Garden Time, Baby!

The garden this year, so far, is better than ever. Thanks in part to the chicken moat I installed a few weeks ago. See those chickens? Those are the bantams (minis). They live in a run that goes around the entire garden. The idea is they keep out weeds and bugs. Also, we've got the boys on a 7 to 7:30 a.m. weeding schedule, every week day. Been working great!



Here's a bonus photo of our new mini peach tree. We also have two pear trees, a plum tree, and a fig tree. None of them have given us fruit yet, since we only started planting them about a year ago.



I just killed a skunk. In our barn. With my shotgun.

Yet another rite of passage for this city slicker turned country bumpkin.

Early Morning Farm Photos

I spent a lot of time in high school and college shooting artsy photographs. Later in life, I turned into the ruthless photographic mercenary that I am now. I guess the way to ruin a good hobby is to start making money from it.

This morning, at about 6:45 or so, I stepped outside to see what the weather was like. Dawn was coming up fast, but there was still a dark haze over the Farm. The ambiance was accentuated by a thick fog that was quickly dissipating.

I grabbed my cameras and snapped a few photos. It took me back to high school. These are unedited, out of the box.

(Oh, actually, the photo of the oak tree was shot about an hour later, after the sun was coming up.)





Adventures In The Backyard: Grape Edition

Every 6 months or so we ask our neighbor to shred our field with his tractor. The weeds had gotten pretty bad this time, so the post-shredded field doesn't look as nice as it could, but the low grass prompted me to explore a wee bit.

The newly shredded field. What could lurk out there, besides a billion grasshoppers?

Hmm ... that brush looks interesting. I have seen rabbits there before. . . .

Upon close inspection ... wild grapes!

I'm not sure what wild grapes are used for. My understanding is they're not sweet, but can be used in some recipes. Brandi's shown interest in them in the past. We've heard of using them on your garden fence as a wind block, and I think we'll pursue that idea at some point in the future. These grapes were overly ripe. In other words, they were juicy and bursting. I didn't dare eat one, but I decided to see if my chickens took a shine to them. They did!

Yum! Yum!

Seems like I'm always being surprised out here. :-)

First Spring Photos 2012

It's spring on Guel Farm!

The main garden:

The supplemental garden adjacent to the house:





I did a quick post on bantam chickens at Community Cluckers. Check it out.

Spring Garden Time On Guel Farm

We're running a couple of weeks late, but we finally got some plants in the ground today. I borrowed a friend's tiller yesterday and tilled up our garden, so the soil was nice and fluffy today. Our soil is very sandy, so by the time I got done with the tiller the garden looked like a beach.

Here's Brandi, at the beach working in the garden.

A bird's eye view (don't be frightened by the fake owl). The structure behind Brandi is the barn.
fake owl

This a bonus shot of the field behind our barn. You can't really tell from the photo, but it's looking pretty bushy and ready to be shredded with a tractor. Time to call our neighbor who does that stuff for us. One of these days we're going to fence it off and put some goats out there, and maybe a calf.

That's it! We've still got some more planting to do, and the kids have their own little special stuff they want to plant, so hopefully we'll have some more photos on the way.

Life And Death On Guel Farm

For the first time ever at our little farm, we slaughtered animals (in this case, chickens) without the help of an expert. We did have a friend, Eva Marie, volunteer to help us, but she knew nothing about slaughtering animals, so this time around Brandi and I were the "experts."

I warned Eva (who I actually call "Ave Maria"), that we didn't have much of a clue as to what we were doing, but we were pretty certain we'd be able to figure it out. We've killed birds for meat exactly four times in the past, but it's always been under the tutelage of a bird killing guru. Not so this time.

On a lighter note, we actually had some eggs hatch today -- of all days, the day of the slaughter! -- so we were looking at the full circle of life, from "newborn" chicks to chickens that were about to fulfill their destiny.

One of the new ones.

Death row.

A chicken meeting its maker.
dying chicken

Brandi and Ave Maria watching a chicken die. (Brandi can't bring herself to watch, actually.)

A few processing photos.

A bonus shot of our broody duck hen. Her ducklings ought to hatch in about three weeks.

Evangeline, Chickens, and Squirrels

Evangeline is so beautiful it's almost ridiculous:

Things are going well enough around here. We're in the throes of winter, and we're burning through a fair amount of wood to heat our house.

A couple of weeks ago I discovered that a "hen" we bought from a lady a few months ago actually grew up to be a rooster. I was agitated because extra roosters are pretty much worthless around a farm. You really only want one rooster for every dozen hens or so, and we already have a rooster! As it turns out, we now have three roosters (four if you count the bantam rooster). Hold on ... we actually have eight flippin' roosters because four of them are still not yet full grown chicks.

Once all of the chick roosters grow up, they're all dead. We'll kill them all (except for our original rooster) and use them for chicken soup. Killing and processing birds is officially no longer a big deal for us. It takes a bit of preparation, but it's definitely worth the time and effort.

Speaking of killing, there's this squirrel that's been eluding me for weeks now. I've seen the little rascal go into our chimney on more than one occasion, and by the time I get my bb gun from the house ... he's gone like Houdini. Squirrels are a big time pest around here. They eat the chicken feed we throw out; they chew on wires; and they get into all sorts of things like chimneys and crevices around the property. I can't stand those little fluffy-tailed rats. I'm glad there are no ordinances against killing squirrels in the country.

A View From The Top

I had to go up on our roof today to work on our chimney. After I finished, I realized how beautiful our back yard is from such a bird's eye view. We've always appreciated the beauty of the landscape around our place, but seeing it all from such a high vantage point was pure, unfamiliar delight. I didn't have my camera with me so I whipped out my cell phone and snapped the following photo. Our property line extends back toward the tree line, and the hayfield on the right (which we're in love with) belongs to our neighbor. The field is unoccupied; he lives about half an hour away and shows up a few times a year to harvest the hay. When he's around working the field it's quite a thing to behold, believe it or not. Anyway, you can also see our barn on the left and our dog standing next to the barn. That white building is our shop.


Here's a bonus shot of Brandi working our winter garden. I love her Country Mama look with her boots and jeans. ;-)

country mama

The Art Of Hatching

I posted something new over at Community Cluckers. It's all about how we brought these gals into the world.


Random Shots

- We successfully hatched seven chicks that were "incubated" by our broody duck mama. Yes, our duck hatched chicken eggs. Brandi said Abigail is quite the chick mommy now. (More on this later.)

- On Halloween trick-or-treaters drive from house to house in our neighborhood, since it would take forever to walk. Guess they'll do anything for candy.

- Our remaining two duck hens (from the ones we hatched back in June) are getting used to flying around the property.

- Duck tastes like dark meat chicken. For real.

- I hope to heat the house this winter using nothing but wood. Last winter I think we heated the house with 80 percent wood, 10 percent gas, and 10 percent electric. Hopefully we can conquer that 20 percent this year. We'll see.

Winter's Coming


I've been gearing up for winter. I've been cutting firewood, collecting kindling, and thinking about getting our chimney cleaned. :-) Last year we felt winter like never before, but it was nice being so in-touch with the rhythms of nature. (Our wood-burning stove is worth its weight in gold!) I can't believe summer is long gone.

Quack Too

Here's a photo of Brandi learning how to gut a duck. That guy who's with her was our volunteer helper who was learning how to process ducks right along with us. He knew a wee bit more than we did, and that made him very helpful.


Here's a bonus photo of the truck someone in my church gave me. Yes, it was given to me. I'm very thankful.



Yesterday was a notable day on our little farm. With a little help from someone slightly more experienced than us, we slaughtered six ducks. Those ducks were all hatched, raised, and slaughtered on our homestead. That's quite a good feeling. And it was the first time we had processed any meat on our farm (we've previously processed our birds off-site). The last duck we processed -- a hen -- was all me, baby! I chased it down, killed it, skinned it, gutted it, hosed it, and then put it in the fridge. I think the whole process of slaughtering that one bird took me about half an hour. Hopefully I can post a few photos sometime.

Jungle Chopping

I can see why some people just abandon their gardens once everything starts to grow up toward the end of the season. This was our rookie effort, and hopefully years from now we won't have so much grass and weed growth after the days of harvest.

I spent a good amount of time pulling out tomato cages (that part took the longest), digging out soaker hoses, and moving various objects out of the garden. Finally, I went in there with my mower and chopped it down. Hopefully next week I can get in there wit a garden tiller. Brandi is hoping to put in some tomatoes for the fall.

Here's before and after:


This weekend I hope to mow the garden down (it's a big bush right now!) and then till it with a friend's garden tiller. I anticipate it being a pretty big job, at least for me, since I've never used a tiller before. Plus, the garden isn't exactly small. Of course, by city standards the 40 x 20 garden is enormous, but by country standards it's probably just about below average in size. Regardless, it's a jungle right now, and I've got to take care of it! (And Brandi wants to plant tomatoes.)

Homestead Stuff

I think the last time I reported on this blog, I indicated that we were thinking of getting four pullets. Well we got 'em. The gal I bought them from told me the breeds they were as she was handing them to me, but the only one that registered with me was Rhode Island Red. They all seem to be pretty normal birds, and they all ought to be laying within 1 to 3 months, tops. So that'll increase our daily egg count, which badly needs a boost.

Our hen count is now 11. Well, if you count our bantam (miniature) hens, it's 13, but of those 13, only 8 are currently laying. Realistically, our family probably needs about 20 laying hens; we'll get there one day. We also have one normal-size rooster and one bantam rooster.

Our baby ducks are getting big. We've got eight of them, and we'll end up eating probably five or six of them when it's all said and done. The others we'll keep around for eggs (in the spring time) and to hatch other ducks to repeat the process. It's a satisfying feeling to know that those eight baby ducks were conceived, hatched, and raised by their mother on our farm.

I'm not sure if I've ever mentioned the fact that I love mowing the lawn. Of course, it all has to do with my riding mower! Seriously, though, it's one of my favorite chores. I mow about 3/4 of an acre, and that's our "lawn" area (our neighbor mows the other portion of our property with his tractor; the bumpkins call it shredding). I've finally got the route and routine worked out for the part that I mow, and it takes about 1.5 hours. The first few times I did it last year it took me every bit of three hours, but that was because I was having to get used to a riding mower and I didn't have a good mowing route worked out. As I was riding the mower yesterday, I thought, Winter's coming. What a bummer, I won't get to mow anymore.

So the chores I completed over the weekend were mowing, collecting hay from our field, moving some chicken tractors (cages) around, and doing some general reshuffling in our barn. Not very glamorous, but definitely very satisfying.

Speaking of hay, we learned last year that hay can turn into a very valuable commodity in the winter time. There was a time last winter when we would have killed for some hay. Some friends of ours who keep larger animals had to end up buying some hay, and the hay dealers got to the point where they were rationing how much hay you could buy. So we learned that it's best to stock up on hay while you can.

Here are a few photos ...

Brandi holding our first melon a few weeks ago:

A couple of baby ducks, and the mother hen (top right):

All eight baby ducks:

Our Livestock Guardian Dog, licking his nose:

Four More

I think we're going to buy four pullets (young hens) today. They haven't started laying yet, which means hopefully they haven't picked up any bad egg-eating habits. Last time we bought some hens that were not from our flock they were already laying -- and already eating their eggs. So we ended up eating them instead.

Right now we have seven hens from our original flock, and they're all doing well. They're giving us about 3 or 4 eggs a day. But with our family, we seriously eat as many eggs as we can get. Eggs are like tomatoes to us: The more we get the more we eat.

We also have a bunch of chicks that are being incubated for us. If all goes well, we should have around 24 laying hens within six months. Wow!

Farm Thoughts

I spent the evening yesterday mowing (always fun on a riding mower) and moving birds around. A few farm observations:

1. Keeping up with animals is a lot of work. Of course, we hope to expand what we've got, and that'll add more work, but it's always a joy. Right now we've got eight baby ducks, one mother duck hen and a drake. On the chicken side of things, our laying flock is holding steady at seven hens and a rooster. (We'll have about 24 more chickens once the new batch hatches. We have someone incubating them for us. Of those 24, roughly 12 will be laying hens and 12 will be roosters/stew meat.) We also have three bantam (miniature) chickens.

2. The garden is down to a tomato here and there. It produced well while it lasted and it was a good first try. What we'll probably do now is till the ground soon, and keep a bunch of our birds locked up in there to pull up roots and fertilize the place. We'll have to start working on our fall garden very soon.

3. Bouncer seems to enjoy his life as a farm dog. He doesn't ever seem overly anxious or barky (though he does like to bark). He spends most of the day these days in the relative cool of the barn. He's still very interested in chickens, but he hasn't killed any (thankfully).

4. We still have a big field we don't utilize. Our neighbor came over with his tractor a few days ago and shredded (mowed) it for us. Right now it serves well as a hay field, as the kids can go out there and collect tons of hay that we use for all sorts of things, but primarily chicken nest bedding. Hay always comes in handy, and we'll need a good supply of it during winter.

5. The birds pooped on me like crazy when I was moving them around yesterday. If you're going to have farm animals, you have to get used to excrement. :-(

6. There's nothing like a freshly mowed yard.

That's all for now!

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