Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Update - Yes, We're Still Here! The Good and the Bad!

Wow! Sometimes life just flies by - has it been over 2 years since we have posted?  Guess so.  We will try to update each area separately.  Most blogs over-glamorize homestead life. We will spend some time updating both the good and the bad in each category.

The Garden
The good: We are still raising a good garden each year. It seems like our main crops are lettuce, spinach, cucumbers, potatoes, squashes, and tomatoes. We still use a slightly modified Mittleider method which means yes, we do add some fertilizers.  Patrick is an engineer by day-job and we can guarantee you that our little bit of fertilizer a) add less salts and b) has a lower carbon footprint than all "organic" gardening you can compare it to.  We also utilize our home-grown chicken, rabbit, and goat manure/manured hay for soil building and nitrogen.

The bad: We lose our sweet corn almost every year to raccoons. We have decided that they are smarter that we are. Also, we could not get peanuts to germinate last year - we don't think it was our fault but want to try again. Oh well, we aren't giving up!

The Goats
The good: We still have goats. We peaked out at 8 and right now we are down to 3, soon to be 2.  We sold the Nigerians and went exclusively French Alpine. We love the sweet disposition, beautiful coloring, and decided lack of drama our Alpines provide. Goats are just wonderful creatures.

The bad: We lost our first and favorite Alpine nanny to Barber Pole Worms in 2015. Needless to say, a good worming program is a must. It seems like the Alpines are less hardy than the Nigerians in this regard. Also, we aren't milking goats any more. That's not to say we won't ever again but it is a lot of labor for the small return. And by small return I mean only 1 or 2 of the 6 of us will drink it so it's a waste of time.  Advice: get your dairying in gear when your children are very small and they will never remember switching away from store bought. Otherwise, it may be a hard sell!

Outdoor Wood Furnace
The good:  It's still going after 8 years now and we probably have the warmest house around.

The bad:  We did buy a nice new Stihl MS362 but we are starting to wish we didn't have to mess with firewood all fall and winter!

The good:  We have the meat chicken thing down to a science now and we have lent our plucker out to many people. We have refurbed our 17 year old coop and as of 5/24/16 and  we have 25 little buffs brooding. Looking forward to fresh eggs this fall (we hope).

The bad:  Our egg layers got wiped out in 2015 (yes all those buffs and Australorps) by, you guessed it, the sweet corn eating raccoons. Hence, the coop refurb in 2016!

Cooking and Food Preservation
The good:  Still canning lots of things and cooking most meals from scratch.

The bad:  Patrick weighed almost 275 by January of 2016 (see below about being a Pastor!). Patrick read a book by Gary Taubes called Why We're Fat and What to do About It so we have stopped baking bread and biscuits. He has eaten a lot of butter, deer meat, ribeye steaks, eggs, and cheese while giving up all sweets and breads. He has lost 40 pounds without being hungry and hopefully will lose about 20 more. But we miss baking, especially during winter months.

The good: I (Patrick, not Michelle - tee hee hee!) surrendered to preach in 2014 and after just a couple of months became the interim Pastor at a local church. I was ordained in July of 2015 and am now the Pastor of Shoal Creek Baptist Church in Balsam Grove, NC. This church is only a couple of miles from our home and we are grateful God would let us serve in a local somewhat-agrarian community.

The bad: Wow are we ever busy! Between church, home, school, and work our family is constantly on the move. We are learning to treasure our time around the dinner table and before bedtime.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Difference Between Store Bought and Home Raised Eggs

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so here we go:
In case you can't tell, the pale cloudy egg on the left is the store bought egg!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

David Bradley Walk Behind Tractor and Engine Swap

"A scythe is great for your back but very hard on your patience"
- Patrick at Far Better Farmstead     

It all started when it rained 80 inches this summer. Yes, I said 80 inches! Needless to say, I didn't get to put up much hay with my scythe and rake. I did do one good cutting, but should have got 2 or 3 and even the one cutting didn't cover the whole field. As much as I like the scythe, I started wanting a quicker way to cut a small amount of hay. 

My fantasy rig is my old 600 Ford tractor with a sickle bar, rake, and old square baler. I sold the 600 several years ago and have regretted it every since. My second fantasy was a BCS or Grillo walk behind tarctor. You can get a sickle for them and many other implements as well. Both options are out of reach of our budget right now, so that's why I call them fantasies rather than options!

As I searched around the web, I found out that Sears used to sell a walk-behind tractor called the David Bradley. It was made from 1946-1968 and you could get a large variety of implements for it, including a sickle bar mower. I started searching around and found one with a plow, snow plow, and sickle bar for a very reasonable price - a price within my budget.

My son and I drove about 150 miles to pick it up, but it was well worth it.

I fell in love with the "Rocket Man" hood!
It is an original 917.57560 "Super Power" from 1951 -1953. It even has the original engine! I had to free up the clutch on the sickle bar, but nothing other than that.

The engine is the original Briggs & Stratton model 8 (500.108022)
After cutting down about 1/2 of my cornstalks I realized the original engine was a little tired, even though it runs very smooth. I purchased a 79cc Predator engine from Harbor Freight. It is a Honda knock-off and at $79 out the door, one of the best engine deals going. The bolt pattern is exactly the same as the Briggs. It takes about 20 minutes to swap the engines. The performance improvement was very noticeable. The new engine is quieter as well.
4 engine bolts, 4 engine plate bolts, 1 fuel line, and the throttle cable are all that have to be removed

Close up of the Predator engine. It runs quiet and smooth so far.

I realized the awesome hood couldn't easily be made to fit, so I removed it. Later in the day (after finishing mowing the corn stalks) I removed the old gas tank too. It looks like a strip down but it works well. The whole set up only costs about 1/2 the price of the BCS mower (not the tractor just the attachment!)

I guess it looks like a later model now, but it works really well!
No need to worry, I kept all of the original parts and I have a dry place for the tractor and all of the parts. It would take 30 minutes or less to put it back to "original". 

Now I am looking forward to cutting a little hay. Of course I will still be raking and stacking, so if the finances work out I may end up with an old tractor/sickle/rake/baler set up but for now I am hopeful and pleased. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Whizbang Wheel Hoe After a Full Garden Season

Is summer already gone? It is so hard to believe that September is half gone. Despite lots of hard rain, about 75 inches here, our gardens did very well. I have been planning a post on the gardens (and lots of other posts, too) but we have been very busy just enjoying life here on the homestead.

Anyway, the one new tool we used this year that really stands out is the Whizbang Wheel Hoe. The picture above was taken after a full garden season of almost daily use. The handles darkened a little from our dirty hands and the blued finish on the blade wore off with use, but the hoe held up wonderfully.

How did it perform? Superbly! If you "stir" the dirt with it every other day or so, there will be no weeds. There were times we didn't do that, even for a full week when we went on vacation, and our garden was the most weed free that we've ever had. We still had to use a regular hoe between the plants, but this thing is very quick and easy down the rows. 

Herrick Kimball sells various stages of kits over at Planet Whizbang. Check his website out (his blog is awesome too!) For disclosure, this is a fully independent and unsolicited endorsement. I just enjoy recommending good stuff.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Easy Harvest Totes

I have been wanting to build one of Herrick Kimball's Whizbang Garden Totes (see page 37 of his awesome new book for instructions). However, this time of year we have so much to do that I haven't had time. The girls to have some nice metal baskets for their bicycles and these make a great home-sized garden totes. I use two of them at a time, harvesting into one and then washing into the other. The grating is small enough to catch all the small stuff, but large enough to easily let out the dirt if you place it directly under the garden hose. (Our red pontiacs are starting to get big!)

This idea was shared on the Homestead Barn Hop #117.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Compost happens

I have always wanted to have my own compost. I have read articles, books and different other materials to try and learn how to make compost.  I felt overwhelmed by all the information: mixing the correct amount of greens, container to hold my material, turning, and so on.
Composting seemed like so much work.  I didn't really want to put the time, money,and effort into those new task right now.  So I decided not to pursue it at the present time.  Wait until I was more confident on how it worked and had more information and money to start up my compost.  
You can imagine my surprise when I discovered compost right on my own property and I had helped to make it happen.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Nigerian Dwarf Update

The kids are now about 4 and 1/2 months old. They are fleshing out quite nicely. Unfortunately our buck, Bilbo, didn't make it but the girls are doing well.

This is Pippi

Pippi again. She has a white ring around her mouth and nose that make her look like she's  always smiling.

This is Sadie, the mother. We are currently milking her. It is down to a routine now.

Pipi and Maggie together. They are constantly playing.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Homestead in Full Gear

All danger of frost has finally passed. We have been very busy around the Far Better Farmstead. We have a new goat - a French Alpine! She is about 3 months old and we hope she fits in with our Nigerian Dwarfs. Right now the "pecking" order is being re-established. She is a pretty thing and from good milking stock. Sadie is giving as much as a cup per milking and is doing very well.
Our New French Alpine Doe

The Buff Orpingtons are a big disappointment - they have yet to lay the first egg and they are about 8 months old. The roosters have matured well but the hens are very juvenile. We do have an older buff, some Black Australorps (my favorite) and we purchased 3 young Rhode Island Reds. We are getting enough eggs to eat and enough eggs to sell for feed so we are still doing very well. The electric poultry net is still doing very well after moving it a few times.
The 3 Rhode Island Reds aren't laying yet but the other 5 are paying their own way.

The potatoes are doing well. I have planted about 1/4 acre of field corn, 5 good rows of sweet corn (isolated), 3 rows of beans, 3 rows of turnips, 3 rows of beets, 3 rows of collards, and 2 rows of carrots. In addition, my tomatoes, peppers, and sunflowers all made it through the frost danger just fine. I also have 12 hills of cucumbers and melons and 2 hills of squash coming up. Now if I can just keep it all weeded......
Tomatoes and Peppers - 48 plants in all - Sunflowers in upper right - you can tell crooked rows don't bother us!

Potatoes are doing well, this was May 24 - they are starting to bloom now.
Corn isn't up yet, but should be soon

Our strawberries are starting to come in and they are delicious! I had some with fresh goat's milk the other day and they were fantastic.
Upper 2 beds of our Berry Patch - Raspberries on far right

And last but actually first, the children are out of school for the summer. It is always fun when they are home. The chores never get completed but in the scope of things the children are more important than chores anyway.

Maybe we will get some more pics soon!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Frost Watch Tonight

It finally dried out enough by Saturday to plant some things in the garden. Now, believe it or not, there is a frost watch. Our frost free date is normally the middle of April. But then again it has been very cool this spring. We borrowed some buckets from my dad to cover the tomatoes and peppers with.

We also moved the laying hens over next to the potato patch because we are going to plant corn where they were. This patch is mowed, so the hens don't like it as well.

In this dry spell, I also got the potatoes heeled up. The frost should hurt them too badly.

Mother's day was spent at church and with our mothers. All-in-all a very good weekend.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Potatoes and Gardening Woes

It has rained here - a lot. I mean more than I can describe. The exact area we live gets about 65 inches per year but in the last 2 weeks we have received over 14 inches of rain. That doesn't even sound right. Even 10 miles away, they didn't get half of that. People look at us funny when we tell it.

Needless to say, the garden is on hold, I am glad to still have a semblance of a driveway, and I feel something like a fish. We did manage to get our potatoes planted on the Friday before Resurrection Day (I know some of you call it "Good Friday", but I'm not crazy about that term). Anyway, the rain washed through them and uncovered a bunch, but we covered them back up. They are up fine now. We also planted 275 strawberry plants and 25 raspberry canes. We fenced the berry patch to keep out critters.

As far as anything else, we haven't planted it yet (not even cabbage, broccoli, or peas). Oh well, every year is different - maybe I can grow them as fall crops.

We planted about 40 pounds each of Red Pontiac and Kennebec Potatoes

Just after planting - notice the lack of gulleys and washover - just before the little monsoon season!

Potato patch today, still not very dry, but I did heel them up a little last week. Notice how washed the ground is on this side of the row markers. We got 10 rows out of about 80 pounds of seed potatoes.

Our little berry patch. It has 25 raspberry plants, 4 blueberry plants, and 275 strawberry plants. I am thankful that it didn't wash away!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

How To Put Up 328 Feet of Fence in 15 Minutes

I love our new electric poultry net. We struggled with major losses from our first crop of broilers this spring. The raccoons had a feast. I have been planning on getting some of this fence, and finally did it. I am really glad we did. It sets up very quickly and the two sections (@164 feet each) fence in a very large area. We are using the farm truck as our redneck fence charger for now. We moved the fence once and if you follow the directions, it works great. We got our fence from Kencove  - they ship really fast and their prices are cheaper than Amazon for the same fence. I would buy it again any day (and no, we weren't compensated at all for the endorsement)

Portable fence set up with our chicken tractor inside

Redneck fence charger setup. I crank the truck every week or so.   Of  course I use the truck during the day on Saturdays, but the fence is for night time predators anyway.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

First Meat Chickens of the Year

We purchased 20 Cornish Rock Cross chicks at our local Tractor Supply 4 weeks ago. They have been in the brooder but it is time for them to go out into the portable coop. The only disadvantage I see of buying TSC chicks is that they only sell straight run.

I used to keep an electric light (powered with a really long extension cord) in the pen to discourage predators. At Christmas, I found a set of solar lights and added them to the pen. So now our pastured poultry pen is officially "off-grid"!

In about 4 weeks, we will harvest these chickens.  If you haven't watched our chicken plucker video from last year, see it below. We hope to be plucking this first batch of 2013 really soon!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Gardening Time Again

Yes, it's that time again. The weather has been very cool and wet here. I didn't get my cabbage and broccoli started as early as I'd hoped, but it seems like Spring is waiting on me to catch up! I turned the garden spots weekend before last:

The tractor is a M-F 270 with Howse rototiller. They both belong to my dad. I used to have an old Ford 600 with plow and disc, but I sold them when he got the big diesel. Mom and Dad live just a few hundred yards away and across the road from us.

No, I we aren't "Back-to-Edeners", or even "Organic" (trademark, copyright, rights reserved by big Ag Inc.)  We have been using a modified version of the Mittleider Method for the last 12 years or so and we use no pesticides. I have found that when plants get all their minerals that they are much healthier and pests are not as apt to bother them. I do add back all of the chicken and bunny poop that I can as well as some of the animal bedding. Check out the Mittleider Method at Food For Everyone. It's guaranteed to make you into a good gardener. 

Anyway, I tilled up 3 spots: our regular garden, a new small fruit patch, and a potato patch. I also plan on planting about 1/2 acre of field corn but that comes later.

After the garden spot was tilled:

The kids couldn't resist running around barefoot!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Joy in Driving a Clunker

I drove the new/old farm truck to Tractor Supply in Brevard today. It's a funny thing - when I HAVE to drive a clunker and it is all I have, it's not very much fun. But when I am driving a clunker on purpose, joy fills my heart! It was also very funny to be seen by some old friends - I could tell they were feeling sorry for me and thinking I was probably in pretty bad shape for driving a rusty old truck. I just drove on and grinned. I have been so blessed!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Maple Syrup

Yes! It is possible to make maple syrup down here in the southern mountains! We are so excited and blessed because we didn't think it would work. Anyway, we will post some more pictures later, but here is our sap take from Saturday:

Our gathering system is as simple as stainless spiles from ebay, and buckets from the dollar tree:

We boiled down about 4 gallons of sap and made 1/2 pint of awesome maple syrup. For Sunday supper we had pancakes with homemade syrup, wild boar sausage, and our own goat's milk!