Grapes. Grapes. Grapes. So cool you can grow your own. Wild, unidentified grapes cover my woods and loop across my driveway in the summer, making the property particularly appealing to the eye. Did you know, established grape vines can live up to 2000 years old?! Fascinating. I wanted to grow some easy table grapes- not really interested in the wine variety ones (yet) since there are a few wineries around me. The varieties I chose were Somersets (seedless light pinkish red delicious table grape) and Concords (not seedless but superior in flavor and great for juicing).
Starting a mini-vineyard takes a bit of planning and space. The sticks that are sent to you must be planted 8 feet from one another and 8 feet from the other side as well. The reason is because when you trellis them, I have chose to 4 cane trellis, it gives them room to branch out.
Let's talk about how I am training my grapevines to grow productively. It's called, as previously mentioned, the 4 cane approach. It's basically posts set 20 feet apart with galvanized steel wire ran between them, one at 3 feet off the ground, and another 5-6 feet off the ground.
The first year is spent getting the trunk of the grape to grow straight and pruning back all but one stem and allowing it to weave it's way up to the first line on the the trellis. I am using bamboo to help it grow straight and a piece of twine attached to the branch and wire so it knows where it should be headed. Once it reaches the trellis (year 2), the branch splits off in each direction and curls it's way around the wire, with my help, reaching further and further along. After grapevines have been established, pruning at the end of season each year is critical to the amount of fruit it produces. Pruning other branches off and leaving just the 4 canes will force the effort of growth into the established ones resulting in higher yields of fruit. Pruning is always done while the plant is dormant. It's kind of like going into surgery, you don't want to be awake for it :) After you are into your 3rd year, production of fruit should be starting with the trunk and vines trained. I can't wait for the beauty of the leaves and grapes to cascade off the trellis' and be picked for fresh eating. These are my grape plants right now. This particular one is a concord grape and has 6 buds on it. I need to remove the buds, attach the cane to a bamboo stick and tie twine around the vines to help guide them to the first trellis.
I mean, how cool is it to walk out your back door and pick a clump of fresh grapes to eat? Pretty cool. But I am a bit of a nerd.
As the season progresses, I will take more pics and show how they are developing.
I caught the chicken bug. I'm adding 20 more laying hens. Black Australorps. This particular breed was developed in Australia, from Black Orpingtons imported from England, hence the name: Austral for Australia and Orp for Orpington. Before the name was widely adopted they were also called Australian Orpingtons and Australian Laying Orpingtons. Australorps are smaller than English Orpingtons and are more dependable layers. They will lay in excess of 200 brown eggs each year, and some have been known to lay as many as 300. One hen set a record by laying 364 eggs in 365 days!
They are typically a docile bird that does well free-range. The ones I am getting are about 10 months old and have just started laying consistently. I will pay $8 a bird (which is what he has into them) and reap the benefits of them already laying. I pick them up today! Now I need to get my crap together and go make a divider in my designated coop area (we are still working on out Pallet Hen House which has been delayed from snow and now rain) so they can be incorporated gently.
Pork, it’s what’s for dinner. Bacon, sausage, chops, loin, ribs…what isn’t good about pork? I know, the price tag. Therefore, I have decided to grow our own, yet healthier.
I chose to do two Yorkshire pigs this year; two because I want meat for an entire year, and also because they are companion animals. I catch myself wanting to add a couple more but we’ll see. I chose this breed because they are natural foragers. I am allowing my pigs to ‘free-range’ about 1.5 acres. I want them to have area to really dig up roots and forage for their own food. Yorkshire’s are white pink and will sunburn easily without shade. We put the fencing about 15 feet into a wooded area so they have plenty of shade in the heat of the summer. I am also making a wallow mud pit for them to coat themselves in. Pigs aren't really dirty creatures, they are smart- they cover themselves in mud to prevent their skin from burning. I am not wintering my pigs and will butcher them in the fall when they are about 250-275lbs each.
What to do about fencing your hogs.
Pigs love to get their snouts under fencing. They will lift it up and will escape once they do. The best type of fencing for pigs is electrical. It took me awhile to finally make a fencing decision, but after seeing how strong these animals are and curious, electrical was the choice for us. Simply, they respect it. They need to touch it once and will not again. After all, they are one of the smartest animals there are. I like the idea of electrical also for predators. If something tries to get my pigs, I hope they get a good jolt while trying. We decided to use electrical ½” polytape wrapped around the fencing posts three times. Initially we thought the solar charged battery would work great. But we switched out the solar one for a battery powered unit. The solar one was not as strong and the pigs got out with that one. We didn’t want to chance them getting out again. We used plastic push rods for the fencing (easily removable and easy to install). It's also important to point out, you need a three way shelter for pigs. We made this baby chick pallet pen to house my baby chicks in. Now that they are all grown, we have re-purposed it into a pen for the pigs by laying it on it's side. Threw some pine shavings in it and they love it (first picture).
What to feed them
I have subdivided my 1.5 acres into three lots that I can pasture rotate them in. Once they dig up the ground and naturally fertilize it, I rake in legumes such as alfalfa and clover. Just like a feed lot for deer. I run one polytape line straight across separating the lot for them so they can eat that pasture and move on to another the following week. I also give them slop from the kitchen (which they love) and also a supplement of protein feed without corn. I grow lots of stuff in my garden, they get all the leftovers. I also plant mangles (large beets) to munch on. They are supposed to make them taste amazing. Overall they are pretty inexpensive once you get the fencing out of the way.
$70 apiece for a 50lb pig =$140
$20 apiece for one role of polytape, need 2 = 40
$82 for the electrical transmitter box unit
$60 for a battery to connect to the unit
$17 apiece for round rubber 2’ feed/water dish = $34
$1.89 apiece step-in fence post needed 75 = 141.75
Total= $497.75 Usable for many years.
I feel like a little school girl all squermy and excited. I would scream but find that highly annoying. Bees! They are finally here. They came from a guy up north that gets his shipment of bees from Texas. He said this is the nicest bunch of bees he's had in a long time. Pumped. If you haven't had an introduction to bees, read one of my first blogs called honeybees. They are so fascinating! Amazing little buggers.
The honey bee (or honeybee) is so important to the 'circle of life.' They pollinate all the plants. Without them, there would be massive death, plants and animals. In fact, they are on decline and backyard beekeeping has become more popular. And YES, if you live in the city, you too can have them :) They are very docile creatures. Wasps, hornets, and yellow jackets give them a bad reputation. But these guys simply want to do one thing, produce honey (and of course keep the queen happy). My fascination with bees has grown significantly since my self-reliant living plans have blossomed at my developing homestead. And we LOVE our honey and there is nothing better than the honey you make, so I am told. I have read and learned from other bee keepers that the most sought after honey is basswood honey. I'm in luck! I have several on my property :) I also have large gardens that will be thankful and produce larger, healthier fruits, vegetables, and flowers.
So, in order to get ready for their arrival I needed a water source, sugar water, pollen patty, bee suit, smoker, smoker pellets, hive tool, & bee brush,. For more about the pricing on the bees/needed items go to the finance page and click the bees excel sheet.
Providing a good water source for bees is critical to their success in cooling the hive, reproduction, and making honey. It's also important not to leave open water that they can easily drown in. This is what I came up with:
Drill holes in along the rim of the bucket. This is to allow water/rain water to pour out.
Cut up pieces of Styrofoam. These are little landing pads for the bees. By drilling the holes around the bucket at the top, the water will drain off before allowing the foam landing pads to wash out.
Floating Styrofoam ready for bees to drink. Place this within 20 feet from the hive.
Bees this time of year also need sugar water. Their honey supply isn't high so supplementing their source is important. They also need a pollen patty (a sugary patty with pollen mixed in) because again, this time of year there's not much pollen out there.
So now, we are ready for the bees. Once they arrived, I removed the starter boxes and placed them on stacked pallets. I liked the idea of placing them on pallets because the wood will turn to match the surroundings, unlike cinder blocks, and they make it easy to place them on while creating the ventilation needed underneath. After I got them set up, you take the plug in the front off, and replace with a reducer to slowly allow the bees to come out and explore. You don't want them to swarm and leave right away. After a couple days the reducer can be taken off.
These bees are very healthy and have filled the starter hive with honey, so I need to put a second box deep on it tomorrow. And will need a third box in mid June. I will keep you informed on the updates when I add the third box and how to.
I am having two colonies (separate hives) and they will produce about 80lbs of honey each. Holy, yum! Though, I wish I can consume that much, I have decided to share my local honey at the Farmer's Markets I attend. It's also noteworthy that honey NEVER goes bad. Honey was found with King Tut and still edible!
As for now, the 'newbees' (pun intended) are getting cozy at their new residence and I can't wait to see them tomorrow.
The fencing is finally complete and I have picked up my 11 week old pigs. Yorkshire hogs to be exact. I chose the Yorkshire breed because they were one of the best for natural foraging or getting their own food. This was a critical part of my decision in getting pigs because I am not having them on a corn diet. Eating corn is not their choice, but a forced 'eat it or starve.' Pigs need high protein and other nutrients they can get from roots, grass, and legumes. Pigs naturally are woods animals. They dig in the forests and can easily find their own food if given the opportunity. I plan to pasture rotate them with clover/alfalfa and am also planting lots of mangles (large beets) to feed them. In upcoming years, my pigs will also be able to dine on hazelnuts that I planted by their fencing. Hazelnuts are supposed to make them taste amazing.
Free range is how I want to raise my hogs. I want to know exactly what goes into them and how I can impact the taste or output as well. There will also be very little waste from the hogs I raise. I plant to render my own fat into lard. It simply makes the best pie crust, breads, soaps, and more. It will be very nice to have my own supply on hand.
One of the best things about pigs (and worst if not used in the right areas) is they turn up the ground, aerate, and fertilize all at the same time. You might assume they stink, I mean they are pigs, but given a healthy diet and plenty of room to roam, they are NOT stinky. It is the feed lots and farms that raise them in close quarters and fed corn (high carbs) all while wallowing in their fecal matter that makes them stink. I suppose we all would if we lived like that.
I will butcher in the fall, Octoberish and not winter my animals. It is very costly to winter and their is no use unless you are farrowing.
I can check 'get pigs and fencing' off my list of to do's now. What a relief.
I blame it on the weather. Seriously, it was 34 degrees today and windy! It was actually snowing in the cities. My plants are doing great indoors, but they are really want to set permanent roots. Many plants have been transplanted 3 times. I have started planting MORE seeds. Gotta have some gratification of watching little plants grow. I have so many healthy plants that I have decided to sell some- I mean I can't really plant 40 pepper plants....or can I? NO, not this year. Come on weather, work with me or my entire house is going to be plants on shelves! On the plus side, we started the boring for our geothermal installation today! Super excited about that. It's been three years since I started researching and looking into all the 'numbers' for this. It will be nice to flip to another chapter. We are also in the process of building the Pallet Hen House. It will be built into the side of our hill for added protection. We only have the dirt work completed. Once again, I blame it on the weather. The only two things left to add to the homestead this year are honey bees and pigs. Also, meat birds but those don't come till the fall. I planned on picking up my pigs this weekend but we don't have the fencing completed. We have decided to do electrical fencing for them. It's removable, replaceable, and effective Oh- and cheap. We also dug literally, tons of rock our of this large garden area around the house. That all needs to be filled and ready for my perennials to be placed in. However, getting this all done around here with two Farmer's Markets is going to be quite the challenge. Plus, my husband and I do the P90X workout right now (awesome results) but it is quite the exhausting process when we only have time for it at 11pm. Yes, I may have bit off more than I can chew. My husband asked me today if I finally realized I was ONE person. Well, yes, yes I have. We just need a few days of 70+ to get some stuff done around here :) I am also learning not to over commit. In my adventures of healthy living and purposeful animal husbandry, LOTS of people have asked me to raise healthy meat for them as well. Not that I don't want to, I just need to figure it all out. The primary reason for my homestead is to provide for my family first and then possibly expand.
Who Writes This Blog
It's me, Meg. Checkout 'My Story' for more about my mission.