Welcome chickens

After waiting for what seemed like a very long time, and a whole lot of preparation, the day finally came that we added these lovely ladies to our homestead! Neighbors from all over the mountain came, ready to help us get the coop off a trailer and tuck it safely under the barn.

My youngest son, Braden, was especially excited about chickens…and I think he spent the first three days after their arrival, sitting in front of their pen and watching them.

After the first few days getting used to us and their new surroundings, it was time to start letting them free range. And time for me to start learning all of their personalities and deep dive into caring for animals. These two hens are Maude and Greta. They are Sex Link hens, and so far, the best egg producers. No matter what – they’ve laid eggs every day!

I’ll admit that at first, I wasn’t too fond of these two. I thought they were mean and bossy and picking on the other hens.

Then I learned about pecking order and I noticed what was really going on. Maude (the one with her mouth open) she is bossy. But what she really does, it keep them all in line. She is the last to enter the coop at night, doing laps to make sure everyone is tucked neatly inside, squawking at the other hens if they are taking too long and poking her head inside and making sure everyone is in before she calls it a night. When hens are dawdling in the morning, it’s her that makes a fuss and calls them out. And it’s her who leads the way during free range time.

Greta is her shadow. Where Maude goes, Greta goes. Even when it comes time to lay. If Maude goes in a box to lay…Greta is in the box with her. Now I absolutely adore these two.

This is Muffin. The shyest of all the hens. However, Muffin loves to be pet, dirt baths and green bell peppers. She’s also always the last one out of the coop in the morning and gets yelled at quite a bit by Maude.

During free range time, Muffin is usually off by herself, rolling in a dirt pile or chasing butterflies. She is an Ameraucana hen, which makes her an “easter egger” as far as laying goes – and she lays beautiful light green eggs!

And then there is Tallulah. Oh man I love this chicken! Tallulah is fearless, curious and extremely friendly. She sticks her head in my pockets and sits on my feet when I kneel down to check their water, or just pet them and talk to them.

Her feathers are always a bit wild, and she has a really intense face! And for some reason, it just makes me laugh. Tallulah can of often be found chasing me through the pasture or hunting flies. She’s also an Ameraucana, and her eggs are a pale greenish/blue.

And that brings us to my lovely and sweet little Bantam hen, Bandit.

Bandit is quite small (and her eggs are seriously adorable) Bandit is also quite friendly, loves to cuddle and goes crazy for meal worms. She lets me pick her up and tuck her under my arm and walk around while I talk to her, and give her little pets to the head.

Before coming to our homestead, Bandit had a habit of running away for weeks at a time. But she seems really quite happy here, never strays too far from the coop, even when the other hens are checking out the garage or patio.

My Top 10 Garden Gear Must Haves

1.A good sun hat is a must. I picked this one up on Amazon for under $25! Not only is it super cute and lightweight, but it’s adjustable as well. Being out under those UV rays for hours at a time, it’s a good idea to protect your skin as much as possible.

2. Kneeling Pad. And not just any kneeling pad! A really nice, quality one that has a moderate amount of give. Gardening puts a lot of pressure on your knees, not to mention gravel, thorns -etc. It’s easy to want to grab the cheapest one at the store, but trust me when I say – your joints will thank you for taking the time to select a comfortable one that helps protect your knees.

3. Good, sturdy work boots. I wear my Muck boots almost every day. Whether it’s to protect my socks from wet and muddy terrain, tall blades of grass or just to run down to the trash bin – I’m in my Mucks. In fact I love them so much, I have two pairs! Designed to stand up to tough conditions, Muck Boots are known for their comfort and quality and are 100% waterproof. 

4. A Trug Tub. Fill up a trug tub and grab both handles for easy carrying. Whether you are filling it with weeds, potting soil, tools or water – its makes for lightweight and easy portability. And since they are made from polyethylene and industrial-origin recycled plastic, they are flexible and durable and will never rust or crack.

5. A good set of hand tools! (No brainer) A hand rake, weeder, trowel and shovel…and you’re in business to spend time making colorful flowers and tasty veggies shine!

6. An insulated water bottle. Drinks stay icy cold on hot days or piping hot on cold days – your choice. Plus I love these Hydro Cell bottles because of the anti-slip coating on the outside.

7. Sunscreen. I’m certain I don’t even need to explain why. But seriously…use sunscreen.

8. Hand cream. Sometimes I really love gardening without gloves. I just love the way dirt feels in my hands. But boy does it wreak havoc on my skin and nails. Hands down, one of the best I’ve ever used is good old Burt’s Bees Hand Salve. It leaves rough skin smooth and it’s a natural moisturizing ointment that beats out all the other ones.

9. A good pair of gloves for all those jobs you can’t do bare-handed.

10. And last…a teaspoon. Yep, a kitchen spoon. This year when transplanting tiny, fragile seedlings – nothing worked better or more delicately than a spoon right out of the kitchen drawer!

Sunny Days Are For Adventure

I grew up in Washington State, and was always bombarded with “I couldn’t live there, it rains so much!” But not all of Washington lives under a constant rain cloud – and the places I lived were in the dryer, more desert like climates.

Now I live in a rainy, mountainous area of the state. And boy, does it rain! We waited and waited for a warm, sunny day to head out for an adventure. Finally the day came. Armed with sunscreen, bug spray, snacks and water bottles – off we went!

In the northern and most remote parts of Idaho sits some of the most beautiful areas I’ve ever seen. First stop was a hike up to an area called Lionhead Natural Water Slides. After a lesson in bear safety from my brother, as we were in Black Bear and Grizzly Bear country (just about twenty miles south of the Canadian border) and it also happens to be baby season for wildlife, we headed up.

*PRISTINE, OLD-GROWTH CEDAR FORESTS SURROUND the stunning Priest Lake in the most remote parts of northern Idaho. In the farthest corner of the lake, you’ll find a flat rock flowing with a layer of icy cold mountain water. 

It’s here that you’ll poke your legs through holes in a plastic garbage bag and throw yourself careening down the rock face, slipping and sliding until you’ll splash into the small pool of icy water at the bottom. Assuredly, you’ll want to do it again.

Come on a nice summer weekend and you’ll have to share these natural water slides with a few others; come on a weekday or cooler day and you’ll probably have this hidden gem of the Gem State all to yourself.

The remote location of the rocky ride keeps it perfectly secluded. Reaching the slides first entails driving hours on pavement and then gravel until you finally come to the farthest corner of beautiful Priest Lake to a campground called Lionhead. Here, you’ll take one of the most rutted dirt roads into the mountain for a few miles and then park the car.

Next, you’ll hike for a couple hours through stunning old growth forests along creeks and waterfalls. Cross a freezing cold mountain stream, then weave through a massive cedar bottom until you come out above the rock slides. Exploring even farther upstream reveals stunning cold swim holes and waterfalls that will beckon you in.* (source: Atlas Obscura)

After we’d taken it all in, and were good and sweaty and ready to swim, we made our way down to Priest Lake.

Priest Lake is called the Crown Jewel of Idaho for a reason. Lush forests. Cool, white sandy beaches and crystal clear blue water unlike any lake I’ve ever been to before.

Families and groups maintained social distancing while still being able to enjoy an outing on a hot day. I think we found our new favorite spot for family fun!

Greenhouse To Garden Beds

Living in the Idaho Panhandle and trying to garden is a learning curve.

The Idaho Panhandle—locally known as North Idaho—is a region in the U.S. state of Idaho encompassing the state’s 10 northernmost countiesBenewahBonnerBoundaryClearwaterIdahoKootenaiLatahLewisNez Perce, and Shoshone (though the southern part of the region is sometimes referred to as North Central Idaho). The Panhandle is bordered by the state of Washington to the west, Montana to the east, and the Canadian province of British Columbia to the north. The Idaho panhandle, along with Eastern Washington, comprises the region known as the Inland Northwest, headed by its largest city, Spokane, Washington. (source Wikipedia)

Overnight frosts can last until late May, even early June. Neighbors have told us horror stories of snow on the 4th of July. Never having gardened on this scale before – the thought of losing precious babies protected in the greenhouse was a bit daunting. However, those precious babies were crowding each other in pots and in danger of becoming root bound or bolting (as was the case with the Spinach)

We waited out weeks of what seemed like endless rain spending our time putting up deer netting and building a totally MacGyver’d gate and rigging these blue hoops (I’ll explain later). Then it came, a break in the clouds. It was now or never! I scrambled into my Mucks with a rake and a tiller to break up the soil and aerate it enough to dry out and kept my fingers crossed for a dry day.

beets&peas with zinnias and dill for companions

yellow onion, white onion, walla walla sweet onions, leeks, carrots, parsnips and dill

It’s been a few weeks from planting day (in the boxes) and I’m happy to say that everything is happy and bursting with growth and life!

So about those hoops? I kept seeing gardeners with these really cool mesh systems over their crops to protect them from bugs, hungry bunnies and rainfall. But they were all so expensive! So with a little creativity, some rebar, bendable tubing and tulle – voila! I made my own netting system! I’ll do a DIY on it soon, as well as a garden tour video.

yeah…that gate…LOL

After all the boxes were planted, only one thing was left. Our ground crops. Now the cool thing about living out here? EVERYONE helps everyone. Mention a pie in exchange for your neighbor to come over and rotatill the ground, and you have yourself a deal! Now with the corn, sunflowers, squash and sweet potatoes in the ground as well as a clustering of pots and buckets for everything else – this family will have itself a hearty late summer harvest!

Connecting With Nature

About five or six years ago is when my journey led me to connect with nature. I grew up in a small town, and spent much of my youth on our family cattle ranch. Not long after I turned nineteen, I took off for San Diego and didn’t look back. After I lived there for some time, it was off to Tucson.

I never thought much about putting my bare feet on the grass or sticking my hands in soil. Let alone sitting in complete silence, breathing in fresh air and surrounding myself in the peaceful stillness of it.

Then one day after a heartbreaking breakup, I found myself in my car, headed towards a trail I vaguely remembered the location of. I hiked and hiked and hiked until my legs screamed in pain. And then I sat. I breathed. I listened. I took off my shoes and let my soles rest on the earth. And I felt better.

I kept going back every weekend. Sometimes I’d take a journal, other times I’d just take my camera. And it was then I realized the healing power mother nature had on me.

Now it’s one of my favorite things. Sometimes I hike, others I go wildflower spotting or my most recent favorite – mushroom hunting. The fact that I can explore a forest in my own backyard is something that soothes my soul in a way I can’t describe.

I’ve since learning about a vital health practice called grounding or earthing, where you quite literally connect with the earth and receive the electrons and natural energy in vast supply just by going barefoot or using your hands to touch the earth.

So now I’m curious, when is the last time you went barefoot on the grass, sand or dirt?

The Way Of The Potato

It’s potato planting day on the Hart Homestead, and I learned a lot about planting this vegetable. As I posted my potato planting images on Instagram, I was shocked to see how many people reached out to ask for tips – so here I am to pass on everything I know.

When choosing where to plant your potatoes here are a few things to keep in mind. Potatoes grow best in full sun, no need to find an area that shades them. Potatoes root aggressively, and will produce the most crops in loose, well drained soil. You can plant your crop in spring when you can easily work the soil, but always keep in mind your ground temperature. While they can stand a light frost, the soil should remain at no lower than 45 degrees. This is why we are planting a late crop here on the homestead, as frosts (and even late season snow) can last all the way until the end of May.

A week or two before the date you plan to plant, set your seed potatoes in a sunny area where your potatoes will get lots of light and warmth. This starts the sprouting process. These gorgeous blue potatoes sat on the kitchen window sill for two weeks, and just look at those eyes!

Using a clean, sharp knife, begin the process of cutting each potato. Try to make each piece roughly two inches, and they must contain at least one or two eyes or buds. To be on the safe side we went with two or three. You can plant small seed potatoes (about the size of golf ball) whole.

Potatoes are best grown in rows.

Dig trenches that are four to six inches deep deep, planting each piece of potato (cut side down, with the eyes pointing up) every twelve inches, with the rows spaced three feet apart. If your space is limited or if you would like to grow only baby potatoes, you can decrease the spacing between plants, such as we did in our boxes. Then mound dirt on top of the potatoes about four inches deep. As they start to grow continue to mound soil around the potatoes.

Happy potato planting, and I’ll be back when it’s time to harvest!

A Month On The Homestead

We are a month in on this wild, beautiful journey we call homesteading. And I have to say, it couldn’t be much better. There is something about being this close to nature, about working hard and seeing the results of your labor at the end of the day. It’s been rewarding to all of us. I’m watching my children blossom, just in this short of an amount of time. Digging in, showing up every morning with their gloves on and asking what the plan is.

I’m not glorifying this lifestyle in any way. I don’t ever plan to sugar coat it or live like every little moment is an Instagram perfect capture. Some days the work has not only been hard, but downright exhausting. And we haven’t even acquired animals or bees yet. In the quest to live simply, you have to work harder to achieve that. Seems counter intuitive, doesn’t it?

But for my family, this quest for self-sufficiency and self-reliance will be well worth the discouraging days. There’s been fewer video games played, less TV watched, and not as much time spent hunched over staring at the screen of our phones. What’s replaced that is more meals cooked together, more dancing in the kitchen and sitting on the porch chatting. More walks, more exploration and a relearning of what we call fun. This is the life I signed up for, and what my spirit so desperately craved!

Braden cutting down Ponderosa trees that could be a fire hazard in the hot, dry months of summer.

I’ve watched my oldest son listening to his uncle and absorbing all the knowledge he can. Trying things he would have shied away from not too long ago. I’ve watched his confidence in the abilities of his body and strength grow, and his capabilities as a young man catch fire in his mind. I’ve seen his anxious tendencies dwindle, and a newer, calmer teen emerge.

At a recent BBQ where the community came together so we could get to know everyone, a man sat next to me and complimented me on my sons. Especially my oldest. His character, his maturity and his manners. That meant so much to me. He has officially been adopted as the community son 🙂 and one man who has only daughters was pretty excited to have an honorary son and he and his wife took him on one of their daily hikes to get to know him better.

Jake taking a moment to relax as we built the raised garden beds.

But I think my favorite thing so far, is that no matter how hard we are working to get this place running, we are taking time to enjoy our surroundings. Getting out for walks in the woods, mushroom hunting and wild flower spotting. Enjoying lazy, sunny afternoons with the dogs and getting to know our neighbors who make up this mountain community.

After dinner each night, I walk down to the barn with happy dogs at my side. I hear goats bleating, a rooster crowing and the dogs sighing with pleasure as they let themselves fall into tall blades of grass to lay down. The smell of fresh pine, grass and whatever sweet smelling flowers perfume the cool mountain air fills my nose. There’s nothing particularly interesting about this. Yet it fills my heart with immense pleasure.

How to make Dandelion Tea and why

Most people see dandelions and want to eradicate them from their gardens and lawns as they tend to take over and make themselves at home wherever their seeds land on a breezy day. However, dandelions have many medicinal and health benefits that just might make you look at them a little differently. They’ve been used in Eastern medicine to treat stomach woes and they help aid in digestion and mineral absorption. Dandelions act as a natural diuretic, detoxify the liver as well as being rich in vitamin A, C and D as well as zinc and magnesium.

Making dandelion tea is easy and all you need to do is go out into your yard to find them. In this post we will be talking about dandelion flower tea, which has a sweet and delicate flavor and is delicious served iced or hot.

You can also make tea from the roots and leaves. (Roasted dandelion root is delicious and is often called dandelion coffee)

When choosing where to harvest your dandelions from, it’s best to ensure the area has not been treated with chemicals.

First step:

Pick roughly a quart of dandelions. Remove all the stems and leaves and place the yellow flowers in a bowl and wash them with apple cider vinegar, followed by a cool rinse in a colander. (This helps get rid of the bugs and anything you don’t want in your drink)

Second:

Steep in hot water. About five to ten minutes for a delicate flavor and up to thirty minutes for a stronger flavor.

Third:

Strain the flowers out and enjoy or let the tea cool in the refrigerator for a few hours for for an iced beverage. Dandelion tea can be saved for up to 36 hours safely in the refrigerator.

Last:

Sweeten and flavor if you need to. A little lime or lemon adds a tasty zing, or a bit of stevia or honey to sweeten.

DIY Raised Garden Bed Build

I’ve never built anything in my entire life.

Correction. There was that one time I was in my “I’m an independent woman and I don’t need a man” phase where I built a bathroom etagere that wobbled when anyone touched it. And it’s possible I built a bird house in seventh grade wood shop. Other than that, I’ve never built anything of substance.

Now, I feel pretty confident in my abilities with power tools and wood. (Sidenote: using a Miter Saw makes me feel like a TOTAL badass)

You would think that living in the mountains of Washington State we would already have lovely areas just ready to go for gardening. The truth is…we do not. So, we had to build raised garden beds, but had no idea where to start. (Thank you YouTube)

We found a project that looked like something we could easily pull off. So my brother drew up some schematics, we called a lumberyard to get some wood and off we went on our building adventure.

The plan was for four 8x4x2 boxes created out of pressure treated pine (no chemicals btw). Until we built our first one, none of us had any idea how big and heavy these would actually wind up being. At first we thought we could construct them all in the shop, load them into a pick up and drive them up to the spot where we planned to plant.

Yeah…no.

In the shop we attached the four-foot boards to a 2×2 post to create the ends, loaded them into the back of a pick up along with the eight-foot boards and drove them all to the planned garden spot. With two of us holding up the end pieces, the other two placed and secured the side boards with 3 inch wood/deck screws until we had this massive, gorgeous garden box! (one down, three to go)

It took us a few days to get them all built. Weather was not our friend that week! But eventually we got some wire mesh tacked to the bottom so pesky little gophers can’t get in, and got them all filled with soil.

Everyone pitched in, each in their own way. To say that we look at these boxes that will soon provide us with food with an overwhelming sense of pride is an understatement! It’s pretty cool to see them and know that I built these. I cut boards, I screwed pieces together, I got in the boxes and moved dirt into place with a shovel (then my hands when I realized they were a better tool). And I hope that every time we eat something we grew, we all still feel that same sense of accomplishment we felt that day.

Day of the Doomed Chicken Fence

The day started out full of promise.

Eager to take on our first real “farm” task of building a fence for some laying hens gifted to our homestead, off we went. Gloves on, tools in hand, we all trekked through tall grass to the area we’d designated as a home for our new feathered friends.

However, as we looked at the area and our supplies (mostly our flimsy mesh fencing that even a mouse could plow through to get to our chickens) we realized we had a bigger task on our hands than we’d anticipated. Looking around, we found some old wire panels that looked like we could use them as a frame for our flimsy wire. (Score one for using our resources!)

This seemed like a fantastic idea until we realized we only had four of them and this wasn’t enough to build an actual fence from. Disappointed, but not discouraged, my brother and I looked around the barn for inspiration…and we struck gold. A small, already fenced in area off to the side, that all we had to do was unbury a gate from beneath a mountain of dirt and cut it away from overgrown bushes.

Off we went with our flimsy (did I mention this already?) chicken wire, excited about the project. All the dirt keeping the gate from moving got dug out with a backhoe. Weeds, shrubs, and vines were cut back. Yes! This was perfect for our incoming flock. Four of us set about attaching the mesh fencing to the pre-existing panels. (Braden mostly chatted up the neighbor’s goats and cows) It was perfect. By that night we’d completed one side of fencing and we were exhausted, dirty, and hungry.

The next day, me, my niece, and my oldest son set out to finish our brilliant new fence.

As we worked, neighbors came by to introduce themselves and asked what we were building. With a lot of excitement, and a bit of hubris we said it was for our chickens. The neighbors nodded, and the wife said (politely, mind you) “Oh, well, you can always move them later. We’ve moved ours four times.”

This gave us pause. There was something obviously wrong with our chicken pen. Off to research, my niece and I grabbed a notebook and a pencil and took to YouTube…typed in “Getting Started with Chickens” and watched. It wasn’t without a few wide-eyed looks at each other and a fair amount of laughter that we realized – EVERYTHING was wrong with our chicken area.

Had our neighbor not swung by, our poor little chickens would have been dying of the heat. I mean, that is if a hawk or raccoon hadn’t gotten to them first. Oh well. Lesson learned. (p.s. the chickens will be okay…)

{disclaimer about chickens and eggs} If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you know I recently made a switch to a plant-based diet. And I’ve been really good about it. I’ve had a few moments of weakness…but if you can’t allow yourself the grace of making mistakes and moving on, then you are not allowing yourself to be human, right? I am, for the most part, plant-based. However, I cannot make six other people eat like me, and I have on occasion found it too restricting. I also had to make some decisions, since I do plan to “live off the land” and grocery shop as little as possible. I may on occasion eat an egg. When we get goats, I may drink their milk or use soap made from their milk. I may on occasion eat a fish if my brother goes fishing. I will be a mostly ovo-lacto vegetarian, eating as much plant-based as possible.  I don’t force myself to be perfect all the time. And if I am raising the animals and treating them kindly, yeah, I might just eat an egg…and I think that’s okay. It’s trying to make a difference that counts 😉