Category Archives: Producing Our Own Food

Whether it’s planting a garden, gathering eggs, or butchering our humanely raised animals, we strive to produce it ourselves

House update: miscellaneous jobs

You know when you have that big project on the horizon that you need/want to start working on, but for whatever reason you can’t yet but there’s a long list of projects to do so you gotta get them taken care of and when you finally do them you realize it actually feels good to be able to cross something off the list and you wonder why you procrastinated so long because, I mean, you’re not working on the “big project” right now anyway?

*Takes a deep breath after that extremely long run-on sentence.* 😉

Yeah, we’ve crossed quite a few need-to-do little projects off the list in the last couple of months since getting the septic finished. Some of them so small, I didn’t even bother to take pictures. But some of them were significant enough that they have made our life so much easier.

Like our garden hose hydrant. We dug a trench (more trenching!) from where our water line crosses the driveway over to where we wanted the hose faucet next to the landscaping rocks.

The trench.

Tee into the water main

Princess Girl got in on the action

The gravel in the bottom of the pit is to aid in drainage since this is a frost-free hydrant. That means that every time the water is shut off, the water that is in the top of the pipe drains out of a small hole at the bottom of the trench so there is no water up in the pipe or faucet to freeze in the winter. We did put in a shut-off valve just in case we ever need to shut the water off to the faucet for any reason, but theoretically, we shouldn’t ever have to use it.

We have water!

And it works like a charm! And made our water situation around here so much easier! Watering the gardens were a breeze with 1700 gallons on tap. Yep, that’s how big our cistern is. We fill it up from the well as needed (every couple of weeks at the end of summer) and it supplies all our outdoor and animal watering needs. Right now it is mid-November and we haven’t gotten any moisture all season long. Great for working outside, not so great for our fruit trees and perennial plants. So we’re still having to water the trees and gardens every once in a while. This hydrant also makes it super easy to re-fill our rain barrels (because, you know, no rain). We use the water in the rain barrels for the animals. Before having the hydrant, we would have to turn on the big generator and well in order to fill barrels, etc. Now, with 1700 gallons of water at our disposal, we only need to fire up the genny and well pump every…actually, we don’t know how long it will take us to go through that much water this time of year. Suffice to say, it will take a while. And since it’s all under ground, it won’t freeze during the winter. Yay!

Another project we were able to check off the list was to move the electrical conduit for the garage. We hired out having the garage built, and we ended up needed to scoot the whole building back a few feet, which means the place where we originally had the conduit coming up was no longer in the correct spot.

New perimeter lines drawn

You can see in the pic above that the conduit was now several feet away from the wall of the garage. So, once the construction crew dug the footers, we came in and extended the conduit so it comes up inside the garage near the wall where our solar power system will be installed.

Electrical conduit extended

Again, not a huge job, but it HAD to get done.

Another small job that made our life so much easier was installing shop lights in the house.

Let there be light!

Now that the days are shorter, we needed light in the house so we can keep on working after the sun goes down.

And speaking of the days being shorter, and therefore colder, we finally got our laundry room door ordered and then installed.

A real door!

We could have had this door in place since January since it’s frame is part of the steel building, not the interior wood frame like all the other doors will be. But last winter and spring we were on hold with the house and the house only had this one wall anyway. And over the summer it wasn’t needed because of the weather. It was only when it got cold enough that we needed to stop the breeze from blowing through the house that we got our butts in gear and got it done.

And yet another small job we got done recently was replacing the rain gutter on our mud room. We had scabbed together something when we first built it, but after two winters it needed to be replaced. So we got a real gutter system. And now we’re set for this winter. And hopefully we’ll get a lot of rain and snow this year. We need it!

Princess Girl is learning all sorts of skills living here on the homestead.

So much nicer than the old system.

And that’s about it for now. As I said, there were plenty of other odd jobs done that I just didn’t document. And in the middle of all that, there was one major project that we worked on over the course of a couple weeks…

The floors!

But that’s a post all on its own. For now I am going to sign off.

I gots things to do!

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Broody Hen Saga: Day 14

I candled our hen-incubating eggs on day 7 like everyone says to do. But I just couldn’t tell. They all looked too similar. However, I had a feeling that only half of them were developing. So I figured I’d give it another week or so and try again.

And this time the differences were striking! The 5 eggs (I was right!) that have developing chicks in them, very obviously have something in them.

Day 15, rather obvious

The 5 eggs that never developed (or stopped early) still look like a regular, non-developing eggs when candled. I did notice that several of them had cracks in the shell like the picture below. No telling when that happened, but I’m sure it didn’t help.

Non-viable with cracks in shell

So, out of the 10 eggs that were originally under Summer, only 5 are viable. I sure hope those five actually hatch. One more week to go…

Broody Hen Saga: Day 3

9/1/18

[If you follow us on Instagram or Facebook- @castlerockhomestead – you’ve probably already seen this info, but I put it here for posterity and for those few of you who missed it. 😉]

This is “Summer”. She is a broody hen. That means she wants to sit on eggs and hatch them out into cute little fluff balls. But she is a chicken. And chickens really are kinda dumb. It’s all hormones and instincts that tells her to sit there. Some breeds of hens have a very strong broodiness gene and will be very dedicated to sitting on those eggs. Silkies and Orpingtons come to mind. But Summer is a Welsummer. They are not known to be particularly boody, although all three of our Welsummers went broody this year, and this is the second time for this one.

So, we’re trying again. Summer went broody in the nest box of the main flock coop. So I put a cardboard box in the nest box with some golf balls in it and let her sit on those for a day or two (that way I could take all the real eggs away from her but she would stay broody). Then one night, I moved her, cardboard box and all, to our brooder coop.

Our brooder coop is a small coop that is perfect for raising chicks in, once they hatch, and the nest box works perfect for a broody hen as well.

By blocking it off from the main part of the coop, the hen has enough room to get up and stretch her legs and get a bite to eat or a drink, but nothing to distract her from going back to those eggs.

The other three times we’ve tried to get Welsummers to hatch a clutch of eggs, they tended to get distracted and leave the eggs long enough that the developing eggs got too cold and died. Actually, the last one was in this same setup and was doing great, until the door got left open and she abandoned her eggs.

So here we are, with another broody hen and a new clutch of eggs. I let her sit on the golf balls until I had collected enough of the right eggs from our smaller breeding flock, then one night, out came the golf balls and in went the fertile eggs.

I put 10 eggs under her and the hatch date should be on September 18th. I say “should” because we did have a hen successfully hatch 2 chicks earlier this year and they hatched a day early (both males…of course) .

Hopefully it will be uneventful smooth sailing from here on out. We will candle the eggs in a few days and see which ones are viable. Then we wait.

Landscaping

(Edit: 8/28/18 I wrote this post over three months ago. Today, while looking at my writing app, I see the little word “draft”. I had never published it! Silly me! So without further ado…)

Imagine your house (either the one you currently live in or one you have lived in at some point). Now imagine if all the land surrounding that house was bare ground. Now throw in a bagillion rocks, and a few weeds here and there for good measure. Not a pretty thought, is it? Kinda depressing?

That’s how I feel about the land immediately surrounding our house. Yes, it’s understandable since it is a construction zone. But that doesn’t make me any happier when I look at it.

So, while I was delayed on working on the actual house, I decided to do something about the landscaping.

When the house pad was cut, it left behind a fairly steep hill of barren, rocky soil. But in my mind’s eye, I see beautiful terraces, filled with edible and decorative plants that provide beauty and habitat all year long.

When we had the backhoe last fall, I did the rough (and I do mean rough) cut of the terraces. This spring I have slowly been building the terrace walls.

The stairs were built out of railroad timbers we had on the property. The rocks are all native to within 50 feet of right there!

I completed this triangular section first because that is going to be Pajii’s area and I wanted him to feel like he could plant if he wanted to. Besides, it was the easier section to do!

A friend of ours came by one afternoon to help out with stacking rocks.

The circled rock in the picture below was just one of several 100lb boulders I needed to dig out and move.

All of the whiteish rocks below it are the rocks I piled under it when I levered it up, until I could roll it out of the hole.

In the picture below you can see the completed terraces on the right of the steps, and the not-yet-started hillside to the left. The huge boulders were dug out of the hillside where our well is now. They were placed in such a way as to become part of the landscaping. There are several more that you can’t even see just to the left, and many more that got used as a retaining wall over by where our garage will go.

So I got a bit of the terraces done on the left side of the stairs, and while at the hardware store, succumbed to an impulse buy of a dianthus bush. I just loved the color of the flowers and the fact that they are supposed to bloom from spring all the way till fall!

So, I had to find a place to plant them.

The very first plantings in the terraces. 😄

I also decided to pick up a few more landscaping plants that I know I want. And as the saying goes, the best time to plant a tree was 40 years ago. But seeing as how I’m not (quite) even 40 years old yet, I figure the best time to plant is now.

Lilac

Red Haven peach tree

Double Delight tea rose 🌹

The first bloom on the rose bush

I also bought some annuals to plant in pots around our trailer to pretty things up a bit.

Our fruit trees that we planted last year are doing well. The cherry trees blossomed out in late April and I thought for sure they’d be killed by a frost.

Cherry blossoms with Mason bee 🐝 busy pollinating

And they almost were! We were surprised by a light frost at the very end of April. Not that it’s unusual to freeze that late, but all of the forecasts said we were going to stay above freezing that whole week. But everything seemed to be ok despite the freeze. The next night was supposed to get nearly as cold, so we decided to play it safe.

The apple trees wrapped against the cold look like weird lollipops.

Apple blossoms

Yesterday, I checked on the cherry trees, and lo and behold, they’re loaded!

And last but not least, we bought some native/locally adapted plants from the state nursery and will find places for them to go once the terraces are completed.

For now, we have been busy trying to finish up the septic system. But we’re almost done with that, then I again won’t have anything to do, so I will go back to the terraces.

Now, remember that house you thought about at the beginning of this post? Think of all the bushes and trees and flowers that actually do surround it. Are there any that you’ve ever thought, “If I had been in charge, I would not have planted that”?

Well, guess what. We are in charge of everything that gets planted here on our land. It’s actually rather exciting to be building our land from the ground up. While it is a lot (a lot) of hard work, it’s awesome to be able to make it how we want it and only have to deal with what nature handed us, not what other people thought was a good idea. And so far, with the exception of the dianthus, I’ve put quite a bit of thought into the plants I’ve chosen.

One day, it’s going to be beautiful!

Garden beds

In February, we had a run of really nice weather and it got us itching for spring. Pajii in particular is really missing being able to garden. His garden up in Oregon, though small, was prolific and beautiful.

Pajii’s garden in Oregon – 2014

So, since we couldn’t work on the house (still waiting on our contractor to finish the walls and roof), and we had such nice weather, I decided to knock together some raised garden beds for Pajii to work in come spring.

I decided to use our wood left overs from the concrete forms for the house foundation.

This is only some of the wood we reclaimed from our forms for the foundation.

I measured and cut and organized and got all the pieces sized and ready to assemble.

A lot of the 3/4″ scrap plywood was 8 or 16 inches wide. This made it easy to figure out how tall I wanted the beds to be.

I started by attaching my side panels to the corner 2×4 posts which I cut to be twice the height of the panel. Since I wanted to use as much of the smaller wood scraps as possible and leave larger pieces for future projects, I had to make a couple 16″ panels out of two 8″ panels as you can see in the following pictures.

Attaching a panel to the corner post

I used 1⅝” deck screws to attach the 3/4” plywood to the 2×4 posts.

Joining two 8″ panels together to make a 16″ panel.

One side ready for assembly

Once I had all four sides ready for assembly, I started screwing them together.

Clamps are your friend when working solo.

One box almost finished.

This box is almost finished. Just needs some strengthening 2×4’s around the top edge.

One of the boxes we made a trapezoid (an isosceles trapezoid to be precise 😉) to work in with the shape of the garden a bit better. You can see in the pic below where Princess Girl is helping me put on the strengthening rim boards around the top of the box. I used 3″ deck screws too attach these boards to the corner posts.

Finally got some human help. 😁

We also attached the plywood to the rim boards with 1⅝” deck screws.

Princess Girl gets some more screw gun practice.

Pajii and the Princess with a finished box.

Time to move.

Once we got the boxes put into place, Flower Girl’s chicken, Leilani, had to come check them out.

All 4 boxes in position.

We made 4 boxes total. Three of them are 3ft by 6ft and the fourth one is a trapezoid that is 5ft x 3ft x 2ft, if that makes sense. All of the boxes are 16 inches tall with 32 inch corner posts. The corner posts are taller in order to easily attach clear plastic to make a cold frame in early spring, or more likely, netting to keep the squirrels and other pests out.

I really like how these boxes turned out. I love that everything used to make them, including the screws, is reclaimed materials that were used to make the foundation of our house.

We have not filled them with soil yet since winter returned just a couple of days after we finished them. Soon, though, we’ll go get some soil and not too long after that, Pajii will be able to keep busy growing us some fresh veggies. I can’t wait!

Homestead Update: Happy New Year

Happy New Year!

I know it’s been a while since I’ve updated. Sorry about that. I kept hoping for the “big reveal” on our house, but, well, things keep happening to keep it from being done. And by done I mean dried in (meaning the siding and roof is on.)

So I guess for now, here’s our “big reveal”. We have the frame of a house!

We hired a contractor to put the structure up for us. He started the week after Thanksgiving and did pretty well getting to this point. But then his wife had a stroke, he had some equipment trouble, we’ve had some weather related delays, and the holidays rolled around, so there the frame sits.

One of those weather delays was a bad windstorm. It blew about 30 of our siding panels and some of our rolls of insulation off the house pad into the ravine. And then it promptly snowed. We were able to get them all stacked together with rocks on them so they don’t blow any more, but they are still down there. Hubs and I have been sick with bronchitis since before Christmas and haven’t been able to do much.

Lately though, I’ve been feeling a bit better and have been able to do a bit of work around the place. I cleaned out the chickens nest boxes and today I’m hoping to get our flocks rearranged. We have two roosters (technically I think they are both still cockerels) in one small flock and I want to get then separated before the younger, bigger one starts challenging the older, smaller one.

Besides, I want all the hens to be in with the correct rooster for when we start our breeding program. Nigel (pictured below with “Lizzie” two months ago) is our man man. He will be our breeding rooster, but right now, he’s the non dominant male in a flock of 12.

I am planning on moving Fritz (our frizzle Cochin bantam rooster) and a couple of his girls up to the upper coop and bringing a few of those girls down for Nigel. And I want to do that now while their egg laying is already disrupted by the winter.

Although, they have started picking up a bit!

We were only getting 4-6 eggs a day out of 30 hens for about 2 months. Our older flock went through their first molt and thus stopped laying. And the younger flock just hit maturity when the light faded for the winter (hens need approximately 14 or more hours of daylight to lay optimally.)

But we are past the solstice so the days are only getting longer now, the older flock is past their molt, and the younger flock is moving into their prime laying time (they lay the most eggs their first year of laying.) So now we are getting roughly 10 eggs a day. And it’s only gonna get better from here.

Lately we have been having some beautiful weather. While the rest of the country freezes, we’ve been wearing t-shirts and having picnics.

And doing crafts outdoors.

And going for walks in the hills above our house.

The weather is supposed to turn chilly and rainy, possibly with snow, this weekend.

And I heard from our contractor again today, and there’s been more unavoidable delays. So sometime in the future, hopefully sooner rather than later, we will have a roof and sides put on our house. But for now, it’s still pretty cool to walk out our trailer door and see that frame rising toward the sky.

And once it is “dried in”, we get to go to town finishing off the interior. That’s going to be a blast! And honestly that’s really the only thing on our resolution list for this year. Get. The. House. Finished!

For now, I’ll leave you with one more picture of our frame until we have more to report.

House update: concrete slab pour

The post you’ve all been waiting for!

I know, I know, it’s been nearly a week since I said we’d get the slab poured, and here I am just now writing about it.

But really, it’s only been 3 days since it was poured. Yep, that’s right, it was done this past Monday, not last Friday.

Yeah, the overnight lows were forecasted to be down around freezing for Friday and Saturday night. Frozen concrete is not a good thing. And while there are steps you can take to make sure the slab does not freeze, waiting an extra couple of days for the temps to warm up is an easy fix.

On top of that, none of the concrete companies in town could do a Friday pour before noon. Doing a slab this size takes about 8 hours. It gets dark here around 7pm right now. I think you can see the problem there.

So, we decided that it was best to just wait till Monday.

It was chilly that morning before the sun hit the pad.

But the crew was there and the cement showed up right on time.

The interior footers were poured first.

Then they started on the slab.

Flower Girl didn’t want to miss a moment, even when she was so cold. But the sun came up and we all warmed up.

There wasn’t much for us to do other than watch.

But watch, we did!

And then spent a few minutes stabbing in the bolts for the walls.

Pajii gave it a go.

Princess Girl looked over the plans to make sure we were doing it right.

I had a moment of panic when I did some measuring and thought we were an entire inch and a half off. Till I realized I was measuring to the wrong side of the form boards. Whew!

Lots and lots of bolts.

The concrete crew we hired did an efficient job.

Looks like he is standing on the edge of a huge drop off. In reality, there’s enough space on the other side of the house for a cement truck to pull up there.

More finishing.

The last thing to do was cut the relief cuts to hopefully control some of the cracking. Our concrete contractor uses a big machine to do the cuts rather than a skill saw by hand.

Here it is with the concrete blankets on. My brother and my dad were each able to loan us enough blankets to cover half the pad. We decided that since we got them for free, it couldn’t hurt to use them. Better safe than sorry.

On Wednesday we started taking down the forms. We can’t take off all of then yet because that’s what the plastic is stapled to.

Since we are going to stain the slab and use it as our finished floor, the concrete guy didn’t want to put on a chemical seal/cure on it. So instead, we wetted everything down then covered it in 6mil black plastic to keep the water from evaporating. This will allow the slab to slowly cure over the course of a week or so without adding something to the top that will make the stain not work.

Pajii and Princess Girl took off all the blankets today. I stayed inside out of the pounding wind because I came down with a cold on Tuesday (great timing, right).

Instead of working on the house, I’ve been resting and recuperating and making chicken stock out of the carcasses of the chickens we processed over the weekend.

One of these pots of stock got canned into jars. The other became soup for dinner tonight. Hopefully it will help me feel better. This not being able to breath thing is getting old real quick.

The next stage of building the house is getting the metal frame up, but that may take a while. In the meantime, we need to finish up our septic system and fresh water cistern and get started on the garage. Still got a lot to do. But it’s moving forward. Slowly but surely.