Saturday, May 29, 2010

Only in Rural America

Last week John brought home a commercial incubator. He drove to a little city a couple of hours south of here to pick it up and we got a great deal on it after finding it on Craigslist. Now we are getting set up to build a breed pen and harvest the fertilized eggs.

We also sold our first couple of dozen eggs. It wasn't much money but it will help to defray the growing feed bill.

We also purchased a dehydrator and tonight I am going to start dehydrating potatos. Simple and cheap, dehydrating them stops the growth of eyes and makes the fresh potato's last a very long time.

We are also looking at the beginning of Hurricane season and Rural Living is not immune to those. In fact we are only about 20 miles from a major bay system, Matagorda Bay and about 50 miles from the Gulf of Mexico. Matagorda bay is so large that if the eye of a Hurricane were do follow up the middle of Matagorda bay we'd be in trouble. Dehydrating food is a perfect way to store food for hurricane season.

That's all for now. Have a wonderful Memorial Day Weekend!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Cautiously progressing and making the most of it!

As we mentioned in our last post, there is a chance in the next few years we could loose our home to eminent domain to satisfy a money hungry water resource that is a taxing entity, LNRA. And while this dark cloud is over our head we are cautiously moving ahead with partial self-sustaining plans, at least those that are portable.

With the chicken coop finished and all hens kidnapped and safely in the pen we are on the road to all things chicken. At first John snatched all the eggs that the hens laid and placed them in the incubator with target date of May 1st being the first hatch. Since the first few "egg snatching" days, some of the smaller bantum hens have been laying a clutch and it seems there is another hen or two who is also laying a clutch. We will give these until the end of May to hatch then we'll clean it all out and just take eggs for eating.

We certainly hope we'll have some hatched chicks to add to our ever-growing assortment.

Next plan is to build another coop. Smaller in size, with 2-3 laying hatches so that we can add a rooster to fertilize the hens then remove him so that the hens can sit their eggs. Not sure when we'll start that but its on the agenda.

At last count we have 40 tomato plants in beds re-purposed for vegetables, 20 bell peppers, 20 squash, and about 10 jalapenos. I gave all the rest of the seeds to John's best friend who just moved to the county and who has a massive place for a garden. We'll be sharing our bounties.

The tomato plants I started in January have blooms and look fantastic! The rest I started February 3rd and they are really growing after several cooling off snaps we had. Even the squash are trying to start babies and I hope there are enough bees and breeze to keep the pollen moving between the male flower and the female flower.

As for the pasture, it's full of dewberries. That will be a chore removing if or when we get that chance but the good news is that they were full of blooms a few weeks ago. 3 acres of thick dewberries that only the bravest will tromp through (snakes!). There is enough room around it though to pick safely and some ol' timers said they'll put on chaps and come pick. At least all isn't lost!

I dream of retiring and tending to gardens and animals, making braided rugs out of scraps material and tossed aside clothing, making our own bread and even milking a goat for milk and cheese. I envy those who take a step back in time and live the life that built this great country. Things have changed though that force most us to move away from even considering a homestead lifestyle and to continue to be a part of current society. And while we've become frugal seniors we still need medical insurance and to pay bills. If alternative energy companies would create affordable methods of energy so that we could get off the grid we'd buy into it. That's another post someday....

John's got a big slab of pork ribs in the smoker. I've got a ton of catch up to do...

If you are interested in seeing how this land grab will effect us and are are on Facebook, please join "Save the Lavaca" fan page. There are many pictures, studies, comments, etc. going on. Also, join our blog to get up to date info on our quest to save our land..

We'd appreciate your support.

Monday, April 12, 2010

A chance our gardens will not happen.....

We live in a little community that has a lake. The lake was built as a way to conserve future drinking water. Most of this water is sold downstream to industrial plants and pipped to other cities in Texas. It's a money making machine.

When we first bought our house we knew we might be looking at Phase II of the lake project.... the entity that built the first lake had plans to dam up the river behind us.

At first we knew that some of our neighbors would loose valuable bottom lands, prime grazing land and we knew that it would effect some. We figured that the little river wouldn't do too much damage and everyone would go on as usual.

Then reality hit. We listened to stories from former land owners who lost hundreds of acres of land for Lake Texana....and that there were lots of promises of jobs and tourism......30 years later, we see none of that. In addition, the entity has also acquired and since kept the land that surrounds the lake. LOTS of it. Hundreds of acres taken off the tax roles.

Yes, we have a lake. A shallow, muddy lake. Full of crocks and water snakes. Not good for much. And no lake front property to add to the tax base of our poor little community.

Now phase II is raring it's ugly head after the proposal was voted down not once but twice.... it's on the agenda again. It won't be for future water for our little community. It's for the entity who contributes nothing to the community who plans to sell it to the highest bidder.

This weekend out hearts dropped to the floor when we saw the proposed map of the land they plan to take emanate domain. And it includes our property.

Mind you we are about 3/4 to a mile from that pretty little river....but they want not only the land that will flood but once again the land around it. They'll build a levy and that levy will go over our house.

Their next meeting is April 21'st at a convenient 7am. We'll be there, coffee in hand and hair combed.

Oh, they tell us it's only a feasibility study and that they are 85% sure it won't come back favorable. But it still leaves us scared....especially because they engineering firm they are using is the same one they've always used.....

There are a lot of questions.....and a lot of angry folks....for us, we are just plain scared. Scared we'll loose our land that we scrimped to pay for over 20 yrs. Scared that what they'll pay us for our land won't even put a down payment on a similar property. Scared we'll have to move and we'll never see our sweet neighbors again.

More as it progresses....but until this ugly serpent is finally put to rest, the Gardens are on hold.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Chickin' Kondo completed, a kidnapping plot in action....

Hooray! The Chickin' Kondo is complete and perfect timing. The cuckoo moran's are just a few weeks from being laying age and the other chickens are laying eggs in clutches all over the place but being displaced by amorous roosters. The condo should be a perfect haven for all the hens.

Moving the Cuckoo Morans was a breeze. It was just a matter of catching them in the small holding pen and moving them. However, the other hens we knew....were going to be a challenge.

All the other hens were free range and I mean free range. Daily they hung out with roosters and generally that meant 3-4 roosters per hen. Yes, we are a "no-kill" farm but those roosters are getting so big they could be Sunday dinner for a family of four.

Each night however the hens roost in the garage and most are quite accessible. SO, the plan was to sneak into the garage late at night when the hens were asleep and kidnap them one-by-one.

So at 10:30 pm last night we did just that, even though my body was begging for sleep, I accompanied my "skilled at chicken kidnapping" husband to do the deed.

The first few hens were a breeze to capture and haul to their new condo. John snuck into the garage and snuck up behind them grabbing them from behind running his hand under their bottoms to catch their feet. SCREEM SQUAK! Calming them down in a few minutes to go back for another. Quite a funny thing I thought until he got it into his head that he needed to get them ALL before he went to bed.

Once again let me remind you that my body was needing sleep...... and all but 2 were quite easy to get. Finally he agreed to give up letting them settle down before he tried it again.

This afternoon our son came over and tried his hand at getting the hen that had just gone into the garage to roost. She was accompanied by two roosters and were bedding down on the shop light above the work bench as they had many times before. In position with a huge fishing net, our son goosed the first rooster to make him move or fly out. Mission accomplished he goosed the second rooster to do the same....and mission accomplished, the hen attempted to fly across the garage to the other side. With one swipe of the fishing net he "caught" her in mid flight. Once freed they took her to the Chickin' Kondo to live for a while.

This morning I did notice that the recently kidnapped hens were not really happy that they could freely roam with their rooster companions but they quickly calmed down to their new surroundings. The roosters were quite confused too that they couldn't get to the hens and that their "women" were not as accessible as before.

Tonight we have all but 2 hens in their new home. 1 is a tiny bantum and the other has chicks far behind some boxes in the garage....not a place you or I could get to nor is brave enough to get to with a mama hen on chick kidnap watch....

So all is good. Hens should be laying and sitting eggs soon, Cuckoo Moran hens should be laying (did I mention they are virgins?) and we should start producing baby chicks and fresh eggs....

Life is good....

Now, to finish the greenhouse and build a breed pen....

OH and we got a little bit of rain! Maybe an hour....but the garden plants should LOVE IT....

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Farm Sunday...

What a beautiful day this blessed Sunday was! Easter is such a humbling time and as I spent my hours outside completing tasks on the farm it was a special time. I don't know your spiritual beliefs readers but I do believe that there is a God and today is our traditional, symbolic day to remember that he died on the Cross for us. What love that is.....

As I work in the gardens and on the property I had to take some time to take in the wonder in his miracle. The spring flowers are really starting to bloom, the garden plants are starting to take off and grow and I have the first buds on some of the tomato plants.

We worked hard on the chicken coop these last few has been our priority because all the roosters have had an extra dose of testosterone and the poor hens have no feathers on their back. John got the b-b- gun out after a few. The coop is almost complete....we have about 30 minutes of last minute tasks to do before we move the Cuckoo Moran hens in an entice the other hens to go in.

Funny but yesterday after we had it almost enclosed the hens would come up from the property, enter it and look around. However once the roosters figured out where they were they scooted out of it quickly!

Our plan it to try to lure them in with scratch at first..but if that doesn't work, then kidnap them once they are roosting in the garage. The latter may take several attempts but once kidnapped they'll be all good.

Knowing that they are probably more than fertile, for the first few weeks we'll let them sit their eggs. After a couple of weeks they should be laying just fresh eggs. OR at least that is the plan.

Back to work tomorrow for me. Both jobs are really picking up and I have less and less time to spend here. I think my husband is catching on that if I have some free time I am not leaving the farm. There is way too much to do! He is also catching on that I would rather homestead than be at work all day....and mentioned to a friend that this weekend that I am only there for the insurance and benefits....

And a good thing has come out of not starting to cultivate the back acreage...I have 2 full acres of dewberries with more blooms on them than I've ever seen! Now, for those who have ever picked wild berries, they are delicious! However sometimes you find snakes galore! And...these berry vines are quite thick. We'll report in a month or so when we can start picking how that crop is doing and if we can get into it.

It might be a record year for snakes too....a friend of ours just 2-3 miles from here killed several this weekend including a coral snake. Yikes!

Hope everyone has a wonderful week ahead.

BTW: My vacation starts at 6PM on April 9th. You can bet where I'll be...

Sunday, March 28, 2010

On warmer weather and making time!

Sometimes in our life it's just a matter of making time. Priorities.

A long time ago, when visiting some good friends of ours and after several years had past since the last time we had visited, one of us commented how we missed spending time together. While the conversation continued and we each made several excuses that we work long hours and have other tasks to attend to, the husband said something I'll never forget. He said life happens, it's the priorities that you set that mold your day to day activities. What's more important?

While we still don't spend a lot of time with them the comment made me look at my entire life. What is important and how can I learn how to set aside time to do those important things?

This weekend was the perfect example. I work 6 day work weeks and while it is only 3 hours on Saturdays usually rotated between bankers, I am usually back on our Rural Living farm by noon 'thirty.

This weekend my sister in law is in the county visiting our friend who recently purchased property just a couple of miles away. She wanted me to spend time over there Saturday afternoon but I have set priorities to spend the weekends I do have free on the farm. I don't know if she understands this as my time is short working a 6 day work week but if I don't set those priorities, then I'll never get anything done here. And she'll be the first to comment if something is out of place or neglected....

I did get almost all of the alternative spot for the spring/summer garden planted. I also got all the bird feeders filled. And I was able to do household tasks that otherwise I could not have done.

She'll be here all week and if she really cares, she'll come over here to help with the necessary tasks to keep us moving forward. I am not holding my breath.

One other task is that we made huge progress on the chicken coop we've been working on for months! It's not always a one person job and with available time short, we worked all afternoon setting in nesting boxes. If the a air stapler would work right we'd almost be finished. So much for purchasing a cheap one.

Priorities. Without them I'd never be home and never be able to complete tasks that are important to me. As for our friends, when the husband made that comment all those years ago we lived 250 miles apart. Now we only live 30 miles apart. Maybe we should re-prioritize....

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

In our neck of the woods....

Tonight is our once a month shindig. Well, not quite a shindig but a music review that is perfect for our little community. Sorta like Grand Ol' Opry on a much, much smaller scale.

It's Flag City Opry night, where you can get a meal and some of the best old country, toe-tapping music around from Texas regional artists who are down right good for a bout $20 a couple. Can't beat it.

We'll visit with 300 or so of our neighbors, many who are well beyond retirement age and you can bet there will be as many walkers and scoot-a-rounds as there are people who can still walk without aids. Frankly my husband and I are the 'youngen's who regularly attend and he is recently retired.

We go for several reasons and the best is that you can visit with some of the best old farmers in the world.

The other reason is buttermilk pie. Some ladies group will have them for sale and if you get their early enough you'll get some.

Have a great week readers....we'll report on the weather and Rural Living in a little while. In the meantime, check out their website...I'm sure they'll appreciate the visitors....

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Spring!!!!! Wow what a difference a week can make

It's almost like by magic the trees have leaves on their branches, the birds have returned and I am making a mad dash to find shorts and sleeveless shirts. Deodorant is a must.

This weekend we might not have made big strides on the homestead farm but several good things did happen.

First, John's best friend has relocated to our county. While he still has things in San Antonio, he say's he's moved more things here than are left in San Antonio. And best of all, he's within a mile of us. He also is trying desperately to get ground turned for about 1/4 acre garden. The area he is gardening is big for typical garden size. Funny but he has not dealt with our gumbo clay soil before. When he lived in San Antonio he had sand....which caused him much grief when trying to grow a garden. Seems he couldn't ever keep moisture in it. We have the opposite problem.

We are running behind on turning soil for our first big garden. He is ahead of us. So we might co-op his plot for our test bed....and I'll leave a lot of work to him. He offered 1/3 of it to me. As soon as he works out the details I'll get back with him. More than likely he'll get the bulk of the new plant starts I have in the mini greenhouse plus some seeds. However, I would like a couple of row's to prove to him the importance of mulch, mulch, mulch and drip irrigation.

We also worked all day on the chicken coop and made great strides in that project and time willing should finish soon. Also, let the roosters chicks out of the chick pens. They are twice the size of the bantums. We kept back the hens hoping to segregate them from the entire flock to harvest eggs.

John got really upset at the rooster population overall today. Poor hens. We have about a 4 rooster to 1 hen ratio here. He swears he will get rid of roosters this week thinning down the population.....I asked him if he was into gutting and plucking as I couldn't do it this week....he didn't answer.

I want to be a no-kill farm for the poultry but he is indeed right. We do have too many roosters and as he gently put it "Didn't raise them to look at."

We'll see. So long as he doesn't kill big boy and black beard I am good. Almost.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Spring weather, feathered friends, time off

Today as I was walking out to the car to go to my "real" job I heard a familiar "peep peep" in the garage, again. Knowing that I am almost always running short of time I simply text messaged my husband that we had a new chick, again, in the garage. I didn't think there was much of a chance to catch the booger.

This afternoon when I arrived home once again I heard that familiar "peep peep" and thought it was fantastic that the little "peep peep" had survived the entire day without being caught as farm cat food. I rushed in, told my husband (who had not heard the little "peep peep" all day) and told him I was going back out to the garage to catch it.

He simply said "Good luck!"

I started slowing moving boxes to the side, creating an open area and would stop for a moment or two to hear it "peep peep" more, to make sure I was looking in the right spot. Then I remembered we had 50 lbs of starter scratch and hoped to lure it out enough to snatch it.

It's when I started distributing the starter scratch towards and behind the boxes that I figured out the little "peep peep's" mama hen was there with her.

She was not happy I was there but I had created a starter scratch barrier between us. She quickly became much more interested in scratch than me.

My husband had wandered out about then and I told him what I had discovered. He suggested we not only continue to catch the chick but grab the eggs to incubate.

After moving a few more boxes....lets just say Hen won.

Giving up and praying she'll do a better job that most hens who want to show off their first chicks abandoning the others we headed to the local Chinese food place for some fresh vegetable stir fry.

Sun is shinning and spring is here. Hope you are doing well....

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

He's been moving dirt!!

So, we've been at a standstill building a chicken coop and with more chickens coming out of the chick pens we need to get a move on! Then...there is the greenhouse my last post to understand where we were with that......

My husband did indeed head to Victoria to rebuild seals in the on the "termite". When he got home he ran into another obstacle trying to get it together but he finally accomplished that task. Great! Not!

One of the hoses had become misaligned and was stretched when he tried to use the bucket busting a fitting. Seemed like everything was throwing a wrench into out projects.

GOOD NEWS tho! It's all fixed and when I arrived home he had moved almost half of the dirt from the area we are to "excavate!" He said it had so much power it was cutting through everything like butter. Even roots!

I managed to find some time to re-pot about 75 babies yesterday...and with the drier ground it looks like we are on our way to partially producing some of our own food.

Enjoy the spring weather...

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Time flies! Throw me another wrench

Around here, time flies quickly! It's been a couple of weeks since my last post but it seems like I just posted the other day. Too much happens around here and there is never enough time.

Then life throws another wrench in our way. You know the feeling I am sure. You start a project and run into 1000 obstacles that prevent you from completing that task until you resolve the issues. Then other issues come up, other tasks present themselves that seem to be more timely and on and on...not to mention that you didn't have a lot of time to complete the first task!

The chicken coop has been sitting for a while until we can get someone over with more strength than me to help hoist plyboard up to fasten to the back. We did however acquire an nail gun that should help speed projects up. We also bought a larger air compressor. Think our son and his wife are coming over this evening for grilled rib-eyes and some muscle to move the coop along.

Then we bought a greenhouse. Thinking this too would be a Farm Sunday project we discovered shortly after retrieving the instructions that they want the entire site excavated 5-7 inches deep before assembling the base. So, my husband moved the back hoe/front end loader out and soon found out the seals were bad and because of that the project is at a standstill for a while. That was ok though as it's blowing like crazy outside and would have been a near impossible task anyway. And he promises to go to Victoria tomorrow and buy new seals and hydraulic oil to fix the "termite" this week...a project that he has delayed doing for several months.

Nice greenhouse too, it's 10x12 and 10 foot tall at a remarkable price! Just about $500 at Harbor Freight. That is more than half the price of many others I have been looking at.

My little seed starter greenhouse it packed so tight that there isn't any room to re-pot anything much less start anymore plants. And, I am out of potting even if I had room in the cold frames or the mini-greenhouse that would require a trip to our local Wal-mart to buy another bag. Another delay.

To top it all off, it's suppose to rain tomorrow. While we were out trying to excavate the area for the greenhouse, I noticed that the soil is still pretty soft after all the rain and after about a 10 day no rain stretch. It's only suppose to rain for 1 day. The boxes that the greenhouse are in will get wet but that shouldn't deter the project much.

Time will tho. I'm sure of it.


The kids came over and had ribeyes with us and our son did help move the coop along. As I was explaining to my daughter in law what our goal was, our self-sustaining lifestyle, which BTW was their goal at one time too.....She told me something very profound...

She simply said "You'd be so much happier, and at peace."

I think they are on-board too. At least they went home with two bars of homemade soap, several jars of homemade jelly and a drink flat full of vegetable plants.

time will tell....

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Satisfying my Barnheart obsession....

Today my phone was quite. While that sounds good, if my phone doesn't ring, I don't make money. Sort of. I do however, try to hold Sunday's as Farm Day, the one day during the week that I can catch up on laundry and other tasks necessary for a busy week ahead. Sometimes I am not lucky enough to have a whole day for Farm Day but today I did.

I am happy that I had the opportunity to test out my new canner! I made 12 jars of black cherry jelly and 10 bars of orange clove olive oil soap. That's enough soap to last me almost an entire year, and I have another 2 lbs of melt and pour to do another 10 bars. The way I figure it, if I sold the other 10 bars then I'd pay for the entire batch and make some profit! Not too bad and the reason homesteading and homestead farming is very intriguing to me. It's a way to self sustain and pay for it and maybe make a little more at the same time.

One day I'll be brave enough to concoct soap from scratch.

This week I plan to make an additional batch of cherry jelly and also make some cherry preserves. Yes I am cheating. The fruit and juice is canned and bottled. My husband has terrible bouts of gout and bought a ton of cherry products early last year with the hopes of easing his pain. I don't want them to go bad and would rather experiment with the things I have on-hand than mess up on fresh that was given to me or that I grew. It's a great way to get started.

Today was quite nice although friends north of us had snow again. We shouldn't have anymore rain for a while although another cold snap has hit and the wind is blowing really hard. It will make for a great night to shimmy under the quilts and sleep soundly. It seems to be cold, dry air and perhaps will dry it up a little bit around here.

I have several days of vacation in March and all total will be almost 1/2 of the month I have scheduled off. You can bet I'll try to make most of those days Farm Days. I am praying the ground will be dry enough to turn soil then. As it is now if we ran equipment into the field it would get stuck in the mud. The plants in the cold frames look very good..a great head start!!

Stay warm my northern friends. Spring really is just around the corner...

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Blow wind blow!!

For weeks I have been talking about our rain, mud and cold weather. God bless those who live north of here. That cannot be pleasant and I apologize to all my readers! This has been a tough winter for everyone.

For those in South Texas, we endured many weeks of dry, over 100 degree weather during the summer followed closely by a harsh winter for the south. We have not had a break from extremes in about a year. I expect those who are north of us have experienced much the same.

So to give you something to look forward to I am giving you a list of dates that once reached means we are closer to spring and away from the snow, sleet, blowing wind, rain and all that makes us miserable...

Daylight savings time is March 14th. Rain, sleet or snow we should begin to feel like spring is around the corner if the days are getting a little longer. On better days this will give us much needed daylight to spend in the yard or on the acreage getting ready for planting or just to do outside tasks that were neglected during the inclement weather. This is the 4th weekend after this one.... you can see thatin your mind...and the light at the end of the tunnel is starting to shine...

1st official day of Spring is March 20th. That is the very next weekend....

Good Friday is April 2nd with Easter April 4th. This is only 3 weeks after daylight savings time starts. By then, we should be getting a little warmer. Some long term forecasts say most if not all the precipitation will be gone. You should start to see wild flowers on the side of the road.

So you see, spring really is around the corner...just keep these dates in focus and you can get through these very cold days....

Monday, February 8, 2010

As the wind blows.......

Today as I drove home I noticed heavy thunderstorms to the north of us. I knew there was another cold spell coming and figured it was going to be a rock and roll evening. As I write this the wind is blowing and we have had several claps of thunder and more rain.

Before I came in I checked the cold frames, watered the ones that were getting a little dry and covered them knowing it might be a few days before I could get to them again or that the temperature would be warm enough to lift the glass.

I talked to a couple of farmers in the area today and asked them if they had been able to get into their fields. Sadly they haven’t been able to even turn their soil much less fertilize or start to plant. I would think any seed in the ground would rot in this mud. They commended me for starting plants for our spring garden in cold frames. Each said getting this kind of head start will be valuable later.

Readers, don’t think this is a complaint…it isn’t! In fact I am so sure this will be a wonderful spring/summer that I am starting another 100 or so seeds tonight in my mini-greenhouses.

My mini-greenhouses are simply clear plastic shoebox sized containers you buy almost anywhere. Luckily my local Wal-Mart had 6 for $3.00 in a bundle on the clearance rack the other day. I grabbed 2 bundles.

I fill them with a couple of inches of good soil, broadcast seeds in them and cover them with the lids that come with them. These lids do not have to be clear, the white lids or colored lids work just fine. Then I stack them and wait for the seedlings to appear.

When I have a 4 leaf seedling I transplant them into some sort of recycled container. Most of the time that is homemade seed containers made from toilet paper cores, a trick I learned from a friend.

To make those, simply cut the core 1/3 way up to make 4 flaps. Fold in 2 of them from opposite sides to create a bottom. Fold in the other two opposite sides overlapping them and secure them. I use a little TOT stapler. After you get 4-6, staple those together. Once the plant is transplanted into these containers and big enough to go into the garden, the core has been wet for a while and can be torn easily or if you are a true recycler, cut the sides and plant the entire thing. Those cores degrade quickly into the garden.

So, as the wind blows and the temperatures fall outside we gather around and look forward to the spring and what beauty the Lord will give us with a bounty of spring flowers and moisture in the soil to last well into the summer…. It will be here soon enough…

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A Rural Living farm defined

When there is little to do on the farm but read and work on tasks that don't require rubber boots and slicker suits you find yourself passing the time searching online for new seed companies, chicken breeders or small farm supply companies as well as reading others blogs on homesteading and catch up on must read articles on homesteading e-zines.

One website I really like to visit is Mother Earth News. I have subscribed to this magazine on and off since I was a young adult. Back then, it was my post 60's earth girl mentality....not that I have lost that persona but now it's because the website is also loaded with great articles.

Last night I read an article that gave me a "That's it!" feeling.... describing what I have blogged about on here for a while. That is the longing to be able to spend my every waking hour on this hobby farm.

This feeling now has a definition: BarnHeart.

Jenna Woginrich describes Barnheat as
"that sudden overcast feeling that hits you while at work or in the middle of the grocery store checkout line. It’s unequivocally knowing you want to be a farmer — and for whatever personal circumstances — cannot be one just yet."

When I read that description I had tears in my eyes knowing I wasn't alone. I know now that while others think I have lost my mind when I talk about the day I can retire to spend countless hours at Rural Living when I am old enough to do so, in reality I am in good company with others who think and feel the same way that I do.

She goes on to describe the day-dreaming, heart-tugging feeling we get shortly after we arrive from work that lasts nearly the entire day making it next to impossible to focus on the tasks at hand.
"Specifically targeted at those of us who wish to god we were outside with our flocks, feed bags, or harnesses and instead are sitting in front of a computer screens. When a severe attack hits, it’s all you can do to sit still. The room gets smaller, your mind wanders, and you are overcome with the desire to be tagging cattle ears or feeding pigs instead of taking conference calls."

Jenna offers some sound advice to those of us who admit to be suffering from Barnheart and remedies for the hardest of days.

"Usually, simple, small actions in direction of your own farm can be the remedy. In worst-case scenarios you might find yourself resorting to extreme measures. These situations call for things like a day called in sick to do nothing but garden, muck out chicken coops, collect fresh eggs and bake fresh bread. While that may seem drastic, understand this is a disease of inaction, darling. It hits us the hardest when we are farthest from our dreams. So to fight it we must simply have faith that some day 3:47 p.m. will mean grabbing a saddle instead of a spreadsheet. Believing this is even possible is halfway to healthy."

I am definitively not alone. Not only did I connect with Jenna but many others who also suffer from Barnheart from comments left from many others who too, suffer from Barnheart.

One reader Marcia confessed,

"I have found myself at a desk job feeling trapped and suffocated by 2PM. I would actually have to step outside the office and take a stroll around the building, telling myself I can make it through the day. That's when you know you were meant to work outdoors! The fresh air and the sun on your face - ahhh! I have a 1-acre garden and am currently pouring over seed catalogs and plotting the 2010 garden plan on my computer. I have been researching plans for chicken coops and subscribing to homesteader blogs as I find them. And I've often wondered if there is another farmer soul like me out there to share my dreams without the "you are crazy" looks shooting back at me."

Another comment left by reader Appalachian tried to persuade us that our desire to homestead full time wasn't all glamorous,

Barnheart sufferer! If you want a quick cure, head over to your nearest farmer who has a three acres of green beans, onions, corn, pumpkins, whatever! Volunteer to spend a day - heck, even a couple hours - picking veggies. Do this on a day when it's 110 degrees in the shade as the sun starts to set. Come back the next day to milk the cows before the sun comes up and then watch the feller as he tries to fix the tractor! This is a great cure for the infliction that takes you away from a comfy life to the mercies of mother nature.

I think if Appalachian walked in my shoes for a while he would one day suffer from Barnheart.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A service available to you I bet you didn't know about.....

It's hard to believe that a week passed by so quickly and I didn't even know it. I guess being busy is a good thing. If only I got paid for all of it! I am really looking forward to my vacation in a week!

While reading some articles on one of my favorite websites I ran across a list of tasks that are suggested to do in the spring. One of the tasks is very familiar to me but it is also something that few people know about, even in this small, rural county.

Soil Sampling!

There are folks in your county who are there for a specific reason and who's services sometimes are under utilized. They are your local county Extension Agents and in our county, our Ag. Extension Agent is all but under utilized! For more urban areas though, the local gardener or small hobby farm owner doesn't think about this county office. Yes, even urban areas have an Ag. Extension Agent! Maybe a couple of them!

Your county Ag. Extension Agent can do a whole host of things for you but I have our local agent on speed dial (and in my email address book) primarily for 1 reason and that is to answers to my questions! He is full of answers and has a lot of resources at his disposal. Both my husband and I went through Master Gardener training and our Extension Agent lead those classes and is there for us if we need him.

One service however that they offer is soil sampling. Simply put, extension will provide you with a bag (or bags) to place randomly selected soil samples to be sent to a local university for evaluation. Once completed, you'll get the good and bad of your particular soil, if you need nutrients, how much to amend your soils, etc.

Generally you want to take soil samples for specific reasons, that is, for your lawn, for your garden, for your flower beds, etc. Take a garden scoop of soil from the areas you want to test and put them in a clean bucket, then mix it all up. That is, if you want soil samples for lawn, take a scoop from one side of your yard, then the other and perhaps the back or several areas around the section that isn't doing what you think it get the idea. From that mix, fill your bag and seal it. Then take it back to extension. If you want to soil sample your garden, take scoops from several places in your garden, mix those up, fill the bag with the mix...

Sometimes your Extension Agent will suggest that you mail it or sometimes they mail several at a time when they get enough to fill a box. I have even given bags to people as a gift telling them if they take the samples and call me, I'll pick them up and have them processed. Generally there is a charge but this is a very low-cost way to make sure your plants have exactly what they need to produce self-sustaining food and lots of it.

When you get your results, find the Extension Agent for a 5 min tutorial on reading the results. They'll explain it and get you on the right path to amend your soils.

I am amazed that even in our rural community many do not know that our local Extension office can provide resources to their problems in their gardens. That's why they are there folks....and for the over-extended Extension Agent, they'll outsource some of their questions to their Master Gardeners.

Along with making sure tools are in good shape, starting spring veggies from seeds, building additional cold frames, and all the other little tasks we do before we get started, this year add to that pre-spring list soil sampling.

It will make a lot of difference.



Sunday is "farm day." It's the day we get ready for the work week ahead and most of the time is the day I can tend to garden and farm tasks that I might not be able to do any other time.

Today, farm day took us to the little community of Yorktown 40 miles to the west of us to pick up burn barrels. Living rural we don't have the luxury of trash pick-up and for some, a local dumpster is the trick. For us, we recycle a ton of stuff and only have a little left over, or about 1 30 gal bag not quite full a week.

Sometimes, when it is dry, the county has a burn ban where you can't light off your garbage or limbs, etc. And, in order to burn safely any time of the year, you use metal 55 gallon drums with the tops cut off and then laying either doubled up chicken wire or any wire mesh over the top as it is burning. We never burn if there is any wind.

We needed new ones and put the word out. One gentleman in our county provided us with 2 and another friend in this little community in Yorktown provided us with 2 more. These will last for a long time.

We recycle all tin cans (for seedlings), almost all the plastic bottles for a variety of uses, all plastic containers (also a variety of uses), glass, aluminum cans, and some Styrofoam meat trays for other uses. ALL paper products from junk mail to cereal boxes are shredded for compost or animal bedding except for toilet paper and paper towel cores that we use to create seed holders.

The local recycle center will take most glass and some plastic so if we are overloaded we can haul it there. Glass bottles can be used for flower garden edging by flipping over and burying 80% of it.

While we were in Yorktown we stopped by the chicken breeder and bought 12 little Cuckoo Maran chicks at $3 bucks a piece. We had hoped he had more Americanas but these are even cooler as they produce a dark, chocolate brown egg and he said they do produce an abundance of eggs.

How sweet chicks are! So, we increase our chickens. Will provide pictures later.

Guess we'll be vamping up our coop during my vacation.....and finally finishing it!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

On our local grocery and fresh......

Visited our local grocery this afternoon...seeking only smoked ham hocks for bean soup tomorrow and they had a huge display of very large avocados. I have a weakness for them and have never had success in growing them. I do know a gentleman who does quite well south of us and gives away hundreds of small avocado trees each year. I'll blog on that another day...

So, these huge avocados were a dollar each and I'm thinking that is a good price given the size, although I still believe at those prices they will, one day, be a monetary measure like gold.

However, they came from Chile.

And that got me thinking..... if they were a dollar a piece once they arrived in the US.... what price were they sold at in Chile? That is a lot of fuel and middlemen to go through... So lets think about this. Several thousand miles, either by freight ship or air....someone to handle the transaction in Chile, someone to handle the transaction in the US and sell it to the chain I shop at. All that cost is of course passed on to us.

Not to mention the amount of fuel it took ...thinking green here...

So the price of the avocados in Chile had to be small, even if the shipment was large. Which made me think about the poor workers in the avocado orchards... least they have a job, and I don't know a thing about Chile or it's employment practices. Or like my husband said "I wonder how many little kids it took..."...

None the less, my blog today has to do once again, with the food that we eat and where it comes from.... Those avocados were a far cry from local food to table.

And for the record, I opted out of buying those choosing a couple of tiny one's grown in California for our hamburgers tonight. Those were $.50 a pound and 2 didn't come close to those from Chile. However, it was the principal of it....


Friday, January 15, 2010

What the wet weather has created...

It's raining again but it should be stopping tomorrow afternoon. My yard is a swamp again. The ditches all the way into town (5 miles) are full and running to the river. This to should add a lot more moisture to the soil and will be dried up again by mid-week.

One problem that I have noticed that the rains have created is massive fire ant hills in the pastures. I can only imagine what the animals are going through. These are some of the largest fire ant hills I have ever seen and there are many more than usual.

I know that there was a pilot program for a while from Texas A&M that was releasing some kind of fly that lays and parasitic larvae in the fire ant head and, over time, kills the fire ant. Not sure how productive that has been in the counties they tested this in, but it's obvious that our county wasn't one of them. We have plenty of fire ant killer on-hand and I am sure we'll be using it.

Had a long week at my primary job but Monday is a federal holiday.

I really look forward to being in the yard this weekend and just a couple of weeks away from a much needed vacation.

Will blog more as the weekend progresses and post new pictures.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

On Composting and on-going project

We made it through the frost although there is still a 1/4 inch layer of ice on our pool and in the water trough. Just such an odd site in South Texas.

However, if you live in the northern states or the south, this "down time" gives us much needed time to read and learn about our farms. Today, I took time to read more on composting so that I could build better compost piles.

For a couple of months I have become very aware of what we have been wasting all these years. Much of what we have been throwing away can be recycled. And a lot of that recycled material can go into composting....which will help us sustain our lifestyle and continue to give back to us for years to come.

I started my first compost pile a month or so ago intending to add to it over the months until it was full and then starting the next bin. I have carefully been disposing into a stainless steel bowl on the counter-top all the fresh veggie scraps, egg shells and coffee grounds that I use to throw away, then burying them in the compost heap when we went to feed the chickens.

Most of the information I have been reading about is based on having all the necessary materials to layer into a compost all at one time. These same info-sites give carbon:nitrogen calculations based on materials you have on-hand and not necessarily when building an "as you go" compost pile.

The more that I read, the more that I was convinced that I am on the right track but I wanted more information and more explanation on what this c:n ratio means.

Then I ran across a fantastic calculator that I think can be used for building compost piles all at once or for those "build as you go" piles that I think most of us are or will be doing.

Compost Calculator

It asks for cubic feet of material you are adding so I just guessed and I bet I came close. Remember, 1 cubic foot= a box that is 1footx1footx1foot square. Thinking that way I imagined a plastic bin and about how much I have added over the month in that imaginary box of both food scraps and then coffee grounds. I had added some wood chip mulch that was quite aged and have added about five 5 gallon buckets full. Then there were the banana tree leaves, other misc. items that were "green" and came up with a c:n ratio that was very low. I added in to the calculator a "what if" statement....that is "what if" I added some paper shreds? And after a few adjustments I came up with something that according to the calculator will work and now I have added to the compost pile paper shreds. I also mixed it up well to allow more air to circulate as it had become quite compacted. I didn't add any water although I considered spraying it down as the decaying material felt quite damp but not real wet and we have a chance for rain later this week.

Once that was complete, I came back in to play with the calculator again.....what if I added cow manure? What if I added hay? What a cool tool!

So, what is a c:n ration? Carbon:Nitrogen. Carbon materials are those brown things we find, like newspaper, wood chips, leaves, etc. Nitrogen are green things like fresh veggie waste, grass clippings, manure. There is a delicate balance between these two along with air (why you turn it to keep it loose) and water content. And...if done correctly it will attract those wanted microorganisms that will break down the compost materials.

I guess I also depends also how quickly you want your compost to decompose! For me, I think I will have enough essential microorganisms once it warms up again to start the first compost pile "cooking." And my first good compost pile might be a cool one and not heat up as much as it should, however with the microorganisms at work that are present in our soils, it should decompose over time. I am betting that once it warms up this compost pile will start decaying quite well.

It's a learning process, and since I am not starting it all at one time, I will certainly learn overtime what I need to do to keep these compost piles going.

One thing I am sure of, if I have questions there are many answers online...

Epa Composting Info

Compost Tea

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The weather service calls this a weather event

The National Weather Service is calling this arctic freeze a weather event and what an event it is. For those of us who live in the south being under a freeze warning for more than an hour is an event in itself

And for those readers who live in the northern states, God bless you!

My seeds from Johnny's seeds arrived and in good order. They do a good job packaging and shipping! I was very impressed and will use them again.

I also have friends who are saving and contributing toilet paper and paper towel rolls that we recycle to create containers to start seeds. Perfect containers for little plants and break down quickly in the compost once the plants are removed. I am getting bags full now and with the hundreds of seeds we just received they'll come in handy.

We took a bag of recycled paper today and made pouches out of bubble wrap and stuffed it with paper shred to wrap outside faucets. We piled shredded paper in the cold frames then covered them with a blanket. Since we've been recycling paper in the shredder we have tons of it. I plan to make some recycled paper sheets later, pile some in another compost....there is a ton of uses.

Also received the essentials oils to make olive oil soap and will order the rest of the supplies in a few weeks to make that happen.

My vacation in February is going to be busy!

On Monday as I was leaving for work one of the hens hatched chicks in the garage. She hid them quite well as they were behind some boxes. I couldn't stop to find her or them and prayed the farm cats wouldn't hear them and try to get to them. Told my husband about them but he was getting ready for this weather "event" and had other things to do. It would be an event in itself to move all those boxes to get to her.....and since then I have not heard them again but that could be that the hen is right by them. John said he only saw her one time briefly all week. We'll look for them this weekend after it warms up.

Again, bless all of you who live in the Northern states during this arctic Weather Event...we are blessed on the Gulf Coast of Texas that we only have to endure for 36 hours.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

On theTexas Gulf Coast, the weather is very different

Where are our 70 degree days? Looking at the extended forecast on several weather websites indicates that this is the first January in years that we won't have any. And it may not get better for the next few months.

Usually about this time of year we can count on 3-5 days of 30-50 degree days followed by 2-3 or more 70 degree sunny days. It's a roller coaster of temperature changes you can easily get used to. However this year the temperature has been for the most part a steady 50 degrees.

And that's chilly for us!

I had counted on some 70 degree days! I had saved some outside chores for those days and it looks like we won't be getting them anytime soon. I can remember many years ago about this time going fishing for speckled trout in shorts....and loading up. That however is before the State put drastic limits. Now it's not worth going to for a meat trip.

February is another story! You can usually count on it being the coldest, with nasty sleet and sometimes snow. Not a lot of snow, but any is more than we want.

So, I sit and wait and use the time I cannot be outside to take care of tasks inside and to plan and blog.

Hoping the seeds that I ordered from Johnny's are in this week. I usually start those plants inside and now that we are building cold frames, will move them to the cold frame as soon as they sprout.



What a scare we had and thanks to the Guineas we would never have known what was going on!

I was in the laundry room taking care of our weekly laundry when my husband came in and asked if I would come out to the porch. He said there were a couple of small hawks cruising over the pasture in the back and within 100 feet of the house.

Our house lies fairly close to the Farm to Market road. We have surveyed off a full acre for the house with the rest of the property being ag. Behind the house, bordering our backyard area is a belt of trees that surrounds the homesteaded property on 3 sides. We have a lot of trees. On the other side of that is our pasture and our property line butts up to 400+ acres of farmland.

Cruising over the back pasture were a pair of smaller hawks and they were making a lot of noise! It sounded similar to when you step on a kitten's paw (by accident). They were flying low and even made passes over head. They were after something....

Knowing we had kittens from our farm cat mama's and the flock of BB Red Bantams we went into action! The Hawks were landing on tree's on the greenbelt and also tree's in our back yard. I am sure they were looking for a meal.

After gathering the chickens onto our covered patio (scratch entices them well), we watched for quite a while. They were quite pretty, their flight effortless and very aerodynamic. However, they wouldn't go away. They kept looking for their next meal and for a while, concentrated on something that was next to the 3 sided barn. Then they kept flying over the back yard, over the house to the front and back.

You could hear them squawking to each other for the longest, which allowed us to hear when they were coming.

And apparently the chickens and guineas knew that sound was danger as they took cover under low brush and tree's, huddling together.

After a while they became silent. One landed in the tree on the far side of the property by the three sided barn. I told my husband "We have a choice. We can either let nature take it's course as it's part of the food chain pecking order or you can go get your 22 rifle". He went inside and got his rifle.

He didn't have a clear shot to the one on that had landed in the tree so he walked slowly towards it but didn't get far before it flew away.

That was the last that we saw them and we stayed outside for 20 minutes or so, quiet on the patio to see if they would return.

The chickens and guineas calmly walked out from the porch and returned to the yard, heading for the greenbelt. I figured they knew more than we did and if they were calm, we should be too.

So, one more "atta boy" for our guineas! They certainly do a great job on bugs and snakes but even more important they alerted us once again to something on the property that wasn't suppose to be here.

We will be watching for those hawks......I guess this unusually cooler weather has made food scarce and that's why they were around the property....