Thursday, June 29, 2017

June Farm Update

Have you ever wished that during summer you could transport yourself back to the slower days of winter? My days seem to be longer and the list of things to get done seems to grow bigger. Our kid’s crazy schedule just keeps on getting crazier. Someone once told me years ago to cherish the years my children were young because one day life would be completely chaotic. Wow!  Were they ever right!  Having older children has added a new dimension to our schedule; running from this activity to the next, more so than when they were little, because then we could stay home. So, tired mommas with littles, my advice to you is to enjoy these days before chauffeuring, scheduling and activities consume your day.

Our garden was finally planted after what seemed like an eternity of waiting. It happened so quickly. It began as one day of planting and the next the sprouts were sprouting. It feels incredibly satisfactory to know that we are eating from the garden now, even if it is only strawberries, lettuce, chard, and radishes. I can almost imagine my ancestors biting into that first bite of fresh produce after a long winter of canned goods and dried meat. How good it must have tasted. How thrilled they must have been to have choices in what to eat. How satisfying to know they had grown it themselves? How did we get so far from the natural way of eating? But then I think, would I really want to remove the convenience of the grocery store, Azure drop or late-night Friday pizza night? Probably not, if I was to be truly honest. These things have a place in our life today for better or worse.

I love that the General Manager just posted on his Instagram about how he was enjoying the view of the colorful flowers off our front porch. He may or may not have been enjoying a cigar and a glass of scotch in the Adirondack chairs that my Dad built for us. Those chairs are supposed to go around our fire pit, but I just couldn’t bring myself to see them get weathered in the rain, so they found a new home on our covered porch. They just seem to fit there, like they’ve always been there. I tried sitting in them one day and I fell asleep with the sunshine streaming in on the porch. I was brought back into reality when one of the kids found me. 

In the early spring, I took some time to plant a variety of bulbs in and around a good majority of my perennials and herbs. Last year hubby had gently informed me that he really wanted to see more color in our front flower beds. I am so in awe of all my lavender blooms this year. Trimming lavender each season really is the ticket to better and bigger blooms the following year. My goal this year was to incorporate more edible plants in this landscape; mostly to just grow more food. I’m trying parsley, lovage and strawberries, in addition to our two blueberry bushes.

The children finished this year of schooling. Well it actually went down more like this, “momma just said put the books away.” I told myself and my best friend to remind me in future years to stop homeschooling in June. I’ve always been interested in following a more agrarian schedule because of the planting of our garden, weeding, barn chores, and milking schedule. These tend to be time consuming activities that need to be done during daylight/schooling hours. One of these days I hope to figure out how to get more schooling done during the rainy, dreary, wet winters we have here in Northern California. I like to give myself the month of June off and then begin planning for the next year in July and August. I hope to get schooling started again in September but our county fair is later this year and goes all the way until Labor Day. 

The highlight of June was the girl’s dance recital. The Ferndale Dance Academy put on a slightly twisted version of Cinderella. Abby and Hannah were fabulous and the show was a huge success.

How are the farm animals you ask? The goats are doing well. I have been spending months trying to figure out what deficiencies they are suffering from and I have narrowed it down to copper and selenium. We are on a strict mineral supplementation for each of them. In the last two weeks, I’ve noticed a big difference in both does’ coat colors. Now, I’m just waiting to see when each of them begins to show signs of heat. All last year I dealt with silent heats, which makes it impossible to bred a goat this way. My Nigerian buck is also over one year old now, so I’m really hoping he’s up for the task of breeding this year. 

Our chickens have been laying an enormous amount of eggs. One month they laid over 525 eggs – we do have 28 hens. That’s a lot of clucking! Did you know that chickens love to cluck (more like squawk) and let you know they laid an egg? Kevin, our LGD is working better with the chickens and goats – we’ve only had a few instances of chicken licking – yes, I said that correctly. He likes to lick the chickens until they are squeaky clean. Great if you are Kevin, not so great if you are the chicken being licked by a big white scary dog.

One Blessed Acre soaps and lotions were débuted at a new local craft fair this month – Humboldt Junkies. The kids have been adding their own products to our normal line-up of goat milk soaps and lotions. We now have lip balm by Abby, tub teas by George, bath bombs by Lindsay and sugar scrubs by Hannah. Did I mention that every one of these products has goat milk in them? Because goat milk is good for you and, never Bah-a-ha-a-ha-a-a-d. I added four new scented scrubby soaps and 3 new scented liquid soaps to our etsy shop. Who doesn’t love smelling like chocolate cake batter?  If local, you will still be able to find our products at the Golden Gait Mercantile in Ferndale.

We are off on vacation to Crater Lake, Oregon this week.  I cannot wait to see what adventures we get into while we are there.  How is your summer shaping up?  Leave me a comment.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

How to Be Successful At Craft Fairs

Whether you are brand new to the world of selling goods at fairs and craft shows, or if you are a seasoned expert, today’s economy dictates that just a bit more legwork is required in order for crafting to be profitable.  Here in our neck of the woods we have our share of craft fairs, which seem to be growing in popularity.

This last weekend the kids and I jumped both feet in the water with a relatively new craft fair and vintage flea market called Humboldt Junkies.  One Blessed Acre joined forces with Bluebird Mom - Chalk Couture.  So, in addition to all of our great goat milk bath and body products, we had custom chalked signs on rustic wood boards and vintage windows.

In order to properly prepare for our booth, a couple weeks ahead of time we got together and ran through a trial set up of the booth.  This is a must if you want to be prepared on set-up day at the actual fair.  While it still took us three hours to completely set up the booth, it would have taken us several more hours if we hadn't done this pre-preparation.  When we got to the fair, we found out we had the front booth, the very first booth everyone would see as they were walking in.  As soon as we saw this we realized we needed to adjust our layout to allow for the side entrance for customers to walk right into our booth.  Being flexible was essential to our success.

Tables are a must for craft displays.  Think outside of the box for display tables; not only functional ones but unique pieces.  Risers and displays need to be creative, varying heights and textures. This allows a customer's eyes to wander and observe your entire booth. We also combined products to show our customers possible gift giving ideas or ways to display their bath products at home.

Did you know you have 3 minutes or less to impress upon someone to walk into your booth and actually engage with your product?  This is not a big window of time, so make sure your displays are sharp and easy to view.   The "Rule of Seven" applies here;  The Rule of Seven is an old marketing adage. It says that a prospect needs to see or hear your marketing message at least seven times before they take action and buy from you.  So, above all have great signage.  We had not only two large banners, but individual signs telling price, sizes, scents and product names.  It's important to have your business name and website displayed so customers will see it.   

The day of the fair everyone was in a good mood.  Make sure you are thoroughly rested and have a smile on your face.  You only get one chance at a first impression and you want it to be a good one.  How could you resist this adorable face asking you to try our goat milk lotion?  Trust me, NO ONE did!  Be sure to wear comfortable clothing and comfortable shoes!  Standing on your feet all day can be quite painful.

Creating a theme for your booth is another way to be successful at craft fairs.  This was the first year we attended this craft fair so we wanted to make a lasting impression upon our customers.  A coherent stall with strong branding is helpful in getting our customers to remember our booth.  If you can, carry your branding into your packaging so that when a customer buys something they will be taking it home in one of your paper bags with a business card included.  Think about who your target market is and tailor your booth to this clientele.

At the end of the day, a successful craft fair means that you had a great time at the craft fair.  It also means that contacts were made with people that you'd never met before.  These can lead to potential sales at future craft fairs.  The learning experiences that our children were exposed to over the weekend are innumerable and invaluable.  Just a quick few to mention; making change, writing receipts, product merchandising, customer service, product knowledge and sales.  Never underestimate these skills and how important they can be to learn.  When I evaluated our results for this craft fair, we came right in at successful!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Home For the Ducks

Almost a month ago we gained two Blue Swedish ducks to add to our farm.  They are growing up so quickly.  One of the first orders of business after having them stay in our chicken tractor for several weeks was to construct them a permanent home.  It was decided that they would stay in the side yard to help control the slugs and snails that  inhabit destroy the perennial plants I have growing there.

I spent time online trying to find a coop suitable for two ducks.  It had to be quick and easy to assemble, something this construction challenged momma could handle.  It had to fit the size restrictions for our small space.  It had to be predator proof.  It needed to be somewhat pretty too as it's next to the house.  And finally, it had to be somewhat inexpensive; I wasn't buying the Taj Mahal of duck houses.   Amazon had this Advantek coop to house 2 - 3 chickens.  Voila!  Perfect.  

I completely forgot to take some pictures while we were putting it together.  The  instructions were not awful, but they were not entirely helpful either.  At least the coop layout was straight forward enough to be able to figure out.  It took my friend, Heather and I about two hours to put it together.

The closing latch came cracked, which Amazon graciously credited $30 towards the purchase cost since I had already put it together and was NOT taking it apart to return.  I needed to attach another safety predator latch on the door anyway because anyone who has animals knows that little wooden latch would not keep out a raccoon or skunk looking for dinner.  We also had to line the bottom with hardwire cloth because the floor was simply wooden slats, which I felt either the ducks would fall through or a predator would push up into.

So, Do I love our new duck house?  Absolutely!  For the money and ease of putting together it's a sturdy coop.  Could I have built one for less?  Absolutely!  But, how long would it have taken me?  Maybe several months.  Do I think it will last the test of time, probably not.  But, it will allow us a few years to figure out whether we want to house them in the side yard, in the garden or in the big chicken coop.  That's the nice thing about smaller animals - they are very flexible and forgiving; allowing for their owners to make several mistakes along the way.  What do you think of our new duck house?

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Planting Has Begun 06.05.17

From the left to the right around the back of the garden; we planted peas, jalapeños, lettuce, parsley, celery, spinach, radishes, chard, kale, more lettuce, carrots, chamomile, volunteer calendula.  Through the center rows I have planted broccoli, Brussel sprouts, kohlrabi, cabbage, more carrots, lettuce and spinach, dill, chamomile.  Off to the far right is bush beans, cucumbers, zucchini, and pumpkins.

The beds are slightly larger this year to allow for the larger crops to be in the center and the faster growing crops to the outside.  Is anyone else as garden fickle as I am??  Each year I always try some new layout and then journal the results in my garden log to refer to later.  Some things work really well and others are an epic fail.  

This year the General Manager is trying something new in the garden.  I think he secretly enjoys getting his fingers dirty in the dirt, even if he won't admit it to anyone else. . .  According to Modern Farmer straw bale gardening is great for those gardeners who are faced with the start up expense of raised beds or want an ideal growing container for vegetables.  We have this stubborn spot behind our pea trellis that just isn't big enough to plant anything - last year it grew potatoes, but it was extremely hard to keep weeded a weed magnet and the soil is very poor in this area.  Needless to say our potato harvest was low.

So, when you are dealt tricky problems in your garden, you have to be creative.  To get started he wet the bales down - more like soaked them!  Then he covered the tops with composted manure, bone meal and fertilizer.  Two weeks waiting time is necessary to start the breakdown phase of the hay and then he's going to plant the potatoes into the bales.
Bone Meal

When the harvest season ends, the bales will be soft, saggy and gray — but that’s exactly what we want. Because piling the straw together and leaving it to compost over winter, will give us a mound of beautiful compost to fill all of our pots and planters next spring.

Has anyone else tried straw bale gardening?  If so, leave me a comment and let me know if the bales were successful at growing whatever you planted in them.