I’m not a big fan of our chickens in general, but I really don’t like roosters. Our biggest rooster is a Barred Rock and he is particularly annoying. He likes to run, as fast as he can, towards anybody that he thinks is inferior to him. Basically, anybody other than Dad and Colter.
I recently discovered some photos on our camera. When I asked Emery about them, he grinned his signature grin and laughed.
“The Barred Rooster was being annoying, running after the little girls, so I distracted him by crowing. He came running at me.”
“I kept crowing, and moved around the outside of the pen.”
“He wasn’t very happy with me, but it was really funny!”
As I listened to Emery, I couldn’t stop laughing. It was funny picturing that annoying rooster charging at what he thought was another rooster, only to not be able to find him.
After I stopped laughing, I also told Emery that I was proud of him for coming to his sisters’ aid!
Every year we have lots of new baby goats born. Lots of baby goats drink lots of milk.
As baby goats get bigger, they drink more, which makes them get bigger, which makes them drink more. It’s a never-ending cycle! At least it’s a never-ending cycle until the babies are weaned.
When the boys finish milking the goats, we send some milk to the house for drinking, send milk to the soaproom for soapmaking, and feed the rest to the babies. Because we give the babies as much milk as they want (more than their Moms would give them), we sometimes run out of milk. This year we retained more baby goats than we normally do, so once the babies finished all the milk, the boys could tell they would still drink more if we offered it.
We drove to the store and got a couple of gallons of whole milk for them. The babies do very well with whole cow’s milk from the store (Mom won’t feed them milk replacer because she doesn’t believe it is good for them).
The next week, when those gallons were gone, we went and bought some more.
And the next week, we did it again.
As the babies got bigger, we started going to the store every three days. Then every two days. Then every day.
To keep our cans from overflowing with milk jugs, Greyden got some baling twine (from the hay the mama goats eat) and strung the bottles up. It was a brilliant solution because now they wouldn’t blow away in the wind.
The next day, he got another section of baling twine.
By the time the garbage/recycling truck came, he had used over twenty pieces of baling twine, stringing up over 250 empty gallon milk jugs.
I think Mr. Sweetland (our coach, good friend, and garbage/recycling man) was “impressed.”
Have you ever seen that many empty milk jugs?
We heated our old house exclusively with wood. We have a fireplace insert at our new house, but we also use gas heat (which is good because my bedroom is at the opposite end of the house from the fireplace).
We have a lot of downed trees from the construction on our new farm. A couple of weeks ago, Dad said it was time to start splitting the logs that were too big to fit in the fireplace. Colter was prepared to split it all by hand, but fortunately we have a neighbor who has a hydraulic splitter*.
Because he’s awesome, he came over and helped Colter learn how to use it.
Hewitt spent the whole day moving wood.
“It was hard work, but we got a lot done!”
“There was a LOT of wood.”
“But I’m strong enough to take care of it!”
I’m really grateful that I have such strong brothers to take care of work like this, so I don’t have to!
When we lived in Charlestown, Farmer Frazier would bring us our hay as round bales, deposit them in the pasture, and we’d be good. Here in Scottsburg, we have our own hay field. Because we don’t have a tractor to move round bales, we have Farmer Todd put up our hay in square bales. First he cuts the hay, rakes it into rows, and then bales it.
As the hay is baled, we load it onto the pickup truck and bring it back to the barn. The boys sit on top so no bales fall off, so they don’t have to walk, and because it’s cool.
Then the hay is put onto our borrowed hay elevator…
where it rides up to the hayloft…
and someone takes it off the hay elevator.
Once the bale is on the floor, the “pushers” push the bale over to where it’s being stacked up.
You have a couple of “stackers”, bigger guys who are taking a break from riding the truck, who take the hay bales and lift them up to their place on the stack.
And last, but not least, you thank all of your friends who came and helped you, before you sit back and admire your full hay loft.
Hay is exhausting, but it’s pretty important to keeping the goats happy and healthy all year-long!
In years past, we have spent many hours canning, dehydrating, fermenting, and freezing our fruits and vegetables. Lately, the children are eating more and more of the produce straight from the garden, so I find there is less need to preserve.
Strawberries almost always go straight into everyone’s mouth.
If there are extras, they get brought into the house and cut up and put directly into our goat milk yogurt or kefir. If you have extra strawberries to put up, our favorite methods are to freeze them in ziplocs or make jam.
We grow sugar snap peas, so they get eaten whole straight from the garden.
Extras are shelled and frozen in ziplocs for use in homemade chicken pot-pie.
Lettuce is eaten in large quantities in salad.
Cabbage is shredded for homemade sauerkaut which is a really fun project for the children and a very healthy way to preserve the cabbage.
The children generally eat all the brocolli straight out of the garden. They love it! Any that makes it into the kitchen is steamed and served with dinner.
Swiss chard is used in our spanakopita casserole recipe. It is SOOO good!
Tomatoes are turned directly into tomato sauce and then frozen for use all winter.
Basil is served fresh in tomato salad or it is made into pesto and frozen in ice cube trays for use all winter.
Peppers are diced and frozen in ziploc bags. We generally use this all winter for chili or taco soup.
We also love to use peppers and tomatoes for homemade salsa.
If you’re new to putting food up, my best advice is to experiment with canning, dehydrating, fermenting, and freezing – and find what works best for you. Preserving your veggies for use throughout most of the winter is a lot of manual labor, but it isn’t difficult.
So start putting up some food, but don’t let it become a burden. For me, I now preserve what I want and feed the rest to the chickens and rabbits. And I don’t let myself feel guilty about it!
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I am a big fan of perennials because you can plant them once and they come back year after year. In our vegetable garden, the only perennial “vegetable” that we plant is asparagus. I love it because it is the first vegetable to come up in the spring and is pretty easy to grow and maintain.
Rubarb is another perennial, but I’ve always been afraid to grow it in our garden because the leaves are poisonous and my children are too used to eating everything out of the garden. But someday I’ll add some.
Other than asparagus, we keep perennial berries in our garden – strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, and (new to us) kiwi.
Even though it isn’t a perennial, I will let some of my basil go to seed and it often comes back year after year.
The other self-sowing annual that we plant in the vegetable garden are orange marigolds. Marigolds can help repel bugs and the orange color is super cheery and makes me smile (not to mention the fact that it is a Goat Milk Stuff color). But the best thing about marigolds is that they are edible! I like to add some to salads. They brighten it up and make a wonderful talking point.
Perennials are a great investment and use of space in your garden. Do you plant any perennials?
I love herbs.
I love to cook with them.
I love to eat them fresh.
I love to smell them.
I love to watch them bloom.
I love to use them in herbal remedies.
I even love to use them in soap.
When it came time to determine where to plant my herbs at the new house, it was a fairly easy decision. Some of them are duplicated in my dream garden so we have a larger harvest.
But most of them are planted outside my front door for easy access when I’m cooking.
We just established this new garden, so it’s still in the beginning stages. Right now it contains mostly perennials: oregano, thyme, lavender, rosemary, sage, chives, echinacea, and comfrey. There are also some annuals: curly parsley, italian parsley, and basil.
In the past we’ve had mints in the herb garden – pepperint, spearmint, and lemon balm. But I’m tired of containing them, so I haven’t planted them yet. I do miss having fresh mint, so I’m going to have to figure out a location for it.
If you’ve never done much cooking with fresh herbs, you’ll be amazed at the difference. Most herbs are very easy to grow and worth some space in your garden. Let me know if you fall in love with them as I have!
Having access to our own fruit is absolutely wonderful. In our orchard we plant not only tree fruit, but berries as well. At the new house, we’re working on establishing our orchard. It’s still in the early stages and looks rough compared to my “dream garden“. But it will get there.
Afterall, the first apple trees we planted this past fall already have fruit.
After experimenting over the years with many different tree sizes, we have decided that the “semi-dwarf” tree is our favorite. It’s big enough to look like a nice tree, but small enough that it is easy to care for and harvest.
In the orchard, we have the following trees: apples, pears, asian pears, cherries, plum, peach, and nectarine. We’ve purchased most of them online from Stark Brothers. A few of the trees didn’t survive the winter, and Stark Brothers replaced them. Overall, we’ve been very happy with the quality of their trees and their customer service.
We plant berries in both the orchard and the garden. The berries include: blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, currants, gooseberries, and elderberries.
All of the trees and berries are planted in a line and like the garden, each line has its own spigot. Each spigot gets a black drip hose and is connected to the timer. Regularly watering fruits and berries really helps them to produce better fruit.
The chickens are allowed the run of the orchard. Not only do they eat all the rotten fruit that falls to the ground, but they really help to keep down the bugs in the garden (e.g. japanese beetles) that really mess with the fruit. This is especially important because we don’t spray our trees with any pesticides.
One of the most important things that we have learned about having a home orchard is to purchase trees that are highly disease resistant. We lost several big fruit trees at the old house one year to fire-blight. It was really sad. Now we only purchase trees that are resistant to fire-blight and cedar apple rust (another disease we’ve had problems with). Having hardy trees makes a big difference and is worth the extra time and investment.
One other thing we plan to do is to start our bee hives again. We had them years ago, but stopped when we started Goat Milk Stuff. I’m hoping to establish a few hives so they can pollinate my fruit trees.
Not to mention that raw honey would be a huge bonus!
There are a lot of vegetable plants that benefit from being supported. For our tomatoes, we generally use tomato cages* that are strengthened with t-posts*. For other vining vegetables and berries, we use cattle panel trellises. To make the trellis, we pound in* four t-posts. Then we get a bunch of people to grab the cattle panel and bend it so that it wants to “spring” open against the t-posts*.
When we first started making these kinds of trellises, we attached* the cattle panel to the t-post (because I was afraid of them hurting somebody if they came loose and sprang back into an unbent shape). But they’ve never gone anwhere, so we’ve gotten a bit lazy and don’t even bother to attach them anymore.
The vegetables that we have grown on these trellises include: pole beans, peas, cucumbers, watermelons (sugar-baby*), and cantaloupe. We do support the watermelons and canteloupe as they grow, but the other plants take care of themselves.
Last year, we tried something new – kiwi*. The kiwi plants survived the winter, so we’ll see if they actually produce any kiwi for us.
I love having the trellises spanning the beds during the summer. It’s always fun to walk under them (or lean on them like Hewitt is doing). Depending on what you grow on them, they can create a good amount of shade for your other plants.
Overall, I love not only the way the trellises help my garden produce better, but I love the way they make the garden look as well!
In the past I’ve had a greenhouse. But to be perfectly honest, I always found it a lot of work and I never enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed gardening the rest of the year. Right now we just have our outside garden beds and we garden in the Spring, Summer, and Fall.
Gardening season for us begins around my birthday (March 17th). That is an easy anchor for me to remember that it is time to get the cold weather seeds in the ground.
These may include any of the following (we change it up slightly from year to year depending on our mood): peas, lettuce, spinach, kale, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, arugula, swiss chard, turnip, parsley, italian parsley, onions, garlic, potatoes.
This takes up about half of our bed space. Around Mother’s Day (my next anchor), I plan to get my first warm weather plants in the ground. These include: tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, zuccini, sunflowers, basil, eggplant, green beans, sweet potatoes.
Once the weather starts to get hot, the cold weather stuff needs to be finished off. So we harvest what is left of them.
Emery is harvesting the peas (which will be shelled and frozen), and tossing the plants to the chickens.
The lettuce plants become bitter when the weather gets hot so they get pulled up and fed to the rabbits and chickens.
Once we have cleaned out the cold weather stuff, we plant more hot weather plants in their place. This primarily includes watermelon and cantaloupe, but also includes green beans and any other random plants we decide we need more of.
These plants will do better being protected from the late sun.
The main point about the garden is that we start seeding in March and keep on planting until about August or September. We are always adding new seeds. Particularly with plants like green beans. As a family, we prefer bush beans over pole beans, so we plant several rows of bush beans every two weeks all summer long. This insures that we have a steady supply throughout the summer.
We also harvest all year long. The asparagus is the first plant up in March or April and we keep on eating until well past the first frost. Depending on your location (how far north you are), you can eat well out of your garden (without a greenhouse) for much of the three seasons.
Eliot Coleman’s book, Four-Season Harvest*, is one of my all time favorite gardening books and will give you a wealth of information and inspire you as to how long a growing season you can actually achieve.
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Once we had all of our garden beds built, we had to decide how to lay out the plants within the beds. We try to spread out our vegetables so we have a little bit of everything everywhere. We also rotate our vegetables and don’t plant them in the same location year after year.
For example, last year we had sweet potatoes in this portion of one bed:
So this year we planted lettuce there:
Where last year there were tomatoes:
This year we also planted lettuce. (But the lettuce will be followed by green beans once the weather gets hot.)
There are two main benefits to rotating your vegetables throughout your garden.
1. Rotating Vegetables Balances Soil Fertility. Different vegetables have different nutrient needs. Tomatoes, for example, require a lot of nitrogen and phosphorus. So if you plant tomatoes or other members of the nightshade family (peppers, eggplant) in the same spot year after year, the soil will not be properly balanced and will be nitrogen deficient.
By following tomatoes with lettuce and then green beans, it helps to balance the soil needs. The beans in particular will actually add nitrogen back into the soil (although they also require a lot of phosphorus).
Rotating vegetables and adding lots of manure are the best ways I know to make sure my soil stays healthy. And healthy soil grows vegetables that are very nutrient dense.
2. Rotating Vegetables Prevents Disease and Pests. Pests and diseases tend to go after plants in the same family. So by spreading out your tomatoes and peppers, it doesn’t give pests a huge feeding ground of their favorite foods. It also helps to keep down the spread of disease.
It doesn’t mean you won’t ever see flea beetles or catepillars, but it can help to make them not a major problem.
To be honest, we don’t give a lot of thought ahead of time to where and how we’re going to plant things. We just naturally remember where we planted vegetables last year and try to move them to a different spot.
One of the main reasons that I have a garden is so that I can have a reliable source of healthy vegetables for my children to eat. I have found that even organic vegetables aren’t necessarily grown in nutrient-rich soil. And if the soil isn’t nutriet-dense, the vegetables grown in that soil won’t be nutrient dense.
Composting and adding the compost back to your garden soil is a great way to maintain soil fertility. But it requires a certain amount of patience and a LARGE amount of organic material – especially if you have as big a garden as we do. For us, the number one best way I have found to maintain my soil fertility is rabbit manure.
We have a lot of goat manure and chicken manure available to us at all times. So why do I use rabbit manure?
Because you don’t need to let rabbit manure age before putting it on your garden.
Chicken manure in particular is very “hot”. That means it is very high in nitrogen. And while your plants need nitrogen, too much “hot” nitrogen will burn your plants and possibly even kill them. So it’s not good to add chicken manure to your garden without composting it for at least 6 months to a year.
Again, I’m too impatient for that.
So instead, I let my rabbits do the composting for me. I feed them lots of clover and other vegetables (which they love).
Then I send one of the children (in this case Emery) to clean out their run. One of the great things about rabbits, is that they tend to poop outside. So we keep their inside with clean shavings and they go outside to poop. That makes it easy to “harvest” the manure without any bedding in it.
This manure can be spread directly into the garden.
Don’t get me wrong, I love snuggling with the rabbits (especially the babies). But the main reason I keep them is for the benefit they provide to my garden!
If there is one chore in the garden that causes me stress, it is weeding. Not the day-to-day weeding, but when the weeds get out of control! In every garden I’ve ever had, at some point throughout the growing season, the weeds got ahead of me. So when it came to my dream garden, I was determined to do whatever it took to minimize the weeds.
One weapon in my weed control arsenal was placing the garden in a location where it would get plenty of traffic. I walk through my garden 4-10 times a day as I go back and forth from the house to the soaproom. During almost every one of those passes, I do a little bit of weeding.
Taking a “small bite” at a time keeps the weeding very manageable.
And then usually once a week or so (depending on how often it is needed), we all go out as a family and weed together for about an hour. With all ten of us working, the weeds don’t stand a chance.
So the weeding in the garden beds are usually well taken care of. But in the past, it has always been the weeds in the aisles that tend to take over my garden.
Over the past twenty years of gardening, I think I have used everything (short of chemical weed killers) to keep the weeds under control in the aisles. I have used plastic, mulch, cardboard, shingles, tarps, wood, bricks, fabric. You name it, I’ve tried it. Eventually, the weeds always win – as you can see in my heavily mulched herb garden at the old house.
With my dream garden, I was determined to win the battle once and for all. Concrete was my solution. All of the aisles within and around the garden are covered in concrete.
As of yet, not a single aisle weed in sight!
I grew up in New Jersey – the “Garden State”. We always watered our garden. But when I moved out to Indiana, I was shocked that few people watered their gardens. My neighbor (an avid gardener) let his garden die the summer we had a drought rather than water it.
So if you don’t water your garden, this isn’t the post for you. But if you do… this is how I handled the water in my dream garden. While we were constructing the beds, we laid down blue water lines to all of the beds.
These come up through the bottom of each bed and are attached to a spigot.
Each spigot in each bed gets a black “drip” hose.
During the summer, the spigots are all left in the “open” position. They are all connected to a central location that has a timer. The timer is set so that the water goes on in all of the garden beds for 30 minutes to one hour (depending on how rainy it has been) every morning.
Sometimes it is rainy and the watering is unnecessary. We try to remember to turn the timer off, but we often forget.
When we plant something new in the garden (such as the sweet potatoes below), we can turn the hose on so it gets some extra water.
We generally water every morning before the sun rises. This allows the water to absorb into the ground and not evaporate away. Then when the sun comes up, it dries out the plants (if they even get wet) to make sure that they don’t get moldy or rot. The bottom of each bed is rock, so the water can drain away from the beds as well.
The blue water lines were all buried in the concrete aisleways. They were not buried below the frost line, so every Fall, we have to drain the lines for the winter so nothing freezes.
This is just one more example of how I simplified my garden maintenance. Small and steady watering helps ensure a bountiful garden harvest!