Ducks

I was at Rural King tonight picking up a bag of rabbit feed when I saw they have 5 ducks left from all the chickens and ducks they have had this spring. They were quite large, probably a couple weeks old. I think they were Pekins. They ALMOST came home with me.

Ducks have been something I want to try for a while now. Raising them for eggs and meat. I have a quarter acre pond for them to roam on, covered in duckweed. There are plenty of bugs around if the chickens don’t get them first! I’ve read they are pretty easy to take care of.

However, I don’t have housing for them right now. I’ve read in the past a little bit about raising them, but like everything, different people have their own opinions. I want to be able to free range them. They would need to go in at night for protection from predators. People offer mixed reviews on their success with getting them into a coop at night. More research is needed before I take the leap. I keep telling myself I am not getting ducks this year…

Does anybody have experience raising ducks? Do you have a good resource for more information on raising them? Are pekins a good breed to start with or should I get something like khaki campbells?

First Harvest

Even a tiny harvest from your property still counts as a harvest, right? I’ve been diligently watching my blueberries and raspberries, waiting for the fruit to be ready. Today was finally the day. I got 6 blueberries and 2 raspberries!!! Okay, so it isn’t much, but there is more still on them. I have a few dozen blueberries that are a shade of greenish blue still. Raspberries are a few days to a week away from a bigger harvest as well. A couple weeks ago I also harvested the ONE cherry that came from all of the beautiful blooms I had on the trees.

I would post pictures of my harvests but none of them made it more than a couple steps…

There is one thing I have harvested a lot of from my garden this year. WEEDS! Just yesterday I got about 10 five gallon buckets full. Some of them are actually edible, but even though I have been starting to forage some food, like mushrooms, I haven’t taken to eating weeds yet.

Tiny House Conundrum

On my previous post about Tiny Houses a commenter said they could live in a tiny house, but would need a 1000sf shop to go with it. This is something that I have put a lot of thought into myself while considering a tiny house. Saying that I live in a tiny house, but have a much larger space on my property, that I work in and occupy on a regular basis, seems like it defeats the purpose. Add in the fact that I want to have animals, who need their own spaces and I could be up to a few thousand square feet of space that is enclosed. Reasons for going tiny, including a smaller ecological footprint and using less building materials seem to be contradicted by adding other buildings into the mix. This is my tiny house conundrum. What is the solution?

After thinking about it for quite a while, the solution was quite simple. There is no rule of tiny living that says you can’t have other places. The shop and buildings will serve a purpose. They will be my place of employment. They will be protection from predators and they elements for the animals I raise. But what about reducing my footprint or using less materials? Reduce, reuse and recycle seem to be the solution that issue. Reducing the size to a minimum by pasture raising animals and building only what they need to keep them safe and healthy. Reusing materials that are found or repurposed. Recycling downed and dead trees into usable lumber with a portable sawmill and using that material to build with. With any luck I would be able to use some of this lumber in my shop as well to create things to sell. Or maybe another tiny home enthusiast could use the wood to build their own home?

The conclusion I have come to is that there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to living tiny. While the core principles of the tiny house movement are important, we shouldn’t limit ourselves and our dreams if we can still stick those principles while striving to achieve our goals. I think we need to remember and consider those principles every step along the way, no matter what we are doing in our lives. Building a tiny house is step along the right path, but there are other obstacles that we still need to overcome. Although we might live in a tiny space, we can still do big things!

Chuck, From the Rural Side

Thinking about a Tiny House for the Future

A while back, probably a couple years ago by this point, a classmate from college posted about tiny houses on Facebook. I had never heard of them before seeing her post so I checked them out. At the time I thought it was an interesting idea. But I didn’t think it was something for me. I was looking for a house at the time. Most of them were over 1500 square feet, 3-4 bedrooms, 2+ bathrooms, living room, dining room, a basement, lots of space to use with plenty of storage. By most people’s standards, the “American Dream”. I certainly didn’t think I could live in a house that was less than 400 sf. The house I was renting wasn’t very big and I had too much STUFF.

So when I finally bought this place, what did I get? Less than a 1000 sf, 2 beds, 1 bath, small dining room, living room and kitchen. Not exactly what I was looking for in a house. Heather and I moved in and brought all of our stuff here. The house filled up. For a while everything was alright. Then I started to feel claustrophobic with all the stuff we brought and the more we accumulated. It was kinda overwhelming. But I thought that was what we were supposed to do, I was stuck in the consumerist trap!

I have learned something over the time of living here. I don’t need all that stuff! Yes, I still have more than I need or want. I have sold some stuff and given away a truckload of stuff to Goodwill. Mostly in the past few months, I have started to look at what I really need, declutter, simplify. And not just the house, I’m attempting to do the same with my life and my time. When I take a good look at the space I need, I know I don’t need even a 1000 sf. I might only need a quarter of that!

Which brings me to the point of this posting. A TINY HOUSE. The vision I have is for a tiny house on a 20-30 foot trailer, most likely utilizing an old camper trailer. Make it about 8 feet wide that would give me about 160-240 square feet of living space. Add an 8 foot sleeping loft and that would bring the total living area up another 64 square feet. Putting it on wheels helps to avoid building codes, which in my area limit a house to a minimum of 960 square feet. Also, it makes it portable. This is important because I don’t plan on living here forever. I want to buy vacant land somewhere (lately I have been looking in Northern Michigan, around the Traverse City area). When I finally get that plot of land, I want to have the house ready, move it there, and start building the place I dream about. Because it is on wheels I could have the option of taking my home and moving south for the winter, say to a beach in Florida, where it is warmer and sunny. Which, may be just another crazy idea I have in my head!

As an architectural designer, I have many ideas for the design. I’ve sketched out some ideas. Done a lot of research. Priced out different construction options. Steel siding, versus cedar, versus vinyl. Steel roofing or asphalt shingles. How much each window and door costs. There are countless options that to consider. A Whimsical Tiny House like this one goes to show that the design can be whatever you want it to be. You are only limited by your imagination.

Changing of the seasons?

While I’m hoping the near (or new) record low tonight is the last blast of winter, I’m not holding out hope. But from the 10 day forecast it looks like it should start warming up. But for maple syrup production, I feel like I might miss my goal to double what I produced last year. The coming temps will be perfect for sap run for a few days. But then the lows at night will be above freezing with highs hitting 60+ (if the weather person actually has any clue what they are saying!). Some sap may come out but if last year was any indicator once it hits 60 the run is pretty much done. I currently have about 5 gallons of sap to boil down and a few bottles worth of finished syrup in the fridge.

In my hope that spring is almost here I started seeds about a week and a half ago. Kinda late for some of the stuff, like peppers, but almost everything has sprouted, except peppers which usually take a while to germinate. I also picked up some strawberries and a couple yellow raspberry plants. When we have a warm day I have been working on the new raised beds. I decided to do one hugelkultur bed, as an experiment, using some of the branches I have laying around, grass clippings and I will put some soil over that. For this property, with the drainage issues, I think raised beds will help with productivity.

Besides the garden stuff, not much has been going on around here. I’ve decided not to purchase any new chicks this year or any other new animals (I was wanting to get ducks). Instead I am focusing on cleaning up the property, renovating the house a little bit, and trying to figure out the path forward for myself. The path is a metaphor I use often for life, mostly because my life is something I think about when I am on paths, trails, walks through the woods or even when walking through the city. Where I am, where I’ve been and most importantly where I am going. Too often I have focused on everything I want to do and not enough on myself. My past, present and future for today:

The past: The past is the past, let it go. Something I try to live by, even if it doesn’t always work.

The present: I’m single again. I have a good job where I enjoy going to work (most days). I have the house, the chickens, rabbits, garden and property to take care of (and maybe Cooper).

The future: I’m not sure on the future yet. Paying off debt is my number one goal right now. That will open up more options on the future. Simplifying my life and surroundings is another thing I am working on. Writing more, the reason I started this blog, is in there too, though don’t be surprised if I don’t post often, I’m trying to write in a journal too.

Chuck, From the Rural Side

First Bottle!!!

Bottled my first jar of Walnut Syrup this evening.  It is a beautiful light amber color.  It is a thick syrup, maybe over cooked, but I’m not really sure.  The taste is…  I don’t know.  It’s different than maple syrup.  It’s good.  It’s sweet.  Not real strong.  I put it in one of the 8 ounce bottles I just bought specifically for syrup this year.  I don’t know if you can see it in the picture but it is thick of enough that it holds bubbles in suspension.

Walnut Syrup

Walnut Syrup

The walnut sap came from a woods at a place I will call “Camp”.  It is where I tapped the sycamore trees and some maples too.  A friend of mine works at the camp and she was interested tapping trees herself this year.  So I helped her out identifying trees and going through the process so she could make her own syrup and in return I was able to tap some trees on the camp’s property.  I have collected about 2.5 gallons of walnut sap, which became the 8 ounce of syrup and a little over a gallon of maple sap.

I’m waiting to bottle maple syrup until I have a good amount.  I bought a filter this year to help me get the maple sands out easier and make a clearer syrup.  But the filter absorbs some of the syrup.  Right now I could probably get 3-4 eight ounce bottles of finished syrup but I will probably lose a half bottle in the filter material.  If I wait until I can do 10 bottles, I still only lose a half bottle worth.  However, it could be a while before I get enough sap for 10 bottles of syrup because the weather doesn’t look very good for sap to run this coming week…

Maple Sugaring

It is that time of year again.  Time for making maple syrup.  It feels good to be able to make something while the gardens are still dormant.  This year I have stepped up my syrup production a notch, adding about 20 more taps over what I had last year.  I’m also experimenting with tapping sycamore and walnut trees.  Boiling being the most time intensive aspect of making syrup I also built an evaporator out of cinder blocks that were lying around and found several broiler pans on clearance to use as pans.  In theory you should be able to evaporate one gallon of water per square foot of pan area per hour.  I’m not sure if it works quite that well, might need some tweaking yet.  On days when I am busy and don’t have time to tend the fire I will still use the propane burner.

Syrup Evaporator

Syrup Evaporator

Last year I made a total of (8) 8 ounce jars that I sold and about 12 ounces for myself.  This year I am hoping to at least double that.  I’m also buying containers specifically for syrup instead of using mason jars.  While not necessary they cost about the same price and I like the look of the bottles.  I just ordered them along with a filter so hopefully they get here quick.

So far this year, I have collected about 20-25 gallons of sap, with most of it coming this weekend when the temps hit 50 degrees.  Tomorrow I should be getting it down to about finished syrup, which I will store in the fridge or freezer until I get the filter and bottles.  Hopefully we will have fresh syrup for our pancakes and waffles soon!

Grow Your Subversive Plot

A man has a plot.  A subversive plot.  He is plotting to change the world.  And he wants all of us to help us in his plot.  Watch THE PLOT here.  What is he plotting, you may ask?  How am I to help a stranger in his plot to change the world?

The simple answer is… GARDENING!  We all can help by taking whatever little (or big) plot of land you have and growing food to eat.  The corner of the yard where it’s hard to mow, tear up the grass and plant some tomatoes.  Don’t want veggies in your front yard?  Plant fruit trees.  Blueberries are a nice shrub that comes in a variety of sizes.  Have bad soil? Build a raised bed.  Even if you are low on cash you can find materials to repurpose into raised beds.

I recently saw a quote from Joel Salatin that surprised me:

“The first supermarket supposedly appeared on the American landscape in 1946. That is not very long ago. Until then, where was all the food? Dear folks, the food was in homes, gardens, local fields, and forests. It was near kitchens, near tables, near bedsides. It was in the pantry, the cellar, the backyard.”

In less than 70 years we have gone from producing most of our food or purchasing it fresh from farmers nearby to buying it all from a concrete box, where even “fresh” food could have been picked weeks ago, half-way around the world.  Meat pumped up with water, wrapped in plastic, on a styrofoam tray?  How about fresh from a butcher instead?

The food revolution has been started.  So I am asking you all to join in, help out, eat locally, or, GROW YOUR OWN!

New Year Goals

We are already a few days into 2015 but I would like to wish everyone a happy new year. I’ve been thinking a lot about the past year and the one that is upcoming over the last few days, trying to figure out my goals for the upcoming year. Looking back at my 2014 Goals, I didn’t accomplish any of the things I had written. There are reasons for each with money and time spent elsewhere being the two biggest factors. Another reason I have been stuck in a rut with some of the projects is because I didn’t know if I would be staying here at all. Up until I moved back for my new job, I was thinking about selling the place to focus on getting out of debt. Now, I think I will be around for a while, but the thought of selling the place hasn’t left.

So, big projects like a new greenhouse, permanent chicken coop and a nice dock for the pond, are not on my priority list. Yes, we could really use a new coop, especially since Heather bought a bunch of new chickens a couple weeks ago to produce more eggs and hopefully keep up with the demand she has had at work. We have only gotten two eggs so far out of 8 new hens that are supposed to be laying, but I think the stress of the move and weather are a big factor in that. By springtime the other 5 (hopefully) hens she got should be laying as well so we should have more than enough eggs then.

As for my 2015 goals, I’m trying to stay simple this year. And simple is one of my goals. Simplifying my life that is. Easy as it sounds, it may be difficult to do.  A tiny house has been on my mind lately, with part of the thought being that I have too much stuff if I ever wanted to live in one.  I’ve started to downsize the amount of stuff that I have by listing things I don’t need or want on Craigslist. It will be an ongoing process but will hopefully bring in a few extra dollars towards my next goal, paying down debt. Between school loans, credit cards and my truck, my life would be a lot simpler with a few less creditors. I’m still listening to Dave Ramsey and have already started (or attempting anyways) to use cash only as part of my monthly budget. The next step is to save my $1000 emergency fund, followed by paying whatever extra I have every month towards the lowest balance loan. I’m hoping to get rid of my credit cards and maybe my smallest school loan this year. The truck doesn’t have a sign in the window yet, but it will be for sale as soon as I can get a cheap car or truck.

I would also like to clean up and fix up the property as much as I can on a limited budget. Cleaning the pond is something I can do by hand, even though it isn’t much fun. The muck, which is made up of all the dead leaves, algae and whatever else has fallen into the pond over the years, should make a good fertilizer for my garden. Continuing to build the garden soil, build raised beds from materials I have laying around and maybe try a hugelkultur type bed or two with the sticks and branches laying around are also inexpensive tasks I hope to accomplish this year.

In list form, here are my goals for 2015, which includes a few that I haven’t talked about yet, but shouldn’t need much explanation.

  1. Simplify life
  2. Save $1000 emergency fund
  3. Pay off debt
  4. Lose 40 pounds
  5. Sell/donate  unneeded/unwanted things
  6. Cycle instead of drive
  7. Buy cheaper vehicle/ sell truck
  8. Volunteer
  9. Clean pond
  10. Build raised beds/ build garden soil
  11. Cook more/ stop eating out
  12. Take a multi day hiking camping and/or canoeing trip
  13. Sell more eggs

And one from last year that I want to work harder towards…

14.  Produce at least 25% of food requirements here.  I don’t think I quite met this goal last year, even though I was able to put up more food than I expected from the garden, especially with not being here a good portion of the summer.  I also had the 15 meat birds, some of which are still in the freezer, along with some frozen corn and green beans (soon to be dinner).  Meat chickens and rabbits will contribute towards my protein needs this year and with any luck I’ll have a bountiful harvest with enough to can for the winter.

Back to The Rural Side

So, through an unexpected event I am back living on my mini homestead here on the Rural Side of suburbia. A company I had interviewed with almost a year and a half ago emailed me asking if I was looking for work. I wasn’t but I liked them the first time I met them, so I decided to take a chance and take an interview with them. We met on a Sunday morning almost a month ago and after about a hour of talking, the owner offered me the job, offered what I asked for salary, and better benefits than I had. I should have accepted on the spot but waited a day to make sure it was what I wanted to do. The biggest decision was whether to leave a steady job that I liked (for the most part). I won’t miss carrying twelve foot sheets of drywall but I am disappointed that I won’t see the end of the church project I worked on almost the entire four months I was there.

A little about the company… They are an Architecture/Engineering firm that mostly does restaurant and retail work. There are about 20 people in the company, about half of the Architecture side and half on the Engineering side. The office is a nice modern space in the town of Montgomery, which is only about 20 minutes from my house (30ish with traffic). Because most of the projects are stores that are based off of prototypes it sounded like it would be basically cut and paste, but I’ve learned after a little over a week that it is a lot more detailed then that. The corporate stores and franchisees differ in how they want things, even though the franchisees can only change fairly minor things in the scheme. So far it’s going pretty good. I’m getting to know the people and learning a lot. I was told I am doing good so far and asking good questions today, which is nice to hear.

Around the house I have been unpacking and organizing my stuff that I had taken with me. I felt like I didn’t take much when I left but I came back with more stuff for sure. I was able to do a good amount of canning this summer, so I have a good amount of food that I brought back. Salsa, tomato sauce, BBQ sauce, and green tomato/tomatillo salsa are some of the things I canned this summer. I attempted to make some plum jam but burned it. Corn cob jelly didn’t quite turn out. Brewed several batches of beer, have two batches of wine that are aging. Also built a smoker. So I kept quite busy during my time away from here.

The garden produced some food for us, even though I wasn’t here to tend it often or to weed (not looking forward to next year having to weed). I got quite a few tomatoes, tomatillos, carrots, potatoes, popcorn, a lot of black eyed peas, green beans and some lima beans. I’m planning on making some raised beds and working harder to produce more veggies next year. Considering building a little roadside stand if I manage to produce more then I need to put away. I’d like to do a mini CSA but I want to make sure I can actually produce enough for 10 or so shares before I offer that. Also debating on whether or not to restart Cincinnati Backyard Farms. I only had one meeting with a potential client last summer before I left. Not sure if I can get more business starting earlier in the spring then I did last year. Already have the website and business cards so it wouldn’t be hard to try again.

I should also mention that Heather and I got back together a few months ago.

So I’m on a new path again. We will see which way it takes me this time…