The Test Group

Because it’s SO gorgeous…and warm…and sunny, we decided to take the seedlings out for a little fresh air and direct sunlight.

They looked happy once they were released from the stuffy indoors. They gazed longingly at the freshly scratched soil in the kitchen garden. They begged me with their green leaves to get them in the ground.

“Ok,” I told them. “But just a few of you.

I planted a tomato that had started to droop. I dug a deep hole, planted it past the first set of leaves and lightly covered it with straw.

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The seedling looked so big in its little pot and seemed so puny once in the ground.

Next, a sad and sagging broccoli plant went in the ground. It too looked so small once settled in the garden. It got the same treatment as the tomato with a blanket of straw to keep it warm.

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I sowed some lettuce, orach and choy in a raised bed just off the deck. Then, I planted my large oregano smack in the middle.

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I was just about ready to call it quits for the day, when the strawberry starts stretched their stems as if shouting, “Me, me, pick me!”

I planted all 6 seedlings in another raised bed and both seed packets. I’ve never planted strawberries from seed before. I don’t have much hope for them, but the picture on the seed packet looked so delicious that I couldn’t resist.

My two assistants worked hard. Jake dug the holes, I planted and Joe watered. At the end, we worked together to cover the entire bed with a row cover. We made quite the team.

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Frost, frost, stay away
Don’t come back until Winter
And don’t kill my plants

We’re Ready!

We’re reaching! We’re straining!
We’re stretching our leaves!
Hey sunshine! Get out here
And roll up your sleeves!

The chickens have finished
The garden is planned
We need to get out there
Please give us a hand!

We’re ready! We’re eager!
It’s time for the show!
Warm weather is nearing…
Let’s get on our grow!

Spring Science on the Homestead

Today, it is gorgeous. The sun shines, a light breeze drifts through the trees and the boys are enjoying the outdoors. Finally.

We are even starting to see a few birds tentatively testing the warmer weather and hoping that Spring is here to stay.

I found a perfect lesson at Mystery Science for kicking off Spring:

How could you get more birds to visit a bird feeder?

The lesson started with a couple of short videos about birds’ unique habits and behavior. Mystery Doug introduced a few new terms: biodiversity and prototype. Then, we got to the activity: Design and build a prototype of a bird feeder.

First, the boys each picked the bird they wanted to attract to the feeder. Joe, after a few moments of careful consideration, picked the cardinal.

Jake, almost immediately, picked the jays.

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Then, they answered a few questions: What does my bird eat? Where does it like to stand when eating? And the big one…how can I keep my feeder safe from cats.

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Joe, determined to save all the birds from Boots and Echo, took his prototyping task very seriously. Those cats would NOT get his cardinals.

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Both the Jays and Cardinals prefer a tray-style bird feeder so they can stand right in the pile of seeds and pig out. The boys, of course, turned the design and building activity into a (mostly friendly) competition.

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Once Joe got started, he decided that he also wanted to attract Goldfinches, so he built another prototype of a peg-style bird feeder.

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Once the prototypes were complete, the boys had to brainstorm ways they could protect their feeders from the elements. Using tin foil and binder clips, they both created a shelter and weighted down their feeders to keep them from blowing away.

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Finally, it was time to test them out. We went outside and the boys picked a tree. In order to protect the feeders from the cats, Jake wanted to put his feeder up high.

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Joe wanted to put a fence around the tree to keep the cats out.

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This was the longest lesson we have done in one sitting. The boys spent two hours discussing, designing and prototyping bird houses. TWO HOURS!!!

We learned about biodiversity and engineering, practiced writing in cursive, tapped into our creativity and practiced reading all packaged in one Mystery Science lesson.

 

Ready, Set…Grow!

I’m a little late to the game this year, but the seeds are finally started. All 68 filled and fertilized seed pods are sitting in the South facing window of the schoolroom, waiting.

In a Sunday afternoon, my assistant and I managed to get all the tomatoes, peppers, greens, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and assorted herbs planted.

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Normally, I would have stagger started the seeds, but since it’s March I thought it best to go full blast.

Are all 68 going to bud? Probably not, but we have plenty of room for them even if they do, and plenty of people we can share them with if we get tired of digging holes.

My assistant and I also planted spinach, onions and shallots in a raised bed.

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He even found a spot right next to the driveway where he planted marigolds. He thought it would be a good place for them to grow.

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My seed-starting process was a little different this year.

I bought plastic shoe boxes to hold each pot and wooden clothes pins as labels.

I’ve used plant labels, popsicle sticks and masking tape in the past. All three have been utter failures. I suppose that throwing them out in frustration when they move around and pop out of the pots is a user issue, I’m just not sure. But I’m hoping the clothes pins work out better.

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It was a long process, but my adorable assistant stuck by me through it all and even helped me carry each shoe box into the school room.

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Spring seeds are started
Chickens are prepping the soil
Let the season start!

Fresh Eggs Again!

We were just about to place an order for Red Star chicks when we got the phone call. Eleven hens about 6 months old, needed a new home. Did we want them?

YES!

Not only are they already laying eggs, they are well past the delicate chick stage and have entered the full-grown egg laying stage. We have Buff Orpingtons, Bard Rocks, Silver Spangled Hamburgs and Silver-laced Polish.

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Ray spent the next few days repairing the coop and making the run more secure. All we had to do was figure out how to transport them.

We had an old dog crate, a big piece of plywood and a few 2×4’s. We were able to rig up a chicken transporter.

We took our two chicken whisperers and wrangled 11 birds. I thought we’d need to make a couple of trips, but they all fit in the crate nicely so we made a slow trek back to the house and put them in their new home.

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The poor dears were frightened when we put them in their new hen house, but that didn’t last long.

Once they saw the kitchen garden, they eagerly attacked it and decimated all weeds and remaining pests in a matter of days. They scratched and dug and pecked their way through roots and shoots and found all kinds of yummy bugs and grubs to munch on.

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We didn’t think we would get any eggs from them for at least a few days, but they surprised us. By the end of their first full day on the homestead, they’d given us 6 eggs of assorted size and color.

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The six eggs on the left are from the girls while the four on the right are from the store. 

And these hens? They are…nice. No hand pecking, no angry sqwaucks, no evil plots.

Maybe, just maybe, we can get along. (Fingers crossed.)

Full-grown hens this time
Already laying brown eggs
Nice, friendly and calm

Spring Lessons

Spring means planning the garden, cleaning the house and purging the closets. But it also means fun lessons on gardening and nature and outdoor exploring in warm(er) weather.

We started this week with a lesson on pollination and then, since it was SO nice out, an outdoor cursive scavenger hunt.

The pollinator lesson was a blast. We found it on my favorite science lesson site: Mystery Science. If you have not heard about this site, I highly recommend checking it out.

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The lessons are called mysteries and each mystery is grouped into an overall unit with units grouped by age/level. The content is engaging, the activities are fun and optional extras for extending the lesson are provided. We’ve been using it for the 18 months.

In this lesson, the boys learned about pollination and then made their own paper flowers and pipe cleaner bees to “act out” a bee pollinating flowers.

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We used coffee grounds and cornmeal as our “pollen”. It was super fun and the boys were engaged the entire time.

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Next, we went outside where I had hidden cursive flashcards. I gave each of the boys a clipboard with handwriting paper and explained the rules of the hunt.

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On your mark…

Get set…

GO!

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They raced around to find all the letters of the alphabet and wrote them on their paper. I challenged Joe a bit more. He had to write both upper and lowercase letters since he had learned them all. Jake has only recently learned all of the lowercase letters.

It was close…but Jake finished first took the victory.

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After the hunt was over, the boys played outside for a very, very long time. They jumped on the trampoline, drew sidewalk chalk cities and rode their scooters. It was such a beautiful day.

I’m looking forward to more playful lessons outside. More warm weather. More sunshine.

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The Preview

Summer’s coming
Muddy feet
Fresh-picked berries
Ripe and sweet

Hot sun shining
Grass turns green
Kids are playing
Squeals and screams

Kitties climbing
Garden beds
Ripe tomatoes
Leafy heads

Harsh winds blow
Rain soaks the ground
Sun shines bright
Warmth all around
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What to plant…

As I combed through the Baker Creek Seed Catalog this morning while sipping my coffee, I realized that I may have a problem.

I started with restraint, keeping my seed budget in mind. But as I made my way through the greens, peppers and tomatoes, my resolve faltered and I went a little crazy.

Luckily, I came down from the mania and had enough sense to cross out seeds I already had saved from last season. Whew!

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This year, our big focus is on greens. We, like the rest of the world, made a resolution to eat healthier and (so far) we’ve stuck to it by, sort of, following a ketogenic diet.

We eat salads with just about every meal. And while iceberg lettuce is crisp, it offers little in the way of nutrients.

Greens, purples and reds. Spinach, kale, cabbage and chard. Brussels sprouts and arugula. All super nutrient rich, leafy and delicious in salads.

We’re trying out heirloom variety tomatoes and peppers. We have a dealer for jalapenos so I’m done even trying to grow them.

I’m throwing in a few flowers just for fun. Bells of Ireland, spider flower and euphorbia are unique…at least to me.

We’ll plant a bunch of herbs this year as well. Sadly, they will not go in our herb spiral.

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Planting it around a dead tree stump was a bad idea. Even though we’ve drilled holes in the stump and poured Epsom salt water over and over again, the Bradford pear just refuses to die.

Instead, one of the raised beds we got from the neighbors will be dedicated to herbs.

We have 9 raised beds in all. 6 are filled with topsoil already. They will all eventually go in the greenhouse, but this season we’ll be using all 6.

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One will be an herb bed. Two will be for leafy greens. Another couple for strawberries.

Our kitchen garden will be filled with tomatoes, peppers, beans, cucumbers, carrots, onions, broccoli, cauliflower, okra, zucchini and cabbage.

I’m both excited about and dreading planting the kitchen garden. For the past few years, we’ve let the chickens prep the garden for us. All winter they’ve scratched up, eaten pests and fertilized the soil. But thanks to the fox, that didn’t happen.

Thanks a lot Mr. Fox. Thanks a lot.

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Spring is on the Way!

I have a confession…I have lost my motivation. 

Not for homeschooling. Our year so far has been wonderful. I love the freedom we have to alter our day as we see fit. The boys are thriving and we are having fun. 

Not for writing…I’m still researching publishing houses, sending my work out to magazines and adding to my collection of rejection letters.  

No, what I’ve lost my motivation for is planning the garden.

I have no idea where it went. Perhaps the fox stole it when he ruthlessly slaughtered our chickens or the Japanese beetles killed it with their constant assault on the garden.  

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In an effort to find that lost drive, I looked back at the goals we set at the start of the year. What progress have we made?

  • Start and plant seeds early. Uh…nope.
  • Prepare for the war with pests. Specifically, you guessed it, Japanese Beetles. Well…it has been really, really cold. I’m hopeful that most of the grubs will have frozen to death resulting in fewer beetles. And…I do plan to hit the yard with another treatment of milky spore in Spring.
  • Really, really, REALLY create a strategy for keeping up with the weeds. ?
  • Get that greenhouse going for Spring crops. Well…it has been really, really cold…
  • Order replacement chickens. Hmmm…

After reading through these goals and realizing I’ve done little nothing to meet them, my enthusiasm is in overdrive and my mind is whirring with ideas, wants and wishes. There is so much to do! With the last frost date only a few months away, there are plans to make, seeds to start and chicks to order. 

The first step? Inventory seeds and drool over this gorgeous seed catalog. Oh, and try not to go overboard this year. Again. 

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Motivation found
Time to plan, start and order
Spring is on the way

 

 

 

 

 

Bitter Victories

These bitter winds
I do not mind
Nor the chilly nights

The salted roads
Don’t bother me
I like the cold and ice

The ground is cold
The frost is thick
The wind has quite a bite

It’s how I know
When Spring arrives
Most grubs won’t see the light

Let Winter stay
Until late March
‘Til all her work is done

We’ll win a fight
Against our foe
Beetles: 5; Us: 1

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