Spring 2018

Spring is slowly, but surely, coming upon us here in the great Northeast. It’s been a very wet, muddy winter, with nearly non-stop rain and snow all season. Period of warmth allowed the snow to keep melting between storms, but we have flooding in all low-lying areas, including all around our property!

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Our seedlings are going strong indoors  – tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and a few greens – and I have been able to get out on some of the milder days to start tilling and preparing my garden bed. I added more soil and some of our compost, and it is looking lovely! If I was a plant, I’d want to settle my roots there! Any how, for a detailed look at what I will be growing, eating and preserving in our garden this year, head on over to our
What Are We Growing? page and check it out!

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Beekeeping
This spring completes our first year as beekeepers! I am so eager to get a look inside our beehives. On warm days, both hives are active, and you can see the honeybees coming and going, doing their cleansing flights and preparing for Spring work. This was so exhilarating and relieving the first time we saw it! Our honeybees survived their first winter! So many times you hear how first year keepers lose one or more hives, and so we were feeling the pressure to do as much as we could do help our hives along.

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I did get to peek at them a few weeks ago, on a warm, sunny day. I removed the top covers on each hive for just a few minutes, long enough to replace some of the wet pine shavings in the top box that help control the overall hive moisture (it’s so critical to keep excess moisture out of the hives during the winter, so the bees don’t get wet, cold, and die). There was a small cluster of bees in each hive that were quietly working on the candy boards. The silence that hundreds of honey bees are capable of is astounding – I will never forget bringing home our two packages of honey bees, and how you would never know they were in the car or house if someone didn’t tell you!

We picked up a bunch of hive bodies, and are hoping to create a third colony this year. Three, we have decided, will be our perfect number of hives, and I am hoping we can do a successful split of our strong hive, to create the new colony.

 

Chickens
Our chickens are doing very well, and resumed laying a few weeks ago. How I have missed fresh eggs! We have been able to allow them to free range around the property, they tend to stay in the general area of the coop, but I have found them wandering off a time or two. The did build an adorable nest in a sea grass we have growing up front, where they started depositing their eggs on days they free-ranged. Luckily we found it early on, before they eggs had been sitting there long, as I couldn’t find one of the chickens and went on a panicked run of the property. We do have a lot of large hawks, some foxes and coyotes, so the reality of them being picked up by a hungry predator is very real.

 

We are hoping to completely redo the chicken run, and replace the coop, this year. If all goes well, I would like to get a couple new chicks in Spring 2019 to add to our flock!

 

Pantry
Our pantry, while dwindling down on canned goods, is actually still feeding us quite well. We finished up the last of the tomatoes two weeks ago, the peaches are gone, and most of the beets. There are a few jars each of strawberries, blueberries and apple butter, and maybe one or two lingering on our peaches. We have been replenishing the vegetable stock on a regular basis. I used to just freeze it all in bouillon-style cubes, but I like having the jars of stock better, so we have been doing that more frequently.

 

 

Our carrots held over really well, all 267 of them! I still cannot get over how many we put away. We finished the first crate around February, and are wrapping up the second box. This box got watered a little less, so we have had more losses as far as wrinkly or woody carrots, but we just drop them in the stock pot and it works just fine for that purpose!

I have big dreams for redesigning our upstairs pantry, and moving my herbal apothecary upstairs. We preserved a lot of our own herbs last year, and I feel like we would use them more frequently if we could see those beautiful chamomile flowers, the soft lambs ear, or the robust rosemary just beckoning to use from an rough-hewn, open shelf.

 

Home & Family
We have done small projects here and there in the house. Our basement is just too damp, so I gave up on having a craft room. I relocated my spinning wheel and sewing machine & table upstairs. We plan to just use the space for our seasonal storage, root cellar/pantry, and to build more wine bottle shelving and develop more of our own wine cellar.

An afternoon of some simple wood work resulted in a beautiful new closet system for our bedroom, and we were able to get rid of our dresser entirely! I love this, as it helps us continue to pursue our clean, minimal-ish (we definitely aren’t true minimalists!) lifestyle. It has made the closet space far more functional and sensible, and I am so happy!

This year, we also transitioned to a whole-foods, plant-based (WFPB) diet. Similar to a vegan diet, this means no animal-products – like meat or cheese. We don’t adhere to this 100%, as we still enjoy our eggs and occasional seafood. We will also, from time to time, enjoy some wild game, but these instances are rare and far between.

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The other reason we use the term WFPB is because a lot of vegetarians/vegans simply replace meat/dairy with highly-processed alternatives. We rarely ate processed foods before our changeover, so we aren’t going to incorporate them now. Everything is simply fresh and homemade.

So far, we are all loving the benefits and positive effects of the diet, and it has renewed our creative passions for cooking. I have been experimenting with vegan cheeses and creams, and the results are delicious!

I also plan on baking more this year – bread, mostly. I am making an organic Einkorn sourdough starter, and want to make more whole grain and sprouted breads, naan, flatbreads, etc., for us to enjoy.

 

2018 Recap
There is a lot ahead of us for this year! Big projects, small projects, and of course the usual routines and property maintenance that make up our wonderful, homesteading life. We kicked off the year with a fantastic maple sap harvest, turning it into 40-oz of beautiful maple syrup. The sap run is, to me, the marker of the beginning of a new year, and a new cycle. Then the hustle and bustle of the year bursts open – preparing the gardens and seed starting, cleaning the house from the winter, splitting and stacking and moving firewood, rotating compost, bee keeping, lawn maintenance, garden maintenance, foraging, picking, canning and preserving, preparing the pantry for winter; then it’s time for our annual Harvest Festival, and the wind down back into winter begins with putting our tools to bed, buttoning up hives, coops, greenhouses and loading the winter bins with firewood once more.

I’m looking forward to the explosion of activity, the physical labor and the long days ahead!

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Composting – An Easy How-To Guide

Composting is a really easy and beneficial practice for any homestead or property. It’s a great way to utilize the inedible portions of fruits or vegetables, as well as scraps and bits that don’t make it into your dish. (For another use for vegetable scraps, check out our post on DIY: Stock!

Your compost pile can be as small or large as you like, and in addition to giving these scraps new life, you are building your very own supply of natural, organic fertilizer! I have been using our own compost as my only form of fertilizer and nutritional support for my garden beds for years now. Continue reading “Composting – An Easy How-To Guide”

Garden Planning Tips

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I absolutely love garden planning, to the point that I tend to start thinking about next year before I’ve even put this year’s garden to bed. I even find myself slightly disappointed in the lack of “work” there is to do in planning these days – I’ve honed in on those tried-and-true varieties, and really gotten the layout of my vegetable bed down to a science. Really, it plans itself nowadays! Continue reading “Garden Planning Tips”

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 “Homestead Update: A Greenhouse”

How to Keep A Garden Journal

I’ve been keeping a garden journal for several years now. Some years were more detailed than others, or I kept more frequent notes, and other years I only jotted down my varietals and a few early weather notes. Since moving to our current property, I’ve “upgraded” my note taking to include all homesteading things: wildlife sightings, chicken and bee keeping notes, gardening, weather, seed starting, and even our canning totals!

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Keeping a log or journal can seem like a daunting task at first – how do you get started? What do you need? I’ve found that over the years my needs have changed, and being open to adapting and changing your format is key to a successful journal.  Continue reading “How to Keep A Garden Journal”

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!

 

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