May 30, 2010

Colors Of May

Bearded iris, the only one that bloomed.

Wild roses (all over the place)

Chickens in field

Vetch blooming purple and goat.


For more, visit Colors of May at Life Looms Large.

Independence Days Challenge: May 23 - 29

Here's what I did last week:

1. Plant Something -

  • calendula
  • cosmos
  • sunflowers
  • amaranth
  • okra
2. Harvest something -
  • lettuce
  • Swiss chard
  • garlic
  • broccoli
  • cabbage leaves
  • comfrey leaves for chickens, goats, & compresses
3. Preserve something -
  • drying the garlic for storage
4. Waste Not
  • the usual: feeding scraps to chickens; line drying clothes; using cooking water to water plants; using "used" chicken & goat drinking to water plants; veggie washing or yogurt making water dumped in washing machines; weeds in the compost; leaves, newspaper, & cardboard for mulch, etc.
  • researching graywater systems
5. Want Not
  • stocked up on unsweetened canned pears and Annie's Bunny Mac & Cheese from the discount grocery store (I Y bunnies)
  • gathered broccoli seeds from fall garden
  • got two new future mousers
6. Build Community Food Systems
  • blogging about it
  • gave away my last jar of fig jam as a gift
  • I'm realizing folks are watching us. Saw my neighbor in town and he commented on all the hard work we're doing. Folks tend to follow what they see others doing, so hopefully we're inspiring some to grow at least a few things this year
7. Eat the Food
  • homestead garden salads
  • homestead chicken
  • steamed Swiss chard
I think that's it.

To see what others are doing for Independence Days, click here.

Independence Days Challenge: May 23 - 29 copyright May 2010 by Leigh at

May 28, 2010

May Garden Tour: The Herb Garden & Beyond

Last week I showed you my vegetable garden and the comfrey garden. I had hoped to continue my May tour with a detailed look at my front yard herb garden. After taking photos however, I realized there wasn't much to show because not much has come up yet. So while there isn't much to see, here's what's up in the the herb garden so far...

Even though the plan it that eventually, the entire front yard will be herbs and flowers (no lawn), we started small this year, with two beds. The front bed is to contain culinary herbs (the pink petunias were just thrown in the bare spots for color.) On the right is the rosemary plant I bought last winter. I also planted seeds: lavender, oregano, sage, parsley, and thyme. I've not seen hide nor hair of any of them, so I finally bought thyme, lavender, and oregano as started plants.

In the bed behind the stepping stones I planted calendula, butterfly weed, rudbeckia, and yarrow. The only thing growing at this point are calendula, a couple of volunteer zinnias, and more petunias for color.

The peach trees are doing great. I transplanted some white Dutch clover as a living, nitrogen-fixing mulch for them, like I did the almond tree. Behind them hollyhocks are coming up, as well as volunteer zinnias, and hopefully echinacea.

Speaking of fruit trees...

Here are my pear and apple trees; not as well leafed out as the peaches. Also a newly planted cherry tree at the top. DH just finished tilling the plot around them. I'm going to plant buckwheat here for the summer, then we'll till it in and I will plant a combination of orchard grass and ladino clover this fall. DH plans to harvest that next year with his snath & scythe.

Of the zig zag fence plantings (elder, blueberries, and raspberries), the elder bushes are flowering. I splurged on these plants and bought fairly good size ones. Looks like I'll get a few clusters of berries. That would be nice.

In front of the strawberries, last years transplanting of daylilies and daisies are beginning to bloom. There are some gaps in the daisies, so I'm thinking chicory might be nice to fill those in.

Of my rugosa roses, I've had one bloom. There are three of them and I think they'll make a smashing hedge one day.

Oops. How did that get in there.

My rabbiteye blueberry bush is loaded. I pruned it last fall, and gave it a good mulch of pine needles, both of which seemed to have helped.

I also bought and planted three rhubarb plants. I have happy memories of rhubarb. I never cared for it as a kid, but my dad loved the rhubarb sauce my grandmother made from the rhubarb she grew in her back yard. I think I'll like it now, as I've developed a taste for tarter things. And there's always strawberries to mix it with.

Rhubarb is kind of iffy in our part of the country. I'm not sure how well it likes our hot summers, yet all the gardening centers were selling it, so I bought some. I've noticed that it wilts easily, but I've got it in a spot where I can water it easily and where it can get afternoon shade.

The only other thing I can think to show you are the ten free saplings I received from joining the Arbor Day Foundation.

If you can see them for all the weeds, that is! All seemed to have made it except one goldenraintree. Arbor Day Foundation offers replacements for a nominal fee, but I don't know where I'm going to plant one, let alone two. Obviously, they are about ready to be transplanted.

Lastly, as an EDITORIAL NOTE: Some of you may have caught a rough draft of this post yesterday. That's because I had a kitten charge across the keyboard. I don't know what combination of keys he/she managed to step on, but Blogger published the post in the middle of my working on it. It was only up for a matter of seconds, while I scrambled to retrieve it, but somehow it still made at least one blog listing service. Anyway, here's the official version!

May Garden Tour: The Herb Garden & Beyond text & photos copyright May 2010 by Leigh at

May 26, 2010


Lazar Wolf: Two? What would I do with two?
Reb Tevye: The same as you do with one.
from Fiddler On The Roof
Some of you may remember when Catzee disappeared last August. She was my mouser with tortitude par excellence, and it was devastating to lose her. Of course Rascal is an excellent hunter as well, but considering his health problems, we realize that he may not be around as long as we would wish. We've been thinking about that.

As hard as it's been to consider replacing Catzee, we cannot imagine being catless once Rascal is gone. Nor do we want the unwanted rodent population to explode. A homestead needs a cat. So, yesterday we got....

... two.

We figured two would be better than one, mostly for Rascal's sake. A kitten is going to want to romp, and play, and ambush, and pounce. Better another kitten than Rascal. For everyone's sake!

These are a brother and sister from the same litter, about 7 weeks old. He's a gray tabby, she's a dilute torbie (having both tortoiseshell and tabby markings). In motion, it's hard to tell them apart, except the tip of her tail is white.

We haven't figured out names for them yet. We'll let their personalities reveal those to us. For now, they're doing really well, though Rascal isn't too happy about it. Ah well. Hopefully he'll get over it soon, because it's his job to teach them the ropes.

For more kitten pix, click here.

Two? text & photos copyright May 2010
by Leigh at

May 24, 2010

Barnyard Antics

Or maybe they're Critter Capers. :) Either way.....

~ Here in the south, we are plagued with fire ants, known for their painful bites. About the chickens 2nd of 3rd day free ranging, DH reported that one of the Ameraucana cockerels had discovered a rather large ant hill. Mr. Roo stood on top of it, greedily devouring ants left and right. DH said after a moment, the roo paused, looked at his feet, picked up one, then the other, and then began to dance around a bit stamping his feet. Finally he squawked and ran off! Lesson learned? Never stand on top of a fire ant hill while you're having them for dinner.

~ One evening I was going to lock up the chickens, and as I approached the coop, I heard some very concerned clucking. Not an alarm, but definitely different from the other clucks and calls I'd been hearing. When I got there, most of the chickens were quietly on their roosts, except for one Welsummer cockerel, who wouldn't settle down. Puzzled, I spoke to him to calm him, but he wouldn't stop clucking. I followed his gaze and there on top of the feed cans was one of the Ameraucana pullets. She was on the outside trying to figure out how to get in! I wasn't sure how she got there, but she let me pick her up and pop her into the coop.

~ That particular pullet, pictured above, has managed to get out the most. Not that I actually expected the goat fencing to be chicken proof. The few times a chicken has gotten out though, they've spent their "freedom" worrying about how to get back to where the other chickens are. Anyway, the next time I found her out, it was late and the other chickens were putting themselves to roost. When I approached, she flew up to the top of the 48" fence cross member and clucked at me. So that's how she does it I thought. I didn't bother to try to catch her that time. I simply went over to the coop door and held it open for her. "Time to go to bed" I said. She flew down and walked right in. Good chicken.

~ I also had the Delaware pullet get out one evening. She wasn't quite so clever about it as the Ameraucana, and was running back and forth outside the chicken yard, frantically trying to figure out how to get back in. All the others had retired to the coop, except the Barred Holland cockerel. He was just as concerned about her situation as she was. She wouldn't let me catch her though, nor be herded toward the yard gate. Eventually I got her in, but when I followed, she ran through the yard and out the chicken gate on the other side. The Barred Holland followed. Now what. I called, "here chickens, here chick, chick, chick" until conditioning took over. She ran back into the yard and up the coop ramp, followed by the Barred Holland. The adventure was over and the chickens were in for the night.

~ One thing that's been interesting to me has to been to observe the personalities of the young roosters. I have way too many so we have started to cull them. We only need one. Even though we have a breed preference, I still need to make sure that he's the man for the job. A couple of the Ameraucanas have been are real bullies, always picking on everybody else , chasing the others away from the food, and rushing in to gobble down any and all goodies for themselves. Two of the Welsummer roos would rather hang out in the coop while the others go out to forage. These are also the first to run and hide if there's some frightening noise. I know they are roos because Welsummers have sex distinct coloring. At this point I'm pretty sure I have 12 cockerels out of 19 chickens. That's 11 that will need to go.

On to the goats.

~ The goats made their "great escape," their second day here. No, it wasn't out, out, it was through the chicken gate (click for pic) and into the chicken yard. You'd wonder why they'd be interested in leaving a lush green-growing, browsy field for a rather bare and brown chicken yard, but that's a goat for you. The first time I lured them out with feed and pondered how to deter them. I finally rigged up a low, narrow, chicken size tunnel from welded wire fencing, placed it on the chicken yard side, and hoped for the best. About an hour later I found both goats back in the chicken yard, having negotiated the tunnel without disturbing it. I got them out with feed again, thinking that all I was accomplishing was teaching them how to get a food reward for unwanted behavior! That wouldn't do!

~ Next goat deterrent was to drive three poles in front of the chicken gate on the goat side. I left enough room for the chickens to pass through, but hopefully not the goats. That worked for about half a day, when I discovered that I had two expectant goats in the chicken yard. This time I got out the hose and turned it on to a moderate blast. Goats hate to get wet and you never saw such a scramble to get out that chicken gate. My next deterrent was a board, nailed at a 45 degree angle to cover the chicken gate opening like a lean-to.

~ Goat deterrent #3 seemed to be working well. The next several times I went out to check, there were no goats in the chicken yard. At one check I didn't see them in the field, so I assumed they had gone back to their shed. They weren't there either. Chickens were fussing though, so decided to check on them. Inside the coop were the two goats, calmly helping themselves to the chicken feed, much to the distress of several chickens. To get there, they had to climb up the outside ramp, make a 90 degree turn into the coop, and down another ramp inside. I got the hose out again, which vacated the coop in a flurry of feathers, squawking, scrambling, and bleating. I added another board to widen the chicken gate lean-to entrance, and hoped for the best.

~ After that Bathsheba, the doeling, got into the chicken yard a couple more times. Her mother wasn't able to follow and put up quite a fuss. Each time, I turned on the hose, and after a couple of days she stopped trying. There have been no goats in the chicken yard since. I suppose though, that if they had to make a great escape, the chicken yard was certainly better than a neighbor's garden. Or my garden for that matter. Small blessings!

~ One thing I noticed in all this is that there seems to be a double standard in the barnyard. The chickens think nothing of running in to the goat shed and helping themselves to whatever's available, but oh what a fuss when the goats invaded their space!

~ Finally, to read about my Mother's Day surprise from Rascal, click here.

Barnyard Antics text & photos copyright May 2010 

May 23, 2010

Independence Days Challenge: May 16 - 22

1. Plant something
  • fennel
  • dill
  • garlic
  • yellow straightneck summer squash
2. Harvest something -
  • radishes
  • Swiss chard
  • lettuce
  • broccoli
  • peas
3. Preserve something - nothing this week

4. Waste Not
  • gathering in our own hay
  • line drying clothes, weather permitting
5. Want Not
  • now that we have manure for making compost, we starting crank it out a little faster
  • bulk order for pasture raised meat from a local farm coop
  • culled & processed 6 of our extra cockerels
  • scraps to the chickens & compost
6. Build Community Food Systems – just this post

7. Eat the Food
  • homestead garden salads
  • steamed Swiss chard
  • lettuce on sandwiches
  • 1st homestead raised roasted chicken
  • dried squash - substituted it in my favorite green bean recipe. We didn't like it reconstituted as well as we like it fresh or frozen

Independence Days Challenge: May 16 - 22 copyright May 2010 by Leigh at

May 22, 2010

Expect The Unexpected

In my last "Around The Homestead" post, I mentioned that we finally found our septic tank, which was one of our 2010 goals. I also mentioned that we were having problems with wet soil in the area. We had it pumped out, and Dan asked that the tank lid be left partially uncovered so he could monitor for water that wasn't draining. Earlier this week, it looked like this...

It looks like a deep hole of murky water, but actually it's less than an inch of water covering the concrete cover of septic tank. It meant that excess water wasn't flowing into the drain field. If you're unfamiliar with septic systems and how they work, there is an explanation with diagrams at HowStuffWorks.

The probable cause of our problem? Roots growing into the buried pipes. Several big clumps of roots were pulled out when the tank was pumped, but because of the huge wild rose bushes growing there, Dan figured there might be more. The solution?

Rent one of these babies and pull out those bushes.

You can see the water has dissipated after pulling those bushes out by the roots.

What we discovered however, was rather shocking. We found that there is no outlet pipe from the tank to the drain field. In fact we could find no pipes to make up a drain field at all.

We have someone coming out next week to correct the problem. Still, it makes us wonder how the previous owners with a household of five folks lived here with this system. I reckon we'll never know the answer to that.

To see the new drainfield, click here.

Expect The Unexpected text & photos copyright 

May 20, 2010

May Garden Tour: Where The Fall Garden Was

Last post, I showed you our vegetable garden, but I have also been planting where last year's garden was. The plan is to grow more permanent things in this spot. Here's what it looks like at present...

Beginnings of a perennial gardenNot very impressive. Planted there are daffodils and daylilies on the front border nearest the road, strawberries, comfrey, our almond tree, and the remains of my fall garden. A rough schematic looks like this...

Current layoutOf my fall garden, I've finished harvesting things like turnips, beets, radishes, and carrots.

Carrots were disappointingI didn't get a lot of carrots (okay, I didn't plant a lot) and the ones I did, were plagued by nematodes (root knot). Oh well. At least I'm not planning to use this garden space for root crops again. Still, they were tender and sweet.

I let the turnips go to seed and have collected a bunch of those. I'm still waiting on the radish and broccoli seeds.

Broccoli flowers & seed podsBroccoli plants produce small yellow flowers and long plump seed pods. On top of that, I still get a few small florets to toss into salads too....

Still tender & yummy!
Onions looking statelyThe onions that I thought were so expensive are finally getting ready to flower.

Of the pack of Savoy cabbage plants I bought last fall, three are doing okay, but only one is forming an actual head...

I hope it has time to grow more before it gets too hot.... and it's pretty small. I still have Romaine lettuces too, but no photo of those to show you.

Funny, curving trunk, don't you think?The almond tree we planted last December is doing well. DH thinks the cardboard mulch looks pretty tacky. In my defense, I did cover the cardboard with leaves, but the wind blew them away. If I hadn't held the cardboard down with the bricks, that would have blown away too.

Nitrogen fixer & living mulchOne thing I've done, has been to transplant some of our white Dutch white clover (a nitrogen fixer) around it's base to establish a living mulch. This idea came from Edible Forest Gardens . I've already had to move the cardboard back as it's beginning to spread. Comfrey, which is planted nearby, will also benefit from the clover, and indeed, it is recommended to plant clover in the comfrey patch during its second year.

Young comfrey plantsAs you can see, the comfrey is coming along nicely. This first year I will concentrate on letting the plants establish themselves, which means pinching off the flowers and pruning lightly (the chickens like it). Next year I can begin to harvest the plants for mulch, compost, feed, and hay.

We're looking forward to lots of strawberries!
As tasty as they lookAt the front of the garden, (where I grew green beans last summer), is my strawberry bed, with 50+ plants of two types. At the right of the photo, are daylilies, sending up bloom spikes. I transplanted these last summer, so this will be their first summer to flower.

Even though most of the strawberry flowers are picked off in order for the plants to establish themselves, I've gotten one small handful of Junebearers for one morning's cereal. Next year I'll hopefully get enough to make DH's well loved strawberry jam from our own berries. I had to buy them for that this year.

Another thing I've planted in this garden are the slicing tomatoes I grew from seed in this garden...

No tomato blossoms yet thoughThese are Rutgers, which are reputed to do well in our hot summers. My rationale for putting them in this garden is twofold: 1) easier picking from the back door, and 2) because I'm learning how to save seeds when I plant more than one variety. I figure a little distance won't hurt.

I've also planted popcorn behind the comfrey bed, as the diagram shows, though it isn't up yet. I'm thinking that perhaps this would be the place to plant my saved Kentucky Wonder pole bean seeds, since my sweet corn has made a rather poor showing.

My biggest problem is that annoying weedy wire grass that spreads by stolons and has a tenacious root system. Many of the weeds were taken care of by the heavy mulch I used last year, but this stuff just creeps along the top of the mulched areas. It's trying to take over my strawberry bed...

Nasty weed grass trying to take over my strawberriesYou can also see it in the comfrey photo above. This stuff seems to be a losing battle. I've actually contemplated buying some of that weed barrier cloth in an attempt to smother it out. Has anyone had good success with that? My regular mulching techniques of newspaper, cardboard, leaves, and wood chips don't seem to be helping as much as I wish they would. It makes me understand why folks go to raised beds, but that just isn't something I've been able to convince DH of yet. He couldn't till a raised bed and he loves his tiller! Sigh. There's always something to challenge a gardener, isn't there?

copyright May 2010 by Leigh at

May 18, 2010

May Garden Tour: The Main Garden

It seems that almost every blog I visit has lovely photos of gardens in progress. I feel delinquent in that regard so without further ado, here are the beginnings of my 2010 gardens.

Main vegetable garden in early MayThis shot of the main garden is taken from the bottom of the hill. The house and front yard are just behind the dark shadowed hedge. I started my planting at the top, and have been working my way downward. The white square is the first of my cardboard mulch. The little stakes mark hills where buttercup winter squash was recently planted. The growth on the right is out of control "weeds" trying to encroach!

The garden itself looks pretty weed free here, though I am having problems with blackberry vines, which just don't want to go away. The other thing is the annual rye cover crop, i.e. what didn't get tilled under. Some stubbornly survived and in spite of my best efforts, popped up seed heads which I'm sure will be a headache in the future.

My lone pea plantEnglish peas went in first. Sadly, only one seed out of a double, 30-foot row grew! Very disappointing. At least we can have one salad with fresh peas.

Early garden crops of cabbages & onionsEven though I ordered cabbage seed, it arrived to late for me to start indoors. I ended up purchasing plants, which you see growing on the left. To the right of those is broccoli. And of course onions in front of that. I have onion seed for fall planting as I would like to try to make my own sets for next year. I am proud for you to see that these have all been mulched! Behind the broccoli are the remains of daffodils, vetch, and out of control grasses.

I'm happy with my potatoesMy potatoes are doing well. As you can see, I am in the middle of mulching the rows.

1st Potato flowersThe top rows are starting to bloom.

My amazing horseradishAnd my potted horseradish! It's growing like crazy! I'm worried now that the pots will be too small. Unlike the three roots I planted in a bed, which have been a no-show.

Mixed bed of early salad crops I have a mixed salad bed with Romaine lettuce, chives, radishes, and a later planting of broccoli. We've harvested almost all the radishes.

Sweet & crispThese are Cherry Belles , and I have to say that I've never grown such beautiful radishes.

Double row of Swiss chardSwiss chard is doing well. It needs to be thinned and then mulched when it's a bit taller. I like a good thick mulch, so I have to be careful to not bury the little plants in it! I do also use newspaper and cardboard, though my supply of both of these is limited.

1st bean patchThese are bush beans. The seeds were a substitute. I originally ordered two types of beans for dried shelling: black turtle and white half runner bean. We love black turtles, but I was hoping to find another dried bean to like. I've experimented with them and know some we don't like (adzuki and kidney for example) and some are just blah, like pintos. The white half runner is a popular dual purpose (both fresh green and dried), southern variety which does well in our heat. I'm guessing Shumway was sold out and so substituted State Half Runner, a green bean type. I've already planned to plant Kentucky Wonders for that, from my saved seeds, but figured I'd give them a try anyway. I don't know if these are an open pollinated type, but should check, just in case we really like them.

I should get a good crop of paste tomatoesMy Roma tomatoes grown from seed are doing pretty well. First I was worried that I'd started them too late. Then I didn't think they would make, but they are looking good now. I admit that I did use a tablespoon of tomato fertilizer on each plant to give them a boost. Now that we have chickens and goats, (i.e. manure machines), we should be able to crank out more compost, which is my preferred fertilizer.

I have some marigolds scattered between my tomatoes, which are just seedlings at this point.

One of my early started green pepper plantsFive of the six green peppers I started from seed survived.

Row of sweet potato slips Can you see the sweet potatoes amongst the weeds? Probably not. I have to say though, that weeding has been pretty easy, thanks to my new hoes. Eventually I plan to get it all mulched. The sweet potatoes are Porto Rico bush, which are supposed to do well in my part of the country. I could have made my own slips, from grocery store sweets, but really wanted this particular variety. Making my own will be next year.

Watermelon vines, or will be vines when they grow a bit moreI started watermelon seeds early, and about half of those made it. I recently planted more seed directly into the ground, to extend our watermelon harvest.

My sweet corn though, has made a very poor showing. That's disappointing.

Sorry looking sweet corn patchCan you see any corn in there? Or just weeds. Cat included for size.

Close-up of growing cornThere are quite a few gaps in the rows. I was planning to plant my Kentucky Wonders here, but now I'm not sure there will be enough corn stalks to serve as bean poles.

Planted but not up yet:
  • Black turtle beans
  • cucumbers (actually just sprouting)
  • nasturtiums
  • sunflowers
  • Buttercup squash
  • sweet basil
Still to plant:
  • summer squashes
  • maybe more winter squashes
  • Kentucky wonder pole beans
  • pumpkins
  • dill
  • fennel
  • misc flowers & herbs
  • something new & different for me, as challenged by Maggie (Please Be Edible)
I'm not sure when I'll get the rest of the planting done because it rained Sunday and Monday, and there's a light drizzle today. I'm not especially early on my plantings, but I'm not late either. Hopefully the weather will cooperate soon and I can get everything else in soon. Then it's on to mulching!

May Garden Tour: The Main Garden text & photos copyright May 2010 by Leigh at