Monthly Archives: May 2012

Farmer Update

My love for … and issues with… coffee have been a long-standing joke (read: bout of hopeless addiction) in the family. I love my sister-in-law’s sense of humor! She found this card for my birthday!

What did you do to celebrate Memorial Day Weekend?  This weekend signals the beginning of the Aspendale Farm “birthday season.” My oldest daughter Cecily kicks it off early in the weekend, and my birthday follows closely behind.  So we open and close the weekend most years with birthday parties!  Often we will camp for one or both of them, as we did this year.  But this year our destination was, inadvertently, wildfire territory!  We headed to the U.P. (Upper Peninsula of Michigan for the uninitiated) to Tahquamenon Falls where wildfires are raging.  Needless to say, the park was closed and we didn’t get to see the falls.  We did head to Munising and see Munising Falls – which reminded us so much of last spring’s vacation to Brevard, NC and it’s 200+ waterfalls!  That was a great vacation and I recommend to every person on the planet!

Sixteen-year-old J.J. gives nine-year-old Betsy a piggy-back ride through downtown Marquette, Michigan on Memorial Day weekend. Betsy reciprocates by keeping her big brother hydrated! I love that my kids have fun together!

The kids heading to the little lighthouse out on the pier near the ore docks at Presque Isle Park.

We also saw Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and toured Marquette for the day, including it’s really nice Farmer’s Market!  What a large market – and lots of variety of products.  Everything from homemade ice cream and home roasted coffee beans, to goat’s milk lotion and beeswax candles!

Thunderstorms chased us home early, and we returned to have a swim party and barbecue to close out the festivities yesterday for my birthday!  Our missionary friends Bob and Susan are just back from Malawi and were able to join us, along with my other two best girl friends and their families.  And of course my husband and four kids!  They are each such an incredible blessing in my life!  I felt so loved and appreciated by everyone, but more importantly, just really enjoyed the good friendship and fun!  We got to break in our new mosquito-proof gazebo.  Strong, gusty winds also tested our reinforcing plan of zip ties and bungee-cords to keep it from catching and blowing off the deck in the winds!

The board rail arena fencing is nearly done! It’s taken longer than we hoped. But I honestly don’t think any big project we’ve *ever* worked on hasn’t! Lord willing, we can bring our four horses back home this week!

As a nice birthday gift, of sorts, the fence guys came and began the fence rail installation yesterday.  They made tremendous progress and will finish the rails and hang the gates today.  Then I can string the top hot-wire and bring the horses back home!  They have been gone all month!  It’s been eerily disconcerting to be without the three-times-a-day horse chores that have punctuated our lives as farmers since 2008!  And of course we have just missed them.  Each one has his or her own personality like any pet cat or dog might.

Before we left for the weekend we were running around like chickens with our heads … well, I won’t mention it in case the hens can pick up on my vibes… but you know what I’m saying!  LOL!  I’ve been trying to get all the veggies and herbs in, and all the flower pots full.  I’ve also been trying to help my kids get their gardens done.  We still have a few plants left to go in and it’s been a big job to keep all our transplants and newly planted things watered!

Six Khaki Campbell ducklings and the four chicks (New Hampshire Reds and Columbian Wyandottes) huddle up to keep warm in a sheltered spot in their poultry tractor on a cool morning.

The new ducklings and chicks are thriving.  They are always so fun to watch!  I love how they’ll be running along, then stop and slowly bend over as they fall asleep!  I wish I could do that!  A little catnap and they are off and running again! LOL!

We harvested all of our spinach last week, but wow!  It has been a bounty of cut-and-come-again as I’ve never seen before!  Just one week later, the bed is full and bushy again.  It makes me glad I didn’t pull the roots as I would have in prior years!  We just let the stems send up more shoots and we have twice as large a harvest as we would have. Try it yourself and see!  This morning I danced out to the garden and cut a handful of fresh spinach to throw in the protein drink I’m having with my breakfast!  You can’t get fresher than that unless you bend over and bite it off the stems with your teeth!  LOL!

Lastly, our first race of the season is coming up, and I’ve finally buckled down to train for it.  JJ and I went out and ran 2.6 miles (I won’t mention my embarrassingly slow time).  I was grateful for the company and the encouragement to get out and do it!  It felt good, and I could have run further.  I didn’t want to risk it, though, as running seems to aggravate a hip/lower back injury that hasn’t healed all the way yet.  I am being careful, and trying to keep those muscles stretched out properly. The chiropractor said to expect it to take several more months to heal all the way.

That’s the last week in a nutshell.  I’ve actually omitted quite a lot!  LOL!  I am looking forward to, one day soon, actually just sitting down and surveying all my hard work with a sense of satisfaction.  But usually I sit down, and within a few minutes I remember something I need to do, and I’m off and running again!  Such is the life on a small home farm!  LOL!

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Floral Ecstasy

See why I love flowers so much? And blue? LOL! This hydrangea looks happy to finally be planted in the ground!

This *was* blueberries and one lonely hydrangea all along here. The hens apparently think hydrangea is pretty tasty, as the one they sampled is now about 1/3 the size it was before their taste-testing. (Down on the very far end (left of photo) … you probably can’t see it it’s so small now!) That big bush in the center is my new lilac, and the plants to the right are Russian Sage. Clematis behind all that will grow up the trellising as the summer wears on.

That green spot on the left? Yeah, that’s the hydrangea the chickens ate. If the other two had been planted already, they’d have eaten those, too, I’m sure! Hmmm… I wonder what hydrangeas *do* taste like! LOL!  (Yes, that’s garlic planted in with my hydrangeas.  Don’t ask.)  The blue compliments my door.  I think I’ll paint some of the patio furniture that color, too.

Lilac, Russian Sage, Clematis in the background. Am I posting too many pictures? Can you tell I’m happy about the new landscaping?

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Camping, the Garden, the Symphony, Oh My!

It was a whirlwind weekend!  I’ve been working hard and steadily trying to get caught up with the garden work and farm projects.  The raspberries all need to go into their new location in the raspberry garden.  My plan was to move the old raspberries to the new raspberry bed across from the vegetable garden.  They have been in front of the big barn, where they have been a bit of an eyesore for four years … much as I adore raspberries!  I wanted something a little nicer to look at there.  So we are moving all the blueberries from their place of honor along the front of the back deck over to the old raspberry bed in front of the big barn.  There is more room there, too, so I am planting three more blueberry bushes, for a total of seven!  It will look much more like intentional shrubs and less like very tall, prickery weeds!  The raspberries will be all tidy in their new rows, held in by their wire trellising.  And with wide, 4′ walkways in between each of the six rows, we will be able to easily harvest the berries from both sides.  I have had to put chicken wire up all around the new blueberries.  I know those hens, and they will scratch that garden all up … which would be fine if it were established.  But it won’t do transplants any good at all!  Or the garlic I’ve interplanted with the blueberries.

That leaves me with some lovely, wide open space all along the back deck.  And I can’t help it… of course I am putting in flowers.  A row of blue hydrangeas will go along one side of the steps and a Miss Kim lilac (which only grows 5-6′ tall and that wide) on the opposite side of the steps, flanked by some 24″ high sage.  I do like blue, and the flowers will compliment my blue back door.  I’ll try to get a photo tomorrow, once the lilac and sage are in.  We got the hydrangeas in and they were looking poorly.  We had been gone camping over the weekend, and in spite of my best attempts to keep them watered in the containers, they weren’t looking too well when we got home today.

Jesse, checking out the snackies. When asked what my favorite thing about camping is, I unhesitatingly replied, “The food!” Why fire-roasted hot dogs make my heart sing I just don’t know.

So we did run off camping at the Rifle River Recreation Area with two other families Friday afternoon.  It was my two pastor’s wife friends and their daughters, enjoying a getaway while their men were off at the Annual Pastor’s Conference, or something like that.  With farm work hot and heavy this time of year I wouldn’t have chosen this weekend deliberately, but that is how it worked out.  Thursday through Sunday was the plan, but Cecily and I had to leave Friday morning (after running to my friend’s farm to feed our horses) and head down to Ohio for dinner and a lovely evening at the Toledo Symphony with Jesse’s Grandma Jackie. The tickets had been a Christmas gift for Cecily.  Since we both play violin, we were both delighted with the opportunity to go!  We got to see the violinist Tianwa Yang play the last three of four movements from Sibelius’ Finlandia.  Wow!  Incredibly difficult looking!  It made me uncomfortable watching the many, many complicated-looking things she was doing with both her violin and her bow!  LOL!  It would take me a week to be able to stumble through even one of the more difficult phrases she played … and it wouldn’t sound very good! LOL!

We pretty much fell in bed Friday after the concert, woke up and ran around cleaning and grocery shopping for my Mom, who had just returned home from a week at the hospital with pericarditis. Then we hopped in the car and drove north again to the Rifle River campground.  LOL!  We packed up this morning, headed to church, then came home.  Of course we are all rather tired.  But there was farm work to be done, so Cecily and I got into the blueberry transplanting and worked until dark.  If that’s not packing a lot into just a few days!!!

We get our ducklings and chicks this week and the chicken tractor isn’t ready for them yet.  Danny and Betsy will be hopping on that project the next couple days.  Tomorrow we will have to mulch all the newly transplanted berries and perennials and finish that whole project.  There is always something to do!  Fortunately, in spite of feeling like I am working out there constantly, it’s really been a steady pace and we are getting a lot accomplished.  I trust that those of you who are gardeners and/or small home farmers are working hard these days as well.  I’d love to hear about what you are accomplishing at your place, too!

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Some Days You Win, Some Days, Well …

At least my strawberry plants are blooming with all their might!

Okay, I recognize that not everybody has everything go right for them all the time.  In fact, farming itself is often a losing proposition.  It seems that every year some crop does horribly, but another does great.

Still, there are days …  and today is one of them.  After hearing nothing from the fence guy for almost a week, he leaves me a message that the rails won’t be ready until next week.  That will cut into our holiday plans.  Rrgh.

I’ve been cooking up a storm all day in preparation for some big to-do coming up tomorrow, and trying to get the kids to help me clean up, cook, and generally assemble everything we’re going to be needing.  It’s like herding cats.

After a respite from the cooking/cleaning, I knew I really needed to jump on getting my tomatoes in the ground.  I’m two weeks late.  But perhaps worst of all, something weird has happened to my tomatoes.  Trying to harden them off has just done weird things to them.  I can’t say I’ve ever been stellar at hardening off my plants.  They usually end up looking mildly sunburnt.  But this year, oh my.  The wind broke the stems on many of them, my kids knocked over a whole flat, losing dirt and mixing up variety labels.  At least I can tell it’s a tomato.  And some of those tomatoes … what on earth?  Some are just the right size (most of the ones that got their stems broken, of course), but a few of them are these tiny little things that I can’t imagine can possibly mature and give me any fruit before about December.  LOL!  Sigh.

After slopping water all down my leg and into my boot hauling buckets of warm water to soak my newly transplanted tomatoes, and looking at my miserable little, pathetic tomato starts, and my teeny little green peppers that I also haven’t planted yet, I’ve decided to throw in the towel, quit farming and stick to flowers.  I’m going to throw away all my starter pots and seeds and retire to some nice quiet cottage where I won’t be tempted to grow anything edible.  Except maybe raspberries.

Okay, I’m just being tempermental, and there’s probably no way on this good, green earth that I could really give up farming or gardening… yet.  But let’s not have too many more of these discouraging days, okay?

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Farm Update ~ May 2012

Spring and summer are busy, busy times on any farm, and our small home farm is no different.  Here’s what’s been happening around Aspendale Farm this month!

Lots and lots of blossoms on the oldest semi-dwarf apple tree in our orchard this year! The other, younger trees have only given us a handful, and some, like our baby Whitegold Cherry are still just trying to grow up!

The fencing project is going so slowly! I had hoped to have it completed by May 15, but the wooden rails weren’t cut yet as of the end of last week. We are anxious to have our horses back home where they belong! On a positive note, all the posts are in since this photo was taken, and they look great!

 

The birds are back! Betsy caught a couple pileated woodpeckers on a tree near the horse barn. These guys are *huge* birds – nearly 15-18″ tall! We’ve also heard loons and barred owls, and the grouse are out drumming in the woods every day!

Betsy wants her own flower garden! I can’t help it, but I absolutely love flowers. And if I could only do one gardening activity, you can be sure I wouldn’t give up my flowers. So I guess my girls, who both love flower gardening, too, come by it honestly. So over the weekend Betsy dug out the sod and lined the side of the chicken coop with landscaping blocks. It will look lovely once she plants her flowers!

 

Just some of the flowers we picked up at the greenhouse Saturday morning. I also bought a lilac bush with clusters of unopened lilacs on them. Lilacs are certainly my favorite flower in the world, and in spite of nurturing an entire row of baby lilac sprouts along the front of my yard for the last four summers, we still don’t have any blooms. So I succumbed. Now where on earth is there even room to put that big bush?!!!

I’m just thrilled with my new raspberry patch! Before our raspberries were just tucked in here and there where we could fit them … Our wooded property has very few spots available for planting that aren’t already taken! The excavators cleared a whole bunch of stumps and sprouts out of this spot across from the main garden when they were here for the arena project. So I now have a lovely, big spot to put the three varieties of raspberries I already have (Latham, Killarney, and some unknown variety given to me by a kind soul). I have also added two new varieties (Polana and Anne) which were a Mother’s Day gift from my family this year!  You just can’t have too many raspberries!

We’ve been hard at work in the garden all month. I just finished these Eliot Coleman-style trellises all along the Big Barn for growing my tomatoes, squash, pumpkins, and anything else that climbs. Our old strawberry beds (foreground) are prolific, and the peas, spinach, garlic, new strawberries, and mixed salad greens are doing very well! We also replaced the old waste-hay mulch in the paths with wood chips left from our arena clearing project. I like them *so* much better!

 

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My New Kitchen and A Recipe for Five-Minute Artisan Bread

After: Some leftovers (semi-gloss paint and v-plank from my tack room renovation), some cool tools (my chop saw and air compressor brad gun), and a couple days worth of work gave me a “new” kitchen!

Okay, it’s not exactly a “new” kitchen.  But it feels new, and it looks new.  And more importantly, it feels distinctly homey and comfortable now!

I had four leftover pieces of v-plank from my autumn tack room project down at the horse barn.  I have been intending to rip off the old kitchen backsplash, which was just some ugly commercial grade stuff that has an affinity for grease.  Once grease spattered on it, there was no cleaning it off.  But since it was ugly to begin with, cleaning it was not my intention.

Whoever picked out this “commercial grade” backsplash for the kitchen in what is now our home, should be ashamed! Who wants to feel like they live in the back kitchen of a restaurant? UG-ly!

Before: I hope you can see what a huge change in “feel” this one simple project has made. Compare it to the photo at the top of the post to see the difference!

I have to admit that, nice as my house is, and though it has been such a gift to our family, I have hated my kitchen.  I just hated to be in there, hated to see it every time I walked by.  No amount of “decorating” or cleaning or rearranging things has ameliorated the ugly coldness I felt every time I saw it.  In case I haven’t mentioned it recently, color is extremely important to my well-being, in a way some folks just do not get.  But it is what it is, so I try to do my best to meet my need for color – the right color my psyche apparently needs! LOL!

Here’s my super-hot husband, Jesse, ripping the old backsplash off for me. I was afraid I’d mess up the drywall in the process, as I have been known to do a time or two before when given a pry-bar! It was nice of him to help me out!

So although I’ve been thinking about this project since last fall, I started to take advantage of the monsoon-season rains that have delayed the arena fencing project to do some “inside” work.  It took me half an hour on two subsequent days to give the leftover v-plank a couple coats of semi-gloss barn red paint, then two more days to cut and install it, install gang box extenders at the outlets and lightswitches to safely raise them level with the paneling, and finally, caulk any seams that might get wet and swell the wood paneling.

I really think this new backsplash turned out great! I’m so glad I went with the barn red instead of the gold that’s on the walls above the cupboards!

I wouldn’t say it’s the best part of the project, but it’s certainly a bonus that having leftover v-plank and leftover paint brought this project to a total cost of just over $11.  Yes, seriously.  $5 for gang box extenders (I had a $5 off coupon for the Ace Hardware) and it was $6+ with tax for the clear silicone kitchen caulk.

Just that little change has made a huge change in making our home feel more like we think a home should a feel.  It’s a huge blessing!  And I had fun doing the project.  I find that finish carpentry is extremely satisfying, and I’m hoping to be able to put some of those skills to work as our church renovates a small factory to make a community building that will be a real help to our entire county – including … DRUMROLL … a coffeehouse/wireless internet cafe.  I know – it may seem silly, but the internet access is really needed in our rural county, and need the coffee house!  There isn’t a single coffee shop closer than a thirty-five minute drive.  I’m deprived, right?  LOL!  Hey, a girl’s gotta have her little comforts to be happy!

So in honor of my new kitchen, and because a Small Home Farm Radio listener asked me for it, here’s the recipe I use for Five Minute Artisan Bread that I mentioned on Episode 25 of the show.  Do note that this is not my recipe.  It’s really all over the internet, and I believe it came out of the book “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes” a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois if I’m not mistaken.

Five-Minute Artisan Bread

Each loaf Serves 4

Note: This recipe must be prepared in advance.

  • 1-1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast (about 1-1/2 packets)
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 6-1/2 cups unbleached flour or bread flour, plus extra for dusting dough
  • Cornmeal or baking spray

In a large plastic resealable container, mix yeast and salt into 3 cups lukewarm (about 100 degrees) water. Using a large spoon, stir in flour, mixing until mixture is uniformly moist with no dry patches. Do not knead. Dough will be wet and loose enough to conform to shape of plastic container. Cover, but not with an airtight lid.

Let dough rise at room temperature, until dough begins to flatten on top or collapse, at least 2 hours and up to 5 hours. (At this point, dough can be refrigerated up to 2 weeks; refrigerated dough is easier to work with than room-temperature dough, so the authors recommend that first-time bakers refrigerate dough overnight or at least 3 hours.)

When ready to bake, you can either: sprinkle cornmeal on a pizza peel. Place a broiler pan on bottom rack of oven. Place baking stone on middle rack and preheat oven to 450 degrees, preheating baking stone for at least 20 minutes.  Or… just preheat your oven to 450 degrees before baking, and use baking spray or sprinkled cornmeal on a baking sheet instead of a pizza peel.

Sprinkle a little flour on dough and on your hands. Pull dough up and, using a serrated knife, cut off a grapefruit-size piece (about 1 pound). Working for 30 to 60 seconds (and adding flour as needed to prevent dough from sticking to hands; most dusting flour will fall off, it’s not intended to be incorporated into dough), turn dough in hands, gently stretching surface of dough, rotating ball a quarter-turn as you go, creating a rounded top and a bunched bottom.

Place shaped dough on prepared pizza peel or baking pan and let rest, uncovered, for 40 minutes. Repeat with remaining dough or refrigerate it in lidded container. (Even one day’s storage improves flavor and texture of bread. Dough can also be frozen in 1-pound portions in airtight containers and defrosted overnight in refrigerator prior to baking day.) Dust dough with flour.

Using a serrated knife, slash top of dough in three parallel, 1/4-inch deep cuts (or in a tic-tac-toe pattern). Slide dough onto preheated baking stone or into oven on cookie sheet. Pour 1 cup hot tap water into broiler pan and quickly close oven door to trap steam. Bake until crust is well-browned and firm to the touch, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven to a wire rack and cool completely.

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Farm Spotlight: The Henhouse

Thistle is the Buff Brahma at rear left, Blossom is the Columbian Wyandotte front left, and Tookhees, the only hen left from our very first batch of chicks, is the Partridge Rock on the right.

Meet “The Girls.”  Our first foray into Small Home Farming began with the book “City Chickens” and two dozen chicks intended as a homeschooling project.  We purchased dual purpose birds (those good for both eggs and meat) so that we could keep the hens if we liked having chickens, or process them all and put them in the freezer if we didn’t.

Well, obviously we did like it, because this many years later we still have laying hens!  Each of the kids has their own “pet” chicken that has the privilege of being part of our flock forever … even when they are no longer very good layers, but we also replace the other layers every couple years to keep egg production high enough to keep us supplied most of the year.

Bantam hens are fun to have! We’ve had several bantams, but Violet is Cecily’s pet, a Black Tailed Buff Japanese bantam. Bantam eggs are smaller. Three of their eggs are equal to two standard eggs.

The farm just wouldn’t be the same without the girls.  This year, however, we are getting only four new chicks to replace the seven that are currently not pets.  (We are also getting ducklings this year, however.)  Selling extra eggs doesn’t appeal to me so much anymore, and I think we can store all of our extra eggs over the year to see us pretty well through the winter.

I like everything on the farm to be pleasant. I added blue shutters to the henhouse window to make it nice to look at!

This is the henhouse and chicken yard.  I love walking by there every day on my way to the horse barn, big barn, or garden so I can check on the girls and say hello!

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