If we absolutely depended on my garden to survive, we’d starve this year

It has not been a good year in my garden. It seems that everything that could go wrong has and I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. 

Blight in the tomatoes and potatoes, destructive bugs making a feast of plants and weeds as tall as my knees hiding everything else. All the lettuces have bolted and the carrots rotted. The spinach never did make a decent appearance.

The garden gate got left open and the chickens discovered all of my beautiful, nearly ripe tomatoes. They had a feast and left nothing for us. As hard as the blight hit my plants, I don’t think we’ll have a tomato crop this year. So disappointing and frustrating. I reached the point this weekend when I seriously considered just mowing the whole damn thing and calling it done for the season. 

But, I didn’t. There are still some plants out there that are producing well. The beans…oh, the beans, they are growing and producing like mad. 

The bell pepper plants are looking gorgeous, thick and leafy and healthy and green. Only problem…no damn peppers and the blooms that did come in all fell off. But, we’ve had very, very hot weather and pepper plants are persnickety, so maybe they’ll start producing when it cools off a bit. Cucumbers are offering up more cukes than I can use and the eggplant, watermelon, canteloupe, butternut and sweet dumpling squash all have a few babies growing. 

The garden this year may not be as much as a success as I’d hoped, at least I’m getting something out of it! 

I have got to figure out a better weed control program. The grass and weeds flourish nearly overnight and I can’t keep up, no matter how much time I spend yanking them out. I pull one weed and 25 more take it’s place. It’s never ending and impossibly overwhelming. I piled about 6-8 inches of straw around all the plants and the only thing the straw did was make it harder to pull weeds without also pulling up a handful of straw. Ugh. Last year I layered newspaper under the straw and that seemed to work to keep the weeds manageable, but, I wondered if all those layers of newspaper in the garden contributed to the dryness of the soil in an already ultra-dry summer, so I didn’t do it this year. And boy, am I ever paying for it! 

Bugs and disease

I have an invasion of the worst kind.

ImageMy garden has squash bugs and so far I’ve lost four scallop squash plants and two zucchini plants. A cucumber vine is looking a wee bit on the pathetic side but I don’t know yet if it’s squash bugs or something else.

Squash bugs are nasty little things. I spotted the egg clusters first and, never having had a squash bug invasion before, really didn’t know what they were.

ImageBut I smushed them any way, purely on the principle that if I don’t immediately recognize the bug (or the eggs), it can’t be good for my plants.

And I was right.

My poor garden is having a really rough year. My tomatoes were hit hard with early blight and I’ve been battling it since spring when we had too much rain and not enough warm sunshine. I think at least two plants are done for. I think my potatoes have been stricken with it, too. I dug up a potato plant with my hand over the weekend just to see what I could see and plunged right into a stinking, rotten, soupy mass of slimy potato sludge. Ugh. Same disease that hit the Irish potato crop that cause the an Gorta Mór (The Great Hunger, or, as it’s more commonly known, The Great Potato Famine) in the mid 1800s. I see why they starved, there is no way anyone could even consider eating that mess of rot.

My poor garden is suffering from an overgrowth of weeds and right now, there’s not a whole lot I can do about it. I’ve been working 12+ hours a day for the past three weeks, which leaves just enough time to sleep and say hi to my family in passing. I’ve managed to get up early a couple of times to get a few things done in the gardens and around the property, but not nearly enough. This weekend I have plans to get all caught up, but I’m not terribly optimistic.

On a positive note, the green/wax beans are extremely prolific this year. I picked part of one row last weekend and canned 7 quarts with about 1 quart of raw beans left over. And I know there are tons more out there to pick! We might not have a decent potato and tomato crop this year, but we are going to be up to our eyeballs in beans.

Things are rotten

I’ve been a little bit sad for the past couple of weeks.

Last year, my whole garden croaked due to the extreme heat and extreme lack of rain.

This year, everything is rotting due to the lower than normal temperatures and record-breaking amounts of rain. I found one of my patty pan squash plants (my favorite one, of course. The one that grows beautiful, sweet white squash) wilted and dying this morning. I noticed Saturday it was starting to mold and rot around the plant near the ground, nothing I could do at that point. I’ve been battling black spot on the tomatoes weekly. And now…the Japanese beetles are hitting the beans and potatoes.

I was out weeding my carrot bed (the one thing that is thriving? WEEDS!!! Ugh) and accidentally grabbed a carrot instead of a weed. And the top popped off.

I was left holding an aromatic carrot frond in my hand.

But no carrot.

What the heck? Double check. Yup. There that root was, rotten and slimy and still stuck in the ground.

Instant heartbreak. I started pulling them all up, hoping to save at least a few. I managed to get about half. The other half was all rotted.


Not a bad pile, but not as many as I expected.

This does not give me many for canning. I had grand visions of more than a few jars of carrots this year. I guess it was just not meant to be.


I love the smell of carrot tops!

The tops sure are pretty, aren’t they? And the rabbits ate them up like candy! Nom nom nom. If you’ve never smelled a carrot freshly pulled from the ground, you don’t know what you’re missing! It’s an earthy, carrot-y, woodsy smell and cannot be duplicated.


Oh, so tiny, so few.

Because I had to pull them up earlier than expected, they didn’t really get very big. Stumpy carrots are this year’s specialty!


Naughty naughty carrots!

Well…I don’t even know where to begin! My carrots, they aren’t G-rated! Naughty little things! I was cracking up as I pulled them out of the ground and saw the weird shapes some of them grew in. Moral of the deformed carrots: (obviously, my carrots have no morals!) dig deeper and work the ground a little finer for the carrot bed next year.



My poor husband. He can’t go anywhere alone. He always has a little party of critters following him around, harassing and helping. Harassing more than helping I do believe.

Things of spring

I can’t say spring is my favorite season, but it sure is a lovely time of year. Every thing is growing and blooming and popping up every where.

irisI planted these last year and had no idea what color they were. My mother-in-law was thinning her bed and gifted me an entire tub of Iris roots. I learned later they originally came from her mother’s garden. I love that.

Early spring gardenThis is my garden about a month ago. Onions, lettuce, carrots, spinach, beans just planted and peppers. It looks A LOT different now! A whole lot more green, growing food things.

Mixed green lettucesOur first lettuce harvest of the season. Baby greens, an Italian mesclun mix and oh so yummy! What do you look forward to most from your garden in the spring? While I love the tomatoes (can’t beat a garden fresh tomato), I really, really look forward to the first greens of the season. To me, that means the growing season has officially begun and if everything else shrivels up and dies, at least I had lettuces.

ShroomsGuess what else loves our wet, wet, wet spring? Mushrooms! I have no idea what kind these are but they sure love my manure pile a lot. And that’s a good thing because mushrooms are excellent at making good compost.

Well, I’ll be flocked

We have two new members of the Bramblewood Acres farm family.

Bailey and Henry

Bailey and Henry

Baaa! I’ve wanted sheep for years, but never was able to find any I liked at a time when I had the space and resources to bring them home. These two are half-brothers: Katahdin/Jacob sheep. Henry (the white one) is 11 weeks old and Bailey is 9 weeks old. We started out with just Henry and discovered very quickly he was an unhappy lamb all alone. He cried all night and all day and didn’t want to eat or drink properly. So, back to the sheep farm we went to pick up a buddy for Henry and Henry is a much happier camper. I know sheep are herd animals and have a very, very strong flocking instinct, but I didn’t even think about our little lamb needing a buddy to be happy. Live and learn. I had sheep in high school as a 4-H project and remember really enjoying having them. I hope I enjoy it again!

I did my research before picking up my lambs. In fact, I’ve been off and on researching sheep breeds for awhile, narrowing down the breeds to match my needs. I figured out pretty quickly that I do NOT want wool sheep. I don’t want to deal with shearing and I don’t want to deal with the illnesses/infections/issues that arise with a wool sheep.

I want a good, sturdy, healthy meat sheep without wool that will grow well and do well on pasture with little to no feed concentrates. I don’t want to have to dock tails or be overly worried about fly strike (nasty maggot infestation where the little buggers burrow into the wool, the flesh and can kill the sheep if not caught in time), mites, lice or other pests that come alone with thick woolly coats. Hair sheep aren’t immune to fly strike or other infestations, but they are less likely to get it because they don’t have wool.

So, hair sheep fit the bill. But what breed? I like the way the Jacob sheep look and love their horns, but they are a smaller breed. I really like the Barbados Blackbelly, but, at $200 or more an animal, they are a bit out of my price range right now.

That left the Katahdin sheep, which seems to fit my needs perfectly. They are a larger sized sheep, with the rams growing as large as 160# and ewes up to 130#.  Production rate for ewes is around 200%, meaning most ewes throw twins. They are not as colorful as I would like. I kind of like a lot of color in my critters, keeps the farm fun.

But why am I even considering this stuff when I bought lambs for eating? Well, because if this goes well and I enjoy sheep as much as I remember enjoying it, I’d like to start my own small flock for both personal use and for sale. I might even try a few sheep shows if we get serious about it and buy blooded, papered stock. We’ll see what happens.

For now, Henry is destined for our freezer. We’re not sure on Bailey yet. He’s a better built sheep. He’s stockier and broader through the body than Henry is, straighter legged and just closer to the breed ideal than Henry is. His temperament will be the deciding factor on whether he gets to hang around as our first ram or also head to freezer camp. I won’t have a mean, nasty ram around.

What I’d really, really like to try my hand at breeding are these:

Hubba hubba!

Hubba hubba!

Huge, handsome and very colorful, the Painted Desert Sheep!

Or these:


Oh, so handsome and regal.

The regal Mouflon sheep.

Unfortunately, both the Painted Desert sheep and the Mouflon require more land than I have and an incredible investment in fencing to keep them from roaming. Maybe, one day, when I move out west.





New babies

When I took the eggs off the turner I could hear many of them peeping very loudly as I positioned them on the floor of the incubator. Within 12 hours, the first chick had pipped and hatched.


The very first chick hatched at Bramblewood Acres. This one has feathery legs, his momma was a Brahma!

Once they started pipping, hatching came quickly and we spent most of the next two days hovering over the incubator, delighting in each new hatch, encouraging them to hurry up and break free!

Come on, little guy, you can do it!

Come on, little guy, you can do it!

Kayleigh told me her life has been changed by watching the chicks hatch. I believe it. It’s pretty incredible. Their feet are HUGE.

Almost there!

Almost there!

I had to help three hatch. They were taking so long to get out they got “shrink wrapped” into the shell and couldn’t push out. The humidity in the incubator wasn’t quite high enough so the fluids/membranes were drying pretty quickly. If they didn’t get out fast enough, those fluids and membranes glued them into the shell. A pair of tweezers and patience helped unglue them and they could finish hatching on their own.

Being born is exhausting!

Being born is exhausting!

We gave the  newborns about an hour to dry out in the incubator before moving them into the brooder. I think next time I’ll move them faster. Those wobbly babies wreaked havoc on their unborn siblings, knocking eggs all over the place.

First bites

First bites

It’s easier to eat while standing in the food dish, ya know. They figured out food pretty quickly. These babies are about 4 hours old.

So tired!

So tired!

Who knew eating was so exhausting! Wake up, eat, fall asleep in the food, repeat.

Getting to know each other.

Getting to know each other.

Under the heat light, resting. Out of the 31 eggs we incubated, 24 hatched. Not a bad rate. I put another clutch in the incubator yesterday and one of the broody hens has six chicks with her. We are giving her the chance to raise them herself and see if she is cut out to be a good mom. The last hen who hatched out 2 chicks lost them both within 3 days. She just lost interest and abandoned them. Hopefully this momma will be a little more attentive!

Ups and downs

I managed to get 19 tomato plants and 10 bell pepper plants in to the ground in the middle of last week during the one sunny, warm day we had. I also got red and Irish cobbler potatoes planted (have I mentioned what a pain potatoes are to plant? They are. But, the flavor is well worth the effort.)

Then, the weather went to shit. I should have expected it, Mother Nature never seems to want to operate on my schedule and usually has her own ideas. We’ve had rain and temps in the 40s every day since then and more rain predicted for the rest of the week and through the weekend. At least the wet weather this week is supposed to be accompanied by warmer weather rather than these seemingly endless damp, dark, chilly days.

Still have the Yukon gold potatoes and the Beauregard and Georgia Jet sweet potatoes waiting to hit dirt. The onions, romaine and mixed leaf lettuce are looking great. The spinach and carrots, not so great. Right after I planted the spinach and carrot seeds, we got rain, rain, rain, then it got HOT and windy  which made our clay-ey soil dry to an impenetrable crust. Poor little seedlings couldn’t break through. I replanted the spinach and because I spotted a few carrot seedlings, I left them to do what they will. If they don’t pop up this week, something else will go there.

We have chicks! 26 little fluffy peepers are now calling my family room home and we put a second clutch in the incubator last night. Pictures soon.

The fox is back. Little red bastard. He killed at least one of my turkeys this morning, poor thing. In the 15 minutes between finishing my morning chores and leaving for work this morning, that damned fox caught, killed and shredded the turkey. The other turkey couldn’t immediately be found, so he may have gotten that one, too. The fox is now on my hit list and the flock will be confined to the hen house until he’s gone.

I blew the engine in my mower and a little research discovered that it would be cheaper to buy a whole new mower than replace the engine, even with a remanned engine. Ugh. If it’s not one thing, it’s another. Why couldn’t this have happened when the grass wasn’t growing out of control? Welcome to the jungle….

That’s not a garden, that’s a rice paddy!

When it rains, it pours.

Literally! The drought of last year is officially over (I think it was officially over last month), but after last week’s torrential downpour, it is decidedly, without a doubt, over.

In less than 24 hours, 4.11 inches of rain poured down on Bramblewood Acres (and the surrounding counties of course). We had flooding. Mega flooding. The water at the lowest end of one of my pastures was nearly halfway up the fence posts and over the driveway.

We lost more of the pond. The runoff from all of the farm fields around us diverts to Bramblewood Acres and right into our pond.

The muskrats (nasty little critters) managed to weaken the spillway section of the pond dam and it collapsed a few years ago so every heavy rain we get, more of the dam erodes and the pond gets shallower.


Image from the Bangor Daily News.

Not only does it get more shallow, but that runoff from all the fields also brings with it tons of soil, which has completely changed the landscape of the pond. We are waiting for it to go dry, because once it does, we will hopefully be able to get some earthmovers in to dredge it, deepen it and repair the dam. I think we should just blow the whole damn dam, but, I think the runoff and erosion issue would be even worse with nowhere for the water to really go once it hits our place. Plus, I kind of like having a pond (when it’s a real pond and not just a shallow mosquito bordello like it is now).

The road to our house is under several feet of water and will most likely be that way for at least another week, maybe two. Fortunately, we can still get home, we just have to take a more roundabout route. Of course, I drive home from work on autopilot and forget the road is flooded until I top the last hill leading into the bottoms and see nothing but water spread out before me. Turn around, add another 20 minutes to my commute, curse my faulty memory.

Despite the rain, my garden isn’t looking too shabby. Onions are coming up like crazy, spinach and lettuce has sprouted, too. Wildflowers are starting to pop through and I’m hoping the asparagus isn’t drowning.  I’m glad I haven’t yet put out the tomatoes and  yet because we’ve had a couple of below-freezing nights. Potatoes are waiting to go in, but, I’m not getting much planting done with the earth more soupy than earthy.

I am, however, contemplating planting rice.

Hatching Chicken Eggs: Part Two

Day eight of the new batch of eggs in the incubator and my daughter and I candled them.

Out of 41 eggs, three were not fertilized. Bad roosters! No cookies! Actually, that’s not a bad ratio at all, just not as good a fertilization rate as the last (failed) clutch. We had more questionable eggs this time, too. I don’t know why. Two had the dreaded blood line, one has a tiny crack that I didn’t notice when I put it in the incubator and four don’t look like they are growing. We tossed the unfertilized eggs and the two with blood lines, marked the questionable ones with Xs and all the others we could tell were growing with check marks.

Oddly, the two with blood lines were the two largest eggs in the whole batch. I think they come from the Brahma hens who typically lay super huge eggs. These are beyond Grade A jumbo. These were so big they may have been double, possibly even triple, yolkers. So, if that’s the case, they were bound to fail. I don’t think twin chicks happen.

We tried to take some pictures but they turned out awful. You can’t even tell what the pictures are supposed to show!

Some of the shells were so thick and dark it was hard to see any blood vessels growing in there, but we’re giving them the benefit of the doubt and hoping something is going on inside the shell.

We will candle them again in eight more days just to check on progress and get rid of any that aren’t growing. After that, we just wait. Hatch date is April 28.

Funny thing…our white Aruacana hen (the only white one of that breed I’ve ever had) started setting a clutch of eggs one day after we started the incubator.  She is setting 7, I think, all Aruacana eggs (the green and blue ones). She’s pretty nasty and adamant about not letting any one get their hands near her nest so getting a good count was rather painful. We’ll see how many she hatches out. We’ll probably snag the chicks from her shortly after hatching and keep them inside for a few weeks. The last hen that hatched eggs abandoned caring for them shortly after hatching and they all died.

Meat in the freezer

Yesterday was butchering day at Bramblewood Acres.

It’s never a pleasant task to kill an animal, but it puts humanely raised, clean meat into our freezer and we know exactly how those animals were raised and how they lived.

And we know how they died.

(No photos with this post out of consideration for those who are squeamish.)

We had 11 rabbits to send to freezer camp and butchered and prepared 7 of them. The last four got a reprieve until next weekend because we simply ran out of time. My husband and I have the whole process down to an art. He dispatches them (a .22 to the back of the head, quick and easy.) We tried other methods in the past and have found the .22 the quickest way possible for us and the rabbits never see it coming.

I skin them. My husband doesn’t have the patience to take off the skins with as little damage as possible to the hide and I like to save them as intact as practical. We have about 20 skins in the freezer waiting for tanning and curing. My daughter wants a rabbit skin blanket, so, we are saving them for that project and future skins will either be sold or saved for other projects. The hides are beautiful. Thick, lush fur in an amazing variety of colors. The winter hides are the best.

By the time I’m done skinning (I’m getting faster!), he has prepared a second rabbit for skinning and gets to work cleaning the one I just skinned while I skin the next. Once he’s done with one, into the salted ice water it goes to wait for final preparation.

And so it goes until we are done.

In the past we have either frozen the entire rabbit after cutting it up into quarters or put them all into a pot and cooked down for canning.

I have a confession: I hate bones. I cannot stand bones in my meat (any variety!) and it sets my stomach on edge if my teeth touch a bone while eating. I have to pick all the meat off a bone before I can eat it. Don’t ask why, I don’t know, but, there it is.

This time, we de-boned and filleted the hind hoppers and back and froze them. It took quite a bit more time than just cutting them up and freezing, but I think it will be worth the effort come time to cook.

The remainder of the rabbit (front legs, ribs, the bones from the back and hind hoppers after filleting which still had a bit of meat left on them) went into the stew pot where I cooked it just enough to fall off the bones then picked the meat off in chunks and froze it.

Out of 7 rabbits, we ended up with enough meat for just over 8 meals. Those were some BIG rabbits and there was zero waste (except for the bones).

Tonight some of that rabbit will become rabbit burritos. Yum! It has a similar texture to chicken, but a very different flavor. It’s a milder, sweeter, more tender meat than chicken and anything you can do with chicken, you can do better with rabbit.