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Thursday, August 9, 2012

State of the Homestead

The heat is back and we've been roasting down here. Despite the triple digits, it's still not as bad as the drought we had last year.

I find it interesting that the media has been harping that the price of food will skyrocket because of the drought, yet our drought was worse last year and the only thing it affected was the cost of hay.

By the way, food prices were supposed to go up late fall. Yet, grocers (and feed stores) are already charging more for the same products. Can we say price gouging?

Consumers just can't catch a break.

Scorpions and Snakes, oh my! They've been awful lately. Greg dragged a giant snake out of the chicken yard. (That's him on the right--the snake, not Greg.)

I found a smaller snake in my studio. Why the heck was it in my studio--and more importantly, how the heck did it get inside? 

Full disclosure: When I found that snake, I used more colorful language than "heck".

We've been using sticky pads and have been catching scorpions on a regular basis. I even caught a husband once, but it was a 'catch and release'.

Chickens: I won't show the picture here, (I know some of you have weak stomachs) but we butchered most of the Buff Orphingtons. I'm replacing them with the Maran. The picture I wanted to post was the inside of a hen with eggs in various stages of development. It was fascinating. The hen is a true egg machine.

But as a breed, the Orphingtons were not very good chickens. They ate a lot. Got fat. And didn't produce near as many eggs as the other birds. Worse yet, when I free-ranged them, they were the only birds that insisted on getting into my garden. They wanted a free meal, rather than hunt for their food. They had to go. On this homestead everyone must work for their keep.

The Maran is a new breed of chicken for me. They lay dark brown eggs which is a bit of a novelty. See the picture to the left. The green and light brown eggs are from the Americaunas. The dark brown eggs are from the Maran. Pretty cool, huh?

I found a rooster and two hens locally. Everything looked good in the beginning. The hens laid small but nice dark brown eggs. But then I moved them to their permanent pen, and all production stopped.

Update: It's been 3 weeks since I wrote this and one of the hens is starting to produce again.

They are very skittish--especially the rooster. I have a feeling he's going to be invited to dinner as soon as I can find his replacement. He refuses to mate with his hens! I've never heard of such a thing.

Everyone always asks for pictures of newborn chicks, so here's a short video.

Gardens: My regular garden is nearly done. There are a few peppers and eggplants producing, but it's time to put it to bed.

My new garden is still going strong. The tomatoes are especially nice looking there. The sweet potatoes, mangels, and loofahs are beautiful and robust. Grasshoppers decimated my sunflowers and corn though. I harvested some corn, but those darn hoppers took out ALL my sunflowers. I didn't get a single one.

The tomatoes in my new garden tasted better and were meatier. We had a little problem early on with blossom end rot (you gardeners know what that is) but when I started flooding the rows and sprinkling each plant with crushed eggshells, they snapped out of it and produced beautifully.

Our onions are fantastic too. Very sweet. I am eating them as treats in between store-bought onions because I want them to last as long as possible.

Peppers took a long time to produce this year. The bell peppers came early, but the hot peppers are just now making an appearance. Too late for a completely organic salsa so I had to improvise.

Mangels and beets were so-so. I'm only growing them for livestock feed but I'm a little disappointed they weren't as robust as I was told. Right now I'm not sure if it's the soil, too much sun, or not enough water. Has anyone grown beets? Any suggestions?

We were very pleased overall with the quality of the produce in the new garden. I'd like to convince Greg to let me rest the old garden in 2013 and just use the new garden.

Homestead chores are winding down to a less breakneck speed. I'll be glad for the slower lifestyle in the winter. Whoever thinks living in the country is carefree and tranquil does not live here.

I'm ready for my break.

What's new in your neck of the woods? Books, kids, gardens, Olympics?

NOTE: I'm experimenting and recently changed the Comment Options on this blog and Back to Basics. If you can't comment for any reason, would you email me and let me know? Thanks!


E.J. Wesley said...

Maria, not sure if you're blogging from Texas, but I live in the San Antonio area and can confirm that this summer hasn't been nearly as bad as last. July was downright bearable. August has been on the warm/dry side for sure, but it's August. It felt like this in May last year.

Anyway, very impressed by your farm. I grew up on a small one in Oklahoma, and your posts always take me back. :) You can keep the snakes, though!

Angelina Rain said...

Ref: Snakes and scorpions
Yikes! I've always wanted to move to the south but it's those two words, along with bugs, that keeps me away.

Ref: Food Prices
That sucks. Since you are getting a food price increase, I can only imagine how bad it will get here. I mean, with us, we pay what you pay, plus extra because the food has to be shipped and gas prices go up, plus various taxes this state decides to add to line their own pockets, oops budget. Yup, that's the excuse they use.

Ref: Hen picture
That picture you speak of sounds very interesting, but thanks for not sharing as I do have a weak stomach when it comes to dead animals.

Ref: Blog comments
I had no problem posting here, but it did take me a while to figure out how to post on the B to B blog. The comment option didn't show up there. Instead, I had to find this tini-tiny text all the way at the bottom, like a type size 9 (that's how small) that said post a comment, in order to actually comment on your blog.

Cate Masters said...

I'd use much more colorful language than heck too! Though we have a six-foot black snake who regularly passes through our yard (and uses our trees to shed his skin), and he's actually pretty friendly. My kids pet him. I just said hi from a distance, lol

Maria Zannini said...

EJ: I never seem to be able to give away those snakes.

I agree about the weather. It's hot, but it's not the heat we had last year. I think we were 76+ days of triple digits. I live in north Texas.

Thanks for popping in. Always nice to meet a fellow farmer (past or present).

Maria Zannini said...

Angelina: What gripes me is when they raise the price of produce that's shipped from Chile or wherever. They didn't have a drought this year. What gives?

And there was another interesting tidbit of info that came across my desk just now.

When Barack Obama entered the White House, the average price of a gallon of gasoline was $1.85. Today, it averages $3.59.

I checked it and it was true.
(click on the 5-year chart)

I often feel there's no one out there to defend the little guy. We're on our own.

Maria Zannini said...

Cate: LOL! Yeah, I'd be saying hi from a distance too.

Ordinarily I have a live and let live philosophy (except for scorpions), but when snakes and coyotes get too close to me and mine, one of us has to leave and it's not going to be me.

Giacomo Giammatteo said...

Maria, that is a beautiful snake! I know most people don't like snakes but they can be stunning. We have some that have lived in our garden by the house for years. I do relocate the venomous ones, though.

Stacy McKitrick said...

What's new with me? The Olympics. I'll kind of be glad when they are over and life can get back to normal (such as my bedtime). But I love to watch them. Too bad most of it is pre-recorded, but I understand why. The telecast certainly beats out what used to be shown back in the 70's and 80's. I certainly can watch more of them now.

And I'm glad I don't live in an area that has snakes (well, not that many) and scorpions. Yuck! I'd be freaking out every single day!

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

It's been a little dry here in PA, not like for you. After last year's record wet, I still can't hope for rain, but I hope it for you.

Maria Zannini said...

Jim: I am not a fan of snakes--mostly because they move faster than I can. But if they leave me alone, I'll leave them alone.

Stacy: We've done pretty good in the Olympics. It looked at first we were off to a shaky start but they all look good now.

And yes, I freak out daily. Every once in a while I wonder if we should move to New Zealand. Isn't that where they don't have any nasty bugs or reptiles?

Susan: I'll take any rain that's offered. :)

Angela Brown said...

I got tired just reading all the work you've been up to on the homestead.

Appreciate the NOT putting up of butchered chickens. Please let me keep my ignorance so I can enjoy by rotisserie chicken from HEB lol!!

That snake! OMG! I probably would have fainted and been bitten. Shuddering just thinking about it.

Shelley Munro said...

Shudder. Everytime you post about creepy crawlies I shudder. We are so lucky!

I'm not sure what the answer is to your beets. Hubby grows them often. Sometimes they grow well, but the last lot didn't grew into large beets. I suspect it's a combo of the weather and the soil, but I couldn't tell you 100%.

Your loofahs fascinate me. I hope you'll include some photos at some stage. Do they dry out on the plant or do you harvest and dry them?

Maria Zannini said...

Angela: How are you going to manage when you come up to visit? :)

Shelley: Darn. I should've taken some action shots of the loofahs. Some are already drying on the vine. Since the climate is drier here than in SE Texas, I'll probably let them all dry on the vine.

I'll go out and take some pictures tonight when the heat dies down.

Charlee Allden said...

That snake would have made me say something stronger than "heck" also! Oh, my!

I really hate scorpions. Really, really. Even the not so poisonous ones we have here hurt like crazy when they get you.

Glad the new hens are laying! Gathering eggs was one of my chores when I was a kid. The roster we had was half the size of the chickens and had fifty times the personality. LOL.

Maria Zannini said...

Charlee: You said it! Those scorpion stings hurt worse than any other sting I've ever encountered. And scorpions fear nothing. They will happily attack you if you breathe in their general direction.

Jenny Schwartz said...

So far my little suburban garden on the other side of the world has been snake free. The only reptilian visitors are skinks, both the forearm size ones (hate those!) and the finger length ones (they're cute).

I'm going to be popping in some tomato plants soon ... fun watching how our growing seasons overlap.

Jackie Burris said...

Maria the only thing we have left is okra and the plants are shriveling in the heat here in Central Texas.

Snakes have not seen but one itty bitty copper head and it met it's maker the same day it slithered over my husband's boot in the yard, scorpions seem to have gone back in the woodwork so to speak for the past month and hope they stay gone!

Nice chicks, glad it is you not myself as hate processing chickens once you kill them. My Mom used to get a hen every once in a while and butcher it to eat, the stink of singed down feathers when she burned them off with her burner on the stove still lingers in the back of my throat after almost 35 years since last smelling it!

Jennifer Shirk said...

Oh gosh, the snakes would FREAK me out!

I'm going to start a garden next year once we get rid of our swingset. Eggshells for tomatoes, huh? Have to remember that.

Maria Zannini said...

Jenny: That is cool! It makes me glad I don't have to do this all year long. I'm going to have a little winter garden, but nothing on the scale of the summer gardens.

Jackie: We do our processing outside now. Much better for everyone involved. :)

Ref: copperheads
Eeks. I found one under a bucket once. I don't know which of us ran away faster. LOL.

Jennifer: Let me tell you a story about eggshells. This year, a volunteer tomato plant started in my compost bin where I had been throwing many of my eggshells.

It turned into the most robust and beautiful plant on the whole place. It's still producing tomatoes. Plus, I have never watered it, not once.

Barbara Ann Wright said...

Do green eggs taste different? Do you serve them with ham? ^_^

Dru said...

That's a big snake.

I have the same question as Barbara, does the green, brown, white, beige eggs taste differently?

Maria Zannini said...


Egg color makes no difference. The difference in taste is whether they're cage-fed, range-fed, or fed organic food. The darker the yolk, the healthier it is. The yolks from my chickens are almost orange. That comes from having a varied diet of free range and veggies.

Mike Keyton said...

Maria, I'm convinced you have a barn full of Maria dopplegangers slaving away on that homestead of yours...singing at night around a large open fire after a hard day's toil, killing the odd chicken. (I only hope there's a few dopplegangers of Greg to balance things out)

Anonymous said...

Grossness aside, I bet the eggs within the chicken were fascinating. The kind of thing I love showing the boys :)

I'm getting ready to plant my fall garden. Completely missed my window for spring/early summer. Crossing fingers it works out better than last years, LOL.

Ref: Beets
I always grow them with my carrots. Usually a row of carrots followed by a row of beets followed by a row of carrots etc. I have found the round type of beets don't grow as well in the desert but I'm not sure if it's heat or sand content in the soil or what. I've had the best luck with the more tuber type beet. I love them because I can plant during both growing seasons here.

My neck of the woods is all about back to school stuff...1 kid down, 3 to go, LOL.

Maria Zannini said...

Mike: Ha! I wish! We're always expecting magical elves to show up and finish building the goat pen or put up fence, but no, it never happens. They're probably union elves.

Maria Zannini said...

Raelyn: I wanted to put a fall garden in, but now I'm wondering if I should just settle for potted veggies. I could use the break.

Ref: beets
I keep suspecting the heat. Next year I'm going to try to plant them earlier and see if they're growth pattern changes.

Nadja Notariani said...

I haven't had a Buff... My best layers are the red-sex-links. Although, my little Araucana - who is not noted for being a large producer - lays very well.

I used to be able to let my chickens loose in the yard in the afternoons. Our dog that passed away last year was such a good girl. Zutchka, my Shepherd...he's another story. He just itches to chase those chickens. Alas...the girls stay in their coop and outside run with him around. Lol.

Sounds like your garden is producing - and the freezer is stocked with chicken. Feels good, no? The snakes and lizards and scorpions...I could do without. The only good snake is a dead snake. Not a reptile friendly statement, but I make no apologies. I don't like them. Oy!

Price gouging??? Imagine that! Makes me ill. The price of groceries has sky-rocketed in our area over the last few years.

Maria Zannini said...

Nadja: The buffs were calm birds, just not particularly productive.

Ref: dogs
Iko is bad around the birds too. He doesn't try to hurt them, but he chases them relentlessly, giving us all conniptions.

James Garcia Jr. said...

*raises hand*
I had a question. When you put your husband trap down, were you actually hunting for ytour own husband or any male with a wedding ring? *grins*
Ugh! Still with the snakes, Maria? *quotes Charlie Brown* "I can't stand it!"
Very cute chicks. There's no joke there. I'm being literal now. I don't want to push my luck w/ the yuck-yucks.


Maria Zannini said...

Jimmy: I didn't go out to trap a husband. He got caught on the glue traps when he was setting them out.

It seems we see the most snakes after a big rain, and more scorpions when it gets hot and dry. :sigh:

Maybe I should consider a colder climate.