Category Archives: Garden

Homesteading Update

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Well, let’s get the confession over with first. There is no garden this year. There was a garden, but through a program of careful neglect, we managed to ignore it till it went away.

I’m still trying to figure out how to juggle taking care of my children and getting things done outside. Obviously my great-great-grandmothers managed it somehow. It can be done. I just haven’t figured out how they did it yet. Babywearing is great, but it’s not particularly practical for working outside in a South Carolina July.

Anyway, as a result, I’ve been on a bare-bones maintenance program around here, and the garden paid the price. We had such a hot, dry summer, though, that even the gardens people actually remembered to tend around here yielded very little.

So, no vegetables, but we do have a few home-grown chicks. I’ve had multiple broody hens over the years, but none have ever stuck it out long enough to hatch the eggs. This year, though, two girls teamed up, sitting on the nest together most of the time and taking turns at eating and drinking. They managed to hatch out a total of eleven chicks, nine of which survived and are doing wonderfully.

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The only thing we’ve expanded in the last few months is the rabbitry. We still have (and love) our American Chinchilla trio plus their eight current offspring, but now we also have standard Rex. If you’ve never felt Rex fur before, there is no way to describe its softness.

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This is Julep, a young castor doe. We also have Moon Pie, her castor half-sister; Blackberry, a young black otter doe; Cassie, a mature castor doe who gave us six beautiful kits a few weeks ago; and Creole, a young silver marten buck. Later this month we’re picking up a little opal buck as well. Rabbit math. It’s worth than chicken math. Seriously.

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There is something really therapeutic about caring for them, though. They’re soft, quiet, and friendly, and I find the routine of filling water bowls and doling out pellets and hay very pleasant. Not that I linger over the process — I’m usually either grabbing a few minutes while the baby sleeps and the boys watch a video or else I’m waiting till Ben gets home and trying to get everyone taken care of between supper and darkness.

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One of Cassie's kits.

But I do stop to snuggle the occasional baby bunny. Wouldn’t you?

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Seriously cute.

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Six Busy Months

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Spring and summer have flown by this year. I’ve started a few posts without finishing any, and somehow half a year has passed since I posted anything at all.

The Baby is no longer a baby. Instead, he has morphed into an eighteen-month-old blur of energy, mischief, and fun requiring far more supervision than his brother ever has. Every obstacle must be climbed and every food must be tasted. Any cat sighting (window, television, pet store…) results in repeated and very realistic meowing. For whatever reason, his greatest ambition is to throw himself over the back of the sofa, something which I’ve managed to prevent so far. He loves to read books and wants to be just like his big brother.

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The Boy, meanwhile, started kindergarten last week. I’m homeschooling him, and he’s absolutely eating it up. Most days he does twice as many pages as projected and would keep going if I didn’t stop him. His favorite thing is cutting and pasting, and he’s very careful and conscientious with his work. He still keeps us in stitches most of the time with the crazy things he says. He loves “inventing” things, and he can build just about anything with either Legos or PVC pipes. And he is a serious people person — not always the easiest thing for this introverted mama to deal with, but I’m glad he’s so outgoing.

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And as busy as these two keep us, we’re expecting a third in March! The Boy says that it is “definitely” going to be a girl — while he adores his little brother, he also desperately wants a sister. This pregnancy is very different from my others, so maybe that means he’s right.

On the homesteading front, we built four raised beds and had a decent garden this year, but a serious lack of pollinators. The cold winter killed off a lot of honeybees around here. So our tomatoes, beans, crookneck squash, and butternut and acorn squash did pretty well, but the peppers and zucchini did nothing, and out of dozens of blossoms, my pumpkin vine only managed to set one fruit.

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The chicks we hatched are thriving and fully grown now. We lost two within two days of hatching to mushy chick disease, where the navel fails to close properly after the yolk sac is absorbed. It’s usually caused by too much humidity during the hatch or bacteria encountered in the incubator. I didn’t have a hygrometer to measure the humidity, but as far as bacteria goes, by the end of the hatch that incubator was pretty manky. Not really sure how to avoid that.

Anyway, as soon as I realized why the first one died, I immediately started applying iodine to the navels of all the rest to dry them up. One was already too sick to pull through, but the others with iffy-looking abdomens all healed up cleanly. After that, we lost one to suffocation when all of its siblings decided to pile up on it, but the rest grew up beautifully.

The only downside to hatching our own chicks was that some of the prettiest ones turned out to be cockerels, including Trouble, my funny little owl-looking baby who used to jump into my hand as soon as I reached into the brooder. My little chocolate fluffball, Godiva, did end up being a pullet, but the one that looked like its Cuckoo Marans mama and that I had hoped might lay olive eggs ended up becoming a gorgeous roo. Most of the extra cockerels will probably end up in the freezer. It’s just another way of providing for our family, of course, but you know, I couldn’t help hoping we would have a miraculous, 100% pullet hatch. ☺

We added several new rabbits: a California buck and a trio of pedigreed American Chinchillas. The oldest AmChins won’t be old enough to breed until October, but I love these rabbits! They’re huge, beautiful, and so sweet. They’re a critically endangered heritage breed, so there aren’t many of them around here.

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Add a few days in Charleston, a quick weekend trip for one of Ben’s younger brothers to get married on Pensacola Beach, several more home improvement projects, and a whole lot of laundry, and you’ve got a decent, if abbreviated, glimpse of our last six months. Hopefully it won’t be another six before I get a chance to write again!

First Blueberries of the Summer!

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What a beautiful (and delicious) sight! The handful in the second photo lasted about 30 seconds once they were within reach of The Boy, but they were SO sweet and sunshiney!

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Our bushes are still small, but every summer we get to take our turns picking from the huge, 30-year-old shrubs at my parents’ house, where it’s easy to get over a gallon every other day. It looks like quite a year for them, too. I see lots of cakes, pie filling, jam, and pancakes in our future…

From The Farm Blog Hop

Happiness is a Warm Slice of Bread.

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I’ve wondered several times recently if it’s worth doing all we’re trying to do to live differently. Life can be so easy if you’re willing to just run down to the grocery store and buy pretty packages of ready-made food that bill themselves proudly as “natural,” “healthy,” and “old-fashioned.” And I will freely admit that for a few weeks (OK, months) after bringing our new baby home, I succumbed to the convenience. Then, a couple of weeks ago, I made the mistake of looking at an ingredient list on something I was about to feed my family for supper. Yeah. Bad idea. Now, I’m trying (read: struggling valiantly while wearing a baby on my chest) to get back into the habit of cooking from scratch.

Fortunately, I’m blessed with a sweet husband who loves to cook, so if the baby needs me around suppertime, Ben is totally capable of stepping in and fixing food for the three of us. Over the past year of pregnancy and babyhood, he’s also been awesome about taking care of the chickens and rabbits whenever necessary. I hope I won’t ever take for granted his willingness to come home after 10+ hours of work and still take an active part around the house. I’m trying to do as much as possible on my own, though, because I hate so much for anything to add to his burden.

But really, at times like this, it does seem so tempting to just let all of that stuff go. Let Ben come home from work and enjoy a well-earned rest. Let me focus on Legos and Golden Books and baby snuggles. Isn’t that all that really matters? Obviously, the answer is yes. And no.

I really do believe that we’re doing what’s best for our family by making the choices we’re making. Even the ones that might make other people think we’re crazy or have our priorities completely out of whack. (I’m pretty sure half of my Facebook friends have gotten sick of my agricultural/anti-GMO/crunchy-ish posts and unsubscribed from me!) And I want to be totally honest about the fact that we cheat sometimes. I don’t ever want to give the impression that we have this whole thing figured out. We don’t. But we’re trying.

For one thing, for reasons I’ll explain soon in another post, this will not be The Year of the Garden. I got a few tomato and pepper plants in the ground last month (didn’t even try to start from seed this year!), but my poor eggplants, okra, and cucumbers never even made it out of the pots. Next year, though, we should have a fantastic start as we work in all of the rabbit and chicken manures, straw, and leaves we piled on the garden plot this past winter.

We’ve also decided to cut down on the number of chickens we have. Our main coop is overcrowded, mostly because we planned to replace our older hens as their laying slowed down, only to find that they continued to produce like champs right alongside the new pullets. And overcrowding has led to feather-picking, so my beautiful girls aren’t so beautiful anymore. I’ve put up portable fencing in front of their coop so that they have more space and fresh ground to work through. But the simple fact is that we have too many.

So we are cutting back where we can and trying to lighten the workload. But in other ways, I want to do more. We’re using cloth diapers about 90% of the time, so laundry has increased somewhat, but it’s hardly overwhelming. (And now when I do have to use them, I realize just how nasty disposable diapers smell!) I have high hopes of doing more canning this summer and fall as well as making our own baby food, even though it looks like most of the produce for all of that will have to come from the farmer’s market. And I’ve been experimenting with new bread recipes, including this super quick and easy whole wheat from Modern Homesteaders. It’s so satisfying and absolutely scrumptious with last fall’s apple butter!

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Mostly, though, when I make bread, it’s the same sourdough my mom made when I was a little girl. It takes two days to get from starter to bread, but the plus side is that you only spend a few minutes at a time working on it. Feed the starter, wait 12 hours, make the dough, let it rise 12 hours, knead it and make loaves, let them rise 10 hours, and bake. Given the lengthy time frames, though, it’s not uncommon for me to (finally!) get the boys settled down for the night and realize that I still have to mix up the dough or form the loaves. Funny how long those few minutes of work can seem when I know I could be curling up in my soft bed!

My 3-month-old, while a better sleeper than his brother was, is still waking me up a couple of times a night. So when I’m up late making bread, I do wonder if this (like so many other aspects of the life we’re trying to make) is worth the effort and the loss of rest. But the next day, I pull the finished loaves out of the oven and cut a slice while it’s still almost too warm to handle, but that’s when the butter melts into it the best. And I hand it to The Boy (just like my mom used to give me the first slice when I was little), and he takes a bite and says, “Oh, Mommy, you make the best bread in the whole world.” (Seriously, how did I get such a sweet kid?) And it means so much more than the extra 20 minutes of sleep would have meant. And someday, even if he never understands how much work went into it, he will remember that his mama used to bake the best bread ever.

I think that matters. I think it’s important.  And I think it’s totally worth it.

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Catching Up, Starting Fresh, and Just a Little Bit of Showing Off

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The holiday season always flies by, but for us, anyway, it was especially crazy this year. We had a couple of pretty major projects going on in the house — finishing up the new room for The Boy and his soon-to-be little brother, turning his old room into a guest bedroom, and general touch-up, cleaning, and reorganization of the rest of the house, which has felt like a combination of a storage unit and construction zone since we started work on the new nursery.

From the moment we got the tree home, all The Boy could talk about was putting the star on top. He needed Daddy's help, but he got it up there!

From the moment we got the tree home, all The Boy could talk about was putting the star on top. He needed Daddy’s help, but he got it up there!

Christmas was lots of fun since The Boy was so very excited about it. We celebrated with my family the Friday before, and let me just say that it’s a good thing the world did not end that day, because I would have been very upset to miss out on my Mom’s famous standing rib roast and Yorkshire pudding. Then on Christmas Eve, Ben’s family (who were in town visiting his grandparents) came over to have dinner and to see all that Ben has been working on around here.  Christmas morning was nice and quiet with just the three of us celebrating together one last time.

So excited on Christmas morning!

So excited on Christmas morning!

Outside, we’ve been breeding rabbits, cleaning chicken coops, rebuilding nest boxes, and spreading what seems like half a ton of chicken and rabbit “contributions” on the garden area. Anticipating life with a 4-year-old and a newborn, we’re planning to keep things very small gardening-wise this year — mostly large pots close to the house for things we use the most (tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, etc.) and feed sacks for growing potatoes.

Egg production has been spotty for the last few weeks due to the frequent changes in weather. The girls also got into the nasty habit of egg-eating recently, probably because one or two eggs got broken around Christmas Day when schedules made it difficult for me to collect them as frequently as usual. This is why we ended up altering the nest boxes, adding a ramp and partition for the eggs to roll down and under, so that they end up in a nicely padded spot where they’re much less accessible to the hens.

Sweet, crazy Silkie.

Sweet, crazy Silkie.

We realized about a month ago (after moving the last of the bossy SLWs from the chicken tractor to the large coop) that two of the Easter Eggers we’ve raised this year are roosters. Crazy, right? Apparently they were too hen-pecked by the slightly older pullets to ever assert their masculinity, and honestly (maybe for the same reason), they didn’t even look like roosters until the past few weeks. Now, they’re making up for lost time and conducting multi-round crowing competitions anytime between 11:00 p.m. and dawn. At least one of them definitely needs to go.

The Boy snuggling with Dickens, his favorite cat. No, this photo doesn't "belong" here, but who cares?

The Boy snuggling with Dickens, his favorite cat. No, this photo doesn’t “belong” here, but who cares?

There should be a couple of litters of baby bunnies arriving this weekend, although we haven’t decided yet whether they’ll be ending up in the freezer or the classifieds. I haven’t been able to cook rabbit since getting pregnant — something about the tiny bones reminds me of dissecting things in high school biology class, and every time I try to handle one I end up smelling formaldehyde. Completely baseless and psychosomatic, I know, but I can’t seem to get past it yet. Hopefully the crazy will go away after the baby is born.

It’s sinking in now that this baby is coming next month. This pregnancy has flown by and lasted forever at the same time, and I’m ready to see his face. My first pregnancy was a surprise, and I was too naive to know what to worry about. I miss being naive. This time I’ve known from the beginning that I wouldn’t feel safe until I could hold this baby in my arms. We’re almost to that point now, and while I’m dreading the sleep deprivation I know I’ll be dealing with by March, I also can’t wait to hear that first cry and snuggle with another newborn.

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My sweet baby — can’t wait to see this face in person!

So, back to that new room we’ve been working on since last fall. I think we’re finally ready to post before and after shots! Ben has done such beautiful work, and I’m really proud to show it off. When we moved in, the room had old, funky-smelling, green carpet and this strange, indoor/outdoor feel, mostly due to the exterior siding on the walls. the old sliding glass door leading to the living room, and the window looking into our master bedroom. It had apparently once been a screened porch, and when they turned it into a sunroom, they didn’t change it much. (Nor did they insulate it much!) We ripped out the carpet and put down vinyl flooring, painted the walls a light blue, and basically put the whole room at the bottom of our priority list. So here are pictures starting with the “before-before,” through the “before” and the construction process, and a bunch of “now.”

The room when we moved here in October, 2010.

The room when we moved here in October, 2010.

Lovely view of the "Before" living room through the glass door.

Lovely view of the “Before” living room through the glass door.

Our temporary fix for the room. That window looked into our bedroom, by the way.

Our temporary fix for the room. That window looked into our bedroom, by the way.

Windows and door opening into the carport. Lovely.

Windows and door opening into the carport. Lovely.

Exterior siding partially down, drywall going up. The window's days are numbered...

Exterior siding partially down, drywall going up. The window’s days are numbered…

The two large windows into the carport had to go. They added nothing to the light or the view. The Boy was thrilled by the huge hole in the wall.

The two large windows into the carport had to go. They added nothing to the light or the view. The Boy was thrilled by the huge hole in the wall.

Look, no more window! Now I have a door directly into the nursery from our room.

Look, no more window! Now I have a door directly into the nursery from our room.

New floor going down. The Boy loved the sound underfoot and crab-danced back and forth.

New floor going down. The Boy loved the sound underfoot and crab-danced back and forth.

Flooring is down, light is up. Huge improvement.

Flooring is down, light is up. Huge improvement.

It's almost unrecognizable. Seriously, go back and look at the first pictures. It's amazing.

It’s almost unrecognizable. Seriously, go back and look at the first pictures. It’s amazing.

I wish my bedroom had these windows!

I wish my bedroom had these windows!

Cozy crib. I'm in love with the tree branch decal.

Cozy crib. I’m in love with the tree branch decal.

New French doors into the living room!

New French doors into the living room!

The Boy's "new" bed. The quote above it is from Thoreau: "All good things are wild and free."

The Boy’s “new” bed. The quote above it is from Thoreau: “All good things are wild and free.”

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Crib and tree branch again. Still love it.

The Boy's "new" dresser. I love this, too.

The Boy’s “new” dresser. I love this, too.

So happy. This isn't a huge space, but it's finally useful, and it's more beautiful than I ever thought possible.

So happy. This isn’t a huge space, but it’s finally useful, and it’s more beautiful than I ever thought possible.