Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Dreams in Summer

Each summer, we look forward to Sean's family arriving for the warmer months. Now that his parents are retired, they are able to travel more; splitting their time between North Carolina, Florida, and Maine. While it is always lovely to visit and spend time together, it adds another layer to our lives. Instead of us working until sunset most days- we try to stop early for dinner or a game of cards when it is possible. And, feel self-inflicted guilt when it is not. ♥

This year, they are coming just days before Creatively Maine Pops Up again in Bucksport- for the first time, we will be opened July and August! Instead of focusing on weekly markets and weekend craft shows, I will spend the next 62 days at the shop. When I am not studying for Christian meetings and preaching the Word, milking goats, making cheese, tending animals, home-schooling girls, making soaps, scents, bee's wax wraps and massage melts, and restocking shops. It is going to be a BUSY summer. Thankfully, I am never alone. There is Sean. And, again this season, there is Shea (from Gentle Meadow Goat Farm). This would not be possible without them. Having never opened in the summer months, this is a risk- but one entered into thoughtfully with lots of HOPE.

So, with thoughts of our upcoming summer schedule clearly before us, Sean invited me to celebrate our 8th wedding anniversary a little early (like, 6 weeks early) since last weekend was realistically the only weekend we would have free until September. I already shared what romantic people we are. So it will come as no surprise that we celebrated our love and marriage by spending the weekend working together, completing projects to make our homestead more homey. It was perfect. Really.

New doe pasture lands.
We expanded both the doe and buck pastures by adding 150 feet of fencing to the does and an additional 100 feet of fencing to the bucks' pastures. This means our hay bill should lessen some- easing the cost of feeding this year a little.

We received the huge roll of greenhouse plastic gifted to us by our friend, Jenny of Pebblestone Farm. This will be the year that our greenhouse dream becomes a reality. We live in zone 5A. To be able to grow much of our own food nearly year-round and provide for ourselves and the families that have purchased CSA shares from us is a GIFT. We spent some time fencing the front garden beds and planting seedlings of tomatoes, sweet and hot peppers, kale, broccoli, lettuces, and the like.

Bergamot, Stinging Nettle, Lavender, Oregano, Dill,
Lemon Balm, Peppermint, Anise, Apple Mint, Orange Mint,
Wintergreen, Thyme, and Chives
Almost to the front door. We need about 10
additional pallets to finish this project and then,
We found more useful pallets to fence the new path into our home. It will be completely lined with edible, perennial herbs. There is more to be done to it, but a good start has been made. The best part? Total cost so far is less than $50 and that includes the landscaping fabric, pebbles, and additional ornamental plantings! The girls are saving their pennies for a trip to Italy this fall and have cheerfully agreed to paint the fencing for me for a reasonable price.

Farm sink finished, counter tops tiled, and copper back splash installed. 
Sean has been working on our kitchen over the winter months. He installed this back splash to tie into the copper accents in our farm kitchen. I am in love with the look. It is EXACTLY what I envisioned. Sean will paint the ceiling with a fresh coat of paint tonight and other than replace the kitchen window and build my new farm table and benches, the kitchen will be finished!

Half way there! 
For my part, I spent a little time spray-painting some Silkweeds DIY finds gloss white enamel. I reupholstered the seats with upholstery Sean and I found at Marden's for only $1.99/yard. (I grabbed 5 yards of the fabric so I can create bench cushions once I have benches and have a little left over for when the cats claw the seats and I have to redo them.) I love the finished look. The accent chairs are just what I wanted. I love the lines. I wanted chairs that were substantial, but still feminine; fabric that was "country" without being "dated". I am pleased with the results.

Eve checking out the new pasturage.
There is a saying, "Do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life." By the end of the weekend, I could barely walk. My arms and legs are covered with fresh scratches from brush and thicket and new, blue bruises from carrying posts, buckets, and stray goats. My nails were crusted with dirt. Each night we crawled into a warm shower to remove bits of bracken, sweat, grime and tangles. Being clean never felt so lovely. We ordered out for pizza because we couldn't move another muscle to cook one night. We warmed left-overs the next. All the while, we talked and dreamed of the homestead we are carving out together. Best. Anniversary. Ever.... So far.

Monday came and life's rhythm resumed. Sean's week will be split between working on a concrete project at the beginning of the week and building a 10 x 10 woodshed he's been hired to construct at the end of the week. I spent yesterday cleaning the house with the girls, making chevre, yogurt, and feta, watering the gardens and completing the animal chores so that when Sean got home, we could eat dinner together as a family. I noticed that Phoebe-goat is definitely getting closer to kidding. It should be any day now. We are hoping for twin lamancha does. Of course, I am obligated to add, "but as long as they are healthy, we don't care if we get bucks." Between us, alive bucks are better than sick or dead kids of any kind- healthy does are better, though. And, healthy lamancha does are better than better. I'll post images as soon as she decides to kid for us. She is kidding much later in the season than we ever planned, but it's something to look forward to.

Thanks for visiting with us today, friends. We love your company.
~Sean and Sonja ♥

Monday, June 13, 2016

All Sean Ever Does is Build, Mend or Move Fencing and Other Stories From the Past Month

Found in our field! So pretty!
This post is going to be a long one, friends. I have been capturing images as we are living life, but Winter's rest quickly becomes Spring's frenzy- and I have been at a loss for more time. Time to post. Time to write. Time to think, really. In the rare convergence of an empty house and a full camera, I plan to steal a few guilt-free minutes to edit images and video and share happenings with you all. And, since this website is one of the only places in my world where I reign supreme, the stories will come as they flow from my fingers and not in the order in which any of them happened. Feel the power!

This Spring brought some unexpected and wonderful new additions to the homestead. One group of additions came via a phone call from a friend of a friend. Her family is moving and they were looking for a home for their geese and a couple of hens. Despite what our checking account thinks, we are not a non-profit entity. Though we would love to save the world, it is not a realistic view that we can take on every creature needing a new home. We have to ask several questions to see if the animal is a good fit for us and our plans for the future. Questions like: (1) Do we have the room to care for the animal(s), (2) Can we afford to care for them? (3) How will they benefit our homestead goals? etc. If they pass these questions, we visit and see if the animal responds well to Sean and I. Finally, Sean and I talk it over and make our decision. It is hard not to get our hearts invested, but we have to before we make the decision to commit to a new animal.

Ferdinand and Frances settled in and made friends with Caitlin and Justin immediately.
With those thoughts in mind, we were very interested in meeting Mariel and Annabelle's birds. They called about our caring for their Sebastapol goose, Ferdinand and his mate, Frances and their companion hens, Georgia and Winona. I have long wanted to add Sebastapol geese to our homestead, but they are not a necessity and their relative expense made them an unlikely addition... until now. The new birds settled in easily. Almost immediately, Frances began building a nest and laying eggs. Our intention was to allow her to hatch her nest, but after 5 weeks of sitting on them, none hatched in that attempt. We candled the eggs to see if there was any development, but most of the eggs had not been fertilized. We are hopeful to have some success in the future, but it seems that more practice and maturity is wanted from young Ferdinand.

Our next planned livestock purchase will be our family cow; a highland bottle baby. We have done our research and this is the breed that best suits our situation. For one thing, they are generally known to be relatively docile. They are on the smaller size for cows- around 800 pounds instead of 1200+ pounds. They browse more than graze and are bred to live in harsh conditions- our weather will suit them just fine. Plus, they are tanks in terms of health- generally hardy. Since we will only use the milk for our family's needs- 1-3 gallons/per day will be more than sufficient to make cream into butter and milk into cheese. (Pay Attention: This is called foreshadowing...)

Ever the romantic, originally, I was saving my pennies for a new push lawn-mower for our upcoming anniversary gift. The one I currently use is neither self-propelled nor does it have a shoot to direct the cut grass. I end up looking like She-Hulk after mowing for a bit. While green toes are all the rage this season, it would be very nice to have a mower that I can attach a bag to, which will collect the cut grasses. These can be recycled into bedding for nest boxes or composted. Nothing goes to waste if it can be helped! The new mower slid down my wish list when we found 330' of field fencing for only $139 last week. SCORE!!!!!

Fence installation: Take One. 
Why fencing in lieu of a mower? Our guinea fowl and ducks have almost unanimously decided that our neighbor's yard across the road and stocked with THREE dogs is the perfect place to hang out. You know, the grass is always greener... Sean and I protested this decision citing the danger of the road and the dogs. But, our protests fell on deaf ears. After losing two guineas and a drake this spring, we decided that we had to completely fence off the road frontage across the horse pasture and on the opposite side of our driveway. Last weekend, Sean and I spent two days installing welded-wire field fencing. We had an old roll that had seen better days and a brand new roll. Attached end to end, these spanned to about half the distance we wanted to cover. I looked online and discovered a sale at Tractor Supply, so my mower money went to fencing instead. I expected to pay about $70 for a roll of 100 feet of 4' tall welded-wire fencing- the kind to match what we already had on hand. It wouldn't work long-term for goats, but would be just fine to persuade birds to remain on the right side of it. Instead, I found real field fencing. The good kind; 12 gauge wire, 130 more feet for the same price as 2 rolls of the inferior kind. Color me happy! Except now, if we use the new wire, that will mean we have 3 different wires protecting the front of our property. While it will work, technically, it will look terrible. But, Sean just spent 12 hours not even a week ago digging posts and setting wire. You see the dilemma. Do I ask him to redo all his hard work for aesthetics? Or, do we continue on with the new wire and cut it off?

New high-tensile wire installation
So, the new wire is living where it should be- all in one line, across the horse pasture and there was enough left to install it to match the other side of the driveway, too. The rusted fencing Sean removed will go far into the woods to expand the doe pasture. It will need to be replaced at some point in the future, but it has some life left to it and I am less concerned about aesthetics in the back 40. Not only does the new fencing look better, it is perfect to safely hold in the dairy cow we will get ourselves for next year's anniversary present. That, my friends, is a good man. He never complained once. And, the cherry on top: after telling this story to our friend, Shea of Gentle Meadow Goat Farm offered us one of her unused lawn mowers. We need to check it out, but I am calling this a win all the way around!

Grazing in the newly opened pasturage.
Since we were on a roll with fencing, Sean grabbed his chain saw and set to clearing a four foot swath so we could set posts and expand the goat doe pasture. It is now as close to the river as it is going to be. We can call that side officially finished. We will add more fencing to the back area to open the woods beyond our backyard this year. We thought to make waddle fencing from the fast-growing alders, but upon more reflection, that idea was nixed in favor of high-tensile field fencing. While I love the idea of using wood from our land to make the fencing and it worked great for our raised garden beds in the backyard, the alders would need to be repaired as they decay, so there is the concern of upkeep. We also need to consider the time involved in harvesting alders, cutting them to size, delimbing branches and weaving the fencing. Additionally, I am worried about the fencing standing up to our herd of goats testing it. We are still planning on using it to separate our property line from that of our neighbors. That will give us some idea of how it will stand up over time.

Spring also brings the planning and planting of the vegetable gardens. We already built raised beds in the front garden and it is as large as it is going to be. This year, we purchased one 12' x 20' x 8' metal arched frame and were gifted a second one. These will fit end to end through the center of the garden beds. We will build wooden side frames off of the main support. Once covered with greenhouse plastic, our entire front garden beds will be covered under a working greenhouse for the first time ever!

Last year, we planted perennial lemon balm, apple mint, orange mint, wintergreen, peppermint, chives, dill, oregano, and mullein in the herb garden. This year, we added bergamot, comfrey, thyme, stinging nettles, and anise. I love the variety of herbs we are growing to flavor foods and create extracts and infusions for our goat's milk soaps. Unfortunately, so do the goats and chickens. These have joined forces to wreak havoc on my precious plants. The chickens love dust bathing in the fresh-dug soil and care not whether they pull up young, tender plants in the process. The goats have no excuse, they just rip entire plants from the ground. Because they are goats and they can. Something had to be done to protect my plants. Chicken wire was an option and while it might thwart the birds, it would not stand up to the goats. Also, it is not very pretty to look at. In a perfect world, money would be no option. Since that is not reality, we came up with a plan B. You have to use your imagination, but once the pallets are all secured so they run the entire length of our home, gates are installed on both ends, and the fencing is painted white, I think it will look great. Along the front of the fencing, I will plant flowering annuals and draping vines, like ivy or morning glories in pretty pots. Behind the fencing, my herbs will grow unmolested by birds or four-legged infidels. Guests will walk though the sweetly fragrant herbs to reach our front door, instead of braving the turkey-laden mudroom porch steps. Can you picture it? I can. Vividly. All I need now is 20 pallets in great condition, 4 sturdy, black hinges, 2 locks, a couple gallons of white paint and some river stones for the path.

2 barred rock chicks hatched
by a duckling and Jordan, our turkey poult.
We've had a single turkey poult and 16 chicks hatch so far this season. A leghorn hen is sitting on a nest of another dozen eggs in the pig shelter. They should hatch any day. A Rhode Island Red hen is sitting on a nest of random eggs in the chicken coop. These should hatch in a couple weeks. We have not had success with ducklings this year so far. Out of 4 nests, we had only one duckling hatch- and his Momma squished him accidentally. One duck hen hatched 2 barred rock chicks, but her duck eggs never hatched. It is discouraging. There is still time, but I really thought we would have a few goslings and ducklings already.

Peter and Jareth. 2016 kids
Fresh Chevre with Chives
We had 15 healthy kids born on the homestead this season; 8 bucks and 7 does. Of those, we are planning to keep 3 does to add to our line. And, we are still expecting goat kids from Phoebe and maybe Cassie. Phoebe has begun to form her udder, but she is keeping secret as to when she thinks her kids will drop. Cassie is a wild card. She is HUGE, but no udder at all. I think she is pregnant. Sean is unconvinced. We'll see! In the meantime, goat's milk is flowing. Sean and I are milking 6 does each morning and I am making cheese nearly every day. Today was feta and yogurt. Yesterday I made chevre. With all its ups and downs, it feels like we are making progress towards making this homestead a real working entity. I have the callused hands to back that up and I wouldn't trade it for the world most days.

Thanks for checking in with us today, Friends. We're glad you are here.
~Sean and Sonja ♥