In February of 2009, my husband and I bought our first home located on a few acres in Johnson, Vermont. We live here with our dog, Ollie, two cats: Elvis and Atticus, six Nigerian Dwarf goats: May, Chutney, Poppy, Juniper, Willow, and Jokers Wild, and about fifteen laying hens. And to top it all off we welcomed our daughter, Isabel, into the world on January 11th, 2011.

We're slowly updating our 1850's farmhouse while steadily working towards a healthy, meaningful, self-sufficient life together.

This blog details our endeavors along with our successes and failures- all in good fun. Thanks for stopping by, hope to see you again soon!


May and I enjoying some sunshine


I am just busy as a bee lately

Lovingly Posted by Melissa Sunday, April 25, 2010 1 comments

Hey folks.  Sorry for this long-delayed post.  Things at work (aka my full time job away from the homestead) have kept me pretty darned busy.  But, I'm back and I just can't wait to tell you how the bee installation went on Monday!

Kyle and I woke up early on Monday morning and I set about getting all the foundation inside each of the 16 frames (we have 8 frame hives which are supposed to be easier to deal with).  I know we were supposed to get everything set up days in advance, but with the weather being so crappy I thought I'd wait as Monday was supposed to be a decent day.  After trying on my veil (actually googled how to tie it down, yeah I know...I'm hopeless) and waiting it out for as long as I could possibly stand it we headed out.  It was about a 45 minute drive to Northwoods Apiaries where we chatted with the owners for a while and John gave us a rundown of how to install the bees into the hive (not that I hadn't done tons of research, but it was nice to see how a seasoned pro went about it).

Once we got home we sat the girls on the front porch while we went about finishing the set up of the hive.  Kyle made a stand really quick so I wouldn't have to stoop to work with the hive and I made some syrup to feed the bees.  Once all the set up was ready I 'suited' up (consisting of a veil and some gloves with irritatingly long fingers) and we started the process of installing our very first hive of bees.  Oh man was I excited!

So I sprayed down the bees with some of the syrup and then pryed off the wooden top that covered the feeder can.  I smacked the bottom of the box onto the ground to get all the bees off the queen's box and the feeder and carefully removed the feeder and the queen.  After quickly replacing the wooden lid I inspected the queen to be sure she was alive and well, and then I hooked her box onto one of the frames within the hive body.  Once she was in place I gave the box of bees one more quick spray down with the syrup, another whack to get them to all fall to the bottom of the box, then promptly dumped them into the hive, right over the queen.

It took alot of shaking and shimmying to get them some of them out of the box but after a bit I stopped and carefully put in the rest of the frames.  I put the inner cover on, followed by another super that would enclose the feeder.  Once it was all set up, Kyle and I took another look at the bee box, and decided to try to get the last few stragglers out.  I gave them another spray down with the syrup, whacked the box onto the ground, and dumped the last few into the hive (just in the top where the feeder was).  There were a few handfuls of bees so I was glad we took the time.

Tomorrow, I'll go in and remove the queen's box and recheck the syrup supply.  I checked it a couple nights ago and it was still pretty full.  So far they all seem to be doing well, there's always alot of action when I get home.  Hopefully the flowers will all be coming out soon, especially the dandelions, so we can stop feeding them the syrup and they can fend for themselves.  We've got a handful of daffodils out here at the house, but somehow I doubt they are enough to sustain some twenty thousand bees.  =] 

Weekend Warrior is my middle name.

Lovingly Posted by Melissa Friday, April 16, 2010 1 comments

Not really.  My middle name is Brooks- same as my Grandfather, who is named after a famous clergyman, Phillips Brooks.  Interesting because my Grandfather became an ordained minister and is famous in his own right...but I digress.

I can almost see the light at the end of the tunnel.  We are so close to finishing our guest bedroom and, while we could have finished this months ago (like I had planned), we're just now getting to a point where we're ready to dig in and finish it up.  Rainy weather can do that to you.

At this point the only things left to do are:

   Paint walls
   Paint ceiling
   Install new light fixture
   Put up trim
   Finish closet (paint, curtain rod, shelves)
   Finish floor (just one little section that used to be hallway)
   Hang the wooden blinds and buy/hang some drapes

I'm pretty sure we could get this all finished in a weekend.  We shall see.  I may get ambitious and start painting tonight which would give us more time to paint/put up all the trim over the next couple of days.  Ooohhhh and I just remembered that I am taking Monday off (so I can pick up our bees first thing in the morning) so there is one more day that we'll be able to work on the room.  Oh man, now I AM excited!  Keep your fingers crossed, folks!  Hoping to have some stunning before and after shots for you soon!!  Yippy!

Garden Time: Raised Beds

Lovingly Posted by Melissa Wednesday, April 14, 2010 3 comments

Alrighty folks.  I'm sick of waiting, so I'm getting to it.  We're getting the garden ready.

Before I can start planting we need to be sure our beds are ready.  Last year we did the narrow rows as is so often seen in vegetable gardens, but they didn't do well at all.  Now, as I said before, I'm no green thumb gardener so I can't blame it entirely on the width of the rows but I'm sure it didn't help.  So this year we're trying out the methods in Ed Smith's Vegetable Gardener's Bible with the wide rows and raised/deep beds.  Personally, when I think of raised beds I always envision lovely little wooden boxes filled with a garden.  Well, we're too cheap to buy wood for our raised beds so we're going to just pile up the soil and call it good.

Kyle and I roped off the sections that we designated as the beds and began shoveling the soil out of the areas left as walkways.  The soil displaced from the walkways should help raise the soil level in the beds a bit.  Each bed is three feet wide by fifteen feet long.  The walkways are only about a foot wide.  In the end we were able to create 14 beds, and we're planning on doing one more, long bed along the length of our plot where we're going to grow peas, dry beans, and corn in hopes (fingers crossed) that they'll help to act as a bit of a windbreak for the rest of the garden.

After all the beds are created I'll go through each one with a garden fork to aerate the soil a bit.  This is the non-tilling option that is supposed to be much more soil-friendly.  I'm excited, once these beds are created we could just leave them for the long haul, each year adding more organic matter and compost to enrich the soil.  As for the walkways, I'm planning on laying down a few layers of newspaper and then covering them in a bit of straw to block out weeds.

Now if only I had a broadfork...

Itcy itchy!!

Lovingly Posted by Melissa Saturday, April 10, 2010 0 comments

So yesterday I mentioned that I was getting 'itchy' about the garden.  Well, today I'd like to talk about a different kind of itchy-ness. 

I'm not sure if I've mentioned it before, but I am very sensitive to poison ivy.  Unfortunately for me, I love kayaking and bringing our dogs down to the river across the road from our house and (as I'm sure you are aware) poison ivy just loves river banks.  It is way too early for poison ivy to be growing right now so Kyle and I happily paraded the pups down for an afternoon swim last weekend. So, on Sunday, when I found an itchy red bump on my ankle my first thought was that it was a bug bite.  Monday I awoke to more of the little red blisters on my neck, Tuesday I had a small patch next to my nose, and by Wednesday the bumps on my neck were spreading up onto my chin.  Lets just say that by Thursday I was throwing everything in the wash from my pillowcase to my jacket.

It may suprise you to know (it sure suprised the heck out of me) that you can get the irritating oil from this plant from more than just the leaves.  Thats right, you can even get it from the roots!  So, word of warning: if you are working in an area where poison ivy resides, even if you don't see any, wear gloves.  The oil can last for a long time on just about anything so you can keep reinfecting yourself through your shoes, your clothing, even your dog if he came in contact with any.  So always wash off anything and everything as soon as you can after coming in contact with this plant.  I've inserted a photo of what poison ivy looks like.  (Photo of Poison Ivy from Missouri River Institute's Online Field)

I'm not the only one suffering from a bit of discomfort lately.  The girls in the barn have some unwelcome guests.  A couple nights ago, while we were all down at the garden, I was checking Chutney to see if she was starting to shed yet and found lice.  The poor girl is bursting at the seams with her baby bump and come to find she's been itchy as heck from these darn parasites.  And of course, if one goat has something the other just has to have it, too.  May has been so itchy that she's taken to rolling on the ground, which I thought was just humorous goat behavior, but now I know better.  So I stopped by Johnson Farm and Garden last night and pick up a bag of diatomaceous earth.  A little sprinkle here, a little sprinkle there, and a big sprinkle throughout the barn (just in case) and hopefully these suckers will be gone in a few days. (Enlarged photo of lice by the University of Kentucky)

FYI!  If you have the same problem please do not use the diatomaceous earth that you got for your swimming pool, ok?  That stuff has been tampered with and not only will it not kill any bugs, it's also very dangerous to inhale.  Not that you want to inhale any DE, but this stuff is laced with chemicals so its worse.  Only get food or garden grade DE for treating external parasites.

Happy spring!

A Waiting Game

Lovingly Posted by Melissa Friday, April 9, 2010 2 comments

Hey all!

I have been getting increasingly 'itchy' about the garden.  I'm ready to plant something in the ground.  I've been holding back on creating the raised beds until the ground dries up a bit more, but I think this week I'll tackle it.  In a couple weeks I'm going to sow our pea seeds.  Our tomato plants that we started inside a while back are doing so great and they smell soooooo good.  They've got nice, thick stems and great big leaves, and lots of them.  They spent their first day outside on Saturday, not much of a change from their window seat as it was easily in the upper 80's, but the little breeze was something new.

I spent some time on Saturday transplanting more of the tomato seedlings that I had started a couple weeks ago.  I also moved the pepper seedlings that we had transplanted along with the first batch of tomatos into bigger, 6" pots so they'll have room to spread out someday.  The pepper seedlings that just started coming up I left in the trays until they get their first set of real leaves.  I keep telling myself that 'peppers just take longer', but I have to admit that its a bit frustrating to see the tomatos, that were started on the same day, so much larger and further along than the peppers.  But, on the other hand, they're alot larger that they ever became last year so that is really encouraging.

After everyone was situated in their new pots and watered and sitting in some warm sunshine on our front porch, I started the next batch of seeds; celery and two more varieties of tomato (Amish Paste and Brandywine).  We've only got two small trays and one larger tray for seed starting so there isn't much, but a little bit of everything.  Hopefully this way we will stagger all the harvest dates so we'll be in veggies all summer! 

I get a little impatient, though, when it comes to seed starting; mostly because I want to start everything (and I DID last year, which didn't work out at all) but there's no point in starting most seeds because they do fine in slightly cooler soil to germinate.  I just want to see our garden in full swing...and now.  But spring is a waiting game, and anyone in my family can tell you that I get a little competitive.

So, I'll sit, and wait, and stare at our little seedlings and the cells where seeds have yet to sprout.  I'll monitor the garden, get the beds ready, and wish I wasn't too cheap to buy black plastic covers to heat the soil faster.  Tonight, though, I will plan the garden.  I'm getting my seed packets and notes on good companions/bad companions together and I'm going to draw up the plan for the year.  I haven't been this excited to garden in....well I'm not sure I've ever been this excited to garden.  Its the start of a new chapter in our homesteading life, a little hard work and we could save ourselves some serious cash at the grocery store each month that we don't have to buy vegetables.  Not to mention the fact that we'll know for sure our dinner doesn't contain any 'frankenfoods' or scary chemicals.  Oh yes, I am excited.

Fresh Peeps, Just in Time for Easter!

Lovingly Posted by Melissa Monday, April 5, 2010 1 comments

Yes!  Our spring chicks arrived on Friday!!  I took the day off in anticipation for their arrival and anxiously waited all day.  I kept myself busy making more flour tortillas (this time I subbed a couple cups of wheat flour for the white in the double batch that I made) and doing other chores around and outside the house.  It wasn't until late afternoon that a big box of three day old chicks showed up at the local post office.

Happily, Thursday night, Kyle and I got the extra large brooder ready to go and picked up a couple fifty pound bags of chick starter.  We cleaned up the water fonts and layed down an old sheet over the shavings to help prevent the chicks from eating it during their first day or so.  So, once we returned from picking them up, we got their fonts filled with slightly-sugared, warm water and went about dipping each chick's beak in the water. 

We didn't bother counting them- although I wish we had now, just so we know exactly how many we ended up with.  But it is alot of peeping chicks.  Looks like the layers are a combination of Red Stars, Buff Orpingtons, and Rhode Island Reds...just guessing by their coloring as we had no option to request certain breeds with this 'Hungry Man Special'.  I'm really looking forward to increasing our egg production and all three of those breeds would be a welcome addition to our farm.

Already, a mere three days later, they are noticably larger and have more feathers.  The broilers are the biggest, which is to be expected, and I'm hoping that in a couple weeks we'll be able to move them outside.  The layers will probably live in the brooder slightly longer, but pretty much as soon as everyone is feathered in they'll be sent outside to live.  The brooder we've got them in is plenty roomy enough for 75-80 chicks, it is nowhere near big enough for 75-80 adolescent birds!

Its nice to have new additions on the farm again, especially ones with such promise.  A few pennies per pound in grain (until the grass really starts growing) and we'll be set for chicken for the year and eggs for years to come.  I love it here.