A proper update

I’ve been stuck indoors for the past few days with a second degree sunburn plaguing my shoulders. It started as just a normal sunburn. We went to observe some potential lands for the ecovillage, and the cloudy day when it was supposed to rain turned out to be sunny. So my pale skin turned into red skin. Then, the day after that I helped my sister with some minor home repairs and property cleanup. That day I wore sunblock… To no avail. The next day I woke up with shoulders covered in blisters so hot and angry that I could not dress. The pain is still there as the skin started peeling off before the skin underneath was ready, and now it’s like my whole shoulders are covered in a thin scab from being rug burned. It hurts.

This really set me off as we had a village meeting that evening. It really highlighted my frustration with a certain point of sexism in our society, the free the nipple movement. It’s not that I’m immodest and wanna shake my titties in front of guys, it’s a matter of comfort. If it’s extremely hot out or I have something like a second degree burn across my shoulders I shouldn’t have to strap something across my boobs (and sub sequentially, my shoulders lest it fall down) just to make a bunch of guys feel better about their lack of self control. Heat is hot. Burns hurt. These are practical, physical realities for men and women. But women are required to toss some fabric on under these conditions anyhow, and that bugs me in a big way. And while the group I was part of probably wouldn’t have cared much if I went topless, I felt uncomfortable about it anyhow. I ended up just tying some fabric around my chest in a band so it didn’t touch my shoulders… But the whole thing felt dumb.
(Fun fact, men weren’t allowed to show their nips either until the 1930’s. Prior to that, men were required to wear swimsuits that covered their chest for modesty reasons. In fact, in the 1910’s men were required to wear swimsuits that didn’t cling too tightly and may have even been required to wear skirts over their boxers so they weren’t so indecent!)

Because of the burn, I was forbidden the outdoors until I could wear a shirt without flinching again, which was about 3 days. When I came out, I found my garden beds were starting to grow with a gusto…. And so were the weeds. The birds had gotten big seemingly overnight and so had the rabbits. Turns out that being absent from your farm for half a week has big impacts!

So I finally got to go weed my garden and take some photos (my camera is still broken so I borrowed a smart phone) this week. There are some exciting updates on the farmstead itself!

Remember the sad, sad tomatoes?

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Surprisingly, they all made it! Some of them are still a little on the smaller side, and some are still recovering. But there’s a huge patch of tomatoes getting bigger by the day growing in my back yard! I have started pinching suckers and blossoms from them. I’m looking to get a crop that I can harvest for canning instead of having them to eat fresh, so I’d like the plants to get extra big before they start fruiting. (I did leave a few blossoms on one plant so we could have a few to eat.)

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I have some onions that got planted very late, but are starting to grow energetically. The patch looks bare from about 10′ away, but if you get close you can see literally dozens of onion sprouts peeking through! I’ve had to remind my helpers that these are onions, not weeds.

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Somehow the corn made it. But with only two stalks, I’m not sure that they’ll actually pollinate and produce. They were pretty weedy. This whole bed has since been weeded.

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The beans and peas are on the northmost wall of my garden bed, but because my lawn isn’t on a true North South line, they are shaded for a few hours in the morning. They’re still growing robustly despite that and are very thick. They’re starting to shade out weeds growing near by.

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And speaking of shading out weeds…. The kale! The kale is growing so thickly and is producing some strong, healthy leaves! We’ve started to eat the occasional leaf on a sandwich. The weeds are struggling to grow under these crowns!

We have a few other plants not shown. The watermelons are starting to recover and spring back with lots of new growth and the strawberries are flowering again. The zucchini is flowering as well, which means delicious vegetables are right around the corner! We’ve had some very serious issues with blossom end rot in previous years… This year we planted the zucchini with a handful of crushed egg shells in the hole. Hopefully we won’t see those problems again this year. And the more wild plants like the shiso leaf, the mint, the lemon balm, the plantago and the dandelions are doing well… But they are struggling against the other, less beneficial weeds in the lawn like the cats foot. I hate that stuff.

We also have a few new faces on the farm!

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Two leghorns and two australorps came to us from another farm recently. It’s been about a month and they have finished their quarantine period.  We waved goodbye to the old leghorn (who wasn’t laying), our newest chick and our chick from last year to make room for these new birds. They’re all pullets still, under 24 weeks, but the leghorns are already laying strong and their eggs are starting to normalize in size. Soon they will be in the pen with all the other birds.

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We also have seven little chicks from some eggs we stuck under our broody. We set a dozen eggs, but like every hatch, there were some problem chicks that didn’t make it. We may even loose one of the ones we have now. It appears to have some unabsorbed yolk, or a small hernia. We brought it indoors to try to recover. Only time will tell. But six chicks is a nice number to have. And our broody hen, a blue Ameraucana, could not be prouder!

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We had our NPIP certificate renewed last month. NPIP is the National Poultry Improvement Plan. If you read my post about vaccines, you’d know that flock health is a pretty important topic to me. NPIP is a simple test provided at a low cost to check for avian influenza and pullorum typhoid. These are both very serious conditions that threaten flocks nation wide. NPIP certification is easy… A tester comes out to test your flock. You get the pullorum result immediately with a simple blood prick test, and a throat swab goes to a lab to check for bird flu. The tester does all the work, you just hand him your chickens. In a flock of a dozen birds they may test 4 or 5 birds. Then you get a certificate.

If a test comes back positive your flock may get destroyed or permanently quarantined to keep these serious diseases from spreading.

Aside from having an official lab test and government agency reassuring buyers that you have a healthy flock (and are willing to risk the entire flock on that fact), NPIP certification is required to ship birds or hatching eggs to most states. The regulations vary a little, but if you don’t have NPIP it’s illegal to take your bird across state lines or to most poultry shows.

Our tests came back clean which means we’ll be able to offer hatching eggs for sale again! Hooray!

So, a lot of exciting and positive things are happening on the homestead this week, despite my arms screaming in pain whenever I lift them above chest level.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go strap some fabric that will assuredly catch on the dry, painful, cracking skin all across these burns to appease the masses while I travel to get some chick feed.

Rabbit Tractor

Earlier in the week Greg and I put together a rabbit tractor. It’s a simple thing, 2X4 posts for the corners, plywood in between at the bottom to support chicken wire for the walls and roof. The chicken wire is “sewn” together between sheets with a spare single wire. The wood is all reclaimed wood or scraps I had lying around. The wire sags and the roof caves in a little. There’s no door on the top (we’re working on that) and getting animals in and out is a pain.

It’s also possibly the best thing on the homestead to date. We’ve been doing an overhaul cleaning of the rabbit cages. We take the rabbits from one half into the tractor and a spare cage, we empty all the litter, bowls, bottles, toys, boxes, etc. and we wash it with a high-pressure spray from the hose and a substantial amount of white vinegar.

I have taken to waking up in the morning, putting some rabbits out and just watching them play while I eat breakfast. It’s amazing. I sip my Chai Tea (fresh mint leaves tucked in) and watch them frolic and munch. It’s so peaceful. It helps me realign myself for the day. And it controls my weeds…!

Kibbles took a turn in the tractor yesterday while we cleaned her cage and Nutro’s. She is nearly four weeks pregnant and eating everything in sight. Once the day was done not a tall blade of grass nor a weed was in sight. Rabbits will go for the big leafy weeds and the sticky stemmy plants first and eat the grass last most days. Most plants are rabbit-safe including ones that are not people safe. Rabbits can even eat tree seedlings without a pause.
When she finally got back into a clean, disinfected cage full of fresh hay she built a solid nest in the back of the cage. I will add a nest box soon, but the cages are wood and were a bit damp still when the bunnies went back in so I want to give her fresh bedding again VERY soon.

Today Purina and her kits took a turn in the tractor. They have cleared not one tractor of space but two of grass and weeds. We cleaned out the other two cages and they are drying some still. I had an opportunity to inspect the kits and I found two of the boys were tiny. I also found they had a bunch of poo stuck to their genitals, enough to actually be considered severe. It may have been causing enough distress for them to be under developed. I’m not sure what happened, but I think mom (or themselves) didn’t clean them enough during their transition to mostly solids and they became poopy, which stuck to mom’s poo and just got worse and worse. Both bunnies were cleaned thoroughly and because they were so underweight I gave them each some honey water. This will not do much but it’ll put enough calories in them to make a small difference. Enough to bounce back I hope. I will do this again for a couple of days.

I am looking forward to having a rabbit or two in the tractor every day from now on. I will be adding a door and putting a tarp over the top as extra shelter soon. The meat chickens will also share in this tractor and grazing duties some day… But for now it’s great just to watch frolicking rabbits!

Cleaning Up the Homestead

The past week or so has been a rough one. We have lost three rabbits (all kits thank goodness) due to various circumstances, two of our hens are broody, our garden is doing as well as any plant I have ever raised (which is to say poorly) and there’s so many things that need fixing, cleaning or replacing it’s incredible. And with me teaching a demonstration on harvesting rabbits for a college class in a week everything has to be ship-shape!

First the kits. We lost two from the litter of nine that Purina gave us and one of the boys growing in the garage. One of the younger kits decided to hide under the nest box and was crushed when all the other siblings got in it (or perhaps mom for feeding time). The second one died recently, we can only think it was from heat stroke but we’re not sure. It wasn’t even crazy hot out that day, but I just walked out to find it long dead in the back of the cage. We gave the rabbits frozen water bottles and we’re hoping we don’t lose any more.
The third rabbit we lost was the second smallest of the rabbits in my garage, all boys, growing out for meat. When I put together the grow out crates (Remember this?) I was in a pinch, low on cash, and needed a quick solution so I bought a $13 roll of the sturdiest deer netting I could find and slapped it on with my dad’s staple gun. Well, since then it worked for months. Then when I started getting baby rabbits consistently they started to chew through. None of the previous rabbits figured that out. Some of them would jump out, but not chew through! The last litter was the worst as they chewed about four holes in one cage. Then this litter began working their way through the other cage. One day after putting all the babies back I brought the dogs in the back yard. Nukka was loose as I went to care for the outdoor rabbits. The next thing I hear is a panicked squeal and I am running to the garage, dropping keys and anything else along the way shouting “NUKKA, NO!”. The wild baby rabbits had just been a few days prior.
Turns out the babies had chewed a hole I hadn’t seen and one felt the need to jump out again almost immediately. Nukka picked it up around the chest and shook it. Oddly she didn’t seem to have broken the skin but I knew right away that the rabbit wasn’t going to make it. I set up to butcher it to put it out of it’s misery and at least get some meat out of it. Nukka seemed rightly ashamed. She crawled out of the garage almost on her belly and lay down at my feet as I got close. She almost rolled onto her back to flash her belly, and she clearly knew (this time at least) that she’d made a terrible choice.
When I processed the rabbit I found the wounds; cracked ribs and punctured lungs filled with blood. I couldn’t find any breaks in the skin even though I tried. A few days later we had some roast rabbit for dinner and the chickens got the organs.

So thing #1 to fix; Grow cages. Actually I already did this. The walls are now metal chicken wire and there is a deer-netting roof instead. Since then? No escaped rabbits at all.

Additionally the baby rabbits somehow had been managing to escape the outdoor cages. I feel like there is a tiny gap in the bottom of the cage and they were deliberately jumping out (why can’t baby rabbits know that staying in one place is GOOD?) to explore. We swapped them into the cage above and moved Evo down below. No more escaped bunnies but that still needs to be sorted out some time.

Thing #2 to fix; Outdoor cages. Not actually sure how I am going to do this.

Our one broody hen started laying again just in time for a second one to go broody. That one should be laying again soon and I sure hope it’s today because a THIRD hen went broody just a few days ago. (Actually I think it was the first hen over again. She may be slated for the stewpot.) So we needed a way to confine her.
We also seriously needed a rabbit tractor. Our “broody buster” for the hens WAS our rabbit tractor, but it was also pretty small. Greg and I set down together and made an animal tractor.

Iams, formerly known as Purple, enjoying her time in the tractor. Iams is Purina’s kit kept over for replacing Evo as a breeder.

I just cut and screwed together some random pieces of wood we had lying around. The design is not the most sturdy; some 2X4’s, plywood, OSB and reclaimed cedar all with only 14 screws holding it in place… It’s wobbly but it works and it’s pretty big at 4’X4’X2′. Just a bit bigger than the cages the outdoor bunnies have. (technically theirs are like 46″X44″ or something.) We’re thinking of making a second, smaller one with what wire we have left or even getting more wire and making a bigger one.
At the end of the month our meat chickens will be coming in as well, so this will be essential to transitioning them outdoors and giving them lots of fresh grass to eat. I really want my animals on pasture more!

The lawn and garage are both a mess. I need to clean and organize both. I leave things scattered throughout my lawn as I work and so it looks pretty bad… A milk-jug here, a plastic bag there, a few random empty plastic pots… And the garage is just a bit of a nightmare with all the scarps of wood around!

I have to finish my strawberry bed. A very nice person got me some reclaimed garden brick edgers that make a circle and were foolishly being used for a square bed. I think they will do great around my strawberries. The strawberries have been the best part of my garden lately. They are ever-bearing so they have been blooming heavily for a while and are now starting to explode in big, red, sugary berries. Not enough to do anything with yet, but enough to enjoy. Additionally I managed to plant a few of the tiny, low to the ground wild strawberries in with my big, tall domestic ones and both kinds are spreading! I started with three plants (two domestic one wild) and now I have about a dozen. They have been sending out runners like mad and I am so delighted. Next year I may have enough to make something out of them!

How the berries looked a week ago. I picked the biggest one of these yesterday as it was already red and turning darker by the moment. Best strawberry I have ever had. There are also more flowers now.

The rest of my plants are only doing so-so. We harvested the peas a while back, and we’re hoping they’ll give us a second crop this year. Our arugula and kale are FINALLY coming in to the point we’ll be able to eat them. Our basil is doing fine and my mother gave me some sweet, mild, purple basil so we have a small forest of it. The cucumbers and zucchini are both blooming but the flowers keep falling off. Our big heirloom tomato is FINALLY blooming and I hope to get some big thick tomatoes out of it. None of the tomatoes I started from seed are more than about 5 inches tall. Poo. We went out and bought a whole bunch of discounted tomato plants recently, though, and we’re hoping to get a good fall crop from them!

The carrots are starting to really come in and the beet leaves are huge but I have no idea how the roots are doing. The onions I think are finally starting to grow their bulbs and most of my wild garlic has gone to seed. That’s good because I would like lots of garlic year after year!

Next year I think the garden will do much better. Come fall during the last days above freezing I will till in our brewing compost and scatter some of the worms I got earlier in the year on it. Then next year I will start my seeds early in more optimal conditions, and plant the seedlings in better locations (like the tomatoes in more sun and the spinach in the shade). Next year our garden will be epic. Live and learn.

The last thing that happened recently was the sudden acquisition of 1.5 gallons of mulberries and a whole box of over-ripe peaches. There was only one thing to do… MAKE LOT OF JAM! 😀

My sister and I sat down with half-a-dozen boxes of pectin, two grapefruits and three bags of sugar. By the end of this Monday we walked away with 10 jars of perfect mulberry jam, three jars of perfect peach/grapefruit marmalade, and 12 jars of somewhat runny peach jam. (All these jars are pints, not half-pint jelly jars!) We even tried re-processing the peach jam with more pectin, sugar and grapefruit juice to no avail. It’s just gonna have to be runny. Either way, not only are we set on jam for a year (or three) but we’re giving some to our parents and to the wonderful person that supplied the fruit to us completely free. It was a good (if hot and sticky) time. Next time I will post some pictures of our jam.

As a side note we ended up having to go to Wal-Mart for more jars much to my regret… The Mainstays Wal-Mart brand jars were just nowhere near as good as the true ball mason jars (they had ball jars there but not pints). We’re not sure all the Wal-Mart jars sealed correctly as some took overnight to pull down the lids… And the jars tried to leak air when we first put them in the canner. The ball jar lids pulled down within minutes every time and we didn’t have any such issues. Just don’t bother using anything but ball jars.

Let’s see how much work I can get done today. My demonstration is in one week. It looks like it’s going to be in-person but I could still record it or stream it if there’s any interest in this. I hope I can get everything finished by then! And after that the meat birds come in!

The work is never done…!