Friday, December 7, 2012

     Nine months.  Seems a little bit hard to believe.  I could have had a baby since I last wrote anything.  I tried to keep this up quarterly.  You wouldn't think that writing something once every three months would have been all that difficult.  However, in the infamous words of my grandson, " Oh contraire butt hair."
Once the hole was dug we placed the tarp.

Then we weighted the edges down with dirt.
The finished product holds over 1000 gallons of water.


    In reviewing my last post I noticed that there are several things I need to catch you up on.  The "water hole" that we dug worked out great.  The deer love it too.  Every evening we can find them out there just after the sun has gone down.  It holds the water great and it's nice to have in case of emergency.  We did not get the bee hive.  The long and short of it is that we could not afford it.  Maybe one of these days we will but for now there was something else I wanted more.  We decided to put the money into fencing.  We did not plant any wheat or oats.  We discovered that we need to get rid of the sand burrs.  We also discovered that there are only two times of year that you can spray for them and only one product that you can use that is effective on them.  We will be spraying in January and again in April of 2013.  We will be doing that for two years before we will start to notice any progress in getting rid of them.  This year was HORRIBLE with them!  They even started creeping up into our yard.  It's hard not to bring them up though when we use the same mower on the yard and the fields.  What can you do though?  Buying a tractor with a bush whacker attachment comes to mind but the money is a problem.  Another thing goes on the "wish list".
     Also, we did not get the cows.  We met a goat farmer through my grandson's Scout Club.  We went over to his farm, picked his brain and checked out his fencing.  During the outing we learned several things.  The first being that it only takes 5-7 minutes to milk a goat.  Woot, woot!  This is much better than the 45 minutes it takes to milk a cow!  I can handle 5-7 minutes twice a day much easier than the other.  We also learned that we will get approximately a gallon of milk a day from one female.  We really need two gallons a day.  When you consider that there are eight people in our family and the kefir we make every day, not to mention the butter and cheese we will need you can see that the milk will go fast.  We're going to start with one female and one male, then mate them and go from there.  We'd like to get up to two females and one male.  Keep one male for mating and the rest will go to meat.  We've got all the fencing.  We will be setting that up in March when we get the goats.  I am very excited about it all!
My girls.
One days worth of eggs.
The meat chicks.
They are growing so fast!
The eggs are so beautiful!
The Cornish chickens at eight weeks.  They weighed 9 lbs.

     Our chickens, or my girls as I affectionately refer to them, are doing fantastic!  They are giving us the best eggs I have ever tasted.  I learned quickly that some hens lay more than one egg a day.  We have 19 hens and one rooster.  All summer long we were getting two dozen eggs per day!  I think our highest daily production was twenty-eight.  It has been a real blessing because we have been selling the eggs and the money has helped pay for their food.  I sell a dozen eggs for $3.50 and eighteen for $5.00.  Even with winter here we are still getting an average of ten eggs a day.  I am very proud of my girls.
     We also raised and butchered 50 Cornish chickens.  The meat is delicious and even with the cost of the chicks, shipping and the food it is still cheaper then if we had bought it all from the store.  Once we get the goats going we will have chicken, rabbit, goat and deer meat in our fridge and freezer.  Once that happens we will no longer be buying any meat from the grocer.  I am thrilled about that because we will not be feeding our family any meats that have been pumped full of steroids, antibiotics or hormones.  That is a big deal worthy of celebrating!
You've got to love the full freezer!

     As to our new composting system with the leaves was a HUGE success!!  With what we saved up last year we kept the chicken run full all winter long (it helps to keep their feet clean and gives them lots of stuff to peck at instead of at each other, lol) and made enough soil to top off all of our eight raised beds, mom's flower beds, the flag pole garden bed and my herb bed as well.  We still have about two full trailers worth.  I'm donating them to a fellow gardener to top off her beds.  The way we figure it we will never have to buy a load of dirt again.  We are not growing anything this winter in order to give the beds a rest.  I'm calling it the "spa treatment". 
The soil we made with the oak leaves from last year.
The chipper shredder that we put all the leaves and compost through to make the soil.
Straw mulch in the beds.  Really helped with the water retention!
Installing the hoops and wires.

The first shade cloth up and operational.

Shade system opened up.
    The new things in the garden are quite exciting this year.  We designed and built a shade system that worked perfectly this year to help with the heat we had this summer.  We will need to replace the shade cloths with a better material but the concept worked just as we had hoped.  It kept the heat off the blooms enough to allow them to go to fruit as well as keeping the moisture from evaporating from the soil too quickly.  We also mulched every bed very heavily with straw.  That was also a great idea.  The straw kept the beds wet for three to four days after each watering.  It effectively cut our water bill by one third.  The rain barrels did great this year as well.  The ones in the garden need to be redone however.  They need to be raised up on cinder blocks and the pipes need to be taken apart and cleaned out.  That's not a big deal though.  With everything we do we learn something new or a better way to do things next time.
     The herbs did really well this year.  The heat never seems to affect them much at all.  I wish all the veggies we grow did as well.  I love the way harvest time makes our home smell.

Harvest of the herbs.
Rabbit hutch.

The new shed.

Building the new stall.

The new stall finished.
       We did get the new stall built.  We turned the old one into a shed and built the new one on the back of it.  We also built some new hutches for the rabbits and a new run for the meat chicks.  The next project we are planning for now is a good size green house.  We'd like to be able to grow our vegetables year round and get to eating seasonally.  
     Well, that's about all that has gone on here the last nine months.  I hope everyone else has had as productive a year as we have.  See you next year!


Thursday, March 1, 2012

 These are the seeds we have started for the cold weather plants.

 This is our little greenhouse.

This is the little freezer we picked up for fifty bucks!  We'll use it to freeze the 2 liters that we have saved up this winter.  What will we do with them?  We'll keep the chickens and rabbits cool this summer.  Last summer was brutal and this summer is expected to be the same.
 These are our chickens.  We are expecting eggs this month!

MM did a fantastic job on the coop and run.  Haven't had a predator get in yet! 

Potatoes ready for planting in the tires.

Potato tires.

This is our new compost area where we are making the most of all the oak leaves and used straw from the chicken coop.
It holds about 100 bags of leaves and straw with room to spare.

This is the huge hole we are digging to capture additional rain run-off.  Once completed we will build a form and pour cement in it.  We can then use our sump pump to water the back yard gardens.

I forgot to take pics of the rain barrel system that MM built me.  They work fantastic and inspired this hole.

This is my son Nate and my sweet Sarah Anne digging the hole.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

What a wonderful way to spend a lazy Sunday.

I'm sitting here, listening to a Dave Mathews concert and getting ready to review all the things that have happened over the last five months.  We have been very busy. 

The last time I checked in I had just been accepted into the Mater Gardeners internship.  Wow, was that an intimidating period of time!  It was such an intense time of study and learning.  The first few weeks I thought I had really gotten in over my head but as the time progressed I realized that either the weekly tests were getting easier or I was getting smarter, lol.  The first thing I learned was the difference between dirt and soil.  Dirt is what you sweep up off the floor and soil is what you grow your plants in.  I have always loved gardening and when I lived in Idaho I had thought I was a great gardener.  Then I moved to Oklahoma and quickly learned that I had been an average gardener that had been gardening in great soil.  Down here in Oklahoma we have to make our soil.  Taking that class was one of the best decisions that I have made.  The people that are fellow gardeners are some of the most wonderful people I have ever met.  What I enjoy the most is the sincere desire of the O.S.U. extension office to help us learn to grow our food.  No matter what the question is they will take the time to find an answer.  You would be surprised how many younger people are calling or coming in to find out how to rediscover all the lost knowledge of growing food.  In talking to them I discover that it is the economy that is driving them to do so.  Then they taste the difference in flavor of home grown food compared to corporately grown food and they are hooked!

We got the chicks in late October.  They have been a joy to raise.  The kids and I have had so much fun watching them grow.  I'm not quite sure how we are going to proceed in regards to butchering them and restocking.  It would be easier to just buy them, raise them, get the eggs while you can and then butcher them and start all over again.  You can't introduce chicks into a group of grown chickens or they will kill them.  I guess we could have a hatchery area.  I don't know...  I'll have to put some more thought into that.  They will be laying eggs by next month!  I am excited for that to start.  Once we can sell eggs we will be able to cover the cost of the feed.  I'm sad to say that we lost our camera and have not been able to replace it yet so I will not be able to post any pictures of all the wonderful times that we have shared in this new adventure.  I spent a lot of time yesterday reading up on all my chicken blogs and learned so much!  I will be adding a couple of wheelbarrows full of our oak leaves to the run.  It will accomplish several things.  The first being to help keep their feet clean.  Secondly, they love it and the bugs it brings.  Thirdly, it will help slow down the erosion from all their dust baths and last but not least, it will break down into compost for the garden.

Speaking of composting, we added a new feature this year.  While I was still in my MG classes I got the chance to pick Steve's brain.  He's the compost guy.  Until this year, we have always burned about 100 bags worth of oak leaves every fall.  When Steve heard this his face got this flustered look and the first words out his mouth were, "Shame on you.  Don't you know that oak leaves are like gold for your garden?".  So, having been properly chastised and motivated, this year we created a 25' x 25' area to compost them.  It was relatively easy and inexpensive.  Wish I could show you what it looks like.  Once we get another camera I will catch up everything.  We bought a hundred foot section of the orange material they use on construction sites to keep the debris from blowing off the site.  It's not the prettiest thing to look at but hey, this IS a working farm/homestead and it ain't always pretty.  By next fall I'll be able to restock the soil in the raised beds and I won't be spending the money on having a load of soil brought in!  Yep, I'm feeling pretty thrifty (and proud of myself, in case you couldn't tell) about it.  Between that and the double-barreled tumbler composter we have I don't think we'll ever have to buy another load of soil.

We are going to start breeding the rabbits this week.  We will be providing meat for our household and one of my brother's as well.  They have been the easiest and the cheapest to raise. Were you aware that rabbits are only pregnant for thirty-one days?  Lucky ducks, or rather rabbits, lol.  Another cool fact is that you only raise them eight weeks before you butcher them.  Easy!  If I could find a butcher that could handle rabbits I could eventually sell the meat to local restaurants.  That would be another stream of income for the farm.

We will be getting a bee hive this spring.  Did you know that honey is the only food that never spoils?  Not to mention how expensive it is.  If there was enough honey produced we could sell that as well making yet another stream.  It will also help revive the honey bee population in this area and help with the pollination of our own crops.  I am allergic to bee stings but as I've gotten older I learned that if you don't freak out they pretty much leave you alone and if they don't then squirt them with the hose and they will.  My new son Nate has agreed to harvest the honey for us and seeing how he has done it before I am more than happy to let him.

This spring we will be building a new stall (we turned the old one into a storage building) in preparation for getting two cows, one male and one female.  Why?  Meat and milk silly!  Speaking of real food, here are a few sites you all should check out. 

We are also trying to find some one to plow a few acres for us so that we can grow some wheat, hay and oats.  Hay to feed the livestock in the winter.  Wheat for the grains and for the straw that we use in the coop.  Oats to feed the chickens and us.  Haven't had much luck.  If you know of anyone please let me know.  Luckily, all three grow well in sandy soils.  Another crop that likes sandy soils are potatoes.  We will be doing the tire method this year.  I learned it from "Mother Earth News".  It is one of my all time favorite magazines.  They have the scoop on everything we are doing here and can help you too.  Here is the link for them.   We will be starting them this month along with the rest of the crops that do well in colder weather.

MM has finished all but one rain barrel  on our rain water system.  I am really pleased with it.  We get 1500 gallons off of our roof for every inch of rain we get.  Amazing isn't it?  If you are interested in finding out what your roof sheds here is the link.  I am really hoping to make a dent in our water bill this year with the barrels we collect.  I'll let you know how it goes.

The morning is foggy and I’m home alone, listening to Natalie Merchant and enjoying myself immensely!  It's the perfect time to finish this post.  The kids are at the Tulsa Air and Space Museum. It’s a nice break from the homeschooling and I get to sort my seeds and get things ready for starting for the spring garden this year. We got the portable green house set up in front of my living room windows yesterday. I have the perfect windows for starting seeds. They get light from the time the sun comes up till it sets in the evening. It still surprises me how we live in such a small house, filled with six people, three dogs, five cats, a rat, snake, and a lizard. You’d think that it would be impossible that we could fit an area to start our seeds into the scene. Yet we do, every year. We, me and MM, always make the room, be it human, animal or vegetable, lol. I really like that about us. I get to live in a home of light and love, surrounded by the ones I love more than life itself, doing the things I love to do, living the life I never dreamed of yet can’t imagine doing anything else. It is all I could ever hope for or desire. It is so good to be me.  It is my prayer that this finds you all feeling the same way.  Till next time, God speed.