2019 wrap up

Little late with the wrap up post on 2019, which is about perfect because 2019 seemed to be the year of being a little late.

Just as with any place there was several successes and failures on the Homestead.

Greenhouse was finished and worked great for the head start on spring planting.

We also got to experiment with putting down black ground cover, which we liked and will be getting more for the future gardens.

Wild rabbits did eat at least 50% of what we planted, but the greenhouse worked.

We started breeding rabbits on the homestead, took it slowly but did successfully raise and process three litters.

Our first group of chicks had zero losses. We bought 3 different breeds and supposedly no roosters. Ended up with entirely different breeds and six roosters. So surprise for us we also got to do our first rooster harvest in 2019.

Bought 6 more chickens to replace the rooster fiasco this time they were all hens, but again not the breed we thought we were purchasing. They lay eggs though, so we are calling it a win.

Also, we started getting eggs!!

We were able to finish the barn and immediately started planning an expansion …. Might get to that this year.

Planted a few more trees and bushes, but to be completely honest we did not take care of the ones we already have. The blackberries were taken over by weeds, the blueberries were all eaten by something. Even had a plum tree that was real dead before we noticed. Strawberries grew, but they did not have much flavor, so they were mostly ignored for the rest of the year.

Berries and orchard have to be more of a priority this year.

Fall garden was non existent. We started some seeds, but it stayed into the high 90s all the way into October, then rained for what seemed like a month. We probably could have still planted, but just got disgusted by it and took the fall off garden wise. We did a small raised area for cabbage and another for carrots.

Land clearing we did not do much. Really just maintaining what we had already cleared. Bandit, the farm dog, uses the brush line as his boundary. We really dont want to get rid of that boundary without the fencing to keep him in. Money was not in the budget in 2019 for what we needed, so nothing additional got cleared.

House building we did a lot more planning, over planning, and then planning it to death. 2020 something tangible has to happen with the house. The trailer is slowly falling apart and still not worth putting any money into fixing.

We will do a future post on plans for 2020 as of now the top 5 are (we know this will probably change several times.)

  1. Start on a house – actually for real get started
  2. Raise more rabbits/ chickens for the freezer.
  3. Add to / take care of orchard.
  4. Barn expansion.
  5. Start nut trees

Hopefully in 2020 we can get more accomplished, which I think that is the goal every year. Still loving the adventure!

What’s something else we could work on for 2020? Let us know what you think! Drop us a comment!

Chicken Coop

For a more permanent house for the chickens, we needed a coop. Looking online there were of course thousands of options. We took parts of what we liked from each and got started.

Built it a little off the ground to help deter predators (the electric netting hopefully is the real defense). Made the floor with one inch hardware cloth to help keep it clean. Winters generally are not bad here in TN but if it gets a real cold snap, hay or even wood planks can easily be put on the bottom.

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The sides and the roof were easy. It is just a box. Made the back where it opens for a bigger cleaning when needed. Put a smaller box out on one side with roof that opens with 3 nesting boxes. As usual they only use one really, but they are there.

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The lid on the top and nesting box is some of the same sheets used for the green house , if you have not seen that post go check it out. This time we went with a darker sheeting but still lets in plenty of light during the day.

Had some paint left over from another project so the coop got painted purple. We like the color and it looks good on the green run area. Not that it stays green long with hungry chickens on it daily. The chickens have not complained about the color, as of yet.

The chickens have been using the coop for months now with no issues. The first group of 12 , 6 ended up as being roosters so it was freezer camp for 5 of them. We got 6 more as replacement. They ended up not being the breed we expected, but they are chickens and lay eggs so it works.

Going to be keeping a laying flock of no more than 12 at a time. They will only be using the coop at night and possibly bad weather, so there is plenty of space for them. They are all about a year old now and still the 12 do not take up even half the space at night.

Here are our first eggs!

We consider the coop a success but there are a few things we would have done different.

  1. The frame itself needs more support, on uneven ground it shifts to the point it is hard to open / close the big back panel
  2. Would build the nesting boxes without the seam at the top , which constantly leaks. Not an issue for effectiveness, but is going to cause an issue with longevity and have to be replaced soon.
  3. Make it more movable. This is something we still will do (open to suggestions!). Moving the coop around the property is not easy as it should be. Debating on wheels, possibly skis on the bottom, but something to make it less of a pain to move.

Any thoughts? Comments? Suggestions? We would love to hear from you!

Rabbits on the homestead.

We had always kinda had in mind that chickens would be the first animals on the homestead. We had rabbits in the back of our minds but still thought chickens first.

As time and work went on, the ease of rabbits kept popping in our heads. Rabbits would be a way to get some animals and a renewable source of meat on the place, where as we still did not have the area cleared for the chickens . Also we did not have the money for the netting we wanted to use for our flock. We had already done lots of work on the barn and had a place for rabbit cages.
A deal presented itself and we very quickly built some rabbit cages and our new residents moved in.

We started with three red siblings, New Zealand Red’s, which turned out to be two girls and one boy, and also one older black rabbit female who was a proven breeder. The original idea was to breed the Red buck and black doe to start our group, but the black rabbit never took to our new place. She was scared all the time and never adjusted to us. You could just tell even after a few months she was miserable. On the other hand the three red bunnies were not the friendliest but were getting along well enough.

So the plan shifted from keeping the Red buck and black doe , to keeping the two red does to be part of our breeding trio.

That meant we needed another buck. When a very good deal on one popped up we snatched him up quick.

He is half Flemish Giant Half Silver Fox, has a great temperament, likes treats, tolerates being handled and has already sired a litter of bunnies at our place. He is a keeper!

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We only bred one of the girls for the first round, wanting to make sure that we could handle having a litter at our place. Getting our feet wet without going overboard which is not always our go-to move! Not that we expected trouble but one litter is easier to deal with than two if something were to come up.

The one red girl we bred proved to be an excellent choice so far. She is taking care of her seven babies as well as any rabbit ever has. So now we have a few weeks to get another cage ready. Debating between a rabbit tractor type cage or another closet wire cage they are currently in. Either way we, will need one for the last few weeks of growing them out.

Bandit the farm dog

The first animal on the farm was Bandit. We got him when he was tiny. He is supposedly a mix between Australian shepherd and Australian cattle dog (blue heeler).

There wasn’t a dog for the first little while on the property because it was too busy getting other things cleaned up first. Growing up, always having dogs, it seemed weird not to have one on our little place. Kept looking online and in papers at dogs and puppies. Even called and asked about a few but they were already gone by the time we would ask.

Then there was Bandit. As soon as we saw his picture we knew he was the one we wanted.

He has been a great addition and the place just wouldn’t be the same without him.

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He trained well and can sit, stay and “leave it” which even works for food placed on the floor. He would rather be outside than inside, and has his own bed room he stays in during the day. His bedroom has an outside door with doggie door that leads to a good size pen as big as the entire back of the trailer.

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Left the pen door open one time after mowing, went to work the next day and he just stayed in the yard (we got lucky there).

He does like to make a mess with some of his toys. Here he is in a before and after with a stuffed hedgehog.

He does ok with the animals we have so far. Very curious, as would be expected but he has not really tried to mess with any of them. Not really sure what will happen when something gets out and starts running. Like most dogs, he gets triggered when something is trying to run away. Still waiting to see what will happen there.

He loves being outside and patrolling the property and he watches out carefully for the kitties.

Barn cats

The first winter on the property was one of the most frustrating times spent there. The place is surrounded by fields .  Although we love the privacy when those are cut back at the start of winter, the mice decide to move to our place.   We could hear them in the walls ,  see their evidence on the counters,  it was just horrible.

With not many fast options, that first year we put out poison.  Poison has its place,  but we prefer not to use it if there are other options.

Meet the other options!

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Callie and Ursa! Callie is named after her coloring, Callie the Calico.  Ursa is named after the bear constellation Ursa Major, because she looks like a “great she-bear”.  They are cousins or half sisters, we’re not sure which.  3 mama cats had litters at the same time and they all were raised together.

Two new additions  are already keeping the porch cleared of flies and crickets that stray too close.  When they are bigger we have no doubt they will wreak havoc on any pests trying to steal our food.

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They get along great with Bandit even if he does step on them often.

 

We are also hoping their presence deters the baby rabbits that love to eat on our garden.  They are very welcomed additions and have been hours of entertainment watching them play.

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We’ve made sure to get them fixed, as well.  We don’t want them to wander off when they go into heat and we don’t want any strays to come up and be a problem, either.  It is for sure the right thing to do.

 

 

Grapes and trellises

Probably something we should have done sooner,  but we finally got some grape trellises set up and some planted our second year in.

There are some muscadines on the property already ,  and we have been eating them and  making jelly from them,  but we wanted more grapes.  So fingers crossed ,in a few years we will have loads of them!

For the trellises we used old cedar posts that we had on the property already.  For what to run between them we looked at the standard wire options,  but with more thought we decided to go with t-posts.  Easy to get,  last forever,  and are actually cheaper than most of the wire/ wire hardware needed to support grapes.  So with some T posts and electrical conduit clasps we had some trellises.  Only hard part was digging the holes  but even that was not to bad.  We managed to plant these right on top of a snake nest too.  Luckily, it was October when we first started the digging and it was only eggs that we found.

We have planted four vines so far.   Two white and two red.  The two white are called Niagara and the two red are Mars.

 

None of them have died yet,  so that is a start! We even have a small handful of grapes on the older Mars variety we planted.  It feels very promising!

 

 

Chicks and Chicken brooder

We have been wanting chickens since day one of the homestead. Actually we wanted chickens years before the homestead.

Being on our third year in we decided to go ahead and get some.

4 barred rock (turns out we did not get these as expected maybe just got 8 Rhode Island reds)

4 Rhode Island red

4 Golden Comets

So not going into the chicken industry yet, but it is always exciting to get new animals on the homestead.

We started them out in a giant Rubbermaid tote which worked great for the first few weeks!

We did some research on a bigger area for them and found this brooder idea from Lumnah acres. Chick Brooder

It was easy to build and has worked fantastic for the past few weeks. I made mine a good bit taller than their plans, mostly due to Bandit, our dog, and we had the materials.

The things I like most about this set up is when taken apart can be stored easily , and it can be used for various animals for a little holding pen when need be. I’m thinking I might make another one for our rabbits at some point.

The chickens are healthy and happy. They started out in the house but were eventually moved to the porch. They are now in the simple coop we built and in the area we want them to prep for next years garden. Have not let them out yet, letting them get used to where home is. Hopefully we get to release them soon.

Will be posting more about the coop later. Any questions? Comments? We would love to hear from you!

2019 garden updates

Just a quick post on the 2019 garden so far.

The garden woven fabric is working wonderfully so far.  If it holds up through the year and comes up in good condition we will be getting more for sure. See our previous post about it here: 2019 Spring garden .

Rabbits destroyed the rows of lettuce,  spinach, cabbage, broccoli , cauliflower.   They ate what they wanted and are leaving the rest along for now.   We are at war with them at the moment but they are still winning I think.

The plants have gotten to the point that they are outpacing the weeds which saves us some time.  Between the weeds that come up still, the black fabric ,  and the hay bedding from our rabbits that we added to the rows, the soil is keeping its moisture.  It has been very much needed in the hot dry weeks we have had recently.

 

We have already been eating squash,  zucchini , radish, garlic (planted last year) , spinach, peppers.

Our herbs are also rocking and we were able to use them and the garlic with the last of our frozen tomatoes to make an amazing batch of sauce.

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So many great things going on.   Very exciting time of the year.

Speaking of the war on the rabbits – we have recruited some help.  They are small now but once they get some size on them… varmints beware! We’ll share more about Callie the Calico and Ursa the Little Bear, in a future post.

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Blackberries, Strawberries and Blueberries. Oh my

Just a quick post about our berry production on our little homestead.

The first year we planted strawberries and a thornless blackberry.   The second year we added more strawberries,  blackberries ,  and then blueberries. Third year we added more blackberries and blueberries.

We are adding more as we can afford to and also when we can get an area cleared for them.

 

The strawberries were a mix of Alpine,  Ozark,  and probably some others we are forgetting. We tried a white strawberry too, called Pineberry.20190515_181305.jpg

They are planted in a old building foundation with a concrete wall that has fallen down.  It was a defined area that we always try planting things in.   Strawberries are about the only thing that we have found to work there.   We say work but even though we are currently getting lots of strawberries,  we are not getting lots of flavor.   They have all been so bland this year!  Our theories on this are that we have had record level of rains this year effecting the taste  or they do not get enough sunlight.  Or both. There are a few trees surrounding them we are considering cutting down.

Any suggestions from you guys are welcome in the comments!

 

The blackberries are a thorn less variety we like, named Apache . The property is covered in “wild” blackberry plants,  but they do not produce as much due to their thickness and the wild animals get most of them before they are what we consider ripe.

We are planting them on the edge of our young orchard and keep adding as we take back the woods.   They will have plenty of room to expand in the future.   The plants do well for us despite a few bites taken out by deer and rabbits from time to time.    Last year we even got enough to make a cobbler.  I would be fine if we got enough this year to make 20 cobblers.  We might be planting more,  or we might give it a few years to see how far they expand on their own.

Blueberries  we have planted several varieties so far,  mainly because where we buy them from seems to change what they  have every year.   They are all doing a great job despite the light deer grazing,   we have not gotten a significant amount off them yet,  but maybe this year!

 

 

We also have some grapes we have started that we will go over in a future post.  Thinking about maybe doing raspberries.  We are in zone 7b so researching what we could realistically grow here.

What berries are you growing?   What are some of your favorites?  Are we forgetting any that we should get started?   Let us know in the comments !!!

2019 Spring garden

Finally got time to get the 2019 Spring garden in the ground. So much work but such a fun work. Putting stuff in the ground, giving each plant a little “grow babies” whisper and daydreaming about how delicious the rewards will be in a few months.

The entire weekend was spent on tilling, laying out the rows, and planting. We realized we needed to do something for weed suppression this year. In previous years we just weeded, constantly. This year we are trying a woven plastic garden cloth. It should keep the weeds way down while still allowing water through but not getting too hot. Once those 3 and 4 foot widths were secured, we could start adding in the plants. Most of the rows were plants that we had already started in our greenhouse, with a few being seeds that didn’t need a head start. By the end of the weekend we had planted three 25ft by 50ft gardens and a smaller herb bed area.

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The favorite part of the day for me I think was the last tilling that morning. It was right at daylight, and going slow over the rows so the tiller could do its job. It was an excited anticipation like when I was a kid before a birthday or before a favorite dinner. This giddy feeling with each pass of the tractor picturing what would be growing in each row. Then I thought about my grandfather, and how when I was a kid I would watch him till up rows in his garden on an old red tractor. I wonder if he was as excited in those moments as I was now.

Then my mind drifted to the previous owners of the property. We found a “produce for sale” sign when cleaning up some of the trash. That probably means they had a little stand at one point. So we know they farmed some, not sure exactly where or how. Maybe the exact same rows I was moving down someone else had done just that 50 years before me. What about 100 years before me? I had the luxury of doing it on a small tractor, but at one point though, it could have been someone behind a plow and a team of mules. Not growing as a fun hobby but for a legit reason of food. I miss a row or don’t plow an area as deep as would be needed and we get a little less vegetables. The man and his mules make the same mistake and his family could go hungry. It meant so much more to him. Where my morning was full of excitement his likely had a healthy does of fear and worry as well. It is another quick reminder of how blessed our lives are in so many aspects. Gardening as a hobby has to be much more fun than gardening to prevent starvation.

Back to the plants!

We already had rabbits strike. In three days they had already eaten an entire row of Broccoli/cauliflower, Cabbage, and at least three rows worth of lettuce. They even bit off a pepper plant and left it just laying on the ground. We are working on plans on how to deal with them. Anything from rabbit repellent spray to companion plants that rabbits don’t like to much stronger methods. The garden is between the house and the road which strikes out some options. We’d love your comments if you’ve got any suggestions on what has worked for you in the past.

Plants we are most excited about – tomatoes, obviously. What they sell in most stores as tomatoes should be illegal compared to how a REAL tomato tastes . Along with that, we have yellow squash and acorn squash are high on our list as favorites. Melons didn’t work out for us last year so fingers crossed for this year. Corn also, especially the Glass Gem corn but also the Peaches and Cream. Oh, and potatoes. And 3 different colors of carrots.

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Maybe we are just excited about everything?

The smell of dirt, the sun coming up catching the dew on the surrounding plant life. Birds waking up and starting their songs for the day, sometimes flying down to check out what the tractor had overturned. Just spending time outside planting things.  There are far much worse ways to spend a weekend, and not many better ways. As always we urge everyone to plant things. It is so rewarding.