Sunday, June 3, 2012

We Have Produced Food!!!! Woo Hoo!

This is the first year that Shawn and I have put forth serious effort to gardening.  The past few years have involved us starting off with some excited attempts only to give up when the weeds overwhelm us.  This year we heavily mulched the garden using the Back To Eden method.  We've added mass quantities of wood chips and grass clippings and now weed maintenance is actually do-able!

I'm excited to say that we're actually harvesting and using food that we're producing in our garden.  Today our lunch-time soup includes peas, carrots, and turnips from our own garden.  After supper tonight we're having a fruit salad that contains our own blueberries and blackberries.  Tomorrow night's supper will include beets and cauliflower that we've raised.  It's an awesome feeling to serve food to my family that was produced on our own land.  It really does make all the sweat, sunburn, and bug bites worth it!

Here's a view from the back corner of the garden.  Since we're still on the GAPS diet, none of that corn is for our family to eat.  All of that corn has been planted as winter chicken food.

Here are the arbors at the back of our garden.  Starting from the left there is an arbor of pickling cucumbers, a second arbor of pickling cucumbers that was planted a couple weeks later, and then the last three arbors include two different varieties of pole green beans.  We have watermelon plants growing in the middle of all the arbors so that "empty" space is utilized.

There's also more watermelon planted just to the right of the arbors in the back corner of the garden.  We're growing two different varieties of watermelon this year..a traditional red watermelon, but also one that's yellow inside.

We ended up with more tomato plants than we had planned for so Shawn put up this spur-of-the-moment fence for tomatoes to grow on next to the corn.  You can't see it because it's still too small, but on the other side of the tomato fence we actually have a row of cotton growing.  That's one of our experiments this year.

The front of the garden is where most of our tomatoes are growing.  The rows in front of the tomatoes that look empty actually have some small sunflowers growing in them.  We're planning on using the sunflowers as winter feed for our chickens and rabbits.  However, we're really having a battle with birds trying to eat our sunflowers.  We've already planted twice and each time only a fraction have reached a decent size because of the birds getting to them.  Behind the tomatoes you can see Shawn's tire potatoes still growing well.  So far, we're really pleased with the experiment of growing potatoes in tires.

Here you can see more of the near-empty rows of sunflowers.  To the left of that is our garlic that's starting to brown and then our onions that are growing along nicely.  Between the garlic/onion boxes and the arbors are where our pepper seedlings are planted.

Here is the other back-corner of the garden where we have cauliflower, cabbage, spinach, and turnips growing.  You can see a little glimpse of our blueberry bushes in the corner of the picture.  The raised beds in the back that look empty actually have brussels sprouts seeds planted in them.  The little raised bed in the very back corner has three eggplants growing in it.  You can also see our three compost piles in the back of the photo.  We have a big volunteer squash plant that has popped up there.  I'm anxious to see what exactly it's going to produce.

Here's the front of the garden.  Here we're growing four arbors of peas.  Under each of the arbors we have planted cantaloupe.  The two raised beds contain carrots with space left over for me to continually plant more every few weeks.  You can also see our blueberries better in this photo.

Here's our small patch of beets located at the back of the garden behind the rabbit shed.

Finally, here are our two arbors of squash at the front of the garden.  The first arbor with the larger squash is made up of volunteer plants that came up in our carrot raised bed.  We transplanted them here so I'm not really certain what they're going to produce.  The arbor with smaller plants contain yellow crookneck squash and some scallop squash.  We've placed the boards on the ground near the squash to make it easier to kill squash bugs that come around.

So, at this point in our 2012 garden, I am very pleased with the Back To Eden method.  It has taken a lot of time this year to get everything mulched, but that time investment is already paying off with fewer weeds.  Lord willing, next year ought to be even easier.

If you'd like to watch the Back To Eden film, you can view it for free here:

Saturday, April 28, 2012

We're Officially Top Bar Hive Beekeepers!

We received our bees today and Shawn got both hives up and going without a single sting..yay!

I admit that I was a little intimidated by them.  However, Shawn drove two hours to pick up the packages of bees.  When he put them in his vehicle he noticed that there were some bees riding along on the outside of the packages.  So, he got to drive home two hours with some bees flying around inside the vehicle with them.  When he stopped at Dairy Queen to eat he even had a guy in the booth behind him say, "Hey did you know you've got a bee on your shirt?"  So, by the time he got home he wasn't quite as intimidated by them as I was.

Sam, Sarah, and I went out to watch Shawn install the bees into their new homes.

Here he is getting the queen's cage ready to hang inside the top bar hive

Pouring the package of bees into the top bar hive

The package still had some bees in it so he set it on the ground in front of the hive's entrance and then closed it up by affixing the roof to the hive.  The bees inside the package made their way into the hive by themselves and Shawn retrieved the empty package as the sun went down.

Finishing up with the second hive and putting the bars back in place

It was so much easier and faster than I expected it to be.  When Shawn went down to retrieve the empty packages later this evening he didn't even bother to wear the protective veil or gloves.  The bees really are gentle.

So, our next goal is to keep the bees alive.  We plan on giving them some supplemental food for a week or so, but then they'll be on their own.  I'll try to keep updating on our bee-adventure.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Farm Animal Update

I thought I'd give a little update on all the animals that we currently have on our farm.

This is our third Spring on our property. So far we've added a new animal to the farm each Spring. In the Spring of 2010 we acquired chickens. Spring 2011 we got meat rabbits. This Spring we are starting up with bees.

We currently have 14 Rhode Island Red (RIR) hens, 1 Longhorn hen, and 5 roosters of various breeds. The RIR hens are two years old now so their egg production isn't quite what it used to be. We love how calm and docile they are and their eggs are wonderful, but this year we thought that we would try out some different breeds. We have 15 Buff Orpington hens that are now 2 months old. Then we have also acquired 14 Black Australorps, 2 Barred Rocks, and 1 mystery hen that are all 4 weeks old. We chose the Buff Orpingtons and Black Australorps because they are good Winter layers and they're more likely to go broody. We would love to be set up so that we never have to purchase chicks ever again.

Shawn built two movable chicken tractors for the chicks to go into once they're too big for the broody pen, but still too small to free range with the rest of the flock. Right now the Buff Orpingtons are out in a chicken tractor in the front yard. The 4 week old chicks are still in the broody pen in the shop.

There's a bar in the upright portion of the chicken tractor for the hens to roost on at night. Shawn moves the chicken tractor once or twice a day so that the chickens have access to fresh grass. So far it's working well. No predator has penetrated it and the chicks seem happy.

We still have the same two female (Daisy and Zelda) and one male rabbit (Peter) that we purchased last Spring. They are New Zealand rabbits. We have the rabbit shed set up in the garden so that the rabbit droppings are right where they're needed. We've already bred Daisy and Zelda this Spring but apparently the breedings weren't successful. So, they've been bred a second time and I guess we'll see if it "took" in a couple weeks.

This year we decided to try beekeeping. With our orchard and garden we thought that having our own pollinators right on our property would be beneficial. The yummy honey in our backyard would be an extra-special bonus. We researched and decided to go with an uncommon style of hive called the Top Bar Hive. We purchased two hives this year and we intend to purchase one or two more in the future. Shawn set everything up in our pasture. It's within view of the house but still separated by a fence so that the children can't just run out to the hives by themselves.

In setting up the bee area Shawn first cut the grass in the pasture and then put down weed blocker and wood chips. We don't want to have to deal with weeds growing up around the hives once they're established.

We purchased our top bar hives from here:
They are beautiful cedar hives.  I love the way they smell.  The door on the side has a window so that you can actually look into the hive and see the comb without removing the lid and disturbing the bees.

We are due to acquire the bees very soon. I'll be sure to post an update once we get the bees installed in the hive. (If you don't hear back from me, then I guess the bees may have overcome us!)

 Finally, here are some pictures of farm animals that we DON'T eat!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

New Kittens that Nearly Died

Today was one of those mornings where your feet hit the ground running. A little before 6am this morning Shawn went down to the barn to let the chickens out. He came back inside the house and woke me up saying, "Something bad has happened down at the barn. I've got two new kittens down there laying in a pool of blood." So, now I'm wide awake...

We knew that one of our cats (the children have named her NewBabyKitty) was expecting her first litter. Apparently she started having the kittens early this morning and didn't have any of those momma-instincts that most cats seem to have. She delivered two of her kittens right on the cold, hard concrete floor of our barn and then she walked away from them. Shawn found her on the other side of the barn lying on top of a hay bale. Her whole body was shaking. I think she was thoroughly scared and confused about what was happening.

So, Shawn quickly found a box and filled it with straw. He scooped up NewBabyKitty and the two kittens and headed to the house with them. One of the kittens was already cold and not moving but the other one still had a tiny bit of warmth and was wiggling around a bit. When he brought them inside I immediately got to work rubbing the wiggling one around in a towel. We noticed that the other kitten wasn't dead, but it was so cold and lifeless that I chose to help the wiggling one. I thought that I'd have a better chance keeping that one alive because the other one was just too far gone already. After I got the wiggling one to start making some good noises, I put it back in the box with NewBabyKitty and picked up the cold kitten. I went ahead and gently started rubbing him in the towel. I was amazed when this sweet little kitten started making the weakest little sounds. Those sounds were more than I expected to get out of him. I placed him back in the box and tried to get him to nurse, but I never could get him to latch on. By this time the other kitten was nursing well.

NewBabyKitty's whole demeanor changed once we got her inside and started helping her. She started cleaning up the kittens and doing all the things that good momma cats are supposed to do. I was able to witness it when she went on to have a third kitten.

I'm pleased to report that, surprisingly, all three of the kittens survived. NewBabyKitty hasn't left the kittens since they've been born this morning. I think she finally has this momma-thing figured out. If you look at the picture above -- the black kitten was the one that Shawn found wiggling and just a little warm on the barn floor. The other two kittens look a lot alike but one is a boy and the other a girl. The little boy one is the one that came to us cold as ice. The little girl twin was born perfectly inside our home.

Everyone is content and happy. The children have loved having NewBabyKitty and her kittens in the house today. Despite its beginning, it turned out to be a really happy day today.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

2012 Garden Update

Yes, we're still here. We've just been very busy and computer-time hasn't been a priority.

I wanted to take some time to talk about changes on our homestead this year. We've been adding things, improving things, organizing things, experimenting with things...we've been busy! We've changed things in several areas, but I want this post to focus on the garden.

Since we had big plans for the garden this year I knew that I'd have to be organized if there was any way we'd succeed at keeping everything alive. So, I took some time this winter and planned out our garden.

I also made up a binder with each month's homestead duties listed. This way I won't go to do something (like prune fruit trees or start seeds inside) and realize that I should've already done it last month.

Based on the past couple years, Shawn and I knew that the two of us are no match for the number of weeds that this property can produce. So, we took drastic measures this year and decided to mulch our entire garden with wood chips. We got the idea for this by watching "Back To Eden." It's a free movie available online. So, we are currently covering our garden with wood chips as we plant an area. Then Shawn is also collecting grass clippings every time he mows. We're adding the grass clippings to the top of the wood chips in the garden.

Everything was going great until a couple nights ago when we got a last-minute frost. Now everything is a little burned in the garden. I think it'll all survive, but it doesn't look nice and pretty like it did before the frost.


Peas are being grown on cattle-panel arbors

Cauliflower and cabbage



Beets (background has arbors where green beans and cucumbers will be planted)

Garlic and onions

Potatoes being grown in tires (one of our experiments this year.) As the plants get taller we'll add another tire to the stack and fill it with dirt. The theory is that the potatoes will grow vertically and fill up the tires.

So, that's where we currently are in the garden. Lord willing, I'll add separate posts here detailing what we're doing in the orchard, vineyard, and with the animals on the homestead.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

What We're Working Toward

I stumbled across this post today and wanted to share it. This post neatly summed up why Shawn and I work so hard out here on this property. This is what we're working toward:

Monday, January 23, 2012

Update After One Year On GAPS Intro

I've been meaning to update about our GAPS progress. We began our journey on January 10, 2011. After one year we are currently on Stage 4 of the Intro diet.

For the most part, the improvements that we've seen have come about slowly. In order to really evaluate the changes I had to get out a chart that I made at the beginning of our journey to track Sam's autistic behaviors. (That chart will be my next post.)

When we began the GAPS Intro diet I made note of all of Sam's autistic behaviors that I wanted to improve upon. For Sam, those behaviors included: humming, clapping, TV/movie talk, hitting head, meltdowns, argumentative, chewing, and poor sleeping.

Here's how our lives have changed in one year:

Humming: Prior to the diet Sam would hum nonstop. He would hum while eating, in bed before going to sleep, as he was riding in the van, while watching tv..all the time. After one year on GAPS Intro Sam does still hum, but it is only occasionally. Now he might hum whenever there's a lot of noise or unusual activity around him.

Clapping: You can tell in the videos from February 2010 that Sam would clap his hands at a furious pace. I'm happy to say that I cannot remember the last time that I have witnessed Sam clapping his hands involuntarily. I don't know exactly when he regained control of his body but it has been sometime in the past year.

TV/movie talk: This is something else that he used to struggle with on a daily basis. We couldn't ask him a question without getting an answer that was simply repeated from some TV show or movie. We no longer get those kinds of answers from him. Now, when we ask a question, we get an answer that comes from Sam's own mind. You can see his improvement in that area in the video from February 2011. I will say that Sam does still struggle with "book talk." He still does get extremely immersed in certain topics that he's reading about and, if you give him free reign, he will dominate the conversation with whatever topic he is currently interested in studying. Right now he is really interested in the Presidents and the weather so he could talk to you about those things all day long if you would let him.

Hitting head: Again, this happened numerous times every single day whenever Sam got angry or overwhelmed. I cannot remember the last time that I've seen Sam hit himself in the head.

Meltdowns: Prior to the diet Sam didn't necessarily have one of these every day, but they were still often enough to be a problem. Sam's meltdowns involved him hopping from one foot to the other while he banged his ears with his hands. He would scream "NO!" or just wail while he had his meltdown. I cannot remember the last time that I've seen him have a meltdown. Now, instead of losing physical control, he will use words to express anger if he doesn't get his way. Now he would be more likely to say, "God will be angry with you!" if he's upset with you about something.

Argumentative: When I say "argumentative" I mean that Sam used to argue with you about everything under the sun. You'd say, "The sky is blue" and he's scream back at you, "NO IT'S NOT!" I'd say, "We're having eggs for breakfast." and he's scream back at me, "NO WE'RE NOT!" I'd love to say that my child never argues with me, but the reality is that now Sam saves his arguments for rare occasions. It's so nice to not be in a constant battle with my child now.

Chewing: Sam used to destroy things by chewing on them. He'd chew on forks, spoons, straws, toys, clothing, cups, etc. I cannot remember the last time I've seen him do this. It has also stopped within this past year.

Poor sleeping: I think this is the area that I've most taken for granted. I look back at my chart from the beginning of our GAPS journey and I remember how bad it really used to be. Sam used to wake up at 5am every single day. He would also get up numerous times during the night. Now, he is asleep by 9pm and usually sleeps solid through the night until around 6:30am. If he does get up in the night it is just to go potty (which he does quietly without waking up anyone else) and then he puts himself back to bed.

After one year on GAPS Intro, the areas that I would like to continue improving upon are:

Help Sam to understand when someone isn't really interested in knowing everything about the Presidents or the weather or whatever his current interest is. I'd like for him to be able to sense when he needs to change the topic.

I'd like Sam to be able to expand his interests more. I'd like him to show more interest in doing "outside" tasks instead of staying inside and reading so much. I think more of a balance between the two would be healthy for him.

We'd like to see Sam improve upon his motor skills. There are still some areas where he is physically behind where most 6 year old boys are.

After one year, the results of the GAPS Diet have been more than I even hoped for. For anyone considering this is SO worth the sacrifice! I'm anxious to see what my child is like after another year of healing.