Sunday, September 30, 2012

Homestead Updates

     I have missed blogging.  I have taken a temporary full-time position to fill in for someone on maternity leave at work and it has taken up much of my time.  I enjoy my job and will miss the full-time pay when I return to part-time status, but I will be able to catch up on some much needed tasks.  The chickens are growing like weeds and our out-building is half-way finished on the inside, but hurricane Isaac gave us a week of rain and mess to clean up.  We are a bit behind our anticipated schedule, but we are still moving forward at least.
     On the subject of our chickens, we have 3 that are laying now, but have discovered bit of a problem.  When I first ordered them (mail-order) I chose a male and female Golden-Laced Wyandotte pair and the rest were misc hens.  Well, one arrived dead and we did not have a clue which it was.  I searched how to sex my chicks, but they were already a week old.  I did exactly what I read, but it appears that those extra 4 days or so were enough to misguide me.  Thinking all I had were hens, I bought a Frizzle Barred Rock Rooster from my co-worker, in which we named Barney (from the Andy Griffith Show).  Barney has a hen named Thelma Lou also. 
     Unfortunately, Lacey the GLW hen, is now Tony....this is a big bummer.  I noticed she had started getting her pattern filled in on her feathers, but she has quite a bit more color lately.  Then the other day, I was in the yard and I heard a strong crow that did not sound like Barney.  When I looked up, it was Lacey.  I went over to inspect her closer, she has started growing little spur bumps and has appeared to have grown a few inches taller nearly overnight.  Now, they have crowing contests and Tony is even turning aggressive towards the girls & trying to mate.  I saw him grab one of the hens by her neck feathers and spin her around.
     Chicken raising is still pretty new to me.  Even though I read all about raising them for over a year before buying them, it has still caught me off guard.  I am looking at remedies to separate the two groups within the same coop & run.  I hate to part with either of them, but I do know that if I keep them both, I will have to add to our flock.  This error leaves me with 6 hens & 2 roosters which can be tough on the hens.  I have a co-worker with some young laying hens that she will sell me.
Tony which was Lacey a few days ago.
     They are all growing so fast and their feathers are starting to resemble their adult designs.  They are estimating about a dozen eggs  a week between Zeba, Clara, & Ruby.  Ruby is our latest layer.  She laid her first egg the other day (twins) out in the run while they were all eating.  There is another new layer, but I do not know which it is.  When I find a soft shell egg busted from falling from the roost, I know another one has started laying.
     Not only do we have changes in our poultry family, but we have a new canine member.  The Monday before Isaac blew in we noticed a pup on the side of our road.  When we came back home, she was still there.  I had to get her out of the weather.  We live on a dead end road and people are notorious for dropping of their unwanted pets in hopes of someone taking them in.  Do not ever do this!  Our last pound trip was a litter of 10 feral cats.  Well, one bit me and was left to fend for himself in the wild. 
     This little girl was so sweet-hearted, I do not know why anyone would have parted with her.  I knew she was either a pup or mixed with a small breed.  Her hair was missing on the back side of her body, so I bathed her immediately and doused her with diatomacious earth everyday.  Within 10 days or so her hair was filling back in.  Our vet said she was nearly a year old and probably would not grow much more.  This was good for us.  Our other dog Chloe' is a 110 lb Boxer/Great Pyrenees mix.  We wanted our next dog to be small enough to travel with us on vacations.  We always hate to see Chloe' look at us with her huge sad brown eyes when we went somewhere overnight.  This dog appears to be Irish Terrier/Chihuahua mix...maybe.  I really have no clue.  My neighbor's Jack Russel is much bigger than her.  If anyone has an idea of her breed, please share with me.
Sporting her new Snuggie I ordered her for this winter
She loves me and is so grateful.. I can tell she has been mistreated.  She cowers down if you move too fast or raise your voice at her.  She is lightening fast like a bullet when we come home.  She gets excited to see us like a pin-ball shooting back and forth across the yard.  The best part is that Chloe' does not even mind her.  After our her mate was killed on my birthday 2 years ago, she went into a deep mourning period.  She has rejected the last 3 rescue dogs we brought home, but she has not growled or nipped at Prissey the first time.  Chloe' is a guardian dog and protects all things small around here.  She will even run up to the chicken coop when I try to pick them up to check them & they shriek.  She protects our 3 cats.  I want to get her some goats to watch when I get ready to attempt raising milking goats.  But for now, Prissey entertains her pretty well.  If Chloe' did not like her, she could eat her in about 3 bites.  As long as Prissey stays out of her way when Chloe' goes to lay down, she will be alright.

Prissey and Chloe' chilling in the sunshine and gnawing on a hide.
     Our family just keeps growing and growing.  If anyone ever says they want to give you a free pet, stop them right there...No pet is ever free!  Gas & groceries are not the only bills that are increasing in this are vet bills.  If I knew what I know now, I may have chosen the vet profession over nursing.  I could have saved a lot of money and my income would have quadrupled.
     I will share more about our building work on my next blog.  I have some good pictures of our progress.  We are in the middle of hanging wall-board right now.  When we complete this phase, I will share more of it.  I will go ahead and show you our new landing and stair/ladder though.  We built a landing between the 2 lofts, so I would not have to get down and move a ladder to get something down from the opposite side.  Now, all I have to do is make my way across the landing to get something I need from the other side.  This stair/ladder is sturdy and will not shift on me if I am carrying a heavy bin down from the loft.  We will add a rail later when all the wall-board is up.  We will paint everything with white primer and I will paint my side all of my fun colors that I have left over from when we built our last house.  Then, I will lay our flooring and move in!  I found some vinyl at Lowe's in planks that was on sale and we will look for a remnant for my husband's side.  I will be gluing, painting, sewing, scrapbooking, and making soap & candles, so my side needs to be easy to clean up.  My husband's side will be his office/man-cave. 
New landing & stair/ladder in Big Red
     We are so ready to be done!  If I had it to do over again, I would have paid extra to have it all done while they were building it.  Sometimes it is soooo worth the extra money for peace and "move-in-ready" happiness.  I want to get all of my crafting materials out of storage, my bedroom, bathroom, & kitchen and set them up in Big Red so I can start using them again.  Once we are finished, I will have so many crafting posts to share.  I would love to see any of your renovation, add-on, or redecorating projects.  I like to see before and afters as well as improved room organization.  Please, feel free to share your experiences and pictures. 
God bless you all!
Marla B.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Out With the Old and In With the New

     I was in my office at work when I heard some discussion in the hallway about the office furniture stacked in the corner.  Our building had been cleaned out of office equipment and furniture that had not been used lately or was damaged.  Several of us chose items that we could use at home.  Since my husband & I are finishing out a portable building for our home office/craft space, I knew we needed an office chair.  The one we have been using was damaged when I found it & it is out by the curb now. 
     One of the other items that I spotted was a vintage classroom chair.  I immediately knew what I wanted to do with it.  I wanted to make a girly chair for me and my daughter to use in the craft space.

It was in great condition with no tears or bends.
      The first thing I did was dismantle and clean it.  I had some lilac spray paint I got at a yard sale a few years back.  I tend to paint at our is away from our vehicles and buildings.
      While the frame was drying in out hot southern Mississippi sun, I was digging in my fabric stash for a coordinating remnant.  I have the same print in pink with purple accents, but I had used it already for a skirt and my scraps would not cover the seat.  It took no time at all to cut and staple the fabric to the cushions.

I was glad it was intact, because this would have been a bigger project if I had to remove the old vinyl & padding.

I screwed the pieces back on & it was all finished!

     In these photos the chair appears more blue, but it is actually more purple.  I am tickled that it was so simple & my daughter loves it.  As soon as we finish the inside of our building, we are setting up our spaces & moving our new chair in.  I look forward to spending many hours in our new space working on more projects.  Have you ever recovered or re-purposed furniture?  I would love to hear of your project stories.
God Bless,
Marla B.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Homesteading Improvements

     Now that my summer time off from teaching has come to a close, it is time to get things ready for fall.  I am in full-swing on campus for the next 2 months & my project days are limited to weekends.  There are a few things that I have wanted to do, but I put them off.  Now, I must do them.  I have been needing to modify my compost bin, because I have more stuff than room to stir it.  Also, I need to prepare my garden bed for fall planting.
     Thankfully, the sun is hidden behind the clouds this morning, because it is very hot down here in the deep south.  It is extremely humid and it only takes about 5 minutes of being outdoors here for you to be dripping with sweat.  This is what my bin looked like when I first set it up:
I drove 3 pieces of scrap 1x2s and stapled my extra chicken wire to it.
      This worked nicely until my chickens came & I started putting their bedding into it.  They do a lot of pooing.  This will help fertilize my garden, but it does take up space until it breaks down.
I pulled up 2 of the stakes & re-drove them in in a line to widen it and added 2-2x4 scraps to square it off.  Then I added another scrap of wire.  It is open in the front so I can stir easily.  It is also on a slight slope with the opening uphill, so it is not going anywhere when it rains.
      My bin is now over twice as large as it was.  As I stirred it with my stiff rake, I noticed how much had already broken down, but I need a fork for stirring.  I use a rake and a shovel and it can be a bit heavy after a heavy rain like we recently had.  My husband left me a pile of grass clippings in front of it waiting for me to add it to my bin...when I was off, it was raining, so it started breaking down on the grass and killed my grass.  It will not take long at all for it to grow back.  We are in need of a cut again, so that is what I get to do this evening IF it does not rain today.
     My garden bed was only half filled this spring.  My husband is going to bring me another truck load of dirt to fill it to the top.  Then I will add my compost & diatomaceous earth to it and use ground cover over my soaker hose.  I had plenty of tomatoes this year, but I could not keep the squash bugs under control.  I have learned more about companion gardening and plan on using more this fall.
     Once I get my new dirt, I will show my before & after pictures.  If I do not get it this weekend, I will have to get it next weekend.  I have plenty to do around here to keep me busy, like keeping the coop clean.  I modified the inside of their coop a few weeks back.  We went into a wet season and all of their food that they dropped on the ground around their feeder got wet & spoiled...causing a ton of flies to make haven in and out of their coop.  This was utterly disgusting.  I had to empty out their coop and spray it down with bleach water, sprinkle the DE, then replace the shavings.  I was planning on doing it in another month or 2 but the flies moved that date up.
     I moved their food inside the coop to prevent any water spoilage on the ground.  I also moved their nests down to the first floor, cut the 2nd floor back a few inches so I can reach the eggs in the farthest nest, and I cut out the lower roosting bar.  They hardly ever used it & it was in the way of hanging their feeder and reaching the last  nests.  Now when they roost on the "high bar"  all of their droppings are on the 2nd floor & I scrape them with my small shovel into my big dustpan and carry it out to the compost bin.  They rarely poo on the 1st floor now, so I use a deep bedding method down there.  I just scrape, sprinkle, & replace the shavings up top.  It has made my job much easier now.
This is the original layout when they were younger. They had an upper & lower roosting bar and all of their nests were upstairs.

This is how it looks now:
Upstairs with high roost.  The second floor is at window height and allows them to see outside and catch a cool breeze when they are resting inside.  When it turns cold, we will shut the windows and hang a light if needed.  We only have a few weeks of really cold weather.  The rest of the winter is pretty comfortable.  They may not need a heat lamp at all down here.

The nests are all downstairs away from the windows and weather.  This placement for the food makes it easier to refill.   Before, it was under the coop in the run & I had to bend down & unhook it to refill it.  I need to refill their nest with grass clippings, but we will have to have no rain for a few days.
     Now, with the food inside, I do not have to go into the run at all unless I want to pet them & check their bodies.  This means less contamination on my shoes!  I have a pair of shoes that are marked with a "C" for chickens so they do not get worn anywhere else.  We leave all of our shoes at the door anyway and the "C" shoes along with my hospital shoes get a nice dose of Lysol spray.
     Well, I have enjoyed sharing our homesteading improvements with you.  I am always looking for ways to simplify our living, so feel free to share your ideas & improvements with me.  I pray your day is full of God's love & joy.
God Bless,
Marla B.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

New Chicken Farmer Update

Coop Improvements
     I have been working so hard to care for our animal family.  I try to be a good steward of all of my blessings.  Just when we think things are running smooth with our chickens, I notice a flaw in our set up.  I noticed when I came in from work & went out to lock them in for the night that their hanging waterer was empty.  I had just refilled it the evening before & I knew they did not drink it all.  It will usually need changing out before they could ever drink that much.  Apparently they became a little rambunctious and bumped it into a spin & it slid over on the rope.  I have no idea what part of the day they ran out of water.  It has been reaching 90's-100's lately and this worried me that they could actually hurt themselves.  
     I have been seeking out all sorts of automatic waterers online & could not believe the cost.  I started looking for homemade items & knew that it could not be that complicated...after all we are a Jack & Jill of all trades.  I found a few prototypes that I thought would meet our needs.  I wanted them to have fresh cool water at their finger tips without standing water that they could mess up or spill.  The idea that I preferred used cups & a garden hose, but unfortunately, it required a $35.00 pressure regulator to reduce it down to 5 PSI.  That was not in our budget at all at this time.  
     So I had to utilize systems made from a 5 gallon bucket.  I knew that I wanted to mount it from outside the coop so I could just bring the garden hose over (about 20 feet) & refill it easily without unlocking & entering the run, removing the bucket or hauling another bucket of water to refill it, & exiting and relocking the run. 
     I want to limit how much I enter the run as much as possible to reduce as much “poo” on my shoes as I can.  We leave "all" of our shoes at the door and have done so for many years, so I do not worry about contaminating my home, but I just try to practice good hygiene.  You never know when an emergency may happen and taking your shoes off may not come to mind.  Also, at dusk spiders are making their webs near the run door & we have walked into them several times.  Oh how I hate that!
     I am already thinking about a PVC feeder & a "rope-pulled" automatic door that I can do from outside to let them out of & shut them in the coop, but those will come later.  We do like to go on vacations occasionally so I am more concerned about the water issue than the feeder & door right now.  The last thing I want to come home to is a bunch of dehydrated or dead chickens because they knocked their water over. 
Here is our present chicken water system:
      I got tired of reaching under the coop to change out the water, so I moved it out from under it.  The chicken yard is the last place you want to be on your knees.  I can pour the food into the feeder without removing it, but I had to untie the waterer and carry it to the water hose & then take it back and retie it.  And like I mentioned earlier, I am trying to minimize the “poo” exposure.  If I could change anything about my coop design, it would be to make it a walk-in with the roof hanging over into the run more to cover the food & water.  Oh well, too late now.
     The new system uses a 5 gallon bucket, ½ inch PVC, & poultry cup waterers.  This system waters them on demand.  The hardest piece to find was the rubber washer & threaded ring to seal the bucket.  If these are sold in a kit, I would love to know where it is, as I had to wing it from scratch.  3 trips to Lowe’s & 2 to Ace I finally found everything I needed & returned the stuff that I didn’t.  It was fairly inexpensive…minus the gas, but a ready-made one online was ridiculous.  Hmmm, I think I could make a few & sell them online.

     The lid was hard to get on & off, so I left it slightly open for now until I can put a little Vaseline around the rim.  I need to make some sort of shade for it to prevent the sun from heating the water so much.  The coop only has a small bit of shade & it is on the backside where the fence-row is (along with a million mosquitos).  I am not going back there unless I have to kill a snake.                               
     I have seen one of them drink from it already, but the others are consumed with the watermelon slice I set out for them.  I guess when they get thirsty, they will find it.  I removed the hanging waterer so they would be forced to seek out the cups.  The cups work great & are so neat.  I put my fingers in it to make it fill and get their attention.  This new system should be more efficient for all of us & easier for my daughter to use.  She has no problems dragging a hose over to refill a bucket.
Newest additions
    We acquired a pair of hens at a local sale last weekend:  Zeba (Plymouth Rock) & un-named (Black Star).  
Zeba is the most docile & friendly of all of our hens.  She comes to me for love & affection every time I approach the run.  She is quickly becoming my favorite…sorry Lacey.  Lacey is our Golden-Laced Wyandotte that I chose & waited so long for from the hatchery, but she does not run to me with such affection.  I still want to find a Silver-Laced Wyandotte, but most of the ones I have seen have been too far to drive for a chicken.

     This is our newest girl:  Thelma Lou standing next to our Frizzle Plymouth Rock Roo.  I have been calling him Boaz, but I am leaning towards Andy (as in Andy Griffith & Thelma Lou).  Thelma Lou came from a co-worker, the same seller from which I got my roo.  I was hoping they might recognize each other, but I am not so sure that they did.
    Yesterday I added more outdoor fabric to the roof of the run (it is 6.5'X20').  It had a 3rd of it covered with a 6’X30’ roll of outdoor fabric that I found at Sam’s Club for $30.00, but that was not enough.  After noon, the sun would light up about 90% of their shade.  Now, they are shaded all the way down the run except for about a foot down the length of the run.  With the temperatures we have been having lately, it makes a ton of difference.  
     Our run is pretty secure & we have 3 cats & a Great Pyrenees guardian dog that kill all critters that enter the yard.  I know this because we have rodent-gifts left at our doorsteps pretty regularly & my husband has witnessed one of our cats killing a rabbit behind our shed.  I pity a coon or an opossum that dares to cross the fence.  Our ground has a few dips that does allow some air space beneath the frame.  I could not truly enjoy any time away from home without ridding their environment of all of these weaknesses.  My next coop improvement will be to fill extra dirt in along the bottom of the run wall to fill in these spaces.
     Maybe now our chicken family will feel safe & secure when we are gone to work or out of town & have less risk for accidents.  I hope to see some eggs soon.  The older pair we got last week are about 1 month away from laying & our original set is about 2, while the newest is a few weeks behind them.  I am anxious to see the fruit of all of our labors. I am thankful that the Lord has blessed us with the ability to have our little homestead.  
     There are perks to city life, but I prefer the freedom to work & live off of the land.  Although, we are far from being off-grid & being completely self-sufficient, we are taking small steps to remove the control of mainstream society on how we live.  Our goal is to control the quality & quantity of our food sources.  Also, when crises occur, we want to reduce the shocking & traumatic effects that it has on us & our ability to function.  We never want to be subject to others, including governments, for our lively-hood again as we were when Hurricane Katrina came through our region.  I hope we can be a blessing to others & we can all help each other learn how to provide for our families with a God-loving heart.
God Bless,
Marla B.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Putting Things in Order

Putting Everything in Order
    I have been on an "organization kick" lately.  Since the school year has ended for me & my daughter, I have had more time on my hands to sit & take a good look around me.  When I was busy working 2 part-time jobs, it was easy to ignore or put-off things that I have longed to do around the house & for spiritual growth, but no more.  This summer I am claiming victory over many areas in our lives & reclaiming some stretching space.  
     This morning's devotion spoke about how the Israelites set out into the desert of testing after the Lord released them from Egypt's bondage.  It spoke of their obedience to pack up & leave or sit & stay whenever the cloud moved or did not move (Numbers (9:17-23).  I thought about it & wondered if I would have been so obedient or if I would have been among those that grumbled & complained to Moses all the time.  I want my life to be so free of bondage that I can & will go where he asks me to go & do what he asks me to do.  This is when I start to see the mess that builds up around me & wonder if I am chained to it or if I can just let it go.  Not that the Lord may tell me to physically move, but He might.  He may just want me to move in His I ready or am I bogged down with so much stuff that I can't even think? 
     As I mentioned in an earlier blog, we are in a 2 bedroom mobile home & I so much want a space to be creative.  We bought us a portable building back in March (I believe) & then my husband's dad took ill & all of our time was absorbed with his hospitalization.  Now that he is home & stable, we are trying to complete all of those projects we have had in limbo this year.  Since we have no way to add on at this time, the building (Big Red) will be our office/craft/storage space & our other storage smaller building will be the workshop for tools, saws, & such (messy projects).  
Cleaning up the Clutter
     I have been reading several blogs focusing on organization, chickens, homemade products & DIY projects for some time now.  I usually read about ideas for months before doing, making, or building something large or expensive.  I read about chickens for over a year before we built our coop & ordered them.  I have been collecting ideas on along with newsletters.  I have always loved going to Ross stores, mainly because they are cheap & have neat stuff.  Some of my favorite items that they sell regularly are the decorative storage containers.  I have used the plastic drawers sets & bins for years, but I love color & these are simple ways to disguise junk that you need to keep handy for everyday use, but may be ugly or cluttered to look at.  I ran across an idea using some of these pretty containers on Organizing Made Fun.  You can see her example on
     One space that I have found to be hard to keep clutter-free is the bathroom.  This blog may not appeal too much to the male population, but if you are a minimalist like my husband, you may want to share it with your wife or girl-friend if they tend to be unorganized or seem to have alot of clutter laying around.  I use to think I was least I could get organized, but I could not stay organized without some storage solutions.  There are so many small items that fall over & just look messy when out in the open.  The bathroom is a space we often tend to go to to "get away from it all & relax".  How can you relax with tons of junk laying around?  Even if guests never goes beyond the living room, often they use the bathroom when visiting.  I have seen some bathrooms that made me wonder what the rest of the house looked like.  Even when we are clean fanatics, being unorganized can make us appear messy & dirty.  I am not a dirty person, but I have cleaned all day to turn around & wonder what happened, it still looked junky.
     I had seen an idea at church with a basket with feminine products in a basket for anyone to use in case of an "emergency".  This is nice so that you do not have to go digging under cabinets that you can't quite reach while using the restroom...ya know, it happens.   Well, I loved this hospitable idea, but when I used it at home for my child, it just made her small bathroom space appear messy. So when I saw Becky's idea, I knew it was just what we needed to do to fix the space.  I also went out and got several for my bathroom in which to put my make-up/skin care products away.  Here is a picture of the guest bath:

Hide-away box on shelf over toilet
The girl's basket was behind the trash before
This little box holds an entire package.  I realize that I had just cleaned the bath & filled the trash.  My mom gave me a toilet paper rack she had in storage...I spray painted it & now the pack is no longer sitting on the floor!  Unfortunately there is no where to hide the mixed-matched towels.  I am thinking about using some drawer liner material to wrap around the toilet paper holder so you do not see the guts of it.  I can use the spongy-mesh type and use a small zip-tie to clamp it on in the 4 corners.  Then I just cut off the ends of the zip ties then viola' the middle section is covered by whatever color I chose to use.

Here is my bathroom:
It is bigger in size, but with absolutely no storage.  I have installed shelving on all of the walls & am using an armoire for my linen closet.  I have drawer sets underneath for the pharmacy supplies & items such as hair spray, deodorant, & the like.

I used a double lazy-susan on my vanity with all of my daily routine products on top of the counter.  It was neat as it could be, but it still was cluttered.  Now, when I enter our bathroom, my eyes are not drawn to the clutter. It is now more relaxing to both me & my husband.  I think I might even move the larger box to the top shelf, since it does not contain items that I use "everyday".  This is my space that my husband gave me this past Christmas.  It use to be a round short garden tub.  It was straight-backed & I could not recline, so my sweet husband spoke my language & put one in that was deep & meant for soaking.  I enjoy making my own soaps & body oils.  I still have a ton of "store-bought" products that I have not used up, but I am definitely working on it.
In the kitchen, I have been adding little wire racks here & there to un-stuff my pantry shelves & sort like items together.  I found some food storage containers at our local salvage store very cheap & labeled them for the pantry.  I no longer have Kool-aid, tea bags, & seasoning packets in zip-lock baggies.  Now they are sorted & in "stackable" containers.  When I find more & finish, I will do a blog on the kitchen.
Lightening my Load
     This may all seem a bit over the top for some, but I am at a point in my life where I am trying to de-stress & enjoy my mid-life years.  We are not promised tomorrow.  I am no longer holding on to those "things" that I will never use, never wear, or never fix. I just dropped off 2 garbage bags full of clothes.  Some of them I am ashamed to have still been wearing (too loose & baggy).  I want my spiritual life de-cluttered as well.  No longer do I want to hold onto things or habits that hold me back from serving the Lord.  These things may be tangible things or they may be mental or spiritual stresses or hindrances.  For example, we do not to run the TV unless we are watching a specific program & even that is set to a minimum.  I can remember a day when the TV was on all day whether we watched it or not.  All that racket going into the mind & spirit. Some of it may be good, but alot of it is is no wonder people say they do not hear the Lord's voice.  Even commercials can be negative and very persuading.
     Not all of our extra curricular activities are bad, but in excess, they can take up too much time that is needed to be spent strengthening our relationship with the Lord and our family.  You can be so busy that you lose track of your purpose & become exhausted & burned out.  This is why we need a daily charge or renewal from God & take time to humble ourselves before him so we do not grow too proud.  I have seen things come into my life & distract me...before I know it I have been so busy that I have not had my "real" quiet time in days (time to study & pray).  All I have made time for is a quick read & run.  Then I realize I am empty & irritable, because life is hard & I can't do it on my own.  It is a work in progress to seek out & remove those things from my life that interfere with my time with God & my family.  
     Another example is that I like games, but I can be lost in a computer game for hours.  I also like to see friends & family on Facebook & catch up, but for most every day, I allow myself to see it for a few moments in the morning & check for responses in the evening.  On days I work, I only check it for about 5 minutes after supper while we are unwinding from the day.  I do most of my "sharing" from my emails & do not actually have to be on Facebook.  I must set limits & stick to them, because I know myself.  Before you know it the day will be half gone & the house will not be touched & I will have wasted so much time & energy on something so temporal.  We must be on guard all the time.  There are so many real important things to involve ourselves in (like helping or praying for our brothers & sisters) and we can miss out on it if we wrap ourselves up in irrelevant activities.
Our New Chicken Life
     I look forward to harvesting fresh veggies & collecting eggs from our hens in a few months.  I call them our girls.  It is hard to believe they are 7 weeks old now.  They actually look like chicken & not chicks anymore.  Boaz (our new rooster) is 11 weeks old & began crowing this past week.  It is so sweet & suttle for now.  Our neighbor's rooster has given him a bit of competition & incentive to be manly.  Here is a new picture of them:
Boaz 11 weeks old
  I thought it was pretty funny this morning when I was changing out their water...Lacey (the mostly black one on the right) caught a cricket and they went nuts.  They all got excited over it as if it was a dinner box to share.  I was pleased that it only took 2 days of chasing them down & putting them back into the coop at night & chasing them back out the next morning.  After the first 2 days they started going in & out on their own.  I open it when I get up & I close it at dusk/dark...they handle everything in between.  It was not easy chasing those little boogers down, but the bigger they get, the slower they are.  Our dog still watches out for them.  When she hears me messing with them, she comes running.  I would hate to be a critter trying to break into their run.  So far our 3 cats have killed every field mouse/rat & rabbit that has had the nerve to enter through our fence.

Boaz & his girls
     I consider myself to be very blessed.  I get to see God's miracles in his creations all around me every day, whether I am in the garden, chicken coop, or in my house watching my child & husband.  I look forward to learning something new every day.  I am so interested in hearing your stories about the Lord's work in your life, farm life, gardening ups and downs, & organizational tips.  Until next time God Bless.  Marla B.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Our Chicken Littles

     We had been preparing for it all year long.  I read about chicks, chickens, & coops for over a year.  I drew up a plan and we made a coop and run from mostly re-purposed materials.  I compared breeds and the day finally arrived.   Our chicks came in the mail on May 1st.  They were hatched on April 29th and were mailed out on the 30th.  This was a first on all levels for us (mail-order chicks & chicks in general).  We had a casualty on route.  The postmaster called me when they arrived and one was already dead.  It was sad for us.  We named him Fred & buried him over our 2 dog's graves. 
     I had ordered specific breeds based on temperament, egg-laying rate, & confinement ability.  I chose one of each:  Red Star hen, Rhode Island Red hen, Easter Egger hen, & Golden-Laced Wyandotte hen & rooster (they were my favorites).  The Wyandottes were the ones on back order and caused the entire shipment to take 2 months.  Well, it was one of the Wyandottes that was dead...male or female?  That was the question.  There are a few producers that ship with orders of <25 chicks and is the one we chose to use.  They were very nice about refunding the chick fee, but I really wanted another chick.  The shipping is express & not cheap and there is a 4 chick minimum.  I do not think my husband wants to get 4 more just yet.  We need to see how we do with these before doubling our order. 
     When they were about 1 week old I watched some videos on how to sex them by their wings* and I "think" it was the rooster that passed.  I also read that this was best seen within 3 days of hatching...oh well.  We will see or "hear" in about 2 or 3 more weeks.  I think he must have been bragging about his little love plans for the girls & they decided that they were not going to have any of it!  I hope it was a quick death.
*Sexing chicks by wing tips:  The wing tip of a male has one row & the female has a double row of feathers.
Here are our girls on the day of their arrival:

3 days old & first hours home were in a box.

3 days old 1st night home in my shower.  I gave them a bigger place to roam.
     They were so fragile.  My husband's favorite is the Easter Egger Cleo (since she resembles Cleopatra).  Miss Goldy is the Red Star (blonde chick) and Ruby is the Rhode Island Red.  We were not sure what to call the Wyandotte (the black one), for she had not really shown us her personality yet.  I think Lacey may be her name.  Only time will tell.  They really do not have their grown-up colors at this time.  They will not resemble themselves at all when fully feathered.

 Here are a few pictures of their growth and boy, have they grown.
9 days old with 1st feathers.

The beginnings of a tail

     At 2 weeks old we finished sealing the inside of the coop with wire cloth or rabbit wire to prevent snakes from entering at night.  I was scared the 1st few nights, but they made it through.  I still use the heat lamp at night since they do not have total coverage of feathers yet.  But it is very hot in the daytime, so I open up their windows for ventilation and they are just fine.  I still have a little to do to secure the run's cover from hawk attacks, but one good day's worth of labor ought to finish it up. 
     Today marks their 21st day birthday and I took some shots.  I am seeing just how dirty chickens are.  Since I work in healthcare, you could say we are a bit germ a-phobic.  It is a good thing I am tending to them...cause I do not think my husband would ever eat chicken or eggs again if he tended the coop.  Now that they are big enough to explore the second floor of their coop and take their mess with them, I went ahead & threw down some paper & shavings to try to keep it clean until cleaning day.  (I was not planning on cleaning it out for a few more days. 
     One of the girls was downstairs & missed out on the chance to claim her bed.  The other 3 jumped on it & gave her the one on the end.
Checking out the view

 Cleo, you snooze, you lose, girl.
Cleo chillin' solo at the buffet


     I was tickled to see Ms. Goldy already utilizing the lower roost, but I only saw her through the window & could not get a shot of it.  The upper 3 were enjoying a nice view out the back...while Cleo was still wandering around downstairs.  Maybe she was taking a break from all of the chatter.
     I think they are in an awkward growing phase with their feathers...they aren't cute and fuzzy anymore, yet they do not have all of their big-girl feathers yet.  They kinda look like kids do when they are losing baby teeth and growing their permanent teeth.  I still think they are beautiful though.  I intend on finishing the run next week and we will get to let them out on the ground and watch them peck and scratch the ground.  That will be fun.  Maybe I will get a glimpse into their pecking order and real personalities then.
     Right now, none of them seem to dominate all the time.  Since we lost our rooster, I would like to add 1 or 2 more hens into the mix before they get big.  I think I have decided against getting a rooster for now.  I am looking for docile breeds that me & my daughter can handle that lay well and can stand to be confined in a run that is 10X20.  I may let them free range while I clean it out every once in a while for pest control (when they are larger), but we are in the wide open country with owls and hawks, so those times will have to be limited to when I can keep an eye on them.
     I introduced grass clippings to them this week.  At first they thought I was "bombing" them and ran to hide from it.  But when I checked on them the next morning it was all gone, although they did not touch the radish or turnip leaves.  We are learning more and more every day about homesteading & one day would like to have a larger plot and include a few goats into the family.  I would love to make some homemade cheese from our very own critters.  Since a dairy cow is way out of the budget for now, we will have to start with goats (partly to mow & partly to milk).  I am loving this multipurpose function of farm animals.  If I had known how well birds worked at keeping down the yard's insect population, I would have done this long ago. 
     Thank the Lord for the internet.  I know that there is a lot of negativity on it, but when accessed responsibly, it can be quite beneficial.  If it were not for the instant information age that we have now, I would still be in the dark about many of the wonderful blessing that we have from homesteading.  I would have to spend money on books to tell me how to garden, make soap & crafts, & raise animals.  I would still be wasting money on store-bought goods that I can make easily at home.
     Please leave any tips on caring for my newest members of the Breland family or other homesteading subjects.  Now that summer is in full swing, I hope to have more time to catch up on soap-making and find a decent pickle recipe.  Every recipe that I have tried making has been absolutely horrible.  I have had awesome homemade pickles, but not know the recipe...Share people!  I do not want to waste my precious homegrown cucumbers on another bad recipe. 
     I have battled stink bugs & slugs this season in my garden.  Every veggie that makes it is a blessing!  The diatomaceous earth has been the biggest help.  I have a few dollars in pennies thrown out there also.  Now, that one puzzled my husband:)  The diatomaceous earth will be great for my hens & my garden too.  See...multipurpose!  Also, my compost has started to is turning black & breaking down.  I added chicken bedding and I can hardly wait to see how that will help in the garden.  I think I need to make a 2nd bin (1 for new & 1 for almost done).  I am looking forward to this year's harvest so I can share.  Happy homesteading & God bless,
Marla B.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

His Indescribable Gift!

"But this I say:  He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.
So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver...Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!"  2 Cor. 9:6,7, & 15

     There are so many ways God speaks to me about life and His awesome power and mercy, but the two that stand out the most are:  the parent:child relationship and gardening.  My child's behavior will often reflect my own rebellious behavior towards the Lord and it convicts me deeply.  On the occasion that she is stubborn or acting out her frustrations, I see how I actually must be treating the Lord when He wants me to obey Him and I want to go my own way.  This is usually a quick way for Him to get my attention.
     On the other hand, when I am out in the yard tending to plants and sowing seeds, He shows me more of His merciful side.  I see His power in the life He breaths into the garden and how we have to be watchmen/women over it.  If f we just planted our seedlings and left them alone, they would be overtaken by weeds and bugs and destroyed.  I compare the weeds and bugs to the things of this world.  I am seeing new weeds pop up daily.  Some of them I let get big enough to grab without bending so far and some I rip out as soon as they emerge.  I guess it depends on how long I have been outside and how tired I am.  Our spiritual gaurd can be down when we are tired or a little lazy too.
     When I first started gardening, I was very naive and just planted my seeds in the grassy yard...that was stupid to an experienced gardener.   Needless to say, they did not flourish.  Then I bought seedlings and pot planted them with just water.  These did okay, but they were small.  Then I moved on to bigger pots and plant food and nearly daily attention for weed control.  I started to put some into the ground and boy did it take off!  The more I sweated and invested into them, the better they produced.  It is the same way with my spiritual life.  When we do not take time with the Lord, to seek out His ways and His will for our lives, it shows.  We will reap what we sow in every aspect in our lives.
     Now years later, I have learned things to do and things not to do.  I am constantly seeking new tips to improve my bounty.  I strive to remain in a close walk with the Lord and provide an abundance in the fruits of my labor (in any area).  Last year, about half of the seeds that I sowed grew to transplant and harvest.  This year, I think nearly every seed I put in the dirt germinated and grew to be transplanted.  I had prayed that my garden would be a blessing to us & overflow so we could bless others. 
     This week, He made answered that prayer.  I had about 45-47 tomato plants this season and for my little family of 3, we only needed a handful.  I have managed to give away the last 25 or so leaving us with about 10.  I will probably still be giving tomatoes away at harvest.  I could not have tended to that many tomatoes nor canned them fast enough.  Now, several of my dear friends have been blessed and will even be able to give from those and pass that blessing on.  If I had tried to keep all of them they would not have thrived and would have been wasted.  There are other things in our lives that we are blessed with that we can share in order to have the best harvest. 
     What are some things in your life that you can pass on to others that would greatly bless them and lessen your load?  (outgrown clothes, toys, or shoes, cluttered furniture or books, extra food in the pantry, or money)  I just recently went through my daughter's dresser drawers and closet to find some clothes she has not worn or been able to wear in over a year.  I am working on losing weight (it has been slow lately) and am loving being able to wear some older clothes of mine, but as soon as the larger ones are too big...they are out, never to return again.  I had a bunch of fictional Christian novellas that I ordered for gifts years ago and were left over.  I do not read fiction, except for maybe once every 2 years, so I got tired of seeing them collect dust and take up space in our home.  I bagged them up and asked my friends on Facebook for any takers.  Now, they are in my trunk waiting for me to meet with her:)
Sometimes it is hard to part with "stuff"  but once I do, I see the joy that it brings others, and it gives me joy in return.  The Lord gave me a revelation years ago one morning in church...I was kinda down and needing a hug.  The Lord spoke to me and said, "If you want something, give it to someone else, because you will get it back"  I did.  I got up from my seat and stopped thinking about myself and hugged on others...guess what?!  They hugged me back.  The Lord met their needs and my needs all at once with one act of obedience.  I pray the Lord speaks to your heart and help you meet someone else's needs.
God bless you and yours.
Marla B.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Choose Your Weapon

     This year so far south Mississippi has had a very mild but wet winter.  That does not give us much reprieve from the pest population.  Since we have been in full Spring mode for a few weeks now, I have noticed that this year is repeating 2001...another Year of the Mosquito.  Our property is sloped and low in the back, so when we have a heavy rain it pools and the nearby branch overflows and our yard will not drain for weeks.  This becomes a breeding ground for mosquitoes.  We use the county given tablets for standing water, but the nearby branch is wooded and privately owned so we do not have the ability to treat those mosquitoes (short of throwing a tablet over the fence).  See picture below:
We have had a front blow through slowly that seemed to have stalled over us and dropped torrential amounts of rain in the last 24 hours and is still raining now.  Once this stops, I will go get another slew of tablets and toss out back to help protect us, but that is only a small portion of protection since most of them are coming out of the woods.
     I have heard some people say that mosquitoes do not bother them, well that is great!  That may be true, they may be bitter and not as tasty, or they may not feel them.  I on the other hand am sweet and will draw them in droves.  My entire family does also.  If you find that they do not bother you at all share your diet or blood type so we can learn and try to modify ourselves somehow.  Until then we must pick up arms and defend ourselves.
     I have been experimenting with homemade repellants.  I have several bottles of DEET to use and I will when needed, but I do like the idea of using something a little less toxic.  But these mosquitoes seem to be mutant and even get past the DEET for a bite or two!  Since we have to spray down from head-to-toe every day several times a day when we go work in the yard or want to sit in the swing, this routine use just cannot be great for you in the long run.  I have read many recipes and mixed up one for myself that has actually helped.  This year in this swarming season, I have taken on the combat approach.  I mixed up a bottle of 30% alcohol/70% water and added peppermint oil, tea tree oil, and lemon extract.  I tried to find a lemon grass plant or oil all over town, but could not.  I guess I will have to order it online or go to a large nursery.  I also am seeking citronella oil (not the burning kind but the scent oil).  I just threw in the lemon extract as a desperate measure until I find the lemongrass and citronella oil.
      I lit my citronella candles and placed them strategically around where we were going to be working.  I bought a Thermacell repellant  and an Off clip on fan.  I put the Thermacell near me and the clip on where my husband was working since he was not moving around as much.  I think my husband had already used the DEET and I sprayed myself down with my new mixture 1st as I went out to pot some marigold plants (said to repell mosquitoes) and it worked pretty good!  I would reapply it about every half hour to an hour because it was hot and I was sweaty and afraid I smelled louder than the spray.  Then I needed to work on the chicken coop which is along the fence line...this is enemy territory.  You can hear them swarming like bees.  The brush has grown through the fence.  So I sprayed again and added the DEET (I had had a citronella candle burning over there inside the coop for about 2 hours already.  I walked over with my supplies and began to work.  I could see them flying around my face, but at the end of the day, I think I may have 4 bites on me.  I was wearing a T-shirt, knee shorts, and socks/shoes.  I think I am going to go get me a few new citronella torches and I might even borrow my dads bug smoker.  We have not had to use them in a while but this year calls for more of a militant approach.
      Last year when we started the chicken coop, we sprayed with DEET alone every 30-45 minutes and still got ate up.  This year I think we will have to use a combination of defenses.  I personally do not believe that there is a "single" product out there tough enough to rid us of these dangerous pests.  I am a nurse and I have seen first hand what the West Nile Virus can do to you.  First of all, you must understand that it is a dormant virus.  The virus today is not from your bite this past was from a bite last year or years before.  Your body just had to have a weak moment for it to come out and manifest into an infection/illness.  Brain damage and death is a major complication from this virus, especially children, immune-compromised, and elderly.  You cannot give your family too much protection from these tiny but deadly pests.  They cause humans health risks and our pets as well.  I had a dog that developed a severe case of heart worms years ago...this is from the mosquito.  The worms can be killed but will still be present in their body.  This treatment cost well over $400.00 and is hard on the animal.  The phrase, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" has never been more accurate here.
     Do whatever it takes to protect yourself and your family including your pets.  Monthly animal protection is worth its weight in gold.  If one product works for you, great!  But if it takes more than that, by George, use every resource available, even if you have to screen in that beloved porch.  Soon I hope to get that fence row cleared off about 10-15 feet and that should help some.  Nothing is more precious than life.  These creatures are near about enough to make me move back to the desert.  If you have found something that works great share it please.  There are many that suffer from them more than others.  From the land of the mosquito, I am choosing my weapons, what are yours?
God bless you all,
Marla B.