On the Hunt for Redbuds and Phlox

Now that spring has arrived, I’ve been really busy. I’ve been gardening like a mad woman. In my flower garden I’ve been weeding and pulling up grass, as well as planting and transplanting. One of the corners of the front yard has been neglected, and while working out there I kept thinking about what it needed. I finally decided that I wanted to plant a Redbud tree there.

Nature Study

Since they grow wild here, I set out to find a baby one that I could dig up and transplant. I knew they had heart-shaped leaves, but they were just starting to open and young trees don’t bloom yet, so I started by finding a mature one to study.

Once I had a better idea of how to spot one, the hunt was on. It wasn’t hard to find them, but I wanted one that was small enough that it wouldn’t be too hard to dig up. I wasn’t successful until the third or fourth one. Their roots go down into the rocks, making it hard to dig down, and also to get enough of the root to hopefully be successful in transplanting. I actually ended up with two. One was about five feet tall. The other one was very small, maybe about two feet. I planted it in another bed near the house.

Why a Redbud?

That corner of our yard needed some height, but I didn’t want anything that was too large and obtrusive. Of course, a Redbud in bloom is very beautiful, but I like them when they aren’t blooming, too. I like their heart-shaped leaves and their open and airy growth habit. I even thought I’d enjoy shaping it over time.

More Free Plants

Down by an old home on our farm, there are daylilies and irises that were planted long ago and have naturalized. I dug up some of those to put around my Redbud tree, as well as elsewhere around the yard. I don’t know what they look like, so that’ll be another surprise someday.

Spring Beauty
A beautiful patch of phlox in the woods. See the creek behind them?

The wild phlox are blooming and they’re so beautiful this year. They seem to be more bountiful. I couldn’t help but take some pictures before digging up a few to bring home. I don’t like to disturb nature too much, so I dug up some that were growing in the middle of the driveway and might be trampled anyway.

Blackberry blooms.

In other nature news, the blackberries and raspberries were already starting to bloom! Before you know it, I’ll be out picking those berries.

Mayapple Blossom

The Mayapples are also blooming. They’re so short, at about 8″, that it’s hard to get low enough to get a picture of the blossom. They have a very strong fragrance that reminds me of honeysuckle with a hint of furniture polish (LOL). I’ve never been fortunate enough to get the ripe fruit. I imagine the critters get to them first.

Back at Home
Surprise! The pink Phlox that suddenly appeared in my garden.

When I returned home I was anxious to get the new plants tucked into the ground as quickly as possible. It was a warm day and they were already wilting.

A few years ago I had tried transplanting some Phlox and thought I was unsuccessful because they never bloomed. All of a sudden, last week, a pink one appeared in my garden. That excited me and made me want to add more. The new ones I dug up were blue.

The Blue Phlox in their new home.
Newly transplanted Redbud with irises and daylilies.

I planted the larger baby Redbud in the corner and added some irises and daylilies around its base. I had read that you should trim the leaves of irises when you transplant them, so I went back later and cut them shorter.

The new Redbud is so spindly that it was hard to get a good picture of it. The mound behind it is oregano. Behind that you can see some newly transplanted plants. We’re finally getting some rain, so now I’ll have to wait and see if it survives. I sure hope so. Hopefully, with a little time, this corner of the yard will soon be prettier.

Close-up of transplanted Redbud.

Spring seems so fleeting. There are already so many flowers that have come and gone. It goes much too quickly for me! I hope you enjoyed our walk in nature. I just love spring (and free plants)! Don’t you?!

On the Hunt for Redbuds and Phlox

Build a Strong Foundation at the HEAV Homeschool Convention

No matter what stage of homeschooling you’re in, from just beginning your feasibility study, to graduating your student, the Home Educators Association of Virginia’s Homeschool Convention is one you won’t want to miss. There are many compelling reasons to attend a homeschool convention, especially one as comprehensive as HEAV’s. There’s even a giveaway for a free Family Registration to the 2017 HEAV Homeschool Convention! Scroll down to the end to enter.

Strong Foundation

HEAV’s 2017 theme is “Building a Strong Foundation,” and there’s no better place to begin your homeschooling journey, or do some shoring up.

Research

If you are in the beginning stage of learning about homeschooling, a convention is a great place to gain experience through full immersion. Through observation, you can see for yourself that homeschooling families are all unique, but not “weird” as you’ve been led to believe. You’ll see socialization in action, and how homeschooling affects family ties.

While watching the graduation ceremony, you’ll see that homeschooling through high school is possible, and share in the joy with proud parents.

By attending workshops you can begin to learn about different homeschooling approaches and student learning styles. Your eyes will be opened to the freedom and blessings that await those who choose this lifestyle.

HEAV offers three “Homeschool Success” workshops on Thursday, June 8th, that are free and open to the public.

Homeschool Success workshop. Photo courtesy of HEAV
Get started

Once you’ve made the decision to start homeschooling, the next question is “How?” The HEAV convention will have over 350 vendors with everything homeschooling. You’ll be able to look at the products and ask questions of the vendors, many of them homeschooling parents themselves. You’ll also have the opportunity to compare your favorite curriculums in person. You can see the whole list of vendors here.

Tip: With so many products to consider, you might find it helpful to do a little research on them ahead of time and note the ones you want to make a point to see.

Save Money

You can actually save money by attending homeschool conventions. When buying curriculum in person you’ll save money on shipping, and vendors often offer discounts at conventions.

HEAV also has a used curriculum sale where you can buy books and materials, as well as sell the things you no longer need.

Build a Strong Foundation
Used Curriculum Fair, Photo courtesy of HEAV

One lucky winner will save even more money by receiving a free Family Registration. Be sure to enter the giveaway below!

Connect

Support is extremely important for homeschooling families and conventions are a great place to make these connections.

Photo courtesy of HEAV

Join Home Educators Association of Virginia  – HEAV is a non-profit organization for the state of Virginia. You can read about all the great services they provide by visiting their “About” page.

Home School Legal Defense Association – HSLDA is a national organization that provides many services to homeschooling families. Their members can rest assured that if they have a problem with child protective services, the local school board, or government, that they can call HSLDA for advice or legal assistance. They also serve as watchdogs, scrutinizing proposed legislation for any threats to homeschooling freedom. Consider joining HSLDA not only for the protection of your family, but also for others who may need their services and for the future of homeschooling.

Encouragement

By attending workshops you can build your confidence in teaching your children. This year’s workshops span all subjects, as well as specialized areas such as special needs, adoption, and learning disabilities. One homeschool mom said that she “didn’t feel so alone and intimidated,” because of attending a convention.

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

J. Michael Smith, of Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), is one of this year’s keynote speakers. I recently had the opportunity to interview him and you can read what he had to say in “Homeschool Heroes.” Click here for the list of speakers and their workshops.

Tip: Plan ahead and make note of the sessions that you don’t want to miss.

The convention also offers a Leaders’ Luncheon and a Single Parents’ Luncheon. These events require pre-registration, so follow their links to learn more.

Leaders’ Luncheon, photo courtesy of HEAV
Fun for the whole family

I’ve never seen so many activities offered. Even if the convention required traveling it would make a fun trip for the whole family, not to mention that it’s in a historic area. Here are some of the special events, but be sure to visit their website because there are more than I can list!

Photography Team, photo courtesy of HEAV

Activities for children and teens such as art, photography, chess, a math tournament, a music competition, a dissection lab, and more.

Graduation Ceremony, Photo courtesy of HEAV

Graduation ceremony

A College and Career Fair – follow this link to see all of the colleges, tech schools, military branches, and companies that will attend.

There’s even something for pastors.

Registration

Admission is priced by the family. Pay one low price for a Family Registration, and your spouse and dependent children attend FREE!

There are opportunities for free admission for qualifying families and grandparents. To see if you qualify for free admission or to apply for a scholarship, click here.

Accommodations

All the information you need to make hotel reservations and find your way there, can be found on the convention website. There’s even a shuttle service. They’ve thought of everything!

Prepare

9 Easy Steps to HomeschoolingHomeschool conventions can be overwhelming, especially one as large as HEAV’s. If you’re new to homeschooling, I’ve written an ebook called “9 Easy Steps to Homeschooling,” that takes you through some exercises that are beneficial in the beginning. It may be helpful to work through before attending the convention.

Pack

There are many good reasons to attend a homeschool convention and with HEAV’s being the second-largest in the nation, it’s even more worthwhile. It’s important for your homeschool to have a strong foundation and you can build it by choosing great curriculum, strengthening your confidence, and connecting with other homeschoolers – all at the HEAV Homeschool Convention! If you’re ready to make your arrangements, please visit HEAV’s registration page.

Giveaway

Enter here for a chance to win a Family Registration to the HEAV Homeschool Convention, valued at $79. One lucky winner will be chosen at random and notified by email.

 

Build a Strong Foundation
Helpful Links

HEAV Homeschool Convention

HSLDA

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

Visit Richmond, Virginia

HEAV Convention


A Green Thumb Grows

It was such a beautiful day! All week I had been looking forward to spending it in my front yard flower garden. For a variety of reasons, I hadn’t been able to spend very much time out there lately. It was something I just had to do, for my own well-being as well as for the garden’s. As I was sitting out there pulling up grass and weeds, and enjoying the warmth of the spring sun, I thought about how my green thumb has grown over the years.

Some of my earliest memories involve flowers. I remember my mother growing red tulips when I was very young, maybe four or so. I remember enjoying the scent of peonies when I was about five. My mother loves gardening, so it’s not too surprising that I have grown to love it, too.

I’ve had this angel many years. My mother bought her for me and she has made many moves with us.
Seasons

When my kids were young, I didn’t have very much time to devote to gardening, so what time I had was given mainly to flowers. Even if it was a pot of petunias on the porch, I needed some natural beauty to enjoy.

When we moved out to the country almost ten years ago, our kids were getting older and more independent. We had the space, so my husband built some raised beds and fenced them in. That was the beginning of the vegetable garden. Each year I’ve spent more time in there, broadening the range of herbs and vegetables that I grow. Our kids didn’t show much interest in it, and I didn’t force it on them. It was something that I wanted to enjoy, not spend the time fussing at them. I had come to gardening on my own accord, and I wanted them to have the same choice.

Now that the kids are grown, I’m able to indulge my love of gardening even more. I’ve always admired the pictures of beautiful gardens in magazines, and now on Pinterest, but I had to be content admiring others’ works of art. I’m not sure my gardens will ever look like that, and that’s okay. It’s the journey that I enjoy – learning by doing, being free to experiment and make mistakes, and asking “what if?” Gardening takes a lot of time. Not only the investment of my time now, but seasons for things to mature. Because we’ve moved around a lot in the past, I was never in one place long enough to see that maturity.

Slow Change

The front yard was bare dirt when we first moved here. Our home is on a rocky hilltop with great drainage, so it dries out quickly. It wasn’t until my husband built a fence around the front yard to keep out traffic, both human and animal, that I was able to start working on transforming it. Every year I’ve started new beds, and planted more. The yard is finally starting to get filled in.

I bought this rabbit years ago while shopping with my mother and he has made many moves, too.
The Gardening Bug Bites

A few months ago I wrote a post called Homegrown Salads ~ A Simple Pleasure that included a giveaway for Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. A few weeks afterward, I was shocked to find out that my son had ordered some seeds from them! I was amused by what he chose. I guess, like me, he wanted to try new things. He ordered seeds for yellow and white strawberries. (I’ve never grown strawberries from seed, much less yellow or white ones.) He ordered some eggplant. (That’s one thing I’ve never grown, because I wouldn’t know what to do with it – that’s not something I eat very often.) He has some other things as well, like corn, peppers, tomatillos, and lupines. All of a sudden, my son that had never shown any interest in gardening, was sending me daily texts with pictures of his seedlings. And we’re now having conversations about plants. You just never know when the gardening bug is going to bite!

A text from my son
A Rewarding Hobby

Gardening is a rewarding hobby. When I was younger, I enjoyed arts and crafts, but now gardening has taken over as my art form. I love playing with the colors and textures while at the same time working towards some other objective, such as attracting birds and butterflies, having sweet scents, or food to eat. I can’t imagine ever getting tired of gardening because there will always be new things to try. A green thumb definitely grows on you!

This post has been shared in my favorite blog hops.

A Green Thumb Grows


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?