Homestead Update: Blueberry Picking, Transitioning the Garden, and Thinking About Hatching Eggs
Hello, all! Oh, where to begin. These past couple of weeks have truly been some of growth, in the garden and in the mind. I've been thinking a lot about the future, the near and the far. I feel like I say that a lot, but I suppose that's just my personality bursting out at the seams. I am a planner and an unapologetic dreamer. It's impossible for my mind to not continue reaching for the farthest of goals, especially as others I have made come to a close or continue to chug along. Right now? I'm thinking about the seasons ahead on the homestead this year, the seasons coming in the next year after the winter cold comes and the things we get to plan for, and also what our business will look like after our first year of backyard homesteading. To be honest, I'm thinking about books again. I had kind of given up on the thought, in ways, giving up on my own potential, telling myself that there's no way I could write a book on backyard homesteading. It was too much, I didn't know enough, I wasn't qualified. And while all of that may be true, I read some good advice the other day, "What is missing from the market, and what can you provide in that missing category?" and for all of the homesteading books, there is a lot of information there, but there is something missing, and I am really excited to get working on what I think could be filled in. That's all I'm going to say for now! I'm going to continue writing what I know, and who knows, maybe a book will come in another few years. I'm so happy that you are here reading this and leaving your sweet comments. I love seeing your advice and stories about your own homesteading journey. It's a really fun little group of people who do it, isn't it?
In the Garden...
There has been so much activity in the garden in these past week it's hard to keep all of it straight! I need to be better about keeping a log of all of things we do and harvest in my gardening journal. I suppose I mostly have been only thinking of it as a place to write down if I use any special pest control or plant new things, but it would be a good idea to keep track of when certain plants are ready to harvest so that I can make a better prediction of that for next year. Oops! At least this blog serves as a pretty good log. So far, we have harvested zucchini, yellow squash, squash blossoms, broccoli, bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, Swiss chard, kale, lettuces, spinach, herbs, eggplants, strawberries, radishes, spring onions, and young potatoes. Digging for potatoes to check on them the other day was actually really fun! I couldn't believe that we had so many underneath the soil, and we probably would have had twice as many if I had hilled them properly. Oh, well. Now I know for next year, I just wasn't sure what to do and if I even should do it. We have so many plants growing right now, I am sure we will have enough for our family. Speaking of which, I am hoping to write a planting guide for how many plants you need for a small family soon! That should be fun.
Now is the time for some summer crops to be finished. I recently started some seeds in the greenhouse: broccoli, broccoli raab, cauliflower, and more sunflowers. My fully grown sunflowers are looking a little shabby, so I am not sure if I'll plant this variety again. I realized after starting them that they were pollenless... stupid! We want all the pollen around here. Also, right after they bloom, the petals start to fall apart. Is that true of all sunflowers or just these? I am not sure, but my autumn flowers have all the pollen. I have noticed a substantially higher amount of native bees and honeybees in our garden recently. I've been going out into the garden more in mid-morning, around 9-10 AM, and that seems to be when they are most active. They love, love, love my squash blossoms, and I can usually find one or two in each blossom. So cool! I haven't been able to get any good photos, but that's okay. It's more fun to watch them anyway.
Did you see my post on planning for a fall garden? Since then, I have ripped out our spinach that bolted, the rest of the lettuce, some kale plants that were just too many, and harvested the kohlrabi. There are some blank spaces in the garden that are ready for new plantings soon. I am excited to pull up carrots in the next few weeks, maybe the onions will be ready, and I figure out where new things will go. Our tomatoes have been slow to ripen, and the cabbage hasn't even begun to form its little head. I wonder why it is taking so long?
The Chicken Girls...
You can see above that they have discovered the wonderfulness of the strawberry bed. I am not sure what changed in the weather, but our strawberries have suddenly gone crazy producing fruit. We didn't see hardly any flowers a few weeks ago, and then suddenly, there were little red berries on every plant. So awesome! Still not enough to make jam, but we've been happily picking them off one by and one and eating them for our own pleasure. In the next couple of years, we should have lots, but it's been fun for now to just eat and enjoy. When I go out to weed in the evenings, which I try to do every other day to keep up with it, I usually let the chickens out to free range. In the past couple of weeks, they've started following me into the garden, which was fine when they were just searching for bugs and eating weeds. Now, they have discovered the strawberry bed and the glorious taste of a fresh strawberry. I made the mistake of giving them a misshapen one and now they all fight over them. It was only a couple of mornings ago that I was out photographing the garden, and I saw them all happily eating a berry off of each plant. Naughty! Lots of shooing and wing flapping followed by puffs of feathers in the air happened after that. They crack me up. Stop eating my strawberries, ya ninnies!!! I wish they would just eat the grubs and beetles in my garden!
We have been feeding them lots of Japanese beetles we have been catching. I actually read a great blog post the other day about how to save money raising your flock. It gave me some really good ideas for what we can do to reduce the amount we pay to raise our own eggs. I've talked about this before, but it's actually a lot more expensive to raise your own flock than to purchase eggs from the grocery store. If you're purchasing organic, free range eggs from a specialty store... well, I haven't really done the math, but those are ridiculously priced. Sheesh! It makes a little bit more sense now that we have our own flock. One of those ways was feeding your chickens the bugs from your garden, like Japanese beetles, and I was so proud that we were! We've been trapping them in a pheromone trap, which just has a pheromone tablet attached above it and a plastic bag below (don't worry - they're not eating anything with chemicals), and we crush the beetles and feed them to the birds. I also let them pick around our raspberry bushes for bugs, too, which has been very efficient. I wish that we could free range them more, but we try to go outside every few hours and let them out when we are there. I also throw in all of the leftover clippings from our garden, like Swiss chard that's looking crappy or kale that's been munched on by bugs. They've been eating a lot less feed. I wonder how this will effect the egg production, but I'm not really too worried if they're consistently producing. From what I can tell, they have a very diverse diet!
I also started to think about the part of that blog post that mentioned culling old laying hens. I suppose I forgot that chickens stop laying after a couple of years, and while it's sad to me to think about killing off our birds, it made sense that you're kind of wasting money on feed for a bird that's not producing. It also kind of got me excited because culling an old bird would give me a reason to hatch eggs. I've actually been thinking a lot about how I could get around hatching chicks either next year or the year after to go through the process, even though we can't have that many birds while living within the city limits. If I could have as many birds as I wanted, then I would be hatching them now, but I can't. We also can't have a rooster, so I would be purchasing fertilized hatching eggs from a hatchery. Could I potentially sell them or give them to someone? But who wants to purchase full grown chickens? Culling our older birds would be a reason to raise new ones...but part of me thinks that just sounds sad. Points to ponder!
For now, they haven't even started laying yet! Another five days until the youngest birds reach 18 weeks! The first egg should be right around the corner. I am so excited! You can see that the Barred Rocks, Muriel and Arlene, have started to get in more pronounced wattles. These photos were taken last Sunday. They will be 18 weeks this weekend, actually, so I don't know. Maybe we'll have an egg soon! I actually have quite a bit of grower feed leftover that I don't want to waste... I'll probably just keep feeding them that until an egg shows up and figure out what to do from there. Maybe I can sell it! Craigslist awaits...
My grandma visited last last week, and we all took a trip to the local blueberry u-pick. This is our second year going to this farm, and we love it every time. The blueberry crop is a little low this year, if you're comparing it to the previous season, and that is fairly evident in our own bushes. They look like crap, and we have no idea what happened! Tad had fun eating blueberries out of our buckets, though he didn't go crazy like I thought he would have. He was also completely uninterested with picking the berries himself. I am not sure if that was stubbornness or what, but I was surprised! He was much more inclined to run through the bushes and surprise us or make silly faces to make us laugh. I have a feeling I have a little class clown on my hands! He's a bit of a show off, and then can be very serious and concentrated. His personality is a bit baffling at times! Though I suppose mine is, too. At least I get baffled by it. His little sun hat is by Fin + Vince, and his romper is by Conscious Kids Clothing. Two of our very favorite shops!
We hope you have the very best weekend! It will be fun to see which crops the weekend brings, if we maybe have an egg pop into the nesting boxes, and perhaps a little trip to the farmer's market. Our honey stock is a bit low! (;
What are you up to? Would love to hear from you in the comments!