Category: Gardening

Happenings Around the Homestead

It has been a slow week around the homestead this week.  As I have been saying for a few weeks, the summer garden is reaching the end of its life, and nothing is yet growing for the fall.  In fact, I just put out some fall/winter crops this weekend.

I had really wanted to sow peas or some other legume for the fall to add some nitrogen back to my soil, but I waited to late to get that done this year.  After that snafu, I made up my mind that I would just forego the fall/winter garden this year, but then I became inspired once again.  Yeah, that happens often.  🙂

While it is too late for peas and other legumes, it is not too late for some other fall/winter veggies such as some greens, radishes, and carrots.  I placed an order at Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, and I sowed what I had already.  That means I sowed Kale and Mustard Seed, both of which I sowed very randomly by just throwing the seeds.  I also sowed some radishes that way.  I then put some White Icicle Radishes in one of the raised beds. and I did the same with some lettuce.

The funny thing is, much of what I sowed this weekend is not for my family, though we will eat of the lettuce and radishes.  I don’t expect we will eat much Kale though, and I am sure we won’t eat the mustard greens.  You might wonder why we grew them then.  CHICKENS!  Yep, it is cheap and healthy chicken food.

Sigh, the things I do for those egg-laying ladies.  😀

Happenings Around the Homestead

Wow, the growing season sure is coming to a close quickly.  I noticed our tomatoes are starting to look very ragged, and the popcorn patch is now totally done.  In fact, I cut down the stalks yesterday, and layed them on the ground to start decomposing.  Even though the Cherokee White Flour Corn is not done yet, I also cut two rows of it down yesterday.

I do need to try to get some radishes and lettuce planted.  It is Sunday as I write this, and I may not update this post before I put it on the blog, but by the time this is published I hope to have started some of both to keep through the winter in a make-shift greenhouse.  I did that one year, and we actually ate fresh lettuce all day long, even though there were many days of very cold weather.  As I am typing this, I am convincing myself that I should probably go out and do that today.

Speaking of chores, I need to repot some of my mint.  I have made square foot garden beds out of cinder blocks, and I grow mint in those cinder blocks, but it is obvious some of the mint plants need to be repotted.  I think they are beginnning to look leggy and straggly.  I generally use potting soil to fill the new cinder block holes, and I don’t think I have any right now, so I may or may not get to this over this weekend.

One of the other chores I have this weekend is to measure my garden beds.  I have done this before, but honestly, I have no idea where I documented that.  I’m measuring because I want to make better use of my space next year, particularly for the corn.  Corn is a crop that suffers badly from inbreeding depression, and to prevent that you need at least 200 plants.  If I plant the popcorn at the proper spacing, I think I can do that in one of my garden beds.  The Cherokee White Flour Corn and the Cherokee Gourdseed Corn are a different subject.  It seems for those corns to fourish, they need more space per plant, which I will seek to give them this year.  To do that though, it will mean I may have to expand my garden or I may have to keep ordering some seed every year to ensure I don’t allow inbreeding depression with these plants.

Oh, that reminds me!  Let me show you one of the Cherokee Gourdseed Corn cobs:

Cherokee Gourdseed Corn

Cherokee Gourdseed Corn

Look at those kernels!  It looks nothing like any other corn I have seen, and it is supposed to make some a-maizing 🙂 cornmeal.  It is also supposed to be very easy to shuck, though I might not know that for a few more months.  Who knows though, if I get impatient enough, I might find out in a few weeks.  🙂

Speaking of corn, I am way behind and I am still testing popcorn from last year.  As I type that, I am sure you are wondering what I mean, and I am probably needing to write a post on that sometime.  For now, just know that I am testing my popcorn for poppability and other factors.  I then only save the seed from the best of it, which makes for better popcorn year over year.  At this rate, I will not be done testing 2013’s corn until sometime in October.  I am going to be more concerted in my efforts with this year’s crops though, and I will try to be done testing it by the end of this year.

Wow, this post is already getting a little long and there is so much more to say.  I’ll just have to save that for later.

The Chicken Chronicles

Since the ladies have started laying, I have been tracking the number and the size of the eggs.  It is nice to see both numbers increase a little each week, even though I sure don’t notice it during the week.  Candidly, I am often threatening them that if they don’t provide fresh eggs I will be eating fresh meat.  🙂  Yes, it is nothing but an empty threat, but maybe it will inspire the ladies to lay a little more.

I'm trying to encourage the ladies by showing them their good work.

I’m trying to encourage the ladies by showing them their good work.

We ended up with five eggs each day for three days in a row, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and both Friday and Saturday the Easter Eggers outlayed the Rhode Island Reds, which is unusual.  In fact, it may be the first time this has happened.  The Easter Eggers consistently lay smaller eggs though, but they are getting larger.

Look at the above picture again.  Notice how one of the “brown” eggs is kind of pink?  I am wondering if that is an Easter Egger’s egg.  Supposedly they can lay pink eggs.  Perhaps I have one doing just that.  I’ll have to pay attention and see if I can figure out who is laying those lighter eggs.

I am curious to see how the egg production begins to fall off and when this happens.  I think I mentioned this last week too.  Chickens are typically light sensitive when it comes to laying eggs, though I understand the Rhode Island Reds will lay throughout the winter.  We have decided we aren’t going to supplement with lights, as I think God made them to need that period of rest, which I will give them.

My wife is normally the one that lets the ladies out to “stretch their wings”.  She is beginning to convince me that the birds are not dumb animals as many say.  Most of the time she can say something like, “Time to go back in.” over and over, and the chickens start heading for the chicken run.  Of course, that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few stubborn birds, but believe it or not, there are times they all just go in.

I have also noticed the ladies are not staying together when we let them out as much.  In fact, they all go their own separate ways.  I do like seeing that they are scratching in the garden more, and I am seeing them get plenty of bugs.  The more the merrier!  I have explained to them that this is one way they should pay their rent.  😀

Happenings Around the Homestead

One of my favorite things to do, usually, is walk through the garden in the morning.  I love the cool of the morning, the dew on the ground, and the quiet.  It is a real source of enjoyment for me.  However, I do NOT like walking through the garden at 7:00 AM when the humidity is high and the temperature is already warm.  Unfortunately, that happens sometimes, and Saturday was no exception.  I knew I had some work to do in the garden, and I was so hoping for a cool morning, but alas, that was not to be.

The tomatoes seem to be on their last leg now.  The plants are looking quite haggard, and the tomatoes themselves are not even as appealing.  In fact, the chickens were able to dine on several of them today.

The corn is getting most of my attention this year, and today I harvested several ears I hope pop well, as I would love to get their coloration worked prominently into the popcorn seed.  Let me show you four of them:

Landrace Popcorn

Look at this beautiful white kernel licked with flame-like colors!

Landrace Popcorn

More of the flame-licked colors on this cob, and I love the variety of colors.

Landrace Popcorn

I am confident this one has some glass-gem corn mixed in with it, and I like it. I love the greens – they are a rare treat in my seed stock.

Landrace Popcorn

More flame-licked colors. This one looks a lot like some seed stock I saved last year, which I am sure is what has pollinated all of these. I sure hope this pops well.

Look at that last picture a little closer.  See the red kernel just to the right of the middle?  See the spots?  I wonder what they are.  If you look at the one below it, the purple one, it has the same spots.  Even so, these kernels are things of beauty!

Believe it or not, we have a winter squash plant that is growing like gangbusters!  I doubt anything will come from it, as it has yet to set fruit, but it was a late starter, and it happens to be the only winter squash I have that survived the squash bugs and squash vine borers.  I sure would love to get some seed stock from it.

Sweet potatoes are a new crop for me, and even though I grew some last year, I cannot remember for the life of me when to harvest them.  I think it may be after the first frost, but I need to look it up.  I am so hopeful that I have a good crop of sweet potatoes.  I grew purple and white sweet potatoes, which taste very similar, though the purple ones are generally more dry.  Even so, I enjoy them.

Usually at this time of year I am not yet thinking about next year, but it sure is on my mind this year.  I think it is because I didn’t do such a good job getting the garden out on time this year, and I am hoping to redeem myself a little next year.  🙂  It won’t be long until I start planning.  Until then, I have a few other projects I am working on which I will be sharing here, including a homemade smoker and a homemade dehydrator.

The Chicken Chronicles

While I was out of town last week, I began to get really excited.  It seemed the egg production was increasing after two days in a row with five eggs each.  Since then it has been relatively quiet though.  I think we had three eggs on Friday, one on Saturday, two on Sunday, and two on Monday.

Speaking of eggs, we have had two oddities lately.  The first is a spotted egg.  Apparently one of the Rhode Island Reds is feeling some pressure to match the Easter Eggers for their unique eggs.  Look what she laid:

Spotted Egg

Spotted Egg

That has not been our only oddity though.  We have also had a shell-less egg laid:

Shell-less Egg

Shell-less Egg


Shell-less Egg

Shell-less Egg

Saturday I was sure we were going to have several eggs.  I was out roasting coffee and heard that egg laying clucking going on all morning.  Come to find out, I think it was a first time layer.  When we checked for eggs later, there was only one there, and it was smaller than what we’ve been getting.

The ladies sure are getting brave.  When we let them out to run in the yard, they used to all stay together, but now they just go off on their own exploring.  That is fine unless we see a neighbor dog coming around.  Even so, we have yet to have an issue.  Yesterday, though, the chickens nearly went to the front yard, which is the furthest I have seen them go.  Brave ladies they are!

I am using the deep litter method in the coop, and yesterday I was noticing how well this seems to be coming along.  Basically by keeping a deep layer of litter in the coop, the smell is minimal and fantastic garden compost is being created.  Charity and I have neither one smelled the coop much.  Charity’s nose is ultra sensitive, so I think that is a good sign.  I think after the leaves fall for the year, I will clean out the coop and move this fantasic compost to one of the garden beds for next year, and restock the coop for the winter with fresh litter (oak leaves).

I am curiously awaiting the slow down of egg production for the year.  I don’t know when that happens for my area yet, though there are some reports that it slows down when the sunlight becomes less than 14 hours a day.  We are already less than that, so it may be soon.  Perhaps that is why they seem to be laying slower than I had hoped right now.  Even so, the Rhode Island Reds are supposedly winter layers.  Hopefully that means we will see a steady flow of eggs from those four ladies all winter long.

Happenings Around the Homestead

It is Sunday morning as I write this, and there is the most terrific claps of thunder going on outside.  Though I enjoy being able to go walk in the garden as soon as the sun is up, a great thunderstorm is very high on my list.  Oh, I just checked, the rain is falling hard now too – wonderful!  My garden will so appreciate it!

Speaking of the garden, I decided to harvest as much of my popcorn and flour corn as I could yesterday.  I don’t have very large patches of each, so I need to do what I can to prevent spoilage, and though neither was totally ready to be picked, I was afraid this rain might cause some mold or mildew issues.  Here is the harvest so far:

Corn Harvest

First Corn Harvest of 2014

I was not surprised, but yet a little disappointed to see the cross-pollination in the Cherokee White Flour Corn.  Some of the kernels are purple and yellow, which is no doubt from my popcorn.  I was frustrated to find them both maturing at the same time, which happened to be at a point I was unable to bag them to prevent the cross over.  With the Cherokee White Flour Corn, this is almost irrelevant.  I can easily see what is crossed, and I will eliminate that from my seed stock — wait, that is not true.  I will save some of the purple kernels for a special project next year — to see if I can get a purple flour corn, but that will be very carefully monitored.

The challenge I have is the popcorn though.  With it being much shorter than the Cherokee White Flour Corn, I am confident there is much cross pollination there, which may mean I lose most of my popcorn for seed from this year.  That sure is frustrating, but I will chalk it up to learning.

I did harvest one ear of Cherokee Gourdseed Corn as well, but it was definitely not ready.  The ear had evidently been hit by something and was broken off though, so I felt it was better to go ahead and harvest it.  It’s now drying with the rest of them.

Regarding the Gourdseed Corn – these are the oddest cobs and kernels!  The husks are so tightly wrapped on the cobs that it is a real chore to pull them off, though I suspect that will change some with time.  The kernels look like old man teeth though!  Even so, it is supposed to be a great flour corn as well.  I don’t have a good picture of one yet, but I will be sure to share one later.

I harvested the largest crop of the year of tomatoes yesterday, which happened to be about half a bushel.  Most all of them were Chocolate Stripe Tomatoes, which have become one of my favorite for taste — right up there with Cherokee Purple Tomatoes.  They also make a beautiful tomato juice.  Look at this beautiful basketful!

Chocolate Stripe Tomatoes

Chocolate Stripe Tomatoes

One other interesting tomato I have this year is from seeds saved from a tomato purchased at Whole Foods.  The tomato was advertised as a Cocoa Tomato, a variety I cannot find anywhere, so I presume it is a marketing name only.  Anyhow, it was a great tasting tomato with great color.  Those I am growing are very similar in size and color, but they are much less juicy than the one I purchased, which suits me fine.  These tomatoes will make excellent tomato sauce tomatoes or drying tomatoes, which is a nice addition to the garden.

Speaking of all this seed, I am an avid collecter of seeds with history.  Even though I landrace some vegetables, I also do what I can to preserve heritage crops too, and I would really appreciate leads to any rare or known Native American plant seeds, especially those with ties to the Chickasaw or Choctaw Indian tribes.  Most lists, such as this list of Seed Varieties for Native American Gardens have limited selection, though I know that is due to limited information.

I so enjoy the fall weather, but as the days start to shorten, a part of me gets a little sad knowing the gardening for the year is slowing down.  There is still plenty of time left, but in another two months it will be time for the ground to rest for a while and for me to start planning for next year.

The Chicken Chronicles, August 11, 2014

I am traveling for work today, and I will probably schedule this post to go live sometime while I am in the air.  It is Sunday morning as I write this, and I am thinking ahead to my week, realizing I am not going to be able to check each day while I am gone for eggs.  My wife doesn’t quite get the same excitement from this that I do, but I will have to bribe her to be sure and let me know the egg update each day while I am gone.  🙂

Sometime during the day on Saturday, perhaps after I collected the eggs for the day, I decided I probably needed to weigh the eggs to help me better determine how they are growing in size.  I had a total of seven uneaten eggs in the kitchen from our birds, so I took some weights.  Here are the results:

Rhode Island Red Eggs: Average of 1.47 oz (4.4 oz/3 eggs)

Easter Egger Eggs: Average of 1.35 oz (5.4 oz/4 eggs)

Store Bought Large Egg: 2.2 oz

So, as you can see, right now our eggs are less than half the weight of a store bought large egg.  This is a little smaller than I had estimated, but nothing that worries me.  I understand that their eggs will get larger over time.

The disappointment so far has been the number of eggs that have been laid.  The best I can figure, we have a minimum of four birds laying: two Easter Eggers and two Rhode Island Reds.  I come to this conclusion because there have been days where two eggs from each type of bird have been in the nesting boxes.  There could be more than this, but this is the minimum.  On average, we are getting two eggs a day now.  I had wrongly assumed that they would become egg-laying machines as soon as they started laying, but it seems their bodies need to gear up for this some too.

I had to chuckle some on Saturday when I went down to check the eggs.  I always peek in the window first to see if there is a bird in the nesting box, and there was.  There were also two others peeking their heads up through the chicken ladder hole in the floor as if they needed to see what was going on.  😀  Blondie is still the only one I can for sure identify that has been laying eggs.



I haven’t seen another Easter Egger yet, though there has to be one, and I can’t tell the Rhode Island Reds apart.

I have also been intrigued by the ladies’ choice of food.  I thought chickens would eat anything, but ours have not been that way so far.  Even so, there are some scraps they absolutely love.  One of those being tomatoes, and the other being watermelon.  Last night when I went down to check on the ladies I noticed they had cleaned a watermelon rind down to the thinnest green sliver.  It almost looked like leather it was so thin.  They also love most other kitchen scraps, but they aren’t fond of peppers and onions at all, that I can tell.  I suppose this is good, since I can’t imagine this has a good impact on egg taste.

Landrace Gardening

I have long had an interest in gardening, which has only grown more intense as I age.  I can recall early on only being interested in growing the biggest, tallest, most productive plants possible.  That meant excessive fertilization.  I then slightly altered that with black-plastic gardening.  Finally, I became interested in organic gardening.  About that time I began to have a real interest in heirloom vegetables and trying to keep these historic strains alive and well.  However, changes are underway in my gardening maturity, my way of thinking, one of which is landrace gardening.

Let’s step back a bit and talk about heirlooms.  My interest in heirlooms wasn’t just about preserving the historic strains, but it was also about avoiding genetically modified crops, or GMOs.  Both of those things are still important to me.  However, I have begun to realize that I was confusing myself.  I thought heirloom vegetables were the only right way and that all hybrids were bad.  In other words, I was equating hybrids to GMOs.

I heard all the hype about hybrids: that saved seeds do not produce true to their parent, the plant is modified in some fashion by humans, and that these are somehow created plants.  The truth is, I believed the hype, but I didn’t use my head.  If I may be candid, however, I still avoid store-bought hybrids, but hybrids themselves are not bad.

I don’t want to spend this post getting into the topic of GMOs except to say there is a difference.  GMOs are plants that have been modified genetically in some fashion that could likely never occur in nature.  That, my friends, is something I have no interest in.

A few years ago while perusing gardening sites, I ran across a gentleman named Joseph Lofthouse at a site called Homegrown Goodness.  I don’t remember what my initial thoughts were, but it there must have been things he said that I liked, and it wasn’t long until I began to really appreciate the projects he was working on.  You see, Joseph gardens in a unique climate that cannot handle many plants grown in other places, but due to his selective seed saving and landrace gardening, Joseph has produced landrace vegetables that grow well in his climate.  His story of growing open-pollinated cantalope is amazing, even though it is just one of his success stories.  In short, Joseph’s plants are in a battle of the Survival of the Fittest.  The seeds of the winners each year go on to live another year.

Since learning about Joseph and his gardening ideas, I have implemented this in my garden gradually.  For example, I am now in my second season of growing Joseph’s Popcorn, from which I am saving the best seed each year.  I am also in my second year of landracing okra.  Other plants that are on my list are watermelon and Joseph’s cantaloupe.

Despite the changes in my attitude toward hybrids in a landrace project, I still have an appreciation for heirloom plants and the history some of them have.  For example, I am growing two ancient corns this year that are both used for flour.  I intend on continuing to save pure seeds from each of these plants using a similar “survival of the fittest” technique, even though they will remain true to their strain.  Another plant I want to follow this same protocol on is Cherokee Purple Tomatoes, which happen to be my favorite tomatoes.  There are some winter squash I want to also save seeds from using this protocol; however, due to the ease at which they can be controlled, I will landrace some winter squash while I am at it.

My goals have adapted over the years, but I am really liking where this is going: organic gardening using “survival of the fittest” selective seed saving from open-pollinated plants which may include heirlooms or landrace varieties. Will that goal adapt more over time?  I am sure it will, but the thing that won’t change is my desire to grow tasty, healthy food that is far better than what can be bought in a store.

Happenings Around the Homestead

This has been a slow garden year for us.  First of all, spring arrived late this year, and, second of all, with my work travel schedule, I was hardly home to work on the garden.  I also started a new garden spot this year which didn’t account properly for the position of the sun in the spring, and the new chicken coup is partially shading a garden.  In short, we have struggled with our garden.

We have yet to harvest peppers worth speaking of, and while we have harvested some great tomatoes, the crop has been small.  I have only harvested my first cucumber in the last week or so, and the summer squash, while being one of the plants which was out as early as possible, has already stopped producing.  Speaking of squash, my winter squash was hit by vine borers while on the mission trip, and there is nothing left.  My okra landrace project is coming along, however, it isn’t producing quite like I had hoped.  Oh, and let’s not forget the sweet potatoes!  The deer are having a hay day with the leaves.  🙂  I still expect a good harvest from them though.  The corn has done well, I think, other than the possible cross pollination issue.  Even so, the corn looks healthy and I am expecting a good harvest.

It may sound like I am whining about the gardening year, but I am not.  I consider every year a learning opportunity.  I have several good take-aways from this year that I will be sure to implement next year, and if the Lord so blesses me, next year this will happen on a proper homestead property.

Speaking of vegetables, last Friday we stopped off at The Farmer’s Market in Nashville, Tennessee.  If you haven’ t been there, you have really missed out.  This is a true joy for me.  Let me share just a few pictures:

Heirloom Tomatoes

Heirloom Tomatoes

Huge onions

Huge Onions!

Colorful Bell Peppers

Colorful Bell Peppers

My family is really blessed though, despite the lackluster garden year.  My father-in-law also gardens, and he has blessed us with an abundance of melons, peppers, tomatoes, and more.

Speaking of peppers, we have already smoked a good amount of peppers, some of which are already dried and ground.  Others are in various stages of processing, but I should be able to share a picture soon.

The chickens didn’t work as hard for us yesterday, and only produced two eggs: one blue and one brown.  I did eat the first of the eggs last night, and wow, were they tasty!  Hopefully there will be three more today.  I had to smile at my first egg issue yesterday.  One of the ladies laid her egg in the run below the cage, which is not fun to get into during the day while they are playing.  I could have just waited to get it, I suppose, but I was impatient.

I have to wonder, am I the only person out there who is already thinking about next year’s garden?  The growing season is not even over yet, and I am sitting here dreaming this morning of what I will do different next time.  Don’t worry, I am sure I will share the plans here as the days roll on.

A Few More Eggs

WOW!  I can’t tell you how excited I was yesterday to find out that we had not just one more egg (see: My Surprise for the Day), but THREE MORE EGGS!  Not only that, but one of the Easter Eggers, we believe it was Blondie, laid an egg!

Three New Eggs

Three New Eggs

Henry Ford, referring to the Model T, reportedly once said, “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.”  That is much like eggs, isn’t it?  Almost all of them are white, though the stores have found ways to upsell anything brown in color.  The one thing that I haven’t seen in the stores yet, however, is a blue/green shade of egg.  Even so, there are breeds of chickens which lay this color naturally.

You will notice four eggs in the picture, the largest of which is a store-bought, large, white egg that I placed in one of the laying boxes to encourage the chickens to lay there.  The other three, however, were all from yesterday.  The one at the 7:00 position in the picture looks identical to the one yesterday in color and size.  The next one going clockwise, at about the 10:00 position, is the first Easter Egger egg.  The next one going clockwise is perhaps a little smaller than the other ones, and it is a little more elongated.  I would say all three are similar in size to a small store-bought egg.

If I understand it right, there are probably three hens laying right now, one of which has layed two days in a row.  I expect all three will now start giving 5-7 eggs a week, or a total of 15-21 eggs a week.  The other seven hens should start laying soon, perhaps more will even lay today.

My family thinks I am a complete dork, but I am so excited about this.