Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Nothing Goes to Waste

I don't think anything teaches one the art of recycling as well as living on a homestead.  We do not have access to the trash pick up, recycling bins, or curb-side free-cycling conveniences our urban counterparts seemingly take for granted.  I certainly took these for granted when I lived in an urban setting.  Since moving to the country we've had to expand our recycling skills.  This expansion of skills has overflowed into the garden and the barns.

Now that autumn has set in, our peas, cucumbers, spinach, lettuces, green beans,corn and melons have finished producing.   Our tomatoes, peppers, and squashes are only a week or two away from being finished.  Many urban gardeners will turn the spent foliage into the soil where it will breakdown and "feed" next year's production.  However, out here on the farm we have a better solution.

We pull it up and place it in our wagon or tractor bucket and haul all the spent foliage out to the pasture for the goats and horses.  As our pasture grasses dry out and turn brown in the autumn, this is a wonderful and perfect tasty green for the stock that now have to search for green foliage before our long winter sets in.

You may wonder if my livestock are eating the spent foliage from the garden, how then will I feed my garden soil?  No, I will not use chemical fertilizers.  Each spring when the stock is turned out to pasture, we must clean all the winter bedding out of the barn and we clean the hen house every spring and autumn.   Hmm. what does one do with a ton of manure filled straw and hay?  Recycle it, of course!  I like to call this old bedding garden caviar.  What I don't use for moisture / weed barrier between my garden rows during the summer is stored in the compost bins until it is spread over the bare garden and tilled in before spring planting.  This rich organic fertilizer is unbeatable and has been the secret to the abundant harvests we enjoy each summer and autumn.

Since we don't have trash pick up, it is important for us to sort our household and barn trash into combustibles and non-combustibles.  We, of course, burn the combustibles in a barrel and here's a list of many non-combustible (and sometime combustible) items we find ourselves regularly recycling.

  • Scrap iron, tin (including cans from the kitchen), wire, aluminum, copper, etc. is loaded onto our flatbed trailer and sold to the scrap yard a couple times each summer.  Note:  different metals bring different values, so it is more profitable to sort the metals. Yes, they pay us to take our trash - How cool is that?  Best of all, the scrap yard makes sure all the metals they take are recycled into new cars, new tin, new aluminum cans, copper tubing, etc.
  • Sometimes we have corrugated tin that is in good enough shape to be re-used, we store it in our barn loft with other building materials.  It is most often used to patch barn and other shelter roofs.
  • Leftover pvc pipe, of all sizes, is added to the building materials stored in the barn loft.  We will reuse this for all sorts of repairs and inventions.  We've used it for uprights on the dog's kennel shade, to build weather proof mineral feeders, etc.
  • Rotten wood is burned but sound wood regardless of size or type is stored.  We've used wood scraps to build saddle racks, nesting boxes, patch walls & floors in the outbuildings, kidding / lambing cribs, livestock field shelters, etc.
  • Wooden pallets are also stored and reused.  We've used them to store feed, straw and alfalfa bales off the wet ground, to build livestock field shelters, kidding cribs, etc.
  • Glass jars are washed, stored and reused year after year for home canning.
  • Kitchen food scraps are fed to the chickens.
  • 8.5 x 11 paper that has print on only one side is re-used for copy paper.  In 12 years of home schooling, I've only purchased 3 reams of copy paper.
  • Birthday, Christmas, thank you, get well, etc. cards are recycled into note cards or post cards and sent to loved ones. 
  • Textiles that are too worn or tattered to be donated to the re-sale shop are cut into quilt scraps or shop / barn rags.
  • Steel pipe is stored and reused in pen repairs, trailer repairs, and other fabrication applications.
  • Dryer lint is tossed into the compost bin(s).
  • We try not to accumulate too many plastic grocery bags as they can be a serious choking hazard to grazing animals if the wind happens to blow them out into the pastures, but the ones we do have we use to line our smaller household trash cans.
  • Plastic jugs and containers are often converted into feed scoops.
  • Our mail is bundled with rubber bands - I haven't bought rubber bands in years.
  • Feed sacks are stored and re-used for when we buy feed in bulk (1 ton at time).  They also work for very sturdy and combustible trash bags for any combustible barn debris.
  • Bailing twine is very strong and thus, it is indispensable.  In addition to storing it on a shelf in our barn we also carry some in our vehicles.  We never have to buy string or other types of twine.
  • Old farm equipment has been turned into yard art and planters.  I have two water trough planters and a wheel barrow planter.  I've used a cast iron hand pump, a wagon wheel and an antique rake as art in my planters and flower beds.
  • I've used twisted tree limbs and large rocks hauled in from the pastures as garden and flowerbed boarders.
  • Great care is taken when removing hog panels and t-posts from the garden or barns.  We store them and re-use them year after year.

Do you try to re-use and recycle?  If so, please share your creative ideas in the comments section.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Miles City

Horses are amazing animals.  They are strong.  They are agile.  Because they are herding animals, they form a bond with their master and most have a desire to please their master, whom they view as the leader of their herd.  Horses are smart, therefore, they can be trained to do all sorts of tasks.  They can be trained to pull wagons, by themselves or within a team.  They can be trained to perform circus acts.   They can be trained for all sorts of various farming or ranch work.  Prior to the invention of the steam engine, horses were the most valuable animal to mankind, as they were used for any and all heavy work a man, or even a team of men, could not physically accomplish.

This weekend I decided to take some time off from the demands of garden harvesting and enjoy the amazing athletic abilities of this most majestic animal.  I joined Mr.B and the littles in Miles City for their final rodeo until spring.  Since she is training her own horse, Quatro, Songbird may go to a few barrel racing exhibitions this fall and winter in hopes of having him ready for competition next spring.  The littles will also haul their horses to an indoor arena a couple times per week this winter to keep them legged up and in shape.

Most urban folks do not realize that horses do not automatically herd or chase livestock, nor do they instinctively know when to stop, pull, or back up when working livestock.  They must be trained to do those things.  For racing events the horses must be trained to catch the correct leads while running (called flying lead changes) and learn various cues from their rider for tight turns and timing for speed.  Even the bucking horses at rodeos are trained.  In the sport of rodeo, not only is the cowboy or cowgirl an athlete, but the horse is also an athlete.  The cowboy and his horse are a team and if they are to ever be successful, they must learn to work together, like, as the saying goes, a well oiled machine.

Farmer Boy competed in flag racing ...

... and goat tying events.

Wow!  It is utterly amazing how much Farmer Boy looks like Mr.B.
If not for the age and quality of the photos, I wouldn't be
able to tell the difference between the two.

Songbird is currently using a friend's horse to compete in barrel racing ... 

... and pole bending.

If you look closely and a little to the left,
you can see Songbird's hat in mid-air after flying off her head.
She always looses her hat.

It was a long two days for me that put me behind on my gardening and canning responsibilities.  But, it was wonderful to watch the littles and their horses have such a fun time.  It won't be long before the littles will leave this nest and begin living independent lives like their older brothers.  I know all too well from experience, those will be the days when these sorts of long weekends that put me behind on my farm chores will be greatly missed.

Passive Solar Heating

Regardless of published government statistics, the average middle-class American KNOWS that inflation is much higher than our news media reports.  Some folks have been keeping track of real world cost increases vs income for quite sometime and have reports as high as a 45% "real world" inflation rate since 2008.  I'm not sure how scientific these reports are, but regardless of the exact figures, literally every person I know lives and struggles with the daily effects of steep inflation, despite the lies the U.S. government publicizes.

I can personally attest to a 7% increase in our household utility costs and property taxes in just the past 4 years!  And, of course, like most American families, our income has remained stagnant.

The majority of our home has windows on the east and south sides.  Fortunately, we have only two windows and one set of French doors on the north side  and again two windows and another set of French doors on the west (the sides that take most of the bitter 25 mph winter winds).  The Jablonski family who originally built this home nearly 100 years ago, knew a little something about passive solar heating, although it didn't have such a fancy name back then.  They used their common sense to take the most advantage of the warm sunshine and block as much of the bitter winds as possible during the harsh winters. 

During the summer months we are greeted with stunning sunrises and lots of warm, no HOT, sunshine streaming in through the east and south facing windows.  By 10:30 AM our home will heat up by more than 20 degrees if we don't close the windows and pull the shades by 8:30 AM.  I absolutely refuse to use an air conditioner in this climate.  Although not lined with thermal insulation, the dark shades in the above photo block a tremendous amount of heat during the summer months.   One of this winter's projects is to add thermal insulation to the backs of our window shades so they will be even more effective at reducing the heat next summer.

Consequently, just as the leaves begin changing color our nighttime temperatures drop to the mid 40's and our daytime temperatures also cool down to the mid 60's.  This is my signal that it's time to remove the window shades and allow the sunshine to heat up our home.  I make sure to use my window cleaner regularly during the winter months because clean windows allow for the most heat exchange.  By allowing our home to warm up to the upper 70's during the day, the interior of our home will stay warm, above 65 degrees, at night.  Thus, we will not have to turn our heat on for another 6 + weeks.

We are fortunate the previous owner installed doubled pane windows in the living portion of the house during a remodel.   Our basement windows are still the old originals but we have plans to upgrade those to triple pane next summer.  Another insulating tool that blocks the heat as well as the cold is the ever so inexpensive tube of caulk.  By caulking your window casings (be careful to avoid the slide portion that allows the window to open and close) and the wood trim around your window casings, you will create a barrier that keeps cooler air inside during the summer and cold air out during the winter.  If a home does not have double or triple pane windows, I believe caulking single pane windows is imperative to lowering energy costs.

If your energy bills have been rising as quickly as ours, I encourage you to examine the placement of your home's windows and utilize shades in the warmest areas during the summer months to aid in keeping your home cooler.  Likewise, remove the majority of window coverings from the sunniest parts of your home during the winter months so you may utilize the natural warming power of the sun.

Do you utilize the natural power of passive solar heating in your home?  Do you have any additional tips that could benefit me or others?

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Quilts and Salt

I like quilts.  I like quilting books and magazines.  I like blogs about quilts.  I like quilt shops.  The quilt exhibit at any county fair is always my favorite exhibit.  My favorite decor is primitive early American folk art design, which, of course, contains lots of vintage and antique quilts as furniture covers, wall hangings, bed coverings, cabinet displays, etc.  So, as I perused the local re-sale shop in town earlier this week, I was delighted to find a colorful mosaic crib sized quilt done in small squares combined with vertical and horizontal strips in perfect condition for only $3.  Truth be told I felt a twinge of guilt as I chose to place it in my basket.  Because I am an occasional novice quilter, I am fully aware of how much time and work goes into any quilting project regardless of pattern or size. Any homemade quilt is worth far more than $3.
No, I don't need a cribbed sized quilt.  Yes, it was an impulse purchase made without any plan or intention.

After leaving the re-sale shop, I needed to stop in the Tractor Supply, the Wal-mart of country folks.  While there I glanced at the book rack and a magazine caught my eye.  I picked up the latest copy of "Primitive Design" and took several moments gleefully admiring the photos of primitive early American folk art decor.  As I flipped through the pages I became enlightened as to why I couldn't resist the impulse purchase of that $3 quilt.  It was the perfect wall hanging for the master bedroom.  I have been struggling with decor choices in this big farm house ever since we moved in 4 years ago.  Since we enjoy hosting guests in our home, a warm and inviting atmosphere is something I desire to create, but lack the natural talent.  For quite some time I've been praying and asking the Lord to expand my creativity in the arena of home decor.  I feel blessed that this little quilt, aka wall hanging, is an answer to that prayer.  It gave me confidence that our Lord will continue to expand that creative aspect I desire.

All the small, insignificant pieces of fabric, in decades past they were scraps from other sewing projects, pieced together into something useful and beautiful is why I enjoy quilts so very much.  To me, quilts reflect the tapestry of mankind.  All colors, all shapes, all sizes, all designs; some pretty, some plain, some bold, some subtle - every singular piece an individual representation of a person.  On their own these tiny scraps of fabric are not useful.  However, when joined together by an artisan, an exquisite and serviceable work of art comes to life.  Similarly, the average individual doesn't accomplish great things.  However, when we let the Master Artist, use us for His purposes and plans, He joins us together with other individuals, like tiny quilt pieces, and wonderful and purposeful things happen.  Quilts remind me of this.

Earlier today, I read THIS article about a fellow who decided to see what it really takes to make a chicken sandwich.  He raised his own chicken, planted wheat for the bread, and cucumbers for the pickles, etc. He even traveled to the sea to harvest salt water that he had to dehydrate for the salt so he could season his sandwich.  The article states that it took him six months and cost him around $1,500 to create this chicken sandwich.  The point of his adventure was to point out to the average American how much we take for granted.  On our own, preparing a chicken sandwich is a monumental task.  But when joined within a community of others, such as farmers, bakers, livestock producers, wholesalers, grocers, etc., a chicken sandwich is a quick and satisfying lunch.  Just like quilt pieces, separately these individuals don't supply a finished product, but when pieced together they have purpose and functionality.

However, the article sparked something else inside me.  When I was reading about this man's adventure to harvest salt, I thought of the Bible passages that tell Christians to be salt and light to a lost and dying world.  I have found that most sermons and writings on this subject focus on the seasoning aspect of salt and likewise, Christians are to strive to be a delicate balance of seasoning in this world.  Not too strong in flavor or fervor as to be spit out or spurred away, but certainly not so sparse and meek that we are dull and unflavored, thus, failing to accomplish the command of going to all the nations and recruiting the lost and dying for Christ's cause.

This article reminded me how very valuable salt has been throughout the ages. Salt is not just a seasoning.  For centuries it has been used, along with smoke, vinegar and sugar, as a food preservative.  Without it many peoples and entire communities would die due to starvation during long journeys or winter months when food was sparse.  Our children have studied in history that at one time salt was so valuable it was used as currency, equal to gold, and there were wars over salt, aka the Salt Wars.  As I pondered this, I realized that Christians are not to be only a sprinkling of flavoring among the lost and dying of this world.  But we are exceptionally valuable to the Lord  because we are His representatives called to preserve His righteousness.  So, next time you read or hear about your mission to be salt and light unto a dark and dying world, please consider that God not only commands one to season this world with His Good News of Jesus Christ, but He also directs us to uphold and preserve His righteous standard detailed in His Holy Word, the Holy Bible.

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Coveted Kelly Green Blazer

As noted in my previous post, we had a very busy summer filled with family, friends, hard work and a few sprinklings of fun, and accomplishments.  However, there is one accomplishment that I thought needed its own post.

The accomplishment of earning a 4-H Kelly Green Blazer.  

Songbird, second from left

Do you know what it means?  Do you know why that is such an accomplishment?  

Yes! Songbird applied for one of the five 4-H State Ambassador positions - and got it!

Her duties as a State Ambassador began in early August with visits to some of eastern Montana's county fairs, a radio interview and a planning meeting in Bozeman.  The 2015-16 year will be busy for her as she and her teammates plan state events, workshops, 4-H congress, and become the faces of Montana's 2015-16 4-H program as they meet with businesses, youth, legislators, philanthropic citizens, and others across the state of Montana.

As a home educator, I am also proud that Songbird is one of TWO home schooled students on the 2015-16 State Ambassador team.   - Go Home School! 

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Family, Friends, Brandings, Roundups, Scenic Views, Rodeos and County Fair

Regardless of any troubles one may have, life continues to happen.  Most folks envision the country life as one of leisure; sitting on the front porch watching the sun set while sipping a tall glass of sweet tea or meandering through the days without the need to watch a clock.  The reality of country living is that we are often more busy than our urban counter parts, especially during the good weathered summer months.  This summer has proven to be as busy as ones in the past. As if growing, maintaining and putting by a 5,700 sq. ft. garden, caring for livestock, lots of very dirty laundry, and the sweeping of floors 7 times per day wasn't enough, we kept ourselves occupied with the following.

A late spring / early summer branding:

First step is to rope the calves by the hind legs  (Farmer Boy)

Second, the calves are drug to the fire

Third the calves are wrestled down and held while ...  (Mr.B & Songbird)

... they are tagged, branded, cut (bull calves only), and inoculated.
They are then released back to their mamas.  (Mr.B & Farmer Boy)

Our family friend, Miss N, and Musician and Musician's Bride came out for a visit.  While visiting we all enjoyed some of the spectacular landscapes of eastern Montana and western North Dakota.  We can't wait for everyone to come back again.

Miss N and Farmer Boy enjoying the view of Painted Canyon, North Dakota

Musician's Bride and Musician;
I'm sure their city friends would chuckle at the site of Musician in a cowboy hat
AND their attendance to a rodeo.  Most of their friends don't realize that
Musician grew up watching Mr.B team rope and me enlisting his help
with the chickens, rabbits and garden.
Yes, our Musician is a well rounded young man.

It was a real pleasure to tour Medicine Rocks, Montana with Miss N.
The weathered sandstone feels like rough sandpaper.

Rodeos are always fun for our family.
Miss N seemed to enjoy her first one and gave us all a good sporting laugh
when she asked why the cows were wearing little hats.
For any of you city folk who don't know, the steers are not wearing hats,
they are wearing horn wraps which protect them against rope burns and
broken horns during roping events.

Ever hear the phrase "Ride'em Cowboy!"
It is derived from saddle bronc, bare back and bull riding rodeo events.

We rounded up and worked our goat heard while Musician and Musician's Bride were visiting.  Having extra hands made the work go fast.

Farmer Boy, Songbird and Sam herding the goats up to the barn so
they can be inoculated and wormed.

We finished up our summer with County Fair.  As mentioned in previous posts, most country kids work toward and eagerly anticipate County Fair each and every year.

Farmer Boy and Songbird participated in several horse events this year.
This  was the halter class.

Farmer Boy really enjoyed the working ranch horse exercises.

Songbird took home the blue ribbon in poles and barrels at the county fair.

Although Songbird and Mini Mouse only earned a 4th place blue ribbon in the
market class for the swine project, Songbird took home the gold in showmanship 
with the Sr. Showmanship award in her swine project.

Farmer Boy's, Bob, weighed in at 343 pounds, making him significantly over finished.
Thus Farmer Boy earned a red ribbon in his market swine project.
However, with regards to the showmanship class he took home an
unprecedented 3rd place blue ribbon.  There are generally only two places,
grand and reserve, awarded in showmanship, but Farmer Boy impressed the judge
so much she handed out a 3rd place blue ribbon.

Farmer Boy had a tough time with his market lamb project this year,
 losing two lambs prior to Mr. Anderson whom he took to fair.
Since Mr. Anderson was an alternate lamb to two others,
he was born late and just barely met the weight requirements
for market class, earning Farmer Boy another red ribbon. 

This year Songbird again moved up the awards ladder in market lamb
bringing home a blue 3rd place ribbon.  She really impressed the judge
with her showmanship skills and earned Grand Champion Showmanship in sheep.

Although their goats were a little young, Farmer Boy and Songbird still earned
Grand Champion Goat and Reserve Champion Goat, respectively.  
Songbird again wowed everyone with her showmanship skills by taking
home the senior division Grand Champion Showman in goat AND
Farmer Boy's been paying close attention to his sister's showmanship skills and
accordingly took home the junior division Grand Champion Showman in goat.

Songbird was most proud of her accomplishments in her market beef project.
She earned a 4th place blue ribbon for Willie in the beef market class,
Reserve Champion in beef Showmanship and
GRAND Champion Showman in the senior division round robin.

Although I don't have photos, Farmer Boy also won Best in Show for his poultry project and GRAND Champion Showman in the junior division round robin.

Not to sound braggadocios, but when the rabbit judge for our county fair was a no show, I was asked to judge the 4-H, FFA and open class rabbit competitions.  Fortunately, I didn't know any of the contestants very well which helped curb any favoritism.  I was surprised by how much I enjoyed judging the rabbits and getting to see the pride and care our competitors placed in their projects.  We had some fine bunnies and I am now considering entering my rabbits in the open class division at next year's fair.

In addition to all of the above, thus far, I've put up 21 quarts of corn, 49 pints of zucchini & tomatoes, 57 pints of bread & butters, 60 quarts of green beans, 12 1/2 pounds of English peas (shelled), 12 quarts broccoli,6 quarts of greens, 14 jars of peach butter and 3 jars of peach jelly.  Tomatoes, carrots, peppers, beets, watermelon, cantaloupe, pumpkin and yellow squash are still in the garden and I hear them calling out to me.  So, I suppose I should get off this computer and get out there while Farmer Boy works on his reading lesson.  I hope my next post won't be three months in the making.