Harvest and Root Cellar

Where oh where does the time go??  It seems like it was just late spring, and we were just planting!  This summer was a crazy one, with trying to get more square footage planted, using the new hand tractor, trying to build a root cellar for storage, and numerous other projects that did–or did not–get done.

We planted about 6000 square feet of garden this year. The harvest turned out fairly well:  80 pounds of potatoes, 120 pounds of carrots, 30 pounds of turnips,  and 160 pounds of winter squash (mostly spaghetti squash).  Radishes did really well, and I have a whole bin full.

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Alice taking a break after one row of carrot harvesting!

But some things did not work.  We lost about 150 pounds of potatoes to the Colorado Potato Beetle and Wireworm, our beets were eaten by shrews, and our cabbages were eaten by deer. We lost our onions one afternoon to the chickens. So we bought storage onions from a local farm. Our tomatoes got in too late and did not do well at all.  We had enough to eat, but not to can.  (Many of our neighbors had the same problem with their tomatoes.)  Our cucumbers were almost missing in action, and we had planted a lot to be able to make a lot of pickles.  Very disappointing, until we found a zucchini pickle recipe. Wow!  And our zucchini were prolific, so, we ended up with 36 jars of pickled zucchini. We had never tried zucchini pickles before, but now we actually like them even better than traditional cucumber pickles!  We made several different kinds, including an Italian version and a mustard version.  All good.  So next year, we are going to plant lots more zucchini so we can have even more.

Since our tomatoes didn’t turn out, we did manage to get some tomato seconds from the St. Johnsbury farmer’s market, as well as some tomatillos from there and from our neighbor with the tractor, and we made some good salsa and green sauce.  Next year, we’re going to do some earlier planting and try some black plastic and other techniques to hopefully get lots of tomatoes (and tomatillos) of our own.

We realized we would have storage issues before we planted so we built a root cellar about 60 feet away from the yurt. I was going to build two cellars, but had a hard time finding a spot that didn’t have bedrock after two feet of digging. The cellar is 6 ft by 6 ft by  6 ft, made from cinder block with a reinforced metal roof. It seems to be holding around 40 degrees F, even with it 20 degrees outside right now. My neighbor let me use his Kubota tractor with backhoe, which really helped in the building. Next year we will add a shed for cider making and rabbit pens.

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Finished root cellar.

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Detail of the cellar entrance.

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Interior shelving with veggies in burlap or bins.

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Veggies nice and tucked away in the snow covered cellar!

So yet again, this year was a learning experience.  But isn’t life in general, after all?

For those of you wondering, Callie and Alice are doing fine (even if Alice looks tired in the picture up top after helping with the carrot harvest).  Callie has discovered a couple new shrew veins on the property and is busy mining them.  After all, the holiday shrew shopping season is just around the corner!  And remember, when it comes to choosing your holiday gifts, shop local for the best quality fresh organic shrews.  Shop Callie’s Quality Shrews.  There’s none better!  Yup.  Woof!

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Summer is flying by!

We have been in the yurt now for just over two years, and it is generally going well.The insulation worked great, and we only used three cords of wood this past winter. Considering how cold and nasty it was this is pretty good. We still have four cords left to use this year. The back up propane heater actually keeps the house warm and I no longer have to get up every two hours to keep the fire going.

The garden is finally starting to produce and we should have a lot of vegetables for storage. We expanded the garden to 6000 square feet. I made raised beds using a Berta Rotary Plow on a BCS hand tractor. The hand tractor is perfect for our needs and I love using it. I am making good progress on building a root cellar. Finding a spot without rock outcrop two feet down was the main issue. I just need to order cinder blocks and mortar and hopefully will be done with it before winter.

Projects we have completed this year include: two eight by ten foot greenhouses, expanding the garden to be large enough to feed us through the winter, building a kitchen counter for cooking, installing a propane oven/stove. Things that need to be done still include: building the root cellar and getting it set up with shelving, etc, canning a bunch of vegetables (things are very late this year, so we don’t have much to can yet), covering the insulation in the yurt, figuring out something to enclose the yurt platform, and a number of other smaller projects. Things, as usual, are taking longer than I would like to complete, in part because my crew of hens does not seem to be pulling their weight. I hired them for a number of projects, but all I get from them is complaint after complaint. And sometimes, they just stand there and give me beak. How rude. I will have to speak with them eventually……..

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This is garden bed one and the two greenhouses. This bed has carrots, kale, lettuce, turnips, various extra squash plants, and herbs. The greenhouses are currently full of green tomatoes. There are four more beds all 30 x 40 feet.

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The hole for the root cellar. It is four and half feet deep.

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Callie likes to help dig in the garden.

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The crew of hens on a break, while building a greenhouse.

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Insulated Yurt! Whoopee!

We insulated the yurt with Ultratouch Denim 23 inch x 93 inch R21 insulation (made from recycled denim by Bonded Logic). It is 5.5 inches thick. The project took about thirty hours on my days off. It would have gone much quicker if the yurt was empty. So, I highly recommend doing it before you move your furniture into the yurt.

We chose the denim insulation because it doesn’t make you itch like fiberglass insulation, and has excellent sound suppression. We started seeing results once we had 50% of the roof completed. So, with it all done we can now heat up the yurt to 80 degrees F in about an hour with the wood stove burning at 350 degrees F. The heat stays in the yurt much longer and we wake up to an over 60 degree yurt even with the outside temperature down around 34. It used to take three hours to heat the yurt into the 70s with the stove burning at 500 plus. It also is super quiet in the yurt when it rains and we don’t notice the wind at all now.  Granted, it will get lots colder than lows in the 30’s this winter, but things are already much, much better than last year at this time.

The roof was the hardest to complete. It has pie shaped sections between the rafters that are not all the same size. So, you can’t just cut a bunch of insulation and put into place. Each section had to be done individually, which really added to the time on the install, plus all the trips up and down the tall ladder.  It is a minimum two person job, since besides holding the ladder, Jenny also handed the insulation up to me, handed more staples up, retrieved the twine if it fell, and complimented me on my creative use of swear words while twisting around on a ladder while holding the staple gun and trying to see what I was doing with bifocals.  To do a 30 ft yurt you need about 19 bags of insulation. We could only get 16 bags so we still have 210 sq feet of wall that has the temporary insulation up on it. They unfortunately only sell the R21 in lots of 8 bags at http://www.HomeDepot.com. We will be getting a different version for the last 210 feet. The walls were much easier to complete than the roof.

We installed the insulation with twine to hold it in place. The twine was stapled in a zig-zag pattern between the rafters holding the insulation in place. The box of twine had over a mile in it and only cost a few bucks. You also need a good staple gun, one that won’t jam a lot, and a really sharp heavy duty knife for cutting the insulation, plus a tape measure, and a good ladder. The insulation does give off denim fibers while being installed, so you will end up blue by the end of the day and definitely want a shower. A breathing mask might be good as well.

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Tying Twine!

Ultratouch R21 insulation come 5 pieces to a bag each 23x93 in size.

Ultratouch R21 insulation come 5 pieces to a bag each 23×93 in size.

Here you see the twine stapled to the rafters holding the insulation in place.

Here you see the twine stapled to the rafters holding the insulation in place.

Each roof section had to be individually cut, because they are all different sizes. This was a major pain.

Each roof section had to be individually cut, because they are all different sizes. This was a major pain.

So we hope this winter will be much more comfortable.  We do plan to eventually cover all the insulation with fabric. We are thinking we might do painted scenes on the fabric. After all, since yurts aren’t exactly traditional housing, why not have some fun with it as well??

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Fall is here already! Canning!

Jenny and I haven’t been posting much, mainly due to the fact that I’m working. Most of my days off have been rainy, except for exactly three. I got the chicken coop built on two of  those days, and slaughtered the meat birds on the third. This summer has been mostly cool and very rainy, and the garden took much longer to produce. We did get a bumper crop of zucchini, cucumbers, green beans, and spaghetti squash. Lots of other plants never came in for us or our neighbors.

Our six Barred Rock laying hens are doing very well. They are actually very fun to watch and have interesting personalities. They hide in the bushes most of the day eating bugs and stuff. They used to range out farther, but were attacked by a hawk, and since then have taking to staying hidden. We got twenty-six chicks in June and all survived, twenty are now in the freezer.

Chickens guarding the way to the yurt. You must give them food to pass.

Chickens guarding the way to the yurt. You must give them food to pass.

We have our wood for the winter and I had to run our stove last night. I ordered four cords, and we had almost two cords left over from last year. Frost last Wednesday and this morning already. Today and tomorrow will be spent putting up our insulation, a project that will take many more days to complete most likely.

Six cords of wood.

Six cords of wood.

Jenny spent last weekend learning to do water bath canning with some of our neighbors and had an awesome time. Yesterday she made pickles from our cucumber harvest.  We now have fifteen jars of pickles!  She is just getting into canning, and hopes next year to be able to put up a bunch of tomatoes, pickles, dilly beans, and many other things.

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Cucumbers prepped to be pickles! Zucchini will be shredded and frozen!

Jenny adding dill from are garden, pickling salt, and a garlic clove to the jars.

Jenny adding dill from our garden, pickling salt, and a garlic clove to the jars.

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Pickles! Warm fire!

This summer has gone waaaayyyyy too fast, and we wish we still had another month before Labor Day.  But alas, it is already September!  But we have learned a great deal this summer that we can fine-tune next year.  Things like using a stronger, more expanded greenhouse for the tomatoes and peppers, what we want most to grow in our to-be-expanded garden next year, how to do canning, etc.  Next year we also want to put in a root cellar, which will make storing our produce a whole lot easier and better.  So as they say in tv land, “To Be Continued”! Next post will detail how we put in the new insulation.

Callie and Alice lounging in the yurt!

Callie and Alice lounging in the yurt!

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The meat chickens are off to freezer camp.   Jenny and I slaughtered and parted them out last Monday. Twenty chickens ended up taking ten hours of work, including set-up and clean-up. If you’re squeamish, or easily upset, stop reading now!

Set-up involved digging a fire pit to heat a metal garbage can full of water. (Used to loosen the feathers.) Making a small table to do the gutting, and using a ladder with a two by four for a killing scaffold. Here’s a quick description of the process for those of you unfamiliar with killing and cleaning a chicken. First you catch a chicken and hang it up by its feet from the scaffold, then using a sharp knife cut its throat just under the jaw line. The chicken then bleeds out. When it is done draining, dunk it in the hot water for about three seconds. Then strip the feathers off the bird.  We had to do this by hand.  If possible, an automatic chicken plucker is a wonderful piece of equipment to use that will quickly take most of the feathers off–if you can find one to borrow or rent in your area.  Next you remove the guts, saving the liver and heart if you want them. We then took the chickens inside and cut them into pieces, since twenty whole birds would not fit in our freezer. This is a pretty messy process, but the end result is many tasty chicken dinners.

Overall, we have decided that it will be better next year to just buy our chicken from a farm in West Glover (this farm does pastured chicken, and we have had some–it is wonderful!). Doing our own meat birds was a lot of work, and not at all pleasant. By the time we added up the cost of all the feed, it did not save us a lot of money.  And if we tried to pasture meat birds in the future, we’d have to invest in either chicken tractors or fencing to move them around the property while keeping them away from our regular garden.  The meat birds were too stupid to come back to their pen at night, and with the number of coyotes and other predators around here, they wouldn’t have lasted long on the loose.

It is rather sad that we noticed a big difference in personality between our six hens and the 20 meat birds.  The hens are inquisitive, interesting, and seem to have some chicken personality.  The meat birds were only interested in eating.  And no matter how much food they had, it was never enough and they never stopped fighting each other over it.  When they finished eating, they just laid on the ground and pooped.  Even for a chicken, it did not seem like an interesting life.   So we are chalking this up to a learning experience that we will probably not repeat again.  But for the moment, it’s chicken stir-fry time at the yurt!

The improvised chicken slaughter house.

The improvised chicken slaughter house.

Chickens hung up to drain.

Chickens hung up to drain.

Dipping the carcass in hot water to loosen the feathers.

Dipping the carcass in hot water to loosen the feathers.

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Plucking the feathers.

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Removing the insides.

Big pile of meat!

Big pile of meat!

Leg and thigh!

Leg and thigh!

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This year we expanded the garden to nearly a thousand square feet. Technically from my reading we will need around forty five hundred square feet to actually feed ourselves solely from what we grow. I plan to add about fifteen hundred to two thousand each year, and hopefully in three years be growing all our own food. We got a later start this year because winter hung on longer, and then I got the flu which kept me from doing much except sleeping and going to work. Then we skipped spring and shot straight into summer. Plus, it has been raining like somebody opened a faucet, which has actually been bad for growing things.

I built a hoop house green house out PVC pipe which was destroyed by a heavy wet snow on Memorial Day. So I rebuilt it out of electrical conduit with some improvements. It uses a 20′ x 25′ plastic sheet to cover the ribs and a 10′ x 20′ plastic sheet cut in half for the ends. I connected the ten foot long conduit pieces together making eight twenty foot long ribs which are placed over stakes in the ground ten feet apart. Each rib is thirty-six inches from the next.  One rib is not bent but hung under the apex of the bent ribs and secured to them with cable ties inserted into holes drilled through the conduit. Cost is approximately $100 bucks. I also used eight junk 2″x 4″x 8′ boards to hold the plastic down around the sides. The boards are screwed together with the plastic sheeting in-between them. We used some wood to frame an entrance on one end. It covers the original beds I made last year perfectly in a 10 x 20 foot very hot moist space. Our tomato plants are going nuts it it. We have a bunch of varieties in there, including husk cherries, a small cherry tomato that we ate last year for the first time at a farmer’s market and are trying to grow this year ourselves.

Expanded garden and new green house.

Expanded garden and new green house.

Conduit ribbing secured to lateral support rib with cable ties.

Conduit ribbing secured to lateral support rib with cable ties.

Tomatoes love this place!

Tomatoes love this place!

Our outside beds are a mixture of many veggies all planted together, and we’re going to see what we get.  Some of what we are doing this year is an experiment, and we’ll learn from it and expand on it next year.

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Chickens! Rain!

I know you all have been thinking “Why don’t he write?”, sorry but between work and the weather it’s actually been hard to complete a project. Plus, writing about crappy weather is boring to the reader.  Here in Vermont we have had a return to mud season, with all the rain we’ve been having.  It is causing some havoc for farmers, road crews, and excavation crews.  And for those slow-moving individuals who find moss growing on themselves.  We would all like a few days of no rain (or even just a touch of rain instead of the constant downpours) to help dry things out.  For those of you who have taken an interest in Callie’s Shrew Business, I am sorry to report that she suffered some flooding damage to one of her shrew mines and the loss of a few shrew miners.  But you can’t keep a good Schnoodle down, and she has regrouped and outfitted her new miners with tiny little personal flotation devices (in xxxxx-small size) so they will be better prepared for the next flooding disaster.

Meanwhile, we have made a major leap forward on the chicken front!

We received twenty Kosher King chicks, and a week later six Barred Rock chicks. The Kosher Kings are a fast growing meat bird and the Barred Rocks are a laying hen. The idea behind a meat bird is they get up to slaughter weight quickly, and these suckers grow like weeds. We had to move them outside after three weeks as they became too big for the cardboard box in the yurt very quickly. The laying hens are about five days younger than the meat birds, but nowhere close to them in size.

Here are the twenty Kosher Kings at the end of May.

Here are the twenty Kosher Kings at the end of May.

The meat birds are now living in a wire pen with improvised shelters. They basically lay around all day and just get up to eat and drink. They will be heading to freezer camp in about three weeks.  Here is a size comparison of the meat birds versus the layers.

Kosher King 6 weeks old.

Kosher King 6 weeks old.

Barred Rock layer hen 5.5 weeks old.

Barred Rock layer hen 5.5 weeks old.

I built a chicken coop attached to the side of the shed for the laying hens. It is forty-eight square feet in size with a nicely sloped roof to let snow slide off. I know the snow will slide off it well, because I slid off it unexpectedly at one point, which fortunately wasn’t too painful. This size coop can house about sixteen chickens. We plan on at least six to eight more hens later on. I want to stagger their ages so they don’t all stop laying at the same time. The coop is mostly done; I need to get twelve more 2″x 4″ boards to finish the chicken run and put in the roosts. We put the hens into it last night, and they really seem to like the new place.

Putting on the plywood roof.

Putting on the plywood roof.

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95% finished coop. Temporary fence until I get to the store for more wood. It also needs roosts and laying boxes. Those are easy though, and I’ll show the interior in another post when they are installed.

The little hens loved their new digs, and the second evening they were waiting inside the coop for us to lock them in for the night.

We have noticed a big difference in the two kinds of chicks.  We really like the 6 laying hens.  They are fun to watch and love exploring their new yard.  One of them managed to get out of the temporary fencing a few minutes ago.  We suspect it is the same one who got out of the cardboard box they had been in in the house.  We named her Admiral Bird.  She seems to be the explorer chick.  We are glad we got the 6 hens the same summer as we got the meat birds, or we might have been turned off chicken (not to eat, but to have around).  The meat birds are not friendly, interesting, inquisitive, or into exploring.  They seem to have the IQ of the cardboard box they came in.  While we plan to get more hens in the future, we most likely will not get any more meat birds.  There is a local chicken seller near us who raises pastured birds for sale that are reasonably priced, and we’ll get our chicken from him in the future.  But we wouldn’t have known this unless we tried it, so good thing we did.  Only three weeks to go for the meat birds.  Pass the BBQ sauce!

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