March 11, 2012
★ The snow is melting. Let’s talk about Spring.

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Lake Mascoma

I’m wearing a short sleeve shirt today and riding around the mountains with the sun roof open. I even opened the back window so Goomba could get some fresh air for the first time in a car since October. We received a few inches of snow this week but it’s melting pretty fast and the roads are clearing up. We’ll keep getting snow through May but the heavy stuff is over with. Spring is here and that means preparing for the very short summer. Summer is usually spent preparing for the gruesome 6-8 month winter so we take summer seriously up here. It’s a great time of year. In truth, I’m most thrilled about being able to wash my car out in the back yard while Elizabeth and Goomba play. I’ll get to sleep and live with my windows wide open letting in the breeze freely move through the cabin. It’s going to be awesome.

The biggest cause for excitement is expanding my little farm a bit. This year, I’m going to go all out. Last year was alright. I had a dozen chickens and planted some crops. Unfortunately, the crops didn’t do to well only half of the chickens were still laying. It was my first year so, of course I had some improvements to make.

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Chickens, Ducks, Turkeys and Pigs!

On Friday, I’ll be ordering 10 chickens from a local hatchery. They’ll arrive and be ready for pickup the 2nd week of April. You can order day-old chicks but you risk losses of some of them and I’m not very experienced yet. These I’m ordering are 7-weeks old just shy of laying and I’ll move them into their new home, the chicken coop and pick up some fresh hay for them. This is exciting. Elizabeth and I are still deciding which kind of chickens to get. Here are a few of the options available at the local store. In addition to the chickens, I’ll be getting 2-3 Indian Runner ducks. They are quite adorable and lay eggs but they don’t nest too well so they just drop eggs around the yard. The plan is to let them live in the coop with the chickens and some backyard farmers claim that the chickens teach the ducks how to roost properly. I think that’s pretty funny and will be interesting to see first-hand.

In addition to chickens and ducks, I’m debating getting a turkey. It’s unknown to me how I’ll keep it though. How will I keep it from running away? Do I have to build ANOTHER pen to hold it in with shelter? That’s pretty expensive but I’d love to grow my own turkey for Thanksgiving. Plus, I can use the additional compost for next year’s garden. The turkey is still being researched. One thing is for sure, I don’t want any male birds this year. Male birds are just impossible to deal with and have almost no meat on them. They’re aggressive and mean and territorial so no males for me. The thing about turkey now that I think about it is that there are tons of turkey around wild. They’re in my yard almost all of September. Killing my own wouldn’t be that hard out of a flock but I need to check local laws. We’ll see what happens with this idea…

Finally, I’m going to get some pigs. Laugh it up but I think this is awesome. Piglets run about $75 and you put up some reinforced fencing about 20×10 feet of space and they’ll root around in the dirt and make it a muddy mess. You can feed them scraps but ideally, you feed them actual feed from the store. They grow to about 280 pounds in a year but can live for 3 years if you wanted to do that. The plan is that I get two pigs just in case one doesn’t make it or gets sick but if two do make it, one we’ll just slaughter and clean up on the property and do a pig roast. Anyone who hasn’t done this, you’re just digging a big pit and filling it with charcoal or wood and cooking the whole pig. The second one I’ll be sending off to a  butcher and I’ll get about 120 pounds of meat. A local Vermont blogger did the math already (these are 2005 grain prices)

Here’s the math: If you’re pen raising them figure on:
$125 for 800 lbs of grain per pig for the feed. Grain prices have been shooting up so beware that those are 2005 Vermont bag prices – adjust for your time and place.

$65 for a piglet

$35 slaughter

$65 for butchering (40¢/lb based on hanging weight of 180 lbs = ~250 lb live weight)

and what ever costs you have for the pen.

$290 or more in total

So $290 abouts not including maybe $100 for the pen. The investment goes down next year of course given I have the pen going. So, this year, Chickens, ducks and pigs and possibly a turkey. EXCITING! The primary reason I want to do the pigs is I want to get into curing meat. I’d like to attempt to do 50 pounds of cured meat that hangs in my enclosed porch all winter and even further. I’ve read a few guides and it would be cool to do a ham and some bacon cured. This started as an interesting way to experience what it was like before refrigeration was so accessible. Now, I find it almost necessary since I can’t store an entire 120 pound pig in my single freezer along with a turkey, ducks and 10 chickens. Given my small storage space and not wanting to buy a standing freezer, curing half of the pig would be cool and a good experiment. Some locals bag up their meat tightly and put it in the river behind their house. It keeps the meat cold and eventually freezes with the temperature dropping so fast. Anyway, I’m just rambling now.

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Expanding the Garden in my backyard!

I failed pretty hard with my garden last year. The starting issue was the depth of the soil. We built a raised garden and it was not very high for some of the taller plants like corn who need very deep roots. We’ll be doubling the height this year. Second of all, I had my neighbor get some soil for me. We didn’t till the existing soil and just put top soil on top of it….That soil was full of rocks. It was cheap $20 per truck load soil. This was dumb of me so we’re doing it better this year.

  • Higher raised garden
  • Better soil
  • More soil
  • Adding compost

I’ve been composting starting with the chicken manure last year so I have a lot more fertile elements to add to the soil this year and renting a till for a day will certainly improve oxidation of the soil and yield to better crops.

Another mistake I made was planting seeds in the ground later than I was supposed to so plants that have a long growing cycle didn’t fully mature before our fall set in where temps can hit freezing in October. So, we planted in May and had to harvest in late August and it was not enough time. This year, I’m going to germinate all of my plants indoors. I have picked up a few organic pots that I’ll be planting all of the crops in top soil and sitting on the window sill in the sun. So, from late March to end of April, that’ll be 4-5 weeks of germination and, following our last freeze, I’ll plant those bio-organic pots directly into the soil. I’ve also picked out a fancy irrigation system that will ensure the plants get water on days that I’m traveling. University of New Hampshire has some terrific guides on gardening that I’ve been reading.

What am I planting this year? Corn of course and maybe pumpkins. I want to do tomatoes, onions, potatoes and various pees along with peppers. Cabbage, kale and lettuce are a given and maybe other greens. My garden is about 30 feet by 15 feet so it’s pretty large and can hold enough vegetables to get me through the winter if canned and if I get a fully successful growing season. Let’s just hope we don’t get monsoon rain like we did last year. We got so much rain last year, my garden was a puddle for most of July.

So, last year, I got string beans, tomatoes and some peppers but that’s it and the plants that were successful were mostly the ones that I bought pre-germinated from the nursery. The things I planted myself didn’t do too well. We’ll fix that this year

Also, I planted about 5 wild Blackberry plants along the river last summer. Around this time, the animals that walk around and drink from my river will start to catch on to the blackberry bushes and help spread the old and dried up seeds around. So, maybe not this year but next year, I’ll have a few wild blackberry bushes to eat from. I know they can spread like wildfire and I say BRING IT ON! I have 5 acres so an acre of blackberry bushes sounds good to me. I can eat those things 3 meals a day.

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Beer Brewing!

In April, I’m picking up all of the parts needed to brew my own beer. That way, by June I’ll be drinking beer on tap in my home kegerator that I brewed myself. It’s about $100 to get started with parts and $40 in ingredients. Then, I have to build a kegerator and enjoy great beers. There are a lot of brewing groups up here to help me get started. I’ll talk more about this in April once I have everything setup.

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Roasting my Coffee Beans

Coffee is a huge passion of mine. A simple popcorn popper and some raw green beans by the pound from various websites and you can fresh roast your own beans. the investment is beans + $100 popcorn machine and I can begin roasting beans once a week and it’ll be a lot of fun. I need to do more research but it’s a big one and something I really want to take on and do. Growing coffee isn’t possible up here which is a bummer or I’d take that up as well.

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I think it’s important to become more self-sufficient. I wish one day to live completely off the grid free of utilities and the needs of a grocery store. Internet connection of course is essential. Everything else is not. Of course, saving my own seeds and breeding animals is essential for truly being sufficient out here and then there’s growing grain for the pigs and chickens but I guess I want to try to be a little more extreme each year. I’m failing more than succeeding but to have these skills is an exceptionally rich way of life and something I hope to pass on to my children. Respecting and appreciating what we put into our bodies and knowing the source is best when the source is your own back yard.

I’m so happy for spring. The trees will be green soon, the snow will be melting and I’ll be out in my yard every day growing my own food. It’s a beautiful thing and a remarkable thing. So, that’s the update. The snow is melting and I’m a happy man.