Our Farmstead Goes Solar

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Our farm began in an old house on two-thirds of an acre backing to the fairgrounds in a small, country town that will remain beloved to us for all time.  There on our rented mini-farm we watched goats, chickens, alpacas, and ducks play in the back yard, grew so many pumpkins in the front yard that people speeding down the street slammed on their brakes to take a better look, and we farmed the rest of the driveway.  We fell in love with oil lamps in that house.  The sweet glow of old fashioned light as we read in the evenings.  The gentle tick-tocking from the cuckoo clock on the wall letting us know the time as the stars came out and the moon rose.

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The landlords were losing the house but we found an amazing farm on ten acres where we would live in a late eighteen-hundred’s homestead on the property near the owner’s own house.  We had a wood cook stove to heat the house and cook on.  For a few months in the warm autumn of that year the world looked enchanted indeed.  We plotted a large garden, and gathered three cords of wood.  The chickens and goats were far from the house and we missed seeing them.  That winter we mastered the art of starting a fire while the house was thirty-seven degrees.  We quickly realized that the small firebox was not going to help and put in a large wood stove with our own money.  Of course, many of you know the ending of that dreadful tale.  We were forced to leave after putting every penny into that farm.

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So from friend’s house to friend’s house we went until we had enough saved to get into a beautiful, decidedly on-grid apartment.  That year was fun using a switch to turn on the fireplace, turning the heat up, basking in a large tub.  But the cement gets to a Farmgirl and it was time to see what was next.  Agricultural land was out of the question with the loan we qualified for.

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We found our homestead on the south side of a big-small town.  It’s big, but everywhere you go you see folks you know and I have never met friendlier people than here in Pueblo.  One third of an acre, an adobe shed with seven foot fencing made a fine chicken yard, wood floors for easy cleanup on what we knew would be our urban farm, and a wood stove held prominent position in the main room.  A root cellar holds hundreds of jars and the climate here allows for prolific gardening.  And dreaming.

The large grandfather clock keeps time, ticking regally and alerting us to each quarter hour and moon cycle.  The wood stove heats the house well, save for the back bedrooms.  We are constantly looking for ways to increase our sustainability.  How can we use less?  How can we spend less?  How can we show the beautiful earth that we are grateful?  And in return for our simplicity we find a peaceful existence of health and quiet joy.

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In the city, it is nearly impossible to be off the grid.  One can easily find one’s home condemned if attempted.  Composting toilets are against code.  City water is a given.  But there are still things we can do.  For us, the next step was solar power.  On that first farm, it would have been impossibly expensive (particularly for a rented home), but here on our very own home and in this time, it is absolutely practical and affordable. In fact, it cost us nothing.

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The solar company comes out and surveys your property, sees about light hitting the roof, and local zoning.  With a credit score of 650+ you get a loan for the amount of the solar panels, which was about $10,000.  $3000 is rebated back to you on your taxes.  We put nothing down.  The loan amount is the very same that we pay for electric every month so there is no change for us.  My neighbor’s electric bill is three times higher than ours, so she would save much, much more.  We pay a slight $8 charge to our utility company to “manage” our electricity.  Once the panels are paid off, we only pay the $8.  Our home value goes up as well.  The solar panels are flat against the roof and hardly noticeable at all.

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I have written many times how all of us really need to use less.  Wind energy is so destructive.  Obviously the power we have been creating with fracking and coal is detrimental.  Solar panels never decompose.  We can’t keep going on about the government and big oil.  We cannot stand around with our “Save the Earth” signs and not do something ourselves.  Solar was a great way for us to use considerably less resources, save thousands of trees, the equivalent of taking thousands of cars off the road, and using Father Sun for our power “needs.”  (I guess refrigeration and internet are fun.)  And it is completely accessible.

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If you are in Colorado, call Peak View Solar.  Everyone was so friendly and easy to work with.  Elisa Harrelson, 719-387-7232.  They have a referral program so mention us when you call!  It will help me get my greenhouse going!

Other things you can do to help save resources:

Eliminate animal products from your diet.

Grow a huge garden, community garden, or support local farmers.

Buy organic.

Drive less- get a bicycle!

Don’t buy crap. You know you don’t need that.  Put it back and save the money for seeds!

A wood stove is carbon neutral.

Preserve your own food.

Go for a walk.  The more you are in nature, the more inclined you will be to not hurt her.

Be grateful for life.  Indeed we are lucky to be alive this day.  Happy farming!

Mama’s House

We took the long way ’round.  Through hillsides and pastures, leaving city behind and all the modern life we knew.  We opened a shop, we raised our children, we rented farms, we lost everything, we were heartbroken, Doug went back to work, we opened a shop, we grew, we met mentors, we taught, we loved, we persevered, we searched, we prayed, we sang, we are on our way right now to Pueblo to close on our house.  Thank you for all the prayers and good wishes and hugs and life you’ve shared with us.  Here’s to many, many more years writing from our own Mama’s House.

Being Present, Manifesting a Home, and the Pumpkin Lady

I am reading a fabulous, fabulous book.  “What I Know For Sure” by Oprah Winfrey is both compassionate, real, and thought provoking.  It is allowing me to read it while nodding, for those things I know for sure too, and then consider whether I really put those things in motion.

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I finished the first section last night about Joy.  The secret to a joyous life is to be present.  So true when one thinks about laughing hysterically in a moment with friends over something nonsensical, drying one’s eyes, and then embracing in the moment.  That is joy.  I ought to laugh more.  In the mornings as I enjoy my cup(s) of hot, dark coffee and write to you at sunrise, I look out the window and thank God for this little “vacation” I am on.  No deadlines, no to-do list, no….then I get antsy and want to-do list back!  I have been sitting and thinking for two months.  There is a real possibility of losing it!  Shh, be present…

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I love watching everything that Maryjane does.  Listening to her little words.  Spending so much time with Doug.  Taking walks and holding hands.  Tending to the greenhouse.  Watching the leaves turn.  Visiting friends.  Resting my body.  Resting my mind.  Ok, well, trying to rest my mind.

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But, there must be balance.  I cannot be present all the time or I would get nothing done.  I am presently manifesting with help (Divine and friends!) and dreaming (because that is what I do).  We have always known what house we want.  Out of the twenty-five places I have lived in my life there is only one that really felt like home.  It was our house in Kiowa.  The one we moved out of last year because they couldn’t keep up the mortgage payments and needed to sell it.  We thought Calhan was our forever farm.  It was a mere stepping stone.  What we really wanted was to own a home.  I guess the only way that we could own a home was by losing everything.  Our friends want to buy us a house and hold the note until we can get our finances in order.  A gift beyond measure.  We know which house we want.  It has been empty since we left it.  People around town wonder where the Pumpkin Lady went.  Not a bad nickname.  There are lots of hoops to go through.  But Friends, we are ready to go home.

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Searching for Homesteads and Farms Across America (selling everything one owns and hitting the road Farmgirl style)

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We have shed quite a few tears.  Ran through every possible scenario.  Worried about our daughters and our granddaughter.  Worried about our cats.  Felt tremendous loss.  We thought when we moved here that we had found our dream homestead.  Years of writing about it, practicing for it, praying for it led us here.  We thought we would stay here for a very long time.  I foolishly planted trees, spent double on seeds to make a farm that could sustain itself along with the classes.  We have been promoting, connecting, making this work.  In one moment it can all be gone and we are left with…not much.  This was really crushing, if truth be told, and I suspect anyone can understand this.  Especially if you have been following my writings for awhile.  But, in the end we have to move forward.  I know folks that have lost spouses.  Lost children.  Lost their true self.  We just lost a lot of money and a dream.  Dreams can be rebuilt.

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You never know.  I moved somewhere colder than where I lived before even, the plants haven’t even germinated yet, the classes aren’t filling up as much as I needed, Elsa, my goat didn’t work out, and my other goat, Isabelle actually belongs to Jill.  I told her if she found herself in a place that she could have goats again she could have her beloved goat back.  Jill found a place.  So, perhaps the universe is actually doing me a favor by speeding the failure along.  Or detour, whatever you want to call it!

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Moving is expensive.  We want to purchase a shed and turn it into the Hacienda I wrote about.  But right now it is too late in the season and winter would kill us.  No matter which option that I posted yesterday that we chose we would have to sell nearly all of our possessions to get the money.  We will do the Tiny House thing in the spring if all goes as planned.  Which it never does, but humor me!  In the meantime, we know in our hearts the answer.  Plus, I had a dream about it last night!

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We will sell all our possessions save for a starter box with just enough to make a 200 hundred square foot house home.  The girls are trying to find a place to rent.  Not easy, but I still trust doors will open.  We are trying to find different folks to take one or two cats for us.  I cannot give them up.  I just want them babysat till I get back!  We’ll get the truck running good and head out after the Celtic Festival, July 19th.  Our first stop, Illinois.  On to New York, Virginia, then south and around.  Be here for the holidays then head west and north then back in time to settle down.

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Doug and I will be visiting and meeting people, pen pals, friends.  I will be writing about farms and homesteads across America.  Finding ourselves, ourselves as a couple.  You know how hard Doug and I work, for years we have been non-stop raising a family, working our businesses, our homestead, and now we can rest for a bit and see all the colors and people and life in this great country of ours.

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How you can help?  Can anyone host us (farm or not) for a few days to a week?  If you have a farm or simple homestead, can we come write about it?  Does anyone want to meet us?  Does anyone want an herbal class?

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We are having a mega sale here.  We have homesteading items, furniture, antiques, housewares, clothes, everything that would be in a little homestead built over years of love and hope.  My phone number is 303-617-3370 to schedule a showing (early bird gets the worm) or Saturday morning, June 14th we’ll have an open house 9-1.

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Thank you for all of your responses and for reaching out to us with hugs and support.  I hope you will continue to follow us on our journey!  Next week we’ll be back to be back to homesteading. I have mushrooms to show you, and a delicious recipe to give you, and much more!

The photos are from our hiking trip the other day.  A good walk is a always a good way to think clearly.

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Extreme Homesteading (high altitude, freedom, and yoga with frogs)

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Homesteading has become so much more than a lifestyle for us, it has become a part of our very being.  There are apartments with lush carpet and furnaces awaiting, city streets to catch buses on, and jobs that offer weekly paychecks.  Parts of that we miss but not enough to hightail back to it.  When faced with absolute obstacles (such as out of ideas to bring in cash) we just try to pick up a few odd jobs or cut another expense.  We are almost out of expenses to cut.  Which leads us to dreaming about setting up sheds in a mini-village and living there rent free!  We dream of living in warmer places where that would be possible.  High altitude homesteading is not for the meek.  Everything from baking bread, canning, to growing vegetables takes longer and one must know the tricks to succeed at these things.  (A reason I hope my homesteading school will take off!)  So goodness, gracious, why have we actually chosen to live this way?

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What better way to live than to live fully?  We do that every day when we greet the sunrise, when we start the wood stove if needed, when we brew the coffee in the French press and transfer it to a thermos.  When I can sit down and write until the kids shuffle off to work and breakfast is to be made.  Our granddaughter to be dressed.  Doug goes and milks the goat and feeds the animals.  Sometimes Maryjane and I help with chores.  She gathers eggs, helps feed, and pets the sheep.  We check on the ducks and feed the cats.  We strain the milk, pour some of the fresh cream into coffee, and put it in the fridge to cool.

Maryjane had her two large horse toys set up and was milking them last night.  She had me hold one of them so it wouldn’t kick.  Then she pretended to make cheese.  A homesteader at heart, this little girl is picking up so many skills and she is only two!

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I do yoga while looking out across the meadows while an owl looks on from the old willow.  Meditation comes easy with the frogs chirping from the pond.  I place laundry on the line, read books, prepare lunch, straighten the house.  Today we prepare for our first farmer’s market tomorrow.  My book signing is Saturday.  Classes on Sunday.  I play the guitar under the cottonwood.  Maryjane plays in the dirt.

The girls come home from work and we have dinner or sometimes it is just me and Doug.  We play cards, talk, read, write, pray, enjoy the sweetness of home.  We worry, we plan, we pray, we hope.  We make tea.

This year we will try to cut our grocery bill even more by growing, bartering, raising, preserving, and preparing all our own food and drinks.  Our own herbs for cooking and medicine.  We will gather all our own firewood.  I will improve my sewing skills.  We will make our own gifts.  Doug will continue to learn how to build and repair.  We will continue to release what we don’t need, learn to produce what we do.  Maintain our freedom, bask in the pride of a job well done, and live more self-reliantly than ever before.

So why do we work towards extreme homesteading?  Because after the oil lamps are blown out at night and we snuggle into bed, and see the stars through our window, we know there is no other life we want to lead.

The Little Dairy (a homesteader’s necessity!)

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Every homestead would benefit from a goat.  These dog-sized animals come with mega personality and fun while giving delicious milk for the homestead dairy cupboard along with chocolate milk, cheese, yogurt, cream cheese, and ice cream!  Goats don’t cost much more than a dog does and the investment is paid back in crazy antics (like jumping 360’s off of a pile of tires), snuggles, and food.

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Goats are great with kids and teach them about farming.  There are many cities and counties that allow goats now.  There are many types of goats to choose from ranging from Nigerian Dwarves to Saanens.  Dwarves give one to two quarts a day of rich milk while Saanens and Nubians can give one to two gallons a day!  Not too shabby.

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I love cows but they are hard to sneak into the city and they eat a lot.  Our Isabelle gives more than a gallon a day.  It is illegal to sell raw, nutrient rich, frothy, delicious milk.  However, a share is a good way to help other families receive a bit of milk for themselves. Our shareholders pay a small buy-in fee and a weekly boarding fee which entitles them to a set amount of milk.  So, Isabelle essentially belongs to four families!

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Our household still has plenty for cooking, drinking, and putting into vast amounts of coffee before farm chores.  I also make two pounds of cheese a week.  Today I will make Manchego aged in truffle oil.  I expected to have Elsa in milk too (she is doing great at her new home, by the way) so I was going to use Elsa’s milk for our needs and cheesemaking and Isabelle could supply shares.  But our plans never work out quite like we think!  Isabelle is still giving us all we need and lots of kisses as bonus.

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Goats are one of the only things that pay for themselves on this farm!  They do better in pairs.  Isabelle is a little tired of being followed around by her two month old sheep brothers, adorable as they are.  We traded Isabelle’s doeling for a doeling from Poppy, our friend Jenet’s goat, who is due in a few weeks.  We are hoping for a girl!  Then a little two day old Nubian will join our humble homestead.  If not, then we will be on the lookout for a companion for Isabelle and future milker.

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The other side of having a delightful goat that gives sustenance to a farm is the time involved.  Every day, rain or shine, or blizzard, Isabelle is milked at 8:00 in the morning and 8:00 in the evening.  Every.  Single.  Day.  This halts one’s spur-of-the-moment plans, but it is worth it.

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This year, I have been cutting the rounds of cheese in half so that I have one pound wheels.  One to keep, one to give fine folks that donate to our farm.  I blended white wax with red wax and found it created a lovely pink patina to cover my cheeses with.  I love it.  My favorite color. I think it will be my new thing.

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I simply cannot imagine a homestead without a goat.  A homestead necessity!

Freezer Camp

“Hi Ho, Hi Ho, off to Freezer Camp we go…!”  The sing song text came over after I told my friend, Jamie, that the roosters lost their jobs.

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The landlords decided that the chickens should stay in their coop and modest enclosure from now on.  The roosters’ jobs were to protect from predators, to sound the alarm should a hawk fly overhead, and to make babies.  Once they all moved into snug quarters they decided their new jobs were to have sex and eat as much of the buffet as they could.  Egg production declined, and food intake went up.  The good looking fellows, I am afraid, had to be laid off.

I used to get so angry when I would read articles in Mother Earth News or other publications about how eating meat was actually better for the environment.  Or studies that eating meat is actually good for you (I still wonder sometimes).  I was a staunch supporter of no killing.  We were vegan, and our children were vegan, and by golly our cats would have been vegan too if we could have found a way!  We published vegan cookbooks and made fun of meat eaters and went to vegan restaurants and were never going to eat a chicken!  Moving to the country changes one’s ideals a bit.

I noticed my country friends had animals they used for meat.  These animals were raised in a happy go lucky place, fed what they were intended to be fed, and killed swiftly, usually without knowledge of the situation.  These animals were not in a factory farm setting.  They did not wallow in filth, in closed-in cages, eating dead animals and genetically modified foods, many never seeing the light of day.  Abuse on the line of murder is common and that side of the meat eating industry is beyond devastating and morally way off base.  But these animals were living a good life and were spared the atrocity of old age.  My old chicken, Laverne, is the saddest to thing to watch.  We could have done her a service by lopping her head off last year and could have put food on the table as a bonus.

I realized that the unending damage of mono-crops, especially soy, was going into a lot of my “healthier” meat alternatives.  That big companies owned these seemingly peaceful veggie companies.  Animals will be killed, just like people, in wars and in natural disasters, by our outlandish cars, by plowing fields for soy beans.  The pastures and rolling plains dotted with cows could not be if we did not support the local rancher.  Food closest to its source has to be far healthier than the unidentifiable ingredients on the packages lining the shelves of the health food store.

My goal is to provide as much food for our table as possible because I will know where it came from, who touched it, no chance of listeria or e-coli here!  So, Christopher Robin and Owl (I really need to stop naming them!) will do their part on this farm.  They snuck by the inspectors at the hatchery, pretended to be girls, came to live at our farm, had a marvelous time, and now will join freezer camp.  Seems fair!

I am thankful that I can live around animals, give them a great life, and provide my own food.  This is the good life.

Preserving Spring (freeze and pickle asparagus then make some dandelion jelly after eating the leaves!)

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One of the very first crops of spring is asparagus.  We enjoyed a few dishes of roasted asparagus and I preserved the rest for asparagus cravings in July…or December.  If one can find asparagus in the stores during those months I would highly question its origin, how old it is, and the flavor of really fresh asparagus isn’t going to be there, so what’s the point?  By preserving what is in season one can enjoy the flavors any time of year.  Here are a few ways to do so after you have enjoyed your fill of fresh.  Just snap the bottom woody part of each spear off by bending it until it cleanly breaks.

Freeze it!

Cut up asparagus into the sizes you desire.  I like one inch slices to put into frittatas or stir fries.  Have a pot of boiling water ready and one of ice water.  Throw the pieces into the boiling water, let it come up to boil again and a minute later remove the asparagus and place it in the cold water to stop the cooking.  Now, line it all onto a cookie sheet and place in freezer.  In thirty minutes transfer to a freezer bag.  This prevents the asparagus from sticking together in one swell lump.  Not ideal for retrieving a scant half a cup for cooking!

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I also freeze whole spears.  Since these I will roast I do not want to blanch them.  I will eat them before they lose their flavor.  So, I freeze them on cookie sheets for thirty minutes then transfer into a freezer bag.

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Pickle it!

Place right sized spears in quart sized clean, warm canning jars.  In each jar add 2 cloves of garlic, 1 Tablespoon of dill (dried as fresh isn’t ready yet), 1 teaspoon of sea salt, 1/2 teaspoon of celery seed, and a 1/4 teaspoon of ground mustard.  These additions can be altered, removed, or things added to fit your taste.  They do not change the time processed!

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Now fill the jars half way with red wine vinegar (to learn how to make red wine vinegar click here) or apple cider vinegar and the rest of the way with water.  Leave a half inch head space on top.  Clean the rim and apply the lid.  Place in a large pot of boiling water so that the water covers the lid.  Boil for 20 minutes adding 1 minute per 1000 feet above sea level that one’s homestead is at.  I round up to seven.  So, I will boil the jars for 27 minutes.

Remove jars and let sit on counter overnight.  The jar should have sealed.  Label and place in pantry until July.

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The other crop to preserve right now is dandelions.  The leaves can and should be eaten in salads, smoothies, soups, and with roasted veggies.  The flowers will become dandelion jelly today.  Click here to find out how!

Hurray for spring vegetables!

What to Plant Now (4 weeks before last frost. Hallelujah!)

It’s approximately four weeks before the last frost date.  As I sit here rather cold this morning again, I am sure post-frost date is going to feel pretty darn good.

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I used to plant everything May 12th.  Which of course endured one last frost.  I planted all the seeds for cold crops and summer crops.  No succession planting, no spring, summer, and fall plantings, just all in one shot.  Now I know a little better.  Still learning, I assure you, but I know in order to get those cold crops to finish growing they need to be planted strategically.  And anything under the ground loves a little time in the spring to get started.

Here is a modest list of what you can plant now.  Remember, only cold crop seeds and underground crops can be planted now.

4 weeks before: radishes, parsnips, kale, Swiss chard, spinach, potatoes, garlic, onions, carrots, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, Alaskan or English peas, snap peas, snow peas, and asparagus.

This year I started the broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage in a greenhouse to see if they grew any faster this year (we have a rather short growing season) so they cannot go outside until after the frost date now.

2 weeks before: herb plants, flower seeds, herb seeds, strawberries, lettuce mixes, and more of the above seeds to stretch your season!

May 15thish plant the rest!  In July plant everything above again for yummy fall treats.  You’ll miss radishes by then!

The Ducklings Return

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The ducks have returned to Pumpkin Hollow Farm.  They are adorable and fluffy and live behind an impressive fortress.  Ten cats is something to worry about but we have kept the just a few days old ducklings safe.  We can barely get in, however!  Over the plastic storage box Doug molded some fencing then we put up a portable cage around that topped with a screen, and a card table!

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In the box is three inches of straw (they eat pine shavings).  We added a small waterer that they try to swim in.  We learned our lesson with the last ducks and don’t use open bowls of water like we did with the chicks.  They splash and destroy their surrounding areas with water and duck poo.  They are still splashing water but they can’t get a lot out at a time.  They look like rubber duckies trying to swim around the one inch canal.

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They have a small feeder with flock starter in it as well.

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We got four ducklings.  Two Indian Runners like last time.  The Walt Disneyesque, bowling pin effect never fails to delight me. They are also fairly good layers with 200-300 eggs a year.  Joining them are two Khaki Campbells, who are also good layers at 250-325 eggs a year,

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Every week the red light will get a bit higher and at six weeks they can safely stay outdoors.  However, with the warm weather in May, perhaps they can go out a touch earlier with their red lamp in their coop.  We still need to devise a small coop for them to stay in and lay eggs in.  A place to sleep away from predators at night.  We will let them free range in the newly fenced area that consists of our new pumpkin patch, outdoor kitchen, fruit trees, rose bushes, and the cold frame.  We will use one foot high fencing that just pushes into the ground to keep them out of the plants.  This is cheaper than building a duck run and they will have more space.  We will get a child’s swimming pool.  The trees and corn may act as a deterrent for hawks and owls.  And how fun to look out the back porch and see ducks running around!