Thursday, October 31

Wishing you a wonderful Samhain celebration.
May your bonfires burn bright, your harvest be plentiful and all the spirits be peaceful.

Wednesday, October 30

Seeds and Snowflakes

Not much amazes me anymore. I mean, with a husband, two kids, cats, chickens, travel, family, the Las Vegas strip, friends, Metallica concerts, car accidents and generally just being surrounded by life, I have seen a lot.
What still amazes me? The two top things are snowflakes and seeds. One of my favorite things to do is stand outside wearing a dark colored sweater during the day when it is snowing. Not in a blizzard, but just light little flakes. I hold out my arm, collect some samples, and spend the next few minutes with my face inches from my sleeve, marveling at each exquisitely intricate pattern. How is that possible for something so small and random and one of trillions to be so perfect and unique and detailed in its pointed tips and starry centers.
I will most likely never have to buy marigold seeds again.
The amount of seed from just one flower can produce a whole row of plants next spring.
And seeds. Seeds amaze me. Every year I still marvel over the possibilities that exist in each paper packet. Seeds are amazing things. That something this light and small, when planted in rich dark soil and tended by our hands, can produce a bounty that can sustain us for a season and more. I have a huge box of seeds that I love to sort through, organizing and prioritizing, for the next season. It seems like the closest thing to a miracle that one small dry bean can give me jars and jars of canned string beans or that 3 or 4 big orange fall pumpkins can come from a mound of dirt with a few flat, oval seeds pushed into it the previous spring. Possibilities and promise are what I see when I look at my seedling trays under the grow lights in March.
I started saving seed this year just to see if I could do it. I started small - beans and some flowers.
Now I am hooked.
The knowledge that after a small initial investment, I can save the seed from my garden, preserve it, and plant it again the next season is very empowering. It is the most perfect example of self sufficiency that I can think of.

macro of clematis seeds

Tuesday, October 29

I Hate to Admit It.....

but Roy's potato plot idea worked out pretty well.
This past spring Roy decided to try a new garden bed method for the potatoes. I was a little skeptical since it was not my normal way of doing things in the garden, and I think I was hesitant because Roy was invading my territory. Garden = my domain.
It worked. We got potatoes and a pretty good base for a nice garden bed with all sorts of composting goodies buried in the mix. A few weekends ago we dug the potatoes and gave the whole area a light tilling before we used the plot to plant our Jerusalem artichokes. Also called sunroot or sunchoke, we decided to give it a try since the roots are supposed to be very nutritious. We have never tried this plant before and I am anxious to see the results. It is a perennial so this garden patch will be devoted to them from now on but i am hoping that I can get some other, shorter perennials started in there to maximize space. Any suggestions?
I was very happy with the method used to create the potato bed (don't tell Roy) so I decided to create some of my own. I have been thinking about expanding the garden all summer and I know that more fencing is definitely not in the budget. So I made some rows outside of the fencing with the idea of planting things the deer might not find tasty. Any suggestions?
I have created 4 rows, running east to west, off of the east side of the garden fence, with space between the fence for mowing. I have 3 rows that are 15' long and 3' wide, and 1 row that runs 30'. I used the same method Roy did - first a base of cardboard, then pile on the chicken coop waste to a depth of about 7 or 8 inches, then top off the whole thing with about 3 or 4 inches of soil. Let any rain just weigh the whole thing down and next spring I will have nice ready-to-plant rows.
Right now I am thinking about putting my squash, pumpkin and gourd plants in the 30' row and at least one of the 15' rows as sunflowers and other pretty things. 
The first step - marking out the rows and getting the cardboard down. I used some metal bars to hold down the cardboard since it was a windy day. I removed them before I put the chicken coop waste on top.

Thursday, October 17

Being Bad

I am pretty bad at quite a few things. I am bad at math. I am bad at keeping to a bedtime schedule. I am really bad at controlling how much money I spend on books.

I procrastinate about doing the dishes and about what to make for dinner. I am hopeless when it comes to car maintenance and plumbing problems. I beat myself up over my weight and I am addicted to Coca-Cola.

I am bad at giving at-home haircuts. I am very bad at setting priorities. Some would say that I am a bad Mom. A bad daughter, a bad wife, a bad friend. I have unrealistic expectations and unreachable goals.

I am bad at making a thanksgiving turkey. I am bad at trimming my cats claws. I am a bad blogger.

Yep, that's me. Grade A, 100% bad blogger.

I am sorry for it and I want to be here with you, telling you all about the things that have been happening here lately. All the trials and tribulations of home ownership, land maintenance, garden disaster and triumphs, animal stories, stressful kid moments, homesteading ideas and just about everything in between. The more I find myself tied to this place, the more I feel the need for a creative outlet. And the more I learn for other people's stories, the more I want to share my own.

I have been inspired by so many books, blogs, webpages, podcasts and videos lately that it is hard to know where to begin. I am inspired yet frustrated that I do not have the time to implement any of these new ideas. My days are filled with preschool, play groups, story time, martial arts classes and play dates. Not to mention all the house chores that pile up, yard projects that do not get finished and just about every other thing that you can think of if it pertains to running a modern homestead.

I have piles of books that are just begging to be read. Issues of Mother Earth News, Backwoods Home and Hobby Farm Home that are full of marked pages - ideas for things I want to do or buy or create.

There are just not enough hours in the day. (If one day human beings were able to choose one super power to possess, mine would be not needing to sleep. Ever)

By the time I get around to sitting down at the computer it is coming up on 10:30pm. Being that I am a night owl, my energy starts to come on strong after 6pm, but being a Mom, my kids are up and ready to go at 7am or earlier. So, I read a blog post or two, check out what is happening at Cold Antler Farm, download the latest Survival Podcast, and climb into bed.

So, now that we all know I am a bad blogger, I feel I owe it to you to straighten up and fly right. And I miss sharing. We have honey bees in the attic, a waterfall in the basement, I lost two chickens to old age, I found that I love growing eggplant, I found that I hate eating eggplant, I tried saving seed this year, I failed at tomatoes this year (again), I am thinking about starting a small CSA and Seamus escaped from the house. (He was found a few hours later playing in the neighbors pine trees.)

Lets make a deal: you keep reading and I will get things in order. No more being bad at things.

Except for math. I really hate math.

Saturday, October 5

First Year of Seed Saving

This year I decided to start saving some seed from my garden. It only makes sense - I buy non GMO seeds so there is no reason that the seed I save can not be planted next season with good results. And it saves money.

I also get to learn a new skill which always makes me happy. When it comes to gaining knowledge, especially about how to provide for yourself, I am always willing to crack a book or spend the time.
I am starting small. Two kinds of seeds. One food, one medicinal flower.
Purple podded pole beans - a staple in my garden and there always seems to be just a few too many of them on the vine. I let whole sections grow to huge pods this year and now they are drying on the vine to a crispy light brown. I harvest some every day, when they are completely dry and I can hear the beans rattling around inside. I trimmed back all the leaves from the vines to give the pods the best possible sunlight to allow for maximum drying.

So far, so good. I have harvested enough to plant a few rows next spring.
If I can just keep Seamus from using my new seeds for cat toys......
I am also saving seeds from my calendula plants. This is the first year I have grown these flowers and I am very happy with the results. I chose them because they have numerous uses and benefits - mainly for the  anti-inflammatory and anti-viral uses. My interest in growing my own medicine has been increasing since reading natural healing blogs and listening to The Survival Podcast.

The seeds are very easy to harvest - just wait for them to dry on the plant and then snip them off into a jar. After I have collected all the seed I want I will spread all the seed heads out on metal screens to make sure they are all completely dry before I store them for the winter. Although I have not had time to make use of this great plant, next year I look forward to making some beneficial lotions and salves.

Friday, October 4

What's Left....

Some sort of melon
There are only a very few things left in the garden and I may just have picked them before you read this post. A variety of flowers and beans drying on the vine make up the current garden population, along with some sunflower heads that I am trying to dry and save the seeds from. I say 'trying' because apparently birds and chipmunks like sunflower seeds. :)

A small watermelon
I was disappointed in the watermelon this year. After last years massive failure, I spent a lot of time trying to get things just right to ensure a better crop this year. No such luck. Just one little watermelon.
One eggplant

Fall Blooms and Butterflies

My pink Anemone - so pretty and the bees love it.
But it is in the top three of most aggressive plants in my book.


I love these Sungold Dwarf sunflowers (also called Teddy Bear Sunflowers)

Thursday, October 3

Black Cats, White Pumpkins and the Deer That Wasn't Friendly After All.

As if on cue for Halloween, it seems that a new stray cat has found its way to our barn. A beautiful black cat with bright green eyes and a skittish personality. He, or she, also seems to be a bit on the intimidating side as my long-term stray cat Bailey has taken to giving this new cat a wide berth.
Many superstitions involve the black cat and I really don't put much stock in any of them, especially the more negative notions of bad luck and 'witch familiars'. I did however find two interesting notes:
The Scottish believe that a strange black cat's arrival to the home signifies prosperity. This is something that I could definitely use - a little prosperity never hurt anyone.
And, in the Middle Ages, negative superstitions led people to kill black cats. This had the unintended consequence of increasing the rat population and the spread of the Black Death (bubonic plague) and other diseases carried by rodents. (what goes around, comes around.....)
This is the best picture I could get of "black cat".

I love fall. It is my favorite season for many reasons. The colors are perfect - all of my favorites in one big autumn explosion. The days are crispy cool but still warm in the sun. It is sweater weather but flip flops are still acceptable foot ware. Bees congregate at the apple sellers table at the farmers market. Knitting scarves, taking pictures of leaf-changing landscapes, rows upon rows of mis-shapen, lopsided, not-quite-orange pumpkins, and rows of perfect ones with prices set a little too high.

I think that selling crispy corn stalks is both ingenious and annoying. Three cheers for the farmer who can make money from selling his sweet ears of golden corn, and can also make money from the stalks instead of grinding them up. People will pay a nice little sum to have a pretty bunch of sheaves to adorn their front porch or to engulf their lamp post. Genius! Gone are the days of swinging by the farmers field after the harvest and chopping down an armload of the browned d├ęcor for free. And that is where the 'annoying' comes in. Growing up in a rural area, I personally hate paying for corn stalks.

Ah, the white pumpkin. I love them and they are beautiful. And my brother invented them.

Yep, my brother, at around age 8, planted some sort of squash too close to the orange pumpkins in my Dad's garden and the white pumpkin was born. A local farmer came to see the pumpkin and offered to buy the seed from my brother who declined. As for my brothers white pumpkin enterprise, he did not pursue the venture and now you can see varieties of white pumpkin in many seed catalogs. All knock-offs of my brothers original, to be sure. I'll need to ask my Mother more about that family story...

Most of us know that a deer is not an animal that enjoys socializing. They don't like encroachment into their personal space, even if that intruder is a cute 4 1/2 year old boy with the best of intentions. My parents have a few deer that they refer to as 'regulars.' These deer come to certain areas of the yard at certain times of the day and it has gotten so that the deer are comfortable with my parents coming and going around the yard while they are munching grass and crab apples.

While visiting my parents the other day the little man saw one of the regulars grazing on the tall grass by the woodpile and he was determined to pet this deer. Given that they are not prone to run when the back door opens, this deer stayed put, eating grass, while the little man got a little closer.... and a little closer..... and even closer.....

...until the deer decided that this was not my mother taking the laundry off the line and ran into the hedgerow.
"What do you mean I can't pet the deer???

Wednesday, October 2

Flight 93

While on a recent trip to PA to attend the Mother Earth News Fair, we stopped at the Flight 93 Memorial. Although not yet completed, the memorial was still very moving.
I have been to Gettysburg and to the beaches of Normandy. Both humbling experiences. However, there is something very different about visiting a memorial for an event that happened during my lifetime - and at a time in my life when I was old enough to understand what was happening. It almost felt like we were trespassing on this sacred ground - like this memorial is meant for future generations. 

Through this gate is a grass path that leads to the boulder, marking the impact site of Flight 93.

Tuesday, October 1

Scenes from PA

Some pictures from our recent trip to PA......