Monday, May 23, 2016

The Most Precious Gifts

Every living thing communicates; all communication is not the same. Some souls have their own way of sharing their heart and connecting their soul with us.

Kneeling in a garden with a small group of children, one stood away from the activity. Quietly watching, he seemed vaguely interested yet distant. Others scampered about seeking new discovery.. not this one. I busied myself with the task of pulling weeds with whomever stopped by me to assist.

Alone there at the garden edge, he crept toward me. Hesitation gave way to calm as he came to kneel beside me. Small hands reached out to touch my hair gently pulling the long braid from my shoulder, he softly turned it this way and that.. studying it for a long period of time.

We stayed there at the edge of the broccoli bed, my braided hair in his hand as I worked with others to clear the debris. There was a quiet peace amongst the energy of his classmates. My heart marveled at the contrast of the three students there working with me: one scampered about bolding exclaiming his enthusiasm at every leaf and blossom; one seemed to follow the first but held some shy hesitation as if afraid to discover on his own; the one beside me seemed quietly content to just hold my hair.

Confidence seemed to grow as he stretched his free hand out and pointed to the nearby strawberry bed; he had discovered a half ripened berry hiding beneath the leaves. Without words we nodded to each other as he offered only a faint smile in return for mine. Hesitantly he leaned close to my face, looked me straight in the eye with my braid in his hands he whispered the word 'colors'.

I share this story to remind myself and you, every thing.. every one.. communicate in their own way, in their own time. The most precious gifts are revealed when we wait and allow them the comfort and security to share them with us. These three boys stole my heart- each in their own way. They fed my soul and taught me to watch and wait for the beauty of their being. I thank them for teaching me!

Miss K and 'Charlie' snuggling

Friday, May 20, 2016

In the Coup: My Poultry Keeping Overview

Our family made the decision was made to raise our backyard flock several years ago. Having both grown up with family farms, poultry came to our homestead right after the garden was set in place. Planning our flock, we had to know the purpose for the birds we would be raising and the costs involved. Every year we stop and take into consideration our previous experiences, the success and failure, and the cost and outcome. Understanding the past shapes how we choose the flock we maintain, as well as the plan for their care.

 Concerning Breed

   Egg production is always our primary purpose; meat is secondary. Knowing this, helps narrow down the many breeds available. Predators, output and experience keep our focus on 'heavy breeds' or 'dual purpose' breeds; Orphingtons and Austalorps, are my all time favorite breeds; dual purpose birds mean the hens are a laying flock while surplus roosters can fill the freezer.
   Since our children were members of 4H, the poultry project led us to raising seasonal meat flocks. Now that the children have grown, our freezer will be filled with seasonal flocks of Cornish cross instead.
   Our desire is to raise breeds that are close to natural lines or heritage lines, however, that can be a challenge and a bigger expense. When that is not reasonable due to expense or availability, we strive to stay as close as we can. Currently, we raise Buff Orphingtons, Black Australorps, Maurons, and Auracanas in our layer flock; Cornish cross are the meat flock breed.

Concerning Housing

   Our homestead came with a large shop building that has become our barn and workshop. Simple modifications turned a metal awning into stalls with an enclosed coop on the side. Here, our layer flock resides near the stalls where our herd sleep offering protection from elements and predators, while giving us easy access to feed bins housed between the stalls and the main building wall. Our hens run free during the day leading us to 'cage' our garden beds preventing destruction.
   The meat flock is housed on the opposite side of our shop/barn; kennels under an awning provide their pen and brooder space. Feed is housed near these kennels, as is open pasture. When meat flocks are not housed here, these kennels are kept clean but closed off.
   While our structures are permanent, we do have two large kennel housings that can be easily moved to maintain a quarantine set, new birds, or as transitional pens when babies are added to an existing group. Sometimes these kennels are set in garden areas that need worked by the birds when full access would be a bad idea (such as, the corn was done, but the neighboring green beans were not..pen is set over corn beds for hens to work).

Concerning Feed

   Research and experience; keys to my feed decisions. I read everything I can find on feed products and work my goals from there. My layer flock is fed a pellet/scratch/seed mixture..a supplement to their long days grazing and scratching the earth. Layers receive purchased feeds with seed and greens added in; they are not much on grazing, so grazing is often brought to them.
   All our feeds are purchased at a co-op in a neighboring county; buying in bulk helps with cost and quality. We plan monthly trips for all our homestead feed needs (our garden seeds are purchased in bulk here as well).

Concerning Health

   Herein lies a touchy subject; to medicate or not to medicate. My conviction has always been 'less is best'. Having experienced flock loss due to Merk's disease and coccidosis, I do vaccinate and treat for these two ailments. Other situations are handled as they arise. Our flock and coop are treated with diotenatious earth (DE) for parasites/mites and regular feedings of garlic/cayenne/flax along with leafy greens keeps them in good health; raw apple cider vinegar is rotated into water fountains for health and nutrients. I always try natural treatments before going to the modern pharma medications.

   Poultry flocks require time, effort, and determination and experience helps immensely. Along the way there has been success and failure; life and death; trial and triumph- homestead life is not always as romantic as we like to think. There are failures and losses to contend with. This year's floods have proven quite a challenge during chick and meat brood season!

    No matter the inconvenience or the set backs..I wouldn't trade my little peeps for anything..they are Miss K's favorite farm animal as she has just started her own pen of cucu maurons!


Thursday, May 19, 2016

Fitness on the Homestead

Fitness? Is it important to the modern day homesteader? Why? What does it look like for those of us who spend our days covered in goat slobber and chicken poop? Is there a way to be fit as a homesteader (without adding more to our to-do list!).

First let me say- I do not like things that are impractical or expensive to do, after all, I have livestock to feed. Many fit-minded people seem set on the notion there must be money, memberships and plenty of time exerted to make fitness happen. I disagree. That lifestyle works for many, but it isn't for everyone.

By definition, fitness is the quality or state of being fit. Being fit is to be in a state of health and well-being. Please note: no where does skinny or thin play into the definitions! So what does it mean?

Being a fit homesteader, according to my philosophy and practice, means having the health and well being to fulfill the goals and tasks set about by my lifestyle. Can I handle the feed sacks and hay bales my livestock require? Do I have the energy and range of motion to clean stalls, trim hooves, and aide a sick animal? Is there stamina for the long days my lifestyle demands? These are the questions I ask myself when I consider fitness for my homesteading life. The level of fitness needed may be determined by the level of homesteader a person has chosen to be.

Let's consider my fit-ness day:
* strength- hauling feed, water, shavings, etc. this entails flexibility, range of motion, and strength- some parts of my chore routine are heavier than others
* walking- from gate to gate, pasture and stalls, there is plenty of ground to cover at a moderate or brisk pace
* running- ever herded goats or chickens?
* endurance- the days are long so my energy level needs to be fairly high

As you can see, most of my 'fit routine' come from daily activity required by my lifestyle; not to say some supplementation hurts. I often hike or walk trails, tracks, and wooded areas. Sometimes I use kettle bells to add to my strength routine. Yoga and stretching are regular for me as I desire to relieve soreness, maintain flexibility, and distress after a long day.

In the end, does it matter? I firmly believe being fit, no matter what our work, is vital. Parents and grandparents need a level of fit-ness to meet the demands of their family life (and work life). Singles, office personnel, clerks- we all need a level of fit-ness to maintain health and stamina.

Start where you are and go from there. Determine your fit-ness goals by how you feel and what your lifestyle demands.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Lonely Little Un-Dead Tomato Plant

I was picking up plant donations to deliver to local schools when a sad little plant caught my eye. The poor thing was off by himself looking a bit pitiful. My mind ran through the list of culprits- sun scald, nitrogen deficiency, a virus- the leaves had white discoloration not yellow, so I mentioned that to the ladies helping me carry flats. They got a hearty laugh and I got a lesson.

This is a heirloom variegated tomato plant Opalka, whose leaves are broad and rather flat. Some leaves will retain their green color, while several lose pigment offering the variegated appearance. Purple hues develop at the stem tips and petioles. Fruits are smooth and round with medium flesh of average size.

Needless to say, the lonely un-dead tomato plant was offered to me as a learning experience to share with those I teach. It has been lovingly placed in the garden bed with plenty of compost and a sturdy support. Today there are several blossoms and a few new shoots branching out (which I am pinning down and propagating over for a second plant!).

For more information, please take a peek at:

Monday, May 16, 2016

Garden to Table: Oil of Oregano

My weekend weather forced me to work inside instead of out. Between showers and storms my feet found their way to the gardens for snippets of pungent herbs and healing spices; after all, my body has been waging quite a war with things these past weeks.

Amid the many buzz words floating around the health-o-sphere oregano has risen. This strong, somewhat 'hot' herb caught my attention some time ago leading me to dig deeper and test it for myself.

Oregano oil is derived from the leaves and flowers of oregano (Origanum vulgare), a hardy, bushy perennial herb, and a member of the mint (Lamiaceae) family. It's native to Europe, although it grows in many areas around the world1 The plant grows up to 90 centimeters (35 inches) high, with dark green leaves that are two to three centimeters long.
The ancient Greeks and Romans have a profound appreciation for oregano, using it for various medicinal uses. In fact, its name comes from the Greek words "oros" and "ganos," which are words for mountain and joy,– oregano literally means "joy of the mountain." It was revered as a symbol of happiness, and it was an ancient tradition to crown brides and grooms with a laurel of oregano.

In the general population, oregano is known as the taste Italian and Greek cooking- sauces, vinaigrettes and marinades. Aromatherapy clinicians employ oregano essential oil for it's antiviral antiseptic, and antibacterial properties. Herbalists bring oregano into their practice knowing the broad uses of aroma therapy as well as the importance of ingesting it and topical application for skin conditions, fungal issues, and inflammation.

Personally, I bring oregano into all aspects of my home practices: culinary, aroma therapy, and herbal preparation. One rather multipurpose and very easy preparation is oil of oregano. Let's make a note of understanding: oregano oil often infers the essential oil derived from oregano, while oil of oregano often implies an infusion of oregano into a carrier oil. Both preparation can be topical, diffused, and ingested with caution (oregano is 'hot' and may cause rash, burning and upset stomach).

Oil of oregano can be prepared in two ways: sun steeped or heat steeped.
Sun steeped simply means placing the leaves and or stems of the oregano plant in oil then placing it i the sun to infuse for approximately 6 weeks. I do not use sun steeped due to the increased risk of botulism spores or rancid oil.
Heat steeped is much quicker and safer since the herbs are set in the oil over low heat and warmed just to the simmering point.
Both methods require removal of the plant materials and air tight storage (I freeze or refrigerate mine for extra precaution).
From here the oil is used for cooking, added to boiling water for a steam/aroma therapy, or applied topically for specific ailments.

Today my oil of oregano resides safely in the fridge waiting for me to call it into action! Hopefully it will only be needed for flavor and preventative health- not to combat illness:)