Sunday, November 28, 2010

Our Day Long Thanksgiving Menu

Photo from
We don't stand much by tradition at Our Tiny Farm. Matter of fact, we often get bored with it. And making the same thing every holiday is one of those traditions my family decided we could definitely live without.  Last year we made fondue feasts for both Thanksgiving and Christmas.  We had cheese fondues, broth fondues for cooking meats, and chocolate fondues.  This year when we first began discussing it, my daughter suggested doing Breakfast for Thanksgiving.  At first we all went, "What?"  But then we got to talking and planning and before we knew it we had some great ideas going.  A few days later my daughter brought home the Taste of Home Easy Breakfast and Brunch magazine and we quickly created a menu for the day.  Instead of having one big feast, we decided to have six courses spread throughout the day.  The first course was offered at 8 am and the last at 10 pm.  That way, the cooking never got frenzied, we never overstuffed ourselves, and we had time throughout the day to walk, be with the animals, play on the computer, read, etc.  Whenever we could we used vegetables and herbs raised in our own gardens, and of course, we used our own farm-fresh eggs. 

I mentioned this Thanksgiving plan on my work-oriented Facebook account and several people expressed interest in knowing what we were having.  So throughout the day I Twittered our courses.  For posterity's sake, I thought I would also document our menu here.  Most of these recipes came from the magazine described above and I think all of them can be accessed on

First Course:
Sausage egg casserole (put together the night before)
Home fries (hubby's recipe; using our own potatoes and peppers)
Lots of fresh coffee

Second Course
Pumpkin pancakes (made with our own Seminole pumpkins)
Thick cut, pepper bacon
Fresh fruit salad

Third Course
Gingerbread waffles
Maple sausage patties

Fourth Course
Flaky biscuits with sausage gravy
Savory herbed scrambled eggs (our own eggs and herbs, of course)
Fresh fruit

Fifth Course
Ham-egg paninis (with our own eggs)
Fresh Davis cranberry relish

Sixth Course
Pecan-pumpkin pie (our pumpkins, of course)
Rich chocolate mousse

Now I can't wait to see what we'll come up with for Christmas!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Jeanine Will Be Speaking at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens on Nov. 4 and 6

Photo from the Atlanta Botanical Gardens website

This weekend I'm prepping for my presentations at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens on November 4 and 6, 2010. 

On Thursday evening, I will be giving a lecture entitled "Exotic and Edible: Unusual Plants and Fungi for Home Gardens".  My objective is to get my audience of gardeners to "think outside the box".  Often when I talk to people about growing something new and different in their gardens, they mention new varieties or unusual forms of a common vegetable, e.g., purple cauliflower or white tomatoes.  In this presentation I want to introduce people to crops they might never have heard of or never thought about growing themselves.  Some of these plants or fungi are easy to grow, but others are challenging and only a few gardeners will be successful producing them.  But what fun, huh?  Wouldn't you like to be the first in your neighborhood growing wasabi, hops, or truffles?

Free Alston Lecture, Thursday, November 4, 2010 at 7 p.m.  No reservations required.

Then on Saturday, I will be offering a full-day workshop on "Growing Your Own Pharmacy".  This will be directed at home gardeners, but people who are interested in perhaps doing this commercially will also gain a lot from the workshop.  There will be several colorful Powerpoint presentations illustrating 20 or more medicinal herbs to grow in the sun and shade and how to grow, harvest, and dry herbs.  There will also be two hands-on activities.  One on making simple tinctures and another on propagating medicinal herbs.  All attendees will go home with "tinctures in process" and several potted plants.

Workshop is Saturday, November 6, 2010 from 10 am to 3 pm with lunch included.  $75 ($65 for garden members).  Reservations are required.  Contact the Botanical Garden directly for that information.

Atlanta Botanical Garden

Now, off to the stores to buy some of my supplies!  This is going to be so much fun!!!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Early Fall on Our Tiny Farm

What a glorious fall we are having in western North Carolina!  After the hottest summer on record, I think we are all enjoying the cool temperatures, gentle breezes, clear blue skies, and the brilliant colors that our area is so well known for.  If you have never visited western North Carolina, this is the time of year you should choose to come.  This is when those of us who live here walk around thinking to ourselves, THIS is why we live here. It is SO BEAUTIFUL!
Our chickens enjoying fresh corn from the garden.
Life on the farm keeps us all busy.  The chickens are in various stages of molting.  They look so pitiful at this stage.  Makes some of them a little nasty, too.  We are fortunate this year that they aren't all molting at one time (that's what they did last year), so we are still getting some egg production. We have already replaced the chicken wire and sheet plastic on the coop and run, so all we have to do for the winter yet is throw a fresh coat of paint on. 
Our own Japanese hulless popcorn.
We grew our own popcorn for the first time this year.  We grew a heirloom variety that I picked up at a seed swap.  It is called "Japanese Hulless Popcorn".  It did great!  Easy to grow; no worms.  We harvested it all when we thought it was dry.  Then we spread it out on a table in the house and test popped a few kernels every few days.  When better than 90% popped, we shucked it and put it into the glass jars like you see in the picture.  It is very good popcorn.  One ear is ruby red, so we are saving most of it for planting next year.

The fall garden is producing spectacularly!  We have an abundance of Seminole pumpkins, butternut squash, bok choy, lettuce, peppers, end of season tomatoes, and leeks coming off right now.  The basil, broccoli, cauliflower, and summer squash are still growing.  And there are lots of herbs tucked up close to the house where they are protected from the early frosts.  The cellar is packed with pumpkins, winter squash, and potatoes. The freezers have a rainbow of great looking vegetables stacked neatly inside. The honey is in jars and waiting on the shelves for hot biscuits and cups of tea.  Life is good.

  Donkey had an abscess!
I'm happy to report that Murphy's Law is still functioning well at Our Tiny Farm.  Early in the month my dear hubby and I were all packed and ready to head to Charlottesville, VA for the Heritage Harvest Festival.  We went out to feed the animals before we left when we discovered the donkey was lame.  This is the donkey who has never been sick or hurt in his entire life.  But the one and only day this year that we both plan to "get away for the weekend", the donkey is lame.  We were so fortunate that the vet could come right out, find and treat the abscess, and reassure us that it really was okay for us to leave for a few days.  The fun would be when we got home and had to soak his foot for fifteen minutes twice a day for about five days.  That was an interesting experience, but no one got hurt!

  New flashing put on the barn.
Last winter was long, cold, and very wet.  We had snow on the ground from mid December through mid March.  That is very unusual for us here in the southern mountains and we really weren't prepared for it. Much of the winter the barn floor was a muddy mess.  It was not comfortable for the animals and I worried about their feet all winter.  So we decided to remedy that problem.  We are raising the floor of the barn.  We put more treated lumber on the bottom of the walls, put on flashing to prevent moisture damage, raised all the doors, graded away from the building, put a very thick layer of fine gravel inside, and built new ramps to the doors.  Tomorrow the new sawdust arrives to spread over the gravel.  It was quite a task, but now it is a very nice barn!.  
The big pile of "screenings" used to build up the barn floor. 

The next tasks on the list include building a run-in for the cattle, getting in our hay, and putting up a small greenhouse.  We never seem to run out of things to do around here! 

Monday, September 6, 2010

It's been a busy time at the farm.

It's been a busy time at the farm and work the past few weeks.  Here are a few photos to show what we've been up to and the beauty of this time of year in western North Carolina.

You can see how big the calves have grown.  Hubby has them trained to come when he whistles or shakes a bucket with feed.


The hens love fresh sweet corn. I like this picture because all the white hens are on one ear and the Cornish are all on the other.

This is a picture of some of the Beautyberry on our farm; purple and white varieties.

I took a hike at DuPont State Forest yesterday. Here are a few pictures I snapped.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Donkeys are Just SO CUTE!

If you follow my blog you know I have a standard sized donkey and I think he is the greatest donkey in the world and I tell him so every day.  But tonight I took a stroll down our lane and discovered that our neighbor's miniature donkeys had babies!!!  They are so cute, I just had to share some pictures.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

What a Crazy, Busy Summer it's Been

 Daughter's flower garden. 

It has been over one month since I posted on this blog because this summer has just been so full of other activities, I just never got around to it.  My professional job has been insanely busy with new grant projects, new employees, hiring more employees, conferences, and grant writing.  I just returned from a week long trip to California for the annual American Society for Horticultural Science conference.  That was fun, but now there is twice as much work to do at home as when I left.

The vegetable garden has been highly productive this year. We purchased a very large chest freezer (from craigslist) because we've already filled the upright freezer. We've frozen dozens and dozens of bags of yellow beans, green beans, broccoli, peppers, and corn.  There are lots of potatoes and onions in the cellar. Eggplants, peppers, yellow squash, and tomatoes are now in high gear and we are harvesting the first of the butternut squash.  Looks like we will have a cellar full of butternut squash and Seminole pumpkins this winter.  Looking forward to that because I have many wonderful recipes waiting for them.

So cooking has been a joy this summer.  I love to check out the day's harvest, which is usually waiting for me in the kitchen when I get home from work, and plan a meal around it.  Give me some fresh vegetables, garlic, cheese, and olive oil and a good dinner can be on the table in no time.  Add the herbs from the kitchen herb garden, and it's a little bit of heaven on earth.
Clean hens.

Last night when I closed up the coop and did a last check for eggs, I noticed that a few of the hens had "dirty bottoms" and I was concerned that they might have lice, worms, or some other malady.  So early this evening we set up our little hen cleaning station and one by one we took each hen out of the coop, closely inspected her top to bottom, set her in a tub of warm water, and cleaned her up a bit.  Everyone looked good.  Don't know why some of them had such messy bottoms; maybe too much squash or something.  But they all look healthy.  One appeared to have a bit of a sour crop so I massaged it, drained it and will put some apple cider vinegar in their drinking water tomorrow.  I also took the opportunity to clean their nests, inspect the roosts, and dust everything with some diatomaceous earth.  I fed them some bread to thank them for their cooperation and now they are all settled back in for the evening.

 Hagar, the world's greatest donkey (in my opinion)

The equines are doing just fine, too.  The other day someone left the feed room door unlatched in the barn.  We assume it was the donkey who got the door open and that both the horse and the donkey knocked over all the feed cans and worked their way into the bucket of horse cookies.  I swear the donkey checks every gate and latch several times each day.  He's a smart little guy and together they are quite a comedic pair!

  A freshly clipped horse.

The horse is a senior citizen and like many horses his age, he has Cushing's disease.  We treat him for it and he seems to be doing quite well except that he grows a very thick coat that he never really sheds out.  We have had unseasonably hot temperatures this summer and he was always sweaty and miserable, even with the fan in the barn.  So we splurged on a really good pair of clippers and trimmed off the heavy coat.  Suddenly we had a slim, trim, black Tennessee Walker again!  He was quite proud of his new appearance and made sure the lady horses in the nearby field took notice.  Guess that trimming will just have to become SOP with him.

I don't have any new pictures of the feeder calves or the foster goats working the area next to our pasture. I'll try to get those posted later this week.  But the calves are getting used to my husband and come when he whistles (expecting a little sweet feed, of course).  We are amazed at how much more water they drink than the horse and donkey and had to invest in a larger water trough for them so we could be sure they wouldn't run out during these long, hot summer days.

  Sunset in Palm Desert, California.

I'll close with a picture of the palm trees at the resort in Palm Desert where I spent last week.  I went for a long walk every evening when it cooled down to 100 degrees or so.  Beautiful place to visit, but I'll take western North Carolina over that any day of the week!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Garden is in Full Production Now!

We are now spending a great deal of time harvesting and processing vegetables from the garden. Right now the beans are going gang busters!  We have yellow and green snap beans and we couldn't ask for better looking crops.  So that is how we are spending our late Saturday afternoon; washing, tipping, blanching, and freezing beans.  We both get a great deal of satisfaction from filling our freezer full of the produce that we've grown.

The zucchini and yellow summer squash are also producing well.  We have them in at least one meal every day.  That's another thing I love about this time of year.  I like the challenge of trying to use as much of our produce as possible in all my cooking.  Summer squash is very versatile and can be incorporated into every meal. It is wonderful in pancakes or muffins for breakfast.  For lunch today, I sauteed yellow squash, zucchini, onion, garlic, and a few chopped yellow beans in olive oil.  Then I added the leftover spaghetti sauce and six little meatballs from dinner the other night.  That, a loaf of fresh, homemade bread, a little cottage cheese, and fresh blueberries made for a wonderful lunch. Tonight I'll make a salad with long, thin strips of the squash, chopped tomatoes, and toss it with a fresh basil, pine nut, and olive oil dressing.  With bison burgers (from local bison, of course) cooked on the grill and bulgur with chevre and cilantro, it will be a perfect holiday weekend dinner.  Summer eating is so great!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Update on the Farm: We Finally Got Our Steer

Lots has been happening on Our Tiny Farm!  The vegetable garden is growing well this year.  We harvested all the broccoli heads and froze most of them.  Doesn't look like we are going to get as many side-shoots this year as in previous years.  Don't understand why.  We are growing the same variety we usually grow, Packman.  The Chinese cabbage, which was supposed to be bok choy, all came off at once.  I made several salads, included it in stir-frys and soup, and finally started adding it to almost every dish I made.  I just couldn't use it all; my creativity gave out.  Fortunately, the ladies (chickens) liked it very much.  But next year, I don't think we will plant Chinese cabbage.  We will concentrate on growing produce we can process and store.  Items like Chinese cabbage, that we only use a little of, we'll buy at the tailgate market.

The peas have also been producing well.  I have cooked up bunches and we've frozen quite a bit.  Hubby just informed me tonight that there are leeks ready to use, probably a few radishes, and some young onions.  The cauliflower is just starting to head up.  We enjoyed our first blueberries and black raspberries, too.  Yum.

We haven't paid much attention to the herb garden because daughter has kind of taken it over and incorporated it with her flowers.  She is putting in a big flower and cutting garden on the back of the house.  Fun watching her become a horticulturist.  She definitely uses her plants to relax and unwind after a long day of dealing with customers.

Two of the hives spun off swarms today.  Hubby and daughter saw them.  Even though we put out special swarm boxes, we lost them both.  Oh well.  Hope someone gets to enjoy them!

The big news, however, is that our two steer arrived today.  They are fall calves, so they are about six months old; 500-600 lbs each.  They are Biltmore Estate Angus.  Not inexpensive, but should be great genetics!  We built a paddock on the side pasture so they can become acclimated.  On Saturday we went to a friends' farm for a C.R.A.F.T. event (see if you are curious) to learn about pasture raised beef, pigs, chickens, and ducks.  Excellent timing!  We had so many questions.  Nothing better than actually being on someone else's farm to see for yourself how to do something like this.  That reassured us that steer are pretty self-sufficient.  Ha.  I say that now.  I just hope they are both still in the paddock when we go out in the morning!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Travel Log: Portland, Oregon

On Friday, I left for Portland, Oregon to participate in a large advisory committee meeting for the Wild Forest Goods Project of the Institute for Culture and Ecology (  I'll put more about that project on my work blog ( Here I want to concentrate on the fun, travel, culinary, and social aspects of the trip.

Photo of the MAX Light Rail from the TriMet website.
My friend, Robin, and I flew to Portland on United Airlines.  Flying sucks anymore, so all I'll say is that we got there on schedule.  We were given instructions by our host to take the Light Rail from the airport to downtown.  Neither Robin or I visit big cities very often, so figuring out how to work the Light Rail system was pretty comical.  We had to ask for help buying our tickets, reading the maps, determining which train to get on, etc.  Once on, however, it was quite interesting.  It starts out just like any other train, running on tracks off by themselves, but then all of a sudden, you are in the city on the streets right along with the cars, bikes, and people.  It was pretty cool!

  Photo from
Robin and I are fairly educated people who have traveled widely without any problems, but navigating Portland on foot was a challenge.  Not sure why, but we had to pull out our street maps over and over again to find our way to the hotel where we would be staying for the next three nights. It didn't get any better over time, either.  Not sure why we found Portland so confusing!
Photo of king bed room from the Hotel Deluxe website.
The Hotel Deluxe was a real treat and I highly recommend it.  It is a beautifully renovated historic hotel.  It's decorated in an old glory days of Hollywood theme and it suits it well.  The rooms are small, but well appointed.  And the renovation is astounding.  Ornate ceilings, period furniture, black and white movie photos.  Wonderful.  It has a restaurant and a lounge.  Our first dinner there was delightful.  I had crab cakes, a sizzling wild mushroom plate, and a local brew.  We also ate three breakfasts there.  They were interesting, but could have been seasoned more and the service was slow.  But, I'm willing to wait a little while for crab and shrimp eggs benedict!

Photo from the World Forestry Center website.
Our meetings were held at the World Forestry Center next to the zoo in Portland.  That was an interesting place that I wish we had more time to explore.  Very well done with detailed, colorful exhibits.
Photo from the Henry's Tavern website.
Eating and drinking in Portland was delightful.  Since I am doing research on hops, I felt it was my duty to sample as many hops products as possible.  Lunch the first day was at Henry's 12th Street Tavern.  What a treat!  Interesting interior architecture with great attention to detail.  Wonderful service.  Over 100 beers on tap.  I had the grilled wild Alaskan Coho salmon sandwich with lemon artichoke tartar on a brioche bun and a little jar of their pickle slices.  With a local beer made with Citra hops, giving it a fresh, citrusy flavor, it was the perfect welcome to Portland lunch.

We also had dinner at the BridgePort BrewPub in the historic Pearl District.  I had a juicy lamb burger with feta cheese and roasted tomatoes on a bun.  Another dinner was had at Deschutes Brewery & Public House.  We started that dinner with some black truffle fries and I had a delicious Cuban sandwich with a bit of a bite to it.
Photo of a queen room from the McMenamins Edgefield website.
Our last evening was spent at the Edgefield in Troutdale, Oregon.  I don't know how to describe this place and do it justice!  This is a 1911 county poor farm that has been loving renovated into a very unique inn complex with multiple venues including entertainment, pubs, gardens, and a spa. Whimsical is the best way to describe the decor.  Even though you are very close to an urban area, you feel far removed on the 74 acre property.  There are no televisions or phones in the rooms.  There are big porches to sit on and lots of room to roam.  My only complaint was that the room I stayed in used common bathroom.  Very well appointed, but for me a bit of hassle because I kept forgetting things and having to go back to my room.  But not all the rooms are like that.  So I would definitely stay there again and just get a room with a private bath. 

All in all, it was a wonderful trip.  Next time I would like to take hubby with me and stay awhile longer, but I'm not sure he could handle that long flight. So, maybe a very extended road trip in a RV??

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Garden Update and Dinner Made with Garden Fresh Bok Choy

Onions, peas, potatoes, corn, broccoli.  The wet lines in foreground are carrots.

What a great week for the gardens.  We had steady, soaking rains earlier in the week and sunny, but not too hot weather for the past few days.  Perfect weather for growing vegetables and working in the garden.  The garden is looking particularly beautiful right now.  We are excited to have a little time to keep up with it right now.  We ate our first peas today. Broccoli is heading up nicely and the bok choy is coming on.

Peppers and a few tomatoes were just planted.

We got brave today and planted tomatoes and peppers.  Brave?  Yes, we could still get a frost up here in the mountains.  But, we have few enough of the sensitive plants in that I'm sure we could cover them if we had to.  We have eggplant transplants to set out, too, but won't plant them until we find the rowcover material.  Planting eggplant under rowcover is the only way we have found that works to prevent flea beetle damage.

Dinner using garden fresh bok choy.
Hubby was a little concerned about what we were going to do with all the bok choy we grew.  He likes bok choy, but doesn't know many ways to prepare it.  So, using the first head we harvested this season, I made a bok choy salad with lots of red wine vinegar, sesame seeds, and ramen noodles. Chicken breasts with shiitake mushrooms, banana peppers (from last year's garden), and bok choy. And quinoa with cilantro, peppers, and onions.  Yum!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

How to Cook with the Bounty You Bring Home from the Tailgate Market

This morning we visited the Mills River Tailgate Market again.  There weren't as many vendors there as last week, but we still had lots of good food to choose from and great people to talk to.  We bought a tomato and caramelized onion focaccia bread, rainbow radishes, and red leaf lettuce.  Then we went to the Hendersonville Tailgate Market on King Street and bought vegetable transplants for our garden and some shiitake mushrooms.

I was talking with a woman at the first tailgate market and she commented that she always bought so much at the market because it looked good, but then she didn't know what to do with it all when she got home.  She talked about pulling out cookbooks and watching cooking shows and all the special ingredients that she thought she needed.  I suggested that she keep it simple and just enjoy the tastes of fresh, wholesome food and gave her some ideas.

Thinking that maybe some other folks might also be struggling a bit with this question, I thought I would share what I made for dinner tonight with the bounty we brought home from the tailgate markets.  This meal took me about 35 minutes to leisurely prepare.

Corn on the Cob
Shiitake Quesadillas
Tomato and Caramelized Onion Focaccio

The corn on the cob was frozen from last year's garden. It was a bicolor corn, 'Ambrosia',  That is the best corn!  We froze it four ears to a bag.  Just bring a pot of water to boiling, add the frozen ears, and boil for 20 minutes.

For the quesadillas, I sliced the small container of shiitake mushrooms, a small onion, and two garlic cloves.  Sauteed them in olive oil and then added about 3/4 of a cup of frozen chopped banana peppers (also from last year's garden).  Seasoned with sea salt and fresh ground black pepper.  Laid out four flour tortillas, sprinkled with shredded sharp cheddar cheese, spread the mushroom mix on top, folded in half, and cooked till golden brown on a lightly oiled griddle.  Cut each in half to serve.

The salad was fresh lettuce, thinly sliced radishes, a sprinkle of cheese, and croutons, lightly drizzled with a shiitake-sesame dressing (Maple Grove).

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Pictures of Our Chicken Tractor

Our chicken tractor with annex. One wing is up so the girls get lots of sun and fresh air.

Many people are building chicken tractors this spring and there are dozens and dozens of plans on the internet about how to build them.  We, too, studied all those plans before we built ours.  We read every university poultry page we could find, followed all the blogs, read all the backyard chicken pages, etc.  We were assured that four to five square feet per bird was more than enough.  We were even more generous.  The total floor space of our original chicken tractor is 40 square feet.  With six birds, that is about 6.7 square feet per bird.  That was fine for pullets, but by the time the ladies were full grown, they were cramped and the pecking and other bad behaviors began in earnest.  Our chicken tractor is very well built and as predator proof as I think you can make one to be, so we didn't want to compromise the integrity of that.  We chose to add an annex that we can pull up to the end door of the chicken tractor.  It doubles the space for our six hens.  They are okay with that amount of space and most of the pecking stopped, but if I had to do it all over again (and we might build another one in a year or two) I would give them even more space.

A view of the chicken tractor with both wings down so the girls have a protected run area and an open area.

A few details about our system.  The original chicken tractor has chicken wire all over the sides AND bottom of the coop and run.  We have lots of raccoons, skunks, etc. in our area and wanted to prevent any of those mammals from digging under the edge of the tractor to gain access.  We later added hardware cloth on the top of the run area because our horse put his foot through the chicken wire trying to gain access to the chicken scratch.  Turns out that was a really good idea because two big dogs got into the pasture one day and threw themselves against the sides of the run.  I don't think the chicken wire would have held up, but the hardware cloth did.  

The annex is just chicken wire on the tops and sides.  The bottom is open so the girls can scratch in the dirt to their hearts' content.  The annex does not provide complete protection; I think a dog or coyote could get through it or work its way under it pretty easy.  But our whole system is within a pasture with a six-strand electric fence, so we feel like the girls are pretty secure during the day and when the fence is on.  Hawks are our biggest concern in the daytime.  At night the chicken tractor is secured; the end door on the run is shut and the drop down door on the coop is lowered.  

The coop part of the chicken tractor has an open area below and roosts and two nest boxes up top.  The original structure was a simple A-frame as you see in so many plans.  But the girls were really cramped for space at night. They all wanted to be on the highest roosts or in the nests and did not use the lower roosts at all.  So we put a dormer on and put the two nest boxes in that space giving more room for high roosts all on one level.  They like that much better.  It also gives us easy access to the nests, the roosts, and the ladies. So when we need to check them for mites or pick up a broody hen and move her, it is easy.  You have to be able to reach your birds!  

Our whole coop area can be accessed for cleaning.  The roosts and nests slide out for cleaning. About every four days, I lower the side of the coop and use a leaf rake to break up any droppings that have accumulated on the bottom wire.  We move the tractor daily.  The nests have flexible plastic sheets in the bottom that are easy to remove, wash, and replace (no wet wood).
Shade cloth on the "sun side" of the coop.
The "wings" on the run area are wonderful.  Both sides can easily raised and lowered.  The usual configuration is one up and one down.  Originally we only put the plastic on the run in the winter; that allows us to give them a greenhouse so they are protected on really cold, windy, or snowy days (without the plastic, they just stayed in the dark coop all day).  But now we leave the plastic on all year round.  Since we can raise and lower the wings easily, we can provide protection from wind and rain by raising and lowering the appropriate ones.  We have a piece of polypropylene shade cloth that we put on the west side of the run during the summer to give them shade.  The run and coop actually stay cooler this way than they did when we did not have the clear plastic on and only had a shade cloth.  The girls really don't like the rain or high winds, so this set up has worked well.

 Chicken tractor open, raised, and empty for spring cleaning. Both wings are up.

This shows all the parts of the tractor dismantled for cleaning.  On the left you see the roosts, the nest boxes, and the waterer support block.

As you can see from the photos, we have a lever system that lets us raise the heavy end of the chicken tractor.  We then have two rings on the other side that we slide a fiberglass pole through.  That is the handle we use to lift that end and move the tractor.  Because of all the additions we've made, the chicken tractor is heavy.  My big, strong son can move it pretty easy and since I am a tall, fairly strong woman, I can, too.  But my daughter cannot move it by herself.  Hubby is creating a plan to put two drop down wheels on the front to remedy that.  

All in all, this set up works great for us right now.  It is very secure and gives year round protection from predators and the elements.  It has stood up through hurricanes, blizzards, and severe summer storms.  We will redesign our next one though.  This one is too heavy and having two pieces is a wee bit of trouble.  And I'm still working on an automatic door opener for those rare mornings when I want to sleep in a little but my conscience won't let me because "the girls need to come out".  

Thursday, May 6, 2010

What a Beautiful May Evening it Is

View from the front pasture at dusk

It's been a few days since I posted an update on the farm.  We continue to have a very beautiful spring.  Good weather for growing peas, broccoli, and bok choy.  Can't wait until we can eat some of those.  In the meantime, we tenderly care for them.  We replanted some potatoes that didn't come up. Strangely, mostly in one row.  We also planted carrots and beans and we hope to seed all the rest of the crops this weekend.  We will also go to one of the many tailgate markets and pick up some of our warm weather transplants such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants.  If we can swing it, I'd like to get over to Greenlife Grocery in Asheville on Sunday and buy some from my research specialist who has started her own little farm and sells at the tailgate market in the store parking lot.

The blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries look strong and healthy and are covered with little fruit. We need to find some time to get them weeded soon and build the trellis.  The posts are just leaning against a tree right now!  The asparagus ferns are also coming up in abundance.  I look forward to eating lots of it next year.  We only ate a little bit this spring since we moved the plants and wanted to leave the crowns lots of energy to get re-established.

My daughter has covered the back patio and front porch with all of her containerized plants and many flats of flowers.  We are going to till up a bed for her to grow her flowers since it doesn't look like she will be back into her own place before they need to be planted out.  It will be nice to have flowers for cutting.  The rest of us will concentrate on vegetables, herbs, and perennial flowering shrubs.  We have never planted a cutting garden before.  It will be a nice addition.

The half of the front pasture that was fenced off and fertilized grew well.  Unfortunately, it still has far too much clover.  Looks like we are going to have a slobbery horse again this summer!  But there is no bare ground exposed, so we are making progress bringing the pasture back from two years of drought followed by a year of excessive rain.  Now we have the other half fenced off and fertilized. When that part is done, we are considering dividing the pasture up into thirds and rotating the animals around them.  The side pasture, however, looks fabulous.  The best grass you'd ever want to see.  So we will have plenty of good quality grazing land for our boys.

The chickens are doing well, too.  They are so funny.  I have spoiled them rotten.  Every time I go out to see them I have a treat in my hand, some bread, weeds, fruit, or veggies.  Now they expect it when anyone walks up to them and they loudly express their displeasure if you don't have something for them to eat!  Two of the Dark Cornish look like they are going broody again.  So I'm going to have to start isolating them from the nests for part of the day so the other girls can have a turn to lay.  I really like the Dark Cornish breed except for the tendency for the three we have to do this.  It's kind of a pain.

 Plymouth Rock and Jersey Giants
We use fly eliminators, parasitic wasps, as the main portion of our fly control program.  Last year we were very pleased with the way that worked for us.  We started the program on time this spring, but our second shipment arrived very late and the wasps were mostly hatched out when we opened them. We distributed them and the company sent us a new batch, but in that little window of time, the flies got pretty bad.  The flies were really annoying the horse's eyes, so my daughter put fly masks on the horse and donkey for the first time.  They both tolerated them very well.  That was, until we went to remove them.  The horse did fine, but when my daughter released the velcro on the donkey's mask, he panicked at the sound.  Now he takes off anytime we rip apart velcro.  So we are working at desensitizing him to it; one of us feeds him treats while the other rips velcro apart nearby.

The flowering trees and shrubs are beautiful around here right now.  Rhododendron, azaleas, cherries, and my buckeye.  Like I said before, this is a BEAUTIFUL spring.  

Friday, April 30, 2010

It's Spring in the Mountains!

Look at all those peas growing!

My online community of friends keep showing off their gardens full of all kinds of vegetables, including tomatoes and peppers.  As you can see from the photograph above, this is not the case in my area.  But, compared to others around here, our garden is well along.  Remember, even though we are in the south, we are at 2,100 feet.  The published last frost date for this area is April 26 or 29, depending on who you consult.  But those of us who have lived here awhile know it is best to wait until mid-May if you don't like to replant.  So right now, we are just tickled pink to have peas, broccoli, potatoes, onions, leeks, and such growing right along.  
Picture from the WNC Herb Festival website
Tomorrow I will go to the WNC Herb Festival at the state farmers' market in Asheville and pick up some unusual herbs to put in our herb gardens.  This is a great event; if you've never been, you should check it out.  What really makes it special is that you can ask herb questions from the real experts. Anything you ever wanted to know about herbs you can learn at this festival.

The flowering shrubs are just outstanding this year.  Here is a shot of a Viburnum out front.  What an incredibly colorful landscape we have right now.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

What's Been Happening at Our Tiny Farm

Air Force One arriving at the Asheville Airport on April 23, 2010

It has been a busy couple of weeks around here and I have not had time to keep up on this blog.  I started three new grant projects at work; on hops, forest products, and organic research.  That's been very exciting, but two of the projects are supposed to have full time employees doing the work, but I haven't been able to hire them yet.  So, I've been doing three full time jobs.  Fun, but exhausting.

The big local news is that President and Michelle Obama  are spending the weekend in our area. They flew into the Asheville airport Friday afternoon and my son and hubby were nearby to get some pictures and video footage of the historic event.  They picked a very beautiful time of year to visit our mountains.

We have been working hard here on Our Tiny Farm and the place is looking great!  All the early vegetable crops are planted and growing.  The pea trellis, garden fence, and gate are newly constructed and looking very fine.  Ground was leveled to create a proper pad for the greenhouse we hope to construct this summer.  We took advantage of having the heavy equipment here to lay new water and power lines on the part of the property.  We sectioned off half of the front pasture with a temporary electric fence so we could fertilize and renovate it.  It is filling in nicely with grass again. We had so much clover there last year that the horse had the slobbers something fierce.  In about a week we will do the other half.  The other pasture is being prepared for the cattle that we hope to bring in next month.  With the help of a crew of volunteers, the old rusty wire fence along the road, that was overgrown with honeysuckle, poison ivy, and lots of other unidentified vines, was ripped out and replaced.  It looks so much nicer and will probably be more effective at confining a few young steer.  Managing manure on the pastures has been an issue for us for several years and we've been exploring different ways to handle it. In the past, we would go out with a tractor and trailer every week or so and fork it up and add it to the manure pile.  That is time consuming and not much fun. So hubby put together a "manure drag" out of a piece of chain link fence and four cinder blocks.  He hooked it up to the big John Deere mowing machine and dragged it around the field. It appeared to be quite effective at breaking the manure into tiny pieces which should break down quickly.  Hopefully, between that and the fly predators that we release, we will have adequate fly control and a good looking pasture. 

This week we will plant another round of crops in the garden.  Seeded crops such as radishes, carrots, lettuce, and corn can be planted now.  It is so hard to be patient and wait to plant tomatoes, peppers, basil, and eggplant. But our last frost date is still many weeks away and I don't like to plant twice, so we will wait.  In the meantime, I can renovate the herb garden and we talked about planting a new one, too.  Daughter is living at home again and she wants to plant flowers.  Lots and lots of flowers. It will be a vibrant, beautiful little farm this summer.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Farm is Shaping Up Nicely This Spring, Thank You

Here's a quick update on our tiny farm. 
Chicken tractor and annex dismantled for spring cleaning

The bee hives.  Love that honey.
  • The garden is bigger and better than ever this year! 
  • We moved the asparagus out of the vegetable garden to its own permanent beds.  We harvested just enough for one meal and will leave the rest to rebuild strong crowns and roots so we can enjoy them for many years.
  • Hubby directed son in the  installatin of a permanent fence around the enlarged garden area with a cute little garden gate. Previously we had to take the fence down every year so we could maneuver the big Troy Bilt tiller around the edges when we tilled in the fall and spring.  But with the Mantis tiller picked up on Craig's List last year, we can do the edges with it and leave the fence up permanently.
  • This is what is planted in the vegetable garden so far: leeks, onions (two varieties), peas (two varieties), potatoes, cabbage, bok choy, broccoli, and cauliflower.  Remember, we are in the mountains, so our season is much later than many other places on the east coast. We had heavy frosts the past two nights.
  • The blueberries are blooming!
  • The kitchen herb garden will be renovated and expanded.  It was a very cold winter and the rosemary suffered some cold damage, but there is enough of several large plants undamaged that I think I can prune them back to look good again.
  • We had several years of drought followed by a year when it never stopped raining, so the pastures are a mess.  We put up temporary electric fencing to divide the front pasture in half and fertilized and reseeded one side.  After that gets established we'll do the other side.
  • Last weekend I scrubbed and disinfected the chicken tractor inside and out. I lined the nesting boxes with a thin flexible plastic mat to make cleaning them easier.  I also put the shade cloth up on one side.  Nice to have that job done.  Now the ladies are all set for the warm weather season.
  • The family has done an amazing job cleaning up the farm this spring.  We gathered up all the limbs that came down during the winter storms, cut back more of the invasives that were slowly taking over the bog side of the farm (e.g., privet and multi-flora rose), moved some big boulders along the dirt lane to prevent it from growing wider at our expense, mowed all the grass areas, weeded along the fence lines, and removed the few last remaining piles of "stuff" that were on the property edges from the prior owners.
  • Plans are being finalized to purchase two very young Angus steers to graze in the bog.  This is an all new venture for us.  It is pretty exciting!
  • The hens are producing eggs like crazy this spring and loving all the luscious new spring weeds.
  • The horse and donkey are also enjoying the fresh spring grass.  There was so much snow this past year they were forced to go weeks eating nothing but dry hay and grain.  They much prefer to graze.
  • Hubby is the beekeeper in the family, and when he is able, he has been working on the bee hives.  We lost several over the winter and intentionally killed out a very aggressive hive.  But he has the remaining ones all set for the season and is trying a bee allure product to try to attract some swarms for the empty hives we have to fill.
  • All in all, the farm looks very beautiful this spring.  Hubby and I were walking around it early this evening and discussing how different it looks from when we purchased it almost eleven years ago.  It is very satisfying.