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Sunday, February 28, 2021

2020 Homestead Recap

Lists!  I'm a list maker!  So here, in no particular order, is my recap and lessons learned for 2020 and dreams and opportunities for 2021.

Built a Greenhouse!
It is a Texas Prepper 2 hoop style greenhouse.   During the summer I had the south side wall rolled up and the frame covered in tule fabric to keep out bugs.  The tulle allowed a lovely breeze to keep the greenhouse cool during those hot, humid, Southern days and worked for keeping out most of the mosquitos.  During the winter I double layered the plastic and during the worst nights, hung old sheets inside and ran a small space heater.  Pricey on the electricity, but on a 12*F night, it kept it just above 40*F.  I didn't build real doors - just roll up the plastic on the ends.  I love this baby.  
  • Built it all myself!
  • Had to have help moving the bottom frame into place - could not build the frame in place because I did not design my little orchard to have space for a greenhouse - Permaculture Type One Error - Although I would not trade this little lovely greenhouse - if I had planned for the possibility 5 years ago, what a better setup I would have.  Still, my little space is the jungle is wonderful.
  • 200 feet of heavy outdoor contractor extension cord was the best thing I did.  And the second best thing I did after it got run over by our bush hog... repaired the original, but no longer feel comfortable leaving it outside in our temperate rain forest and mud climate.

Firsts are usually done on a small scale for fun and exploration.  The goal is to usually spend $25 or less on a project.  If I can do it for less than $5, even better.  The nutrients for the Kraty were kind of pricey, but the other projects cost me $5 or less and used stuff I already had, so I figured it averaged out and splurged.  And the pH meter and PPM meter were things I was going to buy anyway.  Or so my story goes.
  • Overwintered lettuce and mixed greens. Fresh salad greens for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  And the bok choi survived the February snow and ice storm.

  • Made microgreen bowls in old Panera Bread salad bowls for winter cut and come again lettuces under grow lights during early spring 2020 - the fall outdoor lettuce were way less work and produced more food - but the bowls were fun.  Bring to the kitchen to harvest and put them back out the next morning.  I mean, even less than 5 minutes from harvest to tummy.
  • Tried the Kratky method for growing some herbs - the containers that I used were generally too small, and with the heat of summer, the plants just sucked up the nutrients - they grew well, but I killed the herbs through neglect and evaporation.  The cuttings I took from tomato plants are sitting on my kitchen counter right now just waiting for the sun to return.

  • Growing ginger - started a few rhizomes from the store.  Currently living a kraty-ish hydroponic life.  May plant some in pots outdoors.  We have winters way too cold for ginger.  Can I overwinter enough of them to continuously have my own starts for the summer?  In 5 months of heat and humidity, can they produce enough for me to use each year?
  • Grew enough flowers to have flowers in the house all summer - I've never been one to grow my own flowers - but with working from home, I wanted to bring some of the outside inside.

The Good
The good things are either things that were wildly successful (to me, anyway), or brought me a special joy.
  • Greenhouse - built a greenhouse on the cheap using the Texas Prepper 2 method, and I love it!  Extended my season and even though I brought the plants indoors before I went on a month long trip in mid-January, it allowed me to overwinter some tomato plant cuttings.  Of course, I didn't label them, so I will have a bed of "Surprise!" tomatoes this year.
  • Tenacity - a number of small disasters happened, and there was some sad and unexpected loss of chicken life - but I am resilient and we made it through
  • First Luna moth sighting - sitting on my greenhouse screen door.  I had heard that we were in their territory, but in nearly a decade here, this was the first one I had seen.

  • Chickens - proved I can raise up chickens and have mama chickens raise up chickens, even in winter.  Winter is a brutal time to raise babies.  My preference is to not.

  • COVID work from home gave me 10-14 hours a week back in my life to hang out and enjoy the homestead (although I miss driving 90 MPH down the highway).
  • Tea in the garden before work!  Hot chocolate in the greenhouse at night! Fresh blackberries and raspberries to graze on any time I was in the garden.  These little 4 inch sticks from Stark Bros. that I planted out two years before had found their stride.  Berry heaven!  I am in the process of lining all of my garden fencing with bramble berries!  Sweet wonderfulness!
  • Temporary electricity to the greenhouse for heating - and for my lovely little string of decorative lights.  I hope they survived the deep freeze.
  • Pumpkins - in spite of squash bugs gallor, both the Rouge Vif D'Etampes and the Musquee de Provance pumpkins thrived, each one producing 3 - 4 medium sized pumpkins.  I didn't cure them well, though, so while some made it as puree into the freezer, most went to the chickens when they started to go soft.  C. moschata and C. maxima - so they should not have crossbred.  The only two squash I grew.  Got more than 100 seeds of each.  Will see if they come true to seed this year.
  • Ordered my 2021 season seeds early in January - a little late for me - but still got most all that was on my list.  Who knew that by late February most of my faves would be sold out.  

The Bad
Things that didn't turn out so well.  Mostly due to my fault.  Some of which I seem to keep repeating over the years.  But the list is short, because how much bad can their be when you get to live in a little slice of heaven? 
  • Spent too much money on seeds that I didn't plant.  Did not improve this for the 2021 season.
  • Wasted time on things other than the homestead garden and chickens
  • Procrastinated a lot - and Procrastination Kills Plants
  • Cold Spring and late Last Frost caused some plants to die.  Especially since I wasn't Johnny-on-the-spot with frost blankets.
  • Finishing my Masters during the early growing season really cut into the time I spent caring for chickens and plants
  • Lost the two tomato plants from seed that I got from my sister from another mother's mom due to weather and mostly neglect.  I have a few more seeds.  Going to try again.
  • Did not react fast enough to predator issues with chickens and lost all of my old birds and some of my very young birds (thus having to raise babies in winter).
Surprises from 2018
The debacle of the winter sowing experiment of 2018 yielded some puny scrawny salvia, hyssop and rudbeckia plants.  They kind of limped along in 2019.  And in 2020 they found their stride and went bananas!

Keep Doing This
  • Trying new things
  • Going outside every day, even if the weather is cruddy and outside is sitting on the back porch for 5 minutes
  • Growing things
Stop Doing That
  • Spending time and money on people and things I don't love and care about
  • Acquiring stuff for stuff's sake
Opportunities for 2021
  • Spring plant sale - can I sell 1000 tomato plants, 500 pepper plants and 500 herb plants?  That is 2000 plants in addition to the starts that I will start for myself.  Oh, and cuttings.  Can I grow some weeping willow, variegated willow, hybrid poplar and dogwood cuttings?
  • Repair garden fencing
  • Provide mobile fencing for chickens and maybe tractors to get them out on the land more
  • Improve perimeter fencing to keep dogs from wandering
  • Farm Stand - eggs, tomatoes, other produce, sunflowers, zinnias, cosmos and "canning jar bouquets"
  • Enough berries to make a jar of jam?
  • Small scale canning - ordered an electric pressure canner - do I sell my loverly All American?
  • Set up to have baby sex-linked chicks for next Spring
  • Sunflower seeds, pumpkins and such for chickens, deer, song birds and other wild life - can I grow pumpkin and sunflowers in the field under the power wires?
  • Can I make $1000 in revenue from my homestead?  If I make $3000 I might actually make a profit?

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Introducing New Chickens to the Flock

Gardening in Middle Tennessee
Generally speaking, I prefer to raise chicks up in the late spring and early summer so that they are ready to integrate into the flock while the weather is still warm. There are a number of advantages to growing out chicks during this time. One is that they can come out of the brooder sooner, both in terms of permanantly being out of the brooder and for enjoying short excursions outside of the brooder. Another is that they will likely skip their first autumn molt. The important one for me, however, is that they will come into lay during winter and all of those young chicken hormones will keep them laying right through the dark of winter. The chicks in this video were born in October and I can say from experience that it takes more feed and more time to raise up babies during that time. And due to cold weather, the babies could only be outside to hang out acroos the fence from their future flock-mates for only a few hours or so during the heat of the day.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Chicks for 2021

Homesteading in Middle Tennessee
I will be offering day-old (few days old) and "out of the brooder" age chickens for sale again in 2021.  Here is a photo shoot video of some of the Class of 2017.  If you are interested in the Spring Class of 2021, please email me at