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Feed Them Well

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We’ve lived on our beautiful farm for about 10 years.  We grow our own veggies and I spend most of mid-summer through fall canning and freezing fresh, delicious, hormone- and pesticide-free food for our long winters.  We raise our own chickens for eggs and meat, because no chicken should have breasts as huge as those they sell in grocery stores.  I mean, I know they’re raised for purposeful slaughter (which is bad enough for them), but how on earth could a chicken with two breasts the size of a grown man’s hand stay upright?

Anyway.  Side rant.  lol

We also hunt deer in order to have lean, red, hormone-free red meat in our freezer for the year.  We fish in ponds we know aren’t contaminated.  We do all these things so we know what’s going into our children’s bodies.  Even when it says organic at the store, the FDA has some pretty relaxed laws about what makes a food organic, so I’d rather trust my own garden.

But what do we do about fruit?  Well, in the past we have relied on our friends and neighbors to provide us with fresh, farm-grown fruit.  My uncle has plum trees he lets me raid, my mama has blueberry bushes (thank goodness because we have tried many times and can never get our soil right for growing them), and several friends and neighbors have apple or pear trees they share.  We have a persimmon grove that produces way too much for us every year, so our neighbors and family come to us for persimmons.

But do we want to rely on other people for our fruit?  Why no, no we don’t.  Although it is fun to trade things out with the neighbors and a good way to relate to the Littles how general stores worked in the past, we want fruit of our own.  And yes, we did plant fruit trees, all along our drive and throughout the yard.  It’s just that it takes several years for fruit trees to… well… fruit.  Our grapes and blackberries and raspberries have been providing for a couple years now, but we want apples and pears and peaches, oh my.

Guess what this year is?  The year of the fruit.  And my Littles are so happy.

Here’s what we have going:



Our grapes have been made into jelly for a couple years now, but here’s proof that these plants are Thriving!  And our adorable miniature donkey in the background.  He’s like another dog.  Definite pet.



Our pear tree has had 2-6 fruits on it in the last 2 years, but this year she is Loaded.  Yeah yeah.  I can’t wait.


Our 8 apple trees are covered in fruit–I see pie filling, apple butter, and maybe even some cider in my future!



Peaches!  This is the first year this tree has fruited period, and there are plenty of peaches for cobbler and compote.



Now, I have to admit, the birds have already eaten more than half of my baby cranberries.  I need to get some netting.  But I love birds, and they get hungry, too.

The farm provides so many learning opportunities for the Littles, and a fruit year will give us many more.  I wonder if the Littles will sit outside all day starting in August and scare the crows away from the trees.  Hmm.  Probably not.  So they’ll have to learn along with me the best way to make the animals leave us some of this amazing stuff to harvest for ourselves.

Mostly, though, I’m excited to let the boys eat fruit we grew ourselves from baby trees.  Knowing there is nothing dangerous in it pleases Mama, but I’m betting crunching into that first fresh pear will be their favorite part.

Win win.

Love wins,


Winter on the farm

Our first seed catalog arrived yesterday.  And man, am I stoked.

Winter on a farm isn’t a time for too much resting.  There’s still a lot to be done.  For one thing, our animals don’t disappear with warm weather.  They actually require more work than they do in summer.  In the summer, we can let our chickens roam the yard, hunting bugs and worms.   It’s kind of awesome, because they keep the ticks and mosquitoes down.

snow day

If you’ve ever lived through a bad tick season, you’re feeling me.  Those little buggers are vicious.  And sneaky.  They’re like mini Viet Cong sneaking up on you in the jungle.  Or forest.  Whatever.

In the winter, though, if we want eggs we have to keep the hens penned up.  They have a nice, large yard to run around in, but most of the time they choose to stay in the cover of their building in a large crowd, staring out dolefully at the world and waiting for the slightest bit of cloud cover so they can go to sleep.  No kidding, those birds might be the smartest animals on the planet.  When it’s dim outside, they go to freaking sleep, by God.  Just sit and daydream about that for a minute, won’t you?

hens looking out

Because the hens are penned up, we have to feed them more.  We have to make sure they’re getting protein so they can create eggs.  Winter costs more than the heat bill, let me tell you.  We also have to keep a light on in the hen house for 14 hours a day, or those ladies will snooze all day and not lay any eggs.  Their water freezes, so we have to break that up.  Unless it freezes completely, then we have to search around for a second water trough and start over.  When it’s below freezing for several days in a row, you start to run out of troughs.   We should invest in one of those heated troughs, and (I swear) we talk about doing so every single winter.  Talking doesn’t really solve the problem, though.

A boy and his dog

A boy and his dog


Our miniature donkey needs a lot of the same care.  His pastures are winter-dead, so we have to provide him with hay and feed so he doesn’t sink in on himself and stand by the road, looking longingly at every car that passes with his thumb out.  At least he doesn’t need a light.  But his water does freeze.

Leo the Lop

In the winter, my free-range rabbits have to be put into pens so they don’t mate all the time and produce litters that die in the cold before they even get fur.  They’re a little easier, because we just use dog food bowls for their feed and water, and they pretty much empty them before freezing can happen.  But it breaks my heart to see them locked up like that.  They’re rabbits.  They should be nibbling grass, thumping, and digging burrows.


I don’t know if you know this, but doves mate like rabbits.  One of our females is sitting on an egg right now.  The baby won’t survive the cold.  They never do.  But we always give them a chance, because there might be that one that makes it.  We could put the egg in an incubator and try to raise the baby in the house, but song birds are harder to care for than chicks, and I honestly wouldn’t know what to feed the little bugger.  I keep asking them to stop mating, but they just coo at me condescendingly.  I think it means, “Yeah, right, lady.  Not on your life.”

I don’t know which one is the male.  So I can’t separate them.  They know that, and they laugh at me every morning when I feed them.


The red golden pheasants pretty much take care of themselves.  They have a beautiful aviary (built by the most beautiful man in the world), and they just hang out and flap their wings at me when I’m changing their water trough, letting me know I have no control over them and that I’m so beneath them they can’t even be bothered to attack me.  They are majestic birds with a lot of attitude, so I have to agree with them.  I mean, I can’t fly.  So they have that on me.

We have had winters when we raised cattle, pigs, goats.  They demand so much more when it’s cold outside and they can’t take care of themselves.  So winter keeps us hopping around here, even when we don’t feel like it.

burpee seed catalog

But the seed catalog… Oh. Yeah.

January hits, the catalogs start pouring in, and we start planning the spring garden.  We sit at the table together, Martin and I, and go through the catalogs, dreaming about what goodness we’ll grow.  It’s the best part of winter on the farm.   The Littles even get involved, as we decide what we’ll grow from seed and which yummies we’ll buy as seedlings from the local nursery.  We start looking at our soil, to see what nutrients need added where.  We plot the year’s design, so that we’re being sure to rotate things and to plant ‘friendly’ plants next to each other.   We get out graph paper and draw up several designs.  By the time we’re satisfied, it’s time to plow, then time to till.  The greenhouse goes up and I start growing the seeds we ordered.  And suddenly winter is over and it’s time to get all that goodness in the ground.

I can rest easy knowing the Littles are learning how to take care of themselves when the zombie apocalypse comes.  If you ask them, that could be any day.

Winter on the farm is expensive, both in finance and in work.  It’s different from the work we do in summer, and it’s cold, and breaking up all that ice is a pain in the ass.

But I wouldn’t trade it for the city.  Not even if they have heated water troughs.

Love wins,


25 Days of Lit in Your Homeschool Day 17: Farm

qe6xmYou know how much I love books about farms.  Even here where we farm every day, we’ve done a couple of farm studies.  There are some things we don’t do.  For instance, we’ve never had a milk cow.  We spent a week last year milking the neighbor’s cow while they were on vacation, and it was a fun learning experience that left us with sore hands.  (We had milk goats once upon a time, but cows are much harder to milk.  At least, to us they were.) We don’t do a large crop field.  Rather, we do smaller vegetable plots.  We only have to feed ourselves.  It feels a little late in life to start farming crops to sell.  Sounds like a lot of work to me!  So we still have stuff to learn about working a farm and what happens on different types of farms.  I bet your littles do, too.

Farm studies can focus on animals, plants, soil care, so many things.  I grew up reading good lit about living on farms (and even actually staying at my Aunt Darlene’s farm for a week in the summer–a memory that still makes me smile), and while I never really thought I would end up on a farm myself, I loved Dreaming about farms.  So this is another one where I’ll try to behave and not overload you with suggestions.  You know my first recommendation has to be


Charlotte’s Web by E B White

Ah, Fern. Wilbur.  Charlotte.  You might assume my love of spiders comes from this book, but this was actually the second story–the one that verified my love.  The first was a story I read (or heard) in elementary school about a group of either 5 or 7 spiders who lived in an old woman’s house and helped her spin.  When she cleaned their webs from her ceiling, they left her house and she lost her work.  I have never been able to find this story again, and that’s all I remember of it.  I’ve googled, I’ve asked everyone I know; no one but me remembers this tale.  So if you do, please tell me its name in the comments so I can read it again.  I loved that story.  Anyway, Charlotte’s Web.  It’s a great introduction to farm life for any little.  While the story is about the pig, the farm is almost a character in itself because the setting is so prominent in this book.  And who doesn’t love Wilbur?  And You can’t write words with your rear end and no tools.  So Charlotte is awesome.


Big Red Barn by Margaret Wise Brown

Brown’s poetic ode to barns is a childhood favorite for a reason.  We still have our copy from when the littles were small.  I’m saving it for the grandchildren.  If you have young littles who are interested in or studying farms, this lilting little book is the thing.


The Story of Ferdinand by Robert Lawson

O. M. G. This story is so sweet it’ll give you a toothache.  It’s also an interesting way to show your littles that farms are basically the same the world over.  It’s about a pacifist bull in Spain.  He loves his favorite cork tree and the flowers that grow near it, and he just wants to hang out there and be peaceful.  Lawson’s pen-and-ink drawings are miraculous and the happy ending will have your littles squealing.  Quietly and contentedly.  And peacefully.


Mystery Ranch (The Boxcar Children Mysteries #4) by Gertrude Chandler Warner

We own most of this series because Littlest is determined to be either a detective or a spy when he grows up.  I hope I haven’t just blown his cover.  Like all the Boxcar Children mysteries, this one is full of suspense, but it also has some pretty good descriptions of ranch life.  And a ranch is, after all, just another type of farm.


Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder

This Little House book tells the story of Almanzo Wilder’s childhood on a big farm in New York state.  Like all the Little House books, it could almost be a manual for rural life.  This one would be great for any type of farm study.


A Blizzard Year by Gretel Ehrlich

We love this book.  Another ranch tale, but with the twist of being set in a Wisconsin winter, when a blizzard means extra work to keep the livestock safe.  Wow, did we learn a lot about living up north by reading this book.  If you want your littles to look at farming from the other side of the year, this book is perfect.


The Year at Maple Hill Farm by Alice and Martin Provensen

As suggested by the title, this book goes through a year on a farm, from month to month, both showing and telling your littles what happens on the farm each month.  I love the whole “animals don’t know there’s such a thing as a year.  But they do know there are seasons.”  Yeah Yeah.  How awesome would it be to not measure time in minutes?

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

For ambitious littles, this classic is not only a good introduction to plantation life but to the south, slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction.  I have always loved Scarlett and her story, and the book is so different from the film that if you haven’t read it before, it will surprise you.  Scarlett’s life was even richer than you suppose.  As God is my witness.

I could go on and on.  I am sure I’ve left out some childhood faves of my own and some picture books you’ll want to string me up for forgetting.  If so, recommend them to my other readers in the comments.  I can always use the help.

Love wins,


Day One: Donkeys   Day Two: Summer    Day Three: Water     Day Four: Insects     Day Five: Owls

Day Six: Bears     Day Seven: Winter     Day Eight: Poetry     Day Nine: Squirrels & Rabbits     Day Ten: Moon

Day Eleven: Autumn   Day Twelve: Plants   Day Thirteen: Camp   Day Fourteen: Legends   Day Fifteen: Mice

Day 16: Mythology

This Crazy Cool Country Life Part 2

IMG_20150825_112626541_HDRI know a lot of people hate August.  It’s hot, it’s long, nothing too exciting happens in the whole month.  But I love August.  I always have.  I love how the days are still long but the sunlight has changed color–that beautiful, deep, rich, golden red in the evenings that you don’t get at any other time of year.  I love how night lasts a bit longer in the mornings so you can sleep till 6 and still feel like you’re getting up early.  I love watching my world wind down toward autumn.  There is an ancient Celtic festival holiday called Lughnasadh (LOO-na-sa) on August 1st that celebrates the first harvest of the year and the Sun God, Lugh.  What better month is there to celebrate the sun than golden, delicious August?

We have been having a particularly fine August this year–mild weather, low humidity, gorgeously cool mornings and wonderfully hot afternoons.  I don’t remember there ever being an August like this in the Ohio Valley.  Usually, it is so hot and humid you can’t breathe. Not this year.  This year, August is everything I could hope for.  So we’ve been able to do nature walks this month in a much less limited way than usual.  And here is what we saw on our hour & a half walk yesterday, for your viewing pleasure.

pondWe have 2 more weeks before our official homeschool year starts, but that doesn’t mean we can’t study a little pond life as we head out on our walk.  I love this view of our fishing hole.

three littlesHere are all my littles as we head down the road.  Even Big took this walk with us.  As you can see, Big inherited my height while the Littles inherited their dad’s–yes, my Littles have outgrown me.  Yes, I still call out, “Littles!”  when I need them.  And yeah, I probably always will.  Now you can envision my country lane when I talk about driving down it. 🙂

IMG_20150825_122948984One of the really awesome, amazing things about living in a rural community is the sense of sharing we all have.  Some of us have goats, some horses, some cows, most have chickens.  Some have pear trees, some plum trees, some persimmon trees, some apples.  Some gardens produce more tomatoes, or cukes, or zukes.  At some point during this time of year, we are all calling each other or stopping by to see if our neighbors could use our excess.  I grew up in the city, and while we had some good neighbors, the generosity we have in my country community has not been matched in my life.  This neighbor’s horse called out hello to us and I couldn’t resist snapping a pic.

hill and sky Barn flowersThese views of the same neighbor’s land gave us a chance to discuss local wildflowers and pollination, and how nature is as intricately interwoven as our ‘neighborhood’ is.

littlest creekLittlest and I were the only two brave enough to walk the roadside creek bed where, despite the drenching we got throughout June, things were pretty dry.  Still we were able to find a couple of pools of water. And some interesting insects.


And this elegant little spiderweb

spiderweb 2Just on the other side of the creek bed was another opportunity to discuss our local flora.  We saw about 6 different yellow wildflowers on our walk, but this view of forest sunflower and goldenrod was our favorite.

yellow roadside flowers


Soon we were headed home, but not before spotting some late-summer butterflies.

going home IMG_20150825_115414633_HDRI grew up reading books like Charlotte’s Web and Mrs. Frisby about people living on farms.  I loved the descriptions of just normal daily life–how everything was so simple and outdoorsy and everybody pretty much got what it meant to be part of this planet.  Never in a million years did I dream that one day I would be walking home to a view like this:

IMG_20150825_132514252_HDRIt takes my breath that something as simple as weeds growing up the side of a henhouse can elicit such joy in me.  How getting our first green egg from our spring chickens can make us all do a happy dance and consider going to the butcher to get the ham to go with it.

When I call this my crazy cool country life, I mean it is crazy that I get to live it.  I still can’t wrap my mind around the fact that I get to exist in such beauty every day.  I love this place like Scarlett loved Tara, and I’m teaching my boys to feel the same way.  After all, it will be theirs some day.  And, as always,

Love wins,