February 23, 2013

An Interview with a Farmer

The Homesteading revival is rapidly growing. It is apparent. You are reading this blog right? "We" homesteaders all have our reasons for joining in. We all have our ways that we contribute. My connection to homesteading began way before I was born. I am the proud descendant of generations that lived off the earth. For my family, this was just not a hobby or a trend, it was life.
By the time I was born, most of our family had retired and moved "into town" making me a city girl. But I was never far from this way of life. Stories, traditions and skills were handed down to me.

But I wanted to know more. Farming, the agrarian lifestyle, what was it REALLY like? Lucky for me I did not have to go far to have my questions answered. With questions, paper and pen in hand, I headed out for a long overdue visit with my grandfather's sister and her husband, my Uncle Cliff and Aunt Madonna. They were very happy to answer my questions. After spending the whole day visiting, laughing and eating some of my Aunt's incredible Chicken Noodle soup, I have a better vision of what it is like to be a farmer. This is their story of farming.

Interview with a Farmer
*CB=Uncle Cliff
*MB=Aunt Madonna

How did you start farming?
CB: My family were farmers. Well I was born in 1934. Right on the kitchen table in the old farm house. (laughter) We all lived in the that house. It was our family farm, started in the 1860's. My family had fruit trees, vegetables, animals for meat, chickens, and a dairy cow. We grew hay too. We got everything we needed there. My family would go into East Toledo to sell the fruit and vegetables to places, restaurants there. Then they would buy 100 pounds of sugar and flour to bring back home. That was all they needed to buy. My Mom and Grandmother canned and we ate what we grew.

Did you always want to be a farmer? 

CB: I never thought about it, it just was what I was. Eventually, I took over the farm. My grandfather built the house we are in now and the barn and I continued.

Did you like being a farmer?

CB: yes. It was good, hard but good
MB: Oh, it was fun! I had a shock after I married him though. I did not know for sure what I got into, but it was fun.

Aunt Donna what did you on the farm?
MB: I drove tractor, would drive the water truck, and I cooked for the workers. Helped where ever I could. I canned using Uncle Cliff's mom's Conservo, that was the best way to can. I loved being on the farm maybe it is like you said it is because it is where our family comes from, the blood memory.

You are now retired, how many years has it been?
CB: I started slowing down when I was 62, but finally fully retired in 1998. We sold the farm land in Michigan and moved back down here to Ohio. 

You farmed here on the family farm until the 1980s then bought a farm up in Michigan. How many acres did you farm here in Ohio? How many in Michigan? What was your main crop?

CB: Here on the Ohio farm we had 85 acres. In Michigan we had 525 acres. The farm in Ohio we raised cattle, we had 125 at a time. We grew our own feed for them here too.We would send them out to be butchered and sold. But we also kept beef for the family. A steer a year would feed the family.  In Michigan, we farmed Potatoes, onions and carrots. We also handled our own washing and packaging in Michigan.

Did you raise any other animals besides cattle?

CB: Sure, we always had some kind of animal here. We had sheep, chickens, we had pigs once, Tom (his son) raised them, but that was not for me, I said no more. We did not butcher our own cattle but we have processed our own chickens. That was an adventure, we had a assembly line going. Then after a long hot day, we came in and your Great Grandma and her sister made dinner for us, Chicken Dinner, not really what we wanted to eat at that time. But those were the best chickens we had that time.

What do you think about the Homesteading Revival?

CB: I think it is good, it is good to be able to take care of yourself and family. Especially with everything so expensive. But the days of the small farms and making money from them are gone. It is not affordable like it use to be. I think it is great that you are gardening, and have your chickens. It is not a bad thing to do.

As far as food goes, Organic or Not? Why?

CB: You know, there is no difference, nutritional difference. A Organic vegetable and a non-organic vegetable is the same vegetable. They hold the same nutritional value. I would be more concerned eating a organic vegetable.  People do not realize how often wildlife roam out into the fields, and there you have fecal matter on the food. You need to clean your food. Even as a packager, we had to clean everything with chlorine treated water before we could ship or store the vegetables. Plus, you do not know if everyone is doing their jobs correctly, even with organics. We even at home clean our fruits and vegetables with a little bit of diluted water and bleach.

So you used chemicals when you farmed?

CB: Only when you have too. And then you have to be licensed, take so many classes and so many hours to renew your license. You cannot just use chemicals as you please. You have to only use the chemical for the problem. For example, if you have nematodes in the soil eating the carrots. I can only use the the right chemical, I cannot buy more than I need and there are strict regulations on how many ounces I am allowed to use to the acre of the problem. Let's say it is a 40 acre area being infected, I can only use the amount and type to cure the 40 acres nothing more. We do not just spray to spray chemicals, we can't.

Do you think anyone can farm? Or does it take a special knack?

CB:Farming has changed so much. Even since I have retired. So much of the tools are all electronic, GPS is big now. I can fix a tractor but now a days? A guy comes out with his computer, to fix one. I would not even know how to farm with the way it has changed. You have to understand all the new technology and computers to farm now. It is amazing how much it has changed.

Is that a bad thing?

CB: No, it is great, it makes it easier. I would just be lost. I still get farm magazines and keep up with it all. Just like how they are able to make plants stronger. Science has really helped the farmer.

What do you mean, like GMO's?

CB: Yes, I think it is wonderful, the fact that we now have plants that are made to hold up during droughts and with stand certain disease, Having these types of plants helps produce higher yields in crops. The small farms and making a living off a small farm is gone, sad but true. It is the large farms that feed this country. So we need to have better crops.

What do you think of the Farmer's Almanac? Should I use it for my garden planting times?

CB: (chuckles) I think it is a lot more accurate then those guys on T.V! As far as when to plant, sure use it. Plant when the ground is ready, when you can work it, with no danger of frost. Or be prepared to be out there covering up everything.

Thanks for doing this. One last thing, Do you have any tricks of the trade or Old wives tales I should know about?

CB: No, not really, I just know when it is time to plant. Know your ground/soil, make sure it is rich and full of the things it needs, and pray that you never get hail.
MB: Never do canning when it is your time of the month. I always was told that. Never really thought much about it, until one time I happened to can during that time, and not one, not one single jar sealed. So, I wonder...



February 19, 2013

Herbal Cold Remedy

Despite our efforts, the "crud" has hit our house! Thankfully it is not in the form of the flu, but lovely upper respiratory infections.  It began with the kiddos, now Momma has it. Time to bust out the herbs and make my favorite cold remedy. The herbs I use are in dried form and are my "go-to" for this type of occasion.

Here is my list of 
Mullein, Horehound, Oregano, Rose hips, Slippery Elm, Chamomile
 (* Please note: I am not a master herbalist, but I have had some training in herbs.  Always educate yourself on the type of herbs and their properties before using.*)

What makes these great for a cold? Here is why I use them:

Mullein: This herb is a natural Expectorant. Gets the phelgm thin and able for the body to remove.

Horehound: Old time cure for upper respitory infections, bronconitis, also aids as expectorant.

Oregano: My favorite anti-viral herb. I use it dried, in oil form, and in cooking.

Slippery Elm: Helps soothe the itchy throat, gets things moving out, if you know what I mean.

Rose Hips: Big time Vitamin C, love this herb.

Chamomile: Aids in relaxation and sleep aid.

What I do with these herbs is mix them and either put them into a cheesecloth or use a teabag. I put all the herbs into a glass jar and add boiling water. Making a Infusion. I allow it to steep for about 20 minutes or so.

After I have my infusion done,  I use a strainer over my mug and pour the liquid through it. No matter what I do, I always have bits of herbs floating and no one wants to walk around with bits of herbs stuck in between their teeth.

My next step is to add honey and fresh lemon into the tea. For this batch I did add a bit of fresh Ginger root to settle my stomach from all the drainage. Sorry that is gross but true.

Besides making my herbal tea, I really bulk up on cooking and eating garlic, Cayenne pepper, Onion, and pushing vitamin C. All three of these things help with fighting viral infections and boost immunity.

February 15, 2013

Luna, the mad skilled Olive Egger!

Today has been a busy day for sure. Laundry, cleaning the house ya know the normal. The last few days my girls are giving me eggs at different times. So about 30 minutes ago I stopped out to the coop to feed them dinner and do an egg check. This is what I found...



I am at a major loss for words here. I mean I completely floored! Have you ever had something like this happen to you? Now, here is the thing. It is not uncommon to put plastic eggs in the nest boxes to encourage new layers to lay. I noticed yesterday that the plastic egg was opened and made a mental note that I needed to remove them. The "Ladies" pretty much got it down now.

But this? The only thing I can think of is that Miss Luna dropped her egg right at the perfect angle. What else could it be? I knew that having chickens would be fun, but I never thought it would completely leave me amazed! My Luna has "mad skills."

February 13, 2013

Cupid's Arrows

Ha! Valentine card for both kids to hand out, DONE! Card Boxes made and decorated, DONE! Now for the "goodies!" I saw this idea in a magazine a few years back. I think it may have been Family Fun. The original idea was to use those cherry flavored jelly hearts. But I am a sucker for cute stuff, and these heart-shaped marshmallows just screamed cute!

These were fast and easy to make. Here is what you need.

Cupid's Arrows

A bag of stick pretzels
Heart-shaped marshmallows
Clean kitchen scissors
Small cup of water
Paper towel

First, put one marshmallow on to one end of the pretzel. Be careful not to push too hard or you will break the pretzel, or lose the shape of the marshmallow.

Next you are going to take your scissors and cut a "V" shape into the marshmallow top. As you work, the scissors will get sticky with build up. Dip your scissors into the small cup of water to remove the reside. Dry with a paper towel.

Last step is to attach the cut out marshmallow on the other end of the pretzel stick. Creating an arrow. If you want put the finished product in a small plastic bag, and attach a note to the top saying some fun little Valentine saying. We like to say "Watch out for Cupid's Arrow! 

Happy Valentine's Day!

The Whimsical Feather

February 6, 2013

Creatures of Habit, Calculating Creatures or Just Divas?

For the last 2 days I have been out of our regular chicken feed. Normally that would not be a problem for me to zip on up to the feed store. But the hubby had his shift changed from 3rd shift to 1st shift and with one vehicle my "zipping" days are over. Plus by the time he gets home my feed store is closed.  Do not get me wrong the Ladies of the Yard have been fed and that may be the some of the problem.

I love to give the Ladies treats. I love watching them happily dive into whatever delectable goodie we bring out to them.  That is what they have been fed with, treats and scratch. As I was making breakfast and dinner both days for my family, I was creating a gourmet meal for the ladies. Whew, talk about feeling like a short order cook! But I think I may have created some calculating creatures.

Have you ever seen the movie "Chicken Run?" If not, you should. The basis of the movie is that the hens want to be free from the dull life of the chicken farm. What is funny about the movie is when the humans go to sleep, the hens become their true selves. It is quite comical. But now, I am not sure how funny it is. I think my girls are doing the same thing, and I am calling it!


My first sign was this morning. All the girls were out in the run. hmm... Now this is not the first time it has happened. Our door to the run is on the floor of the coop with a latch. When this first happened, we chalked it up to us not securing it enough. The next couple of times, we still stuck to that theory. However, today it was the 8th time it happened! Strange don't you think? Yeah. When I let the dog out, they are standing there talking to me. I thought it was cute, but now I think they are just laughing at me in their chicken language.

My second issue today. I went out to fill up their feeder and give them new water. When I put the feeder down, I did not put it in the "normal" spot. This is where "Creatures of Habit" comes in and maybe a sprinkling of  "Diva" too. They look at the moved feeder, then looked up at me and started squawking. So I picked it up and gave it a shake putting it back down in the new spot. More yelling at me. Then they went over to where the feeder normally goes and started pecking at the ground. What is bad about this is I only moved the feeder maybe 6 inches from where it normally is.  They stood there eyeballing me.

I told them "hey this is it, take it or leave it!" They did not move.  I told them again, "take it or leave it." Nothing! It was a stand-off! I could not believe it! Maybe I am turning into the Crazy Chicken Lady. Finally two took my advice, took a gander at the feeder (as seen in the picture) but right after this, walked away, squawking, and chicken murmuring under their breaths. WoW!

The other two new ladies are still working out their pecking order. Their normal feeding habit is too hang off to one side letting the top three hens start eating, and they jump in and out at the feeder. On the first day of feeding treats, I had to throw them down the run so they at least had a chance. (my top three are a bit of, well how to put this nicely? But they are Pigs!)  One time! One time I did this and now when they hear me coming they take off down to the opposite end of the run. Standing, staring.

I was floored. Completely floored. I know that Chickens are some what intelligent, but they are not the rocket scientists of the animal world. Maybe I am wrong. I decided to just go about my business, well kind of. I stood in my house watching out the kitchen window. These birds did not touch their food not one crumb! I realized I never checked the nest boxes. I went back out and looked for eggs. Eggs that are normally there waiting for me. NOTHING! The only thing I got was more chicken back talk! FINE! I marched back into the house, grabbed the left over salad from dinner. 

Enter the Divas. They would not look or even take the treats out of the bowl when I was holding it. They waited until I put the salad down in the coop. I also moved the feeder back to the "normal" spot. And guess what? They began to eat. Unbelievable! I have monsters! I have created Calculating, Habitual, Diva monster chickens! But regardless I "lovey" them. They are my monsters. They know it, and I have to think they like me too because after their feast, I was given three eggs. :)