The Grovestead

Farm, Family, Fun.

They’re here!

The chickens arrive

Got a call at 6:00AM this morning from the local post office telling me they have a cheeping box for me to pick up. I wasn’t expecting them to arrive until tomorrow at the earliest, so I had to scramble to get a temporary home set up for them. Happy to report that all the chicks made the journey safely to the Grovestead.

Garden bounty

Cucumber harvest

Harvest has begun at the Grovestead. The early season crops are prime for picking. Past prime, actually. Our cucumbers were actually too big so we had to cut out the middle before pickling. This is our first year pickling anything, and so far I’d say its going great. Becca has taken the lead, looking up recipes on the Internet and stocking up on supplies. I’m so proud of her willingness to try new things.

Becca making pickles

We went out to the garden after dinner one night this week and collected 2 gallons of sweet peas in about 20 minutes. This after  weeks of eating them fresh off the vine, and there are still plenty more to be picked. Some were pickled, some were shelled and frozen, plenty were kept for fresh eating. Fresh-picked peas are incredibly sweet.

Ivar and Elsie picking sweet peas

Shelling sweet peas

Ivar eating fresh sweet peas

For garden salads we find it easier to just uproot a whole head of lettuce rather than clipping off leaves. If we had been succession planting every two weeks, we’d have fresh lettuce like this all summer. As it stands, we’ve got about 12 or so heads left. The kale was hot pink, red, orange and neon yellow.

Kale, cucumber, and lettuce harvested for salad greens

Cabbage and broccoli growing in our raised beds

The wild blackberries have also started ripening. We have pockets of these throughout our property, and its a labor-intensive task to gather them, but there’s nothing better in the middle of January than wild blackberry jam.

It’s shaping up to be a busy month, with lots more veggies ripening soon. But it’s also a fun one (and tasty).

FSA: Family Supported Agriculture

Family chickens

Our recent conversations about what to do next have centered on livestock. Goats, pigs, cows, sheep. We haven’t talked about llamas yet, but nothing has been ruled out. Livestock is simply the next obvious step in our journey towards self-sufficiency.

There are pros and cons to every animal, and to every breed of every animal. We are reluctant to bite off too much, especially heading into high summer. So we settled on what we already know: chickens.

We currently have six laying hens for eggs, but haven’t tried broilers yet (meat chickens). These birds are bred for rapid growth and only take about 8 weeks from hatching to grow to maturity. We thought we’d take a stab at raising some for ourselves, maybe stock that freezer in the garage that’s been sitting mostly empty. While discussing this at a family function, my sister-in-law overheard and threw her hat in the ring: “We’d buy a couple!” Then another sister chimed in, “us too!” I wasn’t expecting it, but of course.. why not? After all, these would be well cared for, free range chickens–healthy and humane. And they’re close enough to drop by and visit (but don’t get too friendly).

So what has developed here lately, instead of community-supported agriculture (CSA), is family-supported agriculture, FSA. Or I could call it FFSA, friends-and-family-supported agriculture because one of my buddies is getting in on it too. We’ve got 30 chickens on order, and I’m drafting up plans for a mobile chicken coop so we can move them around the property as needed. We’ve even got some of the names picked out: Nuggets, Noodle Soup, Kiev, Cordon Bleu, Pot Pie, Tenders, Enchilada.

And get this: the baby chicks get sent by US mail! We’re literally going to pick up 30 chirping chicks at the local post office in a couple of weeks. Should make a great blog post.

America is an idea

Independence day flag waving in front of farm

Today, many of us gathered with friends and family to celebrate our nation’s founding document, the Declaration of Independence, and subsequent struggle for freedom. The impact of this world-reverberating document are still being felt today, 238 years after its signing. As I write this I can hear the crackle of late-night fireworks symbolizing the “bombs bursting in air” of a bloody revolution.

So momentous was this document that it rallied the first Americans to risk their lives to secure our independence from the world’s strongest empire. But it doesn’t take much observation to realize that the Declaration’s pivotal claim appears to be false: all men are NOT created equal. Different talents, varying intellects, wide-ranging interests and achievements, to say nothing of our outward appearances or station in life. We are anything but equal. So why did the Founders make such a claim, even going so far as to call it self-evident?

America, more than anything, is an idea. For nearly the whole of human history, man lived under tyranny. Whether warlords, caesars, kings or dictators the long arc of the human story is one of oppression, injustice, and poverty. Self-rule was never attempted nor even deemed possible. It was assumed that a society would devolve into barbarism if left to themselves, without a strong leader to rule over them (ordained by God, of course).

When our founders penned the Declaration, they were proposing a new idea; that man was not only capable of self-rule but that such a right was God-given. In this way we are all equal: our rights come from God, not men. This was the idea that rocked the world. Our rights are not granted by men and cannot be taken away by men. No king, government, majority vote or supreme court decision can deny what is granted by God.

Our right to life and liberty is guaranteed regardless of whether we are rich or poor, young or old, able or disabled. It is not our condition that is equal, but our inalienable rights.

Training the strawberries

Strawberry runners growing after the fruiting stage

This year is our second attempt at growing strawberries and we’ve made some modifications. We planted  them into a raised bed with fresh compost, mulched heavily with wood chips, and the piece de resistance: a plastic owl to scare off hungry birds.

And I must say, our improvements have worked! Last year I hardly tasted a single strawberry due to birds and slugs. The weeds completely took over, stunting the meager growth. This year, we’ve enjoyed strawberries every day since mid-June. I don’t think a single berry has been lost to pests. And the weeds are practically non-existent. The ones that do spring up are easy to pull.

Now the plants are finishing their fruiting stage and have started sending out runners. Runners are how strawberries propagate themselves. It’s pretty fascinating to see how prolific these little plants are. Its not unusual to see five or more runners growing out of each plant. And these things grow like crazy — up to 5 inches per day!

Strawberry runners grow at an amazing pace

Because of the wood mulch its important to help the runners get established in good soil. These will be the fruit-bearing plants for next year. So for the past few weeks I’ve been pulling back the mulch in strategic places and pinning down the runners into the soil.

Strawberry runners planted into good soil

Within a few days the roots have set and leaves begin forming. The strawberries will continue to spread this way, year after year.

Planted strawberry runner taking root

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