Category Archives: Writing

Feathers and Fluffballs

We’ve had a whirlwind few days with chicks hatching and cheeping day and night.

Seven eggs had hatched fully by the end of Tuesday. It was getting a little crowded in the incubator, so we decided to risk  the 8th egg in order to get the other chicks in their new home, under a heat lamp and with food and water.

The incubator is temperature and humidity controlled to mimic the warmth of a mother hen sitting on her eggs. Once the egg has a pip, a small opening for the chick to work its way out, opening the incubator exposes the egg to dry air.

Drying the pip could make it more difficult for the chick to break through the egg without assistance.

The final egg had pipped before we opened the incubator, so we knew the risks.

After we had settled all of the chicks, we sprayed the sides of the incubator down with water to try and keep the humidity in and put the lid back on…and waited.

In the wee hours, the final egg hatched and a scraggly, wet little chick stumbled into the empty shells on clumsy claws. We let its feathers dry out a bit, before moving it with the others.

The boys and my nieces have named them all…although the names have changed frequently since we moved them.

Here’s the final list…for now.

Yellow Feather
Nita
Cheep Cheep
Sir Hubert McFeatherington
Fluffy
Fin
Cheepy
Flappy

A few of them have a couple gray dots like their father and they all have big feet with feathers on their legs.

This has been an exciting and amazing project for the boys. Joe has been so careful and gentle with the chicks and the eggs. He lets us know when it is time to leave the room so “the chicks can sleep”.

We’ve also learned a lot about the chicken…from anatomy to the lifecycle to how the chicks are able to go a few days without food and water.

I think the best part was when I asked Joe if he wanted to look at a piece of shell under the microscope.

While we were oohing and aahing over the little yellow fluffballs, my niece asked me “what if they are all roosters?”

Hmm. I didn’t consider that eventuality. Didn’t I order all hens? I’m sure Pecky and I talked about it, didn’t we?

Feathers and fluffballs
Yellow chicks with small gray dots
I hope they’re all hens

The Awakening

Spring is here.

Sleepy plants are slowly waking up, uncertain of the sun and warmth.

Dare they sprout?

Dare they bloom?

Dare they grow?

The boys and I took a walk around the property today hoping to find green leaves and buds blooming.

We weren’t disappointed.

Easter lilies were peeking up through the mulch.

We dug these up at Ray’s grandma’s house and brought them to the homestead a couple of years ago. I didn’t think they’d make it that first year, but they surprised me and have come back stronger every year…putting up with all kinds of abuse from cats, kids and lawn mowers.

Strawberries were spreading under the roses. We missed the main part of the season last year. We were vacationing in the Smokies. But they didn’t go to waste! Ray’s dad got a few gallon bags for the freezer.

The lilac bush I planted several years ago has the more growth on it than it has had in the past two seasons.

The blackberries have buds on every vine. They have been loaded down with the delicious fruit for the past two years. I still have a few gallon bags in my freezer just waiting to be made into jam or cobbler or sauce.

The aronia bushes are all covered in tiny black buds. We have a couple of volunteer runners from this one, so we may try to move those back to the swale.

All three honeyberry bushes have dusky green leaves starting to bloom. I am really hoping we get fruit from at least one of these this year.

There are seaberries everywhere. I counted at least 5 volunteers while we were out scouting the fedge. We’ll need to transplant these to the swales this year too.

And of course, the most exciting awakening…the chicks are hatching. Since this morning, we’ve heard a few cheeps coming from this one. The boys are beyond thrilled. Joe checks on them at least once every 30 minutes.

Spring awakens all
With sunlight and bursts of warmth
Plants, trees, chicks and birds

Seedlings and Starts

Tall, green, springy too
Stretching toward the sun
No longer tiny seedlings
Stout ‘maters every one

Cabbage seedlings, brussel sprouts
Tiny but still strong
Careful when we water them
Stems may get too long

Lettuce? Well, it’s doubtful
This batch will thrive anew
Water both, hope for the best
It grew to fast it’s true

Two lone peppers growing
The smallest seedlings still
Never had much luck with them
I hope this year I will

Gently water, softly breathe
Feed them all with care
Turn them daily to the sun
And say a little prayer

A variety of heirloom tomatoes and two brussel sprout starts. ROCKING IT!

Lettuce is wilty and not looking good, but the cabbage and amaranth are still going strong. The poor broccoli isn’t getting enough sun and got a little too leggy.

Pruning

Trailing after daddy
An eager little boy
Pruning back the vines
Filled with pride and joy

Watching daddy closely
Wanting to do it right
Puffing up with pride
When daddy says, “That’s right!”

Working til the sun sets
Big to smaller shoulder
Sighing with contentment
Feeling a little older

I see their smiling faces
I hear their laughter too
I smell the dirt and sunshine
I feel humbled anew

This man I hold so dearly
Will take care of us all
These boys I love so fiercely
Will soon grow big and tall

So as that time draws nearer
I’ll relish every day
From working in the sunshine
To all the games we play

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Joe the Bug Hunter: Mysterious Tracks

Joe set down his magnifying glass and rubbed his eyes, sure he wasn’t seeing clearly.

After a few minutes, he picked it up again and looked at the small, worn piece of bark.

They were still there. Tiny, squiggly paths swirling all over the underside of the bark.

What did it mean? What could have made these swirls and whorls?

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Sighing and scratching his chin, Joe carefully put the bark samples in his Bug Collecting Bag, snapped a few pictures of the log he had found them on and headed to his lab to do some research.

After searching his favorite bug blogs and typing a few key phrases in Google, he was still stumped.

He’d found nothing to explain the odd paths he’d discovered.

“What are you up to sweetheart?” his mom asked, poking her head around the door.

“Oh, just trying to figure out what these odd markings are.”

Joe showed her the piece of bark. She ran her fingers over the tiny rivulets, feeling the grooves.

“Hmm. I’ve never seen anything like this before. At least, not on a tree…” she said, her voice trailing off.

Joe shook his head and let out a frustrated sigh.

“Any luck with your research?” she asked in a strained voice.

“Nope. Not yet.”

“Well, you’ll figure it out. You always do.”

His mom quickly left the room, mumbling something about fixing dinner. It was only after he’d put the bark back in his bag and shut his laptop that he realized something was off about his mom’s response.

She seemed almost nervous, or…something. What was it she said after she examined the bark?

I’ve never seen anything like this before…at least, not on a tree…

“What an odd thing to say,” he mused.

Yes, he would figure it out…he always did.

To Be Continued…

Risking It

The weather has been so nice lately.

Nice enough to spend the morning outside wandering around the homestead.

Nice enough for the boys spend time digging for worms, playing tag and practicing hockey.

Nice enough for me risk it and start sowing seeds in the garden.

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The last frost dates for Central Illinois is somewhere between the 14th and 21st of April so I probably should have waited.

But the soil is ready!

The worms are squirming!

The birds are chirping!

Since everything else on the homestead is confused by this weather, I’m throwing my hat in the ring and taking a chance.

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I planted cabbage, lettuce and carrots. These are cool weather tolerant, so even if it does freeze again, I’ll be able to take measures to protect them from most of the cold.

I hope.

Warm, sunny, breezy
Birds chirping and worms squirming
Did I hear a frog?

Midwest Winter

The weather is mild
The grass is confused
The birds are returning
The trees aren’t amused

This mild midwest winter
Calls plants to awake
Calls spiders to come out
And frogs to the lake

If this warmth continues
My garden will thrive!
Extending the season
More produce and life!

But if it gets colder
My roses will freeze
My strawberries wither
And what of the trees?

But worries are useless
Concerns do no good
I’ll laugh and enjoy it
As everyone should!

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Leaves are budding on the rose bushes

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New strawberries are peeking up through the mulch.

Stripes

Last year, we slowly moved the chickens from the pasture to the kitchen garden. We started in August and moved them every few days until we were ready for them to do their work.

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At first, we didn’t notice it. The grass had yet to recover from their trampling and tilling. Sometimes we’d left them t0o long in one spot, so it was awhile before the grass grew back.

Then, one day, Ray looked out over the yard and saw it. A green path from the pasture to the kitchen garden. The path the chickens had created. It looked like one big, vibrant green, curving stripe.

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I wish we had taken pictures at the time. It is still visible, although faint in this brown, gray winter grass.

If we didn’t know the effect the chickens had on our soil before, we had concrete proof now.

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Animals, be they chickens, goats, rabbits or cows, are very beneficial to the garden, the homestead and life in general.

We saw a bright green stripe
Winding through the yard
From chicken feet and claws
Scratching without pause

Joe the Bug Hunter: The Roly Poly

Joe sat in the driveway peering into an old and broken ceramic frog.

“What are you doing buddy?” asked his mom, throwing a bag in the garbage can.

Joe looked up at his mom, a sparkle in his eye and a smile on his face.

“I found a new bug.”

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His mom wandered over and crouched down next to him.

“Ah,” she said. “Roly polys.”

“Roly polys?” Joe asked, raising his eyebrows. “What are roly polys? Why are they rolling into a ball? What do they do?”

His mom smiled. “You should do some research and find out.”

Joe didn’t need any more encouragement. He hopped up and got his bug house from the garage. After popping a few roly polys into the container, he raced inside to research his new find.

***

“They live under rocks and like dark, moist places,” said Joe. “No wonder I found a bunch in the frog.”

“How many did you find?” his mom asked.

“Oh, ten. Maybe 12. But I only brought 6 inside with me.”

His mom glanced up from scrambling eggs.

“They are in your bug house, right?”

“Of course!” he laughed.

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“What else have you learned about them?”

“Let’s see…they live a long time, up to 5 years!”

“Wow, that is a long time for a bug.”

“Not when you think about how long a black garden ant lives,” said Joe as he clicked on a new link. “They can live for 15 years.”

Click, click went the mouse.

“They have a bunch of names,” Joe said. “Pill bug, sow bug, potato bug and doodle bug…wait a minute, it says here that they aren’t bugs at all.”

Joe was getting excited. He eagerly read on.

“Not bugs?” said his mom, puzzled. “Then what are they?”

“Crustaceans!”

“Crustaceans? Like shrimp? On land?”

“Yep! It says here ‘Roly poly bugs might not look like lobsters or crabs, but they are actually land-based crustaceans.'”

Joe’s eyes were wide and gleaming. But…as he read on, the sparkle faded and his smile turned into a scowl.

“What’s wrong?” asked his mom, noticing his expression.

Joe sighed and turned to face his mom.

“They eat dead and decaying plants.”

“Ok, but why so glum? That helps the garden,” she said.

“They also eat live plants–young plants and seedlings. In the garden.”

“Ah.”

“Yes,” Joe said darkly. “But we don’t want to get rid of them completely. They help the worms turn the decaying stuff into soil. They speed up the process.”

“So, what do we do about them?”

Click, click.

“We could use diatomaceous earth, but that will kill all the bugs, even the good ones.”

Click, click.

“Or, we could pull mulch away from the seedlings to keep the moisture away.”

Click, click.

“Or, we could just continue to start all of our seeds inside and transplant them when they’ve grown beyond the seedling stage.”

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“Why don’t we do both?” asked his mom.

“Both?”

“Yes, we could start some indoors and direct sow some. Then, you could compare results,” she added.

“An experiment?” Joe asked.

“Yep. I wanted to do that anyway. The volunteer tomatoes we had last year were stronger than the ones we transpla–“.

“An experiment!” Joe jumped up and grabbed a notebook, a pen and his bug house.

“Thanks Mom!”

With that, he ran downstairs to start his seedlings leaving his mom smiling and shaking her head.

The Fedge, the Vineyard and the Swale

It’s not that we neglected the fedge and the fruit trees we planted.

It’s not that we let them fend for themselves.

It’s not that we intentionally meant to let the weeds and grass all but take over.

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We just focused so much of our energy on fighting Japanese beetles.

We were just so excited to harvest all the new fruits that popped up.

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We were just so focused on planting new trees.

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I know, I know. Excuses, excuses.

Yet, in spite of our neglect…the trees survived. The fedge produced. The vineyard thrived.

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This year, we are focusing on maintaining the fedge, pruning the trees and propagating, well, anything we can.

We are also determined to transplant all the seaberry and aronia that ran riot in the fedge. There are at least 8 new seaberry plants and 3 new aronia that raced under the ground and sprang up through a thick layer of mulch as if to say, “Ta-da! Here we are!”

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We will also try to throw down seeds, plant nitrogen rich perennials and overtake the grasses that cover the swales. It will be a race. Survival of the fittest with the advantage given to the plants we want to take over.

Mint? Throw it down.

Seaberries? Plant them everywhere.

Raspberries? Absolutely.

I didn’t sketch anything up. Maybe it’s the wrong method, but rather than plan out exactly where everything will go, I plan to just get in there and plant, plant, plant where I see there is room.

I will be strategic of course. We don’t want to overcrowd the trees or any of the raspberries and comfrey we have already planted. As I plant, I’ll have my clipboard with last year’s final sketch so I can mark what we planted where.

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That’s the plan. Pruning and transplanting happens early to mid March and we’ll start throwing down seeds in mid to late April.

Let’s get seeds and rooting hormone ordered.

Let’s get the pruning shears sharpened.

Let’s get ready.

Finally we’re moving
Ahead and not behind
Finally we’ll get ‘er done
I’m in that frame of mind

We’ll order seeds and hormones
We’ll sharpen all the tools
I’m ready to get started
Let’s go! Let’s bend some rules!