Tuesday, April 30, 2013

April Homestead Update

As for life in the country and efforts to be self-sufficient, we are kicking into high gear this month.  Unfortunately, I sometimes feel like, while we keep moving forward, we also fall back.  We might be learning how to make better use of our space, getting a greenhouse and hoop-houses built, learning more and more about beekeeping, and enjoying an increasingly established garden, but there is so much to maintain!  Garden gates are sagging, paint is peeling, weeds find new places to push through, and our barn walls are rotting into nothing.
This is our goat barn.  We've been ignoring the problem for too long.  But the solution is daunting!
We finally, after YEARS of working at it, have the pasture fenced for the goats.  (It was finished in 2007, but two winters of severe flooding took it all down.)  Now, the pasture is a short walk down a hill via a switchback, but the goats have all become very comfortable in a fenced area close to the house.  They love to graze just outside of their enclosure, but they get nervous when I take them down to the pasture, and they panic if I put them inside of the fence and leave.  So far, they have always found a way out, and will work their way back up to our driveway, sometimes limping as if they went to desperate measures to escape.  Yesterday, I believe I secured all exit points by stretching chicken wire across any slightly wide openings and putting concrete blocks under the gates.  They stayed put, bleating as if their hearts were broken, for a couple of hours.  The goal is to have them grazing down there during the day, reducing our need to buy feed by about 90%.  (It's about time!)

This is just a small area of the pasture; a giant goat buffet.
This is part of our effort to make sense of having goats.  Until now, they have been expensive weed-composting machines and sweet pets.  We recently bought a baby boy goat named Thorin.  In a few months, he'll be old enough to impregnate our 3 does.  We plan to sell the offspring when they are weaned (we have enough goats) and milk the does.  Yes, we have had goats for 10 years without successfully milking them.  It's a long story.  So, if we can cut cost of feed and have fresh goat milk, it will justify my choice to keep goats.
Introducing Thorin.  He is very shy and nervous around people.  He sure is adorable, though.
We lost 2 ducks in early spring to raccoons.  But the remaining 3 include a female, and I'm still hoping she'll hatch some babies.  So far, she has no interest.  I find her cold eggs scattered all over the place.  But, they wander around all day and through the night munching slugs.  Tomorrow, I will be picking up a pair of baby geese to live in the veggie garden.  Ducks and geese are excellent slug control.  We also have 2 teenage Buff Orpington chicks and 2 baby Polish chicks living in the greenhouse with Blind Chicken.

Blind chicken was attacked by our cute little lap dog last year and, while she recovered her health, she can't see.  I put her in front of food and water every day.  The other chickens are incredibly cruel to her, so she lives in the greenhouse for now.  We have a new coop in progress, which needs to be completed soon so that we can put plants into the dirt in the greenhouse without them being eaten by the chicks.  Blind chicken will live in the old coop with the ducks and geese.

We spend all of our spare time trying to keep up with weeds, failing gates that are tied together with bungee cords, seed planting, and general cleaning.  As usual, we are late getting the garden tilled and planted, but Mike is advisor for his school's horticulture club, so we get starts from them each year at the plant sale, and that helps us catch up.  Then, Mike has a couple of months during summer to spend working the garden and taking care of all of these huge projects.
This is a section of the perennial garden, which is interspersed with herbs, hops, grapes, strawberries and raspberries.

Sometimes, I think I should keep two blogs: one for homesteading and one for art.  I'm not very good at writing about why they are inherently connected.  But, I use each to support the other, if that makes sense.  I earn shockingly little income from my mosaic at this point.  My daughter is still young enough, and we are so remote and lacking a support system, that the cost of getting a job outweighs the benefit.  Through my efforts  splitting my time between homesteading activities and trying to grow the business, we are able to squeak by on Mike's income.  Plus, we get fresh, homegrown food and best of all, a really great lifestyle.  Our daughter has grown up with a mom who creates almost every day and she has been by my side at art shows and festivals since she was a baby.  She is very proud when people come to see my work, or when I make an appearance in a newspaper or magazine.  She has also helped harvest a lot of our food, and she helps herself to food straight from the garden, happily snacking on kale and fennel and using chives as straws.  So, I am considering starting a separate blog just for art, but I don't know if it's necessary.  I would be curious to know what my nine followers think.


  1. When you do have goats milk, I know how to make goat cheese, thanks to a great class I took in Wisconsin. It turns out wonderful.

    Pat G

  2. Jennifer, I really enjoyed reading about your farm. We are kindred spirits in mosaic and homesteading, though I make-do with an urban lot that is over-planted and challenged by coastal weather. Still there is room for my little studio by the garden, our chickens, a small greenhouse and a modest home. Interesting how gardening and art seem to go hand-in-hand.
    I missed your mosaic get-together this summer because of Lynn's class, but I wonder if you have considered doing something similar that would earn you some money. Perhaps charge a very modest amount for a weekend "mosaic retreat"... some instruction, simple food, place to sleep. Nothing fancy. I know I would be interested!