Greenhouse Project: Plan Adjustment

I had almost forgotten about the jigsaw greenhouse we bought in 2012 only to sell the parts in 2013. Now we are working on building a hoophouse style greenhouse…for real this time.

a pinch of homestead

Our plan this year was to put up the greenhouse we bought at an auction last year. We bought it sight unseen…our family was at the auction and described it to us. They told us that it was in pieces…

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We brought it home, put the glass in the garage and piled the rest out back on cardboard.

It came with four sturdy tables with wooden slat bottoms. Perfect for starting seeds or filling with leafy green. It also came with a pack of pictures showing how to construct it.

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It was a professional grade greenhouse that used to be at a local flower shop in our hometown.

When we finally got around to getting the underground wires and cables marked by JULIE and determining where we were going to put it, we quickly realized that this was going to be a MUCH bigger project than we had anticipated.

The slope…

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Significant

I wrote this post a few years ago during a particularly trying time at home with the boys. That MOPs group has since disbanded, but I learned so much from the ladies and made quite a few friends in the bargain. This post applies to our homeschool and reading it has helped to remind me that ‘momming’, ‘wifing’ and teaching are only a part of who I am as a person.

a pinch of homestead

Rain. Wind. Gloom.

It has been a rough couple of weeks. The boys, cooped up all day in the house, have gone stir crazy and I’ve come right along with them.

I’ve yelled. I’ve shouted. I’ve cried tears of frustration.

Then, I remembered that MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) was on Friday morning. A break! A 1 hour and 45 minute break. I could drink coffee and commiserate with other moms while the boys played with other little people their own age.

Real conversation. Real play.

At first, I didn’t want to talk to anyone about all of the screaming going on in my house. I didn’t want anyone to judge me. I didn’t want to feel worse from the looks of shock I thought other moms would give me for losing my cool so often.

But I decided to put myself out there. Take a risk. I posted this note on our group page…

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History on the Homestead

History is fascinating. The boys are always asking me questions about their past, my past, their dad’s past.

“Were you a kid once Mommy?”

“Did Daddy eat broccoli when he was little?”

They are starting to become more curious about what happened…before.

Before they were born and before they could remember.

I wanted to start introducing them to, not just their own history, but their grandparent’s, great-grandparent’s and great-great-grandparent’s history.

We are using Story of the World (SOTW) Year One: Ancient Times as our history curriculum this year. I chose SOTW because it is a great, hands-on, take-your-time-and-have-fun curriculum.

We read the introduction “What is History?” the first week in September and started our timelines. (above)

We started Chapter 1 the second week in September. We talked about nomads, the Fertile Crescent and the first farmers.

We made our own cave paintings with a paper grocery sack and acrylic paint and watched The Croods for fun.

We started Chapter 2 recently. Chapter 2 is about the Ancient Egyptians. Our first craft in Chapter 2 was building papyrus boats out of straws, duct tape and string.

We floated them in the bathtub and the boys had their little Lego figures sailing along and, I think, fishing.

The activity book in Chapter 2 had instructions to make a model of the Nile with dirt and grass seed in a tin casserole pan.

What a cool project! We were all ready to make our model when my husband said, “Why don’t you make it out in the swales?”

Of course we should make it out in the swales! It’s a bigger model and the boys get to get muddy and play in the dirt.

We trekked out to the pond (which is really just a large puddle now) with shovels and spades and a map of the Nile and got started.

Joe directed traffic for a bit as he consulted the map. There were a few tense moments where they argued over who got to dig the “split part” aka the Delta, but in the end they worked it out.

Joe worked from the top, Jake from the bottom and I helped in the middle with instruction on the depth and shape from both of them.

After about an hour of hard work digging in thick, goopy clay, we had a miniature Nile on our homestead.

Now it was time to test it out. We had a slight problem deciding out to flood the Nile, our hose wasn’t long enough and it was a clear, sunny day so we couldn’t count on heavy rains. In the end, Joe suggested we use a bucket of water.

We got the papyrus boats we had made the previous week and proceeded to flood our mini Nile.

It worked! Our papyrus boats floated down the river after getting stuck only once or twice and out into the Mediterranean Pond/puddle.


We did it a few more times before the river started filling in and everyone got hungry for lunch.

It was fun, engaging, messy and exciting. We will likely also make the model in the tin pan, but the boys will have the memory of playing in the mud to create the Nile with them for a long time.

It’s now part of their history.

 

Death by Milky Spore

This week, I walked through the property with a giant bag of St. Gabriel Organics Milky Spore.

I’m determined–no, I’m desperate to stop the Japanese beetles from completely decimating my trees, vines and shrubs next year. This year was hard enough.

What is this ‘milky spore’? 

Milky spore is a soil-dwelling bacterium responsible for infecting any white grub with ‘milky disease’.

The grubs ingest the tiny pellets and the bacterium slowly kills the beetle grub from the inside out. The silent torture lasts for 7-21 days before the grub succombs to the poison.

As the dead grub decomposes, more of this wonderful elixir is released into the soil bringing death to even more grubs.

Is it safe?

For the grubs? Absolutely not.

For our beneficial insect friends? Of course!

We wouldn’t be spreading it if it had any chance of harming our pollinators. It is not harmful to birds, pets or people…just don’t eat it by the handful or fill the dog’s food dish with it.

It’s a natural occurring bacterium in many soils, but the Japanese beetle is not native to this country and the problem has become so bad that our soil may need a little boost to have a chance.

Does it work?

Here is where my confidence in the bacterium takes a hit. The results are so mixed, so different and so debated that it is nearly impossible to know if this treatment will truly work.

Some say not to bother spreading it because if your neighbor doesn’t, the beetles will just fly in from their yard to your plants. It has absolutely NO effect on adult beetles so must be ingested at the grub stage.

Other people are just plain impatient*. It can take 2-5 years to see results and who is to say the results are due to the milky spore application? It could be any number of environmental factors that reduced the beetle population.

(*I fear I will fall into this category. My track record with positive results in gardening and pest control is not great.)

Should I do it anyway?

Yes, yes…a thousand times yes! I’m willing to try anything to combat these beetles. Even if I don’t see results until 5 years later, my wrath will be calmed just knowing that somewhere, deep under the ground, Japanese beetle grubs are meeting their end.

 

Eggsperiments

We are a house obsessed with all things egg.

We like to eat them fried, scrambled, boiled or deviled.

We use them for baking, for breakfast and sometimes for lunch and dinner.

Yes, we are a house full of egg enthusiasts and, just when we thought we couldn’t find another way to enjoy the egg, DIY Sci came to Prime.

DIY Sci is a Fox series hosted by Steve Spangler and a recent Amazon Prime discovery for my boys. The show is fast paced and silly with fun experiments and scientific explanations.

Everything Spangler does can be done at home with (mostly) common household items.

Like vinegar…and plastic bottles…and eggs.

First, the boys used an empty bottle, paper plate and cracked egg to demonstrate how to use to suction to separate the yolk from the white without breaking it.

I was totally impressed with this. I always make a mess or break the yolk when I try separating eggs…even when I use those little egg separator tools. Who knew that all I needed was an empty water bottle?

Then, Joe wanted to show me how to squeeze and egg so it wouldn’t crack. He held it in his hand longways and squeezed. It didn’t break! Then I tried it, but didn’t hold it longways like he did…what a mess that was.

The latest experiment was an oldie but a goodie. The ol’ blow-the-egg-out-of-its-shell-through-a-pinhole trick.

The shell was still intact after this one so Joe wanted to use it for one more eggsperiment: The Rubber Egg.

He put the empty egg in a glass, covered it with vinegar and weighed it down so it would stay completely submerged.

After a few days, he checked on it and sure enough, some of the outer shell had dissolved.

DIY Sci has inspired may experiments around the house, but so far the eggs have been the most fun. It is probably not a coincidence that they are also the messiest.

 

PJ the Hen

The boys have named our free-range hen Pecky Jr.

We call her PJ for short.

We pulled her out because the other hens had decided she was the weakest link. They attacked her, bloodied her and I was sure they would soon kill her.

Picture of PJ from August 16, 2017.

She now looks better than all of the other hens of her flock and she is much friendlier.

PJs vicious sisters

No hand pecking. No angry squawks. No vicious glares.

PJ on September 20, 2017

We haven’t done much to ‘domesticate’ her, but she comes running when we come outside and follows at my heels when I check for eggs.

She even eats right out of our hands if we approach her slowly and calmly whisper words of encouragement.

She has her own container of water, and we throw down a cup chicken feed when we are refilling the others.

That may sound mean, but she finds so much to eat in the pasture, yard and garden that we don’t feel the need to leave a dish of food out for her. The other hens eat less feed when they have new ground to peck and PJ’s diet is probably more diverse and nutrient-rich.

The only problem is…we don’t know where she is laying her eggs.

There have been times I thought she was gone. Taken by a coyote or raccoon. But when I head out to the coop to feed and water the chickens she suddenly appears.

I’ve started watching to see where she comes from but the moment I turn my back, she’s at my heels, waiting for scraps. She’s definitely coming from the pasture, so I am sure her eggs are somewhere in the wild grass.

Hopefully, a raccoon or other predator is eating them because I sure don’t want to find them by smell.

That is an experience I hope never to repeat.

Pecky Junior roams
Hoping for a tasty scrap
Circling our heels

 

 

 

Flexibility

Homeschool on our Homestead has gone through several drastic changes.

When we first started, I thought I’d create a schedule that we would follow every day of the week.

We’d start in the morning at 9AM and be done by noon with each subject having a specific time and day. We’d play and do chores everyday.

The first day was a huge success. We were all excited and ready to get going. It felt great to check the boxes and cross out completed tasks…one of my favorite things.

The second day was less exciting. The third day I had to push to keep the boys on task and by the end of the first week we were all frustrated and in tears.

The strict schedule was not for us.

I was trying too hard to mimic public school with the strict schedule. I’d forgotten that one of the things we really loved about homeschooling was the flexibility.

So we tried no schedule next. I would observe them daily and whatever caught their interest would be turned into a lesson.

I’d try to cram English and Science into everything we did. I randomly bombarded them with questions and ended up pushing them, and myself, too hard to try and fit everything in.

We did a lesson on opaque, translucent and transparent materials.

I worried that we weren’t doing enough and that they’d fall behind their peers. After two weeks of struggling, I was in tears and felt like I was failing.

‘No schedule’ was not for us. 

We tried a loop schedule, then a block schedule and neither worked. Everything we tried made all of us more stressed.

Then, as I was planning this year’s goals, I decided to write a mission statement to help me get back to our reasons for homeschooling in the first place.

“Our goal as a homeschooling family is to create a love of learning in our children. We want them to remain curious knowledge-seekers and problem-solvers. We want them to be self-directed learners and be able to, each year, work more independently. We want them to become stronger and smarter every day.”

Writing this mission statement made me realize that we didn’t need a schedule. We needed a routine that would allow for my need to check boxes and the boys need for breathing room…and choice.

A routine doesn’t have to be done at a specific time. We may not start at 9 every day. We may have doctor appointments, grocery shopping, last minute field trips or any number of things pop up.

In history, we are studying Ancient Times. The boys simulated cave drawings using paint rather than charcoal and ochre.

Our routine changes, but the basics stay the same.

  • English at least three days a week
  • History at least two days a week
  • Science at least one day a week
  • Field trips and classes at least one day a week
  • Math and reading everyday
  • Chores everyday
  • Learning everyday

Nothing has a specific day assigned, everything is flexible. The only requirement is for the boys–all of us–to become stronger and smarter everyday.

Look for magic in the daily routine. – Lou Barlow

 

A Boy and his Chicken

A boy and his chicken
Had a little chat
They pondered on the weather
And talked of this and that

To hear their conversation
You’d never even know
That only one was talking
A constant, steady flow

The chicken clucked and shuffled
The boy yakked on and on
While feeding Queenie bits of grass
He’d pulled out of the lawn

She stood and seemed to listen
She clucked and moved her head
But when the boy stopped talking
She quickly turned and fled

 

Spoiled Eggs

Skulking and sneaking
I thought she was dead
But here she is peeking
Now I’m filled with dread

She’s laying eggs somewhere
I watch her and wonder
Will I find them out there?
Which bush are they under?

I’ve looked in the tall grass
I’ve searched under sheds
I’ve peaked when I pass
All of my garden beds

But still I can’t find them
And I greatly fear
My sniffer will smell ’em
If I ever draw near

Guess What? Chicken…

Warning! This post is informational, but kind of icky. If you are grossed out by chicken butt problems, beware!

Something strange is going on with the hen’s butts.

Sure, they’ve molted and are now pecking at each other.

Sure, their butts are bound to be dirty with the constant pooping.

Sure, they’ve been dust bathing with their poop crusted bare bottoms in a dirt and diatomaceous earth (DE) mix.

So what the heck is it?

Now, I’m not a big fan of this breed. They are mean and horrible to each other and they have tried to peck my hands too many times to count.

That, however, does not mean I want them to suffer. Afterall, they do provide us with fresh, delicious eggs, entertainment and learning experiences for the boys (and us).

I went to my favorite chicken blog, Backyard Chickens to try and figure out what is going on.

Their symptoms, and the appearance of the disgusting, white/yellow foamish coating on their rear, is consistent with vent gleet aka “Nasty Chicken Butt”.

Blech.

Vent gleet or “Sticky Vent” is basically a yeast infection affecting female birds and, less commonly, males.

There are TONS of chicken websites out there describing this type of infection, so I’m just going to detail my plan of attack.

Treatment

First, I’m going to bathe the affected bottoms in a mix of water and dish soap.

Then, I’m going to put a molasses/water mix (1/2 C. molasses per gallon) out along with their plain water so they have their choice of beverage for at least a few hours.

Next, I’ll add 2-4 TB of vinegar/gallon of water and keep doing this for several days to, hopefully, kick out the nasty and prevent re-growth.

Finally, and this one is iffy given the temperament of these hens, I’ll feed them each 1TB of plain yogurt per day, also until symptoms are gone. Yogurt has probiotics and live cultures…good bacteria.

There is no way they will let me do this. It’s going to be difficult enough to get them in a bath, let alone get them to calmly take their tablespoon of yogurt.

I will likely just set out a dish of it and see what they do.

Prevention

In order to prevent another onslaught, I will make sure they always have fresh, clean water and dry feed.

I’ll continue to add apple cider vinegar to their water, backing off from 2-4TB to 1TB/gallon. I may also get some probiotic powder to add to their feed.

Yogurt, if the feeding plan works out, will be an occasional treat. 

Did I mention how gross this is? Just in case…

Ew! Gross chicken butts
White, yellow and foamy pus
Ick! There goes breakfast!