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A Whirlwind First Year

A year ago, on August 24th, 2022, we closed on our new house. Curious how the buying/selling process went for us? Check out our previous blog here. It was a bit crazy.

We had a few goals for the first year on our property - (1) create large market gardens, (2) convert a majority of the remaining grass to pasture, (3) add new animals, and (4) make a leap towards energy independence.

The Market Gardens

It took Wes just a few days before he tilled over the previous beds and created new ones. From what we could tell of the weed situation, the existing gardens hadn't been used in at least a year.

Garden area when we moved in
How it started

The house came with two garden spaces, not nearly enough for what we envisioned. But, it was a start. Our first plant to go in the ground was garlic in the fall in one of those beds.

photo of solar array, chicken coop, greenhouse, an gardens
How it's going

Making Pasture

At our previous home we tore out most of the sod, not only to make room for gardens, but also because it's not the most eco-friendly plant. At our new home about three acres of grass surrounds the house and is along the ridgeline. Most of this is destined to become garden. In the meantime, we wanted to replace the sod with something that would enhance the soil. We worked with M & W Feed to find a good pasture mixture.

Chickens "helping" in the newly laid pasture
Chickens "helping" in the newly planted pasture

In the spring we tilled over three large sections of the yard. One become a garden this summer and the other two for future expansion. Of course right after we planted, it stopped raining. So much for spring showers!

Pasture turned into garden

Adding Chickens, Ducks, Pigs, and a Farm Dog

We brought our flock of 6 laying hens with us and knew we would expand in the spring. My original thought was one new animal per year to keep the learning curve more manageable. Fail.

Up first in mid-March was adding 15 ducklings. Oh, my, are they messy! But they are so cute! We are raising them for eggs and they just started laying a month ago. If you haven't had duck eggs before, I'd highly recommend giving them a try. Similar to chicken eggs, but with more nutritional goodness.

Ducks sleeping in a corner
The ducks

A few weeks later 18 chicks arrived. Sadly, we ended up losing some to predators, so our flock has expanded even more with an additional order of 16 chicks. At least we know how to raise chickens - one less learning curve.

Photos of chicks
The spring chick breeds

Before we moved we had envisioned goats to help with the underbrush in the timber. As we learned more about Kune Kune pigs, we decided that was a better path to go. We found a local breeder and picked up five at the end of April. We specifically purchased Kune Kunes for their smaller size, gentle demeanor, and their ability to thrive on pasture.

Baby kune kune pigs
Welcome home

And, bonus, we added a farm dog. The original plan was to have one dog at a time. But as our black and tan coonhound ages, and the predators were feeling more comfy on our property, we decided it was time.

Wes grew up with farmers who had blue heelers and that's been his dream for a while. Two months ago we did a search for a puppy and came across a blue heeler/border collie mix (apparently also known as a border heeler). A few days later we road tripped up to the Madison area and it was love at first sight!

Cog, named after Rooster Cogburn, a US Marshal in the movie True Grit, has settled in nicely. He's quickly becoming an asset to the farm, we just need to break his habit of constantly trying to round up the chickens!

Dog on a chair
Cog 🤍

Moving Closer to Energy Self Sustainability

Solar was first then a wood burning stove. We had looked into solar for our previous home. The roof was not situated in a good position for the sun and the roof portion facing south had a gable in the middle. The estimated payback period was just not worth it. With our new home, we had plenty of room for a ground-mount!

Right after receiving our first electricity bill Stateline Solar visited for an estimate. That's also when we found out the amazing incentives the state of Illinois has (Illinois Shines), on top of the federal incentives. Our estimated payback is less than 5 years. Sold!

Solar array at sunset
Our solar array

Next up was how to reduce our propane usage. Having to pay up front for a tank fill was a bit of a financial shock. Wes was familiar with wood burning stoves, but it was a new concept to me. I had heard of them, but I don't think I've ever seen one in person. In past years we kept our thermostat pretty low in the winter, making the short days a little miserable. Hearing stories of owners having to open a window in the winter because the house gets too hot when the fire is roaring- sold again!

Wood burning stove
Enjoying the heat of the wood burning stove

Want more details on our energy sustainability journey? Check out this blog post.

Building Community

Along the way we've fostered relationships with other farmers market vendors and area businesses. The community as a whole has extended a warm and generous reception to us. We feel fortunate to have established our home in such a welcoming place.

What's Next

There are many things we hope will come in the next year. I'd love to add bees for honey as an ingredient in jams and jellies, and pollination. We want more fruit trees - I miss our peach and Asian pear trees, and would love paw paws! We're waiting on possible funding to add a high tunnel, turn some land into prairie, and plant more timber where it had been harvested.

Patience is hard...

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