April 28, 2016

Every farm needs a tire swing

Every farm needs a tire-swing.  

We were recently given this swing from a family friend who had it on his farm for years.  His grandchildren had outgrown it, and he wanted it to go somewhere where more children could enjoy it. 

Last weekend, Josh put his ladder way up into this Silverleaf Maple in the backyard.  He cut a clear path to a nice big branch and tied up a heavy piece of rope.  Just to make it extra secure he looped it up onto an even bigger branch above as well so that they weight is distributed through the tree.  I, of course, had to try it out immediately!

The real fun came yesterday evening, though, when my stepsons arrived.  The littlest one couldn't get enough.  The swing is just the right size for him to sit in.  He squealed with delight as we pushed him. 

First Josh pushed him and when he was worn out, I did it for a while.  He could have stayed in that swing all night!

Watch him swing on YouTube.  It'll make you smile.  His happiness is infectious!

This one is in slo-mo.

It made me so happy watching him enjoy that swing.  This is what childhood should be like: catching tadpoles, running and rolling in the grass, gathering collections of sticks and rocks, going for walks to visit the neighbors, picking flowers, making wishes as you blow on dandelion seed heads, and watching the world spin around you as you fly through the air on a swing!  

April 25, 2016

Gardens begin again

Gardens 2016 are officially going!

I borrowed my neighbors' heavier tiller and did several passes on the garden Saturday getting the compost and manure well-mixed and the soil nice and soft.  That rich, smooth soil waiting to be planted makes my heart warm.  So much promise awaits in that simple picture.

A few weeks ago I planted carrots and beets, and the beets have sprouted.  Soon I'll need to thin them out a little.

I had also planted kale and lettuce in some pots on the deck but was having difficulty keeping them wet enough, so I put them in the ground as well this weekend.  I told Josh that they seemed happier already on Sunday morning.  He replied with a grin, "Yes, they were very giggly and chatty today.  I agree they seem happier."  

I saw a lot of things online about growing potatoes in various containers so I thought I'd try some sweet potatoes in these five gallon buckets that were sitting unused in the lean-to.  I just drilled some drainage holes in the bottom and filled them with dirt then planted my sweet potatoes on top.  The idea is that when they are ready to harvest you just dump the bucket and it's a lot less labor intensive.  I ordered some purple seed potatoes from Seed Savers.  I might try them in a big container too.

I've been cooking with peas a lot lately and enjoying them so I decided to try my hand at growing some.  I found these cute little plants at the store since I'm a little late now to start this cool-weather crop from seed.  I planted them next to my bean trellises.  I figure they'll be done by the time it's warm enough for beans so it was a good use of space.

The garlic that the boys and I planted last fall is looking good!  I weeded it a bit this weekend.

When I was at the store getting pea plants, I saw tiny asparagus plants.  I've never seen asparagus in a plant like this so I got very excited.  My neighbor told me they look like asparagus ferns but they were labeled asparagus and they do have tiny asparagus shoots on them.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed that they aren't just ornamental.  If they are legit, it'll save me a couple years of waiting on bare roots to get established.

I asked my sweet husband if he could build me a little raised bed for the asparagus plants so they could have a dedicated spot in the garden.  He cut up some treated lumber we had bought for the chicken coop project and had it set up for me in under a half hour.  A trip to the feed store for soil, and I was ready to plant.

See the tiny little baby asparagus near the bottom?

Last weekend I spent both Saturday and Sunday in the herb garden and front flower beds weeding and cleaning things up.  I also painted the bell post, which was in need of some love.  I'm really happy with how things are growing already.

My strawberries had spread out so much that I dug a bunch of shoots out and spread them around the garden.  The plants have lots of flowers on them.  Hopefully the chickens won't eat all the berries before we get to them!

My thyme is leafy abundance!

This pineapple mint is filling in around the pavers that run through the middle of the garden.

My mom had a plaque like this one in her garden and I always loved it so when I saw it online last year, I had to order one for my house too.

The rogue elderberry from Rita's garden is doing well.  It's even put out two shoots on either side.

It's nice to be able to run out to the garden for seasonings again.  Doesn't food always take better with fresh herbs??  I got some sweet basil and some cinnamon basil as well, which I'm keeping inside for now until we hit the frost date.  I had never seen cinnamon basil before but when I rubbed a leaf between my fingers and smelled it, I had to have a plant.  If you haven't had it before, look for it when you're getting plants!  It's such a unique and interesting flavor.  

Happy planting everyone!

April 23, 2016

Cupcake learns to swim

I let baby duckling cupcake and her mama out of the baby coop this morning and they spent most of the day out in the yard with everyone else. Cupcake is noticeably bigger already. Tomorrow she will be one week old.

Mama brought her baby into the adult chicken coop around mid day and they were hanging out in the run. I had filled up a basin with some water for the ducks when they come up from the pond because it is hard for them to drink from the feeder that Josh built. 

Baby cupcake got thirsty and she too cannot drink from the feeder because she isn't tall enough yet. She tried to jump and stick her little head over the edge of the basin to get a drink. She got a little but must have been very thirsty because she then climbed up on a log near the edge of the basin put her little foot up on the edge and shoved herself in. She looked startled at first but then it was like a lightbulb went on for her and she was swimming and splashing like it was old hat. She spent a long while swimming while her mamma paced around the basin chasing anyone off who tried to come drink from the water.

We're so proud of our little duckling. She's growing so fast and learning all kinds of new things each day. What fun to watch!

April 22, 2016

Happy Earth Day

Happy earth day everyone. 

Hope you took a moment today to appreciate this beauty filled world we live in. 

Baby duck adventures

Since no one else presented any ideas on names for our new little one, I came up with one because I needed something to call her.  May I present to you: Cupcake.

The name came to me because my sweet husband suggested that her nurturing adoptive mother hen be called Ms. Cookie in honor of me.  My thoughts turned to my own mom and then it hit me: Cupcake!  That's what my mom used to call me, somehow it seemed perfect.

Yesterday evening I let the new little family out for some fresh air before the storm.  Josh had let them out the day before while I was at work, but this was my first time to witness Cupcake's adventures in the yard.  It was so fun to watch the pair of them run about.

I made some videos so you could all share in the fun:

In this one, Ms. Cookie seems to be trying to teach Cupcake to scratch and forage for food.  Right at the beginning, you can see the duckling try to scratch but her little foot isn't really made for this.  Eventually she'll learn ducks dig into the mud with their bills to forage.  Watch it!

Every mother who has ever had a child "underfoot" will appreciate this video.  Watch it!

In this clip, mamma starts into the grass, which is pretty tall, with Cupcake trailing behind.  Can you imagine what those tall grasses must seem like to her?!  She pushes through like a champ though.  Watch it!

Last, but not least, in this little video Ms. Cookie decides to do a little dust bathing with baby in tow.  This is something chickens do for a variety of reasons.  It seems to cool them off on a hot day.  It's fun throwing dirt all over the place.  Most importantly, it helps to protect them from getting mites, etc.  Now ducks, obviously, naturally prefer to bathe in water.  Baby Cupcake seemed very confused about what was happening but dutifully followed her mom into the dirt.  I was talking for her in my head saying things like, "Umm, mom.  What's happening?  What are we doing?  Are we eating this stuff?  Are we wrestling?  Oh boy, this is fun!  Uh oh, don't crush me! ..."  Watch it.

After we got baby and mamma back into their little coop, Josh and I continued work on the coop expansion.  We got the walls framed in on the second lean-to hen house.  And as a special treat, I looked up in the sky after the rain and saw a lovely rainbow over the pond.  

I just love spring.  It's full of so many moments that make you appreciate the beauty of nature and simple pleasures in life. 

April 20, 2016

Mixing the generations

Yesterday morning I let everyone out to range.  

The babies had access to their "play pen" that I had made for them.  This was an outdoor area enclosed with three big wood pieces and the coop as the fourth wall.  There has been a lot going on in the family, which has slowed down coop construction so I made this make-shift space for them until their permanent run was finished.  When I got home, however, I discovered one of the walls had fallen over, and all the generations of chickens were intermingled in the yard.

Initially I panicked.  Are the babies ok?  Did anyone get hurt by the falling wall?  Are the adults bullying the little ones?  Did any hawks carry away babies?  So many things to worry about!

I quickly saw, however, that it wasn't so bad.  The birds actually seemed to be doing fine together.  I saw a few adult Rhode Island Reds peck at babies, especially near the food, but mostly they were ignoring each other.  The babies were checking everything out - the inside of the adult coop, the feeders and waterers, the yard, the run.

Then it started to get dark.  Time to worry again.

When I went out to the coop, all the adults were inside claiming perches, but the babies were all over the place.  Their instinct to roost at dusk is obviously not as well developed yet!  So I began shooing them inside.  Some went into the side coop (where they have been staying); some ran into the run; some hopped up into the adult coop.  It was chaos.  I made a couple loops around the periphery, though, and it looked like everyone was in.

I went back out a little while later to make sure the babies who ended up in the adult coop were okay.  At first, this is what I saw:

There weren't any babies inside the adult hen house.  Some were laying on the ground in the run, and a pile of them were in the doorway.  As I stood there, though, one brave soul hopped down from the doorway and up onto the bottom perch, which none of the adults ever use.  She nestled herself down, and claimed her spot.

I was satisfied that no one was getting killed so I called it a night, turned off the lights, and headed inside.

When I came out this morning, I was happy to find that the girls had all made it through the night okay.  This scene cracked me up...

Three Barred Rock babies had claimed the top perch when all the adults vacated the hen house this morning.  When the adults are away, the babies will play.

I took down the "play pen" and just let everyone out together this morning.  They seem pretty focused on foraging.

Here's a video of them free ranging behind the coop.  I will keep my fingers crossed that it will continue to be this easy as the generations mix and mingle, and figure out their pecking order as a unified flock.  

April 19, 2016

Late bloomers

More of the bulbs I planted in remembrance of my mamma are coming into bloom. I thought they were all finished and then these late-blooming beauties opened their creamy white faces to the sunshine. I can hear her saying,"hi cupcake. I'm still here, sending you love and good things." Thanks mom. 

April 18, 2016

Mother hen finally hatches her baby duck

What an exciting weekend we had at the farm!

Friday afternoon my husband sent me a message: the duck eggs are moving.  I came out to see what was happening in the nesting box.  Friday was marked on my calendar as 28 days of incubation.  Mamma hen had been sitting so patiently on those eggs, and it appeared that the long-awaited arrival had finally come!

Friday evening both eggs looked like this:

The babies had poked a hole through the egg and were chirping.  See the little beak moving and hear it chirping on youtube.

We watched and waited.  I asked my husband, "Should we help them?"  Nothing was happening.  We decided to make the hole a little bigger on the egg that was more active and see if that helped the baby come out.  It seemed like it was stuck.  

This is a moment I wish so badly we could take back because it became clear very quickly that the baby wasn't ready to come out.  You could see as it came forth from the shell that the yolk had not been fully absorbed into its body.  It looked like it had an abscess on its belly.  Poor baby.  It did hang on for a while but eventually passed away.  I gave it a nice burial in the yard.  We learned a really important lesson - mother nature knows what it's doing!  We need to just leave it be.  

I read a lot of information about the hatch since it was clear that we didn't have the knowledge we needed.  I discovered that it takes up to two days for a baby duck to hatch.  The first step is when it pokes through the membrane and shell, letting it breathe while it prepares itself for the final push to come out.  During this time, the remainder of the yolk is absorbed into the body and the duck's belly seals up.  It's important to give it the time to do this and to not disturb it so that it can maintain proper humidity levels until it's ready to come out.  

The second duckling also poked through her egg late Friday but didn't appear until Sunday morning.  I went out Sunday to open the coop and saw the crushed egg next to the mamma hen.  I was afraid at first that she had crushed it or something had gone wrong.  I gently picked her up a little, though, and laughed out loud when I saw the tiny little face pop out from under her.  The baby was healthy, moving around, and chirping loudly!  I was delighted!  

It was the morning rush in the coop, though, and birds were trying to shove their way into a nesting box.  I was afraid the baby would be injured by another adult and her adoptive mom seemed anxious.  I prepared the baby coop in order to move them over.  I filled a basin with fresh straw to act as a nest.  I got small feeders and filled them with water and baby food.  I also found some bowls for adult food and more water.  When it was ready, I quickly carried mamma and baby over.

The mom rushed out of the nest and went to eat.  She had been sitting on the nest pretty much constantly since Friday.  I think she was worried to leave her eggs since they were in process of coming out.  She was ravenous!

When her mom was gone, the baby started shaking.  It was cool so she was probably mostly cold.  She stumbled out of the nest and over to mom, where she tucked herself in for warmth.  Her first adventure outside the nest can be seen on youtube.  

Mom ate while baby stumbled around, trying out her legs.  Watch the adorable pair on youtube.

I checked on them throughout the day.  Each time I came out, baby duck would be hidden.  When she heard me open the door, her little head would pop out from under her mom.  She is so very darling.

We are overjoyed with our new addition and so proud of our adoptive mamma chicken!  Mother Nature is truly amazing and inspiring.  The ducks weren't able to be consistent, caring parents but the flock provided and now we have this new life to celebrate.

Next, we need to pick a name for our little lady.  We don't know for sure yet if its a boy or girl, but I feel like she's a girl so that's what I'm gonna go with :)

Leave us a comment with your name ideas!

Dandelion jelly

I wrote a few days ago about picking dandelions and starting my first ever batch of dandelion wine.  My next adventure in wild edible food is dandelion jelly.  I am making this in much the same way that we did our violet jelly last weekend.  

It starts by making an infusion from the petals.  I had a whole basket full of dandelion flower heads.  I had to remove the petals from the green parts in order to cut the bitterness.  For the wine I did this by hand but there were SO MANY flowers for jelly - kitchen scissors to the rescue.  By cutting off the base of the flower, this went a lot faster, but I did lose a good deal of flower.  Oh well, it was worth the time saved.  I ended up with a mixing bowl of petals.  

I save the base of the flowers for the chickens.  

I filled and boiled my kettle, then poured the hot water over the petals.  I covered it and let it sit a day.  

Then I strained out the petals and gave these, too, to the chickens.  No waste here!

This is what was left: my infusion.

I measured it out and added a little water so that I had an even three cups of liquid.  

I poured this in a pot and turned on the heat.  I also added to the pot 1/4 cup of lemon juice and a box of powered pectin.  Once it came to a boil, I dumped all the sugar and stirred to mix.  

I brought it back to a hard boil and then timed one minute.  

After dividing the mixture into sterilized jars, I processed them for 5 minutes.  

Here's the finished product.  I tried a little straight from the pot.  It tastes like honey!

Dandelion Jelly
5 to 6 packed cups dandelion petals (all green parts removed), washed 

3-1/2 cups water
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 package powdered pectin
5 cups sugar

Boil water and pour over flowers in a glass container.  Cover and let steep overnight (about 12 hours).  Strain out the flowers.  You should have about two cups of liquid; add water if necessary.  Put in a jelly pot, and add lemon juice and pectin.  Bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  Add all the sugar at once.  Bring it back to a hard boil and time it for one minute.  Pour into sterilized jars and process for five minutes.