As we coast into our third year here at the Raspberry Cabin, I find myself amidst piles of seed catalogs, spreadsheets, and old seed packets. I’ve accumulated ten years worth of experimental varieties of every shape, color, size, and flavor. If it can grow this far north, I’ve probably tried it by now. As I sift through my seeds I am reminded of my past successes, my many failures, and my hopes for the future.

Artichoke seeds make me sigh – I tried them two years ago and as soon as I planted them out mid-July we dipped into the 40’s and every plant wilted away to nothing. Green Arrow shelling peas give me a warm feeling, just imagining the fresh, green flavor of summer and sunshine when I bite into a warm pod straight off the vine. Cauliflower seeds make me purse my lips in determination. One of these years I WILL grow a beautiful head of cauliflower. The Habanero packets get my mouth watering, thinking of pineapple-habanero sauce poured thickly over grilled chicken legs.

Do you go through your seed collection in January and get these feelings too?

The onion seeds are first on the spreadsheet. This will be my third year growing from seed, and I’m still learning how to get the biggest, most flavorful onions this way. Sets are easy – you just stick them in the ground and wait a while. Boom! Onions. But seeds? Seeds you have to plant, thin, replant, trim, replant, support, then finally plant out. This year I am only doing two seed varieties of onion, and I’ll continue to get two set varieties as well. I’m also introducing a new kid on the block – shallots. After watching some youtubers grow them out, I’m confident I can do it too. I’ve never bought shallots because they’re so expensive in the stores, but at $2 for a thick packet of seed I figured it’s worth a shot. If I don’t like them, I can either sell them or give them to the chickens. Chickens LOVE onions. Have you tried shallots?

After the onions come some herbs, peppers, and flowers. Then the tomatoes, melons, and squash. I’m sticking with a few oldies-but-goodies, and branching out even more. I love trying new things, don’t you? When I go to the supermarket, there are three tomatoes to choose from: cherry, roma, or slicing. They’re all red. They all have the same lackluster, watery taste. When I go into my garden, I have all different sizes, shapes, colors, and flavors to choose from. If I want a smoky, robust flavor I pick a Paul Robeson. If I want a super sweet snack, I pick a rainbow of cherry tomato varieties. If I’m making sauce, I have several paste types in white, yellow, orange, and red so my sauces aren’t always the typical red you find in the store. Fresh salsa? I toss in whatever is prettiest – purples, reds, golds… and I use colored peppers to match. It’s a fiesta for my eyes as well as my mouth.

I’m stoked about the garden this year. Last year I harvested so much I didn’t even have time to post about it on my blog. I was able to fill the freezer with around 35 pounds of diced peppers, 20 pounds of shredded zucchini, and 10 pounds of diced onions. I canned up dozens of jars of diced tomatoes, sauce, pickles of every type, and carrots. Last year was a bumper year for carrots. I had THOUSANDS. Every  year I struggle to get anything larger than my pinky finger from the carrots, so I decided it was time to empty my seed stock. I planted several varieties in several 20′ rows. Of course, since I wasn’t expecting anything from all that old seed, every damn one went gangbusters on me. I pulled so many I ended up feeding a majority of them to the chickens and deer this winter. I’ve a sneaking suspicion the carrots all over the yard and orchard are the reason we have so many new rabbit tracks this year. Thankfully they haven’t discovered the garden yet. We might be having some bunny stew if I notice any tracks in there.

I plan to have a lot more flowers this year. Last year I skipped sunflowers. This year I want sunflowers, nasturtiums, sweet peas, asters, and marigolds everywhere! I’ll also be finishing up the corner raised bed, getting it filled, and planting some perennials like hardy kiwi, morning glory, and daisies in it. I’ll finish digging out the small pond by hand, get it lined, build up the edges, and stock it with some experimental fish. If I can get them to survive through the winter, I might try my hand at some koi. I ordered some asparagus roots since my experiment with asparagus seed only yielded three stalks to speak of. They’ll get their own raised bed, too, which will probably receive a good chunk of chicken manure since they’re heavy feeders.

I really wanted to tone it down with my tomatoes since 100 plants were a lot to tend, but these damn seed catalogs got me all drooly and craving new flavors. I’m going to really try to reel it back to around 50 plants. Cross your fingers for me, okay? Peppers, though… oh, peppers! I had over 200 pepper plants last year and that wasn’t enough to satisfy my obsession. Have I told you how much I love fresh peppers? I love them frozen, too. And fried, stewed, baked, grilled, stuffed… I’m like Bubba on Forrest Gump, except with peppers instead of shrimp.

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My seed collection grows every year. I took this picture before I even broke into my new seed orders. Yep. I’m out of control when it comes to gardening! I found quite a few varieties that I didn’t want anymore. For anyone interested, I am giving them away in four groups over the next month. You can find the giveaway on my Secular Homesteaders group on facebook. Just leave a comment on that post and you’ll be entered to win the seeds shown. The first group are all nightshades – tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers. Here’s a preview of what I’ll be giving away, if you’re curious.

Four lucky winners will help me pare down my crazy seed stash. I’ll pay shipping anywhere in the US. I should mention that I have had no trouble germinating any of these seeds. Why don’t I want these varieties, you ask? Some of them require a longer growing season than I enjoy here in northern Wisconsin. Some I didn’t care for. Some I don’t have room for, despite my garden being roughly 8x the square footage of our house. And some were freebies or doubles that I wasn’t really interested in. All good seeds from great companies, and all of them kept in the dark, cool basement between seasons to keep them viable.

My next post will be more about the specific varieties I’ll be growing this year, as well as planting times and what you can expect from my stand at the farmer’s market this spring. As always, if you have any specific requests for plants, you’re welcome to leave a comment here or email me. I already have a request for fushimi, marconi, and jalapeno peppers, and I’m fulfilling some others from shoppers at the market last year. Bhut jolokia, anyone?😉

Hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season! Happy New Year!

I suck at updating the blog this summer. I’ve chronicled the garden growing, the chicks hatching, and all the little nuances of our homestead life on facebook, but my blog… nope. I’ve thought so many times, “I should sit down and write,” but then I see something else that needs done and my ideas get shelved.

I’m here now. And I want to tell you a few things I’ve learned this summer.

We had 6 babies hatch from 3 of the mamas. Only one egg had a chick in it that didn’t survive the hatch. The fourth was diligent about sitting, but her eggs were empty. A family friend took 42 eggs and was able to successfully hatch 16. The rest of the eggs were empty, except for one that couldn’t make it out of the egg in time. I was extremely pleased with the results. 22 chicks when I honestly didn’t expect even one.

So we picked up the incubator hatched chicks and that night gave each of the mamas four babies. They all immediately took to the chicks, cooing at them and teaching them patiently how to eat and drink. Wow! That was easy! Their naturally hatched siblings welcomed them into their snuggle circles, and all seemed well. Four days later I noticed the mama hen that couldn’t hatch any of her own eggs was going around with a chip on her shoulder. No… wait. That’s too mild. She was in full-on bitch mode. She was indiscriminately walking around and attacking any chick she got close to. It was like a switch was flipped. Gentle mama was gone. I caught her and threw her in with the rest of the flock in the run.

The next day, three chicks were dead. There were no marks on their bodies. They just… died. I removed their little corpses from the coop and went about my day, pondering over what could have caused it. That night, I found another dead. In my mind, I can only come up with two reasons for their deaths. 1 – Disease. These chicks, unfortunately, aren’t vaccinated. Even though I gave them medicated feed for the first week and a half of their lives, they still could have caught just about anything from the litter they run around on. 2 – The bitch mama could have pecked them too hard or too much. She might have damaged something and caused them each a slow death.

Today, two days later, I noticed another mama’s switch had flipped. She was sweet as can be with her four babies, but the other fourteen were fair game. I saw her stalk and pounce on one of the smallest chicks, grabbing it by the head and shaking it like a dog shakes a rope. I threw open the door and was so quick to grab her I don’t think she even saw me coming. She got the walk of shame hanging upside down by her feet out to the run to join the rest of the flock.

Now there are two mothers left. I sat there in the door for twenty minutes watching them interact with the newly motherless chicks. These two last mamas seem okay. They haven’t once gone after the chicks – any of them. They are constantly making reassuring clucks and nudging any chick close to them toward the food or water. They seem alright. But now I’m worried. Is this a common thing for hens? Do they just go crazy once the chicks hit a certain age? Should I separate all of the hens from the chicks and just let the chicks do their own thing until they can join the flock?

If you have any idea, please leave a comment. This is our first year with hens rearing the chicks instead of us, and I’m not afraid to admit that I’m clueless.

On the gardening front, things are going much better this year than last. I’m actually going to get some root crops besides potatoes! Yesterday I harvested some carrots and beets to thin them out and give the rest ample room to expand. Last year our biggest carrot was the diameter of a pencil and only 2″ long. This year, the thinnings alone are bigger than my fingers. Yay! As you can see in one of the pictures below, the pumpkins are plowing right over and through the carrot patch. Oh well. We should still get way more than we need.

The pumpkins, melons, and squash are a couple more victories. Last year – none. This year, there are already a few pumpkins and melons bigger than my head. There are dozens of smaller ones. I’m crossing my fingers for a long hind-end of summer so they all have time to ripen. I got six or seven zucchini from three plants, then the plants decided they were done and started shriveling. I’m guessing lack of nutrients. Our soil still sucks, but at least it sucks a little bit less than last year.

Tomatoes and peppers, as always, are my best performers. Even in our poor soil, 90% of the plants are able to squeeze out a few healthy fruits. This year I tried something new and put a handful of crushed egg shells in the soil as I transplanted. It seemed to do a lot to prevent blossom end rot, though I still have a few plants that I’ve had to give additional doses to.

I planted a lot more herbs and flowers this year, not only to take up space to make less weeding for me, but to give pollinators an array of visual draws. And… they smell nice. I’ve discovered that petunias do AWESOME in the ground, but are needy assholes in hanging baskets. I found that mugwort and soup celery go gangbusters and overgrow anything you plant near them. I also learned that marigolds bloom a lot more when they are kept neatly deadheaded. Some flowers, like shasta daisies, made a whole lot of green growth, but didn’t flower once. Maybe I’ll luck out and they’ll be perennial and next year I’ll get flowers. I do love me some shasta daisies.

I still haven’t figured out the secrets to growing good greens, cauliflower, and broccoli. But I’m getting closer! This year I at least got cauliflower heads, even though they turned black with some sort of mold. The broccoli made larger than normal heads, but is getting sunscalded before I can pick it. Someday I’ll get these things right, but I’m content with progress for now.

Wait… you don’t want to hear about this? You want to see it? Ok. Enjoy pictures of my successes and failures!

Big, beautiful heads of cabbage. These two reached for each other, despite my planting them far enough apart. I call them Romeo and Juliet.

Big, beautiful heads of cabbage. These two reached for each other, despite my planting them far enough apart. I call them Romeo and Juliet.

How many peppers can you spot in this photo?

How many peppers can you spot in this photo?

I'm really in love with these oversized marigolds. They smell better than their smaller counterparts, and are so pretty!

I’m really in love with these oversized marigolds. They smell better than their smaller counterparts, and are so pretty!

Pasilla de Bajio pepper. What a beauty!

Pasilla de Bajio pepper. What a beauty!

A bowl of fresh peas. The peas finished up quickly and need to be pulled now. They were delicious while they lasted.

A bowl of fresh peas. The peas finished up quickly and need to be pulled now. They were delicious while they lasted.

Elderberries are starting to form. I might have to cover them so the birds don't get them this year.

Elderberries are starting to form. I might have to cover them so the birds don’t get them this year.

NOW we get strawberries. What the hell? I'm thinking next year I'll rip out all the plants and restock the strawberry beds. They are crazy.

NOW we get strawberries. What the hell? I’m thinking next year I’ll rip out all the plants and restock the strawberry beds. They are crazy.

Stevia patch. This stuff is so sweet it's almost disgusting. It's doing great, though.

Stevia patch. This stuff is so sweet it’s almost disgusting. It’s doing great, though.

My favorite tomatoes of all - Paul Robeson! I can't wait until these babies start coloring. Yum!

My favorite tomatoes of all – Paul Robeson! I can’t wait until these babies start coloring. Yum!

Pink hyssop. I've heard it has medicinal uses, but I just grow it because... well... look at it! It's so pretty. And the bees love hyssop.

Pink hyssop. I’ve heard it has medicinal uses, but I just grow it because… well… look at it! It’s so pretty. And the bees love hyssop.

Thai Siam Queen basil. More than half of the patch was choked out by rambunctious Mugwort.

Thai Siam Queen basil. More than half of the patch was choked out by rambunctious Mugwort.

Melons! The two you can see in this picture are bigger than my head. Heavy suckers, too.

Melons! The two you can see in this picture are bigger than my head. Heavy suckers, too.

Another melon. There are several small ones like this. Hope they grow quickly!

Another melon. There are several small ones like this. Hope they grow quickly!

Random pretty flower.

Random pretty flower.

Broccoli. I know I can do better. Any advice from broccoli experts? Did I wait to long before I picked? (Picked after this picture.) It tasted alright, but wasn't very pretty.

Broccoli. I know I can do better. Any advice from broccoli experts? Did I wait to long before I picked? (Picked after this picture.) It tasted alright, but wasn’t very pretty.

Eeew. Yep. That's my cauliflower. It looked good when it was small, but then within a couple days it more than doubled in size and started growing black mold. I'm so sad. I love cauliflower, and despite trying to grow it for several years now... I've never harvested any. As soon as this storm lets up, I'll be burning the three heads I got. They all look like this.

Eeew. Yep. That’s my cauliflower. It looked good when it was small, but then within a couple days it more than doubled in size and started growing black mold. I’m so sad. I love cauliflower, and despite trying to grow it for several years now… I’ve never harvested any. As soon as this storm lets up, I’ll be burning the three heads I got. They all look like this.

One of my more colorful harvests, minus the beans that still need to be picked. The chickens will probably get this picking since it's been a couple days and I don't like eating old beans. I like 'em young and tender.

One of my more colorful harvests, minus the beans that still need to be picked. The chickens will probably get this picking since it’s been a couple days and I don’t like eating old beans. I like ’em young and tender.

The chicks with the last two remaining mama hens. They were traumatized by the removal of the other hen and wouldn't come near me.

The chicks with the last two remaining mama hens. They were traumatized by the removal of the other hen and wouldn’t come near me.

We have been doing a lot of camping and travelling in between gardening. This was at a great children's museum down in Illinois.

We have been doing a lot of camping and travelling in between gardening. This was at a great children’s museum down in Illinois.

We also went to a zoo with our friends in Illinois. Check out "Our Happy Chaos" in my blogroll. She's an awesome gal. Thanks for letting us camp out with you for a few days, lady! We had a blast!

We also went to a zoo with our friends in Illinois. Check out “Our Happy Chaos” in my blogroll. She’s an awesome gal. Thanks for letting us camp out with you for a few days, lady! We had a blast!

So that’s it for our summer so far. No news on the greenhouse, other than we’re currently paying down bills and saving up for the down payment. We should easily have the down payment within a year – we just hope the greenhouse stays on the market that long! If they do sell it before we can get the money, well… at least we’ll have some spare change to build our own greenhouses here and build a garage/workshop, porch, and maybe even a barn. Stay tuned to see what happens.

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We have chicks! Not sure how many yet because the mamas are very protective. We’re so excited!

Today, my husband and I celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary! Ten years since this picture was taken. Wow.

Hope you all had a fantastic fourth of July weekend. We had a blast down in Green Bay. We stayed for two nights, went swimming, bounced on bouncy houses, ate at some great restaurants, walked around downtown, visited the HUGE farmer’s market, and had great seats for the fireworks. Now we’re back home, working on the house and garden.

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Those are our nesting boxes. They are usually home to a few eggs and a random hen trying to work an egg out. For the past several days, they have been home to four broody hens who are sitting on way too many eggs each. We have a surplus of eggs in our fridge, so I figured I’d give these girls a chance to try hatching some out. Yes, as the time gets closer I’ll erect a small wall in front so we don’t lose any chicks. If we luck out and get chicks, I’m not sure what we’ll do with them. I’d probably keep any females and slaughter males around 12 weeks. We certainly don’t need any more roosters. But I’d also be willing to sell a few of either sex. If you live locally and are interested, keep an eye on the blog.

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Speaking of roosters. Ours are tasty. They’re a big tough since we slaughtered at a year, but they cook down nicely in the crockpot. Look at the size of those thighs! They’re so large, I was surprised I was able to get the lid on the pot.

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The chicken coop is looking better than ever with some fresh paint and a bit of landscaping. It’s not finished yet, but we’ll get there someday. I love smelling the flowers when I go to collect eggs. Someday I’d like to get three little bird houses up on the three posts holding up the porch roof. I think it’d be neat to hear baby birds peeping and watch our local songbird population grow.

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The garlic in the forefront is nearly read to harvest. I’m excited to see how big the heads are. Some of the stalks are enormous. Most of what I harvest will be planted this fall, but we’ll dry and use some of it. Next to the garlic on the right is one of my herb patches. This one has a few basils, thyme, valerian, mugwort, and hyssop. It smells so good! If you look beyond the rows, you’ll see our work in progress. Raised beds are going up around the corner where the failed kiddie pool rice paddy was. I’ll be taking out the kiddie pool soon and digging a much deeper small pond. My husband ran water and electric out, so now we can have a proper pond with fish. I have lots of plants in pots waiting to go into the raised beds, including a couple hardy kiwis, dahlias, gladioli, and lillies. I’m hoping perennials will take over the bed and offer a great view to go along with the burbling of the pond. We’ll leave enough room for a patio set so we can have meals in the garden next to the pond.

Everything else in the garden is slowly growing upward and outward. Here are some more pictures for your enjoyment.

Beets. When you plant beet seeds, each little spiky ball is actually several seeds stuck together. So they'll need thinning pretty soon. I'll leave one every 3-4" and eat the rest as baby greens in salads.

Beets. When you plant beet seeds, each little spiky ball is actually several seeds stuck together. So they’ll need thinning pretty soon. I’ll leave one every 3-4″ and eat the rest as baby greens in salads.

Cabbage. I said I wasn't going to mess with cabbage again this year because they take up so much space. But I had room. This garden is so big...

Cabbage. I said I wasn’t going to mess with cabbage again this year because they take up so much space. But I had room. This garden is so big…

Zucchini. It keeps trying to put out flowers, but it's not nearly big enough yet to set good fruit, so I keep plucking them off.

Zucchini. It keeps trying to put out flowers, but it’s not nearly big enough yet to set good fruit, so I keep plucking them off.

Pumpkins! The vining has begun. Soon, this entire area will be nothing but pumpkin leaves.

Pumpkins! The vining has begun. Soon, this entire area will be nothing but pumpkin leaves.

Tomatoes. Got them weeded and mulched, but I need to run the tiller down the walking rows to knock down the weeds there.

Tomatoes. Got them weeded and mulched, but I need to run the tiller down the walking rows to knock down the weeds there.

Tomato flower. You know what follows the flower, right? One hundred tomato plants with hundreds of little yellow flowers means hundreds of tomatoes! I can't wait! I hate store-bought tomatoes.

Tomato flower. You know what follows the flower, right? One hundred tomato plants with hundreds of little yellow flowers means hundreds of tomatoes! I can’t wait! I hate store-bought tomatoes.

A new pepper variety given to me by another local grower. I still have to research this kind to see what I can use it for.

A new pepper variety given to me by another local grower. I still have to research this kind to see what I can use it for.

The first nasturtium flower. I planted these, shasta daisies, marigolds, hyssop, and petunias at the ends of many of the rows in the garden. They pull double duty - giving us something pretty to look at, and giving pollinators something to draw them into the garden.

The first nasturtium flower. I planted these, shasta daisies, marigolds, hyssop, and petunias at the ends of many of the rows in the garden. They pull double duty – giving us something pretty to look at, and giving pollinators something to draw them into the garden.

Flowers belong everywhere. Here are some more I put by the chicken coop door. I'm thinking they like it where they are. Look at all of the blossoms!

Flowers belong everywhere. Here are some more I put by the chicken coop door. I’m thinking they like it where they are. Look at all of the blossoms!

A cherry! A few of our several cherry trees are finally starting to bear fruit. We had a plum, too, but it fell off. Someday this orchard is going to produce enough to feed a small army, but for now we are content with a few cherries.

A cherry! A few of our several cherry trees are finally starting to bear fruit. We had a plum, too, but it fell off. Someday this orchard is going to produce enough to feed a small army, but for now we are content with a few cherries.

The orchard is overrun with daisies. Not a terrible thing, I suppose. It makes me sad to see them go every time we mow.

The orchard is overrun with daisies. Not a terrible thing, I suppose. It makes me sad to see them go every time we mow.

On Friday, the Supreme Court of the United States of America voted in a 5-4 decision to declare state bans on homosexual marriage unconstitutional. States cannot keep same-sex partners from marrying, and must now recognize their unions. Saturday, social media was filled with love, acceptance, celebration, and hope.

Then Sunday came.

Guess what happens on Sunday? People go to their churches and sit through sermons. I’m guessing many of those sermons were about this Supreme Court decision, and that those individuals giving the sermons weren’t in favor. Suddenly emboldened with their weekly injection of hate, believers took to social media and other outlets to show their united contempt for… well… love. How very Christian of them.

Since I deleted most bible-thumpers and bigots from my friends list, I didn’t have to deal with a lot of the anti-gay vitriol, but some of my friends shared things from their misguided friends. It’s sad. Even more sad was when I drove our boys to their summer school this morning and saw this sign in front of the only church along the main drag of our small town. It sits proudly on the road just before the school, so this message of hate and intolerance is on display for all to see.

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As disgusting as those signs are, I recognize that free speech belongs to everyone. If this church wants to breed hatred, fine. But I’m going to counter it in any way I can. Friday, love won. And it’s going to continue to win. Equality and love are so much bigger than bigotry and oppression.

I support equal rights for all, no matter what your gender or sexual orientation. I just want to let everyone know that just because a sign in our little town of 600 declares a message of hate… not all of us are like that. Many of us here in this little community are good, loving people who believe in equality and don’t care who you love so long as that love is shared by consenting adults.

Love wins.

That is all.🙂

loveislovecover

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