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Today I am thirty years old. Yep.

Other big news on the homestead – my husband has worked hard nearly every day until sun down on the shed. It’s pretty much done now, just needs some paint. The picture was taken before he got both doors up. It’s nice to have a place for all of our tools and equipment finally. Good job, honey!

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The garden is growing, growing, growing! Potatoes are nearly ready to turn over and harvest. There are hundreds of green tomatoes waiting to ripen, the strawberries are giving us a bowl a day, and the peas are just starting to flower. My rice took an initial hit in the paddy after a rain storm, but some of it looks to be bouncing back. I’ve harvested peppers and basil by the buckets already. I took our first broccoli the other day. The 3 sisters that I planted nearly two weeks after I planted the rest of the corn, beans, and squash are now twice as large as the individually planted ones. I never would have guessed 3 sisters planting was THIS MUCH better! It’s blowing my mind.

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Aside from working in the garden and cleaning up, I’ve also been working on finishing the chicken coop. The chicks are all feathered out and growing like weeds. Just look at how big they are already! They’re nearly the size of a normal chicken. I wish I had a scale I could weigh them on. I’m guessing they’re around 6-7 pounds, which is about half of what their final weight should be. I can tell the cocks by their forming wattles, and by the fact that they are already starting to size each other up and do the little jumping-neck-stretch-poofy-feather thing at each other. No crowing yet. They are enjoying being let out into their run every day to catch bugs and eat greens. They’ve got little paths all throughout the tall grass. While they play outside, I have insulated and boarded over half of the walls. Last night I put up a large roost for them. Even the guineas were coming up to me and peeping lovingly after they tried out the roost – and they NEVER act friendly, the skittish little goofs. Guess that means they like it.

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As I look back on the last four years of this blog, I realize how far we’ve managed to come. We have realized so many of our dreams! We have paid off our debt. We have bought land. We have built a house. We have chickens. We have one HUGE garden in full swing. We have an orchard. We have wood aplenty to heat our home with. We have learned skills like building, baking bread, sewing, hunting, canning, home maintenance, and pantry rotation. We have accumulated many of the tools and supplies necessary to a homesteading lifestyle: a lawn tractor, a dehydrator, a grain mill, a full wood working shop, a pressure canner and waterbath canner, tons of canning supplies, every garden tool I could think of, a rototiller, a snow thrower, an enormous trailer, a woodstove… and so much more!

So what is left? What more could we possible want?

More.

Yes, the house is nearly finished, but we already have expansion plans that we hope to put into effect next spring. My husband searched high and low for inspiration, and ended up finding this gem. We love everything about it, but instead of a plain old fireplace we’d do a baker’s oven, maybe with elements of a rocket mass heater thrown in. A heated bench would be lovely on crisp fall days. I’d also like to do an outdoor kitchen on the porch – just a small strip of cabinets with a stove-top on the counter. Canning inside in the middle of summer heat sucks. It sucks hard. Canning on a screened-in porch outside? Sign me up!

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Of course there will be a bigger garden in our future. I am pretty set on turning most of our south-facing hill into an earth-bermed green house, if not this year then next. My husband found a source for patio door glass at $3 a sheet. Score! He’s also drawn up plans and priced out all of the materials. We can afford it, but I’m not so sure we can afford the time to finish it before winter hits with everything else we’re working on. In case you’re curious what it will look like, I just drew up this quick sketch in Paint.

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When the greenhouse is in, I’ll build raised beds in front of it to house a small herb and flower garden. At the bottom of the hill is where I eventually plan on raising our own grains like wheat, rye, and oats. The bottom of the hill is super fertile. Crazy fertile. The grass down there grows twice as tall and thick as it does anywhere else on our land. It should be a great place to grow grains.

Our orchard might grow by a few trees, but not too many. We are at 21 trees now, since four (two peaches, two cherries) have perished. I would eventually like to fence in the orchard to run geese. At the bottom of the east side of the hill is a low, soggy spot. If we could clear it out, it would probably make a decent small pond. This year when we start cutting wood I hope to take down the birch that are growing in this soggy area.

We have been discussing getting back into raising bees again, this time with our own equipment. We’ll order the pieces for two hives this winter and get those put together. Next spring, we’ll get some bees to fill them. A homestead isn’t complete without those buzzy girls roaming all over the place.

We also talked about raising rabbits for meat and fur. No concrete plans there yet. Pigs and some sort of dairy livestock are also on our wish list, but we need to work on fencing in some pasture first.

Our neighbors in Michigan have the Cottage Foods laws that allow them to sell any baked goods made in their home kitchen, but we folks in Wisconsin need to have an annual license and all food items must be produced in a commercial kitchen. Here is a pdf file that shows the hoops we have to jump through in order to create a commercial kitchen that will pass inspection. My husband and I have talked about this a few times. I think I am a pretty good baker. I know for a fact that my cookies, muffins, and bread would sell because we have friends, family, and neighbors request these items from me. Maybe if we build a large pole building someday, we can dedicate one corner of it to a small commercial kitchen for my baking. I already have a name picked out for it. ­čÖé

If we build the pole building, a kitchen isn’t the only thing we’ve talked about. My husband had a lot of fun creating things on a plasma cutting table when he was overseas. Giving him a workshop is high on the list, especially since it would mean our basement space could be used for storage or another bedroom instead of a workshop.

When I was in college I really got into ceramics. I would love a little shed with a wheel, shelves, and small kiln so I could make pottery again. I got to where I could make a complete mug in about seven minutes back then. I bet I could get back into it and be even faster, more productive. I have yet to meet anyone local who putters around with clay – yet another niche that I could use to my advantage. I still have no idea where I would get the clay from. Probably order it online. We have some on our land, but not enough to go through the trouble of digging all the way down for it and spending all the time to process it.

Other projects that are in the back of our minds include building a rain-catchment system with a cistern and mulch pits around the trees in our orchard. My husband drools at the thought of having our house off of the electrical grid, but I’m not so sure we could afford the start-up costs any time soon for solar. The acre pond out back desperately needs to be re-dug. It was last cleared in the ’60’s. It’s completely choked with cattails, weeds, and cottonwood saplings. I don’t think it will be deep enough to raise fish in unless we provided a heat and aeration system, but digging it out would at least give wildlife and our future livestock a clean water source. And I might be able to raise rice and water chestnuts without having to build a permanent paddy up by the gardens.

Oh! I haven’t showed you my little temporary paddy yet. I got it all set up and filled. The rice is planted, and several fish are swimming around in it to keep the mosquito larvae down. A frog has even taken up residence in it. My next post will have to be a pictorial update. In the next couple of days. I’m busy weeding and mulching to get it all looking good for some company we’ll be having this coming weekend.

 

So far I have spent seven and a half hours in the garden today. I will spend at least another three out there before the day is over. This, my friends, is why I hesitate to get a job in the summer. I am putting more hours into the garden right now than I would at a full time job. It’s too bad I can’t grow money! We’d be rich.

I’m pulling peppers off of the plants now. So far we’ve eaten all of the ones I’ve picked, so I haven’t had a chance to freeze or can any. Tonight I am doing cream cheese stuffed, bacon wrapped Cubanelle peppers for dinner. Yum! So far it’s only the “hot” peppers that are ready to pick, but there are a lot of sweet peppers waiting in the wings, as you’ll see in the pictures below. I even spotted several tomatoes! It won’t be too long until canning season will be in full swing.

Another shot from the top of the chicken coop. Only a small portion yet to plant!

Another shot from the top of the chicken coop. Only a small portion yet to plant!

Two California Wonder sweet bell peppers.

Two California Wonder sweet bell peppers.

Count the Pepperoncini peppers.

Count the Pepperoncini peppers.

Jalapenos are starting to produce. Strange - I don't remember them being purple before. Wonder if it's impure seed or some deficiency in the soil?

Jalapenos are starting to produce. Strange – I don’t remember them being purple before. Wonder if it’s impure seed or some deficiency in the soil?

Cubanelle peppers... after I harvested a bowl full.

Cubanelle peppers… after I harvested a bowl full.

One of the few first tomatoes forming! Pretty sure this is a Principe Borghese based on its shape. I did label all of the tomato plants as I transplanted them, but apparently our permanent marker doesn't stick to popsicle sticks. They're all blank.

One of the few first tomatoes forming! Pretty sure this is a Principe Borghese based on its shape. I did label all of the tomato plants as I transplanted them, but apparently our permanent marker doesn’t stick to popsicle sticks. They’re all blank.

Notice anything missing? Yeah... the deer found the newly sprouted beans and had a salad. They also ate the tops off of some of the strawberry plants. Damn things. The fence just went to the top of my priorities for tonight.

Notice anything missing? Yeah… the deer found the newly sprouted beans and had a salad. They also ate the tops off of some of the strawberry plants. Damn things. The fence just went to the top of my priorities for tonight.

Two pickling-type cucumbers.

Two pickling-type cucumbers.

I put down weed barrier cloth in the soft fruit patch in preparation for some major mulching. I don't have the time or energy to weed that huge section in addition to the garden. I'll probably do the paths between the raised beds as well. Look at how tall the grass and weeds get in just a week if left unchecked!

I put down weed barrier cloth in the soft fruit patch in preparation for some major mulching. I don’t have the time or energy to weed that huge section in addition to the garden. I’ll probably do the paths between the raised beds as well. Look at how tall the grass and weeds get in just a week if left unchecked!

My husband has been working on the shed ever free moment he has, but I think tonight I might ask him to help me finish getting the fence finished. We’ve had the materials for a few days already, and thanks to the evidence I found this morning, I realize now that the fence should really have top priority over everything else. I don’t want to lose all of my hard work to some hungry, stinking deer. Anyway. The roof trusses are done, and all four walls are up on the shed. If we finish the fence, maybe by this weekend he’ll have the roof on and everything sheathed. I’ve been working hard in the garden so I can take a few days off of weeding to help him.

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Hope y’all have a great weekend!

 

 

It’s been a good few days. I sold out of just about every type of hot and sweet pepper I had extra of at yesterday’s farmer’s market. The only one that didn’t sell well was the Cubanelle pepper, which is okay because I can use the extra fruit from those to make a bumper crop of pepper jelly this fall. Pepper jelly, salsa, and strawberry jam are always a high-demand item in our families around Christmas time. The mean people didn’t bother me at all at the market. They each walked by a few times looking at my table, but neither of them met my eyes nor returned my smile. Oh well. I guess I’d be kind of embarrassed about my behavior if I was them, too. I’m content that the yelling has stopped at least. Now if only they’d stop cyber-bullying me on my blog. Yep, got another love note yesterday. Rolling my eyes.

The garden is coming along nicely. I got all of the four types of cabbage planted, started planting celery, and my husband helped me begin hanging the fencing along the posts. When I got back from the sale yesterday, my husband had finished the second raised bed. As he was finishing filling the second raised bed, the axle on our little trailer bent completely. I suggest that anyone looking for a good utility trailer to pull behind their mower or four-wheeler does NOT go to Menard’s. It was that black and yellow trailer in the previous pictures of the garden – total crap. We never had it more than 2/3rds full, but it still couldn’t handle that. We took it back and got a complete refund. Maybe this week I’ll head to Green Bay to Fleet Farm to get a better one. Unless anyone has a better local place? I’m open to suggestions.

I planted the last 50 strawberries, then was able to get the last of the soft fruits in the patch. We have four elderberries, four currants, two gooseberries, three cranberries, two aronia berries, and two green seedless grapes in there. Someday soon I’ll rent a wood chipper and get it all mulched in well. I don’t feel like dealing with constantly weeding that big area or having to weed whack grass around the plants.

The plan for today was to finish tilling up to the end of the raised beds, then get the rest of the celery, eggplants, and peppers planted. We’ll see if I get that far. This cold I have is kicking my butt today. I had to do my nebulizer machine to get the gunk in my chest broken up and help me breathe better. Now I’m dizzy and my ear is all plugged. I got so dizzy a few minutes ago that my husband had to run me a trash can because I got pukey. I hate being sick. It’s holding up my plans for the day. My husband and older son got this and sniffled for a day. Then they were over it. My immune system sucks.

My husband has been keeping busy helping me outside and doing his own projects in the house. He finished getting our gutters and drain pipe up on the outside the other day. He also did the kitchen window that I kept procrastinating on. As I type, he’s installing the sliding door and trim for the bathroom. We originally had a normal hinged door, but we mis-measured and it ended up hitting the toilet on the swing inward. I kept the hinged door, but turned it so it opened into the hall. Now he’s taking the hinged door and putting it in the opening going to the basement stairs, and he’ll install a barn-style sliding door on the bathroom that won’t take up half the hall when it’s opened. Thanks, hun!

I’ll take pictures of the window and doors later when I’m feeling better. I’m stuck in bed until this dizzy pukey thing passes. Grr.

In the meantime, how about some pictures of my plants?

Flower bud on a Ping Tung eggplant. Check out the thorns!

Flower bud on a Ping Tung eggplant. Check out the thorns!

Open flower on a Ping Tung eggplant.

Open flower on a Ping Tung eggplant.

A baby Pepperoncini pepper.

A baby Pepperoncini pepper.

Hope y’all have a beautiful weekend!

 

This morning I went to my third farmer’s market in Menominee, Michigan. I had yet another successful day, and got to chat with more of the vendors. We were outside for the first time of the season┬á–┬ánot by choice. All morning the clouds kept rolling in to cover the sun, rain spit on us intermittently, and it was windy as all get out. I forgot my coat and an umbrella and all sorts of stuff, but my boys had fun playing in the van with their toys and setting up a hotwheels track to fling cars out into the pathway. Despite the crappy weather, I enjoyed myself. One of the other vendors loaned me a blanket, and one gave me her jacket. I’m so glad we moved to this area. There are so many wonderful people!

When the market closed up, we headed over to a nursery just outside of Peshtigo to check out their fruit trees. A little bird told me that they would all be potted up by Saturday. Yikes! They had hundreds! I’m interested in getting a few more cherry trees, but after talking with a few of the nursery workers who have cherry trees, I’m not so sure. This winter was extremely cold, and although cherry trees are rated well for zone 5 (which is our zone), many of them died because of the insanely low temperatures. I have to think about this a bit more. At $35 per tree, that’s no small investment for something that might up and die on us if we have another coldtastic winter.

After we got home, the sun came out and the wind wasn’t as bad. The boys and I went to work on the garden fence, getting eight holes dug and seven of the posts tamped into place. They were such good helpers. My oldest even helped tamp a few of the posts in using our heavy breaker bar. They’re getting so big!

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Yes, each of those posts are 8′ long. Can you tell where I ran into an impossibly large rock in each hole? Haha! Damn things. Going to be really fun when I till it the first time. At least I was able to get each hole a minimum of 21″┬ádeep. I plan on eventually having an odd assortment of bird houses nailed to the top of each post in the garden, so I probably won’t cut them all even. I like the character. ┬áNo, the posts aren’t in a straight line. They are following the curve at the top of our driveway. Someday I would like to have a sort of hedge between the garden and driveway. It would act as a really good drift fence in the winter so the snow I shovel doesn’t jump right back into the driveway.

Anyway, eight holes done means I only have 33 left to dig! Woohoo! I should be able to hand dig these all this week if the weather stays nice. I need to run into town and pick up some concrete to get the corner posts set. I was going to rent an auger to get all the holes dug in one day, but I think I can handle this. Now that the solid week of rain storms is over.

Here’s a little graphic I made of the garden area as I have it marked out. Section A is the chicken run. I will have a door going right into the garden from the run so I can let the girls stir it up in the spring and fall. Section B is going to be a heavily mulched partition where all of my perennial soft fruits will go. I went overboard and bought two of each of just about every soft fruit bush that Stark Bros sells. The yellow line is where our electric line runs. Because I have a deep mistrust of their “12 inch depth,” I am going to follow the line with 4′ wide raised beds (in black) so I don’t accidentally dig into the line. Section C is the main, annual vegetable garden, with perennial flowers and herbs lining the fence so I don’t have to worry about continually tilling all those angles. Section D will be where I plant a cover crop of buckwheat, some clover, and some of my other grains. Eventually I’d like to move the grains to the lush bottom of our southern hill.

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So that’s it for today. Hope y’all are having a great weekend!

December 2021
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