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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

County Fair 2014

Early this month was our county fair.

I usually don't get super excited about county or state fair.  I was in 4-H growing up, and I would go to fair just long enough to take my projects, participate in the pet show, and take part in the pie baking contest. One year I did the broiler project - having to raise and process 50 broilers.  One year was enough for that.

I rarely walked through any parts of the fair besides where I needed to go.  I really prefer to stay away from big crowds (unless it's a gathering of people I know or will get to know), and if I have to dodge piles of manure and smell animals, I would rather do that on a farm.

Even so, over the last number of years we have taken a handful of trips to the county fair and almost yearly trips to the state fair. State fair was something Ethan grew up doing with his dad each year, and he dreamed of being a fair kid hanging out with his livestock in the livestock barn.  They made a full day of their trip, checking out all the fair had to offer - minus the food stands as they would retreat for an afternoon lunch at the car. Once we started our family, Ethan became excited about taking our kids. And although I really was not that interested in the fair experience, I did really like spending a day Ethan and the kids.

Now that our oldest has finished 4th grade, however, fair has taken on a new twist since he is also in 4-H.  If you've listened to Ethan's podcast that includes Caleb as a guest, you might have caught that we spent more or less an entire week at the county fair mid July as Caleb took took in his projects and showed sheep, chickens, and rabbits, adding in the daily chores at the fair too. Even though we have made sure that what Caleb takes and shows reflects his work, Ethan can now be a "fair dad" in those barns even though he didn't get to be a "fair kid".

I do have to say, that fair is much more enjoyable when you have someone you know showing things there - especially when it is your kid. And I will admit that I really didn't mind hanging out at fair so much this year, and I did spend quite a bit of time in the livestock barns too.

And to also add a bit more draw for me, I discovered that there is a building previously hidden from me on the fair grounds for open class entries - a place where you can take various homemaking items to be judged for awards. I found out about this last minute, but I was able to dig through my closets and pantry to grab a few things to enter that I had worked on over the year, many of which received placings.

I didn't take a ton of things since I didn't know if my jars would be opened (and unable to be consumed after fair), and I didn't want to spend the money on ingredients for baked goods that we wouldn't get to eat either. Now I know though that jars aren't opened, that garden produce does not have to be fully ripe, and that you also get to take home 3/4 of each baked good once they have been judged. (And that pies go in 2 days after canned goods . . . something good to know so your crust stays nice!)

So here I am, just weeks after the fair, and I'm thinking about what all I can set aside to take to fair next year.  Part of it is because it adds a little excitement to the mundane tasks of my day/year (I would have taken so many more canned goods if I knew they would have remained sealed.), and some of it is that it is fun to get a little bit of premium money which I have picked a purpose for (although there are lots of ways to save money at home, it's a bit harder to generate money.).

Still, I think the best part of county fair is the time spent with my family, and now also seeing our kids enjoy taking part in fair with their interests.

Caleb's Livestock Awards for Sheep, Poultry, and Rabbits

Caleb's Projects and Awards
Hannah's 4-H Clover Kids (K-3rd grade) Projects and Recognitions

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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Preserving Strawberries

One of my favorite seasons in the garden is strawberry season.  I have to say that it is by far my favorite garden crop. 

When I was a young girl I used to sit in my mom's strawberry patch and devour the strawberries. In high school I worked at a strawberry patch for a few summers as a picker in the morning and sales in the afternoon.  I also consumed a bit of strawberries (and strawberry shortcake and strawberry smoothies!) there.

Now I have my own strawberry patch.  And yes, I still sit in the middle of the patch and eat strawberries.  Lots of them.

I have grown to know my habits though, so I have planted a big enough batch to support my in patch strawberry eating, to supply fresh strawberries for my kids to enjoy, and to have extras to preserve.

Strawberry season is now over, but for about 2 1/2 - 3 weeks, weather pending, I bring in a batch of strawberries like the ones pictured here every other day.  (Not pictured are the cups of strawberries that I have eaten in the patch that day.) The best thing is that my patch is still expanding!

It takes around an hour or so to work through the patch to pick the berries.  Remember, I pause often.   When I get them into the house, I find a spot for them in my fridge until I can spend another hour or so preparing them, which is usually the opposite day of picking.

Last year I would freeze or preserve them as jam by the individual batch.  This year, however, I have shaken things up a bit and separate out the larger berries for freezing and the smaller berries for jam within each batch.  This has seemed to work out well for me. 

To start with, I fill my sink with cold water and dump my berries in.  I swish them around a bit with my hands, drain the water, and repeat until the water is clear.  It usually only takes a couple of fills.

Next, I fill my strainer as much as possible to drain some water, followed by placing them in my salad spinner.  I don't have too many kitchen gadgets in the house, but I do love my salad spinner.  Not only does it help my garden lettuce to stay fresher longer, but it has made preserving all of my varieties of berries so much more efficient and improves their quality. (Especially the raspberries which hold water so well in their empty core.)

I spin the water off of the berries, one bowl at a time.  As I remove them from the spinner, I destem them.  I have tried many methods for destemming strawberries, including using many gadgets at the berry patch.  My favorite method is by far using a thin baby spoon which quickly scrapes/pops off the tip with very little berry waste. The berries are then divided into a bowl for smaller berries and a bowl for larger berries. The smaller berries are placed back into the fridge until there is enough for a batch of jam, usually within another picking or two.

The next tool that I use is an egg slicer.  This slicer quickly and evenly slices berries to the perfect size, and held upside down, it drops them right onto my pan for freezing.  I could freeze them whole, but I have found that the berries don't get used up as quickly when they are sliced as you can get so many more berry bites with sliced berries.

For my freezing pans, I just cover cookie sheets with washed cereal box sacks. They are cheap (free), sturdy, and the berries come right off of them.  As pictured, I spread my berries across the pan, being careful that they don't overlap much which helps them freeze individually.

I used to just flash freeze them to the point where the outer layer was frozen, but I have changed to freezing them overnight to where they are completely frozen. I have found that they are just easier to work with this way.  Once they are frozen, I simply crumple up the cereal bag from the outside in, make a pile of berries in the middle, and then lightly push on the pile with the cereal bag covering them in order to separate any berries that have stuck together.

They then get put into sandwich baggies, 2 cups at a time.  Just as I do when canning my sweet corn and other veggies, these sandwich baggies get placed into a gallon freezer bag.  This method allows me to grab out, or shake out, just the portion of berries that I want.

This year I froze a new record of 32 baggies, or around 64 cups, of strawberries.  They will be enjoyed in our homemade oatmeal and occasionally over ice cream.  I'm looking forward to freezing even more next year!

And then there is the jam. As I mentioned, the smaller berries get set aside and used for jam. This year I made 2 batches of strawberry jam, equaling 18 1/2 pints.  I could have made another batch or two, but we had a big event coming up on the farm that needed my attention so we just ate the rest of the little berries, which was just fine!

You can find the instructions for jam making in any Sure-Gel packet, but I thought I would just add some snap shots of my kids helping me and some basics of the process. 

Jonathan, my 3 year old did a great job helping smash the berries for me with a potato masher.
Isaac, our 5 year old, helped measure out the sugar needed.  I have heard that when making jam you want to use 100% pure cane sugar and not sugar which includes beet sugar.  Apparently, beet sugar does not allow the jam (or jelly) to set well, and it can end up runny.  I've never experimented with the sugar which contains beet sugar, but the 100% cane sugar has always given me a nice set.

Once the berries were mashed and sugar measured, Hannah, our 8 year old, added in our packet of Sure-Gel to the berries.

The berries were then heated to a rolling boil, and then the sugar was quickly added in, returning everything to a rolling boil again for the appropriate amount of time.  This is a step where I ask the kids to stay back since there is often some very hot splattering going on.

Once the cooking process was done, preheated jars were filled with jam.

Rims were wiped clean.

And heated lids and bands were placed on the jars as Hannah fished them out of the heated water.

The jars were then placed back into the pot to process which I had them heating in, this time filled with berry goodness. 
And after their processing time was complete, they were pulled out to cool.

Once the jars were cool, I labeled them and had each of the kids who helped put their initials on the rim of the jar as well.  As talked about in a previous post, throughout the year, as we enjoy produce preserved from our farm, we acknowledge who all helped with the meals being served and remember the memories made, something that the kids now find great enjoyment in!

Usually, after strawberry season I am move right along to the next season of my garden. This year, however, there is a bit of a lull due to the garden getting in later than I would have liked - a combination of a rough 1st trimester of pregnancy, a challenging end to our home school year, and projects that needed to be accomplished on the farm outside of the garden.

As I try to remind myself often, I just need to be faithful with what I have been given and trust the Lord to provide in His own way through the areas and times that seem to be challenging as well as the times areas and times filled with ease.  At least I know that this year I will get to enjoy the (strawberry) fruits of my labor!

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Tools of My Trade

I was given an egg slicer as a wedding present, and I don't think I have sliced more than a dozen hard boiled eggs with one. I have, however, sliced gallons upon gallons of strawberries to freeze and bananas to dehydrate with one. My original egg slicer broke a wire, and I tried to replace it with one from a nearby store which quickly broke as well.  After reading many reviews, this slicer went on my Christmas list.  It is a tad more expensive than others, but I give it heavy use and it is holding up great!

This little salad spinner is perfect for spinning water out of berries for freezing, which greatly improves the quality of the berries frozen.  Not only that, but it is wonderful to spin batches of lettuce from the home garden, helping the lettuce to last longer in the fridge.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Guinea Keets are Hatched!

These past few days my first batch of guinea keets have been hatching.  It has been a rather strange hatch, since one hatched on Monday, Tuesday the majority hatched, Wednesday a few more, and this afternoon (Thursday) I found another egg that has just started pipping. Considering I set them all the same day in the same incubator, I have been a bit confused at the spread of the hatch, but I'll take it.

Tonight I pulled the eggs from the incubator that did not show any signs of development, using a flashlight shining through to illuminate the egg. Normally, I would have done this before I put them into the hatcher (a few days before the hatch), but because there were eggs starting to pip through early, I just wanted to get them in the hatcher.

So for my counting and math - I set 150 eggs, 45 did not show signs of development, and only a handful of the unhatched eggs left did show development to some degree. These appeared to have stopped developing partway through though. I had 92 chicks hatch, giving me a hatch rate of 87%.  (If you are observant, you may have caught that 2 of the keets are a different color too.)

I'm pretty happy with the hatch rate, a little disappointed with the number of undeveloped eggs.  We keep a rooster to hen ratio of about 1:5.  Considering these guineas are not enclosed by any means, maybe that ratio needs to change a bit.  I also held onto the eggs approximately 5 weeks before putting them into the incubator, which could have been a bit long to collect and hold onto them.

If you remember in my previous post, I was unsure of if my guineas would continue laying after I set this batch, as I was having trouble finding more eggs.

Well, they hadn't.  They just changed locations. 

While I was in the garden one afternoon, I heard a few guineas across the road and in some trees by the ditch.  I had heard them here a few times so I decided to take a little walk. 

A wonderful thing happens when the grass gets taller.  You can see the guinea highways. It is hard to tell from this picture, but they trample down a path through the tall grasses on their most frequently traveled routes.  If you look carefully, you should be able to find this route by the grass seed heads that cannot be seen, as they have been laid down.

I hopped on this guinea freeway, and it quickly led me to a new stash of eggs, which held over 60.  It didn't take me long to have a new batch of over 150 eggs collected to put into the incubator, which were all under 3 weeks old when I put them in.  (If I wasn't so far behind this spring, I would search to see if I could find another nest, but this one will do for now.)

I asked Ethan just how many guineas he wanted me to hatch this year, and it looks like I will continue collecting eggs!

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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Storm Shelter Blunders and Waiting Projects

We are now entering our 6th summer living on the farm.  Isaac, just like each of the other kids when they were born, accompanied a major life change. (Which makes me a bit curious to see what will happen with this baby!) We moved into our partially finished house on the farm in October of 2008, and Isaac was born in November.

I would think that after 5 full years of living on the farm, we would be a bit more settled in. With Ethan still working off of the farm, however, and with the kids at home and homeschooling, there is still much settling in to do.

If you would switch one of the above - either Ethan being on the farm full time or myself being on the farm without kids, I'm sure we would be settled in.  The fact is, starting up our farm would be impossible without Ethan working extra jobs, and we have kids.

I have had a number of young couples considering farming and family ask me if it is a good idea to start a farm and start a family at the same time or if it is a good idea to start a farm with a young family.

My response . . . it is hard.  It would be so much easier for me to not have children right now so I could be a better help to Ethan in our farm setup. Either I could go to work and provide more income to allow Ethan to be on the farm more, or I could do more of the farming. Everything would move along so much faster - getting settled in, getting the business established, and turning profits sooner. But I wouldn't trade our kids for any of that. They are a blessing, and they add richness, joy, and fullness to what we are doing. I can't imagine farming without them.

So with that introduction, here are some projects that I worked on today. Projects that I wish were further along then they were, in terms of weeks and years, but they aren't. Projects that I'm sure would be done if we didn't have kids or if I wasn't expecting, but projects that will get done in due time.

First off, the storm shelter. The picture below (sorry for the post in the middle) shows the dirt work around our storm shelter before last spring.  It was roughly done with a skid loader when they installed the shelter in 2010, and for 3 years after that it was used by any animals that made it to the yard (which the cows and sheep did often before we got our yard fence in) for king of the mountain.

The dirt work badly needed to be redone, not just for visual appeal and the ability to plant on it as I wanted, but also to keep the storm shelter insulated properly to be used as a root cellar.  It had been put on hold amidst our settling in for too long, so late last spring I spent 8-9 hours one day with a shovel on the storm shelter moving dirt and shaping the storm shelter mound.  I remember vividly because it was about 98 degrees that day and I ended up sick with mild heat stroke that evening. (Yes, having children slows me down, but I am also very stubborn when I want a project done badly enough.)

Even so, I got the project done.

Or so I thought . . . until this winter.

One day, after a thaw and refreeze, I went to go get some produce from the storm shelter, which was packed with potatoes, apples, carrots, and squash. 

I would soon discover that with the dirt work I had done the spring before, I had made the lowest part of the storm shelter's base right in front of the door. Perfect for melting snow to collect and refreeze into a solid chunk of ice, making it impossible to open the door.

Thankfully, Ethan came to my rescue a couple of times and chipped through inches of ice so that I could gather up a couple week's worth of produce to store in the house to be used, but with his full schedule of off farm work, I only asked this of him a few times.

So the majority of the winter my produce was frozen shut in its cozy root cellar. By this spring, bags of potatoes has sprouted (I used them for my seed potatoes) and the squash and carrots were done for.  Thankfully, the boxes of apples remained good and are making rounds through my food dehydrator to be apple chips now.

This spring has been a slow spring for me.  Since the start, this pregnancy has knocked me down a bit more than the others. I have just entered my 5th month and have been over the sickness stage for a couple weeks now, but I can still tell that this pregnancy is effecting me a bit differently.  The humidity of the last week or so has especially been hard, mainly making the air feel much heavier and more difficult to breath than it has before.

All of that to say, I am a bit behind where I would like to be concerning all things outside. But it is a season, and one that is well worth it.

So this evening, seeing that the forecast was bringing rain, I decided to start my grass seeding - hoping that it isn't too late yet.

Over the last week I have very slowly been trenching out around the storm shelter to provide proper drainage in front of the door. I finished up tonight by tilling the area I trenched to smooth it, and then I seeded it.  My kids by the way, joined me by helping rake seed in and bringing the straw over in a wagon and spreading it. (If you look closely, you will see the rock walls I made last spring on either side of the door to prevent erosion, along with the fence that surrounds the shelter to keep livestock off! There are also marigolds starting to grow which self reseeded from last year's flowers.)

Along with tilling and seeding around the storm shelter, I also tilled up and seeded two areas of hard packed dirt on the side of our house, another project that has been waiting to be done since we built our house, as the construction equipment followed by heavy traffic areas of feet and market loading (from the sliding door) has prevented grass from growing. (You might also notice the tree cages stuck in the straw that I put together in the shade of the porch today - for trees that I wish I could have acquired and planted the year we moved to the farm.)

And then there is the garden. This afternoon, when my lungs were telling me to move at a snail's pace, I did a bit of weeding . . . or mostly eating strawberries straight from the patch. I am kind of embarrassed to put a picture of my garden up. Most everything is planted now, but it is all weeks behind schedule.  I would also like to have it mulched by now, but I will hit that the next cool/non humid week that comes up.

The reason for my post. My personality is one that likes to have my ducks in a row, things tidied up, and checks flying across the checklist of things to do. I often look around at all of the projects I would love to have done here on the farm.  Projects that fall behind running the farm and projects that fall behind being a wife and a mom.  Projects that I wish would have been completed years prior and projects that rely on seasons which are passing quickly.

But more important than seasonal projects are the seasons of life. And as I have been slowed down even more this spring, I have been remembering the gifts of the season that I am in. A season to anticipate another blessing in our family, and a season to invest in the 4 blessings we have already been given. 

A season that I wouldn't trade for a list of completed projects by any means.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Gobs of Guineas

This is our third year with guineas on the farm.  Last fall someone described their “buck-wheat” call as a rusty gate continuously swinging.

I think they were fairly accurate.  

Even with this continuous clatter, we now have over 100 guineas on the farm. Hopefully that will soon turn into over 200.

The reason I even sought after guineas in the first place was because of their reputation for destroying tick populations. When we bought our property, our 23ish acres of pasture had been in a CRP planting of prairie grasses for well over 10 years.  As we soon found out, the ticks had used every opportunity they could to reproduce in these tall grasses.

Just before a trip into the doctor, to get a large rash checked out where my young daughter had just had one of her many tick bites of the year, I posted a quick post on Facebook searching for someone who might have some guineas.

As the Lord’s provision would have it, on our way back from the doctor’s office, I noticed someone on the way home had some guineas wandering in his yard, which I had never noticed before. I immediately pulled into his driveway and asked if he had any for sale.

He didn’t, but he did have a pile of eggs he told me I could just have to try to hatch out.  While visiting, I also learned that he was the gentleman who had sold us our land, and that he would be more than happy to buy it back from us as land prices shot up shortly after we bought it. Although I didn’t offer him the land, I did thank him for the guinea eggs.

 As I incubated the eggs for my anticipated tick control, I did a bit of research on guineas and found they are also wonderful to have in gardens, as they are high protein feeders ravaging insects.  They also do not scratch like chickens or  dine on the produce – a perfect pest control companion for the home garden.

Later that fall, after the keets had hatched and grown a bit, we were asked if we were raising them for meat. We had never considered it, but with a little more research I found out that guinea fowl is actually a specialty meat – often used in high end restaurants as their game bird. 

It just so happened that the guinea keets we were raising were a jumbo version, and the jumbo version that naturally reproduce vs. the jumbo version that needed to be artificially inseminated.  Perfect for tick control, garden pest control, and another meat enterprise.

 Which leads us back to the 200 guineas we hope to have later this year.  Last year we raised around 75 of these birds, keeping back a breeding flock of 25.  And although we did order some keets in that “may” reproduce on their own to get some early guinea meat, we hope to hatch out many of our own.

The thing about guinea fowl is that they do not lay in nest boxes like chickens do.  Instead, they take great pleasure in hiding their eggs in tall grasses.  Along with that, they are awful caretakers of their keets.  The “gather the young under their wings” does not apply to guineas, and many of their keets are often overcome by the elements or just plain lost. Because of this, I have been busy collecting/searching out guinea nests to incubate and hatch more of our own flock. 

Thankfully, guineas do like to cluster together to hide their nests.  Most of the year they run around in one big pack scaring up insects into the air to gobble them up. During spring, however, I have found they break apart into groups of about 6 or so with a male to accompany them.  This group will lay their eggs in one spot, making a large cluster of eggs in a couple days. 

Before they started laying, I set up a trap nesting spot with hay bales stacked to make a little cave.  When I found an egg in this nest, my search began. This spot has also by far been my most productive nest, and I should have made more in various locations around the farm.

So this spring, when it was just too wet to garden or when I needed to get outside but didn't feel quite well enough to garden, I took some walks to look for guinea eggs.

I found one of these nests on the far corner of the farm while checking on the electric fence. I just happened to scare a guinea up off the nest or I may have missed this one.

Another nest I went searching for, as I knew that there was a group of birds hanging out in this area. This nest was made in a tent like structure of weeds, and I’m sure I would not have found it if I wasn’t intently searching for it.

A third nest was found again in an area where I had seen guineas gather, but I didn’t have to search as hard as I came across it when a guinea was on it, scaring her up again. This nest seemed to be popular as there was a trail of eggs around the next from guineas most likely waiting their turn!
It didn’t take me long to get 150 eggs to set in our incubator, and I have another 50 or so waiting to go in when these hatch, not because I am waiting on the room but so that we can space out our available meat.

Unfortunately, my guinea nests have dried up this last week or so. I know a predator found the location of one nest as evidenced by some egg shells, but I’m wondering if they have just slowed down on laying since my trap nest has even slowly dwindled down. Or they are just getting smart, and I need to do some more searching for nests, although I have gone on a couple morning walks and have not scared up any guineas in the ditches lately.

In a couple of weeks, however, we’ll see just how well these guinea eggs were fertilized this year, and we’ll see how this year of focused guinea raising goes. We have a few kinks to work out, such as corralling these flighty birds to keep them where we would like them and catching them during processing time. We do have some different plans of attacks for the year including sending off the year old guineas who have taken to wandering a bit more than we would like and roosting in the rafters, setting up a roosting area where we can shut the door and actually catch them, as well as some ideas to keep them in the pasture area more.

I’m not sure if guineas will be a permanent part of our farm or a “It was fun while it lasted” part of the farm. Even with the challenges of these skiddish wandering foragers and the times of unwanted, not-stop rusty gate noise, they do provide wonderful pest control, a unique meat, and quite a great deal of entertainment as they charge though the pasture in mass, scaring an array of insects into the air, and darting around to gobble them up.

Do you have any experience with guinea fowl? If so, I'd love to have you share!

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Cancel School - It's Time to Plant!

As I have been trying to balance getting enough rest this trimester, keeping the kids' school moving along, helping Ethan with the farm/marketing as I can, and just managing family life, I have let some prime garden planting days pass by.

Last weekend, after a string of these nice days, we received about 4 inches of rain which made the garden quite muddy. Over the last couple days the garden has been slowly drying, but the forecast this morning showed rain coming around noon - with more rain to follow again this week.

Upon seeing this when I woke I decided that even if we had to tack on another school day to the end of our school year, I was rounding up my troops to plant as much as I could in my garden which has been calling for spring attention.

Even though I had tilled up the entire garden a little over a week ago, I pulled out the tiller to fluff up the soil in the rows that I was able to mark last night.  Some might say this extra tilling is a silly step, but I have found that when dealing with a garden my size I would much rather hoe through powdery soil when I plant.  It might take slightly more time re-tilling planting rows, but it ends up taking significantly less effort.

While I was tilling up the rows, I had the kids gather the sprouting potatoes from our cellar that I had cut last night in hopes of planting this week.  Each potato is cut in two or three portions, making sure at least 2 eyes are on each portion.  They are then set aside to callous over.  This step prevents disease from entering the potato.  Although I should have let mine sit a day or so longer, I decided this morning to take a chance since it might be now or never (or at least a few weeks more).

Once the paths were tilled, I stretched out my line (gotta love having extra stick in fence posts and reels of poly wire free!), started making the trenches for the potatoes and path for the peas with my hoe, and called in my crew who were all excited to help as they grasped the value of our garden from the produce we have been enjoying since last gardening season.

Caleb, who just turned 10 last week, was busy planting peas along the outer fence line using a milk cap I gave him to get the spacing I desired.

Caleb has learned the importance of these peas since I don't let my kids just wander and graze through the garden yet, mostly because of the excited little feet that forget to watch where they are stepping (although the kids do get to enjoy grazing some if they have come in to help.) These fence line peas, along with a couple fence line cherry tomatoes, are free for the taking when they are out playing.

After a quick lesson on positioning potatoes and being careful of the already forming sprouts, Isaac (5) and Hannah (8) helped me fill 4 rows of potatoes using sticks for a spacers that I had broken to just the right length. Jonathan (3) was Hannah's runner, bringing her potatoes down the row to plant as she zipped along.

As you can see, it wasn't the beautiful 70/80 degree sunny days that I missed out on last week, but it was temporarily dry.

Around 10:30 Ethan arrived back home with 2 lamb and 3 hogs from the locker. We quickly covered our 4 rows of potatoes and row of fence line peas so that I could help inventory the new meat.  Caleb and Hannah set to work on their math while Isaac and Jonathan played on Starfall, a wonderful online early literacy site that they get to enjoy during the random school times when Ethan needs my help.

Around noon the meat was inventoried and the rain began.  I still have 2 more rows of potatoes to put in, another area of peas, and some onions, greens, carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower that I would like to get caught up on, but I am happy that we were able to at least get a start.

If I'm feeling well enough, we'll also try to plug away at some more school tonight (the older two continue with scheduled independent school in the afternoons while the younger rest) and maybe avoid that extra day at the end of our year. :)

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Tools of My Trade
This book is a wonderful resource on companion planting in order to grow foods without the use of chemicals. It details good and bad companions, how various plants work together for increased flavor, productivity, and pest control.  It includes information not only for the vegetable garden, but also for companion planting with fruits, nut trees, ornamental plants, and much more. Copies of this book can be found used or you can purchase a new copy from the link provided.

This book is a wonderful resource on the technical aspects of seed saving.  It shares about the heritage and classifications of different garden seeds (heirlooms, hybrids, etc) and how the different types of seeds react to seed saving.  It shares about how to effectively maintain pure varieties of seeds with respect to how the plant pollinates and through different seed saving techniques.  Seed clean and storage techniques are also described.  A large portion of the book is given to explaining each type of vegetable family, the classifications of families to avoid cross pollination, and how each vegetable family responds to seed saving and storing.  If you are interested in saving and keeping your own pure strains of seeds, this is a must have book!
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