Homestead Update Mid/Late July 2016

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A long overdue update. There won’t be many pictures, I’ve been very busy and just haven’t had time to keep this space updated and still get my needed mental health downtime.

The big news is that the chicks have arrived. We started with 6, one died when the heat lamp fell off its clamp and broke her neck (my fault), and the 5 survivors are chirping away next to me as I write this. They’re over two weeks old at this point and I hope to get them outside in the next couple days. Spring chicks would need to stay protected for longer but it is so warm here that I want to get them acclimated as young as possible. I just need to finish building the enclosure for them. The hard part is done (setting the posts) and I have the fencing materials in the garage, just need to install. I’m doing 6 foot tall 2×4″ welded wire fencing, with an eventual roof of the same material (needed for night protection if we do colony rabbits and possibly for chicken protection/escape containment), and an extra 2 foot tall piece of 1/2″ hardware cloth to keep the chicks from getting out while they’re small and again for rabbit containment if we do colony in the future.

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I’m hoping the city will be reasonable and let us temporarily have 5 (over the limit of 4) until they’re a little older and the one who leaves will integrate into a friend’s flock better. After all, my 5 very young pullets are currently the equivalent  of maybe 2 adult hens. But we’ll see how that goes, since I was just served yet another code complaint about our compost bin. Another modification (sigh) and it should be okay. If I didn’t believe in composting so strongly I would have given up a long time ago, which is probably what the neighbors who keep complaining want.

More annoying is that I’m being mandated to clean my rabbit cages of poop daily. It’s an annoying amount of extra work but I’m trying to see the silver lining and perhaps that will take care of the fly population that’s built up with my current once a week cleaning. I don’t know how people are spotting “problems” with my rabbits without trespassing.

My property is so unconventional it’s just a lightning rod for busy-bodies who don’t understand the non-aggression principle. I had to talk on the phone with the code compliance manager and my alderman about the current code complaint. Both erroneously thought the white structure was another compost bin, not our chicken coop, then had an audible pause when I told them we were getting chickens and, yes, have the permit. They’re bracing themselves for more complaints but in actuality have been quite reasonable to deal with, all things considered.

The alderman let me know that I may lose the ability to grow veggies in the sidewalk strips next year. It’s completely legal the way the law is currently phrased, but said he doubted it was the law’s original intent to allow veggies instead of ornamental plantings. He told me the people complaining about other things are mainly mad about these perfectly legal plantings, so they’re nitpicking other things. I don’t get this separation of ornamentals from edibles in American culture but he said he would let me know if it was changed for next season. If it does change, I will request being grandfathered in because, while I love flower, and will put flowers and herbs in those beds if that’s all I can, I probably would not have spent the money and time to add the compost and raised beds.

IMAG0849We’re starting to get tomatoes (losing some to BER this year but not as bad as last year) and jalapenos. We’ve got more beans than we can eat and am mostly giving away the excess, though have sold a little. I bought a pressure canner and canned one batch but my variety doesn’t stand up very well to canning. We’ve got WAY more zucchini than we can eat and have given away a lot. I’m even pulling plants. I was hoping I’d be more successful selling them since it’s a unique variety. We’re also getting a lot of cucumbers, enough to feed my, Alpha’s, and Beta’s (new this year!) voracious appetite for them. Marketmore is a dependable and very tasty variety. Garden carrots don’t save a lot of money but they’re superior to any summer carrots I’ve bought at the farmer’s market in the past.

 

I’m dealing with two major pest issues. At my home garden, our sowbug population is out of control and they’re decimating our green beans. (Thankfully the bean planting at our microfarm is quite successful.) I’m pulling the mulch off of beds and using beer traps to try and get them under control. I’m really starting to question whether mulch is a good solution for my climate.

At the microfarm, a combination of squash bugs and yellow striped cucumber beetles have killed something like 75% of the winter squash I planted. The pest population size is bewilderingly high considering there’s been no garden on this property for 2 years and it’s surrounded by small grain, corn, and hayfields for at least half a mile. I tried handpicking the bugs (and eggs in the case of the easy-to-spot squash bug eggs) but it’s too time-consuming. I bought all the winter squash we could eat last year for something like $70, tops.

I think that covers everything. I need to get off the computer, eat breakfast, and get outside to work before the heat gets too intense. This summer we’ve already run the AC triple what we did all last year. Southerners would no doubt laugh at what we call intense heat here, but 90+F days with very high dew points aren’t enjoyable, no matter what you’re acclimatized to.


June 2016 Spending Review

June 2016 spending

  • House Bills: Nothing much to note here. This includes our quarterly water bill.
  • Food Related: Includes $180 worth of strawberries and $170 worth of East Coast-only alcohol we brought back from vacation.
  • Kids: Main expense here was another installment of violin lessons for Beta. All of the kids spent some of their personal money.
  • Debt: Regular payments.
  • Homestead: Dominated by spending on setting up for chickens, more rabbit supplies, and a tiny bit of garden spending.
  • Cars: Mostly normal spending, but also ~$75 of R-134a to charge both cars for the summer.
  • Quality of Life: Travel spending for the trip. More charges will fall into next month. The Alchemist’s parents are very generous in paying for nearly all of the travel expenses when we visit. Our cost is mainly gas and tolls there and back.
  • Health and Wellness: Nothing to note.
  • HSA: Nothing to note.

Homestead Diary July 1, 2016

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We got back from a week on the East Coast visiting the Alchemist’s family late Wednesday night. The trip was busy, with a visit to the beach and boardwalk of Wildwood, NJ. Everyone but Alpha spent a little time sick during the trip but we’re home now and getting back into our normal groove. The Alchemist is still off through the 4th of July, which is a nice treat.

The garden really surprised us during that week. Over that time hundreds of Shasta daisies and Rudbeckia came into bloom. Zucchini and tomato plants seemingly doubled in size. A “bush” winter squash variety decided to send out 8 foot vines, practically into the street. Our raspberries and cherries have come in. The cherry harvest is small, but since it’s our first from this tree, it’s quite enjoyable. They are tart but have such a nice flavor they are just fine for fresh eating. The raspberries were delicious last year. This year they are producing many quite large berries, nearly the size of commercial blackberries.

The carrots are slowly sizing up and I’ve gotten to taste my first few, and they’re quite nice for summer carrots. Snap beans are on the cusp of sizeable harvest. The few I’ve sampled raw have been tasty. Zucchini is likewise poised to inundate us.

I have not yet been out to the microfarm (I’ll get there tomorrow) but here are some more pictures from our home garden.

The ripe ones are already in our stomachs. These are LARGE.

The ripe ones are already in our stomachs. These are LARGE.

Green bean and zucchini beds coming into production.

Green bean and zucchini beds coming into production.

Calendula.

Calendula.

Sunflowers jumping up in size. They won't get huge planted so densely. Initial flowers are forming on some.

Sunflowers jumping up in size. They won’t get huge planted so densely. Initial flowers are forming on some.

Some of the 40+ comfrey I transplanted today.

Some of the 40+ comfrey I transplanted today.

The "bush" winter squash variety being decidedly un-bushy.

The “bush” winter squash variety being decidedly un-bushy.

Enormous zucchini plants.

Enormous zucchini plants.

Another gooseberry producing fruits I'd missed until one of the kids noticed them.

Another gooseberry producing fruits I’d missed until one of the kids noticed them.

This Amish Paste is 5 feet tall already.

This Amish Paste is 5 feet tall already.

Like the raspberries pictured earlier, the ripe cherries are already in our stomachs ;)

Like the raspberries pictured earlier, the ripe cherries are already in our stomachs😉


Net Worth – Q2 2016

Assets

  • Home (Estimated Market Value): $70,000
  • 401(k): $61,122
  • tIRA: $17,532
  • Non-Earmarked Cash: $1,350
  • HSA (invested portion): $946
  • Total: 150,950
  • Assets towards FI: $80,950
    • Approximate passive income this would generate annually: $3,238

Liabilities

  • Home Mortgage: $100,701 @6.5% –> PMI makes it effectively ~7.1%
  • Student Loan (Alchemist A): $1,197 @0.1%
  • Student Loan (Alchemist B): $22,061 @3.9%
  • Medical Debt @0%: $0 –>retired since last update
  • Total: $123,959

Net Worth: $26,991

Net Worth Last Quarter: $24,258

Net Worth 1 Year Ago: $17,213

Net Worth At the Start (End 2013): -$33,948


Homestead Diary for Mid/Late June 2016

I’ve been remiss in posting. Last week I felt like there wasn’t a whole lot to update, now this week has exploded with activity. We joined a homeschooling group, which has been fun so far. I have worked several hard, very sweaty days over the past two weeks on the new garden – or should I maybe call it our micro-farm? I’m very pleased with how things are growing out there (pictures below) and am already considering how I will use the new space next season.

The kids and I picked 77 pounds of strawberries on Friday and we’ve eaten or processed almost 70 of them already. I’ve frozen 5 gallons of whole berries, made 7 half-pints of strawberry rhubarb jam, 4 pints of my ‘strawberry sauce’, have run one whole Excalibur dehydrator load and have another humming along behind me as I write this.

A view of the fenced garden area. I'm pleased with how everything is growing inside, while some of the squash I was hoping to trellis on the outside has been killed by my friend's free-range birds.

A view of the fenced garden area. I’m pleased with how everything is growing inside, while some of the squash I was hoping to trellis on the outside has been killed by my friend’s free-range birds.

Delicata squash.

Delicata squash.

Zucchini getting ready to flower soon. This is the only large plant there right now, but many others are sprouting.

Zucchini getting ready to flower soon. This is the only large plant there right now, but many others are sprouting.

A nice looking cluster of peas that's just coming into bloom.

A nice looking cluster of peas that’s just coming into bloom.

Broccoli getting very close to harvest. Two of the heads will get picked in a day or so.

Broccoli getting very close to harvest. Two of the heads will get picked in a day or so.

First bloom on the patch of Provider bush green bean I planted there. Provider has not liked the dirt I brought in to fill my raised beds, but it is growing very well out there.

First bloom on the patch of Provider bush green bean I planted there. Provider has not liked the dirt I brought in to fill my raised beds, but it is growing very well out there.

Another view of the Provider planting.

Another view of the Provider planting.

The tomatoes I transplanted looked so sad initially but are really coming around. Only one or two have not made it.

The tomatoes I transplanted looked so sad initially but are really coming around. Only one or two have not made it.

A far away view of the giant haybale pumpkin patch, with the lane I keep mowed through the tall grass.

A far away view of the giant haybale pumpkin patch, with the lane I keep mowed through the tall grass.

One of the better looking Sweet Meat plants.

One of the better looking Sweet Meat plants.

Waltham Butternut progress.

Waltham Butternut progress.

The new garden area, freshly mowed down except for a final 8 feet or so to the right of the camera.

The new garden area, freshly mowed down except for a final 8 feet or so to the right of the camera.

Progress on the beds so far. Mowing the tall grass took much longer than I expected with the equipment I have.

Progress on the beds so far. Mowing the tall grass took much longer than I expected with the equipment I have.

Waltham seedlings growing amidst a buckwheat cover crop.

Waltham seedlings growing amidst a buckwheat cover crop.

I thought it was time for a new far-away shot of the garden at my house.

I thought it was time for a new far-away shot of the garden at my house.

Broccoli bed that has been almost all harvested. I'm leaving the leaves for now and slowly harvesting them to feed the rabbits. We got some volunteer tomatoes I'm allowing to grow.

Broccoli bed that has been almost all harvested. I’m leaving the leaves for now and slowly harvesting them to feed the rabbits. We got some volunteer tomatoes I’m allowing to grow.

Raspberry patch. The summer crop of berries will be ripe any day now.

Raspberry patch. The summer crop of berries will be ripe any day now.

A view of the berry hedgerow I planted earlier this year. The honeyberries have not put on any growth but the elderberries are starting to grow a little.

A view of the berry hedgerow I planted earlier this year. The honeyberries have not put on any growth but the elderberries are starting to grow a little.

A bed of broccoli that didn't survive, now replanted into green beans.

A bed of broccoli that didn’t survive, now replanted into green beans.

A view of the fenced garden area.

A view of the fenced garden area.

First blooms on the Royal Burgundy bush beans.

First blooms on the Royal Burgundy bush beans.

Some of our snap peas. These will be ready in a day or two.

Some of our snap peas. These will be ready in a day or two.

A happy hydrangea. Our other perennial flowers (mainly Shasta daisies and Rudbeckia) will be blooming within the next week.

A happy hydrangea. Our other perennial flowers (mainly Shasta daisies and Rudbeckia) will be blooming within the next week.

Strawberries that haven't been molested by the wildlife yet.

Strawberries that haven’t been molested by the wildlife yet.

One of the carrot beds. Growth has been very uneven but we should get carrots eventually.

One of the carrot beds. Growth has been very uneven but we should get carrots eventually.

A view down the side of the garden.

A view down the side of the garden.

Our comfrey root cuttings. I need to get these transplanted into their final locations soon.

Our comfrey root cuttings. I need to get these transplanted into their final locations soon.

Normally our zucchini sends up male blossoms for a week before any females show up, but this one has a female flower already forming.

Normally our zucchini sends up male blossoms for a week before any females show up, but this one has a female flower already forming (the fatter stem that resembles a mini zucchini on the blossom at the center of the picture; male flowers form on thin stems)

One of the tomato and pepper beds.

One of the tomato and pepper beds.

Early green tomato. This is a Ramapo.

Early green tomato. This is a Ramapo.

I think these are flower buds forming on an elderberry. A few have flower buds forming.

I think these are flower buds forming on an elderberry. A few have flower buds forming.

Our older cherry tree did not put on much growth last year but is really blowing up this year. Looking forward to tasting the cherries on it next month if the wildlife lets us!

Our older cherry tree did not put on much growth last year but is really blowing up this year. Looking forward to tasting the cherries on it next month if the wildlife lets us!

Hope you enjoyed the pictures!


Homestead Diary Week Ending June 3rd

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Little known fact: Amazon delivers rabbits (no, not really)

This week we harvested our first broccoli and strawberries. Yum! In fact, I’m writing this after the kids helped harvest a good handful of berries from the garden as I snapped some of the photos you’ll see below. We’re losing some to the robins and the slugs but there’s enough to share.

A bigger development this week is the arrival of two new rabbits, including our first buck. The buck has strong Rex looks to him, similar to one of our does. The other doe looks very much like a New Zealand Red, which is an excellent meat breed. For sure we are going to let the buck settle in for a week or two before breeding. I haven’t decided whether to try and breed before we go on vacation or wait until we get back.

Our doe "Caramel".

Our doe “Caramel”.

Our buck "Ice Cream"

Our buck “Ice Cream”

The rabbitry so far. I assembled the two new cages from ready-to-assemble kits (wire pieces are cut, just need to J-clip them together).

The rabbitry so far. I assembled the two new cages from ready-to-assemble kits (wire pieces are cut, just need to J-clip them together). I’ve never used J-clips before but they’re not too bad once you get the hang of it. 

These rabbits are also from Homestead Buddy. He’s decided he’s just done with rabbits. Another homesteading friend took a breeding pair and he kept two of the smaller rabbits neither of us wanted to eat. Part of our informal agreement is that we’d give him breeding stock if he ever decided to get back into rabbits in the future.

The day we were out there I planted tomatoes and numerous squash. I forgot to bring my camera so I’ll post pictures from that garden next week.

Another update is a pretty neat letterhead/business card design a friend helped me put together after I posted a mockup online. “Fat Robin Farms” isn’t much of a business yet but I thought I’d share this next development:

Fat Robin letterhead final

Here’s some more pictures:

Baby raspberries forming

Baby raspberries forming

First pea blossoms.

First pea blossoms.

May (and now June) have been very warm. Many of our pea plants look like this

May (and now June) have been very warm. Many of our pea plants look like this instead of the healthier plant pictured above. 

You know what that is ;)

You know what that is😉

Sunflower.

Sunflower.

One of our best looking zucchini. Not all of them are this happy.

One of our best looking zucchini. Not all of them are this happy.

A few of our purchased tomatoes have started blooming. This is an Amish Paste, the others in bloom are Ramapos.

A few of our purchased tomatoes have started blooming. This is an Amish Paste, the others in bloom are Ramapos.

The frame of our coop, 100% scavenged lumber. I will have to buy a few materials to finish it, which is tentatively my Sunday project for next week.

The frame of our coop, 100% scavenged lumber. I will have to buy a few materials to finish it, which is tentatively my Sunday project for next week.


May 2016 Spending Review

This last month was an expensive month because we bought a car in cash, made some repairs to said car, and also made some repairs to our other car. We’re pretty happy with the new car, a 2000 Honda Accord with what seems to be plenty of life in it, and being back up to two cars goes much nicer with our current lifestyle. The one-car experiment was arguably worth doing but we’ll put it down as a failure for our family.

May 2016 spending

  • Cars: As noted, we bought a car with cash. We then had the timing belt and water pump replaced since there was no record of it having been done, which made it well overdue. During the repair the other two drive belts were replaced. Our van had some needed brake and suspension work done.
  • House Bills: Nothing worth noting here.
  • Food Related: A little more than I wanted to see for this time of year but some of the purchases were stock-ups.
  • General Spending: May is a gift-heavy month for our family. The Alchemist also spent a large chunk of her personal money.
  • Debt: Nothing worth nothing.
  • HSA Expenditures: Various things.
  • Homestead: Plants, supplies, some seeds, and rabbit food.
  • Health and Wellness: Nothing to note.
  • Quality of Life: My share of driving to a wedding in Chicago after my sister chipped in for gas and tolls.

Obviously expensive months like this can’t happen every month. Not on our income nor with our preferred lifestyle. In fact, it’s our lifestyle that allows us to save enough that months like this results in no incurring of debt. Our cash reserves are low, but a few month’s saving should get them right back where I want them, then we can resume aggressively paying off debt. Or I’ll adapt a hybrid approach and put half towards savings and half towards debt. I haven’t decided yet. Some of it may depend on how big the Alchemist’s summer bonus ends up being, and I believe raises occur at the same time if memory serves me right.


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