Waking Up To 2015!

IMGP1594 - CopyA whole new year is ahead! Can you believe it?! We made it through 2014, despite dire predictions of disaster. Sure, chaos is present, but so is peace and goodness. Sometimes the world I see reminds me of the story of Chicken Little. She was so worried about something possible and yet unlikely, and got so many others worried, that they missed the true danger right in front of them. Its sort of interesting to me when I look at current events and look at history because I see the same things happening over and over again. Kind of like living in a real-life “Groundhog Day” movie that spans thousands of years. So, as I look to the year ahead I choose to look at the little things that affect me day to day, the concrete, grounded things that I have some small control over. My resolutions for the coming year are very much home-based. They revolve around love, family and friends, around being wise and planning as much as possible while not letting myself and those around me become mired in the possible to the point that we forget to live for today. Money comes and money goes, wars rage and die, governments rise and fall, but through it all, humanity continues, and so does love and family and friendships.

Today I set my resolutions for the year, my plans if you will. These are the small goals that we set that should be achievable and help us plan our days. Last year I had these goals;

  1.  Create a garden that produces enough food to supply our families canned/frozen food needs for the entire summer and winter. A sub-goal to this is to only buy beans and rice and seasonings from the grocery store after June of this year.
  2. Create a sustainable source of meat on our own farm without relying on deer hunters for all our meat. A sub-goal here is to actually kill and process our first pig (THAT is a daunting task that I really don’t want to do but need to!)
  3. Install a working well pump with plumbing for the garden and install rain-barrels for garden watering and livestock needs.

Amazingly enough we accomplished all but the last one, and that was due to money. Due to the Health Care Reform Act we ended up taking everything we had and paying for health insurance since we were not eligible for any of the subsidized plans due to my husbands job offering family health insurance, even though it was more than we could pay. I am glad to have health coverage, but it put a hold on some plans and changed the course of things for our farm.

Now it is 2015. I need to find out what is important for this year and how to achieve it. So, here is this years list;

  1. Put aside some emergency money every month (which means I have to get an outside job and still continue to farm and homeschool, which I have lined up)
  2. Complete a gutter system on the barn for livestock and garden needs (its okay to carry over goals from last year 😀 )
  3. And a fun, yet productive goal; improve my photography and begin marketing it. My sub-goal here as I have already started on this main one is to make $100 off my photography this year. Last year I made a total of $2, but had to buy a new camera, so if you run the numbers it doesn’t look too pretty 😀

I am pretty sure I can swing these goals this year. They are wise goals, productive goals, and are ones that benefit my whole family. They give me personal focus and challenge, and will give a sense of accomplishment when completed.

Tell me your goals! What do you have in mind for this year? Do you set clear, reachable goals for yourself? What goals did you finish from last year? I would love to have you share in the comments and then next year see what we have all accomplished together!

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The Reluctant Chickenista

Captain Munch

Captain Munch

Chickens on our farm have always been the lowly, replaceable stock. That sounds bad in a way, but truly it isn’t meant that way, its just that in the scheme of things, where I struggle to have enough food for my growing children and hard-working husband, chickens are pretty low on the totem pole. If they get sick, you dig a hole and bury them if they don’t get better. Hurt? You eat them. I have not really had the time to think a whole lot about a chicken hospital or quarantine pen, that is usually reserved (along with the energy used to care for sick stock) to the goats or pigs, who rate much higher on the food chain in quantity of provision and outlay of expenses. That is… until recently.

We have this hen, a little white americauna/mutt. She was given to us by a friend, along with a small flock of others. Not long after getting them I found this little hen with a bloody head and listless, she had been being pecked nearly to death by the other birds. I didn’t really want to mess with her, but my young son begged me to give her a chance, so I cleaned her up and chucked her in with the baby goats, far away from the other chickens. She healed and my son hand fed her every day. He named her Captain Munch.

Capt. Munch has been with us nearly 2 years now. This summer I was complaining because she is constantly in the garden and roosting in the barn instead of staying in the chicken area (where I had moved her after she healed and gained some size). I was telling my husband I was planning on culling any of the annoying birds that wouldn’t stay put when my son chimed in, tears in his voice… “You aren’t going to kill Munch… are you?” he plead. No, I am not going to kill Munch. That darned bird gets a free pass. My husband wants to use her in a “Chicken in Space” home video, she is my sons friend, and to be quite honest I like her company when I milk. So, each night, I pick Munch up and carry her to the coop, where she will promptly leave in the morning to raid my garden and nest in the hay in my goat barn.  And so the story of how I became The Reluctant Chickenista.

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Backyard Gardens & Hunger Relief

I went out to my garden this morning and was so pleased. It gave me such a sense of well-being and thankfulness to look out over the fall crops, still dripping from yesterdays rain. The cool air of autumn gently kissed my face and arms as I bent among the pepper plants weighed to the ground with their offerings, and the tomato vines sprawling across the ground. I looked out over the small peas and winter greens, the sweet potatoes nearly ready to be harvested, the broccoli and cabbage plants growing huge in the fresh, cool air. Near-by the chickens clucked contentedly in their run wile enjoying the chickweed I tossed in. I gathered 9 eggs this morning from my gentle hens, and one from the ducks, plenty for our needs.

As I walked among the plants and animals I thought about all the hungry people in just my town alone. I thought about all those struggling, and I thought about the waste in our culture. Our small garden provided more than we actually need so we bought pigs to clean up the extra and still provide yet another form of food for our table. Very little of our land is given to garden, and yet we have enough, if I had help, to feed at least half of the fresh food needs of 3 families, or 75% of the needs of 2 families. If a neighbor were to help with weeding and caring for the garden and plants and preserve some of the food, our garden could easily meet needs beyond our own family. Of course, they won’t. Most of the time I just have people ask for some of the free, effortless food growing out of our ground. Here is the thing, though; no one needs to go hungry! Between the wild plants (often called weeds) and the planned plantings, there is an abundance of food! In our little town there are hungry people. Some of those people are just users, but others are too old or too young or simply have no idea where to start in providing for themselves. I love the community gardens that have begun to crop up in cities and small towns, in country clubs and inner city government housing areas. Sadly, they are in short supply. Many elderly grow flowers instead of vegetables and children are not allowed to get dirty or play with worms in a family garden plot. It wasn’t all that long ago the government told people it was their civic duty to grow a small garden and provide some of their own food needs, but today most people are so busy they just say they couldn’t possibly have time, or the ability, to grow vegetables, yet they take expensive vacations, buy short-life electronics, spend evenings in front of the television.

It is my belief that all able-bodied persons have a duty to grow at least a little food. Maybe its just some salad greens, or maybe a tomato or two in a bucket, but everyone should grow something. I believe that everyone should have access to information on how to garden, and children should be taught agriculture and gardening from an early age, and even spend an hour a day helping in school or community gardens by the time they are in middle school. I believe that extra should be shared with those too weak or ill to garden for themselves; can you imagine what it would do to take a basket of fresh veggies to an elderly neighbor each day? How it would change their lives and improve their health? Can you imagine what it would do for our children to help pick those hard won foods and then share the bounty with a friends family that is struggling because their dad got laid off or their mom was ill? I realize there are picky, wasteful people out there, but I also think that if more people started growing their own foods that much of those traits would dissolve. We can’t let those that have forgotten what real food is, those that have forgotten how to be thankful for simple things and not waste them, we can’t allow them to stop us from sharing our knowledge or stop us from helping those in need.

Here is the point of all this; what are YOU doing to help others in your community? Are you only concerned with your own family, or do you reach out with your knowledge and skills and bounty to help at least one other person or family? If this never occurred to you, I would challenge you to find an elderly or down-on-their-luck person in your circle and see what you can do to help them. Take the a basket of garden veggies to the old widow in the carefully mended dress that your church is praying for. Offer to teach the struggling young mother with 4 children two houses down how to plant a kiddie pool with fresh veggies. And maybe even take them a cup of tea and sit and visit for a few minutes. It will be a blessing to you as well as them. And if, by some chance, you hit on a dud, don’t give up! Try again because we can only change the world in small ways, but the ripples from one small act can change the world.

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Fall Garden Time!

The leaves on the tulip poplar are turning yellow, temperatures go from miserably hot and humid to cool and breezy by turn, rains come and go. I was working in the garden and heard flocks of birds in the trees, you know, those really big, noisy migrating flocks. Ducks and geese have been flying overhead in migration formation and the bees are working hard at getting the last of the nectar of the year. Fall is almost here, with its cooler temps, crisp air and the smell of fallen leaves being crushed under foot. I love autumn, it is as wonderful as spring to me, my two favorite times of year. It also signals that it is time to get the last of my fall seeds in the ground so that we have a winter harvest.

This is our first year actually getting seed in the ground in time for winter. I have tried and tried, but it is often so hot and muggy that working outside is a major chore. We had a beautiful week of cooler temps that I took advantage of and got the ground ready and the first seed and plants in. Now it is time to finish the large beds of kale and mustard and root crops. I want to prepare some beds for garlic, move some blueberry bushes to ground the pigs prepared, and fix up a greenhouse so that I will be ready to get plants going for spring time. Here are some tips for your fall garden;

  • Plant things that don’t flower and like cold such as carrots, lettuce, anything in the brassica (broccoli/cabbage) family.
  • Its okay to use a slightly shaded area while it is still hot as long as the shade is from deciduous plants (ones that drop their leaves for winter). This is especially true if you live in one of the warmer zones of the nation.
  • Plant with the purpose of covering the soil and restoring it. Cover crops of plants that correct nitrogen and provide green “manure” come spring should fill in any gaps; things like winter peas, winter rye, and oats are wonderful.
  • Prepare snow protection plans if you want to harvest in the dead of winter; hoops tunnels, straw and cold frames provide shelter for more tender crops that will continue to grow with just a touch of protection.
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Dressing The Earth

I was working in my garden today, thinking about what I was doing and also thinking about how most people farm today and how I would explain what I do to people that want to learn. I thought I would share as it forms the basis for how and why I do things on our land.

While I hold no religious reasons for my views, I feel very in-tune with the earth. In my youth and young-adulthood I wanted very much to be a biologist, a marine biologist to be quite specific. I learned that it was hard to make a good living in that field so I wove a different path for myself, but that love of the earth and the life that makes it special never has left me. I have always tried to teach others about her, how to take care of her and how she meets our needs. I am passionate about the earth in a quiet, farmer kind of way.

So, getting back on topic, I was unloading leaf mulch into the garden, lining paths and plant rows with it. It was really hot outside, and the humidity was causing sweat to run off of me as if I had just come out of the pool. It was a struggle to keep my glasses clean as the sweat dripped onto them every time I leaned over to dump another bucket of mulch on the ground. I stood up and looked around. I noticed the sweet potato vines were looking a little dehydrated and made a note to water them when the sun went a little lower. We haven’t had rain in over a week and the plants are looking a little stressed despite the thick mulch that was laid around them. I thought about it as I went back for another load. I thought about how the earth, to me, was like a woman that demanded to be dressed. She longs to be covered in life, either plants or creatures, and they form the folds and creases of her garment.

This of course led to explaining to my invisible audience what I meant by that. It is pretty simple really; bare soil erodes, it washes nutrients away to a place where they eventually get caught up and a fertile piece of land produces food for the creatures that live on it. The earth doesn’t like seeing any of her creatures hungry and longs to fix those patches of arid land. So she grows grasses there to catch the soil. Their roots are shallow and they need little to survive, but they spread with vigor and quickly cover the soil. Their leaves provide mulch that harbors insects and eventually becomes the soil rich enough for other plants (which we often call weeds) to grow. These plants continue the process of restoring the soil and nurturing life, and act as a shade to make the grass leave space for larger life. A tree’s seed is planted by a squirrel, and then grows. It provides more shade and more trees grow. Eventually they create a dense canopy that shields the earth below from excessive wind and rain and continues to mulch it with leaves and fallen branches. Many of the “weeds” and grasses cannot thrive in the shaded forest except in pockets where a tree has fallen and the earth becomes exposed again and they have to begin to sew their patch upon it.

Using these observations I apply them to my gardening. My garden was covered in crab grass when we moved here, and I was a bit concerned that we would not get a good harvest for battling the grasses. However, I knew that the earth needed covering. I knew the soil there was poor and sandy with very little top-soil, the soil that is where things actually grow. So, my plan was to create, essentially, the environment of a forest but without the trees, because most of our food plants for gardens come in about the size of “weeds”. I tilled and removed as much grass as I could. I planted with care not to over-tax the soil that was there, giving my crops space but also wanting to fill in and shade as much of the earth as I could. I applied a heavy layer of mulch made from leaves and wood chips to hold the soil and harbor insects and microbes that would break that mulch down into nutrients for the plants. I planted things that grew down with things that grew up. As I approach the fall season I am trying not to disturb that rich bed that I made but instead add to it and plant in it. The grass grew in places, but most of the spaces that were carefully mulched remained fairly grass-free and the plants produced an ample harvest and were healthy enough to withstand bug invaders. You see, nature is amazing and will find a way to survive if given the care it needs. When gardening we need to be mindful not to strip the earth of her covering. We need to cover bare ground with heavy mulches and plant our crops in such ways that it shades the ground fairly quickly. We need to continuously build the soil rather than applying chemical fertilizers that create imbalance. If we dress the earth with life (plants and in the mulch microbes and beneficial insects) she will yield bountifully.

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Ducks are Not Chickens

Today I processed our extra drakes. I figured it was  a little different, but not too much. I pulled up some how-to’s and got busy. Well, it wasn’t quite that simple. First, ducks are built a little different than chickens. Their feathers have a nice bit of water protection and even with a little soap in the water getting through all that protection wasn’t easy for loosening feathers. Second, I don’t have a meat breed of duck, I have a laying breed. They are little under all the fluff, but they do look good even though they may be better for soup than roasting. Last, getting all the feathers off is a major chore with ducks. It took hours to process 5 ducks, and the one rooster I did took 7 minutes total. So, a little warning… ducks are NOT chickens!

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Fruit & Bugs; Some Ideas

Apples

Apples

My family LOVES fruit. Yes, I capitalized that. Blueberries, grapes, peaches, apples, pineapple, kiwi… the list goes on and on. I think the only fruit my kids don’t like is tomatoes and that is because raw they burn the children’s mouths. For around 10 years now we have had fruit trees and bushes. Some years there was success (well, one year anyway) but it seems like bugs or fungus take over, or wind blows down all the fruit, or early warm temps followed by a hard freeze kill the buds. The story has been told over an over again, especially with the peaches. We plant an expensive tree, we fertilize, water, pick off bugs, allow chickens to keep the ground below clean. We see fruit, tons of it, and then right about time to ripen it all rots. It becomes very frustrating to realize that in order to get a harvest off these trees we HAVE to spray them with insecticide and fungicide or we generally get nothing.  So… we are going to try something new for 2014-15 planting.

One of the few things we ALWAYS see a harvest from, and a bountiful one at that, is blackberry, raspberry and elderberry. These are plants that are almost invasive… okay, they ARE invasive! They thrive without tending and with a little attention produce bountiful harvests. Another really good fruit is mulberry. They pop up from seed, grow quickly, and provide enough for you AND the birds! I have always gotten a harvest even if I do nothing, I have never seen them all rot or get filled with worms. They are delicious, and the bright, rich color of the fruit signifies the high antioxidant levels you need in summer to clean your body and protect you from UV damage. I planted a few black raspberries this spring and they have done so well I can root them to double or triple my numbers by next year. The blackberries produced enough for daily snacks and I only had two plants. The elderberries will do better next year, my chickens got to most of the berries since the plants were still small, but next year they will be towering and heavy with fruit (not bad for only 2 years after planting). I want to plant a bunch of mulberry trees as well. These plants all grow well naturally, and even blueberries do well here if you get the right variety. I have some wild ones in the swamp that I want to dig and plant out of the flood zone and propagate; the berries are smaller, but the plants grow so well and the berries are so sweet it is shocking when used to the somewhat bland ones commercially grown. My theory is that these plants are far more sustainable than the overly dependent fruit trees most of us have access to today. Not to mention most grow well at the edge of woodlands, which is the type of planting space I have available. I have decided that if I want fruit free of pesticides and herbicides I need to go with what nature has made strong rather than what man has made weak.

Here is my fruit plan for planting and provision;

  • fig
  • blueberry
  • grape
  • mulberry
  • elderberry
  • raspberry
  • blackberry

Stay tuned for news of how this pans out in 2015 and wish me luck 😉 I would love to hear stories from those that have done this and I would also love to see pictures of your bounty and how you use naturally growing fruit-bearing plants in your landscape.

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