Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Lewis Family Version of Homework

Today was just too nice of a day to spend inside in school books.  That's the beauty of homeschool. We took the learning outside and did "Homework".

Science and art: Planting lettuce and greens, laying wood chip pathway, Painting stepping stones, placement of stepping stones.  The kids learned repurposing and frugality with this too.  The wood chips are all shredded in our chipper from fallen branches around our property. The stepping stones are left over wood from building our chicken tractor's nesting boxes.  The paint was leftover from the kid's bedrooms.

 More hands on garden experience: Three freshly tilled garden beds.  Our fourth bed wasn't tilled but covered in layers of leaves last fall and then covered with a tarp to promote decay.  We will compare which method (till or no till) produces better crops.

 Animal Husbandry: Feeding chickens dandelion greens, worms and grubs and learning that the chickens really prefer you to till the garden bed rather then do it themselves.

 Auto detailing:  Something my 12 year-old son is interested in doing to earn some $$.  Today was step one- learning how to properly wash the outside!

 Yes, a lot of kids are already proficient at washing cars by 12, 14 and 16 but when we were suburbanites our cars didn't need washing often and we just drove them through a pay car wash.  Now that we live on a dirt road the cars get a wee bit more filthy.  They will get a lot of practice.

For those of you who are freaking out because of lack of "studious" school, today we also had personal reading time, Bible study, WW2 history, and guitar practice. It was a full but fun day.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Raw Milk and ways to get it!

Over at the Elliot Homestead blog, Shaye has posted about the pros and cons of Dairy Cows and Dairy Goats.  This is of particular interest to me because we are also deciding which way to go- cow or goats.  Our decision... both!

Even though we have been homesteaders in our hearts for sometime, we are newbies to actually doing it.  Because of this we have decided to start with goats.  They are smaller, less expensive and just don't seem so intimidating as a large cow.  But we still want a cow eventually too and I'm glad we want to go that route because, I learned from Shaye, goats milk is more homogenized and there for is hard to get cream and butter out of.  I need cream and butter!

So, once we master our chickens, then we will be in the market a couple of goats and will learn how to milk them so I can finally have legal access to fresh, nutritious raw milk and then we will move on to a cow!  Here in Michigan we have three options for obtaining raw milk. 1. Own and milk your own animal. 2. Buy into a cow or goat share program. 3. Go illegal and find someone who will sell it to you.

We briefly did #3 but I felt uncomfortable with it.  I began to question whether the farmers were keeping their animals/milk clean enough.  We stopped after a short time. I have to admit too, I'm a rule keeper.  I don't like breaking laws.  Actually I don't think it is illegal to purchase, just to sell.  But still the spirit of it affected me.

We've looked into various share programs but they are expensive when you consider the amount of milk you would receive plus the drive time to pick it up.  We are a family of 7 and we go through 5 or 6 gallons of milk a week plus additional dairy products (cheese, yogurt, sour cream, butter etc.).  The two or so gallons of share milk aren't going to cut it for us.

That leaves us with option number one and now that we have some homesteading land, we are looking forward to having milk and dairy products of our own.  We truly believe that fresh, properly cared for raw milk from properly cared for and fed animals is more healthy and beneficial then the dead milk one buys in the stores.  It may not be for everyone but since time began that is how milk was and I'd like to get back to that.

For more info on raw milk:

1. Nourishing Traditions
2. The Weston A. Price Foundation
3. Real Milk

Sunday, April 28, 2013

God's plan for us

Leviticus 19:9-10

When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick the grapes that have fallen.  Leave them for the poor and alien.  I am the Lord your God.

What if all of us who grow food did this?  What would the impact be?

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Slight Diversion

Today's post was supposed to be something "artisany" but like all best laid plans...

Remember my post last week about this...

Well, that ended up in my basement yesterday when the sump pump blew a fuse and quit working.  The ground from last week's rains was still so saturated that when the pump ceased to function the water just drained back in.  The entire 1,000 sq feet was two to three inches deep with water.  Very cold, ankle numbing water, I might add.

So today instead of doing something fun on the homestead, I get to dry out carpet and organize basement stuff that got brought upstairs.  Upside:  We hardly lost any material "stuff".  Most everything was either up on racks or stored in plastic boxes or dryable.  My biggest loss:  RIP to my 1985 Sophomore yearbook. Tragic, I know.

We are hoping with quick action (read sucking up water and drying things out with dehumidifiers) that we may avoid having to replace carpet and padding.  We shall see.  If we lose the carpet then my husband gets his basement woodworking shop he has wanted.

Currently we have the basement (one big room, one smaller room and two store rooms) set up as craft/sewing and exercise in the big room and a playroom in the smaller. But the play room is really just toy storage.  The kids rarely stay and play.  If my husband does his woodshop thing then I'll claim the second room for my "shop".  Pinterest has lots of cute ideas for painting concrete floors and creating clever craft spaces.  We shall see.

So I'm off to tackle water!  Have a blessed day!!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Friday Read & Write

If you are like me, you always have a stack of reading material to get through.  I always have a magazine on hand (I'm an information junkie.) and usually a mix of fiction and non-fiction to be read or re-read.

I'm currently on a YA (Young Adult) reading kick for two reasons. 1. I have three of them in the house.  A 16 year-old, a 14 year-old and a 12 year-old. I like to stay on top of what they like to read and what is available out there. 2. My current #1 writing project is a YA novel so I need to know the market.

This weeks stack includes: The Apothecary by Maile Meloy, Tiger's Curse by Colleen Houck and Cooked the new Michael Pollan tome.  My mag is Writer's Digest's newest issue.

The Apothecary is YA and set in 1952.  It deals with Russian spies, a sacred book called the Pharmacopoeia and a quest to save the world from nuclear disaster.  I love natural healing and all things herbal so I was drawn to this book by the name alone.  I'm looking forward to the read.

Tiger's Curse is a the first book in a series or three or four.  My 16 year-old has wanted me to read it for quite awhile.  She really likes the series.  It is YA and the plot centers around the protagonist tying to break a 300 year-old curse involving a mysterious white tiger.  It is a fantasy/romance and as my daughter has already read the series, I hope I approve.  I declined to let her read the Twilight series not because of vampires and werewolves but because I didn't want her thinking that relationships like Edward/Bella's were what real relationships were like.

Cooked is the book I've been waiting for to come out.  It's finally here and I can't wait to see what insights Michael Pollan has discovered about the process and history of cooking.  Even though he comes from an evolutionary point of view and I am a creationist he still usually brings me quite a few aha moments from the conclusions he draws.  I'm only through the introduction but I have already found quite a few good quotes.  Here is one: Cooked is an invitation to alter... the ratio between production and consumption in your life. The regular exercise of these simple skills... increases self-reliance and freedom while reducing our dependence on distant corporations. Love it!  Down with the Man!!

Also in my reading pile is a friend's book that she has finished and I'm critiquing.  I also have some Bible study to do for a upcoming devotional I am giving to my church's ladies group.

My writing list:  Keeping up with this blog and social media. (Tweeting is actually a good exercise in conveying your point with minimal words.) Working on my YA book: The Follower, my friend's critique, my devotional, my journal, various free-lance articles, and other books in the works.

Who needs to sleep right?

What are you all reading and writing?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Chicken tractors and cars stuck in gardens...

My wonderful husband, John, built me a wonderful chicken tractor.  It has a nesting/nighttime area and a fenced in run area but he couldn't figure out a way to put wheels on it and still have it be flush with the ground and it is heavy!  So we move it with either our regular tractor or (like last night- when our tractor was at the repair shop) we pull it with either of our SUV's.

Last night after my husband got home from work and the chickens were shut up for the night he decided to move them to a new area.  He wanted to put them in our newly tilled vege garden beds to scratch up the tilled sod and to eat grubs/weed seeds and to poo. It is our very reason for purchasing them.

I mentioned the rain and flooding of last week here and we have had more wet weather since then, just not as bad.  The ground in the area of the garden beds is soft and wet.  Do you see where this is headed.

Last night around 8:30 there is a knock on the living room window.  It's John and could I please get my shoes on and come outside.

I'm met with his car and the chicken tractor in the newly tilled garden area and my car and a rope a little further up in another garden area.

"Did you get stuck?"


So I get into my car and start to pull him out except my car is in a wet garden bed too.  A few seconds later we have two stuck cars.

Plan B: Get all the kids out and have a family push/pull/dig session- in the dark.

We did get the cars out, chickens situated and everyone back inside although everything was a bit muddy.  But ohhh... my poor garden.  First the flooding and then tires digging in my planting rows. Sigh.  I'm so glad that I still have options when it comes to purchasing food.  The way my growing season has started we'd be starving in October with out other farmers.  Growing your food can be difficult!

At least the chickens got something good out of it.  We fenced in our newly tilled area and let them out onto it this morning.  They love it.  Even Sawyer was out for a minute before Jack chased him back into the coop. (I'm sensing a "how to butcher a rooster" post coming soon.)

 The Hen House

Tractor bottom and nesting box side

Back of the nesting boxes

Tractor in finished state.

Tire tracks in my garden.

 Where the tire got stuck the worst.

Happy Chickens!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Got Skunk?

We do! Or we think we do.  There has been a den hole in the barn that appeared sometime this winter.  We didn't think much of it because there has always been holes dug into the barn.  I guess this is a hazard of not using the barn for anything but storage.

When I went into the barn yesterday I was met with the faint but obvious smell of skunk.  Yeah!  Not just a wild animal but one with stink spray!  That is always good with kids around.  John agrees with me that our new resident is likely a skunk by the smell of things.

So tell me, my few precious readers.  How do we solve this issue? Trapping, hunting, filling in holes, flooding, poison?  I want to rid ourselves of this pest without coming away smelling for weeks.  I'm just glad we don't have a dog.

I didn't watch the Partridge Family much growing up (I was more of the Brady Bunch type.) but all I can think of right now is the episode where the skunk got trapped on the bus with them and they all ended up stinking.

Country life is anything but dull!

If you have any ideas that might help please leave a comment!

 An exit hole from the main den.  There are at least three or four more outside the barn in the field.

Bikes buried by the digging.  The den is on the other side of the pile.  Not cool!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Tale of Two Roosters!

Last week, before the big rain, we tilled up three smaller garden areas and two large garden areas.  As my husband and I were surveying all the sod that needed removing after the till (we don't leave it in... it will just find a way to re-root and plague us with unnecessary weeding) John came up with an idea.  What if we invested in some adult chickens to scratch through all the sod, eat the grubs, poop in the dirt and do a majority of the work for us?  Good idea, but we didn't want to pay a lot of money. Craig's list to the rescue!

We found a listing from someone not too far from us with six hens and two roosters for sale for $45.  Bingo!  Our chicken tractor was ready so off we went to pick up the chickens. I asked why they were getting rid of the chickens.  The answer, "We didn't have a good experience with them."   Well, duh people, two roosters with six hens in a little tiny corner of the shed. What did you expect.  But still, here we were purchasing them so I guess I can't be too hard on the sellers.

Well, now we've had them almost a week and let me tell you two roosters together is not a good thing.  The Alpha rooster we have named Jack and the underdog is Sawyer.  (Yeah, I named them.  They're still both probably headed to the stew pot, regardless of names.) Jack enjoys ruling the roost.  In fact he likes it so much that he will not let Sawyer come out of the nesting area.  If Sawyer sticks his head out and seems to be heading down for food and water, Jack puffs up and heads toward his foe and Sawyer slinks back inside.  If for some reason Sawyer doesn't retreat Jack will physically "encourage" him back inside.

I know this is just the way roosters are created but, of course, I feel sorry that Sawyer can't eat or drink. So today, as were witnessing, this we came up with a plan.  We have a small fenced in area next to the barn.  What if we put Jack in there for the day and let Sawyer have the run of the chicken tractor?

Here is Jack, staying out of the rain, all by himself.  I'm pretty sure he was missing his ladies.

Jack is very pretty and I don't mind him being Alpha but I don't need my other rooster being starved to death and dehydrated.  I will choose when either of them go. (Into the stew pot!) I am the true Alpha!

 Here is Sawyer exploring his new digs sans Jack! Boy was he hungry and thirsty! He liked having the hens to himself too!


We caught Jack and put him back in the tractor for the night.  It will be interesting to see if he lets Sawyer eat and drink tomorrow or if he needs to spend his day alone again!  I've always been a sucker for an underdog!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Spring Days

Oh, what a nice day we had today.  After colder than normal temps and lots of rain we finally had a nice warm and sunny day!  It is so much nicer to do chicken chores in warmer weather.  Of course I had to fill the chicken's water a couple of times.  Those ladies can drink!  But just being able to be outside.  Happy sigh.

The only shame to the day was the ground was still to wet to work in the garden much.  Last week we had torrential rain!  By Thursday morning everything in West Michigan was flooding.  I'm crossing my fingers that my recently planted spinach seeds didn't get washed away.  I guess time will tell.

So we spent this lovely day practicing archery, going to the park and perusing the local libraries for good spring reading material.  And as I write this, we have homemade ice-cream whirring around in the maker.  It is good that winter has disappeared at least for today.

Here are some pictures of the local flooding last week:

 The dairy farm across the street.  That's supposed to be a field, not a lake.

 The creek that passes through our property flooding by the road.  The owners of the house in the background were very worried.

 The other side of the road.  The creek didn't overflow quite as bad.

 The Cooke Family rescuing their calves from the rising flood waters.
 Our next door neighbors home.  Normally this is all grass not water.
 The farmers working on getting the calves and their houses moved to higher ground.
 Flood waters getting pretty close to the diary barns!
The back forest part of our property. Normally not wet!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

I'm Back!

Oh My Gosh!!! I still exist!  Getting serious about a great many things.  Farming... got chickens!  Bees are next. We've had our top bar bee hive for two years.  This is the year to finally get bees for it!  Also getting serious about writing and selling artisan products from the homestead.  More soon...

Reagan holding one of our "Little Peepers"!  12 Barred Rock Pullets.