Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Facebook page

I've created a Facebook page, which should be an easier mechanism for me to post pictures and short updates.  Here's the link.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Another Year on this modern homestead

I fear this blog has gone the way of many, which start out strong, fueled by the excitement of the moment, only to be forgotten in the midst of life.  A lot has happened on our homestead on the last year.  I want to share some of these things to the extent that others might benefit from our experience, ideas, and mistakes.

We had a very good growing season overall.  We had a tremendous crop of potatoes and carrots.  Our homestead is basically divided in two pieces.  Around the house is our main garden and about 2-3 acres of hay and open land.  On the other side of the woods is another 3-4 acres of hay, garden, and pasture.  Of that, about 1 1/2 acres are tillable.  This spring we had three loads of high quality manure spread on that land, which has been conventionally farmed until a few years ago and mostly fallow since then, so it was in need of a nutrient boost.  The results were excellent and definitely warranted the cost of the manure (about $50/load).

We had 4 beef bulls/steers on our land this summer.  The first year we did one steer and I quickly learned that cattle don't do well alone.  He grew fine, but was kind of a pest, especially when I was around him, and he would often look for ways to go through the fence.  Last year we bought two bull calves and they did much better as a pair.  This year we purchased 2 more, and so had two sets of pairs grazing around the property all summer.  I had hoped that the older two would be ready for slaughter this winter, but they simply need more time (they'd be about a year and a half), and so I'm going to feed them through the winter and probably in to the early summer to try and put more size on them.  It may mean we'll have to buy some additional hay, but not too much.

We finally got fed up trying to keep the old Ford tractor running, and so recently picked up a 1964 Case 430 tractor with loader.  It's around 34-35 hp, about 10 more than the Ford.  It's so weird being able to walk out to the shed and not wondering if the tractor will start today.  I'm in the process of trying to get the Ford up and running again so I can try to sell it and be rid of it forever.

The most recently project has been upgrading our root cellar.  This will be the third winter we have tried storing food in it. The first winter we leaned the hard way that the cellar leaks (it's an old water cistern) and so swamped the first load of potatoes right after we put them in in late October.  Last winter we set blocks in the bottom of the cellar to keep the barrels up off the floor, which helped, but still wasn't perfect.  We still had some heavy rains that tipped some of the barrels over. Plus, you had to access the cellar by crawling in through an opening on the top and down a ladder, which wasn't always easy if there was water in the cellar.  So, we finally did what we've wanted to do for awhile, and dug a whole in the side to make a walk in doorway.  We'll be adding an en 8 foot long insulated entrance for an air seal to really protect the cellar from the winter.  We dug in a drain line to allow water to naturally flow out of the cellar when we get rain.  This will be a huge improvement, and make it much easier to get potatoes, carrots, and other items out of the cellar during the winter.

Here are a few pics of our projects over the last year.
Introducing new calves to the electric fence

Rotational grazing
Fall grazing hay field

First crop of hay (about 250 bales) under plastic

Carrots and squash

Hilled potatoes

Raspberries and little boys

Digging potatoes

New(er) tractor with potato digger
Digging out the root cellar

Adding drain line to cellar

Monday, December 29, 2014

Fall care of blueberries

Blueberries require a very acidic soil--much more acidic than normally found in the average landowner's soil.  When we planted the blueberries this past spring, we used a combination of natural soil, sand, compost, and sulfur around the plants.  I have not done a formal soil test, but I know the soil will require further amendment.

This fall I sprinkled an additional layer of sulfite around the plants and then dressed with oak sawdust, which tends to be acidic.  The sawdust should also protect the plants, which have shallow roots, from harsh winter temperatures and the stress of freezing and thawing that comes in late winter and early spring.

Winter food storage

This fall we increased our efforts to store produce from our garden.  Last year we attempted to use an abandoned water cistern to store potatoes and carrots, but found out the hard way that the cistern leaks and fills with a couple feet of water every time it rains or we get a snowmelt.  We lost our crop of carrots last year and some of our potatoes due to a late October rainstorm a day after we filled the cellar.

This year, we used cement blocks and pallets to elevate the potatoes and carrot bins, and added a heavy layer of sawdust on top of and around the cistern to insulate the cistern.  I also purchased a submersible pump to pump out water when we get rain or a snowmelt.  So far the cistern has stayed around 50 degrees, but fairly moist because of a warm December.  I've had to pump the cellar out a number of times.

In addition, we experimented with leaving some carrots in the garden by covering with a heavy layer of sawdust.  I have yet to go out in the garden to see how the carrots are doing.  The carrots that go in storage are dug and the tops are trimmed to about 1/2" and packed in moist sand in a barrel in the cellar.  So far we've been using a lot of carrots and they are coming out of the cellar very crisp and flavorful.

Homesteading takes time and money

Our homesteading life invariably comes up in conversation, both because people find it curious and it's an easy conversation topic for people with whom you might otherwise have little in common.

A common question or comment I hear is  something to the effect that we must save so much money by homesteading.  The truth is yes and no, but mostly no.  

Homesteading, particularly when you start from scratch with bare land, is very expensive and incredibly time consuming.  For me, it means that Saturdays and evening are spent doing chores, cutting or hauling wood, working in the garden, servicing equipment, etc., instead of, for example, spending more time practicing law.  Given the nature of my profession and what I'm capable of earning in the office, in many ways it would be more cost effective for me to live in a modest house in the city, buying organic meat and vegetables, and spending more time in my trade.

For me, though, homesteading is a way of life, not simply a money saving trick, and I do it for two key reasons.  First, my children benefit spending evening hours and weekends with me doing all the thing mentioned above.  Second, I'm helping, in our small way, to advance the ball down the field on the way to widespread social acceptance of the homesteading virtues of frugality and self reliance.  In essence, I hope I'm contributing to my grandchildren's future.


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Potato; hay; grass hay; dump rake; hay stack;


We've been so busy here on our homestead that I haven't found time to post.  For now, here are some pictures of the gardens, etc.