Hello, my name is…

Hi there! If you’ve stumbled upon this blog and don’t know me, let me tell you a little bit about myself:

My name is Ashley and I am a follower of Jesus, wife, stepmom of a teenage boy, science teacher, Disney fan, and we’ve recently started the journey of creating a small acreage farm! I’ve always been a farm girl at heart, and my husband was a city boy but has jumped headfirst into farm life and we are having a blast! As 2 full time teachers, we don’t have the available finances or time to have a large homestead, but we feel like our 1 acre property is perfect for a small-scale homestead life.

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My 2021 Spring Garden Seed Starting Plan

Getting ready to plant a garden can be an overwhelming task, especially when a lot of your seed packets come with instructions to start indoors a certain number of weeks before the last spring frost. I put together a little guide for how I am learning how to handle seed starting, since I’m starting a new growing season with a greenhouse for the first time! I am by no means an expert in the area, but it’s always helpful to get tips and tricks from others when starting out, so I thought I’d share my info!

Round 1 is complete!

1: When to start seeds

When to start your seeds varies depending on seed type. Usually the envelopes that your seeds come in give you starting recommendations, but if for some reason it does not, you can always Google that information! I’ve definitely had to do that myself this year. The general range for seed starting can be between 2-12 weeks before last spring frost. A few types of seeds require starting 2-3 months in advance, such as artichoke and celery seeds! Others suggest that you sow your seeds directly into its permanent location in the ground. Sometimes this is because the plant is susceptible to transplant shock.

2: Choose your seed starting soil

There are lots of pre-made seed starting soil mixes on the market, but they are not all created equal. Each one has a different ratio of materials, but they all have one major thing in common: they are not mainly composed of actual soil! Pretty surprising considering it’s called soil, but it’s actually a combination of other materials that allow the seed the air and moisture necessary to germinate. Germination occurs when the tiny seedling begins to emerge from the seed, and in the course of that process the new plant has no need for the nutrients contained in soil. Within a seed is a structure called an endosperm, and it provides the nourishment necessary for the seedling. As a result, plants cannot be sustained in their seed starting mix for the long-haul. Eventually that endosperm runs out of nutrients and the plant must begin relying on its environment for nutrients. 

Last year I bought a block of expanding seed starting mix because it was easy and cheap, but I was not impressed with the results. To be fair, however, I did probably leave my seedlings in their starting mix far longer than they should have been left, but the more I’ve learned from research and watching others, the more I saw the flaws in that mix. I believe that what I used was 100% coir coconut fiber, and it lacks the variety that an actual mix would provide. This year, I am trying the following recipe:

  • 1-2 part(s) peat moss/coir coconut fiber
  • 1 part perlite 
  • 1 part vermiculite 
  • A little compost if using a soil blocker to help the soil hold together

When I mixed mine up I really based the amounts of coir and composed on look and feel of the soil. You want it to pack together somewhat, especially if you’re making soil blocks, so you have room to play with the proportions.

This mix is a combination of a few recipes I have found online that I modified to fit my needs. The original mix I started with did not include compost, but I feel like a little is necessary to help keep the mix held together with my soil blocker. More on that in a minute.

Everyone has different preferences when it comes to seed starting mix, but the major takeaway from my research on it is that drainage is crucial to the mix. If seeds don’t have light and airy soil, they will have a harder time germinating.

3. What to plant your seeds in

If you go to the store and buy a seed starting kit, you’re probably going to find yourself buying a plastic container of little cells with a lid. This can be a fantastic place to start, but there are other options out there besides the (usually overpriced) premade options. 

There are also many size options with the plastic cells. Larger seedlings may need larger cells to germinate and harden off. If you regularly buy the small cells of flowers at nurseries and garden departments, save those cells and reuse them!

The issue that can arise with using plastic cells for seed starting is that oftentimes those cells get damaged as you remove the seedlings and they become single-use. This causes you to have to buy new every year or so, as well as adding to the unfortunate amount of plastic in our landfills. I’m not anti-plastic by any means – my garden is currently covered in plastic! – but I do like to reduce my use of it when it is convenient. 

Another option that is also more ecofriendly, if you’re looking for that, is using biodegradable peat moss cups. I love a good peat moss cup because you can just stick the whole thing in the ground when it comes time to plant and it will decompose as the seedling grows. However, if you want to do this, there are a few things to consider from my experience. 

  1. Don’t buy cheap. I found a big pack of them on Amazon last spring for really cheap and they were not good quality cups. While they may decompose eventually, they do not do so fast. They also would not drain water AT ALL. I had to punch holes in the bottoms to get the soil to drain…definitely not what you want with delicate little seedlings trying to survive. 
  2. If you get a good brand, the decomposition process does happen quickly depending on how much you water. I’ve gone to pick up a pot and a piece of it break off in my hand. This is a sign of a good brand cup, but they also require more delicate handling. 

The newest option I’ve been introduced to this past year, and the option I am trying out, is using a soil blocker. A soil blocker is basically a soil mold that will create little cubes of your soil mix with a small indentation in the top for your seed to be placed in. I bought mine off Amazon, but I’m sure you can find them in garden supply stores as well. Mandi over at Wild Oak Farms uses a soil blocker and was who I got the idea from, and she doesn’t have any issues with the mold not holding its shape. This is why I am adding compost to my mix – I’m afraid the coir, vermiculite, and perlite won’t hold together well on their own.

I started my first round of seed starting this past weekend and used my soil blocker for the first time. The biggest thing I saw is that packing your soil into the cells tightly is the key to a good little block of soil. If I shoveled the cells full of soil first and then packed it down, I had soil blocks that fell apart easily. If I went in stages and added a little soil, packed down, then added more, packed, etc., I was able to get a much better block of soil. Because of my large amount of vermiculite and perlite, I’m going to be very careful about how I water my seedlings. That much aeration is great for those little seeds but not so great for keeping a mold together!

The reason I love the idea of soil blocking is that you don’t have to worry about having enough pots or cells, you aren’t wasting any plastic, there’s no worry over whether your soil is draining, and the only supplies you have to replenish each year is the soil. I also bought a stack of plastic trays for the soil blocks to sit in so they are easier to transport and if they do break down, they will still be contained. 

4. How to care for seedlings

I think one of the most intimidating aspects of indoor seed starting for me is what to do once the seeds have germinated. You’ve got these tiny, delicate little plants that you now have to keep alive. Again, I am no expert in this field, but from what I’ve researched there are 3 major factors to keep in mind when caring for seedlings:

  • Water 

Water your seedlings gingerly. Don’t use a watering can that you normally water full-blown trees with or you may beat the poor things into the soil. Sometimes using a water hose nozzle with a mist setting is a great way to water delicate seedlings. Some seedlings are strong enough to handle it, but I killed several seedlings last spring with my watering technique. Even the mist setting on my hose pummeled them into the dirt. In my defense, they were poppy seeds and you really should only direct-sow poppies, but I digress. 

  • Temperature 

This is the one that concerns me the most personally. Gardeningknowhow.com says the temperature needs to be no higher than 80 and now lower than 50 while seeds are germinating. If you’re starting your seeds inside your home, that’s no big deal. If you are starting in a greenhouse like I am, it requires some planning and attentiveness unless you’ve got a climate controlled greenhouse. The better insulated your greenhouse is, the less of a concern this is for your seedlings. 

  • Sunlight

Lots of light is vital for healthy seedlings. Light requirements for germination vary depending upon the type of seed, but once those little plants start growing they need plenty of light to get going. Grow lights are great options for indoor seed starting, winter seed starting, etc. We initially believed that our greenhouse would have adequate sunlight, but we think that at this point in the year a grow light will be a lot of help.

5. What does it mean to “harden off” your seedlings?

Hardening off seedlings is really just another term for letting your seedlings get acclimated to the outside environment. Burpee has a great article on how to harden off your seedlings once it’s time to move everyone out to their respective garden spaces (https://www.burpee.com/gardenadvicecenter/areas-of-interest/seed-starting/hardening-off-your-seedlings/article10355.html). The basic idea is to gradually introduce the plants to the outside environment by bringing them out for a short period of time and slowly adding more outdoor time, sometimes hour by hour, each day until they are outside 24/7. Be mindful of their needs for water during this time, because whether they were in a greenhouse or a sunny spot in your house they are not getting 100% unfiltered sunlight and can be susceptible to sunburn and dehydration. It’s a lot like us – if we spend the whole day in the sun the first hot day after months of cold, gloomy weather, we will burn and be more prone to dehydration because our bodies are not yet acclimated to the climate change that occurred as the seasons shifted. 

So there it is! My not-so-professional guide to seed starting. I hope it was helpful to someone! Feel free to ask me anything or make suggestions. Gardening is a lifelong learning process, and I personally love to learn more about it!

Adding Ducks to Your Homestead

Flora is my little snuggler

While chickens were our gateway into this homesteading life, ducks have had my heart since I could walk basically. So naturally we’ve ended up with them on our little farm. We’ve got some friends that made a deal with us – if they bought us ducks, we’d be their duck egg suppliers. Lately I’ve tried to keep our additions as useful as possible-if it doesn’t have a purpose we probably shouldn’t have it. Having ducks just because they’re adorable and I love them just didn’t seem like a good enough reason, so once we were given this deal it was EASY to say yes! So far we’re still learning long-term duck ownership life, but I thought I’d share what we’ve learned at this point in case anyone was interested or is thinking about adding ducks to their life. There’s definitely pros and cons to these sweet little things.

Ducks are friendly

Not great gardening helpers but they sure do make the job cuter

Ducks imprint. Chickens do not. If you read the Twilight series at some point in your life then you need to forget everything you think you know about imprinting (ew). In the real world (the one without creepy werewolves and vampires) imprinting is simply the process of something coming to see another thing as it’s parent. When you get baby chicks it’s important that you socialize them so that they’re friendly and enjoy a pet here and there. But when you spend time with your ducklings you aren’t just getting a friendlier bird, you’re getting a literal fuzzy shadow that will follow you everywhere and need your love as often as you’re willing to give it. These babies will cry for me when I leave them and cuddle with me for hours if I let them. If you aren’t a fan of poultry cuddles, however, having several ducks and giving them less of your time will cause them to imprint on one another only and be just as content. I personally love the snuggles, though.

Ducks are messy.

Birds poop. A lot. If you have chickens then you already know this. So think of chickens and add larger bodies and a lot of water to the mix. It’s not pretty, y’all. Personally they’re so cute it just makes me feel okay with the constant smelly mess in their brooder, but it’s not for everyone. My personal tip here is to use pine shavings and make it a good couple inches in depth in the brooder so it soaks up as much water as possible. When it mixes with their food and the heat from your brooder lamp it will be nasty…but just remember how sweet they are when they cuddle up in your lap and fall asleep and you’ll push through.

While I wish someone would impart some wisdom on keeping their brooder less soggy, there is some good wisdom out there in helping your run stay tidier with ducks. We will be building a little “deck” around our ducks’ water pool to give them a place to preen and dry off before getting out into the run, which should cut down on the mud situation quite a bit. More on that in the coming months 🙃. 

Ducks don’t need a pond, but do need more water than chickens.

They’re still working on that waterproofing

Ducks love to swim, but don’t have to have a large body of water for swimming if you don’t have that available. The important thing is that you have water deep enough for them to submerge their whole bill so they can clear their airways. A water trough of some kind is a must as well because they do love to swim and while chickens take dust baths, ducks take baths in water.

We also have purchased a duck waterer so that they’ll have fresh, clean(er) water to drink from aside from their pool. The more water opportunities for ducks, the better.

Such a cool waterer. Also, see all that food and who knows what else splattered on the walls? Messy.

Duck eggs vs. chicken eggs

Our ducks are still very young so we haven’t had duck eggs on the premises yet, but from what I understand you either love them or hate them. As I said before, a friend’s love for duck eggs brought about their existence on our homestead, but I’ve also had a friend that tried duck eggs and said they were gross. Even if you aren’t a fan of them, I’ve heard their richness makes them excellent baking eggs since their yolks are larger! You still use the same number of eggs in your recipes, but you get a richer flavor as well as other benefits based on what you’re baking. I’m looking forward to seeing how they can improve our recipes at home. 

Ducks also seem to be consistent layers as well and you may actually get more duck eggs than chicken eggs in the colder months. 

Ducks have a specific diet.

When adding ducks to your flock it’s important to change your feed to accommodate for their dietary needs. Ducks need niacin in their diets for proper growth and development, and regular chicken feed doesn’t contain it. You either need to add some to it (brewer’s yeast is a good source) or begin purchasing feed specific to a mixed flock. Just make sure niacin is in the ingredients list.

Ducks also need a little more attention given to their snacks than chickens. Any bird’s beak is created for a specific diet. Chickens have sharp beaks that make it easy for them to tear their food into bite sized pieces. Ducks, however, have bills designed to sift through water and mud and eat smaller things. Because of this, you unfortunately can’t just throw a whole zucchini out in the run for your flock to pick apart anymore. Ducks need their snacks cut into bite-sized pieces so that they don’t choke. The only exception that I know of to this is watermelon since it’s so soft.

Overall, I believe that ducks are a fantastic addition to any homestead or farm. They’re so sweet and friendly, and they give back with their eggs! While ducks weren’t in our original plan when we decided to start the farm life, I’m pretty certain that I’ll always have a flock of both chickens and ducks.

Pests in the Garden

I tend to get lulled into a false sense of security when my plants germinate and start maturing. They sprouted, they’re growing, what could go wrong? A lot. A lot could go wrong. 

Squash bugs are the WORST

This is by no means an exhaustive list of garden irritants and how to deal with them, but this is what we experienced this year and how we handled it or how we plan on handling it next year.

The Cucumber Beetle.

Cucumber beetle on my pumpkins. That white stuff is diatomaceous earth (more on that later).

These tiny guys really don’t look like they can do much damage, but after doing some research for this post I realized they were possibly the culprit behind the cucumber plants I lost very suddenly through the summer. I always thought the issue with these beetles was that they just ate the leaves of your plant, but they actually do much more damage than just put holes in your leaves. Cucumber beetles are carriers for bacterial wilt, so when they munch on your plants they will pass that bacterial infection to your plant. This infection works rapidly and causes the entire plant to wilt and die. 

I kept losing cucumber plants this year and couldn’t figure out why – one day I’d come out to harvest and it looked like all the life had been drained from the plant. I still don’t know if these beetles were the culprit, but the fact that it seemed to happen overnight makes me think they were. They also seemed to be infested with squash bug nymphs too, though, so who knows what did it.

They’ve got either polka dots OR stripes.

Your cucumber plants aren’t the only plants susceptible to these pests. They also are drawn to squash and melons. I ran one off of my bush green beans the other day, though, so I wouldn’t trust that list only. 

The Squash Bug

The squash bug is a true bug, also known as a leaf footed bug, and is often mistaken for a stink bug. If you were to hold them up side by side you’d notice that a mature squash bug has a more elongated body and has some other parkings on its sides than a stink bug. 

If you find one squash bug on your plant, it doesn’t mean you’re doomed. It is however a good warning sign that you need to go ahead and start treating for them because where there’s one, there will be many. Large numbers of squash bugs are what will kill your plants. Like cucumber beetles, the visual damage is a wilted plant. The cause of the wilt is not the same, though. Squash bugs will literally drain plants dry of their sap, so if it looks like the life was sucked out of your plant after a squash bug infestation, it’s because the life WAS literally sucked right out of it. This is why one or two of these bugs aren’t very threatening – they may cause you to lose a few leaves, but the plant as a whole cannot be wiped out by one bug (unless it’s a seedling). Many bugs, however, equal many little mouthparts sucking the sap out of your plant and can quickly take whole plants down, especially during the heat of the summer when evaporation is working against you to begin with. 

Identifying squash bugs is super fun (NOT) because even if you get past the similarities between them and stink bugs, your next hurdle is figuring out what they look like throughout their entire lifecycle! From what I found online, they have about 6 different stages from egg to adult. Here are the forms I’ve gotten a chance to snap pictures of:

Squash bugs, as I’m sure you’ve figured out by now, are most commonly found on squash plants (shocker). I’m starting to learn that they’ll eat almost anything, though. We’ve dealt with them on our zucchini, watermelon, and pumpkins the most, but we’ve also had to run them off of tomatoes and pepper plants later this summer. I also just discovered that the little bumps showing up all over my okra pods are squash bug scars. 

Totally safe to eat as long as you’re fine with eating after a bug (You do cook it, after all).

The Squash Vine Borer

Possible vine borer damage

I still haven’t found one of these guys in person, but I know they’re there. Vine borers are look like a cross between a wasp and a moth in their adult stage, but it’s the larval stage that kills the plant. Vine borers will lay their eggs on the plant and when they hatch the worm chews its way into the plant and eats it from the inside out. You’ll identify vine borers from their damage more than their actual physical presence. Here’s a picture of what I can only assume is vine borer damage to one of my pumpkins. 

When you see a lot of gummy crud that looks like chewed up plant material around the hole in your plant’s stem, you’ve got vine borers. The issue with vine borers, other than the chewing up the plant part, is that most squash plants have hollow stems. So getting inside one of these plants opens up passageways to the entire plant – a highway of food if you will. For more than one reason it’s important to cut your leaves off at the base of the plant so that it gives less of an opportunity for vine borers, rot, or bacteria to enter the plant. Keeping vegetation off the dirt as much as possible will do the trick too. We’re planning on staking our zucchinis next year because too much contact with the ground makes for lots of opportunities for mildew, pests, and disease. 

Some gardeners are able to do a little plant surgery and cut the worms out, but I’ve never actually found the culprit when I try this. My last attempt was with the pumpkin pictured above and I couldn’t dig out any worms, so I just brought some fresh dirt over and packed the “wound” with it and for the moment the plant seems to be doing fine. That is also the next step if you are able to dig the worm out of the stem. 

If you’re struggling hardcore with vine borers, here’s a good resource: https://www.growjourney.com/prevent-stop-squash-vine-borers/#.X1E8wHlKjIU

How to prepare before there’s a problem: 

I’ve always heard that you should plant marigolds in your garden to help with pests, and that sunflowers are a good addition to the garden. But do you know WHY? I never did until this year. The fancy term for it is called trap cropping.

Trap cropping is adding specific plants to your garden either nearby, on the periphery, or right in the middle of your rows that common pests actually like better than the crops you planted for yourself! 

Marigolds and sunflowers are both trap crops, along with many more! Marigolds attract nematodes, slugs, and thrips away from your plants, and sunflowers draw in the stink bugs, bugs, and others. 

Here’s a few other trap crops I’ve discovered:

Apparently blue hubbard squash are great trap crops for cucumber beetles and squash bugs. Definitely adding a plant or two to my garden next year! Bakers Creek Heirloom seeds has them as well as a miniature version. Regular blue Hubbard squash apparently produce massive fruit – like 12+ pound squash! 

Nasturtium attracts vine borers and cucumber beetles, and produce beautiful, edible flowers! I had already ordered a pack of these seeds for next year, but now I’m even more excited to grow them. 

Dill will deter hornworms from your tomatoes, which are nasty green worms that will demolish your tomato crop. Dill will also attract swallowtail butterflies like milkweed attracts monarchs and it’s wonderful!! I watched so many swallowtail cats this year…and saved some from most certain chicken-doom. 

Buckwheat attracts good insects, like pollinators, as well as acting as a trap crop for many pests. If you’ve got chickens it’s also a healthy crop to feed them!

This website has a longer list of trap crops, and where I found my information on the ones I touched on: 

Sometimes the pests aren’t so tiny and you’ve got deer or rabbits taking out your garden. Planting wormwood will deter larger pests like deer and rabbits. Wormwood is also known as absinthe, and the seeds can’t be shipped to some states because it’s the very same plant that is used to make the alcoholic drink absinthe. It’s perfectly fine to grow for pest deterrents, however. Parts of this plant can be ingested but as a whole wormwood is toxic. It is said that in small amounts the plant has some healing properties such as pain relievers and helping GI issues. 

Organic pesticides 

Neem oil kills all soft-bodied insects. It comes from a tree, so it’s completely organic! If you spray it on immature insects, it stops them from being able to continue their maturation, which also means they won’t reproduce. You’re playing the long game, but still gets the job done. It is also a fungicide and bactericide, so things like powdery mildew can be treated with Neem. 

Only use neem oil in the evenings, though, or you’ll kill pollinators since bees and butterflies are also soft-bodied insects. 

BT stands for bacillus thuringiensis and is a common soil bacteria that will knock out your worm problem. It is harmless to humans but infects and kills things like hornworms and vine borer larvae. 

Diatomaceous earth is also an organic method of pest control. It’s made of ground up diatoms, which are little microscopic algae that produce a silica shell for protection. Once they die, the silica shell is all that remains and they can be collected and ground to create this abrasive powder. DE has alot of uses, including being used as a dewormer for chickens, but in the garden it serves to deter and/or kill pests with softer bodies. Glass is mostly made of silica, so think about how a layer of broken glass on the ground around your porch would deter someone from trying to get to your front door. (Don’t try that though…I know coronavirus is making us desperate to avoid other people but that’s too far.) 

I sprinkled DE all over my pumpkin patch in hopes that it will deter squash borers and bugs…

And then sometimes you find yourself with a pest that just won’t quit, and although it isn’t the organic way to go, I will always fall back on using Seven to get rid of pests if the other methods don’t work. It isn’t the popular thing to do, but I personally wash my produce before I eat it anyway, and if your crop still has a ways to go before harvest time it’s got a lot of rain and watering to wash off the Seven before it lands on your table. 

Growing Melons Vertically

In general, we started our garden this spring not knowing what the heck we were doing. There was a good stretch of my childhood (early elementary – middle school maybe?) where our family had a good sized little garden. I remember summers full of fresh, delicious green beans (My mom will always be the only person that makes green beans perfectly on the stove, I’ll fight you over it), corn, and okra. We never had much luck with tomatoes, but my grandfather always shared his. We also spend hours upon hours shucking corn, picking beans, breaking beans…I learned to love these chores (I remember getting real bored of picking beans though) and now they’re basically my therapy. So I was ready to go when it came to most of the vegetables we planted. As a side note, I think tomato success skips a generation because we’re still in shock at how much our tomato vines produced. We trellised them as well, but that’s a topic for another day. 

What we did not ever grow, however, was watermelons. I’ll basically enjoy any fruit you put in front of me, so I was all for growing some melons. We decided on 6 mounds of melon plants and a couple mounds of cantaloupe. 

In case you didn’t know this, 6 mounds of melon plants is A LOT OF MELONS. Like a tree service is coming to chip some branches from a fungus-ridden Juniper tree and asked that their payment include a watermelon. 

He saw those vines and thought, “I have a chance.”

Anyway, we planted all these seeds and then had 8 mounds of melon plants growing like mad within a couple months. If you know us, you know that we’re obsessed with Disney (PIXIE DUSTED Farmhouse…). We love Living with the Land in EPCOT, and Joel wanted to do some vertical gardening similar to what is done in their greenhouse. We’d talked about how next spring we would grow our melons vertically and he was already doing his research in preparation. 

Then one day we walked outside and really looked at our melon patch. It was attempting to overtake the entire right side of the yard. The tilled patch itself was covered in vines and finding the little baby melons growing was the equivalent of an Easter egg hunt. Something had to change, because if we left it this way the trees to the right and the main garden to the left would soon have a layer of melon vine over it. So VERY late in the game we decided to add a trellis. 

Let me reiterate how late in the game we were…there was a melon on the vine that was probably 10lbs at this point. 

This was fun to untangle and then hoist up on the panel. She ended up weighing in at 22lbs when we picked her.

So Joel did the research and landed on using cattle panels supported by T-posts. We drove our posts in on either side and added one in the middle for extra support per Caedon’s suggestion. He has good ideas sometimes ;). I don’t think using anything less supportive than fencing that thick would be a good idea, watermelons can grow to be quite heavy. Multiply that by how many plants you’ve got and that could equal a lot of weight on your trellis. It needs to be fencing strong enough to hold a lot of fruits maturing at the same time.

This year we’ve got 2 panels stacked on top of each other, but we’re already making plans to amend the current setup. Watermelon vines do not trellis naturally, so they won’t climb the panels. You have to weave the vines as they grow, which was GREAT fun when the vines are mature and like 6ft long. I think 1 ½ panels is a reasonable height to avoid having to stand on a ladder to weave vines…or pick melons! They really don’t grow past that anyway from what I’m seeing. 

I wish we’d been able to trellis our cantaloupe as well, but the way the mounds were arranged didn’t allow for that. We did, however, see the reasons why trellised melons do better than those left on the ground. We’ve already had to donate a couple cantaloupes to the chickens because they’re cracking open prematurely due to sitting on moist soil.

Another interesting fact is that melons will split open if they receive a lot of rain at one time because the fruit grows faster than its skin. 

Trellised vines also help the plant avoid disease. Too much moisture can cause so many problems in the plant world. Having vines growing off the ground allows them to get plenty of airflow and much less possibility for bacteria and viruses to enter the plant from the dirt. 

It’s pretty amazing how well the melons are held by their vine despite gravity. We don’t test the vine’s strength, though, because we don’t want to damage our plants. As the fruits develop, we add a little hammock for them using some leftover bird netting from our berry bushes. We tie each end to the wire of the cattle panels and it keeps the melons secure as they grow. Our 22 pounder had no problems hanging by the netting until we picked it.

If you plan on growing melons from year to year, I would absolutely suggest trellising. Vertically grown melons take up much less space since they aren’t growing out with intent of world domination. Keeping the vines and fruit off the ground makes them healthier, because the plant and fruits are not as prone to rot and disease due to excess moisture. You also save yourself effort in the long run because finding your ripe melons isn’t an Easter egg hunt anymore! I will say, though, that those melons can still sneak up on you. We’ll walk out and find a big ole fruit needing to be hammocked that we hadn’t seen for weeks.

My arms were shaking…

And to address our 22lb melon, it tasted delicious. It was a Clay County yellow meat watermelon, which was a brand new variety to me – did you know watermelon with yellow insides existed?! We also didn’t mark which seeds went into which mounds, so every melon is a surprise around here: yellow or red? If you’re wondering how they compare, the yellow ones seem to have a milder flavor, but still just as sweet and delicious!

God is always working

My friend told me a story the other day about her little boy. She picked him up around noon from preschool on a half day and was going to take him to Olive Garden for lunch. She had explained to him that morning what was happening that afternoon, but when she arrived he was crying. His teacher told her that he was upset that he had not had a lunch to eat that day! Of course she reminded him that he was going somewhere yummy and later I was sent a picture of him holding a breadstick with pure joy in his face. As soon as she told me this story I heard God whisper, “There’s a lesson in this.”

How many times do we find ourselves in less-than-ideal circumstances and we fall apart? We dig ourselves into holes of despair and wonder why God is letting us go through this. What does God say about our futures, though?

God doesn’t promise an easy life, but He does promise good for those who love Him. So our new motto has become, “There are breadsticks in our future.” Did you ever forget your lunch and have to watch everyone else eat in school? So sad. For little guys, devastating even. This little guy thought that was his story for that day. But he had those warm, glorious Olive Garden breadsticks waiting on him – not some packed lunch that he has every day! We may sometimes feel like we’re stuck in situations that seem miserable and there’s nothing we can do about it. But we have no idea what God has just around the corner.

Someday the dog and chickens will all have matching sweaters

Maybe not. But wouldn’t it be hilarious?

If you haven’t experienced it yet, search “chickens in pants” on YouTube and settle in for internet GOLD.

If you’re not one of those “Christmas starts November 1st” kind of people, this weather isn’t doing much for your argument because it is FRIGID today. I will say that Joel turned Christmas music on this afternoon and I yelled “I’m not ready” from the other room repeatedly until he switched it so something else, but I doubt that attitude will last long.

As long as those Arctic-caliber bursts of wind weren’t blowing, it was a wonderful afternoon to stroll through the yard.

The girls (Maybe? A couple are starting to look like roosters) learned a new trick today and I came out to find them all perched and looking adorable! About another week and a half and they’ll be ready for wandering the yard on their own. For now they’re in the 2-week process of being cooped up (all those chicken related phrases we use daily got real for me real fast) so they learn that the coop is their home and they should really go back in there at night without making me chase them down and put them in, squawking in frustration all the while.

Looking in from the coop window. Look at those 2 up there being all cute

I’ve been working hard at making sure Dobby gets a little walk through the yard every day that hasn’t been soggy so he feels more loved. He kind of lost his mind when the chickens arrived and vindictively started peeing on things, digging through trash cans, and generally causing Joel to rethink his life choices the day he was asked if he wanted him. Since it was cold we decided to break out the sweater for him since he’s a diva.

What a stylish little hunk
This is his potato pose

Stay warm this weekend!

The garage is a chicken free zone…finally

Well as of Tuesday. I was very happy to see this day arrive.

It’s really the little things in life that make you happy when you have animals. This feeder and waterer has probably been my favorite purchases in the last month because I haven’t had to waste food or worry about the chickens having clean water. They’re suspended from the ceiling and no ones poop on either of them…*yet*.

First impressions. Took them a few minutes to realize the feeders weren’t frightening pendulums of death and actually lovely clean water and feed.

Disney withdrawals are real.

We’re hardcore Disney lovers at our house. We’ve taken a Disney break this year because of moving and in anticipation (aka money saving) of a trip to Disneyland in the near future. As a result, we are constantly drooling over someone else’s Disney vacations and craving all the foods we love there. We periodically make Disney-inspired foods, but Joel recently found Disney’s “secret” recipe for their Mickey waffles…

Doesn’t seem very secret, but we didn’t know about it until now. We found it on Amazon, and oh my goodness is it GOOD. It was super easy to mix up and the waffles were perfectly dense and sweet.

All the instructions are on the container, the only thing to understand going in is that it gives you the measurements to only make 2 waffles, so you’ve got to adjust based on how many you plan on eating.

Happy waffle-making!

The (Chicken) Road So Far…

(Those who’ve watched Supernatural will appreciate that reference)

Growing up I had a lot of ducks – every summer we’d get little fluffy baby ducks and they were usually only a day or so old, so they’d imprint.  If you’ve ever seen videos of little chicks or ducklings following people around like they are their momma, that’s imprinting, so wherever I’d go, they would follow. With gusto, might I add. So much so that at times my tiny self would not realize it before they were under my feet. That’s how my first pet duck met his untimely end, and I was so small at the time I hadn’t learned yet to watch very closely where I was going. Anyway, it was always such a joy to turn around and see those little puff balls trailing behind. 

Look at those cute little nuggets

So we got our chickens at the end of September and they were about a week old. Since my past was full of ducks chasing me around, this is the life I was hoping for with the chicks. However, the process of imprinting that these little guys go through has a tiny window of opportunity…and I missed it. They’re about 5 weeks old now and I still feel personally offended when I walk down the hill in our yard and they just ignore me completely. So that’s been a real bummer. We’ve made progress and they do let me pick them up (they protest but at least they let me catch them) and sometimes they let me pet them. But there are a lot of things I’m learning about chickens, and here are my thoughts so far…

  1. It really seems like they’ve all got Dory syndrome. If they were friendly last night, this morning all memory of who I am has escaped them and they run like I might be there to end their life. 
  2. They develop the ability to fly VERY quickly. We were like 3 weeks in and those little suckers could already fly out of their brooder (more on that brooder in another post). 
  3. Also about flying – they may be able to fly, but their expertise in flying has yet to develop. Imagine a drunken bird trying to fly…and you’ve got a good idea of a typical afternoon in our backyard when they get to stretch their wings while I replace their bedding. All of a sudden it’s like someone has whispered chaos into their brains and they just take off running, jumping and flapping with reckless abandon. They hop into the air, leap-frog over each other, and squawk like lunatics. 
  4. They have no sense of spatial awareness. One minute they’re standing next to each other like civilized creatures and the next they’re stepping on the other’s back or running them over like they’re invisible. This very obviously offends the one they’ve just assaulted, and it’ll squawk in irritation. 
  5. Figuring out if you’ve got hens or roosters is a long, confusing game. There is a way to sex chicks, but it’s not safe for the chicks to try it unless you’re trained to do so. So since we got ours from a friend, we are still waiting to figure out what we’ve got. Thankfully if we end up with a rooster we’re able to bring it back in exchange for one of her hens (get chased by a rooster once and you’ll know why we refuse to have anything but hens). 

So there it is – the road so far in life with chickens. We are a week out from being able to move them out of the garage brooder and into their coop, and I am PUMPED, y’all. They’re so cramped in that brooder, but it was also in the 30’s last night, so I really don’t want chicksicles by moving them out too early. At 6 weeks chickens normally have all their big girl feathers, so they can thermoregulate all my themselves, and we are in the midst of week 5! 

A month old is such an awkward stage

Stay tuned for pictures of how we set up our brooder and how my wonderful husband built our waterer for them after countless days of pine shaving filled water bowls, soaked shavings, and the general uneasiness of wondering how long ago they knocked it over when I discover them waterless after work.