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Yesterday was the Spring Equinox, and this year it actually feels like spring! The snow finished melting a few days ago, and the weather has consistently been above freezing during the day. Blue skies and a shining sun are doing a lot to pick up my mood lately. Oh, spring! How I’ve missed you!

The chickens and guineas are enjoying the warmer weather. Their run is finally solidified instead of being a mud wallow. Every morning I go out and toss some scratch for them. Pretty soon their coop will be thawed enough for me to clean out a winter worth of poop and straw. Not even kidding – it’s about 3′ deep in spots. My garden is going to love all the nutrients from the litter.

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And we’re getting eggs once again. Look at the beautiful little presents I find every morning! We’re getting 8-10 a day… and it’s warm enough outside that the eggs aren’t freezing and cracking within minutes of being laid. Yahoo! You’ll notice a ping pong ball next to the eggs. That is there to entice the hens to lay in the nesting boxes instead of on the floor. Seems to work, though sometimes they toss it out and kick it into the corner by the door, where they like to lay. I move it back whenever they do that. Stubborn, sassy birds.

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My seedlings are doing swell. I’m finished with peppers, and have now started on some brassicas, flowers, and more herbs. Here are some picture updates on them:

Borage in the windowsill. Almost enough to make a salad.

Borage in the windowsill. Almost enough to make a salad.

Basil. Mmm. I love rubbing my hands over the leaves - the smell that's released is amazing!

Basil. Mmm. I love rubbing my hands over the leaves – the smell that’s released is amazing!

Peppers. I'll probably have around 500 when all is said and done. Their sales are going to help build a greenhouse, I hope. :)

Peppers. I’ll probably have around 500 when all is said and done. Their sales are going to help build a greenhouse, I hope. ๐Ÿ™‚

Onions got their first haircut and were transplanted into larger flats. You should see the massive roots on these things. Most of them are on their fourth leaf, which means the onions themselves have four layers each. Hopefully this means I'll actually get decent sized bulbs this fall.

Onions got their first haircut and were transplanted into larger flats. You should see the massive roots on these things. Most of them are on their fourth leaf, which means the onions themselves have four layers each. Hopefully this means I’ll actually get decent sized bulbs this fall.

This last picture isn’t really homesteading related, but it’s beautiful to me so I’m going to post it anyway. This is our butcher block island in the kitchen after I cleared it off and oiled it up. Every time I oil it, it gets darker, richer, and so much more gorgeous. I love our island, and highly suggest this material to anyone thinking of remodeling a kitchen. Oh my. I just noticed in the picture how dusty our light is. I guess when the oil soaks in I’ll be climbing up onto the island to clean the lights. These lights – they’re amazing, but a lot of maintenance.

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Last year my parents bought me a beautiful, tropical Jasmine plant for my birthday. It thrived during the warm, humid summer months, but as soon as we started using the wood stove the interior of our home became a hot, dry climate. When the sun began its descent into oblivion, our southern exposure window just wasn’t enough. That poor Jasmine plant slowly lost all of its leaves and dried up, no matter what measures I took to prevent its demise. It’s now buried in a snow bank behind the house, may it rest in peace. To fill the empty area in our living room, I decided to try my hand at growing an herb inside. I needed a pick-me-up after my utter failure with the Jasmine.

Fast forward a couple weeks and there are four strong borage plants growing inside the pot. I’ve been told the leaves are good in salads and taste like cucumber. It’s only supposed to grow 1′ tall, so it should be a perfect one for the windowsill. Here are my first seedlings of the year:

Borage.

Borage.

Since my small success with borage, I’ve also started this year’s onion experiment. Last year I didn’t start the onions until the end of February, and they were small at the end of the summer. This year I started them at the end of January to give them another four weeks of growth. I have a red and a white variety, both new since I wasn’t very impressed with last year’s stock, though I’ve kept what onions I harvested from last year and plan on replanting them as sets this spring. The experiment continues!

Red and White Southport Globe onions.

Red and White Southport Globe onions.

I’ve also been experimenting with indoor plants. If you know me, you know I have always had a black thumb for house plants. Maybe my problem is that I chose exotic plants that need a very specific microclimate in order to thrive. Maybe my problem is that I assume all plants enjoy tons of sun. I’ve learned a lot so far this winter. For instance – my aloe plants. Aloe. Grows wild in arid climates. Loves the sun. Right? That’s what I assumed, so I had it in the southern window for the longest time and the darn plant kept wilting and getting browner and browner. So I switched it to a northern exposure window in desperation and the damn thing plucked right up! It’s sitting happily in the kitchen window, watching as we do dishes and haul wood to the house. My mom gave me a couple spider plant babies she snipped from her plants, and I’ve successfully propagated them into crazy, beautiful specimens. The regular spider plants enjoy direct sunlight, but the variegated variety is loving indirect sunlight on the kitchen island in the middle of the great room. For some reason the variegated one was only growing long, spindly, horizontal offshoots when in direct sunlight, but in the week since I’ve moved it to the island it has filled in on top with a bunch of wild, vertical leaves. One of my neighbors noticed how much I enjoyed plants and gave us what she calls a Walking Jew. In her house, they are purple with a silvery sheen. In my house, the plant is purple with a green sheen. Crazy how two different environments can make the same plant behave in different ways.

Here are some pictures of my indoor house plant successes, because I need something to brag about while I wait for this depressing winter to pass.

Variegated philodendron start.

Variegated philodendron start.

My aunt called this her Goldfish plant because the flowers look like goldfish crackers. It vined and hung downward in a shower of leaves and flowers for her. For me? It's lifting its long arms upward and waving them around like Medusa's snakes. Wacky plant.

My aunt called this her Goldfish plant because the flowers look like goldfish crackers. It vined and hung downward in a shower of leaves and flowers for her. For me? It’s lifting its long arms upward and waving them around like Medusa’s snakes. Wacky plant.

Two spider plants around the Walking Jew plant.

Two spider plants around the Walking Jew plant.

My husband has been keeping himself busy doing various things. He finished the bathroom cabinets (except for the magnets to hold the doors shut… still waiting on that), and we finally got the granite counter for it. We got a box of rocks to do a stone wall behind the mirror. Not sure when that’ll get done, but it should look really neat when it’s done.

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He started on the loft recently, too. That was our winter project, but since I’ve started working and we’ve had cruddy weather, we hadn’t been able to get the drywall. We have it now! As soon as he’s done with the drywall, I’ll put up the pine ceiling and tie it into the great room ceiling. Then we can start on the wood floor and get the office, library, sewing nook, and guest room going up there. Exciting stuff!

Yay, drywall!

Yay, drywall!

Spring is still a long way off. We have snow and it’s cold. Winter. Still blah. But this past week I got four half flats of herbs planted, and next weekend I’ll start planting a couple dozen types of peppers. You remember my 321 pepper plants last year? Expect more this year. Many more.

Tarragon, anise, oregano, and many others...

Tarragon, anise, oregano, and many others…

Today was a really busy day. I spent most of it in the truck, driving around, running errands. I made a special trip to the UP to visit my mom who has been laid up from a surgery. I brought her flowers for her birthday tomorrow and stuck around for a couple hours making her and my dad a huge batch of pasties and pocket apple pies. As much as I said I would never be like her, I recognized today that I take after her a lot socially. She needs interaction with other people, and being couch-bound for a couple weeks really had her down. Glad I was able to pick her up a bit. If we lived closer I’d be over more often. She confided in me that one of her best friends broke up with her recently. Sucks. My mom is the kind of person who will bend over backward to help her friends, but for some reason most of her friends won’t lift a finger when she needs someone. How hard is it to call or visit a friend even once a year? Or to drive half a mile to spend some time chatting with a friend who is lonely? I’m frustrated for her. At least she has one kid who is there for her, though, and I’ll always be there. I hope our boys are this close to me and each other when they grow up.

After visiting, I went to the boys’ school to help out with the last hour of their Halloween parties. I tell you what – I have mad respect for all of the teachers at that school. They had some wild, sugar-pumped, costumed kids and their schedules were wonky with parties and activities. But were they crabby or frustrated? Nope! I feel pretty lucky that our kids get to go to such a great school, even if it’s small and feels like it’s in the middle of nowhere. I really hope I can get more involved soon. I kind of miss volunteering on a regular basis.

From the school we went to a town 30 miles south, where we used to live in an apartment while we built the house. We met up with some old friends and did some trick or treating. I didn’t even think to bring the camera along, but I guess you wouldn’t have seen much anyway. It was a whopping 33 degrees Fahrenheit and the wind was kicking our butts. We made one loop around a few blocks and the kids were frozen, despite being bundled in long johns, clothes, costumes, winter coats, hats and gloves. It was cold!

We met Daddy at a really good restaurant after he got out of work, then came home exhausted, lit the fire in the wood stove, and all settled down on our computers. We’re turning into a family of computer nerds. It’s a bit more comfortable than the 2 hour Monopoly marathon we played on the floor last night.

Not too much else to update. Dear hubby nearly has the sink cabinet done. We might go to Green Bay this weekend to pick up a granite slab for the counter. He finished the medicine cabinet mirror. It’s pretty snazzy, but mostly empty. I don’t know what to do with all of this new storage space! I’m a simple creature, and so is he. Maybe I could fill it up if I wore makeup or wore jewelry or did my hair fancy or used seventeen different soaps and lotions every day. But I don’t, and probably never will. You know, I’ve actually had people assume I’m Pentecostal, especially back when I had hair down to my bum and wore skirts every day. So funny! They never react well when I inform them that I’m actually an atheist.

So here’s a picture of the mirror, because I have to brag on my awesome hubby. Can you believe this is his first time working with wood? We finally got the new pulls, so he’ll probably put all those on as soon as he gets the final cabinet finished and in place.

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And here’s another fun update. We got our first eggs from our Jersey Giant chickens! They seem to be laying them while sitting on the roosts, which is a minor problem. I need to figure out how to coax them to lay in the nesting boxes. This laying an egg over a 3′ drop business isn’t doing wonderful things for the shell integrity.

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One of the eggs was all white with only a small spot of brown. That was strange, but not wholly unexpected. When chickens first start laying, they lay all sorts of nutty looking eggs. Some are tiny (as these were), some are enormous. Some have two or even three yolks. Some are capable of encapsulating an egg within another egg and pushing the monstrosity out whole. Some make dumbbell-shaped eggs, while some come out long and narrow. Within a few months, they’ll be pros – laying regularly and giving us normal eggs.

Hope everyone had a wonderful Halloween!ย And if you know my mom, stop by and wish her a happy birthday tomorrow! Maybe she’ll share a delicious pasty with you. ๐Ÿ™‚

 

Of the blog, that is. Can you believe I’ve been putzing around with WordPress for five years now?

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We’ve been keeping pretty busy here lately, especially my husband. He is the hardest worker I know. He comes home from a ten hour shift every day, and still has energy to tackle big house projects like trimming, painting, and building cabinets. The last couple weeks he’s been working on building our bathroom cabinets. He has the first one done, or nearly so. We still need magnets and pulls. He’s done a beautiful job for this being the first time he’s ever attempted cabinets! What do you think?

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The first was taken in the basement shop, where he’s been constructing it. We hauled that behemoth upstairs to stain it in the living room, then put it in the bathroom where it shall stay forever. His next project is to build the sink cabinet. That piece of poo looking thing there is just a temporary one I made out of an end table and a sink top. It’s about four inches lower than a normal one, which is great for the kids but sucks for an adult. The next cabinet will take up that whole space, have three drawers, and one cupboard. We’ll probably do some kind of vessel sink that sits on top of the counter, which will be granite to match the kitchen. My husband is also going to build a custom swing-away mirror over a medicine cabinet. It should look awesome when it’s finished!

I’ve done a bit of work in the bathroom as well. Back when I grouted the shower, I either mixed the grout wrong or sealed it wrong. After a year of use, it was starting to disintegrate from between the tiles. So I chipped out as much as I could, cleaned it all up really well, re-grouted, and re-sealed. Our shower looks brand new. Oh, and I bought a cloth curtain so now I can wash it periodically. The old plastic one got so gross all the time and cleaners ate the plastic away along with the yucky bits.

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I still need to figure out a trim for around the tile edge to hide the mortar. We’ll probably do that after the cabinets are in place and we’re laying the floor trim, which you can see is missing in the picture of the cabinet.

I’ve been slowly getting the garden ready for winter. I wait for the nice days, which are far and few between lately. We’ve been getting a lot of rain. I finished bringing in the cabbages and sunflowers. They’re all happily hanging in the basement now. Once the sunflowers are dry, I’ll rub the seeds off of the heads, save the biggest ones for seed stock for next year, and roast the rest. I think you might be able to see a few of the hanging cabbages behind the Roma food mill. They’ll store well down there until we use them up. It stays a comfortable 50 degrees year-round in the basement, even without a heat source down there.

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Today or tomorrow I’ll be planting the garlic out. I meant to do it at least a week ago, but the weather had other plans for me. Look for a post soon detailing the garlic bed.

So the site that I was writing for, Heritage Homesteaders, is going under. They will publish my final contribution tomorrow, but have given permission to the authors to reclaim their articles. The following is my final article for Heritage Homesteaders.


I’ve tried every chicken feeder on the market. From the long, squat feeders that sit on the floor of the coop to the hanging feeders that spin on a rope from the ceiling. I’ve tried the ones that have covers with head-sized holes and the ones with a spinning bar across the top to discourage standing in the food. Every time I have purchased a feeder from the store, I’ve been disappointed and frustrated. If the chickens aren’t walking and defecating in their food, then they’re scattering it to the winds and wasting half of it.

I am fed up with store-bought feeders.

My solution came in the form of a pile of scraps from our recent shed-building adventure. We had extra bits and pieces of T1-11 siding, 2×4’s, 2×8’s, OSB, and plenty of fasteners. I sorted through them and came up with a plan. I wanted something that could hold an entire 50# bag of feed. I wanted a feeder that was up off of the floor enough that the chickens couldn’t scratch it all over the place or defecate in it. I wanted something that looked nice and was easy to clean out.

First, I got the general shape of it. It would have a sturdy, wide base. I made it wide enough that it would overlap two wall studs by several inches, that way I could secure it tightly to the coop wall. I used 2×8’s for the base, angling them in toward the 2×4’s that would secure the front of the feeder in place. I added bracing to have something to screw the front to, then cut out the front piece to fit snugly inside the 2×8’s and over top of all of the 2×4’s.

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Once the two main pieces were complete, I took them into the coop and installed the main frame onto the wall. I used a few wood scraps to achieve the height from the floor that I thought I would need. The chickens were happy to help me get the measurements right, the nosy things. I secured the feeder to the coop wall studs with four long screws, two on each stud. It easily held my weight, so I knew 50# of feed would be no problem.

My flock is about six weeks old and six to seven pounds each. This breed will more than double in size before they’re done growing, so I raised the feeder a bit above where they were able to comfortably reach now. Plus, as winter comes closer, I’ll be laying down more straw to give them deep litter. If I need to raise the feeder, it will be a simple matter to unscrew the front and raise the entire contraption up.

Next, I installed the front panel and put a strip of panel across the bottom of the feeder to make the feed tray complete. Note that the front panel was a few inches short of making the top. I fixed that with some OSB. It will all get painted eventually, so I’m not worried about it looking like it was made from scrap. The chickens were so curious what this big contraption was!

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The final touches included putting on the roofs and filling the feeder with some high quality feed. I made sure to angle them thanks to past experience. Chickens will roost on and completely ruin any flat surface. I filled the feeder, and the birds went bananas fighting over who got to eat first. The only ones that had trouble were my little lavender guineas. They are quite a bit smaller than the chickens and royal purple guineas, but they figured out they were just the right size to perch on the edge and pig out. That will work fine until they finish growing.

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So far I’m very pleased with my handiwork. There’s nary a turd in their food and they haven’t wasted a speck by scratching it all over the place. My next project in the chicken coop will be some homemade chicken waterers. If you’ve ever had to use a store-bought waterer, you probably understand my frustrations with them. They’re dirty and wimpy. Sometimes I feel like if I want something to work right on this homestead, I have to make it. Cheers for power tools and ingenuity!

To see how we built our palatial chicken coop, and for future progress updates on its construction, check out my personal blog –ย The Atheist Homesteader.