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Pests Aplenty and Bald Chickens April 30, 2006

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Here, on the cusp of May, we are off to a good start in the vegetable patch. The weather has been very cooperative. Lots of sunshine, occasional rain, and no frost for about 20 days now.

The sweet peas are starting to vine and flower. The radishes have already plumped up and a few have even begun to bolt (flower and then set seed, not run away). We have almost everything already planted in the “main garden,” with the exception of the melons. J says that you are supposed to put those in before sun-up on the first day of May, no matter what the weather. Guess I’ll be up early tomorrow morning!

I say “main garden” to differentiate from the “auxiliary garden” a.k.a. “dove field.” After getting the veggie garden started last year, we put in a ¾ acre patch in one of the pastures near the ponds. It should have been a dove’s dream come true with lots of corn and sunflowers, but alas, they didn’t come. All it actually drew was deer, raccoons, and some big fat crows. This year it really will draw the migrating doves, Joe hopes, but also be the overflow spot for what we can’t fit in the main acre garden. I also hope to try some grains –quinoa, millet, buckwheat, and amaranth- and some sugarbeets called mangels to feed our livestock for the winter.

The potatoes are also doing quite nicely this year. The first three rows we put in are quite large and we’ve pulled the dirt to them twice now to keep the developing ‘taters
covered. (J noted that the last 2 rows were a little sparse and wobbly. When I told them that we had let our kids and their friends- Mary Margaret, Sarah Beth, and Lily Kate Richards- plant them, he said that was a relief. He thought maybe we’d been drunk when we put those in!).

We are really looking forward to a bumper crop of spuds and are pleased to see them take off. Unfortunately, the Colorado potato beetles arrived early and also think they are wonderful. Last year, they reduced our crop to nothing but skeletonized leaves in just a couple of days. This year, we were determined not to give them to the bugs, but yet, I really didn’t want to use a chemical pesticide on food we will eat. We decided to try a natural remedy first. This picture was taken 2 days after that remedy (agricultural sulphur). Notice the hole chewed in the leaf. If I’d turned the leaf over, there probably would have been bright orange eggs stuck there too. Apparently, the beetles don’t know they are repelled by sulphur.

Our potatoes aren’t the only ones suffering from pests. We have an absolute plethora of these caterpillars this year. They seem to be everywhere and the chickens don’t have a taste for them, I’m guessing because they are a little fuzzy. (But what do I know? I wouldn’t eat most anything that a chicken finds quite palatable!).

I’m not sure if these caterpillars are the culprits, but our plums are almost all spoiled already. They have been “stung” (as J calls it) by some insect. I looked up a picture of this problem in a gardening book I have. The book said it was due to Curculio and recommended a pesticide to solve all my every problem. Again, I don’t want to spray chemicals on fruit we plan to harvest, but we’ve been looking forward to fresh plums and plum jelly. Next year, I guess we will see if we can find something organic to save the fruit.

As annoying as the insects are, they aren’t the only critters that have made pests of themselves. The deer have also been a real nuisance. Our fruit trees valiantly survived the drought last summer just to be nibbled off by the deer! We are planning to put tomato-type cages around them to protect them from now on, just as soon as we get them made. Last year, we planted about 30 melon hills and ate about 5 melons all summer. Just as they got ripe, the deer would punch as hole in them with their hooves and eat out the centers and then move to the next one. It was infuriating. The electric fence will hopefully help with that this year.

We also hope the fence may deter the chickens. We are working on getting “chicken tractors” (see earlier posting) for the majority of them so they can fertilize the pasture and be safe from predators. We plan to leave a dozen or so birds loose around the house to control the ticks, though. The problem with that is that chickens LOVE tomatoes. We had 70 tomato plants last year and still only had about enough at any given time for our own use (very few to give away or can). The reason? The beautiful red color would beckon you into the garden to pick it. You would reach in and grasp it, but just as you began to gently squeeze and turn, tomato juice and seeds would squirt out onto your shoes. A chicken had been beckoned first! But it had only wanted one bite of each fruit!

This very morning, I saw the electric fence in action for the first time. A chicken that had escaped and was hungry was following me around. I had turned the corner at the garden outside the fence, so the chicken decided to cut the corner and catch up. Bad idea. This particular hen was one that was bald from aggressive suitors. (The eager young roosters grab their women by the “hair” and accidentally pull out the feathers leaving them bald and sunburned. We need to “process” some more roosters!). It had also been raining. When her bald damp head touched the low wire as she walked through the wet grass, she received a zap. She squawked and hightailed it back to the henhouse she had earlier been so eager to leave. Bet she won’t be back to rob the garden anytime soon! Joe got into the electric fence twice today, but he didn’t run to the henhouse- just went to change his pants. Hee hee.

In the doghouse & hot water, too. April 30, 2006

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Benjamin went outside to ride his bicycle for a while this morning, but before long the rain came to Blessed Acres and drove him indoors – though not exactly to our house but to Lucy’s and Daisy’s house. Lucy enjoyed the company, but Daisy was a little miffed over being displaced by someone less odiferous.

Today was Loyalty Day at Church. It’s something like a homecoming where people who used to attend Bethel are invited back for worship and, of course, to share a good ol’ fashioned luncheon consisting of iced tea, fried chicken, and the obligatory and omnipresent Baptist casseroles.

After the lunch, Laura and I had a home improvement project on our agenda. Our water heater began leaking a few weeks (okay, a few months) ago and we finally got around to doing something about it. We bought a new one yesterday at Lowe’s and today, since the rain kept us indoors, we installed it. Neither of us has installed one before. But like all good homesteaders, we asked ourselves “How hard can it really be?” So we rolled up our sleeves and got to work. Now, just a few short hours later, we have a new 80 gallon hot water heater (upgraded from a 50 gallon model – “ho ho ho” to quote Tim-the-tool-man Taylor). She’s a beaut, huh? Next time you come to visit, there’ll be plenty of hot water.

The scouts visit ACFD April 29, 2006

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Last monday, the Tiger Scouts visited the Ashland City Fire Department. We had a great time! While we were there, a call came in and two of the trucks had to leave to rescue someone from an overturned car.

We got to see their other trucks and even got to sit in the cab.

Benjamin got to try on a real Fireman’s protective suit. They said that to keep in shape they sometimes get fully dressed in their firefighting suits and play a game of basketball.

Sunday afternoon planting April 25, 2006

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On Sunday morning, we bid our Alabama kinsfolk fare-thee-well with a huge appreciation for the work they did while visiting. We’re looking forward to them coming back soon!

Sundays are a day of rest and relaxation for us. We go to church and spend the rest of the day doing things we enjoy as a family. For us, that means no WebbTech work and no housecleaning or daily chores. But gardening and working in the pasture are fair game since we all really enjoy being outside and appreciating the beauty of God’s creation.

So Sunday afternoon we got back in the garden and planted 4 more rows of sweet corn – about 440 linear feet worth of corn! We also put in 70+ tomato plants. The kids enjoyed ferrying the peat moss to the tomatoes plants – how often as a kid are you encouraged to dig holes and play in the dirt?


Rachel gardens with style, doesn’t she?

Anyway, I know it sounds like we’re trying to feed an army, but we’re just hoping to can and freeze quite a bit this year so we can enjoy the fruits of our labor year round and have some to share with family and friends.

Hard-Working Visitors from Alabama (Saturday) April 23, 2006

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Saturday morning came with a better looking sky, but wet ground nonetheless. After another trip to Rural King for farm staples like extra chainsaw chains and tick repellent, we got back to that oak tree.

After lunch, I turned the giant compost pile while Becky mowed. The guys took a rest from hard labor to fish with the kids down at our ponds. J caught a nice-sized bass and helped Rachel land several bluegill and bream.

By late afternoon, J declared the garden was dry enough to work. We made the melon “hills,” planted cucumbers and squash, and put in a few rows of J’s favorite corn, a field-type called Moses Prolific. Then we retired to the porch again to watch and see if the deer discovered the “hot” fence. Wearily, we headed into the house for bed shortly aftern sundown.



Hard-Working Visitors from Alabama (Friday) April 23, 2006

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Joe’s mom, Becky, and his grandfather, J, have been talking for weeks about when they could come up to help us get our garden in. On Thursday afternoon, they rolled up, horn a-honking and arms a-waving.

Joe grew up spending his summers at his grandparents’ farm in Russellville, AL. He worked alongside J putting in fenceposts, working cattle, hoeing out weeds, and digging up potatoes. J doesn’t put in a garden of his own anymore, but he is still eager to share his wisdom with us young’uns.

After a walk around the farm noting the blooms on the pecan and walnut trees, the enormous fallen oak, and the caterpillers wreaking havoc on the developing plums, we settled on the porch in rocking chairs to visit.

Friday morning, we were up early and watching the weather forecast. Rain was predicted but we had lots we wanted to do. J thought we ought to get done what we could before it started, so with nothing but a cup of coffee in our bellies, we headed out to the garden.

J started with the potatoes and pulled dirt up around them. We began hoeing out the radishes, carrots, sweet peas, and onions, and then the rain started. We headed back in for a big breakfast, hoping the rain would quit. About an inch of rain came down by mid-afternoon making the garden impassable, so we turned our attention to other things.

First on our list was an electric fence. Last year, we gave away a lot of fine produce to the deer and raccoons. Already this season, we have found many tracks in the freshly tilled garden rows. We hope to put a stop to that.


Next, we turned our attention to the huge oak that in November came down across our power lines and driveway stranding us. Joe and 2 good neighbors used chainsaws to cut our way out, but the bulk of the tree had not been dealt with. J sharpened the chainsaw he had given us as a “farm-warming” gift a year ago and then we headed down the driveway.

Joe cut up the branches and split them and the rest of us put it in the bed of his truck. We talked a lot about how much warmer we’ll be with the old woodstove Becky brought to take the chill out of the winter air. Benjamin also did a fair amount of balance beam work on the trunk of the tree while Lucy (our “Tennessee Black Dog,” as the pound called her) lounged in the cool hole left by the upturned roots.

With a bed-load of firewood stacked, we went to the house. J fried some crappie he caught and some home-made hush puppies for dinner while I took notes for future reference.

By sundown, we had heard from Joe’s sister, Robin, that his dad, Jim, had come through surgery in OH with good results. With a prayer of thanksgiving, we headed to bed.


Awkward First Attempts April 19, 2006

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Remember those awkward first attempts at something in your youth? You know, like the clay “bowl” you made in third grade that looked more like a volcano, post-eruption? Or that popsicle-stick “snowflake” you glued together that more closely resembled the chemical configuration of a sulfuric acid molecule? Well, that phenomenon isn’t limited to us humans.

Back in the fall, we had 3 hens insist on setting eggs despite the increasing chill in the night air. Their chicks grew quite well and have become our most recent round of “teenagers.” As the six month old mark came, the teenaged girls began to reach maturity and start laying eggs.

First eggs, kind of like first attempts at many human ventures, can be a bit uncertain and frequently don’t turn out quite the way you expected. Once or twice last year, we got tiny eggs with no yolks. A few times, we got eggs that were close to 4 inches long and contained enormous yolkS inside. Joe said that chicken really DID have something to crow about when she laid those, and boy, I’ll bet she feels better now.

Yesterday, while collecting eggs, I noticed some more anomalies in the nesting boxes. One had a very thick shell with angled creases and lumpy places all over it. Another was completely without a shell! (You know how there is a membrane inside the shell that actually contains the white and yolk? THAT was all that was covering it!). It was soft and jello-like. Shortly after this picture was taken, “someone” enjoyed the feel of it too much and it sprang a leak. Oh well.

P.S. Did you know that shell color is determined by the breed of chicken laying the eggs? We have some blue-green egg layers in addition to the brown eggs layers and if you collect the eggs too soon after being laid (before they are completely dry) the color can smudge off. It is one of the last layers applied to the egg before it is laid.

One New “Peep” April 17, 2006

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Germinating seeds, more daylight hours, vivid green grass, and the return of the butterflies all make my spirits soar as springtime sets in. But one of my favorite things about spring is broody chickens!

Apparently, the same things that delight me with the coming of April also stir something within our heritage breed hens. One day, they go about their business of scratching and pecking and hopping in and out of the nest boxes to leave their gift for the humans. The next day, one declares a hunger strike, settles into one of those boxes, and begins to warm the batch of eggs beneath her.

The hen fluffs herself out so that she can cover a dozen or more eggs at a time. She sacrificially goes without eating or drinking for amazingly long periods of time for the sake of the progeny beneath her that must not get chilled. The mother-to-be will gently turn each egg over with her beak and chirr softly to the babies so they will know her voice after hatching.

After 21 days of devoted sitting, the eggs beneath her begin to move and tiny beaks, complete with “egg tooth” begin to peck holes. After several more hours, tiny wet, defenseless newborns emerge. The mother patiently tries to hatch every one while her growing brood begins to wander about. Finally, the new mama takes her little flock out into a small piece of the world to look for food.

Most of the time, this is how it happens. This year, we had a hen go broody in March, so we moved her and her eggs to a “private room” (a brooding coop I built last year for this very purpose) in the separate “nursery” area of the chicken yard. There she could be unbothered by the other chickens, her babies wouldn’t be bullied, and they wouldn’t have to compete for food.

Sadly, after 22 days, the mama hen had only one little peep hatch. Being the devoted mother that she is, she continued sitting on the unhatched eggs. Meanwhile, her one chick was in need of food and water in order to survive. I tried coaxing her off her eggs with preferred food (bread and kitchen scraps), but to no avail. Finally, I had to get thick leather gloves (knowing she would bite me with all the might she had) and remove her from the nest. I quickly took her eggs away and closed the door to her coop for a while. After much pacing, she finally began to turn her attention to the hungry one at her feet.

Mama and baby have bonded now and she is fiercely protective of her little charge. They “talk” to each other constantly and the mama is teaching the baby what to eat. When she encounters things too big for the little one’s tiny mouth, but things she thinks it should eat (like corn), she cracks it into pieces with her own beak while making the “come and get it” sound that brings it running. (That is what is happening in the picture of the two beak to beak). Several more hens have volunteered for duty in the last 2 weeks and we are eagerly awaiting a bumper crop of darling “peeps.”

As you probably know, you can get almost anything on eBay- even eggs to hatch. I have found some of the breeds I have been wanting so badly that lay dark, chocolate-brown colored eggs. The second broody volunteer is setting a clutch of Partridge and Wheaton Penedesencas as I write. They will be due to hatch on May 7th. I can’t wait! I’ll keep you posted!

The promise of things to come April 16, 2006

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We were talking yesterday about all the seasons of the year. Each one is special in its own way. Summer has its long days, eating fresh vegetables right out of the garden, enjoying the fruit right off the trees, and the kids are out of school (that was Benjamin’s #1). Fall has the cool chill in the air, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and of course college football. Winter brings with it snow on the ground – at least the hope of accumulation, early evenings, and drinking hot chocolate by the fire on a cold winter night. And spring, spring has the promise of things to come. There are flowering plants like the azaleas and other plants around the yard. The plants in the garden are beginning to peek through the ground leaves are budding out on the trees.

But spring also brings with it other promises of things to come. Today is Easter Sunday; the day when we celebrate Christ’s resurrection from the dead. For a believer, it’s the most joyous day in the history; it’s a day when our fallen savior rose again after being put to death for our sins. Without the resurrection, our faith is worthless and we are to be pitied.

If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.
~1 Corinthians 15:17

If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.
~ 1 Corinthians 15:19

For the believer, our faith hinges on the resurrection. That’s why Easter is more important than Christmas. Christmas remembers Christ’s birth, but we’ve all been born. Easter commemorates Christ’s resurrection.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.
~1 Corinthians 15:20 – 22

It’s a day of wonder and amazement!

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men suddenly stood near them in dazzling clothing; and as the women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living One among the dead? He is not here, but He has risen. Remember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee, saying that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.” And they remembered His words, and returned from the tomb and reported all these things to the eleven and to all the rest.
~ Luke 24: 1- 9

We hope and pray that you have a great Easter and that it means more to you than the commercialism and the Easter bunny. Not that there is anything wrong with that aspect of it; it’s just incomplete.

Here are some pictures from our Easter egg hunt at the church and at Grams and Bepop’s house yesterday.


Washington, DC – Day 5 April 16, 2006

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Sunday was our last day in Washington, DC. We had a flight scheduled for 5:30pm from Baltimore back to Nashville. Saturday afternoon I had taken a quick stroll around our hotel to see if I could find a church service for us to attend on Sunday morning. I found a Baptist and Methodist church within walking distance of the hotel. But when Sunday morning came, we began to feel a bit guilty about asking the kids to sit still in a pew with us for an hour and a half before having to sit still during our travels. So we didn’t attend Palm Sunday services in Washington, DC.

Instead we had a leisurely breakfast at the hotel and then took the Metro to Union Station. We walked around the shops and browsed the stores for a couple of hours before catching our Amtrak train back to Baltimore. From there we boarded our plane to Nashville and rode in the limo back to the parking site.

We had a great trip!!! I’m so glad we all got to go. But it’s so good to be home; back on our little slice of creation in Middle Tennessee.