Wednesday, June 26, 2013

CTP... Chicken Transitioning Period

Gentlemen's Club
Springtime on Sunflower Hill Homestead, as with many homesteads and small farms, is a time when new babies are introduced. There are sweet fluffy little babies everywhere! Mid-summer (yes... I know by the calender summer just started, but it seems to have been here for quite a while!) is a transitioning period. This is the time when chickens are nearly full grown. The roosters are crowing... and fighting... and crowing. It is time for a trip to freezer camp here on the homestead. Our rooster pen seemed to be getting smaller! The boys were getting pretty big! I am an animal lover, which is why I process my own poultry rather than buying from large factory farms, but it is difficult for me. I know my birds were raised with the utmost care and had good lives and fast, easy deaths. The meat is far superior to anything store bought, as well! Brad and I put 21 chickens in the freezer last week. About half of what we did last summer, but I am considering a 2nd batch later this fall.

Sandy the Easter Egger had to check
out the camera :)
Now that the roosters (most of them anyway) have gone to freezer camp, the hens need to be transitioned to life with the grown-up chickens. I moved their hoop coop next to the hen house to allow them to get used to being in that area for a couple days. I would have kept them there longer, but there is no grass in the immediate area surrounding the hen house. Last night was their first night in the hen-house. We put them in at dusk, after the others had settled down. After a few minutes of loud fussing, without any actual fighting, they all settled down on the roosts.

Today is their first day free-ranging. I am as bad as a nervous mother on her kid's first day of school... I hope all goes well. The Easter eggers, Cochin, Brahma, and Leghorn are large and I'm not quite so worried about them. The leghorn, brahma, and one EE (Sue) have been following the older hens and rooster around and seem to be loving it! The Hamburgs are tiny, but are supposed to be really good at free ranging because they are fast. Brad calls them the "road runners" and his description isn't far off! They have been sticking fairly close to the hoop coop, but wandering a little farther than many of the others. I am most worried about the Silkies. I really hope that despite their size, they do alright. One silkie hen had a "haircut" before she went up for the night to allow her to be better able to see anything that may try to eat her on her first free-range adventure. Most of them have been hanging out inside the open hoop coop that they have lived in for so long. I have been keeping a close eye on them. I'm not sure if I am more worried about a hawk attack, or that my foster puppy "Logan" will decide to try to play with the pretty new birdies and they won't know to keep an eye out for him. So far he has discovered that he likes to run at the birds to make them scatter every once in a while, but he hasn't actually caught and hurt any of them. I sure hope it stays that way! Hopefully it is just my worrisome "mother hen" nature running a muck and all goes well. CTP can be a hectic time on the homestead! Fingers and feathers crossed!

Blueberry Pickin' Time

It's that time of year again! The hot humid time in summer when the blueberries need to be picked. We try to pick them every other day so that the berries continue to ripen rather than having a sea of green berries covering the ground under the bushes. The bushes will drop unripe berries if not picked properly, or so has been my experience. The birds usually do a good job keeping the blueberries picked if I don't... I am willing to share some but not too many! While blueberry picking can be peaceful, being outside at this time of year isn't usually too comfortable. It is hot during mid-day and the biting bugs come out at dawn and dusk. The trick is to try to pick them faster than the bugs can cover you in bites. I'm failing miserably so far this year! I attribute it to the good pruning I gave the bushes last fall and timing the fertilizer right this spring. They are producing like crazy!  I try to give them a good dose of fertilizer right as they start to flower, but don't always get to it in time. The rain has been very cooperative this year as well. We have given the bushes 3 good pickings, each taking about 2 1/2 hours. So far we have put 3 gallon sized bags of berries in the freezer and today we got a 5 gallon bucket about 3/4 of the way full. Not bad for 2 large bushes! There are 5 or 6 smaller ones, but they aren't producing much yet and because they are short, the chickens and turkeys steal the berries before we get to them. I never knew chickens could jump before I saw mine discover blueberries. They are hopping all over the place! Its so amusing to watch that it is almost worth allowing them to steal my fruit!

5 Gallon bucket nearly full of berries <3

 The berries are so sweet and juicy! Its difficult just to get them into the bucket instead of them ending up in our mouths! I think that Keegan eats more than he puts in the bucket! I'm looking forward to making blueberry jam, blueberry habanero pepper jelly, and blueberry cobbler, just to name a few things! We may end up with more blueberry wine this year, and I would like to try dehydrating them for trail mix as well!. It is always nice to have some in the freezer for pancakes and muffins later in the year. There are usually never enough berries for everything I want to do with them, but this year may be a first! We will see. Now to get them all picked and put up!

As always, the turkey-heads are nearby. Just in case I might drop a few. Always willing to help!

Friday, June 7, 2013

You-Pick Farm

Some of the You-Pick pepper rows

Our little family has developed something of a tradition in the few years that we have lived here. Every year at the beginning of summer, we load into the car and head to the you-pick farm. I had never heard of a you-pick farm before moving to this area! I realize now that they are pretty common and that most areas probably have at least one within a reasonable driving distance. Ours is about 45 minutes away. That seems a long distance to drive but with the amount of produce we pick we would have to drive back and forth to the nearest grocery store many times. It also cuts out on all of the gas that would be used to transport the food to a sorting facility, warehouse, and then to the store. It also saves money because you cut out all of the middle men. Nobody has to pick it for you, sort it, transport it, stock it, and sell it. You also don't have to pay for all of the produce damaged and destroyed during that process, or the hiked up price the retailers have to charge to make a buck. Best of all, it is a wonderful day spent out of doors with family. My son really gets into it and enjoys finding the biggest, most perfect, or largest amounts of whatever we happen to be picking at the moment. Family time happens too seldom and this is a perfect chance to start a tradition!

People enjoying the sunflowers and peppers
One of the two buckets we picked of onions
We always have an ever expanding garden, but I am always getting it started late so I have nothing producing right now. That just makes me yearn for fresh seasonal produce all the more! No need to wait and I don't even have to settle for tasteless grocery store produce.Those that don't have the time or space to have their own garden can benefit from these farms even more! You-pick farms grow all of the food and then you simply go and pick it. You get the freshest produce available, since you are the one that actually plucks it from the vine. You can also choose exactly what you want. Do you prefer the little tiny potatoes or the giant baking potatoes? Would you rather have ripe red tomatoes, the less ripe ones that will keep longer and ripen in a window sill, or perhaps green ones to fry? How about some of all of them to use for every occasion? No problem. Ours charges per 5 gallon bucket. Anything you can fit in the bucket you get for that price. This year it was $10 a bucket, which seems steep, until you really think about it. Bell Peppers at the grocery store generally cost about $1 each. You can fit FAR more than 10 bell peppers in a 5 gallon bucket. Tomatoes are usually priced per pound. I can tell you for sure that there was more than 10lbs of tomatoes in that bucket! My shoulder is still reminding me of that! My favorite is the onions. We use lots of onions! 

The tomato field. Tomatoes as far as the eye can see. I
imagine this is what part of Italy looks like LOL
The facility also picks some veggies and has them at the front to buy. Things that aren't producing as much at that time, come from more delicate plants, or aren't as easy to pick are usually kept that the front, along with some of everything on site for the people that aren't able to, or don't want to, pick their own. I was so proud of Keegan. He was really into finding ripe tomatoes in the sea of green ones. When an elderly couple came and was not able to find any ripe ones, he found the beautiful red tomatoes for them. When he had filled their buckets and we were turning to go the man asked Keegan how he owed him. Keegan declined and instead gratefully took a cold bottle of water that they offered him. Something more wonderful than even a sea of beautiful veggies: priceless moments like that and the pride a mother feels when she sees the kind and responsible young man her son is growing to be. 
Big beautiful tomatoes fresh off the vine!

Our haul :)
We headed home in a wonderful mood and with a backseat FULL of bags of veggies! I couldn't wait to start putting these treasures away when we got home. Brad and I took turns dicing bell peppers. We use them in just about everything so we go through a lot and it is nice to have a stock of them already diced on hand. We ended up filling three gallon sized freezer bags with peppers for the freezer, and then I dehydrated two gallons. They take up so much less space when dehydrated! What would fit in a gallon sized bag before the process, will fit in a snack sized bag afterward. Then when added to water will rehydrate! We had just about finished our stock of dehydrated peppers from last year so it was perfect timing! I also dehydrated a couple of red onions I diced. We haven't even started putting the many types of hot peppers we picked away yet. While Brad was taking his turn dicing I was blanching and skinning tomatoes and dicing onions to make spaghetti sauce. I used all of the ripest tomatoes in the sauce so that the others would keep for a few days. We had some tonight over spaghetti squash that we also got from the you-pick. It was worth the effort! The onions will keep for months after setting in the sun to dry for a day or two. The yellow onions will keep the best that way as long as they are in a cool, dark, dry place. I usually hang them in a cloth bag so they get good air circulation. The red and white onions won't keep as long and will be used first or will be dehydrated or frozen before they turn. What I am looking forward the most is the sweet golden corn on the cob. It is amazing grilled. All you have to do is throw the whole ear on hot coals, sheath and all. Turn a few times and viola! The sugars caramelize, and the sheath steams it. Just peel and eat!   

$10 worth of fresh tomatoes nestled around my incubator.
Yeah... I think that is worth $10! 
You-pick farms are a wonderful idea! You can find everything from blueberry you-picks to cutting flower you-picks, to you-picks that carry everything imaginable! It is such a wonderful way to eat locally and seasonally. It is also wonderful to be able to see where your food is coming from. An important thing to remember, however, is that just because you pick it and it is local doesn't mean it is organic and pesticide free. You should still be careful and wash everything before you eat it. An amazing thing, though, is that you can actually talk to the farmer and find out what, if anything, is used on the crops. Who would know better than the person that grew it? I can't believe that I never knew of you-pick farms before! I look forward to going all year now. I hope that more people will look into their local farms and see if there is a you-pick near you! Some great websites to check are and Also keep an eye in the newspaper or ask around at the local farmers market! Happy Picking!