Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Spring chores on the homestead

Both kids are on the mend from yesterday's stomach flu, though Older Daughter is still weak as water and not up to much (she got it worse than Younger Daughter). Schoolwork was out of the question, so Don and I got some outdoor work done.

With the weather holding for another day or two (before more rain moves in), Don decided to get some fence holes augered to rebuild our garden/orchard fence.

Moving the auger into position...

Augering a hole...

Lydia wonders what's going on...

You can see the tangled, hog-tied, ridiculous excuse of a fence we have around the yard and garden. Is it any wonder last year's vegetables were devoured by the deer? I doubt these fences would keep out a possum.

I ordered 200 bare root strawberry plants, which have been shipped and are on their way. They should be here any day. This means we had to get at least one berry bed completed and ready to fill with dirt to plant the strawberries.

Cutting a 2x10 to fit across the ends of the beds.

Fitting the end piece.

A five-foot long 2x10 across one end will give me a four-foot wide berry bed.

The beams were not the same length, plus one beam had a rotten end.

Trimming the rotten end with a saws-all.

These beams came from an old barn we took down for some folks in our church. Despite their age (about 50 years) and the one rotten end, they're solid and clean through and through.

Measuring the other beam to trim it and square up the bed.

Trimming the other beam to fit.

I think men in overalls are SO sexy...

Here's Ruby and her calf Smokey. It turns out Smokey is a dun color. Who'da thunk? A dun calf means she got one dun allele from each parent. I had no idea they were carriers. Either which way, she's such a pretty calf.

Late in the afternoon, our neighbor Dallas came back and took another crack around our proto wheat field with his ginormous tractor and borrowed mega-disker.

Before he re-disked, you can see how lumpy the newly-broken sod is.

Re-disking helped a lot. Now for the rest of the summer, we can re-disk it ourselves using our smaller disker to keep the weeds from coming back. Come fall, we'll try planting wheat.

Younger Daughter carved herself out a little patch of garden where she planted some flowers.

The cut sides of the seed potatoes are cured and ready to plant.

I strung baling twine along the length of the garden to make a straight row.

I dug a shallow trench along the string using a broken-off hoe. (A new hoe is on my wish list.)

I used the black bucket to transport the potatoes. Easier than carting that heavy box around.

I stopped at four rows. I could have planted six or seven more rows, but that would have taken up half the garden.

As it was, I had lots of potatoes left. I'll give these to a neighbor who is planting her garden this weekend.

But since these potatoes are merely lying on the surface, they need to be covered with a thick bed of hay to be officially "planted."

A wheelbarrow full of hay. It's a tiresome job to trundle dozens of barrows of hay to cover the potatoes, but they're not really planted until they're covered.

Raven wonders what I'm doing...

Turn my back for one minute and the chickens are all over the hay...

I got about half the bed covered with hay before I quit for the day. I'm pooped!


  1. george Ure at Urbansurvival.com seems on the same sort of bent of realitys as you all...

  2. I learn a lot from reading your columns about homesteading. I am beginning to understand why people left the farms for the cities...it's a ton of work. When my parents bought a small place in the country, after being in the suburbs for 30 years, my dad, who was raised on a farm, said he'd forgotten how much work it was (and he just had a garden and a few cows). Anyway, your columns could be a "how to " manual for would-be homesteaders! One question...why do you cover the potatoes with hay and not dirt?
    Sandy in Ga

  3. my sister in law and her husband live on a neighboring farm..close enough where i can just go out on the deck and look across the pasture and up the hill to see if they are home or what they are up to...anyway, your "fence" is just like that of my brotherin laws'...lol, if there is a tree standing nearby and no post at hand guess where the wire is going..my husband and i an our young son put up new fencing many years ago and it is still holding up pretty good..but every now and then when i glance up into some of the trees i can see where a fence wire was stapled at one time. i would say your fence looks pretty good compared to my brother in laws-by a long shot. he has gotten better through the years about using posts. have a good day! caryn in northeast mississippi

  4. Is that a Ford tractor you have? My dad had one when we were growing up - a Ford 8N (supposedly the best tractor ever made!). When he died, it still looked like new, and we sold it to a young man who was just starting a small farm. We think we found a good home for it!

  5. Love the strawberry beds. Are you going to cover the grass with wet cardboard boxes or newspaper? It's amazing how determined pesky weeds are in a raised bed! We enjoy the blog down here in North Texas! It's 74 degrees this morning and supposed to top out at around 90 this afternoon! Looks like summer is here already.

  6. Answering some question:

    Potatoes: Potatoes can be planted a number of ways. They can be planted deep (about 1 foot down) in dirt. They take awhile to germinate but produce well this way. On the other hand, it's a helluva lot of digging to get them out in the fall.

    Or, they can be planted shallowly (is that a word?) in dirt and supplemented with hay piled on top. This is the idea scenario, though there is still digging involved.

    Or, for the truly lazy, just lay the potatoes on the ground (eyes up) and mound hay over them. The potatoes won't grow as big, but to harvest them, all you have to do is pitchfork off the hay. Much easier.

    I'm all for being lazy, so that's the technique I'm using this year.

    Berry beds: Yes, I intend to lay newspaper down just before we get the dirt in the beds. Weeds, as everyone knows, are the bane of every gardener. This time we're going to do it right and keep most of the blinkin' weeds from growing in the first place.

    Tractor: Yep, that's a 1949 Ford 8N and my husband's pride and joy. Life is so much easier with a strong workhorse to do the heavy work!

  7. Brings back memories of when we had the farm. Of all the places we lived, the farm is where I still consider 'home'. A LOT of hard work but a lot of rewards and memories. Great post.

  8. I'm in the suburbs but most of my back yard is garden. I grow potatoes in small trash cans with little holes drilled all over for air vents. About 12 inches of peat soil, seed potato, 6 inches of soil, and every time the plant gets 4 inches high, I nearly cover it with straw until it reaches the top of the can. Then I let it grow and bloom. In the fall, just tip the can over. Potatoes have grown all through that layer of straw.

  9. Give those poor chickens a pile of straw of their own! LOL

  10. Save the Canning JarsMay 26, 2010 at 10:20 AM

    Picking potatoes instead of digging potatoes is certainly easier. My potatoes were planted 4 inches deep, covered with dirt and then mulched with straw...so I'll be digging a bit. But in Okla., the wind is so strong that I have to use old bricks to sold the straw in place so it won't blow to Kansas! I planted 50 lbs of cut pieces in one day. By that night I was hurting, sitting down to the dinner table with a pillow on my chair, moaning. Good for you for not trying to do it all in one day!

  11. Have you tried putting a visible string or twin up about 4' above the fence? The idea is that the deer see it and don't jump over as they concerned about getting caught up in something.Of course you still need something to tie it to, but it is less work and cheaper than a really tall fence.
    Tim in Seattle

  12. Funny you should say that those fences wouldn't keep a possum out; Here in Australia possums are very pesky pests. I've heard that if you make your fence with a bit of sag in it they won't climb it because it feels unstable. So possums might be the only thing they keep out! :)

  13. A reader from Australia, eh? Cool! And welcome!

    Our "possums" are more correctly called "opossums." They're marsupials but a species distinct from the Australian possums (which are actually - and correctly - called possums). Um, can you tell I have a biology background?

    Australia is a place I'd *seriously* love to visit. Not sure I could handle the heat for very long, though...

    - Patrice

  14. I'm a city girl, and can't get a straight answer from anyone-- Do those chickens go back into the coop/ chicken house all by themselves at night, or do you have to call them, shoo them, catch them? They have to be closed up at night to keep them safe from predators, don't they?

  15. The chickens go into the coop by themselves. And thank goodness for that - it's like herding kittens to get them to go where you want. Having a small light on in the coop helps; it's literally a beacon in the dark for them. If the power goes out we usually have to scoop them up from random spots in the driveway or barn because they've settled for the night wherever they are. Not too bright, chickens.

    - Patrice

  16. Since I know next to nothing about 'taters, I have a couple questions about them. Why not plant a few different varieties? In the photos, it appears the seed potatoes are all one variety. If a blight or some other disease should hit them, you'd have done a lot of work for little reward. If you planted various varieties, shouldn't that potential problem be avoided? Also, wouldn't they have different harvest dates, maybe by a month or so, and thereby extend their life in the root cellar? Besides, it's fun having some golds, purples and reds for potato salads and for mashed potatoes. Just pondering out loud.
    PS: "discovered" your site through SurvivalBlog.com. I Love what you're doing!! Thanks for educating us.

    MEG in No. CAL.

  17. There's no special reason why I couldn't plant multiple types of potatoes except (a) we're pretty basic kinds of folks and don't usually eat any fancy varieties, and (b) we have limited space in the garden and would like to plant three types of beans, tomatoes, melons (two types), peas, onions, corn, herbs, broccoli, lettuce, peppers, spinach, and pumpkins.

    We don't anticipate a blight (we're pretty isolated from the gardens of our neighbors) so at this point we'll just stick with the basics.

    - Patrice

  18. We're doing the hay method this year too. Sometimes we do an equally lazy method... putting them in the bottom of 5 gallon buckets and dumping soil on top... come time to harvest, you just dump the bucket over and pick up the potatoes.

  19. Very helpful, your photos, Patrice; thanks much for your work. I'm a city slicker who is now setting up his 'Doomstead,' and I have tons to learn.

  20. Patrice,
    You need to train your chickens there girl!( in your spare time) :-) Since mine were baby chicks I have always whistled for them when I have goodies to dish out....4 years later I whistle...they come running. I know, sounds like a dog experiment. But it has helped me out when I had a girl that was missing, many a time! All 20 of mine seem to make their way into the coop at night on their own. I do a nightly head count to be sure. We too have a solar light that comes on for them at dusk to help them settle in . I would recommend that for anyone starting out . Love the photo of your chickens.


  21. LOL, Tina - I have a problem - I can't whistle! Honestly, not a note. I tried for years and just gave up. To call the chickens, I step outside with kitchen scraps and call, "Chick-chick-chick-chick-chick-CHIIIIIIKKKK!" Brings them in a hurry, let me tell you.

    I hadn't thought of a solar light. That's a *fabulous* idea. Can you give some more specifics about it? Where you found it, how much it costs, etc?

    - Patrice

  22. Patrice,
    we purchased the solar shed light at Harbor freight ( they are online also) It has an on and off switch. I think it is 15 watt. you can not use it during daylight hours only dusk/dark. I have had it for 3 years and it works well. I leave it "on" so it comes on automatically at dusk for the girls. The only problem is ,if it is really over cast it will not recharge and can not be used that evening. I think it was around $40- $50 dollars , maybe less.

    I since have purchased a 3 foot square solar panel kit that will charge a car battery and with a power inverter I can use it during the daylight hours in my garden shed ...always need some music to garden by . It runs my radio, an inside light and a string of nifty looking outdoor lights that hang under the porch roof on the garden shed. That setup cost around $200. Alittle pricey , but the fact it can charge a car battery means, should the power fail, I have a source to charge the back up battery to my pellet stove so the auger and blower motor will work. This too we got at Harbor Freight.

    Hope this helps.