Archive for March, 2010

Tornado Season

March 29, 2010

It happened yesterday.  The two words that begin a new season here in the south…”tornado warning.”

I still think I like earthquakes better because they’re over and done before you know what happened.  What gets to me about tornadoes is the anticipation of their arrival and constantly straining to hear the alarm from the local fire station.

But I must admit, the dramatic show in the atmosphere is truly incredible.  Being in a household of photographers, these warnings really mean, “quick, grab the cameras and head outside!”

The greatest challenge is to capture the lightning as it shoots from cloud to cloud, igniting the night sky with brilliant light.

Of course, the dogs are not as enthusiastic about these storms as the rest of the family.  In fact, they become rather neurotic during this time of the year.  Any thunder clap and they’re clawing at the doors to come inside.

Yesterday’s skies were beautiful in an eery, ominous sort of way.  Lolo was very disappointed because there was no storm, just a lot of show.

What I love is the calm after the storms at night.  This photo shows both in one shot- the sky and stars were lit by the lightening from the clouds to the left…

it’s beautiful and opposing and expansive and awe inspiring.

Yesterday, even the cats waited around watching to see what would happen…

But the tornado warning came and went without all the drama….

except for the looming clouds overhead.

And now, we officially head into tornado season, watching the skies, listening intently to the radio, looking at the radar, and at times, heading to the basement where we’re underground…

Unless of course we decide to chance it and run outside with the camera.

Thanks, Dave, for these incredible pictures!


What Makes a Better Homesteader?

March 26, 2010

As I write this blog, I’m looking out my window at a beautiful late afternoon spring day.  No, I was not out playing in the dirt today.  I spent the majority of the day studying… I have an exam tomorrow morning.

I began to think about these last several months and all that’s been happening and I realized an important truth about homesteading and farming – you NEVER stop learning.

I love to learn.

I love to try new skills.

I love to ask questions.

I love to explore.

As I looked back over the classes, conferences, and workshops I’ve been involved with recently, I realize that it’s this aspect that makes me a better farmer.

I don’t know all the answers.  I don’t have all the skills.  I don’t have all the new ideas…

but someone does and I need to find them and listen.

Whether it’s in a book.

Or at another’s farm.

Or in a class.

Or a workshop.

And you know how I know whether or not I understand the material?

I teach it.

I love to share my passion for learning and homesteading.  And when I share that passion, it usually leads to more questions and more searching.

So I guess if I was going to give any advice to someone interested in homesteading, it would be this…

Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence. Abigail Adams

Training Dogs and Chickens

March 24, 2010

Molly is a Border Collie – an intense herding dog.  We rescued her from a family who bought her as a “family” dog.  They lived in a suburban neighborhood with an unfenced yard.  The family had 2 small boys.

We took Molly in when she was about 4 months old – she was driving the family crazy with the amount of energy she had and the boys were afraid of her because she was constantly nipping at their heels trying to herd them.

I was concerned our 7 acres wouldn’t be enough for her, but she’s done well and we keep her pretty busy with all the activity around this place.

Molly’s favorite animal to herd is the chicken.  The chickens are erratic in their movement and they make noise and flap wings and all of this just heightens the frenzy that Molly feeds on when herding.

She started herding right away when she came to the farm – no one had to teach her, it’s instinctive.

But we had a problem.  Molly was a little “mouthy” with the chickens when they got out and occasionally one would get hurt.  Molly never meant to hurt them, she was just doing her job.  Still, somehow I needed Molly to understand that the chickens were not play toys and she had to be gentler with them when trying to “move” them.

One day, Molly had injured a chicken and we put the chicken in Molly’s crate till her injuries were healed.

Typically, Molly was crated every night – she was still young and I didn’t want her running off.

Dave was at a meeting this particular night and wouldn’t be home till late.

Molly didn’t get crated because the injured chicken was in her crate.

I forgot to tell Dave why Molly wasn’t in her crate.

Do you see where I’m heading with this story??

Dave came home late like he’d said.

I was in bed like I’d said.

At 4 in the morning, I sat straight up in bed as the thought hit me – I didn’t tell Dave not to crate Molly when he got home.

Ugh…I knew I should go check on the situation but I really didn’t want to deal with feathers and blood and a dead chicken at 4 in the morning.

My other fear – if Molly had eaten the chicken, we’d have to get rid of her.  I’d been told, once a dog gets a taste of chicken, they will always go back for more.  We couldn’t keep a dog that was going to kill our chickens.

I prayed that I was wrong and Dave didn’t crate her, that Molly would greet me at the garage door and all would be good…

I dragged myself out of bed and stood at the kitchen door.  I didn’t see Molly.

It truly took every ounce of personal persuasion to open that door.  I was so sure the worst had happened.

I turned the light on in the garage and gingerly stepped over toward the crate, straining my ears to hear any licking sound from Molly.

Nothing – it was so quiet.

Another step and I would be in front of the crate.

I peered inside the crate…

Molly was pressed up against the front of the crate, fur sticking out through the bars.  She turned to look at me,  pleading with me to open the crate door.

I looked closer to see if I could see any feathers.


There, snuggled up close to Molly’s chest, was the chicken, sleeping quietly and contentedly, not a worry in the world!

I stood there and laughed, having a hard time believing what I was seeing!  Molly didn’t move a muscle but kept looking at me, begging me, with those big brown eyes, to please get her out of this situation.  She’d been sleeping with this chicken for several hours!

I quietly opened the door and Molly quickly came out, jumping all over me.  The chicken was a little annoyed to have lost her warm sleeping buddy.

I praised Molly over and over for being such a good girl and for keeping the chicken safe.

And you know – we never had another problem with Molly being too rough with the chickens!  Not only that,  she also trained Jack and Annie not to chase or hurt the chickens.

Now, I certainly don’t recommend this type of chicken training for dogs – but it sure worked for our Molly 🙂

Picking Up Chicks

March 22, 2010

My cell phone rang at 6:30 this morning – it was the Post Office calling to let me know my chicks had arrived.  I headed out into the frigid morning, cup of coffee in hand, and hopped into my “chick chariot.”

It was cold this morning, snow flurries reported not far from us, so I cranked the heat hoping it would be warm enough inside for the chicks.

We live about 3 miles from the Statham post office – a fairly quick trip.

The post office isn’t officially open at this time of the morning, unless of course, you’re picking up livestock.  Then you must go to the special window and ring the bell.

I could hear my baby birds chirping away behind this door.

Another gentleman came in behind me and commented on the unusual package – the one that was peeping.  I said, “Yeah, but at least I didn’t order bees!”

Whenever we bring home new animals, our dogs are the first to be introduced.  Somehow they just know they are supposed to take care of them and not harm them.

All 26 survived!!  A first for me.  Usually there is at least one that doesn’t make it.  I ordered all hens this time – I didn’t feel like dealing with roosters.

This little one is the smallest of the bunch but very feisty…

It’s a little too cold today to put them out in our brood box so I put them all in a plastic container with my son’s bed lamp attached to the side.

Before we put them in the box, we dipped their beaks in some water.

To think that at two days old, they’ve flown on a plane and traveled by truck hundreds of miles.  But now they’re all snug in their new home in GA… and the sound of incessant peeping fills our home once again!

Yes, Paint those Hives!

March 20, 2010

I’ll admit it.  I like for areas around the farm to be fun and whimsical…or as some have called it “cutesie.”  To me, it’s cheerful and adds something different to the typical farm scenes.  I also think it helps children who visit the farm to be less fearful of certain apsects…

like beehives!

I’d always thought that my beehives had to be institutional looking, you know, all white.  How boring!  When I approached Dave about painting “fun” scenes on the front, he wasn’t very enthusiastic.  Okay – maybe he had some cause for concern.  He’s seen me get a bit crazy with some of my ideas.

His suggestion was to stick with our farm colors – green and white.  Not much you can do creatively with those two colors!

When I went to the Beekeeping Conference last year, we went out to the the hives for a demonstration.  One of the hives was painted like a building from an old Western town.  It was darling!

I approached the instructor after class and asked about the hive.  Was it okay to do that to a hive??

Sure!  The bees don’t mind.  Personally, I’m thinking with all those females in one hive, they’d probably like to have their home spruced up a bit!  Who wants to live in a neighborhood where everyone’s home looks the same?  Where are the bragging rights in that kind of situation?

So I came home with renewed vision for my beeyard and a note from my instructor 🙂  Not really, but I would have asked for one if I’d had any resistance to my new ideas for the beehives…

I have since learned that painting something on the front of each hive helps the bees locate their hive, especially if they’re lined up together.  If the hives are all white and the wind is blowing slightly, “drift” will occur.

A female will come home with nectar and full pollen baskets and be blown off course a little – to the entrance of the hive next to hers.

A hive will not accept a whole party of new girls into their home, but if it’s only one visitor and she’s coming with food, that colony will gladly accept her into their hive.  And that hive will become her new home.  Pretty soon, that colony on the end will show the effects of “drift.”  Their population will be greater than the hive at the beginning of the hive stand.

But, if the hives have a “marker” on the front of the entrance, a way for the bees to identify their home, they’ll not venture to someone else’s hive.

So see?  I actually have justification for painting my hives!  It’s to help my girls find their way home.  And maybe the hives don’t have to be quite so elaborate and bright, a simple triangle or circle on the front would have sufficed. But I had a good time painting these and I think they’ll look “fun” in the bee yard.

Go ahead!  Let your imagination run wild and paint those hives!!  You now have scientific proof that it’s good for your bees 🙂

Native Wildflowers of Georgia

March 17, 2010

Jennifer Ceska, the State Botanical Gardens Conservation Coordinator was our guest speaker for our Master Gardeners Class.  Her enthusiasm, passion, and zeal for native wildflowers were contagious!!

Ms. Ceska lectured in the classroom and then we walked through the wildflower area at the Botanical Gardens.  It’s great having all our classes here at the Gardens – always an inspiration walking to and from class each week.

A term that’s important when discussing these early spring wildflowers is “ephemeral”  meaning temporal, short lived.  These plants only bloom when the trees above don’t have leaves yet.  That way the sun can get to these tender plants.  They thrive in the rich soil of the woodland floor with all those composting leaves!

Because Georgia’s had such a cold winter,  the emergence of plants is a little behind this spring.

The one plant that gave us a good show was the Chattahoochee Trillium.

There are 24 species of Trilliums in the state of GA.

Trilliums are slow to reach the flowering age – 7 years from seed.

We’ve talked in another post about “etiolation”  the result of too little light for plants.  Here’s an example of this phenomenon in nature.  Look how long the white stem is before the flower appeared!  The guess was that this plant was buried under the leaves and kept growing till it could surface.  Ms. Ceska said it would upright itself and the stem would turn the right color.

The Wood Poppy

We could barely see the beginnings of what would become the flower.

Squaw Weed

It’s interesting to note that the floral buds look purple at this point in their growth but the full flower is yellow.

Virginia Bluebell – This plant is part of the Borage family.

Check out the pictures of the Bluebells – the flowers are beautiful!

Cut-Leaf Toothwort – part of the Mustard family

The Iroquois used a poultice of the root to treat headaches.  They also used it for divination, as a hunting medicine, and as a love medicine.

The tubers of toothworts have a pungent, peppery taste and can be ground and mixed with vinegar to produce a condiment similar to horseradish.

Little Brown Jug or Heartleaf – this is what I found in our woods yesterday.

The leaves are beautiful and heart shaped.

These are the flowers!!  They look like little jugs or little piglets  🙂   These flowers are pollinated by beetles and gnats that live under the leaf litter.

Trout Lily – these had to be my favorite  from all that we saw…

The foliage is beautiful and the flowers so delicate.

The Native Americans drank a root tea to reduce fever, and applied a leaf poultice to skin ulcers.

Turtle on the Loose….

March 15, 2010

It’s an unwritten law in homeschooling to pick up live animals from the road – unless of course, they are hazardous to your health or financial well-being.  Did you know, in the state of GA, you can get a permit for $25 that allows you to pick up dead animals on the roadside?  Think of all the science projects one could perform on a single carcass!  The first study  — bacteria and germs 🙂

Last week, Lolo and Toto were out shopping and when they came home, Toto jumped out of the van announcing, “Hey!  Look what I found!!”

They’d been driving along when  Toto spotted this turtle crawling across the road.  Lolo stopped and Toto rushed to pick up the turtle before anything happened to it.

Upon arrival at our home, there was much “investigating” and frustration with the fact that this turtle was not very sociable.

The kids tried everything they knew to get that turtle to come out of its shell.

Sawyer had a few ideas of his own!

Finally, the turtle was left alone on the kitchen table in a container with a few grapes, the rest of the family went on to their various activities.

Dave just happened to arrive when the turtle was trying to make a fast get away.

Unfortunately for that turtle,

he wasn’t as fast as my 10 year old who quickly snatched him up to have a closer look.

As you know – one of the best kinds of learning comes through observation.

After the turtle endured a little bit more poking and prodding….

We honored his efforts for escape and set him free outdoors.

Homeschool bookkeeping

March 12, 2010

One of the things I love about homeschooling is why my kids learn.  A lot of the time, it’s out of necessity or need.

Some of the greatest advice I ever received was from my mother-in-law who worked  in the public school system for 30 years.  I value her wisdom and insight immensely.

When my children were young and I was struggling with curriculum choices, she shared with me…

“Cyndi, they don’t have to know everything.  However, they need to know where to go and find the information and they need to love learning.”

My mother-in-law is a great educator and has been a fantastic role model of how to instill that love for learning.

Mae Mae came to Dave one day with a problem.  (she knew where to find the information!)

She had been saving her money but needed to learn how to use a ledger so she could keep track of her categories.

From a young age, our children are taught how to budget their money – a skill that I didn’t learn till I was an adult.

We ask our children to categorize their money this way: 10% to church or a ministry, 10% for college, 10% for savings, and 70% for spending.  Savings could include anything from funds for a car to a horse.  Often, they move the percentages around between savings and spending, depending on what they’re saving for and how fast they want to get there!

Mae Mae had a “need to know” and during the time she spent with Dave, she was extremely attentive, asking all the right questions.

She was unaware that this was “school”, nor did it matter to her that “school” was happening after dinner.

She wanted to learn and she knew the source who could offer her answers.

Dave and Mae Mae spent time discussing how a ledger worked, what it looked like to put all the numbers in the right columns, and how to calculate each of those columns to achieve the information she needed.

This is real life learning – she won’t forget this lesson because she’s using it.

This is useful education that’s pertinent to her everyday life.

This is the typical type of learning that happens with my homeschooled kids on a daily basis.

As their teacher, I don’t have to have all the answers.

I just need to know where to send them to find the answers they’re looking for and to help make the journey of searching a little bit fun!

Container Gardening

March 10, 2010

I have a new passion!

I was asked to speak at a Garden Club in Atlanta on Square Foot Gardening.  I love square foot gardening and have used this technique for about 20 years.  I love the versatility and once again this attribute has served me well!

Let me explain…

Since the planting schedule is based on a grid, a 1’x 1′ square, I took that square and transferred it to a container.

Whatever plants I could fit in a 1′ x 1′ square, I planted in the container….

I’m calling this one the “salad bowl.”  I planted Chinese cabbage, Swiss Chard, Spinach, and Butter Crunch lettuce.  I did throw in a couple of Dianthus for color since this will be a demonstration pot.

I did put a little more in this bowl than a 1′ x 1′ square would hold because this bowl will constantly be picked.  As the leaves mature, they’ll be harvested thus eliminating volume.  As the greens become a little spindly, I’m hoping the Dianthus will hide that look.

I used a ceramic bowl I had in my potting shed.  It’s about 12-18″ across the top and about 6 – 8″ deep.

I put in the soil formula I use for the square foot beds.

I did another pot with a pepper plant, Swill chard, and edible pansies.  The Swiss Chard is a cool weather plant and the pepper, a warm weather plant.

Again, my thinking is that by the time the Swiss Chard is spent, the pepper will take up the extra space and the pansies will help to cover the transitioning.

I made a container with some herbs.  I followed the adage, “Thriller, Filler, Spiller.”

I put Rosemary in the center as the Thriller; I used the pansies as the Filler; and the Lemon Thyme as the Spiller.

I used the same soil combination as I did for the Salad Bowl: peat moss, vermiculite, and a mixture of different composts – mushroom, cow, and chicken.  It’s 1/3 of each: peat moss, vermiculite, and compost.   I mix it in a bucket or wheel barrow first, depending on how many pots or containers I’m making.

Start with the soil low in the pot and place in your plants.  Fill in with the soil after you like the arrangement and then water!

Be sure your containers have good drainage – no plant likes to have “wet feet”.

I had so much fun putting these containers together for my class and I have quite a few plants left over…

And I think I saw some really cool containers out in my potting shed…

I think I may have to clear my calendar for this afternoon!

Light for Seedlings

March 8, 2010

Many of us are trying to start our plants by seed this year.  The most frustrating aspect of this drill for me is the fact that my plants won’t grow straight up.

Instead, they lean toward the light.  It doesn’t seem to matter if I have them under grow lights or in front of the window – some of them will lean.

Okay, the technical term for this is Phototropism – the movement of plants toward a light source.

How to solve this problem?

Either rotate your plants so they all are equidistance from the light source or place your florescent lights directly overhead about 6” away from the seedlings.

Another problem that happens for those plants on the ends of the trays – Etiolation.

It’s a fancy word for the symptom of insufficient light.  When the seedlings aren’t receiving enough light, their stems will stretch and the plants will grow spindly.

Increasing light intensity and duration will correct the problem.

If you’re using florescent lights, keep raising them as your seedlings begin to grow.

By the way, any florescent light bulb from the store can be used to light your seedlings.  You don’t need to purchase special “grow lights.”

See, these little “leaves”?  They’re really not leaves at all.   I’ve heard them called “false leaves” but if you want to be fancy they’re the cotyledons.  They will wither and fall off as the true leaves emerge and begin to grow.

Don’t forget, as these seedlings get bigger, you’ll need to transplant them into bigger containers so the roots have more room to grow.

Good luck, fellow gardeners!  Let me know if you have any other questions and I’ll try to answer them…and if I don’t know the answer, I’ll try to find it 🙂