Category Archives: Farm

Are You Behind? Garden Overgrown? Don’t Give Up!

Yes, that’s my bohunkus there, pulling weeds out of my paths again. “The girls” are enjoying a foray out into the wide world to eat bugs and clover.


Don’t quit. Never give up trying to build the world you can see, even if others can’t see it.  ~ Simon Sinek

Sometimes life gets away from us — often it happens in summer, I’ve found. Things start getting out of hand. You’re gone for awhile, there are a lot of graduation parties or family events or sports…. What started as a few weeds untended in the garden quickly become a daunting patch of weeds, then, if neglected, a jungle. My sister-in-law teases that she’s growing some nice weeds this year. Sometimes things happen and it’s too easy to start feeling overwhelmed. But I want to encourage you to stick with it! Don’t get discouraged! Don’t give up!

“But you haven’t seen what’s going on here,” you might think. Ha ha ha! I’ve lived it!

Things may not go as planned, but they still go anyway. We’ll have pumpkins whether I weed my paths or not!

In fact, this particular summer has been only what I can describe as “crazy.” It’s been a weird, crazy summer for me. As some of you know, my Mom has been ill for some time, and since late spring has gotten steadily worse. We live out of town, and it’s been a real challenge to keep up with her needs, to keep on top of her current state and do our best to help out. But it’s been weird in other ways, too. It’s been predominantly only me and my eleven-year-old daughter Betsy living at home this summer. JJ moved out last fall, of course, and Cecily and Danny are both working at The Ranch this summer, ministering to kids using horses in a camp setting. They are only home for about a day and a half on the weekends, and they are exhausted when they get home Friday afternoons. They pretty much sleep, wash laundry, and go back to the Ranch on Sunday. And of course, our load of hay caught on fire and we haven’t seen a replacement yet, so we’re scrambling to keep our horses fed. Altogether it’s been weird having almost no help around the place — and consequently, almost no routine or structure. We didn’t open our pool, haven’t really sat outside around the firepit or in the screen-room like we usually do, and it feels like we have hardly done any other summer activities.

One of my excuses for letting farm things get out of control has been this. I've spent inordinate amounts of time practicing all the cool things I learned at the Mark Wood Rock Orchestra Camp in Kansas in July. Basically, I've been picking strings instead of beans...

One of my excuses for letting farm things get out of control has been this. I’ve spent inordinate amounts of time practicing all the cool things I learned at the Mark Wood Rock Orchestra Camp in Kansas in July. Basically, I’ve been picking strings instead of beans…

So yeah, yeah, you don’t really care too much why my summer has been weird and crazy and totally disorganized. The point is, it has been. This spring I worked really hard to clear all the weeds out of the paths in the garden, and by now, guess what… yes, of course, there are weeds starting to take over the paths again in spite of a generous layer of mulch. And there are weeds in the raspberries. And I didn’t get my apples thinned and bagged. And there’s a too-big pile of chicken dookie under the roosts in the henhouse. And you know what? It’s not the end of the world! I’m still getting peas. I have lots of ripe blueberries and raspberries. My tomatoes and cukes are starting to come in. My pullets are almost big enough to take off their chick grower rations and put into the henhouse. Things are still moving along.

There may be a pile of chicken poo in the corner, but they haven’t boycotted me yet. The girls are still happy and they’re still giving us eggs. I’ll scoop the corner eventually. It doesn’t stink yet. LOL!

Sometimes, especially when we’re tired — especially when we’ve had two or three not-perfect years in a row we want to throw in the towel. But to be honest, when is it ever a “perfect” year? There’s no such thing. Granted, a couple years where things get way out of control may be a sign for us to cut back a little. Maybe don’t plant as much next year. Just do your favorites. Maybe just peppers, beans, and strawberries. Or whatever. Or maybe decide not to raise your own pork next year. Or hire someone to cut your firewood instead of doing it yourself. Scaling back is okay. That’s not quitting, that’s reality. Joe Perfect over the fence there, with his immaculate gardens, doesn’t really have a life. He does nothing but weed and start the next batch of seedlings. So give yourself a break and just ease your way into taking control again in five- and ten-minute increments. I always promise myself I’m going to go out to pick some fruit or veggies, and I’ll just spend five minutes pulling the worst of the weeds. I always get sucked into it and get more done than I planned. But if I don’t … so what!!! I got five minutes of the worst weeds pulled, and I’ll do five more minutes the next time I get out there.

Instead of getting down on yourself for not doing everything you wanted to do perfectly, pat yourself on the back for taking steps toward living your dream! It’s a journey, an experience, not a destination. It’s about spending time with your hands in the dirt, the joy of producing some of your own food, and the pleasure of creating a life that you love.


Filed under Farm, Garden and Orchard, Poultry and Other Animals

To Be Overcome

To be overcome by the fragrance of flowers is a delectable form of defeat. ~Beverly Nichols


The nasturtiums mingle with the flowers on the beans, the peas, and even a summer squash tucked in there under the peas.

I’ve mentioned in the past my unquenchable love for flowers. If my orchard were to disappear and nothing grow in the vegetable patch, so long as I had a space to grow some flowers I could still be content. One thing my Amish friends and neighbors have on us Englischers is their sublime idea of interplanting flowers in their vegetable patches. Last year I followed their lead and incorporated some flowers into my vegetable patch.

I’ve intertwined peas with morning glories right behind a few broccoli, and separated the spinach and lettuce with a small patch of impatiens.

In spite of the profusion of flower gardens that surround my house, the horse barn, even the henhouse, I tucked a few more in here and there among the beans and shallots.  This year I spread them around even more. Could I use that snippet of space in my small garden to grow an extra couple rows of carrots? Sure! But it wouldn’t give me the same satisfaction, I don’t think, to eat those carrots as it does to simply admire the color around me while I’m picking peas or trellising tomatoes. And why not? I’ve tucked tomatoes into the flower beds. Turnabout is fair play!

These pansies readily re-seeded themselves from last year. I’ve tucked them in between my garlic and strawberries.

It’s my hope that you will let go of some of your pre-conceived notions of what a small home farm should look like. I hope that what you are doing is experimenting, trying new things, talking to each other and exchanging ideas, and incorporating the things you find you love into your Small Home Farm so that when all is said and done, you find that it makes your heart sing!


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Fungal Disease in the Orchard

Photo courtesy of everystockphoto, by iLoveButter

This afternoon I received another question about orchard health that I wanted to share in case someone else is looking for similar help:

Hi Erin,

We are adding trees to our home orchard and are seeking some guidance regarding growing peach trees.

I purchased a Contender which I’ve had for a year but now it has Cytospora canker.

We have nearby wild cherries that are infected with black knot and I am in the process of destroying a wild cherry tree with Cytospora. Knowing this disease exists in the wild nearby should I even consider trying to grow a peach tree?

Thanks for your help.



Hi Christine!
Cytospora is a fungal disease. I can only tell you from experience of some natural methods you can try. You can google for fungal sprays if you are looking for more of a chemical control, but since I don’t use inorganic methods I can’t suggest any.

First, you want to keep good sanitation, removing any gummy residue from the tree and applying anti-fungal agents to any open wounds on the tree. Burn any branches, leaves, etc. that fall or are removed from the tree. I would suggest painting any wounds on the tree (where the gummy residue is leaking out, any pruned branches, and so on) with teatree oil, oregano oil, or olive oil infused with a lot of garlic. In addition, spray a solution of water mixed with the Bach flower remedy “crab apple” and also Bach’s “Rescue Remedy” in it over the tree.  I recommend spraying the entire tree regularly (as often as possible, even daily or several times a week) throughout this year’s growing season with the “crab apple/rescue remedy” water solution. You’ll simply have to monitor it next year to see whether it needs sprays or not.

The crab-apple will help the tree to throw off the fungal infection, and the Rescue Remedy can help it to overcome any adverse effects from the infection that have weakened it — but it may take quite some time for it to take noticeable effect. This should help the tree to naturally become stronger against the infection. In fact, you may wish to treat the wild cherry trees as well. Cytospora is actually carried by coniferous trees, though, and your other trees may be harboring cytospora as well.  A backpack sprayer is great for this kind of spray application. You will only need about ten drops of crab apple and ten drops of Rescue Remedy in a couple of gallons of water. Any anti-fungal agent (the teatree oil, oregano oil, or olive oil with garlic infused in it) you will want to paint directly onto any wounds undiluted. The anti-fungal oil only needs to be applied for a short time — one or two applications.

It’s important to understand that a healthy tree will not be very susceptible to disease and can withstand something like cytospora in spite of its presence in the area. This is why preparing a great, healthy soil before planting is so beneficial when possible. You may wish to google “cytospora resistant peach tree varieties” and see if you can find any that do well in your zone 4 climate when you plant your new trees. But most importantly, a very healthy soil will help your tree (and any new trees you plant) to be strong and healthy enough to withstand disease. You can have your soil tested to see what amendments you need to add to the soil around the dripline and under the tree. Using a good liquid organic fertilizer (such as manure tea, kelp, etc.) as often as recommended on the label to increase the nutrients available to your tree is a good place to start.

I have had excellent success interplanting garlic around my fruit trees, and among my fruits and tomatoes to ward off fungal, bacterial, and viral diseases, and find that my berries in particular do poorly when there is not garlic planted among them. The soil here is not good soil and there is a viral disease present from the wild berries that grow here. But the garlic helps them keep healthy. I also have had very nice success rescuing diseased or dying plants with the crab apple/rescue remedy combination as well.

You can actually also make a spray of “garlic tea” (a couple gallons of water with lots of chopped garlic steeped in it, then, strained) and use this as a topical spray to ward off fungal diseases. I would personally use several of the approaches I’ve mentioned in combination to try to save the tree, and prevent infection in the new trees that will be planted. It is becoming much more widespread among professional organic tree-fruit growers to use garlic sprays against fungus (scab, etc.), and they are sprayed immediately following each rain, and/or every couple weeks throughout the growing season. They will, of course, wash off in the rain, which is why they must be reapplied.

While you can certainly choose which approach sounds the best to you, if I found myself in your situation, I would definitely use the crab apple/rescue remedy spray, clean up the tree(s) and paint the wounds with garlic oil, plant garlic around the tree, improve the soil health, and also spray with a garlic water. A lot of concerted effort, certainly, but not terribly expensive. Just time consuming.

When you plant your new trees, if possible, you may want to plant them well away from the infected trees. This may not be possible, of course.

Here are some links to the crab apple and the rescue remedy, which also goes by the name “Feel5ive”:

I hope this helps. I’m afraid I don’t know much about conventional chemical sprays and medications for trees if that is what you were looking for, but I find the organic treatments mentioned above adequate in my own experience, and perhaps they can help you as well.

Good luck! Let me know how it goes! Great question – I will probably post both your question and the answer on my blog so that anyone else with the same problem can find some ideas as well.

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Spring: Codling Moths and Other Orchard Pests

green apples

I received a Listener Question this morning. With the warmer weather, it’s time to get busy in the orchard again!


Hi Erin,

If you have a spray you use on your apples trees in the spring, please let me know as I will need to spray in the next week or two.  I have a huge tree that gives tons of apples every year but the coddling moth ruins them.  I want to spray them with something that is not unhealthy for my boy and I to eat. 

Thanks so much and my best to you and your family!!


Have a great day! 



Organic Pest control can be confusing — and is potentially time-consuming depending on which methods you employ. But I really like the approach my Amish neighbors take about their farming and their work. They choose to see it as a privilege! And something pleasant at that.  They (and I) feel that being a good steward of the earth is its own reward. The satisfaction, serenity, and pleasure that comes in each act of caring for your plants and animals is refreshing when looked at, not as a “chore-that-must-be-done,” but as a chance to relax and enjoy nature. It’s all in the attitude you take as you approach the job at hand. Our experience is shaped only 10% what happens to us, but 90% by our attitude toward it! 

There are several effective ways of controlling insect damage in your orchard. Use one or more of them according to what you fancy, can afford or have the patience for, and what you find works the best in your own orchard. Codling moths can be difficult to manage, especially when the population has been allowed to build up over a season or two (or more). It’s definitely better to keep populations low from the outset if you have the opportunity.

The good news is — Codling Moth, Plum Curculio and Apple Maggot can be almost 100% eliminated by bagging your pears and apples, or by using a bagging and kaolin clay/”Surround” combination.  You can monitor the codling moths with sticky pheromone traps to know when when it’s time to bag the fruit, but in general, it should be done no later than four to six weeks after bloom when the fruit are between 1/2–1 inch in diameter. Later blooming fruits can be attacked by Codling Moth before they reach that size, and in general, later-blooming fruit is more susceptible to Codling Moth damage in general.  Also know that the larvae affect walnuts as well as pears and apples, so all must be treated to reduce the population of the codling moths.

What exactly is “bagging” and how do you do it? Bagging is simply putting the young fruit inside a bag and closing the bag to keep the codling moths off and out of the fruit. Some orchardists have good luck using nylon fruit socks to bag their fruit, but nylon does not seem to have consistently high results when using nylon alone as it does when using small paper sacks or using nylon in combination with “Surround“. Surround is one brand of kaolin clay that you mix with water and soak the nylon fruit socks/bags in. The combination is reported by the Home Orchard Society to be nearly as effective as using paper bags.

I suggest googling “bulk paper bags” and looking for a good price on how many you might think you’ll need. Here‘s just one example of 1000 #6 bags for $27.00.

You can take care of both thinning your fruit and bagging at the same time. After the “June drop” (when some of the small fruits fall off the tree), when your fruit has reached 1/2-inch in diameter, head out with a large supply of nylon fruit socks or with small paper bags, a stapler, and plenty of staples. To begin, pluck off all but the largest of the fruits in each cluster – usually it is the center fruit and it is called the “King fruit” because it is the largest. Now slide the fruit inside your nylon fruit sock or insert that small fruit into your paper sack, fold over the top and staple it shut, taking care to leave no open spaces for the codling moths to get inside the bag. So now you have one bagged fruit left instead of a cluster of unbagged fruits. Don’t worry, that one fruit will grow larger than it would have if you hadn’t thinned the fruit in that cluster since more energy will go into growing and ripening that one fruit. And of course, it is only one fruit to bag instead of five or six.

When your apples or pears are 1/2″ or slightly larger, thin them to just one per cluster and bag the remaining one fruit. Photo courtesy of rocketjim54 via

If you are using a “nylon sock/bag” and kaolin clay/”Surround” combination, you’ll want to soak all your nylon bags in a bucket of water mixed with the Surround and allow them to dry before bagging your fruit. Here are some detailed instructions by the folks who first promoted this method.

The bag on each fruit acts as a physical barrier to keep the codling moth off of the fruit. You remove the bags at harvest time. Do note that red apples won’t get as red without the sun directly on them. This is one reason some people prefer the nylon fruit bags, as the nylon allows some amount sun directly on the fruit. You can always use slider-type sandwich baggies as well, in order to let sunlight reach the apples, but you must snip off the bottom two corners to allow moisture to drip out of the bag. I haven’t seen the plastic baggies in use nearly as much as paper or nylon. If you have a heavy infestation, though, I would be inclined to use paper bags for several years until the codling moth population has been decimated.

Other methods of control involve interrupting the life cycle of the moth. You can use codling moth traps with pheromone lures to catch and kill male moths before they mate.  Set the traps out at the start of the bloom period, in the top third of the tree. Use 1-2 for small trees and 2-4 for larger trees. This method alone is not sufficient to protect against heavy infestations. It will, however, reduce the number of affected fruits when used alone. However, it is a great way to monitor the numbers of codling moths present, especially over the course of several seasons to help you see if your other control measures are effectively reducing the population, and may be sufficient control alone when codling moth numbers are minimal. We use traps solely to monitor populations at Aspendale Farm and not as a preventive.

Through the growing season, you should monitor fruits for entry holes and discard all affected fruits. In fall, you can wrap a sticky band around the trunk (coated with tangletrap) to catch the larvae as they make their way down the tree to pupate over winter in order to reduce numbers.  On smooth-barked trees, some have found it effective to wrap a band of corrugated cardboard around the trunk to catch the mature larvae as they seek a place to pupate, discarding and replacing the cardboard regularly to eliminate the larvae that do find their way inside to pupate. Banding with cardboard is not effective with rough-barked trees, and will not eliminate a sufficiently large number of codling moths to be used as the sole method of control. Use it in conjunction with other methods.

In addition, encourage woodpeckers to hang out in your orchard by providing them with suet.  They relish the tasty insects that destroy your orchard fruits and will help control the populations. Why not give them a treat! Hand-picking can take care of other orchard pests like tent caterpillars or leaf rollers. Walk through your orchard at least once a week, twice is better. Be on the lookout for signs of insects and remove them immediately, taking other precautionary measures immediately as needed.

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Using the Oven to Prepare Your Tomatoes for Canning

Photo Credit: benketaro

Rebekah N. from Rapid City, South Dakota remembered me mentioning an alternate way to can tomatoes in Episode 34 of Small Home Farm Radio.  She asks:


Hi Erin!
I just discovered podcasts & have loved listening to your show!

I am just starting out with gardening this year. I remember a tip you had at the end of a show on canning tomatoes. You mentioned something about putting the tomatoes in the oven. Do you remember what the tip was? I can’t seem to find it among the podcasts.

Thank you!


Canning Tomatoes an Easier Way:

I don’t like to stand over the hot stove scalding my tomatoes.  Here’s an easier way to prepare them for the canner:  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Wash your tomatoes, core them, and cut them in half.  Place them in a large roasting pan in the oven for about half an hour.  Remove them from the oven, take the tomato chunks out of the pan, leaving the juice behind in the pan.  Remove the skins and cut them into whatever sizes of chunks you like to can – I dice mine roughly.  Now heat them in a pot so they are nice and hot, then put them in your hot jars – the tomatoes and the jars need to be hot so your jars don’t crack when you put them in the canner.  Can them the conventional way, adding 1 TBSP. lemon juice and 1 tsp salt to each quart jar., them filling with tomatoes to the top, leaving 1-inch headspace.  Remove air bubbles from the jars by pushing the handle of a wooden spoon down the bottom of the jar and moving the tomatoes around slightly to let the air bubbles escape.  Wipe the rims with a clean, wet cloth, adjust the lid and ring and process for 1 hour and 25 minutes in a boiling water bath canner.

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Filed under Farm, Garden and Orchard, Home, The Country Kitchen

Hitting the Trail

Betsy riding Sophie.

Betsy riding Sophie.

Yesterday we had a “hitting the trail” experience that was encouraging and discouraging all at the same time.  The three kids who have horses (Cecily, Danny, and Betsy) and I hit the trail in the afternoon.  Betsy rode Lacy bareback as she always does.  Danny rode little, stout Sophie.  I just love watching her fat draft pony bohunkus!  LOL!  Cecily rode Spur, of course, and Saxton and I were a team.

Saxton did fabulous again.  Sophie spooked a couple times, though she’s not generally terribly spooky, and Saxton didn’t seem concerned about anything but the next mouthful of leaves every time we got near a bush or low tree!  In fact, the woman who came to try out Saxton Wednesday kept commenting on how she absolutely loved Saxton’s personality, and how well trained he is and how much groundwork I’ve done with him … and how sane and calm he is!  LOL!  She thought I’d been exaggerating when I listed him as a “looker” on the trails and told her that he usually spooks about once every ride.  I couldn’t convince her otherwise because he’s so calm now!

But although Saxton did great and I’m definitely having second thoughts about letting him go, the exhilaration was marred by a passage of sorts.  I was hurt to see poor old Lacy go down on her knees on the gravel at the end of the trail ride.  We were on the road and – I can only guess that Betsy is officially too much weight for her to carry now – she stumbled, landing on both front knees and bloodying one up a bit.  My heart is just crying about it.  Lacy is an angel.  She has been an absolute gift from God to Betsy, and especially to me – balm to my soul during a trying time with my own horse and balm to my little girl after a frightening experience for Betsy with a horse that bit her repeatedly.  But as she is growing so quickly, Betsy has recently crossed the 100 lb. mark.  I guess that even that much weight, though she uses no saddle, is too much for Lacy.  And so we find ourselves again facing her mortality.  I don’t know what to do now with a horse that is too old and frail to be of use, and consequent of her old age and special requirements, quite expensive and time consuming to keep?  I don’t begrudge her the care and don’t have plans to let her go.  But the reality of time and money constraints can be painful.

Beautiful Lacy

Beautiful Lacy

The other horses can be left overnight with some hay and plenty of water and they will be fine when we return.  Lacy needs special feed and supplements mixed up three times a day.  And now we will have to add a fifth horse to our already crowded barn – and – a very real consideration … find something to do with an extra eight to nine tons of manure a year.  I don’t want to see Lacy go somewhere else.  I don’t want to see her growing older.  But as with our human loved ones, change is inevitable.  So this weighs heavily on me now as I ponder our new circumstance.

Once we returned to the barn and cleaned and covered Lacy’s knee, Danny hopped on Saxton and Betsy removed Sophie’s saddle and gave her a try bareback.  They worked great in the arena, though Sophie is a pistol and a half out on the trail – hard mouthed and stubbornly given to trotting no matter what else the rest of us do.  What to do, what to do?

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Filed under Farm, Horses

Horse Update


I’ve been giving Saxton a specially mixed bottle of Bach Flower Remedies to balance his emotions and calm his fears for about three weeks now.  I must say that I am extremely impressed so far!  He is spooking less, and interestingly (to me anyhow), when something does spook him, it takes him about half a second of spooking, then he’s back to himself like he’d never spooked a day in his life – head low, which is a sign of calm.  Saxton has always been a “head up” kind of guy.  Always looking around to try to see what scary things were out there somewhere, possibly ready to pounce on him any minute!  No more.

We took him on the trail yesterday to gauge how he’ll do this afternoon when we show him to a prospective buyer.  My goodness he was amazing!  So calm!  All he was thinking about was snatching the next mouthful of leaves.  He wasn’t worried in the least!  It was great!  I didn’t expect even these good results.  He is, still, his same old personality.  If I walk up to the stall door he still jerks his head up for a second.  I don’t think you can change fundamental personality traits.  Most of our horses do that, actually.  But calm rules the day with him now, not fear.  I am satisfied with that!

Yes, I still have him on the market, though.  If he doesn’t sell this afternoon I may reevaluate, but I have my eye on a little paint mare that is more of a babysitter horse.  I’m going to look at her this weekend and perhaps bring her home.  Danny would like to keep Saxton for his horse, but I don’t think Saxton, while very smart, malleable, and willing, is quite sensible enough to be a child’s horse.  Still … I will remain open to the possibility of keeping him in our herd somehow if this buyer isn’t interested.


Filed under Farm, Horses, Natural Health