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Winter greens, business start up, slacker chickens, and too many projects!

The title about sums up our winter. While we thought we would get some downtime this winter, we have not! All the things associated with starting a business as well as the equipment we have needed to build has kept us busier than we would like. Keith has finished building a post harvest area that includes a greens washer, spinner, dryer, wash table for root vegetables, egg station, packaging station, and walk in cooler. We still have a few loose ends to tie, but it should be ready for our spring bounty. We’ve already used the washer and spinner for greens and it’s been great!

Our Greenhouse produce has been harvested all winter for our egg customers and Bean Tree Cafe. We couldn’t be happier with the quality of greens. We made a lot of errors and found a lot we will do differently next winter, but for the most part it has been a success. Here’s a short video showing the equipment Keith built and the status of the greenhouse in January.

Keith also finished building the greenhouse for the chickens. They are much warmer and happier. We moved our rabbit hutches in the back section and gave them an area where we can let them out to run around. We are back and forth on whether the rabbits are worth our time. Since I want them the most, I have to do this chore. Not having to feed and water them in the snow, rain, and wind has been wonderful to say the least!


This year was the first year we have went through molt with a larger amount of chickens and it was rough. We went from around 90 eggs a day to as few as 23. Our egg customers were not too happy either! They are wonderful though and completely understood. We will plan to order new birds each year to help counter this problem.

In January, we visited All Seasons Organic Farm in Carbondale, IL. Jill, the owner of the farm, welcomed us in and walked us around the whole property answering all of our questions. It was a very beneficial experience and we will hopefully dodge a few mistakes this year by gleaning from her wisdom. Here is their website:


We’ve also been working on some marketing projects. The new website is getting built, hats are ready, and we are about to place t-shirt orders. We’re also stoked about the sign my brother built for us; it totally exceeded anything we had planned (more pictures on that later)! It will be nice to see all these things come together in the next few months.



The girls are busy with their first year of 4H projects including meat chickens, meat rabbits, art, and sewing. We have some Holland Lops and Lionhead bunnies on the way. They should be ready for new homes by Easter. We have placed our seed order and are now going to have a couple weeks of down time before all the craziness really begins!

Thanks for checking out the update!



Our Winter Salad Mix

Since the plastic went up on the greenhouse, the plants have really popped. Some of it is ready for harvest. Here’s a short video on our Winter Salad Mix. Side note: kids help when they want to, not because they have to. They all love to help for a few minutes anyway and especially when a video is recording!

Fall Fun and Exciting New Decisions

Exciting news! We have officially decided to move our little hobby farm into a “for real” side business. Still moving slowly since we already have a lot on our plates……like life with 6 crazy kids, etc. However, starting next Spring we will have produce bags available, a large strawberry harvest, an ongoing bulk supply of salad greens, and our first batch of honey. Produce bag deliveries will be available weekly to people in the surrounding areas. We will have a limited supply so get on the list now if you’re interested! It will be on a week to week basis, without a commitment. Email me at Here is an example from this fall:


Since we finished the strawberry patch project, we have been full force trying to get the greenhouse done in time for a good winter lettuce harvest. The jury is still out on that as the plants are small and daylight hours are dwindling. Hoping for the best! We decided to build it ourselves instead of buying a greenhouse kit. This allows us the flexibility of expanding it with ease as well as saving on cost. Keith bought a bender and purchased the poles from a local fencing company at a great price. We rented an attachment for the CAT to get the poles buried and then the hoops slipped right in. A lot of tedious work happened after that. This week it was finally ready for the plastic. We still need to get doors cut out, vents in, and two more rows of plants in the ground.

We finished harvesting our fall produce which included broccoli, cauliflower, purple hull peas, and some late tomatoes and peppers. The low tunnels worked out great for the cauliflower and broccoli. By using the tunnels we were able to keep the pest population down enough to produce a healthy product without any sprays. Keith had to climb in a few times and kill worms, so he said if anyone wants a head of broccoli it’ll be like $50! Next year, we’ll have to teach the kids how to do it! Give them a quarter for every worm they kill.


With the end of the season we took a few breaks this fall and had some fun. We went apple picking, camping with friends, trick or treating, attended a wedding, and had a handful of family birthdays!


Setting up the Strawberry Patch

This week we have 500 strawberry plants coming that will need a home. Therefore, this weekend’s project was setting up that area. A lot of people don’t think of strawberries in the fall, but if you get them in the ground a month before frost you will have strawberries the following spring instead of having to wait an entire year. We haven’t done fall planting before so we are hoping for the best! Strawberries are kind of our favorite, so excited about a huge crop!

Check out the video on the process. Also, notice how me in fast motion is like a normal speed and Keith in fast motion looks like a clown clip. That’s how different our pace is lol! You don’t want to work with him….no one can keep up!

Trial and Error- Part 2 Chickens

This year has been a big year for our little feathered friends. We’ve grown our layers to around 150, had scheduled deliveries of meat birds throughout the summer, and even raised up some of our very own chicks from our broody hens.

It’s been exciting, but also heartbreaking! With any kind of outside animal comes the risk of a predator. We’ve been fortunate enough to dodge that bullet the past few years. After our first experience of a raccoon prying a hole in our chicken wire 3 years ago with our very first flock of 10 chickens, we’ve had high scale electric! Nothing has come close to getting a chicken since then and we’ve even taken out a few predators with the 3 wire wrap around electric on a timer. Well with the meat birds on pasture, we’ve had to have a different approach. They didn’t have electric protection and last year we were lucky to raise them with no hiccups.

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This year, no such luck. Early this spring Keith came in one day after doing his morning feeding and the look on his face when he walked in the door told me something was wrong. I’ve never seen him like that. He looked so defeated. He walked over and intensely said, “they got them, every last one, they’re all gone.” In one night, we lost 100 meat birds from 3 different coups that were only a week and a half away from butcher day.


It sucked. The girls came in that morning and said, “Mom I feel so bad for dad, I want to help him clean them up.” I said, “Go ahead you can help him”. She said, “No, he told me I can’t help and to come inside because this is the type of things kids are traumatized by.” Ha! I’m pretty certain my oldest would have been fine. She has some pretty tough skin.

But you learn. And we learned that our pasture raised layers and meat birds have to have electric around them. So we did. We’ve surrounded them with portable poly solar fencing. It takes more time because we have to move the fences weekly, but it’s worth it to know they are as safe as possible.


We started our next round of meat birds with the new fencing and completed a successful butcher day. This was our third time butchering with the extended family and it went really smoothly. Keith built a plucker which has made the process so much faster. They started at 7am and completed 100 birds by 2pm with set up and clean up. It was a long and tiring day, but so rewarding to have a stocked freezer with healthy pasture raised chicken.


Our biggest success this summer has been the Egg Mobile! Keith made this for our layers and it is perfect for pasture raising them. We move the fencing every week depending on how the grass is looking. I love it maybe even more than the chickens. I can sit inside my living room, drink a cup of coffee, and watch the birds. Quaint. Relaxing. 

They lay their eggs, eat supplemental feed, and drink water inside. They all go in on their own at dark and then we have to lock it up each night and open it each morning. 

 For the first time we also had some hens sit on eggs. It was a neat thing to watch. They sat all day and only hopped off to eat or drink. If we got near them, they would get all fluffed up and angry looking. After the babies were born, they took care of feeding them and getting them water. Great learning experience for all of us, but especially the kids! Homeschool science 😉 

 Next blog post we will catch up from the rest of the summer activities……rabbits! 😳

All in all chickens were a great success this summer. We have that figured out for the most part and only improved upon what we’ve already learned. 

The Eagle Has Landed

Wow! So much has happened since our last post and so many projects have been completed. We’ve been a little busy to say the least. We promise to cut out time to have more consistent blog postings! Keith has a lot of videos he’d like to get going as well. For the sake of time, I’ll just highlight a few things.

First off, we had our baby! The little guy was born the end of May. Everything went great and we all are so in love with him. He will be pretty spoiled with so many sisters! My parents have already nicknamed him “Rooster”.

At the end of April/early May we increased our bunny family. We picked up this adorable white Holland Lop female. She is the sweetest rabbit I’ve ever seen. She seems more like a dog than a rabbit. She loves attention and getting played with. Our Lionhead Sammy also had Lionlop babies, 2 black ones and 3 grey ones.

Keith finished building all the raised beds for our early spring garden. This was the first year we attempted a spring garden and we learned a lot! More on that in our next blog post “Trial and Error”.

At the end of April we got our first batch of meat birds for the year and Keith built this brooder for them. The new brooder used two 125 Watt bulbs rather than four 250 Watt bulbs which obviously used a lot less energy. Also due to the box design it keeps the underside of the box at a much more consistent temp than the open bulb design. Here is a link to our basic design:

Our strawberries came in early May. We had a great harvest this year and were able to make a lot of jam, freeze a lot, share with family, and even sell some. This was our last year for this patch so we transplanted runners to a new patch for next year.

In May, we got the rest of the garden in for summer. This year we added more fruit trees, raspberries, blueberries, elderberries, and more…

Our major projects that got done in June were the egg mobile and the irrigation system. Our egg mobile is basically an 8′ x 16′ shed built on a running gear or farm wagon. We use poultry netting to form an 80′ x 80′ pasture which the egg mobile sets inside. The chickens are let out each morning and locked up (in the egg mobile) each night. The egg  mobile is moved once a day to keep the grass beneath it from burning up. We’ll have a future post on the egg mobile with more details.

As far as irrigation goes, we’ve tried a lot of different products and learned a lot of lessons. There are pros and cons to each type of irrigation. We used spray nozzles, rotary nozzles, and drip irrigation depending on the plants and size of bed we are watering. Again I’ll have future post on this, and give some additional thoughts.

The past couple months have been a whirlwind of activity! There is so much more, but that’s it in a nutshell.

Trial and Error – Part 1 Gardens

Betsy- This year we have tried so many new things. I’ve been encouraged by Elliot Coleman to just start doing something! So, I did. I planted all sorts of new things, some I hadn’t ever heard of before. Some plants succeeded and some were a total bust. But if we hadn’t tried, we wouldn’t know, not from first hand experience anyway.

So here are some of the things we tried… and the result!

We tried raised beds and companion planting for the first time. I LOVE the raised beds. They have barely any weeds, are easy to plant in, and are just really nice looking. They have been great for lettuce, radishes, carrots, turnips, celery, and kohlrabi. The struggle with raised beds is irrigation.

Keith – We don’t have 4 hrs a day to water plants, so virtually everything, except the hanging flower baskets on the front porch, is irrigated from one controller. Our raised beds are 4′ x 36′ so we use pop-up spray nozzles that spray a 4′ x 4′ square pattern. This seemed like a great idea, until a plant next to the spray nozzle got 6″ tall and became a wall, blocking any water from getting to the plants further from the spray nozzle. Once a plant is germinated and established this isn’t a big issue, because the soil below more evenly holds moisture regardless of where water is landing on top. But ‘adventurous’ as we were, we also companion planted and while companion planting sounds really good in theory, plants working together to create the best growing conditions while also fighting off pests, irrigating this ‘cluster’ was a nightmare. Sooooo, since all the plants were mixed, sometimes we were trying to germinate seed in an area of the raised bed that wasn’t getting any surface water due to a larger plant blocking the water. On top of that some plants needed a lot of water and some very little. We ended up over or under watering one way or another, things weren’t getting germinated, and we were still hand watering from time to time. Next year, we will divide the raised bed into 4′ x 4′ sections and plant the same plant in each section to avoid some of the challenges we had this year.

Keith – Tomatoes… Why we would try so many new things with tomatoes in the same year is beyond me, but we did. Here are the methods we tried this year and how we’ll use them in the future:

  1. Stringing them up – This is the first year we tried this and it was pretty successful. To string a tomato up you’ll need some kind of an overhead rail. The ideal height for this rail is as high as you can reach, but not over that. You’ll also need string. I would get the cotton string as the twine stuff is going to rot before the seasons up and all of your close to being ripe tomatoes will be laying on the ground. We used the Rollerhook from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. Then you need to watch a couple youtube videos on it. Simply hang the hook on the overhead rail and pull out enough string to wrap around the tomato plant a few times and tie a LOOSE knot around the stem at the bottom of the plant. It is ideal to prune a tomato plant that you string up. To do this just prune off the suckers to keep the plant to one main stem. You can also prune off the leaves up to the first cluster of tomatoes. As the plant grows, keep the main stem weaving around the string and keep it sucker free. The stringing method is best suited for indeterminate tomatoes, meaning they will keep growing up to first frost; unlike the determinate varieties that will only grow to 3′ or 4′.
  2. Cage – This is what we’ve always done in the past. It’s tried and true as long as you don’t decide to prune them like a plant you’d string up, which is what I did… (long pause of disgust…. To build a cage get a roll of 6′ concrete wire (6″ x 6″ squares). You’ll need to cut the concrete wire in to sheets in order to create 20″ or so diameter circle, I think this is around twelve 6″ x 6″ squares. Then fold each sheet into a circle and use you’re cut off ends to hold it in a circle. After that it’s simple, plant the tomato, put the cage around it, and stake the cage down. With this method you don’t want to do much pruning because the tomato needs some of the extra growth to hold it upright in the cage. If you prune it like a tomato you plan to string up it will collapse on its’ self. Which is what all of mine did…. idiot! This resulted in very limited fruit production and a plant basically coiled up at the bottom of the cage like a snake. The cage will work for indeterminate and determinate varieties.
  3. Florida Weave – I am in the process of doing this for the first time. All I’ll say is that it is best suited for determinate varieties like a Rutger (which is what I’m planting). It looks promising, give it a youtube.

Betsy – I’ve learned that while seeds are really very very small, they will in fact turn into a large plant really quickly! I planted most of my seedling much too close together and learned the hard way that they need room to grow. Some things like carrots and turnips didn’t even produce any type of root when they were too close together. Some things I started much too early inside and so it ended up taking longer to grow outside.

On the other hand, some plants worked out even being close together like my celery, cabbage, and some of the carrots. They weren’t pretty or up to size, but they still produced a nice little crop.

Next year I will start my seeds a little later, direct sow a lot more things in the raised beds, and start a lot more plants under the lights for things going out in the main garden. Small seeds were hard to keep track of and were quickly overtaken by weeds out in the main garden.

A few of my favorite new things that I’ve tried this year are Radishes, Kohlrabi, and Rutabaga.


Betsy- Greenhouse! The greenhouse is awesome, but kind of irrelevant in the summer. I threw all sorts of things in there this spring thinking we would get early tomatoes. We did not. Everything grew just like it did outside. I may use that space next year for starting seeds and dehydrating. Another new experience!

Keith- On any homestead the art of pruning can be a little frustrating. If you prune a plant/bush/tree back too far you won’t get any fruit and if you don’t prune enough you’ll end up with lots of really small fruit. As Betsy often reminds me, I prune things back to far. Case and point, from far away our orchard looks amazing. The tree trunks are thick and the foliage has a nice circular shape. However as you get closer you’ll notice something missing, the fruit. Most plants fruit from new growth. So all of the new limbs growing on the tree this year will be the limbs that new fruit will grow on next year. While this isn’t a hard and fast rule, if you prune all of your previous years growth off each year to preserve the shape of the tree, you won’t have any fruit, or very much anyway.

So going forward I’ve made a few rules for myself:

  1. Fruit Trees and Blue Berries – it’s always a good idea to prune of any limbs growing back towards the center of the tree. You want to encourage growth away from the trunk. It is important to prune back the previous years growth, but in the future I’ll only be pruning back 1/3 rd of that growth.
  2. Black Berries – the first year of planting you’ll want to prune shoots to 2 or 3 feet in late June or July. You’ll notice that once you prune these shoots they will begin to grow limbs off the side of the shoots, so you end up with a ‘T’ shape. This entire ‘T’ shape will produce berries the following year. Where the limbs come off the shoots and touch the ground they will root and start another plant, to which you will again prune in late June or July. Once a shoot/limb/plant fruits, it will never fruit again. So once you pick the berries from your patch, you need to work your way through and cut any plant that fruited from the patch out. Also, it is good to have some kind of a 3 or 4 wire trellis to support the plants.
  3. Tomatoes – I do encourage pruning tomatoes as it will keep your plants and fruit healthy. Just remember you need to make sure the plant is supported via a stake or string before you go hacking it to pieces, or it’ll fall over on ya. If you grow in tomato cages, you’ll need to leave some suckers and bottom leaves to support the plant. If you’re growing on a string, lose those suckers and bottom leaves (assuming you’re not running suckers up a neighboring string).

Betsy- Some things that are going great:

Our compost pile is doing awesome. We should have it packed by the end of this season which will make for some really great fertilizer next year. We’ve harvested a lot of squash, peppers, tomatoes, onions, and potatoes. We also got a good amount of blackberries this year and should get apples. The chickens love their new home and the solar fencing system is working great and isn’t too much of a headache to move, or at least Keith doesn’t complain too much about it. Oh and we had some hats made! That’s it until next week when we’ll do “Trial and Error Part 2 Chickens”.



It’s Always Something….

I love farming because it reminds me of the seasons. Seasons are necessary, important, and perfectly planned. Often, we tend to enjoy one season more than others, but they are all needed. The more I learn about plants, their cycles, and the climates they need, the more I stand in awe of our Creator. Which leads me to a short personal story that happened this month:

A few weeks ago my daughter came down with something. It was odd. She didn’t want to eat or drink anything and the thought of food in general made her nauseous. This went on for quite sometime so I decided to take her in. Turns out she tested positive for strep and we got her on some antibiotics.  It was so sad seeing her like that. My super happy, always positive, singing, fun loving kid just looked miserable and had lost a bit of weight as well. After a couple days of being on the antibiotic we headed to church for our regular prayer room day. Normally, while they sit in prayer room with me they will work on their schoolwork, maybe draw, etc. This day I noticed all she had with her was her bible. I asked, “What are you planning on doing today, aren’t you going to bring some schoolwork?” She said, “I’m going to read my bible and pray, isn’t that what you are supposed to do.” I laughed, well Oookay! And she did. She read for a long time. I leaned over to her and asked if I could pray for her. We did, which started a discussion of how she WILL feel better. We talked about another little girl in our life that has cancer. We talked about how she probably feels awful a LOT of the time, for almost a year in fact. I encouraged my daughter to pray for her. And she did. I’ve never seen her so focused and intense. When we were getting ready to leave that day, she leaned over to me and said that she prayed for that little girl for the entire time, over an hour.

It’s interesting how our pain breeds compassion. Had she not been feeling the way that she did, would she have been so intent and heartfelt about praying for that little girl? It’s natural for us to want to shield ourselves and our kids from every discomfort, but sometimes it’s those seasons that strengthen and deepen us. Two weeks later, it was back to schoolwork in prayer room; the season had passed. I’m positive it will return again in another form. I myself have started to learn more how to have JOY when you face trials. While trials are always painful, they are needed, just like the seasons. And boy, can there be trials with farming! Our slogan around here is, “it’s always something!” We have a plan for getting things done and then the tractor breaks down, the tiller needs a part, my kids break the refrigerator door, our two year old lets out the crazy rabbit that is almost impossible to catch, but can’t run free because she’ll eat the vegetables. unnamedThe project that was only supposed to take a couple hours turns into all weekend. But isn’t that life? We always have a plan and it always gets hijacked. We need to enjoy the seasons, knowing that if one isn’t our favorite, it will soon pass. Okay enough from the sentimental pregnant lady!

So what’s been going on the past month!?!

Keith finished the greenhouse and we have a secondary garden growing inside. It is seriously my “happy place”. If my kids can’t find me, I’m usually just sitting in the greenhouse staring at my plants haha! He designed windows to open at the top and a long one at the bottom. We’ll probably also have to install a fan for the summer. This will be a great starter greenhouse.

At the swap meet this month, we picked up a couple new rabbits. Here is Brittany, a Black Otter Netherland Dwarf and Harry, a Lionhead. We are still looking for a couple of mates so the kids will be ready for next year’s 4-H projects! We’ll be looking for a male Netherland Dwarf and a female Holland Lop this month to finish out our rabbit family. The rabbits are also providing some great fertilizer for the new gardens!

Keith has almost finished all the raised beds and I have been planting in them as we go. Trying out a lot of companion planting, succession planting, and using strings for peas and tomatoes. There are so many different techniques out there for doing things! The information has been overwhelming, but you learn by doing and seeing what works for you. What might be perfect for one farmer, may be a headache for another.

Our baby chicks also came in this month! 160 in fact! 60 new layers and 100 meat birds. Keith made a new heat lamp brooder for them. This design cuts our energy usage to 25% of the previous open lamps and keeps the chicks much more comfortable. Here’s a link to a similar design:

Up until this point we have used aged manure from horses and cows in the area for our composting and fertilizer. While this has been a good method, we are learning that there is so much more that can be attained from compost made of multiple substances. Keith built me a compost shelter to get this started. It’ll take a little while to build up, but with our amount of garden and yard waste, we should get it complete by the end of summer. While I’m following a similar diagram to this one, we are using straw instead of leaves. Straw/hay provides more air circulation for the “brown layer”.

The egg mobile for the front pasture area is our next project. Due to all the gardening, it has taken a back seat and still probably won’t be finished for another month or so. Feeling bad for the chickens with all the new growth just out of their reach, we decided to use our poultry netting from Premier1 and give them reign to our entire woods area (after Morel season of course). They aren’t fully enclosed so here’s to hoping the local coyotes and foxes don’t get the memo! We’re pretty sure our electric fence has scared off most things for miles since we’ve yet to lose a chicken in the coup, but we’ll see.

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And if we didn’t already have enough to do, the kids have a way of pulling on Keith’s heart. With all the building, why not throw in a clubhouse? They helped him design it and it is in the works!

That’s it for now!

Oh yeah and this one decided to get into my seed box and “help” plant. That kid. Always dirty, always in trouble, always making us laugh.

And…..she’s not crying because she feels bad, she’s just mad at me for wanting to take her picture.

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