Category Archives: Creating Our Homestead

Homestead Update: A Greenhouse

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One project that has been underway since March on our property is the building of our very own greenhouse – shed. This combination building was really an exciting project for me, as I have dreamed of having a greenhouse for years. With our growing homestead, we needed a space to organize the gardening tools, yard implements, our chicken bedding, feed and tools, as well as our new assortment of beekeeping equipment.  Continue reading

Honeybee Hive Set-up

Yesterday I prepared the site and setup the beehives for the honeybees we have coming at the end of next week.

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Happy hives!

Keeping honeybees has been a long time dream of mine, and I am so excited to finally be embarking on our own beekeeping journey! I cleaned, heat treated, and repainted our hive bodies back in February, during a nice warm period we had. Since then, we have ordered the few extra pieces we needed, and are now feeling ready for our new friends. Continue reading

April Update

Hello all! Just me, finally making myself post an update so you know we’re all still here. I actually have a slew of post topics and pictures ready, but we have been working all day and right up to bedtime on our various projects, so I haven’t carved out anytime for the blog.

What have we been up to? Well, a dear friend passed away a few months ago, and we were lucky enough to receive his old beehives.  My husband and I had always hoped this friend would be our bee-mentor when we were ready for bees, but we are happy to have and use his hives! We had a very warm spell in February, so while we boiled down our maple sap for maple syrup, we cleaned and scraped down the hive bodies and frames; removed wax moth cocoons, and heat treated everything to kill any bacteria or mites that could be lingering. After a fresh coat of a beautiful, pastel green paint, they are ready for our yard! Our honeybees should be here just in time for Earth day, as our pick up day is scheduled for 4/22! How perfect.

We will still work on developing our Mason bee community, and we have maybe 10 of our own cocoons from last year that should be hatching soon. We did order more cocoons, and I got the tubes out about two weeks ago, so they’ll have time to air out and not smell like humans!

As far as animals go, I would still like to get a bat house up for our local silver-haired bats, but I’m a little late to the party for those returning this spring. I’ve made it a goal for the fall, to get it up before winter, this way it will be aired out and ready for them when they return from migration.

Our five chickens are doing well, and all of our hens are laying. I picked my layer breeds specifically for their hardiness for our zone, as well as their egg color. We get turquoise, chocolate-red, and two shades of tan eggs every day, and they never get old to look at! They are just beautiful – it makes me think that people have no idea what they are missing out on when they purchase commercial eggs at the grocery store! So sad.

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We do have a big coop project ahead, which has been set back due to extreme flooding. With the snow melt off and all the rain we have had lately, the ground is absolutely saturated, and the water has nowhere to go – creating a trickling stream in the center of our yard, that flows straight down into the coop! The entire run flooded, and the chickens were up to their little knees in water and mud, poor things! We dug some channels and moved rocks to allow it to drain, but unfortunately, until the river in the yard stops, we can’t do much else! It’s also supposed to rain again for most of the week, which I hope changes. Once everything is dry, we have a plan to adapt the coop run so it drains better, and this doesn’t happen again. We had experienced minor flooding in that area before, but never like this! I hope it doesn’t last long,  but we put a wooden pallet in the run on top of the mud to give them a dry place to stand when outside, and much of the flooding has gone down at least.

This flooding reminds me of the failure of my massive corn and oat patch last year, which was just next door to our coop and between flooding and the squirrels, was a flop. My husband built the area up with stone, and found a (somewhat) local guy who builds greenhouses, sheds, etc., and he has begun building a greenhouse-shed combo for us. The frame is up, and we painted the door and window frames already. Just waiting for the siding and roofing to come in, and it’ll be finished! It’s coming out beautifully, and I am so excited to “move in” with my seedlings and gardening tools!

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Another big development that I haven’t shared yet is that we are expecting our second child this August, I’m about five months pregnant now. So we have been doing some house projects to prepare the baby’s room, move around existing furniture, and occupy my incessant need to be busy. We recently removed the wallpaper from our hallway and repainted it, it came out beautiful. I’ve done some knitting projects in the evenings, and made a blanket, some booties, and a little stuffed fox, for our new little one. I even adapted the fox pattern to make a little raccoon for our nearly 2-year old daughter, who just loves raccoons.

I’m also working on a painting project for my daughter’s birthday present, and I’ll post photos of it when it’s finished. It’s coming out really nicely, so I’m very excited.

All my vegetable plants and some flowers are now healthy seedlings, everyone is on track for this year’s garden.

We’ve also been busy with family and friend events, dinners and get togethers. We’re celebrating two weddings this year (of which either my husband or myself is actually “in”) so we have been occupied with various preparations on those ends as well.

I have some recipes to share, DIY project ideas, and more, so I’ll try to get those ASAP. But at least for now, you see what we’ve been up to in Woodford, and know some our springtime projects!

Adding Honeybees to the Homestead

Exciting things are planned for 2017, and one of them is a long-time goal of mine! While I was able to check chicken-keeping off my list years ago, beekeeping has always been beyond us.

After moving to our new home one 2015, beekeeping became more of a reality (albeit, distant) than dream, as we began to plan for all of the things we would one day like on our property.

In 2016, we tried Mason bees and Leafcutter bees for the first time, and experienced a bunch of problems: after releasing both bees, we had sudden and unforecasted torrential downpours (so bad, our little road looked like a river and we had major flooding in the yard), as well as a bird who kept knocking tubes out of the house to try and nest there. In the end, we were able to harvest maybe a dozen Mason bee cocoons, and half a dozen Leafcutter bees. We were a little saddened by the lack of a triumphant success with our first bee experiment, but not disheartened. We plan to release our harvested bees this year, and possibly order more to bolster our solitary bee community.

This year, however, we take an even larger step in beekeeping as we add <b>honeybees</b> to our homestead!

Money of our dear friends passed away recently, and we acquired his old langstroth bee hives. Now I know that reusing old hives is a controversial topic in the beekeeping community, but we knew the colonies had been removed, and had not been the victims of bacteria, disease or mites. The hive boxes and most frames were in excellent condition, and we only had to scrape out excess propolis and wax. There were wax moths in some of the boxes, no doubt finding a happy home in the vacated hives, and unfortunately, even a mouse!

It took two days of scraping and cleaning, then I scrubbed the boxes with a vinegar solution, rinsed well and left them in the sun to dry out. After they had dried, I heat-treated the boxes with a blow torch, just to be safe, eliminating any bacteria and mites from the wood.

I repainted the hives with a thick coat of a nice, very light pastel green that will look so nice in the yard. Hives should be painted white, or a pastel color, to help deflect heat.

We’ve ordered two packages of bees, as it is recommended to start with two hives, this way you have the ability to compare colonies as you go. It also gives you a better chance of saving one colony if the other loses its queen, or has other issues. One 3-lb package of bees contains approximately 10,000 honey bees!

Our tentative pick up date is set for April 22nd – Earth Day! What better way to celebrate Earth Day than by starting our own bee colonies! Honey bees are in danger, both in the US and world wide, due to the extensive use of chemical pesticides and GMO plants. It’s scary to think about what the world would look like without bees!

My husband and I will be taking an introductory bee course this coming week to supplement our research, and the beekeeper we ordered our honeybees from has offered to help us out and mentor is as we learn! It’s great to have resources nearby to lend a hand of something happens and we don’t know what is going on, or how to fix it!

I’m very excited to start our honeybee colonies this April, and we’re enjoying researching, reading books and watching every bee-related documentary and movie we can find! Should I be corny? It’s going to be a bee-utiful year!

8 Tips for a Successful Garden

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If you have ever kept a garden, even a small one, you are aware of how much time and labor goes in. Unless you are going for the jungle-look, there are weeds to pull, plants to trim, stake and cover, never mind the time spent actually harvesting and preparing the produce for canning, dehydrating or freezing.image

I have been gardening for several years now, and each year I learn something new. I’ve had neat little gardens, and been the guilty keeper of a messy jungle garden. I’ve had multiple sized gardens, enjoying wide spread rows as well as the square-foot method. With all these experiences, I thought I would share some of my best gardening tips.

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  1. Start weeding before you put in your plants. Most people think of weeding as something that needs to be done at the same time as planting, or just once those vegetables are in the ground. However, it’s never too early to pull weeds, and the sooner you start, the better. Weeding eliminates competition for your vegetables, by ensuring there is plenty of space for roots systems to develop, as well as stopping undesired plants from depleting the soil’s nutrients.
  2. Weed in the mornings. My morning routine always includes a trip to pull weeds in my vegetable and herb garden beds. Getting outside early means pulling weeds before the heat of the day, making the chore more enjoyable. It also reduces your sun exposure, making for healthier weeding, too. If you can’t make the mornings work, there is nothing less enjoyable about an early evening weed-pulling session. The important part is to weed daily. Pinch out those pesky plants before they get way ahead of you, and start wreaking havoc in your garden.image
  3. Thin seedlings in the morning or evening, only. Avoid thinning or moving seedlings when the sun is high and the day is hot. You are more likely to have success if you move them in the cool morning or evening, and give them a little drink of water right after.
  4. Thin seedlings after rain fall. Thinning right after a good rain has always proved to be the most successful for me as well – the ground is wet and soil soft, so less roots get damaged. If you’re in a dry spell, but those seedlings can’t wait, thin them after a good, hearty watering, in the early morning or late afternoon, when it is not in direct sun.
  5. Stake early. Even if your plants don’t need stakes or trellises yet, get these in place ASAP. This way you disturb the growing plant as little as possible, and the support is ready when needed.image
  6. It’s all about the roots! You can weed and weed until the sun goes down, but if you are leaving the roots behind, you’re wasting your time. Sure, I wear work gloves when dealing with thorny plants, or those with toxins like poison ivy, but when it comes to your every day weeds, bare-handed is the way to go. No gadget or glove will ever compare to the knowing, pincer-grasp of your fingers as they wiggle into the ground, following the weed down and pulling the whole plant out. Removing the roots (or at the very least, as much of them as possible), will prevent that plant from regrowing and making you feel crazy when the same weed keeps returning from the dead.image
  7. Enjoy it. There is no sense in doing something you don’t love, if you can avoid it. Gardening shouldn’t be a chore, where you “have” to go do this, or else. Gardening is a wonderful chance to be out doors, soaking in the sun, breathing in the fresh air. Admire the fall of sunlight on the various leaves and fruits, the songs of birds and gentle buzzing of your gardening-coworkers, those lovely little local bees.
  8. Share the love. Invite your children and loved ones into the garden with you. I love watching the delight on my daughter’s face as I hand her a freshly picked green bean or radish to eat. She wrinkles her nose and smiles so wide as she reaches out that tiny hand to grab a fresh, garden treat. She has even learned to spot and harvest our snap peas all on her own – standing on tip toe at the garden fence and reaching over to pull another into her mouth. I love knowing she will grow up in my gardens, pulling weeds and eating produce straight from the dirt and plant. I love the excitement I see even on my husband’s face when we see fresh berries developing, or stumble across a giant squash we never even saw as a bud. Sharing the knowledge and love of gardening with your family is one of the best gifts you can give, and watching them enjoy it too is one of the best you can receive.

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June & July

Hi all! Summer is blazing by here in New England. Our days have been a flurry of activity, from chores and farm work, to days on the lake and evenings around the bonfire.image

Our garden is nearing that full-swing, daily harvest mode. We enjoyed our spring radishes and even some fresh strawberries (the few the chipmunks left for us, that is!). We’ve snacked on snap peas and enjoyed salads and fresh herbs. Now it’s time for bushels of pole beans, roasted beets, blackberries, squash, peppers, and sun-kissed tomatoes. Our garden is bursting with produce, and our pumpkin hill is loaded with massive plants featuring nearly a dozen little pumpkins.
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Our day-old chicks arrived in early June, and spent about 4-5 weeks indoors. They’re out in the coop now, and I thoroughly enjoy watching their antics.

We’ve had our share of poultry problems this time around – one chick didn’t survive shipping, and a second died suddenly a few days later. Yesterday, I went out to the coop to discover that one of my designated layers, a Silver Laced Wyandotte, had squeezed out of the coop at some point. We had thought our little runt was too big to make it through, but alas, she’s gone. We hiked around in the slim chance we could recover her, but knew it was highly unlikely. At least we went heavy on our order for chicks, to help buffer us from such losses.

We received and released Leafcutter bees last week, only to have the misfortune of unexpected torrential downpours almost immediately after. A quick check of the tubes last night revealed a few bees have stuck around, I only hope the others found safe spots to wait out the storm. Leafcutter bees are astoundingly small! I don’t see them faring well in such heavy rains.

 

July 4th also brings around Garlic Harvesting Day! Based on the weather and the appearance of our garlic, we harvested  a few days early and pulled up our bulbs on 7/1. I let them dry out and then processed and hung them on the fourth. We planted 48 cloves, and ended with a harvest of 45 bulbs! Not bad, only a loss of three, and the bulbs are much bigger than last year’s harvest! Around 50-bulbs seems to be the perfect number for us, we have a few small bulbs leftover from 2014’s harvest, just in time to transition to our new stuff! I’m letting the new garlic cure while we finish out the last of 2014’s garlic.

If you’ve never grown Garlic before, you should! It’s an easy plant-it-and-forget-it type that doesn’t require a lot of room. Check out my tips on planting and harvesting and curing garlic.

Our firewood for 2017 is all split at last, and we have been working on stacking it neatly so it can season. I am excited to have it completed so we can take a measurement and figure out how many cords are there. We have so much, I don’t see us burning it all in one winter, which is wonderful as that puts us off to a good start on 2018’s wood!
Fire wood is one of those pivotal, forever-ongoing projects for homesteaders. Do you know what wood is good for burning? Check out my guide on choosing the right wood for firewood.

In splitting the logs, we came across some really beautiful oak and spalted maple, which my husband cut down into thin round and rectangular boards. We’ll sand and smooth them a little, and then I intend on wood burning some for decorative signs. I hope to have a few available in our Etsy shop soon, along with a few other handmade items from Woodford/locally sourced materials.

Another project we just wrapped up was the Cabernet Sauvignon we started in 2014. It was finally ready for bottling, and we corked the last of it this past Sunday. We ended up with a little over (4) cases of wine total. While we still hold that our 2013 was better, but this wine came out very nice and is an enjoyable vintage. We are hoping to purchase grapes again this fall, it’s such a wonderful experience, and processing the grapes is so much fun.

There is much work ahead as the summer rolls on and fall approaches, and we also are looking forward to hosting our first Woodford Harvest Festival, an event we hope to grow and repeat annually. Our goal is for the dinner to be solely comprised of home-cooked food that is made with ingredients that we, our family and friends have grown, raised or harvested ourselves. A sort of celebration of Nature and the homesteading lives we enjoy.

Its been a wondeful summer all in all. We have had great success and some troubles too, but all are great learning experiences that we will take with us into our future adventures.

Until next time, may your gardens be plentiful and your hands busy!

 

Rain Barrels, Mason Bees & More

Hi all! Just a little update from Woodford!

This week we hooked up our first 55-gallon rain barrel! This particular barrel is near my gardens, so it will be used to water all of the delicious veggies I hope to have! My husband made a too-cute wooden box to house the barrel out of pallet wood, and decorated it with miscellaneous items found on the property. He added a beautiful hand pump to the top for me to use, and boy, am I excited! Now I just need the plants to water! We lucked out as far as testing out the new setup went, not only did it rain the next day, but it rained straight through the night too, FILLING the barrel!! I was astounded… Now we just need to get the others hooked up!

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After two potential Mason bee sightings, we have put our Mason bee house out. The bees we ordered are shipping at the end of April, as we wanted to be sure there was enough flowering plants for them, but I’m pretty sure I saw at least one already! It’s been so warm, I wouldn’t be surprised if native, dormant bees have started hatching. The daffodils are up and close to blooming, and I see a few irises peeking through the soil too.

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All of of our greenhouse plants are doing well! I have (3) varieties of tomatoes, (3) varieties of peppers and (1) variety of eggplant in there now, all growing rapidly. The greenhouse gets so much sun during the day that I only have to use a heat pad on the cold nights to keep them warm. I’ve never had to use the heat lamp, and on most afternoons we have to open the greenhouse up because it will get up to 100 degrees in there quite quickly!

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I have some herbs, cucumbers and flowers in the germinator that are slowly but surely taking off. I may have mentioned that I attempted to grow Strawberry spinach again, the one plant that has alluded me for the past few years. Well, it may only be one, but I have one little seed that germinated! I made my husband look at the little plant as proof that it existed, in the instance it heels over and dies soon, just to spite me of course. Everyone swears this plant is weed-like: grows easily and is tough to get rid of, but you could’ve fooled me! Oh well, I’ll just have to see what happens with my one little seedling.

Tomorrow is the first official day of Spring, although we have been enjoying Spring temperatures for several weeks now. Ironically enough, there is a potential snow storm in the forecast! The anticipated snow fall and accumulation keeps fluctuating widely in the reports though, so we will have to see if we get anything at all! The threat of snow is a good and much needed reminder, however, of why it isn’t a good idea for me to go crazy and start throwing out the snap pea and salad mix seeds. I’m so eager to get gardening!