I feel like one of my free-roaming chickens, peeking from between the brush, tentatively watching everyone else live their lives. The other chickens go about their day, picking bugs out of the grown, running down grasshoppers, yanking mosquitoes out of the air. All the while, I stay in the cool shade and contemplate what to spend my energy on.
This year, 2019, was supposed to be the year of expansion for the homestead. The idea was to add ducks, grow a couple turkeys, and possibly start building a pig pen. A family member’s health problems, car troubles, and the sudden shift in academics for our children had to take front and center. The ducks and turkeys will wait another season, and who knows about the pigs.
To satisfy our want to add anything at all to the homestead this year, plans have been hatched to rebuild the woodsheds (they need it) and to add a greenhouse built of old windows and pallets. The only funding that may be needed for that would be paving stones for the base. If the greenhouse scheme doesn’t seem to be working out, we’ll put energy into building coldframes instead. One small step can sometimes work out better than a big leap.
In an attempt to catch up on things, this weekend looks like it will be celebrated by working on our independence from oil by building our woodsheds. While I wait the sudden chaos and energy it’s going to take to rebuild the bins and begin the process of stacking four cord of winter warmth, I’m going to enjoy this shade and watch everyone else for a few days…..well, in conjunction to the normal day to day doings.
It’s been quiet here on the blog, yet life has been anything but.
Family illness, the loss of our beloved feline son, and the financial chaos of vehicular problems has been sucking all our energy. Very little time has remained for thinking about the spring and the sudden onset of energy that will be needed to get another season rolling on the homestead. the “winter quiet” of hibernating and enjoying warm food and the comfort of friends – despite the aforementioned chaos – is coming to an end. Soon seedlings will dress the window sills and the countdown to peeping chicks will begin.
The end of the 2018 growing season is upon us here in Maine. The gardens are slowly growing empty. I removed the rest of the tomatoes at the beginning of September. The potatoes have been pulled, the cucumbers have slowed to a crawl, and the peppers and beans are beginning the dwindle down. Next will be the rush of buttoning up the gardens for winter, mulching down the beds to keep the more delicate perennials happy, planting garlic, and canning the last fruits of the season, predominately apples.
This time of year always reminds me of an old pocket watch, the type you have to wind in order for it to keep time. As the kinetic energy slowly slips from the movements, the hands slow down and time begins to feel like its moving at the pace of molasses. It’s a slow, steady, and sometimes boring pace, dragging you through the happiest moments until even they start to become dull due to simply overstaying their welcome. Inevitably, you wind the clock back up because things have gotten too slow, only to be shocked as suddenly the opposite emerges. Time feels like it’s flying by, faster than it ever has! The winds are blowing crisper than before, the leaves are piling up by the minute on the ground, frosts come in consecutive nights and then don’t leave at all, and the next thing we all know, the first blizzard is pounding at the door, demanding to share in the comfort of our home.
Yes, this is the slow time. The time to indulge and try to remember that in mere days, if we’re lucky, we’ll be back to the break-neck speed so many of us homesteaders have learned to love.
This year has been a bit of a chaotic one, but in a good way. We started off our growing season with the massive project of re-doing the fencing around both of the gardens. Originally it was a mess of pulp-wood posts and hodge-podged fencing that was constantly falling in due to snow load and getting pushes out of place by the groundhogs. Brand new cedar posts and welded wire fencing fixed that. We now have a fence secure enough that we can use it as a trellis and actually did use it as a make-shift clothesline while ours needed to be replaced.
The garden itself has preformed admirably thus far! We’re up to 7 quarts of snap beans in the freezer, a batch of salsa, sauce, and ketchup from our own tomatoes, enough zucchini for stir-fries and a few loaves of zucchini bread for the freezer, roughly 80lbs of potatoes from the 12lbs that went in, and more than enough fresh produce to have kept our bellies happy over the course of late-summer. I did purchase “ugly seconds” tomatoes from a local farm to make additional pasta sauce and salsa with. I also found a wicked deal on cucumbers (40 lbs for $25) to stock the shelves with pickles and relishes.
On top of what our own garden has been producing and the deals I’ve found via local farms, blueberry and strawberry picking season was also I huge success as this year we weren’t impeded by the hunt for a new vehicle in the midst of it all. Up next is apple picking season, which has just started, and then what I hope will be an annual trip for a trunk full of pumpkins.
Chicken wise, the basement chest freezer is half full of poultry. We have enough for at least one roasted chicken a month, and given that each bird provides a week’s worth of meals for the four of us, I’m more than happy with that!
In another month, however, we’ll have to make a decision as to which of the new six roosters to keep over winter as an assistant to Greenleaf, our head rooster. We have a couple young cocks we’re keeping an eye on, so we might end up with two. As long as the fox doesn’t snag any more birds, we’ll also have five new hens to add into the flock for the winter. We lost seven hens total this year – five to the fox, two to illness – which is higher than most years, but still fit within the 25% margin that we try to work with. (We always try to keep a flock 25% larger than we absolutely need so that when losses do occur, and they will, it’s not such a blow.)
Schemes and dreams are already in the works for next growing season as we’re currently ahead on firewood and has reserved energy from not having to stress about that. I’ll post more in the future about our goals for next spring, but right now I’ll say that we might be working out a farmstand here at the homestead to bring in a little extra and we might be adding a porcine or two for meat raising. While next year remains simmering on the backburner, the fall garden is slowly filling in, a new placement for the blueberry bushes and irrigation for said plants is in the works, and garlic cloves are waiting impatiently to be planted.
Homesteading is all about decisions. What to grow, who to eat, how to provide, why do something a certain way, and when do you call it a day.
As much as I would love to say that these decisions are easy, many of them are not, especially when it comes to the animals on the homestead. In the picture above is our White Lady, Alice by name. She is a Leghorn/Aracuana mix who is sneaking up on five years old. Alice has had a rough life. She was stolen by neighbourhood hooligans and brought back by their sisters. She has been eggbound previously. She lost her sister to a coyote attack.
Unfortunately, age and life seem to be sneaking up on her. She has stopped laying entirely. At first we thought maybe Alice was eggbound, as that’s been an issue for her before. When a hen is eggbound everything slows to a stop – eating, defecating, and laying. The egg does what the name of the issue says: it binds everything up. If not caught, it is fatal. Some hens can have repetitious issues with eggbinding and then the homesteader needs to make the decision to cull or not. Alice is not eggbound. We’ve checked that and it’s not the culprit to her illness.
Neither does it seems to be respiratory nor diet.
No lash eggs have been found in the coop, either.
So….what to do? Without a clean cut diagnosis, there are only two options. We can either cull poor Alice or hospice her to the end. We’ve never had to cull a chicken from our flock as nature and predators normally do it for us, and I’ll be honest and say I hope that ends up being the case here. For the meanwhile, we’ll hospice Alice. She’ll continue to roam and room with her flock as we keep an extra sharp eye on her.