It’s common to see Red Tail Hawks flying through our property. Last year a mother hawk was teaching her baby to fly and was hopping tree to tree across our acreage. They are enormous birds with wing spans almost 5 feet long. They are so large the only way to tell the one bird was a baby was the funny cackling noise it was making.
This year a male hawk started building a nest in the tallest tree in the middle of our property. We believe he is the baby we saw from last year. It didn’t take long for him to build a nest and attract a mate. While we love the wildlife this means we can no longer free range the chickens until they are gone.
Our new bird neighbors are still a little leery of us. When I’m working the garden the male floats above me, checking me out. If we get close to their tree they sound like they are growling at us. We are now trying to avoid their area because unlike your standard robin attack when you get close to their nest, we have the feeling a hawk attack could be a major problem.
In the mean time, we are enjoying watching these predators and look forward to seeing a baby being raised so close to home.
Although you usually enjoy posts about aspects of the farm such as the garden, bees or chickens, something else important is happening on the farm.
The majority of the property is not being used for farming, it’s being conserved for the wild life. Prairies are becoming endangered due to urban sprawl. The tall grasses of the prairies provides food and shelter for a wide variety of animals. Letting the majority of the property go wild resulted in a wide range of healthy wildlife that we don’t see on neighboring properties that are usually brush mowed.
Deer find tall grass to give birth in so that they are hidden from view. We’ve seen 5 generations born here. Usually 2 fawns at a time. They come back to visit every year. Whole herds seek shelter during storms here.
But deer aren’t the only ones who enjoy our farm. Besides your run of the mill birds, squirrels, rabbits and raccoons, we also routinely see skunk, red and grey fox, coyotes, hawks and eagles. We’ve also been told that bobcats and a cougar have been seen in the area but luckily have not come across them.
We like to enjoy and co-exist with nature rather than eliminate it. We’ve seen some sad situations as a result but have more positive experiences than bad. With high fences around the garden and 1/2 inch wire cloth covering the chicken run and open spots around coop openings, we have never had a break in from a predator or had the garden ravaged. In the end, preservation of the land has been easy to do and very rewarding.
One of my friends is an heirloom seed collector and shares what she has with me. She shared some dill seed so this year we decided to plant it as some customers have asked for it in the past. We sold some but had more plants than we needed. I figured I’d let them go to seed and collect for next year.
One day I noticed something crawling on the dill and when I got closer noticed all the plants were covered with two different caterpillars! The one pictured above is a black swallowtail and the picture below is a Monarch. While most farmers would probably stalk and kill these “pests”, we figured we have plenty dill to share.
It’s exciting to see how Monarch butterflies really took to our garden considering they are endangered. We decided to grow dill annually just for the butterflies. With free seeds, it’s not a lot of work to go through for expanding the variety of wildlife in our property.
Every time we think winter is over we get assaulted by a freeze or snow! It’s only a couple days before Memorial Day and we had a snow storm that dropped 6-7 inches of snow!
It wasn’t really supposed to snow. A light dusting they said. Will melt as it hits the ground they said. When we came home from work it was already snowing and sticking! We frantically covered everything as fast as we could while we felt the temperatures plummet!
As you can tell from the picture we had a lot of plants to cover. Here is the laundry list of what is buried under the snow: garlic, carrots, broccoli, beans, beets, turnips, parsnips, radishes, lettuce, spinach and onions. Luckily we had already built tunnels for the broccoli and greens since they were planted early so we just needed to pull the fabric down the sides. But the remaining vegetables had just surfaced with a few leaves so we quickly laid the fabric on the ground directly over the plants.
Just before bedtime it was still snowing so hard we didn’t want the tunnels to collapse overnight. We went out with our head lamps on and tried to carefully clear 3 inches of snow off the tunnels. Since the fabric is fairly light it easily tears if mistreated. When we woke in the morning it was still snowing! We cleared off the snow again accidentally making a small tear in the broccoli tunnel, but not enough to be detrimental. The bean row was looking a little rough because of the height the beans so we pulled the fabric off and turned pots upside down between the plants and draped the fabric back over. This lifted the fabric off the plants to keep the the stems from breaking from the pressure.
The forecast kept extending the 32 degree weather causing us to have to leave covers over the plants for 4 days! Finally, on the 5th day, we completely uncovered all the rows and are happy to report the only damage was freezing of some of the bean leaves. Luckily we have plenty of collected seed from these heirloom beans so will be able to quickly replant.
In the end everything we learned over the past couple years about using row covers and tunnels saved this year’s crop. Although all of this spring’s bad weather delayed the growth of the plants this year, we are excited to say we haven’t lost the fight to get vegetables out to our customers!
See the garden rows under snow and then the reveal that shows they survived!
In order to keep egg production up we needed to bring in younger chickens. The current ones are 3 years old and laying has dropped. We were without eggs for a couple months late last year. Unfortunately there is a capacity limit in the coop to be sure each hen has plenty of space to be happy and healthy.
Another coop would be a major expense that would perpetuate the tight margin we have on egg sales. Since we have not purchased the goats yet it was decided to move the older chickens in the barn. The corral was lined with 2X4 inch fencing and logs and blocks lined the gate opening to prevent digging. We were told a fox was picking off chickens in the neighborhood right as we completed the project.
Even though we were trying not to spend more money, we purchased a solar panel powered electric fence with 4 wires climbing up the outside of the corral. We were able to get behind the purchase as there are some future projects that the fence could be used for.
The chickens love their new spacious home. Unfortunately I met the fox multiple times over the next few days. First I caught it taking out the rabbit population in our back yard. Since it was always a love hate relationship with the bunnies I was disturbed but not emotional about it. I saw first hand how foxes hunt. They are proficient climbers and will scale a 6 foot fence with ease. They are sly, fast and quick to take their prey down. Viciously they don’t stop at one animal. If there are multiple animals to prey on they take down as many as they can, take one and then come back for the rest at their leisure.
There was one section of the chicken’s corral that a fox could get past the hot wires if it jumped rather than climbed, and we believe that’s exactly what happened. The fox killed 4 hens, injured 2 and gave 1 a heart attack. We can tell it was a heart attack due to the rigid extension of the body. We’d seen it before. The fox only took one hen away which was one with a broken toe so was clearly easy to catch. Interestingly it didn’t come back for the other hens. We wonder if the fox got shocked from the wires on the way OUT and it may have made an impact. Regardless, it still made it’s way in so the next course of action was to put a scarecrow in front of the weakest section. It was enough to make both of us do a double take thinking someone was on the property so it had to capture the foxes attention.
It was over a week after the hit that I happen to catch the fox rushing the corral gate as if it was going to make a flying leap over it. I screamed so loud it glanced over, saw the scarecrow, turned tail and ran away so fast we couldn’t find where it went. That was the last we saw of it.
The 2 injured girls luckily recovered after a week and it appears we only lost the worst of the layers so we are still getting just enough eggs to cover our current customers. Once the new chicks come of egg laying age we will be in good shape for sales again.
You can see a video of the fox on the Farm’s You Tube Channel:
While most farmers in the U.S. have already started planting, we have once again been delayed due to a massive snow storm. This one made national news. A bomb cycle is a weather event when the pressure drops significantly more than usual causing high speed winds and in this case an extreme temperature drop and many inches of snow. We stayed home from work to be sure we didn’t get stuck trying to get home to take care of the animals. That happened once before we got the chickens, thank goodness.
This storm resulted in a white out and many people were stuck on highways for over 24 hours. We ended up with a 5 1/2 foot drift 40 feet in length that blocked our road. Note the snow height on the far side of the tractor in the picture.
While the man of the house was plowing out the 1/2 mile long dirt road, the lady of the house was shoveling snow off the walk ways, including the path to the coop. You are probably asking yourself, “don’t you have a snowblower?” We do have a very large one but the snow was so wet and heavy it’s not able to do it’s job! They say people can easily have a heart attack shoveling snow and I agree, especially under these circumstances!
It will take a while for this deep snow to melt but the moisture should really help when we finally get to bed prepping.
Get a glance at our view of the bomb cyclone from inside our house on the farms YouTube Channel:
There will always be excess crops after the end of harvest sales. After donating we preserve some for using in the winter.
Tomatoes are my favorite to save for use. Canning tomatoes is labor intensive. Tomatoes have to be cleaned, peeled and in some cases de-seeded. In our case we don’t mind the seeds as long as we’re not making tomato sauce or paste. With tomato sauce you just puree and cook until the thickness is correct. For paste you need to cook even longer. I always lose my patience and stop at the sauce.
Pickles are much easier. Refrigerator pickles can be made by simply slicing cucumbers into spears and putting them in jars with pickle juice made from a simple flavor packet. They only last a couple months this way but if you only have a few it’s a great way to do it. Regular canning of pickles isn’t just for cucumbers. We also pickled beans.
We prefer not to pickle our beets. We like the sweet cooked slices as a side dish. Beets are almost fully cooked until they are easily pealed. After peeling we cut the larger ones into thick round slices and use a vacuum sealer to freeze them in a single layer. Small beets are frozen whole. When we are ready to eat them we let them fully defrost before lightly microwaving them just enough to warm them up. Overcooking makes them rubbery.
Freezing carrots does not require any cooking. Just peel and cut into thick slices, vacuum pack and freeze into single layers. We drop these into stews and casseroles. They aren’t good eaten by themselves. The texture doesn’t hold up.
Finally, we cook all the pumpkins, puree them and freeze them in one cup quantities. That measurement is usually the amount used in a pumpkin bread recipe. Two cups makes a pumpkin pie. Containers are better than vacuum seal bags. When ready to use, defrost them and pour into a sieve to let any excess liquid drain out. I’ve made the mistake of not draining and had a very soft pumpkin pie.
I hope this gives you some ideas on how to save your fresh veggies. The next thing we are working on for next year is drying herbs to sell as seasoning. We can’t wait to try it out.
As we were clearing out the garlic to use the bed for a second crop of carrots, I came across this broken arrowhead in the dirt. It is a nice reminder that this property used to house Native Americans that were coming to town to trade at the Trading Post. They would set up camp in this area. It is nice to know this particular area was never spoiled as the Native Americans had a great deal of respect for the land.
We were lucky to find a property with naturally rich, untainted soil and rich in history. You can find a lot of petrified wood here and clearly they were made into items such as arrowheads. I hope to find more relics as we work the beds.
It’s July and prime season for the crops. Even the pumpkins have quickly regrown and proving to be a bumper this year! The fabric row covers have been a blessing, especially since it’s been so hot and dry. Limiting the sunshine on plants like the lettuce has encouraged better growth.The carrots are growing so big so fast we actually have to reseed for an additional crop.The broccoli continues to grow a number of small heads even after first harvest. More peppers are growing in previous years and they are much larger. As usual the tomatoes have been a challenge as they always are, but we still had enough to meet demand. Our first try at butternut squash and acorn squash is successful. The beans, in the end managed to perk up and give us a good crop. All in all it’s been a good year.
See the 2018 Garden Tour on the Farm’s YouTube Channel:
We are used to having rabbits all over the property. They are fairly tame because we do not chase them off, but one morning one of them was standing right in the middle of the back yard looking very nervous. I walked up to her and noticed she actually had babies underneath her suckling. I was surprised as it was right in the middle of yard!
Before I scared her off I ran to get the camera and caught a great video I wanted to share.
The 5 bunnies stayed hidden for a long time before they emerged. There were 4 left and they spent a lot of time stretched out on the ground under the trees trying to cool off.
Part of the joy of living on a farm is enjoying the wildlife, that is if you have protected your crops well enough!