Long Overdue Update

Long Overdue Update

We had a really crazy spring here at the homestead. The weather was very mild as we planted seeds in starter trays, watched the new chicks grow and got a new colony of bees ordered. We had been talking about adding another raised garden bed out back, and were starting to draw up some plans when we got wind of a new community garden space opening just down the street. After visiting and getting some info, we learned that we could get a 10’x20′ tilled plot with water for $35/yr! We decided to give it a shot and get to know our local gardening community.

 

We got everything planted, and off to a great start! And then……

 

…A freak hailstorm rolled in, demolishing all of the sweet seedlings in the garden, breaking windows on the front of the house and causing roof damage. We had to regroup and purchase new plants, meet with the roofing contractor and get the garden back on track. IMG_20170513_120425

About a week after we got everything replanted, we had one last snow storm, but got all of the plants covered just in time!

 

Since we have this huge community space, we decided to plant a couple varieties of potatos in the raised bed and the hay bale bed at the house. We are really looking forward to this harvest ūüôā

In May we introduced the young white plymouth rocks into the big coop…and soon discovered we had a roo!

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One of the downsides to living in an urban area is that we are not allowed to keep roosters. We found a lovely retired couple in a rural area that keep a small flock of free range birds, and having just lost their rooster, were very excited to add our sweet boy to their flock.

We added some window boxes on the fence out front, and our various wildflowers are starting to burst with color. The bees have been hard a work, and we seem to be on track for a good honey harvest this year.

 

The roof on the house has been replaced, and the windows are fixed. Everything seems to be growing strong, and we’ve already been enjoying fresh greens and a few peppers from the garden. Now that everything seems to be back on track, we’ll be better about sharing updates!

18815417_10155261284933190_7922172169154941349_oThe littlest member of our rescue pack, “Abbey”, wishes you all a relaxing and safe holiday weekend!

It’s Beginning to Smell Like, Smoke

One of my absolute favorite things to do in the yard is smoke. No, not cigarettes, I gave that up almost ten years ago. The occasional cigar, yeah, count me in, but today I am talking about running my electric smokehouse while doing yard work, sitting down with friends and a few beers, or just relaxing with the dogs looking over the yard while brisket, ribs, roasts and jerky are getting lousy with hardwood smoke flavors and aromas.

Usually if both A&K are home on a weekend, which can be a rare occasion especially with spring turkey season about to open here in Colorado, we tend to spend them with our pack of rescue dogs and yard work. While the chore list gets shorter, we like to have something in the smoker or on the grill cooking away as we work. As the¬†aroma of smoldering hardwoods like Cherry, Hickory, Maple and Mesquite fills the property, it’s a great motivator and keeps us working.

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Our first smoker was a traditional bullet style charcoal smoker, and¬†was full of downsides. The first being that as the entry level price tag (~$40) would indicate, it was thin, flimsy, and almost worked as a smoker. We used it for 2 years and loved it. It had quirks, couldn’t maintain temperatures if there was even wind 3 days later in the future forecast, but we made some great meals with it and learned a lot about what the next smoker should be able to do.

Enter the Masterbuilt Digital Electric 30″ smoker. For full disclosure, I am not affiliated or compensated by Masterbuilt in anyway. I paid full price for my smoker and think it was worth every single penny. This smoker has been fantastic. We smoke chili peppers from our garden, as well as whole chickens and any BBQ meat you could imagine.

Lately, It has been my go to for making jerky. I had been using our dehydrator for making jerky in the past, but this has been a game changer. Anything from on sale ground hamburger or sirloin from the grocery store to any wild game meat I can get my hands on have been fantastic on the smoker.

I use a commercial flavor and cure kit from Hi Mountain Seasonings in Wyoming. Great price, each kit does 15 pounds of meat total but can be used for any amount so it is a great value. Important note, when using any type of cure, be sure to use the weight AFTER trimming the meat to figure the amount of cure needed. This is raw meat after all, too little cure can keep the meat from being safe at low temps in the smoker, and too much cure can be very harmful as well. Double check all instructions and make sure you are accurately measuring all cures.

We love the variety of available wood chips and pellets, the meat and game options, and even cold smoking fish and cheeses. Buying or building your own backyard smokehouse can be a very rewarding and entertaining for the entire family. You’d be surprised at the options for either entire meals or specific foods that can be prepared or enhanced using a smoker.

Spring Is Here, Must Be Time For New Chicks!

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This has been one of the weirdest winters in Colorado that I remember. It snowed twice this winter, well, almost two and a half times including last weeks “storm” that lead to cold rain and no flakes here at the homestead (we were due for 7″ of snow).

As I was tending to the some yard work today after breakfast with the family, K was out running errands that included picking up chicken feed for our three Barred Plymouth Rock hens that have been featured before. As some of you may realize, spring is also baby chick season at feeds stores. I received a phone call from K just as I had wrapped up cleaning out the chicken coop and run. She had stumbled upon some great looking white Plymouth Rock chicks and decided we were getting three of them. Now in all fairness, I am never upset to see more animals living with us, and when I designed and built our new coop last year I had purposely decided to build it big enough that it could comfortably house at least six hens total in the future. We had discussed adding more birds this year, but figured since we have a hard time using the eggs we already get every week that it was not necessary, but come on, who says no to more chickens?

I had saved a bunch of material from the coop build so had lots of scrape wood around and a few tools to build a brooder on the quick. About 15 minutes later, we had our new brooder built and ready just as K was pulling back into the driveway. Perfect timing and zero added cost to replace the brooder. We had used one two years ago on the Barred chicks that I made out of an old plastic tub. At some point over the last two years it had fallen off of a shelf in the garage and was cracked so we needed a new one anyway.

It was a lot of fun to throw this together and prep our spare bedroom to house chicks again. When we set out on this adventure to create our urban tiny homestead we always knew that this would be a part of the process. We already had three healthy, great and frequent layers, but I have little doubt that we won’t have a hard time spreading around the extra eggs to friends, family and neighbors. We are really excited to be able to add to our flock and to get to enjoy the peeps, the smells, and the stress of watching three little girls grow out into feathered pullets as we anxiously await the first eggs from these new girls.

I am going to try and be a bit more active on keeping people up to date on our progress and goings on, stay tuned for a few new projects and other things we have been working on this past winter. As always, any questions, comments or other ramblings are always welcome. Feel free to reach out to us, we love hearing from other people that share our interests.

A&K, AK Urban Homestead

Grapes Galore!

What do you do when a friend texts you and says she has a bunch of Concord grapes she needs to get rid of from her yard, and wants to know if you want them for your chickens? You say YES!

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Last Sunday, I went to my friend’s house to pick up the grapes. When I arrived, I was shocked at how full her vines were. We grabbed bags and started picking. 4 full grocery bags later, I knew I needed to come up with some uses for these juicy beauties in addition to treating the feathered ladies.

Out of curiosity, I weighed my bounty when I got home: 14 lbs!!!!! Time for juice and jelly! After setting aside 4 lbs for the chickens, removing the stems and leaves from the rest of grapes, and giving them a good wash, I set apart the grapes for juice and jelly, and got to work mashing and simmering.

Here are the recipes I used:

Grape Jelly: http://www.pickyourown.org/grapejelly.htm  *Note: I also used the no sugar pectin and the lesser amount of sugar.

Grape Juice: http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/making_grape_juice/

I admit that I got a little impatient with the juice straining through the cheese cloth, so I busted out my juicer. This resulted in A walking into the kitchen as I’m trying to hold an unbalanced juicer on the counter as grape seeds were shooting¬†out of the port on the lid. It was a pretty hilarious reminder to be patient and trust in the process!

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Remember, even if you don’t grow something yourself, there are still lots of ways to make your own delicious eats from the gardens of family and friends, or from your local farmers markets.

Cheers!

~K

P.S. The chickens were so thrilled with their grapes!

Building A Better Coop On a Budget

Building A Better Coop On a Budget

Our chickens were in desperate need of a more substantial and safer coop/run combo. When we first started keeping chickens, money was tight, we still had lots to figure out, and we gave it our best. We found a used big box store chicken coop from a local online chicken keeping group for pretty cheap, built a PVC run around it for security and moved on. Then winter in Colorado happened. The poor mass manufactured coop and PVC run did their best to keep the ladies safe and enclosed. We had a tree branch (about 200+ lbs) come down in a storm and land directly on the run and coop. They both survived the beating, and the chickens were just fine. 20160904_113018.jpgThe PVC run used to cover the factory coop is shown. The condition of the the overall enclosure and coop was not great. But it did its job.

We were fairly certain the coop and run combo we currently had would not survive another winter, and may take the birds out with it. I was able to take about a dozen pieces of almost new 2×4 lumber, as well as 11 full sheets of OSB plywood home from work for free, so it was time to get this project started. I did not use any plans, I am not a carpenter, and only have what I would consider hobbyist level tools available. After looking at several examples of the coop and run combo I knew I wanted, it was time to start drawing and mocking up the structure.

Once we had decided on the basic layout, size, and nesting box design we moved forward pretty quickly. We kept the table saw, compound miter, and drill/impact drivers busy for a couple days getting everything cut and assembled. We chose the patio as our assembly location. It became apparent that as we continued, this thing would only become heavy and more awkward to move about 100 or so feet across the yard to where the chickens live, so we decided to keep paint to a minimum and not attach the roof at until it was in it’s final location. We also did not hang the people door until after it was moved to make sure it would open and close properly.

As paint went on, and the structure took shape it was time to figure out how to get this beast across the yard. We have a hard time asking for help, that is part of what attracts us to projects like these that allows us to be that much more self sufficient. We decided that we wouldn’t want to flex the framing too much while lifting it, and dragging it would damage the the bottom framework once we got to the gravel part of the yard. ¬†We ended laying plywood and these plastic slip sheets to build a “runway” of sorts and drag/pull/push the whole unit across the yard. It ended up being much easier than we had thought it would be.

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Sliding/pulling the structure was much easier than we anticipated

To be able make this project fit our mission of sustainability was great. All but a minimal amount of the wood material was reused from a taken apart shipping crate at work. We also used as much scrap and cut pieces as possible wherever they would fit. This helped keep the cost down significantly, but it also limits our impact on the environment as well.

We learned a lot on this project, it was the largest build that either A or K had attempted to date. There are things we would have done differently now, mistakes that could have been avoided, and a couple design changes would be made if it was all to be done over. After all, this project was necessary so it had to be done right, on a (very) limited budget, while we also wanted it to be as user friendly as a finished coop for us as possible. This coop run combo is much more secure, will be easier to clean, gathering eggs every daily is much simpler, and opening and closing the door is a breeze now. We are excited to show off what we accomplished, but we also are here to help anyone thinking of something similar in anyway we can.

Last but not least, here is the finished product. K made us a new sign to welcome the ladies into their new home.

 

Thank you for reading, please reach out with any questions!

#doityourself

The yard is coming to life!

beeyellowflrOver this past holiday weekend, we had time to really finish up a lot of projects in the yard. We have planted what seems like pounds of wild flowers, Quaking Aspen trees, Dwarf Pines, and pruned our Peach tree which is starting to produce fruit for the first time. We really focused on being as diverse as possible with our flower selection while still concentrating on pollinator friendly choices. While out dead heading some potted flowers, we ran into a “local” foraging from our hive. It’s rewarding to see them able to provide for the colony using our yard.

So far the early bloomers that they seem to favor have been Allium (a wild onion) and Salvia (a Sage with columns of small purple or blue flowers). While we wait for other flowers to grow out and start to flower, they have been making use of the potted flowers, as seen above. We hope to see our poppies, Snow in Summer, Blanket Flower, Bachelor Button, and Sun Flowers develop and bloom soon.

Below, the Allium was frequently visited by foragers gathering nectar during its short bloom.

We are excited to see what late spring and summer will bring as the hive’s population continues to expand daily. In the past, we have seen low yields from plants that are “self-pollinators” and hope that frequents visits from the bees will help resolve this issue.

Our next update will focus on our potted and hay bale gardens, but first, one more bee photo. Stay tuned!beeyellowflr2

There is a buzz in the air….

There is a buzz in the air….

The bees have arrived! We have been patiently waiting since November 2015 (when we bought our hive) for our new friends to arrive. Yesterday, we picked up our nuc (nucleus hive) from a local beekeeping supplier. A nuc, or nucleus hive is a small hive consisting of 5 frames with bees, honey, pollen, eggs, larvae and capped brood. We decided on the nuc over a “package” because it is already an established, albeit small colony. All the bees in the nuc are related to the queen in the nuc. This makes transferring the colony into the permanent hive much simpler since we don’t need to worry about the queen being rejected (killed) by the bees which is always possible in a package.

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The top of the nuc after prying the lid off. We can see bees, wax, and the 5 fives frames described earlier.

 

We let the nuc settle with the entrance screen removed so that the scout bees could leave the nuc and get orientated to their new surroundings. After a few hours they seemed calm and the weather did not look like it would be favorable for the transfer for much longer. We went ahead and moved each frame over to the permanent hive, one at a time, making sure to keep them in the same order and making sure to move slowly and deliberately as to not crush or harm many bees, but most importantly, the queen.

The above photos show the nuc sitting on the hive for orientation flights. As well as examining frames before transferring them into the permanent hive.

We have been preparing for the bees since November. Slowly buying the needed equipment. Building a new wall to create a bee fence and entrance to the apiary. After lots of study, expense, and excitement, we are really happy to officially bee actual beekeepers! We hope to see improvements in our gardens this year with the addition of several thousand pollinators roaming our yard. The honey this summer wont hurt either!

Even if beekeeping is not something you are interested in, it’s important that we all do what we can to protect these vital creatures. Even planting appropriate flowers and garden items for pollinators in your own yard can make a difference.

Cheers,

AK