Monday, May 26, 2014

The Babies of Bottle Tree Farm

This has definitely been the year of babies on the farm! Rabbits and chicks and ducklings, oh my! 

In December/January, Bunny and Sophia gave us seven and eight kits respectively.  I sold a few and kept one, but the rest are gracing our table. 

I fell in love with Mimi and decided to keep her.  She's only five months old, but isn't she a big girl already!

In March, Belinda gave me two kits.  Not the best litter in the world in terms of numbers, but they sure were cuties. 

Belinda's litter consisted of a buck and a doe.  I sold the buck and traded the doe for this cutie patootie.  She is part Silver Fox, New Zealand, and Californian, so she should be a big girl as well.  I've only had her a few days, so I haven't chosen a name yet.  I have some good options rolling around in my head though.

A few weeks ago, Vanilli, our super mama hen, hatched out ten chicks.  This is her third year hatching eggs, and she is the best!  And, I have two more broody hens sitting on six eggs each.  This year should be my best one yet for putting chicken in the freezer. 

We got Muscovy ducks late last year, so this is my first year of duck eggs.  I was advised to let the duck eggs collect and that the ducks would know when the time is right to go broody.  Well, the chickens kept trying to go broody on the duck eggs, so I thought for sure they had gotten the clock going on incubation and nothing was going to happen because they were on and off the nest.  Finally Coco, my chocolate hen, decided to get in on the action and she took over.  Out of 26 eggs, 13 hatched.  We've lost two, so we are down to 11.  I think she either stepped on them, because I saw her step on one a time or two, or our drake had something to do with their deaths.  I saw him pick up one in his bill one day and shake it.  I saved that one, and since then I have kept them separated.  All of the ducklings are slated for processing in the fall, but things could change between now and then.

Between rabbits, chickens and ducklings, my freezer should be overflowing.  I couldn't be more proud!  We don't eat meat everyday, but when we do, it's with reverence, gratitude and appreciation.

As a side note, I invite you to like Bottle Tree Farm on Facebook to witness the day-to-day activities on the farm. 

Happy homesteading,


Sunday, May 4, 2014

Can An Onion Do Math?

Well, the I'itoi Onion can multiply.  Does that count?

Last fall I decided I wanted to try some type of multiplier or walking onion.  I did some research and finally decided on the I'itoi Multiplier and the Fleener's Top Set Walking Onions.  I was particularly attracted to the I'itoi because it is on the Slow Food Ark of Taste, which has this to say about the I'itoi:

Not only is the taste of the I'itoi Onion bold and complex, but also is its ambiguous history. The original US harvest of the wild I'Itoi Onion took place on I'Itoi Mountain, which is also known as Baboquivari Mountain. This mountain is regarded by the O'odham nation as the navel of the world – a place where the earth opened and people emerged. The name I'Itoi signifies the Elder Brother, who is the creator deity in Tohono O'odham legends; consequently the onion is a sacred reminder of the O'odham creation story. Botanical studies place the I'Itoi onion among a very old line of clumping onions brought to the US by Jesuit missionaries in the late 17th century, concluding that the onion is not necessarily a US native. Regardless of the contradicting histories, the I'Itoi Onion has a special place among Sonoran Desert culinary culture.

The sharp, peppery flavor of the I'Itoi is well suited to southwestern stews and sauces, which often have robust, piquant flavors. The I'Itoi plant grows easily and prolifically in the deserts of the American southwest. Left in the ground during its summer dormancy, the onion re-sprouts toward the end of the season at which point it is harvested and replanted. The flavor of the I'Itoi Onion is garnering interest at a small, but highly visible, commercial scale throughout the arid southwest. The onion may provide one of the best examples of crop survival due to the stewardship of backyard gardeners.

Sometimes the little things are what excite me, like this I'itoi Onion bulb.

One bulb multiplies to this.

And, from the 10 bulbs I planted, this is my harvest.

I would say there are approximately 20 bulbs in each clump.  I think that's a pretty good return on my investment, don't you?  I plan to reserve the biggest and best for replanting in the fall.  I love that, if managed well, these onions will provide a sustainable way to enjoy onions year after year.

I also planted the Fleener's Top Set Walking Onions, but that's another post for another day.

Happy homesteading,


Saturday, March 29, 2014

Buzz, Buzz, Installing Bees

When we first got bees several years ago, we ordered and installed two colonies.  One of them left after two days!  Everybody, gone!  We didn't replace them and since then we've been flying solo with one hive. 

Well, one hive is great, but when an ice storm comes along and a fallen limb blows apart the only one you have, you decide a second hive might not be such a bad thing.  Though this scene looked bad and we questioned whether they would survive, there was still a cluster in one of the hive boxes, so I assumed the queen was still alive.  We put everything back together, fed them sugar water for a few days and watched and waited.  I checked them after a week or so, and I saw capped brood, which means babies on the way and a laying queen, pollen and the start of honey.  As of today, they are working like gangbusters bringing in pollen and nectar.

I picked up and installed my second colony today.

When you order a package of bees, this is what you get. This is 3 pounds of bees. The small rectangular box beside it is called the queen cage, and it holds the queen as well as a few of her attendants.

Here is a close-up of the queen cage.  The white end is actually candy, and this is what she and her attendants eat while trapped in her cage.

The end of the queen cage with the candy is capped with a small cork. The cork is removed to give the new bees access to the candy. They will eat their way through the candy to release the queen. Once the cork is removed, the queen box is suspended in the hive body where the bees will be installed. She is still protected by her cage, but she will be able to send out pheromones to establish herself as queen. At this point, she is not their queen, but by the time they get through the candy and release her, she should have sent out enough pheromones to establish herself as their new queen.

This is where the bees are going to be dumped. It's a hive body with 10 frames.

The blue push pin is holding the queen cage in place. The top is pried off the package of bees and you basically shake them out of the package into the hive. Most of them come out in a large mass and they proceed to work their way down into the hive body.

After you've shaken out as many bees as possible, the package is placed in front of the hive to encourage the rest of the bees to migrate into the hive body.

Finish with a nice container of sugar water to feed them since they don't have any honey or pollen collected yet.  Let's hope this one stays put!

Happy beekeeping,


Friday, March 28, 2014

Meet Novalee!

In the span of 14 months, we had to put down all three of our cats.  Anyone who has ever had to do that knows it is heart-wrenchingly painful.  For us, we had barely gotten over one when we had to turn around and do it again. 

In November 2012, we sadly lost our 18 year old cat, Lucy.  She was me personified in a cat.  She was my kitty soul mate. 

In August 2013, we lost our outdoor cat, OP2.  She came to us as a stray.  Nate said he used to see her going in and out of the trashcans on the street looking for food.  We had her for about 6 years.  She was an excellent mouser! 

In January, we lost our 19 year old cat, Onyx.  She was as sweet and unassuming as any cat could be, the complete opposite of Lucy.  She was Nate's girl. 

For 20 years we have had a least one cat in our lives. 

The house was terribly lonely after Onyx, and the pull of having feline companionship was strong.  So, I started surfing  This went on for at least a month, and one cat kept grabbing my attention.

This past weekend, we welcomed her home.  Her name is Novalee, and she is estimated to be a little over 1 year old.  She is every bit the love bug, and to me, she is beautiful.  It has been so long since we've had a rambunctious playful young cat in our house.  We are enjoying every minute watching her play and act a fool.  Based on her personality and physical characteristics, I believe she is part Maine Coon, which is my favorite breed.

So, without further adieu, meet Novalee.  As you can see, she has made herself right at home.

Happy homesteading,


Monday, March 24, 2014

Ever Evolving

It seems like it has been forever and a day since I last posted.  We've had some major projects happening here so I've been busier than a one-armed paper hanger lately.  If I've said it once, I've said it one thousand times.  I am always looking for ways to make my space more efficient.  Therefore, I am always assessing whether a project done in the past works for me today, especially as I expand, and how a project on my to-do list will make things run a little more smoothly.  Late winter to early spring seems to be our time for big projects.  I don't have too much going in the garden and it's not 100 degrees outside.

So, here is a run-down of this year's projects.

The GA Henitentiary came down.  The run portion was in prime growing territory, and since I made the decision a few years ago to move all of the animals to the back half of the yard, having animal housing here just didn't make sense anymore.  Plus the termites were having a field day with it, and it was only a matter of time before it came down on its own. 

In its place went a new 10x12 greenhouse.  Doing this opened up the bed where the run used to be and also freed up my smaller greenhouse, which is actually in the animal yard, for feed storage.  This greenhouse was almost grounds for divorce at our house!  Ha, ha!  It will have to last forever because Nate will NEVER construct one for me again. 

And, as if the greenhouse wasn't a big enough chore, it was followed by another whopper.  What was originally my rabbitry and then storage was converted to a four stall barn.  This was my major expansion project for this year giving me greater versatility in animal housing.  The raccoons had figured out that the lattice was easily ripped off and they were helping themselves to the feed, removing the lids from the containers, and making a huge mess in the process. I was limited by the henitentiary because I could only grow-out one rabbit litter at a time.  Now I can breed more than one rabbit at once and not worry about grow-out space.  Plus, it gives me the option for separating animals when needed.  The really fun part of this was digging out all of the stalls to a foot depth, in the Georgia clay mud I might add, laying down chicken wire and stapling it around the perimeter and then back filling with mulch.  The mulch has been wonderful for providing drainage.  Because of the density of the clay and the high water table of this area, it was always muddy.  I've noticed a huge difference now after a big rain storm.  The chicken wire serves two purposes, to keep predators from digging in and baby bunnies from digging out.  By the way, a stackable organizer from the Dollar Tree flipped sideways and screwed to the wall makes an excellent hay feeder.

Since I lost my feed storage area, my old 6x8 greenhouse became my feed storage shed.  Nate finished the shelving for it, and it is perfect.  It sits in deep shade during the summer so with the ventilation windows and the door open during the day, I'm not too concerned about the feed getting too hot.

And, here are a few photos of the animal yard as it is today.  The rabbits are to the right.  My feed storage is above that.  The chicken coop is just behind the barn.  I'm digging it!

Happy homesteading,


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Difference Between Ducks and Chickens

What is the difference between ducks and chickens in an ice storm?

The ducks are in the stream having a blast.  "Sleet, ice, schmice!  This water feels great!"

The chickens are in the coop demanding to see their labor representative.  "We told you during the last storm that this weather would not be tolerated!"
So, before I lose electricity, which is bound to happen when we get ice, I'll sign off.
Happy homesteading,

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Street Value

In Georgia today, pigs are flying and Hell has frozen over because, yes folks, we have snow.  Monday was a high of 68 and two days later, this.

The chickens and ducks were like, "WTF?  We live in Georgia, not Rhode Island.  This was not part of our labor contract.  Please remove whatever this is immediately, or we're contacting our union reps!"

But, have you any idea what the street value is?  It's pure snow! 

Oh, and did I mention the best part?  Two paid days off from work!

Hey, Mama Pea, this snow thing, you might be on to something!

Happy homesteading,