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How to dry birdhouse gourds

As the season draws to a close, some of you may have planted some of the elusive bird house gourds. (They seem elusive because I never can find mine until the vines start to die off.) But now what? How do you get these lime green beauties to turn into something for crafting? Well, its kind of a long road but in the end, worth the effort. Step 1) Harvest gourds. Leave a few inches for the stem, it looks cool and open punctures are bad.  You can pick them after the vines die off, or if you are having bug problems, as I often do, you can pick when you are happy with the size. ( If the bugs start making holes, you are in trouble. These buggy holes or other punctures often cause the gourds to rot. ) 2) Store. Some people keep their gourds outside over winter, I do not. I have had pest issues that way, so now I prefer mine to come indoors. I get the benefit  of keeping a closer eye on the drying process and they get moldier. (yes moldier is better) The mold creates beautiful patterns and hues on the finished gourd. Place your gourds in a barn or garage with plenty of airflow between each fruit. Mold is good, rot is bad. I lost an entire years harvest to rot and attribute it to lack of airflow. It was nasty to clean up, and I hope to never repeat that mistake! If one starts to squish up on you, pitch it out, so it doesn’t rot all the rest of your future beauties. So after your gourd have been sitting AWHILE like… until march … you can check to see if they are ready. Gourd skin should have changed to brown and will be dry to the touch, usually the skin is peeling. If you pick them up the gourds are surprisingly light weight, and may even rattle from the dried seeds inside. Then you know it is time! 3) Take off skins. This is the worst part. The skins just don’t want to come off. I filled up 5 gallon buckets and soaked mine (the best I could, it is kind of like trying to keep a balloon submerged) until the skin was more workable. Then I took a brilow pad and scrubbed until I could scrub no more. After the skins were removed I allowed them to dry and then cut in holes for the bird, a landing stick, and some at the top to hang it from a tree.  Then me and the kids had a painting party, and hung them in the back yard. I feel like they turned out beautiful, apparently the neighborhood birds were not as impressed, because none of them were chosen as a nesting place last spring. (maybe birds don’t like houses painted like monsters?) Oh well, they still look cool! I hope you have success in your gourd adventure! I know we will be putting more up this year for next spring’s projects!

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5 homesteader skills you should know

Being a homesteader isn’t like a thing that you can wake up and one day decide that you are. It isn’t something you become after you move to the country, or even after you buy a pair of overalls. To me, being a homesteader is a state of mind, backed by skill sets. These skill sets are learned over time, through sweat, and adversity. It is a constant way of life that I continue to add new skills along the way. I’m still not sure if I am a true homesteader. After all, the goal of self sufficiency is still so far away. We are still quite dependent on the grocery store an don’t even get me started on the feed store. That remains our biggest challenge. How can we grow THAT much food for the chickens, turkeys, goats, pheasants, quail, geese, hogs (at least the cows are grass fed) and whoever else I might be forgetting? A problem for another day…. Anyway, on to the skills.

  1. LEARN TO GARDEN. Seems simple. It is not. Gardening is in in-depth learning experience that takes time to learn. You must figure out what to plant, when to plant, how far away to plant, when to water, how much to water, how to weed, how to deal with pests, when to harvest, and how to store your harvest. Then when you get all that figured out, their is still soil amending, plant rotation, and seed storage. But DONT GET DISCOURAGED just because it might not work the first year, doesn’t mean it won’t work the next. Ask an old timer for advice, or join a Facebook group, people generally are pretty awesome about sharing knowledge.
  2. LEARN TO STORE FOOD. Food storage can be attained in a number of ways. Freezing, dehydrating, canning and the root cellar are the way we handle it around here. But, there are many other ways as well. Learning to pressure can and hot water bath are essential for our food storage systems and I highly recommend learning. There is nothing better on a cold winter day, than being greeted by a plethora of jewel toned jars in your pantry. It is much easier for me to open a jar than it is deal with frozen bricks of food. However with that being said, I do freeze corn, spinach, and all my meats. Potatoes, onions, and winter squash go to the root cellar.  Make sure to store potatoes away from onions, or they will greatly shorten your shelf life.
  3. LEARN TO CARE OF YOUR CRITTERS. Unfortunately taking care of livestock is more than just keeping them fed and watered. Although that is definitely the most time consuming of chores, there are other skills to be learning along the way. How to keep chicks at the correct temperature, how to administer medication, tattoo ears, and clip hooves are skill sets learned along the way. These are nuggets of information that can be passed along from year to year, and hopefully, generation to generation.
  4. LEARN TO USE A FIREARM. Guns are used more than just for personal self protection. Guns on the homestead are another part of keeping things running smoothly. Although they are not used often, guns are used to protect livestock, cull old or sick animals, and aide in the butchering process of large animals. THIS IS NOT A MAN SKILL. Ladies I know it is easier to have hubby go out a cull old Ms Waddles, ( and lets be real, my husband does this job ) at least know how to use a gun if you HAD to. As in, raccoon in the henhouse type situation. I think a shot in the air is better than nothing.
  5. THE MOST IMPORTANT SKILL IS TO LEARN TIMING. What do I mean, you may ask? Well, I’ll tell you! The timing of seasons on a homestead are critical in making it work effectively. You must know when to plant specific crops in order for them to survive. Some plants like cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, Brussels sprouts and kale, like the colder climates. You can plant these early in the spring and again for a fall harvest. They don’t do well in the heat and will not produce like they should. Everything equal except timing, the same plant cared for identically only in different months will either succeed or fail. Chicks, as another example, you also must keep on a close timing schedule. If you order your meat chicks too early in spring you will be doing constant battle with the cold, and may end up losing them due to uneven temperature. If you wait too long into the spring, before ordering meat chicks, then when it is butcher time you will be battling the heat and flies. TIMING IS CRUCIAL we order meat birds early, and have them delivered may 1, that way we can raise them until the first of July. Then we can  have them in the freezer forth of July weekend. Keeping a calendar of crucial plant dates, harvest times, breeding seasons ect. will keep your farm running efficiently. Otherwise you may forget you need to breed back your cows, or when to get a hen of a nest of unviable eggs. Not that it has happened to me or anything….
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tips on how to make your vegetable garden beautiful

  1. When you plant use string. I am HORRIBLE at making straight lines of seeds. Using string tied to two stakes for your rows insures even spacing and beautiful results for seeds or pre-potted plants.
  2. Weed your garden in the morning on a day that it is not going to rain. The morning means not to hot for you, and the weeds will have all day to cook in the hot sun. If you weed before a rain, somehow all the weeds replant themselves…I don’t know how this happens but it is a fact
  3. Plant flowers. I know it one more thing… but sunflowers (my fav) along the edge of the garden adds a huge wow factor plus you can eat the seeds after the bloom dies.
  4. Put taller plants to the back. Tomatoes or trellised plants should be put in the back as to not block the view to the rest of your beauties. Keep in mind though, you want your tall plants to the north of your garden so not to shade other things.
  5. If you are like me, keeping up with weeds in your rows is an annoyance at best, and they win the battle most of the time. Therefore I usually cheat. Adding landscaping cloth, or cardboard in your rows minimizes weeds making your garden prettier. Likewise I also use straw around tomato plants to keep weeds down and moisture in.
  6. If time allows, fence it in. A fence gives you more definition. If you don’t want to fence, plant garden away from the edges enough that you can mow right up next to the garden. NO LONG GRASS in-between yard and garden. This is an easy way to made things look more trimmed. I have told myself in previous years “oh i’ll just weed-wack” yeah right. This didn’t happen and it looked terrible. Mowing up to the dirt is a way better option.

Hope these tips help you create a beautiful garden!

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Why starting seeds in pots is better than direct sow

When I started gardening six years ago, I didn’t know much. Thats an exaggeration, I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know how to bury potatoes over and over to get the best crop, or how to trim tomato plants to yield a sweeter harvest. Fast forward to now that I am a little older and wiser plus have a few more youtubes under my belt, I have made a new discovery. I don’t like direct sow. This has been  recent development because I had always started seeds early in a pot before frost, than after the cold, I would just direct seed my squash, pumpkins,corn ect in May. But after some experimenting, I think next year EVERYTHING will be pots first. Let me make my case.

  1. I don’t like to weed. If your plants are bigger when you put them in, you know where they are.You can weed accordingly. Direct seed you don’t really know whats coming up where…and weeds are allowed to grow for a while until what is what can be determined. Then I have to play catch up to get rid of unwanted guests. And I don’t like to weed.
  2. Starting seeds in pots means bigger plants faster. I had to see it to believe it, but it is true. Seedlings in pots are almost six inches bigger in the same time, just for getting better water than direct sow counterparts.
  3. Prettier gardens. Because you have plants instead of seeds, you have more control over straight ones and spacing. Seeds tend to move around in the dirt when watered, plants are more stationary.

So there you have it. My arguments on pot seeding.I hope this makes sense and helps you in the future. But for now, I need to get off the computer and get out and plant! (in pots of course) Hopefully I won’t have to weed.

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Taters are in! How we plant potatoes

One of my favorite vegetables are potatoes. They are very versatile and the kids don’t complain as much at meal time(how many more bites?)This is how we plant our potatoes. Step one: till.The garden gets a good tilling, the thing to watch out for is the soil moisture, if it is too wet it gets all clumpy and we want a nice fluffy till. Step two: trenches. We use a potato digger attachment on the tractor, but for smaller areas a hoe would do just fine. We dig nice straight trenches about 6″ deep, making sure we are not all the way down to the pan (the hard dirt that hasn’t been tilled) that way the potatoes can grow without resistance. Step three: potato cutting. The potatoes that we are planting come from our root cellar, also known as the hobbit house. Crops that we can winter  over such as potatoes and winter squash, make their home there. Because the hobbit house is buried in the back of a hill, the earth temperature keeps it from ever freezing and in the summer months going in there is like air conditioning. After gathering the potatoes, they get sliced up according to their eye placement. What are eyes? Those are the weird sprouty things coming out of the potato. Sometimes the sprouts are very large, other times you can just see a little green mark starting on the skin, in either case you want about three eyes per slice of potato. Some potatoes may make 4 planting while others only 1 or 2. A 5 gallon bucket full of sliced potatoes is 25 pounds. We have white, idaho, and red potatoes equaling 47 pounds. If we are lucky, each pound planted will equal 10 pounds of harvest. Step four: place potatoes. Potatoes get placed snuggly cut-side down in the trenches about 18″ apart. We try to plant rows in same type of potato, but at the end we usually end up with one row of mix and match leftovers. Step five: bury potatoes. Potatoes get buried in about 3″ of nice fluffy dirt. Potatoes are a root crop after all so the easier it is for them to grow the better, also the more root the more potatoes. So as the potatoes grow they will get reburied in more loose dirt as they emerge. This happens about 4 times until the original cutting is mounded under at least a foot of dirt. Then we wait until they bloom and die, then we harvest, but more on that later. So for now we admire our freshly tilled dirt, without any weeds, and anticipate our harvest to come!

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The trouble with organic gardening: We grow delicious bug food

I can picture a beautiful vegetable garden, in lovely weeded rows. Where everything is nearly trimmed, and all the home chief has to do, is go out and select this beautiful organic produce, take it in the house to put directly into their homemade meal. The reality of this for us, is slightly different. We starting gardening about 5 years ago, and has been a learning and evolving process, we mess something up, then try something different the next time. Our rows are not always straight, weeded or trimmed, last year it was so muddy, we couldn’t get in the garden to do anything for weeks at a time. So as our knowledge and experience changes, so does our technique. Dad aka Papa, built a greenhouse 2 winters ago. This has served us for all our seed starting needs and his hydroponic endeavors.(growing food in water instead of dirt). We added a hoop house this past winter and are excited to get that filled with plants this spring.Both of these buildings give us the luxury of minimal weeding, and ultimately more climate control. The theory is pest control will be super easy as well, however bugs are survivors and they can radar in on our delicious organic greens. They think that we grow all this bounty for them. Even in the greenhouse green worms are picked off. Our most recent infestation has been aphids, and those definataly cannot be picked off. So what is an organic farmer to do? Well switching to some pesticide has crossed my mind…seeing our beautiful eggplant reduced to lacy leaves is enough to boil my blood. But in a final attempt to organically grow food, we have hired some mercenaries. The small spotted kind. The kind that eat aphids for dinner. Literally.Enter ladybugs.You can buy them by the bagful on amazon and they are known for their big appetites. So we will give this one last shot before we break out the bug spray.If they aphids don’t go, we will lose the entire years crop.Keep you all posted.

 

*update we did let the ladybugs go…if we had to a do over, we would let them go over days or weeks instead of all at once. Even in the greenhouse they all seemed to disappear…back to the drawing board