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Motor City Homestead

Canada, Day 2

June 19th, 2008

Lucy was up bright and early on Friday morning.  I think the sun rises earlier up there - because by 5:00AM sunlight was streaming through the windows.  Lucy and Amy were up and about, while I slumbered, blissfully unaware of the legion of mosquitoes munching on every inch of exposed skin.  Amy came in and shook me just before 6:00AM and whispered, “Nate - Stephan is waiting for you downstairs.”  Anybody that is up and waiting (Waiting!) to get started at 6:00AM is the real deal, let me tell you.  So I slogged out of bed and tumbled downstairs.  Stephan said, “Good morning!!”  Way more cheerfully than I was ready for, and followed that up with “We have to cut grass for the cows while it’s still wet.  They eat while we are milking.”  No problem, I thought.  I can cut grass.  Just point me to the mower.  When we got outside, Stephan handed me a scythe - pointed me to a patch of tall grass, and I broke my first sweat at 6:05.

Cutting Grass

I cannot believe that whole fields used to be cut that way.  Who needs the ab-lounger when you can just go out and cut hay for half an hour.  My obliques and lower back were definetly feeling the burn.  My first attempt pretty much just knocked over a huge swatch of grass, but we managed to salvage enough to keep the cows happy.  After that, we let the cows out.  The following picture is also the debut of the promised “huge straw hat” which I love and I don’t care if you all think it looks stupid.

Getting the cows

I’ll post picture of the actual milking another time.  After breakfast, we spent the bulk of the day fencing in a new pasture for the goats, sheep, and cows.  You have to rotate animals around to different pastures so that the grass has time to recover.  Otherwise, they’ll chomp and pound it into a barren mudpit.  It was a hot, sunny day.  But I had a secret weapon.  That’s right.  My hat.  It kept me cool and happy.  And clearly I’m in good company.

Gabe in Hat

Exibit A above, Exibit B below

Alex in Hat

By the end of day one, I was already turning into a real farmer, as evidenced by my rockin’ farmer’s tan.  I had Amy take a picture to document the extraordinary transformation.

Farmer’s Tan

Yeah.  That’s a chainsaw behind me.  We’re men.  Real men.  With tan arms and pasty white torsos.

Canada, Day 1

June 17th, 2008

I was hoping, in the true sense of a blog, to post updates of our days in Canada as they happened.  But, since that didn’t happen, I’ll post them as a retrospective.  Our plan was to leave at 2AM on Thursday morning, so that half the trip would be under our belts before the kids woke up.  Technical genuis that I am, I set our alarm for 1:45PM instead of AM.  So I woke up at 3:30 in one of those “what the heck time is it” fogs.  We were on the road by 4AM, and after 11 hours in the car, arrived at our destination.  Can I just say that our kids do so well in the car, I’m tempted to take the whole family cross country for a couple of years.  The baby naps better, Gabe and Eva get along, and Levi is surprisingly calm when strapped to a chair.

We arrived at the farm around 3PM. 

 Farm Landscape

Some basic introductions were made, and then Gave and Eva ran off with the other kids.  We caught up with them for a tour of the farm.  If I remember correctly, they have 6 cows, 2 calves, sheep, goats, geese, 20 chickens, 150 chicks, geese, rabbits, 3 dogs, 4 cats, and I think they were going to get pigs in the next week or so.  The whole gang of kids (they have 4 as well) took off again to play.  That was pretty much the last time I saw them except for meal times.  Stephan and I milked the cows, we all sat down for a mildly chaotic 8-kid dinner, and then Stephan and I shoveled manure until dark. 

As Amy and I got in to bed we stopped and realized that when the frogs stopped croaking, it was completely silent.  No traffic noise in the background, no lawnmowers, no TV noise . . . nothing.  It was actually hard to sleep at first - but with a long car ride that day, and a belly full of good food, I quickly fell asleep.  Lucy, on the other hand, was another story.  A new location and new bed had her up all night long.  Thankfully, Amy took the brunt of it, and was up and down many times that first night.  But, we eventually all got some sleep in preparation for the next day’s activities. 

Homesteading field trip

June 11th, 2008

Tonight we leave on a homesteading adventure, to visit some friends on a farm in Ontario, Canada.  It’s far.  Really far.   Click on the map for a better perspective.


But the kids are stoked, and we’ll drive through the night for most of the trip.  Lots of pictures and posts to follow (though not until we get back).  Amy will have her camera, so expect some high-quality, artsy-fartsy pictures.  And I’ll debut the latest addition to the Motor City Homestead - my gigantic straw hat.  I bet you’re just aching with anticipation.

2008 Season Update

June 10th, 2008

The first video post of 2008! We have a lot happening this year: rabbits, chickens, fruit trees, kids everywhere… find out what\’s happening in our 2008 season update.

Video thumbnail. Click to play
Click To Play

Trouble in the orchard

June 9th, 2008

Our peach tree showed great promise this year - by late spring there were two-dozen tiny peaches forming.  Considering that the “tree” is little more than a 6 foot twig sticking up out of the ground, we were pretty excited.  Enter this bugger.

Apple Maggot Fruit Fly

Amy and I both saw him (or something very similar) on the tree last week, along with lots of damage to the marble sized peaches.  They all had oozing puncture wounds.  I was hoping they would just recover - but now most of them are turning brown and mushy.  There seems to be a couple that may survive, but our dreams of peaches in 2008 are rapidly fading.  If anyone knows what we can do (this year, or in the future) advice would be greatly appreciated.

 I’m not a huge fan of pesticides, and I wouldn’t really know when to spray either.  This article makes it sound like timing is important.  So organic options are even better.  Still, I’m imagining that the reality of growing fruit in Michigan includes some sort of chemical intervention.  Let me know if you have any ideas.

 FOLLOW UP:  Upon further research, the apple maggot fruit fly does not seem a likely candidate for our infestation.  They don’t usually show up until July.  And even with the unseasonably warm week or two we’ve had, it doesn’t seem probable.  So - two part question.  Does anybody know what is eating our peaches (oozing puncture wound, followed by brown and mushy flesh at the site of the puncture) and what can I do about them? 

Moral Support

June 2nd, 2008

I butchered a litter of rabbits yesterday.  It went about as expected.  I get better and better at the physical aspect of butchering every time - but it is, psychologically, still very difficult.  Thankfully my brother Seth, and a friend of ours, Andre, were there to help.  Doing an unpleasant job is always easier when there is help.  And not just in the misery-loves-company way.  So . . . thanks, guys.

In other, not emotionally wrenching news, we decided to tan the hides this time around.  The rabbits are a bit young for tanning, but we’re going to try it anyways.  Right now the hides are soaking.  I’ll post updates over the next couple weeks at different steps in the process.  We also saved the livers and kidneys to add to pork sausage, and fed the heart and lungs to the chickens.  So we used just about every piece of the rabbit except the intestines, head, and feet.  That feels pretty good - and it makes for a lot less to clean up.


May 27th, 2008

We always grow lots and lots of rhubarb.  It’s one of the first pieces of produce to ripen in the spring, and it’s great to start eating fresh from the garden in May.  If you’ve never had rhubarb, it has the texture of celery, but is very tart - similar to a lemon.  Only the stalks are edible.  The leaves are actually poisonous. 


Since we always have a ton of rhubarb growing around our yard (2 or 3 gigantic plants) I decided this year I was going to find the perfect Rhubarb crisp recipe, and I kept making new batches (to the everlasting joy of my family) until I came upon this one.  My search is over.  This is the recipe I’m sticking with.  I know there is a ton of sugar in it - but rhubarb isn’t naturally sweet like apples or peaches, so it needs extra sugar if it’s going to taste like a dessert.  I am going to mess with the sugar content and see if I can swap out honey for some, or just reduce it.  But for now, this is a great recipe.  Enjoy.

1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

1 cup all purpose flour

3/4 cup quick cooking oats

1/2 cup melted butter

1 teaspoon cinnamon

4 cups sliced rhubarb

1 cup granulated sugar

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 cup water

1 teaspoon vanilla

In mixing bowl, combine brown sugar, flour, oats, butter, and cinnamon.  Mix together until crumbly.  Press half of the brown sugar and oats mixture into a buttered 8 x 8 baking dish.  Top with the sliced rhubarb.

In a saucepan, combine 1 cup granulated sugar, cornstarch, water, and vanilla.  Cook together until clear, then pour over rhubarb.  Top rhubarb with remaining crumb mixture and bake at 350 for 45 - 55 minutes.  Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

Rabbit hutch pictures

May 18th, 2008

So, work on the rabbit hutch has gone much slower than I had hoped (big surprise there) - but things are finally far enough along for pictures.  Here is the lean-to we built on the back of our garage.


I know what you are thinking . . . “How did you get those pickets so straight and even?”  I’ll post a diagram of the jig I used later.  No, I did not use a traditional dance that includes lots of kicking and flailing to help me space the pickets.  In the woodworking world, a jig is a tool of sorts that one uses specifically for repetitive cuts, spacing, etc.  Here’s a close up of the pickets.  Amy planted lots of rabbit treats and edible flowers in front.

Pickets close up

The last detail of note is that we decided to hang the cages from the ceiling.  Cleaning out under the cages is much, much easier, and the rabbits are slowly adjusting to life on a swing.  When they get hopping, the whole cage set-up rolls like a cruise ship in a storm.  Here is a close up of the hanging cages.

Hanging cages

And one final shot of the side of the hutch.  Eventually, I may close in the sides to give some additional protection from the wind.  But the coldest weather is behind us, so I’m not going to worry about for the next several months.

Side View

We have lots of painting left to do, and more gardens to put in around the picket fences, but for now the rabbits are dry and warm.  But there is an even greater benefit.  Amy and I have spent a lot of time thinking of how to make our yard feel bigger.  Unless we start buying the houses next to us, there is no way to make our lot any bigger than it already is.  But, by making each part of our yard appealing in a different way, kids and guests will naturally spread out in the space.  That makes the space feel bigger, and also makes the kids want to spend more time outside.  I don’t know if you’ve ever been at someone’s house with a huge yard.  My Grandma has an acre around her house, and it’s 95% lawn.  Guess where we spent all of our time as kids.  Either on a boulder in the corner of her yard, or in the tree next to her house.  People need something to focus on to enjoy a space.  And we’re planning on putting several focus pieces (patio, trees, outdoor fireplace, pond, etc) around our yard as time and finance permit.  Most of our yard areas are purely ideas right now.  The rabbit hutch is the first to actually come together, and it has worked phenomenally.  That section of the yard has gone from a patchy section of lawn that the kids avoided like the plague, to an area that they always visit numerous times during the day.  Gabe, our oldest, heads out there several times every day to pet the rabbits or feed them grass and dandelions.  Even when the kids are playing, their play inevitably circulates near the rabbit hutch at several points.  So they are using more of the yard, and that makes the space feel bigger, even though there is less lawn than before.  Playing mind tricks on little children.  Does it ever get old?  I don’t think so.

Great post by someone smarter than me.

May 15th, 2008

This blog is, most days, really really funny to those of us raised in the church.  Today he had a great post on hours worked vs. compensation.  It’s so good, I have to link it

Boys will be boys, and dogs will be dogs

May 7th, 2008

Boys will be boys:  Last week we had dinner with a family we met through church.  I’d never met them before, but Amy had talked to them quite a bit - so we went over to their house one evening for dinner and fun.  After dinner, the kids (they have 4 as well) all trucked outside to play.  After chewing the fat for a couple of minutes, I stuck my head out the back door for a quick check.  In the far corner of the yard, I saw Levi (who is 2 and 1/2) with his pants around his ankles, PEEING ON A TREE IN THEIR YARD!  I yelled, “What are you doing, Levi?”  His shouted over his shoulder, “I had to pee on their tree.”  That explains nothing and everything in seven small words.  Apparently one of our friend’s kids asked several times if he should be peeing outside, and was informed by both Levi and Gabe that “he does it all the time.”  News to his mother and me.

Dogs will be dogs:  I’m working on an outside hutch for the rabbits - it’s essentially a lean-to on the back of our garage.  ‘Nother nifty diagram for your viewing pleasure


Eventually, it will be enclosed by a cute picket fence with flowers and vegetables planted around it.  For now, it’s enclosed by a rough-shod wire fence that keeps Ruby from the all-she-can-eat rabbit poop buffet.  The gate is just leaning in place - I plan to attach it tomorrow.  Two days ago, I went out to check on the rabbits in their new home, and noticed that one of the youngsters was holding up a paw covered in blood.  Total bummer.  I washed it with peroxide and put antibiotic ointment on it.  I figured he/she cut it on something in the cage.

Yesterday I was in the garage feeding the chickens, and I heard Fraser, our house-mate’s Boston Terrier scrambling around in the rabbit hutch.  The gate had fallen down and he was in there causing a ruckus.  I chased him out and was about to head back to the chickens when I noticed that Mr Nibbles was bleeding profusely from his foot, and sitting on top his little sleeping cave - which I had never seen him do before.  Suddenly it all clicked in to place.  When the rabbits stand in their cages, their toes and toenails poke through the wire.  To Fraser, the probably look like furry doggy jelly beans - with the thrill of the chase mixed in for good measure.  He was just tall enough, when standing on his hind legs, to reach the underside of the cage.  Mr. Nibbles was now short a toenail - but let me clean it off without too much fuss.  The other rabbit looked a bit worse - and still won’t put weight  on the front paw.  But it is eating and drinking just fine - so we’ll give it a few days and see.  As I said, dogs will be dogs.  But I’m putting up the fence and gate ASAP.