2019 Goals Updated

Here it is, February of 2020 and I am just now sitting down to assess how well we reached our goals for 2019.

It was an interesting year- chock full of completed projects that we planned on- others we had no idea we’d be undertaking and also a huge setback in the ever evolving Shed Project.

So, without further ado- our goals: good, bad or otherwise.

1. Success! We most certainly did Become Beekeepers. It’s been a wild ride and I am terrified of them still, but as of this month, we still have one very healthy hive and well, the other is silent.. or at least to quiet to hear with just the ear test. But we will see in a few more months when it’s safe to open the boxes.

I also must note, we had two hives and they were different on purpose – vented board vs solid, telescoping top vs flat- tilted high vs tilted low. It was an experiment year and I’ll be sad if we did indeed lose a hive but it will be a whole host of lessons learnt as well. I just hope at least one hive makes it. As scared as I am of them I do love having them around. Out of the hive they’re very gentle bees and they seem to attract other beneficial insects to the area.

2. Success! We had a fantastic syrup run and we are looking forward to another good year. We had two boil overs unfortunately, but we made over 12 finished gallons. This year we are investing in some new finishing equipment- like a new hydrometer.

3. Depends on your definition of success… we actually decided to not clear the rest of our land via traditional methods- more on this decision and the resulting plans in another blog- but say it with me folks… permaculture and biodiversity. Those are the hints.

4. Fail- we didn’t separate the male and female alpacas this year again. I suck. I have no excuse, we just didn’t get around to building the boys their own barn and we used the pen for our meat birds this year to let them be pasture raised. Then snow hit early and we were kinda stuck again. Also I think MrGillis is a little leery of giving them their own space because I mentioned maybepossibly rescuing some more gelded boys….

5. Success! We raised our own chickens (150) and our own pigs (4).

The fail is that this winter we got word from BOTH of our butchers that they were getting done for various reasons. We also have decided to not keep pigs over winter to raise our own piglets for a few reasons. More on that some other time.

6. A mixed bag on this one- I did get more egg layers. But we lost two different mail orders (devastating to me) and when we decided to bring some home from Tractor Supply, we lost one within a day and then another turned out to be a rooster. So I had to give him away which just broke my heart. So no more egg layers by mail and honestly, no more egg layers this year. Our coop is maxed out.

7. Success! Mrgillis put in over 2 dozen raised beds! And we have plans for even more this year, but I’ll get into that later.

8. Fail- we didn’t touch a single thing around the ponds. They kinda look like hell if hell was a pond surrounded by red alders and various saplings. But I will not give up on this- it’s literally just gonna be on 2020 goal list.

9. Success! Not only did I learn how to dye using natural methods(cold water being my favorite) I made lots of progress on inventory and even had a few stellar festivals for sales! I am currently in the process of signing up for this years events but I plan on going to at least a dozen.

10. Wah wah wah- this was the big fail this year. I mentioned in an earlier blog that we had officially called a cease and desist on the shed for the time being, due to a huge leak that basically destroyed a good portion of the work we’ve already done in the future kitchen area. So this years goal is to replace said leaky demon roof with a real nice tin roof – thankfully we’ve already done our taxes and we will be getting back enough to fund this project which we’ve estimated just materials to over $1200. Yea!

But this leads me to

11. Huge… something. We had our yard sale which was a bust. I sold more on Facebook marketplace over the following weeks then I did at the sale itself. So never again.

We sold some stuff but honestly ended up donating a huge truckload of it to a church up in Houlton that has a charity shop next door. Best decision- it freed up so much space and so many totes. The shed might be in limbo but it definitely got cleaned and organized: now just to get the last two years worth of fiber spun so we can have that space back…

12. A continued success as Izzy is loving school! And I did ok- I didn’t cry that much at the first days- it’s been more those bittersweet moments of how much she is learning, growing, maturing over these few months. But it’s been amazing, all of it.

13.hahahha – we didn’t not build a smokehouse. We just bought one of Tractor supply while they were on sale in September but holy smokes it was worth it. We love brining and smoking our own pork and to be honest we’ve done chicken thighs too. It’s been so fun. 10/10 recommend.

14. I would call this a success – Issac is now just shy of 16 months old- he’s walking(running and climbing too), wants to mimic everything we do, is learning to talk… he’s such a little devil too but in such a charming way with his little eyebrow quirk and half smile that it’s hard to not just smother him in kisses. But he’s learning the meaning of “no” too.

15. Success! We didn’t get blueberries, but I put in roses, asparagus(4 boxes!), grapes and a whole bunch of herbs! This year, I asked for a witch hazel tree for my birthday, so that means we’re putting in a witch hazel tree and some other stuff I’ll detail in the 2020 goal update.

16. Ummm…. I would say that my final goal, to blog more, started out really strong, but my goal was to do well thru the entire year and I didn’t so fail.

Well thanks for reading kind peoples out in the webiverse.

Until next time, have a wicked good day!

Homestead Update: The last half of 2019

The summer started out strong- and then ended way too quickly…

(I feel like I start out every end of the year blog, saying that sentence, and then apologizing for not updating in several months… but this has been a hell of a season. Some good, some setbacks… nothing too bad, just all part of the homestead life.)

My parents have officially moved a large camper out to the back yard. They came up most weekends and hang out with the kids, help out with the animals and gardens. It’s been a lot of fun, although the initial set up was a little labor intensive. But now they are glamping- queen sized bed, electricity, running water and all. They got a hell of a deal too.

We spent a whole day weeding the strawberries, which we lost a good portion of to those weeds. It’s an avoidable loss to which is what sucks the most, but we were so busy last summer.. and again this summer…. the new plan is to salvage what we can and put them into boxes uphill a bit, because oh yeah, they flooded several times this year. They were already in a low spot but the beavers, those industrious little devils, have done an excellent job of flooding the larger pond next to our two smaller ones. This creates a flood zone RIGHT where we put all 300 plants. Yup. Moving on.

MrGillis is up to over two dozen Cedar boxes. We planted a lot this last June and even into July and are pretty proud of how it’s coming together now, for next gardening season. I have herbs in some and we tried our hand at a bunch of different things with varying levels of success.

We harvested lots of zucchini, jalapeños, chocolate peppers… our tomatoes, potatoes and pumpkins slowly ripened until an early September chill did them all in…

We put in 4 asparagus bed with 25 roots each and they did fabulous.

We let the chicks in with the rest of the flock- it was a very easy transition… except for the proof of Phyllis being a Philbert and having to find a new home. He was such a handsome little guy that it took no time at all to find him a new flock. I was secretly hoping no one would answer, but a very nice lady came a picked him up in June.

The alpacas were shorn– everything was fairly routine, except Maddie’s tummy bulge has grown. Under Jay’s advice we got a vets opinion. And it’s not great- she either has a tumor or a hernia. At 12 years old, not breeding, just kinda letting her live out her life, he recommended against surgery as the anesthesia/recovery could be to much for her. So if she seems like it’s starting to hinder her life, it’s time to think about euthanasia. Kind of a ugh moment, but I keep a close eye on her and I believe she is doing well enough to let her live.

We also celebrated our 13th anniversary and also my 34th birthday in June. Not with much, just a meal out, but quite frankly, at this stage in our lives, we agreed that not having to cook or clean up is about the nicest anniversary gift we could give each other. I also was gifted my very own drill. (This is not sarcasm, I am genuinely happy with owning my own drill- it’s lightweight, a bit smaller then. MrGillis’ and he doesn’t take off with it. I’m a homesteader, remember?)

The second order of baby chicks arrived dead- we will not be ordering our future laying flock chicks in the mail. We are going to use the local stores to replenish that flock, but most likely continue to order meat birds thru the mail until we figure out a different situation.

We started selling yarn, baby plants and other hand crafted goodies at the Danforth Farmers Market every Friday. We’ve had a lot of fun with the other vendors and we made sales (almost) every week, which has been very nice for the check book and the dream.

We also sold at the Machias Blueberry festival in August, the Machias Fiber Festival in September, the Bangor Mall Festival and the Augusta Civic Center Fair (both of which were in November).

I spent lots of time collecting wild yarrow, chamomile, red clover, raspberry leaves, ox eye daisies and much more. I even identified patches of St. John’s wort! I put in the time making tinctures and tea mixes for this winter and we are fairly well stocked. I spent a lot of time reading about different goodies I could forage… I’m feeling pretty good about my skill set although I haven’t been brave enough to try it out on the many varieties of mushrooms we have growing native in our yard.

Our meat chicks arrived mid July and they arrived 100% alive and well. They hung out in our giant shed brooder for the first 2 weeks of their lives and then we put them out to pasture. We did some things differently this year, but That’s a different blog.

We have already sent the pigs to freezer camp. We’ve done some stuff differently there as well and are happy with the results – but that’s another blog as well.

The bees swarmed in August, and I didn’t catch them. It was really disappointing to lose our first swarm, but the hives are going into winter strong and full of honey. To be honest, my natural, low interference approach worked- but I don’t know if I’m cut out to be a beekeeper. They scare the living daylights out of me. I hate to admit that, but it is the unfortunate truth. We will see how they fare thru the winter and then make decisions.

We have determined that it is not fiscally feasible to repair the roof of our shed this year. Me staying home the last year to raise Issac and Izzy has put a damper on those types of projects. Here’s hoping our tax return is large enough to cover the cost of new tin and materials this spring… we’ve estimated it to be to the tune of $1300 for us to do it ourselves.

And because we can’t do the roof, it doesn’t make any sense to put any more work into the inside of the building. So that is stalled again. Not a great feeling. But it allows us all winter to be, well kinda lazy. We still have to take care of what we got obviously, but a break from the all time consuming shed project? Yes please and thank you. Step back. Refocus and recover. Come back even better.

In September, we went on a mini vacay to a destination wedding up further north to help my best friend (& second sister) from high school celebrate her nuptials. It was beautiful, lots of fun, a bit wow&holycow, and I am so happy that she chose me to be part of her party. It did wreak havoc on my no new clothes pledge – I will admit that dress cost 3 times as much as the total amount I spent on clothing for myself this year. But I looked good.

Also in September, Izzy started pre-K! She is doing phenomenal. It amazes me how often we’ll be in town and we’ll hear cries of “hey izzy!” From students of all ages. She always waves back, turns to us and says with a grin, “that’s my friend!”

In October, we celebrated our sons 1st birthday with a pizza party for family. He’s almost 16 months now, walking(practically running), climbing and being a general toddler now instead of a baby. I can’t stand how fast it went, but I’m still loving every minute of it. Well, besides the tired time headbutts- but we’re working on that.

In November we did another festival at the Bangor mall and it was Awesome! Like for hundreds of crafters. Then we did another in Augusta that was not so great. So all in all, we made some feed money, and learned some lessons, which I may or may not expand upon in a deferent blog.

The holidays were all about family- and food. And now we find ourselves well into the year already accomplishing so much and planning all kinds more.

Which will have to be another blog as this one has become so long it’s almost unreadable.

But until next time – have a wicked good day!

Raising Pigs for Meat: The Second Time Around

Last year, we had a hell of a great time raising our own pork- we learned a lot, including things we wished we had done differently.

This year, we managed to do a few of those things

1. We switched feed types from 100% pellet to 80% mash 20% pellet. We still soaked it thoroughly with water for every meal. This was a major savings- we spent a total of $560 on feed for all four pigs this year. We cut our feed cost by over half!

2. We stuck with a feed schedule– they got 12 lbs of soaked feed 2 times a day for a total of 25 ish lbs per day. Between 4 pigs that gave them about 6 lbs of feed per day each. The last two weeks, I gave them lunch as well. And slop was free choice- if we had it, they got it.

3. We bought the first 40 bags at once and got a discount of 5% – the mash was also only $10.50 a bag compared to most pellets being $15 or more. I know I kind of touched on this before- but it was a HUGE savings for us. Also a savings in time and gas as we didn’t have to run around weekends finding food for them.

4 We pastured them in a semi forested area– they got more variety of foraging materials which actually took longer for them to destroy. It also kept them in the shade more naturally so they wasted less water from spilling.

5. We actually had an escape! One of the pigs managed to pull the solar panel away from the electric fencing and decided to go for a run thru the strawberries…. another one followed. They were very food motivated tho and followed MrGillis right back into the enclosure. They weren’t to bad out of the fence actually. They trotted up to me and snuffled at me and then kind of happy grunted at me. The alpacas and chickens were not impressed tho. And neither was our strawberry bed.

6. We started feeding them in their transport cages a few days before they were to be loaded up. The morning of, we chucked a few apples in, they walked right in and barely fussed as we screwed the doors shut behind them.

7. We bought a smoker! So we have been going to town on some home smoked bacon and hams and some chicken legs too.

Things to Consider For Next Year:

1 an even bigger forest pasture. It worked really well as far as shade, forage and in general a fun place for them to live. They were happy pigs living their lives.

2 actually sprout barley for them– we bought the seed but just never got it really going. Fail.

3. Feed them in their transport cages right from day one. We hope to design it in a way that they won’t throw their troughs around and also make it easier for us to feed them.

4. Keep them for an additional month. We got the pigs a bit younger this year- and took them to the butcher a bit earlier as well, because we just had such a busy fall ahead of us. We brought home two pigs but weight wise it was the same amount of pork as last year.

So that’s the big pig update for this year.

Happy to have them all spring and summer, but we are even happier to see the freezer full of quality meat considering salt pork was $5.29 a lb in the supermarket the other day…

Until next time, have a wicked good day!

Raising Meat Chickens: 2nd Year Lessons

We did it- we survived our second year of raising our own chickens for meat!

Here are links to previous blogs dealing with the Cost of Raising, how we raised them last year, & lessons we learned.

And without further ado- what we did differently this year.

1. We waited until mid July to get them- the hotter weather at a younger age allowed them to go outside earlier and not suffer the ill effect of too much heat. On the other hand, by September, the poor things were shivering as we had an early fall this year…

2. We got 150 – 30 more then last time. And they actually sent us 158. Huzzah! But over the course of the entire 10 weeks we lost 11… boo.

3. We pastured them instead of keeping them in tractors- way less time consuming for us- we were moving two tractors a day everyday for weeks- and less stressful for them as they just had their pasture and houses and could do as little or as much moving as the wanted.

4. We restricted their feed by the pound this year, not the time of day. Those guys would have gladly eaten themselves to death.

5. We bought food in bulk while it was on sale- saved a dollar initially and then 5% on top. Plus got 12 months 0% financing because it was a single large purchase on my TSC card. Huzzah once more!

Things to do differently next year

1. Buy meat bird crumble from the beginning- they don’t really need chick crumble at all and it’s actually 11 cents more per lb.

2. Butcher and process ourselves – we wanted to this year but we had extensive leaks in our shed that need to be addressed. Outfitting ourselves to butcher and process 150 chickens in 3 weeks would cost us over a grand. And we need that money elsewhere. So we are going back to our butcher from last year. We will pay him 4.75 a bird and happily move on for this year. This is also actually a necessity now because our former butcher has closed shop… whomp whomp.

3. Give them even more pasture. They stuck pretty close to their houses in the heat of mid day, but mornings and evenings they were out exploring and foraging.

4. Try harder to not get attached to single chickens… especially the failing ones. We had three become very frail to various injuries and I had the unfortunate job of having to dispatch them. It sucked. I cried. And not just because of the lost investment, which hurts a practical minded individual such as myself.

6. Try fermenting their feed- I’m on the fence about this. I do it with the egg layers in the months it won’t freeze… but it’s more work quite frankly.

There you have it- and until next time, have a wicked good day!

Whomp whomp whomp….

Yeah- it’s been a lotta days (weeks… months) since I published anything on here.

The worst part is that I have been working on several updates, I just never seem to find the finishing power lately.

So to hell with that- I’m not making any promises about any type of schedule, as it is the upcoming Christmas season, but I’m going to do my best to get back into the swing of things.

Starting with a general farm update(ohmygod so much has happened), a couple blogs about the meat animals, a few more random how tos… but enough for now. I’m currently writing this as I put our now 14 month old down for a nap.

Dedication people- I’m trying.

Until next time, have a wicked good day!

Alpaca Shearing 2019

Just a quick photo blog- I wanted to show everyone how awesome Mariacher’s Shearing Services were.

Here are some before of some very fluffy but miserable alpaca beasts… they’ve been being very naughty with their water buckets the last few days to try and beat the humidity.

They arrived after supper around 5:30. They were done and on the road before 8. Truly amazing the work these guys do.

This is during and after- defluffed, teeth taken care of, nails trimmed, shots given….

But oh wait.

We discovered the mass on Maddie’s stomach has gotten very large over the winter.

So off the vet she goes on the 19th to have it drained and tested. Here’s hoping for a relatively painless recovery for her, because our wallets are going to feel it.

Wish us luck, this is only our second time transporting alpacas.

So this is this year’s haul- all the blankets were bagged individually, and then the seconds and thirds were just kind of tossed in all together. This puts us at about 20 totes of fiber between two seasons.

Until next time, have a wicked good day.

Homestead Update: May 2019

The first week of May was beautiful- And busy, as always.

We took our kids to the circus! This was also a trip to Presque Isle which was pretty fun. We haven’t been for a year, so we went to a few different places for shopping, ate some awful takeout, and got home in time for supper. It was a pretty fun day all around.

I brought home our first grape vine! I planted it into a gallon pot with some barharbor blend because. The overnight temps were still iffy, so it’s been happily residing in the greenhouse.

The next day, we started back in on farm work. MrGillis finished the pig trainer fence and let them out of their house finally.

He also built more boxes and we planted the purple passion asparagus and potatoes. Over the month, he actually managed to build and fill over a dozen different garden boxes. He planted our onions, leafy greens and some other early starts.

We spent a lot of time in the greenhouse transplanting seedlings into individual biobags, foraging for spring goodies and getting ready for things happening in June.

I spent some time building our small fire pit- we are going to dedicate this area of our yard to recreation- the play stuff, the grill, the sitting area… and now a beautiful rock wall fire pit built by yours truly, using only rocks cleared out of our land.

We spent another weekend getting the bee boxes ready- so exciting!

Issac turned 7 months and can now sit up by himself unassisted, get into crawling position, says lots of different sounds, Eats close to four oz of food per meal 3 times a day… what babies learn in their first few years is so amazing to watch again.

I made it another month without purchasing any new clothes. I’ve also decided to cut back on my coffee to just 3 cups a day.

  • I worry about the environmental impact of coffee as it is shipped from long distances to make it into my cup every morning. Also, excessive caffeine plays a role in inhibiting thyroid function. I’m working on healing my thyroid, as I worry about the future availability of medicines, and generic medicines are in the news right now for not great reasons. Well, pharmaceutical companies in general have been getting in a lot of trouble lately.
  • Next up for the month was receiving our first two packages of bees and installing them. You can read more about that here.

    And we introduced the babyflock to the rest of the them-

    This involved giving them their own coop with attached run inside the alpaca pen. It’s the way they will stay for at least the rest of May.

    We also discovered that our super cool 6 toed silkie was a roo. Phyllis became Philbert. And I was pretty devastated as I started looking for a new home for him. It didn’t take long- and he’s king of his new roost, so I’m happy for him. His new family was kind and gave me a few updates, but I’m trying my best to just let him go.

    After that we concentrated on Izzy’s 4th birthday which was a beautiful backyard bbq- we pretty much just hung out with some family and she had a wonderful time.

    And of course, we all got sick. But, as usual, we powered thru.

    For the end of the month, it was back to the garden stuff. We contacted the guy that cut our back acreage and told him we were all done. We contacted another guy about pulling stumps and grading the immediate back area so we can pasture it off and give it the alpacas.

    And now, already over a week into June! I promise, I will post next months update in a more timely manner… maybe.

    Until next time, have a wicked good day!

    How to: Discourage Your Rhubarb From Bolting

    Early one morning over this last weekend, MrGillis looked at me and said those dreaded words- our rhubarb is bolting.

    Lo and behold- although this doesn’t affect the quality of the rhubarb stalks, it will diminish the quantity of harvestable stalks we get.

    This is partially because of the variety we planted (heirloom Victoria) and the rainy, wet, cold (ie stressful) spring we’ve had.

    So, get yourself a sharp knife (I go with a pairing knife in these situations) and cut the stalk down under the flower.

    We caught this flower pretty early, so there wasn’t much of a stalk. I did cut it at an angle, but I don’t really think that matters.

    But, upon doing my farm chores this morning, I discovered all 4 of our plants had started to bolt. So away I went with my knife again.

    This is not a foolproof method- that’s why I called it “discouraging” instead of “preventing”.

    Now, I’ve heard of people eating these (eh, no thanks) and I’ve seen flower arrangements with them inside. I guess they last a long time in water. I just chucked ours in the compost.

    Also, if it’s too late to stop, enjoy the show the flower gives and then after it dies back, divide and replant for more plants next spring.

    Until next time, have a good day!

    For more about growing Rhubarb go here!

    Beginning Beekeeping: Our Bees are Here!

    They arrived by UPS on a Wednesday afternoon- the day had been chilly, windy and sleet had fallen a couple times with the rain. I googled and questioned and ultimately decided to wait til the next day to install.

    So I made a mixture of 1:1 sugar water and gently sprayed them down… I did this for supper, breakfast and lunch the next day.

    Thursday evening, I reread my step by step notes, I rewatched the harvest lane install video. I gathered my sugar syrup bag feeders, my marshmallow, my tool bucket which held my hive tool, duct tape, gloves, screwdriver, flat head, exacto knife with fresh blade, and spray bottle of sugar water. I donned my straw hat and veil and went to the shed to get our bees.

    I put everything into our groundwork cart( I really love that thing) and hoofed it over to the hives.

    I made sure that all my stuff was set out for easy reach. I then carefully opened my first box. I took out the queen cage and immediately almost killed her.

    But she shook it off- I plugged the hole with a corner of marshmallow, put it down in the bottom of the hive ( as advised by the author of the practical beekeeper) and proceeded to shake the box of bees into the hive. Next I replaced my frames, gently laid the baggie feeder over the top of the frames and then placed the top back on.

    Except, the bag was too full and started leaking from the pressure of the top going on it. So I very gingerly grabbed it by the slits, took it back off and emptied some out. Afterwards the top went on fine. I think. I hope.

    I put the package hole towards the entrance and hoped the rest of the bees would find their way home.

    The second box didn’t even go that smoothly- they were a lot more active and curious.

    I didn’t almost kill the queen this time, but I had to walk away several times, calmly talking to the bees (and myself) about what I was doing and how we were going to get thru it. I also sprayed the inside of the box with sugar spray to get them interested in that. I finally said screw It and put the rest of the package, hole facing the hive entrance again. I replaced the frames, put on my baggie feeder, the top cover and walked far enough way to take this

    So there you have it- I waited five years to do about 30 minutes of work. I have to check their feed in a few days.. probably Sunday or Monday. I feel really humbled and exhilarated by the whole thing.

    I will admit, tho I wasn’t stung once, I did feel like I had little bitty bee feet crawling on me several different times later that evening. It was a bit surreal.

    The next morning, I went out to investigate- there were still several dozen bees in each delivery package. I checked the syrup bags and they appeared good. I’m going to have MrGillis make a couple 2 inches spacers so the have a little more room. Both for the bees to feed initially, and so I can fill the bags more resulting in less disruptions from opening the hive every three days.

    Until next time, have a wicked good day!

    For more like this check out our Beginning Beekeeping Startup Cost post.

    You can also check out my favorite beekeeping references here!

    %d bloggers like this: