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We are getting very close to moving to the farmhouse now! We plan on starting slow, but our slow is probably different than the normal slow. Our slow includes growing at least one variety of every vegetable we can, starting our own poultry flock for meat and eggs, and seeking out other small livestock to help and feed us on our homesteading venture. Since I already posted a link for the veggies we’ll be growing this year, I figured it might be fun to post a bit about the animals we’d like to start raising this year as well.

First of all, the obvious choice for anyone starting a small farm: chickens. We plan on getting a nice flock of heavy, brown-egg birds like Buff Orpingtons. I’ve had a lot of experience raising Buffs, and they are probably the most friendly birds I have acquainted myself with. They lay fairly well all year long, and are good eating if the need arises. Another good thing about them is the fact that they go broody and are good mothers, which makes buying and maintaining an incubator unnecessary. Since we’d like to propagate our own flock, broodiness and mothering factor high among the traits we are looking for.

Along with Buffs, we’d like to start a small flock of fancy birds. My husband has fallen head over heels for Sumatras, so the Buffs will have some fancy, black buddies in the coop. One of the rules we are going by with every animal we consider is that it has to provide some sort of help or food source for us or we won’t get it. The Sumatras are fancy birds, but they still lay eggs and have good quality meat. As the kids get older, I think they will enjoy raising these gorgeous birds for the fair. I know I had a lot of fun with my Black Australorps when I was younger.

Ducks are also on our list of animals to raise, because we LOVE duck meat. I’ve actually never had a duck egg, but I’m sure those are tasty, too! While I love the look of runner ducks, I’m not sure how they would work out as meat birds, being so thin. So after crossing runners off the list, I thought Khaki Cambells would make a good addition. But… we won’t have a pond until we can get the site cleared and dug out, probably for at least 1-2 years from now. That really narrowed the possibilities of ducks until I heard about Muscovies. Muscovies are tree ducks from Africa that are bred for their flavorful meat. They get a lot larger than the average duck, regularly set their own clutches of eggs, aren’t nearly as noisy as most duck breeds, and are very friendly with both humans and other animals. In the research I have done, they have been said to severely reduce the fly populations on farms because they not only pick up spilled feed from other breeds but actively seek out larvae. I think the Muscovy would be a welcome addition on our little farm, even if my husband thinks they are ugly birds. (I think they’re cute.)

The last animal on our first year list is the pig. We’d like to start off with 2-3 weaner pigs to help us clear the way for future gardens and the overgrown pond site. Hopefully we’ll be able to keep one sow to fallow the following spring. Have you ever researched pig breeds? There are a lot of different pigs! It’s amazing, because the only pigs I have seen are pot-belly breeds or Durocs. On my researching journey through dozens of different breeds that would do well in Michigan, I found Mangalitsa pigs. These fuzzy little pigs are well-known for their hardiness in colder and mountainous climates, and for their ability to convert readily availalable natural foods (like acorns and potatoes) into a finely marbled meat that rivals all others. I think these little piggies would do very well on the homestead.

So that completes our first year in animals: chickens, ducks, and couple pigs. In future years, we’d like to try raising geese, turkeys, rabbits, worms, goats, sheep, or perhaps even a small dairy cow. I guess we’ll see when we get there!

As a final note, we are currently searching for breeders of Muscovy ducks and Mangalitsa pigs. If you know of anyone in our area, please pass on their information! Thanks!

We got our first seed catalogs in the mail, and there’s one in particular that I am very excited about. It’s from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, a company that only sells heirloom (aka non-hybrid) varieties. It’s the only one I have heard of that has taken such a bold stance against GMO’s, and I am thinking that is the kind of company that I would like to support. So, after browsing through their catalog and their online store, I came up with a wish list of varieties I would like to try.

Guess how much my wish list would cost? $324!! Ouch and a half. So I did some paring. I cut it in half, and now we are down to a more reasonable $144. That will still give us a lot of produce, but with very little variety. I’m excited to be able to get heirloom seeds, because this means that with any luck I’ll be able to save them for the next year or two. I have some experience saving seeds. I know how to do beans, peas, corn, tomatoes, peppers, squash, onions, and some herbs. However, I have no experience with things like eggplant and carrots. Carrots sound like a lot of fun, though, from what I have been reading. Since they are a biennial crop, I’ll have to save a couple dozen carrots from this year’s haul, replant the entire roots next spring, and wait for the flower heads to form and wither.

So, would you like to know what varieties I have decided on? I thought you might be curious. Here is my pared-down list in alphabetical order by vegetable:

  • Artichoke – Violetta Precoce
  • Beans – Contender, Dragon’s Tongue, Jacob’s Cattle, Purple Podded Pole, King of the Garden Lima, Thai #3 Extra Long
  • Beetroot – Albino Beet
  • Broccoli – Waltham 29
  • Brussels Sprouts – Long Island Improved
  • Cabbage – Couer de Bouef des Vertus
  • Carrots – Amarillo, St. Valery
  • Cauliflower – Purple of Sicily
  • Celery – Tendercrisp
  • Corn – Cherokee Long Ear Popcorn, Country Gentleman Sweetcorn, Wade’s Giant Indian Corn
  • Cucumber – Delicatesse, Parisien Pickling
  • Eggplant – Casper, Listada de Gandia
  • Garden Berries – Wonderberry
  • Gourd – Birdhouse
  • Grain – Rice Blue Bonnet
  • Kohlrabi – Early White Vienna
  • Leek – Giant Musselburgh
  • Melons – Golden Honeymoon, Green Machine, Collective Farm Woman
  • Onions – Jaune Paille des Vertus
  • Parsnips – Hollow Crown
  • Peas – Alaska Garden, Oregon Sugar Pod II Snow
  • Peppers (hot) – Cayenne Long Thin, Craig’s Grange Jalapeno
  • Peppers (sweet) – California Wonder, King of the North, Purple Beauty, Yellow Monster
  • Rhubarb – Victoria
  • Rutabegas – American Purple Top
  • Squash (summer) – White Scallop, Golden Zucchini
  • Squash (winter) – Connecticut Field Pumpkin, Gill’s Golden Pippin Acorn, New England Sugar Pie
  • Tomatoes – Aunt Ruby’s German Green, Golden Sunrise, Brandywine, Paul Robeson, Amish Paste, Jujube Cherry, Big Rainbow, Cream Sausage, Roman Candle
  • Watermelon – Moon and Stars, Cream of Saskatchewan

I also want to get a few flowers for decoration and eating purposes. These are the flowers I will order this year:

  • Mammoth Grey Sunflower
  • Blue Reflections Sweet Pea
  • Cardinal Climber Morning Glory
  • Burpee Rose Giant Cactus Zinnia

So that’s it. Now that you can see my pared down list, can you imagine what was on my big wish list? Haha! I’m such a nut for variety!

I showed you mine, now you show me yours. What will you be growing this year?

Living in the city provides many distractions. There’s the library, walking downtown, going out for ice cream, stopping at the wifi cafe formerly known as Beaners, the multitudes of playgrounds scattered all over town, the movie theatre, the pool at the high school, the multiple little shops lining the main drag, and the availability of electronic devices to provide entertainment. There’s never a shortage of movie rental outlets, television stations, radio stations, gaming opportunities, and ways to access the internet. Distractions abound.

To be fair, there are also many distractions in the country. A person can take a casual stroll around their property, looking for things that need fixing or improvement – there’s always something. One may also partake in some sort of wildlife observation, whether it be beekeeping, birdwatching, insect collecting, trapping, hunting, fishing, or simply peeking into a bat-house at mid-day when all of the little creatures are slumbering. In the spring, there’s plowing and planting, while in the summer there is weeding and harvesting. Fall rings in with the finale of harvesting and a mad dash to get everything preserved and put away for the winter. Winter is a time to tackle some of those improvements, keep the paths shovelled, bang out and refill the frozen water troughs, order seeds, knit and crochet, clean and organize, and perhaps even enjoy a new book or two. The distractions are just as numerous and varied as the ones in the city, but there is one crucial difference. Can you guess what it is?

Productivity. While both city and country distractions can be fun, entertaining, and a great way to spend one’s time, it is mostly the ones in the country that will end up giving a person a sense of accomplishment. It’s fun to see a new movie in the theatres with a group of friends, but what happens afterward? All you get are a few memories that will fade. It’s just as fun to invite those friends over to help you harvest tomatoes, onions, peppers, and herbs to make a batch of salsa, but at the end of the salsa-making experience you will not leave with just memories. Instead, you have time to talk freely, engaging in idle chit-chat that will bring you closer emotionally. You also will be accomplishing something together, and perhaps some may even be learning a new skill or hobby.

I’ve had my share of city distractions. I miss the country ones, and can’t wait to see the faces of my children light up when they are able to actually accomplish something while engaging in a distraction, even if it’s something as simple as collecting some of the thousands of black walnuts scattered over the property or helping Mama water some plants. Some people might call country distractions work, but that’s just because they haven’t learned how to enjoy it. Some will never learn. I have, though, and I can’t wait to step back into that green, labor-intense classroom.

Ok, I just had to post this. I saw it originally over on one of the blogs I check into every now and then. (Proud Atheists – see links at the left!) It’s a short video about the morons who are populating our planet. Maybe it’s not very nice, but it’s pretty funny. It made me think of the movie Idiocracy, because it seems like stupid breeds a lot faster than knowledge. Anyway, here it is:

The last time we were out visiting the farmhouse, I took some measurements of the chicken coop. It’s exactly 10′ x 23′ on the interior. I’m currently working out some sketches of what I’d like to do to it, because it’s completely bare bones right now. It’s not insulated at all, so one of the things I would like to do is tighten it down, so to speak. We’ll probably end up using heat lamps out there anyway, but I’d like to at least plug all the cracks that I can so there isn’t a draft inside. It’d be great to be able to insulate it all and toss up some cheap walls over the insulation, but that probably won’t happen for a long time.

Next on the list is to build a suitable nesting box. I’ve already drawn up plans using materials that are available at the farmhouse for a 10-nest structure (two rows of five boxes) with a slant roof and room underneath for broodies and their young to be caged off. Right now there are a bunch of cabinets lining the wall between the coop and the smaller barn, but we’ll be able to easily remove most of those. I’d like to leave in one set of cabinets to store food, lime, grit, and other pertinent chicken supplies.

After the nesting box and cabinets, I have plans for a couple roosting areas. There are a few big windows, and I thought it would be neat to put a roost right in front of one of them, so the gals can look out whenever they want to. Then I’ll use some scrap lumber to build a few roosting ladders in the far corner. As the “piece de resistance” I’d like to debark a section of fallen tree, shine it up a bit with some polyeurethane, and install it in the middle as a fun place for the chickens to climb. It’d also be a great conversation piece.

Murray McMurray starts filling chick orders February 1st, but I don’t know if we’ll be ready for them that early. My dear hubby and I are still discussing which breeds to go with. I like dual-purpose birds (ISA’s, Buff Orpingtons), but he has fallen for the showy birds (Sumatras and Phoenix’s). While someday I would love to be able to breed show birds, I just don’t think now is the time to start. He’s used to getting his way, so I might have to draw my proverbial sword for this cause. I also want a few ducks for eggs and meat, and I’m not too sure he’s sold on that one yet. Mmm… he just hasn’t tasted duck yet.

One of these times that we go out to the farmhouse, I’ll have to take some pictures of the chicken coop. It’s going to be a very fun project, and I’ll even be able to work on it in the winter, as it’s connected to one of the barns, although most of the installation work will have to wait until warmer spring temperatures arrive.

I’ve never been more excited for Spring to come… and it’s hardly even Winter yet!

December 2009
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