Sunday, October 29, 2006

Fall Harvest

Yesterday we traveled back to our once home town of Gulf Breeze to attend Calvary Chapel's annual harvest festival. The kids had a blast!

Gabrielle spent a great deal of time tackling the blow up obstacle course and other blow up adventures.

Gregory meanwhile participated in his first boxing match.

And jousting.

Gregory exulted in the victory of knocking his foe off the unstable center table.

With trepidation, the kids approached the climbing wall.

Looking a bit like Spiderman, Gregory tried to climb to the top several times.

He finally made it about half way up. He vows to conquer the climbing wall, "next time."

Gabrielle made a last minute climb up the wall herself. In the end however, she gave into the drama of fearing the height of the wall. Never mind that her swingset platform is much higher than she climbed.

Michael had his first experience with American culture.

He got his first Happy Meal from McDonalds.

On the home front, Gregory is finishing his last month of karate. We're going to have to pull him out for now while we wait for the sale of our property in Gulf Breeze. We agreed to allow him to stay in long enough to test for his yellow belt first. He has worked hard to prepare.

Gregory did great. He is attempting to advance 2 levels, which is allowed at this point only. He dreams of one day becoming a black belt. I just wish the whole thing was more affordable because karate has been so good for him.

Here Gregory prepares to do a double board break as part of his testing.

Our winter garden is starting to give us snap beans.

I steamed these and served them with sliced almonds and butter. They were absolutely delicious!

Today, we "processed" our first 6 chickens. Last night we separated the first chickens from the rest of the flock.

Kurt found a couple of old broken cribs he was able to cobble together well enough to hold 6 roosters. We gave them water and a branch on which to perch.

We finally found a use for the old A frame swing left on our property.

Kurt attached the "killing cone" to the frame. These cones are very calming for the chickens allowing you to achieve a calm kill, which is important for the best meat. As we told our children, every time we eat chicken we cause a chicken to be killed. However, when we raise our own chickens we can give them the best life possible and the calmest, quickest death possible.

Before plucking the feathers off a chicken, they need to be scalded for the feathers to release. Kurt found a great deal on a turkey fryer for the job.

Since this was our first time "processing" chickens, a man with far greater experience (27 "processed" chickens and 3 months) came over at day break to get us started. He taught us technique with the first two chickens. We are very grateful! We were able to get all 6 chickens into the refridgerator for aging by mid-morning. On Kurt's next day home he hopes we can do 10 chickens. That will leave about 10 more for his following day off. Afterwards I will be freezing and canning chicken meat and making and canning chicken soup for us for the winter. In the Spring we hope to get more meat chickens.

We are starting to have gloriously cool Fall weather. To stay warm, the kids have been absconding with my wool shawls.

In fact, the teal shawl I wove most recently is a bit smaller than my others and Gabrielle seems to think it fits her just right.

Michael likes wool so much that it calms him down whenever we wrap him in something wool. In fact, some of the members of the Spindlers group made him a superwash baby blanket when he was first born. He cannot sleep without this blanket and will caress it for comfort as he goes to sleep. What can I say, the kid has good taste!

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Fall Changes

Fall has finally come to the Gulf Coast and with it several changes.

Our little baby celebrated his first birthday and is really not our little baby any longer.

He discovered the joy of presents. It only took one or two.

After freezing for one last swim, we turned off the pool pump for the year. We are anxious to see how much this will save us off our outrageous electric bill.

Freezing or not and despite Kurt's dire predictions, Michael loves being in the pool, especially snuggled up close to his Daddy.

One of our most exciting triumphs for the year was the addition of a new well!

We used a wonderful well digger, George Coffey, who worked with us so that we could do this. I have a very strong desire to end our relationship with our high priced water company!

Mr. Coffey threw in getting the old well back on line and even donated an old pitcher pump to the cause. I've been more excited about this than I would have imagined. Unfortunately, the well doesn't work that well. Perhaps that is why it was abandoned. It is very shallow and the pump brings up water erratically. I hope we never have to rely on this back-up well. Perhaps one day we can replace the hand pump and get better results. In the meantime though, I love knowing it is available!

Kurt connected the deep water well to the house.

He worked hard to get it done. A great deal of clay came up as the well went down and that made for messy work. The kids however, couldn't keep themselves from the stuff.

I finally gave in and had them change into appropriate clothes for a mud bath. By that time Kurt had stripped down to his boxer shorts to keep from ruining his clothes, so I had to edit that part out of the picture.

Gabrielle truly found delight in getting covered in mud. She has always had an unnatural affinity for mud, dirt and rocks.

She made sure Gregory got completely involved as well. Well, that is not entirely true. It started out with me pushing Gregory into the mud/clay because he had tried to jump a mud puddle earlier and had instead, splattered me with the stuff.

Sensory issues aside, Gregory had a great deal of fun playing in the mud. He didn't like having mud in his eyes though.

One of the nicest things about the well so far is the fact we can now water the garden. We had been relying on rain and our garden had stopped producing much of anything.

Immediately after a couple of waterings, the garden sprang back to life and started producing again. The chickens did manage to peck most of the early produce to death, but have since lost interest in the garden - at least for now. Above you can see one of the surviving watermelon hanging from the fence that separates the summer and winter garden.

The hot peppers had never stopped growing, but have now burst into bloom and look like they will be plentiful again.

Our winter garden appreciates the water as well. Unfortunately, the hay we used to mulch the garden contained seed and that is growing as well. Pulling out individual blades of grass is not an easy job. Of course had we tried to seed the lawn, it never would have done so well.

The bush beans are already flowering. I wish I knew what kind of beans they will be producing. I confess I was mainly interested in planting something that would help fix nitrogen into the soil. It turns out our home is located on a former corn field. I can't believe we can grow anything! I need to find organic ways to add nitrogen back to the soil since corn requires heavy nitrogen to grow and probably left our soil nitrogen starved.

The chickens are practically full grown. They are 16 weeks old today. Here is one of the Americauna hens on top of a roost in the hen house.

Whenever we open up the coops, the roosters immediately race over to the hen's coop and try to take over. Poor hens. We plan to start thinning out the rooster ranks as soon as we can get the equipment together for doing so. We need to figure out a way to separate a group of roosters from the coop in the evening and then make them catchable for processing. We also have to do this without spending any money.

We are hoping to find eggs soon. As a result, the nests have made their debut in the hen house. Kurt has been collecting 5 gallon buckets from the Wal Mart deli for some time since we'd read we could turn them into nests for egg laying. He found this shelf unit at work, nailed flat boards to the bottom/sides of the buckets to keep them from rolling, cut the lids into crescents to hold in the nesting material and set the buckets on the shelf. He then used a piece of closet rod dowel he found to make perches outside of a couple of the shelves. The nests are not finished, but we wanted the chickens to get used to them in the meantime.

I've received several email inquiries about some of the low cost innovations in our chicken coop. I thought I would give some details for anyone who may be interested.

We discovered our chickens prefer "natural" roosts to ones made from cut boards. Therefore we look for large downed branches from the trees on our property. After cutting off smaller branches, these large branches make excellent roosts for the chickens.

We just wedge these branches where ever they will fit and where ever we can. The chickens love them.

Another branch we found had a couple right angles. Kurt built a simple brace for the other end and we made a free standing roost.

If you look in the back corner of the coop you can see one of the different feeders Kurt made from a PVC pipe. He simply cut a 3 inch PVC pipe lengthwise down the middle. He then capped off the ends with PVC capping. He created a support in the middle from a 2 by 4 scrap with some scraps of 1 by 2 and a dowel. We fill these pipes with feed and that provides plenty of feeding space for our roosters. We have two of these feeders in addition to the hanging bucket feeder Kurt created.

In the rooster quarters I built a roost out of wood I found around the property. I used a rounded off one by two for the actually roosts. The chickens wouldn't use them. Kurt came in and replaced my boards with branches and now half of the chickens are using the roost.

Since several people asked about the 5 gallon bucket feeder and waterers from my last post, I thought I would supply some additional details today.

For the hanging bucket feeder Kurt cut 4 pie wedge shapes out of the bucket bottom leaving only a cross of the original bottom material. He then secured the base with galvanized screws and washers. A washer on each side of the bucket bottom allows the height of the feeder to be adjusted. This feeder works great, however the chickens do tend to "beak out" feed from the base.

The bucket waterers work perfectly however. There are pictures of these in my last post. To make them, Kurt simply used galvanized screws and washers to tightly secure the base to the bottom of the 5 gallon bucket. He then drilled a single hole in the side of the bucket, under the water line. (We found the bases in the garden section of Wal Mart, though on my last trip I noted the area where I had previously found the bases were now stocked with Halloween supplies. Hopefully the bases will return to the shelves in the Spring. The bases were simply 15 inch diameter planter bases.)

When I refill a waterer, I remove the lid (which destroys the vacuum). To refill I simply hold my finger over the hole in the side until the bucket is filled. Then I quickly replace the lid. The water will gush out of the hole until a vacuum is recreated in a couple of seconds and then water will rise only to the top of the hole. A 1/4 inch hole should be sufficient, though Kurt made ours slightly larger (because he placed the original hole too low). I always place the hole side of the waterer facing the lowest side (unlevel ground) because the hole regulates water flow. If the hole is on the high side of the waterer and the water cannot cover the hole as a result, water will continue to seep out of the waterer until the waterer empties. (Don't ask me how I know this.)

Originally from the city, our family knows nothing about hunting. However, until we sell our Florida property [for enough money] we are having to be creative about meeting our grocery needs. And there are deer everywhere around here. So I was wondering.

This is a picture of the kids' treehouse. It is on the edge of the woods and we have seen deer in these woods. Would this work as a deer blind? We have one hunting rifle now (belonging to Gregory). It is a kid's model, but is supposed to be sufficient for deer. We were thinking if we got some deer corn perhaps we could get some deer meat for our freezer? We plan to butcher, oops, excuse me, the polite term is "process" about 25 roosters. I'm thinking a deer and 25 chickens might take care of meat for our family for most of the year.

Boy I wish someone in our family knew how to fish.

Gregory and I conceived of a new project and Gregory went right to work.

Gregory is digging a fire pit. I've always wanted an outdoor fireplace and since that isn't in the budget we thought we'd make due.

Gregory has just finished digging a nice hole for fires. Eventually we want to surround the hole with a patio of some sorts. We'd also like to find a grill portion of an old barbeque to lay across at least part of the pit. (This would let us cook outside if we want.) We have a pile of bricks on the property I thought we could use for a patio, but now I'm not sure if we have enough. I wish I could find chunks of concete from a demolished driveway or something. (Absent that, we may have to do something with bricks closest to the fire and then fade to pine straw toward the outside. We'll have to see.) The men even rolled a log over to the pit for some seating until we get our white plastic chairs cleaned up. Gregory says it looks like we are creating our own campsite on the property and he wants to do some camping in the yard.

The kids had to test out the fire pit last night when Gregory finished, naturally. Gabrielle, ever ready to help, raked up some kindling. I meant to get some pictures of them with the fire, but Michael is sick and would not tolerate sharing my attention with anything.

Not to be outdone, Kurt built a bonfire of his own. The former owner of our house piled up dead branches in several places in the yard. One such pile was close to the new fire pit. Kurt decided to light it up last night and even moved some additional wood to the pile to make a good blaze.

I understand a good time was had by all.

I'm still knitting when I can. Michael has been going through another demanding phase. He wants to sit on my lap anytime he sees me knitting. If I try to knit with him on my lap, he does his best to remove my needles from my work. Not enjoying this particular game, I knit when he is otherwise occupied. Thus, progress on my soaker goals goes slowly.

Over the last month I've only managed to finish one night time soaker and 4 diaper liners. I started this daytime weight soaker about a week ago. I'm using Lion's Brand Fishermen's Wool for the soaker and some Brown Sheep Naturespun for the color portions. This soaker had me carry 3 colors for 4 rows which was quite a challenge. I am getting better at it though. I tried a couple of techniques for carrying the yarn and liked Carissa's method best. Somewhere on her blog she posted a photo essay demonstrating her technique.

Fall is a great time for knitting. I'm looking forward to some consistent cool weather. That always motivates me to knit and work more with wool.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Chickens and Children

We continue our attempts to step back in time and find a simpler lifestyle. This means raising more of what we eat, recycling and reusing and lots of hard work! . . . Well, it is one way to handle living on a single income, especially when that income is a ministry income.

My husband finished the second chicken coop a couple of weeks ago. This is our budget coop.

Since we plan to eat most of the chickens in this coop, we didn't build a shelter. We are using tarps for now, plus the camper shell we found on the property.

This is definitely our "tight budget" coop. Here is the feeder my husband made.

We got three five gallon buckets free from the Wal Mart deli. We then purchased some $2.44 bases that are designed to go under plants. Add a little hardware and a chain and you get a hanging feeder. Or, a waterer.

My clever husband designed and built two of these waterers. We are hoping to be able to get some more buckets soon for another feeder or two.

About a week ago we started free ranging our chickens. I've wanted to do this all along, but the hawks which constantly circle our property concerned me. The chickens are doing great however and we haven't had any predator problems so far.

The kids love having the chickens wandering around. They keep taking their food outside after meals to lure the chickens onto the porch. Now we have a porch that must be carefully navigated. The chickens like the porch.

Gabrielle loves to sit on the steps and watch the chickens.

Granted she likes to pet them and is always trying.

Gregory likes to pet the chickens too. The chickens only put up with the petting after being sufficiently bribed with lots of people food.

Lilly has adjusted well to sharing her territory with the chickens.

Sometimes we can tell she wants to chase them. But she is a good dog and has resisted her doggie instincts.

However, when I saw her foraging with the chickens, I thought things had gone too far.

It is so nice to sit on the front porch and watch the chickens. We are all really enjoying it.

I am still harvesting our garden produce.

I made green salsa the other day from our hot peppers, tomatillas and green tomatoes. Whenever the tomatoes get ripe, the bugs get them so I have been looking for ways to use green tomatoes. I need to figure out an organic way to protect the tomatoes next year. For starters, I plan to grow them in a new area. I suspect the previous owner of our home grew tomatoes in the same location through the years. I hope by planting them somewhere else, we will at least start off without so many tomato pests.

We've enjoyed several watermelon from the garden so far.

This was a tiny one, but so delicious! I've been letting the family eat half of each melon and then freezing the other half for our smoothies. Of course they like the "watermelon popsicles" and so I don't have much put away for later.

Sometimes a watermelon will burst, usually after rain.

When this happens, I give the melon to the chickens who don't mind bugs in their fruit. They love watermelon too.

I pulled the last couple of cucumbers out of the garden the other day. I don't know how we will ever be able to eat store bought cucumbers again.

We have started our winter garden.

You can't see it too well, but the beans are already coming up. We used chicken coop left-overs to build a better fence this time. I plan to plant greens and I want to keep the rabbits away.

We've started back to our home-school. I'm still waiting for the kids to get back into the swing of it.

We joined a home-school group in a neighboring town. The group got together for a park day and the kids had a blast. Gregory and Gabrielle both met new friends and are extremely happy. Michael had some fun at the park too.

He decided grass wasn't so bad afterall.

He spotted his sister and took off.

On the knitting front, I am still working on my cloth diapering system. Now that I have a few soakers made, I am starting to have fun with them. I've done one with anchors and sailboats and most recently, strawberries.

This was the first time I ever attempted to carry three colors on a single row. It was awkward.

However, I did manage to finish the soaker, my seventh, so all is well. I'm also knitting diaper liners out of dish-cloth cotton using a pattern from the Knit List. I've finished four so far, but would like to make 36 or so. I would also like to do another five or six soakers. I have a great deal of knitting in my future!