A periodic journal of homesteading occurrences here: farm and land happenings, weather events. Location, the Hilltowns of western Massachusetts.
Hardiness Zone 5B, rural.
Most recent dates and posts are to the top.
March 7: This morning I woke to a solid minus 7 Fahrenheit. I am fine with plus 5, when going out to the chickens, but this is just a little too much. Will wait for an hour or so before replacing their water. They’ll also get lard treats to keep them healthy.
Yesterday was my niece Heather’s birthday. She resides in sunny Florida with her husband and son, where minus degrees are unheard of. (I wouldn’t want their summers.)
March 1: The month that comes in like a lamb and goes out like a lion. Let’s hope not.
Just ordered from Raintree Nursery: 1 kefir lime plant, to replace the one I killed through negligent homicide this past winter. It was tucked away in a place where I didn’t see it… 1 mini dwarf apple orchard (5 trees). They’ll go out back near the one surviving apple tree I’d gotten a couple years ago while the house was being constructed. 1 plum orchard (4 trees) which will go in the front yard. Both the apples and plums need to be around other apples or plums of differing varieties so they can happily cross pollinate, making nice little edible apples and plums for me and guests to enjoy.
Either tomorrow or Sunday, I’m starting up a Whole 30 reset dietary plan. 30 days without grains, dairy, legumes, faux or over-processed food, added sugars, alcohol. There will be two meals with planned exceptions (I’ll be dining with others at their homes). Can’t wait forever for a 30 day spot without food-oriented social connections… Hey, the original time I did this, I was still putting milk in my coffee, and figured one tablespoon of dairy a day wasn’t going to hurt me. I’ve since weaned myself off of dairy in most coffee (mostly because I don’t do much other milk anyway and was tired of wasting the balance of the containers). Oh, PS: All the recipes for March and a few for April have already been made and written up back in January or February. Because I figure if spring ever arrives, I want to get OUTSIDE. This means you won’t always be seeing Whole 30 recipes this next month. ….but several will creep in, in the future… (Ooops, there’s been a delay on program start, more when I do start it! Meanwhile, I’ll do largely Paleo eating.)
February 27: Weather Updates: Sunday, Feb 24: Severe icing. This was a storm that was supposed to turn into all rain, but up here in the Hilltowns, it was nearly all ice. Didn’t get out to the chickens until about 2:30 pm. We lost power for a few hours. Temps did finally rise up so that this last layer melted.
And on Monday the 25th, temps were a little below freezing, but the Wind, oh the WIND! Gusts reported in places in excess of 65 mph. I don’t have a wind gage here, but I am on a hillside, so I probably hit that once or twice. We lost power again for a bit. (Generator coming with spring – well, after mud season.) The wind ran through Tuesday (the 26th), but gradually were diminishing. Chickens did not want to go into their run on Monday, wonder why??
ATM, the 27th, it’s 4 degrees F out there, but calm. The snow that’s out there is a solid sheet of ice. I am so glad I have those spikes to put on my shoes, and that I have pre-formed footprints to walk to the coop in. (And pre-formed holes for the hiking sticks.)
Note regarding quail: I’ve seen a lot of good cage designs, but am working out the best way to cement these things into the ground. In winds like Monday, they’d blow over! Obviously cemented in posts, and a flat table top, and some way to secure the things to the table top (just NOT getting on my hands and knees to do daily quail maintenance)!
February 15: QUAIL UPDATE: Rather than getting 50 day old hatchlings, although that is still an option assuming I can find a local person to share at least half of them with me, I have found a source for fertile quail eggs that I can buy by the dozen. With a predicted hatching rate of 70-90%, I’ll probably order two dozen, each dozen to come in separate weeks as a lot of what may nefariously happen to fertile eggs might happen during shipping. NO, they will not be ordered to arrive before May.
I’ve found a good incubator that will hatch out eggs from quail to goose size, with good recommendations. This is a gadget I want, anyway. Cobbling together their brooder in my basement will be easy. Right now I’m surfing around looking for some reasonably easy DIY quail hutch projects I can get underway sometime in March, before I order.
When adult, they’ll be housed right outside my basement back door, on a platform I can easily access.
Goal is to raise for both meat and for eggs. The eggs are wonderful both in sushi dishes, or hard-boiled and pickled in a variety of pickling choices. No, I don’t plan on making mini-omelets.
February 11: My project right now is to ready the future pantry for a contractor to come in and construct it. I’ll be calling a nearby one to see if he’s still got time (possibly, since it’s winter), and I have another name if he can’t do it. I want wood shelves and a counter, no cabinets, and have sketched out the preliminary design. So, I’m hauling everything that I’ve stored in there out, to find new homes (some temporary) for stuff. Everything had been in boxes on the floor: foods, paper towels, cleaning equipment – okay brooms and the like hadn’t been in boxes… Meanwhile, since the root cellar now has all (well, nearly all) its shelving, I’ve been bringing the grains, pseudo-grains, legumes, and rice pasta collection down there. I do plan on getting one more metal shelving rack system for the root cellar, which will bring this to a total of four.
Actually, paper towels and cleaning equipment can remain in the future pantry until whichever carpenter actually comes here to do the work. Then that stuff should be in the garage. Which I want to re-organize in some upcoming warm, non-rainy day we have, by hauling everything out to the driveway to begin again.
Part of the issue was getting tired of not knowing where my Asian packaged goods food collection was. Oh, bits here, bits there… so I re-organized a couple kitchen upper cabinets for that. Easy to find, assembled by culture, and at eye level. (Liquid sauces, oils and vinegars remain in the condiments drawer by the range. Spices mostly on spice racks.)
I did consider putting metal racks in the pantry, too. But they come in pre-formed lengths and depths, and that will not really work for the pantry. I also want a shelf over the upright freezer (which stands at 5 feet), and I finally hope to get slots for my pans and platters, which should really sit on edge for accessibility. (Something my GC apparently forgot to follow through on in the kitchen proper…)
It is predicted we will be snowed in Tuesday into Wednesday; Friday I plan to go to Connecticut and spend the night doing some major work, since it will be warm enough I won’t need to baby the poultry ice, er, I mean, water. Schlepping down for just a few hours at a time doesn’t seem to be working out all that well.
4 eggs total yesterday. None frozen. Only two eggs today. Likewise, however, none frozen.
February 5: My late father’s birthday would have been today. He passed away at age 91 in November 2014. He came to visit my land twice, but well before I built anything on it. I’m sorry he never got to see this home at least under construction.
Weather has been a Ferris wheel. For a couple of days recently, we’d bottom out at minus 10 F. 27 F felt downright balmy. Right now it is 48 degrees; earlier this morning I was able (finally!) to clean out the “clean out” drawer under the roosts in the chicken coop. Frozen poop just doesn’t even allow me to open that drawer! I’m wondering if I should switch to a t-shirt today…
Chickens are doing fine, but only 3 eggs in the past 24 hours.
The winter treads for my shoes work well enough in mud, too. I have a combo of ice and mud and semi-mushy snow. Tomorrow temps will go back down, and back to snow, but I like the moments of change here now.
I am really looking forward to spring. I don’t mind a bit more snow, but I am really DONE with that sub-zero Fahrenheit stuff. And I know places out in the Midwest had it much worse than us.
One thing though – living here, I’ve come much more in tune with the cycles of nature, of the day and night balance, and the signals of seasons. Not a bad thing, not at all.
January 22: The storm ended up not being what it had been cracked up to be. No complaints here!
About a foot of the white stuff fell here. Then, the temps plummeted. They reached a low of minus 13 F / minus 25 C Monday morning, ie, yesterday.
The cold was worse than the precipitation up here, although down in CT the stuff had turned into freezing rain as it fell, then as a semi-solid sheet of ice. So, my old digs had about 5 inches of stuff, with that sheet of ice. (I had to go down last night to check my forced hot water heating system after a power outage earlier that morning. Fortunately the power was not off long enough to make me a mess. Another reason I am glad I have forced hot air heat here in MA. May be less efficient, but works fine, and any burst system will only spew hot air around. A lot easier to clean up after!)
I’d never met minus 13 F before (this included wind chills in the minus 30 F / 35 C mark), but still had to go give chickens some liquid-phase water (and their feed, but it was water that was critical). I can bundle up effectively, but definitely need to up my game on doing this. BTW, the chickens were fine in their protected coop, but 3 of four eggs laid that day were cracked from freezing. I must have come upon that other egg shortly after it was laid!
January 19: Prepping for a Big One.
Prediction: over two feet of snow is scheduled to be dumped upon us overnight and through most of Sunday. If it’s less than that, the “less” will be taken up with ice, so having the “more” is probably better, since we’re not going to be able to avoid the path.
Since my Internet is satellite, and my cell service provides maybe some text occasionally, I’ll be non-communicating Sunday almost certainly. Overnight after the storm, temps will plunge to about 0, and that’s Fahrenheit.
Chickens: Bringing them a whole new pack of pine chip shavings, storage in bin. Bringing down an additional 25 lbs of their food for the bin. Since I can’t store their water down there – they don’t like “solid phase dihydrogen oxide”, I’m filling water containers up here in the house should my power go out – probably it won’t but since I won’t be driving anywhere for a bit, better safe than sorry. For both of us. (Well, there’s always wine, but they’re not old enough for alcohol.) A snow shovel is down there, and their broom will be brought back down later today. Their oyster shell and grit containers are prepared for their near-future needs. Since the new freeze-proof water pan won’t be in for a few days, I will be picking them up a new pan later this morning.
Me: Car will be IN the garage, not left outside. Dump run this morning is scheduled. All devices will be charged – not that I can use them when the satellite and phone goes down, but… I can read the Kindle!! Grill will be covered. I know where the charcoal and matches are, and I’ve food that doesn’t need cooking in the event the lights go out, too. Flashlights / lanterns available. All of Christmas has been taken down – I’m speaking of those outdoor lights; the tree had left the building a while ago. Compost will be composted before this starts – want to minimize my wading through snow to just performing chicken errands. I picked up 40 lbs of rock salt earlier this week; need to move it to where it will be most useful.
NO, I am not picking up the stereotypic milk or bread – I don’t consume hardly any of either even without snow. And there’s leftover milk anyway from last weekend’s house guests. Plenty of TP here for half a year.
I’ve done bigger ones (Indiana, ’78, and a couple nor’easters in CT) but I’ve not been responsible for chickens before. It’s also a lot longer to walk to neighbors, now.
January 18: Equipment fail.
With winter, the chicken waterer buckets freeze up at their port of water exit, since that’s narrow. Whether you use the nipple system or the usual hanging waterer. So, I’ve resorted to kitty litter pans (new and virgin of course). Add hot tap water, let chickens drink, and refurbish whenever the temperature indicates it will freeze.
Well, when you try to remove the ice so you can re-fill it, and the temps are at, say, 6 degrees F / 14 C, the plastic those things are made from are not hardy for that purpose. Yesterday, one of mine broke apart completely, shattering in the cold, whilst I was trying to remove a layer of ice so I could add their water. Chickens aren’t fond of trying to drink frozen-phase liquids… wonder why???
I have stopgaps until the new pans arrive, but I scratched my noodle, and recalled that back when I was a career scientist, we had nifty pans and other containers that held dry ice (frozen CO2/carbon dioxide – a negative 109 F / negative 78 C) or liquid nitrogen (negative 320.4 F / negative 196 C), with no ill effect to the container. Ahem, I now have a couple on order. Not that I’ll ever be providing liquid nitrogen to them, but I know my new containers won’t break due to the cold temperatures we are apt to get here. Or, say, anywhere else on this planet.
You don’t want something deep, but you do want a pan big enough to water your chickens. Get a couple.
January 10: I’m getting ambitious for this coming year.
Chickens: All my layers are happy and healthy, and I believe I have a good number of poultry in their coop, so unless things change, I am not ordering any layers this spring.
My eventual goal is to have a self-sustaining chicken setup here, so I do want to check out the dual purpose, and mostly heritage, poultry breeds for meat production. I found five breeds I wanted to try, that would/should also be good for laying (when I try that later). So, I ordered 2 males of each from Meyer Hatchery. Cool, but… they told me it was a $30 shipping fee for ten, but if I raised my ante to 15, they’d be shipped for $15 in shipping. I went for the latter. Two males of each: Barred Rock, Buckeyes, Delaware, Silver-Grey Dorkings, Cuckoo Marans, Speckled Sussex, Welsummers. One New Hampshire Red. I know that most, if not all of these, will take longer to reach maturity than the broilers I ran last summer. But I’m wanting to raise up my own poultry down the road.
I’ll need to build a secondary chicken tractor between now and then, since 15 cockerels in the original tractor is overkill. This will be fine, just need to get my plans in place during this season when the snow flies!
My other goals this year (that relate to homesteading):
Raised beds. I’ve plotted out what I want to grow, and how to do crop rotation, and that one of those beds will be perennial (obviously no crop rotation there).
Quails. I’ve found a hatchery that will sell me 50 straight run. I’d love to find someone in town who will take the extra 20-25, since I really don’t want 50. I’d house them almost immediately outside my back door (leaving room for my planned greenhouse.) Working on this.
Buy a homesteading tractor. I’ve got the Yanmar in mind. A couple models in mind, but more later.
Plot and design for four-legged livestock. At the moment, I am serious about Shetland and/or Soay sheep, Kiko meat goats, mohair goats, alpaca. They cannot happen this year… they need housing, fencing, perhaps a livestock guardian. This is a year for intensive research, not actually bringing them on board. It will obviously not be all of the above, but the options for what I do get are open. At least one or two of the above would be for breeding, raising up my own herd. (NO DAIRY! NO PATIENCE!)
I also want to keep the option open for feeder pigs, it is really NOT practical to raise up pigs on a small farmstead.
Maple syrup. I have a lot of sugar maples on this property. Some that are relatively more easily accessed will be tapped NEXT winter for the syrup, and even for maple water. I am not a fan of sugar in any form – I go through about 5-8 ounces of maple syrup a year – but I could sell some and keep some around for my own usage, and it would be a lot better than regular sugar anyway. I do love the flavor: if properly refrigerated, maple water (not concentrated down to the 1:40 necessary for syrup, but tested to a tasty but less sweet level) would be a lovely taste treat. Yes, this would HAVE to be frozen, or similar, until use. At any rate, I’ll be marking the appropriate trees this coming September. I’ll even look into birch syrup, why not?
Honey bees: More for fertilizing my crops than for actual honey, but, hey! This would not happen this next year, but I’ll certainly plan for this, as well as for native bee habitat. The latter may well actually happen this coming year…
January 3rd: This morning I went out to collect eggs.
One thing with freezing weather is that in addition to a regular water feeder in the coop, I have a kitty litter pan with water… pour in hot tap water a couple times a day and it won’t freeze so fast.
This morning I found a new treat… an egg laid into the kitty litter pan of water; the water was lightly frozen on top.
Hmm. It did have a longitudinal crack so I tossed it, who knows what got inside.
Water, my dear birds, is NOT a place to lay your eggs. You are NOT salmon who fight your way upstream to lay ikura for me to sample!
I’d been wondering about my rooster. He was either celibate or shy. I found out yesterday on a mid-day hen-house check that he’s just very fast, wham bam thank you ma’am. Yasukai, my small Australorpe, barely noticed.
I hope in the spring… but not until spring… one or two hens go broody. The likelihood is for hybrid offspring, as I’ve four breeds here. Will be interesting.