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Whirlwind Summer

The last few weeks have been, in my book, a more or less perfect whirlwind of summer. While I don’t love the extreme heat and humidity that sometimes comes with the Pennsylvania summers, we’ve had a nice balance of warm sunny days and brief bouts of thunderstorms to break the heat when it starts to get out of control. The garden has been thriving for the most part, although due to our late start we haven’t yet been able to harvest anything besides herbs. The most successful has definitely been the lavender! I’ve been drying the buds and plan to use them for a blueberry-lavender jam.

Speaking of jam, this year’s preserving endeavors started out unexpectedly rocky, when not one but two batches of the strawberry balsamic thyme jam I blogged about last time completely failed to set. I’ve made this jam before with no trouble, and although I did less jam-making last year than usual, I couldn’t imagine I had lost the skill entirely. After doing some reading online, I noticed several bloggers mentioning that they had observed a decline in the performance of Certo pectin, and recommended the Ball brand pectin instead. For my next batch, a vanilla-rhubarb jam with Earl Grey tea, I tried the Ball pectin instead, and sure enough it set up perfectly! So, I consider myself back in the game. Today I made strawberry rhubarb jam, and I have plans for honey-pickled kohlrabi with the rest of the spring harvest from my father-in-law’s garden.

Our livestock is growing steadily. The pigs rooted up their beautiful grassy pen in no time, but they don’t seem to mind! They have a shady shelter and food and water available in plenty, and once a day we bring them some treats in the form of kitchen scraps. When it’s hot and dry, we make sure they have a muddy spot for a wallow to keep cool and protected from the sun. The ducklings are fully feathered and getting quite big, and enjoy nibbling at the grass or playing in the baby pool we keep in the barnyard. The chicks have outgrown what I like to call the “dinosaur” stage of gangly awkwardness. The ones not raised by our hens are getting braver and venturing outside more. The young roosters are starting to crow, which is an exercise in hilarity at this age! Their little voices cracking is both adorable and humorous.

That’s mostly the gist of what’s been going on around here, but we’ll have more news when my in-laws get back from their vacation!

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Livestock season is here!

Beltane is just behind us, and while we have no cattle to drive to summer pastures, livestock season is definitely here! Our chicks hatched last Friday, seemingly in honor of the holiday, and are enjoying learning their way around the world. We had two hens setting, and when the babies hatched they didn’t bother to keep them separate. As a result, rather than two hens with broods of 7-8 chicks each, we simply have 15 chicks with two mommies. Predictably, no one in the barnyard thinks twice about this arrangement. Everyone is happy as can be! Both moms are busy shepherding the babies around and teaching them how to eat, drink, and generally be chickens.

IMG_4144Mama #1 is a Welsummer, and Mama #2 is a Speckled Sussex. The eggs were collected from our wide assortment of hens. There were two roosters in the flock, a Speckled Sussex and a Barred Rock/Maran cross. As a result, the chicks are going to be a grand assortment of mutts, but that is part of the fun. Someday I would like to keep a few pure flocks to preserve some of my favorite heritage breeds, but for the time being, we will take what we get! The purpose of this mini-farm is to be a learning experience and trial ground for different things, after all.

I also was finally able to plant my herbs and move the bay tree outside for the season! I can’t believe how much it’s grown. Take a look!

bay tree year 1

March 2013

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May 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This winter I lost everything else I was trying to keep alive, even the rosemary that survived last winter. So, we started from scratch with parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil, mint, and lavender. I still need to pick up some chives, since we use a lot of that as well, but this will get us started at least. I love how accomplished I feel once the herb garden is started. Despite the rough winter, it is still one of my few mostly successful gardening endeavors.

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Stay tuned for more exciting undertakings in the coming weeks! There is still a lot of news pending!