America the Beautiful ~ Our Summer Vacation

Our summer vacation took us through five states within a week’s time. Our main destination was Colorado, because we had never been there before, but our route took us through other new areas, as well. We did an awful lot of driving and within that short time span the vistas changed dramatically, as did the temperatures. (They ranged from mid-40s, to 112!!) We started in the Ozark “mountains,” went through the flat high plains, then through the Rocky Mountains, and then through arid New Mexico and the Panhandle of Texas. Then drove the entire width of Oklahoma on our return home. I was happy to see some areas of our beautiful country that I had never seen before.

Roadfood ~ The Roadtripper's CompanionRoadfood ~ The Roadtripper’s Companion is a companion post to this one. We ate really well on this trip, thanks to this handy book!

The Sunflower State

My dad grew up in Kansas, so the corn and wheat fields, and grain elevators brought back childhood memories of my grandparents’ farm and grain elevator. It was interesting to see all of the wind turbines looming on the horizon. I was surprised there were so many of them. We saw them again as we drove through the Texas Panhandle and Western Oklahoma.

When we were driving west in the high plains of western Kansas, we headed into a storm. The contrast between the dark sky and the golden wheat fields was beautiful. That was the first time that the first verse of “America the Beautiful” popped into my head, and it lodged there for the duration of the trip.

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!

America! America!
God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

A Silly Childhood Memory

As we crossed the state line into Colorado, I remembered a time when I was very young and traveling with my parents. As we crossed a state line my dad raised his hands in the air and exclaimed, “Yay, we’re in Arkansas!” For some reason it amazed me that he could take both of his hands off of the steering wheel and I remember it vividly to this day.

Majestic Mountains

I was in total awe of the mountains. We visited Breckenridge, Ouray, Telluride, and Durango. At first Margaret and I took lots of photos, but we realized it was impossible to capture their grandeur and slowed down. At times, we’d be exclaiming, “Wow, look at that!” while pointing out opposite sides of the car.

The majestic mountains coming into view took my breath away!

Our first stop was in Breckinridge where we spent a few days. The gardener in me was envious of the flowers literally everywhere! The native trees and plants were all so beautiful. I didn’t even see a weed I didn’t like.

My nickname for Margaret is Petunia, so it was appropriate to get a picture beneath a basket of them.

It’s a beautiful town, and the weather was nice. We had a little rain, but you know I like rain, so no problem.

A drizzly evening in Breckinridge.

We rode the Alpine Coaster and that was a lot of fun! We also went on a guided Jeep tour.

I couldn’t resist goofing off with Margaret, pretending to push her down the mountain. (I would never do that!)

Everywhere that we ate was really good. We also got some good exercise, walking everywhere.

Acting like a kid on the Alpine Coaster in Breckinridge

While near Breckinridge, Colorado, we stopped at the Continental Divide marker. It was a popular photo op, so other tourists were also waiting their turn to take their picture with it. We offered to take another group’s photo and learned that they were also from Missouri and lived about an hour from us. It was rainy and chilly, so we hurriedly took our pictures and jumped back in the car. The next day we were driving back by it, so we decided to stop and take another picture with the improved weather. Again, we traded taking pictures with another group, and they, too, were from Missouri!

Our family, divided. (Minus our son who wasn’t able to join us)

Margaret and I got to spend a little bit of time panning for gold. See my big ol’ purse there on the rocks? It was full of gold! (I wish)

Ouray was a beautiful little town, nestled picturesquely in the mountains. We all agreed that we’d like to return and spend more time.

While there, we rented a Jeep and spent the day driving over a couple of mountain passes. We weren’t sure what to expect, and I think that was a good thing, because we might not have gone. The narrow trails took us along the edge of the mountains. It was usually only wide enough for one vehicle, so if we met someone going the opposite way, both drivers had to navigate carefully. A few times, I was afraid that the vehicle passing us was going to flip over on top of us as it squeaked by on the mountain incline.

Narrow treacherous road. I hope nobody comes around that corner!

I was amazed at all of the wildflowers and would have liked to have taken more pictures of them. They thickly covered the hillsides.

Beautiful wildflowers!
The narrow mountain road. Note the approaching vehicles.

We made it!

Margaret at Ophir Pass
The village of Ophir

As we descended from Ophir Pass we had this beautiful view of Ophir, a little mountain village.

Mid-way through our Jeep excursion, we briefly visited Telluride for lunch. Both there and in Breckinridge we rode the gondolas to enjoy the beautiful views. I couldn’t believe they were free! That was a fun new experience for me.

Goodbye, Telluride!

So far, so good, but our next destination, the Imogene Pass, was at 14,000 ft, so off we went. Margaret and I “oohed” and “ahed” while taking pictures, but Scott had to keep his eyes on the narrow trail. It wasn’t for the faint of heart, for sure.

Um, yah, that looks safe!

Margaret has a tendency to get car sick, and anyone could have an anxiety attack while looking over the edge, so I worried about how she was doing. I was relieved when, at one point as the Jeep was tipping, Margaret exclaimed, “This is the coolest vacation we’ve taken so far!” (Insert lots of laughing)

During our driving adventure, we often saw remains of old mining operations.

Be sure to check your accommodations on TripAdvisor.

 

A Port-a-Potty with a view. If you make it up to 8,000 ft, you’re rewarded with a rest stop.

With sparse vegetation and greenish rocks, the top of the mountains reminded me of the moon. I thought that was the closest I’d get to being an astronaut.

I felt like an astronaut on the moon.

I can’t believe we were at the very top of a mountain at 14,000 ft! I’m glad we did it, but I think once was enough for me, especially on the Imogene.

We made it!
My husband taking pictures at Imogene Pass

There was a lot more to our vacation, and it was literally all down hill from there. It was all great, except for the fact that our son wasn’t with us. We spent a night in Durango, and then went to New Mexico. We spent an afternoon and evening in Santa Fe where we had just enough time to visit the vendors and buy a few souvenirs before it started pouring rain.

Palo Duro Canyon near Amarillo, Texas

The next morning we continued on to Amarillo where we ate at The Big Texan and then went to see the outdoor play, Texas, in the Palo Duro canyon. Although it was a very hot night, the play was good. What I wanted to mention, though, was that the performance ended with the song…”America the Beautiful.” It was the theme of our vacation.

Did you take a trip this summer? Where did you go? Please subscribe to see where the road takes us next.

Related Reading

Roadfood

America the Beautiful ~ Our Summer Vacation

Seasons of Parenting

When I was expecting our first child, I read a lot of books to prepare myself for the new world of parenting. I didn’t know much of anything about taking care of babies and raising children, so I wanted to learn as much as I could. Little did I know that parenting had different seasons, and I would always feel inept and lacking in wisdom.

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Birth

The moment Hayden was born, my life changed. I can laugh now as I think about the changes that those maternal hormones caused. I was so protective of my tiny new son that if I could have had a police escort or an armored vehicle to take him home in, I would have. Instincts kicked in and a lot came naturally, but there were still times when problems arose and I felt incompetent. It’s amazing how quickly those sweet little babies grow and develop. Before you know it, they’re trying to roll over, sit up, walk and talk.

Toddlers

When our son approached his second birthday, I mentally prepared for the legendary “Terrible Twos.” Maybe it was because I had expected the worst, but I really didn’t think it was that bad. My son didn’t get more challenging until he was about three. Around that same age, I remember having a battle of wills with our daughter. When our little humans start to declare their independence and exert their will, new challenges start to arise.

Early Childhood

The ages from about 4 to 12 were pretty smooth sailing. I enjoyed watching my kids grow and develop. Homeschooling was fun and relatively easy. They were fairly compliant and pleasant to be around. It was a time of teaching manners and thinking outside of one’s self, learning in leaps and bounds, guiding and guarding.

Tweens & Teens

The tweens and teens seasons were fraught with hormones and the emotional upheaval that they caused. When my kids reached thirteen, they changed so quickly that it made my head spin. They could be happy one moment and mysteriously crying (or yelling) the next.  Although challenging, the teen years seemed to go quickly. They matured and started to find their passions, earn their driver’s licenses, and get their first jobs. One day, after our son turned eighteen, he was carrying his belongings out the front door, saying he was moving out. Then last year our daughter started college, and although she’s home for holidays and breaks, she has spread her wings. Our relationship is different with both of them.

Empty Nest

Now my husband and I are adjusting again. Our kids are young adults, coming and going from our home. We’re learning a new balancing act of parenting – when to encourage, when to correct…and when to bite our tongue. We know that they still need us, and we still want them around.

Seasons

When my children were small, people often commented about how quickly they grew up. As a young mother in the trenches it didn’t seem like it at the time, but now I’ve joined that chorus. I often find myself reflecting over my child-rearing years and wondering where all of that time went.

Each stage had different challenges, but now those aren’t the times I most remember. The happy and awe-filled occasions are the ones that are locked up in my heart. Many of them are a result of the time we spent homeschooling, being present when the kids overcame an obstacle or discovered a new interest. Whatever season of parenting you find yourself in now, the good way outweighs the bad.

Related Reading

Wings

Empty Nest ~ What’s Next?

Helpful Links

9 Easy Steps to Homeschooling

Recommended Books

 


 

 

Seasons of Parenting

The Ups and Downs of Asparagus

I’m far from being an expert on asparagus. In fact, I’ve been a little disappointed in my asparagus harvest, so I decided to do some research to see if there’s something I can do to improve it for next year. I thought I’d share what I’ve learned, along with my experience, the ups and downs of asparagus.

A Favorite Veggie

We love asparagus! It’s so easy to prepare, and even tasty right there in the garden. It’s amazingly sweet and delicious. It’s also a perennial, which means it comes back year after year. It can grow in part-shade which is a bonus to gardeners that don’t have enough full-sun areas, but it’s more productive in full sun. It’s also one of the first harvestable vegetables, coming up in early spring. When you’ve gone through the winter without harvesting anything from the garden, it’s a sight for sore eyes!

The first emerging spear. How exciting!
First Lessons

I don’t remember when I planted my first crowns, I’d guess about five or six years ago. That first batch I planted in one of the raised beds in my veggie garden, along with strawberries. They actually grow very well together, but I found that when it came time to harvest strawberries that it was annoying trying to find and pick them while asparagus ferns were poking me in the eye or getting caught in my hair. Also, when I planted them I really didn’t know how large they would get. With that first bit of experience I decided I wanted to move them out of the raised bed and to somewhere in the ground where they wouldn’t take up that valuable real estate and would have more room to grow. I tried to dig up those crowns to relocate them. A few I wasn’t able to dig up at all, and the ones that I did get out and tried to transplant didn’t make it. Another lesson learned: plan carefully where you want to put your asparagus, it can live twenty years or more and does not like to be moved.

The above picture shows a few of the original crowns sending up some spears earlier this season. You can see the various stages of growth. The very tallest one is starting to make a fern. The next tallest ones are beginning to separate the tips. Then there are a few visible ones that are at the perfect stage for harvest, about 8-12″ with tightly closed tips. (The strawberries relocated themselves to another bed, so those are some older plants, too, but that’s a different story. In the back right corner is some cilantro, and in the background you can see some guineas at work in the yard. In the foreground is a “walking onion.”)

New Experiment

Just about a year ago I decided to plant some new young crowns in my front yard flower garden. I may live to regret it, but I thought I’d try planting some among my flowers.The Ups and Downs of Asparagus The ferns are actually kind of attractive in bouquets, and as a backdrop to the other plants. Some of the crowns have taken off and are doing very well. I think they’re the ones near other plants that draw my attention when watering. Others, in more remote areas of the garden are slower to get going. At the moment, I’m glad I did, because the roses make a pretty backdrop to the asparagus, and the contrast makes it easier to see the fine foliage. The ferns get quite tall, about four feet, and quite often flop over.

The Ups and Downs of Asparagus
Although my camera didn’t focus very well on it, the rosebush behind it makes it easier to see this fern developing. It’s about four feet high.
The Ups and Downs of Asparagus
Close-up of fine foliage.
Genders

Did you know that asparagus has male and female? They’re quite easy to tell apart. In fact, if you tried, you might be able to guess what their differences are.

Female plants send up shoots that are thinner and shorter than males, and they also produce seeds. I didn’t have a photo of the seeds, but they’re just little red balls. I was showing my son the asparagus and telling him about them. I found a few seeds so I gave them to him and he sprouted them, along with his other seeds. Here’s a picture of his seedlings to help you with identification.

The two straight seedlings are those of asparagus. They, too, will form tiny ferns, and that’s the stage I discover them in the garden.
Close-up of asparagus fern

The male spears are thicker (stronger) and taller. Their spears are often as thick as my thumb. If you look back up at the photo from the raised bed, you can see that some of the spears are noticeably thicker and taller than the others.

Easy

I’ve found asparagus to be pretty easy and low-maintenance. They can get pests and diseases, but I really haven’t had a problem with either. They perform best in enriched, well-draining soil, which explains why they liked my raised bed so much.

I’ve been amazed at how easily asparagus self-sows. I find little seedlings quite often in my gardens. If you don’t want that, then you’ll want to collect the seeds. Also, it’s possible to buy only male crowns. Occasionally, I’ll gather seeds and go toss them at the edge of the woods. I don’t know if they’ll grow there, but I thought that would be a fun surprise someday if they did. Can you ever have too much asparagus? I didn’t think so, either. Have you priced it in the stores lately?!

Brushing Up

Okay, now to do a little reading to see what I might be able to improve upon. Here are a few mental notes I made:

  • I read someone suggesting to cover asparagus crowns with leaves for the winter. With my gardening practices that happens on its own. I usually leave some of the dead stems, simply to mark where the growing crowns are so I don’t accidentally damage them before the new spears start to appear again. Asparagus also likes organic material, so that seems to be a good practice.
  • There are some references that describe how to prepare an ideal bed for asparagus. I felt like that was done in the original raised bed, but not so much in the front yard. If you’re getting ready to plant yours, you might want to follow Rodale’s advice.
  • Asparagus, especially young crowns, doesn’t like to compete with other plants. I’ve read to weed around them and heavily mulch them.

I’m thinking that I may just need to keep up what I’ve been doing and be patient. The crowns in the front yard are still very young, and there aren’t very many of the older ones in the garden. I didn’t find anything that I’ve done terribly wrong. Patience may be the key word with asparagus.

Harvesting

When – You want to harvest asparagus when it’s about a foot tall, or so. You want the tip to still be tightly closed. Asparagus grow amazingly fast, so you’ll want to check it often during its growing season. Once it begins to make a fern, it’s too late. You don’t want to harvest all of the spears because the plant needs to store energy through the ferns for the next year, so leave some spears to mature. Later in the season when they’ve yellowed, you can cut them back, or remove them altogether. I like to leave a few “stumps” just to mark where the plants are, for their protection and also so I’ll know where to start watching for spears the next spring. The harvest season varies with the age of the crowns. You don’t want to harvest any for the two years. The third year you can harvest for about four weeks. When they’re four years or older, it’s about 8-12 weeks long.

How – I think the easiest way is just to grasp the spear and snap it off. You can use a knife to cut them off, but you might not get all of the woody part off, or conversely you might cut off some of the tender part. If you’ve already cut them, or bought some from the store, hold the spear with both hands and bend it until it snaps. It will snap in the perfect place! Easy! Fun, even. Show young ‘uns how to do it and let them help. Harvested spears will keep pretty well in the refrigerator for several days. I put a little water in the bottom of a glass, stand the spears upright in it, and put it in the fridge.

Eating

One of my favorite ways of cooking asparagus is amazingly easy. I place the rinsed asparagus in a single layer on a baking sheet. Drizzle a little olive oil over it. Roll the asparagus around a little, then sprinkle garlic salt over it. I roast it at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes, taking it out halfway to roll them around a little more. If I’m baking fish I’ll sometimes add the asparagus around it.

I also like to chop up fresh asparagus to add to salads, and it’s also awesome to add to creamy pasta dishes!

Preserving

I haven’t had enough asparagus to worry about preserving it. I really don’t like it canned because it’s too mushy. I might try freezing it if it gets to where I have more than we can eat. I’m sorry I can’t be more helpful with that.

If you have tips on growing and preserving, please share them. I would love to learn more about one of my favorite vegetables!

This post was shared on the Simple Homestead Blog Hop and the Homesteader Hop.

The Ups and Downs of Asparagus

 

Homeschool Heroes ~ An Interview with J. Michael Smith of HSLDA

I’m partnered with Home Educators Association of Virginia (HEAV) to help promote their June, 2017, homeschool convention. Therefore, I had the honor of interviewing one of this year’s keynote speakers, J. Michael Smith of Home School Legal Defense Association. He, along with his friend, Michael Farris, founded HSLDA in 1983, when, as an attorney and homeschooling father, he felt called to assist prosecuted families. For over thirty years, they have defended homeschoolers and have helped pave the way for the movement to flourish.

J. Michael Smith, HSLDA
J. Michael Smith, photo courtesy of HSLDA
Benefits of Homeschooling

J. Michael Smith believes that conventions such as HEAV’s are beneficial for homeschooling parents because they get to see others’ successes, as well as others’ struggles – they can see that they’re not alone. He encourages parents by talking about three major benefits of homeschooling:

  1. Socialization – “Who you spend time with is how you’re formed. Public schools are doomed to failure because of who is attending and the lack of parents doing their job. If we are conscientious [in homeschooling], their experience will be so much better. Schools are scary.”
  2. Academic – A school teacher with twenty students cannot give the individualized attention that a homeschool parent can. Mr. Smith described a recent case in Missouri where a struggling elementary student’s mother spoke with school officials, asking for some individualized attention for her son. When they said they couldn’t provide that, the mother withdrew her son to homeschool him. The school district then took her to court and HSLDA defended her. Mr. Smith added that in Europe, 60-70% of public school graduates live with their parents because they aren’t able to leave home and function on their own. He sees America following that trend.
  3. Spiritual – Mr. Smith described one situation where homeschooling saved a young man’s life. In one of his early cases, before homeschooling was as well-known, a young man had attempted suicide because of things that had been going on at school. His parents began homeschooling him and that young man went on to become a missionary. “It’s a blessing how we save heartbreak,” said Mr. Smith.
“America’s Greatest Heroes”

At a recent convention, Mr. Smith asked the attending homeschool mothers why more Christian mothers don’t homeschool, what reason they gave. The overwhelming response was, “Because they can’t.” Mr. Smith attributes that response to either a lack of faith or an excuse, adding that it’s sad that only 3 1/2% of Christian children are homeschooled. He continued, “Homeschooling adds a lot of pressure, and 100% is on mom’s shoulders. That’s why I truly believe that homeschool moms are America’s greatest heroes.”

He encourages prospective homeschool parents to “Get into the fray and take it one day at a time.” “Whatever you do, don’t quit at the lowest level,” he cautioned, explaining that his office gets a lot of calls from parents who had put their kids in public school after hitting a low point and regretted it.

Alleviating Pressure

I asked Mr. Smith if he had practical suggestions for relieving the pressure on the homeschooling family, especially mom. This is the advice that he had to offer:

  • Dad must play a major role. He needs to give mom time alone, time with dad without the kids, and time with a support group. He needs to help shoulder the responsibility.
  • Dad should have the primary responsibility for disciplining the children. They should know that the highest crime is disrespect of their mother, what the consequences are, and that punishment will be applied.
  • Ideally, the father should help with homeschooling in some way.
  • Dad should be responsible for the spiritual growth of the family. At the same time, mom needs time to develop her own relationship with Jesus, and her husband should facilitate that.
  • Dad should be a good husband and provide a good marriage.
  • Parents should pray together daily.
We the People

Mr. Smith quoted the Declaration of Independence, saying, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Then he explained, “Our liberties come from God and that is recognized in our country’s documents. In a ‘civil law’ country, they come from government and have to be written down, but in America, if we aren’t specifically prohibited from something, then we have freedom. That brings the responsibility to protect those freedoms. We, the people, are the government. We lose freedom when we don’t act.” Mr. Smith believes that it’s our obligation to defend those rights through political processes. “Liberty is the foundation of what makes our government different. It also applies to the homeschool movement. God holds us responsible to protect our liberties. The government will always encroach.” He specified two ways of satisfying our civic homeschool duty.

  1. Join a support group.
  2. Join HSLDA – Think of future generations. Not only does HSLDA provide protection for your family, but it protects the freedom to homeschool for generations to come.
Hazards

I asked Mr. Smith what current issues should be of most concern to homeschooling parents. He pointed out two hazards for homeschooling:

Apathy – Mr. Smith started homeschooling at a time when the stakes were much higher. He said he probably wouldn’t have started if he had known what it would be like, that there were parents who faced fines and jail time. “Homeschooling parents today have no clue what it took to attain current homeschooling freedoms,” he said.

Dependence on Government – He warned of the so-called “ESA” movement (Education Savings Account), vouchers, etc. I asked him about tax credits and he said that he was okay with them because they enable homeschoolers to keep their own money. In contrast, ESA and vouchers use taxpayers’ money. He quoted the adage, “The person who pays the piper gets to name the tune,” in cautioning giving government that foothold. We aren’t ever safe because the legislature changes every two years. As an example, he referenced Nevada where the legislature had been a Republican majority, but it just switched and a Democrat introduced a law to lower compulsory school attendance from age seven to five. That would mean that homeschoolers would also be required by law to start earlier.

Advancements

Mr. Smith and I talked about advancements he’s seen for homeschooling. He noted these encouraging developments:

  • Diplomas are getting more credibility. For example, in the past the military would put a homeschool graduate in “Tier 2” which was the equivalent of a GED or a dropout, and meant that they didn’t get benefits or education. That has now changed and homeschool diplomas are treated equally.
  • Disability and veterans benefits – Children of deceased or disabled fathers receive benefits until they leave school. Homeschooled children were being denied benefits because their homeschool was not recognized as accredited. This, too, has been rectified.
  • Colleges are more readily accepting homeschool graduates.
  • Some states are rolling back some requirements. In North Dakota, for example, homeschoolers can now opt out of standardized tests.
Recent Victory

I asked Mr. Smith if he would share one of HSLDA’s recent victories. He told me about a case in California where a homeschooling mother’s children had been removed because authorities believed that one of the children, a diabetic, was in danger. Even after a doctor examined the child and wrote that he was fine, the state still refused to release the children to their mother. HSLDA represented the mother and won the case. “The state had to pay a substantial reward to the mother,” Mr. Smith said, emphasizing the word, “substantial.”

Dealing with Child Protective Services must be among homeschooling families’ greatest fears. It’s reassuring to know that HSLDA is always ready to aid its members.

New Administration

At the close of our interview, I asked Mr. Smith how he felt about the new administration. He noted that President Carter established the Department of Education and that test scores had gone down steadily ever since. “We will always have government interference, but we’re better off being regulated at the local level.” He likes the trend of taking education away from federal government and thinks that is what President Trump and Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, are trying to do.

Homeschool Heroes

I don’t know if I would have had the courage to homeschool if I hadn’t known that HSLDA “had my back.” Although I never needed them, I knew what to do if there was a knock on the door, and that they were only a phone call away. Being called to homeschool one’s children can be a frightening proposition. I’m grateful that along with calling parents to homeschool, God also called dedicated men and women to defend us. I thank J. Michael Smith for letting me interview him, and also for answering God’s call to defend families like mine. They are our homeschool heroes.

You can see J. Michael Smith in person at the HEAV Homeschool Convention, June 8-10, 2017, in Richmond, Virginia. To learn more, please visit HEAV’s website: http://heav.org/convention/

I will be having a giveaway for a family registration to the 2017 HEAV convention, the second-largest in the nation, valued at $79. Please subscribe to be notified of the giveaway.

This post has been shared in some of my favorite blog hops.

Related Reading

Build a Strong Foundation at the HEAV Homeschool Convention

Helpful Links

HSLDA (Home School Legal Defense Association)

HEAV (Home Educators Association of Virginia)

HEAV Convention

Homeschool Heroes

Poultry for the Homeplace ~ A Practical Primer

Poultry are not paltry on the homeplace. They each serve a purpose and are profitable. Poultry refers to a variety of domesticated birds that are raised for their meat and eggs. It includes chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, and guineas.

Plumage

I think of our birds as feathered flowers. They all have different colors and patterns, and are all beautiful in their own way. I marvel at God’s creativity and imagine Him as he created each one, thinking “how can I make this one different?”

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Guineas are downright comical. They’re the clowns of our homestead. Look at that funny “helmet,” their bright red “wattles,” and their polka-dotted feathers.

We’ve raised several different “heritage” breeds of turkeys over the years. I’ve enjoyed the Toms, in particular, as they puff their chest and strut their stuff. They prance in a circle, dragging the tips of their wings and making a drumming sound. They’re persistent in their pursuit of proper admiration!

Geese aren’t as varied in their appearance, but their feathers are wonderful for pillows and bedding. Not that I’ve used them for that, but just wanted to mention it.

Production

Not only do the birds have different colors, but their eggs do, too. I really enjoy having our own fresh eggs, and I also appreciate them for their beauty. The color of eggs varies with the breed. Duck and goose eggs are white, guineas’ are brown-speckled, and chickens come in a rainbow of colors including blue, green, pink(ish), white, and various shades of brown. You can’t buy eggs like these at the grocery store!

Goose and Chicken Eggs

You are probably familiar with chicken eggs, but the eggs of other poultry are edible as well. Duck and goose eggs are richer and great for baking! Guinea eggs are pretty small, so you need more of them, but you can eat them.

Pests

Living in the country, there’s no end to the pests we live among, whether they prey on us and our pets, like ticks, chiggers, fleas and snakes; or our plants, like beetles, caterpillars, grasshoppers and bugs. I try to garden organically, and our birds are great partners!

Chickens are omnivorous and if you aren’t already experienced with them then you might be surprised at some of the things they’ll eat. Of course, they eat grain, seeds, plants, fruits and vegetables, but given the opportunity, they’ll eat frogs, small mice and snakes. Turkeys’ diets are similar. They will also eat acorns, which we have an abundance of.

Guineas march around the yard peculiarly, almost in formation, pecking at pests, large and small. They eat many of the same things that chickens do, but they don’t scratch, so they’re gentler around plants. With all of the tick-born diseases, I’m especially grateful for their help with eradicating them. I’ve read accounts of guineas encircling large snakes. Although I haven’t personally witnessed that yet, I do think that they would help by eating them, chasing them off, or alerting us to their presence.

Poultry for the Homeplace
Crested Ducks, Lucille and Lincoln

Ducks eat slugs and snails, as well as insects and grass. They are credited with being lower-maintenance, hardier, and quieter than chickens.

Permaculture

Poultry offer prodigious perks to participants in permaculture. Chickens and guineas will seek out pests that might threaten your home, garden or orchard. As they’re doing that, they’ll periodically pause to poop, thereby naturally fertilizing.

In the orchard they clean up fallen fruit. This helps to lessen disease and insect problems. By scratching around the base of the trees, chickens can pick out grubs that later in the season would emerge and infect the fruit.

Chickens working the compost pile

When I’m working in my garden, I collect weeds and other waste in buckets. When they’re full,  I dump them over the fence into a compost pile in the bird yard. The birds excitedly race over to rummage through it. They eat all the weeds, seeds, and insects. Their scratching also turns and breaks down leaves. Let’s just say they help process the compost more quickly. The variety of things they eat makes for flavorful and nutritious, orange-yolked eggs.

If you have other livestock such as horses, cows, or goats, flies can be a problem. Chickens can help combat the fly problem by scratching through manure and eating fly larvae.

Geese helping with the weeding

We have African Geese and I’m amazed at how they eat grass and weeds. The bird yard is large, and it’s picked clean. My husband made an opening into a small paddock, and so far they’ve kept it under control, too. When I’m working in the yard, I love opening the gate and letting all the birds have access to our whole homestead. I especially appreciate the geese working the fence lines where it’s hard to control the grass and weeds.

Protection

While they may not actually attack anyone, birds can certainly alert you to the presence of people or predators that don’t belong, giving you the opportunity to investigate the situation.

Birds can be pretty intimidating. Have you ever been “goosed?” Recently, we had a delivery and the woman jumped out of her truck to greet our two large, barking, guard dogs. But I had let all of the birds out and when the geese started running towards her, flapping their large wings and honking menacingly, she asked me, panic-stricken and poised to jump back in her truck, if they were attacking. So don’t under-estimate the guard potential of birds.

Guineas are well-known for their prodigious pandemonium. When anything is amiss, or they detect a predator or intruder, they sound the alarm. Here is a little video to give you a peek at their prattle:

Personality

The simple country life is not complete, in my opinion, without the presence of the peculiar personalities of poultry. I’m perpetually pleased by their picking and pecking, plucking and peeping. It’s my idea of paradise.

Post Script

Did you know that poultry were so profitable? They are definitely a valueable resource for the homesteader. If you’re considering adding a new breed to your homeplace, do some research to learn even more about them and make sure that they’re a good fit.

I’ve only covered the poultry that I have personal experience with, but there may be others. Do you have something to add? I invite you to share in the comments.

Please pin this purty picture:

 


Patiently Pruning Peaches and Pears

My gardening chore today was to prune my peach and pear trees. In my mind it was urgent because the peach trees are in full bloom and already starting to leaf out. I really wanted to get them pruned while I could see the limbs and the structure of the tree.

We’ve been working on our home orchard for quite awhile now and I’ve been learning as I go. I read up on pruning and then go do the best I can.

Sculpture

Where gardening is an art form, pruning, to me, is like sculpting. Thinking of it that way makes it more fun, anyway.

Peach Trees

With peach trees you want to end up with a vase shape and an open and airy structure.

“Before” picture of our mature peach tree.

Our older peach tree was here when we bought our home, so it’s over ten years old. I don’t think it was planted there on purpose, because it’s right at the edge of the driveway, but I don’t know for sure. I also don’t know what variety it is. Although you can’t tell from the before picture, I gave it a real good hacking last year. In fact, I worried that I had done too much. But here it is again this year, looking like it’s been neglected. Texas A&M recommends removing about 40% of the branches (link at bottom) and I’m not even sure I took out that much.

The reasons for pruning are longer life for the tree, less disease, and better harvest.

I started with removing that broken limb.

First, I started by cutting out broken, dead, and diseased branches.

Hanger shoots are branches that grow from the bottom of the limb. Water sprouts grow straight up from the top of the limb. Suckers grow from the roots at the base of the tree. All three of these types of branches need to be removed, so I did that next. At the time, I couldn’t remember the reason for removing the water sprouts, but it made sense to me to remove branches where I wouldn’t be able to reach to harvest fruit.

Water Sprouts grow straight up

I’ve learned from experience, that during the time it’s growing fruit, it will put on a lot more growth. When it comes time to harvest, it can be hard to reach fruit towards the interior of the tree, as well as at the top. With that in mind, I pruned branches I didn’t think I’d be able to get to. I want the tree to focus its energy on fruit I’ll be able to reach.

I remove branches that are too low on the trunk, and if they were too long and close to the ground, I cut them back. They’ll grow longer during the season, and then with the weight of fruit they’ll hang even lower. You don’t want fruit laying on the ground. Some of the branches extend too far into our driveway and I don’t want vehicles brushing against them later on, so I shortened those.

This branch is growing at too small of an angle.

Branches growing at too small of an angle are more prone to splitting off from the weight of fruit, so those are cut off, too. You want about a 45 degree angle.

When cutting, I try to leave about 1/4″ from the trunk or other branch. You don’t want cuts to be flush. It’s easier for them to heal if you leave a small amount.

After Pruning
Peach tree after pruning.

Branches that crossed others, or were growing toward the interior were also removed. Whew! It’s a wonder there’s anything left after all of that! I go ’round and ’round while pruning, and I step back often to see how it’s looking. Finally, I thought it looked pretty good. As with art, I don’t think there’s just one right way. It just needs to be done, so do your best and learn as you go.

Bull Shoots

I learned that there’s another type of shoot, called a “bull shoot,” that grows from the trunk or the top of the tree and should be removed in summer after harvesting the fruit. I’ll try to remember to do that later in the summer.

Thinning Fruit

I’m waiting to see if we get peaches this year because we had freezing temperatures in the middle of the blooming. When there is fruit, it’s important to thin it. I learned this from experience. The first year I couldn’t bring myself to pull off all of those cute baby peaches. When harvest came, there were a lot of them, but by the time I removed the skin and the pit, there wasn’t much left! If you will thin the peaches, the remaining fruit will be larger and with more “meat.” You’ll have to remove most of the peaches. Before you start, look them over and take off any that are diseased or malformed, then the smaller ones. Try to leave the larger ones with the ideal spacing of 6-8.” It takes a lot of time, so it usually takes me several sessions before I have it all done, but it’s worth the effort.

Pears
Seckel pear tree after light pruning.

I also pruned two young pear trees. They are about four years old and haven’t flowered yet. Although there are a lot of similarities in pruning them, there are also a few differences. You don’t want to remove as many branches as you do with peaches, for one. They also have a different growth habit, so you aren’t wanting a vase shape as with peaches. Mine don’t need very much pruning yet. Mainly, I removed the dead, diseased, and broken branches. I’m really anxious for them to start bearing. We have two, a Seckel and a Starking Delicious Pear Dwarf. We bought both of them from Stark Bro’s about three years ago.

Organic Orchard

I was happy to see at the base of my trees where the chickens had been scratching. I hoped they found some nice juicy pests to devour. Maybe they even did a little fertilizing while they were there. Our chickens, and other birds, are part of my organic gardening methods.

Pooped

Now I’m pretty pooped from patiently pruning peaches and pears! I got a great gardening workout from that, plus a few other things I got done today. I’ll have to prune the apples and cherries another day!

Related Reading

Pruning Peach Trees by Texas A&M Horticulture

Patiently Pruning Peaches and Pears

Clearing the Way for Spring

I love leaves and even wrote a tongue-in-cheek poem, “In Defense of Leaves,” about them last fall, but it’s time to make way for spring and the flowers I love so much. I don’t clean my gardens up in the fall. I wait until spring to clear away the leaves and other debris left from the previous season.

Benefits of Leaves

There are contrasting opinions about whether leaves should be removed in the fall, or not. I prefer to try to work with nature and hold the personal belief that the leaves are beneficial to my garden. If you search the internet, plenty of articles will come up, but here’s one example from Fine Gardening that supports my practice.

When I first started transforming our front yard to a flower garden, it was mostly dirt. Without being fenced, it was a major thoroughfare for both animals and people. Years ago, my husband made a simple fence to protect my gardening efforts, and the front yard has steadily improved ever since. When it comes to gardening, I’m pretty patient. While some people might prefer to hire a landscaping company to come and plant everything and have it done, I enjoy the process of doing it myself, and waiting for things to mature to see if it looks the way I envisioned. With time I’ve been able to watch the health of the soil improve, and now when I dig in it I find a lot of earthworms which are a good sign. Sometimes they’re so large, I momentarily mistake them for snakes! Here’s a great article on earthworms by soilquality.org.

This is a before photo. Leaves tend to gather at this end of the garden.
Affiliate Links - Mid-Life BloggerThe Old Way

In the past I gathered them by hand, stuffed them in buckets, dumped those in my garden cart, and then took it down the hill and dumped that into my compost pile down in the chicken yard. But the heaping cart pulled me going down hill, and was tiring to push back up the hill, even empty.

The New Way

Last Spring my husband gave me the SunJoe Leaf Shredder for Valentine’s Day. I actually asked for it! I wanted to be able to shred the leaves right within my flower garden so that I could immediately use them around the base of plants, or scattered thinly over the ground as mulch.

Reading about it, I imagined it working just like I wanted, but worried that it might disappoint me. I’m happy to report that it worked exactly as I had hoped it would! It’s light-weight and easy for me to move around. It works like a string-trimmer, using a plastic “string” to quickly shred a batch of leaves. It’s designed so that you could put a bag or receptacle below it, but I’m just letting the leaf litter fall on the ground.

We have two huge oak trees in the front yard, so there are a gazillion acorns. I don’t attempt to scoop them all up. Blue Jays eat them, and if they happen to sprout I just snip them off.

Micro Gardening

I love sitting on a little stool and using my gloved hands to gather the debris. It may seem like doing it the hard way to many, including my husband, but I like to do it that way because I’m up close and personal with the ground. I discover new seedlings and growth poking up through the soil, and smell the dirt, leaves, and nearby flowers.

These Grape Muscari and Hyacinth smell heavenly.
I also love the happy clucking of some chickens foraging nearby.
Creeping Phlox smells pretty, too.

If I were standing up using a rake, I’d likely damage the things that I’m trying to grow. That’s why I like to take my time and be gentle. It’s just a little TLC that I give my flower garden. I think of it as “micro gardening.” I put the debris in 5-gallon buckets, and when they’re full I dump them into the Leaf Shredder and mulch them. It seems like it takes about 30 seconds. It’s really fast!Then I scoop up the mulch and put some around the base of bushes or scatter it lightly over the ground. I say lightly, because I plant some things by scattering seeds, and I also love plants that self-sow. Some seeds need light to germinate, so I don’t want them to be covered too much.

Finely shredded leaves
Surprises

I love surprises in the garden and I find a lot while gardening this way.

Asparagus!
Hostas emerging from their dormancy.
Somebody laid an egg in the front yard!

It does take some time to do it this way, but before long I have the garden tidied up and ready for spring. How do you clear the way for spring?