Everything has been in a flux this year. Joy and sorrow in close succession. One day things will go very well, the next the dreaded raccoons will return. One day someone will say something monumentally foolish and fill me with dread and the next I will feel a lot of love and gratitude.
One example of flux this year was the weather. This was an extremely cold spring. The reason being the activity of the sun. The suns activity influences weather on earth and we’re in a period of extreme inactivity. In fact, we’ve been in a low point for sun activity for a little while now. Unlike the last time of such extreme sunspot activity, however, our climate is a bit warmer. So snows in late June are unlikely and we’re unlikely to see the famine they saw that year… At least, not until the sun acts back up and we all dry out like a raisin.
As if to prove the point that it’s not all about the sun spots this week has been in the mid 80’s, dry and sunny. This after weeks of rain and even snow might technically balance us out. Average temperatures for the month are supposed to be in the 60’s. The second week of this very month saw three snowfalls. That’s the sixth most snowy may on record ever. (Not as impressive as our near yearly setting of record high months, mind you, but impressive none the less.) I have to keep reminding myself “Getting the garden in two weeks after the last snow fall IS a reasonable time frame!”… But on the calendar of the year this should have been done nearly a month ago.
We’ve installed new hardware in the chicken coop. A thick wooden post secures the pop door and chains through loops with latches secures the nest boxes. Every time the raccoons come we secure things more, but they’re clever. We’ve lost 3 hens this year.
We’ve also been cleaning animal skulls lately. We’ve had a rabbit who was not a very good mother lose most of her kits. This isn’t uncommon – I know this is something that can happen. So for Yule one of the things I asked for was a dermastid beetle colony. Dermastid – or flesh eating – beetles are used in taxidermy for cleaning bones. I was graciously purchased one by G. I’m lucky to have such an understanding partner and they’ve brought me a lot of excitement and joy. I’ve been raising up this colony out for a couple months now and I recently set them upon the skulls of some of our rabbits, one skull from an 11 week old fryer, and a few from the failing litter.
Cleaning the skulls so the beetles can work is tricky. You have to remove as much soft tissue as possible before putting it in. The rule of thumb is “If you touch it and it wiggles still, cut it off.” This means everything from the tongue, soft pallet, eyeballs, brain, etc. I’ve been butchering rabbits for years now and have never experienced anything quite as visceral as cleaning a skull for dermastid beetles before. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart. Turns out D is an old hand at this sort of thing though. He did research on rats eyes for diabetes and learned to extract the eyes and later the retinas with a scalpel. Taking that a bit further to other areas of the skull was a simple extension. He does the bulky parts of the cleaning now – skin, eyes, mouth – and then hand the skulls to me where I extract the brain and more delicate soft tissues with a pair of forceps tweezers. On the baby skulls the bone is so delicate it feels thin like paper.
The beetles then did their jobs admirably. I’m glad to have them and equally glad to have G – the sort of partner who is willing to buy his lady flesh eating beetles for the holidays. The goal is to cast these skulls in resin forms or seal them for jewelry. On this homestead we strive to use every part of the animals we raise. Every time we lost a kit it felt like such a failure. At most the best we could do would be throw the bodies to the birds. Most of the time we composted them. Not only was it a loss of life but a pointless one at that. Now we have at least some use for them. We’ll obviously only take the ones that can’t survive. Even these kits were given a fighting chance – days of trying to force nurse them with mom on her back to no avail. The milk just wasn’t coming in. It’s still sad. But this gives them a little more purpose to their short lives than to simply die and not be honored in any way.
So life is trucking along. And I’m excited to finally have plants going into the ground! Maybe later I will be able to share not just the fruits of our.. Well… fruits. But also how some of the casting turns out with the skulls.
Just a quick picture drop for all of you. Two days ago it was in the 30’s. We have our peas planted but nothing else is outdoors yet.
Marigolds are blooming in the basement, baby blue hubbard squash, tomato plants, peppers and kale, our freshly mulched pathway, a baby from a newer litter, a kit who got a new home, and some of our eggs from this year!
Quarantine’s been hard, G is considered an essential worker. But we have plants and animals growing, we have 36 eggs in the incubator, and life goes on despite it all.
Like most of the nation I am stuck inside this week. And the next, for an indefinite time frame.
I’ve received several urgent emails lately about buying breeding rabbits. While I appreciate the business I can’t help but feel as though it is a bit misguided. Even if you got an adult rabbit right now and bred them when you got home, it would still be a month for gestation and then another 2-3 before butcher. By the time you have an edible product we’ll be through this. There’s been a run on chicks at tsc, but that’s also 8 weeks minimum for food. Sixteen weeks for eggs. Similarly, people are planning emergency gardens. My favorite seed company is overwhelmed with orders. Maybe radishes or lettuce will grow in the timeframe we will but not much else.
Not that I mind much. People should be more self sufficient. For 100 years society has run smoothly (according to who you look at or ask) but these things always crop up and when they do the bigger the system the harder it falls. Decentralization is a good thing. But I worry the motivation is temporary.
Of course our garden is well started already. All indoors still. We got snow 2 days ago.
But all of this was started weeks or months ago. These things take time.
And of course the animals carry on without a care in the world. Pandemic or not their priorities remain steady and simple in nature.
At least we’re not going to go hungry. And our family can rely on us for eggs and maybe even meat. But it’s still a bit too cold to do work out. And veggies are a long way off.
This past year was troublesome.
G got himself a good new job. He now works management at a local high end-grocery though he still does paperwork for the game shop. But the stress of that transition and the strain of our lives in general had reached a breaking point. Myself, G and D were all depressed and floundering. D was overwhelmed with school, his classes growing increasingly more difficult, his normally social lifestyle consumed with daily homework and his tutoring job. During the summer the assistance he’d promised vanished and things rapidly became too much for me to handle alone. On the farm, the rats were flourishing, eating every crop we grew, chewing on walls and insulation, eating baby rabbits and baby chickens. Production was all but impossible and my demands that G call an exterminator were being heard but not acted upon. The dogs were overwhelmed and overjoyed to be hunting but were unable to make a dent, sometimes catching whole litters of rats in a night while hunting in the garage yet never making progress.
For my part, my estranged father had a stroke. We haven’t been on speaking terms for some time, largely due to him treating my PTSD like a joke and me like second class offspring. There’s only so many callously initiated panic attacks one can go through, even for a parent. When his stroke hit, I was forced to deal with the fallout. Going to his aid meant dealing with casual dismissal of my needs and panic attacks all over again. Not going meant poor treatment by the rest of my family. No choice was going to end well for me. I chose the latter. The strain was less, but very real.
A raccoon took out the entire chicken flock in one night some time ago. It was devastating. The coop was closed but the monster pulled a door away from the wall and got in over night. We woke up to bodies strewn across the lawn. We had to build our flock up again from nothing. We hatched chicks from the remaining eggs but only had three hens. We had to rebuild our whole coop to better secure it from the raccoon that ate everyone. We bought new chicks, “Purebred” Ameraucanas from a breeder registered with an Ameraucana club, only for them to be shipped without notice into a snowstorm by the breeder and ultimately get stuck at the post office. Half of them died on arrival and one of the hens even lays brown eggs. So much for being “purebred”.
We bought a buck and two doe rabbits only to have two cages left open by G, and the escapee rabbits caught by The Killer Husky. I wasn’t even involved in the incidents, neither in handling the rabbit cages nor taking the dogs out, but the money and resources I spent were still gone. It’s always challenging to travel to get new stock. One of these came from our county fair and the other from nearly another state. The loss of the time and effort was more devastating than the loss of any money spent.
We tried bee keeping – twice! The first time our hive swarmed and left us and the second they just didn’t make it through the winter. We’ve resigned ourselves to have to wait to try again.
I couldn’t garden, though I tried starting seeds that year with G’s misplaced encouragement. They took but it was ultimately moot. The rats were eating everything. I turned to baking to try to find some creative homesteading escape, only to discover the rats had found their way into the house and were eating my cookies and breads.
Everything was deeply, deeply bleak over the last year. I was miserable. The people around me were falling apart and it was making my life fall apart in turn.
Then we saw a few changes. D started utilizing a few free school resources to alleviate his strain and was better at closing cages and other miscellaneous but critical tasks. G started a new medication. Suddenly he was capable of making those critical calls that previously had him paralyzed. Tentatively we brought in bait boxes and tracking powder for the rats. The dogs were kept indoors and the chickens secured in their a newly built coop with tight latches on the doors. We couldn’t garden or bake yet, life was distressing still, but steps were being taken. The snow hit, and things got cold.
Soon we pulled half a dozen dead rats out from behind a panel in our basement walls. Food left on the dining room table was no longer at risk. We stopped seeing rats scurrying away at night in the garage. One day I spilled a half cup of chicken feed on the floor of the garage and was too tired to clean it up. It was still there the next day. And the next. And even a week later before it got swept up and put into the compost.
I made pies for Yule, including a rehash of my game pie from the year before, and had a wonderful celebration with my friends and family.
My father recovered without my intervention and the family that was most important to me stuck by my side.
We got a new puppy. We finally found our Aussie, (well, likely a BC/Aussie mix) and he is a rescue. His owners were apartment dwellers with no dog experience and he came to us at 20 weeks isolated, no socializing, scared, and shaking. He’s still easily frightened but he has made big strides and recently gotten fixed.
G and I took a weeks vacation out of the country at an eco-resort to celebrate our 10 year anniversary. Ten years! That’s a long time.
Slowly but surely things move forward, hardly being perfect but regularly improving.
We now have baby bunnies again for the first time in nearly a year and a half. The mom was a first timer and most of the litter was lost, but the rest are doing well. They’re growing and distinctly not eaten by rats. We have plants started in the basement, celery and leeks and other slow and long growing seeds.
The weather is shifting too. It’s February but there has been little snow and we can feel the warm sun breaking through the clouds. It’s regularly over 30*F. This isn’t good for the planet… But it does wonders for my seasonal gloom. It feels like spring is right around the corner.
And both metaphorically and literally I finally think it really is.
You know what they say about March; In like a lion, middle like a lion, end like a lion. March is just a lion, chewing you up and spitting you out, wet and slobbery. March just isn’t a fun month in general.
March is a month filled with hours of work, and while I like my work, it’s still work. Around this farmy I have already started 90 tomato seedlings and I’m working on my 60 pepper pots across 5 different varieties. Next is the kale and cauliflower, each taking their own several dozen cubic inches of soil. All this while the snows hit the ground; we got several inches over the last 48 hours with more on the way. It will be the weekend after this one before we have weather warm enough to exist outside again… And at that point it will be time to plant cold weather crops. Peas, green onions, spinach and radishes all get planted outside as soon as the snow reliably melts. I am still working to finish setting up the seed shelves and yet they are already shockingly full.
Of course, when the snow melts the city inspections start. And our lawn, with it’s consistently high water levels and frequent foot traffic, tends to look the worst on the block. So we are making some changes this year, ranging from rain gardens to stone pathways and re-seeding much of the lawn and ripping out weeds. All of this will happen in the inches of muck my lawn produces. And the frequent, cold rains will also mean animal bedding will get soiled more easily and cages will need to be cleaned more often. It’s a lot of work for one month.
So what is the best thing to add to that mixture? A sudden shipment of baby chicks, highlighted by everything that could possibly go wrong going wrong! Sounds great, right?
You see, last fall we ordered some expensive chicks from a wonderful show breeder but G never bothered to send the payment when I asked him to. By the time the payment reached the breeder it was too late; they weren’t going to have another hatch for the fall. Instead I would have to wait for spring or cancel. So waiting for spring it was.
Well, “spring” in some places means “The first week of March” and my own chickens were laying, but I hadn’t heard back in a while. I sent an email; ‘Any idea of when I would get my chicks?’ I asked.’Soon!’ I heard back. Then two days later I was told they were already on their way, shipped overnight, right into an incoming blizzard.
So I ran into problem one; I had no notice and therefore no setup for them. I quickly arranged a brooder with a heat lamp, and then plugged in my USPS tracking number. It said they’d be here at 3PM that day. I waited for the phone call but it never came. In fact 3PM came and went, and then 4PM, and then I called the post office.
‘They’re not here. They never made it this far. They got held up over night and will be here on the truck in the morning.’ the post office said. Yikes.
So I set that aside, worrying for my expensive chicks, and set about thinking about how to get chick feed. I didn’t want to have someone drive all the way out to my usual feed store for one bag of feed, so I thought I would go down the street to a local hardware store to pick up a bag of their feed. I don’t normally shop there, having gotten some bad results from a drill G bought there (and returned) a few years back, but they were close so I thought I’d give them a shot. I would go out, grab the chicks, then grab their feed, then go home and set them up. I went to bed anxious but with a plan.
The next day we got the chicks first thing in the morning and 3/10 were dead on arrival. They were packaged with care, in appropriate shipping conditions and with some electrolyte gel in cups glued to the inside so they had something to keep them hydrated. But none of that really does any good when the post office delivers them a day late, and doesn’t heat them over night. And the post office doesn’t offer chick refunds unless they reach their destination later than 72 hours from when they were shipped either. Unfortunately, aside from massively expensive transportation services, USPS is the only way to ship chicks. They’re the only game in town and they know it, so there’s not much I can do. The breeder offered to refund me the chick cost, but of course to order them again would require another $40 in shipping, so refunding the chicks is pointless and expensive and the breeder didn’t do anything but their best to ship them safely.
We got home and set them up, shivering into a warm brooder as fast as we could. Then, after seeing that they were in a warm spot, D and I went to the hardware store to buy their chick starter. A 50lb bag was a bit expensive at $19.50, but we bought it and rushed home.
As I went to open the bag, I was trying to shake the crumbs out of the corners so they didn’t spill on the floor but I was having some trouble, so I just cut it open anyhow. It very suddenly became apparent why they wouldn’t come out of the corners. The whole bag was filled with moth eggs. The crumbs in the corners were stuck to moth webbing. The entire bag smelled funny, who knows how long it was on the shelf.
We immediately went back to the store to return it and they opened the only other bag of chick starter on their shelves; it was also ridden with moths and smelled bad. Upset, I took my refund and left. D told me I was too harsh with my words, but I disagree as I was firm but not abusive. Given that their store chose to sell nearly rancid, old, bug-filled food I think I was within reason to be much worse. It was, frankly, expired. It could have killed my chicks given their extremely fragile state, and it was chick food meant for fragile birds. There’s no excuse for keeping feed bags on your shelf for that long under such poor storage conditions, especially when they are already more expensive then other stores. Someone less observant or experienced might have fed the spoiled feed and lost a lot more than some damaged proteins in their feed, they could have lost whole clutches of chicks. A $20 refund won’t make up for that sort of a loss.
Now I had to find a new source of chick feed, which ultimately meant driving all the way out to one of my usual feed stores. So I gave the chicks some water to drink to get them started and away we went. The stores I usually go to are a 40 minute drive away, but we got there, got the feed and got home as fast as we reasonably could.
Home at last, with the chick feed and several additional bags of our regular animal feed (so as not to waste the long trip) I finally settled down to try to care for these emergency chicks. All but one had perked up quickly with just a bit of water and heat. The one that did not was prone and cold, still, unmoving but alive.
Since then I have spent the last 24 hours nursing this chick and we’ve seen some improvements. It’s opening it’s eyes more often, and preening a bit. It’s standing steadily instead of collapsing at random. When it chooses to make noise, which is rare, it’s voice is loud and clear and robust like the other chicks… Yet it is not properly eating on it’s own yet, and it does it’s best to remain asleep and unmoving whenever possible. We have been feeding it a rich electrolyte mixture to get it going and the improvements have been minuscule yet present. I even managed to get a few bites of chick starter into it. I remain vigilant and hopeful, yet there’s not much I can do if it doesn’t start to eat on it’s own. The other chicks are all thriving, and I can hear them chirping away in my basement, cozy in their brooder box.
And now it’s about time to go give another dose of the nutrient mixture to our unwell chick and hope for the best.
I hope March proves to be a little more gentle, maybe even lamb-like, by the end of it, but I suspect it will continue to be more like the jaws of a lion; challenging, difficult, painful and wet. Time to buckle down and work hard!
It’s spring again on the homestead. Or, it’s almost spring on the homestead. We’re still getting regular frosts but they’ve been interspersed with beautiful, sunny, 40-6*F days in which I go out and start doing work. Most of February is boring and uneventful… We’ve been folding a lot of seed pots and doing a lot of cleanup, but otherwise not much happens until the end of the month.
Now that we’re getting those few warm and sunny days, the ground can start to be gently worked. Compost can get mixed into beds, chickens begin to lay again, beds can be tilled and mulched to capture the last of the nitrogen from the upcoming snows, cages can be cleaned from their frozen winter layovers. Rabbits can be bred without the fear of cold. Dead weed stalks can be pulled. With the absence of both greenery and snow, lawns can be cleaned of any trash, broken pots, loose bags, small tools etc that were previously covered up, consumed by grass and time or otherwise forgotten about.
We moved a bale of straw out to start rotting for our potato boxes this year (rapid mold growth from lack of previous decomposition was a big problem last year), re-tied the trellises as needed, and plotted out new garden spaces. It’s our hope to dig a rain garden in the back lawn and plant it in such a way that it helps drain water from the rest of our lawn. Despite all of our work, the lawn is frankly lacking in drainage. We are living on former swampland, after all. We’re where the water stops and we have to deal with it. Thirsty plants that need a lot of water in a slight depression in our lawn will have lots of water for a long time. And with their water uptake, storage and filtration, the rest of our lawn might be a little less mucky. We also have plans to put in a more permanent pathway for walking on down the center of the lawn. We’re all sick of our boots sucking into the mud.
For me, all of this happens rapidly. A few days of beautiful sun with no rain, and then back to being bundled up indoors while the ground freezes so hard that it cracks and breaks apart. On these warm days with nothing growing I also allow the chickens to range across the entire lawn. They love the opportunity to eat the bugs out of the garden beds and compost that I till up. When the cold weather and snow sets back in they won’t even want to leave their coop, let alone venture across the entire lawn.
This early spring management is especially important for us this year as last year we had a lot of trouble with some little monsters known as wireworms. They devoured our potato crop and made a small dent in our radishes as well. They’re common in lawns across the US and are the larval stage of the click beetle, a fun little bug enjoyed by children that is fairly harmless but makes a solid snapping sound when threatened, handled, or laid on it’s back. The larvae, however, devour root vegetables at an shocking rate and is a demon to a gardener/farmer like me. My goal is to manage them effectively without pesticides. One way to do that is to till the soil frequently in cold weather as they do not like cold, regularly disturbed dirt. By keeping the soil cool and chilly and mobile, they may migrate out of the beds and into other spaces. We also have a “grub buster” globe filled with beneficial nematodes that might prey on the wireworms as well as the fleas we dealt with over the fall that we fear may return in the spring and the white grubs we sometimes find in our beds. When it warms up and the tilling is no longer beneficial to deter the wireworms, we will spray the nematodes on the beds and across much of the lawn and hope for the best. We don’t have a lot of other spaces in which to plant potatoes.
The rats are also becoming active again with spring. We’ve moved all our feed bags into metal bins, we set out various baits for much of the winter as well, but there’s only so much that can be done to exclude. We’ve never left feed sitting out for the chickens and rabbits either, the rats don’t seem to mess with the compost and we cleared out the majority of their living spaces. Yet there they remain. We are determined to be rid of them.
Fleas, rats and worms. Such is the nitty gritty of farm life.
But at least the sun is absolutely wonderful feeling these days. I will desperately enjoy it until it becomes so hot that I crisp up like a lobster.
Next week it will be cold and snowy and wet again with very little sun to be seen. Then I will be back indoors, starting seeds in pots under lamps in my basement like the grower of illicit goods. Currently I have leeks, basil and thyme sprouted and growing with celery, parsley and oregano planted but not yet germinated. Next it is a massive number of paste tomatoes and several varieties of peppers. Before you know it many of these plants will be going into the ground. Wish me luck!
Today I have been exploring the various ways I can apply the spirit of upcycling to my life.
Upcycling (from dictonary.com)
This week I am sick with a nasty cold. It may be more than that. I went to see a doctor and got some medication that is helping me recover. They actually prescribed me antibiotics for fear that I might be developing pneumonia again. Once you get pneumonia once, it makes the risk for getting future bacterial infections worse.
So lately I have been fairly inactive, relying on my partners to help with most of the critical outdoor chores. But now that I am on the mend I am able to start doing anything again and I am able to upcycle my time stuck semi couch-ridden while also upcycling a pile of newspapers. While I am an getting better I am still a little short of breath when I do simple tasks. So I’m spending my time doing important tasks with my hands instead, upcycling a bad situation into a better and useful one.
Today I am making these seed pots;
These are some of the best upcycled seed pots I’ve ever used. They wick water up like a peat pot and are surprisingly sturdy for paper. Unlike a peat pot they actually break down in one season and so don’t restrict root growth as much if you plant the whole pot, plus break apart with some water and a few pokes to free the roots completely for planting. There are some newspaper seed pots that are round and rolled on a can but they come apart easily and the round pots make it harder to conserve space per square foot.
Some time ago I read about someone complaining how millennials don’t listen to people with experience but hypocritically also complained that they refused to do things without trying to research them online first. (The irony of this person demanding millennials learn from their online post was lost on them as well.)
Some places on the internet are garbage, but like all other upcycling, it can be something great instead depending on how you use it! Most millennials (and many others) find the internet to be an incredible resource, and for many of us it’s our only viable resource to learn things. Here’s an idea, upcycle your internet usage. It’s more than OK to learn things online, in fact, it’s awesome! Trade out garbage and depressing websites for productive learning! Not only is it a great resource to learn from people more experienced than you, but it’s also a great resource to learn about how to experiment in ways that more experienced people might not. It’s where I learned to make these, and they are great. You can find the instructions on how to make them here;
I get the newspapers from my father, who is in his mid 70’s and appreciates reading the newspaper as a daily lifeline to the world. He often saves them in large quantities for me and brings them to my house in batches of several weeks worth of newspaper at once. Our local newspaper uses soy based inks in their printing so the news pages are safe to use in the garden. (Always check with your newspaper supplier about this, some inks leach toxins into the soil like heavy metals. If you don’t know anyone who has newspapers, consider asking on places like the Craigslist free section or your local freecycle group.)
As I folded up the seed pots I couldn’t help but see the troubles of the world on those pages. Racist rants trying to rephrase a protest of police brutality as disrespect for our military. Sabre rattling between nuclear powers, their egos threatening the lives of millions of people they will never meet. Companies caught in security scandals putting their millions of clients whole financial futures at risk to save a few dollars per person. Painful calls of misogyny from beauty articles demanding women be young, thin and sexy or else they’re worthless. Cries to buy luxury fuel-guzzling vehicles for “low-low prices” of a whole years worth of income that the average person I know can’t possibly afford to give up. Sales of over-priced sick puppy-mill dogs from breeders just looking to make a buck in the classifieds. Countless pages upon pages of obituaries, mostly old but some too-young, each one with a little advertisement at the end that seemed to say: “This dead person’s family used *COMPANY*’s funeral service! If someone you love is dead, you should give them your money while you are grieving too!”.
It gave me plenty of time to notice all this as I folded and folded and folded. I watched TV and chatted with my partners, sometimes playing games or doing other small chores in between folding paper. It was also our weekly cartoon night where we all meet up with some other friends to watch Japanese animation and we all folded papers for a bit. And while I was folding I couldn’t help but reflect on the grander implications of what we were doing.
All that hatred and anger. The egos, the consumption, the greed, the negligence. All the terrible ills and death of the world were getting folded up and put aside. Over the next few months, all of those horrible things will be upcycled and used to grow something beautiful. Something that’s the exact opposite of what’s written on all of those pages. Something that feeds both peoples bodies and souls. Something that brings life and heals the planet.
Those pages will grow food. They will grow peppers and beans. They will grow tomatoes that go into jars and remind us of the rich summer in the middle of a gloomy winter. They will go into gifts for others that bring joy through the year. They will go into growing flowers and feeding bees and rabbits and even grasshoppers and deer. They will break down into the soil and feed the worms and nematodes and grubs in the dirt. They are bits of carbon that will have come out of the air and return to the soil.
No matter how much hatred and anger and pain is printed on them, they can be used to heal.
What a thought provoking day of upcycling.
Ultimately we made 100 seed pots in one day while heavily distracted. Which makes these pots not only great to grow in but fast to produce. If you have some days off that you’re probably just going to be watching TV or something for a good chunk of them anyhow, consider setting yourself down with a flat surface on your lap and folding some seed pots. A 100 pack of 2″ plastic seed cups is nearly $25 on Amazon. I need possibly as many as 400 pots this year, so I will be saving myself $100 by doing this while I’d otherwise just be sick in bed. And in exchange it will nourish my soil, increasing carbon and biomass, and turn something ugly into something wonderful.
Frugal. Ecological. Healing. Nourshing to land, body, soul, and the whole world. Everything gardening, and upcycling, should be. I hope you give these awesome pots a try and do a little upcycling yourself.
Actually, it hasn’t been a particularly cold summer, in truth. June was spot on, but July has been slightly cooler than usual. It’s been very hot on some days, leaving me to drip sweat in the heat, but that is largely from the humidity. The rainfall we have been getting in unusual, however. Last month we had eight-and-a-half inches… Our average is somewhere closer to 3.5. And July has been no different. We’re half-way through the month and our rainfall has been four times what our average rainfall is. I can only imagine that the exceptional amount of rain is what has been keeping us cooler.
Because of the cool weather some plants that should be burning to a crisp right now are doing surprisingly well. The peas and lettuce should be shriveling up in 85-90 degree days, but instead they’re growing and producing surprisingly well. The tomatoes feel almost a bit stunted from the cool, though they’ve begun to produce as well. Soon they will need to be staked up.
Cleaning out the garage to remove the rats continues, albeit slowly. Other things sometimes take priority, such as standing up fallen plants and removing flowers from plants not yet established enough to bloom. Animals must be fed and watered before other tasks are completed. The bees have to be kept in sugar water. Preparations for fall already have to be started. It’s a busy time.
My father went on a trip to Maui recently. That’s one of the smaller Hawaiian islands and is where one of my sisters lives. He brought me back a rather unflattering t-shirt in a vibrant blue color. “Look!” he proclaimed proudly, “It has a chicken on it!”. It does, indeed, have a rather stunning graphic of a rooster on the back of it. But the cut is so unflattering and the shirt so large that I wouldn’t feel very comfortable wearing it out. But what can you expect from a 73 year old guy? I thanked him and told him I’d wear it while working and doing livestock presentations. It seems appropriate enough for that and he looked happy. I can always use more work clothes and it looks like it’ll be a very good shirt for that.
I have too many tomato plants right now. I have experienced another epic saga of tomatoes this year. Tomatoes always seem to be a source of drama in my garden. There are two kinds of tomato plants; determinate and indeterminate. Determinate varieties grow in bushes a few feet tall then they stop and they set their fruits all at once. Indeterminate varieties just keep growing until they can’t any more, and they set their tomatoes in random batches.
Last year I grew indeterminates (san marzino) and the tomatoes became such a jungle that I could hardly walk through my garden paths that run between the beds. I quickly lost control of the plants, they become overgrown and collapsed. The tomatoes set seemingly at random, growing a few here and a few there, never enough to can. Tomatoes lay rotting on the ground everywhere. Blossom end rot became overwhelming and blight started consuming the lower branches leaving foot-high tunnels under the collapsed plants. The groundhog who regularly raided my lawn for the tomatoes ran rampant in that clear undergrowth into which I could not reach. There were so many tomatoes that not even my dogs could overcome the groundhogs temptations. Ultimately, while I grew a lot of tomatoes I didn’t harvest many tomatoes. I ended up with just a few jars of tomato sauce for my efforts. It was just too much.
This year I decided no more to indeterminate tomatoes. I ordered Bellstar tomatoes and planted 61 seeds with the hope of getting 40 plants. While around 50 or so germinated, they began to develop problems of their own. Leaves started yellowing, drooping and falling off. Whole swathes of plants began to die. I learned, eventually, that this was likely wilt, a fungus that is almost impossible to treat and control. I ended up with about 8 or 9 plants, all infected with this disease so I could not put them in my gardens. I was heartbroken.
Then one day I was out in early summer, weeding the garden to put in some late seeds when I went to pull a plant that looked awfully familiar. While I’m used to getting the occasional volunteer squash plant, I’m not used to other volunteers. The first few I ripped out without a thought until I realized that this strange plant was everywhere across my beds. Dozens. Maybe even hundreds?
They were tomato plants. Dozens of tomato plants all over the place from the rotten, consumed, dead tomatoes that fell unharvested from our plants last year. They were in every inch of the garden bed… Which actually makes sense because I spread and till the top of my soil each year. There were more than I could imagine when I finally started to notice them.
I now have dozens (50 or so?) planted in my tomato patch for the year and dozens more that I’ve found homes for in gardens of friends and family. Still more have simply been pulled and removed as weeds, and I have others that need to be removed even though they are huge and beautiful. I just have nowhere for them to go and they are in the middle of places like my watermelon patch. That’s unacceptable and they must go.
Some of them will be filling my sister’s garden bed (the one who lives a few blocks away), and some I just don’t know where they will go. And to think… I thought I had too many last year! This year I will find a way to manage them better. They will get posts put in the ground near every single one and they will be tied to them with twine to manage their growth. Anything less and they will overwhelm my garden again!
But it seems that fate has determined that I am to grow THESE tomatoes specifically, and not any others. They’ve gotten a late start but are just starting to set fruit. Hopefully, through careful management, they will not be quite so overwhelming this year. Fingers crossed. Our tomato saga will continue.
Farming and homesteading is inspiring to me. I get so much joy at looking at things running smoothly and properly. I draw a lot of motivation from looking at other people’s goals, aspirations, and the extremely cool things that they do.
Sometimes down the line I loose track of that joy. I loose track of it amidst things like trying to manage animal pedigrees and planting row crops and producing enough to justify that I am a “real” farmer and balancing budgets. It can be easy to loose some of my inspiration in among all of the red tape.
So here’s a little compilation of some nifty things I plan to do this year that are inspiring for me!
Vertical Gardening and Plant Towers
I really like the idea of growing up instead of out. While some vertical gardening (such as hydroponics in a warehouse) strikes me as wildly impractical, a lot of vertical growing can be done in a back yard and drastically increase your growing space. Hanging pots, PVC planters, trellises and the like all make for an increase in growing space without an increase in growing ground. And this year, I intend to do more of that. As the strawberry plants recover, I will thin them and put the new plants in hanging pots. I will also be trying to get some herbs running in a hanging planter made out of re purposed two liters that will hang near my awning at the back of my garage. This year I will be growing UP!
Natural Beekeeping and Honey
This is happening and it’s great! I have my bees on order and my hive is in the basement, just waiting to be assembled! We are going to be keeping bees in a Warre hive. This is a smaller beehive that’s designed with topbars and minimal inspection. Unlike the Langstroth, whose design is based around what bees will tolerate, the Warre hive is based around what bees make when left to their own devices. The size of the boxes are smaller, the empty boxes load onto the bottom of the hive, they build their own comb for the frames, there’s a lot more airflow as well. It mimics a hollow tree more effectively than a Langstroth but gives much lower yields. My hope is that the bees thrive in it!
Pollinator and Bee Gardening
Pollinators are extremely important to our environment, growing crops, and plant life everywhere. If I’m going to have bees, I better be more aware about providing for these ever important critters. So I will be building bigger, better bee gardens this year with lots of flowers! The goal is going to be to trim up the Magnolia and put some flowers around it out front, as well as re-do some of the landscaping around the house and plant as may bee-friendly and pollinator friendly plants as possible in the next couple of years. It will even include safe water sources for local bees, one of the things they lack (and need) the most. The hope is to provide a pesticide-free buffet for all the local critters who will desperately need it in the coming months and years.
Purebred Wheaten Ameraucanas
This year, we are going to begin moving out of Easter Eggers and into a purebred flock. Our rooster is a purebred Wheaten Ameraucana and I now have a dozen hatching eggs of the same kind on order. Later in the year (possibly early next year) we will be ordering a dozen more and hatching some of our own. At that point, by next spring we will be running a flock of purebred blue egg laying chickens (possibly with a couple Australorps or Marans for eating-eggs and fun mixes). It will be exciting to finally have purebred birds!
Fully Pedigreed Rex Rabbits
Early this year we invested in a new buck to replace Cassanova, as we have kept two of his daughters (Lady and Sage) and would like to start filling out our pedigrees. So we now have a new buck that came to us through happenstance that is actually Bean’s grandson! We have nicknamed him Porter (as in a Porterhouse steak) and he will be our new herdsire for our rex rabbits, lending his lineage and traceable pedigree to our operation.
Companion Planting and Interplanting
This year our garden has been planned, planned again, and then planned some more. We are going to have both companion planting and interplanting on the homestead this year. Companion planting is when you plant two plants next to each other (or in alternating rows) that compliment eachother’s growth or deter pests from one another. Interplanting is related and means to grow two plants in the same space that don’t interfere with one-another’s growth. An example of this is growing beans and corn in the same space. The beans fix nitrogen for the corn, and the corn stalk allows the beans to trellis up them. One example that will be in our garden this year is growing radishes pretty much anywhere a slow-growing plant is seeded. Since radishes grow so fast, they can be harvested before they start to compete with their too-close neighbors. We will be growing as many plants this way as possible this year. Gardening is still somewhat a struggle for us, but we’re always trying to get better at it!
Quarteracrehome is going to be working with Western Reserve Eco Network (a local grassroots environmental group seeking to promote sustainability, which I happen to be a part of) to grow a whole bunch of trees in empty lots in the city. These will all be either native northeast Ohio trees to help restore native forestland or fruit/nut trees to help feed the low-income urban communities around Cleveland. Some of those trees fruit trees may come tagging along back to the quarter acre. Additionally, I have several branches from my father’s Queen Anne cherry tree attempting to root in my living room. Not to mention that two of the plants that have been on this property for ages are also fruit trees and I just had no idea. So I am excited to be “branch”ing out this year! Ahahah, tree puns.
And that’s about it. Things that are inspiring me to do new stuff this year, and things I’ll be trying out. Fingers crossed that it all works out!