Monthly Archives: April 2014

Good Ideas for the Home Farm



The snow has melted off the garden in the last two-to-three days. I got out there this afternoon and spread clear plastic over this year’s tomato bed, holding it down well with so it won’t blow off the garden, and I let it hang over the edges onto the adjacent pathways. The heat of the sun will be amplified through the plastic and do two great things for me. First, it will heat up my tomato bed. Second, it will kill off any weeds or grass starting in my garden paths.


We still actually have snow. In the top left of the photo, you can see the raspberry beds, with snow still covering about 1/3 of them! I didn’t waste any time getting out and getting started warming my soil!

This far north our first frost-free planting days for heat-loving crops aren’t until early June. That can really put a crimp in my style in terms of tomato harvest. Well, okay, really it crimps my style — period — when it comes to heat-loving crops. But by warming the soil early, and starting my tomatoes a couple weeks earlier than I otherwise would, I can put them in the ground that much earlier. Aaaand that meeeeans … (say it with me) … I can harvest a couple weeks earlier, right? True story! I’m all about getting a few extra weeks of tomato harvest.

So how do I harvest a little early? First I warm the soil. Then, when it’s time to put the tomatoes in, I secure brown plastic mulch (brown plastic sheeting) in my raised bed from one side to the other, tucking it down in the sides to keep it in place. Now I can cut slits in the plastic and plant my tomatoes directly into the pre-warmed soil. The brown plastic mulch continues to warm the soil (which tomatoes *love*) throughout the season. But I’m not going to end there. The second step is an additional layer over the tomato plants — a low-tunnel, like this one they sell at

It’s important not to just plant-it-and-forget-it, though. If you want early tomatoes, you kinda have to be willing to work for it. Careful temperature regulation is important. On warm days, the low-tunnel has to be open, or even taken completely off the tomatoes if it’s really warm. It’s too easy to accidentally cook your tomato plants before you can say “oops!”. Think about how hot it gets inside your car on a sunny day, even when it’s cool outside. The sun goes in through the windows and heats up everything inside your car. The low-tunnel will do the same thing to your tomatoes. This is great on cooler days and overnight when the temperature drops. On nights where the temperature is going to drop really low, a layer of sheets or old quilts or blankets is still a great idea to keep them from freezing, or suffering a set-back due to shock.  Once frost-free days hit after the first two-to-three weeks, the low-tunnel comes off for the rest of the season.

Some of my girls are hoping I brought some kitchen scraps out to them! L-R: New Hampshire Red, Black Star, Black Australorp, Black Star.

Some of my girls are hoping I brought some kitchen scraps out to them! L-R: New Hampshire Red, Black Star, Black Australorp, Black Star.

Here’s another great idea. My inventor-kid Danny came up with this. He’s really a good problem-solver. He’s been thinking about how to create a magnetic generator that will take minimal input and produce a good source of backup power for years. The kid’s only 13. He recently bought himself an oxy-acetylene tank for welding so he can invent things. Granted, he doesn’t know how to use it. (I’m exercising my bragging rights, okay? LOL!) But this idea has nothing to do with backup power or welding. It has to do with minimizing chicken feed waste. I don’t know if you have this problem or if you’ve figured out a way to keep waste to a minimum, but I absolutely hate buying 50 lbs. of non-GMO chicken feed (read: expensive!) knowing that almost half of it is going to end up on the ground, scratched into the chicken litter in the bottom of the coop. All that wasted feed is not only costly, but it invites rodents into the henhouse and makes a pretty yucky mucky mess on the floor, too.

You’ll kick yourself when you see this. It’s so simple. But I hadn’t thought of it in the seven years we’ve been raising chickens. Here she goes:

Don't judge me for having a big pile of chicken dookie in the corner of the coop. I'm a procrastinator just like you! LOL!

Don’t judge me for having a big pile of chicken dookie in the corner of the coop under the roosts. I’m a procrastinator just like you! LOL!

Danny suggested putting the feeder inside a short container of some sort to catch the feed that the hens bill out while they’re eating. Genius! Seriously! They stand outside the black pan, which is about 18″x30″ (roughly), instead of in it (chicken poop in the food – yuck!), and reach across to eat out of the feeder. They still bill it out, but 95% of what they bill out ends up in the pan. When feed gets low, they’re happy to eat the billed-out feed right out of the black pan. If it gets yucky or wet, you’d have to throw it away, but I haven’t had that problem yet and I’ve been using this since the fall! I’m spending half the money I used to spend on chicken feed. That makes me happy! 🙂

Do you have any good ideas for around the farm to share with me or other Small Home Farm fans?

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Spring is Coming to Aspendale Farm!

My friend Linda of Turkey Hill Farm has some of the loveliest gardens I’ve ever seen!

Hello, friends! It’s been a quiet winter at Aspendale Farm. I’ve been taking the slow winter months to recuperate and build up a healthy reservoir of energy and enthusiasm for the upcoming growing season!

And I am getting enthused! I started three varieties of tomatoes … I’ve decided to give Burpee’s “SuperSauce” paste tomato a try as one of them. I’ll be interested to see if they really do get as huge as the company touts, and whether they have enough taste to make a decent pot of chili! I will not start peppers this year, but a friend has promised to save me her extras, and I can buy anything else I need from the Amish greenhouse around the corner. I do think I’ll root some geraniums, though. I’ve decided to hang baskets all along the front porch this year, instead of just hanging two on either side of the step up to the porch. It will save me a few dollars to root them myself.

In our neck of the woods, the ground is covered with snow from October or November (depending on the year) through the end of the first week of April. If you’d told me last week that we’d be seeing a lot of bare ground by the end of this week (as was to expected going by the previous years’ melts), I’d have doubted you. Last week’s temps were in the single digits and it snowed several times. But a warmer wind has been blowing this week. The snow has turned to rain, and there are, indeed, patches of bare ground growing larger every day. For the first time this year our little two-track gravel road is showing, where there has been packed snow and ice all winter.

Yesterday morning I went out to the henhouse where the girls were making a fierce racket. Usually they’ll do that if they need more water or food, and I figured it was probably a low-water scenario. But no, all the hens were outside, making a big ruckus. The first thing I saw on entering the coop was our good friend, Tookhees (two-keys), our Partridge Rock family pet, lying stretched out on the ground underneath the roost. She had gone to the Great Dust Bath Beyond not long before I arrived on the scene. She hasn’t laid eggs for several years, but she was a family favorite from our very first batch of chicks in 2007 when we still lived at Hawthorne Hill in Ohio. We brought her with us to Aspendale Farm in the Northwoods of Michigan. She has always been a character, and very sweet. Usually we think nothing of trading off the old hens and getting a new batch of chicks, but Tookhees and Violet (our Black-Tail Buff Japanese Banty-hen) have been special pets and we’ ve kept them on in spite of their non-productive status. So we gave her a proper burial in our pet graveyard behind the barn and sang “Shall We Gather at the River” which may or may not have been theologically correct. But thanking God for the pleasure she has given us these seven years seemed appropriate.

In less than two weeks our newest batch of chicks will arrive. Every year I have gone with a lovely assortment of heritage breeds and occasionally popular breeds. We’ve had Buff Brahmas, Black Australorps, as assortment of Rocks and Reds, banties, Columbian Wyandottes, and even ISA Browns, which laid well enough but had poor personalities and loved to bully the other hens. I do love having an assortment, and some of my favorites are the Australorps and Columbian Wyandottes. For personality, the Partridge Rock and Buff Brahma are the winners. But last year a friend gave me four Black Stars (also known as Black Sex-Links) and I have to say, they are docile and friendly, do not go broody, and have an excellent feed-conversion ratio. I get six eggs a week from each hen. Hard to beat that. So this year I will raise eight new Black Stars and see how they do for me again. They begin to lay a month earlier than the non-hybrids as well. But I must admit I am extremely partial to the heritage breeds and will likely go back to getting a good mix in spring of 2015. But I will probably include at least a few Black Stars again!

The house is still for sale, and now that it’s warming up, we expect to see activity resume, with the dreaded bouts of housecleaning-for-perfection (you know, to show it to prospective buyers), instead of the normal everyday housecleaning. But we are considering switching realtors or going FSBO again, as our current realtor renegged on her promise to keep our house listed on zillow and trulia. It lapsed on those sites just before Christmas, and in spite of my bugging her about it, she hasn’t relisted them. There are FSBO packages where you can list on, trulia, and a bunch of other sites, and I’d listed our home on zillow, craigslist, and horseclicks myself anyway. But no, I really don’t want to move. LOL! If our house never sells I’ll be alright with that. But I do want a realtor who does what he or she has promised. After all 7% commission is huge!

Still, I love living here. I love the pace of life our Amish neighbors have. It rubs off on me, and I do need that. And I love their faith, trust, honesty, and humility. I’m sorry to say that you don’t find a great deal of Englishers with the same values. It is only found here and there, in small places — not infused in the very fabric of your community. There is too much hurry, rush, worry, and lack of deference out there — particularly downstate where we would probably end up if/when our place does sell. I like living where folks wave at each other as you drive by, rather than flipping each other off and laying on the horn. And we are a short jaunt from the river, with State Forest all around us, two hiking trails within minutes that follow the AuSable river as it winds its way toward Lake Huron. Well, there are many things to love about where we live now, and they make it hard to sell and move on.

I’ve gotten used to having my oldest gone to college. It was a terrible adjustment. But after a couple weeks of crying daily and a couple more weeks of just getting used to the new situation, I’m okay with it. (Yes, I’m a woman, I cry. Get over it.) To be honest, although I do adore many things about him, it’s been significantly easier to keep the house clean and well … it’s been quieter and noticeably less chaotic. Except the kitchen. Cecily is one of those of the “eat small meals six times a day instead of three large meals” persuasion. While it may be healthy for her, it drives me bonkers to have the kitchen in a state of chaos all throughout the day. ‘Cause she’s not just eating an apple and calling it a day, she’s cooking something. Chopping board, pots and pans, and all. But the rest of the house stays much tidier, and it only takes a few minutes to put things to right when they get out of sorts. Sorry JJ, truth hurts! LOL! And since he is an adult, I’ve been able to let go of worrying constantly about guiding and helping him. It’s a lot easier to offer suggestions when he’s willing, and let it go. Let him decide what to do. And I’m okay with that. His Dad? Not so much! LOL!

Other than that, the kids and I have amused ourselves by feeding the birds this late winter. The cat is quite amused by it as well. She likes to sit in the window and make little chirpy-mews that I assume, means she is telling us all about this interesting development out there. But if any one of them flies in too close to the ground under the window, Miss Sweetness-and-Light becomes Dagger-Eyes. Those little birdies are sometimes amusing, sometimes lunch. LOL!  Good thing there is a picture window in between Maple and the birds.

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