Thursday, December 22, 2016

Handmade by Bottle Tree Farm

Several months ago I fell in love with paper crafting and card making, but I quickly learned how expensive it can get to feed my new found hunger.  So I decided to make some cards to sell to offset some of the cost.  I sold a few cards, and after the fact realized I had not marked them in any way as handmade or with my farm name.  Even a few friends pointed it out.  "You really should put your name on the back of those cards so people will know who made them."  Oops!

I started looking and found cute "handmade by" stamps, but I couldn't decide what I would do about my farm name because it's long!  I didn't want to hand write it each time because my handwriting is atrocious.  I looked at custom stamp options and didn't really want to spend that money yet on a custom stamp.  I thought about alphabet stamps, but when I priced alphabet stamp sets, I couldn't justify buying more than one set and dedicating them only to assembling a custom stamp.  And, I really didn't want to assemble my farm name every time I made a card.    

I was in Michael's one day and saw these babies in the bargain bins.

At $1.25 a set, I didn't feel like I could go wrong, and at that price I could buy the four sets I needed to make a custom stamp.  I lined them up and used some shipping tape to hold them together.  I just folded over the edge of the tape on each end.  I'm pleased that for around $5, I have a custom handmade stamp.

The blocks do wiggle a little bit and I have to make sure I apply even pressure, so I may eventually glue them together.  But overall I love the way the letters don't exactly line up, giving it a truly hand-stamped look.

I eventually bought a 5th set so I would have at least one "e" as I used all of the "e" stamps in the first four sets for my custom stamp.  Now, I have a pretty good collection of extras for stamping projects, and I've already used them a few times.

I love the typed look on this card.

And, they fit perfectly in the boxes of this crossword paper.

I would say these little sets of $1.25 alphabet stamps get my "stamp" of approval.

Happy stamping,


Sunday, December 18, 2016

Winter Renewal (and Farm Chores)

If there is one thing farmers know about, it's planning their lives around the seasons.  I love reading The Pioneer Lady books by Jane Watson Hopping.  She writes of her community and growing up on a farm with her family.  In her world, winter was a time for regeneration and rest.  The final harvest before the first snowfall marked the end of the growing season and the beginning of slower days. That doesn't mean they didn't still have work to do, but the chores weren't as pressing or as numerous, and there was a little extra time in the day to socialize and reconnect with each other. I sometimes long for a long snow-filled winter where growing vegetable is near to impossible.  In the south, they say we have two weather conditions, hot and hotter.  Because of this, we can grow year round, and it's hard to justify not growing at least a few things when the weather works in your favor.  Winter greens do quite well in our climate and with hoop houses, we can even extend the growing season for many warm weather vegetables.  The first freeze last week finally killed off my eggplant, pepper and basil plants.  Eggplants, peppers and basil in December!  I do try to cut back in the winter and follow the lead of Mrs. Hopping, but that doesn't mean I still don't have chores, just as they did.  

I am in no way a large scale farmer, but my set-up is enough that I recognize the seasons and the activities and chores that come with each one. What farm chores do I do this time of year you may ask?  I still plant winter vegetables, just not as many as in the summer.  I like to plant plenty of greens because they can be shared with my rabbits and chickens.  I clean out all of the garden beds, including weeds and the veggie plants themselves.  I top all of my beds with manure so it can break down over the winter and regenerate my soil (I'm behind in this chore so I really need to get it done!).  I then top all of my beds with wood mulch (Once again, behind!).  In January I start to think about seed propagation and the varieties I want to grow in the new year.  In most years, a seed order is placed.  I plan the layout of each bed, rotating veggies from the year before to other beds to help control soil diseases.  Any maintenance that needs to be done around the farm is completed.  And, if I have a large project planned, it gets done this time of year as well.  My ultimate goal is to prep and get everything ready for the spring and summer, but most importantly, it's to relax a little.  

Nature takes this time to renew itself; we should do the same.

Happy homesteading,



Sunday, November 6, 2016

Move Along Tree Rats, There's Nothing to Eat Here!

We took this peach tree down a few weeks ago.  It was a hard decision because that tree has seen the full transition of my yard to a farm.  It's a symbol of my origins as a gardener, really one of the first things I planted when we moved here.  I remember thinking how cool it was that we would be growing and enjoying our own peaches.  I mean, after all, we live in Georgia, the Peach State, and I grew up stopping at roadside peach stands each summer to buy the juicy sweet fruit.  I even worked at a peach farm one summer in high school.  For years this tree produced magnificently, but the only creatures enjoying the bounty were the tree rats, a.k.a. squirrels.  They even have their own squirrel highway, down the limb of a huge oak tree, across the branches of the loropetalum, and straight into the peach tree.  Well, they are in for a rude awakening come next summer.  I can hardly wait to see their looks of disappointment.  Of all the years we had the tree, we only got one decent harvest, which was during the Year of the Squirrel Slayer.  You can read about him here.

Then, the next year, the peach borers moved in.  If the peaches managed to make it to a ripe stage before the squirrels got them, the peach borers were ready and waiting for their chance. If you don't know it already, it's REALLY hard to grow peaches organically.  I live just across the state line from South Carolina, which is the 2nd largest producer of peaches after California.  One would think if there were organic peaches to be found, they would be found 30 minutes or so from my house.  But, I only know of one organic peach farm in these parts. 

I finally thought to myself, "Why am I sacrificing prime real estate in my yard to a fruit tree that is giving me no return?"  With limited space, I am constantly accessing what works for me and what doesn't, and the peach tree just wasn't working for me anymore.  So what did I replace it with?  I replaced it with a fruit that the squirrels don't bother, figs!  Brown Turkey fig trees are probably the most prevalent variety found in older southern yards.  My neighbor has probably a 40 year old tree hanging over the fence of his yard, the main trunk of it being in his neighbor's yard.  And while I have access to that part of the tree for picking each year, it's not the same as having my own full size fig tree.  Because if you ask me, figs are the best fruit on the planet, and each year I gorge myself on them.  And, when I'm done gorging, I can spiced figs and fig jam.  I make fig pizzas and upside down fig cakes.  Fig ice cream is on my list as well.  Figs, figs, figs, I love you figs. So, here is my little fig tree.

Grow little one.  I expect great things from you! 

Happy homesteading,


Monday, September 21, 2015

G.R.O.W. Harrisburg: Where It's Been and Where It's Going

Since leaving my full-time job, I've tried to come up with ways to help the farm earn its keep.  Because after all, chicken and rabbit feed isn't free.  The chickens forage during the day, and I only feed them at night.  And, I can put together a decent ration of greens and wild weeds for the rabbits most days, but it's not enough to sustain them.  So, one of the ways I earn extra money is to sell eggs, honey, and garden art.  The eggs I sell on our local online farmer's market called Augusta Locally Grown.  One of the aspects of this organization that I love is it's a non-profit, and a portion of the seller's fee I pay goes to various programs in the area devoted to local food advocacy.  Since becoming a selling farmer on this site, I've become more involved in the non-profit side as well by volunteering.  And one program that really speaks to me and pulls me in as a volunteer is the G.R.O.W. Harrisburg initiative.  The Harrisburg neighborhood is a stone's throw from my house, and it is full of a rich and varied history. 
Harrisburg was once a mill village in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  But, as the mills closed, the neighborhood fell into decline.  And, in recent years it has been a district riddled with crime, drugs, prostitution, and homelessness.  Drive down its streets, and you won't fail to see a burnt out shell of a house.  Enter a vacant house, and you, more times than not, will find evidence of illegal activity.  Convenience stores and fast food restaurants mark the landscape.  So, one can't help but wonder how the lack of quality healthy food plays a role in this environment.  The U.S.D.A. Economic Research Service considers the Harrisburg-West End Historic District a food desert.  It is considered low income and low access as the annual family income is at or below 200 percent of the Federal poverty threshold for family size and the percentage of residents live more than one mile from the nearest supermarket, supercenter, or large grocery store.  I live not five minutes from Harrisburg, and yet, not five minutes in the other direction is a collection of grocery stores and thriving economic development.  Harrisburg is so close, yet so far.

But, in 2012, some local medical students from the Medical College of Georgia, St. Luke United Methodist Church, and local farmers set about making a change.  That change was the Veggie Truck Farmers Market.  Augusta Locally Grown was brought on-board to coordinate the farmer's market, and since that time, a small farmer's market has grown into a multi-partner initiative called G.R.O.W. Harrisburg.  Its goal is to help residents learn to grow, cook, and eat real food as a community.  

Food is the starting point of the initiative, but one of the backbones is community and how important it is for the health and well-being of its residents.  I look at my neighborhood as an example.  One thing I love about it is my neighbors.  They are all good salt-of-the-earth kind of people, and we help each other out.  We have each other's phone numbers, and when someone is away for a few days, we tell each other.  We watch out for each other.  Many of my neighbors have lived in this neighborhood for 40+ years, and they tell me stories about when someone had a goat or how their family had chickens growing up.  In my case, farming and food are often conversation starters with someone walking down the street.  "You're the house with the chickens, right?  I can hear your roosters crowing, and it reminds me of my grandmother's house."  or "I love your garden in your front yard.  What kind of vegetables are you growing?"  or "My grand kids are visiting next week.  May I bring them over to see your animals?"  So, it's a slippery slope when neighbors no longer know each other and stop taking care of each other.  The community bond is broken and the moral integrity follows suit.  I can see through my own experiences what makes G.R.O.W. Harrisburg so special.  It's the commonality of food and how it is connecting people, and the more neighbor connections you have, the stronger your neighborhood.     

Kim Hines, the Executive Director of Augusta Locally Grown, sees the future of Harrisburg, not as a food desert, but as a food destination, where residents and outsiders come to buy local seasonal food and G.R.O.W. Harrisburg as a starting block for micro-businesses.  Changing the face of Harrisburg from an outsider's point of view without changing its unique identity and the diversity of its residents is paramount.  With the right education and direction, it can happen.  I think of Detroit as an example. With the crash of the car industry, Detroit became a barren wasteland.  But, local residents are taking it back through food.  PBS's Food Forward episode, "Urban Farming," illustrates this brilliantly.

I am so happy to play a small role as a volunteer, and I leave you with a video that perfectly captures the initiative and its programs.   

Grow where you're planted,


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Take That, ---uckers!

I don't think there is a garden pest I hate worse than the squash vine borer.  For years I've battled them, and I've done everything imaginable to beat them.  But apparently the vine borers at my house aren't reading the same literature I'm reading because they seem immune to every trick in the book.  I was determined to win though, so this year I decided to experiment with row covers and hand pollination.  My plan was to use the row covers and at the first sign of eggs, pull all of the summer squash plants to keep the eggs from hatching and feeding.  At the least, I could break the reproduction cycle and possibly start fresh next year.  No one surrounding me had a garden so I felt safe with this approach.  Each morning I marched myself out to the garden, uncovered everything, hand pollinated, and then covered it again. You may think to yourself, "Why go to so much trouble?  It's just squash."  Well, I'm a sore loser and very stubborn.  And, it is so disheartening to see beautifully healthy squash plants die before they can even produce any squash. 

My row covers worked, and I was victorious!  I grew zucchinis organically for the first time ever.  Had I known I would succeed, I would have planted yellow squash as well.  Unfortunately the row cover was a cheap Ikea window panel I had on hand.  Eventually the plants outgrew the area the panel could cover and I managed to rip quite a few holes in it, so I had to discard them after a few months.  And, I saw a few borers on the plants after I removed the covers, so I wasn't 100% successful.  But, I got squash for two months or so and I consider that a win.  I'll have to do something better for next year in terms of a row cover, but I'm encouraged.     

And, not only did I get zucchini, but just last week I noticed these sweet babies interspersed in my butternut squash bed.  It must be a volunteer from last year.  It's a zucchino rampicante, also know as a trombone squash.  It's supposed to be vine borer resistant, but it isn't in my garden.  I'm thinking maybe a seed I planted didn't germinate until now.  Who knows?  I'm hoping to harvest a few of these before it gets too cold, and I think I've passed the vine borer season at this point in the year.

Happy that we were getting squash daily, I was crowing about my victory one day on Facebook.  A friend of mine who produces an Earth-friendly video series for the local magazine asked if he could film a video on my battle.  And, being the introvert I am, I agreed.  I actually am an introvert, so this was incredibly out of character for me.  Regardless, here I am in all of my glory!   

Happy homesteading,


Monday, September 14, 2015

The Unknown Path

For the last five years you've known me as The Weekend Homesteader.  I worked full-time, and projects on my urban farm were completed as time allowed.  But even before I started my blog, I was building a farm on a part-time hobby basis.  Some raised beds were joined by edible landscaping in the forms of fruit trees, berry brambles, and fruit bushes.  Next came just two chicks, which turned into upwards of 25 at one point.  Angora rabbits were transitioned to meat rabbits.  Along came honey bees and ducks.  More and bigger animal housing and a greenhouse made an appearance.  I named my farm Bottle Tree Farm and gave it a logo.  All of this was done part-time while I worked to pay the mortgage.  And, over the years, it changed me and fulfilled me in ways my daytime job could not.

So today, I have a confession to make.  About a year and a half ago, I left my job.  It was the toughest and scariest decision I think I've ever made.  Those who know me personally know of this decision.  Some thought me foolish because I left a wonderful work environment, a steady income, and excellent benefits.  Others thought me courageous because I was stepping off the deep end into the unknown.  And, perhaps I was a little of both.  All I knew was that I just needed a break to explore other options.  I was fortunate enough to have a husband who supported my decision and a bare bones lifestyle that doesn't need six figures to keep it going.  I haven't felt comfortable discussing this publicly until now as this path I'm on is unknown, and it's a path I felt was mine to walk privately for a time so I could feel my way.

I knew I didn't want to walk privately forever though, as I hope my decision will inspire someone out there to take that first step to making a change from a lifestyle that doesn't suit you anymore.  I'm not saying run out and quit your job tomorrow, but put a plan on paper, set some goals, and make some decisions that put you on your unknown path.  You never know where it may lead you.  My path may lead me back into the workforce, and I'm fine with that.  But it may also lead me to places I never imagined. 

With that, I leave you with a favorite poem of mine by Robert Frost:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Happy homesteading,


Saturday, April 18, 2015

And...... We're Back To Cages

As you know I recently decided to move my does to our barn, which is really just a series of 4 enclosed stalls.  You can read about it here.

About two weeks ago, Bunny gave birth to eight beautiful kits, finishing out my kindling for the time being.  At the time, I had 9 four week old kits with Zelda, 9 two week old kits with Mimi, and Bunny's newborn kits.  One day last week something told me to go check on everyone, so I started with Bunny's stall.  As you can see, she has a fabulous covered nest box with a hinged door.  She built a beautiful nest and things were going swimmingly.

When I lifted up the door, this is what I found, a big fat beautiful black rat snake.

It was coiled around the nest.  I freaked!  I ran and grabbed a rake and poked at it until it slid to the back of the nest where it is in the photo.  I started frantically pulling back fur to find babies.  I only found four of the eight.  There were three days' old and the perfect size for snake snacking.  One of them was slimy as if the snake had started eating it but spit it out.  Everyone was gathered and put in a nest box and along with Bunny, put in a cage.

I then went to Mimi's cage to gather her two week old kits, and they were not in their kennel.  I think I almost had a heart attack.  But, I pulled the kennel away from the wall and they were all piled up atop one another asleep behind the kennel.  I gathered them and Mimi and also put them in a cage. At two weeks' old, they were still a great size for a snake to tackle.

Even though Zelda's babies were four weeks old, I put them and Zelda in a cage as well, just to be safe.

My nerves were shot by then, and even though I knew it was non-venomous, I didn't want to tackle capturing the snake by myself.  Neither my husband nor my neighbor were home, so I let it hang out where it was.  If I were a drinking person, a good stiff one would have been next on the agenda.

I wiped off the kit that was slimy and I worried that moving Bunny and her nest would confuse her and maybe she would not know where her kits were.  Fortunately I had some of her fur saved from her last litter, so I lined the nest with it and covered the kits.  The next day I saw her feeding the kits so I knew she knew where they were; however, the one kit did not look like it had eaten.  So I took it out of the cage along with Bunny and held her while it nursed.  I did this for a few days to make sure it was eating.  It is growing so I know it's being fed, but it's not growing at the rate of the other ones. Honestly I don't know if it was a runt to start with or if maybe the snake damaged it in some way, but it is active and its eyes opened on schedule.

We've had several cool, rainy days lately and a few mornings ago, I went out to feed and water everyone and it was on the cage floor, out of the nest box, barely moving, likely dying from hypothermia.  I brought it inside and warmed it up and put it back in the nest box.  I checked on it later and it was warm and snuggled up with its litter mate.  It was probably still attached to Bunny when she finished feeding and got pulled out of the box with her.  I will give it credit; it's a survivor!

They should hit two weeks' old in a few days, and at that point, they will start to munch on hay and get their legs under them.  I'll be curious to see how it progresses from there.

So, back to the snake.  It hung around the stall for a while and left at some point.  I'm sure it didn't go far being weighted down with rabbit kits.  Non-venomous snakes serve a valuable role in our eco-system.  They provide rodent control and protect their territory from venomous snakes.  I would never kill a non-venomous snake.  In this situation, I have only myself to blame.  I set up a perfect buffet for that snake.  Because my stalls are predator proof in terms of raccoons and opposums, I never imagined a snake causing havoc, even though it makes perfect sense.  I know we have snakes as I see them every year and occasionally they eat some of my eggs.

So for the last week, I've been very diligent about collecting eggs as soon as possible.  And low and behold, I went to put up the chickens one evening and found a grey rat snake in the chicken coop.  It had indulged on one of my eggs, so Nate loaded it up in the truck and took it down to the canal and released it.  I hated relocating it but I also don't want it eating all of my eggs.  I'm sure the black rat snake is still around so I know we still have a snake coverage.

Zelda's babies just hit six weeks and have pretty good size to them now, so I plan to move them and Zelda back to one of the stalls once it stops raining non-stop.  And, I'll do the same with each subsequent litter until I figure out how to snake-proof the stalls.  I won't be breeding again until the fall so I have some time to work on it.

Happy homesteading,