Tuesday, July 1, 2014

How to Do Things, Farm and Home Help book from 1919

Here is a link to a wonderful old book with instructions on how to do many things around a small farm or home.

There are instructions on how to do everything from making a hay rack to butchering a pig.
Great fun to look through!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Straw Bales in the Garden

I was hoping to try some different types of straw bale garden beds this year, since I've read a lot about it and found the possibilities to be very exciting. I'm still in the beginning stages of my first straw bale beds and am a little more ambivalent about it now. But I'll start at the beginning:

This spring I put an ad on Craigslist asking for moldy or weathered straw bales. Since they grow wheat here, and many people use the straw bales as insulation around their foundations in the winter, I was hopeful that I would get some response.

I did!

First someone called for us to pick up eleven bales. When we got there, they even hefted the bales into the truck for us!
This was wonderful, because while dry straw bales are pretty easy to move around for one person,  these bales were soaking wet, decomposing and very heavy- I'm guessing they weighed about 100 lbs each, since I could barely lift one side and only could move them by dragging them.

We got them home and dropped them off the back of the truck where we wanted them to stay.
This became the first two straw bale beds.

The first straw bale bed was just the bales, with the strings removed, and put into a 3' by 12' raised bed frame. That frame held 6 bales. Since the bales were already composting, I did not do the conditioning that many websites suggest before planting. I could tell the bales were composting because they were wet, heavy, growing mushrooms, smelled of decay, and were quite warm inside.

On top I put composted horse manure, and into this I planted some ground cherry seeds.  This was at the end of April. Just as these were sprouting, the first week in May, we got a late hard frost, and even though I covered them, many died. So last week I put in some other seedlings I had- broccoli, cauliflower,  brusssels sprouts, and some okra seeds. The okra is just now coming up, and the small plants are doing well.  

To plant the seedlings, I used a small garden trowel to remove the straw to make holes about twice the size I needed for the seedlings, and put in compost and the plants. I put the straw I removed  back around the plants in mounds, but not touching the stems. 

The next bed I made with the remaining bales was a free standing bed.  I found a source for as much free composted horse manure as I wanted, so the second bed was a compost well bed. The straw is the frame of the bed, and the 'well' inside is composted manure, straw, leaves and whatever else I had, all mixed and piled inside. 

I piled the compost, about half a truck full, on top and inside the bed. When it was first made, back in April,  it was mounded as high as I could get it without falling off. Now at the end of May,  it has settled and is lower inside than out. 

This bed was planted with tomatoes I had started from seed. These I put around the edges, over the straw bales. Inside I planted carrots. The carrots have sprouted, but have not grown at all. The tomatoes are slowly getting bigger.  I just added a couple basil plants. I tried to put some herbs on the sides, but they died almost immediately. The stems of the herbs got thin and brown like they do with seedlings when they have dampening off. This happened overnight. However, the basil plants I put in on top are doing fine. 

The first week in May, another person was super nice and dropped off about 20 bales of straw that had been outside all winter.  These bales got made into regular straw bale beds, and were planted with more tomatoes in two more beds, 

and some melon seeds in one bed and some squash/pumpkin seeds in another bed. The one remaining bale I planted with some peppers. 

You can really tell the older straw bale beds from the newer ones, because the old ones are really starting to soften and slump. Also, the first beds I took the strings off and put stakes on the ends to hold them together, since I was told the strings had rodenticide on them.  I left the strings on the last batch, since they didn't have treated strings. 

The plants are doing OK. Not gangbusters, but surviving.  Besides the dampening off problems of the herb plants, the seedlings planted on top didn't look healthy after about a week in the straw bales. They started turning yellow from the bottom leaves up, and generally looked peaked.  This meant they weren't getting enough nitrogen.  I thought that the large amounts of manure on each bale would be enough to feed the plants, but this obviously wasn't the case. I started pouring on organic fertilizer., mostly  diluted fish emulsion every day. 

Each application helped a little. Finally I cleaned out both chicken houses and put all the litter and chicken poop in batches into a large rubbermaid container, added water and put the resulting wet slop and liquid on the plants. This fresh chicken poop tea would have burned most plants, I think, but the straw bale plants loved it, and started looking fully green and healthy for the first time in weeks within a day or two after the chicken poop tea treatment.  They may actually be willing to grow a little more for me now. 

I'm not sure what to do to keep them going with such high nitrogen requirements.  The chickens only poop so much. I have some blood meal I could use next, I suppose.  
I've read that many people use Milorganite, as an organic fertilizer, I don't think I will. While it is organic in the sense that it is not a chemical fertilizer, it is not Organic, as in Certified Organic. It is treated urban people poop. I'm not against humanure, but I don't trust what people might put down their toilets along with the poo, like cleaners, old meds, and so on, to be good for my garden. I have a well, and try to be careful of what goes into the soil, since I'm going to be drinking whatever perks through it.  

And I think Straw Bale Gardening in general would be hard to do organically. The straw, to begin with is probably not organic and the nitrogen requirements are very high, and since the gardener is providing all the plant's nutrition, not the soil, I'm not sure the plants will provide a broad spectrum of nutrition themselves when I eat them, unless I provide that nutrition along with heavy amounts of  nitrogen I dump on each bale.  I may break down and buy some good quality GardenTone or something.  It seems odd that I have lots of compost from rabbits, chickens and horse manure available, yet this isn't enough. 

While people say that straw bales are the easiest way to garden, I am starting to feel like Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors.  I feel like they are constantly calling, "Feed me, feeeed mee".  

At least they all came so thoroughly soaked, rotted and wet through that they don't need watering more than once or twice a week. 

My only other consolation is that I'll probably get wonderful compost from them for next year's more traditional raised beds. 

Progress in the Garden

As I've mentioned, this is the first summer at my new place. We moved in at the end of summer last year, and were so busy getting things set up, that the garden was put off. All I did was buy a few leftover scraggly tomato plants on sale at the tractor store, and tucked them into slits in the yard. I think I got maybe a dozen green tomatoes to fry early in October. My plan was to work through the winter preparing the soil for a real garden this year.

An almost constant three feet of snow stopped me. Winter started early, dumped tons of snow, and stayed late, with snow at the end of April and frosts well into May.  Even now, at the end of May, I relish each warm day because of the recent memory of cold nights and frosty days.  I actually only put away my long johns last week, at last sure we wouldn't get any more freezing nights for a while.

So I started this garden year with almost nothing done. I wanted to start what I hope will be, in a few years, a very large garden in part of what is now an unused pasture.  I want to have mostly raised beds, since the soil here is a clay and silt mix that I find difficult to work in. When it is wet it clumps into reddish grey masses, and when dry it is yellowish, cracked, and powdery, and the clumps are like rocks.  There are dogwood sprouts, thistles and ragweed all over the pasture, as well as huge dense patches of wild onions.  The thought of plowing or tilling that all up and weeding it all is overwhelming, so starting a handful of raised beds and adding some each year makes the task seem less daunting and more reasonable to me.

My daughters built me nine 3 feet by 12 feet beds. Two are only six inches tall, and the rest are 12 inches tall. While the wood was all purchased so the beds would be uniform, I didn't want the garden to be super expensive, so I am determined to get the stuff to fill them all as cheaply as possible, or free if I can.

First, the neighbors, for years, have spread their raked fall leaves in the pasture I now own. They bring them over in wagons pulled by their lawn tractors. I told them to continue to put the leaves on the pasture but to leave them in large piles, near the front of the pasture. One farmer drove over and over the piles with a large mower to chop them up for me and we raked them back up and let them compost over the winter. What started in the fall as three piles three feet tall and maybe five feet wide, by spring were just wet masses by the end of April.

Two garden beds that have raspberries planted in them were filled with these. I ordered raspberry slips  from Stark Bros, and they were just put into slits we managed to dig into the soil. The rotting leaves we mixed with free composted horse poop from a neighbor, along with some wood ash from a bonfire to keep the leaves from making the mix too acidic. This filled up the six inch high beds.

The raspberry plants went mostly into the ground, but a couple inches out into the compost mix- mostly because I couldn't get the holes any deeper. Most of them are doing really well. Three died, possibly because of the late frosts we got, and nine are getting new growth like crazy.

To keep the aforementioned weeds and bushes from growing back around the raspberries, I used a moldy straw bale (they come apart in layers) as a sheet mulch.  This is one of the raspberry beds. The other bed has not been sheet mulched yet, and is too weedy to be presentable.

 I'll soon put four fence posts in the beds, one at each corner. I'll string clothesline wire down the length from pole to pole as the bushes grow, three or four times at different heights and keep putting the branches inside to keep them up.   Since I have two beds, I'll cut down one bed each year, alternating beds, so each year one bed will have berries getting ready on the one year old growth.  I chose primocane berries so I would get two small crops each summer, rather that just one.

I'll be pulling out the dead bushes and putting new ones in ASAP, so I may get a few berries later this summer!

I am so looking forward to the first raspberries!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

This is the Dawning of the Age of Asparagus!

The first year garden in any new place is tough, a gamble, and a series of small miracles.
I planted 25 asparagus roots, and they are starting to come up. While they won't be harvested for at least three years, this is truly the dawning of the age of asparagus for my garden.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014


Jaloola and Heather RP Taylor!

And BlameVyvyan won her pick of mugs in my shop!

THANK YOU for all the comments, pins, posts and everything you guys did! YOU are wonderful!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Spring Giveaway!

I feel the need to celebrate Spring with a giveaway.
Winter was tough, and lasted long after the calendar said that Spring was here. We had snow this week,  but today is supposed to be in the 60's, and I saw a violet in the yard, so I'm celebrating!

 You can win either the 11 oz rabbit mug (It had carrots inside and a leaping rabbit on the back) or the meditating sloth mug. It has the word "Namaste" inside, and a sloth hanging form a branch on the back.

To enter to win, just comment below. That is one entry. If you want  more entries, pin an item on Pinterest, or Wanelo, or Tumblr from either of my shops,  and mention it in your comment. You can also tweet an item or post it on your facebook. Whatever social media you prefer, you'll get an entry for each thing you post or pin or tumble.

I'll use a random number generator to choose the winner from each of the entries.

If anyone REALLY wants to post a lot, the first person who does 50 off-Etsy pins/posts/ tumblr/ FB posts will get to pick any mug from my secondchanceceramic.etsy.com shop.

The contest goes until April 27, and the winner will be posted on April 28.

And thank you so much for reading this blog!

Monday, March 31, 2014

April Fools Day Food!

Happy April Fool's Day!

Every year I try to do a fun fake food meal for my family. I thought my kids, who are now all adults, would be tired of it, but I think they look forward to it as much as I do. 
And with a granddaughter to enjoy it, I have more fun than ever!

This year I did the most simple meal I've ever tried, and I'm pretty pleased because the chicken nuggets are something I came up with myself. 

This is the April Fool's food for 2014 featuring chicken nuggets and dipping sauce, juice, half an orange. :

And this is what it is made from:

The chicken nuggets are slightly smashed coconut marshmallows, the sauce is strawberry jelly, the orange has been hollowed and filled with jello. When it sets up after being in the fridge all night, I'll slice it into wedges. The juice is more jello. 
For video instructions, look here.

So, super easy! And since April Fool's Day is on a school day, Grace is going to have the faux chicken nuggets in her lunch box! I know she's going to love it!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Old Fashioned Kids


This article has so many great points about children and play. If you are interested at all in child development, it is worth the read. 
Childhood has changed drastically since I was a kid. No more do kids play outside all day, only returning home at sunset. 
Kids *need* risk, independence, and freedom, but modern parenting is all about minimizing risk, independence and freedom. 

From the article:
"To gauge the effects of losing these experiences, Sandseter turns to evolutionary psychology. Children are born with the instinct to take risks in play, because historically, learning to negotiate risk has been crucial to survival; in another era, they would have had to learn to run from some danger, defend themselves from others, be independent. Even today, growing up is a process of managing fears and learning to arrive at sound decisions. By engaging in risky play, children are effectively subjecting themselves to a form of exposure therapy, in which they force themselves to do the thing they’re afraid of in order to overcome their fear. But if they never go through that process, the fear can turn into a phobia. Paradoxically, Sandseter writes, “our fear of children being harmed,” mostly in minor ways, “may result in more fearful children and increased levels of psychopathology.” She cites a study showing that children who injured themselves falling from heights when they were between 5 and 9 years old are less likely to be afraid of heights at age 18. “Risky play with great heights will provide a desensitizing or habituating experience,” she writes.

We might accept a few more phobias in our children in exchange for fewer injuries. But the final irony is that our close attention to safety has not in fact made a tremendous difference in the number of accidents children have. According to the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, which monitors hospital visits, the frequency of emergency-room visits related to playground equipment, including home equipment, in 1980 was 156,000, or one visit per 1,452 Americans. In 2012, it was 271,475, or one per 1,156 Americans. The number of deaths hasn’t changed much either. From 2001 through 2008, the Consumer Product Safety Commission reported 100 deaths associated with playground equipment—an average of 13 a year, or 10 fewer than were reported in 1980. Head injuries, runaway motorcycles, a fatal fall onto a rock—most of the horrors Sweeney and Frost described all those years ago turn out to be freakishly rare, unexpected tragedies that no amount of safety-proofing can prevent.
Even rubber surfacing doesn’t seem to have made much of a difference in the real world. David Ball, a professor of risk management at Middlesex University, analyzed U.K. injury statistics and found that as in the U.S., there was no clear trend over time. “The advent of all these special surfaces for playgrounds has contributed very little, if anything at all, to the safety of children,” he told me. Ball has found some evidence that long-bone injuries, which are far more common than head injuries, are actually increasing. The best theory for that is “risk compensation”—kids don’t worry as much about falling on rubber, so they’re not as careful, and end up hurting themselves more often. The problem, says Ball, is that “we have come to think of accidents as preventable and not a natural part of life.”


I'm hoping that we can change some of this for my granddaughter. I'm hoping that our move to the country will give her experiences similar to those that were normal in decades past. Last fall, I taught her and Grace how to use a small saw and hatchet, and let them go to it down in the overgrown woods at the end of our property.
They spent several days clearing out 'rooms' to play in. Here is a video of them showing off their work:

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Chickens and Chicks in the Green House.

This is a video of the greenhouse, and the chicks and chickens that are living there.
I moved the chickens into the green house when they started laying in February because they tended to put their eggs in inaccessible places in the little chicken house.  And now the baby chicks are too big to keep inside, so they are in the greenhouse too. Its getting crowded, but as the weather warms up, the big chickens can be outside more.

The floor of the greenhouse has deep leaf litter which will go into the garden beds later in spring. As soon as we can, we will finish the cob chicken house for the adult chickens, while the pullets (young chickens that haven't started laying yet) can live in the portable chicken house. The next project is to finish the cob chicken house and fence in a section of pasture for the chickens. While I would like them to have run of the place, one neighbor is worried they will range onto  his property, so I'll be fencing them in.

With the heat lamps, the green house glows at night. Kinda pretty in the snowy pasture.

Thursday, February 6, 2014


We bought chickens just after we moved here. They were only 5 weeks old and we were told they would start laying in the fall, but they didn't. We've had a very cold and snowy winter. We knew they wouldn't lay in the winter because of the lack of light but I do check the nest boxes every couple of days, just in case.

A couple days ago we got another winter storm, and yet another below 0 spate is due tonight. I was adding hay and straw to the piggies, the rabbits and the chickens.  When I got to the chickens, only two came out of the house, so I looked around for the third one, and opened the nesting boxes.
And there it was, sitting in the nesting box. She got up, and there were four eggs!

One was still a little warm, but the other three were frozen solid. (Poor chicken for having to sit on ice to lay her egg!)
And they were all pretty large! 
It looks like all three laid eggs, since they are all slightly different shapes and colors.  

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Happy Twelfth Night!

I was just looking at A Polar Bear's Tale and saw that it was Twelfth Night tonight. While I am sure you all are baking your bean cakes and mulling your wassail to howl at your apple trees,  I am not.
Instead I am working to finish up a kiln full of ware to fire during a cold snap of below zero weather that is supposed to come in a day or two. 
There is nothing nicer than a kiln to warm the basement and pipes during a frigid spell! I might just make some mulled cider to drink while it fires, though.

Since much of the Midwest US is getting hit by a snowstorm, I thought I would post pics I took while I took care of the animals early in the morning, just after the first big snow we had a couple weeks ago.
Happy Twelfth Night!
Down the pasture to the woods

Jaxon's first snow

Looking back up the pasture to the house

Along the neighbor's pasture fence

Into the woods
A bunny path in the woods

Old wild rose thicket in the woods

The rabbits, chickens, small hoop greenhouse and heritage piggies.