KW Homestead

Pasture Raised Poultry from Our Family to Yours

Month: April 2014 (page 1 of 2)

chinese baskets: the cool colander that really could!

i want to take a moment to explain a great resource for gardening and homesteading that i love to use. i learned about these lovely items from my father, who has used them since i was a child, picked up at the local asian grocery store.

they are… awesome, plastic, chinese baskets! in actuality, they seem to be colanders, but they come in various sizes and dimensions and i’ve found that they can be used in versatile ways.

the first harvest: sweet potatoes waiting in a large colander to be cleaning

sweet potatoes waiting in a large colander to be cleaned

the largest colander we have is about 3 feet wide and 8 inches deep, and it is great for collecting crops in the garden or for washing crops in bulk outside with the hose or inside in the shower (especially leafy ones like lettuce or herbs).

we have other colanders that are just as wide but very shallow, and they can be used for washing vegetables as well, or as drying racks for herbs. in fact, we used them last year to dry our catnip, spearmint, and dill for storage. we also used the larger, deep, blue colander as a drying rack for our basil plants!

storing our harvest: you can see the large pink colander in the corner being used a drying rack.

storing our harvest: you can see two large pink colanders being used as drying racks for herbs and the deep, blue colander for drying part of last year’s basil harvest.

i love my chinese baskets, and i have never seen anything like them except at asian grocery stores. i’ve even looked on amazon and i still can’t find anything as wonderful as they are! perhaps it’s because i don’t know their correct name… so if you do know, please comment about it!


Some of Our Goals at Kuska Wiñasun Homestead

I thought it was time to lay out a post about some of the goals, hopes, and wishes we have about our homesteading endeavor here at Kuska Wiñasun Homestead. We’ve been out here in the country for over a year now, and sometimes I talk with people and I feel like they misunderstand our motivations and goals for homesteading. Nothing major, just some minor misconceptions.

First off, we aren’t trying to grow 100% of our food, medicine, fuel and clothes. We go to the grocery store about as much as any other family, and we are not burning bio-diesel made from cattails in our trucks to get there. We are hooked up to the grid, and watch movies, t.v. shows (my favorite is Survivor), and occasionally blog on the internet. Now, that’s not to say that we aren’t actively trying to reduce all of these things, except the blogging, and turn our homestead from a consumer to a producer, but we realize that achieving 100% self sufficiency is close to impossible, and not desirable

homesteading blog

we try to produce as much as possible from our garden because it is the healthiest food money can’t buy

We do have a garden, and we try to grow as much produce as possible without the use of toxic chemicals. We preserve some of this food if we have surpluses, either by freezing, fermenting, or in the case of sweet potatoes and other root crops, storing in the guest bedroom. This spring we are expanding both our annual vegetable gardens, and our perennial based food forest in the hopes of producing more of our own fruits and vegetables.

We do this because you cannot buy this kind of quality at the store. This fresh, and completely free from any, whether organically certified by the USDA or not, toxic herbicides, insecticides, fertilizers and fungicides. We grow varieties of things that aren’t available in stores, and some fruits and vegetables so rare most people haven’t heard of them (loquats, seaberry, paw paw etc.).

We want to eat stuff that is actually good and we try to avoid stuff that isn’t. But we still eat out. We order pizza every once in a while, or stop at a fast food joint even though we know it’s crap. We know that soda made from GMO high fructose corn syrup is less than ideal, but every once in a while, we’ll crack open a can of coke.

We aren’t aiming for perfection because perfect is the enemy of good. Our goal is live healthy and enjoy life. To raise a family out here, to connect with our community (we need to get better here), and to learn a whole lotta stuff along the way. An all or nothing approach won’t get us very far, so join us, as we grow together on the path towards better food, better life, and self reliance. Let us know your homestead goals, and where you are trying to make the biggest difference in your life.

training the puppy: stopping food aggression

bolt is a wonderful dog!

but, like all dogs and humans, he has his own unique personality and quirks. we think that he may have been the dominant puppy in his litter and/or was very used to fighting his siblings for food when he was little.

growing up, i helped raise 4 puppies over the years (you know, the way that all kids help out with puppy chores), but none of those 4 dogs ever had any dog food aggression issues.

we didn’t notice that bolt had anything going on with him for the first few days that we had him, probably because we just didn’t happen to touch him while he was eating. we touched the bowl, moved it or picked it up, but never touched him. when we touched his bowl he never responded, since (as we learned later) some dogs are only bothered if they are touched when eating.

the first time we realized he had some dog food aggression issues was about a week after we got him. we fed him in his usual bowl and we were watching him eat. jason noticed that he was eating super fast (not unusual for a puppy) and got a little nervous that he might choke. so, he put his hand on him and tried to pull him back a little bit from the food. as soon as he touched him, bolt started making a gurgling sound in his throat, which jason thought was choking. so, he picked him up and tired to look to him. during this time, after hearing him make the noise without the food in his mouth, i knew he was growling.

just as i was saying “he’s not choking, he’s growling at you,” bolt started freaking out (still in jason’s arms) and growling, showing his teeth, and getting so worked up that he was spitting and struggling. he was amazingly intense and seemed like a possessed demon dog!

jason put him on the ground and had to work a little bit to get him onto his back. he held him down for a little bit until bolt relented (which took a little while).

at the time, we thought that being the alpha in the pack would mean that we would need to show him his place during times like this by asserting our position over him. maybe this would have worked for a different dog after just one time being bluffed down, but it didn’t work for bolt. he did this to us a few more times and we continued to bluff him down. still, we didn’t feel like it was working, and only making him more anxious during eating time. after a few weeks we decided to look into other methods for teaching him that it was okay for us to touch him when he was eating and to let him know that we were, in fact, the top dogs.

i had heard all about cesar millan before, but had never seen any of his videos or read any of his writings. we decided to look into his website and check out his videos online. they helped a great deal!!!!

here is the run down of what we learned about how to deal with dog food aggression in the safest and least stressful way (for both you and your dog).

depending on the severity of their dog food aggression, this is what we think could work:

  • start by feeding your dog and simply walking by him while he is eating. if he acts aggressive as you walk by, be sure to have a scrap of something more delicious his dog food in your hand, and toss it in/near his bowl. this teaches him that human presence near him when eating is not a threat. in fact, it is a benefit… he might just get a treat!
  • each day, or every few days, you can walk closer to him while eating (always with that extra bit of something yummy), and eventually stop and stand near him.
  • in our case, since bolt only cared if we touched him, we started by getting close to him and putting the treat in the bowl (watch body language and don’t push any boundaries!). after a while, we would pet him a little while he ate.

we also decided that we weren’t too concerned about him wanting his own space while eating, but we wanted to be sure that any future kids wouldn’t have trouble if they bumped into him while he was eating. we thought (after watching a cesar millan video) that one of the best ways to remind him that we were in charge was to have him sit and wait before we was allowed to eat. we also decided to train him to sit part of the way through eating and wait again, while we added treats to his bowl. this has been super successful, and he knows that he must sit and wait (even if he is salivating and the bowl is right in front of him) until we say “go!” he’ll even listen to his “stay” command before eating if we are in the next room.

ever since implementing these tactics, we have had no trouble with bolt’s food aggression. we still have to make him “sit” and “let go” of any bone he might be chewing on, because he is sensitive about the bones, but we’ve found that offering him a piece of meat in exchange for the bone works nicely.

ultimately, you have to decide what sort of relationship you want to have with your dog, taking into account his own personality (and yours). bolt is a great listener in all other aspects and we are happy with the way we’ve approached his training, especially since i can now give him a “good dog” pat while he eats without fearing that he’ll growl at me!


green renaissance: a photograph resource guide

i am not on facebook, nor have i ever been, but my aunt sent me information about this lovely facebook page which features great outdoor design ideas, beautiful pictures of nature, and the awe inspiring moments that accompany the natural world.

check out green renaissance! how cool!

p.s. it seems that you don’t need to be a facebook user to check out the full page!


food forest details: keeping our plants safe and thriving

if you have looked at jason’s post from yesterday, detailing the why and where of our food forest, you know about our plans for planting over 100 fruit trees and bushes on our land.

the below video shows a few of our plant species and explains where we chose to plant them, as well as includes a demonstration about how to add a layer of protection around your own precious trees!



The Where and Why of Our Backyard Food Forest

Over the past few weeks Emma and I have been busy planting over 100 trees, vines, bushes and shrubs as the foundation for our new food forest. A food forest, for those who may never have heard the term before, is a forest designed to provide food for its stewards. They often consist of perennial species, like fruit and nut trees, and are therefore inherently stable and resilient.

A well designed and established food forest is able to cycle nutrients, capture energy, and produce a yield with few human inputs, such as irrigation, fertilization, and planting. Our food forest will take some time to reach this mature, self supporting state, and for now we will have to nurture our young plants to ensure that they become well established and provide for us for decades to come.

food forest

Last year, the forest edge, the location of our new food forest, was an impenetrable tangle of small trees and shrubs.

This longevity is one of the key benefits of forest gardening. There are food forests that are over 2000 years old which have provided for many generations of humans caretakers. This is what we are shooting for. Designing a system that will feed not only us, but our progeny for years and years.

Our new food forest is only the home base for our future plans, and is located right outside our back door, in, what in permaculture is referred to as zone 1 or zone 2. The backyard area forms a u shaped, open glade that faces south, and is bordered by native woods made up of oaks, poplar, hickory, maple, and pine among others.We are expanding out from this hardwood forest with our fruit trees, replacing the shrubby undergrowth, and following the curved shape of the woods. This was a conscious design choice and has numerous advantages.

First, we replaced many undesirable and inedible species with productive species. As anyone who has ever walked into a forest knows, the edge is usually where you encounter the thickest undergrowth of thorny bushes and vines that seem impenetrable.

Second, by planting along the forest edge we, and our plants, are able to tap into the complex and well developed fungal network that supports and coexists with our woods. Plants usually prefer to grow in 1 of 2 environments.The first is a bacterial one that is primarily found in grasslands, meadows, and prairies. These environments rely on grazing animals to digest large amounts of plant material and poop out partially decomposed manure that is full of bacteria that complete the nutrient cycle from plant-animal-plant.

The other is a fungal environment, where moist, and shady conditions, as well copious amounts of woody material support millions of miles of fungal hyphae, that break down dead wood, help tree roots obtain and take up nutrients in the soil, and act as a sort of internet that connects the trees in a forest. Thus, by planting our trees on the edge of the forest, their roots are able to seek out the fungal network that forests and woody trees depend on to thrive.This is much easier than having to establish this fungal network from scratch by mulching with woody material, or trying to establish a fungal based system in the middle of a bacterial environment, like a lawn.

food forest edge

forest systems rely on fungal networks to cycle nutrients , maintain balance, and grow large trees

Third, in addition to tapping into the fungal network of the forest, our new food forest will benefit from the established nutrient cycle that is already in place. Our towering hardwood trees have roots that have driven deep into the soil, and are able to pull up nutrients and minerals unavailable to most plants. They then store these nutrients in their leaves, and when fall comes, shed huge amounts of organic fertilizer and mulch all around our young food forest.

In addition to gathering and cycling nutrients, these massive trees are also able to soak up and “sweat” out water. This dew will fall directly on top of our new food forest, supplying it with a decent amount of moisture and reducing our need to irrigate.

All of these benefits are part of the reason we planted our food forest on the hardwood forest edge. Because the mature system can provide so much for our new, immature system, we won’t be planting as many support species. There will be some, but no where near as many as would be planted in a typical food forest.

This diverse forest system will be made up of an extremely diverse group of fruiting and medicinal plants. In addition to the overstory of hardwoods (which also provide shade and moisture for our mushroom logs), we planted apple, pear, peach, pluot, plum, paw paw, cherry, and asian pear trees as the main food species. We then planted shrubs and bushes like raspberry, blackberry, blueberry, currants, gooseberries, seaberry, autumn olive, goumi, goji berry, aronia, and elderberry. We also planted a few vines, like groundnut, grape, and passionflower, as well as herbaceous species like sunchokes, comfrey, fava beans, and, soon, a dozen more medicinal, perennial herbs like black cohosh, astragalus, marshmallow, yarrow, and valerian. Among these will be nitrogen fixers like honey locust, black alder, and siberian pea shrub, as well as a mix of clovers.

All of these species are in an area smaller than an acre, and primarily along the border. Most are perennial, and should provide for food for many years, as well as serve as nursery stock for propagation, ans the expansion of our food forest to other spaces on our property. It has taken a great deal of effort to plan and plant, but our new food forest should start paying dividends in a few years, and then on for as long as there is someone here to harvest.

a day in the homestead life: her day

i just realized that i haven’t yet written a post detailing a typical day in our life from my perspective. so, i’ve decided to do just that! this is certainly a typical spring day, with longer daylight hours and better weather for planting and outdoor chores.

so, here is my typical day in our homestead life:

5:40 am

  • roll out of bed and put on my coveralls. i take the dogs out to pee and open the chicken house and feed the chickens their first of two daily meals. also, since we’ve gotten the geese, i’ve been letting them out of their nighttime enclosure and into their larger pen. they immediately head for the kiddie pool and start drinking and splashing about.
  • luckily, during this time of year the sun is already on the rise (still not sunrise, though) so all of my morning chores are easier and more fun to complete!
  • i load up the car, complete with the chicken bucket that i use to collect my students’ lunch leftovers for feeding to the chickens, my lunch, and my breakfast (which i eat during the 1 hour commute to work).

6:15-7:15 am

  • this is my drive-to-work time, which usually consists of listening to the radio and munching on my breakfast, i would rather be recording podcasts or writing songs, but i still have to get organized for doing things like that.
  • luckily it is easy to enjoy the car ride to work because i slowly get my brain geared up for working with kids and i get to enjoy the lovely country views (which in spring are filled with lots of horses, donkeys, goats, chickens, and flowers!).

3:00 pm

  • i get off of work and begin the drive home, sometimes later than 3:00.

4:00 pm

  • once i get home i let both dogs out, and often have to clean up after bridey who has probably peed inside, pooped inside, or both. i unload the car and start on the everyday afternoon farm/outside chores.

these everyday chores are:

  • dump and refill the “goose pond,” which is their beloved kiddie pool, and their water. i also feed the geese their afternoon grain.
  • feed the chickens the leftover scraps from my students’ lunch and their afternoon grain, refill their water, and collect eggs. collecting eggs can either be simple or not, depending on the mood of rex, our standard rooster, and whether or not he feels territorial and pushy. the hens also sometimes lay eggs under the house (perhaps they’ve wised up and realized that i take their eggs that end up in the nest boxes) and so i have to fish/roll those out with a metal hook.
  • feed the dogs their afternoon/evening meal and feed the cat.
  • wash the eggs, dry them, and put them in the fridge for storage. lately i’ve been washing goose eggs too, which are so amazing!
bolt, hanging out with me during afternoon chore time!

bolt, hanging out with me during afternoon chore time!

5:00 pm

sometimes my daily afternoon chores are completed by 5:00, sometimes not. once they are complete, i move on to other farm chores which don’t necessarily need to happen every day. these other tasks are often a little more creative and less routine. some of these, which i happened to do yesterday and today, are:

  • water our new seedlings that are growing in trays
  • water the flowers i’ve planted in pots, and the new mums that jason brought home from work the other day!
  • stake cages around our newly planted fruit trees and bushes
  • water our fruit trees/bushes
  • tie white tagging tape around the tops of each cage so we can see where not to step (the cages are really hard to see since the metal is so thin and dark)
  • jason and i moved the goose pen yesterday–our plan is to move them to fresh pasture every 2 days
  • i also finally figured out how to plug the holes (where the spill drain used to be) at the top of my 2 cast iron/enamel tubs for soaking my mushroom logs. i used circular cuttings from an old mahogany door and layers of a thin, deflated, old tire. i placed the tire materials over the hole and hammered the wooden plugs into the hole. this pushed both rubber and wood partially into the hole, filling in all gaps and making a nearly-watertight barrier.
  • after determining that my plugs worked yesterday, today i went about soaking 1/4 of my logs, 7 in each tub (batch 1–the batch labeled with orange marking tape). they will soak overnight and i’ll lean them back up against the corn crib tomorrow!
two bathtubs filled with soaking mushroom logs!

two bathtubs filled with soaking mushroom logs!


today's batch for soaking was the "orange batch." labeled with flagging tape so i can keep straight the info about when logs  was soaked

today’s batch for soaking was the “orange batch,” labeled with flagging tape so i can keep straight the info about when logs were soaked.

my rigged plug--working well!

my rigged plug–working well!

in addition to these chores, jason spent yesterday digging his hand-dug pond out even more, planting more fruit bushes, watering plants and the seeded garden beds, and beginning to build our newest bed: a raised hugelkulture bed downhill from our others.

8:30 pm

  • sometime around dark we head inside, eat dinner, and try to rest a little.

bedtime and pre-bedtime (anywhere from 10:00 pm to 12:00 am)

  • one of us always writes a post in the evenings (monday–friday)
  • we take the dogs back out to pee
  • lock up the chicken house
  • close the geese into their smaller, fenced enclosure

and that is a general idea of what we do in this spring season to keep the homestead running and fruitful. some days we do more outdoor, farm-related chores, and other days we do less. it just depends, really, on our mood and the homestead necessities!


Take a Gander at the New Homestead Geese!

There are officially four new members at Kuska Wiñasun Homestead! Say hello to our new goose quartet!

homestead geese

Our new homestead geese by their kiddie pond

We drove up to Virginia to bring home three females and 1 male that are about 1 year old. There are 2 African geese, 1 White Chinese goose, and the male is the big white Embden goose. Names coming soon…

We knew that we wanted to add more livestock to the homestead, and when we saw this group on craigslist, we threw the dog crate and some hay in the car, and headed up to the Blue Ridge. Right now we have them in a slide-able cattle panel enclosure, with a three sided “coop” in one corner, and a small kiddie pool in the other. FYI, slim breeds of geese can and will squeeze through the openings in a cattle panel and proceed to roam and investigate the homestead.

homesteading geese

It is extremely entertaining to watch our new geese wander and waddle about

Having geese on the farm is very enjoyable, and it’s easy to get mesmerized watching them splash in the pond, graze the grass, follow each other single file, and take turns sitting on their eggs. That’s right, they lay eggs. Big eggs. Big, delicious eggs that make you wonder why anyone would want to eat chicken eggs at all. But more on that, and other goose news, later!

planting seeds and watching them grow!

on april 6th i planted a whole lot of our seeds for this year in seed trays and have since watched their successes and adventures in growing.

we wanted to share what we’ve experienced in their germination process, so that you can have an idea about what to expect if you plant any similar plants.

first of all, my potting mix consisted of about 2/3 peat moss and 1/3 black kow, with a little bit of vermiculite thrown in there. this is not my ideal mix (we were running low on vermiculite) but it worked fine for this occasion! the trays were watered the same day i planted the seeds and have been watered every day or every other day since then. they have been sitting outside in the sun on our driveway with a fence gate laid down on top of them so dodger doesn’t decide to sit in them (since he does love to be the center of attention).


readying the trays for planting seeds!

this is the list of all of the seeds that were planted in trays on the 6th of this month, categorized by how many days they took to germinate:

4 days

  • anuenue lettuce
  • butterfly garden mix (a mix of 30+ flower types that butterflies love)
  • save the bees mix (a mix of flower types that bees love)

5 days

  • sweet valentine lettuce
  • bronze arrow lettuce
  • speckled bibb lettuce

8 days

  • thyme
  • cotton (erlene’s green cotton… beautiful and green!)
  • celosia flowers (cockscomb mix)
  • aster flowers (powder puff mix)

erlene’s green cotton… the seeds are green and the cotton will be too!


10 days

  • black plum tomatoes
  • san marzano tomatoes
  • black cherry tomatoes (i got these seeds from a friend years ago and i don’t actually know the same of the tomato. i call it black cherry because these cherry tomatoes have a purple flesh.)

11 days

  • oregano
  • lemon balm
  • spearmint

13 days

  • genovese basil
  • italian flat leaf parsley
  • jupiter red sweet bell peppers
  • golden california wonder sweet yellow bell peppers
  • tomatillos

no germination so far

  • rocky mountain bee plant (cleome serrulata)
  • sage
  • aji dulce peppers
  • cayenne peppers
  • jalapeño peppers

we’re still waiting to see what the few seeds that haven’t germinated will do in the future. until they germinate, they will be out in the sun, getting water and dodging dodger’s tippity toes!

our planted seed trays, taking in the sun and soaking in the water.

our planted seed trays, taking in the sun and soaking up the water.


stepping outside in the country: what animals to expect and what to do

jason recently posted about ways that living in the country can be different than living in the city. i have a few more thoughts about that… especially looking at ways that simply stepping outside can be different!

nature is, of course, much more present in the country than in the city. there is the beauty of the land and the nearness and noise of trees, crops, and lovely birds. and there are also creatures which you are much more likely to encounter in the country and for many of these creatures you need to know how to deal with them!

here are just a few of the creatures you can expect to encounter often, if not every day:


most people find these critters disgusting, and they certainly can be, especially when they swell up with blood. it’s frightening enough to find one on a beloved pet, but it also isn’t fun to find one on yourself (even if it has just attached). but, if you plan to move out into the country and you also plan to do nearly anything outside in the woods, you will definitely get some ticks (how does that country song go… “i want to check you for ticks”…?). expecting that you will get some and knowing how to deal with them is the trick.

sometimes you can feel them crawling on you before they attach, but sometimes you can’t. just know that you can avoid them somewhat if you avoid getting down and dirty and the leaf litter and if you try not to bump small trees or limbs (they can wait on these until they feel movement and then leap off). but for most folks who do a lot of outside work, this is hard.

we always check ourselves for ticks once we come inside and periodically throughout the outdoor work day. once we find one that has attached, our go-to is to dip a q-tip in tea tree oil and dab it on the tick and “mess with it.” most of the time, since the tick has just recently attached, the tick decides that his current location is no fun and he detaches and tries to move on (which means he ends up getting tossed in the toilet). but, sometimes they won’t let go and must be removed with tweezers. i am the primary surgeon (ha, ha!) in the family, and i always make sure to grab a little bit of skin when i pinch down on the tick’s head, to be certain that i do not leave the head still in our skin. so far this technique has not met with technical difficulty. despite this, the tick bites are very itchy for me–much less so for jason. we put a little more tea tree oil on the bite afterwards and watch the area to make sure nothing becomes infection.

ticks can carry different bacteria but it is unlikely that if you are bitten by a tick you will have any issues. but, do keep your eyes peeled and watch yourself; if you have any funny symptoms like a fever, a rash, an infection, or any shakes, go see a doctor!


we’ve seen a half dozen snakes in the past few days working in the yard; all of them have been harmless and they are always seen trying to get away from us fast. i love to pick up some of the little brown snakes, but we found another snake recently that we were not sure about… the markings on it were copperhead-like. upon further  investigation (we were safe!), we found that it was not a venomous snake. the way we safely checked to see was a multi-step process:

  • we saw that he was cold and sluggish from being found underground where it is still cool and noticed that he did not act angry and was not coiling to strike us. this says nothing about if he was venomous or not, but it did show that we were not in a high-risk situation.
  • because of the above details, we were able to look at his head shape, which was ovular as opposed to being triangular (usually venomous snakes have triangular head shapes, but not always).
  • since he was sluggish, jason was easily able to pin his head down with a tool (without injuring him) while i checked the underside of his belly to see how many scales he had below his anus. one row usually means that he is venomous and two means that he is not. this does not always apply but i know that it applies in our area, where the only venomous snakes are copperheads. i have even created a rhyme to help everyone remember this fact: “two is true for you, one is un-fun when done.” meaning: a snake with two scales below the anus will not poison you, while a snake with one scale below the anus will!

although most snakes that you will encounter are more afraid of you than you are of them (yes, that old cliche…) you still have to watch out for the occasional copperhead, which we luckily have yet to see!


this might sound silly, because you’re thinking of cows behind their fence quietly munching on grass. but what about a cow on the loose? so far, i’ve seen one of our neighbor’s cows out of her fence. this is generally amusing (even though bolt disagrees, and thinks that the cow is an evil bad guy coming to get us any minute!), but the sight also gives me pause. both times i’ve seen her out she has been right across the road, staring at me. it is an unnerving feeling to look up and see anything staring at you, even a cow. it makes me hope that i never see a bull wandering around…

cows are big after all! and what will i do on that fateful day when i look out and see a runaway cow munching on our vegetables? any suggestions, folks?


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