happenings 'round the homestead

Fall is here and it is lovely!  Our days have been full of great things, both in and outside, both with friends and family, and a good balance of play and work.  We've really been enjoying this fall so far! 

Things around our little urban homestead are going well too, for the most part.  We are down to 8 chickens, from 11 earlier this year.  We lost 2 of our pullets this summer - one to sickness, one to a hawk, and one of our older hens to sickness or egg-binding, as well.  And while all of that is not great, we are happy that the 3 remaining pullets are starting to lay and our egg production is slowly increasing - just in time to drop off for winter! Ha!  Out of the breeds we got this spring, I'm loving our Golden Sexlink!  She is an egg-laying machine!  She's been laying for several weeks now and I don't think she's missed a single day.  We will definitely be adding more sexlinks to the flock next spring.  As for Oak, that boy loves his chickens.  Yesterday he played outside for about an hour and a good portion of that he spent sitting on a stump by the chicken coop, just talking to his chickens.  They have good talks, he and his ladies. 

The garden is slowing down, just as it should be at this time of year.  We had our first frost this week, but my sheltered garden seems to have been spared.  I think I'll pull the tomatoes and peppers this weekend, though, and try to get a cover crop to sprout before the hard freeze happens.  The temps are cool enough now that the remaining green tomatoes are unlikely to ripen.  All that will remain, then, will be the green beans, a few carrots, and the cover crops I planted in early September.  Not bad, for the middle of October!

We added a few new structures to our little backyard this summer and we've so been enjoying them!  Dan built us a shed, a firewood rack, and a fantastic sandbox for Oak!  The benches of the sandbox fold in as a lid, in order to keep all of the neighborhood kitties out - as well as any free-ranging chickens.  It's so fun to see the backyard become more and more of what we need/want for this season of life.  Our backyard may be small, but we're making the most of the space and I love it.

garden notes :: 6.18.16

I can't believe my garden has been planted for over a month now, but I have yet to share it with you!  That baby of ours has been keeping me busy!!  I am happy to report, however, that the garden is growing strong!  We've had many rainy days followed by warm sunny days and my plants are thriving!  


The garlic scapes are ready for picking!  I have a penne dish planned for tonight with sautéed scapes and asparagus with either goat cheese or parmesan to top it off.  Yum.  The peppers are also doing well.  I planted them a little closer together this year to make space for other things, and I think it's going to work out.  I'm excited about a new jalapeño that I'm trying called Biker Billy.  It's supposed to be spicier than a regular jalapeño, which my husband will appreciate. I'm also trying a new basil this year called Amethyst.  It's supposed to have thick purple leaves, but right now they are still pretty thin.  I'm excited to see how it does. 


Tucked behind the peonies in the picture above and next to the spreading mint is my new Redlake Currant bush. The plan is to espalier train it up the side of the house in order to hide the ugly cords and piping. And of course, to eventually have a nice harvest of red currants each summer! 

I'm also very pleased with the progress my creeping thyme ground cover has made over the past year!  It's starting to really fill out the space between the stepping stones!  Since I decided not to use raised beds in my garden, it's been very important to me to create a living boarder for the soil in order to help reduce soil runoff.  I think by the end of next summer it's going to be performing it's job quite nicely.  


The tomatoes are growing like weeds this summer!  I arranged them a bit differently in the garden this year in order to give them all more equal access to midday sun, which makes me hopeful for a bountiful crop!  My pole beans got a new trellis this year!  Dan built this wonderful little frame for them to climb up.  In the past I've grown them at an angle up to the neighbor's fence, but this new frame will keep them more in the direct sun and will make it easier to pick them from both sides. I'm rather excited about it.

I've been dealing with a few pests this year.  Potato bugs have been helping themselves to my tomatillo's leaves and the four lined plant bug is attempting to make itself at home in my herbs.  I've been handpicking the potato bugs and killing the larvae every day or two and I'm planning to just keep a close eye on my herbs and act only if I need to.  Pests.  Boo. 


And last, but not least, the peas!!  I've never grown peas...why??  I'm not sure!  This year, however, I decided to try them in this somewhat shady spot along the fence.  I've tried several other things there and have not had success with them.  So this year, I decided to try some peas since they can tolerate a bit of shade.  Dan built a little trellis for them too and they seem to be enjoying their home.  I started them a bit later than I'd hoped to, so hopefully it won't be too much longer before they start producing, but we'll see.  I also snuck in a row of radishes in front of them.  They seem to be enjoying their somewhat shady spot as well.  

How about you?? What do you have growing in your garden this summer?

happenings 'round the homestead

It's been a full few weeks around this little homestead of ours!  With all things baby, a trip out to Michigan to visit family, and spring springing around each corner.  Flowers are blooming, perennials are up and filling out, the garden is waiting for seeds and seedlings, and the chickens are enjoying the longer days, the rain, and the sun!  I love the softness of the spring blooms--lavenders, whites, and light pinks.  The flowers tend to be small and delicate, just like spring.  

The busyness over the past few weeks has made it a bit difficult to get the garden up and running as I'd hoped.  The soil needs to be worked and there are peas and raddishes to get in the ground.  However, it will all get done eventually, it always does!  I did get my pots planted on the deck with lettuce, swiss chard, and arugala.  The garlic, rhubarb, and herbs in the garden are also doing well!  The rain we've had over the past few days has made things really start to take off!  We'll have garlic scapes in no time!    

We got two new chicks a few weeks back and they are about ready to join the older ladies in the coop.  They been spending their days in the yard and nights under a light in the garage, but they are very curious about the older hens and can often be found looking at them through the fence. These two little ones bring us to a total of eight chickens.  The time has come for us to begin to stagger our flock and keep it young and productive.  We have decided to cull two of our hens this summer/fall for meat.  More on that later...but for now, aren't our new little chicks cute?? Their names are Violet (the brown Ameraucana) and Fingers (as in Chicken Fingers...yes...).  Fingers is a Maran and she will lay chocolate brown eggs!  I'm so very excited!  

Next week will hopefully bring lots of sunshine and time in the garden!  How about you?  What's happening around your homestead?

when keeping chickens doesn't go as planned

When we first got our chickens almost two years ago, we told ourselves that they were not pets, even though we were decided to name them.  We planned to raise them for eggs, and eventually meat.  While some backyard chicken keepers let their chickens live, retire, and die of old age, we decided from the beginning that wasn't the road we were going to take.  We wanted to raise chickens for food and in order to do that, we decided that at some point we would cull (a nicer word for butcher) a few of them in order to keep our flock young and productive.  

Well...what I hadn't expected was that the first chicken to die on our watch would not be by our own hands, or by a predator, but instead would be because of the cold.  Two weeks ago, we lost our first chicken...Chicken the chicken, one of our two Plymouth Rocks, started molting at the end of January and within a few days she had lost a lot of her feathers.  The week that she died was a tough one for us.  We were both rather busy, I was coming down with a nasty cold, and the short, cold days left us with little time to really check on how our hens were doing.  The morning of the day she passed, we both saw that she had dropped a lot of feathers and we told each other as we left for the day that we needed to check on her later that day and make sure she was staying warm enough.  However, by that night she was gone.  She had lost many more feathers while we were gone that day and her little body was unable to withstand the cold.  Dan found her when he closed them up for the night and we were both so sad to know how she had died and that had we been home that day we probably could have saved her.  

It was in that moment, though, where we cried together as we mourned the loss of our first hen, that we also knew that we needed to honor her by trying to save as much meat from her body as we could.  Some may view this a morbid or inhumane, but coming from a family of hunters and meat-eaters, we've both learned that if you take an animal's life (or it dies on your watch), then the best way to honor its life is to not let its death be in vain.  So, Dan did his best to keep what he could of her body in order to further nourish our family.  

Chicken is the one in the front of the picture above and on the right in the picture below. 

Since she died we've had a renewed sense of responsibility and stewardship for our little flock.  They seem so self-sufficient at times, but we've been reminded by Chicken's death as well as two close calls with a possum and a raccoon that their lives are actually pretty fragile and its our job to ensure their safety and health.  Our other girls have all faired the cold very well and their egg production has started increasing again with these longer, sunnier days.  With our first hen gone, we've also started thinking about what lies next for our little flock.  It might be time to cull a couple and add another round of chicks.  We shall see as the next two months unfold.  What we do know, however, is that we enjoy raising backyard hens and despite the challenges and expenses, we are excited to keep moving forward and to simply learn from the past.   We miss Chicken, the chicken, but we are thankful for the eggs she provided, the meat in our freezer, and the joy she brought to our backyard.  Rest in peace, pretty bird.  May your life and death teach us how to be the best chicken keepers we can be.