Thursday, June 26, 2014

Day Off

I have begun to reclaim my house. Shampooing the carpets last week meant that every single piece of furniture had to be moved, including everything that was formerly sitting on it. Because the carpets took a couple of days to completely dry, not everything could be put back in its home immediately. That, paired with going to the you-pick the next day and bringing home nearly 200 lbs of produce that had to be dealt with immediately turned my whole house upside down!

Slowly... very slowly, things have been returning to normal. Brad has been doing a lot of organizing and moving things to storage to free up some space for baby. I have been doing a lot of food processing. Keegan has been tending to most of the animals' needs, which thankfully have been few. The roosters are being very mean, though. They need to be dealt with soon. He also helped me pick almost 4 gallons of blueberries yesterday, which I also processed. That was a hot and miserable task that seemed to take forever! In reality it took nearly 3 hours, and because it has been storming every evening, and I wasn't up until late, it had to be done in the heat of the day. We had put it off for 4 days instead of our usual every other day picking schedule, because it has been storming. No more of that!

The current pantry total for this week is:

    - 10 pints
    - 3 half pints
    - 3 quarts
Tomato Sauce
    - 7 quarts
Crushed Tomatoes
    - 5 quarts
Blueberry Jam
    - 14 pints
    - 15 half pints
Frozen Blueberries
    - 1 Gallon
Bell Peppers
    - 3 Gallons Frozen
    - 1/2 Gallon dehydrated (equivalent to ~3 Gallons chopped)
    - 2 dehydrator loads in progress and many more to go

Onions are the only You-Pick produce left to finish processing. They are still on the back porch drying out between storms. I have been covering them with a tarp and uncovering them when the sun comes out. I'm proud of myself for processing everything before one single thing went bad. Usually I have to toss at least a few soft tomatoes and peppers. I was on top of it this year. I may still have a few soft onions after it is all said and done. Brad was a huge help. He washed a good deal of it while I processed. We have some left over bell and hot peppers to use fresh and about 2/3 gallon of fresh blueberries that wouldn't fit in my 5 gallon stock pot last night. I will probably use some fresh and freeze the rest. Lots of bags of stuff need to be taken to the deep freezers at my in-laws'. We don't have room for a chest freezer here yet. I am going to try to process much more this year that can be stored at room temp.

The garden is doing well, despite my having spent very little time tending to it. Thank goodness for the rain and my having mulched heavily last week to help combat weeds. I need to spend some time out there soon retying tomatoes, checking for insect damage, and weed eating the rows. Cucumbers should be ready soon! That means pickles will soon join my pantry.

For now, another storm is echoing in the distance. Maybe I will get to take some pictures after the rain passes. I really need to get some cleaning done inside. Brad is at work and I miss having him home. Mostly, I think I will take some much needed down-time. There will be plenty to do soon enough. I need a lazy day.

Saturday, June 21, 2014


 Yesterday we went to pick veggies at Charlie's U-Pik. This is our haul. We got 3 5 gallon buckets of onions, 3 of tomatoes, 2 of peppers, 2 cantaloupes, and a watermelon.
It didn't seem like nearly enough when we were picking and I was really wishing that we could have gotten more. Once we got home, however, I felt a bit differently. I was wondering what I had gotten myself into! All of these veggies have to be put away, and soon!
 The onions are on the back porch drying out. It looks like it may rain for the next few days so I may have to bring them in.
The first order of business was to make Pico de Gallo with some of the tomatoes that got damaged in transport paired with some peppers and onions. This is a gallon sized bowl. Half of it was gone within minutes. Keegan and Brad are good sports and love helping me out when it comes to taking care of some damaged produce. Today I made 10 pints, 3 half pints, and 4 quarts of salsa. I got to use my newly fully functional stove that Brad fixed for me. I only have one big eye and it has been broken for nearly 6 years. He was amazing and fixed it for me so I would be able to more easily can this year. It barely looks like I used any tomatoes. Tomorrow will be tomato sauce day. Once the kitchen table is cleared a bit I can cut up some peppers and onions to dehydrate and freeze. We also picked another gallon and a half of blueberries this evening.

The chicken shuffle happened this afternoon. We had a bully rooster in the babies' tractor so we went ahead and transferred two of the most bullied roos and the 8 hens from the babies' hoop coop to the big coop. The 3 silkie roos that we have been having problems with have been moved to the new gentlemen's club. The hens followed Keegan around all day. He has laid claim to them all as his now. So much for him fussing about having to take care of my chickens. He even caught each one and put them in the coop tonight. He is amazingly proficient at catching chickens and he made quick work of it. It probably didn't hurt that it got him out of picking blueberries for a while. Hopefully they will learn quickly that they belong there and go back at night on their own soon.

We saw a raccoon in the big oak tree behind the turkey coop last night. We will have to keep a close eye on that situation. The game cam crapped out so I can't set it up to keep an eye out. Brad has been working of fixing it all day.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Just a Note

Mostly for myself so I will remember. I really want to try to keep up with how much produce we produce on the homestead this year. It will be really neat to be able to look back on it at the end of the year. Keegan and I picked a gallon and a half of blueberries this evening. I'm not sure what I'm going to do with them yet, other than standing eating them straight out of the basket, which I may or may not have been doing... They will probably go in the freezer because we are supposed to be going to the you-pick tomorrow and will be overflowing with fresh produce that will need to be put up immediately.

Also, we shampooed the carpets yesterday. Finally! Wow that was hard work. Very much worth it though. A huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014


We finally have some! My amazing father in-law sent my BIL and SIL over with two giant round bales of perfect fluffy hay this morning! I mentioned about a week ago that I desperately needed some for the turkey coop and to mulch the garden with. I really meant old hay that was no longer any good for animal feed. Usually there is left-over hay on the trailer that the cows eat off of or an old forgotten bale sitting in a field somewhere that is decomposing and full of fire ants that I can go and toss into the back of a truck and bring home. I feel guilty for using the hay of dreams for mulch and turkey bedding. I am so grateful though! I feel like it is my birthday or something! It seems silly to be this excited over something like a bale of hay, I know. I have been stressing about needing to mulch the garden and especially about the turkey coop needed bedding for weeks. I also usually have to use any hay I get very sparingly because there is never enough to go around. Never do I get to put such a beautiful thick layer of it where ever I need it and have some to spare!

Needless to say, I spent the entire day mulching the garden. The turkey coop got tended to immediately, of course, but the rest of the day was spent in the garden. I mulched every area that there is something planted and then watered it in well. By the time I was finished I thought that the mosquitoes and and no see-ums were going to carry me away and I wanted nothing more than to get inside and take a shower and some benadryl. I will have to take pictures tomorrow. I am looking forward to sleeping well this evening. That doesn't happen to often lately, as is typical in late pregnancy. I am already struggling to keep my eyes open.

While I was working the guineas made several trips by the garden. I am in the habit of counting them every time I see them to see if I have lost any. There have been 2 missing for a few weeks. I assumed that they were a mated pair and had nested somewhere, but didn't think I would ever see them again. Usually when any birds go missing for more than a night around here it is a guarantee that something ate them over-night and we will never see them again. I was surprised when I counted all 8 guineas. Then I noticed a little brown splotch move by one of their feet. It was a little baby guinea keet! It looks to be a week or two old and is the only one. The little guy sticks close to the group and the group keeps it tightly enclosed in its ranks most of the time. Hopefully it will make it. There are plenty of dangers for little birdies around here. Especially the hawks and snakes. I could hear the resident hawk close by most of the day. Brad took lots of pictures of them and I need to get them off of his camera. Our blue-slate turkey hen has been missing for a couple of weeks as well. I kn ow she was building a nest somewhere, but never found it before she started sitting full-time. I am holding out hope that she, too, will soon come wandering through the yard followed by sweet babies. It is doubtful though. I'll be happy if she come back in one piece, babies or not.

All in all it was a very productive and positive day. Tomorrow has been officially named as d-day. Tomorrow we are renting a shampooer and cleaning all of the carpets. It has been put off for far too long and I must get it done before I'm not able to. It is so daunting because we have a very small living space. I enjoy that most of the time. I won't get off on a rant, but I will just say that I think that people in our country have gotten entirely too out of hand when it comes to huge houses and the vast majority of people in most countries (yes even the highly developed ones) live in much smaller homes with more people per household (think extended family). Stepping off of my soap-box now. Anyway, if I am going to put in the effort I want it done all the way. That means moving the furniture, every piece, and cleaning under it. With a small space it is quite a bit like those square puzzles where you have one empty space and you have to move all of the pieces around and around to solve it. Luckily, I am not allowed to move heavy furniture in my condition so that lot falls to Brad and Keegan. I will be doing all of the vacuuming and shampooing while they shuffle everything around. Tomorrow should be a busy day. I'm looking forward to it being done.

Now, off to bed! Sweet sweet blissful sleep. It has been far too long.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Blueberry Pickin'

Officially commenced tonight! That is, picking for them to be picked, rather than stealing the precious few that could be found to eat on the spot. There weren't many (maybe a pint?) but there were more than I could leave to be devoured by the birds without feeling guilty. Especially after the miserable failure of a garden last year. Anything I can successfully "put up" I need to take advantage of, or else be found wasteful and risk being smited again this year.

Those baskets that we got from picking strawberries are going to come in so handy for picking blueberries! We usually use a variety of bowls or a large plastic strainer that need to be either held in one hand while trying to pull down branches and pick berries with the other, or set on the ground for the greedy chickens and turkeys that are always swarming our feet like little sharks to pilfer from every time we move more than a foot from it. These baskets are light weight, have a handle that can be strung over an arm, and are woven plastic so the warm berries can breath rather than mold if they are left over night. The only thing that could make them better is if they had shoulder straps like they use at real berry farms. Even better, we have 3 of them so each of us can have our own! 

Also of note, our little water barrel/ garden came alive today. For years I had an old wooden half barrel on the corner of the house to prevent a giant rut where the water came off of the roof the hardest. Sadly, when I moved we had to empty it to bring it with us which apparently caused the boards to dry out and come loose. It never held water again and eventually rotted away. My brother somehow became the owner of a GIANT heavy duty plastic flower pot. It is at least hip high to me, and I'm almost 5'10". It was in perfect shape other than the very spotty coat of black spray paint that someone had splattered across half of it. It didn't have drainage holes in it, so every time it rained it filled completely full of water. I immediately envisioned a water garden. My brother collects things that he may be able to use someday (it must run in the family) and he really didn't want to part with it.  Reluctantly, he gifted it to me with the promise that I would get Keegan some fish to put in it. I easily agreed since in order to have anything around here with standing water in it you either have to have something in it to eat mosquito larvae or put poison in it. I don't do poison. 

I bought some lovely green spray paint that adheres well to plastic and Keegan did a fantastic job of painting it. I figured it would be just the job for him. Artistic and creative, with a bit of a destructive feel to it. He dug out the elephant ear plant that I planted under the rain spout in January, and moved it out enough to put the planter on the other side of it. We added some fish tank rocks and sea shells that I had been saving to give the fish a bit of texture in the bottom. Finally, he leveled it well and filled it. After all of his hard work, today we took Keegan to get some fish. We got 20 Comet Goldfish. They are the little fish that they give away at the fair when you play that game where you throw the ping pong balls at a tiny bowl of water for like $5 a shot. Those things are tough little fish. My mom was telling me earlier today that she read that they can live over 20 years if properly cared for. I have had some live at least 5 years to be over 6 inches long. They sell them for like $0.20 at the pet store as feeder fish for small snakes and such. These ones will be put to work to earn their keep, but will hopefully live a long and productive life. Like all of the animals here. I am going to buy some kind of floating aquatic plants very soon to help provide them a bit of shade and to help oxygenate the water. I will use the water out of the barrel to water and provide nutrients (supplied by the fish waste and algae) to the nearby plants, which will be replenished by the rain from the roof. The roof is metal so there will be no harmful chemicals from it harbored in the water. I hope it will be a perfect system. Regardless, seeing the pretty little fish swimming around makes me smile. 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Progress Report

It amazes me how hardy and fast growing these gourds are! I haven't been watering or caring for them at all. They look all wilted during the heat of the day, but then at it cools in the evening they perk back up.
They have big white flowers that bloom at night. I'm assuming that they are pollinated by moths. Interesting plants. I'm curious to see which type these gourds turn out to be. I planted a lot of different types last year and apparently one got tossed in the compost at some point, but I don't know which.
 I finally (mostly) cleared the entire garden. I'm not sure if I am going to plant anything else until fall crops start going in. At least it is clear.
 I (very sheepishly) admit that I have been doing most of the "weeding" with the weed-eater. Having the issues with the sciatic nerve, and having a big pregnant belly, has made it difficult to bend. Or rather, difficult to straighten back up after bending. I hand weed between individual plants while I am watering and checking on things, but the paths and edges are done with my trusty weed-eater.
I tied tomatoes again last night. Some are so tall that they are sticking up above the fence. The t-posts are 8ft tall and are probably 1-1.5ft in the ground so they are at least 6.5ft tall. The plants in the middle of the row are bigger and healthier than the ones on the outside edges. The soil is better there. Hopefully with continued amending it will even out eventually.
 Twining the vines vertically with t-shirt fabric has (so far) been working wonderfully! It has allowed me to direct them to less crowded areas. It gives the vines plenty of support. I'm not sure how things are going to go with the vines that grow higher than the fence. No ripe tomatoes yet. I'm still waiting patiently.
 The peppers and broccoli are doing well. Especially the peppers. I had to stake the larger plants because either the wind or the chickens have been knocking them down. The broccoli has had some issues with cabbage worms. I have been picking them manually, but may need to spray them soon. So far I have used no form of insect control other than observation and hand picking this year. I have seen a few stink bugs which worries me because those and aphids were the downfall of my garden last year.
The cucumbers are starting to do well! They are even flowering. I'm looking forward to fresh cucumbers from the garden.
 The corn is starting to really grow as well. This area still needs to be weeded. I can only do small areas at a time, but slowly it gets done.
The beans have reached the top of the arbor. My hope is that next they will fill out and get thicker to completely cover the fencing. These are rattlesnake pole beans. The butter beans are not growing as well. I still have not gotten the last pole bean arbor put together, but the beans in that area are up already and looking for something to climb.
The butternut squash are starting to climb (with my help) up their arbor. They are looking thick and beautiful! Some even had small blooms on them.
The baby chickens are moving in their tractor behind the peach trees and are heading behind the little garden soon. It will be time to add the females to the big coop soon and allow the males more room to grow out.
The last few days have brought a few ripe blueberries! Not a lot of them. Just enough to snack on while standing under the bush.  Very soon we will be spending a couple of hours every other evening picking gallons of berries before the birds get them. Keegan has been dreading it for weeks already. It is very time consuming and can be boring and mosquito ridden work.
These little beauties make it worth while though! He will forget when he gets his first fresh blueberry cobbler, pie, or fresh berries over ice cream. MmMmMm blueberries....

Saturday, June 7, 2014


I read this blog post on the Grit Magazine page today and it really struck a cord. I love it! I have had so many conversations like this with people about raising my own meat. I wish I could have expressed my side this well all of those times. She explained it is such a simple, calm, and easily understandable way. I tend to get agitated quickly and then lose my ability to reason. It is just so difficult... really impossible, to explain to some people that I'm not crazy or cruel. That I do it because I don't condone animal cruelty and want cleaner, healthier meat for my family. No matter what I say to some people it is still impossible for them to comprehend. They argue, "but at least none of the meat at the store had a face" or  "but the grocery store is so much cleaner than a farm". They think I should buy my meat from the nearest superstore where no animals were killed or harmed or anything. "What?! That pork actually came from a pig?! Huh?! That hamburger moo'ed at some point?! Not the one I got at the drive-thru....". In their eyes, the pig that I raised from a little piglet shouldn't be put to death because it is an animal. But it doesn't seem to bother them that while this animal lived a happy healthy life rooting in the dirt and running in the sun, free of abuse and not pumped full of hormones and antibiotics, that the pigs that would take its place if I bought that pork from the store live terrible lives, died horrible deaths, and on top of that the meat can just outright be dangerous for your health. Out of sight, out of mind. It really just makes me want to shake my head and say " That's right. I hate animals. That's why I devote all of my time, money, and energy making sure they live a happy, healthy life. How could I do such a terrible thing?!" I agree that raising and processing your own meat is not for the faint of heart and not everyone is cut out for it. Personally, I never would have thought I could do it. I was the teenager that wanted to rescue the dissection frogs in biology and literally tied myself to a tree so it couldn't be cut down. I am so emotional about the subject because it isn't easy for me. People assume I am unfeeling, but I feel for every single animal we process. It is a process where-in the whole family will laugh, cry, scream, want to rip our hair out, and have our heart break completely. I love each baby that I start with and agonize with every decision I make for them. I worry about the safety and well-being of each one every day. I get attached.  I just decided that my discomfort with the process doesn't give me an excuse to let animals suffer. Just because I don't think about it doesn't meant it isn't happening. I decided to suck it up and deal with the situation. I admit, I am a control freak so I do it myself so I know it will be done right. Some people just can't. But that doesn't mean you can't buy it from someone who can. Don't think it matters? I promise it does. And that isn't even getting into the health issues surrounding it. In the end, I love it and wouldn't have it any other way. It has made my life so much more full and worth living.

Want more info? It can be found everywhere, but I encourage everyone to watch Food Inc. and Fresh, The Movie. The are probably almost completely responsible for getting the ball rolling for Sunflower Hill Homestead.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Growin', Growin', Growin'

Everything here is growing. Mostly the grass... But other more useful stuff too. And much cuter things. Like little Liam who is getting big and healthy. He is, in turn, making me grow too, which makes everything more difficult. It is completely worth every second, but has been a bit painful lately. Apparently, I have pinched my sciatic nerve. I've had issues with it before but never knew what it was. I have scoliosis and had to learn to stand a different way and not be too hard on myself to prevent it from bothering me too much. Pregnancy and a changing body doesn't make that possible. Brad and Keegan have been doing all of the heavy lifting... and a lot of the bending over and picking up of things.

The rain has finally stopped for the time being. The heat and humidity has remained. I have been trying to get stuff done inside. I have been systematically going from room to room and deep cleaning. All of the windows are done inside and out. With our old style storm windows that is a real chore and doesn't get done as often as it should. It looks so nice when they are all clean though! All of the curtains and blinds have been washed. Shelves have been emptied, cleaned, and organized. Things are looking pretty good! Keegan has been helping a lot. I made a list that was supposed to be for me, but he has been working on it too to gain extra video game time. I don't like him playing for extended periods of time and not moving or looking away from the tv. When his time runs out if he wants to play some more he picks something off of the list to do to earn more time. He has also been reading a lot. He is working on Ender's Game right now. I am trying to convince him to read The Giver. It is one of my favorites from when I was younger. The you-pick fields officially opened yesterday. I'm trying to control the insane urge I have to go immediately. I need to finish my to-do lists before I start something else! More convincingly, not everything is ready right when they open. Hopefully I can hold off for at least a week... I may have some kind of strange veggie picking addiction.

 Here are my three completed bean/squash arbors. The 4th will hopefully be completed soon. I love the bright sunshiny color! I think they will be beautiful once they are covered in green vines. Most of the beds they are straddling have yet to be planted. I have been putting feed bags over them to keep them weed free until then.
 Some of the Rattlesnake Pole Beans are already twining up the arbor.
The butternut squash is looking good too. It will be time to start tying them up soon.

The remaining carrots have started blooming. They have surprisingly big,  big pretty flowers. I am going to collect seed from them before I clear that bed.

Some volunteer gourds have come up in the compost pile. The vines are big and healthy and have big white blooms on them in the evening. It amazes me how little care gourds need.

Something has been digging in my cucumbers! UGH! These are the ones I have replanted 3 times! I suspect the chickens. Fixing the faulty electric fence charger has moved higher up on Brad's to-do list. Naughty chickens...

Some of the cucumbers are up and healthy looking. Hopefully there will be enough for pickles.
 The tomatoes are looking great! I tied them up again yesterday and checked them for insect damage. Only a couple of plants had been chewed on. I picked two huge tomato horn worms off of them. It is ridiculous the amount of damage a single horn worm can do to a plant. Total devastation in a couple of days. I think I caught it in time to save those two plants.

The peppers are looking big and healthy too, but they are showing damage from some sort of chewing insect. I looked but didn't see the culprit. The neighboring broccoli has identical holes. I am going to keep a close eye on them and perhaps spray them down with soapy cayenne water.

The corn is up, although you can barely see it in this pic. It isn't looking quite as healthy as I would like, despite the hole for each seed being dug deeply and amended with compost. I'm considering adding compost tea and some more mulch and see how that works. I really need a bale of hay!

The kale from last fall is still doing great. Now that the chickens have other green things to eat I have actually been able to enjoy some myself. I have been harvesting a giant bunch of new leaves about once a week and sauteing it with dinner.

Tabby, our oldest Bourbon Red turkey hen, has gone broody. Luckily, she chose an amazing spot! She is in the fenced in bottom portion of the chicken coop. She is safe from predators, on the ground so her babies won't fall out of the nest, and close to food and water so she doesn't have to leave her nest for long to eat and drink. If she won't do it in her own coop this is the best alternative. Tallow, our Blue Slate hen, on the other hand, is nesting somewhere else. I haven't figured out where yet. She shows up every morning but sneaks off again before I can follow her. Hopefully she won't be eaten for being so stubborn...

Being broody seems to be a recurring theme around here. These two girls have been especially stubborn. I move them out of the nesting box at least once a day. They fluff up and fuss and then head right back. I'm not worried enough about it to go to extreme measures. I just hope they don't get too hot in there.

Some of the flowers we have blooming around here at the moment. Day-lilies, Canna-lilies, and Gardenias.

The baby chickens say hello.

We are going to have a blueberry explosion any day now! None ripe yet, but I keep checking every day.
Just me, and my shaaaaadows....
 Everything on Sunflower Hill is just peachy :)