2020 Garden

I think we can all agree 2020 has been an interesting year so far. Lots going on around the world and around the homestead.

We started seeds in February like usual, but did not get them planted until nearly the middle of May. The weather here just stayed wet, and could not till up the garden in the mud.

Then the weekend after we planted, had two nights of historic frost for our area. Looks like we should have waited even longer to get them in the ground. We will certainly keep that in mind for next year.

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We ended up having around 125 plants to cover with pots. We got several of those from a last minute run to a dollar store. Cleaned them out of 31 pots! They’ll get put to use later for transplanting as seeds start to outgrow their starter block.

Our lettuce bed we covered in a tarp as the bed itself is a little set in the ground. Lots of the more tolerant plants just got some hay spread around them.

Most things made it, more than we would have thought. Some decisions had to be made, and some plants did not get the best cover. We have had a few die but that is part of gardening anyway. No one anticipated a frost right before Mother’s Day.

We did not change much in the garden this year. We worked on getting more proficient at what we are already doing. We invested into more of the black fabric we had so much success with last year. This year instead of skipping rows we decided to cover it all and torch holes on where we wanted to plant. Took more time upfront but is already proving to save us time weeding. We even did the corn plot the same way, but a storm the very next night ripped up all the paper. So now its just a wait to see where corn pops up so we can weed around it. No way we could have gotten the paper back down exactly lining the holes up to where we already planted.

One exciting difference this year is we have so much lettuce!

We are pretty sure we can thank the farm cats for that. They are doing a great job of keeping the rodent and rabbit population down.

The only real new things we added this year were some GIGANTIC pumpkins for fun, a new cucumber variety we wanted to try, and eggplant. Oh yeah, and a beet variety. We’re also trying potato and sweet potato again this year.

So far we have had plenty of rain and not enough sunshine but we will see. Hope all of your gardens are doing just as well or better!

Anyone planting anything new this year?

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!