Homesteading Update

Standard

Well, let’s get the confession over with first. There is no garden this year. There was a garden, but through a program of careful neglect, we managed to ignore it till it went away.

I’m still trying to figure out how to juggle taking care of my children and getting things done outside. Obviously my great-great-grandmothers managed it somehow. It can be done. I just haven’t figured out how they did it yet. Babywearing is great, but it’s not particularly practical for working outside in a South Carolina July.

Anyway, as a result, I’ve been on a bare-bones maintenance program around here, and the garden paid the price. We had such a hot, dry summer, though, that even the gardens people actually remembered to tend around here yielded very little.

So, no vegetables, but we do have a few home-grown chicks. I’ve had multiple broody hens over the years, but none have ever stuck it out long enough to hatch the eggs. This year, though, two girls teamed up, sitting on the nest together most of the time and taking turns at eating and drinking. They managed to hatch out a total of eleven chicks, nine of which survived and are doing wonderfully.

image

The only thing we’ve expanded in the last few months is the rabbitry. We still have (and love) our American Chinchilla trio plus their eight current offspring, but now we also have standard Rex. If you’ve never felt Rex fur before, there is no way to describe its softness.

image

This is Julep, a young castor doe. We also have Moon Pie, her castor half-sister; Blackberry, a young black otter doe; Cassie, a mature castor doe who gave us six beautiful kits a few weeks ago; and Creole, a young silver marten buck. Later this month we’re picking up a little opal buck as well. Rabbit math. It’s worth than chicken math. Seriously.

image

There is something really therapeutic about caring for them, though. They’re soft, quiet, and friendly, and I find the routine of filling water bowls and doling out pellets and hay very pleasant. Not that I linger over the process — I’m usually either grabbing a few minutes while the baby sleeps and the boys watch a video or else I’m waiting till Ben gets home and trying to get everyone taken care of between supper and darkness.

image

One of Cassie's kits.

But I do stop to snuggle the occasional baby bunny. Wouldn’t you?

image

Seriously cute.

Family Update

Standard

Life is good. Life is also busy. My baby girl is six months old today, her older brother turned two-and-a-half two days ago, and her oldest brother is almost halfway through being six. It’s all flying by much too quickly!

So, The Boy and I started first grade a few weeks ago. It is a whole different kettle of fish from the kindergarten program that we did last year, but we’re starting to find a rhythm and have fun. He especially loves science — we’re studying insects right now, so what six-year-old boy wouldn’t love it? He already liked to throw around statements like, “Well, that’s my hypothesis,” so his love of science comes as no surprise.

image

The Slightly Smaller Boy hurtles through life like he’s been issued a personal challenge to Carpe this Diem with all he’s got. He keeps us on our toes in a way that his brother never has, but he also makes us laugh like crazy, so it works out. He’s scary-smart like his brother, too, and any day now I’m expecting him to start piping up with the answers when I’m quizzing The Boy in school.

image

And now this baby girl. Smitten doesn’t begin to describe it. She is the happiest, most roly-poly little creature you’ve ever seen. She’s also the spitting image of my mom as a baby, and at six months, she’s tipping the scales at almost 21 pounds. And of course, she has everyone in the house wrapped around her pudgy little fingers!

image

So, these three keep me busy from morning till night, but there are about 45 or 50 animals counting on us for their survival as well. I’ll post an update on the homesteading part of our lives in a day or two!

image

Good Neighbors

Standard

Miss Dorothy is somewhere in her late eighties. She’s tiny, adorable, and charmingly eccentric. She’s got a Southern accent as thick as molasses in January and a love for knit caps and men’s heavy duty work shirts, which always look like they’re swallowing her whole.

Dorothy and her husband, Norman, bought their land about 60 years ago, when there was nothing in the area. She can remember when they would sit on the front porch looking down towards the road, and if two cars went by in an hour, you knew it was a busy day. They kept chickens and bees and had the biggest woodpile I’ve ever seen.

Whenever we had a major snowfall (which only happened a few times during my childhood), we would walk across the street to “check on them.” It was a joke, really, because they were better prepared than anyone in the neighborhood. They had a wood-burning stove in their living room, and the big outdoor thermometer on the wall usually read well over 90 degrees. By the time we were done visiting, it was a relief to get back out into the snow!

Once, when I was very small, Dorothy called my mom and said, “Get that child in the house! Norman just saw a puff adder down by the mailbox!” My mom promptly went and looked up puff adders in the encyclopedia (Remember when we used to look things up in encyclopedias? Me, too. I miss that.) and discovered that they were native to Africa and the Middle East. Turns out, though, that around here, people refer to the harmless hognose snake as a puff adder because of its habit of flattening out its head like a cobra when threatened. Many people also assume that they’re deadly. And then those people worry about their neighbor’s toddler playing outside with such a beast at large.

In the 1980s, several large subdivisions went in around them, and developers came to their door more than once with a blank check, wanting to buy their property. Norman always declined, saying that he had bought that land intending to have his bones carried off of it. And about fifteen years ago, that’s exactly what happened.

Miss Dorothy stayed in their cozy little house, though, and their daughter more or less lives there with her now. She calls her mama “Little Mother” because that’s what Norman used to call her. They are two of the sweetest, cutest, and most independent women imaginable. I honestly cannot imagine either one of them saying a mean word about another person. It just isn’t in them.

Until just a few years ago, they were splitting all of their own wood to heat the house — two large trees per winter. Now they’ve switched to a propane heating system, and they no longer have the chickens or the bees, which practically makes them ladies of leisure.

I only see them once or twice a year now. We take the kids trick-or-treating there on Halloween, and sometimes the two of them come to my parents’ Christmas party. I always mean to visit more often, because I would love for my kids to have memories of Miss Dorothy. I’m resolving once again to do that before it’s too late.

That’s the thing about country neighbors. You don’t accidentally run into them while you’re unloading groceries from the car or trimming the hedges. You have to go calling, pay a visit, make time to seek them out. Good fences might make good neighbors, but good neighbors make great friends.

Miss Dorothy and The Boy when he was tiny. He was still almost as big as she is!

Miss Dorothy and The Boy when he was tiny. He was still almost as big as she is!

Prelude to Winter and Hens that Refuse to Lay

Standard

Well, we didn’t get seven feet of snow here this week, but there are flakes on the forecast for Wednesday. For a place that’s usually sunny and seventy degrees on Thanksgiving Day, that’s pretty crazy. In fact, on the first of November, there were several inches of snow to the north and south of us, although my personal snow-free zone still seems to be fully functional.

I haven’t confessed to The Boy yet that it’s probably my fault he doesn’t get to go sledding when kids four miles away are building snowmen. For now, I’m just hoping that this snow-repelling power isn’t some sort of voodoo that I’ve passed down to him and his brother!

One thing I love about cold weather is how much more pleasant it makes the daily chores. I absolutely hate being out in the smothering humidity of our South Carolina summers, but on cold days, I can bundle up. My heavy Wall’s 12/8 jacket is big enough to zip over my growing baby belly, my Muck Boots keep my feet warm and dry, and with some work gloves, I get everyone fed and watered so much more comfortably than in the summer heat.

I’ve run into a strange problem this year. The pullets I hatched out on February 9 and the ones I bought the next day (in case I had hatched out nothing but roosters!) have never started to lay. They’re 41 weeks old, and I’ve never caught one of them in a nest or seen any evidence of eggs being laid and eaten. I’m really at a loss, but at this point, I’m seriously considering culling the whole bunch of them and starting fresh next spring. They’re eating laying pellets like there’s no tomorrow and we’re not seeing any return on all that feed. So we’re going to change brands and see if it makes a difference, and in a few weeks, we’ll make a decision. This is a first for me, so it’s hard to know what to do.

The rabbits continue to be wonderful. I just love them. I bred Anne, one of the California does, to the AmChin buck (George) last month in hopes of getting a better growout rate in the kits. She was due two days ago and hasn’t nested yet, but she’s made a little tunnel in the nestbox bedding and tends to put off pulling fur till the last minute. Based on her crankiness these past few weeks, I’m pretty confident she’s pregnant. Should be interesting to compare her litter (provided she has one) with whatever we get from the larger AmChin doe, Martha, who’s due on December 4. I’ll post photos as soon as I can.

Hope everyone has safe travels this week and a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Six Busy Months

Standard

Spring and summer have flown by this year. I’ve started a few posts without finishing any, and somehow half a year has passed since I posted anything at all.

The Baby is no longer a baby. Instead, he has morphed into an eighteen-month-old blur of energy, mischief, and fun requiring far more supervision than his brother ever has. Every obstacle must be climbed and every food must be tasted. Any cat sighting (window, television, pet store…) results in repeated and very realistic meowing. For whatever reason, his greatest ambition is to throw himself over the back of the sofa, something which I’ve managed to prevent so far. He loves to read books and wants to be just like his big brother.

image

The Boy, meanwhile, started kindergarten last week. I’m homeschooling him, and he’s absolutely eating it up. Most days he does twice as many pages as projected and would keep going if I didn’t stop him. His favorite thing is cutting and pasting, and he’s very careful and conscientious with his work. He still keeps us in stitches most of the time with the crazy things he says. He loves “inventing” things, and he can build just about anything with either Legos or PVC pipes. And he is a serious people person — not always the easiest thing for this introverted mama to deal with, but I’m glad he’s so outgoing.

image

And as busy as these two keep us, we’re expecting a third in March! The Boy says that it is “definitely” going to be a girl — while he adores his little brother, he also desperately wants a sister. This pregnancy is very different from my others, so maybe that means he’s right.

On the homesteading front, we built four raised beds and had a decent garden this year, but a serious lack of pollinators. The cold winter killed off a lot of honeybees around here. So our tomatoes, beans, crookneck squash, and butternut and acorn squash did pretty well, but the peppers and zucchini did nothing, and out of dozens of blossoms, my pumpkin vine only managed to set one fruit.

image

The chicks we hatched are thriving and fully grown now. We lost two within two days of hatching to mushy chick disease, where the navel fails to close properly after the yolk sac is absorbed. It’s usually caused by too much humidity during the hatch or bacteria encountered in the incubator. I didn’t have a hygrometer to measure the humidity, but as far as bacteria goes, by the end of the hatch that incubator was pretty manky. Not really sure how to avoid that.

Anyway, as soon as I realized why the first one died, I immediately started applying iodine to the navels of all the rest to dry them up. One was already too sick to pull through, but the others with iffy-looking abdomens all healed up cleanly. After that, we lost one to suffocation when all of its siblings decided to pile up on it, but the rest grew up beautifully.

The only downside to hatching our own chicks was that some of the prettiest ones turned out to be cockerels, including Trouble, my funny little owl-looking baby who used to jump into my hand as soon as I reached into the brooder. My little chocolate fluffball, Godiva, did end up being a pullet, but the one that looked like its Cuckoo Marans mama and that I had hoped might lay olive eggs ended up becoming a gorgeous roo. Most of the extra cockerels will probably end up in the freezer. It’s just another way of providing for our family, of course, but you know, I couldn’t help hoping we would have a miraculous, 100% pullet hatch. ☺

We added several new rabbits: a California buck and a trio of pedigreed American Chinchillas. The oldest AmChins won’t be old enough to breed until October, but I love these rabbits! They’re huge, beautiful, and so sweet. They’re a critically endangered heritage breed, so there aren’t many of them around here.

image

Add a few days in Charleston, a quick weekend trip for one of Ben’s younger brothers to get married on Pensacola Beach, several more home improvement projects, and a whole lot of laundry, and you’ve got a decent, if abbreviated, glimpse of our last six months. Hopefully it won’t be another six before I get a chance to write again!