When we first started working to save the farm, on top of farm work, fundraising and community outreach, I contacted local news papers, radio shows, and larger organizations to try and get the word out as far as possible. It is hard to ask for help. There is a lot of shame, and fear of rejection that can come with being vulnerable. But, in order for people to help- they have to know you need help. So I put our story out into the universe every chance I could get.

One of the organizations I reached out to was Mother Earth News Magazine. We have subscribed to M. E. N. for years, and love getting each new edition to see the next DIY projects, farm tips and self-sufficient projects. I emailed an editor and asked if they would be interested in publishing a story about our work to save the family farm- at the time the were not able to publish our story.

Things got busy- busier than busy- and I forgot all about my request, and the rejection.

Last month I was contacted by the Blogging Coordinator from Mother Earth News Blog and asked if I would be interested in writing monthly articles for their on-line readers. Because of the global health and economic crises more people were turning to M.E.N for homesteading, gardening and sustainability tips- they needed more writers to fill the need. I was honored, and I accepted!

Here is a link to my first article, from April 2020, about honeybee propolis and its benefits for bees and humans:

https://www.motherearthnews.com/natural-health/medicinal-bee-propolis-zbcz2004?fbclid=IwAR1jQ51iN0A7Gmc9B3OQBnVrLhGpHeXU1bWHRT164qYQW7_MZGFQFid5Lbs

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As always, thank you for reading- and for being part of our farm family <3

Yes. This IS a blog about a toilet. And so much more. 

For nearly six years we have been living with a toilet that needed a pot of water poured into the bowl to get it to flush. Things that humans put in toilets are not things we wish to spend lingering time with, patiently waiting for the extra pot of water to do its job. Nobody’s got time for that shit. Literally. Not the greatest- a disgusting frustration- and an uncomfortable obstacle to have to explain to house guests. Not to mention the appalling amount of water wasted with each pot-full.

This toilet became a metaphor for every obstacle working against us in creating the sustainable, low stress life we aim to live. It needed to go. 

IMG_0798This old aluminum pot lived beside the toilet for almost a decade and needed to be filled in the sink and poured in the bowl with just the right timing for the toilet to flush 

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A hand-made sign lived above the toilet with directions for house guests on how to use the toilet water pot system for flushing.

Trying to solve this problem- we bought a new toilet as a Christmas gift for Chris’ Dad in 2016. But he became sick quickly that winter and we did not have time to install it while caring for him in his last months. The brand new toilet sat in a box, taunting us, for nearly three years.

Chris’ Dad built this house in the early 1980’s. Chris grew up here- his heights measured on the kitchen door jam. It is more than just a house to us- it is a home. Despite all the cracks, messes and broken bits, it is our home. After purchasing the family land in 2019 and coming to an agreement about purchase of the house we are FINALLY allowed to start making needed repairs. The toilet was first on our list!

This weekend we finally decided to tackle our toilet problem. No more disgusting, broken latrine. No more wasted water. No more water pot for Olsen Farm!! What we thought would be an easy project turned out to be much more involved after finding the subfloor rotted, and the sewer pipe needing repair as well. After six hours and lots of help from our friends (THANK YOU Jere and Paul!) our brand new toilet is fully installed and functioning- no pot necessary.

IMG_2301Our brand new low-flush toilet, completely installed! Dreams do come true!! 

The house needs many costly repairs, this toilet is only a small piece of what we will need to fix in the coming months and years. The toilet water pot has been retired, and the old toilet is in the yard with a R.I.P sign. Replacing a toilet may seem like a small victory, but it is one that signifies obstacles we have overcome and we will be celebrating! 

There are two farm dumps on our 28 acres, one far back in the woods from the very early years settlers lived here and one more recent, closer to the house we currently live in. It was common practice for farms and homesteads to have a ‘dump’ on the property (and in many places, still is common practice) where all the no-longer-useful things would be put out of sight. The lasting impact on the land from being ridden with chemicals, glass and rusty metal was not something on anyones mind.

Since purchasing the family land in October 2019, we have begun the long process of digging out broken glass, rusty metal, dishes, old tires and unidentifiable trash from our farm dumps to reclaim the forest and re-build healthy ecosystems.

Today we removed four chicken feed bags (they make great sturdy bags for sharp trash!) full of old tire parts, broken dishes, metal, barbed wire and broken bottles- and our work has only just begun.

Sometimes- amongst the shards and rusted bits- we do find treasures. A little window into what life was like at Olsen Farm before we lived here. Anything that can be salvaged or repurposed is saved to be displayed on the farm.

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One of three shovel heads found in the farm dump, this one will be sanded and painted for a yard display. 

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An assortment of barrel rings, ready to be hung on the chicken coop wall! 

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The treasure of the day- an old horseshoe- giving us a little luck and inspiration to keep on digging. 

It is our responsibility to do better for the land than the generations before us, not because they were ‘bad’ and we are ‘good’- but because it is what the earth needs.

We will be doing many more farm dump digs this year- if you would like to volunteer your time and join us please be in touch! 

Bees are truly incredible creatures. They have complex communication and social systems. They are hardworking, intelligent and organized. They pollinate our flowers, fruits, trees and plants. Without their hard work our gardens would not grow. They make delicious honey- a natural antibiotic and delicious vaccine for pollen allergies. We literally could not live without them.

At Olsen Farm we started keeping bees last year because of the importance of supporting pollinators and our drive to practice natural farm and gardening techniques. We have a responsibility to protect native bees by planting healthy gardens- free of chemicals and pesticides, as well as a responsibility to care for our domestic bees like any other pet.

Our colony survived the winter last year but was not able to survive the unfortunate February early thaw and sudden temperature drop. Bees are powerful and delicate, with our quickly changing climate and growing use of toxic pesticides their world is in great danger- and in consequence so is ours.

This year we have added a second hive, and are continuing our hope for the bees and all they share with us.

Here are some photos of the hive-filling process:

 

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Prepping the smoker, dried grass makes great smoke!
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Chris puts on gear to protect his hands, face and arms while filling the hive
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Prying the lid off to remove the queen’s cage
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Removing lid to expose can of sugar water queen’s cage is attached to during travel
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The queen’s cage is attached by a strap that has to be pried off for removal
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Pulling out the can and queen cage
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This can is covered in bees! As soon everything else will be too…
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Detaching the queen’s cage from the can
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Chris gently brushes bees off the outside of the queen’s cage and into the hive box, setting queen’s cage aside for placement later
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Holding the bee package upside down over the brooding box, Chris gets ready to shake them out
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The most exciting step- shaking, or tapping, three pounds of live bees into their new home. No stings to date!
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Chris carefully places the queen’s cage between two frames so the colony can get used to her pheromones and she can be released in a day or so
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Giving the colony some smoke to calm them
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Chris carefully stacks the super on top of the brooder box
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Stacking on the inner narrow lid
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Placing on the hive lid, or outer cover
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Weighing down the lid cover with a cement flat
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We use a ratchet strap to secure our hive boxes together, making it more of a challenge for a bear to break them apart if ever one gets through our electric fence
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Hive one is live!
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Happy bees, already getting to work cleaning up a honey drip in their new home

Orioles are beautiful birds with an amazing song and bright, sunny plumage. These stunning birds LOVE sweet blossoms and fruit, particularly oranges.

 

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=G7WDLRh7OKg

To attract these beauties to your yard you could simply stick orange slices out on posts in the yard, or you can make a decorative treat with sliced oranges with these simple steps.

What you will need:

fresh oranges

sharp knife

2-3 inch twigs

string or twine, cut in 12-15 inch lengths

a skewer or knitting needle (I used a knitting needle)

 

1. Slice oranges in half

2. Cut a few 2-3 inch twig bits

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I used willow twigs because they are plentiful in our yard and are flexible

3. Use a sharp knife to cut a small nick in the center of each twig, as shown below

4. Wrap string or twine around nick in center of each twig and tie securely

5. Use skewer or knitting needle to poke a hole through the center of each orange slice

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6. Push twine or string through hole in orange from bottom to top, so that twig sits and base of orange

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This step is very juicy and sticky, don’t be afraid to get good and messy for the sake of the birds!

7. Hang your finished bird treats in a tree where you can watch the orioles enjoy them! 

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Orioles love the sweet blossoms of apple trees so I decided to hang some orange slices here for an added attraction.

Orioles build incredible hanging basket-like nests. You can cut some lengths of string or twine and lay them on garden fences or branches for these amazing builders to collect for their nests. Enjoy your bird watching!

Chicken trouble: bare backs

Spring is for the birds and the bees- and this means our rooster is working overtime. Sometimes he can get a little carried away with his ‘rooster duties’ and end up pulling feathers from the girl’s backs. Once the other hens see bare skin on their sister’s back they can’t resist pecking and pulling out more feathers.

When a rooster mates a hen he climbs on her back, standing on her wings and holding her neck and back feathers in his beak to get in position for transfer of sperm. Sometimes he pulls out a few feathers during the process. Over mating, or aggressive mating, can lead to hens with bare backs and at risk of further wounds and infection if not cared for. 

We tried using Blu-Kote Antiseptic spray, which we have had success with in the past when chickens had skin exposed,  on our girl’s backs but it did not seem work. What else could we do to protect our chicken’s backs?

The answer- chicken saddles! I searched around and found this article: here  from Mother Earth News including a sewing pattern and instructions and decided to try it out.

What you will need:

A basic understanding of sewing is necessary for this project, I used my sewing machine but saddles could easily be hand sewn as well.

  • machine washable, breathable fabric
  • 1/2 inch elastic
  • sew-on velcro
  • scissors
  • straight pins
  • needle and thread or sewing machine
  • saddle pattern (can be printed from Mother Earth article)

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I chose fabrics that would match the feather patterns of my flock in order to maintain their camouflage while out foraging the yard. While it is cute to have brightly colored and patterned vests for your chickens their feathers are their first line of protection from predators and their safety is a greater priority than their cuteness (although they do look pretty adorable in their feather-tone vests as well!)

Step by step

  1. Print out your saddle pattern from the Mother Earth articleIMG_3069

2. Cut out the paper pattern and pin it to your fabric, fabric should be folded double so you end up with two saddle shapes after cutting.

3. After cutting, unpin the paper pattern and re pin fabric layers with patterned side facing inIMG_2981

4. Cut two strips of 1/2 inch elastic at 7 inches IMG_2979

5. Pin elastic strips to neckline, so that long end of elastic is hidden between pinned layers of the saddle, as shown in photos belowIMG_3001IMG_3011IMG_3023

6. Stitch 1/4 inch seam around the edge of your saddle, leaving a hole (seen on right hand side) unstitched on one sideIMG_3024

7. Using hole left unstitched, turn saddle right side out, like a pillowIMG_3025

8. Sew 1/4 inch seam around outer edge, closing up hole used to turn right side outIMG_3026

9. Cut two pieces of both male and female velcro at 1.5 inches and pin female side to body of saddle and male side to the ends of elasticIMG_3028

10. Stitch elastic in place, fasten velcro and be proud of your beautiful and functional new chicken saddle!IMG_3029

Now it is time to try your saddles on the chickens! Saddles sit with the squared edge against the neck and elastic straps go under each wing to secure at the hen’s armpit.

Here is our Jelly Doughnut modeling her off-white saddle on the grass runway:IMG_3049IMG_3050IMG_3051

Chicken saddles are easy to make and can truly make a difference in the health of your flock. We have had our girls wearing saddles for almost a week now and are already seeing new feather growth returning on their backs.