April 30, 2016

The Garden at the End of April

I've got the winter veggies finishing up, spring ones coming up, and some things still to plant. Here's a little photo tour of my garden at the end of April

Almost ready to harvest is 

my garlic

I've been picking strawberries for awhile now and having a great harvest.

Still getting lettuce, although the days are hot so I'm sure that's soon to end.

Jerusalem artichokes are strong. The greens make good goat treats.

Hoop house cabbage is flowering. This is the first time
I've had cabbage flower & I'm looking forward to seeds.

Kale is flowering and Swiss chard will soon too.

I've got two kinds of tomatoes this year. I got seeds from
Kris for an heirloom Italian paste, and bought Homestead
 tomato plants (also heirloom) from the feed store.

With the tomatoes I have basil that I started early. Also marigolds
and multiplier onions, although neither of these are up yet.

Cucumbers are sprouting

As are cantaloupe

and bush beans

I didn't get many slips from my sweet potato, so
maybe I'll buy some more if I can find them around.

My raspberry plants are leafing out beautifully and starting to
 bloom. So I have high hopes of a good year for raspberries!

Behind the raspberries you see what looks like a blank field of dirt. We just finished planting pasture forage there for the does.

Planted but yet to make an appearance: popcorn, okra, onions, potatoes, and sunflowers.

How about you? Is your gardening season in full swing yet? Or are you still waiting on the weather? Do tell!

April 28, 2016

Kid Play

The "big boys" are 6 - 8 weeks older than all of the little girls.

Violet is the only "grown up" who will play with the boys.

First meeting with the big bucks.

Thunder is just too curious and friendly. :)

April 25, 2016

Goat Barn: The Plan

Now that the old oak tree is gone and we're overrun with goats, it's time to get serious with our plans for a goat barn. After reviewing our pile of barn sketches and floor plans, we decided to build it in the same basic footprint as the original outbuilding, the one we used to call the coal barn (because our old house was originally heated with coal and that's where the coal was stored - photos here).

This is where the original building stood. The main part was
 on the right, the slab was an attached lean-to carport. The current
goat shed and tarp-covered hoop hay hut are back on the left.

One important consideration is hay storage and we've been discussing two options: on the ground level or in a loft. There are advantages and disadvantages to each. A one-story building would be faster and easier to build, but would take up more ground and mean more to roof. Not having to hoist hay or climb up to feed the goats is appealing as we get older. On the other hand, our barnyard area isn't very big so have a smaller footprint is a huge plus. It means we don't have to decide whether to take space for the barn from either the pasture or the driveway.

The plan we're leaning toward is this one. The sketches are rough and not to scale, but you'll get the idea.

Bottom floor. Hay will go over the goat part on the right, with a
chute to drop hay down into a hay feeder. Stairs will be outside.

The feed room will go where the concrete slab is, with a milking room behind. The goat part will be to the right of that. I really like this plan because it resolves issues I've had with our small goat shed. The feed room will be where I can store our equipment and process grains and feeds. I get both an in and an out door for the girls which will help with traffic flow for milking. The barn area is big enough for a full house of does and kids, with room for three small kidding stalls. I also have to say that being able to drop hay down a chute into an open, dual-sided hay feeder, rather than carrying hay through a mob of goats, is extremely appealing. A wide doorway will allow goats in and out without dominant goats defending the barn and keeping others out.

Rough sketch of the front. Double sliding doors for the feed room,
and a Dutch (stable) door in front to check on goats without having
to enter the barn. It will be wide enough for the wheelbarrow. 

My idea for the stairs. We decided against a traditional ladder to
the hay loft, because as we get older stairs seem a better option.

The plan is still in the discussion stage, and while we discuss we're clearing the area, moving things that have to be moved, collecting materials, and getting tools ready. Moving the location of the goats will also mean rearranging fences and gates, so we've also been discussing how to update our Master Plan. More on all that here:

April 22, 2016

Time Versus Money

Now this is a topic that everyone can relate to. Who doesn't struggle with the dilemma of time versus money? Do I save money and do it myself, or do I save time and buy it? That can mean buying the item outright, or hiring someone to do some work. Sometimes doing it myself means having to buy the tools and supplies necessary to get the job done. Which is the better choice? I don't know about you, but sometimes one wins out, sometimes the other.

Modern thinking tends to assume money represents leisure and freedom from work, i.e. the more money I have the more toys, entertainments, and free time I can have. Here's a real life example: When the kids were growing up, Dan and I believed they needed a full time mother. Also we believed in homeschooling. Every single person we encountered (except for other homeschoolers) assumed that I stayed home because we could "afford" it. That Dan made a big enough salary so that I didn't have to work. No one seemed to guess that we did what we did out of a spiritual conviction, and that some things are more important than money. The reality of our situation was that we really tightened our belts and lived what others would consider a denialist lifestyle.

I don't think it was always that way. Do you remember in Farmer Boy about Almanzo, his father, and the pumpkins?

     Father asked: "Almanzo, do you know what this is?"
     "Half a dollar," Almanzo answered.
     "Yes, but do you know what half a dollar is?... It's work, son. That's what money is; it's hard work... Say you have a seed potato in the spring, what do you do with it?" ...
     "First you manure the field, and plow it. Then you harrow, and mark the ground. And plant the potatoes, and plow them, and hoe them. You plow and hoe them twice... Then you dig them and put them down cellar."
     "And if you get a good price son, how much do you get to show for all that work? How much do you get for half a bushel of potatoes?"
    "Half a dollar," Almanzo said.
     "Yes," said Father. "That's what's in this half-dollar. The work that raised half a bushel of potatoes is in it."

When my kids were little there was a lot of social discussion about mothers and going to work. That was before the supermom myth had been busted and women were looking to have it all. I think it was Dr. James Dobson (or was it Larry Burkett?) who recommended that mothers count the cost of a job before assuming that having a paycheck would mean they had more money: childcare, transportation, wardrobe, meals, vehicle maintenance, and conveniences to make up for one's lack of time all add up. I've had friends who told me that their job was actually costing money rather than making money.

I mention that because the principle also applies to some aspects of homesteading. A couple of years ago I wrote a blog post about growing our own goat feed, and I received a comment that said it sounded like too much work. The point is, it's work either way, whether I grow it myself or buy it. If a bag of feed is $15 and I make $10 an hour, then it "costs" me an hour and a half of my time to purchase the feed (plus the fuel and time to go buy it). If I make $30 an hour, then it's only a half hour of my labor. The question then becomes, would I rather go work for someone else to pay for my feed, or work for myself (and my goats)?

Sometimes we have more time than money, sometimes we have more money than time. Sometimes it's the little things which are personally important that tip the balance. There is no way to say one choice is better than the other, but I would say it is wise to count the true cost and then make choices based on our goals, priorities, and what we believe will achieve the most beneficial outcome.

April 19, 2016

Twins for Stella. More Girls!

They were born last night around 11 p.m. and this time I got to be there! Stella's due date was April 22, but yesterday she stayed around the goat shed instead of following the other goats out. At dusk I put her in the kidding stall and made frequent checks. At 10:30 I settled down to wait with her and in about half an hour she had twin doelings. Kidding was easy and she has taken to mothering like a fish in water.

First born

Second born

They are nearly identical except for a slight difference in the color of their markings. First born has lighter facial stripes and leg trim than her sister.

By this morning they were happily jumping around the kidding stall.

I wasn't the only visitor. One of the ducks was
very interested in meeting the new kids.

So far my count is two bucklings and five doelings, with Luki still due on May 7. The proud papa of all but two of the little girls is Clark.

Papa Clark, aka California

And his record is actually better than that. I sold Daphne's sister Helen last fall and bred her to Clark before she left. Her new owner said she recently had another set of quads - all girls!

I'm very thankful it's been such an easy and productive kidding season so far.

April 17, 2016

Bait Hive

I've been mulling over the idea of a swarm bait hive for awhile now. I hadn't seen many honeybees around our place until we got ours, but I know they're out there. With Honeysuckle Hive now vacant, I seem to have no excuse not to try. After all, if I do nothing I can expect nothing. It's my old "something is better than nothing," and who knows? I may be successful.

Honeysuckle Bait Hive

It's not the perfect set-up, but it does meet quite a few honeybee qualifications. Studies have been done on this subject, plus almost every beekeeper who sets out bait hives has valuable experience from which to learn. Bees do have preferences about potential homes. Scout bees will go out, preview the options, and choose the one best suited for the swarm.

There are no hard and fast rules about this, but in general they are said to prefer:
  • Height of 8 to 12 feet. (Some say as low as 6 feet or as high as 15 feet). Set on the stump mine is only 5 feet off the ground, but I don't see how I can get it any higher at present. I can't see me carrying it up a ladder or hoisting up a tree; and then bringing it back down again after dark! Then I read Pioneer Preppy's "Swarm Traps" post and learned that he's been able to catch swarms without the height, so that was the green light for me to give this a go. 
  • Visibility. If the scout bees can't see it, they won't know to consider it. Some say this is the reason for the height placement, since bees don't fly along the ground but rather up in the air. I would say mine is highly visible as it rather stands out in the yard.
  • Volume of approximately 40 liters, which is roughly 9 point something US dry gallons. One Warré box is roughly the size of one of those square cardboard boxes that are used to ship four gallon jugs of milk, although a little shorter. For a Warré bait hive, two boxes are recommended as being close enough. Also recommended is placing top bars in the top box only. Top bars in both boxes will give the impression of smaller volume, and apparently, scout bees actually do measure the space.
  • South or east facing. Got that.
  • Near a water source. This is near our outdoor faucet which is used several times a day for watering critters. I've seen bees collecting water dripped on plants and in the mouth of the faucet.
  • Some shade. Besides height, this is my other concern. Sun hits the hive at about 8:30 in the morning and shade returns about 5 p.m. That means the hive is in full sun during the heat of the day, which I hope is not a deterrent. 
  • Correct scent. For this, lemongrass essential oil is recommended because it is similar to the pheromones the queen emits. I use this in my homemade honey-b-healthy, so I was good to go there. 
  • Previous occupation by honeybees. This probably contributes to correct scent. I read that apparently they like to find the dark, used comb, also propolis. This is where my old comb from Honeysuckle came in. Because there was evidence of wax moths in that comb, I stuck in in my deep freezer for 24 hours. This is said to kill any eggs, or larvae, or whatever.
  • 300 meters from parent hive. My apiary is only on the other side of the house, but I'm not expecting my new colonies to swarm this year. So I think I'm okay on this requirement as well. 

Of course there are exceptions to each of these "rules," so maybe my points of noncompliance won't matter to a swarm of honeybees in need of a new home. According to our cooperative extension service, swarm season in my neck of the woods is May and June. I'm ready.

Lastly, a few links of interest:

April 15, 2016

Progress on the House

It's been awhile since I've blogged about the dining room windows. They are installed except for interior trim (not a priority) and second coats exterior paint have been waiting on the weather. Dan did get the big tank in place, which was the whole reason for doing the windows and siding in the first place.

Dan was concerned about good drainage behind and under the
tank, so he put it on a bed of stone and added a drainage pipe.

He still needs to get the fittings and make a filter for it. In fact, we hoped it would be done by now but with garden preparation and planting season upon us, other projects got put on hold. Hopefully we can get this one wrapped up soon, so we'll be able to collect plenty of rainwater for the garden.

April 12, 2016

Twins for Lini

Little girls! The light brown one has wattles like her mama.

They were born last night sometime between 8:30 and 9:15. Lini's due date was actually this upcoming Thursday, but yesterday I figured something was up when she kept going off by herself during the afternoon. There was no mucous discharge yet, so I ran the extension cord out to the goat shed, figuring we'd need a light sometime during the night. I finally put her in the kidding stall about 7:30 that evening and went back out to check on her again at 8:15. I watched her for awhile, looking for discharge or pushing. She just stood there calmly eating hay so I headed back to the house around 8:30. I made another check at 9:15 and found her lying down with two hollering wet babies by her side! Both girls.

I didn't get photos until this morning, so they are about ten hours old in these pics.

The little brown one was dryest when I first found them, so she must have been born first.

The white one appears to have grizzled (black and white mixed hairs) spots. Their coloring can change quite a bit as they get older, however, so time will tell. In the photo above she was actually falling asleep on her feet, but at least she was holding still. They're already starting to bounce around the kidding stall.

Lini is a first time mama, so she wasn't too sure about them at first. But by morning she was nursing them like an old pro.

And the other kids? Here are a few more shots taken this morning.

Jessie's April is now 12 days old. Look at those ears!

Daffy's boys were too busy to smile for the camera. They are 7 weeks old.

Stella will be next. Her official due date is April 22nd.

April 10, 2016

One Step Closer to the Goat Barn

Finally. I've been blogging about building a goat barn for years, presenting various ideas, sketches, and floor plans from time to time. Our little old shed has been okay for making-do, but I've long wished for something more suitable for goats so I wouldn't have to continually work around my problems. The hold up has always been the old oak tree.

Dead branches fell to the ground regularly.

We took down its sister tree awhile ago; cutting it back in August 2012 and then finally taking it down in September 2013. Most of that one was already dead and much of the inside was rotten, so it was fortunate it never fell on the house. This one was more alive but also old. Some of the branches you see are still alive, others are just growing mistletoe.

Our barnyard is fairly small and tight, and with various size branches crashing down regularly, we decided this tree needed to be dealt with before we could commence building the barn.

The guys who topped the first oak used a high reach. These guys showed up with a pick up, ropes, and two chainsaws. I was amazed to see one of them was a climber: ropes, safety belt, boot spikes and a chainsaw. It only took two hours to do this...

We negotiated a lower price by doing our own clean-up. Dan prefers that anyway, to make sure we get the logs cut into a size that will fit our woodstoves. The first order of business was to clear the driveway. To help with that we decided to invest in a few tools.

Something Dan has been wanting is a cant hook. A cant hook is used for handling and moving logs. We took a trip to Northern Tool to try and find one, but they only had them with 3-foot handles. Dan chose a timberjack instead.

The timberjack is a cant hook with a built in log stand.

That made it easier to cut it. When the log is lying on the ground it sometimes pinches the saw near the end of the cut. Not fun.

The other thing we got was something I've been wanting for a long time.

About twelve or thirteen years ago I had an old Gardenway cart that I just loved. Its design made it so easy to move heavy loads with minimal effort. When we bought this place I looked for a new one, but they were priced somewhere around $350. Northern Tool had this one for $130 plus free shipping to the nearest store. It's got a 14 cubic foot/400 pound capacity and makes it easy to move firewood for stacking.

Clean up will be a little at a time.

April 8, 2016

A Drake for the Ducks

When I first traded an American Guinea Hog piglet for Muscovy ducks, I got one drake and five ducks. They started by living in the chicken coop, but soon moved out for higher nighttime perching grounds. One morning the drake was gone, so I've only had the five ladies ever since. Patience and keeping an eye on Craigslist finally paid off, and I found someone who was giving away Muscovys. I asked about getting one drake.

Sir Drake with 3 of his 5 ladies.

He made himself right at home, wasting no time to start courting the ladies. It's interesting how the social dynamics have changed since his arrival. The black headed one was getting picked on quite a bit, but all the girls are behaving themselves for the Mister.

We've loved the eggs and heard that Muscovy meat is the best of duck meat. Now one of these days we'll get to find out about that for ourselves.