Spring brings new chicks!
If you will be receiving baby chicks in the mail this year, it’s best to be prepared. There isn’t a tremendous amount of work required to get ready for chicks, but you certainly don’t want to bring them home only to discover that you forgot something critical. We recommend creating a checklist to refer to in future years. Read More
Spring is only a month away, and with spring comes gardening season. Now is a good time to check the germination rates of those seeds you have stashed away in the basement—before you need to plant them! Read More
January is a great time to plan for a new year! Take some time to shape your philosophy and develop a farming or gardening approach.
- Plan a garden.
- Discover community-supported agriculture.
- Learn the pros and cons of gardening in Kansas.
- Study the farming practices of the Plains Indians.
- Define sustainable agriculture.
- Preserve Kansas heritage.
- Evaluate the interstate highway system.
- Find out how compost gardening works.
- Examine your horse’s conformation.
- Read about the peopling of the plains.
Looking for a gift idea for a young gardener? Here’s a book that may spark an interest.
Practical but inviting, The Christian Kids’ Gardening Guide by Rebecca Park Totilo makes the gardening process fun and simple. Besides discussing the basics of planning, planting, and caring for plants, this book offers projects galore:
- Make seed tape.
- Plant trees.
- Create compost.
- Mix up bug repellant.
- Bake carrot cake.
- Turn pumpkins into decorative pots.
- Press flowers.
- Mix up herbal soap.
- And more!
Four interesting garden designs are provided:
- The Salad Bowl Garden.
- The Moon Garden.
- The Butterfly’s Buffet.
- The Healing Cross Garden.
Super-small-scale ideas are provided for apartment dwellers, as well.
And while children are learning about plants and how to raise them, they will learn about the plants of the Bible with verses and simple devotions.
A book with substance, but plenty of fun, as well. Great choice for that fledgling gardener in your family!
Since fall migration is picking up, some of you may be looking for ways to attract new birds to your yard. Here’s a friendly book that will give you some ideas.
The Backyard Bird Feeder’s Bible: The A-to-Z Guide to Feeders, Seed Mixes, Projects, and Treats by Sally Roth is arranged alphabetically, starting with accessories and ending with zinnias. Entries are grouped into eight categories:
- Plants for Food: How to grow flowers and trees that birds love.
- Bird Foods: Tasty treats using ingredients you already have in your kitchen.
- Birds: All about common species of backyard birds.
- Bird Behavior: Why birds do the things that they do.
- Bird Watching: How to sharpen your skills.
- Animal Visitors: Attracting and deterring the mammals that show up at the feeder.
- Feeders and More: Everything you need to know to buy, build, or maintain a feeder.
- Seasonal Subjects: Responding to the changing needs of backyard birds.
The Backyard Bird Feeder’s Bible is absolutely packed with handy information, but it is by no means a dry or heavy book. This guide is extremely inviting and easy to use. Projects and recipes add a fun dimension and may spark your own creativity.
If you love birds, The Backyard Bird Feeder’s Bible will probably become one of your favorite resources. It makes a great gift, too. Excellent starting point for the beginner, but also a good reminder to the seasoned birder of why he started watching birds in the first place. Highly recommended!
Of course, it’s great to eat eggs from your own flock of chickens. You know the eggs are super fresh, and those bright yolks beat anything you’ll ever see at the store.
But even farm-fresh eggs are not without their disadvantages. You will quickly discover one of the cons the first time you try to separate a hard-boiled egg from its shell.
Without care, the shell will shatter but still remain stuck to the egg. The only way to get it off at that point is to pick it off, bit by itty-bitty bit, probably sacrificing chunks of white in the process. If you are making deviled eggs, the end presentation is less than attractive.
Scientists have concluded that this sticky-shell phenomenon is due to pH. An egg white fresh out of the hen has a pH between 7.6 and 7.9, which causes it to stick tightly to the membrane between the shell and egg. As the egg ages, the pH may rise to as much as 9.2, which loosens the white from the membrane. The amount of air in the egg increases, as well.
Now that you have the science behind the dilemma, what can you do about it?
- Cook your eggs like you would normally.
- Leaving the eggs in the saucepan, immediately pour out the hot water and rinse with cold water.
- Completely immerse the eggs in cold water and let them stand for two or three minutes.
- Remove the eggs from the water one at a time.
- As you peel the eggs, be careful pull the membrane off with the shell. It seems to help if you start at the larger end where the air pocket is.
This method, while not entirely foolproof, will significantly improve the appearance of your hard-boiled eggs. The key is not to peel the shell off until it is cool to the touch. But don’t let the eggs sit too long, either. Two or three minutes appears to be the happy medium.
Beyond that, take your time. Some eggs are simply obstinate and must be coaxed to part with their shells. Good luck!
Here is just the thing for the handyman of the family. Whatever you want to build, whether it is for your home, your garden, or your farm, check out this book for ideas.
HomeMade: 101 Easy-to-Make Things for Your Garden, Home, or Farm by Ken Braren and Roger Griffith provides a drawing and a brief summary for each project. Many of the projects also include exact dimensions. Others are less specific and more for brainstorming purposes.
Take a look at the list of things you can build with the help of HomeMade:
- Basement closets.
- Root cellars.
- Lawn chairs.
- Tool sheds.
- Compost bins.
- Plant supports.
- Bird feeders.
- Loading chutes.
Many useful skills are explained, as well, such as:
- How to clean and store paintbrushes.
- How to sharpen tools.
- How to build a compost pile that will actually compost.
- How to bale hay on a small scale.
- How to tighten a fence.
Are you ready to build something?
Spring is on its way, and the chickens are starting to get down to business. The refrigerator is slowly filling up with eggs. Before long, most of us with laying hens will have more eggs than we can eat.
One good way to make use of all those extra eggs is to freeze some to cook with later in the year when production slows down again. Why not follow the example of most gardeners and stock up while we have a surplus?
You Will Need
- Measuring cup or mixing bowl
- Wire whisk
- Ziploc or vacuum-sealed freezer bags
- Permanent ink marker
- Crack a convenient number of eggs into the measuring cup or mixing bowl. If you plan to use your frozen eggs for cooking, crack one, two, four, or however many your favorite recipes call for. If you plan to scramble the eggs, you may need ten or twelve or so.
- Beat the eggs with the whisk until thoroughly mixed.
- Pour the eggs into a bag and seal.
- Label the bag with the number of eggs you used and a date eight months in advance. This is your approximate expiration date.
- You’re done! Store the eggs in the freezer. Do not set them directly on wire racks because they will freeze around the wires and become difficult to remove from the freezer. Either store them in a shopping bag or on a solid plastic shelf, if your freezer has one.
Using Frozen Eggs
Be sure to use the eggs before the approximate expiration date. Set them in the refrigerator to thaw overnight before using. The next morning, they will be ready for cooking. Scramble or add to your recipes as usual.
Planning a garden in January?
Why not? It’ll give you something to do in those slow, cold days before the spring rush. Besides, depending on where you live and what you’re growing, it’ll be time to start some seedlings indoors before you know it.
So grab a pencil and a cup of coffee and start drawing. Take advantage of your down time to get ready for the coming gardening season.
You Will Need
- Make a list of everything you want to grow. Mostly stick to things that you know you will eat and that should grow well in your area, but include a few experiments, as well.
- Choose a scale for the map of your garden. Write it down on the graph paper or in your journal.
- If you already have a garden, draw it to scale on graph paper or in your journal. If you are starting from scratch, you’ll have to estimate how much room you will need. Mel Bartholomew, author of All New Square Foot Gardening, recommends 48 square feet of space for every adult and 27 square feet for every child in the family. A third of this space is used to grow daily salads. Another third supplies the non-salad vegetable needs, such as tomatoes for soup and onions for cooking purposes. The last third is for vegetables to preserve and for unusual plants you want to grow just for fun. This is probably a good starting point; as you gain experience, you can always expand the garden.
- Calculate how much produce you can handle and jot it down on your plant list. If you have no interest in canning or otherwise preserving vegetables, you probably only need one cucumber plant and a couple of tomatoes, for instance. Start small. You can always plant more next year. With fast-growing vegetables, you can even plant more later this year.
- Start arranging your chosen vegetables within the outline of the garden plot by drawing squares and rectangles on your map. Reserve some of space for long-term commitments like tomatoes first. Divide the remaining area among fast-growing vegetables. With these space-efficient plants, you can be as specific (lettuce here, radishes there) or as general (some combination of lettuce and radishes here, depending on what we’re hungry for at the moment) as you are comfortable with.
- As you draw, shade in areas for paths. These paths should generally be about two feet wide—narrower paths are hard to navigate, while wider paths only increase the area that must be weeded without increasing the harvest. That said, if you are seriously klutzy or have difficulty maintaining your balance, you may benefit from paths that are three feet wide.
- Do you have more plants than garden space or vice versa? (It’s very rare to plan a garden where everything works out exactly.) If you have too much garden space, either till less or add more vegetables, if you’re sure you can use them. If you don’t have enough space, check your list carefully to make sure you didn’t get a little carried away. You can till more ground if necessary, but you may be overwhelmed with the produce.
- Once the map is finished, take a fresh sheet of paper or your garden journal and note your average last spring and first fall frost dates.
- Using these two dates and the information found on seed packets, in your favorite books, or in our online guides, write down planting dates for each of the plants you have chosen. Try to plan successive plantings of vegetables whenever it makes sense. For instance, if you have room, you can plant things like radishes and lettuce every two or three weeks. Also note when seedlings should be started indoors, when they should be hardened off, and when they should be transplanted.
Using Your Garden Plan
Put your map and your planting schedule in a convenient place where they won’t get lost. (It’s not a bad idea to make photocopies of them if you are using loose pieces of paper instead of a journal.) Refer to them often throughout the growing season.
You may, or rather will, need to adjust both the map and the schedule to adapt to changing weather conditions and to what your family needs in the way of produce. If a late frost threatens, don’t put out the tomatoes even though your schedule says it’s time. If you have more lettuce than you can readily use, skip the next planting. If you spot a vacant space after a harvest, fill it with something you don’t have enough of. Keep notes in your garden journal along the way. Stay flexible. That’s part of the fun of gardening.
The Family Garden Journal
We have designed this Homestead on the Range book to make both planning and record keeping easy! Includes a shopping list, a map, a planting schedule, and more. Learn more.
All New Square Foot Gardening
You really don’t need as much space as you think. This book demonstrates how easy planning your garden can be. Read our full review.
Starting a Garden or Orchard
More planning advice for those of you gardening for the first time.
If you are looking for a great gift idea for your gardening friends, look no further. Make them a sweet potato beetle.
It’s simple, it’s appealing, and it’s made with supplies you may already have on hand. It’s a fun project for the children, too, and is guaranteed to get lots of laughs. Plus, if you overwatered your sweet potatoes this past year, making a beetle will be a good use for those jumbo-sized spuds.
You Will Need
- The biggest sweet potato you have
- Strong scissors
- 4 pipe cleaners
- 2 small pompoms
- 1 large pompom
- 2 googly eyes
- Cut each pipe cleaner in half.
- Poke two of the halves into the top of the sweet potato to make antennae.
- Bend the remaining halves into the shape of legs (see the photo above) and poke into the sides of the potato, three on each side.
- Glue one small pompom to the top of each antenna.
- Glue the large pompom to the front end of the sweet potato to make a nose.
- Glue the two eyes above the nose.
- Cut a piece of yarn the right length for a mouth.
- Carefully glue the mouth onto the sweet potato.
- Set the sweet potato beetle aside in a safe place until the glue dries.
Enjoying Your Sweet Potato Beetle
Pack your beetle up safely and put him under the Christmas tree. Either give him a name, or suggest that the proud recipient name him.
You also may want to suggest that the potato beetle be placed on a plate or a plastic placemat in case he spoils unexpectedly. Meanwhile, your fellow gardeners can pull sprouts off of him as they grow and plant them in the garden during the spring and summer. The gift that keeps on giving!