State of the Homestead: July 2018

State of the Homestead, July 2018

Homestead life goes on even when it’s hard.

Garden: My garden is all over the place. Some things were successful, others still need time to show their worth.

Part of the problem came from the flip-flopping temperatures in March. Usually, I have everything planted in March and harvested by May, but this year the fluctuating temperatures kept me cautious. I planted late. It got really hot by May so pretty much all my plants stopped growing.

They should resume once it cools off a little. If I had some shade cloth it might help, but it’s too late in the year to start now.

Greg planted cherry tomatoes in a protected box by his shop and they burst out almost all at once. It was hard to know what to do with them all.

We planted loofas back in May and they are just now beginning to grow gourds. Okra, corn and peppers also got a late start. I’m getting a few peppers, but the corn and okra won’t be ready until September.

Front yard garden: This was the major project for the year. I tore out everything but the mature foundation trees. We raised the soil level another five inches because we had some serious erosion.

I planted grapes and blackberries in out of the way, but easy to reach areas. The rest is being landscaped with flowering bushes and bulbs. I have a l-o-n-g way to go. My ultimate goal is to create an old fashioned cottage garden, no grass, just ground covers, a stone walkway, and mounds of flowering shrubs and flowers. Timeline: 3 years. I think I’m off to a good start, but it looks pitifully moon-like right now.

I’m afraid the ground cover for the foot paths is going to be expensive to plant. If anyone has any recommendations for a tough ground cover that can stand 6+ hours of sun and some foot traffic, let me know. I have some ajuga that’s pretty, but it prefers the shade. Dwarf mondo grass is the right height and tolerates heat, but it’s slow to spread.

It cost $500 to raise the soil level, and another $200 in plants, bulbs, and mulch. I was lucky with the plants. I bought the foundation bushes (cleyeras) at the height of the spring season, but many of the flowering plants I got recently for 75% off. All but two survived the transition and the intense heat. We’ve been watering them daily.

It’ll be next year until my flowering plants fill in. In the spring, I hope to buy more plants, but I’ll proceed slowly. I want to see how each variety does before I invest too heavily. Sometimes what you think should grow well, doesn’t, and what you never expected to survive, thrives. Mother Nature is funny that way.

Quail: Speaking of surprises. We lost all but one quail to predators. The last one was in the belly of a snake. Before all this happened, I started collecting eggs from the mated pair. I had no idea if they’d be fertile, or even if I’d have any success hatching them. I know nothing about quail except from what I read.

I was truly shocked when the eggs hatched! They are adorable and oh-so-tiny. Newly hatched, they’re not much bigger than a quarter.

Unlike chicken chicks, quail chicks are lively from the start. I wish I could’ve watched one of them hatch because the shells are surprisingly dry. It’s as if they came in luggage and just popped open the latch. There was no mucous or residue that I could find.

The only bad thing has been that the lone adult quail viciously attacked the chicks as soon as she saw them. We had to separate her. Maybe she’ll accept one of them as her mate when they’re adults.

Chickens: The predators were especially fierce this year. We lost all but two of our chickens. Just before the rash of murders, I decided to hedge my bets and collected some eggs for incubation. We got 15 chicks from the batch.

I’m glad now I went with my instincts. You never know what’s around the corner. Not only did predators eat all our chickens but two, those two stopped laying completely. Even after weeks, they’re still not themselves. I hope they come around once they’re introduced to the new chicks.

By the way, we still have one predator that has not been caught. I call him the ninja raccoon. He’s managed to evade every trap. I wish he would move on, but he knows where the food lives now, so we’ll likely always have him as a threat until he’s captured.

Goats: It’s been a successful year with goats, more or less. I learned to milk and make cheese. I only milked one goat. I had trouble with the other Nubian. The suction cups wouldn’t stay on her teats. I’m still not sure why since her teats are as big as the other one.

Next year when I’m more experienced, I’ll try again or try something different.

We kept back one Boer doeling, Velvet. She’s a gorgeous little goat. I hope to get more red babies from her.

The only baby goat we haven’t sold yet is a Nubian buckling. I don’t know why he hasn’t sold. Probably because I dropped the ball and didn’t put out ads early. I haven’t had time to keep up with advertising since we’ve been preoccupied with a certain border collie.

Da Dogs: Iko deserves a halo for being so good while we spend so much time on his sister. He’s always been patient though–just as long as dinner’s not late. 🙂

Nana is recovering. I counted the days by milestones. The first day without significant pain, the first day she had a bowel movement, the first day she put full weight on that foot. She’s getting antsy now. She wants to run but we won’t let her. Last time, she splayed out on the slick floors and nearly gave us heart attacks. This time she stays confined until she has more muscle control.

And da kitty: Jazzy is officially part of the family. I honestly don’t know if he would’ve made it another day in the wild. He was so, so skinny. We still have to work on social skills between dogs and kitten, but hopefully they’ll reach an understanding in my lifetime. 🙂 I’m having great luck with Iko. He’s curious, but not enough to bother the little guy. Jazz wasn’t too sure of the giant dog, but he’s started to see him as nonthreatening. Nana is another story. Even behind bars she’s anxious to give chase.

Having a kitten in the house again has reminded me about things only cats do–like dig in flower pots and throw stuff off tables. I solved the potted plant problem right away. All I did was line each one with pine cones. No more tossed dirt. Haven’t figured out how to keep him off the dining room table yet.

Us: In June, we lost one of our air conditioning systems. It cooled one half of the house–the half with the bedrooms. Ugh! Greg looked it over but he thinks it might need to be replaced, so we’re holding off so the bill doesn’t bite us quite so hard. One ginormous bill in a quarter is enough. We’ve managed despite the 100 degree days.

It’s been pretty tight of late, but we’ll be all right. We’ve been cutting back on the extras. Hopefully, we’ll be back to normal by the end of the year. Ha! Just in time for Christmas!

That’s about it. I can’t say it’s been an easy quarter, but we’ve managed.

The icing on the stress cake happened nine days ago when I fell out of moving golf cart. Something stung me and I panicked. Unfortunately, I jumped up just as Greg was making a sharp turn and the momentum threw me out of the cart. I landed hard, scraping and spraining the whole left side of my body.

No broken bones, but I was in bad shape. It took a week just to be ambulatory again. Only road rash and bruises to remember the incident now. That’s life on the homestead.


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    • Madeline: I’m glad you commented! I had changed a plugin on my site and lost the ability to comment. I fixed it, but now I didn’t know if it had worked. 🙂

      re: baby quail
      They are so tiny. Just a little big bigger than a quarter when they’re born. But they are tough little birds. It seems anything can bring down a chicken chick, but these little guys keep on going.

  1. Raccoons are the WORST. Sneaky, smart, agile. I’m pulling for you…

    Re: cat on the table — that’s a hard habit to break. Try putting foil on it for a bit (they don’t like the crinkling noise, usually) or drape small towels on the edges held on by cans with pennies in them. When the kitty jumps up and pulls off a towel, the can falls and scares them to death so should condition them not to jump up. There are also super low voltage electrical deterrent mats you can buy online that give them a little zap when they go where they shouldn’t. Also, keep in mind cats are great at opening cupboards. Thankfully none of my last three would do that, but prior to them, I had to install childproof locks on mine.

    Re: Nana chasing — dogs with high prey drives (or herding breeds) can be really tough. Kenzie is forever nosing (herding) Dorothy around. Does the kitty have a place of his own he can get to in order to feel safe? Dorothy has the basement to herself and can retreat there if she needs a break from the puppies. As long as Nana doesn’t try to actually hurt him by nipping or stomping, they’ll likely work it out, but it’s important Jazzy has a place only HE can retreat to.

    Re: cottage garden — MAN I wish you were nearby. I’m throwing away so many plants and bulbs right now, it’s sad. My gardens are really mature (after 19 years they should be) and I can’t find anyone to give my overages to. My SIL uses creeping thyme on her walkway. Once it’s established, it’s pretty hardy and smells awesome when you walk on it.

    Wishing you a few months without huge bills and that all your chicks grow to be healthy and strong.

    • Marianne: I like the can idea. He doesn’t get up there much but I’d like to head it off in case he decides it’s a good place to survey his domain. Jazz has one half of the house to himself if I shut the doors. If I leave them open which I do for a few hours everyday, he can go to the atrium. It has a gate so aside from having a dog audience it should keep him safe.

      re: herding
      That’s what I’m worried about. Border collies have such a strong herding instinct. It’s kind of lucky Nana is incarcerated for a few more weeks. I’m hoping that she’ll get used to the new boarder.

      re: garden
      It makes me weep that you have to throw so much away. I wish we lived closer too! Last time when I was dividing and moving my irises, I put out two big plastic tubs of bulbs at the front yard. Within an hour, someone had picked them up.

      I like the idea of thyme as ground cover. I think I’ll plant some in the spring. Thanks for all the tips!

  2. Wow, that sounds like a nasty fall. I’m glad you’re healing! It sounds like things are really hopping over there. Hope you catch that raccoon!

    Garden: I’m going to mulch my little raised bed and plant some late crops. I had some early beans that fed us for a while, but didn’t plant other things because I knew we’d be gone for a while. The bed requires hand watering. But we’re home for the summer now and I want to see what I can get.
    I like the idea of creeping thyme. It looks like it’s drought tolerant, so I’ll see about getting some. I really need ground cover around here!

    • Marlene: Greg wanted to take me to the ER but I resisted. I felt as long as I didn’t have any broken bones, I’d be all right. I was a little concerned my nose was broken though.

      re: mulch
      We had a stroke of rare luck when there were trucks going down our road topping off trees too close to power lines. They were followed by other trucks with powerful grinders. I managed to snag a truck load of chipped wood which I’ll use to line my garden walkways.

      re: thyme
      I think thyme is drought tolerant. It seems to grow in a little bed I have with hardly any care from me. I’m sorry now it’s not creeping thyme. The one I have is upright.

      I’m still in the planning stages but if I find something that works, I’ll be sure to recommend it.

  3. I hope you’re feeling better soon. Falling at our age–oiy! Be glad you didn’t break anything.

    We should be getting grass this week. And then we leave for our vacation on Friday, which means the kids have to come over DAILY and water it. Lucky them, huh? I’m glad they can help (and they don’t complain all THAT much!).

    • Stacy: It was such a bizarre twist of fate and physics. I was airborne for a few short seconds and when I came down, the golf cart was no longer in the same space. I think Einstein had something to say on the matter. 😀

      re: grass
      I’m glad you’re kids live nearby. You can bribe them with inheritance money later.

  4. Michael Keyton

    Pure gold, Maria. The equivalent of a C19th dry and yellowish diary historians might pore over in the future – so long as the narrator has no more bad falls.

  5. My goodness glad to hear you are okay – falling out of the golf cart sounds like something that would happen to me. Quail are interesting and super neat you were able to hatch a new flock. As for that luffa – lots of water in those early stages once the pod transpires. We grew them on a large scale on our farm and beware they do attract fire ants however this also keeps other bugs away. Sounds like your busy and headed in the right track – we planted late too and just now getting tomatoes. So I’m focusing more on a fall garden idea but the herbs are doing amazing. Great update and hope y’all had a nice 4th.

    • Carole: The irony is I’d never be able to repeat that event if I tried. It was just weird timing that everything happened within each nanosecond.

      re: quail
      I’m half thinking of setting them free on the property. Maybe if we can hatch enough a few might make it. They’re definitely more self sufficient than chicken chicks. These guys hatch out and are ready for jobs hunting insects.

  6. Angela Brown

    Oy vey! Can’t say that falling out of the golf cart was something I expected to read. Seems you are on the mend, as is Nana. Just have to keep her antsy self still a little longer. She and Jazzy together…will be interested in hearing how that goes.

    I have to start my attempt at a garden over. Just wanted a few lavender and marigold blooms, along with some echinecea. I don’t think I watered them enough, or perhaps too much.

    Oh well, will try again.

    • Angela: It was such a freak accident.

      re: garden
      I had trouble with my echinacea too. It’s hanging on but struggling. The lavender is doing great though. No flowers, but the stems are lovely. Can’t wait until it blooms. I’ll definitely get more next year.

  7. Betty

    Ouch with your fall! Glad nothing got broken. Did sound like a challenging quarter for you on the homestead, but here’s to a better one in the next 3 months ahead!


  8. Hi Maria,
    I hope you are feeling better! I’m glad you have the baby poultry to take the place of the ones you lost…it is so hard to lose them to predators. Best wishes with catching the ninja raccoon. We had problems with possum and fox, but so far I haven’t lost any of my new flock.

    I wonder if pine cones on the table would keep Jazzy off?

    Best wishes!

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