happenings 'round the homestead

Fall is here and it is lovely!  Our days have been full of great things, both in and outside, both with friends and family, and a good balance of play and work.  We've really been enjoying this fall so far! 

Things around our little urban homestead are going well too, for the most part.  We are down to 8 chickens, from 11 earlier this year.  We lost 2 of our pullets this summer - one to sickness, one to a hawk, and one of our older hens to sickness or egg-binding, as well.  And while all of that is not great, we are happy that the 3 remaining pullets are starting to lay and our egg production is slowly increasing - just in time to drop off for winter! Ha!  Out of the breeds we got this spring, I'm loving our Golden Sexlink!  She is an egg-laying machine!  She's been laying for several weeks now and I don't think she's missed a single day.  We will definitely be adding more sexlinks to the flock next spring.  As for Oak, that boy loves his chickens.  Yesterday he played outside for about an hour and a good portion of that he spent sitting on a stump by the chicken coop, just talking to his chickens.  They have good talks, he and his ladies. 

The garden is slowing down, just as it should be at this time of year.  We had our first frost this week, but my sheltered garden seems to have been spared.  I think I'll pull the tomatoes and peppers this weekend, though, and try to get a cover crop to sprout before the hard freeze happens.  The temps are cool enough now that the remaining green tomatoes are unlikely to ripen.  All that will remain, then, will be the green beans, a few carrots, and the cover crops I planted in early September.  Not bad, for the middle of October!

We added a few new structures to our little backyard this summer and we've so been enjoying them!  Dan built us a shed, a firewood rack, and a fantastic sandbox for Oak!  The benches of the sandbox fold in as a lid, in order to keep all of the neighborhood kitties out - as well as any free-ranging chickens.  It's so fun to see the backyard become more and more of what we need/want for this season of life.  Our backyard may be small, but we're making the most of the space and I love it.

berries, a baby, and nap-time jam

I've dreamed for years about berry picking with my little ones.  Picking berries and tucking them away to be used all year is something that I'm rather passionate about and so the thought of sharing that with my children and teaching them about the importance of local, seasonal food has been something I've been looking forward to for years.  In my dreams I imagined picking berries for hours with a happy, little baby on my back.  The reality of that looked somewhat different, but in the end I did pick strawberries with a baby on my back and I'm so glad I did!  He wasn't too pleased about the whole back thing and a short morning nap made for a tired, fussy baby while picking, but he eventually fell asleep and my friend Amy and I were able to pleasantly pick berries and chat.   Over the years, I've found that the berry patch is a wonderful place for deep conversation.  Your hands are busy with a menial task and so it's easy to open up and really share what's going on in life and I love that.  

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I ended up with 10+ pounds of strawberries and was able to go home that afternoon and put them all into their assigned places!  Three pounds went into the freezer to be used the rest of the year in kombucha, smoothies, and sauces.  Some were sliced up to be eaten with brownies and ice cream for a gathering of friends that evening.  Some were put into a second ferment of kombucha and others into a pint of vodka (Spiked Strawberry Mint Lemonade, anyone??).  Some were set aside for a pie.  Some were put in the fridge for fresh eating.  And the rest were made into jam!  Nap-time Jam, that is!  It's amazing what a determined mama can accomplish during a decent nap-time!  By the time that boy of ours had woken up from an afternoon nap, I had successfully washed, hulled, and put away all of the strawberries, made and canned jam, and cleaned up the kitchen!  Success!!  It felt amazing, I must say!  Now, if only all nap times were that productive!  

Strawberries!  I do love them.  And I love being able to enjoy their summer freshness all year round.  It makes their short season so very enjoyable. How about you?  What do you love to do with seasonal strawberries? 

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happenings 'round the homestead

It's been a full few weeks around this little homestead of ours!  With all things baby, a trip out to Michigan to visit family, and spring springing around each corner.  Flowers are blooming, perennials are up and filling out, the garden is waiting for seeds and seedlings, and the chickens are enjoying the longer days, the rain, and the sun!  I love the softness of the spring blooms--lavenders, whites, and light pinks.  The flowers tend to be small and delicate, just like spring.  

The busyness over the past few weeks has made it a bit difficult to get the garden up and running as I'd hoped.  The soil needs to be worked and there are peas and raddishes to get in the ground.  However, it will all get done eventually, it always does!  I did get my pots planted on the deck with lettuce, swiss chard, and arugala.  The garlic, rhubarb, and herbs in the garden are also doing well!  The rain we've had over the past few days has made things really start to take off!  We'll have garlic scapes in no time!    

We got two new chicks a few weeks back and they are about ready to join the older ladies in the coop.  They been spending their days in the yard and nights under a light in the garage, but they are very curious about the older hens and can often be found looking at them through the fence. These two little ones bring us to a total of eight chickens.  The time has come for us to begin to stagger our flock and keep it young and productive.  We have decided to cull two of our hens this summer/fall for meat.  More on that later...but for now, aren't our new little chicks cute?? Their names are Violet (the brown Ameraucana) and Fingers (as in Chicken Fingers...yes...).  Fingers is a Maran and she will lay chocolate brown eggs!  I'm so very excited!  

Next week will hopefully bring lots of sunshine and time in the garden!  How about you?  What's happening around your homestead?

winterizing the ladies

Wow!  What a crazy couple of weeks it has been!  With mid-semester grading, baby preparations, winter preparations, choir rehearsals and concerts, and my best friend visiting, I feel as though I've been running non-stop!  Thankfully, though, we've had a enough time to get a few of the winterizing tasks checked off the to-do list, and just in time as the cold weather arrived yesterday and seems to be here to stay!

One of those tasks has been to get the girls ready for the long winter months ahead.  They were in need of a good coop cleaning, but they've also been in need of a bit more space.  When we got our two new chicks in the spring, we knew that we'd eventually need to figure out a solution for the limited run space that we have for our ladies.  For the summer, we made a makeshift fence that connected to the run and allowed them a bit more space in which to roam, dig, dust bathe, and do their chicken things.  This worked great for the summer when we were home so much during the day, but it was not a great solution for the fall, winter, and spring since the ladies had their ways of escaping their confinement.  So, a couple weeks ago, Dan made the fence around their chicken yard, as I like to call it, a bit more permanent!  He also expanded it to include the space behind the coop next to the covered wood pile.  The ladies love it!  They have more places to explore, hang out, and escape from any possible predators.  It's a perfect solution to our crowded run!  Hooray!  Over the next few weeks, the opening from the run to the chicken yard will also become a closing door of sorts with a latch to help protect our ladies from possible nighttime predators.  

The ladies' water heater has also been returned to them, along with their run light which extends their daylight hours a bit.  Once the snow starts blowing, they'll also get a layer of plastic wrapped around the lower half of their run to protect them from the elements a bit more.  They seem pleased with all these changes, both in scenery and weather.  However, at least four of our five older chickens are in the middle of their fall molt right now and so this sudden cold front may have caught their naked little bodies by surprise.  Naked chickens...really, you'd think they'd have more decency!  

Alas, it feels so very good to have the ladies ready for the long winter ahead.  I know I'm ready for the shorter days and the cold quiet evenings. I hope they are too. 

put up and put away

It's official!  The canning season in this house has come to an end!  My canning supplies have been crowding our kitchen for the last few weeks in hopes that a batch of apple butter would somehow find its way into my canner and onto my shelves, but this past weekend, I resigned myself to the reality that we're not going to have apple butter this year (nor any jam for that matter...darn strawberries and raspberries!).  And so, with that sigh of resignation, I moved the canner and it's accompanying parts back down to the basement and put them away.  Away until next June when the strawberries return and the gardens begin to once again produce their bounty.  

Along with that sigh of resignation, however, came a sigh of relief.  THE CANNING IS DONE!!!!  Hooray!!!!!  This means that winter is on its way and with it will come a much slower pace--quieter weekends, quieter evenings, and more time to knit, sew, and read.  Yes, a sigh of relief, indeed!  I love August and September and my many hours spent in my kitchen prepping veggies and such in order to preserve them, but after awhile, it gets a bit exhausting to plan my life around ripe tomatoes and the like.  The freedom that follows putting that canner away is quite lovely--not to mention the shelves full of preserved summer goodness!  

This summer, I was able to put up jars of tomatoes, tomato soup, tomato sauce, salsa verde, corn, applesauce, pickled tomatoespickled cucumbers, pickled mixed veggies, and fermented jalapeños, as well as a gallon of frozen blueberries, a gallon or so of frozen green beans, and a few different types of dried herbs.  Running down to the basement to grab some of that home-preserved goodness never gets old!  I find it rewarding each and every time I open a jar, add its contents to a meal, wash it up, and put it back on the shelf for next summer.  It feels so fulfilling, so resourceful, and so very satisfying.  

Yes, putting away the canner for the season is good, but by the time next summer comes around, I'll be very ready to take it back out again and start the process over.