These Three Months On the Homestead: May Flowers, June Berries and July Chickens
May, June and July 2021
I have not disappeared into the woods. Or lost my internet connection. Or forgone my enthusiasm for inundating the internet with chicken photos. I’ve just been…. busy! Not even an interesting or original excuse, but the plain truth. I didn’t anticipate or prepare for the fantastic upending of our routines brought by this summer.
As I shared in my last Monthly Expense Report, it was a summer of visitors and house guests on top of our normally hectic summertime activities of planting, maintaining and harvesting our gardens. Plus chickens! Do not forget the chickens!
Next summer, I hope to be more prepared, to maybe even–GASP–write some stuff ahead of time (!!!). But this summer cascaded over our parched isolation, washing away the fifteen months we spent alone as a family of four, necessitating we bring the folding chairs out of the basement to accommodate all the friends around our table.
I neglected to do the July Uber Frugal Month Group Challenge, I haven’t written all the posts I promised to (including the details of our mortgage pay-off!), my email inbox is a horror show and… probably a lot of other transgressions. But this was a summer to lean into the season of life I found myself in–the season of family after the drought, the season of warmth and seedlings and baby chicks.
Fall’s on the horizon, my kids will actually go to IN-PERSON SCHOOL for the first time since March 2020 and I am ready to write.
Thank you for hanging on during this summer of infrequent posts, unanswered emails and comments and what I’m sure amounts to blog neglect (technical term).
Join me today on a retrospective of May, June and July 2021–the Rumspringa of life after* a global pandemic.
*note: the pandemic is not over yet, as exemplified by the horrifying surge of the Delta variant. Please stay safe, get vaccinated if you can and mask up!
Welcome to my series documenting life on our 66-acre Vermont homestead, which we moved to in May 2016 from urban Cambridge, MA. Wondering about the financial aspects of rural life? Check out: City vs. Country: Which Is Cheaper? The Ultimate Cost Of Living Showdown as well as my monthly expense reports. Contemplating going rural? Here ya go: Want To Move To The Country? 15 Things To Consider.
Babies No More! A Chicken Update
I’ll try to pick up where I left off in the last This Month On The Homestead, which covered the month of April. Since then, Mr. Frugalwoods finished the chicken coop and the chickens moved in!
Not that I didn’t love having twelve cheeping poopers living in my kitchen, but I think everyone is happier when there’s some separation between farm animals and farm house. For anyone considering baby chicks, I can report they really are easy to take care of (a maxim I eyed suspiciously when researching our flock).
The bebe chicks required:
- A pen to live in (called a “brooder,” in chicken keeper parlance). We borrowed our neighbor’s galvanized steel farm animal water trough, which is enormous, but was the requisite size to house twelve chicks.
- A brooder cover. Unnecessary prior to chicken flight-related abilities. Very necessary post-flight unless you wish to find chickens roosting all over your house. We initially used a fitted twin sheet, clipped to the side of the pen with binder clips. We later moved to bird netting. also clipped to the sides with binder clips, because it allowed greater air flow for the birds.
Warmers. We borrowed this warming plate from one friend and this warming plate from another (affiliate links). The traditional way to warm chicks is via heat lamp, but those things are notorious for burning your house down. Tragically, that happened to several homes in our area this spring. Given this horrifying data point, we opted for the more modern heat plate option. HUGE thanks to our friends A & C and L & D for lending us their chick warming plates!
- Feeder and waterer. Also borrowed from friends. Thank you to RG and AL!
- Shavings and food. Purchased from Tractor Supply.
- Cleaning of water dish daily (to remove poop-related articles), refills of food as needed, changing of shavings every few days.
- Butt checks. As babies, chicks can get a bum blockage, which will kill them if not treated. I checked each chick bum twice a day (that’s 24 bums per day). To remove found blockages, I soaked the back end of the chick in a bowl of warm water until the blockage sloughed off. I cannot stress enough just how much I’m living the dream.
- Cuddling and dress-up time. I read that the more they’re handled as chicks, the more likely they are to enjoy/tolerate people as grown chickens. So far, in our limited sample size (with no control group… ), this appears true. I did not find any research related to the necessity/efficacy of dressing chicks up in My Little Pony outfits, but I can report they looked great while so dressed and tolerated hanging out inside the kids’ dollhouse, doll bathtub and also doll jeep.
Please note I am a mature + responsible adult and definitely did not drink wine with my (fully vaccinated) visiting best friend from high school and dress chickens up in bridal wear intended for plastic toy horses.
- Names. Chickens require beautiful names, ideally names I would’ve given my human offspring if I’d had twelve of them. Kidwoods assisted with the naming process and I printed out a sheet to help us remember. Turns out, 12 is a lot of names. We have six different breeds of chickens and two of each breed, which facilitates the telling apart of the chickens:
- Lavender Orpingtons (Anastasia and Margot), Golden Comets (Lilac and Daisy), Buff Orpingtons (Genevieve and Adelaide), Black Australorps (Astrid and Lily), Ameraucanas (Millie and Maude), and Barred Rocks (Gwendolyn and Arabella).
- Littlewoods has no use for these names and calls every chicken “Leelee.”
Chicken Coop Completion and Move-In
I gave a video tour of the coop on Instagram the other day, which you can view here, if so inclined. Mr. FW did a fantastic job–in the opinion of me and the chickens–of creating a coop system that meets our goals of:
1) Predator protection. As our name implies, we live in the woods. Other creatures also live in the woods and they like the taste of chicken. These creatures include, but are not limited to: coyotes, raccoons, foxes, weasels and bears. Our coop has to be Chicken Fort Knox in order to retain our desired goal of live chickens.
- Mr. FW used hardware cloth to cover every single opening of the coop so that furry paws cannot burrow inside.
- A solar-powered electrified electronet fence surrounding the exterior of the coop, to give the chickens a safe space in which to free range.
- An enclosed staircase leading to the interior of the coop
- A raccoon-proof lock (a carabiner) for the main coop door. We discovered that carabiners are also young child-proof.
2) Large-ness. Since we don’t suffer for space out here on our 66 acres, we wanted a coop big enough for twelve chickens (and possibly more… ). This coop is more than adequate for the number of birds residing therein.
3) Two different spaces for free-ranging. There’s an enclosed pen underneath the coop that’s open on the bottom, to allow free ranging under the shade of the coop itself. Then, there’s the large grassy area around the coop encircled by the electronet fence. This gives the chickens shady and sunny areas in which to forage and scratch around.
4) Roosting bars. Mr. FW built three coop-length roosting bars for the chickens to roost-a-toost on. They seem to like these.
5) A nesting box. Chickens apparently like to lay their eggs in relative peace, so Mr. FW built a nesting box onto the back side of the coop. It’s accessible from the interior of the coop and will provide the hens with a spot for egg laying. It also–helpfully–opens via latch on the exterior, to allow for ease of egg removal by humans. This, theoretically, prevents the hens from laying eggs in inopportune locales. Our chickens aren’t yet egg-laying age (18 weeks), so I’ll let you know how this ends up working in practice!
6) Beauty. As an appreciator of aesthetics, Mr. FW wanted the coop to look lovely. I selected Stiletto Red paint (which, side note is like, REALLY red), white trim for the framing and a green stainless steel roof. Originally, we wanted a grey steel roof, but there weren’t any in stock and so… we ended up with an accidental Christmas coop, which you know I love.
7) Move-ability. Mr. FW designed and built this coop to be moved. It’s on skids and the idea is that we’ll pull it with the tractor to a new spot in the yard every month or so. The reason for this is to give the chickens fresh grass to forage through. It also prevents the area under their coop from becoming muddy, chicken-poop land.
8) Air flow. Mr. FW cut windows and vents into the coop to allow fresh air to circulate. Every opening is covered by hardware cloth. In the winter we’ll add additional coverage, likely translucent plastic roofing, to keep out snow and icy chill.
Chickens are straightforward animals, which I appreciate. After the chicks reached six weeks of age, and the coop was complete, we moved them out of the kitchen and into the coop. They appear thrilled with the arrangement. How can you tell a chicken is thrilled? Actual question. Let me know if you know.
Cattle Panel Installation
Not for cattle, for our vegetable garden! We do no-till mounds and, in past years, wire and string strung between t-posts. This was a pain because we had to constantly tie and re-tie plants and then cut everything down at the end of the season.
This year? Cattle panels. I had no idea what a cattle panel was before Mr. FW brought 8 of them home in the truck.
Sadly, they are not panels of wood with images of cows wearing old time-y outfits with holes cut out for you to stick your face through. They’re just huge wire panels. Disappointing.
At any rate, I nominated myself to install these things by myself and…. it mostly worked. I did pound a few t-posts in upside down, but no worries, you just pull them back out and flip them over.
The panels are like 16 feet long, so there was some awkwardness vis-a-vis me trying to mount them on the t-posts, but I figured out that if I could get the middle section tied up with wire twine, the two ends could sorta flop around until I tied them to additional posts.
One of the reasons we wanted to homestead was to learn new skills. And while I’m not going to be a professional cattle panel installer (good thing since no one would hire me), I liked being out there in the dirt, figuring out something I’ve never done before.
In theory, we can leave these panels up year after year, much like our no-till mounds. However. AFTER I installed ALL of the panels, I looked around and realized it would be MUCH more efficient if our mounds were, ya know, like, the same length as the panels.
Instead, the mounds are several feet longer than each panel. I direct sowed carrots and kale on those mound ends, but none of them germinated. Not one single plant. Which I take to be a symptom of ‘cattle panel envy.’ Welp. Better luck next year, Mrs. Frugalwoods.
In early June, we put all the plants in the ground. Allllll those itty bitty seeds I started in our kitchen back in April bloomed into glorious little planties. Or they died.
Once frost was no longer a fear, into the ground they went. We have two different annual gardens–which is to say, gardens we have to plant every year:
- The big vegetable garden
- The raised beds
The big vegetable garden–the one with the cattle panels–is located down yonder from the house and houses the biggest veggies:
- Ground Cherries
- Bush beans
- Snap peas
The raised beds are the four beds right off the back porch that Mr. FW built last spring. They house:
- Mixed gemstone greens
- Hotshot greens
In general, I start all of the ‘big garden’ veggies from seed and I direct sow the seeds for the raised beds.
As of this writing, we’re awash in salad greens, herbs and bush beans. The strawberries are already past their season and packed away in my freezer. The snap peas all died. Whoops.
To date, I’ve harvested three cucumbers, two peppers, seven ground cherries and about two dozen tomatoes. Tomato production should accelerate in the coming weeks! Peppers too! Not sure about the cukes and ground cherries–they look pretty anemic.
Oh and pumpkins and squash! Almost forgot about those guys. They look pretty good, fingers crossed for another year of Halloween decorations :).
In the perennial food department, the following came ripe in June and July:
- Currants! These little black berries seem to love living here and our three plants produced enough berries for Mr. FW to make 11 quarts of currant jam.
- Blueberries! Our 28 plants started ripening and we got several solid harvests. These’ll continue to ripen through August.
- Strawberries! We put bird netting over these plants this year, which greatly increased our yield and decreased our role as neighborhood wild animal salad bar.
- Cherries! Some foul varmint ate every single ripe cherry from our four bushes, reinforcing our inclination that we need to put bird netting over them next year…
The Tractor in Summer Months
Once its role as snowblower and snowplow ended for the season, Mr. FW put the brush hog attachment on the back and mowed our fields. If we don’t mow at least twice a season, every open field will eventually (actually quite quickly!) return to forest. To keep any parcel of land open here, you gotta mow–the force of the forest is strong!
Other summer tractor activities include:
- Moving all remaining house firewood off the porch and back to the woodshed.
- Grading and re-grading our 1/4 mile long, hilly, gravel driveway to try and combat the damage caused by rain, frost, snow, children and mud.
- Winching in felled trees from the woods to be chopped up for firewood to heat our home.
- Clearing our hiking trails.
Flower Bed Renovation: Complete!
You may remember the flower bed renovation project I started back in April. This flower bed is located quite close to our back porch and was filled with black raspberry and blackberry canes. A good thing, right? Right! Until the canes contracted orange rust disease, which can spread to other caned plants.
As the disease swept through this bed, I realized I’d need to pull them out by their roots. And so I did. I used a shovel and pitchfork to dig and loosen the roots and then leather gloves to pull the thorny canes out of the ground. I conducted two rounds of extraction because the canes grew back a month after my first uprooting.
Thankfully I had my teenage niece and nephew here and was able to
coerce convince them to do the second eradication for me. And that seems to’ve taken care of it. I imagine some will come up next spring, but I’ll be ready for them.
This project took me many days. Many, many, many days. But, it was worth it to reveal all of the lovely perennial flowers planted in this bed AND to (hopefully) eliminate orange rust disease from our yard.
Good friends came over to help us rake and gather all the pulled canes and we burned them in the fire pit that night, roasting hotdogs and marshmallows in their memory.
New Year’s Resolutions Check-In
This is more for me than for you, buuuuuttttt, as I shared in this post, I made two straightforward New Year’s intentions/resolutions/goals for The Year of Our Covid, 2021:
- I will hike every single day.
- I will spend 1,000 hours outside with my kids.
As with most other things in my life, summer spelled the death knell of these two goals. Not because I no longer value them, not because I didn’t do them, but because other things took over my mental energy and my physical activity.
The kids spent so much time outside these past three months that it became impossible to keep up with tracking their hours.
It was easy in the winter when we’d be out in the snow for a specific block of time, but in the summer? My girls are in and out of the back porch screen door allllllllll day long.
They’re old enough to spend time alone outside as long as they’re within sight of the house, and they use that privilege every day. I love this! But, I quickly realized it would be more stressful to track their outside time than to just let them have free rein of the outdoors. Go forth and be feral, my woods children!
In terms of my hiking goal, I still hiked most days, but some days my outside activity was funneled into installing cattle panels or digging out blackberry canes or going swimming at the lake. As summer winds down and our visitors taper off, I’m focusing on my daily hiking goal once again.
After moving here, we had solar panels mounted on our barn roof. My full write-up on the panels is here and I include a solar update in this series.
This is the only way for me to remember that: a) I have solar; b) you all would like to be updated on it.
- In May, we generated 755 kWh
- June raked in 830 kWh
- July saw 607 kWh
For context, in January 2021, our panels generated 95 kWh and in July 2020 we raked in 816 kWh.
Since our electric company offers net metering, we’re able to bank our summer and fall sunshine for use in the winter, which keeps our electric bill low year-round, even when the sun isn’t shining.
This has been your solar production update. You’re welcome.
Want More Fotos?!
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