Wooly Bear

The wooly bear caterpillars are back.  We’ve been finding them everywhere the past couple of days.

Ava found this little guy this morning and has been carrying him around all day, riding on the back of her hand or the tip of her finger.

She’s been so gentle with him.  She’s not afraid of any bugs, except spiders!

So if a frog kisses a caterpillar, will it turn into a prince…er, moth?  Wrong story…

She has to have a critter of some sort with her throughout the day.  Usually it’s a chicken.  Let’s hope the two don’t meet up.  It wouldn’t work out well for the caterpillar.

Most wooly bears I’ve seen have 3 bands.  I wonder if this long orange band means it will be a really long winter?  Usually by January, you at least feel like it will never end.

We’ve spent most of today (and yesterday) working on getting things ready for winter.  BW is cleaning the chimney right now.  The wooly bear and Ava are “helping”.

Right now I am looking forward to fall/winter.  I am ready for some downtime.  I am ready to break out my craft supplies and do some inside things…


Chicken Wrangler

Persistence pays and my child is learning that at a very young age.

Barefoot, in the rain, chasing chickens…

Pampers for Poultry

Chickens don’t come potty-trained.

Somehow “Renna” keeps ending up inside my house.

Here’s Renna sporting a chicken diaper prototype…


Nope.  She doesn’t like it, in case you’re wondering.

I’ve seen chicken diapers on BackYardChickens.com before.  This was my quick attempt to make one out of a piece of old bedsheet.  I might have to break out the sewing machine and make a nicer one.

The things I do to keep my sanity and the peace around here!

Popcorn Chickens

That’s how baby chicks grow…like popcorn.

Round ’em up and move ’em on out!  I moved my latest batch of chicks down to the chicken barn, still in a brooding pen, but a bit roomier.  I promised my husband I would get them out of his garage before they started to stink or fly out and poo on everything, whichever came first, and I kept my promise!  I’ve got a top on the brooding pen this year so they can’t get out.  I don’t want them pooing on everything down there either.  Because that’s what chickens do best, even the little ones.

Here they are enjoying their new digs…

This has made room in the garage for my yard sale.  Yes, it’s finally going to happen!  I’ve been talking about having a yard sale for like 3 years now.  It’s officially in the works.  But I digress…

This year’s batch of chicks are 26 Black Star pullets.  They are supposed to be phenomenal layers.  I’m going to cull hard for quality this time.  It’s been my experience that if they don’t get the kinks worked out after their first couple weeks of laying, they’ll lay weird eggs all along.  I wanted to try Buckeyes this year, but you have to order very, very early to get them.  They are critically endangered.  I am also interested in Black Copper Marans.  I want a dual purpose bird, but I still put a high priority on egg laying.

I didn’t start them out down there in the chicken barn because sometimes I see evidence of a black snake in residence under the building.  Brand new baby chicks are small enough to be eaten by one.  I leave him alone and he does his thing–and keeps the mice out of my chicken feed.  It’s a good arrangement.

I’ve learned my lesson the past couple years and we’re trying to socialize this new baby cockerel early.  I think he’s going to be a Blue Andalusian.  They offer you a “free mystery chick” with your order and you can pretty well count on it being a rooster.  I’ve been letting Ava play with him and carry him around the yard with her. 

Ava calls him the “little lellow (yellow) chick”, but his official name is Little Boy Blue, for now anyways.

She’s been “babysitting” the chicks, but really they are babysitting her.  I’ve been getting so much done here lately while she keeps herself occupied with a chick.  Every so often I make her go down to the chicken barn and switch out for a new “fresh” one. 

She has called the black ones (whichever one she happens to be holding at the time) “Renna”, which was the name of her imaginary friend, who is not so imaginary anymore now that Renna has morphed into being a “chicken friend”.  These girls should turn out to be very tame. 

Ava is gentle with them and they go on all sorts of adventures together, hanging out in the sandbox or strolling around the yard.  They’ve made their way into the house a time or two as well…

Here they are venturing together into the Tomato Jungle…

She didn’t share with Renna, who would have really enjoyed a tomato by the way…

And they helped me pick sweet banana peppers…


More fun than a barrel of chickens! 

Please pardon my sweaty, dirty little farm girl.  She does clean up well though.  Ha.

I’m still debating how to do this all-in/all-out thing with my layers.  You can’t help but get attached to them when they’re around for so long.  Most certainly you should not name them.  Mark that one down in the lesson book–don’t name anything that you plan to eat.  I’m thinking maybe as fall comes on, I will go ahead and cull the worst layers.  Most of the girls will be going into molt anyway.  I will maybe keep the best five throughout the winter to keep us in eggs.  I can’t see any point in feeding the ones that don’t pull their weight, but it will still be hard to do.  From here on out, I’m going to get all chickens that look the same, that way I won’t favor any.

Speaking of butchering, it’s time to put in my order for fall broilers.  I will be going with the Cornish X again.  I have no complaints with them and those I’ve gotten from Murray McMurray Hatchery have always been strong and healthy.  I had to buy a package of store-bought chicken breast the other day and it was seriously lacking compared to the quality of those we raised ourselves.  I have just about used up all that I have in the freezer.  I’m glad I made it as far as I did because we decided this year that fall broilers would be easier for us to manage and we’ll have more time to process them in the fall.  I’m going to go ahead and order 35 again.

Feed the Dog

I had forgotten about this video and just came across it today.  This is Ava, 2-years-old, this time last year (as I can tell from the sunflowers and the canning paraphenalia in the background.)

She was throwing her dinner to the dog, saying “boop!” with each bite she tossed.  So funny!

I look at her now and think, how on earth did I end up with a preschooler so fast?  Where’d my baby go?  I don’t feel so far off from those days when I realize she was just in diapers this time last year. 

I gotta get this kid a brother or sister before she takes over the world!  LOL

Guess what I’ve been doing all day?

Making salsa!

I knew when I did it that I had planted way too many tomatoes… But I do that every year.  I can’t stand the thought that by some cruel twist of nature (deer, drought, blight) that I might not have enough tomatoes, so I usually end up over-planting to compensate.  It does eventually get to the point where you can’t even give them away and I end up hurling tomatoes at people as they try to flee from my home.  Funny how most of the summer you desperately long for that first vine ripe tomato, then very quickly you become almost sick of them and can’t force yourself to eat another bite.  That’s when I break out the canning jars…

My little tomato-munching monster stands ready to jump in the second she thinks I’m not looking and start poking holes in their shiny, tender skins.  She is more of a threat to my tomato harvest than an army of hornworms or a flock of chickens.  Daily she left behind juicy, seedy piles of devastation on my porch last year.

Ava doesn’t get sick of them.  She could eat four or five at a stretch.

Last year I made some good salsa using the Mrs. Wages’ spice packets.  At nearly $3.00 a packet, I didn’t find that very economical though, so this year I tried to grow most of the ingredients myself.  I used the Ball Blue Book recipe for Zesty Salsa, but after spending all day chopping vegetables I am not really happy with the results.  It came out with way more onion and pepper than I’d like.  And also hotter than I like.  I have a few ideas where I might be able to tweak it–which tomato types to use and definitely less Hungarian Hot Wax Peppers or maybe use a chili pepper next year.  You can use less peppers/onions than called for, but certainly not more.  😛  I’ll find some use for it either way.  Maybe it would be good in chili…or to marinate a roast.

I’m working with a better canning set-up this year…


I moved everything out onto the porch, which frees up a lot of counter space and keeps the kitchen from getting quite so hot. 

I bought two 6′ x 2.5′ folding tables at Ollie’s for $35 each.  They’ll be handy for a number of things…cookouts, yardsales, butchering chickens.  And I also bought a Coleman Outdoor Grill and Stove which is a really useful thing to have.  When I decided to get a new ceramic cooktop stove, I realized I couldn’t use my waterbath canner on it without risk of damaging it because the bottom of the canner is fluted and wouldn’t make for good heat conductivity and the heavy weight of it could crack or scatch the stove.  I’ve wanted a camp stove for a while anyway.  It will also be useful for butchering chickens to boil the scalding pot and also a good thing to have on hand if the power goes out or for going camping (if I can ever talk my husband into going tent camping again).

This set-up worked really well and was very efficient.  I like that my kitchen is not so cluttered and I don’t have to work around rows of jars that must sit undisturbed for a day.

I’ve had a pretty good harvest so far and I have many days of canning ahead of me yet.  Today I’ll work on finishing up the rest of the tomatoes as plain canned tomatoes, which is pretty easy.  Then I’ll move on to making Hot Pepper Mustard (Butter) which is mostly for my Dad because he really loves it.  I made sauerkraut a couple days ago out of a dozen cabbages that I just harvested and it still has a few weeks of fermenting in the jar, then I’ll can it.  I froze my blackberries for now, waiting until I had enough to do several batches of jam.  Then it’s on to apple sauce, juice and jelly…and somewhere along the way I’ve got to find some place to buy a couple bushels of peaches because ours didn’t do well this year (mildew/disease).

Here’s what’s left of my storage onions after making salsa.

That should get me to November perhaps.  I planted a lot, but seemed to use them daily right from the garden once they started to get up to size.  The reds aren’t good keepers.  They were very determined to flower, which messes up the integrity of the bulb even if you do pinch them off.  This was the first year I did well with onions because I actually took the time to study up on when and how to plant them this time.  The earlier the better!

We’ve been eating fresh watermelon and canteloupe daily too…

I planted five vines on the spot where I had penned my Cornish X broilers last year and they LOVED IT.  I harvested 17 Crimson Sweet watermelons so far, two were huge–over 20 lbs each and most of the rest were 15 lbs!  Unfortunately with canteloupe and watermelon, they all seem to turn ripe at the same time, so I’ve been giving a bunch away.  As with the tomatoes, you can only eat so much watermelon…then you’re done!

Winning the War

Last night I enjoyed a significant victory in the battle over picky toddler eating habits.  11 o’clock at night, my darling three-year-old finally ate her chicken leg.  The whole thing.  And she even found out that she likes chicken.

Yes, I take it a little bit personal.  Not only for having slaved over a hot stove, but because I personally raised, butchered and processed that little chicken leg.

There’s no tossing it in the trash.  Even the dog is not worthy to eat it.  Prior to developing my winning strategy, the best I could do was eat it myself or pack it in daddy’s lunch for tomorrow.  It places a whole other aspect of value on your food when you raise it yourself.  I know how many hours it took, the sweat, the effort.  I knew that chicken personally.  Sure…I could buy it cheaper in the store, but it wouldn’t taste as good or be as clean and healthy.

Nope, picky eaters will not be tolerated in this house.  I am laying down the law.  If you don’t eat your dinner, then there will be no snacks!  I will wrap your plate and put it in the fridge.  Just let me know when you want me to heat that up for you!

Toddler Eating Habits

I baited Ava to eat her salad last night by cutting up strawberries and mixing them in.  They say if you present a certain food to your baby/toddler repeatedly that they will eventually accept it.  We have salad almost every day.  She still has not accepted it.  Twice she ate her whole salad because she was very hungry and I gave it to her while she was waiting for dinner to cook.  That only worked twice, never again.

Here she is nearly finished picking out all the strawberries.  Then she asked me for more.  I said no, so she moved on to the cucumbers (pickles, as per Ava).  When she’d finished hers, she decided to pick all the “pickles” out of Daddy’s salad.  Occasionally a piece of lettuce would cling to the cucumber and make it down the hatch unnoticed.  Once the strawberries and “pickles” were gone, she pecked around on the cheese for a bit and dipped her fingers in the salad dressing and licked it off.  And that was that.


This is how she eats her eggs.  EVERYTHING must be dipped, even scrambled eggs.  Once all the jelly is gone, she’ll eat the toast.

But not the crust.  Of course…

The chickens will get the leftovers.

This is how she eats french toast.  This was the first (and last) time I made it for her.

She systematically licked all the syrup and powdered sugar off the toast.  Not a bite of toast passed her lips.  Then she bounced off the walls until nap time.  I put her in the bed and she continued to bounce until she finally passed out.  No more french toast for this girl.

Oh, and I forgot to mention that while she likes oatmeal, she prefers to eat it dry.  Plain, dry, rolled oats.  She will come back repeatedly and beg for more.

Every so often, when I make something she actually likes (or if she senses that I am about to give up and cry) she will look up at me sweetly from over her plate and say, “Mommy, you’re a good cook!”

In the Swing of Things

After a nice round of thunderstorms last night, we are having an unusually cold and blustery day today.  Looking out through the sliding glass doors to the backyard beyond, I am content to see fresh mown grass and tidy rows of new seedlings transplanted to the garden yesterday evening.  Yes, there’s a million things I could be doing today, but I feel like I just need a day to rest and ponder what I just might get into next.

There is so much to do this time of year.  I still have more plantings to do in the garden, hopefully Monday if things dry out enough.  With this wind, I’m sure they will.

I woke up around, oh, I don’t know–I think it was 3:00am last night–in a dead panic.  A second round of storms and high winds came through and I worried that the flat of pepper and eggplant seedlings I had set out just before bed were being pummelled by the high winds and heavy rain.  I put all my seedlings on my front door steps on the north-eastern facing side of the house to harden off. 

This is usually a pretty good spot to do this, but I made the same mistake a couple weeks ago when I set out two flats of tomato seedlings and they were blown over by the wind.  They did recover, but then a few days later I forgot to water them and they all dried out and fell over again.  I watered them and they perked back up.  Then my husband blew grass clippings all over them with the mower.  I found them in time and shook the grass off and they revived once more.  Tomato plants are tougher than you’d think, appearantly!  I decided it was too late to run out there in my nightgown in the storm, so I laid back on my pillow and hoped for the best.  Checking on them first thing this morning, I found them no worse for it and they handled the stress much better than the tomatoes did.

Yesterday evening Brandon and Ava helped me plant corn and squash (several varieties and also watermelon, pumpkins and canteloupe).  This year I am trying the Three Sisters method of companion planting.  We really love fresh corn, but I have been afraid that I cannot get away with growing it up here on this windy ridgeline.  One of my neighbors grew corn last year and this encouraged me to at least give it a try.  He has a line of trees west of his garden, which gives him a good windbreak.  I have one big tree and a chicken coop, which is probably not enough.  I think that using the Three Sisters planting will stand up better to wind and I am hoping that the beans will help anchor the cornstalks in place.  That, or they will all blow over… We’ll see.

I ordered some Appalachian heirloom pole beans this year from a website my grandpa suggested to me.  This is a preservation society and the whole point in using their seeds is that you should save seed from your crop for yourself and to pass on to others.  These are “real” green beans.  The likes of which most people have never tasted (or if they have, it has been many, many years ago from their grandma’s garden).  They are more tender and flavorful and are not suited to commercial plantings.  I know I have never tasted a real green bean.  I am eager to try them and hope to can many this summer.  I chose 3 different varieties.  I will only plant one this year (to keep the seed pure) and the other two I will freeze and try in the future.  I also have scarlet runner beans that I acquired in a trade online and I am excited about them too.  I plan to plant them around front which should give them enough isolation from the others.  They are ornamental as well as edible.  The bean seeds are very pretty, black and purple.

I am finding that my 2,500 sq. ft. garden is not quite large enough for my ambitions.  I can’t expand it any further out in that location because I have a hillside on one end, an underground electrical wire on the other, the back of the garage on another side and a peach tree at the far end.  I have to leave a path for the truck to come through with firewood too.  The other side of my yard is taken up by the septic system.  Can’t mess with that.  So that leaves me a small section of side yard and the chainlink fence enclosed front yard.  My plan now is to install 5 or 6 raised beds in a portion of the front yard.  We put one in already for an everbearing strawberry bed.  This could have been a post entirely of itself, but I never got around to it!

I have yet to order any chicks this year and I feel like I am really missing out on something.  I thought it might be better to wait a couple months so that butchering time would not coincide with garden planting and so many other things.  I will probably go ahead and get maybe 20 straight-run Cornish-X.  You can’t beat them for meat production.  I have also done a little researching and have decided on Buckeyes for a dual-purpose flock.  I have not been happy with my current layers and will keep trying new breeds until I am.  The Easter Eggers are pretty and lay a nice blue egg, but it is not a jumbo egg like most people want when they buy fresh farm-raised eggs.  I think I will always keep a few of them around because they are pretty.  My hatchery Australorps are only suitable for chicken and dumplings, which is what I have planned for them as soon as I get some new layers in to replace them.  If I like the Buckeyes, I would like to work with them as a breeder flock.  If they don’t work out, I am going to try Delawares next.  My goal is to never have to buy hatchery chicks again.

I was hoping to check in on the bees this week, but never got a good day to do it.  I need to see how my queen is laying and add on another honey super.  I am wary that they will swarm here soon and I want to see what they are thinking along those lines.  That’s just what they do and I don’t have the brain-power or determination to try to prevent it.  It will be nice to have a second hive started too.  I thought about requeening, but they are such hardy and gentle bees as they are, I do not want to mess with their genetics.  I can only hope that they will land in my apple trees or my curly willow where I can easily reach them.  I’ve not pushed them for honey production this year.  I am just glad to have them for pollination right now.  Keeping them alive and thriving is my only objective. 

Sometimes with these bees, I wonder if I have bit off more than I can chew.  I have so many projects going right now.  We are also hoping to add to our clan this year.  I am pretty sure they don’t make maternity beekeeper suits.  (Now we will see how many of my family members actually read my blog…haha.)  I know that there are many beekeepers who don’t wear anything other than a hat and veil.  I hope to be that confident someday!

Well, I better run out and get the eggs and the mail.  My husband and my toddler are up from their Saturday afternoon nap which puts an end to my blogging.

Here is a quick slideshow of everything growing in my garden right now.  It has been a heavily overcast day so I am surprised these pics came out so well.  I did have to do a little Photoshopping to bring up the contrast though.

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Now that’s how you eat a tomato.

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