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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Totally Cool.

Another Summery day!

So I have some totally cool, super rad things to tell you about! This is kind of a random post… but these things are too cool to NOT mention.

White radish!

Ok, so… about a month ago we started noticing this really trippy sound outside. It sounds like we’re under a powerline (which we are obviously not). It’s this really strange constant buzzing noise accompanied by a methodical chewing noise way up in our pine trees. We don’t remember this sound from last year, and it was really making us a little crazy.

Originally we thought pine beetles. Pine beetles are a big problem in this area, and destroy pine trees in quick time in CO, creating a massive fire hazard. But when I researched pine beetles, we didn’t have any of the “symptoms” in our trees. No sawdust piles on the ground, no holes in the bark, no yellowing of the trees. One of R’s co-workers suggested maybe the sap running through the trees is making the sound (now that they’ve thawed out from Winter), since we had done a lot of limbing of our trees recently. There is quite a bit of sap running down some of our trees. That seemed reasonable, until we took Loki for a long walk down one of our nearby roads, and the trippy sound was everywhere. Then someone mentioned cicadas.

Honestly I didn’t think too much of that idea at first. I had never heard of cicadas in this part of the country. That always seemed more of a mid-west kind of thing. It took a few days for me to finally sit down and do some research about cicadas. So I’m reading about cicadas, not really seeing anything significant, until I literally googled “electricity noise in pine trees” and cicadas came up! Then I saw a picture of their exoskeletons that they shed. We had these little skeletons EVERYWHERE in our garden about a month ago and couldn’t figure out what they were!

Cicada skeleton.

Ok, so now I’m reading all about cicadas, and learning that every 13 or 17 years (it’s very precise), they come up out of the ground, shed their skeletons, fly up into the pine trees, eat sap (that chewing noise) for a 4-6 weeks, then the females lay their eggs in the trees, the eggs hatch and the larve fall to the ground, at which point they dig deep into the Earth, attach to a tree root, stay there for 13 or 17 years, then dig up and do it all again. How weird, right?! I also found this random article from August 2016 from somewhere in Ohio I think, saying to prepare for cicadas this coming year because it’s been 17 years!

Then, if all this isn’t weird and cool enough, just the other day at my day job in town, this crazy looking bug flew into the lobby. I caught it in a clear cup and had no clue what it was, then one of my co-workers was all, “oh cool, a cicada.” Totally enthralled, I told him all about all the research I’d done about cicadas and about that crazy noise in our trees at our house. Then, get this, he tells me his family moved here 13 years ago, and he remembers hearing that noise when they first moved here, and hadn’t heard it again until this year. WHAT?! Cicadas are so freaking cool. I can’t even stand it. Ok, so that’s cool thing #1.

It’s hard to see him, but he’s so neat!

Cool thing #2. We’ve gotten pretty familiar with all the weeds that grow here, while pulling them from our garden beds. A couple of weeks ago, this weird thing popped out of the ground in our arugula bed that we didn’t recognize. It was just a pink spear. Not knowing what it was, we decided to let it grow. As it got bigger, it looked more and more like asparagus. Pink asparagus? And why just one random spear?

It kept growing and kept looking like asparagus, and it didn’t make any sense. So I sat down with google again. After quite a bit of online digging, discovered it’s actually a type of fungus called Pinedrops. They’re attached to ponderosa pine roots and come up as these weird asparagus-looking things. Ironically, one of my favorite seasonal beers from Deschutes is called Pinedrops. We’ve decided to let it grow. It’s pretty strange looking.

In other news, It’s hot and dry and buggy here. This is officially my least favorite time of year. The cedar gnats (or no-see-ums as they’re also known) are out in full force and totally destroying us. These freaking gnats are only out from about Memorial Day until monsoons come through, but my are they obnoxious. Instead of puncturing your skin like mosquitos do, they actually have little tiny saws for mouths and cut your skin open to suck your blood, while injecting anti-coagulant into your system. Isn’t that lovely. I appear to be allergic to their anti-coagulant. I’m so red and itchy and swollen and miserable right now. Poor Loki gets it bad around his hairless boy parts. We both get dopey on benadryl from time to time.

So uncomfortable.

They’re out during the hottest part of the day, which is like 10am to 6pm these days (which is why I’m inside blogging right now). Ugh. We can’t wait for monsoons to come. R’s Mom sent us this really awesome bug repellant from doTerra called TerraShield that works well, but even having them buzzing around your face isn’t all that pleasant. So outside chores are saved for early morning and evening these days.

This is what we do now.

And here’s some other pics from the homestead I think you’ll enjoy! While I drink beer and try not to scratch myself…

Completed hoophouse.

Inside the hoophouse: melons and cucumbers on the left, a tomato in the back, asparagus on the right.

Kale.

 

Radishes just before harvest.

The snap peas that survived rot are starting to produce!

 

Kohlrabi growing fast.

Greenhouse tomatoes.

 

Under the leaves; kohlrabi forest.

Mustard greens & arugula.

 

Holy mustard greens!

We even have a resident lizard to represent the homestead.

 

Garden Updates.

We have so much going on at the ranch right now!

It takes us at least an hour in the mornings to take care of all the little plants before we do anything else… like go to work or feed ourselves or make coffee. They are our babies. Loki is our kid too, but he can wait in the mornings. Green sprout babies come first. So, here are the updates:

This is chamomile I planted in a ceramic pot. It’s growing quite a lot, and I’m hoping by the end of Summer I’ll have enough to harvest and dry. Then, I’ll conveniently have home-grown chamomile tea for over the Winter.

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Our asparagus babies are doing well. So far we have 31 out of 39 that have sprouted. Asparagus is very fragile and needy during its first year, so we’re actually pretty pleased with our results so far. They’re still slowly coming up, despite being planted over 2 months ago. A few of them got nailed during a sudden, short hail storm a couple of weeks ago, but none of them have died. Just a couple are growing sideways a bit now. They’ll be fine. It’s pretty fun to watch them grow.

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This is inside our greenhouse. We have 6 tomato plants that we had started inside and just recently transplanted in here. They’re growing fast and we’re pretty stoked.

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The garden. The blue-looking thing in the background is the chicken/duck mansion. The white structure is our new hoop house! R built the hoop house in the last couple of weeks. We’ll be transplanting some more tomatoes, peppers, and melons into there for the Summer. It will protect the plants from wind and hail, and keep temperatures a few degrees warmer. It’s a very exciting edition because it just extends our season that much longer. Now we can grow some greens and cold-hardy stuff in the Fall and into Winter even. Next year we’ll be able to start some plants earlier in the hoop house. It’s pretty sweet.

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Arugula. It’s been growing very well and we’ve now started harvesting leaves for salads and sandwiches!

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Radishes and kale. The radishes will be harvested in the next week, then will be finished for the season until Fall.

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Sugar snap peas. We’re actually currently dealing with some issues with our peas. In this picture it’s hard to tell, but the bed on the left and the center bed of peas are now yellowing and their growth seems to have stunted. We’ve done some research and it sounds like root rot may be to blame. It is fairly common in the pea and bean family. We have a couple of theories as to why this may have happened.

First, all of the peas planted in those two beds were soaked overnight before planting. The peas in the furthest bed were only soaked for an hour or two before planting. Now we’ve read that over-soaking of seeds before planting may be a cause of root rot as the plant grows. Also, a couple of weeks ago we had several days of rain/snow/sleet/wind/cold weather. We covered those two beds but left the furthest bed uncovered, since those had just barely sprouted by then. After reading about root rot just the other day, it sounds like we may have inadvertently caused more damage by covering the plants in the cold, wet weather. The row cover may have held in too much moisture, causing rot in the roots. So far, the furthest bed of peas has been doing well, no yellowing or stunted growth yet. We did fertilize the peas (as well as most of the garden), just the other day with some organic kelp, bat guano, and earthworm casting-based fertilizer. The pea plants are still alive; we’re hoping they bounce back. Lessons learned for sure, and now we’ll just have to see what happens.

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Mustard greens. Growing beautifully. The most colorful and impressive crop in the garden so far.

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This is kohlrabi. It was mostly planted as an experiment because I like how weird it is. They are growing surprisingly fast and amazingly well!

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This is when the tomatoes were still babies in their cups. Peppers there on the right.

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What the inside our house looked like every night. Now the tomatoes are in the greenhouse, but those other little trays still come inside at night. In those cups we have melon and pepper sprouts of different varieties. I have bell peppers, hot wax peppers, cayenne peppers, and a few different melon sprouts.

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Purple kale. Very pretty scarlet color.

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I have to brag a little bit about my off-grid awesome breakfast I made the other morning for us. Pancakes and eggs! (Soon we’ll have FRESH EGGS!)

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And, last but certainly not least, the obligatory Loki picture.

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First Step.

One of our big projects this year is moving our house to a different spot on our property. Right now the house is very close to the road, and we would like some more privacy from passing traffic. It’s a big project, and a little overwhelming to think about. But, we have accomplished the first step!

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Staking the corners.

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Root cellar corners.

Our neighbor was getting a septic system put in at his cabin, so we made a deal with the dude digging and building his system, to come over to our place when he was finished (while all the big machinery was up there anyway) to level a spot for our house and dig the hole for our future root cellar. An hour and a half and a couple hundred dollars later: we have a level pad and a big hole!

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It’s pretty cool to watch a big machine move all that earth so quickly. The only unfortunate part is that bedrock lies 3.5 feet under the surface, so the root cellar hole did not end up as deep as we wanted. Instead, we’ll just have to build up the sides, so it will be mostly underground anyway. The root cellar is going to be a huge undertaking, but now that the hole is dug, we can work on it as we have time. We’re not expecting to have the root cellar finished this year.

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Big machine work.

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So now that that first step is completed, next we need to build a foundation for the house. We’ll be working on setting some concrete rounds, filling the rest in with gravel, leveling everything, and then building a wooden platform for the house to be moved onto. That should be solid enough for our little cabin, and we can hire the guy who originally delivered the cabin to come up, attach his cool wheel and forklift thing to it, and move it down the hill.

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Everything will be a lot more centralized once the house is moved. We’ll be right next to the garden and the chicken coop, and the greenhouse will be a much shorter walk from our front door. Plus we’ll be nearly totally hidden from traffic on our road. It’s going to be awesome.

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Future root cellar.

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Level pad.

It’s so nice to get a jump-start on all these big projects this year. Chickens and ducks will be added to our pack in a few short weeks! And just wait for more garden pictures… coming soon.

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Loki escaping the hole.

(And guess what… it’s windy and cold and miserable outside, which means I get a chance to blog, haha!)

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Future house home.