July!

And yet again, the year has gotten away from me! I can’t believe it’s already mid-July, how did that happen?? We’ve been totally swamped and busy with projects galore around here… and kicking butt at it. Already we’ve managed to accomplish quite a lot this year. Of course, that means we’re busy from the moment we get up, usually around 5:30am to get ready for work, work all day in town, then come home and work until sunset. But we remind ourselves everyday that we’re working so much to save enough money to do all these big projects we want to do. The project list never gets any shorter around here… homestead projects tend to multiply instead!

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Coffee in the garden.

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A little gnome-juju for the tomatoes.

As I mentioned in a previous post, we scaled back our garden this year. We only have maybe a dozen garden beds growing right now, and really a lot of the stuff that’s growing are flowers & low-maintenance plants. A few cucumber plants, zucchinis, pumpkins, tomatoes, & peppers as well. Oh, and one okra plant. We battled with chipmunks earlier in the Summer, and those little jerks ate most of our spouts. Our neighbor who’s been here forever told us, “chipmunks are not your friend.” The little rodents were getting into our chicken feed as well, eating all their seeds and leaving a great big freaking mess everywhere. As a weird side-effect, they were apparently stashing sunflower seeds in various places around the homestead from last year, and this year we had weird bunches of sunflowers sprouting up in garden beds where we’ve never planted sunflowers. Silly chipmunks. We have allowed Loki to go after the chipmunks when they pop up, and he has “taken care of” 2 of them now. We seem to have less chipmunk issues now compared to a month ago. Good boy.

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Columbines.

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New addition to the family – Boris/Henrietta the Tiger Aloe. I can’t decide if it’s male or female. Ha.

We’ve also had bear issues this year. Since this Winter was so dry, the wild berries & oak around here in the mountains aren’t producing the way they should be. Literally, bears are starving. It’s actually really heartbreaking. Now we have a starving young bear attempting to infiltrate our bird coop. He’s tried 3 times in the last week to get in. THANKFULLY we put so much effort into making that thing a fortress that he has not succeeded. The first night we didn’t hear anything, but the next morning when we went down to feed the girls, we saw a whole bunch of destruction of their outdoor run. We couldn’t be sure it was a bear at first, but something had busted down their run, and pulled at the chicken wire that envelopes their coop. And the girls were quieter than usual and definitely spooked that morning.

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Bear damage.

The very next night, we were woken up at 3am to metal breaking (the t-posts that hold up their run) & chicken wire being ripped at. R grabbed a baseball bat, and I just had a flashlight, and we went outside to investigate. And there was a little skinny starving bear standing by the coop. We ran right at him, R threw the bat at him, and the bear ran off. I went into the coop and our poor girls were scared to death. But they were ok. We actually discovered the next day, as we were looking over the damage, that the bear had broken off part of the roof to their coop, like he was up there and fell off, probably when he heard us coming. He still would’ve had a lot of material to go through to get to them, but he did do some damage. And because of that, we will be doing some re-enforcing of certain areas of their coop this week.

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We then decided to set up some “noise traps” around their coop so if he came back, he’d knock some stuff over to wake us up. We also had our shotgun loaded and ready to take down with us. We don’t want to kill him, we just want to make it very unpleasant for him to be here. We set up a lot of empty beer bottles and other things around their coop, in ways that we would hear if they got knocked over. And lo and behold, he did show up a couple nights later, knocked over a bunch of bottles, and ran off himself before we even got outside. The noise was enough to startle him. We haven’t had any bear activity since then, but we’re still setting up things at night and we’re ready to confront him again if it comes to it. I do feel really bad that he’s so skinny and obviously really hungry, but sorry man, you can’t have our chickens or ducks.

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We feel very lucky that we haven’t lost any of the birds in over a year since we brought them home. And that’s because we did put so much effort into their coop, and we will absolutely protect them in any way we need to. Those girls are as much a part of our family as Loki is.

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They totally know that Loki is their protector too. One of the black chickens has been broody the last few weeks. Broody basically means that she’s incubating eggs… she wants to be a mama. I keep trying to explain to her that, since we don’t have a rooster, her eggs will never hatch (she doesn’t seem to be listening to me though…). She’s sitting on un-fertilized eggs. But, I know from working with birds professionally for so long, that it’s better for them to go through this cycle on their own, than try to break it. So I’m just letting it happen, and she sits in her little nest all day and all night. I assume at some point she eats and drinks, but in the last almost 3 weeks, we’ve seen her leave her nest once. She came out, ate some food, drank some water, had a little dust bath, and went back to her nest. ONCE in 3 weeks. I don’t want to baby her, she knows where the food and water is, but it is weird that she just stays in one spot all day, day after day.

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Broody chicky.

The really funny part is that she even won’t get up or leave if I touch her or feel under her to see how many eggs she’s sitting on. She just fluffs up and growls at me. Have you ever heard a chicken growl?! It’s hilarious. So I just pet her and scratch her and talk to her, and she’s SO mad, but she won’t move. Sometimes the ducks will crawl in next to her and lay their eggs in the same nest, and she moves the duck eggs under her too! One day she was sitting on 3 gigantic duck eggs in addition to her little chicken eggs. Poor little lady just wants to be a mama so bad! I’m hoping she gets out of this cycle soon so she can get back to the rest of the flock. I think the other black chicken is a little lonely without her friend, so when we have the birds out, we’ve noticed that she hangs out with Loki. She literally follows the dog around. Pretty funny relationships they have.

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It’s like West Side Story.

I can’t believe we’ve been living out here for almost 3 years now! Gets better everyday. Monsoon season started last week (yay!), which has literally helped everything around here, from fire danger to our garden to the end of the yearly cedar gnat life cycle. I’ve decided that June is my least-favorite time of year. June is just hot and dry and the cedar gnats are relentless, and everything sucks outside. Then July and monsoons come and everything is awesome again. We have been surrounded by wildfire this season and the rains could not have come at a more perfect time. There have been days when the smoke is nearly unbearable here… smothering the whole town. We watched as dark red smoke blew right over our house from a big wildfire about 60 miles from us. Happily, now those fires are mostly contained and we aren’t consumed by smoke in the mornings anymore.

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Check out that smoke.

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Ok, well there’s a lot more, but that will come in future updates!

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The smoke did make for some pretty sunsets…

“Winter”.

We didn’t have much of a Winter in SW Colorado this year. 6″ of snowfall in one storm was the most we got here at the ranch. Compared to last year when we got 2 feet in one storm, it’s been pretty mild. We’ve gone through maybe a cord of wood this entire Winter season, whereas last year we went through about 2. And now we’re into late March, and we probably only have a few more weeks of nightly fires in the woodstove. Last night the low was 41! Warm.

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“Snow storm.”

As far as the garden is concerned, we’ll be starting some seeds indoors this weekend: tomatoes and peppers in particular. I might start a few herbs too. Last year we jumped the gun and planted some stuff way too early outside, and went to all the trouble of covering it at night and uncovering it in the morning, only to have a freeze in April and everything stunted or died. We learned our lesson.

We also will be re-vamping our watering system this year, but we’re waiting to save some money to get the proper things we need for it. Hauling water in the back of the truck did some major wear-and-tear on Maximus, causing us some semi-expensive repairs 6 weeks or so ago. So we’ll be saving up for a small trailer and a bigger cistern to haul water on said trailer. Until we get that all together, our garden will be on a smaller scale than we’ve had the last two Summers. And that’s not even our big project this year. Our main, big, number one priority project this year is moving the cabin. Which, obviously, is a whole thing. We’d like to accomplish that this Summer, but it’s looking like Fall is probably when that’ll happen. Since we also want to pay off our truck, maybe get a storage shed, build another greenhouse… homestead off-grid life is never a dull moment!

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The flock has been doing wonderful. They’ve been taking turns molting, and for the most part have been laying pretty consistently. The ducks don’t get annoyed at much as far as inclement weather is concerned; they love mud and rain. It took some time for them to get used to snow, but they soon discovered that it’s fun to eat and they enjoy throwing ice chunks around. It’s pretty hilarious actually. The chickens on the other hand, are vocal about their annoyance when it’s not sunny and warm outside. It’s raining outside right now and I’m sure they are not thrilled about it. They make a pretty funny annoyed noise and look at me all sideways when the weather isn’t just right. We get so much entertainment and joy from having those girls around. Our favorite post-work afternoon activity is sitting outside with a couple of beers, giving the ducks a big bowl of fresh water, and letting them run wild. The chickens will dig around in our currently-empty garden beds and dust-bathe and throw dirt around, while the ducks make a racket and make mud out of everything. It’s great.

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Check out those eggs! Soul-fulfilling, right there.

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Cedar, the queenly red chicken.

For the most part, when the weather has been crappy outside (which, honestly, hasn’t happened a lot this Winter), we hang out inside and read and cook and organize our tiny house. I’ve been getting rid of more of our useless stuff around here, downsizing even more. We’ve also been cleaning up our diets, eating more and more fresh organic veggies, fruits, meats, and whole grains, and less processed and packaged food. More tea, less coffee, lots of fresh eggs, that sort of thing. We’ve been feeling pretty good, and the birds get all the leftover scraps. Even Loki gets the occasional egg. Nutrition for the whole family!

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My bestie from Utah knew I needed duck leggings for xmas 🙂

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One of those beautiful mid-Winter days. Wait… where’s the snow?

So right now I’m snuggling with Loki in front of the fire while it rain/hails outside! Doesn’t get much better than this. Tumultuous Springtime is here!

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The ladies having a walk-about.

Minnesota.

So we did something only minorly-crazy for xmas. We had made plans last Summer to see R’s family in Minnesota for xmas (he hadn’t been home for xmas in like 9 years!), and we took the whole family with us! Yes, the dog, the ducks, the chickens, and all!

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Max is packed.

Now why, on Earth, would you EVER bring all your creatures with you on such a trip (we’ve been asked by almost everyone we know)?! Well, because as crazy as it sounds, it was less stressful for us to bring them rather than leave them at home. We’re talking about Colorado in the middle of December, and we live quite aways up an unplowed dirt road. First, we would need someone to trust with our birds to care for them for 2 weeks, over the holidays nonetheless, while we were gone, and second, what if it snows 2 feet?! What if our reliable pet-sitter can’t make it up the hill to the house? Too many factors to think about, so we decided to bring them.

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Such a baby.

To be honest, the girls handled the trip better than Loki did. We had the three chickens in one crate, and the five ducks in another, with Loki riding in the backseat. The truck was packed. Especially since we were feeling generous and got lots of gifts for our families for xmas this year! The trip was 5 hours the first day (from our place to my parents’ house in Denver), then 13 or so hours from Denver to Minnesota.

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Settled in under the heat lamp.

We were able to stay in MN for 9 days or so, which was awesome. We spent lots of time with R’s family and friends, and got to play around with the little nephews; Oliver & Charlie (who we started calling Chaos & Mayhem by the end of the week, they are 2 and 3 years old, after all).

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That’s Charlie!

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R’s parent’s dog, Roscoe! He’s silly.

R’s dad was awesome enough to put together a dog run for the birds in his garage, complete with straw, dog house, heated water bowl, and heat lamp. The girls stayed happy and busy in there for the week, and only by the last couple of days you could tell the cold was getting to them. The last day we were there it was -15 outside, and a balmy 5 degrees in the garage. All 8 of them huddled under the heat lamp as best they could. But they made it through, they even kept laying eggs all week, and were happy when we piled them back in their crates and headed back to warmer climates.

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Where the chickens decided to roost at night.

We got to do some fun stuff like visit a frozen lake, which I’ve never really experienced before. There were already a handful of ice fishing shacks out there on the lake, and we wanted to go ice fishing while we were there, but didn’t get the chance to this time around. It was beautiful out there on the ice. Xmas morning it was  a lovely -20 wind chill outside!

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Frozen lake time.

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Playing frisbee on the ice.

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Happy xmas morning at 20 below!

We had such a great time visiting MN in the Winter. And the little bit of time away from work was nice too. The great thing about our little cabin is we had really nothing to worry about while we were gone. There’s no pipes to freeze or anything like that. It was cold in the house when we finally got back home, but after a few logs burnt up in the woodstove, the place was back to warm and cozy!

What’s a little ironic is one of the reasons we brought the birds with us was in case of harsh weather while we were gone. Which totally didn’t happen. In fact, it’s been an extremely mild and dry Winter here in CO. We didn’t really get our first real snow until last week. And finally, tonight and for the next few days we’re expecting real Winter and snowy weather! Better late than never, that’s for sure.

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Beautiful sunset.

Catching Up.

And… the Fall and beginning of Winter have gotten away from me! Overall, we’re good here; everyone is well and the homestead is just as fabulous as ever. Currently, it’s almost the end of January, and Winter hasn’t even really started here yet. We’ve gotten a few inches of snow here and there, but nothing compared to what it should be. Last week we had some cold nights, lows in the single digits and one night below zero, but now the weather is back to 40s (even low 50s), and sunny during the day, lows in the teens and low 20s coming up this week. What the hell, Winter?! This time last year we had several feet of snow on the ground! This year, nothing so far… Hoping March and April will be snowy months?!

If we don’t get the snow pack we need, fire season is really going to suck this Summer. But let’s not dwell on that right now. Let’s just keep our fingers crossed that a few feet of snow will dump on us sooner than later, ok?

So here are a few things I meant to blog about 2 months ago:

We went with a couple friends of ours and their pup hiking, which was pretty rad. We visited a place called the Ice Caves nearby where we live, and what do you know, no ice… but it was pretty fun regardless. Loki and Willow had a good time running around in the woods and in and out of the caves.

I harvested all the thyme from our garden and let it dry in the window:

R built a sweet cabinet! He took apart the table he had built originally, turned it into a liquor cabinet/pantry, and now its even more functional than it was. And looks awesome. The rug was a birthday present from my parents. It actually makes our tiny cabin look and feel more open, less cluttered.

We have a gate now! Back in November I had decided it was time to put a gate up in front of our driveway (finally). This was a project I’ve been wanting to accomplish for awhile, it just required us actually transporting the supplies (the gate itself, two 8-foot 6x6s, and a bunch of bags of concrete), and making the time to do it.

It was a messy project, with all the digging and concrete mixing, but it wasn’t too terrible. Just a couple of days of work and we had a gate up! At the moment it is still adorned with solar xmas lights, which I love.

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After the harvest in the Fall, we started letting the birds into the garden. It’s great because they can till the dirt, eat the bugs, eat the weeds, and poop in it all at the same time! Not only is it extremely entertaining to watch them rummage around in the garden beds, but it’s beneficial to the soil, and good for the birds’ health to be able to forage and scratch and dirt-bathe and do their bird stuff.

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After we harvested our sweet corn (which didn’t do great… hopefully a better harvest next year), we weren’t quite sure what to do with all the green parts, the stalks and such. There’s so much extra foliage that comes with corn. So we dried it and burned it! Seemed like the most appropriate thing to do.

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We pretty much spend most days hanging out with the animals, whenever we can:

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The wild tarantulas come out in the Fall; the males sometimes travel long distances to find females, and you’ll see them walking across roads and fields. This one was caught in a friend of mine’s driveway, and I released him in a field behind the resort where I  work. Good luck finding your lady little dude!

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So there’s a start to catching up. This is what I get for taking 2 months to get a blog together! Hope everyone is having a nice Winter so far, and more updates coming soon!

Shorter Days.

There’s quite a lot of beauty this time of year. With leaves changing colors, plants dying, things decaying, storms rolling in and out, fires in the woodstove at night. It’s much quieter these days up where we live; most everyone that lives up here seasonally is gone for the Winter. Which is great for us. There is a lot less generator-noise and “traffic” (and by “traffic” I mean, like the dozen or so cars that drive by our house every day). The woodstove is being fired up almost every night now, and we love the atmosphere it creates in the cabin. Warm and crackley and cozy.

The one little pumpkin I managed to grow!

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The girls aren’t laying as much as they did over the Summer, but we’re still getting 2 or 3 eggs a day. Cedar (the little red chicken) is our champ, laying almost everyday. And her eggs are big cream-colored eggs that are just about as big as the duck eggs. She is also kind of the loner of the flock; she goes rogue and does her own thing most of the time. She stands up for herself with all the other birds. Cedar is a cool chicken. She’s our star.

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Cedar egg, Black chicken egg, Duck egg.

As far as the garden goes, everything is finished for the season. We’ve started letting the birds into the big garden to tear things up. They’re pretty entertaining. They got to eat up all the greens that were still growing at the end of their season, and have a new big area to explore and scratch up. Even though the birds are more used to us by now, they are still fairly skittish (they’re very different than Amelia was!). Luckily though, they all know where they’re safe, in their fortress of a coop we’ve built. So if they get startled or when the sun starts to go down, they all waddle back inside safe and sound.

Mmm, kale.

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The Fortress.

I find Fall to be a beautiful time of year, when the leaves drop and the plants go dormant for the Winter. Unfortunately, that also means we lose a lot of our privacy from our road, as the front of our property is lined with oak brush, which dropped all of their leaves a few weeks ago. We did, however, stack all of our firewood on that side of our house, so we get a short wall between the cabin and the road.

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Speaking of our firewood pile, we didn’t spend a single dollar on wood this year, just the price of labor and renting a splitter for a day. We have 2 full cords split, stacked, and covered next to the cabin, and at least another cord stacked and covered in another spot, which will have to season over the next year until it can be used next Winter. All of it was free, either from our own property, or from a thinning project that happened in town a couple of months ago, where the conservation crew left all these big rounds free and up for grabs for the public. Since R works for the city, we knew all the details and the areas they were in, and snagged a bunch of it for ourselves. Another wonderful benefit of having a truck!

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Falltime Beauty.

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We have lots of brush to burn right now too, from general clean-up around the property. So we’ve indulged in a few bonfires, both by ourselves and with friends, and generally been enjoying everything about Fall. It’s supposed to rain/snow this week, and while it’s a bit of a downer that the days are getting so short, we’re loving snuggling by the woodstove and getting settled for the Winter.

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See Ralphie flapping!

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Happy happy Fall!

Fall.

It’s Fall now! The garden is just about done now; we harvested the rest of the Fall crops and started letting the birds into the garden so they can eat all the leftover greens, bugs, tear up the soil, and poop in the beds while they’re at it! We’ve been busy getting ready for Winter: gathering, cutting, and splitting firewood, winterizing the house and coop, and just the other day I had to get all of our Winter stuff out of the storage loft. All of our jackets, boots, scarves, hats, comforter, etc. I love this time of year, cool and crisp. We feel ready for Winter and ready for the snow!

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Watermelon radish, cucumber, tomatoes, and greens all from the garden.

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Mustard greens.

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Pumpkin.

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Cucumber and Sweetness melons!

We’ve had a lot of visitors this Summer. Both of our families came to visit, as well as lots of friends swung by. We were even able to take a couple of weekends off, one to get out of town to Silverton & Ouray for a weekend, and another couple of days when my brother and his girlfriend came down to visit. We went out camping in the National Forest, which R and I haven’t done in *what feels like* forever! We basically fancy-camp all the time, so to be out really camping in the woods felt really good.

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Paddleboatin’.

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Outdoor cooking.

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Napa cabbage.

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I enjoy decorating the dog.

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Sweetness melons.

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Garden bounty.

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Juniper rounds.

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The gang.

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Loki’s a good boy.

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Some beauty from the wildflower garden.

We have just a few more projects to complete this year. For now, this is just a quick update until I have more time to really post something. We have been swamped getting ready for Winter. More coming soon!

Late Summer Update.

“We’ve been busy” doesn’t begin to give justice to just how busy we’ve been this Summer. Between us both working full-time jobs in town, 9 animals to care for at home, and a gigantic garden that needs attention, and generally keeping an off-the-grid homestead up and running, we haven’t had much time for anything else! Every once in awhile we get to hang out with a friend or something, haha.

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August 29th was our 2 year off-the-gridiversary! We celebrated with a bonfire, a bottle of homemade mead from R’s Mom (thanks Jodie!), a couple of cheap cigars, brats, and reminiscing on how far we’ve come in 2 years. We love our homestead, our land, and our lifestyle more every day. Ok, some days are harder than others, but generally, this is pretty awesome. We have no intention of going back to how “normal people live” anytime soon.

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Kohlrabi!

We have about a billion things to do before Winter comes, and right now I’m only taking a quick break from working outside to have a beer and throw out some updates! So here’s a bunch of pictures to tide you over! Happy September!

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Red Swan green beans.

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Rich Sweetness melons.

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All from the homestead!

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Beautiful eggs from the girls, the rest from the garden.

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Wildflowers I had planted for my aunt who passed away last Summer.

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Radishes.

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Hungarian hot wax peppers.

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The ladies.

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Sweet corn.

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That guy.

Toilet Upgrade.

Ok, I had some laptop issues the last couple of weeks, which is why I haven’t posted anything recently. But we’re back up and running now, so here’s what’s happening with our toilet (because I know you were wondering about our poop)! 🙂

If you’ll recall, we had a Nature’s Head composting toilet. And it served us well for the last almost 2 years. However, that system definitely has its flaws. The toilet itself had too many small spaces that were hard to clean and, as we discovered, housed flies. The urine collection was hard to clean, and got pretty gross over those 2 years. We had been quietly dealing with these various issues, and I feel like I’ve been battling flies for two full Summers now. Occasionally I defeated the flies, but this Summer, the flies defeated us.

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I ordered us this awesome book at the beginning of the Summer: The Humanure Handbook. This has turned into a must-have for living off the grid. As we read more into it, we had been discussing making a simpler move to a bucket toilet instead of our “fancy” composting toilet. We started making some plans, but it was a project that didn’t seem like a big priority at the time, just whenever we got around to it.

Then we had a Code Red Situation.

We came home from work one day, one regular normal day, and R had to use the toilet. When he opened the seat to our composting toilet, a whole swarm of flies flew out. A SWARM OF FLIES. THAT HAD BEEN ALL OVER OUR SHIT. AND WAS NOW OUT IN THE HOUSE. I was outside with Loki at the time, and R came out of the house and declared with urgency, “we have a Code Red Situation. Flies. The toilet is coming out. Now.”

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The spaces for both buckets.

And it was so. That toilet was out and dismantled in a matter of about an hour. While the toilet pieces laid out in the sun in the driveway until the flies all left, I went about deep-cleaning the bathroom. Ceiling to floor, every single little fucking fly (pardon my language), was destroyed. DESTROYED. I waged war on those little bastards. We sealed up the hole in the wall that had been used as the vent for the toilet, and we both felt a lot better, and cleaner, about the whole thing. It was seriously so urgent I didn’t take any pictures of the old toilet at all. I figured you’d understand. Then we went about putting together real plans for our bucket toilet.

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In progress.

The next day we hit up the local lumber store, and purchased a 5 gallon bucket and a toilet seat. $20 total. We then stopped at the saw mill on the way back home and chatted with the owners, who we’ve gotten to know pretty well over the past 2 years now. The saw mill here has started to get into the tiny house business, and had a tiny house in progress on the property that they’ve been building. As we’re looking at rough-cut lumber to finish our toilet project, they mention that they’ve been looking at composting toilets for the tiny house.

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Ok, to be honest, we were just going to throw the thing away. I mean, who sells a used composting toilet? No one wants that. Well, turns out the saw mill wanted it. So we made a deal: we’ll bring them our cleaned out used toilet, and we get the rough cut lumber to finish our new toilet project free. We also get all the free sawdust we want from them for use as cover material for the bucket toilet.

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We got home and busted out this project in just a few hours. It was really just a matter of sawing and sanding the rough cut, attaching hinges to the top, cutting a hole for the toilet seat, attaching the seat, and putting the buckets inside. One bucket you poop in, the other bucket holds the sawdust that you cover your poop with.

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Danny DeVito watches over you.

For a tiny fraction of the price of what we bought our composting toilet for, this bucket toilet system is SO MUCH BETTER. It’s easier to clean, easier to empty, smells better, is more comfortable, looks better, and so far, no flies. We love it. I can’t tell you how happy we are to have our old toilet gone. Look how awesome this one is!

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Seed porn reading material while you relax?

I cleaned out our old composting toilet, and now it sits in a mobile tiny house at the saw mill. Success.

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The Ladies.

Our family grew from 3 (R, Loki, and myself) to 11! There are now 5 beautiful ducks and 3 darling chickens living in The Mansion 🙂

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They all came from different places, are different ages and sizes, and even a few different breeds. I love our little mis-matched flock. We welcomed them all to the family within a couple of days of each other, while we were in Denver visiting my family. It was easier to find, specifically, the kind of ducks I wanted in a bigger city than it was here in our little mountain town.

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So here are the introductions!

First, came Kachna.

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I found her on craigslist in Leadville, CO. The lovely couple that had her meant to get a meat duck, but ended up with a runner duck (they’re skinny and don’t make great meals). So we drove up to Leadville on the way to Denver and ended up spending half an hour or so with this couple who was a lot like us! A garden, chickens and ducks all around. I held Kachna TIGHT in my arms while we chatted because she is strong and feisty! She is a beautiful black runner duck who acts a lot like Amelia. She’s maybe 4 months old now, and will start laying eggs in the next couple of months. She is the brave and protective one of the flock; she’ll stand in front of everyone else and seems to be their fearless leader. She isn’t quite totally trusting of me just yet, but I’ll win her over.

And, in case you’re curious, Kachna is the Czech word for duck, and R is of Czech heritage.

Then, there’s Moonbeam and Midget.

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At the same time we were picking up Kachna in Leadville, my brother’s girlfriend was picking up Moonbeam and Midget for us in south Denver. Another craigslist find, this woman was downsizing her flock and these two white runners were for sale. They are about a year old and already laying. These two are skittish but wonderful!

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So when we arrived in Denver at my folks’ house, we put Kachna and the white ducks together in our big dog crate we had brought with us. We decided on Moonbeam and Midget for names (they’re named after heirloom melon varieties). We have a feeling they weren’t treated very well before coming to us because they are pretty fearful of us. They don’t even seem to know what “real food” is, i.e. greens and peas and corn and such. Kachna watches out for them and leads them around. Don’t worry, I’ll win them over too… just might take a little longer.

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In the folks’ backyard.

A couple of days later, my Mom, R, and myself went on a drive out to east Denver to pick up a few more additions to the flock. We stopped at a little farm and got two little runner ducklings. I actually didn’t expect to get ducklings that little, but how could you resist?!

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Seriously, the cuteness.

The bigger yellow runner we named Sweetness (another melon variety), and the little blue runner is now Ralphie (after the CU Buffs mascot). Little Ralphie was only 2 weeks old when we picked her up!

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The lady we got the ducklings from advised that we bring them inside at night for another week or two until they’re a little bigger, and to watch them closely around the bigger females for any possible aggression issues. When we brought them home and introduced them Kachna, Moonbeam, and Midget, this was the scene:

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What are those?!

All three of them looked pretty confused. Happily for us, no aggression. By now they’ve all bonded and are one big happy flock.

After we picked up the ducklings, we went to a chicken farm. We picked out two Jersey Giants and R chose a cute little red Wyandotte chicken.

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The big black chickens’ politically correct names are Sage and Spruce. Since they are big black chickens though, we secretly call them Shenequa and She-dynasty. Shenequa (Sage) is the braver one of the two. She ate out of my hand very quickly. They make some pretty adorable little cooing noises and they also seem to enjoy the duck food more than they probably should.

Our little red chicken is Cedar. She is little and sweet and darling. She’ll even step up like a parrot if you’re patient enough. When we first brought the chickens to my folks’ house, the black chickens were picking on Cedar, so I decided to put her in with the ducklings, who were in a big cardboard box at the time, to see how they’d do together. The ducklings thought she was their mom, and now all 3 are pretty bonded. Now I think I have a little chicken who’s not sure if she’s a duck or not, and a couple of ducklings who would rather snuggle up with a chicken at night. They’re pretty cute together.

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Sweet little thing.

That’s the flock! The drive home from Denver was pretty long and stressful on everyone; we got hailed and rained on and it seemed to take forever. All 11 of us were exhausted by the time we got home. We kept the ducklings separated from the rest of the flock for a few days, by coming inside at night and keeping a baby gate barrier in the coop during the day. Then we came home from work one day and both Cedar and Ralphie had busted out of the baby gate and were just chillin with the rest of the flock, so we figured everyone was probably ok together. Poor Sweetness was stuck behind the gate crying away!

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For now, everyone is staying in the coop 24 hours a day, because they aren’t quite sure of me yet. I don’t want to let them out to forage around outside then not be able to get them back in the coop at night. The other challenge so far is the ducks “swimming bowl.” I have a big rubber bowl that I’m using temporarily for their bathing purposes because of both the size of the coop and the size of the ducklings. Of course, that means the 3 big girls make a GIGANTIC mess of their water. Constantly.

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The chickens getting down on some waterfowl food.

I even have a “poultry waterer” that I bought specifically for the chickens, so they can have fresh drinking water while the ducks make a mess of their bowls of water. So far all it does is entice the ducks to stuff it full of straw and dirt so it leaches all the water out in a big muddy, disgusting mess. Next project will be building a little platform for the waterer so the chickens have to fly up to get some fresh water… somewhere the ducks can’t get to.

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Having a mixed flock is so entertaining and so wonderful. My heart is just full of joy hearing all their quacks and chirps and coos. We now have somewhere to throw all of our kitchen scraps, weeds from the garden, leftover produce, bugs we find in the garden (except the beneficial ones!) and pretty much any other green thing they might eat. They devour all of it, and in the process, the chickens scratch apart the straw to help it break down and dry out… since the ducks are such a mess and literally get water everywhere.

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Havin’ a swim.

As far as eggs goes, only Moonbeam and Midget are old enough to be laying right now, but the stress we put them through moving here forced their little systems into molting. So, no eggs until they’re finished molting. Sage and Spruce should start laying in the next few weeks, Kachna and Cedar shortly after that, and Sweetness and Ralphie a while later.

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I mean, come on. Look at her big feet!

Our project in the next few days is to build them an outdoor run that is connected to the coop. We’ll use our leftover deer fencing from the garden and build a run outside that has a much bigger “pond” for the ducks to swim in (it’s basically a 40-50 gallon stock tank). Also, more foraging opportunities for bugs and weeds and good stuff. And it’ll be a nice transition to them being able to free-forage outside after they get a little more used to the place. Of course, the run won’t be predator-proof like the coop is, so that will be supervised while-we’re-home outside time.

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That’s all the updates on the flock for now! The babies are growing fast and now Sweetness doesn’t even look like these pictures. She’s getting her big girl feathers in, and her little voice changed from a chirp to a quack just the other day!

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Lookin’ at you.

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One last funny story. This morning I was finishing up watering the greenhouse and was rolling up a couple of hoses right in front of the coop. I heard quacking and chirping, but it wasn’t coming from the coop. All the ladies were settled down having a nap in the sun. The quacking was coming from behind the coop… and up high.  So I’m looking up in the trees, and wouldn’t you know it, there’s a Stellar Jay up in the tree, quacking and chirping away. If you’ll recall, last Summer we had a Stellar that mimicked a Red Tail Hawk, which led us into calling ourselves Stellar Hawk Ranch. Are we Stellar Duck Ranch now?!

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She was only this little for, like, 3 days.

The Mansion.

Alright! I know you’ve been dying to hear about our chicken/duck coop/mansion.

Ever since Amelia passed away, I have been very lonely without birds around. So one of our big Springtime projects was to build a chicken/duck coop and fill it with quacking and pecking feathered ladies! We started this project in March.

I decided I wanted to build it out of pallets and re-use the panels from Amelia’s old enclosure. We collected all the pallets for free from various places around town (some in better shape than others, but all free nonetheless), and I did hours of measuring pallets, making lists, and designing on paper before we started even leveling the ground where it was to sit.

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Starting the leveling process. You gotta start somewhere!

We picked the spot, and I hand-leveled a 10 ft x 12 ft plot where 9 pallets were going to be fastened together as the base for the coop. I decided the coop needed a sturdy floor, as opposed to having the coop just sit on the bare ground. We have so many predators around here that no chances are to be taken.

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Still snow on the ground…

Once the 9 pallets were assembled and screwed together as much as possible, I laid 1/2″ hardware cloth over the entire thing and stapled/screwed it on. Then, with the help of my brother and his lady friend, the 4 of us flipped the whole thing over. So now the hardware cloth barrier is right up against the ground, which makes an excellent deterrent from hungry creatures trying to dig into the coop. I then hardware cloth’d and chicken wired the top side. Two barriers are better than one. We attached scrap 2x4s around around all the sides of the pallets to tie everything together, make the pallet base more sturdy, and keep all the wiring in place. Then it was a matter of building walls.

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Walls going up!

With a whole lot of patience amongst the occasional frustration surrounding the fact that pallets are rarely exactly the same, we managed to put mostly-alike pallets together to form a back wall to the coop. The panels from Amelia’s enclosure serve as the front part of the coop. Next was the roof.

The back half of the coop is designed to be their nesting and roosting area, as well as their protection from harsh weather. I wanted a solid roof to protect from rain and snow, and the solid pallet wall protects them from wind. The front half of the coop would still be completely wired and predator-proof, but would allow a lot more air flow, sunshine, and weather to get in (ducks don’t mind a rainstorm!). The nice thing about using pallets is that they are not airtight. So even when I added extra scrap pieces to the pallets to make them more complete, there is still a lot of ventilation. Birds need lots of fresh, moving air for their sensitive respiratory systems. Even in the middle of Winter.

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Turns out building a roof is really complicated! Lucky for me my talented woodworking handyman of a partner figured it out. He made me an A-frame style roof that sits on the back half of the coop. Attached to the top are clear plastic corrugated panels that will allow rain or snow to just run off the roof (and we can potentially collect rainwater off it), and they still let sunshine in. In the Winter it should act as a mini-greenhouse to keep them warm too. I decided not to completely enclose the outer sides of the A-frame for ventilation purposes.

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The backside.

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From the inside.

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Love our scrap lumber mess?

After the inside roof was finished, we put up the rest of the walls on the front side, and made an open-style roof for the front half of the coop. Paint came next. I wanted the inside to be a nice sunny yellow, the outside a nice turquoise. We went through a LOT of spray paint. Probably $200 worth of paint, which was really the biggest expense out of the whole building.

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Then I got to wiring the ENTIRE THING. And I mean every square inch of this thing is wired. There is an obscene amount of staples and screws in this coop it’s almost ridiculous. But, like I said before, lots of predators and no room for shortcuts. I’ve built bird enclosures in previous jobs, so I know how to look at any and every possible point of entry to make a solid structure safe for the birds living inside of it.

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Being up there was sketchy.

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You have no idea the relief I felt when the wiring was done. What a pain. My hands to my shoulders were sore from using the staple gun a million times, and climbing up and down that ladder was not the most pleasant task. And I went through a shit ton of chicken wire.

The fun part was next, building perches and nest boxes and getting the coop ready for its new inhabitants. I also built a box out of pallets as a spot to store their food, straw, and other things we just don’t have room for the house, since we don’t have a shed yet either.

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Nest boxes!

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Food & straw storage.

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Sneak peak of a chicken in the corner.

And what do you know, about 2 1/2 months later, it was finished! Total I spent around $400 to build it. Half of that was just on paint. The other expenses were hardware cloth, the roof panels, some lumber costs, staples, screws, and straw. Most of the coop was built from free or re-used materials, and all the chicken wire was free from my previous job. Now we have a 10×12 ft Mansion that could easily house 10 birds.

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It’s done!

Then, about 2 weeks ago, we introduced 8 little ladies to their new home. 5 ducks, 3 chickens. You’ll get to meet them in the next post 🙂

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