Apr 29, 2016

Spring around The Homestead

My roses are blooming like crazy - and they are huge this year!
Spring has sprung here in California! With my parents in town over the Easter Holiday, we took a tour around the property. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the Fig Tree already has large green figs forming on it. Before I know it, it will be time to harvest and make more of my Fig Preserves. 

Our wedding arch and the grapes
Those preserves have been a huge hit with the people I have given this to as gifts. I've even had people ask for more, which, of course, I have happily obliged. But that also means I am almost out of my stock from last year! The sad part is I could have made more but instead I dried and froze a bunch of harvests instead - which still sit in the freezer to this day. The goal had been to make fig bars. One of these days...

The garden is coming along great. Almost all of my spring and summer crops are planted. Unfortunately, my tomato and basil sprouts from the laundry room didn't survive the hardening process this year. We broke down and purchased 6 tomato plants at Costco and 6 more plants at a local nursery. We also purchased 6 basil plants from Costco. 

My pepper seeds took forever to sprout and by the time they did, I had already purchased other plants. I managed to get 6 of 12 bell pepper seeds to sprout and I did plant those in the ground without hardening them. Only 3 survived and are still quite small. It's as if I need to plant tomato and pepper seeds in November to have the plants ready for garden planting!  I may just stick to purchasing plants from the nursery from now on. 

The chickens have been growing fast! And we're pretty sure we have at least 3 roosters. At least it's not 6 or 8. They've been moved into the coop outside for a few weeks now. This was after Cameron not only improved it so we don't have a repeat attack by a coyote and expanded it!  The expansion will allow us to separate the Turkeys from the Chicken food when they get too big. 

The Turkey Expansion Area

We purchased two bronze Turkeys a couple of weeks ago. They are currently smaller than the chicken but were much older than the age we got a turkeys last year. We've brought them out to the coop a few times for some socialization with the chickens, but until they get all their feathers, they will spend their nights in the garage. We think we scored 2 Toms this year!

Lloyd & Harry (or Henrietta if Harry turns out to be a girl)

Cameron is also working on building a coyote-proof pen just behind our main backyard area, too. That's because we're getting baby goats! These are Boer goats, which is the preferred breed for meat goats. These two little gals won't be dinner just yet, though. We plan to breed these two and raise their offspring for meat. Of course, we have plenty of people asking us if we will be making goat cheese. We're not quite ready for that kind of work and commitment, sorry. 

London's Goat - Sunny
Sydney's Goat - Roxie
When I told London what these goats were for, she got upset. Apparently, she wants a pet goat. So she is currently doing chores around the house to earn money for a Pygmy Goat. Amazingly, she's already saved more than 1/2 the money she needs. And she can't earn more than $8 a week. Some of her chores involve taking care of other animals around our house. She has to let the dogs out each morning, feed them both in the morning and evening and monitor Jake & Kelsey's food bowls. 

The soon-to-be Goat Pen
The Goat House - soon to be painted Red
We'll see how the goats like being next to the dogs
London is quite motivated and on top of her chores most of the time. We added these chores as we want her to understand that if she gets a pet goat she needs to be responsible for it and take care of it. Right now, Cameron and I are both impressed. 

London was feeding Sophie in the mornings, but that chore now belongs to Sydney. One morning Sydney burst into tears when we explained that feeding Sophie was London's chore. Sydney said she wanted a chore board, so guess what my weekend project is?! (Of course, things have been so busy, that has been a weekend project for a few weeks too). 

Sorry for my absence - I'm behind in all areas of my life right now. Just trying to stay afloat is hard. 

Apr 6, 2016

London's 1st 4-H Presentation

The weekend before Easter included a 4-H Baking Club meeting for London, and by default me (don't get me wrong, I love it. I attend the baking meetings and Cameron goes with her to the Wildlife meetings). 

At this meeting, London needed to give a oral presentation on any subject she wanted. Oral presentations are part of the "curriculum" of 4-H, mainly designed to help kids learn to speak in front of large groups of people. Because London is at the primary level, she could have either done this presentation in front of a couple of the 4-H leaders, a small club group or in front of the entire 4-H Club organization at one of the general meetings. After watching a few presentations at the general meetings, I asked London if she wanted to do her presentation there or at a Baking club meeting. Of course, London opted for the smaller group. 

I didn't give London the option of doing it in front of just club leaders, as I do want her to learn to be comfortable speaking in front of large groups. I still have a hard time with presenting. The last time I had to do one, I could feel my whole face go red and I almost fainted (tunnel vision started to set in, but luckily it was a short presentation.) 

And it worked out well, as at this meeting the kids were making cupcakes so there would be some downtime where the presentation would be good filler. 

Cameron and I both helped steer London in her presentation topic since she originally said she wanted to do it on the color pink. We bribed her into covering Baking Basics, by telling her she would get to make a blueberry coffee cake two times - what can I say the kid loves to bake. 

The first time was the weekend before the meeting. London loved not only getting to bake but also getting to use the camera for the first time to take pictures for her presentation board. While we went through the steps, I quizzed London on different things that need to be done while baking, from washing hands before getting started to having adult supervision when using the oven. I then wrote these basic guidelines down into a presentation dialog, trying to use words I knew London knew or could sound out. 

A few revisions were made before I wrote the presentation onto index cards. The night before the presentation, London made the coffee cake again, and cut out and glued the pictures for the board. She even copied over my writing for the title on the board. The cutest part was London kept wanting to practice reading her presentation out load, which really helped her. Such a good habit to get into. 

When it came time for the actual presentation, London got nervous. Luckily, you only get support  and encouragement in 4-H. Everyone encouraged her to do what ever made her comfortable - to the point that they would have let her read the cards from behind a chair. But London was able to read her presentation while sitting on a chair. 

My goals for London in this presentation were to read her cards and do it in front of the group. She exceeded those expectations and I was so proud of her for doing it. Everyone loved the coffee cake too. Plus, it was a nice Thank you we could leave behind at the Firehouse, since the local firemen loaned us the use of their kitchen for the meeting. 

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get too many pictures or video of the presentation as London quickly wanted me sitting near to help during the presentation. 

This was one of the cupcakes London made at the meeting - she named them "Rainbow Amazing" with the help of one of the older girls

Mar 30, 2016

Happy Spring!

Things have been busy around the homestead lately. The weekend before Easter felt as if it was dedicated to birthday parties and 4-H, which included London's first ever formal presentation. But that's a post for another time. 

This past weekend we celebrated Easter. This of course included our tradition of quiche Lorraine (minus the crust) for brunch, homemade pizza for lunch and carrot cake with cream cheese frosting made from scratch for dinner. Yes, I said dinner.

I tried a new thin-crust pizza dough recipe, swapping all-purpose flour for whole wheat. It turned out pretty good and allowed the flavors of the toppings to really shine through. 

On Saturday, Sydney's best friend McKenzie came over for a play date. Toward the end of the day the 3 girls dyed hard boiled eggs, that we haven't done a thing with since. But they loved it - they only wished there had been more to dye. Dyeing eggs goes quite quickly in comparison to the time it takes to get set up, and to hard boil the eggs! 

The Easter Bunny came that night and filled the girls' baskets with a ton of candy and left candy filled eggs throughout the yard for the girls to find the next morning. McKenzie and her parents, Matt & Lynde joined us for brunch and the egg hunt, too. With help from us adults, they had found all the eggs within a 1/2 hour or so. 

Easter weekend also brought the arrival of London's spring break, and my parents! They came into town to help with childcare this week. They whisked London away Sunday evening for an in-town vacation. They usually stay at a hotel when visiting and this time, they made sure there was a bed for London too. On London's wish list of to dos? Go golfing (which really means putting practice), have lunch at Ikea, go to the park and see Zootopia at the movie theater. 

Today, my parents will pick up Sydney to join in on the fun - just in time for Cameron and I to go see the San Francisco Giants take on their AAA team, the Sacramento Rivercats, in an exhibition game here at Raley Field. We bought a pack of season tickets just so we could go to this game. Cameron and I can't wait!

And Sydney can't wait to join her sister and grandparents. She had a bit of a hard time on Monday going to school. She wanted to stay home and she said she was missing her sister - mainly she wanted to go to the movie theater since London had mentioned it. Luckily, I was able to convince her that the idea of making popcorn at home and having a movie night at home with Mommy and Daddy that night would be just as fun. And she did have a blast mixing the popcorn and eating it for dinner. 

Hope your Easter weekend was enjoyable too. 

Mar 3, 2016

2016 Summer & Fall Garden: And It Begins

Let's see. The last time I worked in the garden in 2015 was toward the end of October, where I was still harvesting tomatoes until the oven died while baking Sydney's birthday cake. In mid-January, I started planning our Summer & Fall garden for 2016. I got about 2 1/2 months break altogether. Not that a lot goes on in these early months. But we've already had to re-seed all the tomatoes and peppers we are planning to plant this year. 

And I'm sad to say, I already feel behind. In mid-January we ordered all the seeds we needed. And the first week in February, I planted all the tomatoes and peppers, as I wanted to start these from seed, indoors (kind of), because we didn't have good luck starting these types of seeds directly in the ground last year. 

Except, this year, instead of starting the seeds indoors, we started the seeds in trays inside a temporary greenhouse we bought off Wayfair. We set it up in a windstorm, and had initial fear it wouldn't survive the night. But it did. But, almost two weeks later, we still didn't have any sprouts.

I suspected the reason we didn't have sprouts yet may have had to do with the temperature inside the greenhouse. While it was plenty warm in there during the day, my guess is it was dipping below 50-degrees each night. Most mornings were between 38-45 degrees outside. 

And then a storm hit on President's Day. Literally the day after I planted my basil seeds and placed inside the greenhouse. By Tuesday morning, the greenhouse was no more. I checked and felt we were on the cusp of missing out on starting any of these plants indoors this year, so we ran out to Walmart, got new trays and soil starting pellets. This is because my second concern for the seeds not sprouting was the soil, as we got potting mix versus seed-starting mix. 

See the green string just below the Orange bucket...That was what was holding the greenhouse down. As you can see it failed. 
More failed green string

That white spot is the clear plastic of the green house. It was blown about 20 feet away into the fence. I had already picked up all the metal poles that constructed the frame at this point. 
Now we have the three new trays in our laundry room, where the seeds will get sunlight and where the temperature doesn't dip below 50-degrees. Plus, we have had success seed starting in here before with the same kind of seed trays and soil pellets. My efforts have already paid off. Both the basil and tomato seeds sprouted last week. Just waiting on the peppers now - only 2 have sprouted this far. 

Tomato plants
And the peppers...Hopefully they sprout soon.
Cameron has also turned the soil over in the same spot as our garden last year and created my rows. He did this just in time, as I already have Sugar Snap and Snow pea seeds in the ground. This year, we planned ahead for these types of plants, too. We placed tomato cages over the seed plantings for the peas so they have something to grow up immediately. The previous two years we kept forgetting to set something up in time, or what we had set up wasn't strong enough, both resulting in more difficult pea pod retrieval than it should be. 

The girls joined me on Monday when we planted the second round of Snow and Snap peas. I may have some helpers on my hands this year!

Pea sprouts!
Oh, and I was right about temperature being the deciding factor with the seeds in  the greenhouse not sprouting. I went out into the yard the day of the storm and gathered what was left of my trays and seed plantings. I had quickly just placed them in the house, thinking I would re-use the trays before we zipped off to Walmart for new ones. Some of the cups still had dirt in them and a few days later I noticed sprouts!

This is after not sprouting in the green house, getting damaged in a wind storm and then not being watered for over a week!
All this is a learning experience in my mind. I was never much of a gardener before we moved to our property - I left the small gardens we had at other homes to Cameron. But since moving here and having the space to truly plant what I want (PUMPKINS), I've found a new hobby (and combined it with canning and preserving). I don't see anything as a true failure. Yes, at times, it can be frustrating and depressing, but all I can do it learn from it and correct the issue next time.  

This time we learned that temperature is truly a factor for starting certain types of seeds and if it's not permanent structure, it doesn't belong on our property. I'll be even more prepared for next year's planning based off my learning, planning and preparing for this year - trust me, given my love of lists and organizing, our 2017 garden prep is already started. 

Mar 1, 2016

Hello Chicks!

I was definitely sad for our chickens and the horrific way in which their lives came to an end at the very beginning of this year. But I was also quite upset at the thought of starting completely over with chicks. We had just started to get eggs when winter hit, and thus egg production skidded to a stop. 

I had been looking forward to adding to our brood this year, but with the knowledge of knowing I'd be getting eggs from the older chickens while we wait for the new chicks to grow up. Now we're back to square one completely. Which means we have to deal with chicks in our garage and all the dust that comes with that, again. And wait a long time to get our first egg, again. 

Luckily, we have learned from last year. First, we moved the location of the chicks pen in the garage. Instead of having the pen just outside the door from the house, and right in front of a refrigerator and freezer we access often, we've moved the chick pen into the one car garage, which is on the other side of the two car garage. The two are connected by an archway. 
The chick pen was where the tool table is located this year. 
My biggest complaint with chicks in the garage is the amount of dust that gets over everything in the garage, from the fluff we have on the ground for the chicks. The dust got so thick in our garage last year that it brought cobwebs down from the ceiling. Seriously, it started to look like a Halloween Haunted House. 

We never fully recovered in cleaning last year's dust away, either. And for me, it's been frustrating to spend all this time organizing and cleaning the garage for chicks, who are just going to destroy it. And then there's the thought of having to clean the garage all over again, once the chicks move to the coop outside. 

The view into the second, 1-car garage
So this year, we plan to put up a painter's plastic sheet between the two garages (hopefully we get this done this next weekend). That way at least the two-car garage won't be as impacted by the dust. Our going in and out between the two garages, I'm sure some dust will find it's way in. 

We also did away with the flimsy plastic pool we used last year. Using bins we have stored in the garage already, and the base to Cameron's old lizard, Spaz's aquarium, we have created a little chick corral. We stacked the bins 3 high with the idea that if the chicks can get up that high, they belong outside. 

And there is the new chick corral
We also wanted to get chicks earlier than we did last year. Last year we brought the chicks home at the beginning of April. A couple weeks ago, we stopped in at our local feed store and Tractor Supply. Both already had chicks for sale. We set to work over the last two weekends getting the garage as ready as possible. 

Looking down into it. We got more fluff when we picked out the chicks. 
The first weekend, I went through boxes and bins and moved what I could to the shed in our backyard. I also went through and got rid of a lot of items. Amazing what you can part with when you haven't seen it in 2 1/2 years. Of course, I also found the keys to Cameron's Camaro - just weeks after we got it back from the shop, which included a $600 charge for re-keying it!

Then, this past Sunday, Cameron and I worked on creating the chick corral. We had it together so quickly, that we decided we had time to go get chicks that afternoon. We packed the girls up and headed to Tractor Supply. Last year, we got our chicks from the local feed store. We decided to give Tractor Supply a chance this year and see how accurate they are at sexing out chicks. We will still get our Turkeys from the local feed store in a few weeks. And just in case, we got 10 chicks, instead of 6. I'm fine with 1-2 roosters, but I sure hope we don't end up with 6. 

We purchased 3 Rhode Island Reds, 3 Rhode Island Whites, 2 Wyandottes and 2 Golden Sex Links. We may pick up an Amercauna or two (the kind we had last year as they lay the bluish eggs) when we get the turkeys too. All the chicks we have now are brown-egg layers. Oddly enough, Tractor Supply didn't have any white egg layers for sale. 

The girls, of course, love having new chicks around. The first thing Sydney wanted to do yesterday morning was go see the chicks. This made getting her ready for school real quick and easy. Both girls love going out to see the chicks and petting them. This new crop of chicks are much less skiddish than last years. Last year, all the chicks would run to the opposite end of the pen when we walked in the garage. This group really doesn't move. And we can pick them up more easily. You can just put your hand down and they jump into it. This can end up being a good or bad thing. As I see it, I wasn't emotionally attached to our last chickens at all, because there had been little to no bonding at this early stage. I bonded more with Christmas the turkey, followed by Thanksgiving. They just had more personality. 

This new crop of chicks may have more personality than the last, which means we may bond with them more easily. Which means, if something horrible happens to them, we would be more upset. Only time will tell. But we will be fortifying the coop to help prevent a coyote attack too. Hopefully, these chicks grow up and live happy, long lives while supplying us with lots of eggs. 

I'll try to get more pictures of the chicks soon.