Regardless of the everlasting winter

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You know that expression “spring has sprung” ?  It is alive and well on my homestead! As it has happened for the many springs I have lived here, it is happening again. The many types of spring bulbs are rising above the soil waiting for their very own perfect day to emerge. Which is always a delight. The chickens are starting to increase their egg production. This is very much appreciated after their extremely slow production, which started much earlier this past late summer than in years past.  The maple trees are budding out, and the maple sap is flowing, which attracts a variety of insects. Unfortunately, our honey bees did not make it, so we do not have the pleasure of seeing them foraging on the maple’s sap or the Leather Leaf Mahonia’s lemon scented blossoms.

Another early sign of spring here in the mid Atlantic region is  the emergence of the red fox. I have not seen the red fox yet, but I am quite sure it has awakened from its winter slumber. How could I possibly know? The nose of a Great Dane mix, that is how. Lucy, my mixed Dane, which we do not know what else she is mixed with, has been bursting out of the door in the morning. I recognize her behavior from years past when we have had fox scouting the chicken yard for a way in.  Lucy runs around the yard following the fox’s invisible movements in the yard.  A dog’s nose is truly amazing! She will linger in a spot before moving on. I wonder what she could be “reading” with that amazing nose of hers? At times in her “senses quest” her hackles will raise. Curious. Even with a dog such as Lucy on alert, the brave and hungry fox will be so bold as to enter the fenced yard during the daytime to pluck a chicken from its seemingly secure foraging grounds.

Lucy

Lucy the fox scout

My Danes are family dogs that live indoors with us. Yet being dogs, they have their innate sense of purpose. Danes were originally bred for guarding the estate as well as boar hunting. Seeing as we do not have boars to hunt in our mid Atlantic region, they will have to just stick to one purpose. They do a fine job, mostly, of estate guarding. They would love to keep the delivery people off the property, as well as any stray animals: squirrels, groundhogs, foxes, and dogs or cats that do not belong to the family.

praying mantis casing

Praying Mantis casing

During all this garden cleaning I needed to move my Jasmine vine. It had become too “pushy” with the side of my house. I would rather not have it move the wood we nailed in place. In doing so, I found 4 praying mantis casings. I have given 3 away and moved the other to a spot under my evergreens. It is truly amazing when you stop using chemicals on your land what insects can be found with enough time to establish themselves. We have a plethora of praying mantis here. They are a sight to behold. As well as study.

snow cardinal

Snow Cardinal

Yet another late winter snow. I have to say the cardinals do look amazing all fluffed out with the snow falling around them! I am happy to report that if you keep the seed coming all year round they know you are a place to keep coming back to. And we sure do love it.

 

 

apple tree

Apple Trees

I bought some apples that were local, organic, and heirloom. The children and I loved them. So I thought, we can grow apples, perhaps not so well as our northern neighbors, but they are the most important element to me in the fruit itself. So without haste I decided, “Lets give it a go!” So here we go. Did I mention from time to time that I find gardening/homesteading to be an ongoing science experiment?

It’s not safe to be a rooster

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When my husband and I started keeping chickens, many moons ago, our first flock of chickens was a “straight run” which  means a mix of females, or hens, and males, or roosters.  With the intention of making the roosters into roasters when they were old enough. And we did just that.

roosters to become roasters

Roosters to become roasters

This spring we had 5 chicks hatch out in our flock. Of course, as it is in nature, it is a roll of the dice as to which gender one will be born. This time around, the roosters came up on top with 3 to the hens 2. I would have perfered it the other way around, but you get what you get and there are no exchanges allowed. My family enjoys eating chicken so the roosters will come in handy when it is dinner time.

It would have been ideal to cull the roosters several weeks ago while they were 6 months old as their meat becomes tougher with age and we are limited on our ways to cook them. You know the expression “tough old bird”, well it’s true the older the bird the tougher the meat. So preparing the birds as actual roasters was no longer an option. Eastern North Carolina style pulled chicken bar-b-que it is!!! I don’t care to eat the land dwellers very often, I’m much more a fish eater, but Eastern North Carolina pulled bar-b-que is one of the exceptions for me. Into the crock pot after being rubbed with hickory salt and paprika. Of course when the meat is finished it will be tossed in a vinegar and crushed red pepper dressing.

After my husband culled and dressed the roosters he parted them up to easily fit into the crock pot. The remaining parts such as the skin, feet, organs and necks went in water on the stove to be cooked into broth. This is for sure the most concentrated broth I have ever made. Great for soup bases!

broth

broth

Upon taking the lid off of the pot to have a peek in, my daughter of nearly 10 years exclaimed, “it looks like we are monsters!” I would guess someone who has never made chicken broth from scratch would think just that. I can assure you we are not monsters but homesteaders who are doing our best to be self-sustaining!

The back of the chicken has meat as well. Not the easiest piece of the chicken to pick for sure, but none the less, being frugal as I am, worth picking. Lastly, the main course and main reason for growing the rooster up for 6-8 months, to be culled and turned into whatever our hearts desired. This time:

steaming hot Eastern North Carolina bar-b-que

steaming hot Eastern North Carolina bar-b-que

Precious time

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tomato plant in back yard

tomato plant in back yard

tiger swollow tail

tiger swallowtail

toad

toad

luna moth

luna moth

The older I get the more I understand how precious time is. Some of my family members love to sleep. I prefer the waking world. The morning, in particular, especially while everyone else is asleep. There are so many options in the morning, many more than there are in the afternoon or evening.
Take the luna moth for an example. It has no mouth. It’s sole purpose, in the adult moth form, is to find a mate, breed, and lay eggs. It only lives as an adult for about 1 week. I have been fortunate this year to have seen three. They are magnificent creatures with their impressive wing span and their unmistakable color.
Another exciting event for us on the homestead this early spring was the courtship of the toads. They were singing their beautiful courtship song for what I thought was a short period of time, perhaps 3-4 days. This, before enticing a mate into the pond for a brief courtship, mating, and many, many eggs. This entire process from song to eggs only lasted, what seemed 2 weeks. We eagerly watched the eggs waiting for the inevitable tadpoles. Which, again, seemed so fast to emerge from their eggs. But, alas, time slowed. We watched and watched, waiting for the tadpoles to grow legs. It seemed for weeks, perhaps months, that the tadpoles just stayed the exact same size. Hummmm, what’s this? Time has really slowed now. The children lost interest, and honestly, I don’t know what happened to the tadpoles. We haven’t seen them in some time now.

If I am cutting up tomatoes and the chickens are free ranging in the back yard,  I will open the kitchen window and just throw the tomato scraps out. So country sounding, huh? But convenient and practical. That’s me!  And low-and-behold, a rouge tomato plant pops up. Good thing for leaving the grass long. I just love these sorts of surprises around our homestead!

You know you have a healthy environment when you have toads.  A photo of a toad  my kids found, handled, and replaced back to the garden. Sometimes we find them as large as my fist. Very impressive!

I picked up an unknown plant from a plant swap at least 5 years ago. I came to know it as Jeruselum artichoke. Apparently grown in the colonial days for their roots, which are used like potatoes, as they are a tubers. I have not tried them yet. Mostly because I have used them in my garden for their amazing gift of attracting butterfly and bees. Bumble bees seem to be more interested than honey bees in the artichoke. It is a sight to behold to see the astonishing amount of bees and butterfly enjoying the flowers. It would be almost criminal for me to cut the flowers to bring into the house, seeing how the winged beauties treasure this flower so. I must share, and I do share, with the creatures that help to make this all possible on my homestead.

tomato love!

tomato love!

Isn’t this really why we gardeners, dabblers, homesteaders, & farmers alike have the passion for growing our own foods?!  I can tell you a heirloom tomato most defineitly hits my top 3 picks for the all-time most treasured foods to grow.

I know it’s the end of summer now and I am just now posting something. But as the title goes, time is precious, and I’ve been in the gardens!

A high price to pay

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I have been keeping chickens for over seven years now. This year I have been hit the hardest by predators. The toll is at 11 birds, leaving me with 32 at my last count.   I need to recount today, seeing as how I believe we had a “near” hit.

It was just before 6am and I was in bed; I think I was asleep, but perhaps not.  I heard my chickens becoming hysterical, and so did my Great Danes. I jumped to the floor and dashed down the stairs just in time to see the fox clearing the wild roses growing over the four foot fence in the back yard. This I have not seen yet; that is, the fox clearing the fence bordering a good bit of our back yard. My husband had witnessed this a few weeks ago. I walked outdoors to get a better look at the chicken yard and to see if I could tell what, if anything, had happened. The chickens where mostly still in the chicken coop. And boy did they have the alarm sounding! (If you keep chickens you know the exact sound I am talking about) They were no longer hysterical, but were on high alert. What I saw was the full size door that enters into the chicken coop pushed open with the pop door that has the timer set to open and close at certain times still closed . Unless my children did not fully pull the full size door shut after gathering the eggs the day before, this was not easy for the fox to push the  big door open. I have to push on it very hard to open it when fully shut. The fox must have entered the coop because all the chickens were “hunkered” down looking to the entry at ground level. The poor girls in the nesting boxes nearest the door even had their heads pulled in as close to their bodies as they could. Walking the perimeter of the chicken yard I could only see a few feathers that looked out of place. Strange as it may seem, I can tell by the way feathers are clumped together or laying near one another if they were pulled out or fallen naturally. There was a group of feathers that looked suspicious. There was no hole dug under the 6′ fence that rings the chicken yard. There appeared to be no obvious way the fox could have gotten into the yard. Could the fox have jumped or climbed the fence? Now, that would be a task to climb the fence, but perhaps jumping could have happened. The fox looked to have cleared the 4′ fence with ease, so why not the 6′ fence with the reward of a chicken breakfast on the other side? After my inspection of the chicken yard perimeter, I stood looking and pondering the possibilities when off in the “wild” part of the back of my yard I heard a fox pup calling out. Probably to see why it’s chicken breakfast was taking so long to be delivered.

The feathers that I was speaking of that seemed out of place to me had their owner show up outside of the chicken yard in the main back yard. Thank the stars she was alive and walking around, appearing to be unharmed. I retrieved the chicken net and scooped her up.  I brought her back into what I had thought was the secure chicken yard, looked her over and let her go. She didn’t appear to have any injures. Hummmm. Had the fox taken her over the fence and dropped her? Doubt the fox would have dropped her. Had the chicken been out in the main yard all night and she started walking around when she saw me? She didn’t seem to be upset or on guard. I can tell you all the chickens in the coop sure were upset. I did not take inventory of the chickens when I looked into the chicken coop, as I should have. They are much easier to count when they are still and on their perches. But my mind was on a mission to try to puzzle out what had occurred just minutes before. Once again, I do not have a complete or even a partial answer to the fox and the chicken mystery.

chicken yard

chicken yard

Americana-the chicken that got away

Americana-the chicken that got away

This is just the latest of the many unanswered questions of what happened to my chicken. The only thing I can think to do is reinforce the chicken fence. Which will be:  extend the height of the 6′ fence and attach chicken wire to the 6′ fence at ground level, securing it with garden staples.

The hens’ egg production has fallen off. I’m sure it is partly because we are approaching summer and partly because they have been harassed so often from the fox, or whatever other predator, that their bodies are out of natural rhythm.

This is such a difficult situation. I love keeping chickens and am obligated to keeping them safe and healthy, of course. And I also love and respect nature and wild animals. Clearly the foxes, and whoever else is taking and killing my chickens, are doing so out of a need to eat. This I can understand. But I am not keeping chickens in order to supplement the wildlife in my area, so off I go to reinforce the yard. Wish me luck!

Funny thought…

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Today I had a funny thought about other people’s perception of me. This is not something I think of often. I was blessed with an amazing family that made me feel that I was a valuable person, so I do not often wonder what others think of me. What an amazing gift!

That being said, I had this thought, and it had to do with my thriftiness. As you can imagine, if you are not a homesteader or a person from a thrifty background, using shredded paper for my hens’ bedding would seem absurdly frugal.  It is a normal practice for me. Think back to a time in your life when you used  paper for art projects, and then think of my hens’ eggs newly laid on newspaper print. By the way, the eggs are wet.

paper transfer

paper transfers

Shall I write an explanation on these cartons of eggs: “Please disregard the appearance of the “tattooed” eggs, thrifty homesteader handled these chickens and eggs”?  I think that may set it straight.

Easter egg tree

Easter egg tree

Wanted to show an amazing way to support the egg craft. Many years ago we went to Eastern Europe. Coming home, we bought these beautifully hand crafted eggs. And, several years later my husband blew out eggs for the children to paint to enhance the tree. I think it looks pretty darn complete!

By the way, my very handy & talented husband made the “tree”. It’s original purpose is a hat & glove drying rack.

As things begin to change.

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Leatherleaf Mahonia

Leatherleaf Mahonia

As I last posted in, “Can You Feel It”, things are changing more rapidly here in the mid-Atlantic region of Maryland.   The bees are flying and looking for whatever can be found. Lucky for me, my dear father planted Leatherleaf Mahonia at least 18 yrs. ago. It is one of the first plants to flower and attracts the honey bees on a warm day on my homestead. If you do not know these plants, let me tell you a few things I enjoy about them. They have a holly look (and feel! ouch!), but more in an asymmetrical way. The plant tends to lean this way, then go that way, open here, then close up there. You have the picture. It’s interesting to look at. A very broad leaf that is smooth and glossy. My favorite part, that only lasts for a short time, of about 3 weeks in the early spring:  the tiny lemon, yes lemon, scented flowers. What a treat in the dull, dreary times of February! And as I said, the honey bees just love them.

Initially,  I thought it was 2 of my orginal chicken coop hatchlings of 4-ish yrs ago, that where setting. It appears that one of the triplets isn’t ready for the grueling 21+ day challenge. And, that is if the eggs don’t break. If you are wondering what I am talking about it’s the old girls that are setting, a.k.a, wanting to be Mommas, trying to hatch out eggs.

setting girls

Setting girls

This process is not for the wimps for sure. 21+ days of sitting on the eggs. Setting is actually the “proper” term.  And I do mean “sitting” on the eggs. These girls only get up 1x a day. Really, 1x!! Can you imagine?! They get up to eat,drink,stretch there legs, and defecate. During their tiny time off the nest a funny thing occurs. Other hens lay eggs in the box. I do not know for sure, because as of now I do not speak chicken fluently, but it appears that it’s a “hot spot” to lay eggs. Could it be, that as I have witnessed from years of experience, that there is the mentality of, “hey! there are other eggs here, here’s a good spot!” ?  Or, do the other hens knowingly feel that there is life starting here so lets try to get our eggs hatched? Can’t say, just know they are silly like that.

Tending to all that needs -to -be-done around here is different for all seasons. Sometimes it’s messy, sometimes just cold. So what to do when they meet? For me, dress for both. Trust me, I would not go out in public dressed like this unless I was going to the farm store. They all understand there. But I live very close to the D.C. Metro area, and they really don’t understand here! So I take off the boots that are just under my knees and take off the canvas coat, which is great for repelling water etc., and go out to do my “regular people” things. Kinda like a secret agent, huh?!

chilly me

chilly me

Can you feel it?

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It is coming whether we acknowledge it or not. Spring of course, is what I am referring to. I can tell because the hens are really “pouring it on” , as far as laying goes, that is. And the roosters….well, let’s say they are becoming more frisky. Poor hens!

washed eggs

newly washed eggs

Look at all the amazing shapes, sizes, and colors! Can’t find those in a carton in the grocery store. I have a mix of hybrid hens, contemporary hens, and heritage hens. Can’t say I’m in love with the hybrid girls. (Don’t tell them I said that!) They lay the most “grocery store” type of egg. Well, that is what they are bred for. So, my mix is truly fun. Sometimes the eggs are oblong. Other times round. And if you weren’t aware, those “malformed” eggs are off to become the “ready-made” eggs, or to the bakeries, because we must never see them in their imperfect form! Heaven forbid!!

So I say YAY! to imperfect eggs! Happy eating!