Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Growing Comfrey For Strawberry Beds

Comfrey is a powerful perennial herb - that means it usually dies off in the winter, only to bloom back to life in the spring.  It is amazing in the garden–attracting pollinators and beneficial insects, providing medicinal value, and enriching soil with nutrients.  About 3 years ago, a friend dug up part of her comfrey plant and sent it home with me.  We transplanted it in our side garden bed and there it has grown abundantly.  Here is how I use comfrey to improve my soil and enhance my strawberry beds.

Strawberries have vast nutrient needs, which include nitrogen, potassium, calcium, and magnesium, and a few other trace elements. Most of these essential nutrients can be found in comfrey.  The roots of the herb comfrey reach deep down and absorb essential nutrients, which then accumulate in its leaves. Comfrey leaves make a great fertilizing mulch when chopped, transferring the nutrients to the soil. 

Comfrey plants are easy to obtain at most local nurseries or garden stores and now they can even be found online.  

To create this mulch, simply chop the leaves and use them as mulch throughout the strawberry bed.  I collected a bucket full and then distributed it through the strawberry beds around our different garden areas.  We grow strawberries in a couple places around the home; main garden, front edible area, and individual containers.

Strawberry beds have to be beautiful!    One of our beds is just starting to sprout flowers.  We remodeled our bathroom, taking out the claw foot tub, and upcycling it into the garden.  Doesn't it make an adorable strawberry bed?

Strawberries are a favorite in our gardens.  We could have a whole field of them and still probably not have enough.  I hope this simple suggestion of adding comfrey mulch to your strawberry beds helps you to grow your best strawberries.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Slow Garden Progress

 (this was our garden two years ago)

Our homestead garden is coming along so slowly this year.  We have two areas where we plant in our yard; the gated area right off our front porch and then our larger plot to the side of the house.

In our front yard I have a majority of our perennials, herbs, our pear tree and blueberry bushes.  It's become a hodge podge of plants, but it works nicely as an herb garden when cooking and usually the kids pick the blueberries or the pears when they need a snack.  One day I hope to remove the grass and put in some more raised beds for flowers, more herbs and perhaps a kitchen garden.  Honey, when you read this, please don't roll your eyes, I know you love your precious lawn. .  it's just one smallish area.

Sunday, after church was spent planting 25 new strawberry plants, some of which went into the front garden.  When these strawberries are ripe, they don't stand a chance to five strawberry lovin' children's fingers .  The remainder went into a new bed in the main garden in hopes of having some left over for strawberry jam later this summer.

In our larger plot we have our actual garden vegetables; onions, carrots, lettuce, chard, kale, jalapeno peppers, broccoli, peas, beans, cabbage, garlic, cucumbers and of course pumpkins.  I have realized with this last winter being so wet, that I must put on patience.  Memorial Weekend has usually signified our "official" gardening season for our family, but the last weeks have been sunny and warm and my fingers are dying to get outside and plant. 

When we first got into gardening about 9 years ago, I bought this book.  This book was designed to help gardeners with small spaces make the most of planting and growing.  You've probably heard of it, Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew.  We took our two 4 by 4 foot boxes and grew a couple of tomato plants, some lettuce, carrots and spinach and thought we were on top of the world.  While that meager beginning may not seem like much, it spurred a desire inside of the General Manager and I to grow more of our food.  By spacing out each of our crops systematically, it allowed us to actually grow more vegetables that first year in our new home in California.

Tomatoes are a work in progress in our coastal climate.  We had a greenhouse for the last several years, but a couple of windstorms and one 14 year old teenager not looking where the back of the lawn mower bagger was destroyed what was left of the rickety plastic house this winter.  We were going to try to erect a hoop house out of cattle panels this year.  BUT, do you ever have time and supplies become obstacles.  So, thank heavens for grow pots.  I found this amazing deal on Amazon the other day.  My only problem with this solution is the cost of the dirt to fill all of the pots.  I may as well have just bought organic tomatoes from Costco at this rate.  I keep reminding myself, "grow your own. . . it's healthier. . .it's teaching the kids to be more self- sufficient. . there's nothing like the taste of a fresh grown tomato."  Have I convinced you yet because I'm still trying to convince myself!

How is your garden growing this year?

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Ducks For Our Farm

I'm not sure who came first. . . the crazy momma who adds more animals to her farm without thinking, without having housing or even a little bit of knowledge on how to take care of them, or the animal loving, protecting child who pleaded to get ducks when her father wouldn't acquiesce to a new cat.  She's also the same child who once placed a note up on the refrigerator that said "This is a NO KILLING Chicken Zone," and made her parents sign thus said note.

Either way, we are now the proud owner of two Blue Swedish ducks and they are approximately 5 weeks old.  Meet Carl and Ellie, but alas, I don't even know at this point whether we have a drake (aka boy) or a hen (aka girl).  It will only make a difference if we end up with two boys because that means NO eggs.

Our children didn't come with a manual  (other than the Bible) to help the General Manager and I raise them, so, what was I expecting when these ducks arrived one morning.  What's a girl to do; how do I quickly leap over the vast learning curve of raising baby ducks.  Turn to my favorite author, Lisa Steele.  Her first book Fresh Eggs Daily helped me to learn about raising chickens and thank heavens she's published a similar book on raising ducks.

The book came in the mail and I absorbed it like a sponge in 3 days.  First things first, ducks need lots of protein when they are ducklings.  Be sure to get the highest protein chicken feed if you cannot find duck feed at your local feed store.  We went with
NATURES BEST ORGANIC FEED Chick Starter & Grower Crumbles.  Since I couldn't find higher than 18%, several websites recommended adding brewer's yeast top dress to the duck feed.  Water is the next essential element for successful duck raising.  Simple mason jar waterers don't work.  Ducklings need to get their entire beak into the water to help swallow their food and prevent choking.  They also need to keep their nostrils moist and clear of debris.

Ducklings are messy creatures.  There was only two of them, but they managed to drench their brooder box every day with spilled water.  This continued even though we went with a larger chicken waterer.  Lesson learned - next time use a ceramic bowl that they can't tip over.  They took great delight in emptying their feeders all over the bottom of the box and I could have sworn I heard them laughing at us.  Because, basically, if they can play in something, they will.

They quickly outgrew their brooder box, so outside they went into our chicken tractor.  As long as it wasn't raining too hard, they were very happy.  We bought a medium sized rubber feeder bowl that could be used as a swimming pool, but they have not stepped foot in it - perhaps they don't like the cold, wet Northern California weather like this momma.

These ducks are funny, smart and inquisitive, quirky, fascinating creatures.  I really am enjoying watching them.  I have witnessed the "head bobbing" which is a sign of dominance and also flirting.  My favorite though is "head tilting."  A duck can see two to three times farther than a human.  Because their eyes are on the side of their head and fitted into the socket, they have to tilt their heads to see in a different direction.  The cuteness factor was displayed when they were babies and the girls brought them inside one afternoon to play in the tub.  Hannah and Abby threw lettuce leaves into the tub and the gobbling began.

Stay tuned for our next adventure - building a duck coop!

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Mother's Day Market

I just can't contain myself any longer.  I just have to share the fun we had at our first craft fair this year.  It was called the Mother's Day Market and it was held in Fortuna at the Rohner Grange.

But first I feel I need to back up because I'm not sure I've shared this new hobby/business with all of our readers.  Moving back closer to family seven years ago has enabled our children to be raised in the country with fresh air, animals and has provided them a slower paced lifestyle.  “One Blessed Acre” comes from our abundant family blessings by God throughout the years.   As well as, we are currently living on exactly one acre of land.  We took the plunge a couple of years ago and added goats to our farm with the intent of drinking the milk, wanting to be more self-sufficient with our homesteading lifestyle.  Out of that milking came lots of excess milk for soaps and lotions.  Once I began looking at the labels on beauty products I quickly realized the need to have more natural products for my family to use.   Through trial and error, gleaning information from those who had experience in soap making and reading countless websites, I found a passion for making soap and natural beauty products from ingredients that I could actually pronounce.   The goal of our business is to serve and give back to our community as a family, providing wholesome goat milk products that will bless local families and businesses that partner with us to promote and sell our products. 

One of the best questions I always receive is "Why Goat Milk."  So here's the answer to Goat Milk;  why you should drink it, make kefir, yogurt, and cheese and add it to handmade soap. .   Why?  Because goat milk is very good and never ba-ha-ha-ha-had.   Goat's milk has a pH level that's well balanced for healthy human hair and skin, while commercial soap can dry out the skin to the point at which it feels taut and itchy.   The alpha hydroxy acid of goat’s milk attack the “glue” that binds dead skin cells together.  With these bonds broken those dry, lifeless cells slough off to reveal that young, healthy skin that is hidden beneath. Goat milk is loaded with vitamins and minerals which rejuvenate and nourish your skin

Now that you've been taught why you should use goat milk, let me convince you why you should support One Blessed Acre Farm and buy our handcrafted soap.  You will absolutely love your skin and will thank us for replacing your dry, itchy, irritable skin with soft, smooth and supple skin that doesn't feel dry or cracking.

Our most popular line is our goat milk lotion.  We have such a variety of scents that I couldn't name them all.  I use fragrance oils and also have created an essential oil scent in geranium.  We also carry a unscented soap and lotion for those who are severely bothered by fragrance.

This year the kids and I have been busy creating new products which include a form of goat milk, whether it be fresh or dried.  First, is my new liquid soap line.  It is so soft and gentle on your skin and it cleans excellently while leaving your skin feeling supple.  I've even tested it on greasy pans in the kitchen and it works there too!  I'm also hearing great reviews about our luxury exfoliating line of soap.  Four different scents with four different exfoliates:  Coconut Island with loofah, Coffee House with ground coffee, Oatmeal Cookie with colloidal oatmeal and Herb Garden with ground walnut shells, pumice and poppy seeds.

Hannah has created the richest, most decadent goat milk fudge.  People were raving about her samples.  For the time being this will be a local craft fair item.

The day began beautifully, with the sun peaking through the clouds and the wind was just beginning to blow, while we were in line at Starbucks getting everyone a Frappuccino.   Set up went smoothly for us.  Our table was sandwiched right in the middle of the room.  This worked out perfectly for us to be able to sample our lotions on passers-by.   The kids are always a little shy when we first get started, but by the end of the show they are pros at squirting lotion and talking about the products.  Even George made sure to let everyone know about his Tub Teas.  Lindsay spent many months perfecting her bath bombs.  They smell heavenly.  She made Lavender Lush, Electric Lemonade and Cinnamon Stick.  So delicious!

One of my favorite places to shop is Amazon and we, One Blessed Acre is now available through Amazon.  Isn't that great?? All you have to do is click the link and order.   You can also find us on Etsy at One Blessed Acre.

I love that we are local too.  All of our soaps and lotions can be found in the Golden Gait Mercantile in  downtown Ferndale, California. 

The day went by too quickly and soon it was time for us to pack up and head home.  We are really looking forward to our next fair in June called
Humboldt Junkies Vintage Market and Trailer Rally.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Raising Chickens with Lisa Steele for Inspiration

Chickens have been our life since 2010 when we moved to One Blessed Acre.  On my quest for self-sufficiency, I got a crazy notion in my brain that we could raise chickens .  Neither the General Manager nor I had ever had experience raising chickens.  We took on our backyard flock, with a box arriving at the post office at 1 AM one morning, in stride.  The kids were overly excited to participate and help raise these 25 little fluff balls that began our introduction into chickens.

Flash forward seven years and we are still raising chickens.  Some may call us crazy, but I believe we still have one of our precious firsts, her name is Daisy.  She is perfectly healthy, but doesn't lay one egg for us, but she brings us such joy.  Our chickens not only became our livelihood, but a part of our family.  It's been tough learning that farm animals do have their place in the order of life, but, while they are in our care, we make sure they have the best life possible.

One of my favorite authors is Lisa Steele, of Fresh Eggs Daily.  I have been re-reading her book, Fresh Eggs Daily: Raising Happy, Healthy Chickens Naturally.  Lisa has this ability to break down raising chickens into the simplest form ever.  I mean really, she basically tells us that if you can grow herbs and use essential oils, your flock will be happy, healthy and growing.  And if you haven't seen her new coop on her homestead in Maine, it's beautiful!

So, this last week, I've incorporated her Breakfast of Champion Layers Feed recipe into our normal rations.  I've added mint leaves to the coop to help repel rodents and insects.  Our overly abundant lemon balm this year is next to go into the coop.  This will look pretty, but also benefit the chickens with overcoming the chicken poo smell and as a laying stimulant.

Have you seen Lisa's new book; Gardening with Chickens?  It keeps staring at me when I pass by it at Tractor Supply.  Am I the only one who has books call out to her?  Please tell me NO!

My other favorite blog to follow is the Chicken Chick.  Have you checked out Kathy's site?   She has the most incredible story of how she overcame her neighborhood's discrimination in keeping a backyard flock of chickens.  This week I decided to make a batch of her Flock Block.  Our chickens are free-ranged for most of the day, but for several hours they are enclosed in our chicken run which is strictly dirt.  They needed and deserved an extra treat.  I had to substitute a few ingredients from Kathy's recipe, but for the most part I followed what she recommended. 

First the wet ingredients:

Then the dry ingredients, along with a jar of last year's canned apples.

Mix it altogether.  Spread out into several baking pans - mine made 3 large and 2 small cake pans.  Bake for two hours at 300, which was slightly too long.  Next time I will only bake for 1 1/2 hours.  They did come out a teeny bit burnt, but the birds didn't mind.  My daughter, Abby and I even put holes in the middle of each pan, but the chickens ate them too fast to even make that worth while. 

Will I notice greater egg production from this, probably not.  But, will I gain the satisfaction that I'm giving my birds healthy foods and supplements - ABSOLUTELY!  Those who stop by our farm stand and buy our eggs will be able to see by the health and vitality of our girls.  We cherish the fact that we have hand raised each bird, giving each one extra special attention and the best food possible.  And I always say if you stand in our yard long enough, one of the girls will probably come by and say "hello."

Raising chickens will be such a rewarding experience for you and your family.  I guarantee you'll fall in love with them as our family has.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Garden Beginnings

The winter doldrums' are about to be over.  I look forward to this season every year, but it really is the kick start to our busiest time of the year.  Gardening season is knocking at my back door here in the Pacific Northwest.  Our family is just waiting patiently for the sun to come out for more than one day a month.  I say that tongue and cheek, but really I think we have had rain solid for the last 4 months.  Once the sun returns, Mr. Sunshine will warm up the soil enough to begin planting.   I have learned over the years that being patient while gardening is just one of the many character traits every gardener learns.

This year was a treat for us, because my friend Heather at Mountain Home Quilts invited the girls and I up to Crescent City to a little farm called the Dutch Gardener.  We piled into the car and drove the two hours over several patches of roads that quite literally scare the living daylights out of me to drive upon.  I happened to catch one selfie while stopped at a traffic light of course, and the girls were both engrossed in their reading.

That just meant that I got to listen to my 80's jam a little bit longer!

Our haul home included two rhubarb plants, because for some unknown reason, I killed off my gigantic rhubarb plant that I've had for 4 years, 5 marigolds, 7 tomato plants, 2 jalapeno pepper plants, basil, lettuce, celery, parsley, and a couple of assorted flowers and herbs.  There were thirty - 4 inch pots in the back of my van.  Somehow I managed to forget buying zucchini starts, to which my kids will be ecstatic!  They absolutely hate zucchini and all of the many ways that I try to hide it in their foods.

I had already ordered my seeds from Territorial Seed Company back in March.  We have had the best germination rate with seeds from Territorial.  It is most likely due to the fact that they are an Oregon based company with their seeds already acclimated to our wet, rainy and cold weather.

Back in March, the General Manager had 50 tons of manure dumped onto our front lawn.  This is what said manure pile looks like after it is hauled in the garden.  You'll probably notice the deep, deep ruts left in the lawn by the tractor.  These ruts caused said General Manager to kick himself for days.  Have no fear dear, it's growing back in nicely.  Soon we won't even remember how wet, rainy, dreary and overly saturated our front lawn really was!