July & August 2020 – Behind the Scenes! A quick recap of some of our homestead happenings, including how we get creative with food preservation, our barn renovation project and more!

 

August marked our six-month anniversary of moving to the Pacific Northwest and what a whirlwind it’s been! July and August were especially busy months! It would be impossible to talk about everything that we’ve been working on, so I’m just going to highlight some of the more important homestead-related items for you guys! Starting with the garden…

Summer Harvests & Winter Food Preservation:

When you live as self-sufficiently as possible, you are always preparing for the future. Seasonal eating comes easily during the summer since fresh produce is abundant from the garden. We also have ample amounts of eggs and milk (and therefore cheese, yogurt and kefir). But the challenge is making sure that we store enough of the harvest to provide for ourselves during the winter and following spring.

This year, our garden is much smaller and more immature than our previous growing spaces. Our tomato crop is very late in maturing this year (chalk it up to starting late and a cool Pacific Northwest summer). We finally had our first tomato harvest at the end of August thanks to these tricks to get our tomatoes to ripen faster. But, we do have plenty of other produce rolling in! So we are making the most of it – albeit in some unconventional ways! 

It’s important to understand where you will have gaps in your harvest. Not every crop will do well each year, so you have to be able to get creative to make the most of the harvests that you do have! 

Here are a few of the ways we are substituting our traditional harvests to best use the crops we have an abundance of!

  • Pickled radishes, radish pods and zucchini are replacing cucumbers. We are having a poor cucumber year, but it hasn’t stopped us from pickling other veggies! They will be a refreshing treat on a winter day!
  • Pesto to use as pasta and pizza sauce for the winter. With our tomato crop being late, we won’t have the abundance we are used to. Tomato-based sauces can be replaced with pesto since we have a great basil harvest!
  • Pasta sauce with zucchini instead of nightshades. Since our tomato crop is late, I cooked up a large batch of zucchini sauce to substitute traditional tomato-based pasta sauces. I shared a semi-recipe about how to make the sauce in this Instagram post.

 

Old Barn Renovation:

Our biggest and most consuming project this summer has been renovating the 100+ year old barn on our property. We dedicated pretty much every weekend in July and August to it and I am so happy that we can finally start seeing some progress! But, wow, what a huge project this has been!

Step 1: Clearing & Cleaning!

The worst part was cleaning out the barn. It was PACKED with probably 50 year’s worth of junk! It was truly exhausting and frustrating. There was so much waste and it just emotionally wore us down to throw so much away. Of course we salvaged any supplies that weren’t completely destroyed by water damage and termites. But, most of it had to be thrown out. The pile was so giant that we had to hire a junk company to haul it all away! 

Once the junk was removed, we were able to clean the barn top to bottom. Again, no small chore! After that, we began assessing the building. We decided to start by working through it from one side to the other, making the East side our focus for this year.

Step 2: Support!

We had to jack up the building and replace the existing support beams. They were practically hollow inside due to termite damage! Thank goodness they were giant cedar logs or I don’t think they would have lasted this long! We replaced them with pressure-treated 4×6 boards placed on top of stone pavers. Then, we removed the siding along the East side since it was degraded from moisture and termites. We will replace it with concrete siding that will last another century!

Step 3: Concrete!

Once the East side supports were replaced, we started the concrete work! Ultimately, we will pour concrete floor for the entire building! But we are starting slow because it’s a back-breaking chore! Our goal for this summer was just to pour the cement pad on the East side. This space will be used as a back-up chicken coop and/or kid pen. (Cause can you ever have too many extra animal pens?! Answer: no!)

There is still a lot of work to be done to restore this beautiful building. Realistically, it will probably take us years! But we are so excited with the progress that has already been made! And, there will be even more exciting updates coming in September’s Behind the Scenes post! Plus, you can always follow along on Instagram! Check out my Instagram Story Highlight to see the progress first hand!

 

Meat Chickens & Chicken Tractors: 

Our meat chickens arrived July 31st. We decided to go with the heritage Red Ranger breed again this year since we had such good luck with them last year. This year, we ordered them from Hoover’s Hatchery. We usually order from Meyer’s but they were already sold out for the year by the time we ordered in April/May. I’m very impressed with Hoover’s though! I’m also glad that the chicks arrived before the postal service was slowed down, causing many chicks to die in transit!

We kept the chicks in a large trough in the barn for the first 2 weeks. After that, we moved them into their new chicken tractor! It was honestly probably a bit too soon, but they needed a larger pen ASAP because they grow so fast.

We moved them back into the brooder trough at night for an additional two weeks until they were bigger and more fully feathered. We did end up losing two of the smaller ones to a predator on an evening when I was late getting out there to put them away. But we haven’t had any issues since, thankfully!

I am beyond excited to have a proper chicken tractor for our meat chickens this year! We are using the Rugg”egg”Ranch Spring Fling Mobile Coop, which we purchased from Tractor Supply. We made a few modifications, but so far, I am very impressed with it! I will share a full review of it at the end of the season to let you all know what I think once we’ve used it for an extended period of time.

Other projects we’ve been working on:

 

We finished building the quail coop!

The three little quail that we hatched were beyond happy to move into a bigger space and are enjoying their new digs. We are still working out some of the design kinks, so hopefully I can post a tutorial once we get it set up exactly right! 

 

I installed an irrigation system in the garden!

Can I get a big hallelujah for not having to spend hours each week hand-watering every single garden plant?! Having a proper irrigation system is an absolute necessity for any medium to large-sized garden, in my opinion!

The system is a bit of a frankenstein creation of mine. It’s similar to the system I installed at our last house, but with some improvements. I used Raindrip products from Lowe’s to create a custom system that is not only durable, but is also movable! This means that I can rearrange the sprinkler drip heads each season to best fit my planting designs. I can also pull back the heads when I need to rake or mulch the beds at the end of the season. It hooks directly to the garden hose and waters two full beds at a time. And I could not be happier with it so far!

 

Our hay supply is stacked and ready for winter!

One of our least favorite projects is procuring hay each year. This is a chore I would love to put off, but I know that the most affordable and best quality hay is only available during the summer when the fields are being cut.

Due to our new region, we have transitioned from alfalfa (Idaho is the land of GMO alfalfa) to pasture/orchard grass mixes which are abundant here. Sourcing feed as locally as possible is very important to us. It’s also important to find high quality, no spray, non-GMO hay since it goes straight into our animals and then into the garden in the form of compost and mulch. The other important thing is to find someone who can offer delivery!

We finally found the “unicorn” that met all of our criteria and we ordered an additional 4.5 tons of hay to go along with the 2 tons we already had. If we have learned anything over the years, it’s to stock up on hay whenever you find a good deal! It feels so comforting to have a barn stacked to the ceiling with hay and to know that we are ready with animal feed for whatever winter may bring!

What have you been working on this summer? Share with us in the comments!