Wednesday, June 27, 2012

New Life

Last weekend, we went back to our hometown again for another wedding.  On Saturday morning, as we were leaving town, Joey got a text from the chicken hatchery that said our chicks had been shipped, so we assumed they would be at our post office on Monday.  Saturday evening, at the wedding reception, Joey get a call from the main Peoria post office (about an 1 hr and 20 min. from our house) and that we could pick them up on Sunday.  So we drove home a different route and stopped to pick up our chicks.  The dogs were very curious about the peeping box in the back seat. 

When we opened the box, we counted 27 chicks, all doing well.  10 were for our friends who ordered black and white silkie bantams.  The minimum order was 25 chicks, so we ordered hens to split with other friends and one rooster.  They gave us a free mystery chick (she's the grey-blue one right about the white one) and an extra rooster for free.

We gave each of them a drink of water and put them in a plastic storage tote while we set up a big cardboard box with newspaper in the spare, unfinished bedroom upstairs (where it is nice and warm without a/c!)  Jip watched over them.

We was a little nervous about the little fluff-balls but also curious.  So far, he has been very gentle.  When we had the laying hens in the coop outside, Jip loved to sit outside their run and watch them scratch in the dirt.

Outside, our pumpkins are finally emerging!  The time spent planting each seed by hand has not yet been in waste! I have 750 more seeds waiting for me to plant when I get home from work tonight and then I think we will be almost done with the acre.  Hopefully planting an acre of pumpkins proves to be a profitable scheme.  If not, there may be some punkin chunkin at my place this fall.  

Thursday, June 21, 2012

No rain, new car?

Rain clouds all morning and no rain.  The guy on the radio this morning reported that skies would become clearer and clearer as the day progressed, as if that was a good thing.  Maybe if you were trying to get a tan. Not if you're trying to feed 13 sheep on a dried up pasture.  Or have an acre of pumpkin seeds that haven't sprouted.  We need a summer storm.

In other news, I'm looking around at used cars right now.  And I hate to do it.  And I can't seem to find a good mechanic.  And I just want a reliable car that will work when it rains and can haul 2 dogs and 50 lb. bags of chicken feed and gets good highway gas mileage.  Am I asking for too much?

And I kind of have a deadline.  Joey and I are taking a trip up to my parent's beach cottage on Lake Superior on July 12.  The trip is more than 500 miles from our house and takes about 12 hours.  And I don't think either one of our cars can make the trip.  So is it worth it to put $2,000 in repairs into my car that is paid off?  Or should I get a new car payment but save money with better gas mileage in a newer car?

Decisions, decisions...

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Warm Summer Morning

Here are some photos from this morning around the farm.  It's only 8:30 and it's already hot.  It's about time to close the windows for the day.  Since our air conditioner isn't working, we've been living with open windows and ceiling fans and a window air conditioner in our bedroom.  It hasn't been too bad yet.  And I got our energy bill yesterday...and it was so much less than usual, it was totally worth it. :)

My mom grew these gorgeous flowers.  She decided she wanted to learn how to grow fresh cut flowers  to sell at the farmer's market and the vegetable farmstand where Joey and I worked growing up (my sister works there now.)  So she asked the farmer who owns the vegetable farm if she could use some of his land and in exchange, he could keep the profits from the sale of the flowers since she is only figuring things out this year.

He gave her half a high-tunnel (a long, plastic-sided hoophouse), as well as the use of his water drip lines.  So she started thousands of flower seeds in flats in her basement in January and February with grow lights and then transplanted them into the high tunnel.  She direct-seeded a couple rows outside of the tunnel as well.  And now she has the most beautiful garden of zinnias, sunflowers, black eyed susans, snap dragons, just to name a few.

She has really worked so hard at being at the farm everyday, watering and weeding, and picking her flowers, on top of working at a pharmacy, a university, and taking care of my dad and sister.  Her hard work has paid off, the flowers are gorgeous!  And they look so good in my kitchen.  Too bad we live four hours away. :(

Despite the lack of rain, our tomatoes have exploded.

Our empty chicken coop.  Needs more raccoon reinforcements to prepare for our new chickens coming next week.

One of the gardens with the sheep pasture behind.  A little rain last weekend made it a little more green but it is still not doing very well.  Yesterday, Joey bought a few square bales of hay for the sheep to eat so that the pasture can recover a little bit more.

This garden has onions, lettuce, green beans, hot and sweet peppers, tomatoes, basil, and marigolds and zinnias.  The spinach and the snap peas are finished for the season and have been ripped out to make room more dry beans.  The sheep enjoyed eating the pea plants.

2 acres where our sweet corn, popcorn, and pumpkins are planted.  The sweetcorn is in the foreground and the pumpkins are being planted in the middle.  We planted another row by hand last night and we have about 5 more rows to go.  None of the pumpkin seeds have sprouted up yet...keep your fingers crossed all this planting is not in vain.

Our other garden.  Red and yellow potatoes, broccoli, carrots, green beans, beets, cucumber, zucchini, summer squash, cantaloupe, eggplant, dry beans, and indian popcorn are growing here.

We've gotten so much broccoli already.  This is the first time I've grown broccoli and it has been a great producer.  I bought four small broccoli starts from Wal-Mart and we planted them in the garden and then placed the cold frame over them and they have done really well.  I have harvested big heads of broccoli from each plant and now we are getting side shoots.  We've eaten a lot of fresh broccoli in salads, pasta with broccoli and pesto, in vegetable fried rice, and last night I added broccoli to noodles with a chinese peanut sauce.  I've been trying to freeze some too so that we can eat it in stir fries this fall and winter.

We're starting to get little blossoms on the green bean plants.  We planted dry bean seeds early in the season and they never germinated.  We looked all over the area for dry bean seeds and couldn't find any so I ordered some online and they arrived yesterday.  We planted two rows of beans that will be dry to add to soups or rice.  I've never grown dry beans before but I am really trying to grow things this year that we can put away for fall and winter.  

Are you as glad as I am that there is fresh produce again?  I didn't realize how badly I craved fresh fruits and vegetables until I started eating fresh peas and lettuce from my garden and the juiciest peaches from the farmer's market.  I gave my dad a jar of the maple syrup we made in February and March from our backyard tree for Father's Day and we ate it on blueberry pancakes.  Sweet.  

Monday, June 18, 2012

Chicken Thief

This last weekend, we were back at our hometown for my cousin's wedding.  Before we left late Friday night, we filled up the food and water containers for the 2 hens, the rabbit, and the sheep and gave the gardens a light sprinkling to get everything through Saturday and Sunday without supervision.

When we got back last night, around 9, as the daylight was quickly failing, we walked around the yard to check up on the animals.  I brought the rabbit food and more water while Joey checked on the chickens.  From across the yard, I could hear him say "What?!"  and I knew the chickens were gone.  Sometime over the last two days, another raccoon must have taken the remaining two hens.  Since the other six were taken, we've been closing the small door to the chicken run every night to keep the hens safe, but since we were going to be gone for two days, we didn't want to leave them "cooped up" (har har) in the hen house.

Joey set a havahart live trap next to the coop to see if the raccoon would come back, and sure enough, not two hours later, he had a raccoon.  He drove it out to the country this morning and released it.

So now we have an empty chicken coop.  But we have an order of chicks coming next week so we have a lot of work to do to secure the coop.  I don't think we'll put the chicks in the coop for a couple weeks, so we have a little time to clean the coop and make it raccoon-proof.  I just can't believe that after two summers of not having any problems with the coop that we've had all eight chickens taken by raccoons in a matter of a  couple days.  The coons must be hungry this summer.  I can't say it enough: we need rain.

I think we'll set up an enclosure for the chicks on our enclosed back porch where they'll be safe and warm.  I have to start thinking about what I want to use to keep them in.  Last time we had chicks, we laid layers of newspaper on my parents' shed floor and then made walls from duct tape and cardboard boxes.  But I'm not sure I want them directly on my porch floor, so we'll have to get creative.  Out of the 25 minimum order, I think we are only keeping about 8 and the rest are going to friends.

Anyone have any suggestions for keeping 8 chicks?  Or raccoon-proofing your hen house?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Rain, Rain, Come Our Way

I never really thought too much about rain until Joey started working as a farm hand.  The first year that we lived in the country, he didn't have a job at the end of the harvest season because the farmer didn't make enough of a profit to keep him on.  That was tough.  We moved 4 hours from home and got a 30-year mortgage for that job.

This year, we have our own harvest to worry about.  Besides the acre of fenced pasture for our sheep, we also have a 2 acre field.  And this year, we have $250 worth of sweet corn, popcorn and pumpkins seeds trying to grow on it without any rain.  The acre of sweet corn and popcorn was planted weeks ago with a borrowed tractor and planter.  (It was planted in the dark after Joey got home from work.)  Over the last few days, after work, Joey and I have been out in the field planting pumpkin and gourd seeds by hand.  Joey planned it all out on the calendar based on maturity dates so we have carving pumpkins just in time for Halloween.  But with weeks without rain, we've instead been planting around the times that there is a chance for rain.

We prayed for rain in church on Sunday (only in the country does the minister pray for the crops) and early Monday morning saw a few showers.  By Monday evening, there wasn't much moisture left in our clay soil when we planted pumpkin seeds on our hands and knees.

Our sheep pastures are dry and almost bare of grass.  We've sent our rams to eat the weeds in our friend's fenced in yard.  The ewes and growing lambs have been moving around and eating the grass in our backyard with a series of wire fences.  The neighbors probably think we're hillbillies.

But you do what you've gotta do.

Even if it means your rams are eating weeds out of a filled-in in-ground pool, your sheep are mowing your lawn, and your prayers are consumed by hopes for rain.  Joey has taken to watching the little green splotches of precipitation drift around us on the weather radar.  I just hope the thousands of pumpkin seeds we've planted grow.  And that people will buy them when they do.

If you're in western Illinois this October and we've gotten rain this summer, we'll have jack-o-lanterns, pie pumpkins, squash, wee-be-little pumpkins and miniature gourds.  All planted and picked and prayed over by this girl, who never thought about rain until she planted an acre of pumpkins with her bare hands.  

Friday, June 8, 2012


We ordered chicks!  Now that we are down to two lonely hens (no thanks to a raccoon) we have decided to get some chicks again.  We haven't had any chicks since we raised them in the city in 2009.  Ever since we moved to the country, whenever we needed to replace some chickens, we've bought already-laying hens from friends.  Luckily, we still have all the supplies for raising chicks, we just need to pick up some chick starter food and a new bulb for our heat lamp.

We decided to get some kinds we've never had before so we ordered Light Brahmas and Partridge Rocks and a Brown Leg rooster.  We had to order a minimum of 25 so we went in with some friends who ordered white and black Silkie Bantams, Barred Rocks, and Rhode Island Reds.  We'll probably trade a few and keep about 6 or 8.  And for every 25 chicks you order, you get a free mystery exotic chick!  We can't wait to figure out what our mystery chick will be.

They should arrive in a couple weeks at our post office in a loudly peeping cardboard box!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Carding and Dyeing Our Wool

A couple weeks ago, we ordered a drum carder to help us card all of the fleece that we sheared from our 8 merino sheep (the lambs have a whole year before they are sheared!)

After washing the wool in the bathtub, letting it dry for a few days outside (or in a spare bedroom), we have to pick it apart to pull out all the small second cuts of wool and get the extra vegetable matter (hay and plants) out of the wool.  Then it is ready to be fed into the hand-turned drum carder and made into a light wool batt.

The batt is white fluffy thing at the top of the photo and then we pull it into roving and twist it into a ball.

Over the last few weekends, we have been playing around with dyeing our wool with Kool-Aid!

You just add your wool and a packet of Kool-Aid to a pot of almost-boiling water and keep it at the same temperature for about half an hour or until the water is clear and all the dye is in the wool.

Look at the bright, vibrant colors we were able to get from the Kool-Aid!  Here is some of the freshly dyed wool drying on a clothes-drying rack in our kitchen.  The blue is my favorite so far.  After it dries, we put it back on the drum carder to fluff it up a bit more.