I bring you photos of dirt!

That’s right, photos of dirt. Ok, so there’s a little more to it than that. 

Of our fenced in areas, we have a lot of cross fencing. We can isolate the dog from the front chicken yard. We can isolate the front from the side and back, the garden from the back, etc. It’s astoundingly useful. 

Anywho, the first area mentioned doesn’t get a lot of use now that Vasi is growing up. She spends every night roaming the entire front, side, and back yard. So I figured I should put it to good use. 

The geese have pretty much mowed the entire back yard. So for now they are in a temporary pen outside the yard where the grass, clover, and plantain have gotten tall. So, starting with the dog area, I’ve decided to plant a forage lawn. 

I got two bags of seed. The first is a pasture grass blend for our region and the second is a forage blend of field peas, clover, rye, buckwheat, etc. 

You may recall that the entire front yard was dry, dusty, rock hard and dead when we moved in. The chickens have done a marvelous job of rejuvenating it. It’s now rich, dark soil. 

So I raked up the straw mulch and loosened the topsoil. I spread the forage blend first, covered with the dirt/straw mix I’d raked up, then pasture grass, and more of the dirt/straw mix. 

Well, that was a week ago. And things have begun sprouting!!! With the dry, hot weather we’ve been having, it needs a lot of water. Not the ideal time to plant a lawn, but the geese are rapidly outgrowing what we’ve got. Got to plan ahead for their continued growth. I also cross fenced a section of the back yard and planted it. 

Also, my wheat is starting to form seed heads!

Another busy weekend

Whew! This weekend isn’t even over for me but I’ve gotten quite a bit done. 

First, I played with the goslings. It’s taxing work, but somebody’s got to do it. They need to not be afraid of us. 

Next, I got some more planting done. We had a packet of sunflower seeds for snacking as opposed to the black oil seeds I already planted, and a little packet of purely decorative ones. Got those in, along with some buckwheat. 

Then beans. And why yes, that is in the middle of the yard. I ran out of other places. But being by the deck means I’ve got a great place for a trellis!

Then there was a bunch of little projects and cleaning up. The rabbits have the nest boxes back, as we figure at least one is probably pregnant now. By the way, like my little rabbit barn? We figure it gives them more space out of rain, and that front board can help contain the very young babies. 

Speaking of babies, they’re getting big! We will probably only keep six of them for the freezer and sell the rest as pets or breeding stock. 

The rat bitten turklet is completely recovered and back outside, though we are triple checking it goes on the roost at night. In the meantime, I’ve installed an anti rodent skirt to the coop. I’ll do a post just on that soon. 

The geese are starting to get real feathers, and are spending every day outside. The pen keeps them confined until they’re big enough to not get through the fence. 

And finally, it’s been consistently warm and dry for long enough that I felt I should water everything. And with the soil darkened, I could see much more clearly that the salad garden is actually doing quite well! That spinach was nearly invisible before watering. 

Same with the lettuce! Several varieties of loose leaf and I’m even doing some butterhead lettuce this year. And the radishes. I wasn’t even planting more radishes, but I found old seeds and figured I’d give them a shot. 

Big milestone!

Less than one year after moving in, we’ve reached what I think is a pretty big milestone! We have more baby birds than we want to raise up to eating weight. And you know what that means right?

Craigslist! I’d prefer to use Facebook, but Facebook doesn’t allow any sort of animal sales at all, not even the legal sale of livestock. 

But we have nearly a dozen baby turkeys, and at least two more ready to hatch. We’ve also got fertile eggs and rabbits that seem to be weaned. So, a couple ads are up and more will be going up soon. This is a pretty big deal!

For the first time, instead of saving us money (on food) or costing us money (on feed and supplies) our animals can start earning us money! This is a huge step towards not needing my full time job anymore. As you can imagine, I’m pretty excited!

We actually don’t need to “earn” a lot for this to be a big deal. By my figuring, if they pay for themselves and provide us with just a small amount of income plus food, it could allow me to change shifts. Night shift pays a little better, but I’d like to be on day shift long before my daughter starts school. I want to be present for her big moments. 

So yeah, I’m really excited right now. The animals are about to start paying for themselves, the veggie garden is the biggest I’ve ever done, and we’ve got five fruit trees that may produce this year but certainly will next year. Big things are happening!

More than just a fence 

I already showed you how the area between the rabbit pen and the driveway is being used for grain and seed crops, but there’s still a lot of fence line and still a lot of stuff we are wanting to grow. 

The corn is taking its time. So while the wheat and sunflowers are coming up nicely, let’s talk grapes. 

I have two varieties of grape. Gewurtztraminer for wine, and a green table grape. The gewurtztraminer is older and will take a bit more work to train. Grapes need support to grow properly, because as a woody vine if you don’t train them up and out, they just sprawl outwards and that means grapes on the ground. No one wants that. Except the bugs, perhaps. Enter the fence. 

By planting the grapes right next to the fence, in spots that get enough sun, we don’t need a dedicated grape trellis. Sure, the bunnies and any other animals inside the fence might take a few grapes, but I figure that’s just free animal food and they certainly won’t take all of them. If it gets bad, I can just attack hardware cloth to the inside of the fence to prevent grape theft. 

Right next to the gate, I used a shovel to cut a line into the grass and stuck peas in. So far they’re germinating nicely even through the turf, so hoping for a nice long line of them. 

We also grabbed two varieties of pear (for cross pollination), Bosc and Bartlett. Most of our fruits will be suitable for making our own baby food. After all, why pay a couple bucks for a half cup when we can pick them by the pound and just mash and can them ourselves for pennies on the dollar?

Aside from all that, the huckleberry flowers are starting to drop so berries soon!

Elderberries are in full bloom. 

Strawberries just starting to bloom. The top of the pocket pot is an everbearing variety, but the pockets are two varieties of native strawberry. They’re sending runners out and as soon as that area is established, we will move the pot and let them colonize another patch. 

The salal and black cap raspberries are also budding out. Getting into the tasty time of the year soon!

Busy Saturday!

Even though I didn’t get home from work until after 5 am and didn’t get a lot of sleep, I had a rather productive day! First, after more than a week of hardening off, I got the veggies transplanted to the garden!

That’s a lot of tomatoes and peppers! Also got the Brussels sprouts and broccoli out. To be honest, I think I started all of these a couple weeks too soon. Some of them were pretty leggy. They’d have gone out sooner but the weather has not been particularly cooperative and I’ve been pretty busy with the fence. 

Speaking of the fence, I got a bit done between the driveway and rabbit pen. The closest patch is black oil sunflower seed. These are the small black sunflower seeds you see in bird seed mixes. They’re also where we get sunflower oil. The soil was pretty bad. I think the gravel driveway used to be much wider. 

The next plot is wheat. Not sure what variety, we got it from the feed store. But a germination test was very promising! 

After working in some rabbit poop, I broadcast by hand and then covered with a light sprinkle of soil. 

Finally, corn! Specifically, calico popcorn. So pretty!

It’s a good corn for popping, but also a good one for mixing homemade chicken feed. On limited space, I just did six rows. Hopefully I’ll get good fertilization. Next year I’ll have larger plots for all of these. Next year I hope to not be tilling rocky soil by hand!

I covered it all with bird netting (held in place by the fence to keep it up off the soil) because previous attempts were essentially just exercises in feeding songbirds. 

When that was all done, my sister dropped by with a couple friends to socialize the rabbits. This involved basically snuggling and squealing at how cute they were. 

Tomorrow is an us day for me and the lady McFarmFace. But Monday I hope to get started on the rabbit barn. But other than that, I got everything on my list for the weekend done today!

DIY livestock gate! Or the fence thing part two. 

While I had the materials to build the gate last weekend, what I did not have was the time. So the yard sat almost ready for the dog for a week. Poor Vasi. If she knew what I was doing back there, she might have been less of a pill. 

Anywho, the ground between the two gate posts was not level because I didn’t think ahead enough so some minor earthwork was in order. Once I had a relatively level area between them, it was time to build the gate itself. 

So, measure between the two posts and accounts for the hinges. The latch will be on the outside so not a big deal. I wanted a different style latch, but it seems most gate latches assume either square posts or chain link. Oh well. 

The gate is constructed out of 2×4, which makes it pretty heavy. Over time, it will sag. To counter this, the diagonal brace takes the weight from the top of the gate opposite the hinge and distributes it to the bottom right next to a hinge. Also, I placed a brick below the gate that it can rest on. Let’s hope that’s enough!

Obviously, two triangles with a nine foot span won’t keep the dog in, so the woven wire fencing was stapled to it.

 It’s tied to itself on the sides much like with the wooden fence posts. All in all, I think it blends with the fence quite nicely!

It’s stapled once up top and twice on the bottom, which stretches the wire down, then up, then down again. So it’s pretty tight. 

Basic gate hinges. Held down by gravity. You do want to make sure they’re plumb to each other, and measure very carefully, as the pilot holes make it very difficult to adjust the huge placement!

A little tidying up and it was time to let the puppy lose! She definitely enjoys the space! But until I can be sure the garden is completely secured, she only gets supervised time outside. 

Upcoming: using the fenceline as support for peas and grapes, planting the areas just outside the fence with grain crops among other things, and using pumpkins as weed control!

Asparagus and onions! Eventually. 

Things have been quite busy here at Huckleberry Hills! I’d been meaning to get asparagus crowns for weeks now, but wanted a better deal than I was finding. $1.60 per plant might not seem like a bad deal, but when you’re getting fifty, it adds up quick!

Amazon to the rescue! I was able to get both a green and a purple variety, 25 crowns each, and spend a total of thirty bucks and some change on them! They arrived during the week and I got them planted Saturday. 

Now, we didn’t really have an ideal spot already prepared so I had to make my own. I knew we wanted them near the house, but with the entire plot being sloped, and the front yard being poultry territory, I really didn’t have any options better than under the kitchen and pantry window. Of course, the soil isn’t fantastic there because there’s a steep slope right below it. 

Enter the bunny. Rabbit poop is one of the best fertilizers because it doesn’t need any aging or composting before applying to the garden. So I shoveled out as much as I could, and mixed it in with some garden soil I’d purchased to make my own seedling mix. 

I weeded the spot under the windows and started digging trenches for them. It’s a little more crowded than I’d prefer, but they should be fine. 

Despite some spotty reviews (largely from people who didn’t seem to have a firm grasp of gardening), they were almost all perfect crowns. Some had even broken dormancy and had tiny spears starting! 

Fifty plants, even if some are female, ought to be enough asparagus for the two (three soon!!!) of us, though we won’t get to harvest any until next year. 

After that, I got the red onions in the ground. Between red and yellow, probably a hundred total. Haven’t even gotten the leeks and scallions outside yet. A few are about ready though!

Also got the tomatoes repotted, for the most part. I don’t have nearly enough space for seedling trays, so I got some of them repotted and then just spaced the rest out in their original trays a bit. I’ve definitely determined that I need a better dedicated seedling area, with shelves and more lights. 

The incubator is set up and ready for eggs, just waiting on that silly turkey. The cuckoo maran pullets are spending the days outside and will be moving to the coop by next weekend most likely. 

As much as there is to do lately, it’s super important to not forget to take time for yourself and your loved ones. Saturday we had a family gathering at my mom’s house, and Sunday after planting, the girlfriend and I went to a local park. We really do live in a beautiful place, and I can’t wait to show it to my baby when he or she gets here!

Shifting priorities 

When we first started out here at Huckleberry Hills, before it was even called that, we had some fairly ambitious goals. We still do! However, things change, and the plan for this year has changed quite a bit. 

Sometimes the greatest additions to a homestead or farm are totally unplanned! We call it Sesame Seed for now, because that’s how big it was when we found out! But as Lady McFarmFace gets further along, it gets harder for her to do certain things. 

We still plan on ducks, geese, goats, pigs, and sheep. But probably not this year. The fowl, at most. Instead, the big focus will be on streamlining what we already have. I’ll be constructing a rabbit barn of sorts, and food hoppers that don’t need filling as often and keep food a little higher to deter rodents. The water containers for the poultry and the rabbits will be modified for easier filling, and ill extend the fence around the yard. 

This fall, I’ll do some earth moving to make swales and berms, and then totally replant the entire yard with a forage blend. It’ll be a mix of a horse pasture blend (orchard grass, perennial ryegrass, Kentucky bluegrass, Timothy, and alfalfa) and a poultry forage blend (Dutch white clover, alsike clover, red clover, alfalfa, Austrian winter peas, common flax). With a large enough area, this should significantly decrease the chicken food bill! 

Other projects include some sort of overhead shelter for the birds, and replacing the pellet stove with a wood stove. I’d also like to get started clearing the pasture, though I may not get to fencing it until next year. 

Another thing, Diane has started laying!!! More on that in the next post. 

Winter planting time!

Yeah, you heard me right, all you non gardener folk out there. Planting in the winter. There’s actually quite a few seeds that go in the ground before the last frost date. 

While the peppers and tomatoes chill under the grow lights, the garden bed is starting to get weeds. And, well, that just won’t do. We had a pile of partly decomposed straw from the dog bed, and the rabbits conveniently pile their poo in a corner, so I spread and raked that into the soil. 

The peas and turnips both got neat little rows, but the leafy greens I pretty much just scattered. I like to plant lettuce and spinach densely underneath taller plants like tomatoes. Helps keep the weeds down. 

Speaking of tomatoes, we will be trying the vertical string method this year, so I put a bunch of screws in the fascia under the gutter. The tomatoes will be in two rows, offset, each with a string supporting them upwards. 

My garden plan is pretty dense, and for some reason my careful measurements didn’t work out quite the same once I started planting. So the beans will get tepees off to the sides outside the actual garden bed. 

The alliums are going elsewhere because they don’t play nicely with legumes. I’ll also be growing, for the first time ever, a few grains. I’m very excited about the wheat and barley patches (so far it’s a patch of straw, but trust me. There’s barley under there). They’ll go downslope of the asparagus bed, along with some popcorn, and somewhere in all this, some shelling peas. 

I’ll be expanding the rabbitry, and that will have a sunflower border between it and the driveway. 

Sunflowers, wheat, barley, corn, peas… It’s almost as if I’m planning on making my own animal feed…

Anyway, the plan done and some of the planting as well, it’s quite clear that I need to at least double my garden space. Preferably triple or quadruple. Time to break out that chainsaw soon!

The tension is on…

It’s building up. The tension is increasing. It’s straining… soon it’s going to… spring!!!

Seed starting is well under way here. We have a full tray of tomatoes and one of peppers. We’ve also started several 4″ pots of leeks and scallions, plus some sunflowers. 

The latter we could have waited and direct planted, but we will use a lot of them so we figured we’d get an early small crop and just keep planting throughout the season for an extended harvest. 

In about a week it’ll be time for the Brussels sprouts and broccoli to be started, and not long after that, the garden itself will get some seeds. 

Looking at the amount we have already started, and the huge stack of unopened seed packets, it’s clear I will need to clean and prepare at least two more garden beds. The alliums can’t go next to the legumes and the sunflowers can’t go next to anything. Wait, three. Asparagus. 

Seems I’ve got my work cut out for me!