Happy New Year! Plans...and Quandaries

Like so many others, we keep getting threats of winter storms and then nothing comes of it. This has been the warmest winter so far I can remember; the holidays came and went and family came to visit and went home again, and it feels like spring already! Of course this is a fluke, and will be ending all too soon.

(all that 3" of snow is gone already)

For New Years, I like making goal plans rather than resolutions, but here’s one:
"Don’t let the unknowns slow me down." 
I’m often paralyzed by wondering what could /will be…rather than working through what needs to be and can be, accomplished now. Just one little thing, one small action step. That's all it takes- today.

From the "12 Folders": 
January focus –WELLNESS: all Health improvement categories ( muscle conditioning and flexibility exercises, etc. Dietary: add to diet/ remove from diet/ foods and recipes to try, etc.)
First, on revamping the menu plan...
#1 adding salads (with fruits) to the mix, a healthier alternative to the norm, and in weightloss efforts (middle age creeping up).
#2 adding more ‘vegetarian’ meals to each week –especially those using beans or cheeses. Not so much for health reasons as for financial ones.
#3 experimenting more with grains in many ways – for health and budget. Soaking & toasting grains, using as a rice alternative (side of quinoa instead of rice for instance), sprouting grains, beans and seeds (eat sprouts!), growing grains, and baking with whole grains (granola, breads, etc.)
#4 exercising
#5 adding ginger, and vitamin B12 to my routine dietary aids for health
(ginger is among the best spices for it's anti-inflammitory properties, and B12 is an anti-aging vitamin! Dr. Oz says so!)

This is the format, featuring motivational graphics for that months' focus:

Inside the folder are how-to's and other pertinent info.
(If I want to make some perfume for Valentines there is a link to the website to order decorative perfume bottles, and a recipe template, etc.) 
The calender is full of the things pertinent to that month, PLUS small actions on annual goals evenly spaced, plus whatever chores are scheduled. And anything else I need to remember, like birthdays.
It looks something like this example:

2012 Agenda
* get a 3-part compost pile going
* build a cold frame /raised bed & start vertical gardening in cold frame
* line the driveway with Russian Sage (propagated indoors winter of 2011), then propagate more (for bees)
* grow herbs in containers on the deck
* hatch 36 chicks – some for sale, some to refresh the laying stock, and inevitably some for the freezer. I only want 1 dozen hens in the coop.
* try growing shade-loving plants on the coop shelves (herbs, flowers?)
*consider breeds/sources and price: ducks, goats, geese, turkeys, rabbits, bees, red worms/nightcrawlersconsider Dexter cow vs multipurpose fiber goats
*a pantry full of storage buckets full of:
dried beans,  (Pinto, Red, Navy, Black, Anasazi, peas & lentils), sunflower seeds, rice, peas, popcorn, salt, coffee, sugar, peanut butter, SPAM, cans of milk + powdered milk
-and jars of dehydrated produce- herbs, veggies, nuts, fruits, honey & molasses
*set up 400 sq ft of indoor square-foot gardening set-up w/ grow lights (our downstairs living space with cement floor)
* implement seed storage system & make seed storage packets for uniformity (I'm using paper bags from the grocery store)
*grow black-oil sunflowers for poultry (protein supplemental feed)
* assorted birdfeed grains grown (an experiment) for poultry feed over the septic leach ground
* try groing popcorn and feed corn
* plant all apple and peach seeds
* propagate Russian sage plants for bees

wish list / to get:
grain mill, hand pump for water well,  stovetop canner, solar powered radio/battery charger, storage containers, canning supplies, and cast iron cookware

buy bulk items:
blue jeans, socks, ammo, batteries), candle wicking, kerosene, needles & thread, burlap, cotton & muslin fabric, hoses, piping, wire, bed linens, etc.

Things to do:
* fence far field (1/2 acre), work to amend the soil on ¼ acre for pasture or gardening
* pond set up for fish (40’x60’) with solar water aeration
* learn to make:  household soaps (later: cheese, apple-cider vinegar)
* track egg production,  contact interested parties for eggs and live poultry
* sew my own summer tops


-----And now the current chicken and the egg update...oh goodie!

I've been dealing w/ chicken issues over the past few weeks: lighting & deep bedding, and heating (because of frozen water), and more days with no eggs - discovering and jailing the egg-eaters...

I'm so perplexed at my chickens-eating-eggs situation and have divided my coop (situating water, feed, nests, lights, etc. on both sides of a makeshift ‘fence’ made of two folding beds) to try and mitigate this problem!

They actually will learn this bad behavior from other chickens so I have to nip this in the bud if I can or could end up with the whole flock doing it!

Now there is definitely at least one more doing it. (I either nabbed the wrong chicken the first time, or she's already taught many of the others to do it) - or they still need something nutrition-wise, though I can't imagine what that could be- protein?

Anyway, although I caught one for sure, one was just suspect ( she was pecking the area where an egg had been eaten earlier), however of the 7 hens 3 look identical, and though I had 2 of those identical 3 separated and locked up-  I'm not sure at all who the 3rd one is now that was eating the eggs from the main group - except that it's not the white hen.

UPDATE: After 1 week with 3 total hens jailed up (two of whom I caught in the act, and the one suspect), I began to get 2 eggs a day from the hen jail side and NONE from the others...
So, I let out the 3. Maybe they'd learned their lesson.

After 3 days of getting 1 or 2 eggs a day, I caught one of the hens AGAIN eating an egg (probably her own), and now she’s back inside the hen jail.
Still finding no other eggs. Perhaps it’s their age as much as an egg-eater?? They’ll be 3 years old this spring.

Yesterday I caught one of them at it again, and re-incarcerated her. Then this morning she laid - and didn't eat the egg!
Well, she can stay put. I got 2 more eggs today from the others. 

Keeping an eye on them is a pain without a webcam – I have to run out and check every so often. 
This flock is apparenly “contrary” to most; they don't all lay in the morning like normal chickens are “supposed” to do!
One lays around 11am, one around 2pm and one around 4:30pm! Of course this can vary since they are now almost 3 years old and are not laying daily, and a 26-hour rather than a 24-hour layer will always vary anyway. SO my 11pm layer will lay around 9am the next day...

Sheesh, maybe I should paint a spot on them to tell them all apart. I know there are a few now not laying at all.

I’m getting 2-3 eggs a day if I go out often enough (4x a day). Even the confirmed egg-eaters will often leave me eggs, sometimes the only eggs

Which is fine enough for our own use but not for selling any. I have a client who is allergic to the hormones and whatever else is in the store-bought eggs, but she can eat plain organic ones.  (If there are more laying then the eggs are disappearing.)

I want to hatch eggs this spring and that won't happen if this keeps going on. Not to mention they may be a relatively cheap livestock animal but they sure aren't free, and buying a dozen organic eggs is well over $4 a dozen even at Wal-Mart! I could feed twice the # chickens I have for a month adding on that price in feed (another bag), rather than keep all 7 alive for nothing.

Prices continue to go up, and I continue to concern myself about how to be more frugal. We now eat only ground beef once a week and get steaks maybe once every 2-3 months! (It's cheaper to get it as a restaurant meal). I'm currently studying the costs related to raising our own meat chickens, too. Several people have shown interest in getting a flock of their own- but I doubt I can compete with the feed store pricing. I don’t know at this time if the Cochins are a dual-purpose breed, but they are a slightly heavier weight than other chickens.

I still want to get goats - for milk, cheese, and meat, fiber (mohair or cashmere) and hides, but am just now beginning to study on this. Goats are not a high priority just yet- maybe I’ll bump them up to summer, but I’d like to get our garden plans going first.

(Seriously, I get excited by all the projects one could do, with a long-haired goat...)

Reasons to get a goat:
* Less start-up cost than a cow and easier to manage.
* Will clear our property of scrub oak twigs, weeds, etc. (they aren’t grass grazers like cows). This equals fire mitigation! (We're on the edge of drought).
* A nanny goat can produce 3 to 5 liters of milk a day for ten months.
* Goat milk can be used to make cheese, butter, yogurt, and ice cream -- or just drink it straight.
* Goat milk is more easily digested than cow's milk.
* They are smaller than cows and easier to house. 
* Less winter feed costs.
*Goats can be butchered for meat and their hides kept or sold for shoes and clothing. (slaughter them just as they're weaned, before they start eating grass when there is most fat on them.)
* ‘Hair’ or ‘fiber’ goats -cashmere and angora for cashmere and mohair (I think cashmere goats will be out of my price range)
* Offspring can be sold to supplement costs of goats you keep.
* Tax write-offs.
* Manure is great for compost.

Reasons NOT to... well, it means decisions and a bit of a learning curve and some cost, and building, and less simplicity and follow-thru. Once you get them you need to do something with them to make it a worthy and viable aid to living standards.

It just feels like another form of food security, or diversity, to me, even if I don’t plan on a lot of butchering going on, I’ll have the OPTION open and that makes sense to me in this highly unstable economic climate.

My quandaries and thoughts on adding goats to the mix:

I could create fencing for dual-purposes on ½ an acre (two halves - each ¼ acre). One half is fallow and used for a few goats (great manure). The other half for productive gardening. Each year, switch around  (you never want to keep goats on a piece of land for long anyway or it increases need of de-worming).

OR I could dedicate the ½ acre to an orchard,  and give the goats not only a permanent fenced area but continue to move them around the property in non-snow seasons enclosed within an electric mesh fence during the day.

We have neighborhood dogs and coyotes, and mountain lion- so I’m not sure how I feel about this or how risky it is. We have 10 acres, most of which is still wild growth of trees and scrub oak and isn’t flat- I couldn’t keep eye on them all day.
However, that ½ acre is the only place cleared for orchard trees (dwarf and semi-dwarf).
It’s a little bit of a dilemma I’m hoping to discover an answer to as I learn.

The sustainable plan looks something like this:

* indoor gardening year-round, container/deck and raised garden plots in season, and cold frame
* straw & pine shavings from the coop for mulch 
* raise red worms (and maybe nightcrawlers) under the rabbit cages
* as a source of winter protein for chickens
* worm castings for garden soil (tea fertilizer too)
* bunny hair is fiber you can spin with,
* rabbits are a source of seasonal meat (if desired)
* rabbit pens under orchard trees,
* trees provides shade for rabbits, trees provide blooms for bees too
* rabbits provide fertilizer to trees,
* tree provides fruit to us,
* fruit scraps and cores into compost,
* compost to garden,
* garden attracts bugs,
* chickens eat bugs and scratch out weeds,
* chickens lay eggs,
* shells go into compost, (or back to chickens as a form of calcium)
* compost to orchard trees,
* deep compost in chicken house to keep chickens warm, keep the ammonia smell down and easily compost the manure into good garden compost. Adding shredded paper scrap in with the bedding.
* chicken coop next to garden so they can eat the weeds picked and the refuse from garden every day OR compost pile in chicken yard- they’ll scratch thru and mix it up
* gourds or other vining arbor over chicken yard for shade, and black-oil sunflowers around the perimeter of the coop yard will provide a protein food in winter
* bees can forage close to home
* bees provide honey, wax, etc. and God willing won't develop the "disappearing-act disease" (I've heard that wifi signals can affect them, but I think we all suspect the prolific use of pesticides too).
* bordering the property and filling it with prolific growth of Russian sage which is great for xeriscaping in a drought-prone area, and propagates well from cuttings.
* Gray rinse water from washing machine run out the window to water flowers/trees.
* wood ash and pine needles for soil amending with compost and manures
* spinning animal hair fiber into wool/yarn for crochet and knitted goods (socks, blankets, etc.)

Not sure how goats and/or cow will fit into this equation!!
***Dexters are a small breed of cattle that requires half the room and feed that an average meat breed (Angus) would need. Grit magazine even gave one away, so they seem a most practical cow for a homestead. 

It's an urgent kind of quest, this new journey into backup systems of security and sufficiency. 
Not only because the future is so insecure, but even in normal times I'm looking at age 50 now and we have no savings; what we earn is all going toward living and business expenses. Every new thing I take on MUST pull it's weight, adding either an aspect of sustaining our lifestyle or improving it.

I know that to accomplish most of these ideals will take incredible fortitude and courage, good health, and a bit of luck too! It's a risk, but you know, I can't think of anything else I'd rather be doing. 
For the sake of argument, I could go back to school, but the payback in income (unless you start a successful business) is at the whim and mercy of not just someone else (who's needs will always come first), but of the global economy. Which has no offerings to the middle class person... 
And inflation is pounding the middle class lower, slowly but surely, even without obvious 'crisis'.
THAT sounds more risky to me. 
Besides, we already have a huge student loan hanging over our heads.

So homesteading is the plan I'll stick with, even if it seems almost overwhelmingly un-do-able for little 'ol me:
There are decisions to make, and plans to cement, artistic endeavors to try, and staying organized, tracking costs and production, and learning skills, and supplies to get, and things to build and arrange. 

This winter, I'm concentrating on the chickens, on art, getting a garden plan ready (seeds, systems), working a property map, and debating the goats. Or cow.
I've discovered some promising breeds and ideas. I sure think about getting involved in 4-H volunteering, just so I can learn!

Current biggest issue is that Hubby is completely consumed with carrying on our business income, and though we talk about plans and he's interested, he's pretty much preoccupied and not interested or 'into' making decisions on building anything or helping me figure things out. I'm kinda on my own. That's ok, it worked out with getting the chickens!!

Gardening plans have started in earnest- so far the methods of gardening are cemented, but what I'm growing is still up in the air. I'm checking out seeds right now... it's so fun!

Growing methods planned:

* a 4’x8’ coldframe using raised bed and vertical growing method
* square-foot gardening in 8 raised beds (cinderblock and 2”x12” lumber cut 4’x4’, and in tires)
* vertical gardening (using wood and string ties for vine plants)
* container gardening for herbs
* growing in buckets (potatoes w/ pine shavings or straw, in buckets that aren’t good for anything else)
* indoor gardening with grow lights (in containers as well as in raised beds 4’x4’) This is last on the priority list as purchasing supplies like lights is expensive.

I am looking at our cedar trees (logs) for enclosing raised garden beds as well as filling up the bottom:
-takes a long time to break down
-has the advantage of repelling insects which do damage in the garden
-cedar shavings as mulch to keep the worms off  broccoli and cauliflower
-using wood in the bottom of raised beds is good as well as it is hygroscopic which means it attracts moisture from the soil and air. it can help prevent runoff and maintain moisture in the soil during dry times – the technique is called something German-sounding that starts with an ‘H’. 

There are so many things to consider and prep for and get supplies for, it's a little bit overwhelming. First things first, breathe, one little thing at a time!

Complete Property Mapping includes:  

*    *  property boundaries and 4 directions, seasonal usual wind and storm course, etc
*     land uses (such as pasture, garden, manure pile, wildlife plot, windbreak). Include neighboring land uses if it may affect you in some way 
    *existing  fences, corrals, water troughs, gates
*    * existing structures such as driveway, outbuildings, greenhouses
*    *  utilities (wells, septic system, power and telephone lines, etc) above and below the ground
*     *streams, wetlands, ponds, ditches, land slopes, runoff courses, flood planes, etc
*     *adjacent roads, driveways, or easements
*     * bare ground, weedy areas, or other problem areas
*    *  tree stands (for foresting), special trees, problem trees and stumps
*    *  natural amenities (rock material, water sources, etc.)
*     * soil types (using web soil survey)
*     * zoning, building codes, and other local regulations which might require permits or govern land uses.
*    *  water rights and restrictions (+ water well test, water capacity, etc.)
*     * List each distinct section of your property and its major land use. Acres-
     -the approximate size of each area
*     * specific improvements which you’d like to make. 
*     * concerns - such as resource concerns, seasonal problems, maintenance and production issues.  
    This should be 'fun'... I'll share what I come up with!

I'ld love to see what you've come up with to keep busy this winter- and what plans you're making! 
Send me a link to your site or your lists!

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