Category Archives: Life on the Farm

Herbs for Chickens

If you were to walk around our chicken and goat pins, you would find all kinds of herbs growing.  They not only help with a bit of fly control in the summer months, but we collect and dry them for not only teas and tisanes for us, but the animals as well.

Nettle, top of my list for a couple of reasons.  Our chicks love dried nettle!  It is a wonderful source for nutrients, containing essential minerals like iron, calcium and magnesium.  Be sure to grow this in the “outback” safe away from brushing up against.  Ours is right up against the coop, behind a little picket fence.  It never gets very big or out of control because I am always harvesting it.

Red Clover is an excellent laying stimulant.  While it’s great dried tossed in with the chicks daily ration of food, they love it fresh.  I pick a couple of handfuls every night and toss around their bedding in the evening.  It is also a good respiratory system helper and a nutrition powerhouse. Even the two week old babies are really enjoying this treat.

Peppermint smells great and helps repel pests and insects.  Just like for us humans, it helps our chicks have a healthy digestive tract.  However, we grow this in pots near the coop rather than let it get out of hand.  This stuff is easy to grow, but sometimes not hard to control once it is established.

Calendula flowers are an anti-fungal and an anti-bacterial.  So why wouldn’t you give your feathered friends a taste of these?  Calendula can deepen the color of yolks.  My girls like this best dried.

Comfrey leaf, one of the best healing herbs I know.  It’s protein rich, and also helps with digestive issues.

Lavender Flower are aromatic and help reduce stress, improve blood circulation and it is an effective insecticide, including lice!  And what’s prettier than a bunch of lavender plants growing around the yard and coop area?

Chamomile is gentle and calming.  It’s another herb that is excellent for digestive systems, but it’s also good for growth.  This is great for chicks!

Raspberry leaf can stimulate reproductive systems while providing a good source of nutrition.  We have a raspberry patch not far away from the coop, and they love a fresh handful tossed in their mix.

Fennel is a super pest repellent.  It’s helpful to the digestive and reproductive systems.  It can increase appetite and egg laying.  I plant fennel in my garden and let it go to seed.  The bees love the blooms an then once totally dry I  chop the seed heads off and toss the whole thing in the coop.  They love picking off the seeds.  I also save some for later in the year.

Rosemary is so easy to grow, it smells terrific and helps with respiratory health as well as being an                                                                        effective insecticide.  This can be picked year round because it’s an evergreen here.

Lemonbalm!  This could get out of control if I didn’t feed it to the chickens and goats!  Lemonbalm can help repel rodents, it’s an inti-inflammatory, and an anti-microbial herb.  My chickens like it best dried, but they will eat it fresh when it’s flowering.

Thyme is an antibacterial, antioxidant, anti-parasitic.  It’s another herb that helps with the digestive and respiratory systems.

All of these herbs are wonderful dried and mixed together to feed chickens every few days.  I toss a handful in their feed and even a couple of tablespoons in each nesting box. If you don’t have the time or space to grow these herbs but still want to give them a try you can still buy organic herb mixes for laying chickens.



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Reflecting on 2015

The year 2015 buzzed by faster than a gardener/small homesteader can imagine. Some good some not so good and some just life.  As I look over the year, there are some things that just need to be noted.  Tomatoes, goats, Casper the Perfect cat, garden successes and failures.  We can learn from life experiences better than any text book or you tube video.

Our year started out with a bang…a mild January brought early planting for us.  Peas,  radishes, lettuce and all sorts of early spring veggies went into the ground.  Un-covered no less!  This can be a gamble, but as a crazy gambling garden I am, I went for it with great success. This was our mildest winter since 2000.  February came and all our brassica crops went in the ground as well.  The down side of the warm weather was many crops we planted for our CSA shares in the fall (planned for late February), bolted quickly before our shares even began.

March rolled around and we had 5 new kids on the ground!  Baby goats that is.  Milking chores were in full swing once again.  We choose to bottle feed babies as this makes a tamer kid down the road.  But this means having to visit the little kids several times a day, pet, play and just enjoy them.  Life can be pretty hard to deal with sometimes!  Haha!  Cheese, yogurt and kefir were a weekly task to use all the milk our girls were producing an abundance of.  You begin to get creative.  Out of the five beautiful kids we got, we kept one sassy little girl and she goes by the name Briar Patch.  These girls really become pets, not dairy goats!  Our little grandson loves the farm life especially the goats!

Ahh, April!  Time to get tomatoes into the ground.  We saved seed from our favorite tomatoes two summers ago, but there are definitely some favorites that made it very exciting and some we just won’t do again.  My daughter-in-law planted a month earlier than I did, and I have to admit, she grows some really amazing tomatoes!  While hers petered out earlier than mine, she produced several enormous 2 pound plus Dr. Wyches tomatoes.   Top on my list of “must-have” tomatoes to grow this year.  Dr. Wyches; This orange tomato produced heavy all season long beginning in late June.  Heavy and dense with no cracking. Such a good, mild flavor.   Copia Tomato;  Beautifully striped yellow orange tomato, medium sized, later in production but heavy in August.  Our own tomato, Chicken Coop Green, mild flavored green tomato produced heavy later in the season as well.  Nebraska Wedding Tomato; This one was a huge surprise.  In 2014 I started this tomato from some seeds a friend gave me that was dated 2001.  As predicted, it did not produce well, only giving me one single medium sized tomato.  The plant was healthy, so I saved the seed to be planted as a trial tomato in our garden for 2015.  I planted one in the greenhouse, one in the main garden area and one in an old trough out back, where things get neglected. I can not rave enough about this tomato!  No matter where this guy was he produced!  Apricot colored tomatoes that were medium sized.  It was the earliest and the latest to produce.  It has a nice flavor as well.  Bread & Salt Tomato Seeds;  Another favorite of mine.  Best flavored tomato I think I have ever sunk my teeth into.  Few seeds.  Great for slicing or canning.  Starts off producing huge tomatoes early in the season and becomes smaller as the months pass.  Bread & Salt has a strawberry shape and is pink in color.

New chicks arrived late May.  We love a variety of large breeds, laying shades of green, blue and browns.  I’ve never been a white egg layer lover.  Just to common! A variety of breeds also insures eggs all year round.  Some lay better in hot times of the year and other in the winter months.  Our mature chickens are at a ripe ole age that they do not produce well and we add new and replace old every year.  We have found that banding them (this is not mean) with colored expanding bands we place on their legs.  Each year has a new color.  This just makes the job a little easier of picking older hens out with no mistakes.  While you can generally tell an older chicken, I have made mistakes before.

Fruit was very abundant!  Cherries, apricots, peaches, plums, persimmons, boysenberries and grapes!  I don’t think a person should each a dozen white peaches a day!  But, they don’t keep well and they are good for you…At least that’s what I keep telling myself.  Our fig trees and pomegranates took a hit from the deep freeze  December 2013 and froze right to the ground.  We missed the fruit in 2014, but new growth and a little fruit this past summer gives us great hope for a bountiful crop in 2016.  This year was our first real good crop of pistachio nuts.  They have been in the ground for 17 years.  These are the only trees that belong to my husband.  I suppose my threaten to chop those “worthless” trees down caused them to finally produce.  Funny how that works.

Fall arrives and we get a reprieve  from the heat……..Ha!  At least that was my thoughts.  Little rain fall and temps that stayed in the upper 90’s and even 100’s in October made it almost unbearable with high humidity.  I guess that’s what we get for having a mild summer.  Local predictions were to have a very cold winter.  So far, it’s been fairly mild.   However the peppers were at there best in October.  We harvested 55 lbs. in one week off a 3 x 16 foot bed.  Needless to say, our CSA share holders were probably sick of peppers as were we.

As I said, we had good and we had not so good things happen in 2015.  We lost our dearly loved Casper the perfect cat on December 5th.  While we knew the time was near,  it never makes it easier with a losing a loved pet.  I have written many times about him in my blogs and he has had people come to visit him, rather than me.  Such a proud and stately cat.  There could not have been a sweeter cat on earth.  Three years ago we adopted a 6 year old orange brat cat named Mabes.  There could not be any two cats so different!  While I have a void in my heart, she will kept me company in her own way.  Rest in peace my dear little Casper.  You will be missed.

2016 has arrived!  We have received 1.24″ of rainfall so far, with a little snow covering yesterday morning.  As always, I can’t wait to get my hands back into the garden soil.   I look forward to the new arrival of baby goats the end of February, gardening, pruning, and sunshine once again.  This will be the best year yet!  Happy New Year Everyone!




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Fall, A time to relax?

IMG_4749.JPGNot in my neck of the woods. I would have to say that fall is one of the busiest times of they year for us. It’s time to prep for winter. Pull out spent summer crops to make room for late fall and winter crops and get beds amended for those beds, ensure we have enough frost blanket, scrub the greenhouse and bring in citrus trees and other tender potted plants, It’s hunter, gatherer time. We need to ensure we have enough feed for the animals to last until the first cutting of hay in May if not more. Hay can be scarce if we have a wet spring and the first few cutting are ruined. So the more in store, the better. I thoroughly clean the chicken coop, scrubbing the nesting boxes, roosts, feeders and waters. knowing I won’t return to this chore until spring arrives. With only sixteen chickens a light raking and a few buckets for the compost once a month seems to be enough through the winter months. I like to fill drums with organic chicken scratch, layer pellets, enough to last the winter. While filling the drums I sprinkle diatomaceous earth food grade lightly over all the feed. This helps keeps any winter bugs out of the grain, but is also an excellent wormer for the chickens. Garlic is a big part of fall and consumes plenty of “spare” time. We plant over 50 varieties and I seem to treat each clove as if it were the last crop on earth. Harvesting of sweet potatoes need to be done before it freezes or it will ruin them. Greens, brassicas are planted right up to our first frost (and sometimes beyond) in abundance for fresh winters harvest and when the frost come, we cover with hoops and frost blanket and row cover. Our garden turns into a white winter wonderland. I uncover once a week (could do more if time allowed) to check on soil moisture, and possible bug infestation, which is rare and to see if any crops are ready to harvest. In the dead of winter when temperatures reach the coldest, these crops pull through for us and provide fresh garden produce if covered. Winter squash, apples and potatoes are hauled to the small root cellar we dug several years ago. This keeps the crops cool, allows some moisture to keep food fresh and is a great place to store without taking up precious space in our home. I always dust our potatoes with agriculture lime, which keeps them longer by hastening sprouting.
Persimmons, quince and the last of the apples are harvested and then preserved in the beginning to mid part of November depending on forecast. A frost will sweeten them, but a hard freeze can ruin the whole crop.
While I don’t do much composting during the winter time, I do spread the last finished black gold around garlic, leeks and onions to provide protection and turn the heap one more time.
Leaves become very abundant after the first freeze. These get added to the compost heap, turned into the garden soil and a large portion is shredded and made into leaf mold.
Then there is the 2:00 am panic of the first hard freeze. Did I get the heater on in the greenhouse? Did I cover any crops that may need a little extra cover…The pumpkins? I decorate our yard and porches with all our pie pumpkins for fall and a little frost won’t hurt them, but a hard freeze will ruin their storage ability turning them to mush.
I am the do it yourself “project” queen! When my sweet husband thinks things might simmer down, when this year it was time to rip up the old driveway and put in new. At first rough calculation we figured 8 yards of cement, as a, well, guess. Not to big of a project, you know a weekend job, haha! This little project jumped to 26 yards. Math, maybe not a strong point. While that wasn’t enough, I decided to pull out the old wood floor in the barn and milking area and put cement in there as well….at the same time and much cleaner. Hummm….a little extra with each section poured…I can make my life a little easier later on by cementing the chicken coop as well! Clean up will be a snap! Yes, project queen! With a little help from our kids and a friend, we buzzed through this project…in six long weeks. You know, a little weekend project in my eyes!
This fall we started a CSA. We have done farmers markets and provided other CSA’s with produce for over a decade, so we felt we were prepared to launch Desert Sage CSA without a hitch. I love growing produce, but planning has become more crucial and my hap hazard planting will definitely have to be more organized. So the end of November, my early spring crops will begin by seed in the greenhouse. Onions, leeks and shallots. Mid-December cabbage, broccoli, kale and other greens begin with two-week succession plantings begin and continue through February as at that time direct sowing begins.
So, a time for rest? Probably not, so I think a person would have love what she does….and love the product of her work! So do I enjoy fall? More than anytime other time of the year! There is no better harvests, no better smell then fall and color is totally amazing.



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Quiet Sunrise

There is nothing better than a summer morning, just as the sun rises and being in the garden!  The sound of business only come from the birds chirping and the occasional crow from our little rooster.  The air is still cool and calm.  Bliss!

First stop is the goats. Getting their morning ration of hay, grain and giving Ivy a check, which is due to kid any day now.  She is nice and round, but no signs that she will be giving birth today.  The anticipation of new little kids hopping around keeps me going to the barn several times a day with excitement.

Watering chores are done early before the heat to arrives.  My favorite tool is a watering wand, the gentle flow of water is soothing to me and with the many potted plants around the garden, a little joy in a chore never hurts.

Checking the potato crop, I noticed the purple blooms. So a little digging around in the deep mulch layer found a handful of new potatoes for dinner tonight.   These are my favorite type of potatoes.  While the potato crop grows, I continue to mulch with compost around the plant, piling higher and higher until the compost reaches about a foot thick, making a perfect bed for new potatoes and a super easy harvest.  New potatoes are so succulent and tender, they melt in your mouth.  Their little skin just falls right off with the slightest rub.  Cut into fourths, tossed with some fresh herbs and olive oil, grilled or  baked makes a great easy side dish for a summer supper.  Fresh!  Luckily we will harvest new potatoes for the new several weeks until the foliage starts to die back, then it’s time for the main harvest.

Boysenberries are in full swing now and picking daily is a must!  Purple hands are a dead give away where I has hiding out this morning.  Morning is the best time to pick most crops, as they are usually sweeter and juicier.   A rustic berry tart is on the dessert menu tonight!  They get an extra drink of water while they are fruiting.  We are looking forward to the Triple Crown Blackberry harvest coming up shortly.  They are loaded with green berries and white blossoms. I planted a Triple Crown Blackberry on our back patio winding around one of the pillars.  What a fun focal point. And, you can eat it too!  A toss of some acidic rich fertilizer for the last time this year and a layer of compost over the top gives them a boost and promotes healthy new growth for next years berries as well.

My two garden helpers, Casper and Mabes are on the prowl lurking around the bushes

as we go from spot to spot making sure they don’t miss out on anything.  Casper is getting up there in years, but still enjoys the garden. While we adopted Mabes, a six-year-old active cat about two months ago, hoping for a mouser, when in deed, again, another cats whose only interest is in the delectable food easy captured in her bowl, but chasing butterflies seem to be a favorite. As well as Casper, Mabes has keen typing skills (computer terrors) as well. She has been a fun addition to the little farm.

The last of the peas were harvested this morning.  Hot temperatures slowed up the crops enough to warrant a new crop in their place.  Pickling cucumbers will replace their spot after a good amendment of compost goes in.  In six weeks time we will be adding to the  pantry, dilly pickles, bread and butter pickles and some sweet gherkins.

Light pruning, weeding and harvesting every morning keep things under control and while these could be daunting at times if not kept under control, a little work in the morning goes a long way and brings peace to the soul.


Filed under Casper the Cat, Fruits from the orchard, Gardening, Goats, Life on the Farm