Small Acres – Part 4

The "Greenhouse"Basics of Transplant Production – Setting Up Your Greenhouse

The third session of the Putting Small Acres to Work brought us to this talk by Hans Bishop of PrairiErth Farm, in Atlanta, IL.  I was very impressed with how large Hans and his Wife, Katie, grew their small farm business in a relatively short period of time.  They plant between 7 and 9 acres of vegetables that they sell at a farmers market in Springfield.  One of my notes is “specialize in diversity.”  They don’t just grow carrots – they grow orange carrots, yellow carrots, purple carrots.  They grow beets in red, white, and orange.  And more.  Diversity!

The difference between a greenhouse and a high tunnel (see Part 1 of this series) is heat.  A high tunnel (or hoop house) relies on the heat that can be captured from the sun.  A greenhouse has an added heat source.   The greenhouse is used to get plants started.  When the greenhouse gets too full and the plants are larger, they move some into unheated hoop houses until it’s time to transplant them into the field.

So, here are my notes:

Set up.  You need to figure out how many transplants you want to make in a year.  You don’t want to outgrow the greenhouse too fast, or have too few transplants and waste money on heating a greenhouse that is too big.  You need to figure out how many plants will be in there at any one time.  This is where having hoop houses, too, comes in handy.  Different plants need to be started at different times.  You may be able to have a smaller greenhouse for starting some plants, and then move them into a hoop house when it’s time to start something else, but the first plants aren’t able to go outside into the field just yet.  What will your heat source be?  Propane, electric, etc.  And what is the greenhouse going to be covered in?  Plastic sheeting, polycarb, glass, or something else?

What’s important?  Have systems ready to go.  Have backup systems.  Plan, plan, backup, backup.  Keep records from year to year so you can see what works and what doesn’t.

Air circulation is very important to prevent disease and produce stronger plants.  They need some exposure to gentle wind to grow strong.   You can use fans, open doors, roll up the sides if you have plastic sheeting.  Air circulation also makes the temperature inside more constant and prevents hot and cold spots.

Effective use of heated space (to save money).  Use of a germination chamber  is more practical for starting seeds in the early months.  Heat mats with a thermostat are very helpful.  You can also hang a sheet of plastic from the ceiling of the greenhouse to create a germination chamber so you’ll need to heat only that small part of the greenhouse.  A bucket heater can be used to increase humidity and moderate the temperature.

Benches.  They use 2×4′s and sawhorses to set boards on to make benches.  They’ve obtained bread trays to put the soil blocks in and those trays sit on the benches.  He believes that building your own benches is best – cheaper and you make them the size you want them.  Plywood on the top can be used to add a flat work surface where you need it – and is easily moved to another area as you work.

They make their own soil blocks to put the seeds in.  Currently they buy a mixture from someone else, but they started by mixing their own.  It’s basically 3 parts peat, 2 parts compost, 2 parts perlite or vermiculite, 1 cup of sand, blood meal, cottonseed meal, and a dash of lime.  For germination, he uses 50-cell trays and places 7 seeds per cell.  Then I wrote, “heavy duty white plastic.”  I don’t remember why…  Is it for covering the trays to keep moisture in until germination occurs?  For seeds that are difficult to germinate, he sows them in 10×20 flats or broadcast sows them in a tray.  They use bottom heat to speed up germination time.  The plants are separated into one of three different sized soil blocks when the first true leaves appear.  Most go into 1 2/3″ blocks – chard, fennel, lettuce, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, herbs, cabbage.  These are smaller plants and plants that need a shorter start time.  In 2″ blocks go tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cucurbits, okra – larger plants, anything that will be in the greenhouse a longer time.  He doesn’t use 3″ blocks much, except for plants that he doesn’t think he’ll be able to plant very soon, and crops with a higher value.

To prepare the plants for the field you need to harden them off by exposing them to some wind, changing temps, and water stress.  Check for diseases.  It’s better to transplant a smaller, more vigorously growing plant than an older, stunted one.

Record keeping is crucial.  Use a field journal and then transfer that information to your computer.  Record your plans, at least what you want and how many you want in the greenhouse.  Record the germination dates, how many germinated of each variety.  That tells you what kinds do best and how many you need to restart to meet your goals.  Create a spreadsheet.  Make sure each tray is labeled clearly.  You’ll never remember all the details.

I appreciated hearing the details of greenhouse growing.  Some of the things he mentioned I wouldn’t have thought of.  He had pictures of his greenhouse, the plants, the soil, and blocking tools – which is good because I had no idea what he meant when he first talked about using a “blocker”.  There’s always new terminology to learn in this farming thing!  I don’t have a greenhouse, so I have no picture of one.  The picture above is our seed-starting table in our dining room last year.  So far this year we have only tiny cauliflower leaves and a lot of dirt.  Not a fun picture.

PrairiErth Farm is another place I’d love to visit one day.  If you live in or around Springfield, you could buy their produce from the farmers market they go to.  Check them out at their website:  www.prairierthfarm.com

Small Acres – Part 3

100_5324Cottage Food Operation

During the second session at the Putting Small Acres to Work workshop series, I went to the one about the IL Cottage Food Law.  About two years ago, I attended a talk about the new law, but I wanted to see if anything had changed and to be certain I fully understood it.  The session was presented by Wes King of the Illinois Steward Alliance, who helped get this law passed.

This was kind of a big deal in Illinois, because before January 1, 2012, there wasn’t a clear law in place.  People who had been selling preserves, breads, etc., at farmers markets for years were suddenly being shut down because it had technically never been legal.  It just hadn’t been enforced.  When farmers markets grew in popularity, some health inspectors realized what was happening and were shutting down small mom-and-pop businesses – cutting off some of their income.  This law was made to again make it legal for these people to earn an income by selling home-baked goods.

The foods that can be made to sell by a cottage food operation are: high-acid jams, jellies and preserves, high-acid fruit butters, and baked goods such as breads, cookies, cakes, pies, and pastries.  Pies allowed are from high-acid fruits.  It may also sell dry herbs, dry herb blends, and dry tea blends intended for end-use consumption.  A cottage food operation may only sell products at a farmers market in Illinois and gross receipts from the sale of food allowed under the law may not exceed $25,000 in a single calendar year.

There are also specific labeling requirements – name and address, common name of the product, all ingredients listed in order of weight, date processed.  It also must state the following phrase:  “This product was produced in a home kitchen not subject to public health inspection that may also process common food allergens.”  A placard with this statement must also be displayed prominently at the point of sale.  Allergen labeling as specified in federal labeling requirements is also required.

The operation must also have a Food Service Sanitation Manager Certificate approved by the Illinois Department of Public Health.  The food does not need to be produced in a kitchen inspected and certified by the health department.  But, if you do have access to a certified kitchen you can produce any of the other foods that aren’t allowed by the Cottage Food Law.

I was glad that I attended this session because it gave me a better understanding of the work it took to get this law passed, and why some of the provisions are in place currently.  One of the parts of the law that is annoying to me is about being allowed to sell ONLY at farmers markets.  Wes explained that this law was meant to help create a stepping stone between a small at-home business and a full commercial business – which he said has been happening.  And THAT is exciting.  It allows people to start small, earn some money and save up to start a larger business, which benefits more than just the business owner.  If they allowed the items to be sold from the home, then it falls under the commercial business rules and it would all have to be produced in a commercial kitchen.  There are many people who hope this will change eventually, but it seems that these things always take a long time to change.

One of the people that sat in on this session mentioned that if a person wishes to build a commercial kitchen to NOT do it until you talk with the department of health FIRST.  It’s already an expensive job and if you do something wrong and it has to be fixed, it will cost even more.

Please, do NOT take this blog post as being comprehensive!  If you live in Illinois and wish to see if this is something you would like to do, you need more information!  Read the guidance document that the IDPH put together for local health departments to help them implement the law.  It is IDPH Technical Information Bulletin (TIB) #44.  This can be viewed by visiting the Illinois Stewardship Alliance’s Cottage Food Law page at http://www.ilstewards.org/content/12404.  More information is available at www.ilstewards.org by clicking on the “Policy Work” tab and looking at the resources there.  I also highly recommended building a relationship with your local/county health department early on so that you follow all the rules from the beginning to make it easier on yourself :)   If you live in another state, contact your local health department to see what laws are in place for a similar operation.

Small Acres – Part 2

IMG_2552This is part 2 of a 5 part series.

In the second breakout session of Putting Small Acres to Work, Keith and I split up.  I went to a session on the IL Cottage Food Law (which I’ll write about in part 3), while Keith attended Adapting to Changing Consumer Trends at Farmers’ Markets and Adding Value to Your Products.  When we got back together for the third session, he told me that he thinks I would have rather been in the workshop he was in.  Actually, the two made good companions and complemented each other perfectly – as did all the sessions we attended!

Back to the subject at hand… The session was presented by Matt & Debbie Daniels of Bear Creek Farm & Ranch, in Palmer, IL.  They’ve been on their farm for 17 years.  It has 45 acres and they raise everything naturally.  They started out like we did – raising a few (50) chickens for themselves and friends.  Then raising a few more and selling some at the farmer’s market.  They grew so much that one year they raised 4,000 chickens!  They also grow fresh produce to sell at market and a couple of stores.  They went on to say that at first they sold chicken in two forms: whole intact, or whole cut-up.  As time went on customers started asking for specific parts only, such as breasts or leg quarters.  That was a small market at first, but now about 80% of their chicken sales are parts and pieces.  This left them with the problem of what to do with the extra pieces no one wanted – backs and necks.  The only way they could sell those parts was to reduce the price so much that they would be losing money.  Their solution:  value added products.  They thought they could add value to those pieces by making them into chicken stock, cooked chicken meat, chicken salad and dog food.  This is where their story overlaps with the session I was in regarding the cottage food law.  It isn’t legal to make and sell these type of products in a home kitchen.  They decided to get a food managers license and build an on-farm certified kitchen in their garage.  This is an expensive – and extensive – project that they emphatically stated needs to be started by working with the county health department from the beginning!  If there is no way you can afford to build your own certified kitchen, you can get the food manager license and then look at finding a kitchen to rent.  Check with churches, community centers, or county extension offices.

The value added idea was expanded into other areas.  In addition to the broth and other chicken products, they could make pickles, dried herbs and peppers, butter from their milk.  These things have a longer shelf life and could extend their sales.  A head of lettuce could be sold as is, but when that lettuce was washed, cut and had other veggies added to make it a salad, they were able to sell it for a much higher price.  There are drawbacks to that – the time it takes to cut and prepare these foods, extra handling, packaging and storage.  But with some research they found that storage time could be extended by briefly soaking the veggies in a a solution of 1/2 oz of hydrogen peroxide to 1 gallon of water (which is something I’ve read in other places).  Obviously, refrigeration would also be a key component into keeping cut veggies fresh, and freezers are needed to keep frozen things frozen.

For marketing their products, they sold at farmers’ markets and stores.  When selling these types of foods at a market, you need to check with each individual market to see what is legal to sell there.  I know that at some markets you can sell frozen chicken, eggs, etc., because they have electricity at the area.  Farmers who have freezers and coolers load them in their vehicles, or some have larger trucks with freezers/coolers permanently installed, and they can plug into the power source at the market.  The one I attend does not have this option, so those items are not allowed to be sold there.  Canned foods, dried foods, baked goods and fresh produce are all that are allowed.  When marketing to a store, you need to be able to consistently supply a high quality product.  Bear Creek Farm has a buy-back agreement with stores – whatever is left after a specified period of time, they will buy it back from the store.  This seems to apply mostly to fresh food, like sprouts.  This agreement allows them to command a higher price for their product because they are assuming the risk of loss of sale, not the store.  They also do home deliveries.

Other ideas for value added products that can be produced are cut flowers that are made into bouquets, pumpkins or gourds that are painted or carved, making wheat grass juice, using apples to make applesauce, apple juice or apple pie filling.  They also mentioned that they are planning on adding a greenhouse and high tunnel, which will extend the growing season.  They sat in on those same sessions that day, along with us.  (Part 1 of this series is on high tunnels, Part 4 will address greenhouses.)  A note that Keith wrote down is “texting and facebook with products available”.  I’m assuming that means they use these ways to notify existing customers of what is currently available.  Interestingly enough, using social media to promote your farm will be Part 5 of this series :)

On a side note, we got to chat with Matt & Debbie for about a half hour when the whole event was over and we’ve decided that at some point this summer we would like to drive down there and visit their farm – by appointment, of course.  To learn more about their farm and where you can buy their products, go to their website:  www.bearcreekfarmandranch.com.

Stay tuned – in a couple of days I’ll post about the IL Cottage Food Law.

 

 

 

Small Acres 1

The "Greenhouse"On March 23, Keith and I attended 4 workshops designed to help people with few acres make their farms more profitable.  It was called Putting Small Acres to Work and was put on by the U of I Extension at Lincoln Land Community College.  There were three breakout sessions, each with 3 workshop choices, and then a general session for everyone.  Because some have asked, I’ve decided to write a series of blog posts on the workshops we attended.  This will not be comprehensive, but just general, and focus on what we learned and what we are thinking of doing with that information here on our farm.

The first workshop we attended was Growing Vegetables Year-Round, by Nathan Johanning of the U of I Extension.  The focus was on using high tunnels to extend the growing season.  A high tunnel is like a greenhouse, with the difference being that a high tunnel has no heat source other than the sun, whereas a greenhouse has some other additional heat source.  We also attended a workshop on using a greenhouse, but that will be post #4.  I apologize that I don’t have a photo of a high tunnel to put here, so I had to settle for one of our seeds that we started last year.  You can easily Google pictures of one online.  They are very similar to a greenhouse.

In the fall and winter we not only lose daylight, but the angle of the light is lower, which makes the sunlight much less effective than in the summer.  The goal of the high tunnel is to capture as much light as possible.  We want to capture the heat as well as the light as both are needed for plant growth.  The plants need to be planted early enough so that major growth will be finished by December and then the light and heat available should be sufficient for maintenance.  The plastic you use is also important.  Thicker plastic, or a double plastic wall will protect the plants from the temperature changes better, but also reduces the amount of light that can get it.  In addition, row covers are also generally used on the coldest nights, but need to be removed in the morning after the plants thaw so they can receive the light.  They then need to be replaced in mid to late afternoon to trap heat before the temperature drops too much.

The types of plants you choose is important.  As much as I might want tomatoes in mid-winter, they are a poor choice.  Cold-hardy crops need to be used.  Cole crops – broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower are good, as are greens like spinach, kale, chard, lettuce.  Root crops like carrots, beets, turnips, parsnips and radishes work.  So do leeks and green onions.  You can look at seed catalogs for descriptions to see which are best in colder temps.  You will also need to do some experimenting on your own to see what works best for you – be sure to keep notes because you’ll probably forget a lot of what you’ve done.

Besides what type of plants to grow, you need to figure out when to plant them, to get the majority of the growth finished before the daylight gets too low.  This is where the surprise was for me.  We have to plant much earlier than I thought we would in order for certain plants to do well.  Here in central IL, things like broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower would need to be started in mid-July.  Beets, lettuce and turnips need to be started by August 1.  Fall spinach and kale in mid- to late-August, and spring spinach the first week in September.  I mistakenly thought we’d be planting everything in Sept or October.   Our thought was to put up a high tunnel in the fall over our existing garden, but that isn’t going to work, since our summer crops will just be getting into their prime producing season.  Now I’m wondering where to put one.  Maybe in front of the garden between the driveways?  The bigger issue there is that it’s more open to the wind, which can be quite nasty here.  We’ll have to think on it more.

Other details on planting and caring for the plants is that the seeds should be planted deeper than in the spring, as well as closer together.  Direct-seeded crops may be more cold tolerant than transplants.  Watering is important, but when it’s colder, the plants won’t need as much as in the summer since the crops grow more slowly and it’s more humid inside the high tunnel.  Drip tape is useful until it starts getting below freezing.  Watering in midday is best when the night is going to be a little more mild to prevent freezing of the crops.  Ventilation, when possible, is also important to prevent mildew.  Harvesting should also be at midday.  Be careful to not harvest more than 40% of the leaf area at any one time.

I don’t know if we’ll get a hoop house this year.  Another option is low tunnels.  They are cheaper, though more difficult to manage since you can’t just walk into the building and shut the door.  But we may try one little row of broccoli, lettuce, and spinach and see how it goes.  Having fresh greens in the winter would be nice.  Any maybe we will actually have broccoli without worms :)

 

Dandelion’s New Kids

Dandelion's doe kid, Black-Eyed Susan

Meet Black-Eyed Susan

TWINS!!

Dandelion’s due date is tomorrow, so I was checking on her today after the Farm Crawl meeting we had at Deborah’s.  I didn’t want to have the same thing happen to her kids, as happened to Petunia’s last month.  Specifically, they were born over night and when I went out to do chores, they were all dead from hypothermia.  It’s truly been a horrible winter, and I have a blog post planned on that subject.  But, TODAY we rejoice!!

When I went in the barn, I saw one kid standing there, a little wet.  I went inside and changed into barn clothes, grabbed two towels and a hair dryer.  Then I announced, “BABY GOAT!” to the children.  Grabbed the camera and went outside.  It turns out that there were 2 kids, and I’m pretty certain they are both does.  I say “pretty certain” because I didn’t look super carefully because they were very cold.  We toweled them off and then started warming and drying them with the hair dryer.  One is black, and one is brown.  Both have various white markings on them.  The black one was standing up and doing pretty well.  The brown one was just lying down and shivering pretty badly.  But, after about 15 minutes of blow drying, she perked up and was trying to nurse on my coat sleeve, so I helped her get to her mother and she nursed well, for a first-timer.  I tried to get the black one to eat, but she wasn’t much interested, so I put them both under the heat lamps.  About 20 minutes later, Dandelion woke up the black kid and she seemed to be rooting around a little, but I pretty much had to force her to nurse.  She did get some good sucks in and then wanted to roam a little bit.  I left them out there under the heat to rest.  I’ll go out there again soon and then again before bedtime to keep making sure they are nursing.  If things are going well by tomorrow night, then I’ll trust they are ok and quit checking so often.  I took a bunch of pictures, so here they are!

Andrew holds the black kid

Andrew holds the black kid

100_5260

Hannah holding the brown kid

 

How to warm a goat kid!

How to warm a goat kid!

Under the heat lamps

Under the heat lamps

Arctic Chill and Cabin Fever

100_5114We’re going to remember this winter for a long time.  The last time I remember temps being this low was when I was in jr. high, around 1980.  I remember 5′ drifts at our back door, missed school days, and my best friend’s mom picking us up early from the skating rink because wind chills were down to -35 degrees.  January 2014 has brought us the “Polar Vortex”, as the weather people have called it, plus several other slightly less severe bouts of below zero temps, along with -20 to -30 degree wind chills, for 2-3 days at a time.  And snow.  We actually get snow when “they” say we will, though for our little place, since the great Polar Vortex storm, we haven’t gotten as much as the maximum possible.  This basket laying on the bathroom floor has become a very common occurence – though at least this time the contents weren’t strewn all over the floor.100_5098

The last time it was this cold this often, I was a suburban girl, and didn’t have to go outside except to go to school.  Now we have a tiny farm.  Yet another time I’m SO glad it’s tiny!  It’s only about 100 yards, give or take, to the barn and garage.  I’m also thankful that I have 5 children at home to help with the chores, so we all just get a little numb-ish, rather than me being frozen solid.  I’m including a pic of our barn, as taken from the back door of the house.  Not much to see, because I decided last night to shut the last door remaining open because of the wind and snow.  At 9 pm I found out that the main door wasn’t closed completely.  That door faces west – the very direction the 40 mph wind was coming from.  While it was snowing.  There was snow all over the inside of the entry/milking/hay storage area, and down the hallway between stalls.  My original intent was to leave the south door open for better ventilation, but then I saw that the whole area inside of that door was filling with snow and it was blowing into the stall where the ducks are, and the goats were in the opposite side as far from the door as possible.  Thankfully I only needed to move a little hay to get the door to close, so I was able to make the barn a little more user-friendly.  Earlier in the day Keith had set up a little warming station for the goat kids to get under heat lamps, if they choose.  So far the only creatures I’ve seen take advantage of that warm space is a cat or two, but I’m not in there all day.  All that battening of the hatches allowed the barn to remain at about 10 degrees this morning when it was 0 outside.  Not bad – and not windy, so it was actually somewhat pleasant.

My mama goats have been locked up in their stall for several weeks now.  The wind just keeps coming from the north, where their door is, and with Lily having had her little kids just 2 weeks ago, I don’t want them to have a draft.  For the most part, keeping the south door and main/west door open, has allowed there to be enough air circulation that it doesn’t stink bad in there.  But, for the next two days, it’s going to have to stay closed up again.  I’m sure all the animals will be quite happy when they can stretch their legs a little more!100_5099

In the meantime, the inhabitants of the house are doing ok.  All except for Andrew.  Wow, does he need to get outside more!  He’s taken to doing laps around the first floor, which is made possible by the walk-through bathroom.  He is not content to just sit and read all day or color like the other kids usually are.  He needs action.  This morning no one would play with him, so he brought Candy Land downstairs to the bathroom where I’d just gotten out of the shower, and asked if I’d play with him.  Poor guy – how could I say, “no”?  So in between getting dressed, putting on makeup and drying my hair, we managed to get in a game.  (I won.)  A little while later when I went upstairs I noticed the attic stairs were covered in stuffed animals.  Apparently the boys’ new game is to bombard anyone coming up to their room with stuffed animals.  But at least they aren’t fighting.  At the moment.  But now that lunch is over, it’s time to get down to math, history and literature.100_5113

Farm Crawl 2014 Preparations

Farm Crawl signOn Monday, January 13, the owners of five farms gathered to begin preparations for the 3rd Annual Livingston County Farm Crawl.  The date has yet to be determined, so we will keep you posted.  The farms participating this year are:  M2A Farm, Farmer in Odell, Cherokee Winds, Eden’s Harvest and Antiquity Oaks.  These are the same five farms that participated in 2013.

We are all looking for way to improve the event for all who come.  We wish for the attendees to have an enjoyable time at each location.  We’ll keep you up-to-date as time goes on!

Fall Afternoon

Yesterday Keith let me know that today, in the afternoon after church and lunch,  that he wanted to get more wood cut and split.  The shed was about 3/4 full, which generally gets us through the winter, but he wants the shed full to make sure.  It turned out that today was a great day for such a task, as well as other outside chores, with a high temp around 50 degrees and not so much as a breeze.

Here’s a synopsis of our afternoon.

Duck reunion

While we were eating lunch, we got a phone call from a church friend whose car was dead.  She needed Keith to tow it to the shop for her.  So, while he was gone with Noah – and Andrew (who insists on being present for anything remotely exciting) – I caught all of the second batch of ducklings that we hatched.  They are big enough and feathered out enough to go out with the big ducks outside.  When the oldest ducklings got put out with the adult ducks there was some minor conflict between the two “clans”.  But both the older ducklings out there and the ones I was moving today used to be in the brood pen together.  They must have remembered each other because when I let the younger ones out, they ran right to the older ones and they had a little reunion.  The 4 adults still keep to themselves.  Apparently they are too mature to be socializing with the children.

 

Next I had Bethany, Hannah, and Ben rake up the leaves along the driveway so we could feed them to the goats.  The goats really like dried leaves.  It’s a special treat for them.  Before giving them to the goats, Hannah had to jump in them and bury herself in them.  Then Ben put his kitten in the pile and said, “Mom!  You have to take a picture!”  Sorry for the light rays.  I didn’t notice them till tonight and I’d only taken one picture.

Leaf PileHannah in leaf pileKitten in leaf pile

While we were finishing with the leaves, Keith and the other 2 boys arrived back home and got started on the wood.  We have several large tree trunk sections that have been lying in the yard for over a year.  Keith cut up four of them with the chainsaw and stacked them to dry better.  They will be split and used next year.  Noah was working on splitting the smaller pieces, and I used the wheelbarrow to roll them to the shed and stack them.  Here are the results of our labor:

Logs waiting to be splitFirewood Shed

The youngest four children were exploring the creek while we were working.  Better than computer games or Wii all afternoon!  When they came back, Hannah gave me a “creek bouquet” that she picked.  She’s so sweet!  I put it in the vase that came with the flowers Brandon sent me for Mother’s Day.

Creek Bouquet

I don’t know how long I’ll keep the cattails inside.  My mom had cattails in her house for well over a decade before getting rid of them.  When she was told that they’d explode, we all thought the person was nuts.  After all, they’d been in the house for many years with no problem.  But several years later she decided to not push her luck any longer.  I’ve only been able to keep cattails in the house for a year before they started to look suspicious.  And they regrow every year, so there’s no sense in risking the fluffy mess.

Milkweed

Speaking of fluffy things, here are milkweed pods exploding – outside.  Since I’ve heard about monarch butterfly habitats disappearing, I’ve been letting milkweed grow wherever it wants in my yard – unless it’s in a really bad spot, which hasn’t been a big issue so far.  Here is some on the edge of our asparagus patch.  And then a bigger picture of the asparagus.  I love the soft, dainty, fern-like asparagus greens in the fall. Asparagus Patch

 

Next are just a couple of miscellaneous pics.  First are the apple and pecan trees that we ordered to plant on our property in Missouri where we plan to retire.  We’re hoping that by planting them in the fall, their root systems will get established when there’s actually rain and by the time we move there we’ll start getting fruit.  Pecans are a little slower than apple trees, but still, maybe by the time we’re 60, we’ll start harvesting pecans.  And if we’re fortunate enough to live a long, healthy life, we could be harvesting those pecans for 30 years or more!

Missouri Fruit Trees

Here is our trailer.  Keith bought this car trailer last year for any hauling we need to do.  He’d already put some fencing together to strap down to hold animals, but that is only really good for summer time.  Since we had to haul 5 pigs to the butcher 3 weeks ago and it was cold, he didn’t want them to freeze on the hour-long drive at 60 mph with just open fencing.  So he designed and built some pretty good sides to box it in nice and tight.  It can also be taken apart and off the trailer for those times when we need to use it as a flat bed.  He’s pretty smart that way.

Trailer

Thanks for listening to me ramble about our afternoon.  I don’t expect many more nice afternoons like this one before next spring comes, so I really enjoyed it – work and all.  I hope you all had a good weekend, too!

A Monday in mid-September

Today I want to share with you some pictures I took this past Monday.  First we were surprised by some new piglets.  We have 5 older “piglets” in pens away from the sows.  One is a female that had two brothers.  We finally remembered to separate her from her brothers when they were about a year old.  Apparently, that was about a month too late, for she had 3 piglets on Monday morning.  I won’t sell these as breeders, since they are obviously inbred, but they’ll be just as tasty as any of the others :)

Our three little inbred piglets

Our three little inbred piglets

Newborn piglet

 

Then our next task was to take care of all the tomatoes that a friend gave us on Sunday that SHE got from a friend of hers.  So they got halved and quartered and put in the roaster oven to cook until soft.  Then they got strained to separate the seeds and skin from the pulp.  After that the sauce went back into the roaster oven for the afternoon to cook down.  When the sauce was thick enough, I added a spaghetti sauce seasoning mix, and then canned it.  I got 5 quarts and 1 pint of spaghetti sauce.  Here’s the tomatoes after they were cut up:

Tomatoes in roaster oven

Tomatoes in roaster oven

 

While the tomatoes were cooking in the roaster oven, we went out to our two pear trees to start picking.  This year has been a perfect year for fruit trees.  Everywhere we go we see trees loaded with apples, pears and earlier, peaches.  We learned many years ago that pears don’t ripen on the tree.  They have to be picked and then stored someplace cool and they ripen there.  So about once a week we need to sort through them all to look for ripe ones to eat and can.  We have two varieties.  One is like a Bartlett and does well canned as halves or pieces.  The other is more mealy and doesn’t stay together well, so they’ll be made into pear sauce.  These are all the pears we picked on Monday:

 

Pears!

Pears!

And more pears...

And more pears…

 

And MORE pears!!

And MORE pears!!

And lastly, here is a picture, although blurry, of a bumblebee harvesting some of the extra honey from the honey frames I left outside after our honey harvest on Thursday.  The honeybees finally found it later that day, but for the first 3 days, only a few bumblebees found it.  I need to put it back in the hive, but for now the bumblebees are enjoying a treat.

Bumblebee eating leftover honey

Bumblebee eating leftover honey

Getting Ready for School

The Farm Crawl is over!  Not to mean it was a bad thing – just that it takes a lot of our energy during August.  While most other people are out buying school supplies and new clothes, we’re picking weeds, making signs, getting soap and lotion labeled, and deciding what we just need to leave as is because we can’t do it all.  When it was over I was then mentally free to concentrate on something else.  And the next something else was, of course, school!

This is our 15th year of homeschooling.  All my original “students” have graduated and are making their ways in the world.  I now have a completely different “class”.  Instead of three children in grades K, 2 & 4, I have five children in grades K, 2, 4, 6 & 10.  Actually, it’s not terribly different, is it?

While one part of my brain was contemplating our course of study for the year, another part was looking at this:

Ugh :(

Ugh :(

 

I KNOW there’s stuff in there that’s relatively important.  Like the new math books for my youngest boys.  And heaven only knows what else, because this pile hasn’t changed much all summer – except to get larger.  So, while I contemplated whether to continue with the next Cores of Sonlight, or do a unit study on all the states of the Union, I started to clear out our classroom.  (Actually, the term “classroom” is no longer accurate.  Library is better, but we’ve called it the classroom since 1998 and when I say something is in the library, no one knows what I’m talking about.  Change takes time.)

About 2 weeks ago I had about 60 minutes when I actually had the ambition to tackle the corner closest to my desk.  There was just tons of paperwork – things I wanted to read, bills, receipts, etc., that I didn’t have time to deal with when they arrived.  I apparently don’t have the picture I took of that pile anymore (and I don’t wish to recreate it) so you’ll just have to take my word for it.  It was bad.  But here it is after about an hour of work!

The cleaned up corner

The cleaned up corner

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then, this past Friday and Saturday, I had a yard sale.  Sort of.  In two days about 10 people arrived, which left me with a lot of free time that required my staying near the front of the house so I could hear cars pull in the driveway.  So I decided to make lemonade out of lemons and get that treadmill cleaned off.  I did part of it on Friday and the rest on Saturday.  On Saturday I also did some rearranging of some of the shelves.  I am SO excited!  Not only did I make it so we can actually get to the books on those shelves near the mess, but I can use the treadmill again, which I need to do since I’ve done very little exercising since our son’s wedding at the end of May.  Here it is:

A treadmill AND a floor!

A treadmill AND a floor!

In between all this I decided to do that unit study on the states.  It’s something I’ve wanted to do for many years and didn’t think I could fit in.  This year, though, I decided it would work out fine.  Next year we’ll pick up where we left off in Sonlight and tackle world history.  This is for the four younger children.  The 10th grader is doing Sonlight Core 200.

This week is our first full week of school.  The Labor Day holiday (including a cousin sleepover) and the yard sale silliness ate up much of last week.  Today we started with Delaware – the first state to officially enter the union.  We’re doing them in chronological order.  The plan is to do each state in 2-3 days.  I know we could easily spend a week – or even a month – per state, but we need to complete it this year.  And now that I have a clean space to go to to get what we need, I’m feeling quite joyful about the new school year.