Garden Spider
Garden Spider

Okay, so I'm not a real fan of spiders but since it is the month of Halloween I thought I'd show you a picture of one that made itself at home on the outside of my greenhouse late August and into September.  It actually produced two egg sacks.

One of the two egg sacks
One of the two egg sacks

I looked up what type of spider it was because to tell you the truth, it was pretty big and as I said before I don't really like spiders.  I didn't do much research other than to learn that they are fairly common here in Maine and hopefully she was eating a lot of mosquitoes.  It is so magnificent though how God put the big "face" on the back of the spider to scare away predators.

I know it has been a long time since I have added a post.  I apologize.  Since it has been a couple of months I thought we could revisit some of the plants from the last post just to see the progression of the growing season with the perennials and some other plants around the homestead.


Here is our lilac plant, as you can see it has gone to seed.  I think it is pretty in it's own right at this stage.  There is just not the heavy perfume in the air as with this plant in the spring.  Even though there is no food produced for us from this plant it is one of the first to bloom in the spring and therefore it provided food for our bees as well as the butterflies and other insects.  I actually couldn't imagine a homestead without this very old and traditional plant if you can grow it in your area.  If you ever visit a old homestead site you might find just the remains of the foundation of the house but you will find the lilac and asparagus patch still growing, amazing.

The raspberries were all picked, although it wasn't a very big crop, we had enough to eat fresh.  I really need to move the bushes to a sunnier spot but I haven't figured out where that will be just yet.

Highbush Cranberries
Highbush Cranberries

The highbush cranberries have all matured.  I waited until after the first frost to pick them.  They are in my refrigerator now as I try to figure out what to do with them. Highbush are not exactly the same as the lowbush variety that are grown in bogs and we see made into commercial cranberry sauce.  Although I think that is what I am going to do with my harvest.  I'm going to look for recipes and see what might be fun to make for Thanksgiving.

We got a really great harvest from our grape vine in the front yard.  Since I didn't have time to process the grapes we picked them by the cluster and put the clusters directly into freezer bags.  Later this fall or during the winter when I have less outside things that need to be done I will extract the juice and make grape jelly with it.  This is the first real harvest that we have taken from the grapes.  Since we fenced in the front yard the chickens do not get to eat all of them.  I'm looking forward to fresh baked bread toasted with grape jelly this winter.  Yum!!!


The elderberry are such a beautiful color when ripe.  There were only a few clusters on the plant this year and I really didn't know when to harvest and before I got to it the berries matured and fell to the ground.  Then I discovered on the side of our driveway a huge wild elderberry plant.  It's funny but the plant has been there for years and I didn't know what it was until I compared it with the one planted in the yard.  I had read that wild elderberry grew in our area but I hadn't paid too much attention to the plant other than the fact that it had pretty white flowers on it in the spring.  I don't think I even noticed the berries in the fall.  So even though we had berries I didn't get any harvested this year.  My plan for next year is to dry the berries and have them on hand to make a syrup for general health and to ward off the nasties that can come about during the winter.  I'll let you know more when I do that.

We had a wonderful harvest of our blueberries again this year.  We picked every few days for a couple of weeks to pick as they ripened.  I put them in the freezer to use as needed for various baking projects.  I like to spread them out on cookie sheets and freeze them before putting them into the freezer bags.  This keeps them from sticking to each other which allows me to take out just the amount that I need for my recipe.

The strawberries, on the other hand, were terrible this year.  It was mostly because I didn't get time to weed them and the weeds won.  This is one part of the perennial front yard that I am going to have to revamp.  Since I really don't have time to weed a bunch of planting beds I'm going to have to figure out how to keep the strawberries from getting invaded.  The best way for this is mulching.  I have though about using a weed block product but because of the shape of the beds that I build that would be difficult.  I think I am going to reshape the beds to make them more rectangular rather that the curved beds they are now.  I also need to revisit the border for the beds.  Right now they are bordered with stone which is abundant on the homestead.  The problem with stone is that weeds can grow up between them and they are hard to control.  I need something more definitive and straight that I can use a week wacker or mower on the outside of to control those weeds.  I think I will just go with typical raised planting beds using wood.  Just one of the lessons learned.

Peppers in the greenhouse
Peppers in the greenhouse

So, my pepper plants love the greenhouse.  I have never been able to get peppers to mature for me outside.  I know many gardeners here in Maine do but I never could.  this year my plants have gotten 2-3 feet high and I have a lot of peppers. They are actually still growing since I am closing the door at night.  We have gotten a couple of very light frosts but the greenhouse is enough to protect the peppers from that.  I am going to harvest soon.  Now that I have a good harvest, what to do with the peppers?  Some of the hot peppers will get canned to use on nachos and in my Mexican and Southwest cooking.  The sweet peppers I am going to dehydrate so I can throw some into soups and stews during the winter.  Finally the Anaheim peppers will get roasted before they get canned.  If you have ever bought the little can of green chilies in the store that is what they are, roasted canned Anaheim peppers.  It is going to be so fun to have all these to use this year.

Here are some of the other things that have happened since we last talked.  Our new batch of laying hens have begun to lay very cute little eggs.


They are small at first and over the next couple of months they will get up to regular size.

Our turkeys are growing well.  We have put them out on grass for the first time this year.  It seems to be working out great.  They love to eat the green grass and seeds that they find and I know it has cut down on the amount of feed thet we are buying for them.  We will be moving them into the barn soon though because the house that we are putting them in at night is getting to small for them now that they are getting so big.

Our beautiful German Shepherd Zoe had to have surgery.  She tore a ligament in her back leg and it had to be replaced.  Absolutely amazing that they can do that. Our vet, Dr Nesin is wonderful and he took such good care of her.  She is doing very well and will have her stitches out next week.

Well, I better get to my chores, need to do dishes, hang out some laundry and muck out the turkey house.



Frozen drops on the trees

I am not one for making resolutions for the new year but every homesteader has a list of things they want to accomplish for the next year.  We are no exception.

I have already ordered the fruit trees that I will pick up at Fedco in April.  This year I have only ordered a couple of replacement trees for ones that we have lost along the way.  Our orchard is about as big as we want with around 14-15 trees.  We have planted apples, plums, cherries, pears and apricots.  Of course we have our perennial bushes too.

There is a inside project that I would like to start work on this winter.  It entails putting a wall up in the kitchen to create a butler's pantry.  That is the easy part.  I will have to empty a bunch of cabinets and store those things until the project is finished.  It also involves moving the refrigerator to a new wall and my hubby redoing the plumbing to the ice maker.  Once it it finished I will have somewhere to have all my appliances out and ready to use without clogging up the visible kitchen counters.  I'll keep you up to date as this project proceeds.

Garden planning also happens during the winter.  I got my first seed catalog almost a month ago.  Since I now have the greenhouse that will change a few things. Speaking of the greenhouse here is a picture of my sweet Zoe sitting in front of it's frosty side.  She always goes outside with me.


It will take a little work to get the greenhouse ready for planting.  I still have to dig up the existing ground and put in good soil.  Right now I'm planning on trying peppers there this next growing season.  I have great luck with getting the pepper plants started from seed but I just don't seem to be able to get many peppers.  My hope is that the extra heat created by the greenhouse will give them the boost they need.

Every year I look to improve my gardening.  I seem to have a knack for raising livestock but gardening is a different matter.  I think my biggest problem is neglect once I get things planted.  Time in the summer just seems to go by so fast and the weeds always get ahead of me.  I have started using mulch which has helped greatly.  Come this summer I am going to give landscape cloth a try under the mulch.  I have built three raised beds so I do not till the garden anymore.  Not tilling each year keeps the soil healthier and allows all the good creatures in the soil to flourish with only minimal disturbance.  I have enough materials for one more raised bed and my goal is to get that built this spring.  The beds are 20 x 3 feet so I can easily reach from each side.  There is a path between each bed.  It is surprising how much you can plant in this space.

We will not be raising pigs this next summer.  We usually raise several every other year.  Pigs do so much better if they have friends to hang out with so instead of doing one each year we raise them every other year.  The pastured poultry worked very well last year and we will continue that this coming summer.  If I get adventurous I will even try the incubator to hatch some ourselves.  And, of course, the baby turkeys will arrive in July as usual.

Asparagus berries
Asparagus berries

Our perennial beds will continue to prosper with care.  We have our 100 strawberry plants and our two asparagus beds doing well.  Those will both take a little work in the spring to pull out weeds, fertilize, and mulch.  We were truly amazed at the amount of strawberries we harvested this last summer.  I'm thinking I would like to experiment with fermenting some of the asparagus.  We like it pickled so why not.  I want to see if it will stay crisper that way.

The big outside project for this summer will be mixing and pouring a slab for our generator room.  Currently the generator is in the garage but we would like a dedicated spot outside the garage proper. The plan is to add a room to the garage just for the generator and the fuel tank.  I'm not great with cement but I have seen many projects where homeowners have poured slabs in sections as they had time/money to do it.  We will be looking for a electric or gas mixer to purchase before we start the project.  I can already name 2-3 other projects that we would use it for besides the generator room.

Wow, this sounds like a lot of stuff to get done in one short year.  No matter, we will get the projects done that we do but you have to start with some kind of a plan. Whichever of these projects that we get done they will be an improvement to things here at the homestead. Believe it or not, I'm looking forward to all of them.  It is so satisfying to make things better and knowing that you have done it yourself and with the help of friends and family.

May the new year bring inspiration to you and your family.



Nest awaiting spring
Nest in Beech tree awaiting spring

Bee hives wrapped for winter
Bee hives wrapped for winter

I know it is only the end of October but it is time to get the homestead ready for winter and all that means.  Here in the northwoods it means cold temperatures and snow, sometimes a lot of snow.  There will come a point when the daytime temperatures do not get above freezing for days on end.  At the heart of winter in January and February we can get below zero here at the homestead.

This week has been very busy with several projects getting done in preparation for winter.  As you can see from above one was getting the bee hives wrapped with tar paper.  I know it is not pretty but it serves the purpose.  On the left hive you can see the hardware cloth over the lower entrance.  This is to keep mice and voles out of the hive.  They would love to nest in the cozy warm hive with free food during the cold.  The tar paper keeps the wind from being able to get into the hive where the different super boxes meet.  Cold wind can kill a hive very quickly.  The black also helps to absorb what heat the sun will provide on cold days.  At the top you will see another small upper entrance.  When the snow gets deep the bees are still able to exit the hive to do a cleansing flight if we have an occasional warm day.

Bees only leave the hive when the outside temperatures get above 45 degrees or so.  That means that they are retaining all their excrement until such a day.  When there is a winter day that is warm enough they will all make a run to the outhouse.  The snow around the hive will be dotted with hundreds of brown spots where the bees have been able to relieve themselves.  To me as a beekeeper this is a welcome sign, it means that the hive is still alive and has made it through the winter, at least to that point.

Ken and I are really excited to attend the Maine State Beekeepers Association's annual conference in a couple of weeks.  It will be our first time attending and we hope to glean a lot of wisdom from much more experienced beekeepers.

We did the hives late in the week but the week started out with processing our broilers.  Again we had 25 Red Rangers on pasture from mid July.  I kept two of the hens and put them in with my layers.  One I call Buffy, she was an unusually light color so I wanted to keep her.  The other was just so she would have a familiar face when they were integrated into the laying flock.

The broilers that were processed earlier in the summer were all frozen whole so we decided that these would be cut up and frozen in pieces.  I packaged side breasts, leg quarters and wings.  It is a little more work but the packages sure take up much less room in the freezer than the whole birds.  I think we will like having the variety of chicken to choose from.

Part of why it was nice to have the chickens take up less freezer space is that this week was also when the pigs were delivered to the processor.  Although we process our own chickens we have not yet taken the step to do our own pigs.  Besides that we had FIVE this year.  That is a lot of pork.  Some were raised for other folks but we will still have plenty to fill the rest of the space in the freezers.

Getting livestock into the stock trailer does not always go as planned.  Thank the Lord that we were able to borrow a large stock trailer with two sections from a friend.  We knew that five pigs, all weighing over 250 pounds, were not going to fit into the two horse trailer that we own.  It is funny but each animal has their own personality and right from the beginning we had one that we called Lazy.  She would not go out into the yard when the rest did and she preferred to take more naps that the others.  Don't get me wrong, she ate just as much as the others but she was not as motivated by food at the other four.  There is the dilemma.  With a couple cans of food and a few apples the other four happily jumped up into the trailer to get their breakfast.  Not Lazy.  Fortunately the trailer had a middle divider that could be closed.  We closed the four into the front part of the trailer and started the long process of trying to convince Lazy that she also wanted to get into the trailer to get breakfast.

Long story short, and just to point out that animals cannot always be convinced to do what you want, we ended up having to dispatch Lazy, bleed her out, load her in the trailer with the tractor and take her to the processor that way.  This is not the way we would have chosen but sometimes you have to do what is necessary to take care of business on the homestead.

Homesteading is not for the faint of heart and sometimes you have to do things that you would rather not in a way you would rather not but that is the way life can be.  Do what needs to be done and move on to mucking out the turkey pen.



Well, it is finally here....Fall.  We had our first hard frost last week where it hit 24 degrees and we have had frost every morning since with the exception of the morning it rained.  Fortunately it is getting into the 50s during the day which is really nice if it is not too windy.  So the woodstove has been keeping us cozy on these chilly nights.  My husband is happy to see the frost come since it pretty much eliminates the pollen that causes his allergies.

Fall is a busy time on the homestead there are so many things that need to be done before the days do not get out of freezing temperatures and the snow flies.  This week the pigs will go to the butcher and we will be butchering the final batch of broilers for the freezer.  The pigs have grown very well and we feel blessed that our freezers will be full before winter.

We will have a good amount of pork this year and I think I will can some of it for instant meals.  Rich meats like pork and lamb when canned almost make their own gravy and are delicious in soups and stews.  I confess that sometimes I make a quick soup or stew when I get home from work by using one jar of canned meat, a jar of canned broth and one bag of frozen mixed vegetables.  This cooks up in less than 30 minutes and I can flavor it with the dried herbs and spices that I want.  I may also throw a batch of biscuits in the oven or toast up some sourdough bread and have one great comfort food meal.

We got 10 heads of cabbage out of the garden and so there will be a couple of large jars of sauerkraut fermenting in the very near future.  I will be adding just a little bit of purple cabbage from our last CSA pick up to our green cabbage and the sauerkraut turns out to be the most beautiful shade of pink.  To some that may sound weird but it doesn't change the taste at all.

Of course after the pigs and chickens are processed we have to clean out their pens and get those areas clean and dry for winter.  The pastured poultry electric net fence will have to be rolled up and stored for next year.  That was a investment that needs to be taken care of but it worked really well being able to move the pastured chickens several times during the season.

The fall weather gets me is a baking mood too.  I made my first apple pie with apples from the orchard that we picked up last week.  There is nothing better than a hot slice of apple pie with a scoop of ice cream on a chilly evening.  Unless it might be hot spiced apple cider which is one of my favorites.

Well, so much for talking about what needs to be done, time to get to it.  I'll visit with all of you soon.





New Breed?
New Breed?

Our first try at Red Ranger chickens for meat has been a success.  We butchered our first group and of the 40 we ordered we had 36 go to butcher.  That is a loss of only 10% unlike last year when we had a terrible time with the Cornish Rock and a huge loss.  We also got two of the above with our chick order of Red Rangers.  They look like a cross between a Ranger and Cornish but I am not sure.  I'm going to send some pictures to the hatchery and see what they have to tell me.  These actually raised up very well.  Those are some of my new Americana laying hens in the back ground.  They are three months old now so hopefully they will begin laying eggs in October or so.

We took a week of vacation to take care of many things on the farm including the butchering.  Fun things like having the septic tank pumped, cutting wood, chipping wood for mulch and getting ready for the next round of poultry.  The baby turkeys and more Red Rangers arrived at the end of the week.

After a morning of butchering the chickens need to cool for 24 hours before being vacuum sealed and put in the freezer.  For the first time ever we kept one fresh for us to eat.  I found a recipe in Better Homes and Gardens for a brine and it was fantastic.  I don't normally read BH&G but it came in the mail to me because I purchased some other item.

Grilled Feta-Brined Chicken

  • 4 cups water
  • 4 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
  • 2 tablespoons dried oregano
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt (I used sea salt)
  • 2 teaspoons cracked black pepper
  • 2-3 pounds skinless boneless chicken thighs (I used a whole cut up bone in chicken)
  • 1 large lemon, halved
  • 1/4 cup olive oil

In a blender combine water, feta, oregano, salt and cracked black pepper.  Cover and blend until smooth.  Place chicken in zipper plastic bag or container.  Pour feta mixture over chicken; seal or cover.  Chill 8 hours or overnight.

Remove chicken from brine; transfer to a towel-lined tray.  Discard brine.  Pat chicken dry.  Let stand at room temperature 30 minutes.

Grill chicken on the rack over a covered grill over medium heat 12-15 minutes (longer if you use whole bone in chicken) until interior temperature reaches 170 degrees, turning once.

Transfer chicken to a platter.  Squeeze lemon over.  Drizzle with oil.  You can top with additional crumbled feta if desired but it was great without it.

Dinner was wonderful and it is so nice knowing where your meat comes from, what it has been eating and the fact that the chickens lead a happy life while they were with us.

So in 12 weeks or so we will do it all over again with our second batch of pastured meat birds.  This is the first year that we have done two batches but now that we have a separate building and the movable fencing we have the room.

Our next project will be getting a out door run for the turkeys built.  We are having some fill brought in to level out an area next to the barn that we can make a outside area for them.  I'm not sure it will get finished this year but oh well, there is only so much time in a day.