Quickie: Garden is coming up roses…

….and strawberries!  We had a late start on our gardening season this year at Blueberry Acres, but we’re so excited to report that we have sprung seedlings in all kinds of beans, beets, broccoli, swiss chard, pumpkin, zucchini, watermelon, spices and more.  The slugs have found our strawberries, but that just means I can treat them all to a beer.  Careful use of organic Neem oil is going to be our good friend as well as organic food grade DE, if we can just get the garden to dry off a little bit from all of these rains.  We also moved plants around in an effort to stave off some of the effects of our arch nemesis, the squash bug.  We also worked to eliminate all of our raised beds (except for the strawberries) and have taken everything to a row configuration in an effort to better control weeds.  I’ve heard lots of gardeners extol the virtues of raised beds, but it was a beating for us and we’re excited about this new set up.

What do you have in your garden this year?

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2013 summer growing season is well..sucking.

I think I’m a little bummed about this first year garden here at Blueberry Acres. We did a lot of things wrong this year that frankly, we knew better than to do. We started late..partially because of the ridiculous May snowfall but also because we were just overwhelmed with animal activity. We also didn’t set up our garage greenhouse to start our seedlings. We started some in our kitchen (epic mistake), some in the living room and some went right into the ground as seed. Sheldon didn’t believe planting the seeds directly in the ground would work in our soil, but God proved him wrong and these little boogers grew like mad.

Then (and if you could imagine the song “Flight of the Bumblebee” here for effect) came the invading hoardes. Squash bugs, grasshoppers of all shapes/sizes, slugs, lions, tigers, bears…oh my. It was enough to make an organic gardener want to find some agent orange and blast those *%@(&$ to oblivion. Alas…we did not. We continued to manage our pestilence through DE, Neem Oil, beer (for me and the slugs), chicken buffets (Lana, our head chicken is very good about catching grasshoppers) and good old fashion squooshing.  However, I can’t be naive..we’ve been decimated.  Sheldon said that we were hit this hard once in Texas, but I don’t remember it.  I have been researching/studying/praying for ways to better manage the pests so they don’t turn into plagues for next season, but I think it’s going to take a major overhaul.

For one, I’m going to eliminate all of my raised beds save for one.  While I don’t think this contributed to my pests exactly, I can say that we had a hard time keeping up with the grass/weeds around the beds and I think that contributed to more bugs.  I think also having to spend time on the weeds around the beds meant less time for the beds themselves…ergo, more bugs.  Beyond eliminating the beds, I’m planning on razing the existing garden to the ground outside of the strawberry plants.  Every time I say this, Sheldon laughs as if this is just the insane ramblings of his crazy wife.  Butttt, no.  I plan on burning this thing down to nuthin if I can help it.  Why allow the little buggies somewhere warm and rich to live over the winter?  I plan on burning what I can, and destroying what I can’t.  When I’m done, I hope to be able to expand the width/length of our garden fence to include a garden that is about double in size of what this year’s garden is.  We haven’t had any trouble with bunnies eating our crops, but it’s fair to say that our area is absolutely loaded with bunnies, so we have taken no chances with a bunny and deer detering fence.  From there, I will plan on putting in proper rows covered in weed fabric and hopefully prelaid with soaker hoses prior to the next planting.  We have rain barrels that are cut and almost ready to go for some hose manifolds to help feed the watering needs.  I figure it’s going to take me the better part of the fall/winter to revamp the garden, but I’m convinced it will be worth it.

Well, the turkeys, chickens and dogs are in tucked in.  The cats are on patrol for some wild rabbit (sorry bunny lovers!) and I have a little more paid work to do before I call it a day.  Hope you all have a fantastic evening!

Dear muck boot makers…you are wearing me out.

another one bites the dust....

another one bites the dust….

I would like to direct this open letter of complaint to everyone who has ever made my muck boots.  Your numbers are legion.  In the year-ish that we have been at Blueberry Acres Farm, I have gone through no less than 8 pairs of muck boots before completely wearing them out. That is a “shelf life” of approximately 45 days per pair. I have bought these boots all over the place from the big box store to thrift stores to sporting goods stores. I have even attempted to buy your boots online, but I have found that in the world of one size fits all muck boots, it’s hard to get good information about fit for something that most manufacturers seem to think is an afterthought.  Some homesteaders have pudgy calves.  I am one of those.  Can you please not make boots that feel like they are trying to strangle said calves?  Shoes that are too tight are bad enough, but wrap some rubber around your calves and then start sweating…well, I am pretty sure that is what hell feels like.

I calculate that I have spent between $200-$300 on these boots, which might lead some to ask…why don’t you just buy the expensive boots and be done with it? Alas, at 45 days a pair, I’m a little afraid of dropping that kind of cash on boots just to have them follow the same cycle of wear. I don’t think I’m particularly hard on my boots. I wear them typically no more than 1-3 hours per day on regular days and probably closer to 6 hours on heavy work days. I would imagine that many homesteaders/farmers are the same. I prefer not to work outside in clogs/shoes/flip flops because of snakes..Missouri has more than our fair share of them. As a result, muck boots are my shoe of choice and right now, that choice stinks.

So, dear manufacturers…I’m wondering.  Does anyone actually have a muck boot that will stand the test of time?  I’m not expecting something to last for years…but months would be nice.  Sigh.  Rant over…I need to go find a new pair of muck boots.

Ugh, snakes.

I’m not going to give these little cretins any more time on my blog than necessary, but within the last 2 days, we have had 2 snake visitors.  One confirmed poisonous and one we think was, but weren’t sure.  Before you give me the blah blah blah about how beneficial snakes can be to help cut down on the rodent population, remember that I have a 4-year-old.  WHO DOES NOT BELIEVE WE HAVE SNAKES.  I don’t get it..the kid is smart and has fairly strong logic skills, but I guess because we haven’t ever had a back yard quite like this, she just can’t seem to get it in her head that the dead snakes mommy and daddy keep showing her were live bites waiting to happen.  Sigh.  So, we’re launching the snake offensive to reduce the amount of bites waiting to happen for this hard-headed kid.  Some of it we already know, but some ideas we’ve seen online and we’re going to give them a try:

1) Remove the homes.  This has been a bit of a bone of contention between Sheldon and me.  We have leaves that have accumulated in the flower beds near the house.  Sheldon being the super tree hugger that he is wanted to leave them as is so they could provide nutrients.  I wanted to purchase a leaf blower (because frankly, I have done all of the raking that I think I safely can without being knee-deep in leaves) and blow those suckers to kingdom come.  We had settled on the Sheldon method of leaving sleeping leaves lie until he saw yesterday’s snake on the front porch.  I think Sheldon will be swinging by the store tonight after work to get the leaf blower in operation huff and I’ll puff and blow your house down.

2) Something stinks.  Many of us have heard that mothballs are a great deterrent to snakes because of the smell.  However, they can also be toxic to pets and kids who pop those little white balls in their mouths.  However, I am going to try to embrace the smell without the risk.  I heard about putting moth balls into a sealed container (like an empty milk jug) with small holes so that the smell can escape, but little paws/fingers can’t get the balls.  Plus, this protects them in the rain so they don’t disintegrate.  I hate the smell of moth balls, but I’m counting on snakes hating it more.

3) Let nature help.  Of course there are tons of ways to help naturally dissuade snakes from camping out on your lawn furniture.  For us, we’re going to do a multi-prong approach.  We’ll be getting our guineas soon, and from what I understand, those pea brained little critters are great for controlling ticks and snakes.  Something that we have had plenty of already.  We also have barn cats who don’t seem to be into the snakes, but they are good for controlling the rodent population.  Remove the food and snakes will go elsewhere, right?  We’re also planting beds and planters filled with a mixture of lemongrass, rosemary and marigolds.  It may not be the most gorgeous collection of plants, but who cares.  At least I won’t keep having nightmares about snakes under foot ON MY FRONT PORCH!  Sigh.

4) Let commercial products work.  We’re not crazy about this, but see earlier comment about 4-year-old with stubborn streak.  We’re also laying down some of the commercially available snake away granulated product.  We’re not happy about this at all, but as parents, this is something we just need to do.  We’re also going to lay down more DE to help reduce more of the food supply.

Bottom line is that we want to be as inhospitable as possible for these little slithery boogers.  Would welcome any feedback on what you have done to reduce snakes near your home!

Happy de-snaking.

Keeping our kids (and us) safe out in the sun: Natural/Organic sunscreens

Original post appeared on Modern Homesteaders-go check them out!

Ah, the sun.  It feels so good against the skin of my bare arms.  Until I remember that I haven’t applied sunblock in 6 hours and every little scratch from that chicken wire that I’m working feels like a million bee stings.  Enter in that essential summer tool: sunblock.

infographic_sunscreen_web_small

Sounds easy enough, right?  But, it’s really not.  Many consumers are simply unaware of the toxic soup that they are applying on their skin every single time they open a bottle.   We’re not just talking kinda bad stuff…we’re talking chemicals that have the potential to increase skin tumor risk, disrupt hormone balance, sprays/powders that coat little lungs, and products that don’t work well enough to provide any actual protection from the sun.  If you are interested in reading about some of the products that failed to past muster with the Environmental Working Group, you can see their hall of shame here.

Homesteaders generally seem to be a more informed bunch of folks, but even we struggle to make the right choice in balancing good for us and good for our pocketbook.    In our research, we have found that both the EWG’s recommended list and this resource on The Daily Green offered some alternative options to the super pricey bottles.  You are still going to pay more than you would for the cheapo drug store kind, but the benefits absolutely outweigh the risks in this case.

I’ve also seen some recipes for homemade sunblock, but I will be honest-I’ve been a little overwhelmed by the sheer volume of ingredients to give it a try.  Would love to hear from our readers if you have cracked the sunblock code!  Happy spring!

Spiders and beetles and bugs, oh my! Exploring alternative home pest control options

This was originally posted on Modern Homesteaders-go check them out!

I don’t know about you guys, but I cannot tell a lie.  Once spring rolls around, I start walking with tip toed feet through my house fearful of my first contact with unwanted visitors who come into my house.  While so many things on Blueberry Acres Farm seem idyllic, the reality is that here in Missouri we have winters mild enough and summers warm enough to invite a whole host of creepy crawlies into our lives.  You would think growing up in Florida where the cockroaches fly and were huge would break one of that fear, but alas…no.  I still hate bugs with a passion bordering on phobia.  Or is it a phobia bordering on passion?  Either way, our desire to remain as chemical free as possible has led us to explore some more environmentally friendly options such as:

Dioatomaceous earth (aka DE).  We sprinkle this stuff in many many places.  It’s available online and sometimes in retail stores, but we have found it to be much more cost-effective to buy in bulk.  DE has a lot of other cool applications as well, but obviously if you have something crawling across your kitchen floor, it’s not going to make much sense to sprinkle powder on it, so sometimes you need to spray…

Rubbing Alcohol in various applications.  Get a clean spray bottle and either fill it with alcohol for a quick squirt killer or dilute it by mixing 3/4 water, 1/4 alcohol.  The nice thing is that it shouldn’t leave a residue and apparently bugs don’t build up a resistance to it.  However, since it doesn’t leave a residue, it shouldn’t be relied on for long-term control, just “eek, a bug” moments instead.

Insecticidal Soap Spray  This is another option for spraying but beyond just the “eek bug” moments, this should also leave a residue that will help repel the invading hoards.

Beyond these ideas, Herbal/Floral options abound.  I think every gardener knows the repelling characteristics of Marigolds, but what about using them near your entrances?  Rue is another option for planting near entrances to repel flies and mosquitos.  I’ll be honest-we haven’t considered Rue in the past because it can irritate skin if you rub against it, so this may not be ideal for homes with small humans like ours.   What about those tacky Citronella candles?  Sure, you could use those (I hate em!) but I’d rather plant Citronella/Lemon Grass instead.  It may not pack as much of a punch as those oil infused candles, but I don’t worry about the grass catching my cat’s tail on fire either.  This year I’m also going to experiment with Lavender to see if I can expand it’s moth repelling properties.  My goal will be to make planters of insect repelling plants and decorate my entrances with God’s natural bug dissuaders.

And of course, beyond sprays and sprinkles, some good old-fashioned prevention helps.  Don’t leave sitting water hanging around, especially near high traffic areas.  Mosquitos anyone?  Make sure doors and entrances have a great seal.  Here at Blueberry Acres Farm, Sheldon will be put to work this weekend on that project as we enter into the warmer months.  What are you doing this spring to make sure that the only guests who come into your home are those you have invited?  Would love to hear from you!

A common fig tree…MY heritage breed

I’m a second generation American.  My Dad’s family hails from miscellaneous parts of Italy from the north to the south and while we grew up a very very proud fairly typical American family, there are still times where I find myself thinking and referring to my slightly more homogenized friends as “you white people.”  For those of you who grew up in any kind of culture that wasn’t all wonderbread (black, white, brown, red, polka dots-whatever), I bet you know what I mean.

 

As I have gotten older and the less desirable aspects of this sometimes old fashioned culture have fallen away, I find myself left with the warm and fuzzy memories of a family who still maintained some identity of their roots.  These identities are often tied up with individuals, as with my Great Grandfather.  I was lucky to know him as a teenager although to be fair, our language barrier was a pretty big one.  But to hear stories of him through my Dad now that my Great Grandfather has been gone for a couple of decades, well it’s something special.  I have learned that he was a mason and gardener at Kykuit (the Rockefeller Estate in NY) for pretty much his adult life.  I have learned that the shovel that my Dad now uses was one that my G-Grandfather “liberated” from that same estate when he retired (sorry Rockefellers!) with an explanation to my Dad “Bucky-he got lotsa money.  He no miss this“.  But, I also know that his own garden was important to him.  Enough so that when he came to America almost 100 years ago, he brought with him a fig tree.

 

Now, I don’t think we know how long he (or his family) had it in Italy, but I do know that my Dad has maintained his own cutting from it for at least 20-30 years.  And this spring, we get our cutting of it for Blueberry Acres!  Something that I look forward to planting in our ground with my little Blueberry beside me. A fig tree that has been in my family for at least 90+ years and 2 countries.  I’m having a hard time putting into words how cool I think this is, but with all of this talk of native seeds, heritage breeds and heirloom produce…to be able to grow and enjoy delicious figs from a tree that was hand carried by my Great Grandfather on a ship across the ocean all those years ago.  Well, I think it’s pretty cool that I will be able to pass that kind of heritage breed down to Blueberry one day.  I wonder what heritage our grandchildren will talk about when we are long gone….it’s something to think about on those frustrating homestead days.  We are creating a new heritage for our kids!  Happy Homesteading!