Thursday, May 29, 2008

Summer Comes Early to the South

Our first turkeys arrived in the mail today.

They look like chickens to me.

I'm not sure what I expected. They are cute and despite warnings to the contrary, have seemingly found their food and water and are eating and drinking.

I really love the long growing season here in the south. Yesterday, our breakfast came mainly from things produced here on the homestead.

I picked green onions, peppers and spinach from the garden and scrambled them with eggs from our chickens. When I added a little store bought cheese, my heart longed for the goats we hope to bring to the homestead one of these days. I simply cannot wait for homemade cheese!

For dinner last night, I made chicken we raised ourselves with rice and a cucumber salad. The cucumbers are from the garden. I dressed them with a honey dressing. Yummy!

This is the year of the garden for us. We are working on improving the health and taste of the food from it. Part of the process involves measuring and testing. We got our soil tested and confirmed it is bad. Really bad. Well, actually, really, REALLY bad. So bad the soil engineer called me personally to assure me when soil is this bad any little thing you do will give immediate improvement.

We've decided to follow a plan for producing a higher Brix garden. Brix is a measure of plant sugars and thus minerals. The higher the minerals, the higher the nutritional value and the better the taste. We've obtained a blend of soft rock phosphate mixed with sea minerals and other things to improve our soil this year. We also ordered a refractometer from Ebay to measure improvements.

We've had a little fun measuring the Brix values of our garden produce. Only a little fun because our numbers are so low. Of course if our numbers weren't low, we'd probably be upset about our investment in soil amendments.

We've been using a Brix foliar spray from Peaceful Valley and that has allowed our plants to actually grow and produce. However, most of our vegetables are in the "poor" category Brix wise. But, we are looking forward to improvement.

Since moving here, we have never been able to grow tomatoes. This year, knowing my soil is calcium deficient, I ground up egg shells from eggs laid by our chickens and sprinkled them in with the tomatoes. We've also applied the Brix mix from Peaceful Valley. Last year, the tomato plants barely germinated and died before producing a single flower. This year, they look MUCH better.

Most of the plants look very strong as well. I'm praying for a good crop of tomatoes this year. I would LOVE to be able to do some canning with them and I am simply dying to make homemade, fermented salsa!

We've had a much better crop of lettuce this year than ever before.

I planted several different kinds.

The only real problem I had this year is a critter that keeps digging under the garden fence and rooting up the garden. It doesn't seem to eat anything; it just damages stuff.

We've been enjoying snap beans for awhile now and I have more to harvest. Our black beans are starting to come in as well. The purple flowers are so pretty and the bees love them, especially the indigenous bees.

I followed this gal around trying to get a good picture of her.

These bees are so quick it is hard to get a picture of them.

The cucumbers are now producing.

We've got a couple different kinds of cucumbers. The one in the picture above is supposed to be a "burpless" cucumber. They grow long and because we haven't trellised them, they grow in giant curls.

The cucumber blossoms are so pretty hiding beneath the foliage.

But there is nothing in the garden as pretty as the squash blossoms.

My family doesn't really like squash, but I plant them anyway. I'd almost do it just for the flowers. I've planted several types of squash this year too.

Like me, our honey bees really love the squash blossoms.

In fact, there is practically a line for some of the flowers.

I tried getting a good honey bee picture, but bees are just not very cooperative for the camera.

In fact, I'm sure this one glared at me when I used the flash.

Our sugar cane continues to grow.

We are really looking forward to this crop, though we have no idea how we are going to process it. It may end up being no more than a novelty.

Most of our three sisters garden looks good this year since I threw some chicken coop hay over it.

I've heard chicken poop is hot and will burn plants. So I'd hoped it would prevent weeds. We apparently have very powerful weeds.

Actually, we really do have some very prolific weeds and I'd sure love some help identifying them. Does anyone know what this is:

It has wine colored stems and dark green leaves. They will grow quite large and sprawling if allowed to grow unchecked.

How about this:

That one has little seeds that form under the leaves like ferns.

Another weed trying to take over our world is this:

This one starts out looking like a carrot and grows into a long, fuzzy thing about 4 feet tall. It spreads by underground runner and parts of it turn woody if allowed to grow.

These three plants are my biggest foes in the garden. I also have problems with abundant poke weed, but I know that one already.

Additionally, I have a type of tree growing all over the yard and could use help identifying it. I REALLY want it to be sassafras, but the leaves don't look like the pictures I've seen. Here is a mature one:

The leaves are weird. The saplings are everywhere and look like this:

The three different leaf shapes on the same tree make me think sassafras, but they just don't match the pictures.

Here is another shot of a big one:

I'd sure love to find out more about the plants growing around our home. I did not grow up in this area and know very little about it. I'd sure like that to change.

I love living with trees all around. I thought this little clearing the kids and Kurt made last year looked so pretty in the early light.

Makes me want to take a walk through the woods.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

More Mother's Day and First Honey Crop

We got our first honey crop! Kurt extracted honey from 6 frames yesterday.

We've never used the extractor before and we thought it would be a simple process. It took much longer than we expected.

Darlene, a friend of ours, sold 2 bottles of our honey before we even had it out of the comb. Finally, this morning I bottled 3 bottles of honey for Darlene to pick up today.

I can't believe how exciting it is to see honey from our own bees jarred up and ready to eat!

Here are the wax caps.

They are still draining. Once they are drained, I would like to save the wax to make balms or something. I'll need to find directions on how to render the wax and how to preserve it. I know I need to melt it in a double boiler. I guess I'd better get a double boiler.

Mother's Day ended up being a great deal of fun. Kurt fixed the swimming pool.

The old liner was shot and needed to be replaced. Fortunately for us, the prior owners of our home purchased a replacement liner they never installed. It proved to be in good shape, which was a huge blessing. Kurt pulled the pool apart and spent Mother's day trying to put it back together again.

While I knit for the first time in months.

Well, I sort of knit. I added three rows to my socks, figured out I did the first row wrong and then carefully tinked it all out again. The tiny cables were a pain. I eventually added one good row back and ended up with a net gain of one row. At one row per couple of months, the recipient of these socks may be dead by the time they are finished. I need to figure out a way to squeeze knitting back into my schedule. (We are in the end of the year homeschooling crunch for which I have already extended the school year into July and gardening requires a great deal of time too.)

I figured out I could just get the stereo speaker out the door.

It was fun to sit out by the pool with praise music blaring, watching my husband doing useful things while I knit. It just doesn't get any better. Or maybe it does. We also grilled grass fed steaks from Wellness Meats. My sister sent these earlier in the year.

We supplemented the meal with baked potatoes and veggies from last year's garden.

The kids have been wanting to use the pool for quite some time. So when the clean water started to flow into it, even before Kurt had completely installed the liner, they jumped in.

Of course the water level was just right for Michael.

He loves the water.

Even with a chill in the air, Michael loved splashing and playing.

I wonder how he will do with the pool full now?

Of course Gregory and Gabrielle had as much fun playing as Michael.

They love swimming and plan to spend most of the summer in the pool if possible.

My kids are fish.

Unfortunately, the bees have started using the pool as a water source. So the last time we were at our property in Gulf Breeze, I had Kurt and our friend Mark get the top of the fountain from our property. This had been in my flower garden before the hurricane. I don't know what happened to the base, but the Lord provides. We found a new base at our current house. Gregory and I set up the fountain for the bees.

I filled it with water and floated corks I've been collecting for some time now in it. The bees are ignoring it as a water source, but will probably become more interested when the water gets yucky. Bees like their water fully "fermented." Go figure. It is nice to have a little bit of Gulf Breeze outside.

My garden is starting to grow up.

I'm grateful all things considering. We got our soil tested this year. The soil is pretty poor. The lab guy sort of suggested we'd be better off plowing under the garden and fixing the soil before trying to grow any food. But I just have too much work invested in it already to give up.

So I'm going to use some foliar sprays on the leaves of the plants to provide extra nourishment. We actually got some decent vegetables out of the garden last year so I know it won't be a total loss.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mothers Day

Normally, gift buying holidays for the adults in our family get bypassed with nary a thought. We decided long ago, well about the time the price of gas crept past the $2.00 per gallon mark, that we just couldn't justify frivolous expenditures. (Kurt commutes to a different state than the one in which we live for work - a hangover from our hurricane survival days.) But this Mother's Day is different. I actually asked for a very specific gift.

It is a Ruger 10/22. Look at the pretty wood and stainless steel.

Lest you wonder about the location of the pod that houses the real me, let me explain.

For the last 2 years, our beautiful flock of layer chickens has freely roamed our property feasting on bugs and green, growing things. However, a couple of weeks ago a family of foxes moved into the portion of the woods next to our property thinking we were offering them an "all you can eat buffet." We've already lost about 5 chickens. One evening, I spotted a coyote stalking my flock. I ran at him screaming, which scared him away from the chickens and off the property. I have not seen him again. The foxes have been more persistent however.

After researching the hunting habits of foxes, we've started keeping our chickens in the coop until later in the morning. We've been staying outside in the evenings until the chickens have returned to their coop and have been secured inside. The hen coop is secure with lots of wire. Under the dirt floor, Kurt buried hardware cloth so predators could not dig their way inside. However, our second coop, the one that will house turkeys in 2 weeks, is not so secure. The foxes are going to have to go.

The kids and I have been clearing the property line of overgrowth on our side. The old fence is in disrepair. We eventually hope to replace the fence. In the meantime, we are clearing out hiding places so the foxes will have to cross more open land to get to the chickens. And now I am armed.

When I first got my gun, I practiced a bit with it so I could aim true. I had to figure out exactly how to line up the two thingies on the barrel. I told Kurt I didn't want a scope or anything high tech. I just wanted a basic 22.

I figured out how to aim the gun. We found an egg on the porch laid by an errant chicken. Not knowing how old it might be, I decided to use it for target practice. I blew it away.

I think Kurt is suffering from gun envy. Gregory told him my gun was semi-automatic. (Kurt's very nice deer rifle is not.) When we told Kurt I was able to explode an egg from across the yard, he positively started to obsess. Kurt wants to shoot an egg. He is so funny. I don't think he can stand not knowing if he can shoot as accurately as I did. And of course he wants to use my gun to do it.

Meanwhile, back to my normal life, I received a most delightful box in the mail from Cary at Serenity Farms.

It is my very first lamb's fleece. I just love the dark, rich color and cannot wait to wash it and start spinning it. We are going to try to make due without air conditioning this summer in an effort to maintain a budget. I have vivid mental pictures of long, lazy days spinning and knitting on my front porch.

Recently, most of my time has been put into gardening. We are trying to organically raise as much of our own food as possible for better health and to help with the family budget. After 2 years and now 3 of growing marginal fruits and vegetables on impoverished soil, I am trying to take it to the next level. I am learning about high Brix gardening. Kurt and I even sent off a soil sample so we could find out exactly what our soil needs to be healthy and then produce healthier food for our family. I cannot wait to see how this all turns out.