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The Accidental Farmer

Landscaping on the Cheap

April FreemanThis is the time of year when the savvy shopper can net some great bargains in the landscaping department. Over the past three weeks, I’ve bought over $100 worth of plants for about $25. I’ve been haunting the clearance department of Lowe’s garden center and I’ve been proud of what I’ve found. The flower bed I’ve been valiantly trying to fill with perennials is pretty much done, and I also found an unexpected bargain when I discovered Knock-Out Rose bushes for $5 each. I’ve been considering planting a row of them across the front of our Western gable wall, and the two that I bought were a good start.

Daisies Fill My Beds for Little Cash

However, when you buy this time of year and when you’re buying clearance landscaping plants, you can’t just buy anything, and your plants will need a little TLC. Here’s a few things to keep in mind when you’re landscaping on the cheap.

1. Talk to the garden center manager to find out which days they clear out plants that are past their prime. Then, get in the habit of slipping into the garden center on that morning so you can get dibs on the best plants.

2. Droopy and not blooming is okay. Crispy and brown is not. Many perennials are a bit pot bound by the time they make it to the clearance rack. This means that their roots are so tangled they won’t hold water very well. They may look a little dry and droopy. However, if the plants have gone past droopy to crispy, brown leaves, you probably want to pass on them.

3. Be flexible in your landscaping colors. Many perennials and annuals may not have any open blooms on them when they are in the clearance department. That’s okay! Flowers are pretty in any color and once you plant and water them well, they will probably put out some blooms. Even if they don’t bloom, you will have the excitement of looking forward to some special, surprise blooms next summer.

4. Plant them as soon as you can! I keep the plants indoors or in a cool shady place when I bring them home, and I give them a good watering right away. When it gets to the twilight hours, that’s when I go plant them outdoors. This gives them an overnight to soak up water before the summer heat pounds down on them again.

5. Gently tease out pot bound roots. Like I said, most plants on clearance are a bit pot bound. Gently untangle the roots as you plant them. You may want to toss in a few handfuls of compost if your dirt is poor to help your plants get a good start.

6. Mulch them well. The mulch will help keep the roots cool and moist.

7. WATER WATER WATER! Planting things in July means that you HAVE to provide water to these fragile plants. Usually, I water them daily for about a week if there’s no rain. Then, I keep a close eye on them. If we have dry spell or they start looking droopy, I give them a good drink. Remember that deep watering is better than a quick sprinkle. You want the roots to get a good soaking each time you water them.

You don’t have to have hundreds of dollars to fill your beds with a lush display of perennials and annuals. Keep these tips in mind and soon you will have a cottage garden to be proud of!

Broody Chickens Advantages and Disadvantages

April FreemanRecently, one of our hens hatched out a handful of baby chicks. I love it when this happens. See, I also just popped ten young pullets in the henhouse. I’ve been their mama for about eight weeks. I much prefer it when Nature has its way and a chicken gets to raise a family for me. However, not everyone prefers this. Here’s a few facts you need to know about broody hens vs. raising replacement chickens yourself.

Orpington Hen and Chicks

1. Breed. When you buy your own hens, you can choose from dozens of breeds of chickens. You can know what you’re going to get and select for traits like egg laying ability, docility, and foraging ability. If you have a hodgepodge of breeds in your hen house like I do, the chicks your broody hen raises may just be the luck of the draw. Since we only have one rooster, they’re all half Orpington, but beyond that, those chicks could be part Rhode Island Red, Dominecker, Austrolorp, Easter Egger, or Leghorn. Who knows?

2. Hens vs. Roosters. When you choose chicks to raise yourself, you can choose sexed pullets, almost guaranteeing a flock of laying hens or you can choose straight run chicks, getting a few roosters and hens. I always pay more to get only pullets. When your hen raises a family, you get what you get. And yeah, you could end up with half a flock of mean ole’ Rhode Island Red roosters!

3. Poop. This is where the broody hen has advantages. I hate the mess of raising chicks. My garage smells like a chicken house for about a month, and then when I move the young hens to the barn, I still have to keep them caged for safety for another month. So that means for a full two months, I’m dealing with poop. Not cool. Broody hens take their families to run around in the yard, leaving smelly poop in places that I won’t notice it. In fact, if I think creatively, I just call it “fertilizer.”

4. Protection. Those little chicks have a fierce ally in their mama. I’ve seen a mama hen make a full-size cow back down when the cow inadvertently crossed the path of the flock of Orpington chicks. There’s nothing funnier than watching a poor old cow turn and run at the flogging of a mad hen.

5. Eggs. Of course, if you have a breed of chicken that regularly “goes broody” you may find this a nuisance. Because when a hen is setting eggs and tending her babies, she takes a break from egg laying. And if two or three or more go broody, you can see a serious reduction in egg production, which is quite frustrating if you’re definitely not interested in any new chicks at the moment. Breaking up a broody mood takes persistence and dedication. Personally, if a hen is so dedicated to hatching out a clutch of eggs that I am continually having to lock her in broody jail, I take pity on her and let her raise a handful of eggs.

6. No guarantees. With a broody chicken, there are no guarantees. Sometimes they do well and it’s easy. Sometimes, for whatever reason, the hen has no luck and the prescribed 21 days passes with no chicks. And there’s also the “farmer’s luck” of when you need and want new chicks, no hen ever goes broody. I don’t wait on broody hens to raise replacement chickens. I always buy some and if I have a setting hen, I see that as a bonus. Besides, with my luck, every chick she raises will be a rooster.

I do like it when my chickens go broody and provide me with “free” chicks. In the ideal world, I’d have her raise all my chicks. But the ideal world isn’t my world, so I buy a few pullets each spring. And then I hope for the best with my hens.

Multi-Species Grazing: Sheep and Cattle

April FreemanWith great interest, we read the articles and blog posts about multi-species grazing. Without a doubt, this is a much more sustainable way to farm. See, when you graze different species of animals together, you’re doing things the way that Nature intended it.

Nature abhors a monoculture. If you look at naturally occurring habitats, you will see myriad species in one area. Birds, mammals, insects and plants all live together in an intricate web of life. When one piece of the puzzle is missing, the other parts get out of whack.

That’s one big problem with large monoculture systems: you’re working against nature when you just grow one crop, or just raise one type of animal on a piece of property. In keeping with these ideas, we began to adapt our farm to one that hosts several animals. We’ve had chickens, cattle, and horses for awhile. But we wanted to add sheep to the mix.

Sheep can help maximize the profitability of the small farm. Some reports say that you can add up to eight sheep to a paddock for every cow without overgrazing the land. Sheep eat different plants than cows do, so you can utilize woody, brushy, and poorer pastures to turn a cash crop.

That’s the ideal world. In the real world it’s a little more complex.

For the small farmer, adding additional animals means adding extra work. It also means that you need to learn about a whole new animal. Sheep are not cattle and you can’t treat them the same. We’ve enjoyed our sheep, but the learning curve has been quite steep. Most of our fall/winter lambs didn’t make it.

Sheep are a good addition to a cattle farm.

Here is a list of the challenges for the cattle farmer hoping to add sheep to the mix.

1. Fencing. The fencing needs of sheep are drastically different from those of cattle. You don’t just have to keep the sheep in; you also have to keep predators like coyotes and dogs out. We have a combination of woven wire and barbed wire with a hot electric fence wire. Before we added the electric, we had some predator issues.

2. Minerals. Sheep and cows use different minerals. The cattle need copper in their mineral, but copper is toxic to sheep. This has been the biggest hurdle for us to manage. We’ve ended up keeping the sheep separate from the cattle because we’ve not been able to figure out a good way of meeting the mineral needs of each type of animal when they are in the same paddock.

3. Feet. Sheep have to have their feet trimmed and they also have very delicate feet. Foot rot and foot scald affect sheep easily, and this means that when our cattle are in a wet field that will end up muddy, we don’t need to put the sheep in there until the field recovers. However, sheep and their delicate feet are actually pretty good in fields that are at risk for erosion, like steep fields, newly seeded fields or on the banks of a pond. If you’re careful not to over-graze, they aren’t as hard on a field because they just don’t weigh as much.

4. Lambing/Calving. Our sheep have actually done pretty well with lambing. We’ve only had to assist a handful of times. However, their babies are so, so very fragile. We learned this firsthand when a couple of lambs froze to death in weather that a calf would have been fine in. We have decided that lambing in December, January or February is not for us. We don’t have the facilities to keep the animals indoors for the time when they need protection from the elements.

5. Stupidity. Some say that sheep are the stupidest animal. From my experience, they’re not any stupider than cows. However, they are much more fragile than a cow. That means that their stupidity frequently leads to a major health issue or even death.

6. Eating. Sheep eat a huge variety of plants. They love things like dandelions, blackberry vines, and ragweed. This is great because we can put them in a field after the cows go through it and they’ll clean up what the cows didn’t like. Also, sheep gobble up poorer quality hay that cows and especially horses will turn up their noses at. I also like the fact that sheep don’t eat nearly as much as cows do.

7. Handling. I really like the fact that my daughters and I can handle the sheep and, other than our ram, Apollo, we don’t have to wait on my husband to be here. Cattle require extensive handling facilities that sheep just don’t need. We just run the sheep into a smallish pen and grab them! My girls and I can give shots, trim feet, worm, and tag the sheep all by ourselves.

Overall, I like sheep. The biggest challenge for us right now though is foot issues. We haven’t quite gotten a handle on a foot scald problem. Hopefully, we’ll tackle that and the sheep will be a little easier.

Tabbouleh Recipe

April FreemanThis salad is a favorite at my house. We often eat it in pita breads, topped with falafel and tzatziki sauce. However, it’s really good on its own too. It takes advantage of fresh veggies, tangy parsley, and offers a touch of garlic zing. This recipe isn’t difficult, but it does take a lot of veggie chopping. Make sure your chef’s knife is sharp for this recipe.

Tabbouleh combines parsley, tomatoes, cucumbers and other flavors

Boil 2 cups of water and pour it into a medium sized bowl containing 1/2 cup bulgur wheat. Allow the wheat to soak for about 30 minutes and drain off any water that remains.


1 bunch parsley
2 tomatoes
1/2 slicing cucumber

Stir the chopped veggies into the bowl with the drained bulgur wheat. Add:

1-1/2 cloves of minced garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup lemon juice
5 tablespoons olive oil

Toss to distribute the seasonings and oil over the vegetables. Refrigerate for at least four hours to allow the flavors to blend.

For extra flavor, add some crumbled feta cheese on top when you serve it.

Tzatziki Sauce Recipe

April FreemanIn the heat of summertime, most people prefer to lighten up their diets. Rather than heavy, savory fare, most people prefer lighter flavors. That’s one thing I love about tzatziki sauce. This yogurt-based sauce is cool and tangy for hot summer days. It’s also remarkably simple to create and very versatile. We use it to top falafels or tabbouleh, but we’ve also used it as a salad dressing for a simple garden salad. It’s also really good for dipping if you bake fresh pita bread; if you fry some chicken tenders or beef patties, it’s great for dipping those things in too. I just love this stuff!

Tzatziki Recipe

In a small bowl, mix together:

• 1 cup of plain yogurt
• 1 teaspoon dried dill
• 1 teaspoon of salt

Add 1/2 of a slicing cucumber, cubed.

Stir it all together and refrigerate the sauce, tightly covered, for at least 2 hours to allow the flavors to blend before serving.

I store it in a mason jar in the fridge, and it’s usually gone by the time three or four days have passed. There’s no reason to buy heavy, greasy, fatty salad dressings when creating your own is so, so easy and inexpensive.

Tzatziki sauce on top of falafels

Veggie Night Falafel

April FreemanSince we recently lost a loved one far too young, we're paying closer attention to our health. This means that we've changed a little bit about how we eat. One thing we’re trying to do is include more veggies and less meat in our diets. This is quite a shift for our beef farming, Southern, meat and potatoes family. This recipe for falafel is one of the biggest hits in our Veggie Night rotation. Almost every member of the family likes it and that’s pretty unusual in a family of six. Also, unlike some vegetarian meals, this meal is very filling.

Falafel with tzatziki and tabbouleh


In a mixing bowl stir together:

1 can of chickpeas, drained, rinsed and ground to a paste in a food processor
• 1 tablespoon dried parsley
• 2 cloves garlic, minced
• 2 eggs
• 2 teaspoons cumin
• 1 teaspoon coriander
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon lemon juice
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 1 cup flour

Stir together just until mixed. It should be the consistency of biscuit dough. If it’s too moist, add a bit more flour.

In a small saucepan, heat about 2 cups of oil on medium heat.

Take the falafel dough in your hands and roll it into walnut sized balls. Drop into hot oil and cook until golden brown. It should look like a hush puppy.

Serve piping hot. We eat it on a pita bread cut in half. I fill the pita with tabbouleh, add the falafel balls, and top it all with a couple tablespoons tzatziki sauce.


I Don't Wanna

April FreemanThe past year has been so crazy. It’s been hard, stressful, and difficult.

About a year and a half ago, a close family member became seriously ill. The illness progressed to the point where this family member was bedfast and in need of major assistance. Like families do, we wanted to help as much as possible. We live about 2 hours away from this family member, and that was a huge hurdle. But it was important.

We cleared most of what was not urgent from our schedule to help out as much as we could. Many other family members did the same and they did even more than we did. We lost this precious one in March. But we’re still not back to normal.

See, the spring, summer, fall, and winter of 2015 and up till March of this year was a time when only the most crucial farm tasks were accomplished. Unless it HAD to be done, it didn’t happen.

Much of my garden produce from last year was wasted. If I actually had time to pick the veggies, they sat in a bucket until the tomatoes were soft and the green beans moldy. I just didn’t have the time to process them.

Warm-weather maintenance tasks were put off.

And now, we’re swamped. Our to-do list seems endless and it’s pretty overwhelming. We have so much to do each day, that planning the day’s work is just kind of scary.

I should paint the doors and the trim to the house … Gotta go buy the primer and paint.

We really need to order a new shutter for the front of the house, since it was blown off 2 years ago in a storm. But then we’ll have to hang the blasted thing when it comes in.

I need to clean out the barn stall. But Apollo, our ram, is in there and he can’t be with our young ewes. We really need to just sell him …

I should clean out the garage. But then all the broken things in there need to be fixed.

Gotta get the repair guy to look at the broken tiller and push mower. But then we’ll need to pay him.

We should cut the grass. But can’t trim up the yard because the push mowers are broken.

Every time we cross one thing off the list, it seems that two more pop up to take that place.

Need to get the garden in. But we can’t until we sell those bull calves that are currently penned in the garden spot.

I think I’ll just go upstairs and watch Rawhide. Or climb back into bed. I don’t even wanna get started.

cow in the barn

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