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Homemade Homegrown Thanksgiving

Well, we did it. We pulled off our down home Thanksgiving! After doing this, I understand why pioneer women stayed home to cook and clean. It takes a lot of time. Maybe not the cleaning part, because dirty floors and outdoor toilets don’t require a lot of attention. But, boy, the growing, prepping, cooking takes time. Even with electric appliances.

The final menu:

  • Turkey
  • Corn bread and sausage stuffing
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Glazed carrots
  • Green beans and bacon
  • Pattypan and Ricotta quiche
  • Dinner rolls
  • Deviled eggs
  • Pumpkin Pie
  • Holiday cookies

My shopping list had a whopping 7 items on it, including spices, half and half, whipping cream, and celery. Yeah, I had to break away from the farm for celery. Not only were we not able to grow it here, but we couldn’t find it at farmers markets, either. Still, not bad. The sausage and bacon came from our friends at R Heritage farm. The one item that was sadly missing was corn. Rats got to our cornfield before harvest. Everything else came straight from our backyard and kitchen.

While it was nice to head out to the backyard to gather Thanksgiving, it was the longest prep timeline ever. Besides the big projects like planting and processing, there is also the daily feeding, watering, and cleaning, etc.

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  • Buy chicks so they will be laying eggs in time (Hens start laying around 20 weeks)
  • Potatoes
  • Carrots
  • Green beans
  • Squash
  • Pumpkins

 

Summer prep:

  • Buy turkey chicks (Turkeys are processed at 4-6 months)
  • Harvest and can green beans
  • Process and can chicken stock

November:

  • Harvest potatoes, pumpkins, squash and carrots
  • Make pumpkin puree

Week of:Turkey hunter

  • Catch and process turkey (this is harder when it’s been raining and the yard is muddy and slippery)
  • Bake corn bread
  • Prepare pie crusts
  • Slice carrots
  • Bake dinner rolls
  • Bake cookies

Everything else was pulled together on Thanksgiving.

Now, we missed some holiday standards because I was determined to bring as much as possible from the back yard.  There were no cranberries, and no sweet potatoes, which are my favorite. Next year, we can probably grow sweet potatoes, and some mushrooms would be good. I don’t see cranberries happening anytime soon. Something about a bog, or something.  Hmm. Maybe we could do that. We’ll see.

Christmas is right around the corner, and our Christmas dinner will be as much from home as possible, but I’ll have to bring in other goodies, too.

Thanksgiving will continue to be homegrown, and I’m sure will evolve over the years. It’s not a matter  of having or making MORE. For us, it’s about doing it ourselves, appreciating where we are and what we’re able to produce, and providing for our family. It also reminds us to be thankful year-round. And that’s the very best part.

 

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Rainwater Collection – Is It Legal?

I’ve been seeing a lot of posts on social media about rainwater collection being illegal. I know it’s not illegal in Washington, and decided to check on exactly what the legalities were in other states. I started checking laws. Then I stopped. The government websites  that include water collection laws, are written in full legalese. I just want to know, “Can you collect rainwater?” yay or nay. They just can’t make it that simple.

The gist of what I’ve found is good news. Colorado has very strict rainwater collection laws, but other states are actually becoming more lenient, not stricter. The main concerns are health matters and overcollecting.

Rainwater is relatively pure, and is even pH neutral. Dirt, leaves, fecal droppings from birds and animals, and insects, being washed from a catchment area into a collection barrel are the leading causes of contamination. Equipment can be used to sterilize collected water for consumption, but I think most people would be happy to collect enough water just for gardening and providing water for animals.

The issue of overcollection is kind of weird. The official concern is that rainwater collection could affect aquifer and groundwater supplies. The theory being, if everybody were to collect rainwater on their own land, the streams would dry up and tap water supplies would disappear. Let’s think about that for just a second. Collecting rainwater is bad for groundwater levels, but using tapwater is OK. How much sense does that make?

Douglas County, CO conducted a study because that’s what governments do. The study showed that letting people collect rainwater on their properties actually reduces demand from water facilities and improves conservation. Furthermore, the study showed that only about 3% of Douglas County’s precipitation ended up in the streams and rivers. The other 97% either evaporated or seeped into the ground to be used by plants.

While Colorado still has strict guidelines pertaining to rainwater collection, they are working on new pilot projects to examine the feasibility of rainwater collection to help with water conservation. So, if you’re in Colorado, check with the Division of Water Resources to confirm what is legal.

Bottom line: If you are interested in setting up a rainwater collection system on your property for personal use, it’s probably legal. Some states are trying to come up with guidelines limiting how many gallons an individual can collect, but they have yet to come up with a number they feel is fair and realistic. I imagine it will take several more years of studies.

To check rainwater collection regulations in your state, Google “Is rainwater collection legal in (insert state).” Every state has their own board or agency, but this search seems to point in the right direction.

To learn how to set up your own rainwater collection system, check out this post from last fall. http://redmonwoods.com/2014/09/03/water-works/

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Working the Farm

People kept telling us not to put anything into the ground until Mother’s Day weekend. At first, we thought they were maybe exaggerating a bit, but we’ve learned to listen. This weekend was it! We didn’t get as much done as I wanted, but we did enough that it’s going to hurt for a few days.

We got the beds tilled, with help from the chickens and Peanut, and all the raised beds are planted. The big field is ready to go, as soon as we can bend again. We have onions and garlic growing like crazy, and beets, radishes and strawberries are getting going. Carrots, lettuce, spinach, bush beans, and flowers went into the ground.
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The strawberries in the gutters love their home. We got flowers, which means we’ll be getting berries, and that’s a very good thing! The potatoes are doing great, too.   With Charlie’s PVC cages, the birds aren’t getting to the blueberries, and it looks like we’re going to have a good crop.

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There’s still so much that needs to go into the ground. The good news is, it has started staying light until almost 9, so we have lots of time in the evenings to get things planted.

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We also moved the birds around. The young ducks got moved into the big yard, and the turkeys and bantam chicks got moved into the run. The older chicks are all doing great, and should start laying eggs in 2-3 months.  If you’ve never seen ducks cruising around, they stay together darn near all the time. I’m very easily entertained, so I had to take a little break to follow the ducks around the yard, just so I could watch them move around in formation.

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And then, there’s this guy. Yep, this GUY. We buy day-old chicks, and the sex-checkers are pretty accurate, but it’s not unheard of for a rooster to get into the mix. When Charlie and I got the chicks, we picked out a special one for Raymond because he didn’t get to go with us.  Of course, that’s the rooster. Raymond is terrified of roosters. Maybe this one will be a nice rooster, and Raymond will learn to like it before he figures out it’s not a hen.

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I gave the duck tub a good scrubbing before moving in the young ducks. Spike and Tajo saw the hose and they wanted to play. At first, I kept moving the hose away from them. I wanted to be sure they weren’t afraid of the nozzle. They kept coming after the water, so I had to have Charlie come in and play so I could take pictures. Tajo kept dancing to get his belly cooled off, and Spike drank right from the hose, then wanted his but sprayed. Alpacas get sheared once a year, and ours are scheduled for next week. That means they’re wearing a year’s worth of fleece, and it got to 82 today.  I’m sure the cool water felt fabulous.

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While we worked, the dogs stayed nearby – mostly in the shade.

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While we were working away, this hawk started circling awfully low. Then it started calling its friends over. Charlie went in for the shotgun to scare it off, but it left on its own. Smart hawk.
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Busy day, and I think we’re going to be feeling it. We should have everything in the ground by the end of the week. After another few weeks, we’ll be able to start harvesting. Everything is off to such a good start, I’m really excited to see what we end up with. I see lots of canning, freezing, jams and jellies in the very near future. By the end of summer we should be able to feed ourselves 100% from our own hard work. Very exciting!

Water From The Woods

Want to see something cool? We’re not on public water, or even a well. Our water comes directly from the creek that runs through the property! Well, maybe not directly, but pretty darn close.

Ricci Creek runs right through the property. The dogs play in it, frogs live in it, and blackberries grow alongside it. Upstream, water from the creek is diverted for residential use. First stop is a little man-made pond.

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A PVC pipe runs from the pond to the sand pit.

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More PVC is rigged up with drilled holes to spray water into the sand pit. When I went out today, only about half the holes were clear. The pit has pretty steep sides, and I get really wet when I climb in to clear the holes, so I’ll only do it when Charlie is home to help me out. It’s a very complicated, precise procedure for clearing those little holes. I scrounge around the area until I find an appropriately-sized stick, then I poke the stick in the little holes until I clear out the dirt, leaves and sticks. As the holes clear, the water comes out, and it’s very wet and cold!

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The water from the PVC pipes filters through the pit, then down the giant pipe.

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From the pit (see the corner of it in the picture below) the water magically travels underground to a very large tank (see the large tree trunk in the top center of the picture) waaaay down the path.  OK, it’s probably not magic, but I can’t take a picture of whatever the water runs through, so we’ll pretend. That’s not a bear or a deer, there. It’s Peanut. She loves visits to the water pit.

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This is the big water tank. It runs water to at least 5 homes along the street. We just happen to be first in line.

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The big tank pumps into a smaller tank in the garage…

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which then pumps water into the house. Ta da!

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Since we’re first in line for the water, we’re also the first to experience the “trickle” when the pipes get clogged. Fortunately, we’re able to easily fix it, and most of the neighbors never know how close they were to not having water. In the fall, we sometimes have pretty brownish water. We’ve learned that’s not from chemicals or rust, it’s from leaves falling into the first pond, and discoloring the water. Some people may think that’s icky, but we find it kind of charming.

Last month, we had a ton of rain, the pond overflowed, and the pipes got all filled up with dirt. We still managed to have water, but somebody had to come out, disassemble the system, flush it out, and put it all back together. Again, we thought it was cool.

Interestingly, even though we have an apparently endless, free source of water, we find ourselves being pretty protective of it. We use our water barrels to collect rain water for the garden and animals, only run the dishwasher when it’s full, and do our best not to be wasteful.

Most of us grow up knowing we can just head to the grocery store for whatever we need. I know I never gave a whole lot of thought to where all those things came from. We’re 20 minutes from the grocery store, and can still make a run to town for whatever we need, but it’s different now. Growing our own food, gathering our eggs, and getting water from a local creek makes us appreciate the processes of nature so much more. And it’s fun to see how many aisles we can skip in the grocery store because we’re providing for ourselves!

Things to Learn

I enjoy every day on our farm, whether it’s chores, crafts, or fun in the kitchen. I’ve read and read and read to learn to do the things I enjoy today. There have been many useful websites that have helped me on my little adventure. When I read what I write about some of these companies and sites, I feel like I sound like a sales person for them. I’m not. If you buy products through my aStore at Amazon I get a very small commission, but other than that I have no financial interest in any of these businesses or products. They are things that have helped me along the way, so I’m sharing them with you to help you get started on your own homesteading adventure. Have fun!

Items I’ve used and written about in my posts, I’ve listed in my Amazon store, so you can find them easily. Please check it out!

http://astore.amazon.com/redmwood-20HUTCH-BOOKSHELVES-KITCHEN

The Ball Canning website has instructions, recipes, product information, and lots of useful tips for successful canning. I refer to them often.

http://www.freshpreserving.com/0915141600

New England Cheesemaking Supply Company has everything you need to start being a cheese maker. I’ve used Ricki’s Mozzarella kit, and her Basic Cheesemaking Kit is next on my wishlist.

http://www.cheesemaking.com/1002141422b

You don’t need to be a full-on homesteader to enjoy different aspects of the lifestyle. The Homesteading Today Forum is full of helpful people, who can offer all kinds of information and support.

http://www.homesteadingtoday.com/American Gothic

Mother Earth News magazine is also available online. SO much information about gardening! They even have a garden planner that we used this year.

http://www.motherearthnews.com/Homestead Plan

Grit magazine  has lots of fun articles, covering everything you need to know about rural living – and includes blogs and videos!

http://www.grit.com/RJ and pacas

If you want additional information about anything I’ve posted here, let me know!

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5-Gallon Farm Necessity

We live on a small portion of a large cattle ranch. Not small by suburb standards, but small for a farm. Our animals and garden use about ½ acre.

We don’t have a tractor. It would be nice, but we don’t really need one. We have two SUVs, a heavy duty wagon, and buckets. Lots of buckets. The 5-gallon, bright blue, plastic, Lowe’s buckets. We use them for everything.

2 Buckets

When we first started building our shelter, we used a few buckets to haul tools out back. Saw, hammer, nails, tape measure, drill bits and extension cords.  Keeping everything in buckets made it much easier to lug it back and forth, until we had a covered area to store it.

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As we were researching hen houses, we saw that some people used 5-gallon buckets, on their sides, as nesting boxes. We decided to do the same. The chickens love them, and it makes clean up a snap. I can dump all the old nesting material into one bucket, take it to the compost pile, and refill the buckets with clean shavings. Easy peasy!chicken buckets

2 Buckets

Two alpacas and 16 chickens produce a fair amount of poop. I clean it up twice daily, and need somewhere to put it. One bucket for the alpacas, one for the chickens. Poop duty is easier when the bucket is light enough to carry, but big enough that it takes a couple days to fill.

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Growing season in Washington is short. Tomatoes and peppers don’t like cold, so their season is even shorter. Charlie planted the tomatoes and peppers in buckets, and we kept them in the sunroom until it warmed up outside. Then, we were able to move the plants outside easily.650

4-5 Buckets

When our garden started producing, there were a LOT of vegetables to bring in. It soon became very apparent that my little harvest basket wasn’t going to do the trick. The wagon was too bulky to get in between all the crop rows. Buckets to the rescue again! I could haul a bunch of empty buckets out back, in the wagon. I would fill no more than one bucket with each vegetable because that was enough to tackle at any one time. Once my buckets were full, I pulled my wagon back to the house and had manageable amounts of produce to work with.700

I also store skirted alpaca fleece, animal food, and baby toys in the buckets. They can be found for free on Craigslist, but they’re only a couple of dollars, new. When not in use, they stack up in a corner. Of all the things we’ve found to be useful around the farm, these buckets are at the top of the list. You could even create a portable mini-farm in your own backyard with buckets and some creativity!864

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Working the Land

Late last year, Charlie and I were talking about what we’d like to do with the yard.We had already decided we wanted a garden, some chickens, and maybe some other animals, but now we were ready to start planning. It’s important to note here that I’ve never had any trouble using my imagination and coming up with ideas. Poor Charlie.

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The area we were considering was horribly overgrown, with a small area enclosed in chicken wire that had been the previous resident’s garden. We didn’t want the garden there and we wanted it much bigger. We would just have to take down the fence and start with a blank slate. The gate posts had been sunk in concrete, so we decided it could stay.

Original yard

Now, in the middle of our blank slate was a chain link dog run. Easy enough for me (to ask Charlie) to move.  I only needed to clean out years’ worth of gardening equipment, hoses, sprinklers, and plant pots full of water. No problem.Back of yard

In my imagination, the area soon filled with raised garden beds, an animal shelter/chicken coop, and a large animal yard. Oh, and compost and potato bins. When I asked Charlie what he thought of the rough draft of the idea he said, “Sounds like a lot of work.” Well, yeah, but how hard could it be?

chickens workingSince we had a few months before we could start planting the garden, we put our original flock of 7 chickens to work. We set up their run in one corner of the future garden area, and moved it every week. They enjoyed the grass, weeds, and bugs. The garden would enjoy the aeration and fertilizer.  This lumpy, bumpy, overgrown area was ready in plenty of time for spring planting.

charlie building

Next came the shelter/coop. (I thought it would be better to do the fence first, until Charlie pointed out how hard it would be to drag building materials through one small gate, instead of just pulling up the SUV and pushing stuff out.) We learned that people in Washington use Craigslist A LOT. And there’s a really cool “free stuff” section. Who knew? Before the yard was even ready for building, Charlie had been hunting for free materials online. We collected old fence panels, used pallets, and other miscellaneous wood.

building progress

 

The goal was to make the building as much from repurposed materials as possible. We ended up buying more materials than we thought we would, but it’s still about ½ repurposed. The floor and bottom half of the walls are pallets. The whole thing is a contractor’s nightmare – when stuff doesn’t fit right just use another 2 x 4 – but it’s sturdy, well-ventilated, and keeps the critters safe and out of the weather. Aside from multiple trips to Lowe’s, a couple of falling beams, and realizing Charlie would have to climb on top of his SUV to finish the roof, the rest of the building was uneventful.roofing

Fencing. Yuck. If you can hire someone to do it, do that. ‘Nuff said.

chicken bucketsWe started our project 1/1/14, and it was ready for the chickens to move in 4/3.  Yes, I did write it down because I knew it would be asked.

The garden came next, but we had to wait awhile longer for it to be warm enough.

chickens in yard

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Water Works

The local fairgrounds are 20 minutes away, and across the street from our local feed store. They have shows and events all year, which is really cool. We’ve been to goat, poultry, rabbit, and fiber shows. Wood carving, mineral and quilt shows. Garage sales, barn sales and plant sales. At every event, we’ve learned more about living in the country.0903141013a

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One of the most useful things we learned about was water barrels. At the spring plant sale, the Snohomish Conservation District was selling rain barrels, all set up and ready to be used. With a screen-covered hole on top, pvc spigot connection on the bottom, and an overflow connection with hose attachment at the top, all we had to do was set it outside under a rain spout.

For more information, here is the SCD website: http://snohomishcd.org/

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We got the rain barrels before we put the roof on the animal shed, so we were able to get it right. The roof has a slight angle to it, one gutter across the back, and a rain spout that comes down right above the top hole in the barrel.

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Because it rains so much in Washington, we thought we were quite clever getting two 50-gallon barrels. We can move the hose in the first one to drain into the second barrel or the 55-gallon trough. I use the hose at the bottom to fill up other water containers as needed.

Here’s the really cool part! I water 16 chickens and 2 alpacas daily. We’ve only had 2 good rains since June, and I had enough water to get through the whole summer. Before last night’s rain the trough was only about half full, one barrel was empty, and the other was on it’s very last gurgle. It took just 1/2″ of rain to fill one 50-gallon barrel. When I got up this morning, the other barrel, the trough, and a large tub were overflowing, and I had to bring another tub over to start filling.

The ready-to-use barrels were just $35 each, and the roof is only about 12′ X 15′. Just think how easy that is! Even if you live in a place without a lot of rain, a backyard shade structure or shed could be set up to collect water. If 1/2″ can equal 50 gallons, that’s a pretty good investment.

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