I’ve been quiet around here but spring planting is finished and our seeds are beginning to sprout. We spent a lot of time expanding the garden at the beginning of the year so our growing space has nearly tripled! Most of our tomatoes and beans will be growing vertically to maximize the space so we’re really curious to see what this year’s harvest will yield! We’re growing a lot more beans and peas this year and trying a few new things as well.
I thought I’d share a few photos of the beans in different stages of sprouting:
It never fails to amaze me how you can plant a bean under a couple inches of dirt and more grow. It’s incredible to watch it happen.
I’ll have a garden walk through post up soon (and of course hen and goat photos because really, who can resist those?)
The dream begins in winter. December is a rush of celebrating with family, friends, food and gifts. I open my mailbox and every few days there’s a new seed catalog waiting for me. I slow down a few minutes each day to plan our garden. I forget to rush and overeat and overspend.
I browse randomly at first, taking in the photos. Then I start circling/highlighting and dog earring pages until eventually it looks like a student textbook.
Of course you can always browse the seed catalog online but I prefer the physical copy in my hands; it’s easier to compare and read notes on certain vegetables. It also signals the start of the growing season when they show up in your mailbox, which is my favorite part. If you visit the website you can request a free copy of their catalog and each year after you’ll get their updated catalog in your mailbox, too.
Basic seed catalog information:
Each catalog will tell you what type of seeds they offer: heirloom/non-hybrid, non-GMO, organic, etc.
Heirloom seeds are a variety that have been saved over several generations, usually passed down in families/communities. They are open-pollinated, meaning you can collect them each year and expect them to produce much the same the following year.
Hybrid seeds are cross-pollinated (usually labeled in catalogs as F1), meaning two plant types have been crossed and bred to produce a desired trait. These seeds will not produce the same each year or may not even grow at all so hybrid seeds cannot be saved but must be purchased new each year.
Non-GMO means non-genetically modified organisms. That means the seeds you’re purchasing were not created in a laboratory using genetic engineering.
Organic also means the seeds contain no GMOs and were grown without pesticides/fertilizers.
2. Most arrange their contents alphabetically and include sub-categories.
(example: peas may be listed by categories snap, shelling, snow, southern/cowpeas and tomatoes may be listed by color or if they’re determinate/indeterminate).
3. If you’re purchasing heirloom seeds, many companies will give you a history: where and when the seeds originated.
4. Seeds are offered in packs and there should be an estimate on how many seeds you’ll receive per pack.
5. Germination time (how long it’ll take for a seed to sprout) and time to maturity (how many frost free days you need and when to harvest) are usually included, along with how many hours of sunlight, soil type and watering instructions.
6. Disease/Pest Tolerance is useful information and generally included with plants known for issues like tomatoes.
7. Many companies offer live plants. You may order any time of year but live plants (example: apple trees, potatoes) will ship according to your climate zone.
8. Check to make sure the seed/plant is available to ship to your area. For instance, I had no idea until browsing seed catalogs that cotton cannot be shipped to three U.S. states, including my home state of Georgia and some states, like Virginia, require a permit to grow cotton.
I’ve found that even though we have a good stock of seeds in our pantry, I always want to try something new so we will swap seeds with friends (free seeds, plus you get to try something new!) and I usually order (…okay, always order) a few new things that catch my attention each year.
If you decide to save your own seeds, it’s pretty simple! You’ll want the seeds to dry out completely. When we save tomato seeds, we leave them on napkins up to two weeks before putting them all together in an envelope. Seeds that do not dry out will clump together and grow mold and then they are useless. Zero moisture before packing if you want success!
Envelopes, cute DIY packets, mason jars, and old (cleaned) coffee/tin cans all work just fine to store your seeds. Keep it labeled with the name and year and place in a cool/dry, dark space. We’ve kept our seed packs in dresser drawers and stacked in the back of the food pantry. Anywhere in your home that’s dark and doesn’t get too hot or cold will work.
Know your frost dates. Plug in your zip code to determine the first and last frost dates in your area. This will let you know the length of your growing season (I have a generous 271 days!) and a general time frame of when you can direct sow seeds and transplant your seedlings outdoors. (For my local people: I start my tomato and pepper seedlings indoors mid/late January and transplant them outdoors the week after Masters. There always seems to be one last surprise frost around Masters so the rule of 2nd week of April has never failed me yet!)
If this is your first year growing food, decide where you want your garden space and then note how many hours of sunlight that space gets each day. Most veggies you plant will need at least 6 hours of full sun each day in order to thrive.
Beans are great starter veggies. You can grow bush or pole beans; pole will allow you to grow up so you can maximize your garden space. They require very little work, just decent soil and watering. They do well in extreme high temps here in the south and as far as pests go, the beetles are easy to spot.
Tomatoes are the most popular food to grow but check out the types carefully (you need to stake/cage certain types while some are great in small containers and can conveniently be moved around for optimal sunlight). Look for info on disease resistance, heat tolerance, and size. You’ll need to check regularly for cracks on the fruit as well as hornworms (my arch nemesis!)
There’s so much additional information: how and when to seeds indoors, how to build up rich soil, harvesting your food, etc. Honestly, this is all a learning process. I still learn new things each year. I make sure I write down if something does amazingly well or completely awful to look into the variables of why (temperature being a main factor).
Have fun: check out different companies (there are so many!) and what they offer, order what interests you (it’s like a science project but without the poster board), ask local gardeners for input and try to keep notes so you can keep track of what worked and what didn’t.
Seed catalogs, planting and saving all give you something to look forward to when you’re in your long johns dreaming of warm weather.
I’ve been keeping my daughter busy with small activities this winter since the cold weather has set in and we’re not spending much time outdoors. I love that most of these activities take place around the kitchen table and they add excitement to the upcoming holiday for her.
Dried citrus can make a festive tree or window garland or even a potpourri satchel with a few spices added.
I read a couple different methods for drying citrus (oranges, tangerines, lemons): placing slices on a cooling rack over a cookie sheet and drying in the oven at 250 degrees for 3-4 hours, or placing slices in a food dehydrator for 8-10 hours.
I decided the food dehydrator was the way to go! I cut an orange into thin 1/4 inch slices and placed them on two stacked drying racks and flipped the switch on just before I went to bed. Nine hours later I had perfectly dried orange slices. I wanted zero moisture left so I made sure they didn’t bend at all. If they are leathery, it means there’s still moisture remaining.
You want these to be Legally Blonde bend and snappable. Except, don’t actually snap them; that wouldn’t be pretty.
The citrus looks lovely on a string of twine wrapped around a Christmas tree or on fishing line hanging in a window. The sunlight catches in the slices and reminds me of stained glass!
You can mix orange/blood orange, tangerine, and lemon slices for variety.
Our garden flourished this year. The tomatoes managed to thrive even through the heat, our green beans were epic once again (I lost count of how many pounds went into the freezer), our first try at okra, tomatillos, and cow peas (purple hull and black eyed peas) was a major success; and as fall settles in, we still have an abundance of carrots and green peppers.
We processed our second flock of meat birds as the garden was winding down. This time we decided to try a hybrid chicken, the Jumbo Cornish X Rock. These birds are specially mated to produce maximum meat in a shorter period of time than a heritage bird. Because these birds are hybrids, they aren’t meant for breeding (the next generation will be inferior and due to their extreme growth rate, they are usually too large to breed at time of maturity anyway).
We’ve read horror stories of these hybrid birds: growing so quickly their legs break under their weight, they eat so much they literally kill themselves, they are sedentary and lay down when not eating/drinking causing a high rate of being trampled.
However, the numbers kept us curious.
A bird raised for 6-8 weeks producing an average of 4 pounds of meat? It just sounds too good to be true!
Here’s the breakdown of our meat flock costs the second time around:
28 Jumbo Cornish X Rock males arrived from Murray McMurray Hatchery in August (we ordered 26 and they sent 2 extra chicks because it is common to lose a chick or two in transit) $80 (including shipping)
We purchased 12 bags (50 lbs each) of chick starter feed $170.00 (The only other cost incurred was the pine shavings for the 3 weeks they were in the brooder and I didn’t include it because it was less than $10)
We lost 3 chicks during the first week in the brooder (a combination of the summer heat and being smothered while piling on top of each other)
2 chickens broke their legs at 6 weeks and were unable to walk to food or water so we processed them earlier than planned. (At 6 weeks they were both dressed out at 3 pounds each.)
23 chickens were processed at 8 weeks and averaged 6.5 pounds per bird.
We put approximately 160 lbs of chicken in our freezer and spent $250.00 on the chickens and their feed for 8 weeks.
Approximate cost of our homegrown chicken meat: $1.56 per pound
To read about why we chose to raise our own chickens for meat, click here.
To read about how we process chickens (with photos), click here.
Pros of raising hybrid meat birds:
Only 3 weeks in brooder (compared to 6-7 for heritage birds)
8 weeks total (compared to 16-20 weeks for heritage birds)
More meat in a shorter time period (2.5 lb difference from our first heritage breed flock)
Cons of raising hybrid meat birds:
The Cornish X birds growth rate is because of their appetite. They want to eat 24/7 and most certainly will if you allow them to. We had to feed the birds on 12 hour on / 12 hour off schedule and actually tracked how many pounds per week to feed them based on other homesteader’s experiences.
Despite a strict feeding schedule, two birds did break a leg because of their abnormal growth rate. Their legs simply could not support their weight and they were unable to walk to food and water. Both had to be butchered at 6 weeks.
They are very sedentary birds. If they were not walking to food or water, they were lying down even though they had a large, open pen. For this reason, we had to be even more vigilant than usual about cleaning the pen so that they weren’t lying in mud and manure for extended periods of time.
If I’m being honest, these birds were pitiful. I am all for cost effective meat production but these are not your average chickens.
Non-hybrid chickens (at least the heritage birds we’ve raised) do not over eat so we don’t have to monitor them for over eating. They are usually walking around and pecking when they are not dust bathing and they sleep off the ground on roosts. These hybrid birds were too large to roost; they had no choice but to sleep on the ground.
While we are very pleased with the amount of meat we have in our freezer thanks to these birds, we are not happy with their quality of life. We raised them humanely and to the very best of our ability knowing some the issues that are common in this breed but it was awful to see the abnormal growth rate and the pressure it placed on their bodies. 8 weeks is a short life span but I was honestly so relieved to see them go because I don’t think they had a great quality of life (through no fault of our own).
We plan on sticking to heritage breed meat flocks, like our first flock of Australorps, in the future. Their growth rate is steady, they don’t have to be monitored for overeating, and injuries are rare.
We began October with processing the meat flock and canning a huge amount of chicken stock and we ended the month with a Foo Fighters concert for our wedding anniversary and our annual trip to Clyde’s Fresh Produce.
You may remember I posted about our visit last year here.
Clyde’s provides us with honey and the majority of our lettuce, corn, onions, and potatoes each year. We appreciate what they do for our community and that they open their home to us each fall to celebrate the growing season.
Here’s a couple photos I snapped while we were there.
Spring has been good to us so I thought I’d share photo overload of the holler.
For these jumbo size eggs from our Rhode Island Reds (Roxy and Rita), I preheat my oven to 325. I wash and dry the eggs then place them in a muffin tin and pop them in the oven for 30 minutes and then place them in a bowl of ice water for 10 minutes to stop the cooking process.
I like to eat one or two for breakfast sometimes, or add them to salads and other dishes so I cook several at a time. I leave the shells on and they’ll keep in the refrigerator for a week.
If you give it a try, be sure to adjust your time based on your egg size so you don’t over or undercook.
Eggshells are multi-purpose around our house. We use them in our garden, compost, and even crush them up and put them back into the chicken’s food for the nutrients they provide.
Around Easter, I plant hens & chicks (a type of succulent) in some of them as a table centerpiece.
My grandmother gave a pot of hens & chicks to my dad for his birthday many years ago and they thrived and multiplied at the beginning of each spring, spreading out and over the pot they were planted in. We started them in new pots and shared them with family and friends.
A few years ago we planted several in an old birdbath outside our kitchen window that would no longer hold water due to a crack.
The great thing about most succulents is that they are low maintenance and virtually impossible to kill. These hens & chicks can be pulled up and transplanted almost anywhere, put outdoors in shade or full sun, or indoors with bare minimum window light and they still thrive. Our outdoor succulents are watered only when it rains and our indoor hens & chicks are watered maybe once a month. I love low maintenance plants!
I started by filling my eggshells with dirt from a rotted tree stump on our property. Potting soil or compost will work just fine too! I pulled up the “baby” hens & chicks sprouting off the larger ones in the bird bath and cleaned off the clumps of dirt to expose the roots and placed them in individual eggshells. For the larger eggshells, I planted 2-3.
I watered them generously and then brought them indoors for my table centerpiece.
I added a sprig of rosemary and some feathers for fun. Nothing fancy, just things from the yard.
If you want to take some extra time, you can always dye your eggshells to give it more of an Easter vibe. If you don’t have succulents on hand already, visit your local greenhouse (or home improvement store) and see what they offer. If you’re around Columbia County Georgia, I cannot say enough amazing things about Sanderlin Greenhouses. The have a beautiful selection of plants and my favorite part is the vintage Radio Flyer wagons that act as your shopping cart!
27 chicks arrived safely and over the course of 20 weeks, we lost 2 roosters to a hawk in December and around that time we realized that, surprise!, the hatchery sent us a hen in the mix. We were left with 24 roosters to process.
2 days old
18 weeks old
Our adorable fluff balls grew rapidly and by the time they were moved from their brooder to the great outdoors at 7 weeks old, they were feathered pecking machines.
While the plan had been to raise them free range, a hawk quickly changed that after making a meal of two roosters. A fence went up around their coop to keep them safe from predators (and a plan is forming for a chicken tractor next year).
At the end of our first year of chicken processing, we have spent a grand total of $455.95.
$157.29 was spent on construction and supplies for the brooder and the coop, meaning it’s a one-time expense. This total included hinges, lumber, metal roofing, pine shavings, brooder lamps and bulbs, chick feeders and waterers for brooder, food pans and gallon waterers for the coop.
The remaining $298.66 was the cost of the chicks and shipping, along with 16 bags of chicken feed.
We chose the heritage breed chicken Black Australorp, which are usually processed for meat between 16 and 20 weeks. We decided to process 5 chickens per week beginning at 16 weeks so that we could see if there’s a significant weight gain in that time period. This will tell us whether to process early or later in the future, which could potentially save us money in feed cost if there isn’t a large weight gain between 16-20 weeks.
Based on our chicken and feed costs of $298.66 and our birds weighing an average of 4 pounds each, our price per pound for 2017 is $2.99.
While many companies selling chickens use the term “organic”, it is almost impossible to know what they actually mean since it is used so loosely. Even seeing the term “free-range” simply means they have access to a small door to the outside but doesn’t tell you if it’s a slab of concrete outdoors or an open pasture to roam (not likely). I’m tired of the guess work.
The chickens we raised were given a large outdoor space in the woods, free of human interference besides refilling their water source and giving out additional feed (and lucky them: our leftovers!). They were raised free of antibiotics, hormones, or steroids. When processing their meat, we’re adding zero artificial ingredients or preservatives.
I see “organic chicken” sells in stores in a wide price range, the cheapest I’ve found being $4.99 per pound and upwards of $10 per pound for boneless, skinless chicken breasts. I’d say that by taking the guess work out of how the chicken I consume was raised by doing it ourselves, our price of $2.99 per pound is a bargain!
I understand many people don’t have the time, ability, or stomach to process chickens themselves. I understand many people may not care about the conditions these chickens live in before becoming a meal.
This was a personal decision my family made to take control of our food which we believe also means taking responsibility for our health. As meat eating animal lovers, it means treating all of our animals with respect and great care, right up until the very end.
I read something recently (and I wish I remembered who to attribute the quote to) that will stick with me: “Every day something dies so that you can live.”
I hadn’t thought of the sharp truth of this before. Each day, trees are cut down for paper and warmth, animals are butchered, vegetables are consumed, minerals are excavated… the list goes on. We live in a time when we don’t think of these things because we have removed the majority of the overall population from the equation. Only a couple of generations ago, people grew their own meat and vegetables instead of driving to a grocery store. Your supper was hard work and had a face (possibly a name, too?) behind it. If a crop didn’t do well one year, you had to go without. If predators took hold of your livestock, you went without whatever that animal provided, as well as their meat.
So while it is inconvenient in this day and age to consider how animals and vegetables are raised (I’m talking about pesticides, genetic modification, antibiotics, steroids, etc.) before it’s on our plate, it wasn’t so long ago we knew how to raise our own food in order to survive.
At the end of our 2017 processing, here are the final stats:
27 chickens: 1 surprise hen, 2 roosters lost to hawk
16 bags of chicken feed
800 lbs of chicken feed consumed by 27 chickens over 20 weeks
24 chickens processed for the freezer
Each chicken averaged 4 pounds
Based on the cost of the chickens themselves and their feed, our meat cost us $2.99 per pound, compared to the average grocery store cost of $7.99 per pound.
Since there wasn’t a significant increase in weight between 16 and 20 weeks, we will be processing future flocks at 16 weeks, which will cut our feed costs by around $80, if we continue to use the same feed. This means we have the potential to cut our price per pound to $2.50
We’re researching making our own chicken feed in the future (cost effective by purchasing ingredients in bulk, which is perfect for a large meat flock) and also building a chicken tractor. We have a few ideas for making feed and water distribution easier.
In addition to the meat in our freezer, we are using the chicken carcasses, necks, and feet in our own chicken stock canned for the pantry. The gizzards are kept to eat (don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it!) and sell, the feathers become compost, the hearts and livers are fed back to the remaining chickens, and the intestines and heads are left in the woods for the nocturnal animals to take care of.
I have put together a basic step-by-step with pictures of how to process a chicken. If you’re morally opposed or sensitive to images of butchering an animal, please don’t scroll further. For those interested in the process, take a look and let me know if you have questions. If you’re interested in more processing details, I’m happy to discuss!
We begin each butchering day by saying a prayer and thanking the birds for providing us with food.
Fall has always been my favorite time of year here. I think the picture above of my walk to the chicken coop explains why!
We’re busy flipping through seed catalogs and preparing to start some of our plants indoors from seeds we saved from the summer garden, raking leaves for the compost pile, and loving on our new baby goats!
Hazel and Eloise were born November 21 and they came to our home, along with their mama Choca, on November 23.
Our meat flock is now 11 weeks old! If you’d like to read about how we prepared for and why we started a meat flock, read my first post here.
We moved the flock from the brooder to their coop on November 19 when they were 7 weeks old.
Unfortunately, a hawk found our flock on December 11 and we lost our first rooster. The following day, the hawk came back for lunch and we lost a second rooster.
The evening of December 12, Joe and I created a fence around the coop with a cover until we’re able to trap and relocate the hawk (it’s illegal to harm a hawk so we are trying to do the right thing while keeping our chickens safe). Unfortunately free ranging is over for now until that’s taken care of.
The chickens are weighing in at 3 1/2 pounds at 11 weeks old; they have been gaining around a half pound each week.
So far we have spent $132 on feed (we’ve purchased 450 lbs in bulk) and they have gone through 300 pounds of that food in just 11 weeks!
Another $145 was spent on brooder and coop supplies (these are one time only costs so this will not be a part of next year’s flock expenses thankfully!)
I’m keeping track of every penny spent on the flock so that I can share the grand total with you in February when processing begins and calculate exactly how much each bird cost us compared with grocery store chicken prices.
When I was a kid, my dad stuck some brittle hydrangea stalk cuttings into the dirt here and 20 years later, we still have a thriving “snowball bush” (that’s what we call it here in the South). The acidic pH levels in our soil keep our snowballs a beautiful blue color that fades to purple before drying.
(You can change the color of your hydrangea by adding or subtracting lime/aluminum to your soil; read all about that here.)
After a long and dry summer, the snowballs have begun to dry and I usually clip a few to put in a vase over the fall/winter months, but this year I decided to try a wreath.
This is suuuuper simple, y’all. Like, no-instructions-truly-necessary simple.
I purchased a grapevine wreath and floral wire at my local Dollar Tree and cut some dried/drying hydrangeas from the plant.
I left a long stalk on the hydrangea so there was wiggle room for wrapping and securing it to the wreath.
I placed hydrangea around the wreath to create a full appearance and secured each piece with the floral wire.
That’s it. Seriously!
After you spend some time cleaning up the loose dried petals that fall off and give the wreath a nice “fluff” to make sure it’s full and secured, it’s ready to hang.
For two bucks and some change, I made this fall wreath!
I found this cute shutter at an antique shop recently and I thought it’d be the perfect place to hang my wreath. Now I have to figure out where to place this in the house.
Clyde’s Fresh Produce opened up their farm in Grovetown to the community last Sunday. It was a beautiful afternoon for grilling, chatting, and hay rides! We always enjoy the chance to talk with this sweet family and wander their 15 acres, seeing where all the amazing food we purchase comes from! The squash had been freshly harvested, green peppers, eggplants, and okra were still growing (and I have to admit with a hint of embarrassment I had no idea it grows on tall flowering stalks!), and they had a lovely fall/winter vegetable patch.
We left with our bellies full and our arms fuller: butternut squash, jalapeños, a jar of honey, and another 10 lbs of potatoes for the winter.
We appreciate all that they do for our community and for welcoming us to their home and feeding us throughout the year!
If you live in the Grovetown area, please check out Clyde’s Fresh Produce! During the summer they have a tent out on Lewiston Road to stop and purchase produce and you can find them downtown at The Augusta Market on Saturdays through the summer and fall.