Fall is Here!

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Now that summer has shifted to fall I'd like to share how we did, where we're at, and what's brewin'. If you remember when I welcomed everyone to the homestead in March I set some goals. I pretty much didn't hit any of them. We have peaches, apples, and blueberries (I bought the blueberries) in the freezer, and several jars of apple cider vinegar in the pantry. We harvested tomatoes, carrots, onions, strawberries, peas, rosemary, and arugula out of the garden and the porch potager, but just enough to use on a few meals. We also foraged way more than we anticipated, finding blackberries, pawpaws, and black walnuts on our property. It was a mixed bag. We made a few mistakes along the way, but I'm of the opinion that if we aren't making mistakes we aren't trying new things, and if we aren't trying new things we aren't learning. Am I right?

I worked hard for these carrots, and I'm proud of them!

I worked hard for these carrots, and I'm proud of them!

So while I always think I could have done more, or better, there's no sense in that line of thinking. Yeah, if I had spent all of my spare sunshine filled moments outside I would have grown more and caught weeds earlier, and if I had spent all of the dark hours in the kitchen processing I could have preserved more, but with work, life, taking care of a house, and enjoying my other hobbies, I feel good about what was accomplished. This move was about building a life we are excited to live and I think we're doing that.

Which means this isn't some woe is me post. I don't feel sad. I feel ready to rest and plan so I can refocus and hit the ground running come spring. I also feel ready to gush about my first season change. YOU GUYS, I've never lived anywhere where there was an actual season shift! In Phoenix it just went from blazing hot, to pretty hot, and then random days of coldness you don't actually have the wardrobe to enjoy, but if you dare to put on those boots and scarf at 7am, by noon the chill is gone and you're just hot and sweaty and silly in all those clothes. Don't worry Phoenix, I'll come visit you during those 70 degree January days one year and enjoy them. For now though, I'm ecstatic fall is here.

I cried real tears of joy looking at all the beautiful colors the leaves have changed.

I cried real tears of joy looking at all the beautiful colors the leaves have changed.

So what's brewin'?

The chickens are *this* close to laying. They are 19 weeks old now, and can lay any day. I've switched them to layer feed because I ran out of chick feed last week, and I figured they are close enough. There is no squatting, and their combs and wattles are still light and a little small, so we may still be a few weeks out. They can begin laying anytime between 18 and 24 weeks. Since it is getting darker earlier we installed Christmas lights on a timer in the coop so they should still start laying this year. Chickens need 12 - 15 hours of light to lay. I'm keeping them at 15 with the lights and timer. I have it come on at 5a and turn off at 8a at the moment. As it continues to get lighter later and darker earlier it will be adjusted. So far we've decided no heat in the coop, it's too much of a fire risk. I am instead using the deep litter method which will help insulate them, and I've added straw to the layer of pine shavings. The composting of chicken poo and pine and straw will add a bit of warmth and keep them cozy enough. I'm going to add a hygrometer to the coop so we can make sure it is at least not freezing in there and keep an eye on the humidity. Chickens' feathers help keep them warm, but wattles and combs can be damaged by condensation in freezing temps, so I want to keep it dry and above freezing for them. I need to get that automatic coop door finished so I can stop having to put them in at night and let them out in the morning. It's a cold dark walk now to the coop. I'd rather just refill food and water when it's less dark, and cold, and scary....that is not a priority project so that may be a next year thing. I also have some coop remodeling plans, but more on that later.

Gerald(ine) showing off her darker comb and wattles. Any day now I tell ya!

Gerald(ine) showing off her darker comb and wattles. Any day now I tell ya!

Our utility vehicle has arrived! We really needed one of these this summer while we were mulching, and picking blackberries, peaches, and apples. We got it in time to do the fall mulching, haul building materials to the pasture and garden area, and we'll use it to get the kids from the bus stop (a .20 mile walk from our front door) in bad weather. It will also haul kids back up the hill during winter sledding. A great multi-use vehicle. We went with a Kawasaki Mule Pro FXT EPS. We have a roof and sides for it, but leave them off on sunny, beautiful days.

The bed can hold a few things.

The bed can hold a few things.

The barn is getting an upgrade! We've begun getting quotes on framing half of it for a woodshop and loft, and upgrading the electricity. This will give us great lumber, feed, hay, and straw storage, and give Jared the space and power he needs to build stuff we need. The other half of the barn will stay horse stalls so we have a space to keep infirm animals, or bring them in during really bad weather. We'll also keep the open area outside the stalls to store the mower, and become the garden storage area. The garage is a bit tight with mower, the UTV, and the kids new motor toys in it. I really wish I could have shared a photo of the inside of the barn with you, but it's like a flypocalypse in there. For real. It's freaky and we haven't figured out where they are coming from or how to get rid of them yet. Maybe they'll just die off with the first frost? Hopefully soon, 'cuz we got work to do in there. 

Something is coming to the pasture this spring to keep the hay down. We don't know what yet. The neighbor girl and Orion begged to raise steers for 4-H this year. I was initially excited and gung-ho for it until I realized Orion doesn't do well at remembering to take care of the dogs, and steers are large and expensive to feed. I also couldn't find much info on whether you can raise a grass fed steer for 4-H. We're doing this thing we got going on here so we could raise animals in a sustainable, environmentally friendly way, and I'm not sure those animals are competitive at our fair. They might be though! I have more research to do! There are literally cows grazing everywhere we turn, so I want to think more cows are grass fed than I originally thought. Saying no to this was the first real adult decision I had to make. I'm so excited for all the animals my initial reaction is to say yes to all of them. We also haven't officially been to a 4-H meeting or joined a club. That should happen this month though. I'm thinking we should start with a market lamb, or goat. Though, I haven't researched the 4-H methods for raising those animals yet either. I'm hopeful it's mostly pasturing. I've begun passing the chicken care torch to Orion so he can practice caring for an animal that doesn't live in the house. I've had to monitor him closely and double check everything he does to ensure the chickens are receiving proper care. I'll write more about how it's going and what steps I'm  taking in the future, along with what we decided to raise for 4-H. Or didn't. If he can't handle chickens he can't handle a goat or lamb. So far he's doing great though!

It's already getting wild in there again!

It's already getting wild in there again!

Another thing coming to the pasture will be goats. I've saved enough money for them and their shelter, along with the fencing we need to install to split the pasture up so we can rotate grazing. Come spring I would like a few doe kid Nigerian Dwarfs so we can start raising our milkers. As much as I'd like to buy pregnant does and start the birthing, rearing, and milking at once, I also like the idea of hand raising each of our starter animals. This will also allow us to learn one thing at a time. We got all our lives for this. No need to rush!

We also hope to raise some meat chickens come spring. I found great chicken tractor plans for pasture raising meat birds. We'll build it this winter. We plan to take them to a butcher to do the dirty work the first year. We need to buy a chicken plucker, have enough fridge space to rest the meat before freezing, and I'd like to have some hands on learning in butchering before I commit us to that. Incorrectly (or inhumanely) butchering an animal you've raised could have devastating emotional effects on ourselves and the kids (not to mention that would be the opposite of our meat raising intentions for the animal), so I'm putting a lot of thought into how to start this. I've been ordering our meat from the Amish and Mennonites in the area for the time being. I'm guessing for a fee they would be willing to process a small amount for us. If they won't I know of several packing companies within 30 minutes.

The garden is getting a makeover this winter. We plan to fence it in, and build raised beds. I'm also going to figure out how to get some sort of weed preventing cloth over the soil and roots. I will not repeat the mess we have again. I need to get in there and weed around strawberry plants soon because their bed will remain an in ground bed. The strawberry plants flourished despite my neglect, so we're going to do our best with them as they are!

The far off future includes bees, hogs, turkeys, a milking cow, and a rooster. From where I sit it feels like a far off future, but if we find we are efficiently raising our new additions and not breaking the bank it may not be as far as I imagine. We will save some grocery budget money raising some of our own meat and growing more veggies, but the items required to do it all right can be costly.

I'm amazed I got anything out of this mess I made! Just goes to show how good mother nature is at what she does!

I'm amazed I got anything out of this mess I made! Just goes to show how good mother nature is at what she does!

I'll hold off making actual garden plans until it's closer to when I need to get starters going. I did, however, order two fig trees and they are in the ground. I was feeling nostalgic about Aurora turning 6 last week, so naturally I decided we had to have figs for me to nurture and they arrived via Fed Ex from Fast Growing Trees. I'll write a separate post all about them soon. They went on each side of the barn's large sliding door on the South side. I almost put them in the orchard, but these need a bit more protection than our other trees. The orchard is going to get some TLC this winter and spring, but I'm not sure what it needs yet. A good mulching and some fertilizer is definitely going to happen though.

Here's hoping they make it through the winter! They are Chicago Cold Hardys, so I'm expecting them to do fine as long as we don't accidentally run them over.

Here's hoping they make it through the winter! They are Chicago Cold Hardys, so I'm expecting them to do fine as long as we don't accidentally run them over.

Whew, as usual I'm ambitious in my plans. Seriously, as I wrote, more just came out! I can't help but be excited about where we've been, what we've accomplished, and where we're headed.

So how is your family doing? Any garden or animals plans you're going to be prepping for this fall and winter? I would love to hear about it! Comment below or on Facebook.

This post contains ads & affiliate links (this links to our full disclosure about browser cookies, and way more than you probably wanted to know about ads and affiliate marketing). We make a small commission when you purchase from some of the links shared in this post. Making a purchase from a link will not cause you to pay more or affect your purchase in any way. It will however, support our wildest farmin' dreams, which is mighty awesome of you.