Tuesday, January 29, 2013

How Does Your Garden Grow?

The weather this last week has been beautiful!  It has been rather springy here, which is great for getting me in the mood to work some more on the garden.

This last week, I spent some more time organizing my seeds, and deciding which ones needed to be started inside.  After making my list, and purchasing a few supplies like decomposing pots and organic soil, I went to work starting some seeds!

So far I have started two different tomato varieties, as well as some onions, some bell pepper plants, some jalapeno plants, and some romaine lettuce.  I also have three beautiful blackberry plants that will go out as soon as we have the last frost.  I would love to put them out now to get some extra grow time, but I fear they would shrivel and die if it gets cold again.  Oh, well.  Sigh.

Here are some photos of my seed starts...excuse the poor quality photographs.  I tried two different days to get some pictures, but unfortunately the sun wasn't out and it made for bad pictures.

I cannot wait to see these little seeds begin to grow, and then to transplant them into our large outside garden.  We are hoping and praying for a bountiful harvest this year!

I have also planted some Romaine lettuce out in the garden, and much to my surprise it is already sprouting!  It is going to be wonderful to enjoy a yummy salad, full of fresh veggies I have grown myself!

You have to look closely, but the tiny green sprouts are there!!

In other news, the kids and I have been collecting pine cones from beneath the pine tree in the corner of the garden.  Last week when it was sunny outside, we grabbed up the pine cones, some peanut butter, and some birdseed, and we went to work!  We made quite a few birdfeeders to hang around the property...it was so much fun, but boy did we make a mess!

This last week also found me making the garden markers to put in the garden.  I dug through the pile of old wood next to our workshop and was able to find just what I needed.  I made a list of the signs I wanted, and set to work painting.  I think they turned out perfect...rustic, cute, useful, and FREE!

Nathaniel has put them all on stakes and we will use them to mark all of our plants in the garden!  Awesome!

Last but not least, this weekend found us with reason to celebrate.  January is a big month at our house because it holds  two special anniversaries.  January 23rd is my Cancer-Free anniversary.  This year was my 11th Cancer-Free Anniversary!!  Praise the Lord!  January 27th is also our wedding anniversary, and this year we celebrated 12 years of wedded bliss...well, mostly bliss ;)  With two big days, and two big reasons to celebrate, we decided to have a dinner date.  It was nice to get away without the kids for a few hours, and spend some time talking and laughing together.  While we won't say that our marriage has been 100% easy, I think we both agree it is wonderful, and WORTH the work!  I love my farmer more today than I did the day we said our vows...and I still mean every word of those vows, as I know he does too!

Here we are all dressed up for our night out...which included dinner, a trip to my favorite thrift store, and the my weekly grocery trip.  Boy, are we fun or what!?  Ha!

We are staying busy here on the farm, and are still loving our new adventure!  Check back soon for more tales from Hen Hollow Homestead!


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Tackling the List

If you know me in real life, you know that I love a good list, and I love it even more when I am able to mark completed tasks off of the list :)  We have had productive days here at the homestead, and have been able to mark some things from the to-do list.  Hooray!

Nathaniel has finished up the new home for the pups.  Patti and GiddyUp are not sure about this new house because it is outside.  They much prefer to stay inside the house...spoiled pups already!

Nathaniel had a special little helper for the doghouse project.  Isn't Levi adorable in his protective eye gear?

Here is a new picture of the puppies...they are growing like weeds and eating so much!  They are fun...most of the time ;)



This last weekend we also tackled setting the poles for my new clothesline.  It was one of the things I have had at the top of the list, so I am thrilled we are making progress.  There is something wonderful about clothes dried outside on the line, especially in the country spring air.  It certainly helps lower electric costs when I don't have to run the clothes dryer for hours every day.  I cannot wait to get the clothesline finished, but until then, I am so thankful for the progress we have made.  It should only be a few more days before we are able to finish, and I will be putting them to good use.

My dad, being the super talented guy that he is, made my clothesline poles.  We had to start by digging holes between 2 1/2 and 3 feet deep.  That doesn't sound like much, but man o man, my arms are sore!  We used the manual post-hole digger, which made things lots easier, but it was still hard work!

Here is a picture of the hole with the pole propped up inside.

Here is the pole on the North end of the yard.

And the one on the South end.

Once the concrete is cured, we will be able to attach the clothesline, and start nature-drying the laundry!  Woohoo!

It is also that time of year.  What time?  Well garden planning time.  It is time to start prepping the garden beds, gathering seeds, starting plants indoors, and even doing some early planting.  I am so excited about our garden this year.  We are planting it in the same spot my grandparents used for years and years and years, and also where my sister had her garden when she lived here.  It is the perfect spot, with lots of rich and fertile sandy soil, excellent for growing veggies to eat.

I have been prepping my seeds, making files and lists and spreadsheets so I will know what plants make good companions, and which ones do not.  This will help me as I put together a 'floorplan' for the garden, and decide what I want to plant where.

Here is a picture of the beginning of my seed files.  Each type of seed has a pocket folder, and I store all of them together for easy access.

We have spent some long days outdoors prepping our garden beds as well.  Here is a picture of my dad tilling it for us.  He is a lifesaver with that tractor, and all of the many attachments he has for it.  I'm so glad I didn't have to hand till our HUGE garden spot!

Our front garden bed.

It is time to begin planting some too!  We have put in one row of onions, and will probably add another long row of onions as well.  Here are the onion starters I bought and put out.


Natalie was super helpful in getting the onions in the ground.

I also plan to start some of my own onions from seed, and we will add those in soon as well.

Next to our garden is a large evergreen tree...a pine tree.  I knew it would make a great place for a small seating area, so today, while Nathaniel was at work, I decided to tackle it myself!  And tackle it I did :)

Here is a picture of the before...mainly weeds and pine-cones that have fallen from the tree.

First I used a rake to remove all of the loose debris.  What a pain!  Then I decided to utilize all of the moving boxes we had left over from our move, so I cut those apart and spread them around in the shape I wanted.

Once the boxes were in place, I had the kids help me bring over all of the large sandstone rcks we had, and we lined them up making a perimeter for our garden seating area.

With the rock border in place, we filled the inside with mulch...back-breaking work!

And here it is, all set up with an old spool table, a rocking chair, and a cutesy tray and teapot with flowers.  Whats a seating area if I cannot make it cutesy! :)

I know that we will be able to spend many hours here this summer, enjoying the sunrises/sunsets and watching the fruits of our labor grow in the garden.  All I will need is a Caffeine Free Diet Coke, and I will be a super happy girl out there!

In other news, we completed the chicken tractor, and have moved it to the backyard for a trial run with the baby chicks...well, they aren't really babies anymore!  They have probably tripled in size already, and from what we know of the breed, they are going to be HUGE, as in 12 pound birds!  Yikes!

Here are a couple of pictures of the girls out on the 'pasture', or in this case right now, the yard.  We will give them a few more days in the yard, and then they are getting the boot!  They will go out in the real pasture to range around, scratch and peck, and enjoy life in the farm!  These girls have lived the good life so far, so they had better be preparing to provide some fantastic eggs for us in the spring!

Oh, the joys of farm living!  It truly is a blessing to be out here, living our dreams, creating a sustainable life for ourselves.  While the work is plentiful, God is blessing us beyond our wildest imagination, and we are so thankful!


Monday, January 14, 2013

Lots of Progress

As I type this morning, the weather is dark and gray and gloomy, and it is freezing outside!  Brrr!  Thankfully, this last weekend the weather was beautiful, and we were able to get lots accomplished here at the farm.

CowPatti (we call her Patti for short) and GiddyUp spent lots of time outside enjoying the warm sunshine we had on Friday.  It seriously felt like spring, and we all enjoyed the break from howling winds and chilly temperatures.  Since they are still just little puppies (in age, not size!), they are teething on everything they can get their teeth into, as well as running and playing and wrestling, trying to distinguish which one is the boss.  They love to play with toys, which is great as long as they are approved for chewing...we keep having to remind them that tug of war with Levi's pajama pants is not allowed!  Natalie and Levi played some soccer with the girls, and they loved it.  It was so funny to watch them chase the balls, grab them in their mouths, and race back to the kids, almost like fetch.  The balls are almost bigger than their legs are long, so they hold their heads as high as possible and take off!  After a week of sickness and antibiotics, it was good to see them feeling so well, and playing outside with the kids.

Patti and GiddyUp chasing the soccer ball

Patti playing soccer

GiddyUp playing soccer

I have talked about Nathaniel's chicken tractor project here, but wanted to give a little more insight as to why it is called that, and what it's function is.  On a farm, a tractor is used to tend to the land.  A chicken tractor is the shelter used to house the chickens while they actually do the work of tending the land for us.  They live in and around the shelter scratching and pecking the ground (like tilling/plowing), eating bugs, grass and weeds (like mowing/bug treating), and pooping (fertilizing!).  In turn, they will provide us with free-range, farm fresh eggs, and eventually we will also use some of them as meat birds (and that isn't something we can do with a tractor!).  The birds will be released to roam and forage during the day, but we will use the chicken tractor as a shelter and protection from predators at night.  It is also equipped with a nesting box so the hens can lay their eggs.  The other perk of the chicken tractor is that it is easily moved from one place to another when we pop on the wheels.  Every couple of days, we will move the tractor to a new location so that all of the land is being tended by the chickens, and not just one spot!  Brilliant use of farm animals, I think!

If you remember, this is what the chicken tractor looked like the last time I shared pictures.

After this weekend, when Nathaniel and my dad spent several hours working on it, it is now almost complete.  Here are some pictures of the work this weekend.

Nathaniel and Dad attaching the metal on the first side of the chicken tractor.

My Dad working...his knowledge and help is invaluable!  We couldn't be on this journey without him!

Adding the ridge row...the strip of tin that goes across the top, keeping the water out of the seam.

Attaching the other side of the ridge row.

I teased my mom that I was going to post this picture because Nathaniel and Dad were working, and in the background she is using the reflection in the window of my van to floof her hair...hilarious!  Love ya, Mom!
The only thing left is for Nathaniel to attach the rods that will be used as axles for the wheels (which are only on the tractor when it is being moved), and a little more chicken wire across the back side under the nesting box.  Once those things are complete, we will put the tractor out to pasture, and our first batch of chickens should be fully feathered and ready for the pasture in one or two more weeks.  We are making sure to give them a little extra time inside the brooder box since it is so very cold outside.  We are still at 100% survival from our first shipment, and would like to keep it that way as long as possible! :)

Nathaniel also spent some time building a new brooder box.  The breed of chickens that we purchased are going to be HUGE!  Typically, chickens weigh 6-8 pounds each, but the particular breed we got is probably going to reach 12 pounds each!!  Unbelievable!  That means that they are already looking gigantic, and were quickly outgrowing the first brooder box.  In order to keep them warm, happy, clean, and healthy, we have made a bigger brooder using only what we had on hand...that made it free!

The chicks moved from this efficiency apartment... (yes, the kids were hiding in there!)

...into this spacious condo!!  Ha!

What are those white slats, you ask?  Well, as we try to employ a 'use what you have' mentality, Nathaniel was able to use extra slats from the blinds in the house.  Each window had several inches worth of extra slats just resting in the windowsill because the blinds were for long windows and ours are short.  Nathaniel had recently spent a couple of hours going window to window, removing the extra slats.  That left us with at least 100 window blind slats, which we put in the workshop 'in case' we needed them for anything.  Little did we know they would come in so handy already!  Next time you work on a project, try using only what you have around you.  With a little imagination, you'll be surprised with what you come up with.  It saves money, and keeps things out of the trash!

As if all of that wasn't enough, Nathaniel has also started building a dog house for the girls.  They are growing like weeds, and will soon be getting the boot from their full-time, in-the-house, pampered lifestyle.  They are going to be farm dogs, and they need to start living that way.  Oh, we aren't going to be mean to them, but they are going to be spending more and more time outside, getting used to life in the yard instead of life in the living room.  They will be okay, they are farm dogs!

Jones Academy is back in session and we are falling back into our routines after the holidays of laziness and leisure.The kids are doing well, though I'll admit, they are more reluctant that I would like when it comes to schoolwork.  I'm trying to have grace and patience, but some days (actually many days) that is hard.  Quit complaining and fussing and just do the work already!!  Sigh*

January is shaping up to be a fun month around here!  We hope things in your neck of the woods are going well also. 

And if you read here, don't forget to leave us a comment!  We love comments :)  Besides, it helps us better know what to share here if we know who is reading...is anyone out there?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Speak up!

Just a note to say we LOVE receiving comments here on the 'ol blog!  Speak up!  If you read something funny, let us know you laughed.  If you learn something new here, tell us.  Advice to give?  By all means, give it (just give it nicely!).  If you adore our family (and who wouldn't, ha!), share the love by leaving us a comment.  As long as you have something nice, thoughtful, encouraging, or funny to say, we would love to hear from you!!

Blessings! :)

Monday, January 7, 2013


This weekend was a busy one at the homestead!  Despite the cool temperatures, the sun was finally shining so we tried to get some things accomplished.  The list of things to do seems like it is always growing.  As we mark things off of the top of the list, even more tasks are added at the bottom!

Saturday morning Natalie got her first real lesson to what farm life can be like...the lesson on animal loss.  I noticed that Scar, one of our roosters, was not in the barnyard or the backyard, his two favorite early morning places.  Nathaniel looked and didn't see him either, so we assumed he had flown the fence and was exploring out back...not completely uncommon.  Natalie went searching, and returned out of breath and terrified for what she 'thought' she found.  Nathaniel went with her, and sure enough, she had found Scar's body.  Sadly, he had been attacked and killed by a wild predator.  Needless to say, Natalie was devastated.  She had become fast friends with the roosters, and now, so quickly, one of her dear pets was gone.  She helped Nathaniel take care of Scar's body, quietly sobbing yet trying to hold it together the entire time.  She was grief-stricken, and was afraid that Ruffy, the remaining rooster, would fall into a depression without his lifelong friend. A valid concern, and a rough start to the weekend. 

With the reality of predators hitting home, Nathaniel and I decided we would take the plunge and get a dog.  A good guard dog for the homestead, and more specifically the chickens, has always been in the plan, but we hadn't made any moves on it yet.  With an animal gone, we knew we needed to look at getting a dog sooner rather than later...especially since we wanted a puppy so we could train it with the chicks. 

We spent a little time searching online, and discovered an animal shelter that had the breed we were hoping for.  They had puppies that were a mix of Australian Cattle Dogs (Blue Heeler) and Black Labrador Retriever.  Perfect!  Off we went to check it out, and it was love at first sight.  The puppies were precious, and so we came home with TWO!  Yes, sisters.  Yikes!  Did we bite off more than we could chew?  Maybe.  Are we enjoying this crazy ride?  Mostly! :)

Let me introduce to you the newest additions to Hen Hollow Homestead. 

Giddy-Up with Natalie and Levi

 Cow 'Patti' with Natalie

My dad with both of the girls

Needless to say, the puppies have been welcomed with open arms.  They are still working through the transition to new food and new surroundings, but seem to LOVE it here.  The hard work of housetraining them has begun, and boy is it NOT fun!  Eventually these sweeties will be outside dogs, but now, while they are so young, we must keep them inside most of the time.  That means I am potty-training TWO toddlers at once.  We've gone through what seems like gallons of cleaner (though not really) and millions of paper towels, as we clean up after them.  The first day was a nightmare because they were nervous and making messes every five minutes.  Now that we have them on a schedule and are kennel training them, they are doing great!  Only one accident yesterday, and so far today, no accidents!  Hooray for little successes!

Once we got the puppies home Saturday afternoon, we weren't able to accomplish much else, but Sunday was a different story.  With the warm sunshine, the girls were loving being out in the yard, so we let them play while we worked.  I cleaned, laundered, meal planned and stopped by the local dairy for farm eggs (not for long though, we should have our own in the spring!).  Nathaniel worked some more on his chicken tractor, adding the door on the front and the door to the nesting box, as well as weather treating the wood.  All that is left is for him to add the tin and chicken wire to the frame, pop the wheels on it, and it will be ready for the chicks!

Speaking of chicks, our 15 are all still alive and well.  They are eating like pigs and growing like weeds.  They are almost fully feathered now, so it won't be long until we put them out to pasture in their newly built chicken tractor!  I will take pictures of that for sure.

I guess that just about covers the big events of the weekend.  If you add in the mundane, everyday chores like feeding and watering the animals, cooking, dishes, and laundry, we are certainly keeping busy around the homestead.  But really, I wouldn't have it any other way.  We are loving almost every minute of this farm life, and cannot wait to continue adding animals to our crew, and also start living off of the land.  Ahhh, living simply (I didn't say easy, and there is a difference) and sustainably!  Yes, please!

Blessings to you all!