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Our Winter Homestead

What a difference a year makes. Last year at this time I was walking through knee deep snow in the woods in order to get to the grocery store because the roads were too bad to drive on. Now it is a crisp 40 degrees F. and I am able to work in the garden with nothing but a sweatshirt and knit hat on.

Our garden is still producing Swiss chard, kale and red cabbage. If I had used some foresight I probably could have grown a sizable fall crop this year. Live and learn I suppose. From this year forward I will plant a little something just in case, the worst that will happen is that it won't grow.

With that said there are still a number of jobs that need to be maintained here at Whitaker Gardens regardless of the weather. Currently our livestock consist of chickens and rabbits. Their manure is essential for healthy soil here at the Bossy Hen Homestead. Last year when the snow was knee deep I simply emptied the rabbit litter onto the snow and waited until the spring thaw to work it into the soil. The chicken manure went into covered compost bins when weather allowed. Due to the warm weather and lack of snow I am able to work it directly into the garden beds which helps get a jump on the decomposition process. It is important to remember that when you fertilize you are not really feeding the plants themselves so to speak but rather the countless microorganisms within the soil itself. Simply put, healthy soil equals healthy plants.

Early in the fall we added leaves to the beds along with wood ash and manure. The leaves played a number of roles. They provide organic matter for the soil as well as a bit of insulation throughout deep winter. The wood ash helps add lime to the soil. For the most part now it is just a matter of cleaning out the animals living quarters and adding it to the mix.

We currently have a few extra hens since every winter we "hen sit" for a few weeks for friends of ours that go out west for the winter. At this time we raise chickens for eggs and manure. As you can imagine they provide us with plenty of both.

Currently we have four rabbits as well, two does and two bucks. For some time we had a single breeding pair but over the summer a friend of ours was in the process of getting out of the rabbit business so he and his wife gave us a beautiful young buck. We ended up keeping a very friendly female from one of our most recent litters in an effort to strengthen the bloodlines. A few years ago we bought a rabbit for manure and then as time progressed explored the potential of meat rabbits. We found it was not for us and now keep them mainly for their contribution to our soil. We occasionally sell youngsters for a little extra money here and there as well.

I have been extremely grateful for the good the weather. A friend of mine had mentioned we might have a mild winter and at this pace it is difficult to imagine otherwise. Then again check back with me in April! Regardless, it has allowed me to do some work that otherwise would have been put off until next spring and maybe even more importantly has provided us with an extended harvest.

Aside from the garden and livestock maintenance we recently had a pellet stove installed by a good friend of the family. As you can probably tell from this piece good friends are important people to have in your life! Our goal for some time has been to get off of oil and we feel this is an affordable step in the right direction. Initially we had believed that a wood-stove was the route we wanted to go but in hindsight this just makes so much more sense when in relation to our current lifestyle. Our home is only 1200 square feet and there are little children running around. So the pellet stove easily heats the space while not really posing much of a threat to the kids. As you can imagine hauling 40lb bags of pellets into storage is far easier in nice weather than knee high snow as well. Hopefully last winter was one for the ages.

Through it all I have found plenty of time to day dream about next years ventures. I have been exploring the idea of pygmy goats for milk. Quail for eggs and a nice fence to establish more growing areas in our own yard. I have also been toying with the idea of planting some fruit trees on "village" property. I don't mind sharing the harvest and it will allow me to use some prime growing space. Stay tuned my friends!

Tobias Whitaker blogs for Mother Earth News and Grit Magazine. Click on the Mother Earth News logo at the bottom of the page for all of his post. You can also find him on Facebook at Seed To Harvest: Bossy Hen Homestead which is a central location for his homesteading blogs and his homeschooling blog, A Mile In Her Shoes: Tales Of A Stay-At Home Dad found here 


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