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”

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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!

 

Purposeful Planting

When you embark on a homesteading journey, whether your property is large or small, getting the most out of everything becomes very important. Sustainability, limiting our waste, reusing and repurposing are all ideals that have always been important to me, but now as a mother and mini-homesteader, I feel that these have been amplified. They are a major part of my core values, lessons that I want to teach and instill in our daughter.

This got me thinking about something I call purposeful planting. What is it? What does it mean?

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Purposeful planting is the act of thinking about your crops from start to finish, how every part can be used, and designing your garden spaces to use those plants to their fullest. Whether you are planting flowers, herbs, vegetables, grains or fruit, everything can be arranged and maintained to create a symbiotic relationship on your property. Here are some examples of purposeful planting that we use, which may help you, too, as you plan your garden and landscaping.

Companion Planting: I’m sure most of us are familiar with this practice, even if it’s by name only. Companion planting is when you put specific plants together that are known to help each other out in one or more ways. Sometimes it may be as simple as one plant deterring pests from the other, like marigolds do for tomato plants. Or maybe one plant replenishes a specific nutrient the other needs to thrive, as in chives with strawberries. Considering what plants will be beneficial to each other (and which are less friendly together!) will greatly increase the success of your gardens and harvests. This is especially true when planting perennials, as they will be in the same spot year after year.

Function: How will your crop interact with its surroundings? What will it do to boost the health of your soil, native bees, or local wildlife? Does it serve alternate purposes for you?

Choosing plants that have multiple purposes or functions will be beneficial to you and your garden. Cover crops are a great example of a plant the enriches garden space. They avoid erosion by holding soil in place with their root system, replenish necessary nutrients to the soil (especially when allowed to decompose back into the soil after its season), and can provide food for bees, insects and birds.

Considering what the plant will look like, and how it will grow, is also important. Is it decorative? Will it provide shade in a needed spot, or act as a privacy screen between neighbors or an unsightly storage area?

• What other harvestable resources does it provide?A great example of purposeful planting, is considering what other unusual reasons you could harvest the plant for. As an example, we will be planting a patch of sunflowers near our driveway that will serve for several functions: a decorative “fence” to block the view of storage from our house, pollen for bees, seeds for birds, our chickens and some for replanting next year, and once the plants have died and dried out, we will use the hollow stems as tubes for our native bee house next year.

There are many other plants that can have more than the obvious, intended purpose. Choosing items that will give you the most return for your labor and time helps you to utilize your space the best. Consider using stalky plants as supports for creeping vines (think “Three Sisters”!); attractive, perennial ground covers that flower for bee-food, but may have culinary or medicinal purposes; even a small patch of oats! We will be planting oats this spring to reduce erosion, encourage healthy soil, to harvest for our own oats to eat and we will use the dried straw for chicken bedding and mulching!

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Purposeful planting can really help you farm your land to your greatest benefit, which is even more important the smaller your property is. But it goes beyond what you can get out of it; this is about being a good steward for the land. Replenishing and enriching your soil doesn’t just mean a bountiful, nutritious crop for you, it encourages healthy bacterium and insect life.  Choosing plants like borage, bee balm or feverfew that are beautiful, medicinal/edible perennials also means food for bees, without whom we wouldn’t have anything to eat.

By planting with purpose, we can farm and homestead in a way that is symbiotic with nature, harmonious. We can take care of the soil, plants and wildlife that feed and sustain us as well, ensuring that we can continue to do so for many, many years to come. So as you start putting plants and seeds in the ground this Spring, take a step back and consider what additional uses those plants provide – to you, and your land.


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2016 Goals

When we first purchased our dream home, almost a year ago now, I posted about some of our immediate dreams and goals for the property. In the past 10 months, we’ve put in a ton of work, and the change is drastic!

It’s exciting to reread the list of goals and see so many of them have been accomplished already! (Read all about our initial goals here: 2015 Homestead Goals) The yard has been cleared and the grass is gorgeous, the flower beds removed and prepped for this year’s vegetables and herbs, and the beaten old shed was torn down. We have since decided against building a new shed in the back, so we can scratch that one out!  For our firewood goal, we have about 3 years of wood which is excellent, and a testament to my husband’s diligent work last summer while I was on maternity leave.

The rain catch system is something we are currently working on, we have a small rain barrel for the chicken coop, and (2) 55-gallon barrels for the garden beds. It sounds like we may be getting two more, much larger containers to put under our deck as well. Being able to capture and use as much rainwater as possible for our animals and gardens  will really help our well out, especially since there is no way to know what type of Summer we will have! We managed to drain it dry last summer while obsessively tending our precious grass seed. Luckily the well recovered in only a few hours, but we want to do all we can to avoid that in the future.

We have also already begun work on the hillside which will be more play space and our orchard. It’s a big project, but we’ll take it one day at a time as always.

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Frugal Finds: My husband surprised me with two of these beautiful watering cans! Just $20 for the pair, they are large and heavy duty. I’m thrilled to have them in time for this year’s gardening season!

Starting on these projects has me thinking, what else do we want to accomplish this year? Many of our ideas are already under way, so I find myself hoping for success in all we do. I know failures and set backs will occur, and I can only hope they are minor and prove to be good learning lessons!

Without further ado, my hopes for 2016 are:

  1. Clear the hill for our orchard
  2. Plant ever greens behind stonewall for privacy (to replace the the rhodedendron we just hacked down, making our one close neighbor visible)
  3. Clean up the woods immediately surrounding our property (more wood for the stove!)
  4. Get our rain catch system set up ASAP!
  5. Build an outdoor fire pit
  6.  Successfully raise our 15 chickens from day-old chicks (let my layers be healthy and strong!)
  7. Create and maintain a healthy environment for our Mason bees, with a successful harvest of cocoons in the fall
  8. Have a successful first time harvest of oats
  9. Fill our “berry patch”with raspberries, blackberries and blueberries
  10. Ensure a good first year for our asparagus bed … We’ve done all the preparations, and the crowns should be shipping to us soon!
  11. Be blessed with another healthy acorn crop
  12. Beat the squirrels to harvesting the shagbark hickory nuts
  13. A bountiful and healthy garden, allowing us to eat well and hopefully have enough to not only share with family, but with extras to can, dehydrate and freeze
  14. Have another successful hunting season, with hopefully a harvest of at least one deer each
  15. Host our first annual harvest/homestead festival for family and friends
  16. Watch our daughter continue to grow and learn, surrounded by all the beauty and fun of nature

2016 has been kind to us thus far, with a very gentle winter. I do get nervous thinking about what the weather will be like for the rest of the year, as we pass 50-60 degree days already, but it is so completely out of my hands, that I don’t let it bother me. All I can do is plan, prepare and pray for a bountiful year!

 

Want to see what we have done so far, and how Woodford has changed? Check out our Creating Our Homestead page!

The Weeds Wait for No One

Hello, hello!

February has cruised on by, leaving us with two decent snow storms and then a series of surprisingly warm days… Today, for example, is a beautiful, cloudless day with a temperature of 52. It feels and smells like Spring, and you know it wasn’t even 10am before there was dirt under our fingernails! The weeds wait for no one, and I’ve always had the mindset that it’s never too early to get started. In fact, I feel as though I am perpetually late on weeding, and with these warm temperatures, there were weeds galore looking at me. Some of the Spring flower bulbs that I missed last fall are already coming up as well, so I went around and dug them up, too. My husband pulled off the daunting task of removing the last pachysandra patch, and then yanked an old cedar stump from the ground with our Kubota. I wasn’t optimistic about accomplishing that task before gardening season began, so I actually have no plans for the area! Now I’ll have to look at my seeds and see what I should plant there.

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Our new, freshly cleared garden space!

Of course, we still have a ton of work to do (I don’t believe a day will exist when that won’t be the case, but we like it that way!) yet it is great to be working outside already.

Our garlic is peeking up through the mulch, I hope those cloves are bulking up down under the soil! So far we are still eating our garlic harvest from last year, which is SO satisfying! We finally seemed to have zeroed in on a good number to plant to sustain our verocious garlic appetite – I would be hard pressed to name a savory dish where garlic hasn’t been used in our home!

My husband ordered our Mason bees this morning as well, I am so excited for the new adventure! If these do well, we plan on adding Leafcutter bees to our homestead next year. We are going to make our own little house for the bees, my husband is excited about the project. We are also picking up some more tubing from the hardware store today, as we started tapping maple trees. I think in a normal New England Winter, we would be right on schedule, but with these warm nights, we both are apprehensive about how this will turn out. But, we’ll give it a go and see what happens!

Some of our other projects right now include setting up and adding two more rain barrels, which will be used for watering the gardens. My husband is going to rig up the one for the chicken waterer as well. Then we are making a brooder for the 15 chicks we are receiving in June; and of course all my vegetable and herb seedlings are well under way. The tomatoes, peppers and eggplant were started at the end of Jaunary, and just made the move into the greenhouse. I now have two varieties of cucumbers, more eggplant (the first seedlings don’t look too hot), celery, broccoli, three or four medicinal herbs/flowers and strawberry spinach in the germinator. The strawberry spinach has proven difficult to grow for me, which is ironic as all I read are stories of how easy it was for other gardeners to get going. Now I can get just about anything to grow, and yet this will be third attempt with the damn plant! I wasn’t even going to bother, but I got the seed packet on clearance for $0.35, so . . .

Our daughter is nine months old today, and I can’t believe it. Where does the time go? She has been joining us in all our homestead adventures, bundled up and strapped to our backs, where she chatters and smiles incessantly. She is a baby who likes to be busy at all times… Hmm, where did she get that from, I wonder? It certainly makes every chore more of a physical work out, that’s for sure. We laugh because she enjoys the work now, from her cozy carrier! Will she still love it when she has a bucket in hand, picking up the weeds I hoe up, or when she’s stacking freshly split wood with us?  Maybe she won’t at the time, but we know how these chores are, they grow on you. You reap the benefits – from having fresh food to eat or a warm fire to sit by, to the well-defined muscles, the sun tan and freckles, and to the deep internal joy that comes from being active, living healthy and providing for yourself and your family.

I can’t help but get more excited every day for this gardening season, for all our plans and goals. While the weather is unpredictable, the garden soil needs work and the whole setup is new to us, I welcome the challenges and learning experiences ahead of us…. And yes, all those darn weeds.

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