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,


Candace

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,

Candace

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,


Candace




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,

Candace

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Try, Try, Try Again




















We've kept bees for several years now, but only one hive.  For some reason, keeping a second successful hive eludes us.  Our one hive really thrives.  It is so strong that during the ice storm last year a limb fell on it and blew it apart.  We found it lying on the ground in pieces with a cluster in one of the boxes.  We put it back together and expected the worst.  Not only did it survive, but we harvested honey all summer from it.
















Apparently even an ice storm can't take down our one hive, but when we try for a second one, it fails, every time. We've bought packages of bees more than once, replaced queens, caught swarms, you name it, we've tried it with the exception of splitting our hive.  So, this year I decided to try splitting our hive.  Why would I keep trying to have a second hive after so many failed attempts?  Well, I'm as stubborn as a mule and a sore loser.  You can ask my husband.

Splitting the hive means basically that.  You try to divide the population and put one half in another hive.  It's a man-made swarm.  As the population builds up in the hive, it becomes crowded which triggers a swarm, which is a natural split.  When bees swarm, the mother queen leaves with a portion of the population, and the newly emerged queen stays and takes over the hive.  With it being early spring, I knew they were building up for a swarm soon so I decided to try to beat them to the punch.  So a few weeks ago, a friend came over to help me.

The goal is to take frames of brood that have all stages of development, eggs, larvae, and capped brood as well as cells of pollen and honey and move them to a new hive.  You replace the frames you take from the original hive with empty frames so the queen has room to lay more eggs.  It's great if you can find your queen in the original hive as you can make sure she stays where she is, but if you can't find your queen, you can either let each new colony make a queen, which they will naturally do in the absence of one or you can add a queen.  Since I have failed so many times I decided not to spend anymore money and to let nature take its course and let each hive rear a queen if there wasn't one.  A few of the frames had queen cells so we left them on the off chance that a queen wasn't present.  There was capped honey already in the hive so we gave each hive a frame or two of honey to help feed them while they transitioned.  We also made sure each hive had approximately the same amount of bees.  Of course, the foragers that were out foraging were going to come back to the original hive.  But, we were hoping any foragers that got dumped in the new hive would reorient themselves and stay with the new hive. Often beekeepers move the new hive several miles away so the foragers in the new hive have to reorient themselves, but I really didn't have the means to do that, so I took a chance.

The original hive recovered quickly and even swarmed about a week ago.  I imagine our original queen was left in that hive and one of the queen cells we left as a safety precaution hatched so it swarmed.  I'm fine with that because it's still a really strong hive.  Well, low and behold, I went out to observe yesterday and saw bees bringing in pollen on the split hive.  This video shows foragers coming in and going out.  It's still a weak hive as it had to rear a queen and has to build up its population, but I'm encouraged!  


video



Please wish me luck!

Happy homesteading,

Candace






Wednesday, March 25, 2015

By the Phase of the Moon

I seem to be writing more about the rabbits than anything else lately although I do have other things happening.  I suppose the reason is because I have been giving them more attention than I normally do in terms of bettering my rabbitry and getting better breeding results.  Several months ago I came across the practice of breeding by the phases of the moon.  And it started with this blog post.

I was tired of trying to get my does in the mood as they never seemed to want to lift for my bucks, no matter who I paired with whom.  So, I decided to try this idea of breeding by the moon cycle.  The first full moon for me at that point was February 2nd.  I put Zelda in with Buck Nasty, and she immediately lifted.  I've never had a doe lift so quickly.  And she lifted for him several times.  Today she is the mama of a beautiful litter of nine kits.  Now according to legend since I bred her on the full moon, she should have more bucks than does in her litter.  

  













The new moon was on February 18th, so I decided to breed Mimi on this day.  She also immediately lifted and Jack was able to get more than one fall off.  She gave birth several days ago and built one of the prettiest nests I've ever seen.  Because they are tucked in the back of the dog crate I haven't counted them yet.  But when I stick my hand down in the crate I can feel the warmth radiating off them and when I lift the fur, they pop up and down like popcorn kernels, so I know they are okay. Since she was bred on the new moon, she should have more does in her litter.    
















My last breeding was Bunny on the full moon of March 4th.  She didn't lift immediately but she did lift and she tends to be slightly stubborn so we'll see what happens with her.  She is due starting next week.  

I do know when I see a full moon, but other than that, I'm not one who can tell the difference between a waning or waxing moon or even know when there's a new moon, so I've been using the Farmers' Almanac website to schedule my breedings.

Now, if you really want to get crazy and even determine the quality of your bucks and does, you can breed based on the moon phases combined with the zodiac calendar.  This post does a great job of explaining that.

So here is to some successful breeding by the phase of the moon.  

Happy homesteading,

Candace

  

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Transitioning the Rabbits

For a few years I've been curious about raising rabbits in a colony situation versus keeping them in cages.  There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches, but the biggest advantage of a colony situation is that it mimics nature and this is what interests me the most.  I want my animals to be the happiest they can be, and while I give each rabbit time to exercise and frolic in a run, I imagine they would be happier to be able to do that 24/7 without my moving them back and forth from an exercise run to their cage.

  










About a year ago, we finished what I call the barn.  It's a four stall building and I reserved the first three stalls for rabbit grow-outs.  When I didn't have any litters in them they sat empty, and I wondered what sense did that make?  Why not let my does live in the stalls and give birth to their litters there?  Their litters are going to end up there anyway.  The does will naturally wean them when the time is right.  Plus, if I decide to keep a doe from a litter, it already gets along with its mother and they could live together as a colony would.  Since I only have three stalls at the moment, two of my rabbits are still in cages and I move them back and forth to the run as usual.  Ultimately I would love a series of stalls along the back privacy fence seen in the top left of the photo.  Most people who raise colonies keep their bucks separate so they can control breeding, and this is what I've decided to do as well.  So in the three stalls, I have a doe, a buck and a doe.  The buck can socialize through the wire with both does but he can't mate with them unless I let him.

This is Jack in the middle stall.  He's such a sweet and handsome boy!

 

 












Mimi is on one side of him.  She is due to kindle any day now so I've given her a large dog crate stuffed with hay so she can make a nest when the time comes.




















And Bunny is on the other side of Jack.  You can see her peaking out of her burrow.  I am pretty stoked because I was able to re-use the door of our chicken tractor to create this burrow.  It still had the hinges on it and the latch so all Nate had to do is screw it to the wall.  Now I can lift the top and latch it to the wall when I need to check her litter. Plus the burrow will give her an extra shady place to relax during the summer.  I would love to do this to all of the stalls eventually but for now Bunny gets to test it for me.  She has already moved some dirt around in there but she can't go too deep because I have chicken wire lining the ground to keep the rabbits in and predators out.





































They all look pretty happy, don't you thing?

Happy homesteading,

Candace

Monday, March 9, 2015

Getting to Know and Tweaking My Greenhouse

We installed my greenhouse a year ago, and I made mention of it here.  Being that it is so close to spring this time of year, I really didn't have the benefit of winter weather to get to know it last year. So, this year, I've had a sharp learning curve.  What I didn't realize was how drafty it is and how hard it would be to keep warm during the winter.  It heats up nicely during sunny days, but at night when the temperatures plummet, the greenhouse temperature follows closely behind.  So closely, in fact, that when temperatures hit lows in the teens recently, the seedlings in my greenhouse froze.  Oops! Now I'm behind the eight ball with my seedlings this year, so lesson learned.  So for the past month, I've done some things to monitor and control the temperature a little better and to tweak some things to make it work better for me.

1.  I bought an indoor/outdoor thermometer.  I put the outdoor sensor in the greenhouse and the base inside.  Now I can monitor the temperature from my office to get a better idea of the temperature ranges throughout the year.

  


















2.  After much nagging, pleading, threatening, blackmailing, begging and basically having a meltdown, I finally got Nate to run electricity to the greenhouse, which means I can use germination mats and eventually grow lights when I can afford them.  I think the germination mat has helped tremendously, not only to keep the seed trays above freezing some nights, but to help the warm weather seeds, such as eggplants and peppers, get a jump start.  




















3.  When we installed the greenhouse, we knew we would have to add shelving.  At the time we finished, we were so sick of the project that I don't think I could have gotten Nate to build shelving for a million dollars.  So, I spent more money than I wanted to on pre-made shelving.  What I love about the shelving is that the shelf heights are easily adjusted and I can add or take away shelves as I need them. I would not have had this feature if Nate had built them for me, so I'm happy about that.  And, since they are 4' in length and 2' wide, they hold a large germination mat and 4 seed trays perfectly.  However, the shelving came stock with particleboard shelves and eventually the particleboard buckles in the center from the moisture, so I knew I would have to replace them eventually.  My solution is to use decking boards.  Because the boards are not a true 6" in width, they don't take up the entire width of the 2' space.  Our solution is to put two screws on each board to hold it securely against the next one. Now the shelves are secure and won't buckle from the moisture.  I'm slowly working on replacing the particleboard as each one buckles and as the budget allows.  
















4.  Another thing I've tried to do is to create thermal mass.  I added mulch on the floor, and as it decomposes, it will create heat.  I would also like to add some type of water container, be it just a barrel of water or even some type of hydroponic or aquaponic system.  Once again, the water will heat during the day and release that heat at night, thus helping heat the greenhouse a smidge better.

Maybe at some point, I'll research some type of solar heater, but for now, I'm happy just to get some baseline items out of the way.

Happy homesteading,

Candace

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Throw Back Thursday

This past summer I participated in a farm tour through an amazing organization called Augusta Locally Grown.  It had been raining off and on all day, and I was a mess from being rained on and from the stress of thinking we would get rained out.  And, surprise, surprise, I found out once my tour started that I was going to be video-taped and interviewed.  That sent my introverted self into panic mode, but everything went well, so for TBT, I thought I would share the video. Plus, I'm sharing it because I miss summer!  Well, I don't miss the heat and humidity and mosquitoes, but the other stuff, the fun stuff.  As you will see, I was by far the smallest farm on the tour.  Grow where you're planted, right?  Enjoy!


Happy homesteading,

Candace

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Meet Feral Fawcett




















She's a Sicilian Buttercup, and she is wild!  We got her from my father, who decided he wanted chickens a year or so ago.  He loaded up on chickens and slowly, one by one, they were picked off by predators.  A fox was the main culprit.  They were truly yard birds in that they were never touched.  Feral was the last one and she had been by herself for months.  He asked us to take her in, so we did.  When Nate caught her for the first time she started screaming bloody murder.  She was not happy, and this went on for several minutes.  We joke that some of our chickens are wild, but they are lap chickens compared to this girl.

We kept her separated for a few days until the flock got used to seeing her and stopped lining up along the run to gawk.  Then we locked her up for a day with our bantam rooster, Sir Elton, and of course, they got along swimmingly.  She is just his size.  The next day we let her out in the yard with everyone else, and she hung around Sir Elton all day.  He gave her a tour, clucked her over for juicy tidbits, and when another hen tried to pick on her, he intervened and broke it up.  All that day I saw them together.  That night I thought I might have to isolate her again for her protection, but when I went to lock up everyone, she was roosting on the back of one of the other hens.  I guess she decided she wasn't going to take a lower rung and went right to the top.  She has transitioned amazingly well into the flock.  I am shocked.

So for now, all is peaceful in the yard.

Happy homesteading,

Candace

Monday, February 9, 2015

Band of Idiots

This is a band of idiots!  (If you click on the photo, you can see a larger version of it.)
















This is a band of idiots because they are on the WRONG SIDE OF THE FENCE!  They are looking at me like, "We can see the yard.  We just can't get to it."  Well, idiots, you can't get to it because there is a fence in the way.

Why is there a fence in the way, you might ask?  Well, the chickens have free reign along the back side of our lot and the woods behind my neighbor's house.  He has a fence that keeps them out of his backyard as does the neighbor on the other side of him.  So, generally they stay in the woods.  But, they recently discovered the neighbor diagonally behind me does not have a fence around his backyard, so they have been going to forage in his yard.  It's really not a big deal to him.  He doesn't care.  But I care.  I care because chickens do not know boundaries, and they eventually work their way up his yard and around the fence line of the neighbor directly behind me.  Once they are around the side fence line, they work their way down into his yard.  They forage and have a grand time over there.  It's full of untapped bugs and good eatin'.  However, when they are ready to head home, they congregate at the fence, ON THE WRONG SIDE.  They can't figure out that they have to work themselves backwards to get home.

So, I have to work my way through Vietnam to get through the first backyard, come around the fence, and then work my way down the hill through this yard to get to them.  Let me tell you pricker branches and blackberry brambles still stick in the winter.  And, this yard is full of hidden holes under piles of leaves and fallen branches.  I almost killed myself trying to catch them all.  Rocky has nothing on me!  Once caught, they were hurled gently placed over the fence and back in their own yard.

This happened a few days in a row, so I've kept them locked in the animal yard since.  They are pissed at me right now and stand at the fence and scream bloody murder.  Oh well, Idiots, when the scratches and puncture wounds on my legs heal, I just might open the gate again.

Catch your chickens like Rocky,

Candace

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Conversations At Our House



This is Vanilli.  She is our oldest and favorite bird, and we think her head looks like an eagle, so we call her our American Bald Chicken.  We bought her at the flea market years ago, and we say that is why she is such a tough bird.  She is street smart and has survived multiple predator attacks over the years.  She is also our stand-in rooster, crowing in the early years before we had roosters.


She is a fabulous mother, hatching out a clutch for us each year.  She teaches her chicks how to forage and is very protective.

So my husband came in this morning and asked, "How many birds do we have?"

"We have 15 chickens and 4 ducks." 

"Well, I counted 15 chickens, but it looks like a bird was attacked.  There are chicken feathers all over the ground.  They look like Vanilli's, but I just saw her."

I race out to the animal yard and start counting birds.  1,2, 3....15.  1,2,3.....15.  1,2,3......15.

"We have all of the birds, and she was in the coop last night when I put everyone up, so show me what you're talking about."


It's hard to capture it in a photo, but it definitely looks like a crime scene.

A quick scan of Vanilli shows she is missing some feathers.  So, like any good blogger, I said, "While I go get the camera, catch Vanilli and let's make sure she isn't hurt."

A few minutes later, I came back out and asked, "Did you catch her?"

"I can't.  She's running around the yard with a mouse in her beak, and everyone is chasing her."

"Okay, let's keep the other chickens away from her so she will calm down and we can catch her.  Plus, she can enjoy her mouse if no one is chasing her.  I have a feeling she's earned it."

So, we get her isolated in a protected corner and stand guard while she enjoys her breakfast.  Nate picks her up at one point so we can examine her, but she was not letting that mouse go.  So it came along for the ride.   


And, here she is swallowing it down, like a noodle.  If you click on the photo, you can see the end of it hanging out of her beak.


Thankfully, she's okay, and her feathers will grow back.  I assume something attacked her at dusk last night but only managed to grab feathers.  Dusk seems to be the prime time for attacks at our place.  The night predators are heading out for the evening, and the birds are putting themselves up.  Once they are locked in the coop, they are safe.  

Oh, the things we do for our animals and the conversations we have!  All's well that ends well though.

Happy homesteading, 

Candace  









Saturday, January 31, 2015

Manure, Manure, Manure, Mulch, Mulch, Mulch

That's been my mantra lately, it seems.

Two truckloads of manure later, and I'm finally finished spreading manure for the season.
















It's a necessity, because this is my reality.  Red Georgia clay.  Do you see any good loamy soil in there?  Yeah, me neither.  It's a gooey mess when wet and rock hard when dry, and it's only about two inches below my soil line.  Raised beds are a must so I need material to fill those beds.  Enter, truckloads of manure.
















And, just when I've had enough shoveling mulch, I get to tackle this.



I've been complaining about needing mulch for months.  I've called every tree service in town who will deliver mulch for free if they are in your neighborhood.  It saves them a trip to the dump and a dump fee.  They put me on a list, and I never get called.  I had just mentioned to Nate that we were going to have to go to a place I know of where the mulch is free but you have to load it yourself.  Neither of us were looking forward to that because it means touching it twice, to load and unload.  Thankfully the utility company was taking down some trees in an easement up the street from my house that same week, and Nate asked them to drop a load in the driveway.  He thought he was being really cute though and asked them to drop two loads, so double the pile in this picture and you see into my future.  "I'll get her.  She won't ask for any mulch for a long time."  He's right!

Anyway, happy pitchforking,

Candace  

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Personals: Lonely Casserole Seeking Lid

Casserole Personals

Lonely 1.5 quart Anchor Hocking Fire King Meadow Green casserole seeking completion.  I've been without my lid for many years, languishing in a cabinet, unused and forgotten.  I have recently acquired a new living situation where I am appreciated and loved.  However, I feel incomplete.  I would love to meet the lid of my life so I can fulfill my full potential.  Might I add I'm curvy in all the right places.  Photo attached.  Serious inquiries only.  I am not looking for a one-night stand with a Pyrex lid.  Signed:  Lonely Casserole

Response:

Dear Lonely Casserole:  I saw your ad and knew I had to respond immediately.  For I am a lonely Anchor Hocking Fire King 1.5 quart Meadow Green casserole lid looking for a forever match.  I too have languished in a cabinet having lost my mate years ago.  I long for hot nights together in the oven where we can make beautiful casseroles together.  Should you desire the same, you will find me at an estate sale on XXXX Road on January 17th.  You won't notice me at first, but I will be waiting on a table, a little dirty and ignored, not having received the care and treatment I've deserved.  You will almost pass me by on your way out the door, but fate has other plans.  Until we come together as one, Lonely Lid

Y'all, we have a love match!

    














Happy homesteading,


Candace

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Duck Spa


We have a small stream running through the back section of our lot, and more times than not, it has water flowing through it.  As you can see in my current header photo, the ducks love it.  When we fenced off our animal yard, we had to come up with a solution to bridge the stream yet still let water flow.  This was our solution.


It has worked well to keep everyone on their side of the fence, for the most part.  However, just on the other side of this fence is a lovely little pool of water.  It's shady and inviting.


It taunts the ducks, so they push aside the welded wire to partake.


Yes, we could screw down the welded wire along the bottom.  But really, how can I refuse entry to the duck spa?  Duckie Dale has to look handsome for the ladies.  

video

Sometimes he takes the ladies one at a time into this private alcove, but that's a video not fit for this blog so we won't go there.

Happy homesteading,

Candace

Friday, January 9, 2015

Feeding Rabbits Naturally



Within the last 18 months, I've transitioned my animals off commercial feed.  It's full of GMOs, and I want nothing to do with them.  I wrote about the chickens here.  But I have also transitioned my rabbits to a whole grain mix, forage, and hay.  One of my goals this year on the homestead is to beef up my rabbit forage in the yard.  There are already several native weeds and cultivated perrenial plants growing in and around my yard that the rabbits love.  I just have to harvest them.  Some of them are

Henbit

Purple Dead Nettle

Dandelion

Wild Violet

White Clover

Plantain

Yarrow

Comfrey

My rabbits also get to take advantage of my garden plants, like basil, parsley, dill, cilantro, marigolds, borage, mint, lemon balm. thyme, echinacea, fennel, various greens, and carrot tops.  They get clippings from the thornless blackberry brambles and the willow and apple trees.

Though these plants/weeds grow wild in my area, I don't have any in my yard, so I bought seeds this year to grow them.

Purslane

Sorrel

Stinging Nettle

Whenever I get the opportunity I put my rabbits out to forage for themselves.  This is my rabbit run area, and I plant it with PlotSpike Clover Blend, a deer forage.  I like this blend because it does not contain any rapeseed, which is the basis for canola, another GMO product.  While this photo does not show forage, the one below it is the same area once I seeded it.  It was full of clover and other good weeds.  Not only does letting the rabbits forage save me time, but it gives them the change to exercise and dig holes and be rabbits.  





























I also cut out the bottoms of some old rabbit cages and am able to move them around to different areas of my yard for additional forage.
















One plant I really hope to get going this year is Moringa.  It is a powerhouse of nutrients and will be an excellent protein source for the rabbits.  My region is borderline on successfully growing it, so we'll see how it goes.

If you want a more extensive list of rabbit safe plants, vegetables, and fruit, take a look at this one.

Rabbit Safe Plants, Fruits, and Vegetables
 
Some of what I grow is considered medicinal so I always check this list if I'm unsure of what I'm feeding, especially with nursing does as some of these can impact milk flow.

Medicinal Herbs for Rabbits

As always, when introducing a new food, do it gradually!  Rabbits have very sensitive digestive systems and even a small amount may be too much for your rabbit.

I'll leave you with some of my grow-outs munching at the bunny salad bar.

 













Happy homesteading,

Candace

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Finding My Mojo


Somewhere along the way last year I lost my writing mojo.  It's not that I didn't have anything to write about, because I did.  It's not that I didn't have the time, because I did.  As a matter of fact, I probably had more time than I ever had since starting my blog.  I just got involved with life and the blogging world slipped my mind day in and day out.  I even stopped reading my favorite blogs.  I slowly slipped out of the blogosphere in all ways until it was a blip on my radar.

It wouldn't disappear totally though.  That blip glowed faintly, resting quietly until I came along and gave it the energy it needed to shine again.  I needed to recharge and remember why I love the blogosphere and why I started my blog.   I began to wonder how Mama Pea was doing at A Home Grown Journal and Leigh at Five Acres and A Dream.  I missed Susan's wicked sense of humor at e-i-e-i-omg! and Carolyn's at Krazo Acres.  I missed reading about homesteads in other parts of the country and learning about how they deal with situations that would not be a part of my everyday life, like several inches of snow and a shorter growing season.  I missed being motivated and inspired.  I missed writing about my experiences and hoping I could provide some grain of knowledge to someone somewhere out there, and if not knowledge, at least a good laugh at my expense.

Looking back I realize I have been blogging for almost five years, and I don't aim to stop yet.  So, I hope some of you are still out there and are interested in reading. Because I'm interested in writing.

Happy homesteading,

Candace