Category Archives: Life

A Pile of Weeds

I look around my garden
and everywhere I spy,
a pile of weeds.

I gaze around my homestead
and suddenly I see,
so many needs.

My veggie patch needs tending,
my roses overgrown,
the vines grow tall.

My vineyard weeds exploded.
The mint attacks the grapes.
I see it all.

And then I hear a giggle,
I walk around the back…
and what a sight!

Two boys are in my garden.
They play a made up game.
Their eyes so bright.

Something New

Spring has zipped right into summer and the boys are outdoor explorers once again.

I bought little notebooks at the Dollar Tree last week. I thought they could use them as their Nature Journals. They’re small and easy to pop in their pocket for their outdoor explorations.

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As soon as they’d personalized their notebooks, they headed outside to hike the swales and search the property for something new to record.

Joe hopped on his scooter and hunt for milkweed.

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Jake waded through the tall grass searching for carrots.

 

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They both enjoyed showing me what they’d found and recorded in their journals.

Last night, while hunting for wild mulberries, we made quite the discovery.

“Mom! Come here and look at this! Hurry!”

Joe was by a large milkweed bouncing on his toes. “Look! A monarch butterfly caterpillar!”

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Jake, who’d been hunting for carrots again, ran over to join us. He was just as excited as Joe and both boys recorded the find in their journals.

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We contemplated putting it in our bug house, but ultimately decided to leave it in its natural habitat and observe it daily.

Joe added more detail to his milkweed drawing on the spot.

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We continued on our trek through the swales, once again in search of wild mulberries.

Today, when my nieces came over, the boys could hardly wait to show them the caterpillar. As I finished making a fresh cup of coffee, Joe burst in the house with some sad news…the caterpillar had been killed.

“A spider is eating it right now!”

He was shocked. Angry. Absolutely heartbroken. This spider had destroyed his monarch butterfly caterpillar.

I followed the crew to the milkweed to see the carnage for myself.

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It was a sad and gruesome sight. Joe wanted to get rid of all the spiders.

“This is how nature works buddy. Why don’t we find out more about this spider?”

He perked up a little bit at that, but I think he was more eager to find out its weaknesses so he could retaliate. Either way, the distraction worked.

We spent some time looking at pictures of spiders on the internet. One was too brown, another too small. We searched and searched, comparing our picture of the predator with the Google results until…we found it.

The Crab Spider had eaten the caterpillar.

 

“Now that we know what it is, we can research it. Find its weaknesses.”

“Ok Mom. But right now I’m going to go find frogs with the girls.”

Just like nature, a little boy’s moods can change in an instant. Something new pops into their mind…and they’re off on another adventure.

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A world of danger
A world of discovery
A world of wonder

 

 

 

 

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!

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

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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Tender Shoots

Slowly and with little steps
They grow each passing day
Their tender limbs reach to the sun
They blossom in new ways

We gently tend those little seeds
And help them plant their roots
We strengthen them with soft blown winds
Those gentle little shoots

When it’s time to take them out
And plant them on their own
We worry what will happen
When they’re out there all alone

As the season stretches out
Their fruit grows on the vine
We water them and with a smile
We know they’ll be just fine
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Beefing Up Security (Part 2)

In researching how to construct, or reconstruct, a safer coop for our next flock of birds, I discovered that we were (perhaps) not as good to our birds as I thought.

We fulfilled and provided almost all of their basic needs.

They had fresh air, clean water, a dust bathing area, lots of fresh grass and insects to forage and enough space. But they didn’t really have a place to flee from predators…or (apparently) much protection against them.

Their coop and run were completely enclosed, but that just meant that if something got in (ie a fox or an opossum), there was no escape for the chickens.

They would have been way to frantic, not to mention way too clueless, to escape the way the predator gained entry.

So where were they to go?

While pondering these concerns and researching what other chicken keepers have done, The Grow Network, a blog where I’ve been a guest contributor, published an article that addresses most, if not ALL of our concerns.

Raising Chickens: Coop Considerations

One of the top concerns we have is (for obvious reasons) protecting our flock from predators.

There are many things the article mentioned the things we are already doing.

The coop is enclosed and raised off the ground and the run and ramp are completely covered with chicken wire.

But, there are also a few things we could be doing to better.

Chicken wire, while fine for keeping the chickens contained, would not protect against a determined dog, fox or raccoon.

Apparently, raccoons as well as small dogs and weasels, could easily tear through the wire.

Using wire mesh or hardware cloth instead of or in addition to chicken wire may be an affordable option.

Another suggestion was to bury wire around the run.

This is not an option for us. We want to have the freedom to move the chickens around the property to help us weed, fertilize and prep for planting.

But, if we cover our chicken wire with the mesh, and also cover the bottom of the run, we would still be able to move the coop around and the chickens would still be able to peck and forage.

This added protection would further deter predators by making it that much more difficult to breach the coop.

We could also cover the ramp with the mesh, which is one of the most vulnerable spots in our set-up.

The use of electric fencing, motion-sensing lights, or even a well-trained livestock guardian dog (LGD) is also an option.

We already use a solar motion detecting light that seems to be doing a pretty good job…at least at night.

While I’m not sure we are ready to get another dog yet, installing an electric fence around the coop and run is one of the precautions we have been considering to beef up security.

Electric fencing sounds so scary, especially to an amateur homesteader and chicken lady with two little boys running around touching everything they see like crazed monkeys.

But…with the proper precautions and training of said crazed monkeys, it would be another layer of protection for the hens.

A simple measure we can take will be to lock the hens in at night. While there are daytime predators like hawks and the occasional confused fox, locking the hens in at night will put the odds in our favor.

We should have been doing this all along. It wouldn’t have stopped the daytime fox from getting the big flock, but it may have protected our last three girls…something I will always wonder about.

Beefing up the coop
Security our main goal
Protecting our hens

The Meow

A mournful meow, so loud
Is coming from the garage
It sounds a little proud
This eery meow

I stop and take a breath
My fingers on the door
I know I will see death
What is it now?

Once she brought a mouse
A mole, and then a bird
She brings them to the house
And then she’ll chow

And when this time she meowed
And brought me to the door
There she stood so proud
And I said, “Wow”

A rabbit, limp and dead
Was lying on our rug
(At least it had its head)
Boots sweetly meowed

The Massacre

“There was a different looking cat under the chicken coop.”

This may seem like an innocent enough comment, but coming from my 5-year-old as he held an empty egg carton…it sounded ominous.

“A different looking cat?” I asked.

“Yeah, it was under the coop playing with a chicken. That’s why I didn’t get eggs.”

Uh oh.

“I’ll go check,” I said as I went out in the bright, noon sunshine and headed toward the coop.

“Mommy, be careful!” called my oldest, worry in his eyes.

I was halfway to the coop when I saw movement. A few more steps and the “different kind of cat” shot out from under the coop, a chicken in its jaws.

A fox had been in the henhouse. 

Surely, I thought, he had just captured PJ, our one free-range hen. There was no way a fox could actually get in the henhouse. Right?

I checked on the smaller flock first. The three ladies looked a little shaken up, but aside from a few loose feathers, they were unharmed.

I could see a lifeless chicken under the coop. I could only assume it was PJ. On closer inspection, her head and body were all intact. She looked almost peaceful.

But wait…if PJ was in one piece without a leg, thigh or head missing…what did the fox have in its mouth?

It was then I heard it.

The eerie sound of silence.

Not a whisper or a rustle came from the coop. Not a hen wandered in the pen.

I slowly opened the laying box and peeked inside. All I could see were feathers.

I opened the big door and saw bodies everywhere.

It was a feathery massacre.

Not one of the Pearl White Leghorns had survived. All bodies, save one, were accounted for. The missing body, I could only assume, was in the belly of the fox.

I don’t know if I truly interrupted his theft, or if he was only going to take one bird all along. I’ve read that the fox can get in a “killing frenzy” when cooped up with a bunch of hens, but usually will only leave with one. Creepy.

As I started to remove the dead, I noticed something strange. Only two hens were headless.

The rest were just…dead. There was no outward sign of fowl play. 

As I picked the bodies up with my three-layer-gloved hands, I saw what had happened. The fox, had broken all their necks, but only taken one as a prize.

The guilt set in as I realized what had really happened. The words I had spoken only the night before echoed in my mind.

“We need to butcher the hens before winter. All of them except the new ones.”

The wily fox had heard me and granted my wish.

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.