A new life together

The wedding was beautiful. The schedule was wonky, the prep chaotic, and some of the planned activities didn’t end up happening, but all in all, I’d have to call it a success if no reason other than this: I married the most astounding and wonderful example of a human being that I have ever had the privilege of knowing. I’ve been to a dozen countries on four continents and about as many states here in the US, and I can say with confidence that she is one of a kind and I beyond lucky that she has chosen to share this life with me.

Of course, when the drinks are empty and the guests departed, life continues. There are still pigs to feed and dishes to clean. But the day to day activities of building up a homestead and raising a family all seem to have a fresh coat of polish on them.

Maybe it’s just that the wildfire smoke from California and Canada has cleared, but to me everything seems brighter and fresher now that I have married this wonderful woman. The turkeys’ feathers are brighter and more colorful too. The rabbits hops are cuter. Every day I wake up and there she is. My wife. Sometimes I just can’t stop smiling. And I don’t intend to try stopping.

So what’s next for Huckleberry Hills? Well, we have this lovely bar that my mother, brothers, and nephew helped me build. It’s situated on the edge of a very picturesque setting with lush greenery and a beautiful backdrop of forest. With a little tidying and another mowing before the cool sets in, we figure we can offer up the space for other weddings.

The pigs will be ready for butchering right after Halloween, and over the winter we will be upping our incubator game to really try to move some baby birds in the spring.

Our little monkey bear is learning to walk, so naturally whatever work we are doing has to periodically stop just to clap and tell her she did so good!

In short, life goes on. Just better than before.

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Playing catch up

Seems lately there’s no time for anything, even blogging. And when there is time, it’s 90 damn degrees outside!

But, little by little, the last bit of wedding prep is underway.

The pigs have successfully cleared the vegetation and debris from the wedding parking lot, which of course will be pasture after that. They also got a new water dish, courtesy of my mother. Good luck flipping this one over, porkers!

My mother also rented a bobcat to help level and smooth out the pasture/parking lot. That was a lot of fun and way faster than doing it by hand!

The grass in the wedding area itself has gotten a wee bit out of control. But that’s ok because we have geese! Of course, there’s no fence down there yet, so I constructed a goose tractor so they can mow the grass but not get eaten. Yes, I know that chicken wire won’t actually stop a coyote. But it’ll slow it down long enough for the geese or the dog to let me know I need to get out there.

The meat birds are getting meaty. I hope to have the largest ones butchered this weekend, and the rest within the next two weeks as they catch up.

The rabbits, unfortunately have not been breeding very quickly in the heat. And when they do have a litter, it’s tough keeping them alive. I have some ideas for a structure to give them shade without compromising the breeze, but it will take a little time. We will still have rabbit at the wedding, just probably not quite as much as we had planned.

My regular job has been quite irregular lately. One week I barely have enough hours, the next I don’t get any sleep for all the overtime. It’s really been quite the motivator to get this place making money. So we have some plans for that, which I’ll detail in another post later.

Pig pen pasture prep project progress!

Alliteration is always awesome.

In the two weeks since I had intended to post that last update (oops) a lot has been done!

The procedure has always been move the pig pen, rake out the vacated area, and plant the pasture seed. But two weeks in a row, I didn’t have enough time to do more than move them! With a third move rapidly approaching along with a birthday party, I was facing the prospect of working three areas in one weekend and was beginning to feel like I’d never get caught up!

Thankfully, my wonderful friends and family assisted with the move and I had the last day of my weekend to work. I’m all caught up!

The pigs really moonscaped that far section in the above pic, and since that’s where the dance floor and wedding reception are going, it took quite a bit of work to get that smoothed out nicely. But in a couple of weeks it’s going to be nice and green!

When I first announced that we were holding the wedding at home, and where, many people expressed skepticism that it could be done in time with my work schedule. But as you can see, the grass is thick and lush where the ceremony will be. A bit tall, too.

The plan is to pen the geese up in there a few weeks before the wedding and let them mow it down while simultaneously feeding themselves.

Meanwhile, the pigs have begun clearing and cleaning an entirely new area of the property. For the wedding, this will be a parking lot. After that, dedicated pasture.

One thing I’m very proud of is how we’ve fed the pigs. A substantial portion of their diet is grass, blackberry bushes, and whatever else they root up. The rest is produce that would have otherwise been thrown away. That’s not to say feeding them has been free, or easy. In fact, I’d wager the frequent trips to where we get produce means this is actually much more work than simply buying feed. But the pigs eat a good, varied diet and it mainly costs us time and sweat.

This is how they were raised before we got them, too. These pigs have never tasted commercial hog feed, and have almost doubled in size since we brought them home. This breed will never get as big as a commercial breed, but from what I’m told, the flavor is incomparable. By rotating them frequently, we’ve probably reduced the amount we’ve had to feed them by over a third. I’m hopeful that we can beat that next year by growing more produce.

The corn wall for the wedding is also coming in nicely. It gets about an hour more shade/indirect light than I would prefer, but I’m still confident it’ll make a beautiful border.

And finally, the empty beehives we have our have been attracting a lot of attention lately. So far it’s mainly foragers stealing the honey that was in the old comb, but my fingers are crossed that we catch a swarm or two soon!

The lower pasture is going to be absolutely beautiful for the wedding. The progress in just a few weeks blows my mind. These two pictures are the same area. Different angles, but the same spot a few weeks apart. I’m looking forward to having more grazers after we have the upper pasture looking like this. Maybe goats. Maybe sheep. We will have to see what presents itself! But in the meantime, that’ll do pigs. That’ll do.

Making progress!

Edit: this was saved as a draft a few weeks ago and I simply forgot to post it. I’m sharing t today simply to provide contrast for the pictures in the post I’m about to write!

Another successful pig pen move down. Successful because we eventually got them back in the pen after they trotted down the road. Kunekune pigs are FAST. Would have been fine but they got spooked by a passing pickup truck.

You can see in this picture just how much land they’ve already tilled for us.

The most recent plot I moved them out of is where the wedding ceremony will take place. The darker line shows where the corn will be planted to border the ceremony itself.

Here you can see the first plot they tilled and vacated, with two weeks of growth for the pasture seed. Coming in nicely!

This picture shows the second plot, with one week of growth. At this rate, the entire area will be lush and green well before the wedding.

The peas are finally growing! These are both for snacking and for feeding the animals.

Just as exciting, the wheat and barley have also sprouted. I was worried a bit because the chickens have been in there scratching and dust bathing. But it seems the damage was minimal.

Finally, this is the area remaining for the pigs to clean up. The shape is a bit odd so that’ll be two more moves. After that, they move back past where they were the first time and clean up where the cars will be parked.

Everything has a purpose

When homesteading, it’s probably a bit easy to focus so much on function that form gets neglected. We have fruit trees and vegetables, edible berry bushes, and animals. These things are beautiful, at least to me.

But sometimes you just need some honeysuckle! And lilac! And jasmine! Beauty and pleasure can be ends unto themselves. But if you need a pragmatic reason for flowers, bees.

The outdoor wedding prep has so far been mainly about clearing and smoothing terrain. But a lot of progress has been made on that, and I’m confident it’ll be well and thoroughly finished before the wedding. So now it’s time to start beautifying.

The sunflower bed will provide a great photo backdrop, and the fragrant flowers will make the wedding area smell great. I’m also preparing to start building the podium, bar, and dance floor. Just need some more pallets.

One very cool project is that we have supplied power to the pasture. This will operate the electric fence and a security light and camera.

Speaking of the fence, the post holes have been dug and we acquired some of the gates needed to enclose the property. The dog is in her final stage of training. She now gets 3-5 hours unsupervised time with the birds each day. In a week or so, she should be out with them all the time. Just have to figure out how to keep her out of the chicken food and the turkeys out of her food! When the fence is finished, she will have a huge area to explore and roam.

Pig tilling

The future pasture has been cleared of brush for a while now, but work remains before it can really be planted with the pasture blend. But today I was looking at how much the pigs have rooted up their new pen already and wondering if they’d undo the work we do for the wedding. I figured we might have to keep them out of the wedding area entirely as it grows and until the wedding was done.

But then I looked at the planted part of the yard and got to thinking about how fast that grass grows and realized that there’s enough time before the wedding that we can simply use the pigs to finish prepping for planting. As long as they’re out of the wedding area so we can plant it at least a month out, then they will have actually saved us work instead of made more.

So today I moved their pen. I basically just moved one post at a time so the fence stayed mostly intact. They didn’t even really try to get out. Good pigs.

They tore up the grass in their new area so quickly that I feel confident that I can move them every weekend until they’ve taken care of the whole area for us. Then it’s back to just past where they were originally. I’ll follow behind each move raking and planting.

Other than a couple blackberry canes and scotchbroom stems, they tilled the entire area. A bit of raking was all it needed.

Once it was raked out, I went ahead and spread the seed for the pasture blend. And in a couple of weeks, we will have more grass. The free ranging birds should help keep it from getting too out of control until the perimeter fence is up and the pigs and geese can have it.

Their next move will encompass the actual wedding ceremony area. I may leave them there a little longer to be sure it’s nicely tilled since that’s not just grass, it’s also corn being planted. They should be ready to move out of their just about the time the corn needs to be planted.

In the meantime, I also got a couple fruit trees in the ground. We’ve got some lofty food goals for next year so I’m glad to have that done. I will probably need to go hunting this fall and have a greenhouse up before winter in order to meet those goals, but the fruit trees will help. Bonus, any fruit we don’t get to is free pig food!

Big things happening!

Barring crazy weather or last minute rescheduling, we have a neighbor coming this weekend for some tractor work! I know, I know. I’d initially planned on clearing using animals. But the wedding plans put a bit of a time crunch on me. Plus I got impatient. Making the fence through the brush and trees to contain goats to clear the brush…

Yeah, I ain’t got time for that mess.

So tractor. He’s going to clear to bare soil and drill the holes for the perimeter fence. Since the perimeter fence line goes through the woods a bit, I would not want to drill them by hand!

In preparation for this, I’ve been gathering together materials. We had some awesome sales here this weekend. So I got all of the wooden posts, and enough T posts and fencing to at least do the pig pasture plot. I’ll go ahead and set the wooden posts and just collect the remaining T posts and fencing as I have time and money. Should be entirely fenced before the wedding.

Another thing I picked up has been on my list for quite some time! We’ve talked about getting a generator since we first moved out here. We got lucky not losing power these last two winters. Not gambling on that luck. Besides, portable power for the wedding will be great! Lights, music, etc. I’d looked online to determine what size generator we need. I figured we could run the fridge, freezer, an additional freezer when we get one, and lights with a minimum of 3000 Watts. At first I was looking at a 3200 watt generator on sale at a local hardware store. Best price I’d seen for that size generator and well reviewed online.

So imagine my surprise when I see at our local farm store a generator rated at 3650 watts, with a bigger fuel tank, on sale for a full $40 less than the one I’d been looking at! Again, quite positively reviewed online, though not as many reviews as I’d like.

Once we’ve had time to get the shipping brackets off and get it gassed up, I’ll do a review post. For now, I’m pretty excited.

I managed to get a few other important things handled in the past week or two, but I’m really excited about getting that fence done. Once we have the perimeter done and gates up, we can let that dog run herself exhausted every day! She’s getting more time outside and is being pretty good with the birds first thing in the morning. As the sun rises earlier she will get more and more time. I’m hoping within a couple of months she can be with them full time.

Looking forward to showing you the transformation that’s about to happen here!

Updated before even posting!

Seems February saw I had plans and said “hold my beer!” Probably not getting the tractor work done tomorrow. But that doesn’t mean I can’t get the piglets settled into their temporary home in the meantime! We are picking them up Monday, which gives me plenty of time to get that pen locked down!

Stocking up

Semi graphic photos.

One of the biggest goals for our homestead is to stop buying meat. Between the rabbits and chickens, we are getting closer! Last year, two of our hens raised clutches outside. Last weekend, I processed six birds for a total of 25 pounds. It wouldn’t have been possible to get through so many so quickly if not for the plucker I borrowed from a fellow homesteading friend!

What was most interesting this time is that we had never before butchered hens. I figured we would probably find eggs, but it was still very surprising!

One egg was completely formed, minus the shell. Had we waited a day, it probably would have been in the coop!

While this wasn’t the first time using the plucker, it was a somewhat new experience. I dislike the slaughter, but she hates it. And she doesn’t mind the butchering, but it’s uncomfortable for me because my hands are too big for the smaller birds. But she doesn’t like removing the lower legs and wing tips because of the force involved. And I don’t mind that. So we set up almost an assembly line. I took a bird from the freezer and removed the offending limbs, she gutted, and then I bagged.

This was also our first time using shrink bags. The overall look is much better than the gallon ziplocs!

The end result was a freezer with much more meat than had been there before. And since we want to serve chicken at the wedding, this is the way to do it!