Sunday, January 1, 2017

About that farm...

So much for posting updates about that farm! But, as I warned back in February last year, pretty much everything revolves around the new farm. That ended up being a bit of a prophetic statement.

We did end up buying that farm we were looking at and Jeremy did move to the farm, but "the plan" pretty much fell apart after that.

In March, just as we were getting ready to move to the farm, we got 30 some baby ducks. They were adorable, but wow - super messy!  They love water and made huge messes. I could not wait to get them out of the basement brooder.

We finally moved them to the farm but it was awhile before they were big enough to move outside. For some reason the ducks always traveled together in a big herd. No duck ever went anywhere on its own. Is that normal duck behavior? I have no idea.

We had been warned at the beginning that 'ducks like to die,' and that certainly turned out to be the case for us. Ever so slowly, for the first few months after we moved them out to pasture, one would disappear maybe every week or two.  We had them surrounded by electric net fence so we aren't sure what was getting them. A fox leaping over the 4-foot high fence? An owl or hawk? Mink or weasel or something similar? It could have been any or all. Part way through the summer the ducks decided to take things in their own webbed feet and they escaped their enclosure. They took to roaming the farm and going where they please, returning to their shelter at night. This turn of events sped up our duck loss and by the fall there were maybe a half dozen left. (Oh, one or two visits by a neighbor's dog also caused the loss of a few ducks.)  By the fall though, the remaining ducks had moved into the dairy barn with all the chickens.  Today, there are two ducks left and they go everywhere together. They are a pair, male and female.

A couple weeks ago one of the ducks came to the front door of the house and was quacking away like a maniac.  Sarah, Jeremy's employee, was at the house and she went out to see what was up with the duck.  In the distance she heard the other duck quacking, it's quack reverberating throughout the grain silo. She went to investigate and discovered the other duck had fallen into the silo and was trapped. Its mate had come to the house quacking for help!  I think we should now name them Lassie and Timmy.  (The duck was rescued of course.)

Return with me to the spring again. A month or so after getting the ducks, Jeremy picked up 15 or so baby pigs - Berkshire and Red Wattle/Berkshire cross. Another month or so later he picked up more piglets for a total of about 28 pigs.

Yes, this is as crazy as it sounds. Now, I begged and pleaded and warned Jeremy about this whole pig business because I thought it was a bit soon to be getting into such a big new thing, but Jeremy had his reasons so we went for it. I kind of feel like if I could do one thing over from the last year (from the last 10 years even!) it would be to not get those pigs.

They were of course ADORABLE when they were little. I wish I could snuggle them right now!

But they were an incredible amount of work. Jeremy chose to keep them in with movable electric fencing and do rotational grazing - which meant moving them, their food, water and fencing, every couple weeks. He, and employees, had to keep a strict eye on the electric fence. Pigs are smart and they test the fencing - kind of like the velociraptors in Jurassic Park. =)  In July or August they got out several times. One time they destroyed the gardens of several neighbors and we had to make reparations. By that time they were getting close to a couple hundred pounds a piece and you just can't make a 200-pound pig do anything it doesn't want to do!

I don't know how much personality they had, but there was one pig in particular who loved Jeremy. Whenever Jeremy came to visit the pigs and check on their food and water, this one pig would come running across the field, it's little tail wagging and twirling, to greet Jeremy. It was pretty adorable.

Jeremy had planned to keep a couple pigs through the winter and breed them, but, for many reasons, we ended up processing all of them.  So now we have something like 1700 pounds of bacon, sausage, pork chops, brats, roasts, etc in our walk-in freezer! Want some pork? =)

The first four months (in addition to ducks and pigs) was also taken up with moving all the logs (several thousand) from the old farm.  We had several work days with anywhere from 4-5 people to 10 people. We'd spend hours loading up one moving truck, then one and a half to two hours driving to the new farm, then hours unloading the truck. It got to be an ongoing joke about our "FarmFit" exercise program. Why pay for a gym membership when you could get a full body workout for free helping us move logs!?!

The move took much longer than we had hoped and there was still some inoculating to do so the whole schedule for the year was a bit messed up. Since the shade structure and fruiting house had yet to be constructed, Jeremy decided to do things the old way, in the woods.

But finally this fall we got the shade structure done and the hoop house up so that will be a big help for the upcoming season.

Of course, in addition to keeping up with ducks, watching after the pigs, moving the farm, doing maintenance on some of the buildings, inoculating new logs and picking tons of mushrooms, Jeremy was also keeping up with two Farmers Markets, delivering mushrooms weekly for three different CSA operations, and delivering mushrooms to co-ops, restaurants, and a distributor selling his mushrooms throughout the Midwest. Oh, and drying mushrooms, smoking mushrooms, and making mushroom butter and mushroom spread.

Our original plan of Jeremy being at the farm part-time was one of the first parts of the "plan" to change. Jeremy is pretty much at the farm all the time! Not only does he enjoy the quiet out here and the pace of life, he kind of has to be out here because there is so much set up still to do. Our hope had been a full-time employee would live out here and could help be responsible for things when Jeremy was in Minneapolis...but that hasn't exactly worked out. For one thing, we are now on our fourth consecutive employee of the year. Things keep not working out for one reason or another and folks move on. It's been similar with WWOOFers, interns, and volunteers. They say they want to spend a couple weeks or months here, and sometimes they leave within a few days. We've just had some really bad luck in the personnel department. It's hard not to think it's our fault, we've done something wrong. It's been helpful to talk with other farmers in the area who have had similar problems. Jeremy can get together with them and swap stories about some of the wackier volunteer personalities and people who up and leave in the middle of the night with no notice or warning.

As you can tell, it has been quite a year. There is quite a lot I had to leave out, but I have to leave some surprises in case I write a book someday, right?

I'll leave you with some of my favorite pictures of the farm. I've been able to get out to the farm 6-8 times this year and I just love this place.  The plan is no longer that I will live in the city and Jeremy will split his time between the two.  We are now working on a new plan for me to be able to move out to the farm full time. Hopefully this new plan will succeed!

A swampy area near the lake, in the spring

Lots of wildflowers in the spring, and summer and fall!

Swamp Milkweed, lots of it near the lake

Beautiful flower growing on the edge of the lake.

These flowers grow all over the farm.

Our great- great-grandfather apple tree, before we rescued it by cutting back a ton of the buckthorn surrounding it.

Apples! And they were good!

It's a very large apple tree.

Looking around in the woods.

Lots of frogs on the farm.

S'mores at our November open house party.

Bunny tracks in the snow.

Birch bark in the snow.

Happy New Year everyone!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Big changes coming!

Ooh, bet you've all been wondering what the heck happened to us?  Not too much different since we got the chickens last May.

The chickens are all grown up and putting up with winter right now. We had about 7 roosters which met their end in September. Of course we finished strengthening the chicken run and putting up fences in the side yard to fend off future dog attacks.

House projects: I painted the bathroom.

Sigh.  Back in the heady early days of buying this house, when we worked from morning to night without stopping and worked harder then I can ever remember working before - we were warned about this.  The time when you get really excited because you put a mailbox up, or hung a picture...or did something as mundane as painting the bathroom.

Mind you, the ceiling is still bare drywall, there is a hole in floor, the heating vents are out in the open, there is a hole in the wall under the light switch, there are holes in the wall by the shower that are "patched" with duct tape, and a host of other things. But isn't the paint job beautiful!?

Yard projects:  I fell for one of those DIY posts on Facebook.  You know, the one with the teaser that says something like, "This woman cut up two tires and what happened next will SHOCK you..." Oh please. She made a little pond with tires and I couldn't stop myself from giving this a try too.  I had several tires available from a failed potato tower experiment.

I dug those out (finding a couple tiny potatoes), dug most of the plants out of the backyard rain garden, and then built my little ponds.  This was in about October, so I only had a couple weeks to enjoy them before I had to cover it all up for winter. This was also an excuse to split off my Siberian Iris which had gotten so overgrown and compacted, it was starting to die. I can't wait to see what this all looks like as all the plants grow this spring.

I keep sewing and sewing (and not blogging about it really), and I took a three-week trip to Peru which was amazing, of course (and I did blog about that, here).

So, now, the "big changes."

We are very likely going to be buying a farm!  We've been day dreaming about this on and off for many years and it never seemed practical or feasible. But with Jeremy's mushroom farm it has now become pretty much a necessity.

We have been looking at one particular property in western Wisconsin (about 70 miles from here).  Everything is pretty much lined up. We are waiting on an appraisal and the official purchase agreement.  It could be ours in a few weeks give or take.

Big news! Big changes!

I will not be changing the name of my blog to "Adventures in Rural Homesteading" or "Adventures in Mushroom Farming" or anything like that, because I will not be moving to the farm.  Jeremy has a farm manager employee who will live out there and Jeremy will be there part-time, here part-time. But, if things go well, maybe we will both move out there full time some day in the future.

In the meantime, I'll post updates when it all becomes official, and try to let you know the interesting things going on with the farm. Because around here, pretty much everything revolves around the new farm now!!

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Baby chicks...again

Introducing: our fourth batch of baby chicks!  I realized we are so much more relaxed about this venture compared to the first time we got chicks back in 2009.

The chicks were supposed to arrive yesterday, Saturday morning. We had gotten the brooder moved into place, but that's pretty much it. I'm not sure when we were planning to figure everything else out - Friday night I guess. But at 5:45 Friday morning Jeremy got a phone call that bolted us both out of bed. The chicks were at the post office ready to be picked up!

While Jeremy went off to the P.O. I cleaned out the brooder, found a towel to put down, and turned on the heat lamp. Our brooder can be made three different sizes by sliding a piece of wood into slots in the sides. Where that piece of wood went - who knows! I found a thick piece of cardboard and cut it down to shape. I dug out the food and water things...then realized we hadn't bought any chick food yet! Geez.

Then the front door opened and I heard the mad sound of 25 peeping chicks moving through the house. Jeremy brought them down the stairs to the brooder and we moved them in. It probably wasn't warm enough for them yet but there wasn't much we could do. Jeremy mixed up a little sugar water for them - I guess that's a helpful thing to do, though I don't remember us doing it last time. They had to wait a few hours for the stores to open for chick feed!

Around 3am Saturday morning Jeremy woke up thinking about the chicks, wondering if they'd gone through their water. He went down to check on them and discovered the heat lamp bulb had burned out! The chicks were all huddled in a corner trying to stay warm. Poor baby chicks! If there is one thing we know, it's that being too cold can be the death of a baby chick. Jeremy dug out our sweeter heater. With a little pushing he managed to wedge this into the brooder in place of the cardboard for the fourth wall. Perfect! The chicks snuggled up to it to get warm again.

We're still trying to manage the heat. Chicks need to be at about 95 degrees the first week, then 90 degrees, and going slowly down as they get bigger and grow in their adult feathers. After we put in a new heat lamp bulb and the sweeter heater, the temperature was around 100 degrees! One of the chicks seemed to be panting, but others were snuggled right up to the heater. We moved the heat lamp up to help regulate the temperature. It was still pretty high, so we unplugged the heat lamp to see if just the sweater heater was enough. That's how I managed to get the lovely video below where you can actually see the color of the chicks. The heat lamp is red, so a previous video I shot was really weird with everything looking kind of red.
I went to check on the chicks an hour later and they were all quiet, snuggled in a line down the side of the heater, trying to stay as close as they could. Okay, too cool! So I turned the heat lamp back on. Goodness, with all this heat fluctuation we might lose a chick or two. It's a bit stressful on their little bodies!  But so far they all seem healthy and active - so fingers crossed!

The yellow ones are Delaware. The black ones are Cuckoo Maran. The brownish ones are Americauna. The grey ones are Blue Cochin. I have always wanted blue chickens! So I'm excited about those. We are very likely to end up with some roosters. Hopefully we'll have a quieter rooster than we had in the last batch!

Sunday, May 17, 2015


More pictures from the past. This is a project from exactly one year ago today!

We took three ash trees out back in 2013 but I had them leave these tall stumps. I'd always thought it would be fun to have a bird bath on one of them. I still haven't gotten around to having a proper bird bath... some day! (The third stump is off stage left.)

But what to do with the other two stumps... I decided to screw this large plastic pot onto the stump (so it can't be blown off) and plant it with trailing plants.

Here it is with alyssum and nasturtium.

It worked pretty well. I planted two nasturtium in it last week and I'm thinking about what else to plant this year. I'd love to get some lobelia or other similar trailing flowering plant. Any suggestions?

Saturday, May 16, 2015

When life throws you tires...

Looking through photos on our camera is now a fascinating trip through the last year...or more. We used to pull photos off right away and tuck them safely in some folder or other on the computer. But now they languish on the camera with plans to someday do something with them.

For instance, eight months ago (last September) I put a plan into action regarding a pile of tires that had been dumped behind our fence. It started with just a couple tires. We didn't do anything about them, so a few more showed up. I realized if we didn't do anything about them, we'd soon have a VERY large pile of tires. So I brought them in to the yard and started thinking.

I decided to try growing garlic in two of them. The garlic plants didn't do so well last year - not sure why. This new spot is right outside the back door. It's also close to the house and Jeremy prefers not have any food items here because of the possibility of lead paint in the soil. So I put the tires down and filled them up with compost. I planted five or six garlic in each tire, put some hay down for mulch, and put fencing around to keep the squirrels out.

The black of the tires causes the soil to warm up faster and stay warm longer - I suspect. The garlic actually started growing before the winter. Now that winter finally seems to be over, the garlic has grown like crazy and is mostly doing very well. (No pictures of that just yet.) If the garlic is actually growing nice and big down below, I'll be repeating this experiment!

I save the other three tires to make a potato tower. I haven't grown potatoes since I was in high school, but this seemed like a good time to give it a try. When life throws you tires... grow some food in it!

Monday, April 6, 2015

A first time for everything

Yesterday Jeremy and I went to a family lunch for Easter. We came home and had the whole afternoon before us. Jeremy headed upstairs to work on the computer. I turned on the tea kettle and headed down to the basement with the laundry.
On the way back up the stairs I looked out the window to the chicken coop. I do this every time I go up and down the stairs. It's sort of silly because I can't really see the chickens in the hen house unless there is sunlight shining straight into the windows. And I don't usually see the chickens in the far side of the run, the only part of the run I can see from the house, because they're usually over by the feeders stuffing themselves.
I looked over to the run and saw something weird. There was a white blob. A chicken? It could be, but they didn't usually hold that still, and not squished up so close to the wall. A foreign object of some sort? Something was up.
I headed out to the coop. Sometimes my mind jumps to awful conclusions, but generally those prove to be unfounded and ridiculous. Preparing myself for the worst I guess. But in this case, the worst had happened. As I cleared the hen house and came in view of the run, I saw a dead chicken. One that had been clearly snacked on. I vaguely noticed other bodies and feathers everywhere. I had to peek in the hen house. I half expected a deranged, bloodied animal to leap out at me, but no such thing. Just another half dozen dead chickens. There wasn't a movement in the whole coop or run, besides feathers drifting about. That meant all 19 were dead. I think I was in a sort of fight or flight shock state at this point. I needed backup.
I went into the house for Jeremy.

"Jeremy," I said as I walked through the kitchen. He didn't hear me.

"Jeremy." I said it my most serious something-horrible-has-happened voice. He heard me that time. I could hear him jump up from the computer.

"Do you need me to come down?" he asked, as he started to head down.

"Yes." Again, my very serious voice.

"Is it an emergency?" Jeremy wanted to know if he should walk down the stairs or run, and if he should call 911 - yep, he recognizes this tone of  voice.

"Well, it's not anymore. They're all dead!"

We headed back out to the yard so Jeremy could survey the massacre. He put his arms around me. The adrenaline was wearing off and I suddenly felt weak in the knees and had to sit down. He was very comforting for someone who was also very upset. Of course, he knew what he was coming out to see whereas it was a surprise for me. And I always seem to be the one to find the dead chickens!

We talked briefly about what to do. Should we bag them up and throw them away? It seemed wrong somehow to do that. We would dig a hole and bury them. I was worried. That would have to be a VERY big hole! But Jeremy was determined. We changed into grubby clothes and grabbed shovels. We decided to bury them in one of the garden beds. We dug up half of the bed, piling the dirt in the other half. At one point I dug up a little grub-like insect and immediately picked it up to give to the chickens. They would love this...oh. That's right.
We each picked up chickens and laid them in the ground. We fit 10 in then piled dirt on them and dug out the other half of the bed. Nine more chickens were laid to rest. I also raked up as many of the feathers as I could get and added them to the grave. We replaced all the dirt and smoothed everything over.

"We should be intentional about what we plant in this bed," I said. "Sort of like a memorial to the chickens."

Jeremy thought about it for a moment. "Well," he said, "no root vegetables." Agreed!

We decided to plant a tomato there and some lettuce. We'll have to wait a while longer on both, but that's the plan.

I wandered around the exterior of the coop and began noticing signs. Big paw prints. Signs of digging by the fence on the north side. Signs of probable pacing or running back and forth around the whole chicken compound, the killer trying to get in. And, what I had noticed almost right away, the brick keeping the door to the run closed was about a foot away from where it should be. Like something had forced the door open, sliding the brick out of the way. We remodeled part of the run a month or so ago and hadn't quite finished the door and latch part. Given the attack in the middle of the day and the killing of everything in sight without really eating anything, we both figured it was a dog. Well, the somewhat clear dog prints helped confirm that. I wondered at one point if there had been two dogs. There was just so much destruction.

I posted a Facebook message about our loss and messages of sympathy came pouring in. Then this morning I saw a post from a neighbor a couple blocks away. She had seen two large dogs coming out of our yard yesterday and called Animal Control to report it. Wow. Practically caught in the act! Our friends didn't know what the dogs had been up to though.

With that information, I sent an email on a listserv to our entire neighborhood.

Dear neighbors, Do you (or someone you know) own two big grey dogs? Did your dogs get loose from your yard yesterday and go running around the neighborhood? Did they come back a bit messy, perhaps with feathers on them? If so, I can tell you what your dogs were up to. They were attacking and killing our entire flock of chickens. We had 19 beautiful girls, just about a year old. They were safely penned in their coop and run – or so we thought. Your dogs managed to get the gate open. We were away from home having an Easter meal with family and came home to find the scene of the massacre.  We will be starting over again and we’ll be making our gate and fence stronger. We would appreciate it if you could fix your gate/fence so your dogs can’t get out and do this again. If you want to take responsibility and reimburse us for our loss, please contact us off-list. 
More messages of sympathy came pouring in. Then, an email from another neighbor. A neighbor of hers had found two grey dogs roaming the neighborhood and had caught them. They had found the owners somehow and the dogs had been returned home. It looks pretty likely that these are the dogs. We're working to track down the information of these people. I'm not sure if anything will come of it. Will the dog's owners take responsibility? Or will they claim innocence? Worse, will they said they were "just chickens," so who cares? I don't know.

In the meantime, we're feeling sad about the whole situation. I've heard of people losing their whole flock to one thing or another - usually animal attacks. We probably got a little lax after 6 uneventful years of chicken-keeping. There's a first time for everything. And hopefully this will be the last time!

We plan to start over with new chicks, maybe in a few weeks. Personally, I need time to consider the whole thing, adjust, and prepare.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Quilts, and chicks, and mushrooms - oh my!

I was doing so well there in February, and then off the bandwagon I fell!

The first part of March I was spending all my spare time working on this:

It's a baby quilt for a friend. The pattern is a version of Disappearing 9-Patch and the quilting stitch pattern is called Sticky Buns. I had a friend quilt it for me - goodness I love having my quilts done on machine now!

C. loved the quilt, so that was a success!

About a week after that, we got new chicks!

The last batch is now about two and a half years old. Jeremy thought it was time to replace them. I don't think they're slowing down laying all that much, though maybe a little, but we are still working on the elusive flock that will be the perfect balance of meat and egg birds and winter hardy. Especially after this winter we had. Yikes!  So this new batch includes Americauna, Dominique, Light Brahma, and Delaware. We're trying out roosters again so we'll see what happens this time. 

In the video and picture they're a day old or so. Now they're just under two weeks old and they're so much bigger!  They've got wing and shoulder feathers and some of them have tail feathers coming in. We've already had to double their brooder size.
Some day soon we'll have to take care of the adult hens.  They'll be going in the freezer to make room for the new batch coming in. The five that were hatched last year and year before will be getting a new home with my sister-in-law.  Those chickens still have some good laying time left!

Ah, and here are the big girls last Friday, very unimpressed with our big snow day.

Now, the other thing I spent a lot of time working on in March was helping Jeremy get ready for his Kickstarter campaign.  This was a good time to do it so crammed to do a lot of planning and organizing and prepping.  The campaign went live on April 1st. Jeremy had a little launch party for it and I made some Reishi mushroom chocolate brownies for the affair.

That's a piece of dried reishi in front. Jeremy borrowed a food mill from a neighbor to grind the reishi up into powder and I mixed it into the brownie batter.  They were pretty good - though I didn't think they tasted any different from the regular kind. =)

So the Kickstarter campaign is what I'll be spending the rest of my month on.  Jeremy is trying to raise money to build a hoop house for fruiting mushrooms. This will help him expand his farm and grow way more mushrooms than he has been able to.

I'm trying to pace myself on posting about it. I don't want to get too obnoxious. But I think I might start a crazy blitz of posting soon. Pledges aren't coming in as much as I had thought (and I think far less than Jeremy had thought). We still have three weeks left, but my optimism is starting to waver a bit.

In any case, I haven't posted as much about Jeremy's mushroom farm recently because he has his own website and blog (and Facebook page!). But that all continues on and often feels like a big focus of what's going on.  You can check out his Kickstarter page to see video of him and the farm, learn about the project, and all sorts of stuff, here: Please consider chipping in and/or telling everyone you know about this!

In other news, we still have the dog. Jeremy likes her a lot; I can't wait for someone to adopt her.  I suppose partly it's because she's a puppy and this is the way they are, but she just has WAY too much energy for me.
And last, but not least, our bees made it through the winter! Yay!  Hopefully I'll get some pictures or video sometime soon to prove it.  I'm so impressed with them.  I mean, this winter was ridiculously cold. I can't believe they survived.  I guess we did things right, and they were just hardy.  I'm looking forward to maybe getting some honey this year!