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Showing posts from 2015

Book Review (The Year of the Goat:40,000 Miles and the Quest for the Perfect Cheese by Margaret Hathaway)

Over dinner with friends last month it came up in conversation that I have been considering dwarf goats for our urban homestead. The next day my friend Loretta dropped off the book The Year of the Goat: 40,000 Miles and the Quest for the Perfect Cheese by Margaret Hathaway/Karl Schatz for me to read.

This 204 page book by Lyons Press seemed to gain momentum as I read it. It was difficult not to applaud Hathaway and her eventual husband/photographer Karl Schatz for their life altering dedication to researching goat farming across the continental U.S.. As someone who honestly knows very little about goats I learned a lot. Though it is difficult after reading this book to imagine goats in my immediate future I would like to eventually get to the point where I have enough property to add them to my homestead. It made me hesitant but it did little to scare me away.

In regards to the book the aspect that I found most fascinating was the authors willingness to expose and share her own weakn…

Urban Livestock: Backyard Chickens

Our family homesteads on 1/16th of an acre in a sleepy village in southern New York State. We are nestled between Oneonta and Binghamton N.Y. Chickens play an important role on our micro-farm in regards to our effort for self-sufficiency.
Initially, because space was limited, our main focus was on egg production. So our first hens were leghorns. Though a Mediterranean breed they fared surprisingly well in our harsh New York winters. During peak production each of our four leghorns were easily laying 300 eggs a year. Certainly can’t complain about 100 dozen eggs! 
As time wore on I found that raising chickens was far more valuable to me than simply how many eggs were produced. Simply put, I enjoy being around them. It may sound kind of funny but at times it reminds me of watching a fish tank. The hens, even the flighty leghorns, tend to lull you into a state of calm while watching them peck and scratch at the dirt. Before I knew it I was hooked and on the lookout for other breeds.
I…

Our Winter Homestead

What a difference a year makes. Last year at this time I was walking through knee deep snow in the woods in order to get to the grocery store because the roads were too bad to drive on. Now it is a crisp 40 degrees F. and I am able to work in the garden with nothing but a sweatshirt and knit hat on.

Our garden is still producing Swiss chard, kale and red cabbage. If I had used some foresight I probably could have grown a sizable fall crop this year. Live and learn I suppose. From this year forward I will plant a little something just in case, the worst that will happen is that it won't grow.

With that said there are still a number of jobs that need to be maintained here at Whitaker Gardens regardless of the weather. Currently our livestock consist of chickens and rabbits. Their manure is essential for healthy soil here at the Bossy Hen Homestead. Last year when the snow was knee deep I simply emptied the rabbit litter onto the snow and waited until the spring thaw to work it into…

The Grasshopper and the Ants

I suppose the irony of the first snow this past weekend was that I had just finished reading the classic tale of the grasshopper and the ants to my son during the school week. Somehow I was caught off guard by the drastic change in weather and spent most of my weekend scrambling around our little homestead trying to tie up loose ends for the impending winter weather while also clearing space for the new pellet stove and its fuel.

It is funny how in the course of a week how quickly things can change. Earlier in the week a friend of the family had stopped by and helped extend the chicken run, nearly tripling our original space. It was something I had been eager to accomplish for some time and was very happy to finally see it done. Mother Nature was not going to let me pat myself on the back for too long though and she quickly followed with temperatures below freezing for two consecutive nights. According to the farmers almanac this year is supposed to bring more of the frigid temperatu…

Swedish Flower Hen

The rare Swedish Flower Hen has a unique story. Called Skånsk blommehöna(Bloom Hen) in their native country of Sweden this landrace breed was thought to be extinct in the 1970's. (The term landrace refers to the fact that S.F.H.'s were free to develop for nearly five hundreds years without interference from man, so to speak). But in the late 1980's the Swedish Poultry Country Club located isolated flocks in the villages of Esarp, Tofta and Vomb. The gene bank that was eventually created by the S.P.C.C. was successful and there are approximately 1,300 Swedish Flower Hens currently in Sweden.

While enthusiast of rare breeds continue to work hard to increase the numbers it is painfully obvious why they slowly fell out of favor nearly 100 years ago. Though rare and visually stunning they cannot equal the number of eggs some of the top laying hens produce in a peak yearly cycle. Swedish Flower Hens average around 150 eggs over the course of 12 months. Compare that with the nea…

Pumpkins

My son loves to grow pumpkins. He has since he was a little guy. Truth be told, he is much better at it than I am.

I have mentioned before how much I love winter squash. They come in so many interesting shapes and sizes and the same holds true in regards to pumpkins. Everything from the tiny jack-be-little to the gargantuan Dill's Giant catch my eye in the seed catalogs over winter. Honestly, if I had more room I would have more pumpkins! We tend to grow sugar pumpkins for pie filling in our gardens but we also raise other varieties for jack-o-lanterns and other fall festivities.

One thing to consider before you even put a seed in the ground is exactly how long the particular pumpkins you are growing take to mature. Some easily exceed 100 days and that is cutting it awfully close to the first frost date in our neck of the woods. On occasion the best route has been to buy starter plants from one of the local greenhouses or even start seeds indoors to get a bit of a jump on things.…

Heirloom Tomatoes

Food that you nurtured from seed to harvest always taste better than anything you can buy in the store. This most certainly holds true when speaking of tomatoes.

I am almost embarrassed to admit how shocked I was the first time I ate a tomato out of my own garden. It was so full of flavor! In fact, I found much to my surprise, there were a number of different elements at play on my taste buds. It opened up a whole new world to me. I was no longer fooled by the bland, stiff, reproductions that sat under fluorescent lights at the supermarket. It has gotten to the point where, for the most part, I am willing to go without a tomato until they are ripe on the vine in my own plot. There are, of course, exceptions but I buy them in the store knowing full well what I am missing out on.

Over the years I have developed a few favorites but am always on the lookout for new and interesting varieties. A favorite in our household is the Lemon Drop cherry tomato from Seed Savers Exchange. We also lo…

Zinnia

Though it is true that my wife has a beautiful flower garden that adorns our front lawn the zinnias that we grow happen to be one of the few ornamental flowers specifically showcased in the main gardens themselves. This is not to say that we do not grow flowers among the vegetable and fruit, because we do, it just happens that the majority of them, such as the sunflowers, borage and nasturtium, are edible.

Every spring the Easter Rabbit is kind enough to leave zinnia seeds for the kids in their baskets. In turn, these hardy and vocal flowers are among the first seeds to be placed in the ground each season.

In my opinion there are a number of benefits to adding these lovely plants to any
garden. First of all, bees are wild about them and in truth that right there is enough of an argument for their spot in the rotation. There are also a number of species, nearly ten in all, so it is easy to find one that strikes your fancy. They happen to make great cut flowers because they can handle l…

Autumn Yawning

"Autumn. . . the year's last, loveliest smile" ~William Cullen Bryant~
The signs of autumn are beginning to appear. Slowly, without urgency, the trees are beginning to lose their summer green to the more pronounced pageantry of fall. It began as a slow trickle with only a leaf or two showing any signs of moving toward the season of harvest and now the transformation is widespread and apparent. Before we know it the hills with be alive with crimson, gold and maroon foliage.
Though there is certainly some time left in the garden for things such as harvesting herbs and peppers the weather is changing and with it another season begins to show signs of slumber.

It was a peculiar year. I hesitate to complain due to the massive droughts being experienced out west but this was one of the wettest years I remember. I am shocked that it has not resulted in any flooding as it has in the past. I mention the moisture not to point out that I literally only had to water my garden twice…

A Bully In The Hen House

Among chickens a pecking order is a natural occurrence. I have to admit that the first time I witnessed a performance among my hens for dominance it was slightly disturbing simply because it entailed far more aggression than I had imagined.
My family had four young leghorns at the time and we introduced four new hens to the flock. There was an immediate scuffle between each “groups” top bird. The winner then took on the next challenger and this lasted sporadically for about three days. Eventually a routine and a “pecking order” was established and life was easy.
Recently I decided to add a beautiful Americana and, one of my favorites, a barred rock to our established flock which currently consist of four leghorns. The leghorns did not take kindly to the new birds. For nearly two weeks they harassed the other hens but what I began to notice was that it was being instigated by one hen in particular. She would create a bit of a frenzy and would peck to the point of blood being drawn. …

Learn Something New Every Year

We have been very busy here of late at Whitaker Gardens. Flexibility has been the key and if the truth be told I have had to figure that out the hard way at times.

As is normally the case in May the weather has been temperamental. 80 degrees with high humidity has been followed by early spring temperatures of 60 degrees with near freezing at night. I still am working on my "garden muscles" and have found myself spent when working in the peak heat of the hotter days this month. A blatant reminder to work early in the day and evening and to rest in the mid afternoon heat. I have been trying to get a jump on the final planting this weekend, fingers crossed, by putting in some hours while the temps. have remained low. I am curious to see what sort of impact all the rabbit manure will have this year.

The lilacs were in full bloom early in the month and our trees were heavy with both scent and flowers. The garlic and shallots were making headway and the leeks took to the cold soi…

Spring Has Sprung

Winter is finally loosing its grip on the landscape. The old timers have been claiming that it was the second coldest and fourth most snow in recorded history. Honestly I have not done the research to verify their claims but I am willing to bet they are not far off in their opinion. It was a bear of a winter.

Now I am in the process of trying to make up lost time. Seems like every time one job is finished another appears. I am certainly not complaining because I enjoy my time outside but it certainly has kept me busy.

To begin with, the hens we were watching for friends over the winter have gone back home. I already miss their delicious brown eggs. We still have our four leghorns but I am considering trying to re-home two of the birds because I recently purchased a barred rock pullet and an ameraucana pullet and the whole pecking order situation has really gotten a bit out of control. I feel that if I can break the group up a bit it may become more manageable. For the moment I have th…

Poverty And Food

On March 23,2015 the Star Gazette released an article entitled, "Childhood Poverty Called Epidemic In New York Cities." Click on the following link to read the article.  http://www.stargazette.com/story/news/politics/2015/03/22/new-york-child-poverty/25192525/?fb_ref=%5B%27Default%27%5D

For those of us who live in New York State, especially rural N.Y. this is not news. Poverty has very deep roots in some areas of the State. It is so common place that it is simply ignored on some level as being a given of day to day life. Though the article specifically addresses the childhood issues within N.Y. cities I can tell you as someone who lives in rural N.Y. that the numbers are no less staggering in small town America.

When one talks about poverty there are a few basic necessities that stand front and center in regards to self-preservation. One of those being food. When finances are stable or in excess I suppose that it is easy to occasionally put aside the importance of food but w…

Cold Winter

As winter progresses it is difficult to imagine an end to this weather. A turning point in which one can put spade and shovel in dark brown earth and begin the spring ritual of planting seed.

February gave us 15 days and nights in which we saw temperatures of 0 degrees Fahrenheit or less. One early morning caught my son and I off guard as the temperatures hovered around -20.

It is a time to hibernate of course. This winter that was easy to do as my fourth child, my third daughter was born on February 21st. She is as delicate as the weather and beautiful as her mother and I don't seem to mind the cold so much when I snuggle late at night with her.

In the morning, through dreary eye, I wake with my son and we take care of the rabbits and chickens. I am amazed at how tenacious animals are in this weather. Deep in their burrows of hay the rabbits don't seem to mind that their water bottles are solid ice. The chickens are eager to be let out of their coop regardless of the tempera…

Gardening in Small Spaces

Recently I began blogging for Grit magazine which is a very exciting opportunity for me. If you are interested feel free to explore my Grit blog at the following link http://www.grit.com/blogs/whitaker-gardens-and-micro-farm.aspx

Obviously there are a number of benefits associated with blogging for an established periodical like Grit. One obstacle I have encountered early on though is attempting to convey my thoughts within a structured word count. Grit does allow some flexibility but they do prefer pieces to be within a certain range and on occasion it can be a little difficult to cover all the necessary or desired ground. I do realize that in the end it will make me a better writer/blogger but when the need arises I will resort back to Seed To Harvest in an effort to expand upon some of those ideas.

Recently I wrote a piece entitled, "Tips for Small Property Gardening". http://www.grit.com/farm-and-garden/do-it-yourself/tips-for-small-property-gardening.aspx I wrote it sp…

The Joy of Keeping Chickens by Jennifer Megyesi , A Book Review

"There are as many ways of looking after poultry as there are fashions in childrearing. Pick a system that suits you and enjoy yourself, ignore the avian mother-in-laws tut tutting away." ~Francine Raymond, The Big Book of Garden Hens, 2001~

This winter Santa was kind enough to leave a copy of Jennifer Megyesi's book "The Joy of Keeping Chickens: The Ultimate Guide to Raising Poultry for Fun or Profit" in my stocking. This 256 page informational book is published by one of my favorite new publishers Skyhorse Publishing, http://www.skyhorsepublishing.com/

Jennifer Megyesi along with her husband and son owns Fat Rooster Farm in Royalton, Vermont. http://www.fatroosterfarm.com/

The book provides a very straightforward format covering all the aspects of raising a flock of your own. Everything from housing your birds to showing them in exhibition is covered. Layers, broilers and fertile eggs are all part of the dialogue as well. Jennifer Megyesi has a holistic app…