First hatch

This spring we decided to try to hatch some of our own eggs since it turned out we had a rooster. Looks like we’ll end up with 9 chicks out of 16 eggs, which isn’t too bad. We might have gotten a couple more, but we had a power outage of all times right on hatch day. It was only for about 40 minutes, so I think the humidity stayed okay, but the temp might have dropped a bit too much. Can’t tell for sure. Could also be those chicks just weren’t viable to begin with.

What I didn’t realize with our Cuckoo Maran rooster is that all the chicks will have some bar/cuckoo patterning, so it’s going to be very hard to tell them apart. Hopefully as they get older and get their true feathers, there will be some distinctions. But we definitely didn’t get any of the stereotypical fuzzy yellow chicks. I still think they are really cool looking though.


We are hoping to get at least one or two “Olive Egger” hens out of this, since we crossed the Maran (which has dark brown eggs) with our three blue egg layers (two Araucana, 1 Lavender Ameraucana). That cross should give us some type of dark green egg.

As far as the roosters, we’ll probably throw them out on pasture and then they will be headed for freezer vacation. In the meantime I need to learn how to butcher my own chickens from someone around here.

the farm equipment conundrum

So now that we have our land and are starting to plan for our first growing season, I’ve been thinking about equipment.  I’ve actually been thinking about it for quite a long time.  I had pretty much decided to get an old Ford 8N this spring, but now I’m having second thoughts.  I grew up with one and used to mow a lot of lawn with a Woods finish mower.  Got used to it and it was certainly faster/better than a standard riding mower.  There are a lot of other things we could use a small tractor for as well, but I’m starting to wonder if an “N” series Ford is more of a sentimental choice.  They are certainly very useful and a great value for what you pay for them.  You can get a nicely restored one for $2500-3000 around here.

However, there are lots of areas where the “N” shows it’s age.  They are known for being super easy to work on and you can readily find parts for them.  But they require constant maintenance from everything I’ve read. I would love to learn to work on them, but I also have a gazillion other things I need to spend my time doing. At this point I should probably be spending time on all the things we want to do with the property, so the equipment needs to make that easier and faster. 

Some other “N” shortcomings include the lack of active PTO, relatively poor brakes, the gear ratios limit what type of attachments you can run (such as a tiller) and it’s fairly difficult to put a loader or blade on the front of one.  People do it, but I don’t think I could figure it out myself.  I’m also starting to wonder if I will end up having to do quite a lot of manual trimming even after mowing, particularly once we start adding outbuildings and more landscaping.  Our property is also pretty wet, which could lead to issues with tire tracks and ruts in the lawn.

The main uses we have for a tractor in the short-term (1-3 years) are mowing, probably snow clearing either via blade or blower and potentially hauling stuff around.  Long-term I would love to have something I could use to run a rotary tiller, compact versions of manure spreaders (our neighbor shares horse poo with us) and 1 bottom plow and potentially other attachments such as a cultivator or wood chipper.  The “N” can do some of that fairly well, some of it okay and some not at all.

For mowing, I was originally thinking about getting a zero turn mower and they are certainly very nice.  But a one note machine.  They are just really great at mowing and not much else. And they are fairly expensive compared to other options.

A new or newer compact tractor, such as those made by Yanmar, New Holland, John Deere and Kubota is pretty much out of our price range.  If we start to make some money off our property, it may make sense then.  But it doesn’t make sense to spend $15-20K on a tractor right now and probably doesn’t even make sense to spend $10K.  Even used that is pretty much the price range for something like that. And that is the low end.  That is why the 8N is attractive, because you can do many of the same things, but the cost outlay is much less.

So now I’m wondering if a smaller garden tractor might be the way to go, particularly if I can find a decent used one.  They certainly do well at mowing and can run all of the implements/attachments I’m interested in since they have rear PTO.  Although we have 10 acres, most of that is not lawn we need to mow and some of the lawn we have is going to be torn up for gardening, chicken coop, a shed, possibly a greenhouse and so on.  So that both cuts down the amount of lawn and makes pulling a finish mower behind an 8N around all of that less attractive. Being an agriculture county we have plenty of options nearby as far as dealers and service.

So that’s the conundrum I’m in right now.  I don’t want to rush into anything and regret it later.  I can always buy an 8N down the road if we develop a use for it and I want to spend the time it requires to keep it running. What I don’t want is to buy an 8N, a finish mower and a building to store them in and find out after one season that it’s not practical for our needs right now.  Anyway this is the type of decision many homesteaders struggle with, so I thought it would be interesting to document my thought processes at the moment.

We found our plot

In all the busyness, I have neglected to post anything about our new property. On July 19th we closed on a 10 acre property in New Haven, one town over from where we are renting now in Bristol. The house is a nice size with plenty of room and not too old. It was built in 2000, so it’s just old enough to need some updating. The last owners moved to California about 5-6 years ago and it’s been rented ever since. So it’s in need of some TLC to get it looking the way we want, but we think the house and property has a lot of potential.

We’ve already gotten hardwood floors put into the living room and master bedroom. We’ve gutted the master bathroom, ripping out a corner whirlpool tub, the vanity and the toilet. Small closet in the room is getting demoed out as well. The whole place could use a fresh coat of paint, so we made a good start on that over the weekend between us and also some hired painters.

We may update the kitchen at some point, but probably need to wait on that. We would like to use it for a bit to determine exactly what we want to do. We are going to put a gas range in and replace the refrigerator at least. All the appliances appear to be original from when the house was built, so they are showing some age.

View from front porchP1010956

The property itself is mostly cleared, rolling pasture. The farmer next door is haying a lot of it one final time. We’ll be putting in a small garden plot or some raised beds immediately for a fall garden. Next spring I would like to set up 3-4 smaller garden plots and we’ll set up rotations through them over time. We also want to plant some berries, apples, asparagus and other perennials in the spring. May need some trees as well, particularly to get some windbreaks going. The house is up on the side of a hill overlooking the valley, which provides fantastic views, but is also likely to be windy.

Another view from front porchP1010958

Much more as we go, including some before and after room photos as we get updates completed. At this point we plan to move in early September.

2012: The Season In Review

So our first gardening season in Vermont is pretty much over, although we still have a number of things under tunnels again.  Looks like we may have some cabbage, carrots, beets, chard and a few other things.

Overall, we are pretty happy with how things went, although we still have a lot to learn.  But considering I haven’t worked a garden this big since I was a kid, I think we did okay. We mostly kept up with weeds and getting things picked. One thing we didn’t expect to struggle with so much was the insect pressure early in the season.  We had certain crops we planted multiple times and still didn’t get anything going. Next year we will probably use more row cover until the plants get established.

The good

  • Peas –  got a decent little crop early on, both shell peas and snap peas. We only had one row, so not enough to get much. Definitely want a lot more when we have some land. Had better luck with pre-sprouting the peas before planting than seeding directly.
  • Carrots – Tried a bunch of different types and got a good yield eventually, but they take awhile to get going.
  • Tomatoes – Mostly did pretty well with these, although had some disease issues with certain varieties. Had some volunteer plants from the compost as well, mostly cherry.  We were able to dry and slow roast a lot and put them in the freezer.
  • Peppers – Once again, some of these took awhile to get started in the New England climate, but once they did we got a fairly prolific yield. Even the habanero we started ended up loaded late in the season, although it would have been nice to have a bit more warm weather for them to finish ripening.
  • Tomatillos – We only planted a couple of plants, but they grew over 6 feet tall and got loaded with fruit.  Once again a couple more weeks of hot weather would’ve helped, but Kristin was able to make a bunch of salsa verde anyway. The main thing we learned is even though the stems get pretty thick and woody, when the plants started getting loaded they needed extra support, particularly in the wind.

The disappointing

  • Cauliflower – We didn’t have great luck with any variety, but the Purple of Sicily from Baker Creek was particularly disappointing. The thing is, it was wonderful in every way except fruiting. It germinated quickly and at a high rate, was very hardy when transplanting, responded well to insect pressure and grew really large. So maybe it was the season or something we did wrong. I’ve heard cauliflower tends to do better in fall plantings since it likes it colder when fruiting, but didn’t get around to starting fall plants early enough.
  • Zucchini – Yes, really, even though this is normally one of the easiest plants to grow and you end up with more than you want. We tried planting this multiple times and the bugs kept getting it.  We finally go a few plants started in mid-summer, but they never did much.
  • Melons – Same thing, too much insect pressure for them to get going and they need a whole season here to do much.
  • Tomatoes – like I said above, we did okay for the most part. But the Brandywines succumbed to some sort of rust or blight and we got maybe one or two decent fruit. Plus the slugs would start eating them before they got fully ripe, so was hard to get one that was nicely sun ripened. This seems to be the story with Brandywines, they are notoriously tricky to grow. The Paul Robesons did much better and I like them just as much.

    The other plant that seemed to have disease issues was Stupice, although it is very widely grown.  In retrospect I don’t think I allowed enough spacing between plants and they probably could’ve have use both more air flow and pruning. Something to remember for next year.

  • Brussel Sprouts – similar to the cauliflower, plants looked great and never sprouted. Another one I think I’ll reserve for fall planting next year.
  • Cucumbers – we had some issues with cucumbers here that we never had in Chicago.  Same variety, but they formed stunted fruit that seemed to be an off shade of green along with some brown. I expect it is some type of mineral deficiency or something, but we never figured it out.  We did plant Mexican Sour Gherkins later in the season and they actually did great. But we were hoping for more pickling cucumbers of other varieties.

Well, there is a lot more I could go into, but that’s probably enough. I would like to post a list soon of the various food we were able to put up.  We’ve got a pretty nicely stocked basement now and should be able to have some food this winter from our garden. We aren’t close to being most self-sufficient in food yet and we’ll probably need more land for that, but we are another step closer to that goal.

How did your garden do this year?

First egg

I was cleaning out the coop yesterday and found our first egg. Unfortunately it wasn’t usable because it had been there a bit and gotten cracked. I was expecting it to be a few more weeks, but our oldest hen Willow was showing signs, such as squatting down when you put your hand near her. So I’m not too surprised.

She laid it in the nest, so that’s good. The bad is the girls also think the nest is their sleeping quarters at night. The “nest” is just a wooden box that sits inside the coop, so we can’t close it up at night or anything. I guess I could try turning it around backwards at night and then right side out in the morning, but that might just confuse them. Probably not going to worry about it unless it starts to become a big issue. Biggest problem is keeping the shavings clean in there, so I’ll probably have to refresh that daily.

But the important thing is we are on our way to getting our own eggs, so that’s pretty cool.

Goat kids!

We visited Twig Farm on Sunday, so here is just a quick post with some cute goat kids. 


Our friend Mark was in town and came along for the visit.  Here I am getting some goat kid love.



We also just happened to arrive as a yearling doe was in labor and got to see 2 kids being born.  We’ve read a lot about it, so it was interesting to actually see it in person.


Farming Resources

As many of you know, Kristin and I have spent at least the last 5 years learning all we can about sustainable living, gardening, small-scale farming and homesteading.  Over that time we’ve found lots of great resources we like, good books and web sites of interest.  I’m slowly collecting all those in a new section on my web site called Farming.  I think there is going to be a good amount of information for anybody interested in similar things, so check it out if you are interested or mention it to anybody who you think might find it cool. Farming Resources