Life on Itzy Bitzy Farm

Making a Difference

Life on Itzy Bitzy FarmI have virtually met so many wonderful homesteaders and farmers over the past two years and especially this past year since being back in North Carolina. I have long believed that this passion God sowed into me as a seed 12 years ago had so much more spiritual intention to it then was visible in the natural.

Some of my new homesteader friends are religious, some are not; our beliefs are not usually the center of our discussions and sharings. Sometimes faith comes into the conversation but mostly we share our passion and love of homesteading. The one common consistent value I see in ALL these people is respect and mutual admiration for each other and the life we foster. We try and share with beginners who desire to live a healthy, productive, giving, dedicated life of using what God has blessed us with through the earth, animals, crops and a hard day's work.


For the first time yesterday, I felt led to pray for these people. This is only February and it not only has been a hard winter but so far been a tough year for many farmers. We may have a respite from gardening and crop care in winter, which can be a season of rest for many of us who mainly focus on growing our food in gardens. But, for we who raise animals for food sources, the hard work does not take a rest in winter. Many have had losses this year in precious life of their beloved animals. As I prayed, I was shown that with hard work and heartache comes wisdom.


Learning never ceases, understanding the fragility of life and reliance we must have on a Higher Power becomes more apparent. I have been so blessed by the many people we have crossed paths with over the years, the immense amount of knowledge I have gained through these relationships is overwhelming to me at times. These people are amazing! They endure, they persevere, they willingly share and encourage. Homesteaders make the BEST cheerleaders and motivational speakers! 

As we all wait patiently for spring and long to feel the warmth of the sun on our shoulders, we can use our slow winter days to encourage, share, learn, and yes, pray for one another. Whether you are religious or not, homesteading is and can be a mission to make a difference here on the little bit of earth we have been given, to educate others about the quality and origins of our food. We all have our areas of expertise and passion. For me it is to educate people who have limited space that they still can grow their own food in many ways and improve the quality of their diet and health through adopting a "homestead life without a homestead," the slogan I use for my classes.

best farm

A new passion for me has become learning that there are heritage livestock breeds of animals and poultry that are decreasing in numbers and their wonderful heritage is being lost through increased hybrid breeds with a focus on production and quantity rather than quality and purity. When I discovered The Livestock Conservancy,  I was shocked to learn that many of our heritage breeds are in danger of disappearing. The Conservancy's mission is ""Ensuring the future of agriculture through the genetic conservation and promotion of endangered breeds of livestock and poultry"

Personally, I have discovered some of the breeds I chose three years ago when I welcomed laying hens to my homestead lifestyle are actually on the Conservancy's list of heritage breeds. At the time I had no idea my choices were helping a breed rich in history.


This awareness has guided my other choices when it came time to increase my flock of hens and soon, welcoming pigs to our homestead.

It is these learning moments that have enriched my life and opened my eyes to small changes I can bring to others' lives by sharing what I learn through education and experience.

Just as it is important to know where our seeds come from and strive to grow organic, heirloom vegetables, it is important for us to consider genetically sound, heritage breeds of animals when we make the decision to welcome them into our lives and farms.


Take the time to read and learn the history of these amazing breeds that helped shape American agriculture.


Get to know other homesteaders through social media and your local community. Ask questions, share your own gifts and talents as you glean from theirs, making homesteading not just a trendy movement but an enduring lifestyle. Support, encourage, lend a hand to a beginner and change someone's life as they grow their first tomatoes. You'll be amazed at the joy you feel seeing their excitement when their first seeds germinate. It never gets old for me. Were it not for a couple of dear friends who were hen parents, I would not have mustered the courage to become a chicken owner myself. Now, I can't imagine my life without my "Girls."


So I would like to offer a prayer and a blessing for all the homesteaders of .05 acre or 50 acres whose dream it is to live life close to the earth, a coop and a barn. When you come to visit us, we may have old jeans on and have some mucky shavings on our kitchen floor, but we will greet you with a warm smile and cook you up the best deep orange-yolked eggs and tastiest bacon that ever passed over your lips. And you may even go home with some seedlings rich in history to plant in your new garden. Thank you ALL who have touched my life.

Many blessings this spring to you and yours.

Spring Plans

Life on Itzy Bitzy FarmDecember 26 brought visions of spring dancing in my head. 

Well, another Christmas is past and as much as I love Christmas time, I long for spring. I believe deeply in having a plan - a strategy and moving forward with purpose and hope. 


kaleJanuary 3 marks our one-year anniversary on our 2-acre homestead here in North Carolina. After a bumpy first year of garden creating, coop building, flock illness, chicken deaths and bad manure added to our soil that caused crop failure, it is time to put the past behind us. We are making some changes to the layout of our gardens, have found an organic manure source, expanding our laying hen flock and adding pigs to our farm this new year.  

Part of our plan is to re-purpose a firewood shelter into a pig shelter with a connected pasture area for our new porkers that we will be raising. It will be our first time raising pigs and we are excited about adding a meat crop to our homestead lifestyle. 

pig shelter

We also hope to acquire our very first riding tractor with PTO implements to make our crop growing more efficient. 


eggsWe have had great success selling our eggs and so have decided to get a larger coop and expand our flock by 50 percent, making our flock grow from 20 current hens to 40. We learned the pros and cons of some of the breeds we have and so are now able to make a more educated decision about what breed we prefer for egg laying. Though we love our large fluffy breeds such as our Buff Orpingtons and Black Australorps we learned that their feed to egg ratio is about 7 percent, a bit higher than the breed Golden Comet, which is about 4-percent ratio. So this is the breed we plan on getting in the spring. 

We also have done extensive research and chatting with experienced pig owners so we can start this new adventure informed. We decided on Hampshire or Yorkshire pigs and found a local breeder to get our wieners from in March. 

Our wood shelter will make a perfect home for the pigs and will give them plenty of comfortable living space next to the gardens where we plan on growing them lots of organic forage crops such as rape, turnips, beets, buckwheat and clover. Spoiled pigs make delicious pork. 


greenhouseWe are also adding a second greenhouse to our plant business end of the farm and hope to offer more variety of vegetable seedlings to the community and our customers who also want to live a self-sufficient homestead life. We have moved our current greenhouse to a new location on the homestead that will hold two greenhouses and be closer to the rest of the growing areas. 

All these plans have been in the works on paper, or should I say laptop, since October and this makes the plan not only more manageable but adaptable to budget, scheduling and long term goals. I encourage you to think through any changes or additions to your homestead, carefully and consider all aspects of the plans direction. When adding animals, it is important to think about amount of time needed to raise them for their given purpose. For us, we want to have our pork processed sometime in October and knowing it takes about six months to grow out pigs for meat we need to be ready and have them on the homestead sometime in March. 

A calendar is vital to a good plan. I use a large hanging calendar so I can write the plan out by each month and see the plan plainly in front of me. I multitask well but can easily get too many projects going at one time and bring home pigs before finishing the shelter. For me cuteness always wins out over, "Did I buy feed?" 

So, what is your plan for spring 2015?

Now is the time to take pen to paper and start dreaming. 

Happy Planning,

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Holly Jolly Bark

Life on Itzy Bitzy FarmHello Friends,

Here is the Christmas candy we like to make here at Itzy Bitzy Farm. Holly Jolly Bark is easy and fun to make. A great holiday treat to make with the children. Don't forget to leave some out for Santa.


Holly Jolly Bark

2 bags (12 ounces each) chocolate chips, semi-sweet or milk chocolate
2 cups pretzels, crushed
2 bags (11 ounces each) white chocolate chips
1 cup M&M's
6 candy canes, crushed
Holiday sprinkles or jimmies

barkMelt chocolate chips according to melting directions on the bag. While chips are melting, cover a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan with aluminum foil and butter the foil lightly. I used an 11-by-14-inch sheet but it was a bit too small so I would go a bit bigger.

Spread melted chocolate on foil so that it is about 1/2 inch thick. Quickly sprinkle pretzels over chocolate and press into chocolate. Place pan in freezer about 30 minute,s or until set.

Melt white chocolate according to directions on bag. Spread white chocolate on top of pretzels, quickly spread M&M's, candy canes and sprinkles on top. Press in carefully and freeze or refrigerate until solid. When hardened, peel bark off foil and break into pieces.



A Little Blue Egg

Life on Itzy Bitzy FarmHello GRIT Friends

I have not blogged in quite a while due to unforeseen setbacks. We relocated last January from the Northeast to North Carolina, and between the transition, re-settling, finding jobs and setting up our new homestead, life was full of changes and bumps in the road. 

I confess that I allowed the bumps in the road to steal my joy, and discouragement set in. Even with forward motion sometimes life can become a drudgery. Part of our forward motion was starting a new flock of laying hens. Well, that too brought some emotional down-turns. At 6 weeks old, the flock developed Coccidiosis, and I lost two of the babies. This was my first experience with this terrible illness. After a month of antibiotics, we seemed to have everyone healthy and that battle won. 


And for another first, I ended up with three roosters in my flock of 28. I thought about keeping one or two but soon changed my mind after seeing the aggressive behavior and watching the hens walking around on egg shells when the boys came around. So all three boys got re-homed.


I did have some accomplishments though that were enjoyable. I always wanted to have Blue Wyandottes and have added them to my flock. Here are two of my four blue girls. 


As for our crops ... due to a late hard three-day freeze, we lost a great deal of our plant stock that we sell by mail order. This was a huge setback, financially as well as inventory wise. 

I have always managed to find a free source of manure to add to the solid red clay that North Carolina is graced with. Well, in our personal gardens, which I keep separate from my selling stock, I added some manure from a local stable to our two 1/2-acre gardens. It didn't take long to discover that something was wrong with the manure when I kept losing entire crops. The tomato plants all got leaf curl and sparse growth, green beans germinated but died almost immediately after, and it stunted the potato crop drastically. After much research, I concluded the hay fed to the horses at the stable I got the manure from was grown with an herbicide. Fortunately, this can be corrected fairly quickly and will not stay in the soil long term.


So with lots of cover crops, compost only from our own farm and Fall leaves, we hope to remedy this problem by next year's growing season. 

Needless to say I have felt beat down. We have had to buy vegetables from a friend who farms, and I don't even want to think of the time and energy lost. I have tried to stay busy to keep from crying so I have canned lots of pickles since the cucumbers were not planted in an area that I worked the manure into. Thankfully I had not used it in the entire acre. 


I felt I had nothing to blog about, no successes, no abundant garden photos, no new veggie successes to share. So I succumbed to what I call "turtle syndrome." I went into my shell and said to my husband, "Why am I killing myself doing all this work?" His reply was, "You have been farming for 12 years and this is your FIRST bad year? Get over it!" Well, he was right, but it didn't put the joy back in me. I feared I had lost my passion forever. 

Until today........

I got home from work and heard a lot of noise coming from the coop. Cackling. But not just one hen cackling, a lot of cackling. So I walked over and went inside the coop to find six of the Girls all standing around talking loudly. So I bent down to look in the nest boxes and didn't see anything. We are expecting our first eggs any day now. As I was turning to go out I noticed something in between the nest boxes on the floor. Yes, there it was our first egg! And our first Blue egg to boot! This is the first flock that I have had Ameraucana hens, we have two. So not only did we get our first egg on our new homestead from our new flock but we got our first ever blue egg. 

blue egg

Suddenly I felt indescribable joy. I started cackling right along with all the girls who were celebrating their sister's first egg. As I held it and looked at its perfectness, I smiled and teared up a bit. Yes, it is ALL worth it. 

Homesteading is not easy. There will be setbacks and there will be deaths, in crops and livestock. But we must keep moving forward. I can't imagine not having my feather friends or selling my tiller and growing a lawn where vegetables once grew. Life is hard, and there will be tears and frustration and discouragement. But there is hope, joy and songs of cackling ... all in one little blue egg. 

May your Summer be filled with songs of cackling. Oh, and it's good to be back with you all. 


Itzy Bitzy Farm

Confessions of a Chicken Hoarder: Part 2

Life on Itzy Bitzy FarmHere we are back in our beloved North Carolina, and, as you remember when we made our return move from Massachusetts, I had to find a new home for my flock of 12 girls. They were adopted as a flock and added to a wonderful family flock of nine feathered sisters. They are settled in nicely, and their family sends me photos and notes of their adventures in their new home. 

MA flock

It was a sad and lonely time for me between December and March. No girls to care for and enjoy. Well, I couldn't stand the silence any longer, so off I went, on a search for chicks. Having been so happy with the breeds I chose before, I decided to get the same breeds and also try a couple new ones. 

In the tradition of Chicken Math, I started with six chicks in my first flock, 12 in my second and, this time around, decided on 24 but ended up with 28. 


We have my favorite Buff Orphingtons along with Speckled Sussex, Black Australorps, Gold Wyandottes and Silver Wyandottes, and, for our new breeds, we got Welsummers, Ameraucanas, Dominiques, and a color I have wanted for a long time, Blue Wyandottes. 


After building a brooder in a spare bedroom, we once again heard the delightful sound of "cheep-cheep-cheep." 

After five weeks at home, I experienced my first potential epidemic, coccidiosis. The morning I discovered blood in the brooder, it was too late for one of my Blue girls, she was very sick but with no signs at all the day before. I had no idea what was wrong or where all the blood came from. A friend quickly enlightened me and off I rushed to get antibiotics and medicated feed. Before I returned home, the Blue girl had passed away. Panic had set in, and I did all I could to get the others well. Two days later, I lost one of the Buff Orphingtons. After a day or two more, the others were improving slowly. Now the flock seems to be on the mend and hopefully I am able to protect them from this terrible illness. 

The weeks passed quickly, and the chicks grew just as fast. The brooder in the bedroom was not going to hold the girls for long. We suddenly were offered a gently used shed for the cost of dismantling and moving. So my husband, Don, and a friend took the shed apart in sections and brought it home, reassembled, modified a bit and added coop options. With a new coop on the farm and the roosts and hardware cloth installed, the girls were ready to leave the nest. 



They have taken to their new home slowly but are obviously enjoying the extra wing room and their temporary run, as I am not allowing them outside much due to inclement spring weather here in North Carolina. 


I have many affectionate little ones and, for you who have followed my journey of being a chicken Mom, you will recall my sorrow after losing Baby, my special Buff Orphington. Well, it would appear I am being blessed with not only one affectionate girl but three ... so far. And one of them happens to be a Buff Orphington. I have named her Snuggle Bug, because she loves to snuggle her head under my chin and then stay there cuddling with me. 


Chickens are a delight and add so much joy and benefits to a farm and family. I can't imagine a time in my future when I will not have a flock of my own, whether six or 66, I must have a chicken to hug. 

Yes, I am addicted and a chicken hoarder. They have me wrapped around their little wings. Who couldn't fall for a face like this? 


Follow our flock and farm adventures at our blog,  And you can find us on Facebook.

Sow Sow and Sow Again

Life on Itzy Bitzy FarmIt is beginning to feel like Spring here in North Carolina, and we have finally gotten into some much needed heat. Most vegetable plants thrive in warm if not even hot temperatures, so it is wonderful to feel the warmth of the sun and see the seedlings bursting forth with the hope of fresh veggies. 


When I was farming in Massachusetts (Zone 6) and teaching gardening classes, I was surprised that so many people did not know about succession planting, or that they could grow one type of vegetable more than once in a season. Their response to my comments about planting a second batch of peas or green beans or carrots was always one of a puzzled look on their face and a “You plant carrots twice?” shocked question. Being a farmer in North Carolina, Zone 7,  for many years, I am use to growing many plantings of certain crops. A farmer in Zones 7 or 8 can grow three plantings of sweet corn, two plantings of potatoes and about six plantings of green beans, if you utilize succession planting.


It is important for home gardeners, whether novice or experienced, to know your growing zone. This is easy to find and is a tremendous help in learning what you can grow and which varieties of each veggie is best for your planting season.

Here is where you can find your agricultural zone by simply entering your zip code.

Plant Hardiness Zone

Once you know your zone, there is a chart that will give you your first frost and last frost dates. By doing some simple math you can determine how many days are in your growing season on average. For my Zone 7a, I have, on average, between 180 to 220 days of growing time. Now if you are adventurous and passionate about growing your own food, this can be extended by 30 to 60 days if you grow under hoop houses or in cold frames or have a small portable greenhouse.

My first bit of wisdom and advice to people who have a desire to grow their own veggies is, do not follow old-time “wives' tales” type of gardening practices. You will hear many gardeners and even experienced farmers say NEVER plant tomatoes before Memorial Day. Well, I always have my tomatoes planted between May 1 to May 15. Now that may not seem like much of a jump to you but you have to remember I have had the seedlings in my greenhouse since February, so I have some good-size plants going, and I always have very early tomatoes.


Once you know how long your growing season is, it is important to choose varieties of veggies that will fit into your window of growing days. For example, the sweet corn I grow in North Carolina cannot be grown in Massachusetts because that corn likes long days of heat; those varieties are called “long day” varieties meaning they require many hours of sunshine (a long day) and also may need 85 days to develop from sowing to harvest.

I like to choose shorter-day varieties of some vegetables so that I am assured a good crop and can possibly have two or three plantings during the entire season, which increases my total production and harvest. I choose green bean varieties that only require between 57 and 65 days. Keep in mind this is an average that the seed companies put on the seed package, and you may get beans faster than that if weather and soil is just right. I plant green beans four to six times, giving me an abundance to can, eat fresh and freeze. I plant three to four plantings of carrots, two plantings of peas, two plantings of broccoli and cabbage, and six to eight plantings of lettuces, spinach and kale.

Reading A Seed Package

seed packet

Here is an example of a seed package from Botanical Interests seeds. I prefer using this company’s seeds as they are always reliable in germination and offer a great selection of tested and trusted heirloom varieties. I also love their packages! They are not only educational and instructional but very beautiful. So let’s look at this package. 

At the top is the name of the variety “BEET – Gourmet Blend”  then is the price and weight of seeds. Under that is the first very important bit of information to the gardener. “COOL SEASON” and “65 Days.” This tells you that beets are a cool-season crop, meaning they do not grow well in the high heat of Summer and they prefer cooler temps. Also the package tells you, on average, they will take 65 days to produce beets. So, keeping this in mind, beets need to be sown when soil is workable and will take a light frost but not a hard freeze, so you can sow them about one to two weeks before your average last frost date and again doing a little math, I know that it does not get high heat here in North Carolina until June 1 so I can sow these seeds in two-week successions until about April 1, having started my sowing in late February. Beets can be planted again in late Summer for Fall harvest; this will have them making their beet root in the cooler days of Fall.

On the back of the packages you will find the planting guidelines such as depth to plant seeds and spacing between plants.

Veggies such as lettuce, spinach, kale, radishes and microgreens, as seen here, are quick growing and, even though they like cooler weather to grow, it is possible to get three to four plantings before the temperatures get too hot for these tender plants. Microgreens for example take 25 days from sowing to harvest. Some radish varieties take as little as 21 days.


In some zones, the growing season can be short so planting a favorite vegetable a couple of times is wonderful for us veggie lovers. Succession plantings (planting the same crop 10 to 14 days apart) provides a steady availability of your favorite vegetables and large enough harvests to can or freeze some for the Winter months when you are longing for those fresh homegrown veggies.

So when you harvest that first planting of tender green beans, don’t put those extra seeds away yet. Sow another batch and reap a second harvest … and maybe a third.

Sowingly yours,


Confessions of a Chicken Hoarder

Life on Itzy Bitzy FarmThis is a difficult blog for me to write but I really believe it will be good for my overall recovery. 

If anyone had told me 10, even five years ago that I would be addicted to chickens, I would have laughed till I cried. 



Chickens. I had no idea and never even thought about any of the facts I now know about this edible creature. To me chicken was what I bought at the supermarket. I never thought about how chickens were raised commercially, never ever thought about the animals themselves, didn't wonder about what their life was like, their characteristics, I don't think I ever saw a real living chicken until five years ago. 

My first encounter with a chicken was a very aggressive rooster that my niece owned along with a flock of five hens. I don't remember if she warned me in advance about this devil rooster, I only remember asking her if I could take some veggie scraps out to the chickens in her backyard. She said yes and out I went ... alone. In a matter of seconds I was standing there watching a rooster silently running at full speed toward me. A big smile came over my face and for a fleeting moment I remember thinking, "Awww, look he is coming to get veggies from me." 


The next thing I remember is veggies flying through the air, my arms lifting in lightning speed to cover my face and head and a scream coming from a woman who sounded like she was witnessing Godzilla coming at her! I quickly learned that turning and running from a hostile rooster is not wise. I also learned kicking it away is not wise. Each time I tried to escape or deflect this rooster leaping up 4 feet in the air and coming at my face, he got more persistent. 

Finally my niece's boyfriend came to my rescue with a broom. I was pinned up against the house and reaching frantically to find the door knob that was out of my reach. In that moment I felt like I could have been a stand in for Tippi Hedren and the scene in "The Birds" where she is trying to get away from her horrifying feathered attackers!

I finally got into the house and looked at my niece who for some reason was smiling at me. The first words out of my mouth after I got my breath back was," WHY IS HE NOT IN A POT?!!!!" 

For the next two years I had a serious fear of chickens. And, I enjoyed eating chicken with a new gusto. 

roast chicken

In 2011, I finally got my first six chicks. I had a flock. I made sure I got all females. I had read every book I could, joined chicken groups online and asked a million questions. I was a frantic new mother, getting almost zero sleep the first three days my flock was home. I ran if they cheeped too loud, I ran if I didn't hear any cheeping. I was on 24/7 pasty butt check and resisting the temptation to pick them up the first few days was unbearable!


Our first year together was amazing! My Girls, which I affectionately titled them, made me laugh, made me "Awww," made me frantic with odd behavior. I had my friend, who is an expert on raising chickens, on speed dial, replacing my husband Don as No. 1 in my speed dial list. 


Suddenly I lost two of my girls to something poisonous while free ranging and another was sick from ingesting the same toxic matter. I remember walking back to the house after burying my second girl and saying out loud, "I can't do this. I'll never get anymore chickens, I can't handle this sadness." 

After four months of having a flock of three and healing from the loss, spring came again and with it, the urge to hear "Cheep, cheep."

Off I went to the feed store, and I ordered not three to replace my lost three. I ordered 10 new chicks. I have since learned this is called "chicken math."

I got my 10 new fluffy butts in March 2013, and the coop was full again. The three big girls took well to the new babies. I was in chicken delight again. My heart was overflowing with chicken antics, cuddles, chasing escapees and lots of gardening just for The Girls. 


In October of last year, my husband and I were presented with the opportunity to move to our beloved North Carolina where we had lived previously for eight years. In early December, I learned I would not be able to take my flock with me, as I had originally planned and so I had to find a family willing to adopt the entire flock, as I did not want to separate them. Like I said I never knew chickens bonded, with each other and their human owners. So the thought of sending them off in different directions was too hard. 

With the help of a friend, we found a wonderful family who were more than willing to take all 12 of the girls and give them a spoiled, loving, protected home like they knew. My heart broke, but I was so happy and relieved to know they would stay together. 

A couple days later I cleaned out the shed that was a coop for us, because it too could not come with us on the move. There was nothing quite so sad for me as an empty coop, I dreaded opening the door and not seeing the girls or hearing them "buking" Good Morning to me. 

So we moved, and once again I was a broody hen with no babies..........

Coming soon, the next chapter of Confessions Of A Chicken Hoarder.