Uncategorized

Keeping Honey Bees

The closer to spring we get the more I want to see my bees working

two branches homestead

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getting started

A few years ago we decided to add honey bees to our homestead.  We had noticed that they were absent from our garden and small orchard.  And after a few years of poor apple crops we decided to take matters into our own hands.  After months of research we took the plunge and ordered our first package of bees. As soon as we placed the order we started getting ready for their arrival.  We picked a site close to the garden and orchard with access to water.  This spot receives sun throughout the day so we knew it would keep them active and also warm in the winter.  We have bears in the area so we built an electric fence with a solar charger, which we were later able to also utilize for our pigs. We then began construction of the hives.

 

We chose to build our…

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duck eggs, ducks, homesteading, raising ducks, Uncategorized

Raising Ducks in a Chicken’s World

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We have all been there.  Walking through your local feed store and placed strategically in the center are troughs full of chicks and ducks. They are all peeping away and oh so cute.  Who hasn’t looked down at them and wanted to bring a few home? One day on the way home from work, I stopped for feed and couldn’t take it anymore. I had to take a few of those fuzzy ducks home, six as a matter of fact, as they had a minimum.  So with no plan, I headed home.  Everyone loved them and since we had all the equipment from raising chicks, we were able to settle them in quickly.  We had a large brooder box, heat lamp, waterer, and feeder.  Our brooder is big enough that we could set the heat lamp fairly low and the ducks would be able to adjust their temperature by moving either closer or further away from the bulb. Their cuteness was overwhelming.  Ducks need constant access to water in order to eat.  After eating they need to clean their nostrils with water, so the water needs to be deep enough for them to put their beak under water.

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It didn’t take long for us to realize they were a little different from chicks.  They were noisy and seemed to poop twice their weight a day.  They would splash all of the water out of the waterer, and ate almost as much as meat birds.  However, they were still the cutest things ever.  You could not help pick them up, they were very skittish and ran from us like we would murder them.

After a few weeks, we decided to let them go for a swim. Baby ducks can swim well, but they lack the oil gland to keep their feathers dry, so after a short swim, they need to be dried and put back under the heat lamp. In the wild, their mother would preen them.

Once they were a little bigger, we would give them a small dishpan to swim in.  We also made them a ramp so they could get in and out easier.  They loved to have greens chopped up and put into their swimming pool.  Twice a day, they would splash all  of the water out of their pool and soak the shavings.  Ducks are a lot of work.  They are certainly not chickens.  We decided to put them outside and built them their own coop out of scrap lumber, because homesteaders have to be resourceful. Which also explains the siding made from scrap flooring!

Ducks do not need a roost and we thought they would like to live in the vineyard.  But being ducks, they decided they would not go in at night and we would have to wrangle fast ducks every night. Soon they just lived in the vineyard, because they refused to go inside.  Finally, they began to lay eggs and we were able to make wonderful fluffy bread with them.  Duck eggs are delicious and soon we were enjoying duck egg omelettes as well.

They were happy to be outside and you could hear them at night quacking away, until disaster struck.  Something killed 4 of them in two nights, so we rounded up the rest and put them in a safe pen. Luckily the two surviving ducks were male and female, so we borrowed an incubator, thanks to a fellow homesteader, and set off to raise the first animals conceived on the homestead.   We placed an egg a day in the incubator.  Duck eggs take 28 days to hatch, and we found that our hatch rates were better when we turned them by hand and not with the automatic turner. After several failed eggs we began to hit our stride and it was baby duck heaven all over again.  It was fascinating to watch them use the egg tooth on their beak to get out of the egg.

Then they began to hatch, one after another after another after another.  14 in all we named them all after nuts: Peanut, Cashew, Pecan, Pistachio, Macadamia, Almond, Left, Right (use your imagination here), Filbert, Hazel, Coco, Acorn, Butternut and Brazil.  This is a short video of one hatching.

Our duck journey had come full circle, there is nothing like going outside and always having a flock of ducks in your yard.  They keep the slug population down and they have now taken over the mowing in the vineyard.  Well all except one.

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There is nothing like a smoked duck.  So the next time you are in the feed store and you see those fuzzy little ducks, grab yourself a six pack to go along with them, you are gonna need it.

gardening, glass gem corn, homesteading, Uncategorized

Glass gem corn happiness and beauty

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Every year when I look through the seed catalogs, I always come across a picture that grabs my attention.  A picture of a vegetable taken at peak ripeness and in perfect light.  Last year was no exception,  and it was Baker Creek’s catalog cover that drew me in.  It’s always the same. I look at the picture, turn to Tracy and say I’m gonna grow that.  So when the seed order for the year was placed glass gem was on the list.  Glass Gem corn is a beautiful native american flint corn that can be used for flour or popcorn, but it’s this corn’s amazing color that makes it prized. In our area, we plant corn on memorial day weekend, so it was a long wait to get our seeds in the ground.  We planted them away from our other corn to decrease the chance of cross pollination.  After 2 weeks, very few plants had emerged,  and I was discouraged.  I replanted over the old seeds and waited.  After two more weeks both sets of seeds began to grow.

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Although the spacing was too close, I let all the plants that sprouted grow.  And grow they did.  After a short time, the plants were shoulder high, and then quickly taller than me.  Soon after, I saw the first silk emerge.

 

 

Now waiting has never been my strong suit, and as soon as the ears seemed big enough and some of the silk was dry,  I began checking on what was inside.  I was devastated, all of the ears were yellow.  I began to think that all of my beautiful corn had cross pollinated with my sweet corn.  We decided to wait until the ears dried on the stalks and then check again.  A few weeks passed, and when we opened them, we were overjoyed.  They were just as gorgeous as the pictures in the catalog.  I have never grown anything that had looked as good as the pictures in the catalog, but this may have been more beautiful.

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Now it was time to decide what to do with it all.  First it needed to be dried, so we laid it out in the sun.

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We made some bunches of three or four ears to decorate and give to family,  but we still had so many ears.  Finally we decided to put some out in our little farm stand.  Very soon after we put it out we had our first customer.  A young lady who was getting married next fall wanted some to plant next year to use as decorations at her wedding.  We also put the beautiful 8′ tall stalks out for sale.  We were now glass gem farmers.

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We took the corn that was left after our sales, hung it to dry, and later we ground it into flour.  We saved the kernels from the most beautiful ears to share with friends, and to grow for ourselves the next year.  Our experience growing glass gem corn was a success.  It is hard to believe that growing a vegetable could be this rewarding!  So the next time you see that picture in the catalog that draws you in, take a chance.  You will always learn something new, and you may get lucky and find happiness on a cob.

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Glass Gem corn seeds

One packet containing 100 seeds that we hand picked from our best ears. Free shipping to the lower 48 states. contact us if you need an international quote.

$5.00

homesteading, maple syrup, Uncategorized

Homestead upgrade, “un-tapped” potential

 

IMG_5136On warm winter days, our thoughts often turn to making maple syrup.  This is the first food that we will produce for the coming year.  A major component of making maple syrup is the evaporator.  This is what we use to take the sap from 2% sugar to 66.7% sugar.  The entire process is about getting rid of water through evaporation.  When we first started making maple syrup, we would boil it in a small pan over a fire. As you wait for the water to boil off, you have a lot of time to think about how you could speed up the process. A maple syrup pan can boil off one gallon of sap an hour for each square foot of surface area.  So a pan that is 2’x4′ can boil off 8 gallons an hour.  This is the most time consuming part of the process.  As you sit there waiting, it’s impossible to not think of ways to make the process more efficient and every year we make upgrades.  Last year we got a new pan, so we built an evaporator.  It would be too expensive to build one from scratch, so we built it from an old tank/stove that we had found in the woods.

After a lot of cutting and some welding we had a basic evaporator.  This was a big upgrade for us and allowed us to burn much less wood in the process.

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During the season last year, we made several modifications to make it work more efficiently, however it still left something to be desired.  So this season, we came up with a plan to get that sap boiling faster.  All winter long, my mind worked on ideas to make it better.  We looked at commercial evaporators and watched videos, however, none were made out of an old relic like ours.  We borrowed ideas from all the different evaporators we had seen, and began working.

We are not metal workers so this would be a new adventure.  We do own a small welder and some grinders and saws. We gathered them up and set to work.  A major component of all the evaporators we saw in our research was a ramp.  The ramp forces heat against the pan to get it boiling, so we ordered some steel and began to weld, and weld, and weld.

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We also knew that firebrick would retain a lot of heat and make our evaporator work more efficiently,  so we made our design with them in mind.  We also found that a fire burns much hotter with the air coming from underneath, so we built a grate and moved our door upward.  We also added a flue and chimney so we did not get a face full of smoke the whole time that we boiled. Lastly, we added the firebrick.

We now had what looked like a much better evaporator.  Often in homesteading and life you have to take a risk, not knowing what the outcome will be.  You may be building a  fence or raising animals for the first time.  You never know how these things will turn out.  You can do all the research in the world, but there is no substitute for doing, or trial and error.  We crossed our fingers and started a fire in the evaporator.img_1795-1

The sap quickly heated up and was boiling in no time, not to mention a greater area of the pan was boiling, so the upgrade was a success!  Now we can’t wait for all that sap to flow.  One of our favorite parts of homesteading is learning.  It seems like we are always learning something new, or learning a new way to do something old.  We are constantly challenging ourselves to do more, to learn more, and to live more.

homesteading, Uncategorized

Homesteading is more than growing things

 

 

Many times when talking about the homestead we get so caught up in talking about gardening or our farm animals, that we forget about another way that we feed ourselves.  Hunting and fishing provide a wonderful way to provide extra meals for our family.  Every year my sons and I harvest deer and a fair amount of fish.  We are as passionate about hunting and fishing as we are about homesteading.  I don’t think a weekend goes by that we don’t hunt or fish.  Time spent with your family in any pursuit is always rewarding, but hunting and fishing provide moments that are unforgettable.  My son and I will tell stories about the deer we harvested or the fish we caught, but never about how many tomatoes we picked.  An adult deer will provide 50 lbs or more of high quality protein for your family.  When you fillet a fish you can expect the meat to weigh half as much as the fish’s live weight.  As the seasons go on, you can add a meaningful amount of food to your families stash.  In typical season we harvest over 100 lbs of venison,  this accounts for one dinner a week.  It also provides jerky for my son to take to school.  This makes him extremely popular.

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When you add home grown vegetables to the mix you have a true homestead meal.  We never waste any meat here because we know the sacrifice that was made for it to be on our table.  If you have a small homestead, meat harvested in the woods or on the water is a great way to make yourself more self sufficient.  A few years ago, we took at trip to go salmon fishing and each caught a salmon.  When we were done we had over 40 lbs of  king salmon fillets.  If you had to buy those fillets in the store it would cost over $600, and we had a wonderful family adventure, and that is something you can’t put a price tag on.  After all homesteading is about family and working together.

 

My son and I also ice fish,  If you have never done it you are really missing something.  Fish caught through the ice are firm and delicious, and who doesn’t love perch?  During  the ice fishing season we harvest enough fish to have fish every Friday during Lent.

 

In the spring, we fish for trout.  Trout in the spring taste better because they are eating minnows and not flies.  If you have ever had an opening day trout, you know what I mean.

 

So often on the homestead we are so busy, we barely have time to think.  Hunting and fishing allow us to take a break from the work, and still be productive.  Hunting and fishing  put us closer to our goal of being totally self sufficient.  So if your are looking to take your homestead to the next level, and you don’t have room for a pig or a cow,  get in the woods or on the water, you will be happy you did.