodel: Progress Inside & Out

Progress since my last kitchen remodel post.....

  • wiring completed for light switch by door: outside light, porch light, & soon to be ceiling light over dining nook
  • installed lockset in kitchen door
  • cut out subfloor for HVAC vent (beneath window)
  • added insulation to walls
  • foam insulation in cracks around door & window

  • removed old vinyl siding
  • put new siding on rebuilt kitchen wall & adjacent wall
  • caulked windows
  • coat of primer on new siding and trim
  • installed outside electrical outlet on back porch
  • doorbell transformer replaced & new bell button installed

We had hoped to get the trimwork up last week, but it rained every day Dan was off. Below is an exterior "before" shot of the new kitchen window, when he just started taking down the vinyl siding.

Removing the vinyl siding

Under that were some sort of pressboard siding planks. The paint was chipping, but they weren't in bad shape actually. Dan took a peek under one of these and while there wasn't any sheathing, the walls did have insulation. Because of that we left the planks to serve as sheathing and simply nailed the new paneling right on top of them.

Dan wanted to do at least this much....

Starting to put the new panels up

... getting siding up to cover at least the newly rebuilt window wall and the corner. How far to go with it and how many panels to put up, is one of those things that could lead us on a house project rabbit trail. We finished out the adjacent wall, but still need to install trim around the new window and horizontal panel seams.

We looked at a lot of siding options. I like the look of planks, while Dan always liked the look of T1-11. In the end we chose a manufactured barn board look panel, because we like the rustic look and it was more economical. I've got a coat of primer on it and at this point, still plan to go with my original color scheme for the exterior of the house. Of course, trim work and paint are "weather permitting," and this time of year, who knows.

I admit I'm anxious to get back to work on the kitchen interior. Yet all these kinds of things that have to be done too. It's the old one-thing-leads-to-another, and another, and another. Because of the weather this time of year, we've started keeping both an "inside" project list and an "outside" project list. Now no matter what, we've ready to go.

Related Posts:
Window Shopping
Preparing For The New Kitchen Window
Installing The New Kitchen Window

September 23, 2011

Fall Garden Beginnings

Not much to show. Not much to tell. Yet. Hopefully I'm not too late with some things. It was hard to get motivated to plant a fall garden when temps were still in the upper 80s and low 90s.

Drizzly day photo of my fall garden.
Field corn in the background, summer garden remains on far right.

Planted so far:
  • Lettuce, red salad bowl
  • Radishes, Cherry Belle
  • Radishes, China Rose
  • Parsnips, All American
  • Beets, Red Detroit
  • Carrots, Scarlet Nantes
  • Collards, Georgia Southern
  • Turnips, white globe purple top
  • Onions, Egyptian Walking
  • Cabbage seeds, Late Flat Dutch
  • Cabbage collard plants, Morris Heading
  • Broccoli, Waltham 29
  • Kale, Dwarf Siberian

It's a start. 

September 21, 2011

Kitchen Remodel: The Perfect Wallpaper

The theme and colors for my kitchen center around two Amish built cabinets. Dan and I found them at Shady Maple Smorgasbord gift shop, while we were in Lancaster, Pennsylvania for our son's wedding two years ago.

Two of our kitchen cabinets. These will eventually be stained.
Click for a little bigger. 

A rustic, country theme was an easy choice anyway, and the natural greens and browns fit it well.

The walls in my kitchen are horizontal oak tongue & groove, of which we plan to keep as much possible. Some of it though, has to be taken down, such as the walls where we installed the new back door, and the new window. Rather than try to put the T&G back, (which is individual boards rather than panels), we're opting for something quicker and relatively inexpensive, drywall.

To me, drywall means a smooth surface, and a smooth surface means wallpaper! I know a lot of folks hate wallpapering, but I love it, as you learned if you read last year's bathroom remodel posts. While Dan was working on the window, I checked out several wallpaper sample books from Lowe's, and found the perfect wallpaper.

Cabinet door & matching wallpaper.
Click for a little bigger view.

The background color and stars coordinate with the "Fish Tales Told Here" sign, the vines of course fit the theme, the green in the leaves matches, and there are little dark red berries on both. Perfect! But pricey, [sigh]. In the past I've always found wallpaper at the thrift shops for around $2 a roll. This one is about $36 a single roll and of course it only comes in double rolls. A double roll cover 56 square feet and I estimate I need about 59 square feet! Gonna have to give this some serious thought. Unfortunately I've fallen in love with it and nothing else compares. Lowe's offers 30% off on this particular collection of special order wallpapers, but I'll have to look around the internet to see if I can find it cheaper. Either way, I'm gonna have to check my piggy bank!

September 19, 2011

A Common Enemy

I was in the kitchen washing dishes when I heard Dan fire off his 22. I didn't think anything of it because he usually uses it to scare off dogs, who are drawn into our yard like a magnet because of the chickens. Unless a dog is bred and trained for farm purposes, even a "good" dog will chase and kill chickens for the sport of it. This is not a big problem for us, but on occasion we have dogs passing through.

A few minutes later he came into the kitchen. "Didn't you hear the chickens?"

"No," I replied. "I heard your gun, but I didn't hear any fuss from the chickens."

"A hawk had one of them," he replied.

He had fired a shot to scare it off, and fortunately it flew off leaving the chicken behind. From a distance, Dan couldn't tell which chicken, so I ran out to check. Several of the hens were cowering wide-eyed in the goat shed. Our rooster, Lord B, was outside the shed strutting back and forth and fussing up a storm. The chicks were scattered. A half dozen were in the other stall with Mama Hen, two were hunkered down in the field by the fence, and the rest were hiding under the bushes and brush. I called "chick, chick, chick," and when they saw me, they made a mad dash for Mama. I counted 16, then went to look for the other hens. Soon everyone was accounted for, looking scared but unscathed.

Now, before anyone gets up at arms (is that a pun?), yes, we know it's illegal to shoot hawks. But it's not illegal to scare them off, and yelling at them or throwing things doesn't do the trick, trust me. The point of this story (and hence the title of the post), is how the chickens responded to the crisis. When faced with a common enemy, Lord B (who'd been chasing the chicks away for weeks, see "The Social Integration of Chickens") stepped up to the plate and rounded up nearby chicks to protect. And this, was the beginning of a change in the chicken yard.

We've had hawks try to nab our chickens before, though fortunately they've never caught one. (See "Chicken News: the Good, the Scary, the Silly") That first experience led to research and our experimenting with hawk deterrent methods. (See "Dan's Hawk Deterrent") Besides our efforts, we also have a flock of crows in the area. Crows dislike hawks and I've seen them chasing and harassing a hawk or two. Hawks are territorial however, and with a literal movable feast on our place, it is difficult to dissuade them. Because of that, we realize that we may lose chickens or cats to these predators. It's more likely with free ranged birds like ours, but even fenced chicken yards, unless they are covered with netting or fencing, cannot guarantee chickens won't be nabbed.

I feel responsible for our chickens, and sometimes wonder if letting them free range is the best choice. On the other hand, having the freedom of several large fenced areas, enables them to be what they were created to be, happy, healthy, about their business chickens. They not only give us top quality, free ranged eggs, but help with insect control and eat quite a few weed seeds to boot. I just try to keep in mind that the balance of life as we know it, is death.

For the record, Lord B still chases the chicks around when I toss them some grain, but he no longer tries to keep them away. They are allowed in the chicken yard and coop, and have learned to simply stay out of his way. He maintains his status, they are learning their place in the pecking order, and balance has finally settled on the barnyard.

Buff Orpington chicks drinking whey from my cheesemaking

September 18, 2011

Contest: Name That Goat

I need a name
I've received some wonderful things from fellow bloggers via contests and giveaways, so I thought it was high time I jumped on the band wagon and offered something back to the blogging community. Plus, I need some help!

Remember Surprise's Easter twins? My plan was to sell them, together preferably, or singly if necessary. Well, I still had one left at the time I lost Chipper, which was a blessing in disguise because Gruffy needs a companion. The problem is that neither of us is very imaginative when it comes to naming our animals. In fact this guy is going on 5 months and the best we can do is "Billy Boy" or "Surprise's Kid."

I'd love for you make some suggestions for this little guy, one of which will be picked as his name. Here's what to do to enter the contest; simply leave a comment with a suggestion for a name. You can offer as many as you'd like. The deadline will be Sept. 30th at midnight. A winner will be selected on the first of October and I'll let you know the results after that.

The prize is one of my handwoven log cabin scarves, the winner's choice from one of the following colorways.....



Desert Night

These are handwoven by me, in easy care acrylic. They are machine washable.

So put your thinking caps on and let the naming commence!

September 16, 2011

Corn Harvest

Our dried corn field. It was sparse with corn, but not with weeds.

Last week we harvested our field corn. Last April, we planted 5 pounds, which was supposed to cover about a third of an acre. The entire crop wasn't completely dry yet, but last month's storm had knocked a number of stalks down, so that the ears were wet on the ground and getting mildewed. Also something had eaten a few, so we figured we'd better get it in.

We planted Truckers Favorite, an old, open pollinated, dent type variety. The goal was to grow for our own use as corn meal, and for chicken feed. Germination was poor and pollination was fair, so while we didn't get a bumper crop, we did get several wheelbarrow loads.

This is the best stuff.

I kept the biggest and the best for our use and for seed. These are currently being stored on the back porch.

This is the chicken quality stuff.
Poor chickens. Do you think they'll care?

That for the chickens was put in our makeshift corn crib. There's not a lot there, but we're pleased to have what we did get. It's a start.

Afterward we turned the goats and chickens into the field. They must think they're in animal heaven because it's filled with weeds and seeds galore. Good bye morning glories!

The girls in the corn field

In thinking what we'll do differently next year, we need to address a number of concerns:

  • Yield. We know we don't have a winter's supply for either us or the chickens. We definitely need to test and amend the soil. We either need to plant more or get a better yield from what we do plant, or both.
  • Germination. It wasn't great. I reckon that's why seeds are planted so close together. Not sure if we can improve germination except to make sure the seeds get enough moisture. 
  • Weeds. We need a better way to deal with these because herbicides are not an option. Dan cultivated twice with the tiller, and lawnmowing helped later on, but the spacing was not optimal for this. We need to adjust that next year.
  • Companion planting. For a field crop, this sounded good on paper, but was a less than desirable reality. I tried the "3 Sisters" and planted pumpkins and pole beans with the corn. It was difficult to harvest the beans because of the runaway morning glories, and the pumpkins (which turned out not to be pumpkins after all) were buried in weeds too. If we'd had more help, I'm sure we could have kept on top of it (no wonder farmers used to have so many kids). I'm sure the beans fed the corn, but I think monoculture field cropping is a better option for us at this time.
  • Split planting dates. We planted the corn on two different dates, with several weeks in between. The first planting did much better. The second was spindly and less productive. Nor was it helpful for harvest.
  • Water. Dry spells and scorching temps took their toll as well. Even when it did rain, hot sun the next day evaporated much of the moisture right out of the ground. I was able to water once or twice at the beginning, but trying to snake a hose through the fence and corn was nearly impossible. 
  • Shade. The area near the fence is shaded by a number of pecans and oaks. These need to be trimmed back to get better sunlight to the corn. 
  • Soil testing. We didn't do this, though it should have been done. A proper NPK balance will definitely help as well.

As expected, the most productive plants were the first planted, had the best light, and were in areas with the best germination and best soil moisture. These plants produced full ears. So it can be done!

A possible plan for next year?
  1. We'll begin with soil testing and properly amending the soil.
  2. Switch to sequential companion planning and rotate the corn's planting location. We'll put the corn on the half of the field we planted with sunflowers (which did very poorly). We'll plant cowpeas where this year's corn was.
  3. Space planting so as to accommodate the tiller, lawnmower, or both. Wish we could afford a tractor, but that only in our dreams. 
  4. Cultivate early to give the plants a good head start. After that, don't worry about it.
  5. Turn the goats in after harvest. About half a dozen goats could probably raze most of the weeds.  
  6. Turn pigs (which we don't have yet) in to root around, eat up what the goats didn't want, and "till" the soil
  7. Let the chickens in to do a clean up job on the insects and seeds.
To me, this approach is not only sustainable, but realistic for our small set-up and limited work force. And of course the bonus for allowing the animals to help, is that they leave fertilizer as well. I'm not sure if we'll be ready for pigs next year, but this is another reason they fit into our homestead plan. In the meantime, I can't wait to try some cornbread!

September 14, 2011

Installing The New Kitchen Window

Once Dan finished replacing the rotted floor joists, he was ready to install the new window. Before he could begin however, two decisions had to be made. The first, was placement. The window could either be centered on the inside wall, or it could be centered on the outside wall. To center on the inside wall, meant centering it between the corner of the room and the new load bearing support post. The problem with this, was that it placed the window very near a corner on the outside.

Left: centering window on outside wall
Right: centering window on interior wall

Dan preferred centering it on the outside, for construction reasons. If we centered it from an inside perspective, he was afraid there wouldn't be room to work in that corner. I favored centering it on the interior wall, largely for design purposes. If we centered it on the outside, the window would be visually offset inside the kitchen. It was only a matter of 6 inches, but to me, they were an important 6 inches, especially since that window wall would be finished differently than the rest of the walls.

The second problem was that we have standard, 4 inch deep walls. The window was made for 6 inch walls. It was the thing I hadn't thought of when I bought the window. The challenge was how to accommodate a 6 inch window in a 4 inch wall.

Either way, the first step was to remove the old window and tear down the rest of the old wall. This was accomplished with a crow bar.

Pulling down the siding

Dan had already taken down the interior wall when he did the repairs. That left the vinyl siding which was nailed on top of the original, lap siding. There was neither sheathing nor felt paper. At first he wondered if he might be able to use the old siding as sheathing, but it was in such bad shape that it all had to come down.

Wall removed

After that it was time to build a new wall, and frame out a place for the new window. After a lot of discussion, Dan did indeed place the new window location in the center of the interior wall. He wasn't sure he could do it, but my faith in his ability to make it happen, was equal to his faith in me when it comes to buying the windows!

New window framing

This time we will have a properly framed window. The wall isn't up yet, so you can see in the above photo, that the window is centered on the inside wall, and right up against the outside corner.

Of course we had snoopervision.....

The cats have been very suspicious of all the
changes, and Riley wonders what's up now.

Sheathing was nailed up on the outside....

New sheathing in place

And then felt paper.

Felt paper in place

We used felt paper instead of house wrap because of cost.

The 6 inch depth of the window means it protrudes out about an inch and a half. After the new siding is up, trim will make up the difference. Actually, we saw numerous examples of this when we researched it.

New window installed!

So there it is, new window installed. I love all the light. Immediately after this however, rain threatened, so we covered the outside with black plastic to protect it until we can finish.

September 12, 2011

The Social Integration of Chickens

One of my concerns before we got the chicks, was how well they'd be accepted by our existing flock. A lot of folks have blogged about their experiences with this, and I've read every one of these posts with great interest. Some people experience a relatively smooth acceptance, for others, it's like World War III.

Mama Hen & her chicks in the field

The production approach to keeping chickens, is to replace one's entire flock every year, so social integration isn't an issue. As a homesteader with a self-sustainability approach, my goal is to have a few new chicks every year, to replace the oldest hens in the flock. I'm not interested in increase, I just want to maintain enough chickens to meet our needs.

I tried to give my chickens a slow introduction to the chicks. They could see them through a partition between the stalls from the beginning, but not interact. They would stand around and watch them through the fencing, as though puzzled by their existence. Eventually, the chicks started slipping out through the fence and under the gates, and a few of the hens started entering the chicks' yard. Some of these challenged Mama, but after a brief fight, calm resumed. I wondered if these weren't hens testing her place in the original pecking order.

Mama is always on the lookout

Anyone who has observed animals for a length of time, knows that their social structure is vastly different from that of humans. Humans are all about fairness and equality. Animals on the other hand, don't give a flying flip about that stuff. The proverbial pecking order really does exist, with somebody on the top, somebody on the bottom, and everyone else in between. Interestingly, in the animal world everyone knows their place and accepts it. Occasionally one will challenge another, but it is soon settled and everyone accepts the results. No one's feelings are hurt or self-esteem damaged by their rank in their species social structure.

Some of the hens would chase the chicks, some would get chased by Mama. Gradually they've started to mingle somewhat, though Mama is always wary.

The Barred Hollands

The two which continue to be aggressive against the chicks, are the Barred Hollands, Lord and Lady B. I don't know if this is a breed trait, or just their personalities. Lady B is at the bottom of the pecking order, I'm not sure of Lord B's status (the Delaware is at the top), but he is possessive of anything he thinks his ladies might like to eat. Sometimes he chases the chicks relentlessly, other times he ignores them. And when he squawks, the chicks hightail it for quick cover.

No longer chicks but little chickens

Personally, I'm ready to get Mama and the chicks out of the stall. Considering our setup, it's somewhat of a nuisance having them there. How to integrate them with the rest of the flock so I can move them into the coop carries a big question mark over it however. Any suggestions?

Click to enter!

September 10, 2011

Preparing For The New Kitchen Window

Or maybe the title should be "Repairing For The New Kitchen Window."

Before the new window could be installed, we had to see how extensive the water damage was under the old kitchen window, and fix it. The first step was to cut out a strip of the kitchen floor directly beneath that window wall. This is what we discovered...

Rotted floor joist

The floor joist was completely rotted out. In fact, the floor in that corner was mushy to step on, so something had to be done about it.

Someone had previously done some repair of this problem, because the outer, rim joist was newish.  How did they manage to replace it and only it, without taking up the kitchen floor?

Exterior evidence of previous repair

By removing the exterior siding at that level, replacing the joist, and covering it up again. This wasn't evident until Dan removed the vinyl siding (which was covering up the original, but badly rotting siding.) We figure this was done when they added the addition to the house (see a rough sketch of the floor plan here.)

New floor joist installed next to rim joist.

After removing the old joist, Dan replaced it from below, in the crawlspace. Next he had to replace the flooring he had cut away. To do that he needed something to nail into to. That meant further cutting away the floor to the next joist.

Floor cut back and ready for repair

This points to a construction issue Dan has with this house. The floor joists were placed on 24 inch centers. Standard construction practice is 16 inch centers. Those 8 inches make a big difference in the soundness of the floors. It's what caused the "bounce" in the floors (somewhat and haphazardly fixed over the years), and is why kitchen's ceramic floor tile is loose and cracks easily; there's been too much "give" in the floor.

Bridging added to stiffen the floor.

Dan added bridging between the two floor joists to stiffen the floor. He also did this before we installed the hardwood floor in our dining room in 2009. It made a huge difference in how sturdy the floor feels to walk on.

Plywood added to cover the hole.

Lastly he nailed down a cut-to-fit piece of plywood to cover the hole. The original floor is oak, tongue and groove flooring. There is no subfloor, that's it. We will use it as our subfloor, when we install a new kitchen floor.

With that done, we were ready to install the new window.