Sprained ankle, snowmen, bees, and windows, scratch that… A window!

After a few weekends interrupted by work, we have returned to a bit of normalcy, and progress at home!

Last weekend we had some friends over.  He brought his chainsaw (thank you for your help!)!!  Time to cut some more wood.  Somehow I still find it enjoyable, even thought every inch of my body hurts after I am done.  We took down a few large dead trees, including a very sizable maple that was hung up in a pine and oak tree.  I’d say that was about the toughest tree I have ever had to take down.  It took us a while, but we got it, only one sprained ankle later.  Thankfully, it must have been a minor enough sprain that I was back to walking normal after a few days.  

We finally put up our second goat paddock (you can also see a bit of our firewood in the background).  This will be a welcome addition to our farm.  We would like to get another up next year, allowing us to rotate our goats around three paddocks and help naturally manage parasite issues.

Winter made a surprise comeback last Monday on our farm with a couple inches of snow.  Thankfully it melted that evening!  That didn’t stop the kids from enjoying it while it lasted!

This last weekend, we started out with a run to pick up our house windows.  Unfortunately, after waiting this long, they were the wrong size!!  We ordered 5 feet, 2 inch tall windows by 2 feet 6 inches wide.  What we got, well, 52 inches by 26 inches.  See the problem?  Yeah, sort of a depressing start to the weekend to say the least.  Thankfully our kitchen window was sized correctly, so we framed accordingly and installed the window above the sink.

As you can tell, the new kitchen window is a significant upgrade compared to the old and tiny window pictured above.  Unfortunately, I don’t have a finished picture of the new window just yet, so you’ll just have to wait to see it until the next post 🙂

Saturday morning, Stephen and I took off to Mann Lake, located in Hackensack, MN to pick up our bees!  We are fortunate enough to have one of the countries premier bee suppliers located only a little over an hours drive from our farm.

This is one of two bee packages we picked up.  Driving with several thousand bees in the back seat was a little intimidating at first, but I guess I just took each turn slowly, cautious not to let them tip over.  All it would take is that can on the top to slip out of the box and there would be bees everywhere.  You may think you are not allergic to bees, but it is a common fact that 500-1000 bee stings will kill any person, regardless of whether you think you are allergic or not.

I am sure that will be a road trip Stephen will never forget!

I put together a stand to get our hives above the grass and then introduced the bees and their respective queens to the new hive boxes.  It was amazing how calm the bees were for me once I gave them a few good sprays of sugar water.  They seem to have taken to their new homes.  I will need to check on them in a week to see how the hive building is going and to make sure the queen has started laying eggs.  For the most part, I will just get to let them do their thing now.  I should only need to check in on them every 10-14 days or so and make sure they haven’t outgrown their new space.  We also started putting together two bee traps, more on that later.

What else have we been up to?

Yes, I know, I jump all over the place.  With so many fun projects to tackle, how could I not!  I couldn’t resist!!  I had to put steel up on at least one barn wall.  We decided on the north chicken coop wall.

While I still need to install windows, re-roof this lean-to, and add additional length to the eaves, it at least gives us a glimpse of what we have to look forward to seeing out of our house windows.

Bonus!  Stephen has hit the project ready age!  While Shelly and I set the kitchen window, he was busy pulling apart this old deck on the side of the house!

-Jeremy

 

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6 Early Spring Homesteader Activities (and some 1st year lessons learned)

Spring has no shortage of tasks for the homesteader.  Here are six homesteader activities we have been up to lately.  This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it hits on our big ones.

Barn Cleaning

Yeah, this ranked as my least favorite task this Spring and my most favorite to see completed!  It was a bit easier than last year, but still an effort.  Last year, we had to clear out the manure and straw with a wheelbarrow.   This year we had a lawn tractor and trailer to assist us.  This made life much easier, but still no cakewalk.

Ah, those floors almost sparkle!  By the end of Saturday, we had everything but the duck coop clean.  Boy was I sore and tired come Sunday!!  That was a full-body workout for sure.  What a relief, now we can focus on the fun stuff!

1st year lesson learned:  Make the indoor goat pen smaller next winter!  We gave our goats way too much space (and grass bales) in the barn this winter which equated to over a foot of manure, straw, and uneaten grass on the floor to haul out for composting.  Not fun!

Gophers

Once the snow melted, our field looked like an inverted mine-field.  Instead of craters, it was littered with bumps.  Soft tripping hazards placed conveniently, everywhere!   Grr, those nasty little hill-billy buck-toothed rats are going to destroy our alfalfa.  What if they find the vineyard?  They all have to die!!  Okay, a bit over-dramatic, but you get the idea, the gophers have invaded!

Gophers are considered a nuisance animal in the state of Minnesota (and probably many other states).  They dig tunnels, kick out dirt into large above ground piles, and eat the roots off of your cherished vegetation.  They cause so much damage, that most townships in the area pay $2-4 per gopher.

Thankfully, armed with a shovel, some flag markers, death-clutch gopher traps, and metal rods, we can take them on and save our plants from destruction!

After some mentoring and encouragement from myself and a friend last summer, Stephen has officially removed this chore off of my to-do list.  Last week, he caught his first gopher, with no help from me!  He dug the hole, set the trap, and staked it out.  He even cuts the feet off (you need to provide the feet as proof of catch to the township to collect payment) and puts them in a jar in the freezer.  Sweet!

1st year lesson learned: We found this was a great way to teach Stephen about investments and renting.  Since I bought the traps, we split the earnings 50/50 (rent).  He has discovered that if he invests some if his earnings into purchasing new traps of his own, he will collect 100% of the earnings from his own traps.  It was an easy way to show him that the money he makes can be used to make more money, a simple wealth building concept.

Fencing

En garde!  Time to defend the garden, pines, shrubs, and saplings from the mischievous goats.

Spring is a great time to put in new paddocks while the bugs are tolerable and the grass is not overgrown.  We increased our garden space and extended the fence around the newly broken ground to keep out our ducks, chickens, and the wild rabbits.

In addition to the garden fence, we are also in the processes of adding a new goat paddock so we can start rotational grazing with our goats.  Rotational grazing will allow the vegetation in the unused paddock to recover and should also curb parasite problems.

1st year lesson learned: Wait for the frost to fully give out, it makes driving posts in the ground immensely easier!

Garden Preparation (and even some planting!)

The plants are doing well under our grow lights.  The strawberry plants are greening up and the chive is ready for harvest.

We have been adding compost to the garden and are now ready to start some early planting.  Note that many plants can be planted before the last frost, some examples include kale, broccoli, cabbage, turnips, beets, carrots, cauliflower, celery, lettuce, onions, peas, potatoes, radish, and spinach.

Lesson learned: We always wait until the last frost and plant everything at once.  This year we will be staggering our planting, starting with cold weather crops over the next few days, and the rest after the last frost.

Tree Planting

Now is an excellent time to plant trees.  The sooner, the better.  The rule of thumb I have always went by was to get them in the ground before Mother’s day.  However, the best time is once the soil is workable. If you wait too long, prepare to put out much more work into nurturing and watering them.

We put two more apple trees in last weekend and planted 150 pines and deciduous trees on Wednesday.  Last weekend we marked out the trees we planted last year and added a thick 3-4 inches of cold compost (rabbit and goat manure + straw) around each tree to build up soil nutrients, maintain soil moisture, and help the trees access sunlight.

Lesson learned: Mark out the smaller trees and shrubs with flag markers until they get a little more visible to prevent them from getting mowed over, stepped on, or baled up.

Prepare the Hives

This is a new one for us, but I am extremely excited about it.  It is time to assemble and prepare the new bee hives for the bees we pick up in early May.

We put in our bee order with Mann Lake this week.  Two packages of bees, each with a queen, for two new hives!  I was hoping to build some more bee hives and honey supers, but I opted to order what I need right now as there is no way I will have time to put anything together from scratch before May 🙁

I also plan to setup a few bee traps in the woods.  Who knows, I might just get some free native bees and then in turn, add another hive to our homestead.  It only takes a little investment and minimal time, so, why not?

Now that you know what we are up to, how about you?  Do you have any fun (or not so much fun) Spring projects going on?  We’d love you heard from you!

-Jeremy

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