Archive for February, 2010


February 26, 2010

Vermiculture : using worms to make compost: the use of specially bred worms to convert organic matter into compost

Vermicompost is the product or process of composting utilizing various species of worms, specifically red wigglers,white worms, and earthworms creating the heterogeneous mixture of decomposing vegetable or food waste, bedding materials, and pure vermicast produced during the course of normal vermiculture operations.

Simple definition – bin + worms + kitchen scraps = worm poop for your plants!

Okay, maybe it’s not quite that simple…well, I guess it can’t be cuz they’ve written books about this subject.

I did take a composting class at the Georgia Organics Conference this last weekend and Duane Marcus discussed vermiculture and really,  it didn’t seem so complicated.  I started my own on Monday!

Here’s what happened.  One of the ladies who stayed at our farm for the weekend, brought me some vermicompost, i.e. wormcastings, worm poop.  What a great gift!!  She lives in an apartment and figured this was a “farm” hobby she could do without disturbing her neighbors 🙂

When she handed me the plastic bag, she showed me the little worm eggs and the couple of little tiny worms in the casting.  I was so excited!  These were Red Wigglers and they’re great composters.

After the composting class, I decided to start our own worm bin to keep in the kitchen.  I realized that the compost wouldn’t be as fast as if I had purchased a whole pound of worms but I was willing to wait for these little guys to grow and multiply.

I found a bin with a lid in our basement.  Squish and I shredded paper for the bottom of the bin.  Apparently, these critters like to gnaw on paper.

Actually, they like it a little soggy…

After Squish added water to the paper, she mixed it up with her hands.

Next we added some compost to the bin and then added the bag of vermicompost with the worm eggs and little bitty worms.

Squish had a good time trying to find the little worms…

And to add spice to their lives, Squish and I went outside to collect some leaves for their home.

Squish put these on top of the compost and then we put the lid on top of the bin.

My worm bin now resides in my kitchen, underneath a little table in the corner.  I did pop the lid a bit so there is air flow for the bin.

We’ll see what happens, but I’m pretty excited!

I talked with a gal in my Master Gardening class and she works at UGA in the research department for worms.  Yep – it’s a real job!  I talked with her at class and she said you could use any worm you find in your yard.  They may not work as fast as the Red Wiggler but here’s the deal.  The Red Wiggler isn’t native to America and it’s become an invasive pest, changing the ecological design of our forest floors.  She said, more than likely you already have them in your yard – that’s how wide spread they’ve become.

And if you would like further information about worm composting – here’s the information from the site of the gentleman who taught our class- Duane Marcus.  He was fabulous!

Seeds for the Garden

February 24, 2010

It’s that time of year, and I usually miss it…but not this year!

February is the month to plant the seeds, that will grow into transplants, that will go into our family vegetable garden.  It’s so much more cost effective to do it this way but February usually sneaks up on me and before I know it, it’s March and too late to start my seeds.

I hadn’t ordered my seeds yet this year when I went to the Georgia Organics Conference.  Lucky for me, there were vendors selling seeds – organic seeds!

I’ve used organic seeds before and had a very productive yield so I was excited to try them again.  They are a little bit more expensive but I figure a better yield will certainly make up the difference.

I tried two different companies and will keep note about the quality of the plants from each.

I’ve also purchased seeds from Henry’s and  Le Jardin du Gourmet Seed.  Johnny’s has also been highly recommended by the gentleman who runs the organic farm at UGA and by another friend who is a Horticulturalist at UGA.  I’m going to buy some seeds from them this year too.  I’ve listed the companies and their websites at the bottom of this blog.

I’ve seen and tried all different types of ways to start seedlings….I got adventurous this year.

On Monday, I said to my youngest, “Come on!  I have a fun science project for us to do!”  (She loves science)

She was all excited, “What are we doin’ Mom?”

“We’re going to plant seeds this morning!”

Her excitement was quickly deflated.  “Mom, that’s not science.  I was really hoping we were going to blow something up.”

Ahh, the problem of familiarity.  Planting seeds is a common occurrence around here and couldn’t possibly be associated with science.

I pulled out my diplomatic teacher reasoning…

“Oh well, you’re going to help me anyway.”   🙂

Together we planted all kinds of seeds in 3 different containers.

The first was the more traditional way – I used the pop-up peat pot.  Now Squish did get a kick out of watching them “grow” when she put warm water on them.

We also planted in cardboard egg cartons…

We filled each of the egg holes with compost.  As soon as the seedling gets big enough, I’ll cut apart each compartment, tear out the bottom and then plant it in a bigger container to let the plant grow larger.

I also tried planting some of the seeds in eggshells…

We then put the eggshell into the egg carton…

My hope is that the shell will make it easier to transfer the seedling to a larger container.  Again, I’ll poke out the bottom of the shell before putting it in another pot.

I made sure that I marked the type of seeds I had put in and the date they were sown.

I’m certainly not done planting yet and I have some other ideas for starting seeds – I’ll keep you posted!

There are certain seeds which do better sown directly into the soil outside – lettuce is one of them.

Some others are radishes, snap peas, cucumbers, and beans.  Now, I didn’t say they couldn’t be grown as transplants, I’ve just found these do better if I direct sow outside.

Okay – here are the names of the seed companies I’ve used or am using:

Henry Field’s –

Le Jardin du Gourmet Seed Catalog –  (I love this catalog for their huge selection of herbs and their sample seed packets for 35 cents)

High Mowing Organic Seeds –  (first year I’m trying their seeds)

Johnny’s –  (this company came highly recommended by reputable sources)

Gardens Alive! –  (I’ve used this company forever, not for seeds but for sprays and soil amendments)

If you have any more questions, post them on our Facebook page

…and I’ll answer them as best I can in a blog.

Happy homesteading!!

Rosemary Herbal Tea

February 22, 2010

I attended an Herbal class taught by Patricia Howell this weekend at the Georgia Organics Conference.  She was wonderful as a speaker and so knowledgeable.  I’m doing a hike in the Appalachians with her this summer – that will be another blog!

Ms. Howell’s lecture covered the top 10 sustainable herbs everyone should know and grow.  I was so excited to realize I had most of her list already growing in my yard.  One of them is Rosemary.  I love Rosemary and have a lot of it growing around.

Of course, I wasn’t sure how I should feel when it was said that Rosemary likes poor soil.  Mine is growing like a weed and it’s right next to my garden!  Hmmmm.

Ms. Howell covered all the medicinal uses for each of the herbs she highlighted.

Today, in particular, I was in dire need of Rosemary…

Aside from it’s great culinary uses, Rosemary is also used for stimulating digestion, an anti-depressant, preventing cancer and heart disease and as an anti-inflammatory.

But the one use I needed desperately today – Rosemary improves cognitive function and memory!!

So I made myself some herbal Rosemary tea…and if you’d like to join me for a “brain re-charge”, I’ll show you how it’s made.

I cut the Rosemary from the garden then stripped off the leaves into a quart Mason jar.

It’s important to macerate the leaves.  Sounds impressive, huh?  It just means to cut or bruise the leaves before putting them in the jar.

Pour boiling water over the herb…

cover with a lid to keep steam in the jar, and let steep for 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes, strain the liquid through a strainer to keep the herbs out.

And enjoy!!!  (you might want to add a little honey – it tastes a bit like a Christmas tree)

I’m drinking mine as I type and the brain synapses are firing on all cylinders now….well, at least I’m hoping it will happen soon!

Oh yeah- I see in my notes it says to drink daily.  Okay, so give me a week 🙂

Mae Mae had a little lamb…

February 17, 2010

Every parent struggles with teaching responsibility to their child.  I’ve realized it takes a concerted effort, an implemented plan, and lots of adjustments.

I will admit that homesteading has afforded my children unparalleled opportunities for learning all kinds of life lessons in very tangible ways.

For instance, last year, Mae Mae was given a little lamb whom she named Toby.  He was cute and followed her everywhere.  Mae Mae was bottle feeding him and taking very good care of him.

One morning, she went out to the barn and came running back into the house crying.  Toby was dead.

There was no explanation for the bloat.  My kids have learned that death happens at times for reasons we will never know.  My kids have learned how to grieve and they understand that the process is different for everyone.  They have compassion and a tenderness for others because each of them has lost a pet very close to them – some of my kids even cradling the animal in their arms when it breathed its last breath.

But this particular day was a very special day.  Mae Mae and I went to visit a friend’s farm in Covington.

I’d received an email that my friend had a bottle-baby, little ewe and she wanted to give it to Mae Mae.

My friend knew about her loss from the previous year.

This was our first time to her farm and we had a wonderful visit.  Even her guard dogs were happy to see us!

As with most of our new animals, we documented the first visit.

The responsibility of this little lamb, Emma, was now handed over to Mae Mae.

She was responsible for all the daily feedings – every 4 to 5 hours- with no complaining.

Mae Mae was to make sure that she noticed anything unusual in Emma’s behaviour.  That meant that she had to spend a lot of time with her so she would recognize the difference between normal behaviour and unusual behaviour.

Mae Mae was responsible to make sure Emma had a warm place to live,

and that Emma’s place was kept clean and sanitary.

Mae Mae had to take time to play with Emma every day and make sure she was exercised since she would be living by herself for a while.

She had to remember that Emma was just a baby and would put anything into her mouth.

Be sure to keep harmful objects out of her pen.

And most importantly, pay close attention to Miss Lynn’s instructions about Emma’s care and her history.

Emma was born in the pasture on one of the coldest nights in January.  Wet and shivering, she survived the night and was found in the morning – her mother had abandoned her.  But Emma’s a fighter and with tender love and warmth from Lynn, she pulled through.

Mae Mae must be careful to protect her…

keep her safe…

and comfort her when she’s afraid.

Teach Emma that she, Mae Mae, is her new mommy.

Mae Mae must let her know that she loves her very much and others do to…

There is a pride and a confidence given to children when they are given responsibilities,

especially when that responsibility is another life.

A life that is so totally dependent on another for it’s well-being, care, and safety.

There is a special bond that develops between a baby animal and the one who is responsible for its every day needs.

The gift that Mae Mae will receive back for all her care, attention and responsibilities….?

The life lesson that no text book could ever teach a child?

Unconditional love.

A New Day Dawns…

February 15, 2010

Last year, Dave missed the big snow we had March 1.  He was in San Diego while I was here with 8″ of snow and a 48 hour power outage.  He always misses all the fun!

Being the photographer he is, he set his alarm to be outside before the sun came up.  He actually was up earlier hoping for a cloudless night, but alas, no such luck.

There is a mood in these early morning shots…I love the farm at this time of day.

If you can sneak out a door without the cows seeing you, it will remain quiet.

Of course, Dave had to sneak stealthily  past the goats to the orchard.

I noticed that the deciduous trees here in our back pasture have snow on them all the way to the ground.

So beautiful – unlike the evergreens which form a canopy and keep the snow from falling below their branches.

Jack was Dave’s ever faithful companion during this picture shooting romp.

Um, I guess I forgot to put away some of my gardening tools before the snow came…

These, however, were purposefully left outside.

Our little cabin in the woods – I love how it looks in snow!

All we need is a wood stove inside with a wisp of smoke coming from the roof top.

And the sun is beginning to rise…

Ahh – there is something about snow that makes even an untidy garden look wonderful and inviting.

(see former blog “Confessions of a Vegetable Garden” for a full disclosure)

I love the changes of the color blue in the sky as the rays of sun illuminate…

And as the sun rises, so does the activity of the farm.

Molly checks on the chickens – of course several were out because the netting fell down from the weight of the snow.

A chicken’s view of their house and the snow and that pesky dog!

The feeders were full of hungry little birds.  The activity is entertainment in itself!

Squish thought she’d give the laundry basket sled a try once again…

Jack, however, was not impressed.

Rosie – oh, what to do with that mop of wool on the head after it’s snowed!

Sawyer – waiting patiently for someone, anyone, to toss a snowball for him to chase….

Colonel was ready for a chase!  The snow and sun certainly made him feel lively.

Since no one was available to throw snowballs, Sawyer thought he’d harass Misty.

Not sure he’s realized yet that she is much bigger than he is!

I love this picture…

Yep, the pony has an attitude and it’s certainly evident in this shot 🙂

Thanks, Dave, for enduring the cold to capture these beautiful early morning moments on the Lazy B.

Your photos say so much more than words…

To see Dave’s video of this morning, check out

Georgia Snow!

February 13, 2010

The New Englander in me loves it when it snows in GA! Everything is clean and fresh, a new beginning.  I love to watch the excitement in my children, the awe of the beauty.  The dogs think it’s a new toy and a supply of never-ending balls to chase; the cats are perturbed as they gingerly tiptoe through the snow with a look of disgust on their faces.

Our biggest dilemma is trying to figure out what item will slide down our long hill in the back pasture…

And then there’s always the honorable snowman to be built – before the dogs come along thinking it’s a giant ball to be chased and tackled!

And what is it about snow that compels some people to do some really crazy things?!

But hey – the victory of the challenge is so worth it!

I’m so thankful that living in the South didn’t mean having to give up an occasional snowstorm…

Of course, I’m not sure our animals feel the same way.  Their greatest decision during the snowstorm is to eat…

…or hide out in the barn.

Stomachs win!!

What is a snowstorm if you can’t take pictures of yourself in the falling snow to put on Facebook??

Or beaning someone with a snowball…

Even if they are on the other side of the window 🙂

Documenting all this activity is crucial because snowstorms don’t come along every winter in the South.

Snow gives a different perspective to the common…

Snow also gives cold “bums” to our chickens when they’re trying to lay eggs.

Know what the New Englander in me loves best about the snow in GA?

It knows when the visit has been long enough and it goes away, leaving us with wonderful memories and images and the longing for more.

Country Kids

February 10, 2010

I suppose some would consider life in the country a disadvantage for kids…

After all, my kids don’t have the latest new fangled toys.  In fact, they don’t even know what they are because we don’t have t.v.

But my little one seems fairly content with masking tape, a tarp,

an unused turkey tractor…

…and an imagination of her own to create whatever she wants…

With only the wind to be a bit of a disturbance.

True, there are no clocks in her classroom, no bells ringing to tell her she must be finished, think no more about this subject…

Quick – hurry to the next activity!

Perhaps some would argue a lack of time management skills.

But she’s only 9.

The pressure and stress of time will come all too soon.

Some realists might argue that she should play with real replicas of kitchen items.

However, my little one thinks over-turned buckets make a great kitchen counter and stove top,

and an empty laundry detergent continer filled with water is a terrific faucet.

She’s adored by her playmates.

They hang on her every word, agree with her suggestions and ideas – and they love to hear her sing!

They won’t cruelly criticize her or call her names or tell her she’s not their friend today…

They won’t make fun of the clothes she chooses to wear.  They don’t care if they are her brother’s hand-me-down shorts.

Nope, her playmates love her unconditionally and are very content to be with her.

They like her just the way she is…

No grades will judge her neatness or originality…

…or ingenuity

There is just the country freedom to be who she’s been created to be-

unique, wonderful, artistic…

my little girl.

I suppose maybe my country kid is missing out in something —

I just haven’t figured out what it is yet.

Contra Dancing??

February 8, 2010

I’m always looking for something fun and new to do with my kids.  To me, it’s part of my “mom job” to expose them to as many different activities, people, music , arts, etc. that I am able.

I love to dance and so do my kids.  However, I’m not very good at “free form” unless I’m trying to get my kids to laugh – really laugh!  I remember square dancing as a kid and how much fun it was.  Last year, someone mentioned Contra Dancing and I wasn’t sure what kind of dancing that was.  I looked up videos on youtube and it looked a lot like square dancing.  Also found out that they had some Contra Dancing in Athens.

When I was up at the John C Campbell Folk School, Saturday night was Contra Dance night and all the townsfolk came over to dance.  I watched from the window…

It looked like a lot of fun but I would want some lessons before I attempted the dance.  I don’t mind making a fool of myself – I do it frequently, but there’s a difference between being ignorant and informed and I would rather be informed!

When I got home from John C, I told my kids about the dancing and they were interested enough for me to keep pursuing this activity.

Colbert, the Old Gym, February 6th at 6:30.  Yes!

Now, the typical format for the evening is to have the caller give a half hour of instruction and then the dancing begins.  Also found out that contra dancing has it’s roots in New England with Scotch-Irish music.  It was dear to my heart already!

We pulled into the parking lot and walked toward the building.  Admittedly, we were all a little tentative – a new place, new people, new activity…

We walked past the big windows of the school.  My kids turned and looked at me.   “Mom???”  I was walking to catch up with them and looked in the windows – a whole lot of older, older people sitting at tables.

“Kids, we don’t know anything.  Maybe this isn’t the right place.  Let me see…”

Come to find out – it was the local Lion’s chapter and they were holding a dinner.  The gym was across the street.  We all breathed a collective sigh of relief as we walked over to the gym. As we got to the door, I met Elizabeth, the lady I had talked with on the phone to find out if the dance was still on for the night.  She was so friendly and ushered us in the door to the gym.

Within minutes, we were talking to people and realizing this was going to be a fun evening.

The caller for the evening had everyone come to the middle so he could give dance instructions. The gentleman in the hat in this picture was the caller.  He was showing my son and his friend how some of the moves were danced.

“Contra” means opposite.  A lot of the dances were danced in 2 lines that faced each other.

But there were also several square formations.  We learned the Virginia Reel, the Grapevine, the Yellow Cat Jig and some others.

We all had a blast!!  We laughed and smiled till our faces hurt.  We were sweaty and exhausted…this was like aerobics for 3 hours!

And we were hooked…

Even my son came to me a couple of times and said what a great time he was having – he’s a good dancer and caught on quickly.

The gym was full of people (at least 80 or more)- all kinds of people.  Young and old and in between.  I met a couple that had been to the farm for some classes, another gentleman who I had ushered with at the local theatre, and another gentleman who had bought pork from us!

Squish danced with a friend that she had acted with in “The Sound of Music.”   (Squish was Gretl and her friend was Brigitta.)

LoLo danced with a boy who was from Nicaragua and had been in the States for 2 months.

And the best part, we made new friends, friends who assured us we would all see one another at the next dance.

It was very family friendly and I didn’t worry about my kids once.  The music was fantastic and the caller was great – demonstrated all the moves with willing dancers before we began a new set.  There were people who’d been contra dancing for 20+ years and those like us who were there for the first time.

We danced and laughed till 10 pm, said our goodbyes and piled into the van.  We chatted about all the great people we had met and danced with that night and all agreed that we were a little stinky and a shower was going to feel great!

Yep – Contra Dancing was a hit with the kids and this will definitely become a new family favorite.  The next dance is already on the calendar!

Parenting Dividend

February 3, 2010

I’m not going to mince words – parenting is a tough job.  Just when you think you’ve gotten it figured out with one child, you have to completely reassess and change the strategy for the next child.  It’s a daunting task – and there are no manuals.

Every now and then, we as parents are allowed a glimpse of the reward of our efforts.

So it was on the day Squish, my youngest, took me to lunch.  She’s been babysitting for a little girl one day a week for 3 hours and saving all her babysitting money.  Squish has a nice little nest egg and wanted to share her “fortune” by taking me out to lunch – just the two of us.  This is a big deal with so many siblings!

We ended up at Barberitos.  The restaurant that she really wanted to go to was closed for some repairs and she handled the disappointment like a trooper.  We had a wonderful lunch together – she paid the bill herself.

Next, we walked over to a store, Margo, that has lots of jewelry!  Squish loves jewelry and this was a small dream world.

This particular store allows you to create your own piece of jewelry and that was our intention when we entered.  However, Squish was so overcome by the exquisite jewelry that was already made that creating her own lost its appeal.

I’d been wanting to make a bracelet because I couldn’t find what I wanted anywhere – just a simple leather braid with a few “blings” interwoven.  Squish graciously agreed to keep looking while I made my bracelet.

Pretty soon we struck up a conversation with the store owner who seemed to be a bit frazzled with trying to get things in order after the weekend.  Squish did most of the talking – she’s my social one and no person is a stranger.

The owner kept asking me, “How old did you say she is?  She seems so mature for her age.”

Other comments…   “How did she learn to converse with adults so well?”    “I have 2 daughters and they never behaved like she does at this age.”   “She’s such a joy and very pleasant.”

I’ve had people tell me, “Oh, parenting for you must have been so easy because you have such naturally good kids.”

When I hear that I just cringe. Then I laugh out loud, shake my head, and tell them how wrong they are.

“Nope, they’re normal kids, believe me.  If you came to my home, you’d see!  We just try to keep all the training we do at home and are thankful the results are seen by those outside of our home!”

The other day, my kids went to the feed store to pick up feed.  There were 3 of them – Lolo, Mae Mae, and Squish.  We’re at the feed store about once a week so they know us well as customers.  One of the older ladies said to the girls, “Do you all ever fight?  You always seem so pleasant and kind to one another.”

Without missing a beat, all 3 said “YES!”

…out of the mouths of babes…

Anyway – back to the jewelry store…

After a bit, Squish asked the owner if she could help with anything while she was waiting.  The owner, Jill, seemed a bit surprised that she would offer.  After Squish confirmed that she was serious about her offer, Jill put her to work sorting through rings by size.  Squish was in heaven!  This wasn’t work – this was play!

She worked for an hour and a half, asked appropriate questions, was careful in her sorting, and had a great attitude the entire time.  I was so proud of her as I sat quietly by working on my bracelet.

Today, I was the observer and not the instructor and I was very pleased with the results I was seeing.

It was finally time for us to go and Jill was thrilled with the accomplishments Squish had made.  Come to find out – this was a project Jill had been wanting to do for a while because it would make her work so much easier, but just hadn’t had the time.

Jill wanted to give a piece of jewelry to Squish to compensate her for her work.  Squish said, “Oh really, you don’t need to.  I wanted to help you.”

Such child-like honesty – no hidden agendas when she offered in the beginning, just a desire to be helpful.

Jill finally convinced Squish that it would make her happy to thank her for her work with a piece of jewelry.

The two of them decided on a beautiful necklace and Squish just beamed as it was placed around her neck.

When Squish asked me on the way home what was my favorite part of the day, I told her it was watching her in the shop.

She asked me why…

“Because you spoke well, you worked well, you made the lady happy, and you made me very thankful that I get to be your mommy.”

Homeschool Birthday Gift

February 1, 2010

Let’s face it – homeschoolers, in general, come with a certain stereotype.  We’re a bit “unconventional”, and that’s the nice word!  It’s never bothered me because, as I’ve confessed to you before, I’m not conventional.

And so, it is with great joy and exuberance that I share with you the “unconventional” gift my daughter, Mae Mae, received from a dear friend for her 13th birthday this year.  I must first let you know this about my Mae Mae…she loves, adores, is obsessed by, passionate about, “eats, breathes, sleeps”  horses.  Life had no meaning until she had her own horse!

Mae Mae also wants to be a vet someday.  She volunteers at a vet hospital every Friday and is learning Latin for all those medical terms.  It’s gifts like this one that thrill my heart because they mean a great deal…

Wanna take a guess as to what this is?!

These are all the bones that make up the front leg of a horse.  It’s a horse leg puzzle!

My friend, who had access to these bones, cleaned them and wrapped them up for Mae Mae.  Then she and Mae Mae looked through an anatomy book until they found a picture of the skeletal structure of a horse’s front leg.


Those pages were all that Mae Mae had to go by when figuring out how to put this leg together.

I love looking at the bones, touching them.  They’re beautiful!

The other day, I found Mae Mae, bones in hand, studying intently the drawings of the leg.

It thrills my heart and makes me want to jump and shout when kids learn by discovery.  That look of “ah ha!!”  The excitement in their voice, the boost of confidence – it’s so rewarding to those of us who teach.

That’s what I observed as I saw Mae Mae begin to fit all the pieces together.

Learning to take what she saw on the 2 dimensional paper and translate it to the 3 dimensional bones in her hands.

And with each piece fitting properly…

The determination to complete the task grew…

Unbeknownst to her – she’s learning!!

And she’s questioning… “Mom, can you believe all the weight of a horse is carried by this one tiny toe?”  “How strong do  you think these bones are, especially when the horse is jumping and putting all that pressure on the front?”

Good questions, good critical thinking – the quest for more knowledge.

Now she’s figuring out what part all these smaller bones play in the overall structure of the front leg.

And the best part?  Mae Mae figured this all out on her own, without any help from anyone – not even Sawyer who was asleep beside her!

Unconventional gifts for unconventional learning – part of the joy of homeschooling!