Seconds Please! (planting fall crops)

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I know, I know, I am two weeks late (and a dollar short!).  I have fallen so far behind it may actually be last summer now!  If we want fresh veggies in the fall, I best get out there and plant them.  Plus it irritates me to see blank spaces in my garden.  If something has quit producing it needs a replacement, for we are very hungry in this house!  And I am having fun showing off my vegetables at markets.

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One thing I am curious about is how the early spring crops will do in the fall.  As you can see, post heat waves, rain storms, and flea beetles, the cabbage and cauliflower have seen brighter days.  They certainly don’t look like the beautiful picture on the seed packet!  I wonder if they will fare better starting now and ending in the coolness of fall.   Only time will tell.  To be honest, every year prior to this one, I have forgotten to plant fall crops.  This will be my first go at it.

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I weeded the areas that were without plants.  Then I added a good slathering of compost.  My compost never looks like the pictures of black gold.  Mine has chunks of corn cobs and the occasional egg shell.  Mine is lumpy.  Mine smells so good I could take a taste (though I probably shouldn’t), so I know it is done.  It smells so heady with summer and growth I could keel over with joy.  Okay, I am getting out of hand.  Sprinkle the compost on the planting area generously and rake or hoe it in.

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A good watering is in order now.  Best to do it before the seeds are put in.  If you plant in the dry soil then water afterwards you risk washing away your precious seeds and that is sad.

I was in a whimsical mood, apparently, for I planted the cauliflower a foot apart for three rows then made tick tack toe lines between them and planted radishes.  A lovely checkerboard patter may ensue.  I did that with other veggies too.  I planted more cabbage, and lettuce.  I planted three areas with spinach.  I think I got carried away.  Doug asked if I planted more kale.  Whoops.  I was having too much fun planting spinach, as ours in the spring came up and promptly bolted!  More herbs went in and some Brussels sprouts.  We’ll see what all comes up and if it likes the hotter turning to cooler days.

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It seems like this will work better.  Lots of heat and sunshine to germinate, rain, and then cooler temperatures as it tries to mature into edible delicacies.

I will now thumb my nose at the flea beetles, do the rain dance, and wait for the next crop to come up like a kid on Christmas eve.

Is it up yet?

The Quick Switch

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There they went galloping down the neighbor’s driveway when it dawned on me how they were getting out.  We set up boards to block the larger sections of chicken wire.  Apparently a five inch square is all they need to get out.  Smug, we grinned at the baby goats, blew them a kiss, and went back to our work in the house.

I looked out and saw them playing in the fairgrounds among moving trucks and horses!  The entire back fence is made up of those five inch chicken wire squares!  We knew we were in trouble.  After Jill read my post yesterday, she expected my call.  She had been considering keeping the little monsters herself but thought they would be perfect for us.  She said to bring them on over.  She only lives a few miles from us and we can go visit them if we would like.  They ran around her farm gleefully, kicking up their heels, and reacquainting themselves with their long lost siblings.  They did not even give us a second look as we left.  I cried.  They played.  Goats.  Already breaking my heart.  I doubt alpacas can fit through chicken wire.  Hmmm.

Jill had asked on the phone though for a favor in return.  Coyotes had wiped out eighteen of her chickens in a mere two eves.  Only one remained.  A docile Jersey Giant like our Laverne.  We said we would take her.  The coyotes, for some reason, gather chicken buffets from all around us, but have never ventured into our yard.  (Let me go find some wood to knock on real quick….)  Perhaps because we keep them locked up snug starting at dusk?  A loving guard greyhound?  Too much racket in the fairgrounds?  Whatever the reason, we seem to have a little chicken shield around our place.

Laverne used to be a pair.  Laverne and Shirley were a few of our first chickens but an accident involving a maniac four year old and his dog ended the life of Shirley.  So, Doug deemed the new girl Shirley, as she is smaller than Laverne, and he just likes having Laverne and Shirley in the back yard.  Now, how to get her in without anyone noticing?

We have failed at this before.  The first time we introduced too soon in the daylight…not good.  The second time we introduced ten chicks in a dog carrier over the course of three days.  That worked fairly well, but the bully big girls were still pretty snotty.  We had to think of a way to introduce a full grown chicken into the coop of fifteen residents without anyone being the wiser.

We have been told to introduce them overnight.  Simply sneak the new girl in come the middle of the night and everyone wakes up with complete amnesia.  Jill recommended that we rearrange their surroundings as well so they think they are in a new place all together.  I still had a nervous feeling that we would wake to full blown chicken fighting come dawn.  We had switched the dog kennel that was still in the coop with the one Shirley was in when we came home.  We gave her food and water but left her door closed.  After our movie ended late, we snuck out quietly into the coop, careful not to rouse the girls, as any time of day or night seems to be a good time to eat for them.  We moved their food over there, their water over here, this moved there, and that over here, and opened Shirley’s cage door, said a prayer, and went to bed!

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This morning I shot out of bed at dawn when I heard Henry announcing his waking up.  I went to the coop.  No one even noticed the petite brunette eating side by side or dust bathing.  She and Laverne have already become buddies and we now have another chicken instead of two goats.  We’ll try again on the next homestead (with extensive, sturdy, possibly electric fencing!).  I guess chickens are more our pace on this rurban farm….for now.

Homestead Animals

“Your goats were out again today,” the boys across the street casually mentioned.

“Again?” Doug said, with a little laugh.

“Not funny.  I turned around in my garage and there were the two little goats about to drink antifreeze!”

“You need a chain for those goats,” our neighbor, Leo, joined in.

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I guess the first thirty-five times the baby goats were romping around the neighborhood was cute, but now not so much.  We fixed the place they were getting out of.  They refuse to show us how they are escaping now.  We have scoured every inch of fence line, moved any possible catapults, and taunted them to come over to our side.  They are rather smart and will just baah innocently at us and stay put.  That is until the car drives away.

My rurban farm may not be the best place for goats.  If I had forty acres, they would get out of their pen but still be in my yard.  If I lived in the city I might have a nice, sturdy six foot wood fence.  Here, their area is too large to any more elaborate fencing, but there is a highway with their name on it running in front of my house and neighbors ready to turn me in for nuisance animals if I don’t do something.

The reasonable thing to do is to call the girl I got them from and say, “Sorry, it didn’t work out.”  There is one thing in farming that we have not learned yet.  Letting go.  We get so attached to our animals, you would think we were running a shelter over here.  We just love those little goats.  But I know we cannot keep them.  I have no desire to chain the little girls up.  But making the decision to give them up does not come naturally to us.  A sense of dreaded permanence sets in.  An instant regret.

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We have a very old dog.  In fact I have had him my entire adult life.  He is older than my daughters.  He cannot find his food bowl.  He is blind, deaf, itchy, incontinent, and sweet.  Wags his tail every time he hears someone pass.  Do you think we have the heart to put him down?  Half of my friends would have shot him by now.  I just pray he goes soon.

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I have a cat who is very lovey, very beautiful, very bad.  He has never used a cat box in his life and has no intention of starting any time soon.  He is nine years old and we should have booked his sorry ass back to the shelter as soon as we noticed it when he was a kitten.  But we did not and now the heartbreak we feel every time we consider taking him to a shelter is just too much.

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We have been vegetarian for more years than we can count.  We were vegan for a good stretch because dairy animals get killed off for meat, and cheese is made with calf stomach (rennet).  We feel for these invisible animals.  It would be so much easier to just be able to buy some of my friend, Krista’s pastured beef, or to be able to slaughter our own chickens.  But, I can barely cut the heads off of fish.  There will be no decapitating Ethel and Peep.

I sure hope I am cut out for this homesteading bit.  We need to harden up a little bit when it comes to animals.  Or, is that one of the things that makes us who we are?  It seems like many people have a filter that they can turn on and not think so much about how the animal might feel.  Or not have regret when giving up an animal.  This homestead is getting out of hand!  Heaven forbid we get a cow.  You might find her watching television with us in the living room!

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Capturing Smiles

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My lovely sixteen year old daughter, Emily, has such an amazing eye for photography.  I, being a victim and perpetrator of many hundreds of straight on, smile in the camera, generic shots, I so appreciate the artistic hand and vision that all my children carry with them.  I love that Emily chooses to magnify the retro in all her photos, bringing to light an era past, only viewed through my mother’s old photos.  Her photos are fresh and cheerful.  And no matter how much we have going on, a quick glimpse at this gorgeous smile taken at her great, great grandma’s house (on the statue donkey we all rode as children), works wonders for cheering the heart.  Thank you for allowing me to share Emily’s sweet work of Maryjane.

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https://www.facebook.com/pages/Emilys-Photography-and-Art/455561454539889

emily (self photograph)

The Last Laugh (and bug spray)

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Today I was going to write about how I beat the flea beetles.  The itty bitty cruciferous eating machines.  Creating lace wherever they go; eventually decimating delicious crops, and then without even a thank you or a how do you do, they fly off to their next unsuspecting victim.  I tried the diatomaceous earth and the organic pesticide and then felt very guilty about using them as lady bugs and other beautiful insects were not who I was trying to kill.  After the rain, the bugs came back anyway.  I sat out there frustrated and just started spraying them with my homemade bug spray that I sell in my shop.  It keeps mosquitos and flies away, I imagined it would make the flea beetles head for the hills.  And it did!  For the past week I have been strutting around, blowing kisses to the cabbage and kale, imagining them stir fried in butter, not a care in the world.  Ready to brag to you of my incredible discovery!

As I strutted by yesterday, they laughed.  They scoff at me in their ignorant bliss from their perches.  Their only concern themselves.  The flea beetles are back.  I will regain my composure and re-hit them with my bug spray and laugh back.  We shall see who has the last laugh, my friends, we shall see.  I want that cabbage!

In the meantime, you can easily keep bugs away from you without the use of dangerous chemicals.  Here is my super secret recipe for Quit Bugging Me (a bug story). 

In a 2 oz. spray bottle (www.sunburstbottle.com) add an ounce of witch hazel and a half ounce of water.  Then add 60 drops of citronella oil (you do not need multi-marketing, ridiculously expensive oils, just go to the health food store or order online (www.mountainroseherbs.com)), 10 drops of lavender, 4 drops of geranium, and 2 drops of clove.  Top off with water or witch hazel.  You only need a few spritzes.  Sit bug free for several hours on lawn chair.  Have the last laugh.

http://gardenfairyapothecary.com

We’re All Mad Here

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The baby goats ran under my skirt hiding from the fiend.  His mouth was open, his eyes wild.  He had regressed five years.  My relaxed greyhound was half fed up, half wound up and the goats were then sorry they had spend so much time jumping on and off of him while he rested peacefully on his comfy lounge chair.  He lunged at them playfully (though slightly mad), putting their heads in his mouth and pouncing on their backs as if they were his same size.  They had acted like they wanted to play before but were now hiding under my dress expecting me to stop him.  I could not believe he was acting that way.  I put the babies in the garage and when I came out Bumble was chasing chickens.  He never chases chickens.  He guards them like a worthy protector from his lawn chair.  He is himself again, but really doesn’t want to go outside now if the babies are there.

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We made them their own pasture, which they get out of every day.  The neighbors come by regularly to tell me they put the babies back in the yard.  The goats were on the driveway….on the porch…running around the front yard.  I live on a major street.  Not good.

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I fight them to stay outside while I go in the house.  I am bruised and battered and tired.  And they are six weeks old.  Remember my fears about the bruiser animals?  I am wondering if I got in over my head.

I wonder how to balance farm life.  I feel a bit like Bumble right now.  I feel like running around screaming with my eyes all ablaze with insanity and then lying down on a lawn chair…for the next three months.

Next week when our life is calmer I will think…oh, I got this!  I can handle everything.  Right now, I can handle weeding, replanting, harvesting, canning, dehydrating, freezing, feeding baby goats, four markets a week, a shop, a house, and cooking, full knowing that in the winter I am so bored I need to take up cross country skiing or something to fill the time.  This week though holds its own craziness.  On top of all the other things, the house has to be cleaned and readied for the shop to move into the dining room.  I want to go Amish and give away all the extras.  My house is too full.  My shop has to be readied for our huge sale, everything cleaned, organized, and then emptied.  My shop closing leaves me at once relieved and heartbroken.

I am, however, constantly reminded that running it out of my house and doing markets is the smart move to make.  The neighbor came over to talk to Doug and Leo about our goats getting out and happened to mention his business.  It is just a few blocks from ours.  In the past three years, he never knew we were there and then in humorous fashion (I am being sarcastic) he asked, “Oh, an Apothecary?  Do you sell pot?  Hahahah.”  Hmm.

I will be in the back yard chasing chickens if you need me.

Veggies on the Cheap

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Preserving food for the winter is a smart thing to do.  Whether a snow storm keeps you indoors or for some reason there is a tragedy and the grocery store is not available to you to buy food, you best have some stores.  You could can, dehydrate, or freeze (though watch for power outages), and store root crops.  I have plenty of posts on how to do so but where do you get the vegetables affordably?  A case of vegetables at the grocery store would be cost prohibitive.  I am farming a quarter acre but I will not have enough to eat now and get us through the entire winter.  We better head to the farmer’s market.

  • Ask for seconds.  Ask the farm early in the day to save you the slightly bruised tomatoes to make sauce with.  Or the apricots to can.  Or anything that may be still good but it is not pretty enough to sell.  You could end up taking home cases of plenty good produce!
  • Ask how much a case of something is.  If it is in season it will be cheaper.  You may be surprised that it is not as much as you would think and you are supporting a farmer.
  • Go at the end of the day and see what is left.  Farmers don’t generally want to take things home.
  • Seek out friends with gardens.  Everything is usually ready at once!  Farms come in all sizes.
  • When at the market, don’t ask how much everything is individually.  If you fill up a big bag or box with stuff then ask how much it is, you will get a better deal.
  • Start a friendship up with people at the farm.  Friends get deals, and making friends is always a great way to improve life even if you didn’t get anything!  Be a loyal customer.  Loyal customers get deals.

Now time is ticking!  Best get preserving!

Homesteading Freedom

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Everything costs something; either time or money.  Everything will require something as its payment.  We used to have a cleaning lady, nice cars, enjoyed expensive restaurants, took the kids on cruises.  We worked hard for the money and spent it on what we deemed the good life.  But it was a farce.  It was an illusion of freedom.  Behind cubicle walls and by his phone strapped to his belt, Doug was actually a prisoner.  I, too, even though I owned my own business and raised my own children, was stuck in the “gotta make more money” and “need more time” trap that so many moms feel these days.

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Emily, Shyanne, and Peep

I remember clearly a conversation that my friends and I were having at dinner one night when we talked about organic, vegetarian food compared to quick, processed food.  They were arguing with me that theirs was far cheaper.  I said, “A bag of organic beans is less than two dollars!”  “But you have to spend more time making everything.  We don’t have time.  You have to spend more time to save money.”

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Doug and I are working ridiculous amounts of hours right now.  We are putting up money and goods for the winter like little squirrels….exhausted ones!  But we know the trade off.  One always has to work.  What will you work for?  I want to work on preparing and storing my own food, making what clothing I can, selling excess to help pay bills, creating and selling herbal medicines to support us on our own time.  We heal people, we are as self sufficient as we can be at this moment, we work hard, but we fall into bed satisfied each evening.  We are much happier than we ever were when our tax returns said we were living a good life.  We know that we traded money for time.  Time spent doing things we want to do and creating a life that is more satisfying to us than our run-around city life.

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We try to walk softer on the earth.  Not use so many resources.  Pollute less.  Use less electricity.  Buy less stuff.  Stay home more and enjoy each other and our animals.  We have created a life no one expected us to have.  Don’t wait.  Don’t do the five year plan….the “when I retire”….”the when I get land”….the “when I get married”…the “when the kids move out”…just do it.  If you want to live simply.  If you want to take that leap of faith to become a homesteader, do it now. Life goes faster than anyone wants to admit, and the peace of living as a homesteader far outweighs any fears.  Homesteading is freedom.

The Loveliness of Dark

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Driving through the rain last night, the darkness surrounding our vehicle, the only light was glimmering off of storm clouds.  Gentle pattering of rain created a soothing sound in our midst.  A small frog crossed the road in front of us heading toward the creek which is often dry this time of  year.  Frogs crossing the road are not an every day appearance.

When we drove into our town, the power was out after a lightening strike and the entire place held an eerie feel to it.  We had stepped back in time (save for the vehicle) and into an enchanting hundred year old town.  It seemed that the power going out did something else to the town…held it in silence.  It was completely quiet except for one thing….the cacophony of  frogs.  Louder than I have ever heard frogs.  Their musical aria deepened the storm filled air.  The sky tinged with pink and grey.  Lightening in the distance.  Soft rain drops on my face.  Frogs singing us into another world.

Usually when the power goes out we panic because we have no way to heat the house and it is usually a deep freeze winter storm. But tonight in the cooling breezes of a sweet summer night, the power outage was a welcome relief.  Peaceful.  Restful.  I wished I could see the stars sans clouds.  Oftentimes I am tired of electricity and light pollution.

We put the animals up and came into the dark house.  We lit our oil lamps and read by lamp light…as if we were there a hundred years ago.

The Unexpected Homesteader’s Tool

Unassuming little thing, isn’t it?  I sure didn’t give it much credit.  We got it at the dollar store to use in the shop as a cheap can opener.

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A woman walked in and asked if we knew where she could buy one like it since she was staying in the RV park and needed it….to open jars of canned goods.  I was about to offer her mine when my brain clicked in.  Say what?  I have been actively tearing and breaking nails for five years opening canned goods.  You mean that opens them?

I took it home straight away and opened a jar of pickles.  In two seconds.  It was amazing!

You can open a can of something.  Puncture a touch container or wrapper.  Open a beer.  Or open a jar of pickles.  This is something all homesteaders need!  And it works when the electricity goes out.