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Thursday, June 21, 2012

State of the Homestead

It's been a busy month since last we touched base on the homestead. I've been harvesting daily, fought plagues of locusts and cicadas, hatched chicks, and only half heartedly continued my search for goats.

The reason goats aren't on my priority list is because I'd rather not have to deal with them entirely on my own. I don't have anyone nearby I can go to for help and Greg is only here a few days a month. It'll happen though. With any luck we'll find does already pregnant so I won't have to get a buck.

Americauna chick
On the chicken front, come 2013, we are getting rid of the black Australorp and buff Orphingtons.

I'm sorry to let the Australorp go because they are terrific layers, but we wanted a chicken that produced dark brown eggs. With a little research, I found out about the French Maran. The Maran lays the darkest chocolate brown eggs of any hen. If we can't find anyone local to buy chicks, we'll have to order online.

The buff Orphington have been a little too high maintenance. They eat more than the others and prefer to ravage my garden instead of hunt for bugs. They also won't come in readily when it's time to come in from grazing. That means we go round and round the pen until they get the idea. Dumb birds. We have to let them go regardless though. It turns out our rooster is shooting blanks. Dumb and impotent.

We're keeping the Americauna, but this time we're looking for the ones who lay only green or blue eggs. Right now I have only one hen that lays green eggs. I've tagged her and kept every green egg she's laid and incubated them. Next year, we'll get rid of all the Americaunas except my green egg layer once we see what color eggs the new batch of chickens will lay.

Gardens: The corn borer has been busy eating our corn, but we still got a goodly amount harvested. The sunflowers are just now opening. And the loofahs are flowering nicely. Loofahs require a minimum of 150 days of warm weather so we're on schedule there too.

Onions: I didn't plant near enough. Will remedy that next year.

Garlic: The chickens didn't eat them, but they did trample all over my garlic bed. :shakes fist:

Tomatoes: This year, not only did I plant tomatoes in two gardens, but in pots too. I'm going to try to grow them all year this time and see how long they last.

But here's the kicker. I had a volunteer tomato plant start accidentally in my compost bin. Not only does it get no water except for the occasional rain shower, but it is bigger and healthier than my regular tomato plants. This is compost at its best.

Mangels: After a second try and extra water, they are finally doing well. This is another long season plant. (110 days) Glad I live in Texas!

Back garden
Orchard: I may have to admit to myself that fruit trees aren't my strong suit. The trees grow fine (except cherry), but fruit production sucks. I might have to stick to blackberries. We had another string of volunteers shoot up next to Greg's workshop.

Putting up the harvest: Am I a bad homesteader for admitting that I hate to process the foods I harvest? It's time-consuming. It's hard work. And I almost always have to do it by myself. Last year I had Greg help me make one batch of salsa and he complained the whole time. 

All I can say is: Buck up, buddy! Now you know what I have to go through.

I don't like canning. Although I've had more successes than failures, it's one of those chores where I wish I felt more confident--or at least had more help.

I am giving a lot of the harvest to the chickens--which has been great! My feed bill is way down. They eat my imperfect tomatoes, the cucumbers that got too big, and the tops to all my radishes.

It's been a very busy season. Most everything has been successful and I'm better able to see where I need to improve and what I should try next. My goal for this winter is to continue my garden, even if it's just a little lettuce under grow-lights and a couple of tomato plants in pots.

Our goal is to eventually grow the majority of our own food. Not to save money--because you don't. Big agro conglomerates can raise meat and produce far more cheaply than I can. But at least I know what's in my food--and what's not.

I go to bed tired every night, but wake up raring to go. That's a good life. 

Do you enjoy what you do for your life's work? If not, what would you like to do?


Jenny Schwartz said...

It all looks wonderful ... then again, I'm not the one doing the hard work!

Maria Zannini said...

Jenny: And I just put the wrong date on this post. LOL. Oh, well.

LD Masterson said...

Oh, thank goodness. My granddaughter's birthday is tomorrow and when I saw that date I thought I'd missed it. Whew.

Um, when you talk about getting rid of this breed of chichens or that breed of chickens...what exacrly do you mean. Are we talking stew pot?

I'm having chicken sympathy pains up here.

Maria Zannini said...

Linda: I goofed. I thought it was the 19th and dated the post for the 20th.

Ref: chickens
Unless a chicken is a pet most people don't keep them past 3 years anyway since they don't lay as well.

It's the pot for them.

KarenG said...

Processing the fruit and vegetables is something I always resist but when I do it get on a roll and then start canning and freezing everything, like watermelon rind pickles. I miss my backyard homestead of our old house *sigh*

Raelyn Barclay said...

If I thought I could get away...I'd come and help you put up all that yummy harvest :)

I don't know how long you've had your fruit trees but I know when we had apricots and apples it was about 3 years before we saw a quality yield. I'm still waiting for our orange tree to do something...think we got a dud, LOL.

It all looks fabulous Maria!

Maria Zannini said...

KarenG: You're probably a lot better at it than I am. :)

Raelyn: If I could afford it, I'd fly you over here. LOL. You're the kind of help I need.

You're right about the fruit trees. Most of them have only been here two years and I'm sure last year's drought really messed them up even if they do look healthy now. I'm just impatient.

Shelley Munro said...

I always find your state of the homestead posts interesting. I totally understand the canning thing. I remember my mother spending hours preserving fruit and vegetables. Have you thought of drying some of your produce? Sundries tomatoes for instance equals yummy :)

Maria Zannini said...

Shelley: You're a mind reader! That's what I'm doing tonight--and why I'm still up.

This is the first time I'm drying tomatoes. We love sun-dried tomatoes so I'm looking forward to see how these turn out.

Mike Keyton said...

I would just love your energy. Now if you could bottle that you'd be famous - but probably dead. Maria canned or preserved, or just hunted like the African black rhino. My mind is wandering...probably because I have so little to do : )

Great post. Enviable life.

Southpaw said...

That's so incredible. It sounds rewarding - well except for all the not fun bits.;)

Next, time you talk of your chicks, post a pic of the green eggs!

Nadja Notariani said...

I'm with you. I'll do the planting - I'll tolerate the weeding - and I love the harvesting (to eat, that is). But when it comes to long term storage....not so much.

Love your chicks. We have one 'Easter-Egg-Layer'...she's working overtime right now. I've had the best laying results (brown eggs) with Red-Sex-Link chickens. always know you're getting a female or male by their baby feathers...reddish are females, yellow are males.

My garden is non-existent this year beyond a few basics. I've got my herb garden and we'll have tomatoes. That's it! My husband didn't want to put one in this year as we'll be gone too much to properly care for it. Sigh. There's always the farmer's market! :) Ha.

Marguerite Butler said...

Your gardens look wonderful. Mine are so pitiful this year. They sort of got away from me in all the craziness. My favorite hens have been my red sex links. Easy to sort as babies and reliable providers of lovely brown eggs. I also enjoy my Easter Eggers (Ameraucana).

I still owe you some goat pictures. Someday (my new mantra). Someday.

Darke Conteur said...

Nice pictures! I will admit I'm jealous that your corn is so tall. I'm also jealous that you can garden through the winter. My last harvest will be around the middle of September I think.

Angela Brown said...

As someone with no garden, chicks or anything of that nature, I would have to say that whatever work you put into processing your harvest is going to be a lot of work. Honestly, I have a greater appreciation for what you and other homesteaders do because of the amount of work you put in on a daily basis.

As for loving the work I do...well, I'm working on that.

Sarah Ahiers said...

Yay! Garden post! My garden post is written and ready to post on monday (though the pics are a few weeks out of date)
Our garlic isn't doing as good this year. I don't think we have enough nitrogen.
And I know i've told you before how badly badly badly i want chickens. Sigh.
And also, don't feel bad, we also have a tough time actually doing stuff with what we grow. A lot of it goes to the guinea pigs and the dogs, but a f air chunk just ends up back in the composter or given out to friends.

Maria Zannini said...

Mike: Ref: probably because I have so little to do...
Careful about saying that too loud. Bernadette might find you something to do. :)

Holly: I think I posted a green egg before, but I'll try to remember to get a shot of a small batch of them before I put them in the incubator.

Nadja: The sex-link chickens make life so much easier to figure out how many of each you have. I hope you'll post pictures on your blog soon. I'd love to see them.

Maria Zannini said...

Marguerite: Yes! Goat pictures!! My garden is starting to get away from me too. That always happens as I start harvesting. Not enough time to weed with having to put up the food.

Darke: The corn was taller than that picture. I took it a couple of weeks ago. I think I'll need a lot more nitrogen for them next year. They're heavy feeders.

Maria Zannini said...

Angela: Well, you know where I live...sort of. I can always send you directions if you find yourself near Dallas.

Sarah: You MUST get chickens so we can compare notes. You will never go without once you get them. I have friends who'll eat my chickens' eggs as a special treat.

Courtney Johnson said...

We have a mini pumpkin patch growing in our compost heap. They're beautiful pumpkins, of course. It's been slow to get going for us this year, veggie-wise, but things are finally starting to roll in!

Kim said...

My grandfather used to keep a garden (with me out there weeding and watering all summer long while he hightailed it to the shore) and he canned all kinds of things. When we cleaned out my mom's house a few years ago, my brother and I found some of the fruits he'd canned that got stored on a shelf in the garage and forgotten.

I'd love to have a garden, but I can't seem to find a patch of yard that would work. This side's too wet, that side doesn't get sun. The only perfect place is the front yard and that just isn't going to happen. The quest continues!

James Garcia Jr. said...

How interesting, Maria! Really! Ordinarily I might have skipped this post - I don't have time to look at every post that drops into my inbox - but since it was my buddy *waves* I thought I'd check it out. Alsmost all of my food comes in packages, so it was very cool to hear how it really should be done, and how hard it can be.
I was also curious about how you handled the birds. We recently rescued a couple of doves that had fallen out of a nest in our yard. It was stressful and I checked on their progress every day and marveled at how quickly they grew. Sadly, one became part of the food chain, but I was pleased that the other had made it. We feed the birds so we have a backyard full of them, and so many nests. I'm hoping our mortality rate improves. It hasn't been great over the years.
Anyway, very insightful and a very amusing post.


Maria Zannini said...

Courtney: This is the second year in a row that one of the decorative squashes took root in a garden that had been tilled deeply. You can't kill those things. :) I might try to grow pumpkins in the back garden. More room.

Kim: LOL. I keep threatening my husband that I'm going to dig up the front yard and grow edible plants. I'm not overly fond of grass.

Jimmy: What a good guy you are to help those poor doves. Sometimes nature has its way despite our best intentions. All we can do is try.

Writer Pat Newcombe said...

Your garden sounds great and the sunflower pic is soooo pretty! Keep up the hard work!

Cate Masters said...

I'm tired just reading about it! Your gardens look wonderful, though. I'm envious. My little patch of land doesn't produce much, but I do attempt tomatoes and cukes. Last year I tried the upside-down hanging tomatoes (they look so nice in the photos!) but didn't get anything from them. Back to the land this year.

Jennifer Shirk said...

Green eggs, huh? Pretty neat.

There is something about growing your own food and knowing exactly what you're eating.