Monday, January 30, 2012

Planting and puppy dogs

 Okay, first I have to admit that as I sit here typing this I have a cute little fluff ball at my feet. We got a new Great Pyrenees/Lab mix puppy yesterday. I had no intention of getting a puppy when the day started, but there was this ad on had a picture...I just couldn't resist. So we picked up Boris yesterday afternoon. He's 8 weeks old and already HUGE!
Boris on Gabe's lap on the way home
 Anyway, that's all beside the point. The real point of tonight's blog is the garden. Mike and I got all 6 of the new trees planted (today Bruno ate the top off of the plum tree, so I'm not sure that one is gonna make it.) I spent Sunday afternoon getting the asparagus and garlic planted in the garden. 
Asparagus roots, ready to be covered with dirt
 Then, today I started my herb seeds and a few veggies. 
The seeds I started today
 Lily thought it was great fun to help fill up the pots and plant seeds. We got 81 small pots started and 5 bigger pots.


More herbs
I'm cutting tonight's entry a little short because Daddy is out of town and I have to put the munchkins to bed on my own tonight. Luckily the puppy (and the batch of soup I made this afternoon) kept Gabe occupied and calm. So goodnight everyone, Blessed Be

Friday, January 27, 2012

Rainy days

 Hello everyone. Things have been pretty quiet around here for the last few days. We got a big rain storm which dropped 4 inches of much needed rain here. Considering Texas is in the worst drought in recorded history, I'm happy to put up with the mud and the cranky goats (they hate the rain and glare at me like it's somehow MY fault that water is falling from the sky!)

4 inches of rain in my handy dandy rain gauge
 I was a little bit afraid that my brand new garden would wash away, as it's still bare dirt, but it looks just fine. The onions that I put in on Monday seem happy with all the moisture. As soon as the soil dries out enough I will be back at work getting my early plantings in and spreading wood mulch in all my paths.
Muddy but happy onion seedlings
 Egg production has gone WAY up in the last week or so. I was only getting 1 or 2 eggs a day before. Yesterday I got 10!! Maybe the Buffs won't end up in the freezer after all. Of course, chickens don't wipe their feet before going into the nest boxes so there is quite a bit of mud on the eggs. I will wash them off just before I use them so that the bloom isn't removed from the eggshell. The bloom is what seals the pores in the eggshell so that bacteria can't get inside.
This week's eggs, time to make quiche
 In hopes of getting some of my seeds started indoors this weekend I spent a good part of the last 2 days making little newspaper pots with my PotMaker. I love this little contraption and highly recommend it to anyone starting a lot of seedlings. I think I have around 80 done so far, only about 300 more to go. 
Lots of tiny pots
 It makes pots and also gives your pecs a nice workout. I have to say I didn't even remember that I HAD pecs until I used this thing. 
My PotMaker
 Yesterday Mike, Lily and I went to a great seed store here in town and got 6 new fruit trees, 30 asparagus roots, and lots of seed garlic (from Gilroy, Ca the best smelling town in the USA!) After I brought them home Bruno decided that the trees looked a lot like sticks, so he should carry them off and chew on them. He managed to get 3 of them and chew off the small roots before I caught him. Let me just say that he's really fast when he needs to be, which saved him from the swift kick in the ass I was about to give him. I think (hope) that the trees will survive the trauma.
2 figs, 1 cherry, 1 peach, 1 apricot, and 1 plum tree
 All morning he has been trying to make up with me. It was the last straw though. He is an expensive pain in my butt. I put an ad on craigslist but nobody wants him. Mike will be calling a local no kill shelter to take him in. 
He looks smug
 I'm most excited about the asparagus. It's my favorite veggie, but I've never grown it because I haven't had the land to do it. I didn't want to start a bed at a rental house for fear that I would do all the work and wait the 2-3 years before it was ready to harvest just to move. Now that we have our own land I can plant to my little heart's content. Since we got 2-year-old roots we will be able to harvest 1 or 2 stalks from each plant this year and then for 6 weeks next spring. The best part is that once I get them established they will produce for 20 years or more!
30 asparagus roots
 I think Mike is most excited about the garlic. I put it in everything I cook that isn't sweet. Not only does it taste good, but it's incredibly good for you!
 Anyway, that's what's been going on around here. Blessed Be

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Garden progress

The Plan!
The only thing we've changed is the position of the compost bin.

 I have gotten so much done on the garden in the last few days. The whole area was tilled 3 times. I hurt myself the first time, until Mike explained that I needed to stop fighting with the machine. After that I was fine.
Halfway through the first tilling

The kids and the dog thought it was great fun and no amount of explaining that I was trying to fluff up the soil would stop them from stomping on it and rolling in it. Gabe was especially pleased.
Happy boy
After they got their fill of getting filthy. I started raking all of the loose soil out of the paths and into the raised beds. Right now only one of them is enclosed but eventually they all will be. They're not raised very high yet, but as I add more compost and improve the soil they will get higher.
The first raised bed

 Bruno helped too...

He's such a big helper
 Many, many hours and sore muscles later it looked like this.
Making progress
This morning I rushed to get some onion plants in the ground before a big rain storm rolled in. I still have one medium bed to rake up and 3 more paths to clear but I'm nearly there. And now that I have plants in the ground it's really a garden. Now that we're actually growing our own veggies I feel like I can really say that we live on a farm. It's a tiny farm, but it's a farm. It even has a name.... 
 Everyone, welcome to Cackleberry Creek Farm!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Incubating and other chicken news

 Tonight I finally candled the 10 eggs I have in the incubator. Half of them are clear, they probably weren't fertile. Another 2 are iffy, there is development, but I didn't see a heartbeat. The other 3 look really good, I can see blood flowing through the little vessels around the developing embryo.
 I have to admit, I was hoping for a better hatch that 3 or 5. I decided to add a dozen more in a separate tray to hatch 8 days after these ones. I dated each of the new eggs so that I don't get them mixed up with the old eggs.
 Now chicken people all know that the eggs need to go on "lockdown" on day 18. Non chicken people have no idea what this means. I will explain. Because I "dry" incubate I keep the humidity around 30% during the first 18 days (I basically don't add any water at all, the eggs lose enough moisture to keep it at this level) and turn the eggs every 8 hours, then, on day 18 I add water in a shallow dish to bring the humidity up to 70%. Then I shut the door and leave them alone until they hatch.
 So, what, you may ask, happens when you have a staggered hatch? How can you lock the eggs down if you have to turn the other eggs? Will terrible things happen? No, it works just fine. I bring the humidity up to 70% and stop turning the hatching eggs on day 18 but I do open the incubator to turn the others. I quickly open the door, grab the tray, close the door, turn the eggs (and candle if I need to) then open the door, put the eggs back and close the door. The door isn't open for longer than 30 seconds each time. Because my incubator is so small the humidity comes back up within just a couple of minutes and everything is fine.
 Once the chicks have hatched I move them into the brooder and remove the water dish to bring the humidity back down until the next bunch are ready to go on lockdown.
 Now, for other chicken news. my buffs are starting to lay well. As soon as we hit the winter solstice and the days started getting longer they started laying. I'm up to 6 or 7 eggs most days. The Easter Eggers are starting to molt and are producing a lot less. Since they've been laying for 18 months straight I will cut them a little slack. They need a break.
 I did a head count (beak count?) today while I was out in the run and we are down to 16 hens and Moonshine the rooster. I do have 4 young chickens (about 12 weeks) out there but one is a young roo who is going to be dinner as soon as he's big enough to make a good meal. I'd like to build my flock up to about 50 by the end of the summer, maybe more if we can scrape together enough cash to order some new chicks.
 The laundry calls so I will say good night and Blessed Be

Saturday, January 21, 2012


 This weekend we finally got the garden tilled, I can't tell you how excited I am to get my hands back in the dirt. The tilled area is about 60' x 70'. I think I'll go over it one more time before I rake the loose soil up into the raised beds, add compost and start planting.
I'm standing at one corner and Aislyn is standing diagonally from me at the other
 We also bought a couple of apple trees (Red Delicious and Jonathan) and got them planted this afternoon.
Jonathan Apple

Red Delicious
  Mike also got a start on my giant compost bins made out of pallets. He got one that is 18 feet long and that will be the back. The font and sides of the separate sections will be made out of  smaller pallets.
The biggest pallet I've ever seen
 The kids were pretty good about helping and staying out of the way. Lily was mad that she wasn't allowed to drive the tiller longer and then even madder when she had to go in for a nap. It's good she's so darn cute...

Sad, cranky Lily wanted to use the tiller
  We got the seed potatoes and onion sets and found some boxes that I will use to put my newspaper pots for starting seeds in the next few days. They probably won't last more than one season but they were my favorite
Seed potatoes

Onion sets

Box to hold my seed starting pots
 And then, just to top off a really excellent weekend, Mike's boss GAVE him a truck. It's a small Nissan pickup and it was in an accident so the front end is a little bit smooshed but it's perfect for running to the feed store or moving things around the property. And it was FREE!!!
My new farm truck, it's already carried mulch and trees around the property
 So, that's how my weekend is going so far. Blessed Be and enjoy your Sunday.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Grownup time

 Daddy came home from work early today and we got to spend some time together without all of the kids underfoot (And yes, I call my husband Daddy. I don't want to hear it, okay? I have issues...) Lily was there, but she was content to dig in the sand and let the grownups have a full conversation (a very rare event with 4 kids 10 and under!) Of course, we spent that time outside doing chores and talking over plans for the garden.
 He finished fixing the rototiller he found me on Craigslist. Tomorrow he will bring home some gas and we will see if it's going to work. Everyone cross their fingers for me! Luckily, if it doesn't work, the guy down the road has offered us the use of his pull behind tiller. Either way, the location of the garden has changed again. It needs to be fenced so the goats and chickens can't get in and eat it all up and the area between the house and the animal pen just doesn't work  for that. Mike also cut down a small cedar sapling to supplement the goat feed. They just LOVE them and it's one less cedar tree to plague the world with it's evil pollen.
 At one point Mike and I were standing together, looking at the big ass concrete feed trough we pulled up out of the field to use as a fire pit and didn't want to move again to make room for the garden, and I realized that THIS is what I've always wanted. I have a husband that loves me ridiculously, my kids, my land and my animals. I will have my garden, because my husband spoils me and does anything in his power to make sure I'm happy.
 So that's it for tonight. Blessed Be

Monday, January 16, 2012


 Most of you probably don't know that, in my spare time, I draw plans for buildings I'd like to build. It's a strange hobby, I know. Since I know absolutely nothing about building things I end up having to ask Mike if it's feasible and then he changes, fixes or advises a better way. I thought I would show y'all some of the buildings that are in the works around here. (Big fat disclaimer: I CAN'T DRAW. Even with graph paper.)

 First is the pole barn. I actually just finished these up last night. Half of the building (16'X24')  is the chicken coop. It will have 24 nest boxes, 200 feet of roost space, 5 brooding/breeding pens, an automatic water dispenser and food stations. This half of the building will have a dirt floor that can be easily raked, and we will use straw to help absorb...well stuff. The birds will have free access to their run and time to range over the rest of the 10 acres (if we can get the hawk problem under control.) The chicken area will open into the goat barn (16'X16') with 2 pens and an area to milk. Each pen will open out into their run and have food and water. That will lead into the small (16'X8') dairy. It will have a milk fridge, a sink for washing milking equipment, counters and storage for grain. The incubator will also go in this room. Both of these rooms will have a concrete floor. We are also going to have a small hayloft in the rafter space.


 Next is my greenhouse. Now, this is not a plan that is fully agreed on around here. I want it to be built partially  below grade and Mike doesn't like that plan. So let's call this one a "dream solar greenhouse".  It is 14'X30' and built with solid earthbag north, east and west walls to help hold the heat in the winter time. The south wall is slanted and either glass or plastic. It has 3 raised beds, a potting bench, a fish tank (Mike wants to try aquaculture) and a rainwater collection cistern. There is also a sketch in the top corner of a cutaway view that shows how it's below ground.  

Solar Greenhouse

 Now, moving on to the guesthouse... I drew this up specifically with my sister-in-law in mind (she often comes out and spends the summer with us) but it would be great for anyone who comes to visit. It is 16'X16' interior space with either straw bale, earthbag, or cob construction. The bed platform and the bench (which doubles as an extra bed) in the living area will be built in to the structure. It will have a bathroom with a shower and a kitchenette with a small fridge, sink and microwave. We might end up putting in a small wood stove for winter visitors.
 For my last building I'm going to show you Mike's shop. All I have is the basic footprint because, well, it's his space and he gets to arrange it however he wants to. It's 32'X24' and I don't know if or how he will subdivide it. I'll just be happy that he has the space to work on more of the projects I will come up with for him to do.

Mike's shop

  The last drawing isn't a building, it's the current plan for my garden. I have been working on this plan for the last 6 months and I have drawn this up about 100 different ways. This isn't the whole garden, it doesn't include the artichoke bed, the berries, the beans, the melons or the corn and wheat (because I haven't decided where to put them yet.) The 2 beds closest to the back of the house (50 sq ft each) are for herbs. Each of the other 16 beds are 32 sq ft. I will be able to put a chicken tractor directly over each bed so that the chickens can dig up bugs and help turn the soil between crops. The 3 sections of beds are arranged so that I can have a 3 year crop rotation schedule. The asparagus bed will run down the entire side of the house and the potato bed will run right next to it. I'm sure that this will expand as time goes by, but this is what I'm going to be working with this year. I'm hoping to grow as much of our produce as I possibly can and put up a lot of tomatoes and green beans in the pantry. 


That's all for tonight. Sleep well everyone and have a great day tomorrow!

Saturday, January 14, 2012


  My incubator is a re-purposed wine fridge with a light bulb for heat and a small fan, Mike found it on craigslist. It's not very big but it works for me. To help hold the heat I have a little collection of rocks and a wine bottle filled with water on the bottom shelf.
The light bulb, rocks and wine bottle
 There are any number of reasons NOT to hatch eggs right now. It'll be too cold to brood them outside. I'll have dusty, smelly and loud baby chicks in the house for at least a couple of weeks. But these were sitting on the counter...
10 Easter Egger eggs from my girls
 I swear, they were calling out to me! "Hatch us, hatch us!" I went back and forth all morning. I should, I shouldn't, I will, I won't...but  I DO need new hens for my flock. And the boys can make soup or be traded on craigslist. It's not like I would just be hatching because peeps are so fuzzy and adorable (much.) So I plugged in the incubator and set the thermostat. It came up to temperature perfectly .
The humidity will come up a little when I put the eggs in 
 So I did it, I put the eggs in the tray and set in the incubator.

The eggs, the fan and the thermometer/hygrometer 
I'm only doing 10 eggs right now, I could fit 50 but I want to hand raise them. So, now it's time to wait and turn them 3 times a day. If all goes well I should have babies around the 4th of February. I'll be candling in 3 days and I will try to get pictures of that. 
The whole set up
Here is a picture of daddy chicken and possible mommy chickens.
Any but the golden one could be the mommy (s)


Friday, January 13, 2012

Getting back to normal

 Hello everyone, it has been a busy week here. I got a picture of our new couch. Okay, mostly Gabe, but you can see little bits of the couch around him.
Gabe is so cute when he sleeps!
 The big kids went back to school on Monday (woo hoo!!!!) and we started to get back on our normal schedule when Lily got hit hard by cedar fever. She has been a grumpy, stuffy, snot producing little monster since Tuesday. She's been so congested that Mike and I have been taking turns sleeping on the couch with her so that she can sleep sitting up.
This was AFTER we washed about 2 pounds of snot out of her hair!
  Luckily she seems to be feeling better this afternoon and evening. She came out this afternoon to help me do some chores and take some pictures.
Lily is "helping"
  Mike built me a feeder for the goat's hay. Now they can't be as wasteful as they've been. Feed is too expensive to have them throw it all over the ground and stomp on it. Now they can only nibble a little at a time rather than pull it out. I love that I can show Mike a picture of something and he can build it for me!
The goat feeder (the twiggy thing next to it was our Christmas tree)
 Of course, there was the normal house cleaning, cooking and animal care. I discovered that, when I'm out with the goats, if I just keep walking they will eventually get curious and follow me to see what I'm up to. 

They're ignoring me
 I've lost several more chickens, including Bob the rooster, to predators. Moon shine has inherited the head roo position and he is thrilled that no one attacks him every time he tries to mate with one of the girls. I'm going to put eggs in the incubator this weekend so that I will (hopefully) have some young hens to add to my flock early this summer.
Moonshine is happy as new the top chicken since Bob disappeared last week.
 These are a couple of my Buff Orpington hens. They will be going into our freezer when we have enough new hens to take their place. They eat too much and don't lay enough eggs.
They have fresh water, but they just LOVE puddle water.
And Larry, just because.