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!

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!

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!

I think my family is trying to murder me…

…through sleep deprivation.

 

Sorry for the lack of posts/responses lately folks.  Between Sheldon’s snoring, Blueberry’s wandering and everyone’s nighttime noisiness, Blueberry Acres Farm has been far from bucolic over the last week.  It hasn’t been all zombie-like movements…We have successfully planted 12 new trees (go environment!), ordered what feels like truck loads more (I have no freaking idea where these new trees are going), gotten in another order of seeds, gotten in bedding plants and almost broke my amazingly agile and healthy 70 year old Dad as he helped us plant the latest batch of trees in the driving/cold rain.

This weekend will bring us more dog training, more garden planting, probably more trees, and apparently the building of a turkey coop THAT I DO NOT HAVE TIME TO BUILD BEFORE THE TURKEYS GET HERE IN 3 WEEKS.

I have lots more to say but no time to say it right now.  Calgon take me away!  🙂

 

Arbor Day Foundation: More than just cheesy commercials

Those of us of a certain age all remember the Trees are Terrific commercials that Arbor Day put out a couple of decades ago.  While the commercials were over the top patronizing, the message was still solid…get out there and plant some trees people.  Enter in Arbor Day Foundation 2013.  They are still alive and kicking without the cheesy animated cardinal.  Their website http://www.arborday.org has a wealth of information about planting in your zone, educational programs for kids as well as opportunities to help your city/town replenish your tree population through programs like Tree City USA.

pic courtesy of arborday.org

pic courtesy of arborday.org

They also have what looks like a beautiful lodge for the ULTIMATE tree hugger vacation, Lied Lodge.  While we have not been there, I think it would be a very easy sell for me to get Sheldon to visit their lodge/tree farm while I get some rubs in the spa:

Barn at the lodge: pic courtesy of Lied Lodge

Barn at the lodge: pic courtesy of Lied Lodge

But, I’m not here to talk about scamming my way into a spa day (sigh, heavenly!)…I’m here to talk about scoring some bargain trees.  You can do this a few different ways like through getting a membership for ten itty bitty dollars, you get ten free trees that you get to select from a listing of either ten of the same, or just ten pretty flowering trees that are well suited for your zone like the Golden Raintree:

pic courtesy of forestry.about.com

pic courtesy of forestry.about.com

Or, if you are feeling more generous, you can either opt for no trees at all…or you can select that your ten free trees go into a Nat’l Forest.  In addition to the gift with membership purchase, you can also just purchase trees outright from their nursery, which we did (and I will blog on when I’m not so sore from the planting.) The only thing I wasn’t crazy about was the idea of ordering fruit trees through them without being able to verify from whence they came….ie…GMO?  It looks like some of their fruit trees are heirloom varieties but I can’t seem to find information on the others.  However, I personally believe there is much that you can do to “rehabilitate” certain plants/trees if you take a long view approach.  That is-more than likely, these trees will take at least a few years to reach fruit bearing stage.  As a result, if perhaps they grew up initially in a “broken-home” full of chemicals from parents with questionable heritage, they can still be loved, nurtured and eventually grown as organic as possible.   And while you can’t love the GMO out of a plant, I do think that you can get pretty close to what God intended with some TLC.  Bottom line is that while I can’t verify if these trees are all heirloom, non-GMO, organic, etc etc…I still believe it is a really good thing for the environment planting more trees that are good for your zone.

Sigh, ok…gotta go get dressed for a morning of boring errands in the city.  Been up waaaay too long today.  Curse you time change!  Happy planting!

Check out some great new posts every Monday at the Homestead Barn Hop!  http://newlifeonahomestead.com

Check out some great new posts every Monday at the Homestead Barn Hop!
http://newlifeonahomestead.com

 

 

Slow Foods Ark of Taste: Is real food becoming extinct?

For those of us who are actively making a conscious effort to eat food closer to how God originally created it, I think the slow food movement is less of a movement and just more of a way of life.  But what is the slow food movement you cheesie pouf eating readers may ask?  Well, in a very small nutshell, it’s a movement that was started to help consumers realize just how much genetically modified, engineered and just plain wrong food hits their plates every day.  What I really like about the ideas that they espouse is the concept that the best foods shouldn’t be reserved for the rich…that is, those people who can afford to go to Whole Foods and Sprouts every day picking up the best organic produce that the market has to offer.  No.  Slow food is about making this food available at all income levels in every store so that we all are getting the best of God’s bounty-not just what Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta want us to have.

badge courtesy of slow food usa

badge courtesy of slow food usa

To that end, enter in their US Ark of Taste.  The Ark of Taste is a listing of 200 foods who are in danger of becoming extinct.  Many of these are regional specialties, but I think it’s a national imperative that we stop and think about what we are putting on our plates.  When is the last time you stopped and thought about the variety of produce you were putting into your cart at your local mega mart?  For some of us, probably not too often.  But, there are plenty of little changes even the non-homesteader can do in the grocery store.  Instead of reaching for that same bag of brown potatoes, try the reds, golds or better yet, the purple potatoes!  See those long white radishes next to the round red ones?  Try those instead!  Armenian cucumbers instead of “regular” cucumbers?  Yes please!  Another great way to ensure biodiversity and the inherent values behind the Slow Food movement is to frequent roadside stands and/or farmers markets.  Yes, some of the produce available at these events is going to be GMO and loaded with chemicals, but in other cases you are going to find small scale farmers who are doing everything in their power to produce heirloom produce without the use of harmful chemicals even if they can’t jump through the hoops from the USDA to become “certified organic.”  And speaking of heirloom produce, for those of you who are backyard gardening, farming or homesteading, think about picking up some heirloom, non-GMO seeds to produce in your garden/henhouse/pasture.  I don’t know about you, but when I start looking at seeds that produce fruit and veg in abundant, wild colors with incredible taste descriptions, I ask myself why have I been buying the same mealy produce year after year at the mega mart?  The answer may not be easy to find, but the solution certainly is…biodiversity.  Let’s all embrace it and bring some interest back to our plates!  Happy eating!

Check out some great new posts every Monday at the Homestead Barn Hop!  http://newlifeonahomestead.com

Check out some great new posts every Monday at the Homestead Barn Hop!
http://newlifeonahomestead.com