Spring is not quite here and already volunteers through the WWOOF program are beating down our doors. So far we have three young people scheduled to join us in March. I was a bit hesitant to take them on so early in the year, thinking that it's really not the best time to teach much about what we do here. But I decided I would just give them fair warning about weather, and the lack of many growing things, and take whatever volunteer help still wanted to show up.
What I've learned about the WWOOF program is that I have to be on my game when volunteers turn up. I do more work when they're here than otherwise, and not just because it's much like having house guests. I want to keep them busy for the agreed upon half-day of work, sure. There's no sense accepting volunteers and not making good use of the help. But I also feel a sense of responsibility to teach these volunteers. Maybe they don't expect as much as that, but I can't help myself. And in order to teach, I have to be out there, showing, talking, demonstrating. Projects have to be ready to tackle. And in order to do that, well, I've got to do my homework.
Such as ordering some new hens. You see, in the last month an egg eating habit has developed in the hen house. This is a bad habit, one of the worst that hens can have, from my perspective. I'm not sentimental about my hens. I value them and treat them well, but they're not pets. They're here to provide us with eggs to eat and to barter, and to produce manure and help control insect pests. When they eat their own eggs, they're not adding value. I don't know how the habit developed, but I've seen evidence of at least five eggs eaten this month. I don't know if it's one hen doing all the damage or if they've all learned that eggs are good to eat. To me, it's immaterial. Repercussions will be positively Old Testament; punishment will be meted out collectively. So this batch of hens is going as soon as I can replace them with new layers.
Which brings me back to the volunteers showing up early next week. One of the young men we'll be hosting specifically wanted to learn about chickens, and another about slaughtering. I didn't think we'd be able to accommodate the second interest, since our layers are still relatively young. But a bad case of egg eating changes things. So I think we'll not only be slaughtering, and processing chickens, but also pressure canning some tough birds and making chicken stock too. Good things for strapping young lads to know, I'd say.
If we get another run of bad weather, there will be minor DIY projects for the garden to pursue in the garage, and bread baking in the kitchen. Otherwise, we'll start the early spring tasks in the garden. I've also ordered a couple slabs of pork belly from one of my farmers, to turn into bacon. So I'll be able to teach a bit about curing while the lads are here. Somehow I suspect that if the guys think canning and bread baking is sissy work, they'll take a different view of makin' bacon. (And yes, I checked; they're carnivores.) It's exciting to me too; I've never made bacon at home before. I know that as WWOOF host sites go, our homestead is not the norm, and so neither are the activities that our volunteers pitch in with. Most WWOOF hosts are proper farms. Sometimes I feel a bit apologetic about this, but in the end I think what we have to teach are good, practical skills.
In other news, seed starting has begun. So far it's just the early stuff indoors, and some experimental frost sowing outdoors. I've been working on breaking down all the branches pruned from our apple tree early this year. It finally struck me as absurd that we haul our branches down to the yard waste facility, and then haul back finished compost and mulch. We'll still go for the free soil building materials, but I've decided not to part with the soil building materials we've got onsite. So I've been cutting up the very small branches with hand pruners, and spreading the bits all around our fruit trees. It's a slow job, but it's just nice to be outside for an hour or two this time of year. And the spring overload hasn't yet begun, so I've got the time.
Okay, final bit of news is a heads up for you readers. I've ordered a few copies of Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen's book, The Urban Homestead. I'll be giving away two copies here when the books arrive, but it looks as though I ordered the expanded and revised version, which won't ship out until mid-March. As soon as the order ships, I'll post a giveaway here. So check back later for a chance to win a new and improved copy of the book. In the meantime, you can check out their great urban homesteading blog.
Have a great weekend, everyone.