The Grovestead

Farm, Family, Fun.

Colors & Shapes

Dad and son playing Colors & Shapes

Creating board games has become something of a pastime for me the last couple of years. Having grown up addicted to video games, I became a board game enthusiast later in life (thank you, Settlers of Catan). For me, there’s no contest. Board games are far more creative, social, and memorable than their flat-screen counterparts.

So I now have several games in various stages of development. Some are educational, like “Sugar Maple” which is a game about tapping maple trees. Others are conquest-type games, like “Patriarchs” an antiquity-themed game with biblical overtones. But the most popular game in this household is one I created on a whim one night to keep Ivar occupied until bedtime. It’s a simple color and shape matching game. Easy enough for a 3-year old, but entertaining still for adults (sorry Candyland).

Colors & Shapes, the board game

I don’t know if Colors & Shapes has mass-market appeal, but I thought it would be fun to share it here. All the pieces (including the gameboard) can be printed right from your home computer.

Color Printer Version Black & White Printer Version
Colors & Shapes Color Printer Colors & Shapes Black and White

So if you have little ones, give this a try and let me know what you think! I’m still working on a more durable version. But the paper-based version works fine. It’s been six months and Ivar still asks to play it almost daily.

Ivar wins

 


Oops!

Potatoes sprouting inside box

A few days ago one of Becca’s friends was visiting and asking a lot of questions about getting a new garden going this summer. Becca told her she would undoubtedly make a lot of mistakes but the important thing is to try, and keep learning.

Well, I’m still learning and still making plenty of mistakes. This week we discovered our potatoes had begun to sprout in the basement. We hauled in over 120 lbs of potatoes last fall, but sadly only went through a quarter of them before discovering this box. I figured they could easily last the winter if I sealed out the light. After all, how did the farmers of yore keep a seed crop until the following spring? But it turns out potatoes only keep about 2-3 months, even under optimum conditions.

This morning I discovered that the last box of potatoes had sprouted so vigorously the vines pushed the lid a few inches off the top!

Red norland potatoes sprouting  pushing up lid

Full sprouts out of red norland

Oh well. I guess next year there will be plenty of leftover Thanksgiving mashed potatoes.

 


2014 year in review

Planned garden plot (early April)
Garden in early May
Garden in late-May
Garden in early June
Garden in mid-June
Garden in mid-July

Becca picks a forward-looking word for each year on her blog. If I had to pick a word for 2014, it would be “ambitious”.  I was driven mostly by the long-range rewards of perennial plantings, with apple orchards and blueberry patches taking 3-5 years to yield a harvest. But I also wanted to cram in as much as possible in our truncated Minnesota summer, where delaying a project means waiting out the long and frigid winter before getting another shot. So, as I’m prone to do, I over-committed but got most of it done.

March

April

May

June

July

  • Built mobile chicken coop for raising broiler chickens
  • Chickens arrive
  • Weeding, weeding, weeding
  • Harvested peas, beets, broccoli, carrots
  • Second hay cutting
  • Wild blackberry picking
  • Staked apple trees

August

  • Harvested tomatoes, corn, peppers, potatoes (124 lbs)

September

October

  • Re-mulched apple trees
  • Garden cleanup
  • Third hay cutting
  • Pumpkin picking

November

December

  • Pruned apple trees

 


Homemade Chicken Food

Kids help make Homemade Chicken Food

We ran into a small dilemma on the homestead this week: we ran out of chicken feed. The supply store is about 30 minutes away and I’ve been out of town the last several days. We knew we were running out but just didn’t get around to it. So the chickens have been subsisting on leftovers and stale bread from our freezer for the last 36 hours, and it was still going to be another day before we could get to the store.

After googling “diy chicken feed” (try googling ‘diy’ in front of just about anything and you’ll find a novel solution), I came across a chicken feed recipe that I realized would work — in a pinch.  I also realized this would be a perfect toddler-approved activity. So I rounded up the supplies and the labor and we set to work.

Dumping corn kernals into homemade chicken feed

Basically, we mixed all the leftover nuts, grains and seeds from the cupboard. It went something like this:

  • 6 parts wheat grain
  • 2 parts corn kernels (we used popcorn)
  • 1 part oats
  • 1 part lentils
  • And the whatever scraps we had of pine nuts, sesame seeds, split peas, and sunflower seeds

Kids were great mixers

Adding oats to the mixture

Not exactly gourmet feed with all the needed proteins and such, but the chickens didn’t seem to mind.

Rooster eating the homemade chicken food

 


Hearth and home

Vermont Castings Defiant wood stove

Among the most sought-after but always elusive features of the homes we have lived in is a fireplace. One of my favorite childhood memories was warming up feet-first next to the fireplace in our family room on a cold winter night. Becca and I have moved many times, but never to a home with a fireplace. I always lamented that.

This trend continued when we moved to our house in the country where the previous owners had knocked down the 19th-century fireplace and hearth a few years prior to our arrival. If they only knew! Needless to say, one of our most anticipated upgrades was the installation of our own wood-burning stove.

Living on three acres of woodland we knew that a fireplace was in the cards. Clearing out the deadwood alone would be enough to heat our house for several years. We looked half-heartedly the first year but never settled on exactly what we wanted.

But last winter, with historic cold and propane shortages, we paid literally thousands of dollars to heat our home. That sealed the deal.

We found an installer and got to work. It took most of the summer for all the pieces to come together, but it finally did and not a day too soon.

Hearth

The hearth is comprised of Old World-style tumbled brick. Our kids found it a fitting play stage.

Kids playing on the hearth

Carrying wood stove through front entryway

Installing wood stove

After a long delay, our new wood stove finally arrived! Wood stoves are far more efficient than open fireplaces. Since we wanted to augment or replace our furnace heating, we needed to maximize heat output. We went with a Vermont Castings Defiant model. It has a huge firebox capable of putting out 75,000 btu’s per hour. It also has a cookplate surface so it could double as a cookstove in an emergency.

Using a mechanic log splitter

While waiting for the stove to arrive this Fall, I got to work splitting wood we had already cut and set aside to dry. Initially, I roped one of my neighbors into bringing his hydraulic wood splitter over and making quick work of the wood pile.

But then I discovered how much fun it is to split wood by hand. No, really!

Splitting wood with a maul

Truckload of split wood

Beginnings of our wood pile

We have a bit more than one cord of wood split and ready to use. Looks like a lot. But I came to realize that’s only about a fifth of what we’ll need for the whole winter.  Guess I’ll be spending a lot of time outdoors this winter. As Pa Ingalls said: “Chop your own firewood and it’ll warm you twice.”

Outside winter is coming

Soon after the stove was installed the snow started falling. We started a fire and turned off the furnace. Every day since we’ve had a radiant fire and a warm house.

 


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