A bit about us...

We are a modern family of three, living on less than two acres with a 3,000 square foot garden that meets our produce needs and allows us to share with friends and neighbors. Our laying flock of chickens seems to expand each year as we raise chicks each Spring to replace older hens. This blog is more of a journal, if you will, for us to chronicle and share our experiences in the yard, garden and kitchen. It is our hope that along the way a few folks might learn something, be entertained, or simply enjoy sharing in our stories and the lessons we learn on a daily basis. I named the blog after the times when I am the happiest, when I am elbow deep in earth.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Chasing the harvest

WELL! It has been ages since I took the time to sit inside and write a blog post.  I am sure I am missing the point of a blog with lengthy entries such as this, but nevertheless, this is how I write.  The garden is in full swing, the varmints are driving me batty and the weeds are taking over.  In other words...just another day in paradise!

Since it is over 90 degrees today, I thought it wise to skip outdoor chores in favor of finally recording some of the season's happenings.  Let me begin with a brief list (HA!) of everything we have planted in the gardens this year.

  • "Green" Beans - Provider, Jade, Tri-color assortment, and Yellow Garden Beans
  • Lima Beans - Henderson
  • Great Northern Beans (for soup and white chicken chili)
  • Carrots - Napa and Red Chantenay
  • Corn - Early Golden Bantam, Stowell's Evergreen, Early Illini, Extra Sweet Illini
  • Parsley - Hamburg root and common Italian flatleaf
  • Bell Peppers- Sweet Chocolate (ripen to chocolate brown) and California Wonder
  • Hard neck Garlic
  • Onions - Vidalia, Sweet white Italian, Bunching (for green onions) and Candy
  • Peppers - Hot Garden Salsa, Tabasco and Jalapeno
  • Peas - Bush and pole (sugar snap)
  • Pickle Cucumbers - 2 varieties (Sumter and one I do not recall offhand)
  • Zucchini
  • Winter Luxury Squash (great for pie)
  • Pie Pumpkins
  • Green pie squash (cannot recall the variety, but I saved the seeds from one I made pie from last year)
  • Baked potato Squash
  • Winter Squash Mix (Fairy Hybrid)
  • Goblin Egg Gourds
  • Gremlin Gourds
  • Celeriac
  • Celery
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage (white and red)
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Cauliflower
  • Dill
  • Tomatoes - Zebra (will ripen to green and white stripes), Roma (great for sauce) and Rutgers (awesome for salsa)
  • Potatoes - Kennebec, Russet, Fingerling and a variety with red stripes in the centers 
Perennial crops include:
  • Asparagus
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries (Honeoye and Cabot)
  • Blackberries (Thornless and wild)
  • Blueberries (2 varieties)
  • Horseradish
  • Rhubarb
"Volunteers" that have come up in some relatively random places:
  • Tomatoes (unknown variety) - These came up in the garden as well as near the chicken run...they are apparently messy when they eat their treats, flinging seeds outside their run, thereby "planting" them
  • Corn (I can only assume decorative colored corn known as "Indian Corn," based on where it came up - next to the chicken run)
  • Pie Pumpkins (in the compost area)
  • Blackberries (wild and coming up everywhere)
  • Squash (coming up on the compost pile)
  • Atlantic giant pumpkins (taking over the compost pile)

Obviously, we have been busy trying to stay ahead of weeds and watching things grow.  The most disappointing part of the season has been my garden marauders.  Woodchucks and rabbits have been mowing my beans off for me on a daily basis.  As soon as the plants try to recover, sprouting a couple new leaves, those little jerks eat them clean off again.
I have tried numerous non-lethal methods of controlling them including store bought repellent, shaving Irish Spring soap around the garden,  adding pinwheels to create motion, and increasing human activity in the area as much as possible.  So far, the most effective method I have found for deterring those mangy little bean eaters has been the lethal approach, my .22 Lever action Browning Rifle.  It is not my first choice, but they are eating my groceries!  No one I know would tolerate someone coming into their home and stealing the food from their pantry, so why is the garden any different?  I will tell you....because I am planting, weeding, watering, tending, harvesting and preserving THESE groceries myself!  This labor of love is worth defending!

A few items worth updating from previous posts:

The wisteria bloomed beautifully and now I am planning on installing a piece on top of its post to give it something to grab onto.

Right now, it grows up a 4 by 6 post and each time it reaches for the sky, the weight of the vines causes it to collapse into a heap on itself.  If I want to train it to look more like a tree... I am going to have to give it something to "hang onto."  I bought a big metal ball, much like a grapevine ball, that I will mount to the post on top to encourage upward growth.

The peas didn't make much this year...the temps getting so hot so quickly didn't help and I wasn't good about keeping the weeds out of them.  The competition really did them in.

The babies have GROWN!  My little chicks are full blown pullets now.

One of the straight run chicks turned out to be a rooster.  He will very soon be moving to his new forever home with a dear friend of mine.

 I was fortunate to find someone who could take him and ensure him a safe, healthy life with lady chickens to love!

As always, things aren't going as planned, but they are moving along nicely.  Other yard and garden projects are moving along and we are pleased with the progress.  We will continue to chase the weeds, chase the critters and and chase the harvest!  

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Red, White and Black and Blue...

The weekend weather finally decided to cooperate with us. For the first time in over a month, it was going to be sunny and nice out... time to get some things done around the "farm". For the past three weeks, Brandi had been telling me that if we did not get the plants and seeds in the ground soon, we were not going to have anything ready in time for a decent harvest. No plants = no food... so you can imagine how that bothers me!

This was my weekend with Lexi, so the little monkey was really excited about seeing Brandi and helping out.... and did she ever help! From the moment breakfast was done, we were off and working.

The list was long, the tasks were many, but we were up to the task. As Brandi started cleaning out the chicken coop, I started laying mulched rows at the top of the garden to prepare for getting some of those plants into the dirt. Once a couple of the rows were laid down (therefore making one row for planting) I consulted the expert for what needed done next. Per her instruction, I flipped the dirt with my new favorite tool (the pitchfork) and we began planting "Pepper Alley". 4 different types of peppers (green bell, Tabasco, jalapeno and garden salsa) along with hard neck garlic and candy onions make up "Pepper Alley".

I then went down to the bottom of the garden and started turning the dirt for some more plants. While I was turning a fancy pattern into the bottom of the garden, Brandi planted two different types of tomatoes (Roma and Rutgers) and bush beans.

Turning the bottom of the garden by hand was difficult so I then decided that I should till the area for the corn and then the middle of the garden with the tiller. By then, the day was catching up to me and I was starting to get sore. The boss decided that it was time for a reward... I GOT TO RIDE THE LAWNMOWER!!!

Ending the day with a nice grilled chicken and asparagus (fresh from the garden) dinner and a bonfire with s'mores was just a treat after this day of accomplishment.

Red: My sunburned face, shoulders and top of my ears
White: The pasty skin underneath my shorts
Black and Blue: Every other spot on my body

Sunday, May 2, 2010

A week's worth of work

So much has gotten accomplished this week with the help of Shane, Mom and Lexi, I suppose bullets are the easiest way to go through the tasks rather than explaining them all (as I can get a bit wordy).  :)

  • Flower beds in front of the house cleared and mulched with some fantastic mulch
  • Blueberries planted (4) 
  • The area surrounding the chicken yard has been turned over and planted with Pole Peas, Pole Beans and Cucumbers for pickling (free trellis area, basically)
  • The area between the shed and the yard (where there is a retaining wall) has been cleaned and planted with assorted sunflowers of all colors and heights 
  • The area immediately above that in the yard has also been cleared and turned over for me to move Grandma's old fashioned bachelor buttons from another bed (I don't think that is what they really are, but that is what she called them.)
  • I began digging out plants to salvage from the back bed so I can eventually kill the remaining unwanted plants and mulch, in order to replant those I saved
  • The Vidalia onions got planted (many of them anyhow)
  • Mom and I brought a huge load of lesser quality (but suitable) mulch back and spread out what was in the truck along the creek bank (the trailer remains in the area to be spread when the weather dries a little and I can roundup back there)
  • The rabbits have been relocated and settled into their new place
  • The canopy is on the gazebo and the area is ready to be killed and mulched so I can put the furniture back where it belongs
  • Planted herbs in pots
  • Planted Spinach, Ruby Leaf Lettuce and Oak Leaf Lettuce in containers
  • Lawn got mowed for the second time this season
  • (This space reserved for the numerous things I can't remember at the moment but will add as they come to me)
My memory is already failing me about the events of the past week or so. I suppose I should write more often to prevent that from happening.  I will defer to the events of this weekend as they are enough for an entry. I was lucky enough to have my helpers here. Shane and Lexi were both ready to work this weekend but the weather made it tough to get as much done as we had hoped.  It seems that happens regularly when Shane is available for assisting.  Mother Nature must really get a chuckle out of seeing him frustrated.  Despite the rain, we were able to get some ground turned over and some planting done.  There were a couple shining moments
that stand out in my mind.  
I purchased some garden tools for Lexi to use exclusively that are her size.  She seemed pretty excited about that and even chose chores over playing in the yard a couple times to use them.  It was fun to watch her put on her apron and rake, dig, and even plant some veggie seeds.  It will be awesome to see how she reacts as she sees those seeds become seedlings, then plants and eventually food she can eat.  She has no concept of that yet, but I hope to help her understand it at a much younger age than most kids. 

While we were working around the chicken coop, turning over soil and planting the items that require trellising, someone (who shall remain blameless as well as nameless) passed gas.  Shane suggested to Lexi that it might have been one of the chickens.  She smiled and said, "NO!  Chickens have different butts than you Daddy, they can't do that!"  Ah, the mind and mouth of a four  year old! :-)

Because of the rain forecast for this morning, we decided to head to Prielipp's Greenhouse to pick up a few last items for the yard and garden this year.  It may have been gloomy outdoors, but it never is inside a greenhouse. It was simply gorgeous in there. They are chock full for the upcoming season and it was like a playground for Mom and I.  Shane and Lexi were such good sports about wandering endlessly around the rows and rows and rows of plants. 

When we came home, Lexi and Shane had to head out, so I spent a little time planting some herbs in pots and planning out where some of my treasures from today's shopping will live for the season.  I also spent some time with the chicks (who have been with me 9 days now).  They have CHANGED!  Those little critters grow so fast...  I caught them napping at first...they almost looked dead...all stretched out.  It was a good opportunity to see how they are already feathering out.

They are also behaving more like chickens.  They are holding themselves more vertical and establishing their pecking order.  Soon they won't look so cute and "chicky" and they will head into that ugly period where they aren't fully feathered yet, sort of an awkward adolescence.  Nevertheless, I am thoroughly enjoying seeing them change each day and visiting with them while I care for their needs.

As I reflect on my week, I recall one day in particular that warrants mentioning.  I went out to let the chickens out so I could get on with cutting the grass and other assorted tasks.  As I opened the shed door, something came charging at me, startling the life out of me.  Lacey, one of my sweet ISA Brown chickens had apparently snuck out when I put the girls to bed the night before and thus had spent the night loose in the shed.  I picked her up and put her back in the coop, but have been watching her very closely because I have no idea what she may have eaten while she was out.  There are all sorts of things that are not good for birds accessible in the shed, including cat litter that is soaking up a puddle of oil under the workbench.  I will have to use that as motivation to get the shed cleaned.  So, heart beating wildly, but Lacey back with the flock safe and sound, I headed out to mow.  I hopped on the mower only to discover one tire completely flat. Of course!  

Every day is an adventure when you have a little land and some animals to care for, and I LOVE IT!

P.S.  One last item I am super excited about and simply must share... my wisteria is going to bloom for me this year.  This is notable since it bloomed last year as well.  It rarely graces me with blooms two years in a row.  Early this spring, I collected seeds and frowned a little at the thought that it would not do so this year... but it surprised me.  These little cones will be long, beautiful blooms later in the season and I can't wait!  

Saturday, April 24, 2010

I am the Al Sobotka of gardening

Another weekend here and gone. This is the first weekend when I was actually out to the garden. I got to Brandi's house about noon on Saturday and immediately we decided that we should get something done before the sky started falling.

Brandi had already planned out her end of the work and asked me to do some tilling... to break up the ground in the new (expanded) area for the raspberry bushes and to toss some dirt around in the lower half of the garden.

Once we determined exactly where I was going to till for the raspberries, I got to work. The ground on that side of the property seems like it has never been busted up before, so I got quite a workout from that part of it alone. I was pretty satisfied with it once it was busted up and I am looking forward to getting back out there this week to bust it up again.

Once that part was finished, I moved to the lower half of the big garden where the ground had already been tilled from last fall. This was where I made Al proud, racing around the outside of the garden in a complete loop and then coming back to divide it in half. Once that was complete, I traced a path very similar to a zamboni skating across the ice at the Joe. Once all that was done... it was time for some mischief.

Words to the wise... NEVER place freshly tilled dirt in ANYONE's farmer's crack... you know... the outdoors version of the "plumbers crack"-lest ye be destined for sour faces for the rest of the day- although, it did allow for some comedy... the mooning of chickens to get the dirt out of her undies :)

Other things that I noticed while in the garden (or things over heard):
  • Cub Cadet must have had me in mind when creating the particular walk behind tiller that we use in the garden. The handle is at just the right height to be at balls level when the tiller tines are in the ground. Now, most men would shudder at the thought of a tool's handle near their tool, but I feared not... Cub Cadet was thinking ahead. They placed a gap in that handle just wide enough that my junk was comfortably situated with little fear from crushing.
  • Once the tilling was complete, I was panting a little bit but felt pretty good about the work, when Brandi exclaimed to me (explaining her last time using the tiller) "Tilling made my inner thigh muscles hurt... like 'honeymoon hurt' ".
Just another day on the farm... :)

Friday, April 23, 2010

Sometimes it's about what wasn't in the plan...

Yesterday was a bit of a bust as far as chores are concerned. I was really feeling my sinus infection and simply could not work in the cold air.  Today, on my new antibiotics (YAY!), I was able to be much more productive.  This morning, I was up early and working in the house.  Laundry, cleaning and other usual chores kept me busy till  just before noon.  Mom came up and we headed into town to get some supplies.  The bunnies needed litter, the chickens and cats were both in need of food.  So, off we went to fetch goodies for the critters.  A trip to TSC (Tractor Supply Company) is usually a simple in and out task. Not. So. Today.  I headed straight for the layer mash for my hens and right in my path, as if it were meant to be, were these silver tubs, ( I assume for feeding or watering a large animal such as a horse) with heat lamps suspended over them.  Then it hit me, the sound of fluffy sweetness...."cheep, cheep, cheep."  Baby chicks are in!  OH NO!

I am such a sucker.

So there I stand, completely smitten with these little peepers, thinking about all the things they require.  Special food dishes, water dishes, a heat lamp, a brooder enclosure, bedding, and chick food.  Wait.....I have all that.  All I need is the food.... I guess I should take some home then!  My flock isn't getting any younger and soon they will slack off laying and I may even lose a few.  These won't be laying till fall, so it will work out perfect.  Now here I am....proud mother to a half dozen new babies.  4 are pullets (guaranteed girls) of assorted red breeds, and 2 are of a straight run (gender not determined) of mixed laying breeds.  Oh my goodness are they ever cute.

After a brief scramble to dust off the equipment and set up their area... I headed out to the garden to attempt to cross off some of my very long to-do list for today.  I did manage to get some planting done.  I picked up celery, red cabbage, and brussels sprouts at the Milan mill today, so I got those planted as well as those healed potatoes from the other day (Yukon Gold), white cabbage, sweet onions, 3 rows of peas, broccoli, and cauliflower.  It got cold quickly, so I gave up without planting the remaining peas and onions, but I felt good about what I did accomplish.  I was worried that I wouldn't accomplish anything after deciding to get the chicks, but I did well.  I am already enjoying them so much, and now I will be assured that the layers I add to the flock are healthy, well cared for and well tempered.  There are always risks to the existing flock when you add birds raised by other people.  I am eliminating that risk by raising them myself.

This is the first time I have ever raised chicks, so I am excited to document their journey into adulthood and see what lessons there are to learn in the process!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A good day outdoors

After a morning of not feeling well, I wasn't as supercharged about getting outside as I had hoped. I finally got working in the garden around 12:30. My first task was to completely finish tilling the garden.  The bottom end will need it again before it is plantable (as it was just opened last fall), but it is on its way! My left hip is letting me know now that I must have been pushing the tiller funny...and I am sure in the morning some other muscles will speak their mind as well. Such is the price for hard work in the garden.

I will get the cool weather crops in the ground tomorrow, with any luck.  My intent was to do that today, but the weatherman is calling for frost tonight, so I decided not to shock my little plants their first night in the ground.  Since I have no idea how much exposure they have had to this point, I thought it best.  By this I mean that they may very well have lived in a nice warm greenhouse until they landed on the store shelves for me to bring home.  So, tomorrow is planting day for those little guys.

After tilling, I mulched another row between strawberries, then took the tiller down to the raspberry patch and tilled around it.  Last year it was hard to mow around them after they got big, so I figured it best to break up the ground around them and mulch well to make that a little easier.

Next, I headed back up the hill to the strawberry patch.  While I was in the area, I picked the first few stalks of asparagus of the season, then began the arduous process of gently removing weeds from in between emerging strawberry plants.  That is going to take some time and diligence this season.  Being as it is that the patch was neglected for 2 seasons... there is a lot of unwanted growth well established.  I will just keep picking away at it until the beds are clear and I am picking huge, plump berries for fresh eating and jam.  After only a few feet of the first row of berry plants, I started to feel like I was burning in the sun, so I gave up on that for the day and headed out front. There, I completely cleared the flower beds in front of the house of weeds and debris.  They are all set for a fresh load of mulch and to be planted with something great.  They are really a blank canvas...so I am excited to begin planting those areas.  Some of my tropical plants that I have wintered will set out there in containers, but I am considering planting my blueberries in front of the house.  They are attractive shrubs,even when they are not in bloom, and it is just a bonus that they provide me fruit as well!

I reshaped the area in front of the porch a little, clearing the grass that had overgrown.  Using a tub to collect my yard waste was handy.  When it got full, I hauled it out to the chickens and dumped it in their yard.  They were so happy!  It was like Christmas for them.  They all hopped on the pile and started picking away at their treats....yanking out dandelions first...their favorite!

As I was cleaning up, mother nature indicated it was time for me to quit for the day as it began to rain.  I hauled the last tub out the to girls and called it a day outdoors.  In only 5 hours, I would say I got quite a bit done.

Todays lesson:  As I was weeding, I discovered that the wild oxalis (looks like a giant clover, but blossoms very differently) has a bulb-like root (instead of a mass of roots)  that divides into zillions of little bulbs...allowing it to spread easily.  It also means that those little boogers are HARD to get rid of.  If you don't get every little bulb pup, you aren't rid of those oxalis plants.  Knowing this will really change how I weed them out.  No more pulling...they have to be dug or I will never get ahead of them.

That is one of the greatest joys of gardening...learning every time.  EVERY time I get outside, I see something new or learn something.  Nature is so complex and beautiful and I simply love feeling like a part of it from time to time.

The City Boy Goes Green

This is quite an adventure I will be undertaking. I, being someone that can kill a plant in seconds flat, will be learning to tend a full garden? To what do I owe this insanity? The thought that at the end of the day... at the end of the season... I will have something to be proud of. I will have something that will give its love back-right back to my belly. I have to admit, I am rather excited.

I spent some time tilling the garden last year; getting the ground ready. I expanded the garden from the former patch to almost three times the size. It is going to be huge.. at least huge to me. Of course, a garden that is bigger than 4 Chia Herb pots is bigger than anything that I have ever planted. (And that Chia Herb Garden got destroyed three days after I started it when I knocked it off the window sill).

Maybe I should see if Brandi knows what she is getting us into...

It is a little secret that this city boy has wanted a little bit of land to "run" on. It has been a vision of mine to have a nice house on some land.. something to sink my time into. It sounds like this summer I am going to be sinking my time and arms into the land... literally.

I expect it to be hard work. I expect to have pains in my muscles and brown patches on my knees and palms most of the summer. I have told Brandi to expect whining and complaining some of the summer too. I know that at the end of the season, I will have burns on my hands from the canning.

Maybe I should see if Brandi knows what she is getting us into...

I also know that I will be eating lots of yummy fresh fruits and vegetables. I know that I will be feeling a fantastic sense of accomplishment. I know that I will be eating and living like a farmer should-adding my touch to the "circle of life"-even if the city is just a half-hour away.

Maybe Brandi already knows what she is getting us into...

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


I am such a garden geek.  I am so anxious to begin getting my hands in the dirt I can hardly stand it.  Mom and I wandered through a couple garden centers and a plant sale today and it was all I could do not to load up the cart!  I know it is too early for getting some plants in, so I must be patient.  But, that is SO hard!

Having tilled the top portion of the garden yesterday, I allowed myself to give in a little while we were out shopping, but only for cool weather crops.  I picked up Yukon Gold seed potatoes, vidalia onion sets, sweet italian onion sets and some peas (and even remembered innoculant) at Barrett's garden center.  Meijer was a bust for veggies, but I did score some nice blueberry bushes that are already budded and Mom got me two new thornless blackberry bushes.   A trip through Lowe's yielded broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower in packs of 9.  I have never tried any of them, so this will be a good year for learning.  I would like to pick up some red cabbage and brussels sprouts as well.  I cut the potatoes tonight to heal them, hoping they will be ready when I am tomorrow to get them into the ground.

I intend to get some peas in the ground tomorrow as well.  I bought two varieties of peas today, and then discovered I already had a lot of seeds....SO...I will plant LOTS of peas and try different varieties.  They freeze well, and I am such a nerd about shelling them...so its a win win.

Looking back just a smidge, yesterday was productive.  I left my job around noon, came home to change and worked outside all afternoon.  I got the top of the garden tilled (I said that already), the raspberries cleaned up from their spring trimming, and began mulching the paths in the strawberries with newspaper and straw.  I am really hoping this helps corral them and keep the weeds down.  There is so much clean up to do, every day will bring more catch up work.  I enjoy the resulting harvest so much, however, every chore is worth it!