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.

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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….

Dreaming of chainsaws

Some girls want diamonds. Or new shoes, maybe a new designer bag or some jewelry.

I don’t shop at the mall…instead, I drool at the farm supply store and run my hands longingly over shiny, new power tools and equipment. (yes, I know, it’s an illness.)

This girl is seriously coveting a new chainsaw. And a tractor would be the icing on the cake. But, we’ll start small, I’ll be happy with a chainsaw. I have/had a chainsaw, but, it is a “light duty” model and has not stood up well to the chores we’ve put it through, here, on the farm. It finally gave up the ghost this fall and of course, now that it’s spring, we have a LOT of wood and trees to cut and no chainsaw to cut them with!

Winter was not kind to my trails in the woods and we lost several trees….right across the trails. I have plans for that wood (which involves a natural fence, many climbing rose bushes and a plethora of native wildflowers) and would like to get to work getting it cut and out of the woods before the leaves and poison ivy are in full bloom. Naked woods make the work easier.  Plus, there are a few more trails I’d like to add, and that requires a chainsaw. I COULD use a handsaw, and I’ve resorted to using a handsaw in some cases, but honestly? It’s more work than I’m willing to do!

I’ve managed to plant 24 asparagus crowns and some more lavender and herbs, but, in doing so, I must now face a problem head on. A problem I’ve been able to ignore over the years.

The problem is the chickens. I love my chickens. I love watching them and talking to them and I love the freedom they have at the farm. They keep the bugs in check and keep the horse manure in the pastures manageable. They also hunt mice, snakes, moles and voles, so they are paying for their keep not only in eggs and meat, but in pest control, too.

What I don’t love is their incessant, destructive scratching and dust-bathing in EVERYTHING. And that includes my herb bed. The flowers, I don’t mind so much. But the herbs are tender and we use them and those darn chickens scratch and rip them right out of the ground without a care in the world. So, I have to figure out a way to keep them out without putting up big, ugly, metal chicken wire or mesh. I’m on the hunt for a light, plastic-type netting/fence than can easily be put up around those beds. If I can find what I’m looking for, that will be added to the ever-growing list of projects I must get done.

As the dirt warms

Ahhh, yes. That time of year has finally arrived. I’ve spent the last three weeks chomping at the bit to get out into the gardens and get busy. Now, it’s here and I’m busy! I’ve never been one of those people who can sit still for very long. I can’t barely sit through an entire movie so winter is usually torture for me. I scrub walls and cabinets, ceilings and light fixtures because I cannot just sit and do nothing. Let’s just say, by the time spring rolls around, there isn’t much left to “spring clean” in my house.

Thank goodness for that, though, because if I had to spring clean my house, it wouldn’t get done. I’ve been busy, busy creating new beds, preparing old ones for new plantings and planting. So far, I have carrots, onions, romaine lettuce, a mesclun lettuce mix, spinach and 24 new asparagus crowns in the ground. Doesn’t seem like much, when typed, but in the ground, that’s a lot of space to prep and plant. And, that’s only the veggies. I’ve also prepped and planted three new wildflower beds, a sunflower bed, marigolds, lavender and a hummingbird/butterfly/bee garden. Four more of those left to prep and plant, along with the rest of the veggies. I won’t put tomatoes, peppers or eggplant into the ground for a couple more weeks, but potatoes, beans, summer squash and new herbs will be going in this weekend and early next week.

We started a new clutch of eggs Sunday, and between the new incubator fan and upgraded thermometer/hygrometer I’m hoping we get a hatch this time. We candle for the first time in 6 days then again a week later. Then, cross fingers, eyes and toes and hope for the best! I read that incubating eggs is part art, part science, and I have to agree. Successful momma chickens just rose a few notches in my admiration book!

Sometimes, it’s heartbreaking

None of the eggs hatched. I gave them til Saturday and when I opened the incubator to remove them, the smell was incredible. I’m going to say they died in the shells. I think what may have happened is, since my hatch date was off by a couple of days and the temperature wasn’t high enough, I stopped turning them too soon.

If you stop turning the eggs, the embryos stick to the shell, and if they stick, they can’t move to peck their way out of the shell.

It’s very, very disheartening and disappointing. But, we will try again. I picked up a fan for the incubator yesterday and got a new thermometer with a hygrometer on it to keep close tabs on the humidity AND the temperature. Having a fan to keep the warm air circulating is supposed to increase the hatch rate, too.

It’s heartbreaking to lose any animal, and we’ve lost quite a few. I can’t even tell you how many chickens we’ve lost over the years to predators – hawks, fox, coyote and raccoons – and every loss is hard. Last year, my vegetable garden was a failure, for the most part, some plants never made it to fruiting due to the extreme drought and heat and we had to make a choice: Water the vegetable plants or water the animals. Our well had gone dry, twice, so the garden had to die because we had to go to a very strict water use regimen. There was nothing I could do but watch all my plants, all that work and sweat and time, dry up and die.

Very disheartening.

But, you keep pressing forward. If I gave up after a loss, I might as well pack it up and move to an apartment.

Trying to be self-sustaining is no walk in the park. It’s hard, sweaty, often back-breaking work, it’s time-consuming, and sometimes, heartbreaking and disappointing. But, you learn, you make changes or improvements and you keep moving forward, striving to do better the next time. This is a lifestyle I have chosen and I love it, I love the work and the satisfaction of a job done well.

With every disappointment, every heartbreak, there is always something that keeps me going and reminds me how lucky I am and how wonderful this life I’ve chosen is.

ImageBecause sometimes, there ARE new babies to welcome into the world. One of our does, Pumpkin, had a strong, healthy litter of eight.

And, there are always fresh eggs.ImageWhich means there is always the chance for more chicks.

Drooping blooms

Spring is officially here…doesn’t that mean the temperatures are supposed to follow suit? We’ve remained below freezing, but that hasn’t stopped things from trying to bloom and bud.

My daffodils figured since the days are growing longer, it must be time to wake up and open their pretty yellow heads to welcome the sun.

Yeah. Not so much. Just ’cause the sun is out doesn’t mean it’s warm.

ImageThese poor guys…the freezing temperatures have wilted them. I don’t know if they will recover this season. The blooms were frozen as the sun came up. I expect they will be slimy by the time the sun sets tonight.

Image

So sad, drooping daffodils, the promise of spring an ugly lie. It’s like spring poked its head out, teased with a brief warmth and sunshine, then slapped us in the face and yelled “JUST KIDDING!!!”

Tonight, there’s snow in the forecast and lingering freezing temperatures. Last year at this time, it was 80 degrees and the farmers were busy planting corn. What a difference a year makes.

Gardening is SO much work! Why bother?

The goal of the 2013 garden here at Bramblewood Acres is to grow enough produce not only to satisfy our need for fresh veggies (a salad for dinner, freshly plucked from the dirt is our typical spring/summer fare) but also to be able to preserve and freeze enough of what we grow to get us through the year.

Why? Well, first and foremost, homegrown just tastes better and I like knowing what’s in that jar of pasta sauce or green beans and knowing what happened every step of the way. I know what goes into growing each veggie, the effort, the compost (thank you chickens, rabbits and horses!), the time, the sweat, the blisters and sunburn, and I do believe I enjoy it that much more simply due to knowing the history of each jar, each vegetable. In each jar, I’m not just eating something delicious and pure that I grew or raised, I’m rewarding myself, one jar at a time, for hard work and diligent effort.

And that feels darn good.

Secondly, I like knowing that the things I’m feeding my family grew a few steps from the house, not Mexico or Argentina or Taiwan. I don’t use a single chemical in the whole process, which translates to pure, clean, healthy food at the end of it all. Whether I I can it, freeze it, dry it, or eat it right away, it’s all the same pure food it started out as. Except for a little dirt and bug poo, it’s 100 percent as Mother Nature intended. I get extreme satisfaction knowing I can grow, share, and eat varieties of plants that most people have never heard of, much less put into their mouths, and to me, that’s pretty awesome. I love sharing my bounty and enjoy seeing people’s faces when they bite into something homegrown and can truly taste the sunshine, rain, and warm summer days it took to create that food.

The driving desire to grow and raise your own food is hard to describe to those who have never felt the urge it or don’t have the passion for it. There are so many factors that go into it and unless you get it, you won’t understand why I will spend an entire hot, humid, icky summer day sweating in the garden or a long, cold day fixing pasture fencing, snugging up a chicken coop or butchering rabbits when I can just take a trip to the grocery store, and, with next to zero effort, fill my pantry and my refrigerator.

I do it because I get a great amount of satisfaction that we can be mostly self-sufficient and feed ourselves. I like that very much. I like depending on myself and I am fulfilled when I look back on a hard day of work and see a job done and done well. It is hard work, but it’s hard work well worth doing, in my opinion. I like knowing exactly what’s in my food and where it came from, no questions any where along the line from planting to harvesting to preserving.

Here’s to the 2013 season and hoping all goes well enough that by the end of summer, I’ll have shelves full of canned goods, crates of potatoes and onions, a freezer full of homegrown meat and heading into the winter comfortably stocked.