Monday, August 15

Achocha's and Sunchokes

A few years ago the husband thought it would be a good idea to plant some sunchokes, or Jerusalem artichokes, in the side field near the garden. At the time, I was happy that he was taking an interest in gardening and we put them in and watched them grow. Those things can really grow. And spread. And grow some more. It has turned into quite a large patch that is mostly unconstrained. It borders the small walking path that I mow around the exterior of the garden fence and I have kept it away from the grapes by mowing, also. The rest of it is just growing and spreading into the field and I do not mind very much at all.

They are pretty plants - lots of dense green foliage that does a great job of choking out any competing weed, including the aggressive mint that has found its way onto the property. The flowers resemble small sunflowers or daisy's which the bees love and I would be perfectly happy with a field of Jerusalem artichokes, the foliage being a chop-and-drop at the end of the season and the tubers, which resemble a ginger root, being food. They are also a potential ethanol fuel source which will take some time for us to figure out and decide if it is worth a try. 

The Jerusalem artichokes, or sunchokes, before they flowered this season.

Last fall I orderd some achocha cucumber seeds from one of my favorite new website finds - An American Homestead. I posted about them back in June and they are definately worth a re-mention. They have a fantastic website and an even better Youtube channel with videos on just about everything you can think of related to homesteading and off-grid living. I highly recommend a binge-watch of their three seasons on shows as well as all the how-to videos. They have also recently started a live Saturday night podcast, 10pm EST through their Youtube channel and I never miss an episode.

The cucumber seeds I ordered are doing well despite the drought and the poor performance of my other traditional cucumbers. I have two separtate hills growing on different garden areas and so far they have both sent out a great quantity of climbing vines. I have yet to see any cucumbers, but due to the horrible weather we have had this summer I am surprised I have anything left growing in the garden at all. I'm just watching and waiting for my Achochas.

The Achocha cucumber vines growing alongside my yarrow.
A crop that doesn't seem to mind this heat, aside from the tomatoes and grapes, are my peppers. They plants are all big and healthy even though they got off to a slow start. We have been harvesting peppers for a few weeks now - not a lot - but enough for us.

Temperatures have been in the high 80's and low 90's for most of the month with humidity also in the high range - today it was 96%. It has been a terrible summer, weather-wise, for all of the farmers here and we will see produce prices going up (another reason we grow our own). Our water bill, when it comes, is going to be something I won't want to look at. Watering the garden just about every day has saved the tomatoes and peppers but the beans and cucumbers just couldn't handle it. What survived of teh bean crop are being left to dry on the plant to save for seed. They should be very hardy seeds for planting next year!

Sunday, August 14

Just a few of the blooms we are enjoying around the property....

My first year planting borage 

Sweet peas usually drive me crazy with the massive taking-over they do in the gardens, but this year
I am letting them sprawl. They are one of the only colorful things left with this drought.
A new variety of cosmos that I found this spring.

These just come back bigger and better every year. I love them.

These two have taken over the back field which I love. I am just letting it go and see what comes up
to get a better understanding of our soil and what thrives here.

Saturday, August 13


Murphy, our faithful farm dog, has been benched for 4 weeks. He has been favoring his back right leg for quite a while and since he loves nothing more than a sprint across the field in chase of something always faster than himself, we chalked it up to simple 'over-doing it'.

Last week he just didn't bounce back from it. He would be sore at the end of the day - lots of running around and being my constant yard and farm work companion - and he would be slow in getting up on the couch for his nighttime snuggle. Last week, he was in a great deal more pain so he was off to the vet and diagnosed with a tear in his ACL.

Murphy is a highly energetic dog. He is skin, bones and muscle - not an ounce of fat on him. He never walks anywhere. He has two settings - sleeping and full speed. And he is absolutely miserable right now.

For the next four week he must be walked on his leash or on his cable line. No running, no jumping, no playing fetch, no chasing anything faster than a very slow mowing dog treat. It has been an exercise in patience for both of us.

He is very frustrated with me and thinks he is being punished which makes me launch into a detailed explanation of why he can not run which is met with a blank doggy stare and a refusal to go number 2 while on a leash.

He is still a great homestead guard dog and loyal family member, all be it a miserable and benched one. My little guy is at my side as I write this, snoring and twitching in his sleep, no doubt dreaming about chasing something small and furry through the woods.

Friday, August 12

This year looks like a great year for our grapes. They should be turning magenta and violet any day now and I am looking forward to making some grape jam like in years past. Last year the husband thought he would experiment with fermentation and used all the grapes in a wine-scheme-gone-bad.

Not only did the gigantic glass containers take up a great deal of space, the finished product was very pungent and it took days to air out the kitchen. Did I mention it was also very potent? It was. My husband was very happy with this and enjoyed every last drop. This year, it's going to be jam.

The grapes are one of the only things doing well here this season. With this drought, everything has been struggling with the exception of the grapes and the tomatoes. We are still having the water all the trees every three days and I water the vegetable garden daily. I have given up on the flower beds for now as I only have so much time, and so much water. Some of the more drought tolerant flowers are doing well such as the black eyed susan, the queen anne's lace, the bee balm and the butterfly bushes. Surprisingly, my hydrangea bush is flourishing and is still giving beautiful foliage and flowers.

I am ready for this summer to be done. It has been one of the worst as far as weather problems that I can think of since I started gardening and homesteading here. The watering of the orchard alone has taken so much time away from so any other important projects. Keeping the orchard alive is more important that painting the barn or searching for an affordable chipper but it feels as if this summer has been one of limited accomplishments.

Today it was in the 90s with very high humidity. I was hoping this this would spark a pop-up thunderstorm to give the land a little drink but no such luck today. Maybe tomorrow since it is supposed to be hot, humid and just plain horrible for the next 4 days.

I seem to be saying that a lot this summer.

Maybe tomorrow.

Thursday, August 4

As of today, the drainage ditch is officially closed. It has taken almost five months to complete the installation of a drainage ditch in the new orchard which is the most utterly unnecessary drainage system in existence since we are in the middle of a severe drought. Granted, the best time to install a drainage ditch is during dry weather to adequately measure and grade and slope. But the farmer in me is deeply disturbed about the amount of time, effort, money and frustration poured into a project revolving around flooding while we are in the middle of the worst drought in our area since 1965.

The creek is bone dry.
We have been here 11 years and have never seen it dry up like this.
It is usually between 2 - 5 feet deep.

The daylight hours are precious. Keeping the delicate balance between projects lists, budget allowances and those daylight hours is a full time job. Sacrificing so many weekends and late nights on this one project – one item on a long list of “To Do’s” – has caused much aggravation and the use of foul language on occasion.

The setbacks and delays on this project are almost comical to think about:

  • Renting a backhoe to dig the trench on a snowy weekend in April (only time it was available)
  • Having half the trench collapse back in on itself the next week from heavy rain
  • Having to wait for the trench to dry out from all that rain and watching it turn into a gigantic swale
  • Spending months working with the trees and having to constantly 'vault' the trench
  • Waiting those months for the trench to dry and for the 4th-hand tractor with backhoe attachment to be affordable
  • Having to have all the hydraulics repaired on the 4th-hand backhoe, mostly by ourselves
  • Re-digging, re-leveling and re-contouring of the trench with the repaired tractor/backhoe
  • Working around Roy's office schedule since I have no idea how to use the backhoe, nor do I want to try with two little kids on my lap. 

The drainage pipe, wrapped in the fabric in the trench before we covered it all up with gravel,
landscape fabric and lots of dirt.
The process of actually installing the pipe is pretty straight forward. One layer of landscape fabric, one shallow layer of gravel, one drainage pipe wrapped in what is referred to as a "sock", another thicker layer of gravel, another layer of landscape fabric and then the dirt to fill in the trench. It sounds so simple. It wasn't. Temperature and humidity soared, tempers flared but now I can look at the trench - all flattened over with dirt - and wonder if we are ever going to actually need it. It is so dry and hot and everything is just about dead. I don;t know why all those weeds and wildflowers are alive and taking over the orchard since there has been no rain in over a month.

The field that has developed in the orchard due to inability to mow.
We have been watering the trees - all 250 of them - with the bucket and barrel system about every three days. It takes about 4 hours and 4 trips to refill the barrels. I re-watched "The Permaculture Orchard" the other night just to remind myself that all this was really worth it. 

One step to restoring the property here and it sure has been one to test our resolve. More news about other parts of the property soon. The forest is trying to heal itself, we have rabbits where there were none before and the fields are reclaiming their rights after years of mowing and mistreatment. It is amazing to see.

Tuesday, August 2

One Good Thing

One good thing about this serious drought we are experiencing (and probably the ONLY good thing) is that the pea vines have totally dried up and the pea seed saving is easy. They have all dried very quickly on the vine and I managed to save quite a few for next year.

The tall telephone peas were the best producers this year as far as good shelling peas were concerned. I always plant this variety because I know that I will get a ton of peas. As the name suggests, they grow very tall and need to be trellised which makes for some visually appealing shade structures in the garden. The peas from the tall telephone are sweet and they dry and save well.

The other fantastic variety for seed saving is the Alaska. It is a compact pod with smaller peas but they produce a huge amount for the smaller space they take up than other varieties. They still need to be trellised to some extent but they are not a fast growing as other varieties, making it easier to keep up with the vines. The great thing about Alaska peas is that they are fantastic for seed saving. I have never had a problem with them and they dry on the vine very well, even when we are not in the middle of a drought.

I also grew Green Arrow, Little Marvel and British varieties and I was happy with them, but not thrilled. Granted, it was a dry season but they just did not produce as well as I expected. I saved some of the seed for next year, hoping that the weather will be more cooperative.

The one variety that did not do well was the Maxigolt. The vine growth was very poor and I hardly got any peas from them. I did not bother saving any seeds since they don;t seem to do well in my soil and I have plenty of other varieties that I know will do well.

Peas are always the first seed that I save every year, followed shortly by the marigolds, calendula and poppy. The beans will start drying soon since it has been such a horrible season for beans, at least in my garden. One of my favorite things to grow, the beans have been very disappointing this year. In past years I have had more beans than I know what to do with. I do not plant a large amount of seed - the plants have just always given great yields. I have been known to covertly leave baskets of green, yellow and purple pole beans on my neighbors porches.

Not this year. They are producing but not nearly at the levels I am used to. I have let the yellow beans go for seed since I am not getting anything usable. The same with the scarlet runner, Mayflower and the rattlesnake. The blue lake produced two plants after three plantings since nothing was sprouting. I ordered and planted some interesting beans this season and I was looking forward to collecting both the food and the seed. It is a disappointment as far as the food end is concerned, except for the purple pole. They always seem to do well no matter where I plant them or of the weather conditions. I guess I have found the signature bean for my garden.

I am hoping for a better showing on the seed saving end for the beans. A few years ago at Mother Earth News Fair, I met a great lady from Fruition Seeds. She had a wide wooden bowl at her display booth filled with all different types of dry beans. Every color and shape and size - and she had them there so people could just dig their hand in and explore - like a kid in the sandbox. I have wanted to have my own wooden bowl of beans every since and I wanted to grow and save them myself.

I have my bowl, now I just need my beans.

Thursday, July 21

I surprised a mama turkey and her two little babies yesterday while I was taking a walk in the back field by the fledgling orchard. They raced into the tall grass next to the creek bed when they noticed me which is completely dry. Normally flowing at about 4 feet deep in some places, we can now walk on the bottom and it is not even the least bit mucky. 

A slightly rare classification of "severe drought" has been announced for our area and we have not ad a substantial rainfall in almost a month. The passing thunderstorms that rolled through the area a few days ago gave us a very small bit of much needed rain, but it was not nearly enough. We need a day of good, steady, soaking rain but each day I scan the weather websites looking for a big green blob to float over our area of the state, seeing nothing but a radar map void of anything resembling precipitation. Days and days of no rain to come.

We have been watering the fruit trees every other day in hopes of getting them through this drought so they can survive and become productive next season. Such new trees being stressed is not something I like and losing trees is not an option after all the time and money put into this venture. With no running water in the back field and the creek completely dry I decided to put two, 50 gallon plastic barrels on my smaller wooden trailer and install a hose hose attachment with a shut off valve on the bottom of each barrel. I them bought two 25' garden hoses and attached them, knowing that the pressure would not be much, but it would have to do.

I secured the full barrels to the trailer with some tie-down straps and bungee cords and away I went out to the field, towing the trailer with the 4 wheeler. Turns out that it takes upwards of 4 hours to hand water 250 fruit trees and the pumpkins and squash plants between each tree. The four of us, myself and Roy hauling heavy buckets and the kids with their sandbox pails, went through 4 refills of both barrels before we got everything watered sufficiently. We are currently doing this every two to three days after work and chores. 

The embarrassingly weedy center portion of the orchard where the
drainage ditch project has dragged into its 3rd month.

Ironically, the drainage ditch that we have not needed at all this season is still a project that is yet to be completed, and that is turning out to be one of the most annoying homestead projects I have ever done. At this point, we have the trench completely ready for the gravel and pipe. There was a great deal more hand digging with the shovels and pick axe than should have been required given that Roy spent so much time out there with the backhoe. 

My frustration level with this project has almost boiled over in that it is taking so much time away from other projects that need to be completed. This past weekend we managed to put the first layer in the trench - the black landscaping fabric. This sits in the bottom of the trench in a "U" shape with the sides secured temporarily to the sides of the trench. The next step is to shovel in about 2 inches of small gravel and to lay the black drainage pipe, wrapped in a fabric protector sleeve, on top of the gravel. 

The landscape fabric in the trench, "U" shaped to allow both sides to be folded over the top of the pipe
 and gravel before the dirt is piled back on.
hard to see, but the black wrapped pipe is in there with the gravel on the bottom and the top.
This has required hand shoveling of all the gravel and trying to maneuver around tall and prickly weeds which have grown up around the trench. Mowing has been impossible even with the large bush mower since the dirt piled up from the original trench digging has made the ground drastically uneven.

As of this date, we have 100 feet of fabric and pipe installed with the 2" of gravel under the pipe. This weekend will hopefully result in the rest of that 100 feet of pipe being covered with the gravel and the rest of the pipe being put in. This depends on both undependable weather and labor (a 7 year old and a 4 your old).

The never ending list of homestead projects continues......

Wednesday, July 13

Apparently it is worse if you get it as an adult. Especially if you ave never had it before, and if you have a weakened immune system. It will get better in 10 days but it will take longer to shake the 'after-effects'. There is nothing we can do, you just have to let it run its course.

It started on June 25th and it was 10 days of one of the most painful things I have ever had in my life. Sparing all the gross details of hand, foot and mouth disease, it was constant, intense burning in my hands and feet accompanied by tremendous itching and general pain. The blisters came after a few days as did the red rash spots. Try to imagine a million needles jabbing you in your fingers and toes all day and night. You can not grip anything since even the slightest pressure on your fingers or hands is extremely painful. Same for the feet and toes - no walking for 2 days - and after those two days only a very slow pace wearing very thick socks.

I would not wish this on my worst enemy, except maybe that mean lady who doesn't like my dog.

Trying to accomplish homesteading, farming, or general housekeeping during the past few weeks have been a challenge at best. My husband did his best to help and so did the kids to some extent, but mostly I was left to wait it out and try my best. As I type this now, with my fingers functioning and just the slightest bit of numbness left in my fingertips, I am almost back to normal. When I went to the doctor on June 26th, I was in so much pain that I could hardly drive the car or walk into the doctors office. I sat there listening to them tell me the things I wrote in the first paragraph of this blog post and I was getting pretty upset. What do you mean there is nothing you can do? You are the doctor! There must be a pill. A lotion. A medically induced coma. Anything to make this go away.

Let me just say that I am very disappointed in the fragility of the human body. Maybe I have been jaded by too much star trek but I feel that in this time of technological advances, there should at least be a known cure for such medieval diseases like hand, foot and mouth. To me it ranks right up there with plague, scurvy and the black death.

Gross content alert  -- the peeling is awful. Every inch of skin that was effected on my hands and my feet has died and has been peeling off for about a week. It feels like I am shedding which should indicate a rebirth - strong and powerful. I don't feel like a survivor however. I feel like someone who still finds it painful to wear flipflops in July.

These past few weeks have been about me trying to do the best with what I have. The animals still need care. The garden still needs to be watered and tended. The beginning orchard needs to be fussed over and watered as well because of this horrible drought we are in. This involved hauling much water to the back field since we do not have irrigation lines. Add in the kids, the household and regular every-day chores and you really pay much more attention to how you treat your hands and feet.

A horrible way to end a blog post - be nice to your hands and feet! - but I can't think of anything more needed on a homestead than a strong pair of hands and sturdy feet on which to stand.

Saturday, July 2

Animal Happenings

Never a dull moment here as we plan, plant and restore the property. The animals, both wild and livestock, are a corner stone of production, protection and entertainment. As we have been working on certain parts of the land to get the orchard going, we have also been noticing how many different types of wildlife are making their homes in the areas of the property we are letting go back to nature. The deer and turkeys are more frequent, the ducks and heron are coming to the creek and there is so much noise and life in the woods now, even though we have not cleared any of the tree tops left by the loggers or repaired any of the damage done in the past.

This guy was checking out part of the orchard field where I also have my pumpkins. Took a quick picture and moved along, leaving him to his business. I know better than to mess with him!

The 12 new Isa Brown's have been moved into the coop and run with my existing flock. Since the existing flock is down to 8 hens and Cornwallis the rooster, it was time to add soe new egg layers to the production team. Hopefully these new girls will be keeping us and our customers happy with eggs in a few months.

Murphy, my baby boy and farm security system. He does his job well - guards the property, is great with the kids and the chickens, patrols the fields and loves to cuddle. 

Thursday, June 30

Two New Plants in the Garden

I am a follower of An American Homestead - a great Youtube channel with practical homesteading advice, stories, how-to's and just general Ozark fun. They are currently producing videos for season 3 so I strongly recommend that you start at the beginning of season 1 and binge. Very entertaining and educational - gardening, homestead chores, projects, aquaponics, livestock, canning, recipes and tons more. 

One of the episodes that I really enjoyed discussed the achocha cucumber that they grow on their cedar trellis. Having never heard of this variety I was eager to try it. Luckily, they were offering seeds for sale from their own plants through their website, and I now have them in my garden for the first time this season. 

Right now they are getting established and sending out their first spiraling tendrils. I am excited to see how it does in our climate and if I can save the seed.

My achocha cucumbers from An American Homestead
They also introduced me to another plant - popalo. It is a cilantro substitute that does not bolt in the summer heat. I ordered this one as well and I have some nice small plants that I will find a permanent home for shortly. I might construct a separate garden bed for this plant as they suggested on their video.

They have a great salsa recipe and they discuss their uses for the popalo plant in this episode.

The rest of the garden is doing well for the most part. The beans have suffered a few loses from my evil resident wood chuck but I always plant extra beans of many varieties so the losses should be minimal. Our harvest so far this season has included strawberries, kale, lettuce, spinach, radishes and peas.

This is the first year I have ever tried beets. The foliage is pretty and the plants seem healthy. Since I am new to growing beets I over planted the seed so I did have to do a lot of thinning.

Also my first year growing kale. Two varieties - Scotch Blue (compact plants with blueish green crinkled leaves)  and Forager (a leafy, stem-less, fast growing variety). The wood chuck prefers Forager.

The sun chokes are about 5 feet tall right now, although you can not tell from this picture. I am amazed every year at how fast they seem to grow after they show their first green leaves in late spring. They are aggressive and take over everything. Right now they are competing with the mint. I am curious to see who will win.

Wednesday, June 29

I am currently unhappy with the state of my peas. They were late to sprout and when they finally did, they were just plain lazy. They didn't want to climb up the trellis systems and they just kind of flopped over and hung out like a lazy teenager. When I finally got them upright and going, the stem base of just about every plant was permanently bent. Much twine and a little cursing later, I have many plants producing a great quantity of pods. But they still look lazy. All the twine in the world can not hide those crazy stem bases and it bothers me.

I am also bothered by the resident wood chuck who stubbornly refuses to vacate his bachelor pad located under my shed. Every night he digs himself out and finds a way into my garden, either by digging or squeezing through a loose patch of fencing. And every morning I find chewed off bean stalks, missing kale and a new hole to fill in by the shed.

I decided to put my trail cam in the garden, near the previously mentioned bean plants, just to see what I would see. I was thinking I would capture some night-vision illuminated wood chuck image, all ghastly white and black. Probably his rear end as he waddled across the garden bed, all fuzzy and our of focus. However, when scanning through the images captured the next day I was greeted with a wood chuck close up. There is was, munching away on some beans, in broad daylight, like he was making a lunchtime selection at the salad bar. Not a care in the world.... Just out for a noon day stroll.... Oh, a camera, well, I shall just sit here as close as I can let you get my best side.......

This wood chuck is smarter than I thought.

However, he has not touched the peas. Maybe he is as put off by the stems as I am. 

Tuesday, June 28

Some mornings when I wake up I would rather just pull the covers over my head and try to block out the noise of my children arguing over who sits where on the couch.

Or sometimes my first sight in the morning is an extreme close up of my cats cold, wet nose which he has just a second ago shoved against my sleeping face.

Mostly, however, it is in the pattern of 'open eyes, look at clock, listen for evidence of other household members already awakened, get up, feed cats.' Which is immediately followed by 'feed myself breakfast'. While I wait for my toast, I like to look out the big back kitchen window and see what the day might hold me me. Rain? Summer heat? What's happening with the chickens? Was that branch laying there yesterday?

On lucky mornings, I see wildlife.

I don't care if you are the worst morning person in the world (which I think I might be) - there is no way that anyone could possibly not smile at what I got to see the other day. A deer with her two little twin fawns exploring the clover by the back tree line. And these fawns were loving it. They were jumping and running around together, running circles around their mom and leaping into the clover. They were playing and having the best time while Mom's radar ears scanned for possible anger.

Later that day I saw this little one in the woods - it was a little startling when I came across this baby since he or she was so close to the path.

I like to think of our property as a place where wildlife can come and feel safe. Our area is slowly being eaten away by developers so I feel it is important to leave as much of the property as possible wild and natural. I have started letting larger sections of fields to grow back where the previous owner had mowed. It is amazing when you just let a piece of lawn go back to field. So many different flowers and grasses appear which attracts the bees and birds and insects, and it is so much more visually pleasing than short, tan, half-dead grass.

Just with this little part of field that I have let go back to wild, we have seen so much more diversity and life. I can't wait to see what else we can bring back as we repair our land.

Tuesday, June 21

The Barn Cats

We have 5 new animal additions living in one of the barns. I have partnered up with a fantastic lady who rescues feral cats from the very worst parts of the inner city and gets them medical care and gets them "fixed". She then reaches out to the animal community looking for farmers with barns, space and a kind heart to take in these little ones and give them a better life.

They are in different stages of "feral" ranging from almost house-cat to very afraid and hissing. The first three have been here since Mother's Day:

This is "Grandma". She was one of the original colony members.

This handsome man is Saruman (the rescue lady is a Lord of the Rings fan). He is very skittish and I hardly
ever see him now. 
Saruman giving me the evil stare.....

And this is "Daddy". He is reputed to be the father of most of the cats in the large colony. When they finally trapped him and had him fixed, they had a party.
Daddy and Grandma are two of the sweetest, most friendly cats I have ever had. They are both small but they are putting on weight and have long been out of there relocation cages. They know that this is there home now and going out to the barn is one of the best parts of my day now. They love attention, and food, and I have put a lawn chair in the barn where I try to spend at least 20 minutes a day just letting them get used to me. I love the quiet time and they need the companionship. Saruman is very skittish and shy and I hardly ever see him. It has gotten to the point where I am hoping he is still around and has not gone off exploring and gotten lost.

That is the nature of outdoor barn cats - to explore and hunt. By having them in the relocation cages for a couple weeks in the barn, they learn that this is 'home' and where the food is, so they should stick around. Grandma and Daddy have become so friendly I may bring them in the house. But they are the feral cat exceptions.

I agreed to take two more of the colony cats who needed barn homes:

This guy is named "Tuxie' since his fur pattern is like that of a little tuxedo. He is feral. Very afraid of people, hissing and not social. The door to his relocation cage was opened this morning since he has been here two weeks and I am going to give him his space. He needs time and quiet to start to trust again. As long as I can provide him with shelter and food, I feel good in that he at least has that in his life now.

And this is "Sonny". He is actually from one of the litters of which "Daddy" is the father. So I have two generations here in the barn. Sonny is still afraid and shy. He is coming around, slowly, but he is still in his cage and will be so for another week and a half. I can see the potential in him to be a very sweet little boy - his eyes are so expressive. I talk to him and he is slowly warming up to people.

Normally, I would not think of adopting 5 cats at once. My husband was not thrilled about this but he has grown very fond of both Grandma and Daddy. I remind him of where these cats came from and that they truly need a safe place to call home. I can not turn my back on an animal in need, especially if they are in a horrible situation. I have the space and I can afford some extra cat food every month and I just want to show them that life can be peaceful with a warm bed and a full belly.

Wednesday, June 1

The Spring Explosion

Every spring I am amazed by the fact that one night I go to bed looking at barely budding tree branches and it seems that by the time I wake up the next morning there has been an explosion of foliage. It happens so fast that it seems like an overnight miracle. All of a sudden the trees are full of big green leaves and the bushes and flowering trees are full of color.

Right now there are so many colors and scents it is almost overwhelming. One summer when I was pregnant I was standing in just the right spot in the yard when a gust of wind carried the scent of bee balm to me. It was so overpowering that it was like being sprayed with 10 different scents at once in the perfume section of Macy's. Although I did not appreciate it at the time, now I can enjoy all these delicious scents that have taken over my property.

I cut lilacs to bring into the house and into little vases in the bathrooms - with two kids and a husband, they are better than any air freshener I could buy.

Every year this flowering tree attracts the bees and the orioles. I have tried to get a picture of them in the tree with their bring orange set against the white blossoms but so far my timing has just not lined up with their visits.

Two new tulip varieties that the kids and I planted last fall.

 Iris and poppies - my two favorite flowers - always bloom at the same time for me. The iris always stay around longer but I enjoy both of them for as long as I can. The poppies, even the larger perennial ones, are no match for a heavy rainstorm which may be hitting our area over the next few days. We have been having terrible humidity which leads to those sudden and heavy downpours.

Monday, May 30

The Orchard Fence

On one of our new sections of field we already have the chestnut trees and now those 205 fruit trees spread out over a 550 foot long by approximately 100 feet wide area. We hope that this is the beginning of our orchard including both fruits and nuts with many other eatables and perennials mixed in. 

Our problem comes from the deer wanting to enjoy those eatables as well. Many gardens and orchards in our area are fenced - my own vegetable garden has a five foot fence surrounding it - which I have seen the deer vault over in search of delicious snacks. So, a fence was is a necessity after spending the money on all the trees. This area will also be packed full of all those other crops to consume or sell which makes the fencing decision a little easier to handle. This is a permanent, 8 foot tall, metal fence with 12 foot 4x4 posts buried between 3 1/2 to 4 feet down, spaced about every 25 feet apart. It is a big investment and an even bigger construction project - the biggest we have taken on since moving here and deciding to adopt this lifestyle.

Just starting out with the poles on the south side, running 550 feet in length. 

The post holes were dug using our tractor and a post hole driller which got us down to about 3 1/2 feet. However, we measured for and drilled all of the holes we would need in one weekend, so when we returned the next weekend to install some posts, there was a lot of water in many of the holes. This make the depth hard to determine and we spent time on each hole digging out mud and checking measurements.

 This part of the property does have some drainage issues but because of the purchase contract, it was the only open field that would work for this project. (The rest of the acreage will hopefully be purchased at a later date when finances allow). It is our plan to install the drainage pipe down the middle of the field to funnel the majority of the water into the creek, therefore making the field much for workable. This should be accomplished after the fencing project has been completed.

It was slow going installing the posts as it was done at a rate of about 5 posts per night after Roy returned home from work. Given the size of these posts, it was not feasible for me to attempt installation during the day. It is a two person job and I spent a lot of time measuring, leveling and using the manual post hole digger.

Weekends gave us more time to install more posts. This also lead to our kids getting into all kinds of mischief both in the house and out in the field with us. My son is obsessed with the farm 4-wheeler and wants to drive it even though he is only 7. The 4-wheeler is much to powerful for him and we try our best to make shoveling fill gravel a fun project for him. My daughter is a great helper at 4 years old but he attention span is, of course, that is a 4 year old. I have moved her plastic playhouse and table out to the field so she has something to occupy herself with while my husband and I are hauling posts and leveling them up. Leaving them in the house is not an option since they get into all kinds of trouble with sneaking snacks and drawing on furniture or watching television shows they are not supposed to. If anyone can tell me why shows like Phineas and Ferb, Sponge Bob or Shezow are appropriate for ANY age group, I would love to hear your reasoning behind it.

Two weekends ago the first section of fencing went up - 550 feet in 2 sections. It took two tractors, 4 adults and some serious skill with the come along to get it into place. 

The trees are doing well so far - about 95% of them are showing signs of growth, budding and/or flowering. 

This weekend we will be installing the other 550 foot section, despite the incredible heat and humidity, and passing sudden downpours. Also, all those eatables and perennials need to get put in, even if the fence is not complete, to ensure a good growing season. That will be the celebration of Memorial Day here on this farm - hard work and appreciating what we have.

More updates to come - the young chicks, the garden and or course, the hopeful completion of the fencing project.

Sunday, May 29


Apparently, it is good luck to plant peas on St. Patrick's Day and while I was a week late and we had some seriously cold and wet weather after I planted, my luck held and I now have rows of these beauties popping up in the garden.

The first to show in spring, along with the radishes, peas are my favorite thing to plant in the garden. Seven varieties this year:

Green Arrow
Tall Telephone
British Wonder
Little Marvel

I also started the radishes - Sparkler, French, Cherry Belle, Champion and Early Scarlet - along with beets, kale, onions, carrots and some spinach.

Most of the pea seeds were ones that I had saved from last years crop. The idea of saving my own seed has really come to the top of the list for me. It just seems to make sense - both financially and from a production standpoint. How many times have I bought seed from the store or a catalog only to have little to no germination? In the past I have been unable to get certain seed. And who is to say that the plant who's seed I was shipped in the mail will grow in Upstate New York?

If I can save the seed from my best plants every year then I should be able to reasonably say that when I plant that seed the next spring, it will grow. My climate, my soil, my gardening methods - they produced a healthy plant resulting in healthy seeds, that if saved properly, will be a reliable source for the next season.

The cost savings are what makes my husband happy. I can easily spend upwards of $60 on a single seed order, as many of us are tend to do. Learning how to save the seeds from the previous year to replant will cut way down on the catalog spending ( but I am making no promises that I will not drool over Baker Creek's selection of beans and pumpkins every year).

Saturday, May 28

14 Isa Browns

This years chick selection was Isa Brown - a great egg layer with low risk of pasty butt or what I call, sudden chick death. In previous years I have had terrible problems with pasty butt on the "assorted pullets" selection. I spent more time cleaning chick butts.......  And, in the past, I have looked in on the little girls only to find one laying dead in the brooder. No signs of any problems - just no longer alive.

So far, these Isa Browns have been fantastic. No problems. Fast growing, eating well, feathering out nicely and good temperament. We have 14 of these girls who just a few days ago made the trip from basement brooder to segregated chicken coop pen. They can see the flock but they are too small yet to be integrated.

They seem to be happy with their new accommodations even if they were not thrilled about the dark cardboard box ride to get there from the basement. It's hard to tell with chickens, but I figure as long as they have fresh food and water, dry bedding, safety (in this case in the form of a re-purposed children's octagon playpen) and protection from the elements, they should be content.

Wednesday, May 18

200 Pine Trees and 100 Sycamores

More tree planting - this time it was 200 white pine and douglas fir trees, and 100 sycamore seedlings. The white pine were placed in various locations around the property, mostly to create privacy walls between property lines. The douglas fir trees were used to create a three-tree-deep, staggered privacy barrier between our side field and the road.

White pine seedlings along a property line
The sycamore trees looked more like dead sticks and it was hard to tell them apart from weeds and fallen branches along the creek bed. Sycamores are reported to like water and we are hoping that they also serve as a bank stabilizing root system. The creek has a tendency to erode the edges causing hidden soft spots and collapses - not the best thing to come across unawares while on a tractor. We marked each tree with rocks are keeping watch for buds.

Between getting all the trees in and the fencing project around the fruit trees, there has not been much time for other outdoor projects. My garden is being planted as time allows and all the animals - existing and new - are being cared for. 

Birds are on my radar lately......

Turkey on the trail cam

On the neighboring properties pond

Cheeky little guy who was singing away

One of my girls looking regal