late winter

Late Winter Homestead Projects

The quick thaw of all seventeen inches of snow jump started our lives out of snow day mode and into the mindset of spring projects. Though the warmer weather is fickle and likely to give way to at least one more big snowstorm, here is a quick look at where we are now on our homestead and what we hope to be working on in the next few weeks.

The Time When Our Road Was Reduced to Sticky Sludge

The main logging access site is less than a quarter mile from our home.

Since early January the land between our homestead and our closest land trust neighbors has been timbered by a private company. We were given no warning of the project and were startled by the heavy trucks and massive machinery that quickly became well acquainted with our gravel road. Perhaps surprisingly, considering my Environmental Studies background, I don’t have many issues with timbering in theory. When managed properly, I believe forests are a renewable resource and that harvesting trees leaves fewer permanent scars on the landscape than mining for coal or gas does. Trees also grow phenomenally on the aged soil of the Appalachian mountains. The depressed economy where I live needs to take advantage of every job that comes along so I won’t be quick quick to condemn the lumber industry’s increased involvement in our region.

But theories fall apart when the degradation happens in your own backyard. Because the parcel of land that the logs are being harvested from is very isolated, our dirt road is the only legal access point. This sinuous, dirt road is typically only traversed by local residents and wasn’t built to handle a lot of traffic. A month of wear from heavy machinery and trucks weighed down with logs, compounded with the wet, slushy weather of late winter has taken a toll. Driving to school and back has become an adventure of dodging logging trucks and the stickiest puddles. Parts of the road have even eroded down the mountain side, leaving deeper ditches and dangerously narrow passes. Thankfully everyone has stayed safe and the project will be wrapping up early next week. The logging company has proven respectable by promising to repair the damage to the road before they leave, and we have been very happy with their re-graveling efforts so far.

The state of the woods after the harvest- lots of tree tops strewn around
Big heavy tires and slushy conditions turned our road into slimy clay.
Our long training runs certainly became more interesting…and messy
Thankfully the company re-graveled our road in the worst places

A Not-So-Generous Garden Contribution from the Equines

Today Ian and I took on the ambitious project of fertilizing the garden… with results that can only be described as mediocre. Finding a source of inexpensive compost has proven difficult for us. I’ve been looking through Craiglist for weeks with little success, and buying compost in thirty pound bags is exorbitantly expensive. We mulched our personal garden with dead leaves  this fall, but that isn’t going to add all the nutrients we need. Poop was in order. Lots of it. So we turned to the largest mammals on the property with the intent of harvesting their feces- Sister Kathy’s pet horses. It was a great idea in theory. Star and Zanadoo are pastured all winter and their droppings are left untouched. Horse manure isn’t as high in nitrogen as chicken and won’t burn young plants in the same way. Technically we should have added it to the gardens in the fall but we figured there was enough winter left to risk adding some now.

Sadly the reality of gathering horse poop from a big muddy pasture was a lot harder than we anticipated. Those two didn’t have the courtesy to poop in their barn and instead scattered their feces evenly throughout their pasture. The muddy conditions made it almost impossible for Ian and me to scoop any that we could find. We worked at it for about an hour but quickly gave up once we saw how little we had managed to collect. This project will be delayed until the ground freezes, the pasture dries out, or we find a less labor intensive source of compost.

Ian started out exuberantly enough, but Zanadoo gave the whole project shade from the get-go
Mild mannered Star watched our pathetic attempts
So much contempt in Zanadoos eyes! He must remember all the apples we stole from his pasture trees this past fall.
We only got about twice this amount total. Pitiful!
What a dismally small scattering of droppings.

Gathering Motivation to Restore this Green house

This green house isn’t technically part of our homestead, but it’s less than a mile away and currently unused, so I have been given permission to use it in any way I see fit. One idea is to disassemble it and cart it over to our property to be attached to our garden shed. That sounds more ambitious than I feel I can be this season, so for now it remains where it stands. Getting it ready for spring planting will be plenty enough of a task for me in the next few weeks.

A three-sided greenhouse, it shares a wall with the Big Laurel bunk house
The glass and built in tables are all structurally sound but the doors, heater and fan seem to be broken and the entire building is in desperate need of cleaning
Even with a broken door the greenhouse obviously holds some warmth because it is a favorite napping place for the barn cat.

Birthing, Bonding and Butchering Some Bunnies!

One potential project that Ian and I are getting very excited about is raising our own meat rabbits. We want to start expanding our livestock collection beyond birds and worms, but most large mammals involve constant care and would make it difficult for us to leave our home for any extended period. (Traveling with a goat would be significantly harder than traveling with Wendell.) We won’t commit to large animals until we are confident in our future commitments here, but in the meantime rabbits should be a great starter livestock. Many of my students raise their own rabbits because they grow so quickly and take about as much effort as raising chickens. In fact, ours will even live in the chicken coop!

There is a large quantity of leftover wire from long forgotten projects on our property and we intend to use as much of it as we can to build hanging cages in the chicken coop like the ones shown here. We will need at least three cages (male, female, and babies) and will probably need an outdoor run like this one. Our rabbits will come from Craiglist or any student I can convince to sell me theirs. We will breed them and raise the offspring until they reach an appropriate slaughter weight. Then it’s rabbit curry time!

Just one step closer to turning this song into my real life…


And finally, here are some happy pictures of our current animals. All still alive, none eaten so far. I promise….for now.

It’s a face only a mother could love. And I’ll happily take the mother role here.
The guineas do NOT get along with Wendell when he has the nerve to eat all the chips Ian scattered in the yard for them.

Get excited for more updates on these long term projects soon. As always, thank you for reading.

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8 thoughts on “Late Winter Homestead Projects

  1. GOOD FOR YOU! We hope one day to be there and help with some of your projects. Certainly hope the logging company keeps their commitment to put the road back. What a mess! – It would be nice if they were to make it much better than they found it.

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