Homestead Update: The First Zucchini, Chicken Scratch, and Getting in the Groove

Who else is ready for the weekend? Let's be honest, when you run your own business you don't really get days off. Ha! It's more like running a marathon and the weekends are just as filled. Thankfully, I have working on giving myself more of a schedule for days that include intensive work and others that just include household tasks to make our weeks easier. Then there are some days where nothing gets done at all, where my schedule tells me to shove it, and I have to remind myself that it's okay to not get everything done all of the time. I heard some really great advice the other day about blogging that was saying, "The only person you're trying to impress is yourself by publishing as many blog posts as possible." That sounds kind of like DUH, but it helped me realize that all of this hustle I keep creating is of my own creation, and I also have the power to control it before it gets out of my hands. Anyway, even if you don't run a business, I feel like that advice is still good no matter where you're at in life. You control the day and what you get done, and sometimes it's okay to just leave the laundry and watch a movie instead. We all need that!

This week for Homestead Update, I'm really just going to be talking about the garden and the chickens. That's really all there is to discuss at this point as we make our way into the hotter days of summer. We actually had a pretty cool week last week, and it was lovely! Tad and I left for a short trip to Chicago at the beginning of the week, and when we came back home on Tuesday, discovered our first zucchini to harvest. It was amazing! I had wandered into the garden in the evening light, when the garden is shaded by our tiny oak tree, and just saw it lying there ready for me to pick it. Two days later, we had FOUR zucchini ready to be picked! They were definitely not that large in the days before; they literally grew overnight, and I could not have been more surprised. Just a really incredible experience growing something from a tiny seed and then being able to eat it. Why did we ever go to the grocery store?!

Our herbs are flourishing. There's actually so many of them that I'm not quite sure what to do with them! I have to harvest them, or they'll get out of control and take over their neighboring vegetables. But there are just so many herbs drying in our house, I feel like I may have over planted just slightly. We've actually been discussing expanding the garden with a second half, one directly behind the greenhouse, adding in a beehive and selling our extra produce at the farmer's market in Iowa City. This would be for next season, of course, but after seeing how much lettuce we've produced, and that we gave so much of it away to friends and neighbors, it might be a fun way to get to know other members of the community and sell out products as well! And we'd have organic eggs by then. So cool! What do you do with an over abundance of herbs?

The other vegetables are almost finished flowering and ready to start producing some delicious fruit. The cherry tomatoes are all green, turning red, and those have been fun to pick. Still no large tomatoes, just lots of yellow flowers, and I curious which day one will decide to grow and surprise me. We have flowering eggplants and pumpkins, lots of little pumpkins growing on the vine! The broccoli is growing and should be ready to harvest soon. It's just all continuing to get larger, and I love seeing where our hard work has brought us with each new day. It sounds incredibly cheesy, but I just cannot believe that each day is so different out there! I am consistently enlightened and fulfilled. 

I did mention that we were having some pest issues a couple of updates ago, and I am proud to say that my organic methods are working quite well so far! Our friend who owns and organic apple orchard stopped by the other day and told us that our apples looked really good. We have quite a few Golden Delicious on our one tree, and the two Honeycrisps only have one or two apples each. Ah, well! The aphids have disappeared, thanks to my "water method" which was just me spraying them off with the hose. That actually worked so well! I guess they have really weak legs, and if you continually spray them off, then they're too lazy to climb back up the plant. The aphids is sucking insect and literally drains the life out of your plant. I also spray the plants that attract cabbage moths and aphids with a dish soap/rosemary essential oil solution, and that has been helping. Not so much with the moths; I may have to try something different. I have seen the moths flitting about, but no caterpillars or eggs... hmm. Diatomaceous Earth is also my new best friend! That stuff works like a freaking beast on the potatoes. Love those, and apparently it should be a good solution for our various squash plants when those bugs come lurking, according to our friend! 

Speaking of bugs, I looked up why zucchini  become funny shaped while they're growing (we have a few that either look rotten or grew with weird lumps) and apparently that happens because there aren't enough sufficient pollinators getting to those flowers! What! I have been noticing that there aren't a lot of bees in our garden, at least not while I'm out there. Sometimes there are native bees around or a wasp or two, but no honeybees or bumblebees. It's really strange! Time to change that next year by getting a hive!!!

It's been a while since I've given you a full on chicken update! Our girls are getting so big. I've been trying to spend more one on one time with them like I did while they were in the brooder so that I can understand their flock better. It's really difficult for me to tell who the head hen is and so on. Gah! I thought that part would be easy! But the chicken who I thought was on the bottom is not asserting herself quite a bit and pecking at the other chickens. So, I don't know. I am the worst at figuring out which chicken is the queen!!! I think that chicken might be me, because they all like to follow me around the yard if I have a treat in my pocket. I can even call them now without having any treats and they'll come running, only to realize I have nothing by my affection, and then go run off again. They're too smart for my tricks.

As of today, they are officially 14 weeks old, and in four more weeks they'll reach full maturity and possibly start laying. Isn't that exciting?! I was looking up week by week photos of chickens to see when their combs and wattles will come in officially, and it was really strange seeing that it's really not until week 18 that they look any different than they do now. Do those just sprout out of their faces overnight?! That's weird!

I have been wanting to do full a post on our chicken coop and give a small tour, but have been apprehensive because we didn't technically do everything up to "backyard chicken code". It's the same with parenting or even having a dog. It's all based on opinion - you can either be the dog owner that only feeds your dog high end refrigerated dog food and goes to the vet every month for a check up, or you can feed your dog table scraps and never take them to the vet. And if you have no idea what the proper care for a chicken is, it usually involves not using chicken wire as a way to protect your flock from predators in and around their coop. But we used the chicken wire. Why? It was SO much cheaper than hardware cloth, and we really don't have predators around us other than neighborhood dogs. Who, by the way, have approached our coop and the girls just run right inside and hide in the corner. Our coop is 6 feet high, so air predators cannot get in, and while I could keep explaining myself, it is what it is. If we lose a chicken, it's a chicken. I love them, but I also have to make this homestead work on a budget. So if you want to use chicken wire and think that your flock can be well protected, then I say go for it!

It's also worth mentioning that I recently discovered I was feeding my chickens scratch as their main food and not grower feed like I was supposed to be. I went to the feed store in search of organic grower feed and was not able to find it. The sales associate there told me that the organic scratch they offered was the same thing, and I happily purchased it and fed it to the chickens for a month! Then I noticed some liquid-poo and ended up looking it up, discovering that scratch is not a meal, it's a snack. Plain naivety on my end, and false information. If you're in the area and looking for organic feed, I highly recommend going to Professional Proteins in Washington, IA! They sell some really amazing feed and separate ingredients as well. So helpful!

I had my first beekeeping experience last weekend! Oh, it was so awesome!!! I had been dying to try it after reading so much on the art of keeping bees, taking classes, and just talking about it constantly. It's one of those things where you can research it all you want, but you won't know if you truly enjoy it until you try it. Even though I had been around hives before, gotten close, and had overcome my fear of the bee itself, I was still apprehensive about looking inside and touching all of the equipment. But I did it! My grandma bought two hives early this spring and started keeping them. When Tad and I went to Chicago, we stopped for a visit and lesson in opening the hives and adding on honey supers. 

Opening the hives and pulling out the frames to see the comb and honey they were making was absolutely fascinating. I think it was even more amazing to witness the work up close, and to not be bothered by the bees. They were landing on me and buzzing about our heads, but none of them stung. They just continued working, becoming only slightly irritated that we were disturbing their home. Now I am really excited to try getting a hive of our own!!!

I hope that you have an exciting weekend ahead, or even a relaxing one. A relaxing one sounds nice to me! See you on Monday, you sweet people (:

xoxo Kayla