The upward movement of spring

Spring has sprung and we are all feeling it. Some, I am sad to say, have allergies, so they feel it in a different way. The happy blissful way I feel it is in the wakening of the earth. Apparently so do my children. Walking down to the bus stop one morning my daughter of 11 years said, “look, the tree’s are waking up, isn’t it beautiful?” This was of course, music to my ears! She was referring to the bright green new leaves, which at this point are nearly fully flushed out.

One of my most favorite colors in the world, which occurs in my yard nearest the wood line during early spring, is the color of newly emerging grass. I would describe this color as emerald green. The blades of grass are so tender and supple. They actually shine they are so radiant with new life. As it should be for new life with vibrant  health. No wonder that new life is arriving now.  The good Mother does have a plan!

Rain showers are still with us. This is good. Nothing like a good long steady soaking rain. We received over 2.5″ (probably more) in about three days.This is not too much for me. I should be able to get back to planting in the next few day. I need to give the rain a few days to soak in fully. Just the perfect amount of rain to pull any lingering weeds.

One of my most favorite weeding tools, the stir-up hoe. So very effective when the soil is soft. Thank you rain for that. Easy tool to use, push or pull it just below the soils surface. It cuts the weed off. Most of the time I can simply leave the weed laying there to decompose in that spot. Perfect!  A word of advice, make sure the blade stays sharp so you will not have to work extra hard. If you have not worked with a dull tool before give it a go, just to see the difference, or take my advice and keep it sharp. A word of caution about this tool, it works! Be mindful of the plants that may be emerging around where you are working. It is so very easy to get overly zealous and cut down plants you were not intending to cut down. I would recommend looking a little ahead of where you are getting ready to use the hoe, just like when driving.

The stir-up hoe was one of the gifts my dear father seemed to really appreciate that I gave him. It’s difficult to give a gadget guy something they haven’t already purchased for himself. I truly felt a feeling of accomplishment when my dad, a retired (only by means of people not paying him) landscaper, found my gift of a weeding tool was a new treasure.

I can not say what exactly happen this winter with the honey bee’s. It seemed that one colony lived and the other, well, perhaps died and was taken over by a swarm. I have lost a fair share of colonies over the past eight years. Not sure why they have all died, but it looked to me that these girls may have starved to death. Many of them had their faces and part of their bodies “stuck” in the comb. Poor dears, what a way to go!

capped honey

capped honey and pollen with bee’s hard at work

My friend, Veronica, husband Tim, and I harvested about ten pounds of honey from just four frames. The next day we placed the harvested frames back into the honey super. Hope we will have more to harvest in July!

The bee’s seem to be doing well. Fingers crossed we will have gentle showers, as not to wash all the pollen and nectar out of the flowers so that the bee’s can do what they do now for their winter life.

All the little things add up

All the little signs of spring  are now emerging on my homestead, with winter finally at an end. The enormous maple tree in our back yard has sap seeping from its grayish brown bark. I find it very interesting that it is only the southern side of the tree that the bark seeps sap. This has been the case every spring that I have taken note, which is quite some time now. It appears that there is a shadow on the bark. One could be fooled that this is the case if you are not observant, like I am, of the tiny subtleties of spring. Another indicator of the sap flow, is the activity on the bark. There are many different type of insects that come to dine on the sap; insects as small as tiny pollinating flies to honey bees. It is a mysterious world of the insect that I get to observe,for just a fleeting time, for which I am grateful.

The Leather Leaf Mahonia flowers are just appearing. A small bright yellow flower, with an amazingly pungent lemon sent. This flower calls mostly honey bees. It is truly amazing how the bees can find and  are attracted to something so small. It will be only a short time before the lemon scented blueberry flowers awaken to their spring calling. Then the peach flowers will follow the blueberry flowers. On and on it will go. This has been the pattern on my homestead for some time now. It will be interesting, as I add new variety of plants to our edible landscaping, to observe how the order will change.

While I take time to observe the honey bees on warm days, I notice they will be carrying bright orange and bright yellow pollen on their pollen baskets. I would imagine this is pollen taken from the local nurseries stock of Easter lilies. Thankfully for my bees there is a nursery about one mile down the road from me. This will give them a consistent supply of pollen and nectar in the early days of spring before Mother Nature has come into full swing.



Let us not forget one of my heart’s delights, the flowers! My children and I planted about fifty crocus bulbs two falls ago. These beauties are peeping their green tiny tips through the mulch. Yet another observation I notice is that the crocus flowers keep going once they immerge, slow and steady. Where as the daffodil and tulip flowers immerge, but then pause for some time with only the beginnings of growth. It seems to be a few months no less, that they are waiting for their time to bloom. I am still waiting to see the bright green beginnings of new plant growth sprinkled throughout the woods,  as well as the slender emerald-green tender shoots of the new grass that grows close to the woods. Something about this new brilliantly colored grass is just as pleasing for me as the colorful flowers are.

back-up in the nesting boxes

back-up in the nesting boxes


Momma & 5 newborn chicks

Momma & 5 newborn chicks

Let’s not forget the chickens. Their egg production is in full swing it appears. Even though the weather is not what we would consider ideal quite yet, these girls know it is nearly spring and are producing eggs abundantly. The chicks I got back in the summer have just started laying last month. It’s funny how their eggs are small to start out with. It should be a few months when their eggs are full size.

I hope the newly laying hens will hold off wanting to set, (sit on their eggs to hatch the eggs) until next year. I have found that some of my new hens are compelled to set. I have also found they do not have the patience and or understanding when they are young to set with the same clutch of eggs through the twenty one day waiting period. This results on partially formed chicks that are abandoned. Not good.

When a hen does decide to set , I have to mark several of the eggs for her to keep for the entire twenty one days. Because when the time comes for her to get up and eat, drink, stretch her legs,  and defecate for the measly twenty minutes in a day, inevitably other hens will decide to lay in the very same nesting box. While gathering the daily eggs, my children will need to pick the setting hen up and check under her to see if she has unmarked eggs in with her marked eggs. It is, I would say, about a 97% chance that there will be unmarked eggs with her. So it is a little extra work for us, but well worth it when there is a doting mother hen with her tiny new chicks in the yard.

Lastly, what is heard in the early beginnings of spring rather than seen, Spring Peepers. Yes, the small but very boisterous sounding frogs that live in boggy areas. Or in my case two males that live in our pond. Just down the road from me is a corn field that has a low area. After all this rain and melting snow we have had it is no wonder there is water pooled in it. The day was warm so I had my car window down. To my delight I heard the very first chorus of Spring Peepers singing their beautiful mating songs. It is truly just around the corner now- Spring you are a very welcome season to welcome in!

It’s inevitable

We have all heard it before, you can’t live forever. I know this, but to live it, well, that is just something entirely different. We all knew my wonderful father, Jim Ralston, was not going to live much longer. He was suffering from a terribly fast paced lung disease. One that was taking his breath to the point that he could not walk across the room without needing to “catch” his breath. It seems so terribly cruel for a man who had some of the strongest set of lungs anyone could ever wanted. My father was an amazing musician. The voice on him could be heard singing houses away while he sat on the back porch playing his guitar and singing. This was a nightly occurrence, if weather permitted. One that was not entirely appreciated  as a young person. Thankfully I came to know what a talented person my father was. I had the pleasure of singing with him weekly at church and for a occasional wedding or a public function. My dad influenced many people to pursue their own dreams of singing and or playing music.

This terrible disease known as, pulmonary fibrosis , stripped my Dad of his ability to sing. I asked him why he didn’t still play the guitar, he answered, “it’s no fun playing the guitar if I can’t sing too”. I know people who would have given their right eye to be able to  play the guitar like my Dad. Apparently they were like peanut butter and jelly to him. Can’t have one without the other. He loved PBJ’s too!

James A. Ralston

Jim A. Ralston with pruner in hand.

Another one of my Dad’s great talents was landscaping. We use to joke when I lived at home that he needed to move on to the neighbor’s yard. He had done all that he could with our 1/4 acre lot in the suburbs. My parents eventually did start a landscaping business. Many homes around the Bowie area still have the gorgeous landscaping my father installed for them.

The love of plants and the love of being outdoors is one of the passions I inherited from my Dad. His love fell on the side of beautiful landscapes and hardscapes. I very much appreciate that as well, but  for me the love is in the medicinal and culinary purposes of a plant. Though I do love to grow flowers that are non eatable.

Some how it just seems completely natural to me to be able to identify plants. People are often surprised how many plants I can identify. This I thank my father for. One of the other many things to be thankful for that my father instilled in me is the love of working with my hands. I love to get my hands dirty from hard work that will produce whatever it is I was looking for in the work. A newly pruned tree or shrub, a cleanly edged garden bed, tomato plants tied to the support, or a weed free garden. Trust me the list could go on and on!



This has been a very difficult week, to say the least.


Last week my beautiful rooster, Prince, was less active  than usual. Some thing I always keep an  eye out for with my chickens. My husband said, “he’s probably cold”. This you would think would be the case since the temperatures were barely leaving the 20’s, but the chickens definitely do not seem to mind the cold nearly as much as we do. They will lift a foot and tuck it under their body when it is real cold. Or they will tuck their head in closer to their body. Besides that, life continues as normal for them during the winter.

I hate to say it but my observation was correct. Prince was on his way to the other place we will all eventually journey to. For Prince I hope it will be a place with no predators, fresh clean water, all the feed any chicken could ever want, pastures to hunt for insects, hens to watch over, and a clean safe roost for the night. Prince went to his pasture heaven January 12, 2015 just one day after my Dad left his physical body to go to the next realm.

My wise retired Hospice nurse Mother has said for many years, “death is part of life.” This is so very true. Rest in peace my dearly missed father for one day, hopefully in the distant future I will happily be with you forever again.

Who doesn’t love baby chicks?

It’s that year again. The one that is both a happy time and sad. The happy being the part where I order baby chick’s. The sad, knowing some of my girls will have to go to the great pasture in the sky.

Being a homesteader I am practical. People ask me, ” Don’t you get attached to your chickens?” Why they ask is due to the time to cull, or kill, the old hens or young roosters. My reply, ” I don’t have time to become attached to them.” I’m a homesteader , but have a job that takes me away from the house 3 to 4 days a week. When I am home, I have an endless list of things I need to get to. The first time a friend from my work place came to visit she exclaimed, “I thought I had a lot to do at home, how do you ever leave here and come to work?” Let me tell you there are times when I am driving into work that I have to tell myself, to be present in the moment, that I am here now, that the endless list of things at home will still be there waiting. (That’s why I don’t want to leave home in the first place!)
Part of the being practical is knowing that the hens I have for egg production have a time period for most productive egg laying. After that time period, which is about 4 years for the hybrid hens and 5 years for the heritage hens, they will become stew birds.
I must say I do have a few favorites among my heritage girls. I may keep a few of them around. Depends on how I feel after getting the new batches of chicks. I had to order the layers from My Pet Chicken this time because McMurray Hatchery, who I almost always purchase my layers from, is sold out of most of the heritage breeds I wanted. I did order 28 meat birds from McMurray to come the week after my layers arrive. I am going to raise them all together seeing as how they will have nearly the same requirements for several weeks. That is until the meat birds start to “take off” in their growth. At that time I will need to separate the meat birds from the layers because the feed will need to be changed for the meat birds since they will be growing very quickly.
This year I am mixing up the meat birds. I am getting what is called the BBQS straight run. Straight run meaning both male and female chickens, so there will be different sized chickens when they are ready for culling and processing. This is a possible mix between the Cornish X Rock and the Cornish Roaster, which I have not tried yet. My husband loved the Cornish X Rock birds we got for the first time last fall. Myself being the main care taker of the birds was not pleased with them. The reason being they are a man made hybrid bird, the same type you get in the grocery store. Sound nice huh? They were freaks. Yes they look and sound like chickens but they do not act like chickens. Once they became larger, as in 4 lbs, they literally sat, and I do mean sat, around the food container eating. It was quite disgusting to me. They would just sit there eating and pooping. From time to time they would get up, with much effort, to have a drink of water, but that was the extent of their exercise! So needless to say with all that sitting and eating and nearly no exercise they were very “tender”. When we picked them up they felt kinda squishy! Oooooo!
You may be thinking, well why are you going to get them again then? My answer is my family. Because my family, especially my husband, loved the birds particularly when it was on the dining room table. This is why I am willing to put up with this freak of nature chicken.
I did order a variety of meat birds that we raised the first time we raised chickens for meat. They are called Red Ranger Broiler. Now these chickens are much more normal acting. They forage most of the day like the chickens I keep for egg production, but they sit around a whole lot more than the layer chickens.
My husband claims the Red Ranger chickens are “stringy”. I’m sure this is due to the amount of exercise they get. Go figure: exercise equals tougher muscle mass.
Regardless of the end result, the dressed bird on our dining table tender or “stringy”, I know that they had a life where they were raised with the utmost care and compassion. And that is why I choose to raise my own meat birds even though I know I can pick up a chicken from the grocery store for only a few dollars. It’s just not worth contributing to the mass produced chicken industry.

Regardless of the everlasting winter

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 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?