An exciting day on the homestead! Yesterday I put in nesting boxes for my hens, and this morning I noticed that someone had re-arranged the straw bedding into a little nest. Since I didn’t see an egg then, I closed the box back up and let them be. This afternoon, though, I checked again and found one little brown egg in the straw.
I built four nesting boxes from leftover plywood, which should be enough for my 11 girls. Since I wasn’t sure what the best size was, I made them one cubic foot each. This is big enough for the hens to get in easily, but tight enough for them to feel secure. The box is built onto the wall of the coop, so I don’t have to disturb the birds by opening the door to collect my eggs.
The top board lifts off to give me access without having to disturb the birds too much.
See the egg! Second box from the right.
Of course, this egg was not saved for later. We fried it sunny-side up, with just a little salt. So much more flavor than store bought, although it is a bit smaller, at 1 ounce. I gather that they will get bigger as the hens mature.
In other news, we butchered all but two of the roosters. I will be writing about that in the next week or so.
I love mulch. Not the red piney stuff that stinks to high heaven when it rains, but the natural layer of leaves and twigs that is provided year-round by our trees. Some people believe that the leaves are a gift to us from the trees. I think that one plant’s trash is another man’s treasure, and I recycle the plant’s waste. Whichever way you choose to look at it, leaves are very useful to have around. If you bag and discard your leaves, you may want to stop and pay attention.
Maybe I cheated a little. This photo should be familiar to every fisherman since the invention of the camera. While not truly a yard in length, these beans are still huge compared to my Old Homestead and Rattlesnake beans. They are Vigna unguiculata sesquipedalis, the yardlong bean. Also known as snake beans or asparagus beans, this south Asian crop is actually a variety of cowpea, closely related to our black-eyed peas, and is not even in the same genus as our green beans. Continue reading →
Chickens are weird. It works for them, though. Here, the little goofs are cleaning themselves with dirt. After two wet days, the weather cleared and we got a nice spot of sunny weather, as is typical for Florida in May. I decided to let the chicks do some “practice ranging,” where I put up a temporary fence and let them experience grass. This allows me to learn to trust that they won’t all scatter and disappear when I finally free-range, and it allows me to teach the chicks to come when I call them.
They immediately found a dry sandy spot and began to dust-bathe, which I assume they haven’t done in a few days since their run is still soggy from all the rain. The dust helps them to remove mites and other parasites, as well as clearing excess oils off the feathers ahead of preening.
So I take great pride in my bananas. Yes, my wife points out that I don’t even like bananas. Yes, I probably don’t deserve to be proud because the trees are doing all the work. Yes, I don’t actually have bananas yet, just rapidly growing flowers. I can still be proud.
Last time, I showed you my vegetable garden, and mentioned that I would use chickens as a pest control strategy. At this point, said chickens are still small fluffy things, although they are growing rapidly. Let’s go into some of the reasons I wanted chickens before I go too far into what I’ve done so far.
Yes, I plan on eating them, at least the roosters. My wife and I don’t eat much meat, and most of what we do eat is chicken. I think it’s important to take responsibility for our meat whenever possible, the same reason that I took up hunting in Arizona. By raising my own birds, I can make sure they are treated as humanely as possible, a guarantee I cannot make when I buy a pack of drumsticks at the store.
One of our little roosters at 7 weeks old. They grow so fast.
Last week I told you that my first homesteading step at our new home was to put in a vegetable garden. This time I’d like to go into more detail regarding what I’m doing, as well as the usual assortment of how’s and why’s. We live in zone 9b in central Florida, which means that I’ve had to shake up my knowledge of gardening a little bit to make this work. The winters here are very mild, with only a slight chance of frost in December, January, and February. In the last two winters there had been no frost here at all, and we had only two frosts this winter. This means that most vegetables do great here all winter long, and others need only a little frost protection. On the other hand, the summers here are brutal. The temperatures don’t rise as high as some parts of the country, but from May to October the average high is above 88 degrees Fahrenheit, and in this period we we also switch from bone-dry to steam oven, with nothing in between. So, most folks here garden from September to April.
The other thing for me to get used to is the soil, or lack thereof. The ground here is sand, and dries out very quickly if I’m not careful. Both of these issues, along with the fact that I’m not home much to weed or water, have shaped the way I plan to do my gardening here. I’ve borrowed strategies from the organic and permaculture folks, as well as local conventional agricultural practices, to build my garden.
Well… It’s finally happened. It’s hard to call yourself the Homesteading Hippy without a homestead, especially while living in an apartment or a friend’s spare bedroom. It’s hard, even when you rent enough space to make a garden, when you move every other year. Last fall, my wife and I made the step into homeownership, buying a place of our own. Now, I can finally get homesteading for real! All my practice runs, which some of you have followed over the years, can finally be put to proper use. Let me give you a tour.
It’s been a while since my last post, and a lot has happened in that time. First of all, I moved again, this time to Tampa, Florida. I went to college in Saint Petersburg, just across the bay from here, so this is somewhat like coming home for me. Yesterday, I had an experience that I felt was worthy of my first blog post in a long, long time.
As you may know, Florida is just packed with invasive animals and plants from all over the world. Some of them are not so bad, living out their lives without doing too much damage. Others, like the pythons, snakeheads, and Brazilian pepper trees either consume or out-compete native species. Yesterday, I was fishing in one of the lakes near my house and while fishing for bait with a net I brought in this marvelous looking non-native fish. Continue reading →
The title is from the folk song “My Clinch Mountain Home” which describes how hard it is to leave Virginia permanently. Luckily, I have many reasons to come back to visit often.
Last week I went back to visit my family in central Virginia, where I spent most of my childhood. It was nice to see everyone again, and I got a little time to relax and take a break from work. Now that I’m back in Arizona, I’d like to share the few pictures I took while I was gone. Continue reading →