Bee check

IMG_7949 Because Tommy introduced a new “nuc” to his hive earlier this spring, he wanted to check on them to see how they were doing. Normally, it is best to let the bees do their thing, with little interference. But with a new hive, it’s nice to see how it’s coming along. IMG_7958All five frames have been filled with comb, so he added another five frames. He could not find a queen, but the bees have made numerous queen cells. Jeremie thinks that perhaps the original queen died and the bees are raising a new one. Tommy’s bees are much more docile than Jeremie’s bees. It’s odd how each hive will have it’s own personality. IMG_7964

Diesel powered chicken tractor

IMG_8008Every year that we run broilers in tractors, Jeremie makes some kind of improvement to their housing or feeding situation. The first year we ran broilers in our orchard we used an upcycled baby playpen. It kept falling over, the birds got all wet when it rained. We were constantly chasing chickens back into their pen. It was almost comical. Almost. Then Jeremie made a chicken tractor out of PVC with a metal roof. That proved to be very easy for moving chicks and keeping them in their pen. But the metal roof made it a bit heavy to pull through the long pasture grass. Now we have a chicken tractor with roofing made of recycled campaign signs. They are nice and light, keep the rain out, and provide shade in the hot summer months. These tractors are much easier to move around. We have hung bell waterers up in each tractor so to water the chickens each day we only need to fill a five gallon bucket on top. That’s quick, easy and keeps the chickens in fresh cool water all day. Now feeding them was rather unpleasant. These guys are eating machines. When we would reach in to get their feeder to refill, the birds would attack our arms, pecking and looking for food. And sometimes they would fly over the top of their cage in the excitement. I really hate chasing chickens around the pasture.IMG_8004 Jeremie has now made this gravity fed chicken feeder out of PVC pipe that we can refill from the outside of the pen. It has 6 openings cut into the bottom for the chickens to eat out of. I’m sure Jeremie will do a post with all the specific measurements and such, so check back if you’re interested. I’m not sure if you can see how it is put together because the chickens weren’t cooperating when I asked them to move out of the way for pictures. They wanted to model how well the feeder works.

The chickens are a little wet in the picture because I had just filled the water and my hose was leaking all over the place!

The chickens are a little wet in the picture because I had just filled the water and my hose was leaking all over the place!

With the PVC pipes coming out of the top of the tractor is reminds me of a high powered diesel tractor! The birds have been so happy and healthy this time around. Running broilers in any kind of containment is always messy and smelly. But these birds have grown really nicely, keeping all their feathers. I’ve seen them aggressively eating at bugs and that tall yellow buttercup weed. We are feeding them organic broiler feed from a feed mill in Ky. Only a couple more weeks and these guys will be in the freezer. The benefit of having that chicken waste on the pastures does wonders for the diverse grasses and weeds that grow there.

Garden update May 24, 2015

I am growing most of my vining plants like watermelon, pumpkins and cantelope down a hillside on the south side of my main garden. We run the cows around the planted row to keep the grass down. We will only be able to do that a couple more weeks. Then the plants will be running out into the grass, I think. IMG_7997I have a couple long rows of red onions, red zepplin. The left (or south) side of the row looks remarkably better than the north side. I think it is because all the good moisture runs through the wood chips, then downhill.IMG_7994Two long rows of potatoes, red and white, grown from potatoes left over from last year. Some are flowering already!IMG_7989Isn’t this lovely? Everything used to be so tiny, now it is so lush! We have been picking a ton of snow/snap peas. Ususally it is too hot for these to grow well down here, but we have been so cool this spring, they are doing great! Also pictured are carrots, beets, chard and kohlrabi.IMG_7992Beans. They don’t seem to like where I’ve planted them this year..IMG_7993Lovely greens. We have been eating and giving away a lot of lettuce!IMG_7995In the front is sweet corn planted on April 30. In the background is sweet corn planted on March 31.IMG_7990Tomatoes. Tied up with twine. IMG_7987Some herbs from the raised bed gardens… chamomile and calendula.IMG_8012 IMG_8011That’s is for today!



IMG_20150522_110735596That’s Gaelic for Welcome! Today we were able to hear and learn from a local man who shared his Scottish heritage and played the bagpipes for us. We learned all about his attire, tartans, knives, socks and “purse”. We learned about this fascinating instrument, the bagpipes. Some traditional Scotsmen used an entire goat carcass as the windbag! Can you imagine carrying that around!? This set of pipes used a leather bag which the musician fills with air, then squeezes out the pipes, making for a lovely melancholy or lively tune, depending on the music. African blackwood and ivory would also be traditionally used to make the pipes. He played jigs for us, airs, and marches. bagpipesThe kids had a fun time marching in time to the music and performing the Circassian Circle, a fun 8-step group dance that we have done at our English Country Dances in the past. It is so much more fun with live music! After this fabulous presentation the dads ran the kids around the gym. It was so fun to have most of the dads there! Basketball, soccer, ga-ga ball! Some of the old guys may be a bit sore tomorrow. All the kids had a blast and it was a blessed time of fellowship and learning.

Strawberry Fields Forever

Shortcake. Smoothies. Ice cream. Frozen. Popsicles. Jam. Pie. Sun-ripened, right out of the field.  Is there any shortage of ways to enjoy this delicious fruit?IMG_1348Every year we pick berries at the same place. The farm has been in the family since the 1800’s, I’m told. We are happy to visit with the owners every year. They are happy to see how much the kids have grown since last time.IMG_1349 We pack a picnic and enjoy the circle of shade trees and beautiful setting. I know how much work goes into keeping a place neat and tidy. I appreciate the work this farmer puts into his place. It is a relaxing, welcoming environment. I’m never tempted to pick berries anywhere else. IMG_1355The picking is fast. The berries are huge, but more importantly, delicious. What a welcome, tasty preview of harvesting fresh food this season. Strawberries are always the first fruit we pick every year.

Berry Bellah

Berry Bellah

Even the little boys filled up their flat in no time. We tried some new recipes this year. IMG_7911Chia seed, sugar free, pectin free jam. And jam made using Pomona sugar free pectin. Using the honey from Jeremie’s bees, this jam will be a healthy treat for us all year long. IMG_7910

How to grow sweet potatoes

Healthy looking vines taking over their designated area.

Healthy looking vines taking over their designated area.

Unlike their Irish cousins, sweet potatoes are grown from little vine-like shoots, called slips. One sweet potato can yield many, many shoots. So you only need to save a couple potatoes from your harvest for planting again next year. There are many different methods for starting slips, and most of them work. My advice is to start early. Sweet potato slips take a long time to grow. This last year, I started my slips in a “hotbed”. I, or rather, Tommy, filled a rubbermaid 1/4 full of hot horse manure. Then he added a layer of sand. I buried a few small narrow sweet potatoes down into the sand.

Remember I tried to start sweet potato slips in a bed of sand laid over hot manure. Only about 20 slips came up. But they look healthy. I will tug them off the mother plant soon and root them in water. I will not set them out in the garden until mid- May.

They were completely covered, but just barely. The manure added a constant heat source because sweet potatoes like it HOT!IMG_7892 Keep the sand moist and within a few weeks you should see some sturdy looking vine-like things sprouting out of the sand. Let these sprouts grow until they are about  4-6 inches long. Then simply pluck them off of the mother potato. Gather all the slips together and put them in a jar of water.They will start growing roots, right in the water.IMG_7896 When the weather is right, pull them apart and plant them in the ground. Remember, these tubers like it hot, so wait until the cool spring weather is over and you know summer is right around the corner. garden sweet potatoes 028Sweet potatoes like loose, friable soil. But they like a “poor soil”, not rich. Last year we harvested boxes and boxes of potatoes. This year I am growing them in a raised bed because I don’t have room for them in the main garden area. It took a total of 10 minutes to plant these slips.IMG_7903Mmmm…roasted sweet potatoes! Mashed sweet potatoes! Drizzled with maple syrup, sprinkled with nuts! A little work now, for a feast later.

Inside out

I’m sorry all you genteel readers, but Jeremie insists I record this for the collective memory. If you are weak of constitution, you may want to skip this exciting post regaling blood and guts. Today, May 16, Jeremie and Susie were observing our pigs when one wee one got their attention. Poor little thing had been gored, presumably by the Daddy Boar. He gets a little aggressive around feeding time.IMG_7929 Just a little puncture wound. But big enough for guts to ooze out. Yep, folks. That’s all part of farm life. Not every day is sunshine and apples. Some days it’s poop and guts. Time for surgery! Jeremie gathered his medical team, a bottle of iodine, a quilting needle (because it’s curved), some heavy duty quilting thread and a bowl of water. We are nothing if not sanitary, people. IMG_7934Jeremie really had to work at stuffing the innards back into the body of the little pig, who wasn’t even squealing. He debated whether or not to cut the wound a little bigger, but decided against that. After we stuffed him like a sausage, time for the stitching. Katie declined the opportunity to practice her running stitch, so the job fell to mama and dad. Truth be told, Mama only did the first stitch. The feeling of needle and thread through flesh was enough to turn my stomach. I do have an excuse for feeling so queasy, though. IMG_7935Stitched up nice and neat. What is that bulge? Are the insides in the right place? Will they navigate back to where they belong? Only time will tell. We do not have high hopes for this little girl, but felt like something needed to be done to help her out. Poor little thing in quarantined in the barn for the time being. Our second pig surgery. Should we hang out a shingle?  IMG_7936