Tag Archives: Sustainability

The Great Potato Experiment of 2019 – Day 118

(Also the Great Onion Experiment of 2019)

We harvested the rest of our potatoes today. As you can see from the picture above, the purple potatoes were much more prolific, but the red ones grew bigger.

Overall I am very happy with the results of our “experiment”. I learned a lot about growing these varieties of potatoes. I should have planted them earlier so they could grow larger (especially the purples), and I coulda planted the rows quite a bit closer to get more yield out of the planting bed (a 3’x6′ bed in our terraces). And we’ll need to plant a ton more to feed our family for more than a few meals. And how to get those purples bigger? Also need to experiment with the long storing varieties like russets once we have a good place to store potatoes. But it’s good to know that it’s possible to grow potatoes here in the dry, high desert.

Also, can we talk about those onions?

Again, they are nothing to brag about, except that I have tried numerous times over the years to grow onions and have never been successful. So the fact that I got ANY harvest this year is pretty amazing to me! They won’t last long since they’ll be eaten quickly, but I’m rather proud of those cute baby onions.

2019 Chick Hatching Update

All 4 of Welly’s eggs hatched! One had some issues and we spent a couple days nursing it back to health.

Poor thing was so weak. It couldn’t even hold it’s head up.

Doing better after warming and feeding it an electrolyte solution.

12 hours after hatching it was apparent it was going to survive but it was not as vigorous as it’s siblings, so we kept it inside for another couple of days.

We named that one Nugget. After a day or so, we brought one of its siblings in to teach it to eat and drink from the waterer. Since we had been hand feeding it the electrolyte solution, it wasn’t catching on by itself. After another day or two, you couldn’t tell Nugget from the other except that we put a leg band on it, so we but them all back in with Welly.

So now we had 9 chicks. Three of them we knew were males. Time would tell for the others.

At just 4 weeks old, the Sex-link’s combs were substantially bigger than the Speckled Sussex’s. Hoped that meant the Sussex were female – it did!

And at 6 weeks old, it was VERY obvious that two of Welly’s chicks were male, and two were female. These are the two males.

Oh, and you know little Nugget that we put so much time and effort into reviving? Yep, one of the males!

So, we ended up with 5 males and 4 females. Figures!

And one of the white females got out of her pen when a neighboring dog happened to be visiting and got herself killed. 😢

So, now we have 5 males that are bound for the stew pot this fall, and 3 females that will be added to the flock.

Right now we are working on integrating the two chick flocks to each other. The mammas are back in with their original flock. We are not going to bother integrating all those boys to one of the main flocks when they will be gone in a couple months anyway. But in the meantime, we need them all to be in the same coop/run. And soon it will be time to introduce the three pullets into their new flock.

Ah, the joys of raising chickens!

The Great Potato Experiment of 2019: Day 29

Edit: I wrote his post at the end of May. I found it in my drafts in August! I am backdating the publishing date so hopefully it will show up on the blog in order, but for all my subscribers who will get an email notification about it, that’s the reason why it’s old news. 😊

Last week, on Day 29, the potato plants had grown enough that I “hilled” them up. Essentially, I just pulled in that dirt I moved to the side when I planted them. I forgot to take any pictures except for the ones in the pots.

So I was all excited that this seems to be working so beautifully, when I came across a fact that had me pondering if my potatoes are going to do as well as I had hoped.

Basically, did you know that there are two types of potatoes: determinate and indeterminate? And that you plant them differently and treat them differently according to which kind they are?

I had no idea! I thought a potato was a potato when it came to planting and I hadn’t ever even heard of any method of planting and caring for them other than variations of the hilling method.

But I was wrong. The hilling method, where you keep adding soil or mulch as the plant grows and more and more potatoes will grow in the new areas you buried, only works for the indeterminate varieties. I’m not sure what kinds are those varieties, but I can tell you which ones they are not! Red Norland, and Purple Majesty!

Yep, the two varieties I planted are determinate, which means that they will only ever set potatoes in the first layer of soil where they are planted.

Awe well, learn something new every day. I still have hopes that they will grow and give us at least a few potatoes.

2019 Broody Hen Hatch Watch: Day 1

May 19, 2019

You may remember last summer when we tried to have some of our broody hens hatch some eggs for us. (You can read those posts here.)

We tried six times and only ended up with 2 chicks (both roosters, of course!). Sadly, after some research, I think a couple of those failures were from us handling and moving the eggs after day 17, which is when the eggs should be left alone until hatching. So we might had inadvertently cause some of the in-egg deaths. I’m crushed. 😟

But, we are trying again, and we know better this time.

One of our Austra-Whites, Bluebell, went broody last week. She was the mama that raised store bought chicks for us in 2017. Her sister, another Austra-White named Speckles, was the hen who successfully hatched the two chicks last summer.

Our 2018 chicks – a Black Sex-link male, and a Speckled Sussex male who is now one of our breeding roosters.

We never had any success in hatching with the three Welsummers or the Golden-laced Wyandotte who went broody, so when Bluebell decided to be broody again this year, I was happy. I know she is a reliable brooder and a good mama.

So, here we go.

We moved her to the brooder coop nest box, blocked off from the 8 week old chicks who are using the rest of the coop.

Our brooder box setup. Just shut the right door to keep the hen in, and the left one is opened or closed as needed for security or ventilation and to access food and water.

She was sitting on golf balls for a few days in order to adjust to the move before we gave her eggs.

Classic broody hen stink-eye

But after one night she had settled right in. So I figured it was safe to put eggs under her.

The next day (that was yesterday) we swapped out 9 golf balls for a dozen eggs we had been collecting from our breeding group from several days.

I’m pretty sure all the ones on the right are from our Speckled Sussex hen, Lizzie. She lays very light tan eggs, and usually it’s pretty easy to tell hers from the eggs that Feathers lays. But sometimes it wasn’t quite as obvious. Most of the ones on the left are from Feathers who is a Plymoth Barred Rock. They are both in with a Speckled Sussex rooster, Nigel. So Lizzie’s chicks will be pure breed Speckled Sussex. Feathers’ will be Black Sex-links, which means we will be able to tell immediately at hatching if they are male or female. And then there are a couple that I think are from our other Speckled Sussex in our other flock, which means they would also be pure breed. However, they could be from our Black Australorp, or our Golden Laced Wyandotte in that flock as well. In which case, the chicks would just be normal ol’ farmyard hybrids. Nothing special other than the fact that they would probably still lay some great eggs.

Hey, we should come up with a name for our sex-link hybrids. Every hatchery calls theirs something different dependant on the breeds of the parents. Black sex-links are almost always a Rhode Island Red or New Hampshire Red rooster and a Barred Rock hen and the offspring is almost always called a Black Star or Black Rock. Red/Gold sex-links have a much larger variety of breeds as parents, thus have many different “brand” names: Red Star, ISA Brown, Cinnamon Queen, Golden Comet, etc. Hmmmm…, Something to think about.

At any rate, we’ll hopefully have some Speckled Sussex and some sex-link and a couple mystery chicks hatching out in about 3 weeks. I will candle the eggs in about 12 days (I’m not confident in my abilities to candle on day 7) and their projected Hatch Date is June 8th.

I am sooo hoping this works this time. We really want an easy and natural way to replenish our flocks in order to be as sustainable as possible. If we can reliably hatch chicks, we wouldn’t have to purchase new ones, and we could sell some to offset costs.

I’ll keep you updated as we progress.

And this time, no moving of the eggs in the last 4-5 days!

Bluebirds of Happiness

We have bluebirds!

About a year ago, the girls and I built bluebird houses following plans found online. (This is a really good website all about bluebirds and how to make houses for them with lots of different types of plans for houses.)

We modified the plans a bit to use materials we had on hand (mainly just swapping out black ABS pipe for the thinner PVC pipe called for on the plans), but basically we used the plans for the Gilbertson PVC house.

But we made them too late in the season and nothing ever nested in them. But this year they are fighting over them!

Yep, we have at least two “couples” who are arguing over who gets to build their nest in one of the houses. The cool thing is that one of the couples are Western Bluebirds and the other couple are Mountain Bluebirds.

Blue arrows are the Western and white arrows are the Mountain

Looks like the Westerns are winning as they are the ones I see perched on the roof all the time.

The bad thing is that this little coop that it is attached to is actually occupied this year with chicks. That means we go out there several times a day to check on and interact with the chicks. I hope it’s not too much human activity for the bluebirds.

Luckily, the door to access the chicks in on the opposite side from the bluebird house.

Here’s some pictures of us building the boxes last year.

Marked the inside rim of the pipe onto the board to make the bottom plug

Fits great

Nearly perfect. Notice the hole in the middle, along with not fitting 100% perfectly around the edges will allow for drainage if water somehow gets inside.

Drilling a hole to be able to screw in the bottom plug without cracking the plastic pipe.

Scraping the rough edges

Also cut holes near the top as vent holes.

Smoothing out the edges even more.

Checking for proper depth and hole size.

More smoothing

Placing the hanging block.

Attaching everything together. It is all upside down at the moment.

Painting it so it’s not so dark, thus not so hot in the sun.

Taa daa! Installed on our little brooder coop.

And the other one hung on the outhouse. Not sure if anyone is scoping that one out or not.

It was a fun little project, and we are excited that a bluebird family is moving in this year. We plan to have lots more birdhouses around the property as homes for our feathery friends!

How we do this Off-Grid thing

So you all know we live “off-grid” on our homestead in our trailers and are building our house to be off-grid as well.

But what does that mean?

It does not mean that we are completely independent from modern conveniences. I mean, I do drive a vehicle (more than I want to, I admit). We heat our trailers with propane. And there are times our little temporary solar system just does not cut it and we need to run the generator to charge the batteries. Like when the sun hasn’t come out for days.

Or, like today, when we did have some sun, but I didn’t get laundry out on the line in time for it to dry and needed to use the generator to run the clothes dryer.

It’s times like this that I’m very glad for modern conveniences like generators and the gasoline needed to run them.

Big generator pulled up to the well shed to run the dryer

Our washer can run on our small solar system, but the dryer requires more power.

BTW this is how we vent the dryer. We don’t want to put a hole in the shed wall since this is temporary until we can move the washer and dryer into the house. We also route the washer drain out this window.

So, yeah, for us, living off-grid does not mean that we do not rely on the grid. We are not one of those families who live in the wilderness, eating only what we can hunt or gather or grow, heating our house only with wood we can gather, etc. Not by a long shot!

But it does mean that we produce about 90% of our daily (not construction) power needs through our solar system. (And once we are living in the house it will be even more since our solar system will be larger.) And we stock up on propane and gasoline when the storms are threatening. It means that in an emergency situation, we could live quite comfortably for quite a while. And in a long term situation, we could get by without the backup generators if we ran out of gas. Yeah, it might mean not watching TV, and having to do essential bits of laundry by hand and hanging it to dry in front of the fire in the house, but we’d get by till the sun came back out. Way better than most people who rely completely on the grid. For us, it’s about being as self sufficient as is feasible in our current lifestyle. I also like the idea that by using mostly solar power, we are reducing our carbon footprint.

Now, to just get this house built so that we can focus on producing our own food again and be even more sustainable. 😁

Goals for the New Year

We’re not so different than most people this time of year. We eagerly make our goals, we start out with determination, we work hard to accomplish them.

Besides the obvious goal of completeing the house (which barring any more major set backs looks totally doable by summer time), we have quite a few other goals for the homestead and in our personal lives.

One of our goals for the homestead is to get rid of this junk wood.

It’s right at the entrance to our property and looks uuuuugly! I want it gone!

One of the personal goals I have is to work on getting my legs back in shape. I want to start backpacking again and right now, my knees could not handle that. Especially with the injury I sustained this summer.

Remember that?

Laid up with a bum knee in June 2018

Yeah, not fun.

So, I have mapped out a one mile route from our trailer, around the house, up the upper driveway and around Castle Rock and back.

The girls and I will be walking this route every day for a while, then we’ll find a way to extend it and build up our miles as our muscles build up. We will also be taking longer hikes once a week, and this summer I want to go on a couple of backpacking trips.

And while this goal is not specifically about homesteading, I love, love, love that I can walk an entire mile on my own property (well, mostly – part of the driveway is technically on our right-of-way on the neighbor’s property). Also, staying in shape is going to help out with gardening and animal care, etc as we get back into that. Especially on this hilly property, and especially as we get older (I turned 40 last month, so I’m feeling my age a bit). It’s the only way to be even somewhat sustainable here. We gotta stay in shape!

Also, I share this with you all to help hold myself accountable. As all the success gurus tell us, writing a goal down and sharing it with others makes you more likely to follow through.

So, there we are. Building a house. Daily walks. De-junkifying the property. Oh, and I want to have a small garden this year. And chicks! I need some cute little baby chicks in my life once again. And through it all, teaching Flower Girl to read, taking some fun school outings, working my summer job, a big family vacation in July that’s been in the works for a few years now, and of course, deepening my relationship with the Lord.

I’m excited just thinking about it all!

What are some of your goals for 2019?