Welcome! We are so thrilled you have decided to take a look at our homestead adventures. As a family it is important to us that we learn to live off the land as much as possible, a fairly new revelation. We are starting very small as we learn how to make that happen. We have learned quite a bit through experiences, trial and error, and jumping in with both feet, and we would like to share some of those experiences with you.
First, let me start off by giving you a little description of our current homestead situation. We live on one acre of land just outside the city limits in Hermiston, Oregon. Even though we don’t have a lot of space to homestead we have tried to be mindful of using that space to the best of our abilities. We currently have 20 chickens, seven rabbits, three turkeys, one overweight dog and about 2, 000 meal worms. We also put together a fairly large garden each spring consisting of a plethora of fruits, vegetables and nuts (Jay’s Famous Nuts). You will hear more about all of these as time goes along
Second, using our livestock for not only food but for hobbies is important to us. We show our rabbits and poultry in different shows around our area, we sell turkeys and rabbits at the local fairs and livestock auctions, we give eggs away to family and friends, and we have a little roadside stand where we donate vegetables to anyone who needs them.
My husband, Jason, has taken on the most recent hobby of raising mealworms. Originally the thought of having families of worms living in the house, breeding, and multiplying was a little concerning but I quickly got on board when I saw the joy our feathered friends had during snack time.
Finally, this blog will include adventures with our family, our own animals and crops, knowledge of products we have used along the way, how to utilize smaller spaces for bigger production, family fun on a farm, and other comical, and hopefully inspiring, information as Sparkeys Homestead gets underway.
Getting the garden prepped and ready is probably one of Jason’s favorite things to do. If he could stay outside and work in his garden all the time, and make a living, he would! When it comes time to plant he is like a kid in a candy store and the dining room becomes ground zero. The dining room table gets pushed to the side and the fun begins.
As seeds are spread all over the table and floor, the grow light gets the dust wiped off and the potting soil and seed pods come out. The dining room floor becomes garden central, where Jason is hard at work. The seeds are started in tiny pods and placed under the grow light. This light sits low enough to keep them warm and is on a timer so the electricity bill doesn’t kill us! Normally watering these little seeds in the house results in water all over the place and a huge mess, but this year Jason placed the planted seed pods on the lid from a large plastic tote and just kept constant water in the bottom. This allows the soil to soak up water as needed and it cut back on the deluge of water all over the floor. Once they break through the soil they become “starts.”
Once the last freeze has passed and the starts have at least two sets of leaves it is time to “harden them off.” This process is crucial, as we have learned through experience, to the plants survival. Hardening a plant off allows it to slowly acclimate to the outside weather. The starts slowly spend more and more time outside until they are ready to be planted in the ground.
I am someone who likes to jump into things with both feet and I don’t always think them through, which I’m sure my husband just loves about me, but this is where I am forced to have patience. My mind pictures the end of summer garden and its green gorgeousness and I want to start it NOW! The slow process of planting and hardening allows me to see the glory of what God has created for us and to be thankful to have a family that can work together to begin creating a self sustaining homestead.
Prepping the soil
Prepping the soil is also something Jason loves to do. I bought him a rototillar last year and it has probably been one of the most loved and used items I have ever gotten him. It also doesn’t hurt that watching him use the rototillar and work the soil is a huge turn on! He starts up that tiller and the layers of clothes come off and it is good! Anyway, getting back on track haha, prepping the soil is another huge step in gardening.
When we first started gardening I just wanted to run outside and plant the starts in the ground right away, but, as we have learned it is essential the ground is worked, compost is added, and the pH levels are good before those babies go in the ground. Running out and planting veggies without taking the time to create a good home for them to live in is a waste of time and money because, while they look pretty for a few days, they will most likely not be successful.
Compost is added and tilled in as a natural fertilizer. We try not to use too many chemicals unless necessary where we grow our food. We are not an organic homestead but we understand the importance of being as natural as possible. After all, what we grow goes into our bodies and the bodies of our three growing boys so we try to be mindful of that. We have two compost piles that we rotate using each year (Which will all be in a later post). The compost comes from broken down organic material such as leaves, fruit and veggie left overs, yard clippings,and rabbit and chicken manure.
This year has been particularly windy, more so than normal, so Jason came up with the idea of planting wheat around the edges of the garden. Wheat grows quickly so he is planting it at the same time the starts are being hardened. The wheat will grow and create a natural wall around the garden so the wind won’t damage the starts once they are planted in the ground. This type of crop can be planted directly in the ground outside.
Other great ways to keep the wind off new starts is to put an empty milk jug with the bottom cut off over the top, a plastic cup with the bottom cut off, or using a floating row cover. We are all about saving time and energy so planting wheat to do the work for us seems the best way to go!
We are still in the hardening off stage so we decided to just write a quick blog about what we do, and what we have learned about getting the garden started. Part 2 will come when we plant and get to show you our hard work paying off!
Spring brings the babies and the growth of the homestead
Spring is a time to be thankful the Lord has blessed us with so many things in our life! We have the chance to see new babies being born, trees blooming, and begin planning for our garden that gets bigger and bigger each year. I want to introduce you to some of our newest members and talk a little about what we have learned with each of them.
We have recently entered the world of rabbit showing and have slowly been working towards creating some great show quality rabbits that will proudly hold the name Sparkeys Rabbits. These three babies are all a pointed white color and they just turned two weeks old. At this point they are exploring the pen and we are just working on their poses in the five seconds they will hold still. In about 4-5 months we will see if we have our first show quality rabbits from our own breeding program.
What we have learned so far while breeding rabbits, is that it is not for the faint of hearts. We had one litter of five that passed away because it was far too cold for them outside. After that we learned to time the breeding much better. This litter we brought momma inside a few weeks before she gave birth. She had four kits but one did not survive. We are thankful for the kits that survived and said a prayer for the little ones that did not.
We have also learned that all colors are not created equal. We are working towards the ARBA standard of perfection for these Jersey Woolies and some colors are not recognized and are therefor, not showable. I have some great mentors that took a look at the parents pedigrees and helped me figure out if they were a good fit color wise. This is definitely something that will take us some time but we are excited for the challenge.
When we talk about poultry that includes our turkeys and our chickens.
While we have had chickens for a couple of years, we are brand new to turkeys. Carter’s 4H market project this year is going to be a turkey so we decided to purchase three of them since they don’t like to be alone and, go big or go home, right? These cuties are a breed called bronze turkeys and they grow very quickly.
Our flock includes not only turkeys but several breeds of chickens. We have rhode island red, barred rock, naked necks, lavender orpingtons, light brahmas and, our newest breed, seramas. These three beautiful birds are seramas and we call them, “The Teenagers.” They were our very first hatch in our own incubator from serama eggs layed by our very own chickens. They are 12 weeks old and are in that awkward stage where their feathers aren’t the prettiest. These three birds are very near to my heart and represent the goals we have for a successful homestead.
The biggest thing we have learned about hatching our own eggs is, once again, it is not for the faint of hearts. Jason has a harder time with it because he just can’t handle when a chick begins to hatch and passes away in the process. It has been a balancing act of finding the right temperatures and humidity for the different stages of growth inside the egg. The more hatches we do the higher our hatch rate is.
As spring is underway and we see these babies grow we count our blessings that our family is able to use what God has given us to begin our homestead. There are so many things we are looking forward to and we will keep all of you in the loop as we learn and grow.