Beast and Birds Showdown

While sitting on my back porch this morning, I saw two large black birds standing in our garden adjacent to our hen-house.

The northeast view from our back porch window.

I squinted and got up from my seat to get a better look, and I saw that they were vultures, just standing there beside our well-house.

I went out to shew them away and to see why they were there, thinking there were probably dead animals out there.

But when I got to where they were, I saw all our birds (chickens, ducks and turkeys) alive, standing at the fence on the outside looking in at them. It was like they were having a staring contest — a showdown at sundown, only it was 8:30 in the morning!

A portion of our flock at mid-day pecking at the ground.

I was yelling at the vultures, briefly thinking this may not be such a smart move, but I did so anyway, and they flew out of the garden and into the side pasture.

Then, the most amazing thing happenedContinue reading “Beast and Birds Showdown”

The Cost of Our Milk

Our kids love cereal, particularly our boys. I think they would eat it all day, every day if I let them. But I don’t.

However, I’m fine with letting them drink as much milk as they want. That’s because our milk comes from our own animals.

This is a chore my husband is not particularly fond of, and he often wonders if the cost of obtaining that milk is truly appreciated by all those who consume it.

So, in the interest of having our kids better understand the cost of our milk, I started having them recently go out with my husband each time he milked and be a part of the process.  Continue reading “The Cost of Our Milk”

Transplanting Chickweed

My youngest son has been struggling lately with sleeping all the time, and I believe part of his problem is that he is not getting enough of the proper nutrition he needs.

Since we prefer to get our nutrition from the food we eat, as opposed to popping pills, my husband referred us to the garden for some fresh greens.

Chickweed

dsc00300We all love this edible weed, commonly known as chickweed, and it’s pretty easy to identify. So, my husband started cultivating it to grow in our gardens.

This bout with excessive sleep, coupled with our need for homegrown greens in the winter, prompted my husband to start our family on a new project.

Moving Our Weeds Indoors

This week we all spent about 30 minutes together as a family moving some of our weeds indoors.

It was a fairly easy task. I’ll let my kids tell you about it…  Continue reading “Transplanting Chickweed”

Homesteading Tool Must Haves – Forstner Bit

Supreme Wood Driller
Supreme Wood Driller

When it comes to boring deep holes in wood, it is hard to beat a Forstner Bit.

Spade Bits
You probably have some spade bits to go with your drill.  These are fine for limited use.  They dull easily and are not easy to sharpen. The spade bit seams to overheat quickly. They jam up suddenly at that can be a knuckle buster. Holes sometimes get out of round when the bit travels too quickly while drilling.

Hole Saws
You may also be familiar with hole saws.  These are good for sheet goods like plywood and sheet rock, but are limited if you need to put a number of deep holes in wood.  The wood plugs get stuck in the saw, the pilot bits like to break off if the drill jumps.  These seem to get bogged down with sawdust creating more heat than you would like.  The hole saw is versatile and gets the job done.  But..

For clean, fast holes you need to upgrade to the Forstner bit.  It eats through wood knots and cuts angled holes like nobody’s business.  It cuts through various media, such as doors, without missing a beat. It doesn’t break easily.  It stays sharp and can be resharpened.  When used properly, it is a long lasting tool.  These cut fast and will save you time.  I have not had much issue with these binding up or bogging down a drill. These are smoother cutting due to them be self guiding. This advantage is due to the way the rim of the cutters is built. You will never go back once you try these babies out.  Continue reading “Homesteading Tool Must Haves – Forstner Bit”

Putting Up A Post with a Harbor Freight Trencher

Ty’s been single-handedly doing a lot of work around these parts for several years now, but he has had a faithful companion to help share the load: his Harbor Freight Trencher.

While the trencher has had its share of maintenance required, Ty has definitely gotten his money’s worth in having it.

Check out his most recent project with this pal of his:

The Beginnings of Our Beekeeping Journey

Honey-Bees-Nest

In late February Ty and I attended a 3-day Beginning Beekeeping class taught by our County Extension Agent. It was my first exposure to learning anything about honeybees.

Personally, I have always had an aversion to bees in general, and I never paid much attention to learning anything about them. I just knew they stung, and I didn’t want to get stung.

azalea-with-beeWhen we first moved into my grandparents’ home over ten years ago, they had big azalea bushes by the front door, and I always hated going through the front door in the summer because these giant furry bees (bumble bees) would be lingering right there, buzzing loudly.

So, I typically just stayed inside.

Ty kept telling me they wouldn’t bother me as long as I didn’t bother them, but that didn’t stop me from wanting to steer clear from them no matter what. Over time I got a little braver, but not much.

Fast forward to a few months ago, I started to learn more about honey bees in particular, and I realized how little I understood about these creatures.  Continue reading “The Beginnings of Our Beekeeping Journey”

Big Picture Plan: Keeping the Dogwoods

Yesterday the Wiggles went out into our woods. The lesson was about the Dogwood.

Flowering DogwoodThis tree is a valuable component in my long-term Land Stewardship goals. It thrives as a naturalized understory tree on southern/eastern aspects in mid slope areas. It seems to like moist and richer soils, if there is such a thing on unmanaged Oak and Hickory woodland in central VA.

The need for managing the land in three dimensions has become one of my criteria as I attempt to maximize land output while maintaining as low an input as possible.

The land is a solar collector. The land that captures and retains the most energy will by default have the largest output.

The land that produces the most biomass for any given area is the savanna type area that has elephants as primary grazers.

These are forested grasslands. My goal is to have pasture, trees and food crops growing with synergy and sustainability in this savanna-like structure.

The small tree understory region is a key part of the woodland. I am applying silvopasture principles in my approach of converting deep unmanaged woodland into valuable lumber and food trees with grazing underneath.

My management of the herb and shrub layer in the woodland has been less than stellar. It is mostly non-existent, as I have allowed the grazers in. However, many of the dogwoods were above the browse line and are thriving. I will do my best to allow them to stay as I thin the forest for my long-term goals, so I’m having the family mark them with white ribbons. They are there to say, “I am a Dogwood, don’t squish me.”

IMG_0694aI am particularly fond of the Dogwood, as I have known how to identify them even as a child in Oklahoma. The Redbud is more prevalent there but the dogwood shares in that same niche.

I have found the dogwood to be a rather well mannered tree. It is highly adaptable in form. It adjusts itself to the available solar energy without being pushy or demanding. It takes what it gets and seems to generally thrive, though I have seen them suffer in high temperatures and humidity – this more so in Oklahoma than Virginia.

This friendly tree stays in its space with its slow growth and does not seem to demand a lot of pruning and in fact seems to prune itself quite well in many of the specimens I have witnessed. It allows other things to grow around it without feeling the need to crowd them out. It plays well with everyone.

In my woodland, the Dogwood fills that region that seems to be hardest to fill: the region where the future top canopy trees are fighting each other to try to break through with the biggest crown. There are a lot of trees dying in this region but not the Dogwood. It just does its thing without a lot of drama.

The Dogwood adds beauty and diversity. It supports many insect and bird species. It may support wild mammals as well but I am not certain. It is certainly forage for goats, which is probably its highest practical value on our land. Being a slow grower, it is just a light snack every once in a while but that is at least something.

I feel the small tree/large shrub understory is where the greatest potential lies for food and diversity in the medium term time frame. There are many top canopy trees to sort through as I seek to keep the best nut trees, such as White Oaks and Hickories. There are dead standers for firewood. There are poorly formed trees that will just never have the lumber potential that they could have.

Of all the decisions of what trees to take out and what to keep, the Dogwood is one of the easiest. I am keeping them all until I have a reason to change that.

Family Project: Identifying Dogwood Trees in the Woodland

Flowering Dogwood CloseupWe have two beautiful Dogwoods in our front yard, one nestled between the outbuildings behind our house, and dozens scattered throughout the woods that border the back of our property.

Flowering DogwoodThey are not only aesthetically beautiful, but also very well-mannered.

Requiring little to no input or maintenance, they enhance the overall landscape we are aiming for.

Flowering DogwoodGiven their medium size and their preference for dappled shade, they fill a void in the three-dimensional space without being problematic, providing dappled shade themselves.

While the fruit of this species is not meant for human consumption, the trees provide fodder for the birds and animals in their natural habitat as well as our own domesticated herds.

Bark of the DogwoodI imagine there are other benefits of the Dogwood by way of its bark, branches, leaves, root and berries that I am not even aware of yet, such as possible healing properties or resource material for particular sorts of construction or fuel.


Did you know…

The Flowering Dogwood is Virginia’s State Tree and State Flower (and the name of my first elementary school in New Jersey 😉 ).

In an attempt to better manage the trees on our property for both short- and long-term benefit, I think it’s important for our kids to understand what we have, and why we’re doing what we’re doing.

So yesterday, I took the kids out back to our woods equipped with water bottles, hats and marking materials, and had my husband explain the day’s project.  Continue reading “Family Project: Identifying Dogwood Trees in the Woodland”

Breakfast is Served: Eggs a la Wiggle

This morning on our day off from work, my husband served me this delicious dish. He calls it Eggs a la Wiggle.  🙂

Eggs a la Wiggle

For the past several months, my husband has been using his culinary gifts in creating delectable dishes containing our farm fresh eggs and grass-fed beef, with cheese and garden greens purchased from the local grocery store.

This morning he made his way out to our gardens to gather fresh greens, some of which he planted last season and some this past December. These beautiful greens are what you see in the above masterpiece. 😛

Here is a gallery of the ingredients used and the process by which he assembled the final product:  Continue reading “Breakfast is Served: Eggs a la Wiggle”

A Land of Hills and Valleys

For the land that you are entering to take possession of it is not like the land of Egypt, from which you have come, where you sowed your seed and irrigated it, like a garden of vegetables.

But the land that you are going over to possess is a land of hills and valleys, which drinks water by the rain from heaven, a land that the LORD your God cares for. The eyes of the LORD your God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year. (Deuteronomy 11:10-12 ESV)

Have you ever paid attention to the lay of the land of Egypt…

And the lay of the land the Israelites went in to possess…

Given the natural lay of the land, the Egyptians had to create their own irrigation system to collect rain water throughout the land in order to grow crops. Whereas the Promised Land had a series of hills and valleys that were naturally formed to do the job.  Continue reading “A Land of Hills and Valleys”