Over the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about how the past spring, summer and fall went down. It felt like a whirlwind of craziness! Looking back, I can’t remember a time when we just were able to sit and be still, without anything on our minds or “to do” list.
Until one day this fall, that is. My man, baby girl and I were lying on the zig-zag, western style rug in our living room.
Note: I don’t know why I have a western style rug, because western isn’t my style. I still haven’t gotten around to decorating my living room and its currently filled with a mix of cheap (or free) furniture and odd bits. Which is why you never see photos of it; it just isn’t ready and I don’t want to bore you or embarrass myself!
That afternoon, a fire was crackling in the wood stove and we were able to relax without feeling pressure or guilt. Our “to do” list was nearly empty for the first time in a very long time.
It felt so right. Baby girl was happy as a clam and we saw that even she felt a change in the atmosphere of our home. It got me thinking about everything we did this past year.
We took on too much. Waaaaay too much!
To be fair, we didn’t know my health was going to collapse. Even still, we knew going into the spring season that life would be different with a baby. But proceed with caution?
We ordered meat chickens. And hogs. I got ducklings. My man decided to build up his number of beehives. To hunt again. And I planned a full size vegetable garden and made plans to continue building up my kitchen garden.
And unlike the year before (when I had baby girl in the middle of harvest season), I wanted to do some preserving as well.
Needless to say, spring came in with a roar. It seemed like every spare moment was filled with outdoor work on our little farmstead as we frantically tried to get ready for everything we’d taken upon ourselves.
If we had been set up for meat chickens…and ducks…and hogs…and honeybees and everything else, it wouldn’t have been quite so chaotic.
But when we moved to the countryside 5 years ago, we bought raw land. Meaning there was literally nothing here.
We built the cottage that first year. And put in gardens the second year. We also set up a bird house with a little pen and have been working ever since to develop lawns, build a woodshed and set things up for growing and raising our own food.
Going into this year, we didn’t have the setup for meat chickens, pigs, more beehives or anything else. Which means we had a lot of work on our hands.
Too much work.
Especially when there was a sick wife and a newborn baby in the picture.
We don’t want another year like the one we just came through. Which means we need to be more intentional and carefully choose our activities.
Here’s how the year went down and what I’m willing (and unwilling) to take on next year.
In the Vegetable Garden
We grew a full size garden this year, in spite of having a little baby who crawled around eating dirt and whatever else she could put in her mouth.
I tried to be realistic.
Instead of starting my own seedlings, I bought them. We kept things simple with staple crops. I planted loads of potatoes, onions, garlic and carrots. Scattered here and there were some short rows of beets, cabbage, parsnips, cucumbers and peas, both bush beans and shelling beans too.
I grew my tomatoes along the south wall of our home and interplanted them with squash.
What did I learn this year?
First, I still love, love, love our vegetable gardens! They produce a lot of food for very little effort (especially when you use mulch for weed control). When the July harvest comes in strong, our grocery bill usually drops by more than half.
We eat what we grow and it’s just wonderful!
But if I’m relapsing or if we have a little baby during garden season? I need to stay away from growing loads of vegetable that have to be harvested every few days.
My pickling cucumbers got away on me this year. So did the green beans and snap peas too.
I’m not saying I won’t grow these things in the tough years. I just need to grow a lot less and only what we need for fresh eating.
We can always use the extra space for more carrots or potatoes!
Getting Khaki Campbell Ducklings
I’ve been wanting Khaki Campbell ducks for several years now. Duck eggs are a personal favorite, and Khakis are one of the best egg producing breeds you’ll find.
Apart from that, there’s something about watching ducks waddle across the yard that makes my heart happy.
I feel even happier to see them nibbling at grubs and worms in my gardens. It make my heart doubly happy to see them eat up the slugs under my garden mulch.
When we have ducks, I always turn them into the garden before we plant, about 2 months after we plant and also in the fall to help with pest control.
We’ve been looking for Khakis for several years. Currently, we can’t get ducks from the USA. And it costs about $250 in shipping fees alone to get them mailed in from a Canadian hatchery.
This spring, we found a semi-local source for Khaki Campbell ducks. My man drove 4 hours ’round trip to pick up 12 dark brown ducklings.
They were totally worth it.
Next spring, I’ll be getting fresh duck eggs and I’m also hoping to hatch eggs and expand our flock. I can’t wait!
If you could hear my tone, you’d pick up on my disgust.
Don’t get me wrong. I love having meat chickens in the freezer. And I didn’t mind butchering day at all.
But raising meat chickens was a pain. A real pain!
Simply put, we weren’t ready for them.
My man wanted to give the birds good grazing to keep feed costs to a minimum. But the only good grazing we have are our clover filled lawns.
He wasn’t impressed when he saw the scratching and the dust pits our meat chickens made out in the large front yard. And he never did get around to giving them a proper shelter, so we lost a few to an owl.
At first, he tried to herd 30ish birds back and forth from the bird house to the pasture pen every morning and night. It was nonsense and just about made me lose my good sense.
Finally, he gave up and would let them out to free range in the mornings (which meant I had to chase them out of my gardens 2-3x a day).
Baby girl would inevitably crawl through their droppings and once I even caught her eating something brown and gooey that made me gag.
She loved the birds. But I hated them for continuously getting into and scratching up my gardens. I also hated them for dying when I threw them over the garden fence.
I’m not accustomed to tenderly and gently handling a renegade chicken who has just pecked my tomatoes and made a dust bath in the bean patch.
If a bird is too dumb to spread its wings and catch itself as it’s tossed (ok, maybe I chucked it) over a fence, it’s too dumb to be in my care!
I really didn’t have time to bleed, pluck and gut a chicken that day. But I had to do it anyway.
No more meat chickens unless we have a good garden fence, a good setup for them, good grazing and a way to keep their droppings out of our common outdoor areas!
Raising Two Hogs for Slaughter
Neither my man or I had ever raised pigs on our own. This past summer was a first for us. And we enjoyed it.
Setup for the pigs only took a few hours. After running woven wire around some trees at the back of our property, my man ran an electric wire around the bottom of the pen.
A nipple waterer attached to an overhead barrel, pallets, a tin roof for a shelter and two black rubber pans for feed…and we were set!
We never had a problem with the pigs. Not one!
Pork and Porkier happily ate scraps from the compost pail, from the gardens and chomped down loads of apples we harvested from an old friend’s place.
We butchered them the beginning of November. And it was the easiest meat-raising experience I’d ever had.
We’re very open to the idea of doing pigs again. Very open.
On the Bee Yard
My man loves beekeeping. And I have to say? He’s quite good at it!
He’s been splitting hives every spring to increase our number of bees and last spring, he had 3 hives. His goal was to split them again and have a total of 6 at the beginning of summer.
I was all for expanding. I love having extra honey for baking and canning. But I didn’t realize he wasn’t ready to expand.
Did I mention he builds his own boxes, frames and everything else?
He hadn’t planned or worked ahead, so when spring came, he was hustling. It takes hours and hours to cut and assemble all the boxes, lids, bases and especially the frames.
There were times when I needed his help with the baby but had to push through on my own. Because he had to get the boxes done (or lose half of our bees).
That season was the worst!
But we now have what we need. He’s not going to expand beyond 6 hives and next spring will be slower.
Though he might build some mini boxes and sell nucs next year. But there won’t be the same rush.
I hope all 6 hives survive our Canadian winter. Because we love our bees. There’s something so satisfying about having our own pollinators for the gardens, as well as our own honey for baking, canning and preserving.
When I realized home grown food was important for my health and for winning my battle with Lyme disease, I not only became an avid gardener, but I began learning all the different methods of home food preservation.
I specifically looked for the easiest and fastest way to put up both our home grown and local produce.
We knew things would be hard when we started having babies. And while I love canning, I knew I wouldn’t have time to put up several hundred jars of food.
I quickly learned that cold room storage is my absolute favorite way to preserve massive amounts of food in bulk. Snow covers our gardens as I write, but in the little cold room we built on the north side of our cottage, we have bins of carrots, beets, parsnips and turnips tucked away in layers of soil.
Along the east wall, cured potatoes are resting in plastic woven gunny sacks.
Squash and pumpkins, plus onions and garlic are part of the harvest. And they sit pretty on open shelves.
No washing, scrubbing, peeling, dicing, cooking, freezing, fermenting or canning. You just need bins with good old dirt (or an open shelf in the case of onions, garlic and winter squash) in order to put up hundreds of pounds of food.
So while I’m proud to say I did manage to fill over 100 jars this year and am just heading into pressure canning season for meats, broth and dried beans, I am so grateful I learned how to properly store things in the cold room.
It’s the easiest method of food preservation that I’ve found. And I’m going to keep it for always!
Hunting for Red Meat
I know this isn’t necessarily a “farming” activity, but we do rely on hunting for our red meat supply.
My man struggled to find time for hunting this year and (for the first time ever), didn’t fill his tags. It’s hard to get out with a little baby and a sick wife. So we’re without venison this year.
It’s not that we don’t have meat. Our freezers are currently filled with at least 200 pounds of pork and 20+ meat birds.
A friend offered to swap some beef for pork. And our local friends over at Growing Wild Roots (check out their homesteading blog) have offered to swap their meat rabbits in return for pork as well.
We are well taken care of where meat is concerned. But I love the flavor of deer and I will miss it.
Now that we’re into the baby years, we’re thinkung it might be wise to come up with an alternative source for red meat. Even if we just raise and butcher a few lambs or goats, it would be worth alleviating the pressure that strictly hunting for meat, brings.
Too Much of a Good Thing
We had too much in our lives this past summer. And we both realize that. Too much of a good thing isn’t good.
Living under loads of stress isn’t good.
Getting frustrated with each other because we can’t get it all done, isn’t good.
Not being able to properly care for myself, or sit and relax because there’s so much that needs to be done, isn’t good.
We did a lot of good things this year. But not all of it was good for us.
And so? We’re tryimg to examine, prioritize, simplify and make adjustments in our plans for next year, so we’ll actually have time to focus on the important things that really do matter to us.