The Flock(s)

The weather has been SO hot and humid lately. This coldish front coming in is a welcome break for all on the homestead.

Especially the girls…and Pecky.

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We lost an older gal last week. I came out to check on them in the early evening and found her in the run.

No sign of foul play.

No pile of feathers.

No visible reason for her death.

So now, we have 3 reds and a blonde left of the old flock, and 14 girls and Pecky in the new.

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Poor Blue is still segregated from the rest of the flock. Each night she tries to roost on top of their run, and every morning she escapes her dog kennel and races to the big pen, wandering ’round and ’round trying to figure out a way to get in.

When she gets bored with that, she roams the yard, pecking at bugs and eating seed heads in the yard and swale.

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She seems to enjoy the amaranth the other girls spread for us.

It had overgrown so I threw a few cuttings in with the ladies and there is an amaranth trail where the run has been.

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Her own eggs are another “treat” she seems to enjoy.

Ray found her toting an empty eggshell in her mouth the other day. It made us wonder if the others attacked her because they knew she was an egg eater.

They certainly seem to give her the cold shoulder now.

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We thought to send her to the freezer, but she may be useful in the garden. She could eat pests and keep the weeds down in the paths.

We are probably going to make some chicken tunnels to keep her from eating all the veggies.

Since it has been so hot, we’ve been giving the girls frozen treats. Bananas, grapes and a block of frozen grain leftover from brewing beer.

Although they were reluctant to try it at first…

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…they soon swarmed and attacked it with vigor.

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Frozen treats for birds
Cool snacks in this humid heat
Spoiled little chickens

The Brooklyn Bridge: A Lesson in Suspension

Since May, the boys and I have been working our way through the 50 States using a great outline I pilfered from an awesome new friend.

At the start of every week, we get a magnet of the state we are going to study and a card with a few state facts. The materials for the day are left in a mailbox I bought at GoodWill, and the boys take turns checking it every morning.

This week, we are studying Vermont.

We fix food, do different activities and check out library books that pertain to each state.

The other day, we learned how maple syrup was made and how to identify the state tree of Vermont: the sugar maple.

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Last week, we were studying New York.

We studied the Statue of Liberty and did an experiment using salt, vinegar and a penny to answer the question: Why is the Statue of Liberty green?

We made a poster with the basics: state capitol, bird, flower, tree, nickname and a drawing of something the state is famous for to add to our wall of states we’ve already studied.

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One morning, the boys found straws, clothespins, popsicle sticks and coloring sheet of the Brooklyn Bridge in the mailbox.

We watched a few YouTube videos to learn more: What kind of bridge is it? How long did it take to build? What was it used for?

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Then, I asked them if they thought they could build their very own suspension bridge. Using the materials left in the mailbox, as well as anything else they could find around the house, they got started.

Joe brought empty toilet paper rolls and elastic string to the table.

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Jake found some styrofoam and golf tees from our craft box to use.

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They made several types of bridges.

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Joe was excited to finally settle on his suspension bridge design using a popsicle stick, straws, golf tees and elastic string.

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He “suspended” it from the wall using tape and put one of his hot wheels cars on it to demonstrate how it worked.

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Then he made a tunnel using clothespins, string and a straw, so we talked a little bit about the Holland Tunnel. Joe was impressed that it went under water.

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They’ve both learned more about bridges and know now that there are different types and ways to build them.

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This project is fun and the boys love seeing what’s in the mailbox each morning.

Sometimes they wake me up, waving what they found and asking me what we are doing for the day.

Sometimes they aren’t too interested or excited about the activity of the day.

But, when I forget to put something in the mailbox, they are disappointed…and that makes me feel like I’m doing things right.

 

 

 

The Black Swallowtail: A Life Cycle Lesson

A few weeks ago we found what we thought was a monarch butterfly caterpillar.

Joe put it in his bug house and a few days later it made a chrysalis.

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We watched and watched and soon it started to turn a dark greenish gray.

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We came home from a trip to the zoo to find it had hatched! But it wasn’t a monarch butterfly. It was a Black Swallowtail.

Joe named it “Beautiful”.

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We opened the bug house and let the sunshine dry its wings. The boys watched it for a long time while we talked about the lifecycle of a butterfly.

And then, just like that, Beautiful flew away. She fluttered over the garden and landed in the herb spiral before taking off for the pasture.

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We came inside to look at more pictures of Black Swallowtails and to read and color a booklet on the lifecycle of a butterfly.

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Since then, Joe has been searching for other caterpillars to see what they turn into.

We’ve successfully captured a moth caterpillar and watched the lifecycle: caterpillar, cocoon, moth.

We’ve talked about how a caterpillar comes from an egg the butterfly lays and that butterflies hatch from a chrysalis, while a moth hatches from a cocoon.

We’ve counted the steps it takes and how long each phase is and Joe has read an easy reader about the lifecycle aloud.

He’s moved on to other interests now, but it was so cool to be able to combine a math, science and reading lesson and relate them all to something that interested him and Jake.

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Kindergarten on the Homestead

We’ve transitioned Joe from ‘pre-school’ to Kindergarten this year. His curiosity has grown from ‘what’s’ to ‘why’s’ and he is eager to solve problems, try new things, explore and experiment.

He doesn’t need an organized curriculum to follow.

He doesn’t need a to-do list to check off.

He doesn’t need a schedule.

All he needs is his own curiosity and desire to learn, learn and learn some more.

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These are all things that I need to stay focused.

Tools I need to feel like I’m on track with their education.

Validation I need to feel like I’m ‘doing it the ‘right way’.

But…what is the right way? The right way for my boys? I’m learning that it is different for each of them. That they each have their own way of learning, discovering and playing–every child does.

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They aren’t clones of each other–no one child is the same.

Sure, they both like to play superheroes but one of them wants to be Batman and the other wants to be Flash.

One of them wants to solve puzzles and the other wants to build with Legos.

One of them wants to figure out how a robot works and the other wants to understand what the purpose of a robot is.

I’ve created a space, a room for the boys to go to learn.

When I told them that this was our schoolroom where we learn, I realized I was falling back into ‘school at home’ rather than ‘home school’.

That may seem like semantics, but there is a difference. We don’t just learn at school, we learn everywhere

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Schooling at home is not what our original vision was. What originally attracted us to homeschooling was the ability to teach to each child’s learning style. We, or rather I, started to worry and fret that my kid would fall behind.

What if they don’t learn to read by the end of Kindergarten?

What if they fall behind their peers?

What if…?

I frantically searched for a curriculum that would follow when they should learn what concept or subject.

We need worksheets so they can learn addition.

We need Bob Books so they can learn how to read.

We need, need, need so they don’t fall behind.

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My husband talked me down off the ledge. He has worries too, but he knows in his heart that we are doing the right thing for our kids.

I called a friend who is also homeschooling and she shared her fears and worries and I learned that even the most confident parent has doubts about their decision to homeschool.

I know we’ll make mistakes, worry from time to time (or constantly) and we’ll have freakouts.

But in my heart of hearts, I’ll always know that you can’t stop a kid from learning and that our biggest job with schooling of any kind, is to foster and encourage that drive and love of learning.

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Where do we learn boys?
Do we need one place to go?
We learn everywhere!

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Squash Bugs Again?!

Every gardener has a nemesis. For me, it’s the Japanese Beetle. They made me tear at my hair and gnash my teeth. Now that their reign of terror is over, the squash bugs have moved in.

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When I built the squash arch, I had hoped to deter the squash bugs by giving the vines a ladder to climb.

For awhile, it seemed as if it would work, but then I saw them scurrying around the yellowing leaves.

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The arch has made them easier to spot. They have to climb up the vines and cannot use the ground as camouflage and it’s easier to inspect the leaves for eggs as well.

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Squash bugs will always be a problem.

We will still have to check the leaves for eggs to squish and use the bug vacuum on any little, newly hatched bugs, but we’ve definitely made them more manageable with the addition of the squash arch.

And…we have a secret weapon to get rid of even more.

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Climbing up the arch
Escaping from the squash bugs
Winning the battle

 

 

Pecky Greenleg: Chapter 11

In chapter 1 Jake and his mom just got new chicks. One of the chicks is grey with hairy green legs. Jake names her Pecky Greenleg and then finds out that ‘she’ is a ‘he’…and can talk.

In chapter 2 Jake and Pecky decide to try and learn where Pecky came from as none of the other chicks can talk. Jake promises to start at the hatchery.

In chapter 3 Jake tells Pecky he had no luck at the hatchery but that the man he talked to seemed nervous and uncomfortable talking about the gray chicks so they decide they need to go to the post office to find out more about the delivery.

In chapter 4 Jake and Pecky visit the local post office where they learn that the delivery man from McDougal Hatchery came back after the delivery and swapped the package with another box. 

In chapter 5 Pecky and Jake decide that they need to take a trip back to the hatchery to confront Gilbert. 

In chapter 6 Jake takes Pecky back to the hatchery to confront Gilbert and they discover that Gilbert can hear Pecky too. 

In chapter 7 Gilbert tells Pecky and Jake how Pecky came to the hatchery and what happened to the others like him. 

In chapter 8 Pecky realizes that he will have to be the bait to catch whoever is after him. 

In chapter 9 Pecky, Joe and Gilbert come up with a plan to lure the people who are after Pecky back to the hatchery. 

In chapter 10 Joe returns to the hatchery to find out that the plan worked but who they caught was a surprise.

Chapter 11

Jake was shocked.

“Children? But, how…children!?”

Yes.

“Well, what did they say? Why were they getting rid of all the chicks like Pecky? How could you let them get away after what they’d done!?”

“Like I said,” said Gilbert, shrugging. “We had no choice.”

And they didn’t get rid of the others. They took them. 

“Took them where?” asked Jake.

Somewhere safe.

Jake let out a loud huff and sat down.

“Explain.”

“The kids said they were asked to come to the hatchery and get all of the gray chicks with green legs, but when they got here…Pecky was missing,” said Gilbert.

“So why didn’t they buy the rest? Why steal them and make it look like an accident?”

They were afraid that if they bought them, whoever took me would track them down. They didn’t know that Gilbert picked me as the free ‘rare’ breed for you. 

“I don’t understand. The note that came with the birds said they were special and to be protected. Why didn’t you protect them?”

“Well, we didn’t really believe the note. We thought it was a joke until the chicks started to disappear,” Gilbert snapped, lifting his chin.

Jake stood and started pacing the room. Worry and annoyance rolled off of him in waves, filling the room. He scratched his head then stopped and crossed his arms.

“But, the accidents. I thought they were fatal.”

The chicks disappeared so everyone here just thought they were fatal. 

Jake sighed and turned to Gilbert.

“That still doesn’t explain why the kids were here.”

They didn’t tell us.

“But they said they would tell us if we met them tonight,” said Gilbert quickly, impatiently shuffling papers on his desk.

“Where?”

“Behind the hatchery at 9pm.”

“But…I can’t stay that late and I would feel a lot better if Pecky came home with me.”

I can’t Jake. I have to be there. It’s the only way they’ll tell us what’s going on.

“I really don’t know how I’ll get back here tomorrow. I’m running out of excuses.”

“You don’t really need to come back. I can, can advertise free chick feed again. Or we can figure something else out,” said Gilbert trying, and failing to look Jake in the eye.

We can try the coupon again. Tell your mom that there wasn’t any chick feed left and more is coming in tomorrow. 

“Ok,” he said doubtfully. “I’ll try to convince her.”

Jake left the hatchery and waited for his mom out front. Something about the way Gilbert was behaving was bothering him, niggling at his brain and making him feel…uncomfortable.

Why couldn’t he look Jake in the eye? Was he hiding something? Did he know more than he was letting on?

“No,” he murmured to himself. “I’m just worrying over nothing.”

But the worry continued on the ride home and stayed with him through dinner.

Something wasn’t right.

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The Wanderers

Wandering all around the land
With my sweet hearts, hand in hand
Seeing all the bright green trees
Hearing all the frogs and bees

Smelling scents of sweet delight
Feeling sunshine, clear and bright
Touching feathery grass and weeds
Glimpsing sprouts all grown from seeds

Squash and okra, flowers, grass
Span the land, a great green mass
Lifting faces to the sun
Knowing that the day is done

What a beauty! What a sight!
Sparkling daylight turns to night
Wandering back into our home
Tomorrow, we again will roam

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Boys playing ‘secret hideout’ in the wild grasses of the prairie.

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Rose of Sharon

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I think these are brown-eyed Susans and Queen Anne’s Lace

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Squash arch with squash!

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Burgundy amaranth courtesy of our hens.

Garden Gnomes

Two gnomes scurry and scuttle around my garden picking broccoli and searching for bugs and caterpillars.

They are fun to watch, fun to listen to and fun to be around. Their constant energy is enough to fuel and reignite my excitement at finding new fruits, fresh eggs and even bugs.

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They are hard workers…constantly on the search for a pest or praying mantis. Armed and ready with bug house, mason jar and bug gun.

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They are quick to find and point out something new or something that they hadn’t seen in one of their many patrols. They enthusiastically make sure everyone sees this new ‘thing’ they found.

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They eagerly race out to the blackberry patch to see who can find the biggest ‘jackpot’ of berries to pick.

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They are thrilled to find a caterpillar and see what kind of butterfly or moth it will turn out to be.

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Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly

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Their curiosity is contagious.

Their enthusiasm is energizing.

Their happiness is heavenly.

They plant seeds of joy everywhere they go.

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A little tiny gnome
Has nature to call home
He sprints and jumps around
In gardens he is found

Blue the Hen

Nobody liked Blue.

Her comb was too red.

Her waddles were too waddly.

Her eyes were too yellow.

She was just too…something.

The bullying started when she was a pullet.

At first, poor Blue thought the other hens were just playing with her. A little rough-housing never hurt a hen, right?

Then, she saw a few of her ‘sisters’ sharpening their beaks using rocks, wood and even the tin side of their feed bucket.

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She went to the head rooster, Pecky Greenleg, but he just ruffled her feathers and told her she was imagining things.

But, she wasn’t.

Every morning, the others would wake her up with a sharp jab to the neck.

While she was getting a drink of water, they would pull at her tail feathers.

While she bent her head to eat, they would pick at her comb.

Then one day…things got much, much worse.

A gang of 10 hens attacked her as soon as she walked toward the food.

There was no where she could run, hide or escape.

She was trapped until “the keeper” came out to collect eggs.

Her wound was so wretched that she got the treatment. A blue spray that was supposedly meant to heal and soothe drenched her head.

She was in pain and, to add insult to injury, she felt ridiculous.

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The Keeper tried to put her back in with the others.

But Blue did everything she could to avoid that fate.

The Keeper won’t make that mistake again.

Now, she has her own little cage. She sleeps in it at night and gets to roam around freely all day.

Her head wound is healing and she even has a few feathers growing back.

Sometimes, she runs around and around the big pen and laughs at the others.

And sometimes, she rests in the herbs or forages in the garden.

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She’s getting used to the Keeper.

In fact, one day she decided to leave the Keeper a present in the herb spiral.

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Little nest for Blue
Surrounded by all the herbs
Cozy place to lay

Perenials vs Annuals

The results are in.

We’ve tallied up the scores.

The winner for best production in 2016 is…perennials! By a long shot.

The kitchen garden was left to its own devices for far too long.

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The broccoli barely produced.

Don’t even get me started on the peppers.

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Granted, the cherry tomatoes are producing well, but we’ve only picked a few ripe tomatoes…most of them are still green.

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On the upside, this may be the year we get brussels sprouts. The heat hasn’t killed the plants and I see little sprouts sprouting.

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The perennials, on the other hand, produced, produced and produced some more.

We are still picking blackberries and we have several gallon and pint bags in our freezer already.

We’ve made blackberry pie, dipped them in Cool Whip and we are going to make blackberry ice cream…and maybe blackberry wine.

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The grapes have doubled their production from last year. I’m not sure what we are going to do with them…but I’m thinking it might be fun to experiment with making our own grape ice wine or maybe blackberry/grape juice.

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The aronia are just about ready to pick and I want to try making some jam this year…or maybe chokecherry wine.

Hmmm. Icewine, blackberry wine, chokecherry wine…there seems to be a common theme.

The mint has gone completely insane. I don’t want it to take over the vineyard but it smells so good and it keeps the weeds down. I need to harvest it and dry to use for tea.

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The hops, despite the beetle attack, are getting big and have popped up everywhere, tangling with the grapes and kiwi.

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The perennials are the clear winners of this year’s production competition. But I can’t really blame the annuals for their failure.

We focused so much on our trees, shrubs and fight with the Japanese beetles that the poor tomatoes, peppers and broccoli were left defenceless.

Next year, I’ll be sure to give them a head start.

Annuals have lost
Perennials take the win
Poor, sad tomatoes