Two Brown Eggs, A Leaky Chicken House, & One Happy Duck

Duck is quite happy with all the water, she keeps splashing about having a raucous good time.
Duck is quite happy with all the water, she keeps splashing about having a raucous good time.

I sat down to type up a new post about an hour ago.  Just as I began, I heard the rain begin with gusto.  Sigh…  Guess what I did?  I put on my trust old coat (technically it is my husband’s but I have commandeered it as it has a really long waist and covers my back side.  If there is one thing I cannot stand now that I am older  is drafts), muckers, hat and went out in it.  You see, we have just built a chicken house on our little place and each time it has rained the inside has been wet.  This is not good.  Chickens can endure some harsh conditions, but they need to be able to get dry, especially while they sleep.  Once you have small livestock, you will never again enjoy the sounds of a rain storm without a care in your head.

Chicken in  the Coop

After each storm, I have made modifications that I thought would fix it- to no avail.  So, the only way to know is to go out when it is raining and sit and watch.  Well, the problem is where the nails have attached the tin to the lathes on the roof. The roof is leaking like a sieve. Strange, considering that we used the correct sort of nail with a little rubber washer attached to prevent just this sort of thing.  Regardless, this problem must be addressed.  When the weather is dry and warmish- God only knows when that will be- we can calk the nail holes but for today I had to improvise.  There were a few pieces very thin plywood in the scrap pile so I took these and wedged them on the ceiling.  This will at least cause the water to run to one spot instead of all over the coop.  The girls really haven’t seemed to mind so much they are eating and scratching about out in the rain.

Easter egger chickens

We really don’t need any more water right now.  It rained last week, then that froze while ice coated everything except the roads in my neck of the woods.  It has been so cold that the ice stuck around for days and when it did melt it was like another rain storm.  Frankly, I hate this weather.  I am a Texas girl and we like the heat.  There was a time not so long ago that I thought 45′ was cold.  This morning when I saw 45′ on the thermometer, I thought “Great, it is warm enough for a run before the rain comes.”  Well, it didn’t take long to remember that this is still on the cool side.  But, the cold air in my lungs and just being outside did me a world of good.  I didn’t beat the rain, however, a light shower came while I was running.  Oh well, that is what hoodies are for.  I am hoping the weather men have it together as they are predicting sunshine and 60’s next week.  Hooray!

Two beautiful eggs in the coop this morning.  Laid by the black and white hens- Dominiques
Two beautiful eggs in the coop this morning. Laid by the black and white hens- Dominique Hens

I may not like the ice, but it did make for some pretty landscapes.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJonathan and the Duck are the only ones happy with this weather.  Jonathan enjoys breaking the ice out of water bowls- what a handy fellow to have around!

 

Faith & Farm

summer squash

As a blogger friend posted about the rain and hay making- which can be very dicey- it occurred to me that anyone who farms has so much to contend with on a day to day basis.  There is the weather, insects that destroy, insects that help, insects that are neither and the job of telling them apart, animal husbandry, fatigue and the list goes on.  Where do we find the strength to keep at it?  Where does one go for help for these things such as weather for which there is no control?

For me my faith in God and my Bible are my mainstays.  Many would scoff at this and that is ok.  I simply cannot deny what my Creator does for me in my life- I have seen to much to be dissuaded.  Some who may share my Christian faith will think what follows is mystical hog wash and that is ok, too.  Again, I have seen the proof in my life and on my farm, in my kids and  I know that this works.

 

 

It is all in our perspectives with which we view our world.  If we deny that we have an enemy- we see the world and what happens to us in one of two ways.

1. I must be blowing it- or

2. God is holding out on me.

Neither are true.  We were born into a world at war, good versus evil.  God versus Satan.  The good news is that God wins.  I have come to the conclusion that the enemy hates gardens and farms- especially organic ones that seek to steward this Earth the way God intended.  Just look at what Monsanto is doing to small farmers and our food sources and you will see evil at work.

So considering that I have this enemy who wants to take me down, I get up every morning and I go to battle.  I pray over my farm, my family, my marriage but I don’t just pray empty words or cliches, I use the Word of God as my sword.  You will find a scripture on any subject that you need  if you look, but for the sake of this discussion on farm life- I will stick to the ones I use over my farm.

Zechariah 8:12

For the seed shall be prosperous,

The vine shall give its fruit

The ground shall give her increase,

And the heavens shall give their dew-

I will cause the remnant of this people 

To posses all theses.

 

Proverbs 27: 25

When the hay is removed and the tender grass shows itself,

And the herbs of the mountains are gathered in,

The lambs will provide your clothing,

And the goats the price of a field

You shall have enough goats’ milk for your food,

For the food of your household

And the nourishment of you maidservants.

 

Deuteronomy 28: 11-12

And the Lord shall grant you plenty of goods, in the fruit of your body,, in the increase of your livestock, and in the produce of your ground…

The Lord will open to you His good treasure, the heavens, to give the rain to your land in its season, and to bless all the work of your hand.

 

Each morning as I pray these words over my farm, I thank God that He has given me these promises.  As I pray I also remind Satan of these truths and tell him to take his curses- such as grasshoppers- back to hell where they came from.  Just as in any war, you win some battles and you lose some battles.  Regardless of the outcome of the battles I know who won the war and what the future holds- Victory.  So, when hardships do come I remember the promises and stand on those.  If I lose the battle of the squash to the squash bug, I thumb my nose at the enemy and replant.  Then, little by little you begin to see the shift.  You produce more, things come a little easier, and you see more of the promises show up in the everyday life.  With faith we can move mountains- or shift the mountain of high pressure off of us in the summer to let a little rain in.  Maybe there is not a huge amount of rain, but if by faith I can shift a 1/2 inch in to our skies that may make the difference between life and death of my gardens.  I will take that as a win.  Today as I write this, it never got over 83′ F  and we have received about 4 inches of rain over the past 4 days- in JULY in TEXAS.  That is nothing short of a miracle.  Oh, how we are rejoicing.

None of this means that life is just easy street, but it means that instead of futility I can see our farm advancing.  I have been praying like this for the past 15 years in regards to my children and my marriage and when the farm came along about 7 years ago I approached it the same way.  It took awhile for the gardens to build up some steam but finally I began to harvest enough tomatoes to make some sauce and put it up by canning.  Now, I am canning some every week.  These are victories.

Trust  me, you will be opposed when you begin to pray like this and to believe the promises of God.  This does not make the promises less true, to the contrary it means they are all the more real.

David Austin Rose

Grasshoppers & NOLO Bait

A nasty little beast eating the Kale
A nasty little beast eating the Kale

I once read in a gardening book that grasshoppers are usually present but don’t do much in the way of damage.  I thought, “You have got to be kidding!  There is a place on earth where grasshoppers don’t do damage?!”  If there is a place- it is certainly not in Texas.  Here, grasshoppers give a very living example of the plague that Moses sent on the Egyptians.  The grasshopper will eat any vegetation in site and leave nothing but skeletal stalks behind.  And once the grasshopper has matured, poisons will not kill them.

So what to do?  I have found NOLO Bait to be very effective.  NOLO Bait is bran flakes coated in Nosema locustae- a microbial agent that infects only grasshoppers and either kills them or makes them too sick to eat.  This is awesome! Then, the healthy grasshoppers move in and eat the sick ones (grasshoppers are cannibalistic) and then they get sick further spreading the disease.  All the while, no other good bug or bee or humming bird is bothered by this illness.

So how is this accomplished, exactly?

From the website: http://www.goodbug.com/nolobait.html#HowWork

How exactly does Nolo Bait™ work?

Once the Paranosema (Nosema) locustae spores are ingested by the grasshopper they become activated in the grasshopper’s mid-gut. The spores germinate or extrude a filament from the cell wall. In the process of extruding this filament, the spores pierce the mid-gut wall of the grasshopper and in very young grasshoppers death usually occurs very quickly. This is due to septicemia or bacteria invading the grasshopper and causing death. In more mature grasshoppers the spores continue to reproduce, utilizing the fat body of the grasshopper for energy. As the Paranosema (Nosema) locustae population increases inside the grasshopper it becomes lethargic, reduces its feeding and has lowered reproduction capability. In addition, grasshoppers are quite cannibalistic and healthy grasshoppers will feed on their slow, sickly companions. This enables the Paranosema (Nosema) locustae to spread throughout the population and infect other grasshoppers that migrate into the area. Infected female grasshoppers can also pass the infection along in the sticky substance that surrounds the egg pods. As the newly hatching grasshoppers chew their way out of the egg pod they also become infected and will mostly likely die before reaching the first molt.

The grasshoppers love the bran- it’s like crack cocaine for them.  Once you spread the bait out on your plants you will see them feeding heavily.  You will also see a lot of damage in that area to the plants at first.  The picture above is the first area I spread the bait this year and the grasshoppers have fed there the most.  I am now starting to see some damage and more grasshoppers but this bed is just about done, here in Texas is is now hot and the kale is turning bitter so I am leaving it for the grasshoppers to feed on knowing that the sick ones are there and any new comers will eat the sick ones and then spread the disease.  When you garden organically you have to get used to the idea that it is a process, one that takes time to turn the tide.  This is the first year for us at this new place so I may have some problems with grasshoppers, but by being patient I can kill them at the root of the problem while not harming our bees, birds, or other good bugs.

It is best to spread NOLO Bait at the first sign of grasshoppers- when the are about 1/2 inch to an inch long.  At this stage the grasshoppers will be killed by the infection.  However, if you feed it when they are larger you will still infect the population with the disease that will continue to spread for several years.  As you can see, if you start using this bait and your neighbors start using this bait and you put it out 2-3 times per season, you can really do some damage to the populations of grasshoppers in your area- for the long term.  Spraying poisons just kills what grasshoppers are there (if it kills them at all) but does nothing to stop the cycle of the grasshopper.  The use of broad spectrum poisons is a bad process and not an effective management tool.

Kale and grasshoppersThis bed of Kale looks like an All-You-Can-Eat Buffet to the new arrivals, but it is like a loaded gun.  “Come and eat my pretties” it says, but all the while death awaits.  I may seem a bit dark in the way I enjoy death and destruction of the grasshoppers- but once you have watched your gardens be invaded and every leaf stripped bare you realize its you or them.  Nature is a tough place to live.

Add NOLO bait to your arsenal this year, you will be glad you did in the long run. NOLO Bait can be ordered on line or purchased at a feed store or garden center that carries organic gardening supplies.

What is your biggest problem in your gardens?

Ahh, The Rain

As I write tonight, the thunder is rolling and the rain is falling.  Such a beautiful sound and the scent of rain in the air is just delicious. How grateful I am to have the rain to water all that has been planted.  Lately( like since Saturday), we have been having typical Texas weather- hot and humid.  I do not mind, the tomatoes and peppers are growing, setting fruit and acting as they should.  We are finally harvesting squash.

Trenched Garden PlotThis garden plot is one of four in an area of the farm that holds water each time it rains.  And by” holds water” I mean that water will sit in this area and be squishy to walk on for days after the smallest rain.  As I write the trenches are filled to the brim from the rain coming down.  We suspect that there may be an underground spring located here, as well.  Anyway, for whatever reason, this area is a challenge.  So, to possiby make this a usable area I have trenched deeply and piled the dirt up to raise the rows.  Hopefully, this will allow the plants to drain well enough to grow properly.  I am thinking that if the plants can survive the spring rains that this wet area will be a benefit in the summer.  So far, the bell peppers and egg plants are doing well.  These particular plants like the heat to really thrive, so they are just now beginning to grow vigorously. Also  planted in these wet plots are cucumbers, watermelons, mush melons, and butter beans.

You may notice the hay scattered about.  I had company coming and thought a quick mulch that would make the beds look nice would be hay and I could just run to the farm store and get a bale easy.  So, I did.  Then a day or two later as I was admiring the lovely garden plots it occurred to me that I had no idea where the hay had come from and what had been sprayed on it.  Yikes!  Thus, I raked it all out and fed it to the goats.  This may seem like a lot of work but considering that some of the herbicides that are used on hay fields kill any plant in the nightshade family (think tomato and eggplant) and stay in your soil for five years- this was hardly a waste of time. Now, I can rest easy.  I will have these plots mulched by weeks end, but I will use pine needles from my mother’s place.

potato towersOur potato towers are growing very well. I covered the plants about 5 days ago as shown in the photo above and already there is so much new green growth out of the top of the compost that it is time to cover again.  I am excited at the idea of home-grown potatoes!  In the tomato patch, “Large Red” and “Illini Gold” are loaded up with green tomatoes, Matt’s Cherry  is looking good as well and has an orange fruit getting ripe as we speak.  I love to look out the kitchen window in the morning and gaze at my gardens while I wash dishes.  We have so many song birds in the gardens, they love to sit on the trellises that we have built for the tomatoes, cukes, and melons.  I would like to think they are happy to sing to me in the morning, but I know that they are really just casing the joint.

cute kittenMaybe my fierce farm cat will keep the birds from eating my tomatoes?

 

What is growing in your garden?  If you don’t have a garden, what would you grow if you could?

So, What Have You Been Up To?

I waited and waited for the spring selling season to get here, I potted herbs and started seed and dreamed about how busy and fun it would be.  Well, so far I have not been disappointed, we are busy and it is fun!  However, I am so busy that I am not even sure what my name is.

You may have noticed I have not been blogging much and what I have done is to re-post things that I really liked. Also, I have not had much time to read the blogs I follow and feel so disconnected.  So, today I am going to give you an overview of what an April on an herb farm in Texas looks like, just in case you ever thought of having one yourself…

We took farm animals to New Tech High in Coppell, Texas, about an hour and a half drive from us, to show them where their food come from and to make them aware of how animals who produce our food should be treated.  That was great fun!  The rabbits were the biggest hit.  As a matter of fact, two high school boys were so smitten that they each bought one of our babies and took them home.  I must say, I was a bit surprised by the fact that it was the males that went on and on about how cute and sweet a bunny is and had to buy one.  Those boys probably have strong drives to be fathers as well.  I know because I have one of those kinds of males living in my home.  Jonathan just has to hold any baby in the room- even if it is screaming its head off!  That event was for Earth day.

The next day, Sierra and I loaded up Big Red (our 4X4 suburban) and headed off to the Wood County Master Gardeners class where I had the great privilege of teaching a class on composting and container gardening.  I absolutely love those folks, they are so kind, fun, and encouraging.  Not to mention that they bought a lot of herbs which really helps the bottom line at Hollyberry Herb Farm!  While we were at the class, Tony stayed home to work on trimming trees, cutting down dead ones, and getting the greenhouse up an running.

Every Saturday since the first one in March we have headed out in the dark at 5:30 am to the White Rock Local Market.  That has been an excellent business move for us.  Lots of great people looking to support family farms and delighted to have organic herbs available are to be found at that market.  Savannah will be taking over that market for me as we look to sell at other markets around us.  Cheyenne will be selling herbs at the Athens Farmers Market just as soon as I get the paper work filled out.

Last weekend, Tony and I found ourselves in Jenks, Oklahoma at the Jenks Herb & Plant Festival.  Wow, what a great festival that was and Tony & I enjoyed three full days with just us grown-ups.

And of course, in the midst of all this we have been planting new gardens, tilling ground for veggie patches, adding container gardens and seeding more herbs and veggies into the flats in the green house.  I am happy to say that the permanent herb gardens are just about finished.  We will be mulching, weed eating, and planting the last few plants.  This will be just in time as we are having Master Gardeners from 3 counties out to visit on Thursday as well as a visit from the White Rock Farmer’s market manager.  I am so looking forward to that visit.  It is great to have company it is good motivation to get things cleaned up and ready to go.

beginning of the herb gardenThis what the permanent herb gardens started out like in February.

herb gardenThis is it today, most of the green plants are herbs, there is still plenty of green to be removed from the paths.  Within 24 hours all these will be mulched and full of herbs.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERApink parosol irisPink Parasol bearded iris, such beauty.

How is your spring going?

Van Zandt County Youth Expo 2011

Well, it is hard to believe that the youth expo has come and gone. From January on, this is the main event on our minds. All the kids have worked very hard on their animal projects. Savannah had 2 goats, Cheyenne choose a lamb for the first time this year, and Sierra and Jonathan both got pigs. Well, we had a lot to learn on the pigs. Feeding a show pig is very different from feeding a regular ol’ pig. Our pigs did not make the minimum weight of 225lbs. However, next year we will know what to do. You are always learning something when it comes to livestock. Savannah’s goats looked great and we were all very proud of them. Sadly, the judge did not share our sentiment. Cheyenne’s lamb on the other hand did make the sale. We were hoping for a much higher placing, but the sale is a good thing. Each year, you choose your animal and do your best feeding and exercising them, then it comes down to what the judge thinks. This was not our year with goats. The lamb would have probably placed higher with last year’s judge- but that is just the gamble of it. In the end, the kids have a great time, make lots of memories, and develope one heck of a worth ethic. That is the main thing. Now we have the county fair to look forward to, it will be in June. All though we will not have a livestock entry, we will have entries in the arts & crafts, and horticulture contests. Plus, we get to hang out with our friends again.

Busy Day At The Nursery

Today was a great at the nursery. We had a lot of business and sold a lot of plants. The nicest people have come in and I have really enjoyed meeting fellow plant lovers. Folks are asking questions about the herbs, which is my passion. As I get further along in the business, I hope to show the importance of the medicinal herbs and how simple it is to use the herbs for health. Many people are familiar with herbs in their cooking. That is not a far stretch since fennel smells like a pizzaria and sage makes you think of Thanksgiving dinner. What people don’t realize is how nutritious those herbs are. I also believe that the Dandelion plant is the most misunderstood herb around. If people only knew what those little leaves could do for their health, they would not be trying to kill it. But, maybe with time that will change. Our Grand Opening will be 2 weeks from today. There will be a petting zoo and hot dogs. I am looking forward to a really fun day.

It's Been A While…

We have been really busy around here. Not only have we been getting our gardens prepared and planted, we have also opened our very own nursery. The Farm on Holly’s Hill Nursery and Organic Gardening Supplies. My focus will be herbs, both medicinal and culinary, and Texas Natives. Of course I carry all manner of flowers and shrubs. Doing the buying for the nursery has been great fun! I am like a kid in a candy store. It can be hard to choose with so many beautiful choices. We have opened a permant location next door to Canton Hardware. We are so excited to have that location. Things are going very well so far. When I have extra produce from our gardens, we will sell it at the nursery, too. Right now, we have lots of lettuce, raddishes and herbs. In just a few weeks, the veggies will be going strong.

My Playhouse, er I mean Greenhouse

I am enjoying my new greenhouse so much. My wonderful husband built it for me. He is wonderful for many reasons, mostly for the fact that he is crazy over me flaws and all. For that , he has my unending devotion. Talk fo the greenhouse and how we wanted it to look had gone on for awhile. Some good friends of ours gave us the old wood. So, the windows and and lumber are all reclaimed. We had a lot of fun working on it together. Once it was up, I began potting out seeds in it. Given the fact that we did not have heat in it yet and I need to pot seeds in January, I put the trays on top of the fridge until they sprouted and grew their first real leaves. Then they moved to the green house. I am so impressed with how well the seedlings are doing. Even with the cool nights, they are growing very well. I do have a kerosene heater now, I will most likely need to use it before spring is over. A late freeze around Easter is quite common around here. Inside that greenhouse is the most stress free spot on the place. There and the barn, both built by Tony.

Busy Day

Today we had to doctor a sick rabbit. It is amazing how fast one can go down. Seirra reported a rabbit with a runny nose this morning. Yesterday, none were sick or acting like they were feeling puny. After I consulted my vet books, I was no more enlightened than I was before. Either it can be the snuffles- no cure for good, infected animals should be put down- a much more serious condition than the name would convey. Pneumonia could be another option or just a simple cold. At any rate, all the illnesses can be brought on by stress on the animal caused by sudden temperature changes. Well, one week we didn’t get above 30′ and one week later the temps were in the 70’s. That could have done it. I gave the doe a concoction of B-12, dandelion tincture, and penicillan. The vet books were no help, so I came up with my own prescription. We shall see how it works. On a happier note, at least for us, we got our beef back from the processor. My freezer is FULL of meat that we raised ourselves. We are very gateful to Porterhouse for his contribution to our family’s well being. Our next steer is happily eating rye grass and drinking his daily bottle. His name is Hershey. He is about 3 months old and will be with us till he is around 12 months old. Until this morning, he was a bull calf. Now, he is a steer. One of the jobs that I have learned to do myself. The first time that I banded a bull calf I didn’t think. I just squatted down and went to put the band on. Savannah was holding him and saved my face. As you might imagine, the calf kicked when I slipped the band on his privates. If Savannah had not been so quick in her reflexes he would have nailed me square in the face. However, I am a quick learner. Now I back the calf up to the stall wall and reach in to do the dirty work. This is one job that Jonathan and Tony have never helped me with…..