KW Homestead

Pasture Raised Poultry from Our Family to Yours

Tag: discoveries

A “Newt” Buddy!

While out harvesting a bed of sweet potatoes the other afternoon, I came across a new little buddy! A newt! I’m not sure if he was burrowing in the ground, prowling the vines for snacks, or if i accidentally buried him while digging and searching for sweet potatoes. But I was able to snap a few pics before I let him go in a different hugelkulture bed.

homestead newt

A Red-Spotted Newt prowling the sweet potato vines for a snack

It turns out that he/she is a eastern red spotted newt (Notophthalmus viridescens). These guys eat small invertebrates mostly, and are a good sign that our garden is in a healthy and ecologically robust  state. Some cool facts I found on the red spotted newt is that they navigate via a combination of magnetic and solar orientation, and that they have a small amount of toxin in their skin as a defense against predators.

He was moving pretty slowly, probably from the cold, and I was glad I got to hang out with him for a little. Finding newts. Just another reason to get outside and play in the dirt.


Turtle in the Woods!


Fall is a great time to walk in the woods. Emma and I have been taking advantage of the beautiful weather to explore our woods and watch the seasons change. The acorn crop this year is a big one, and we have already harvested some wild lion’s mane mushrooms.

But today, I stumbled across a turtle. A cool, little box turtle was hanging out under the shade of a great oak tree and hung out for a few minutes while I snapped his picture.

discovering lion’s mane mushrooms in our woods: a video

as jason mentioned in his post yesterday, we’ve discovered two lion’s mane mushrooms growing wild in our woods, on a dead oak tree, overlooking the large pond and the gully.

here is the video that we filmed shortly after discovering this amazing find!

can’t wait to eat them! yum!


wedding symbols continue…

as jason and i were walking around in the yard yesterday and looking at things, i noticed that a little special something was still out in the yard. we cleaned up what we thought was everything from the wedding on sunday, but i discovered a symbolic element that was left behind, becoming more meaningful since it was the last wedding remnant left.

the sun sets over our surprise...

the sun sets over our surprise…

our champagne glasses, given to us as a pair by my mother and filled with champagne by jason’s mother, were still sitting on a hidden wooden log together right beside where we took our after-wedding pictures. those are the glasses that we raised as jason’s mom toasted to our new, exciting life together, and although we drank some of the champagne for the toast, i suppose we were forced to set the glasses down while taking pictures. there they sat for three nights and three days, until we stumbled upon them again.

sounds like a scene from a fairy tale, doesn’t it? a fairy tale that ends with a magically blessed life made even sweeter by two untouched chalices, that withstood a trinity of days and nights and remained unbroken, still holding the memory of that very special toast!

what a perfect pair... solidarity!

what a perfect pair… solidarity!


a lotta bit of happy and a lotta bit of sad: our first chick

on monday, may 26th, our first baby chicken was born here at the homestead. our first baby anything, for that matter, and it was all very exciting.

the dedicated hens sat on their eggs for 21 days (the incubation period for chickens) and even though we started with 12 eggs, only 1 baby was born. this is because not all of the eggs were fertilized and some of the eggs were busted over time as the many broody hens switched from nest to nest. next time, to prevent this egg-breaking issue, we plan to give the broody hens a better, more private space to sit. i was super excited about the baby being born because 2 fertilized eggs were accidentally crushed only a few days before their hatch date. while it was very interesting to get to examine the nearly born babies, it was also a little sad to know that they came so close to emerging into the world but just never got to. i conducted funerals for both.

so when the first chick was born, i just had to give her a name. i knew there was a chance that she wouldn’t make it (as is the case with all animal infants), but i just couldn’t help it. i named her primera, since “primero” in spanish means “first.”

another really exciting thing about primera, besides the fact that she was here (!!!), was that she was a cross between rex (our black and white speckled barred rock rooster) and one of the tan/golden buff orpington hens. this means that she was a kooky and amazing color blend! her belly was golden fading to bronze, fading to silver, fading to gray. her back was mostly dark gray but she had a golden “crown” of feathers on her head. i was lucky enough to  hold her during her first two days and she was beautiful and lively.


interestingly, the mothers (yes, two!) that sat on her while she hatched and claimed motherhood, were two black bantam hens. bantams can be better mothers than standards and our bantams are older and a little more mature than our standards. i felt like it was lucky that she had a more experienced mother, and two of them… even better!

on wednesday, may 28th, her third day of life, her mothers took her out of the nest box and into the outside world (as is the norm for all chicks’ coming-out-parties). i have no way of knowing what her time was like in the outside world or how long she was outside (jason and i were both at work).

when i came home and went to feed the chickens that day, i found that she had died. maybe i’m too emotional (i really don’t think so) but it was horrible to see such a new little life no longer alive. her body was laying a few feet from the chicken house and all of the other chickens were going about their daily business. my guess is that her two bantam mothers brought her out in the world and the other chickens (the standards and maybe even some of the bantams) thought she was an intruder and attacked her. and what can two smaller mothers do against a bunch of bigger chickens? nothing really. afterwards, i read up on what could have happened, and i found that this behavior is not uncommon but also not expected. i can perhaps credit it to having the two flocks living together, creating an atmosphere of competition (?). i also think it was harder since there was only one of her, and she was not part of a group.

i was really mad at all of the chickens for a day or two, until i remembered that i can’t humanize them. they are animals. they are important animals–special things–but they are not human and therefore cannot be blamed for “blindly” following instinct. they are not truly guilty, just as i am not guilty for having failed to protect her.

it has been a learning experience, though, and this had taught me what to do differently next time we hatch chicks. for example, i am definitely going to fully separate the new mothers and their babies from the rest of the flock until the babies are at least a few weeks old and less likely to be assaulted. i am also learning something that  i really already knew… that when you raise animals, some of them die. sometimes they die because of health reasons, sometimes they die because of circumstance or lack of understanding on your part. i do know now, that as long as we are trying our best to be good stewards of the animal families that we raise, it is okay. it is the cycle of life, after all.

some things die and some things live, and how can i presume to know the reasons why the universe moves the way it does?

primera’s funeral was conducted “peruvian-style” with jason’s help, and we buried her under a crab apple in the front yard. i thanked her for coming to stay with us for a while and i will not forget her and what she meant to us… that life is possible.

life is always possible.


we will be taking a break from hatching chicks for a few weeks, and then after that time, once we are better prepared and if some hens are still broody, we will try again.



The First Dandelions of 2014!


Dandelions are here! One of the most useful and nutritious plants you can find.

Spring has officially arrived at Kuska Wiñasun Homestead! The very first dandelion flower has sprung onto our land and I couldn’t be happier. It came up in the first place we housed our portable chicken coop. I’ve seen dandelions popping up in Greensboro for the last week, mainly in parking lots and sidewalk nature strips, and I couldn’t wait for them to start blooming in our lawn, sending their deep tap roots down deep into the soil to pull up all sorts of minerals and nutrients.

Because our homestead is some 30 miles north of Greensboro and is at a higher elevation too, our climate is slightly cooler than the sprawling NC Piedmont city. All that concrete also has an effect on temperatures, and so we generally lag a few days behind in Spring, but we never gave up hope!


The chickens checking out a newly planted “William’s Favorite” apple tree in our front yard.

But the dandelions are back, and that means spring. Spring is a busy time for any homesteading family, and we are no exception. We’ve planted 16 new fruit trees so far (more on that soon), and between our off farm jobs and planning our wedding, we’ve been keeping busy. Emma and I are out almost every day until it’s just too dark to see, taking advantage of the long days and perfect weather, and planting everything from cabbage and broccoli to comfrey and clover.

Spring is a busy time, but it’s a welcome change to the short days of winter. The solstice approaches, and soon summer will come, bringing with it the humid nights, open windows, and chorus of pond frogs we almost forgot about. But for now, we’ll focus on spring and the delicious and nutritious treat of dandelion greens.

kids wondering… What Is It Like to Collect Eggs?

Welcome back to Kids Wondering…!

This time we head into the chicken pen to collect eggs and learn a few exciting facts about hens and the eggs they lay.

And… We have an extra special treat in this edition of Kids Wondering… We find a type of egg that I bet you have never seen or heard of before!

Can you guess what it is? Watch the video to find out…

Until next time… What are you wondering?

Comment here and let us know, kids!


maple syrup icicles: an unexpected surprise

maple tree

our maple tree, showing its foliage in fall 2013

when we moved our chickens a few weeks ago, we decided to put their mobile pen and house underneath a small maple tree that we have in our front yard. in order to do this, i had to prune some of the smaller branches that came lower than my height, so that we could attach the bird netting to the top of the pen (keeping chickens in and swooping hawks out). without removing some of the smaller, downward growing limbs and twigs, the netting would have been tangled and ridiculously hard to hang up.

the pruning of the lovely maple and the hanging of the netting went off without a hitch, but i noticed something interesting the next morning…

the weather had been below freezing the night we pruned the tree and there were many little (and some not-so-little) icicles formed where we had cut off small limbs and twigs. some of these icicles were 6 or 7 inches long and remained all day. i broke off one and sampled it! and behold… nature’s first popsicle! i certainly tasted a faint sweetness in the frozen sap.

maple popsicle

a delicious maple popsicle, formed at the end of a trimmed twig

i’ve recently learned that one of the legends about how the native americans first discovered the sweet sap of the maple was by stumbling across icicles formed at the end of broken twigs, just like me!

whether or not this legend is true, i certainly learned a lesson that day: discovering things accidentally by doing and by experimenting (as we adapted our netting to work around the tree) is often the best way to learn new things. because while researching and just already knowing things is valuable, sometimes you just need a new “ah ha!” moment to get your gears turning.

now our gears are turning and we’re thinking… “what about harvesting sap from some of our maples to supply us with the delicious maple syrup that we love?”

and now the seed of a new idea has sprouted, watered by the experience of trying that maple tree popsicle!


wind egg, fairy egg: the smallest and most amazing egg in the world!

something amazing happened to me the other day. i’m so excited about this that you would think that i happened to lay my own egg! (that will come some day, but not yet!)

here’s what really happened:

i was collecting eggs in the afternoon and i found an amazing, tiny egg snuggled in the nest box with the other standard and bantam sized eggs. at first i thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. but i quickly realized that there was in fact a tiny, darker egg laying in the nest box with the other eggs.


the wind egg, laying on top of other standard eggs. you can see that the wind egg is darker and much smaller!

having never seen or heard of this before, i clutched that little tiny egg closely, being sure to cradle it in my hand until i got inside and placed it somewhere safe.

later, i used a technique that my mom taught be years ago for preserving beautiful or interesting egg shells: blowing out the egg. this technique allows you to preserve the egg for many, many years!

the procedure is simple, really. you use a safety pin to poke a small hole in the bottom of the egg (a couple millimeters across) and an even smaller hole in the top. then you proceed to blow into the top hole so that all of the contents of the egg are blown through the bottom hole (be sure to save the egg for using in a recipe or for scrambled eggs).

as i was blowing out the egg, i saw that there was no yolk inside, and the egg white seemed a little murky and did not look very delicious. so, jason did some research about the tiny egg!

he found that such small eggs are often called wind eggs. they are commonly a shade lighter or a shade darker than the hen’s usual egg and they are usually a hen’s first attempt at laying. these little eggs do not include a yolk because, well, they are not really an egg, actually. they may have an egg shell around them, but they could not support life as an egg should.

they are usually made when some portion of the hen’s reproductive tissue breaks off (no harm to her, though) and her body thinks that the tissue passing through her nether-regions is the beginning of an egg. so, her body slaps a shell on that baby and sends it on out into the world.

these eggs are also called fairy eggs, and i can see why: what child wouldn’t want to believe that a fairy had been playing with her chickens! in the past, these eggs were called cock eggs, and because of their size and the fact that they aren’t viable, people originally believed roosters had laid them.

how amazing! an amazing history for an amazing little “egg.” i will certainly forever cherish my little wind egg, and keep it as a reminder that there is always true magic that nature has to offer us!


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